A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Just Another Day on Planet Mum: Op Shopping

Op shopping is usually a bit of a hit and miss experience but today there were plenty of hits. Practically speaking I'm probably better off not having the 3 year old with me but she does keep me on my toes and I'm sure I've saved more than a few dollars because I've had to chase her around the shop. Exhausted by my exertions, I'm forced to exit the shop quickly while my gaze lingers longingly on the racks beckoning to be browsed.

After dropping the 9 year old off at school today, we made our way to the local Salvo Store. Like my friend Miss K, I've been doing a bit of op-shop shopping lately and today I came away pretty chuffed because a few of the items were heavily discounted. I bought 3 pairs of jeans for the girls, a pair of tights for the 3 year old, a white top and 3 kiddy jigsaws for $22. I discovered at the checkout that my local Salvo Store is having a half price deal on their blue ticket items and it's $1 for everything with an orange ticket. As you can see here, they're in pretty good nick.

The jigsaws were also a great find -- Dora, Pooh Bear and a generic one with animals riding a roller coaster. The 3 year old, gleeful about the find insisted very loudly that she carry her new puzzles. My mistake was acceding to the request. Because a few minutes later, she had to drop them, didn't she... (twice!) so it was impromptu mother and daughter bonding time trying to put the pieces together.

Whenever we buy clothing with plastic packaging, I often try to remember to keep the packaging for storing toys later. These came in handy today for those jigsaws that I bought at the Salvo Store. Jigsaws don't always come in boxes, so most times I use the large ziplock bags so that the pieces don't go AWOL.

These plastic bags are especially useful because they also have hangers attached to them so if you want to hang them up in the wardrobe when not in use, it's a pretty nifty way to store them.

God Talk: Legalism & Responsibility

Unless you've been hiding under a rock with the vacuous Patrick Star or meditating in a Tibetan temple on the complete oeuvre of Mozart's operas, the vast majority of tv watching types would've have heard about "Lost" and (finally!) after six long, convoluted seasons the tv show about castaways has come to an end. There's been plenty of chatter online but I'm not going to join in that conversation because well, I could only muster enough enthusiasm for the show for 2 and a half seasons. The overuse of flashbacks in S2 and the piling of one mystery on top of another convinced me quickly that I was being led down the garden path. In short, I was wasting my time with a poorly conceived show.

I bring up "Lost" because it came up in one of my favourite Christian blogs as a post was written in part about the finale. The blogger expressed mixed feelings about the ending but took comfort in the fact that as believers we can trust in the fulfillment of end of world prophecy and God's Sovereignty in all things.
Seems harmless enough, right?
Apparently not.
Later on in the meta, a dispute quickly broke out about whether Christians should watch an "immoral" show like "Lost" and then write up about it in a serious theological blog. It's odd, isn't it... the rapidity in which stuff like that happens and the vastness of the internet allows people the cloak of anonymity so that they can leap before looking.

Legalism seems to be an affliction of the religious. Not that I'm an advocate of libertinism... far from it.
But aside from own children, I don't feel that it's my place in life to tell other people what they should or shouldn't do with their time or money. Even if I'm really, really tempted to do so. Hence, if I'm asked for my opinion, I may give moral or philosophical reasons why I think "Sex and the City" (for example) isn't worthy of our eye time but I don't really think I have a right to go beyond that. Personally, I find it liberating that I'm not responsible for what other people get up to. I have enough to worry about as it is. Ultimately, each of us are accountable to our Creator for what we do with our lives.

As an aside: I remember when The Da Vinci Code hit the big screen, I had an email exchange with some of the younger adults in my church as to why I thought they shouldn't be filling Hollywood coffers going to see it but at the end of the day, I don't know if they all ended up going to see it. The Da Vinci Code bothered me more than most of the claptrap that comes of out of Hollywood because of the blatant disregard for history. I can stomach alternate/contrary viewpoints in the name of fiction but pepetuating outright lies is another matter.

The Pharisees were the classic legalists. Perhaps they started with good intentions in wanting to clarify things for the public (as in the case of the Sabbath, for instance) but then gradually they started trusting in their legalism for spiritual legitimacy and superiority. That I think is the fundamental problem of legalism -- it leads to pride. It leads to us thinking that we're better than others because we can follow the rules to the letter while the slackos out there are not trying hard enough. Legalism also blinds. When you believe that you're doing a marvellous job keeping the rules, you can't see grace... the modus operandi behind the gospel. Because grace says that you can't keep all the rules (except in some superficial way) and only through Jesus can we please God.

Still, those of us who are responsible for the spiritual well-being of others (teachers, pastors, parents, group leaders) walk a kind of moral tightrope. While we shouldn't judge others according to how they spend their leisure time, we need to be very conscious of those who look up to us as role models. Caring for God's people is a very solemn and sobering responsibility, not to be taken lightly. Lots of things may be permissible but in certain contexts may not be wise.

A Case in Point

I'm a teetotaller from upbringing and from choice. Being a teetotaller might not lead me to being a better Christian compared to say Mary, my MOPS coordinator but it might prevent me from falling into obsessive modes of behaviour. Sadly, there's so much alcohol abuse in this part of the world that it's made me more determined to abstain entirely. It's no skin off my nose as I've never had a taste for it and it's no great sacrifice on my part not to partake in the occasional libation. I'm not bothered by other Christians drinking wine or beer within certain legal/biblical boundaries but I haven't been bullied into coming to the position that I have. Another perspective that led me to this way of thinking came when I was a young newish TESOL teacher gainfully employed for the first time. I loved socializing with my colleagues but a lot of it revolved around drinking alcohol. Everyone seemed to assume that drunkness was the final destination during the festivities so for me not drinking at all distinguished me in some small way.

In many ways, I'm all for us being hard on ourselves... temptations abound and we're not islands. But we shouldn't put burdens on others where the Bible doesn't, particularly where the good news of Jesus is concerned.  Legalism restricts and enslaves while the gospel frees us to make the right choices at the right time and at the right place.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review: The Difficult Child Part 2

I'm of the firmest opinion that every first time mother (or father) should attend a playgroup if for no other reason than to witness first hand the amusing illogicality that is children playtime. It brings a small measure of comfort that your child with all his/her proclivities for tantrums or toy-snatching is actually quite normal. I find that it helps me to deal with some of the embarrassment when you realise that other people's children are just as bad (or worse) than your own.
Still, there are children who have certain quirks that don't seem to be present in others but Turecki in The Difficult Child is quick to remind us that they are no less normal. What is required of us parents is a little understanding and patience.
Parents are often guilt-ridden about how ill-equipped they are and sometimes it seems easier to think that there are cosmic forces at work conspiring to make your job all the more difficult. Quite sensibly, Turecki observes early on in the book that

Difficult children are normal. They are not emotionally disturbed, mentally ill, or brain damaged... "Difficult" is very different from "abnormal". In today's climate, with ever increasing numbers of children being "diagnosed", this is a very important distinction for parents to keep in mind.

Difficult children are like this because of their innate makeup. And that makeup is their inborn temperament. They are not like this because of something you as parents have done to them. It's not your fault. And it's not the child's fault, either. He didn't ask to be born difficult.

Difficult children are hard to raise. Of course you know this already. But if you think of it as a basic fact of existence, it will help you cope better. This is the way your child is, but by understanding him better and learning about his temperament you will be able to manage him successfully. He will then be a great deal easier to raise.

Difficult children are not all the same. The picture differs depending on which areas of temperament come into play. Difficult children also range from the basically easy child with some difficult features to the extreme of the very difficult, perhaps even impossible child.

Difficult children make their parents feel angry, inadequate, or guilty. And these parental feelings can lead to one of the biggest problems with difficult children, a loss of parental authority. Parents feel their child no longer "listens" to them, that she is the one in control. Inconsistent and excessive punishment follow. "Nothing works" is the most common statement parents make about their efforts to discipline the child.

Difficult children children can create marital strain, family discord, problems with siblings, and end up with emotional problems of their own. OR
Difficult children can become positive, enthusiastic, perhaps even especially creative individuals if they are well managed when young. (Turecki, pp. 8-9)

Turecki goes on to discuss temperament and by temperament, he means "the traits a child is born with." He goes on to say that "this style of behaviour is innate and is not produced by the environment."
Thinking in terms of temperament is helpful because we all well aware that a children brought up in a similar environment can turn out differently. Turecki, however, isn't arguing for kind of biological determinism either because he believes that the family/parent/environment can also affect temperament and interact with it.

Based on the research of Thomas, Chess and Birch of NYU in something called the New York Longitudinal Study, the project followed the lives of 133 people from 1956 onwards during their infancy to adulthood. Turecki also notes that a child's temperament becomes fairly evident at 18 months and much more clearly at three years. By the middle childhood, individual temperament becomes well-established and stable.

The NY Longitudinal Study came up with nine temperamental characteristics but Turecki has made some modifications to the original definitions and added another to the list.

Activity Level : How active or restless is the child generally, from an early age?

Self-Control : Can the child control himself? How impulsive is she?

Concentration: How easily is the child distracted? Can he play attention?

Intensity: How loud is the child, whether happy or unhappy? How forceful is her personality? How dramatic is he?

Regularity: How predictable is the child in his patterns of sleep, appetite and bowel habits?

Persistence: Once involved with something, does the child stay with it for a long time (positive persistence)? How relentless or stubborn is he when he wants something (negative persistence)?

Sensory Threshold: How does the child react to sensory stimuli: noise, bright lights, colors, smells, pain, warm weather, tastes, the texture and feel of clothes? Is she easily bothered? Is he easily overstimulated?

Initial Response: What is the child's initial response to newness -- new places, peoples, foods, clothes? Does he go forward or hold back -- approach or withdraw?

Adaptability: How does the child deal with transition and change?

Predominant Mood: What is the child's basic disposition? Is it more sunny or more serious?  (Turecki, pp.9-10)

Turecki also notes that the issue of temperament is gaining greater acceptance with pediatricians and teachers in recent days. Parents could use this as a jumping off point for discussions about their children.

As I look at my own children, I'm becoming more and more convinced that temperament is the underlying key to tying in strategies for dealing with children on the entire "easy to difficult "spectrum. If we want to get out of the vicious cycle of doing things that are convenient or that don't work, it seems instructive to sit down and work out their personalities/quirks and deal with them accordingly and proactively. It's akin to reading Sun Tzu's The Art of War where you're constantly being reminded that knowledge of the ("enemy") opposition is important in order to win battles and the overall war. Some might be offended by my suggestion that parenting is analagous to a war or a battle but if we're honest with ourselves, sometimes (or more than sometimes), it is like a battle. Afterall don't we use expressions like "we have to pick our battles", "battle of wills", "uphill battle/fight" on a regular basis. Parenting can be very alienating but knowledge is power.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Studying foreign languages in schools a failure?

Speaking of children and learning Chinese, Andrew Bolt had an interesting opinion piece in his blog today about the apparent failure of government initiatives and funding promoting Asian languages in the public school system.

Based on a study compiled by the Melbourne University's Asia Education Foundation, it would seem that the number of students attending such programmes are falling and that attempts by the Rudd government  in a $62.4 million injection of funds (over 4 years) to prop these programmes nationwide has not stemmed the downward trend.

Bolt argues that many parents see little point in their children learning Asian languages as is unlikely that their son or daughter would end up using Indonesian, Chinese, Korean or Japanese somewhere down the track. Students who may begin learning one language in school, may find continuity issues when they transfer to another school. He also notes (as is the case of his own son) that students may be more interested in learning European languages rather than Asian ones.
Those who tend to benefit from such a programme are children of immigrants who learn the mother tongue of their parents. They tend to be the best students in such classes.

As someone who has been in the language learning game, my thinking about why such policies have fallen short of expectations, falls along these lines.

I think learning more than one language is highly beneficial to the child both cognitively and linguistically but the parents have to be in it for the long haul. It's really not worthwhile for anyone to play around with it for one year and then give up because like maths, everything is built on fundamentals. It's not like playing sport on the weekends. A better analogy would be music lessons, which are followed up with daily practise sessions at home. Also, being a parent myself, I know how difficult it is to motivate children to do something that feels like too much like school. So if parents aren't able to or prepared to help their kids along, it's going to be very tough.

Immersion is key to language learning. If a child (or anyone for that matter) is learning a foreign language but does not use it outside the classroom, it is for the most part, doomed for failure. The best way to learn a foreign language seriously is to go and live in its country of origin for at least six months or better still a year or two and live among the locals. It's what many missionary organizations have done over the years to send out new candidates to new fields.

It also seems like these school-based language programmes tend to be more cultural experiences than real language learning opportunities. Once or twice a week of twenty minute blocks isn't rigorous enough. How much time is allocated to speaking? How much time do these children spend listening to or reading resources in that language outside of school time? That, too, makes a difference.

I also believe, that if governments are serious about turning Australians into bilinguals or polyglots, the process needs to start a lot earlier and the programme far more extensive than what education departments are prepared to do.

But, the truth is, I don't think bilingualism as a social or education policy would really work in Australia. There are far too many ethnic groups for one to be elevated above the others. This is not to say that individuals can't go off and learn their language of choice but the state artifically picking what languages people can learn does have political ramifications about how the society identifies itself as a people.

Homework Blues -- Chinese

So I'm trying the whole bilingual thing with the 9 year old... it's an experiment of sorts that requires copious amounts of blood, sweat and tears on my part. But she seems keen enough as far as the speaking part is concerned. And thank heavens, she is blessed with a good memory.

Your run-of-the-mill school homework is indubitably an exercise in pain but Chinese homework is another kind of pain. A pit of despair kind of pain.

The kind of pain that I can't fob off to to the husband because unfortunately, he knows only enough Chinese to have conversation with a six month old.

I say to her. "Get your Chinese homework completed."
She does her obligatory whining.
"Well, if you did it earlier you wouldn't have to do it now."
She groans and rubs her neck. "But mum... I have a sore neck..."

I'm eyeing her suspiciously, "You didn't have a sore neck before when you were reading Tin Tin."
"But mum..."

The 9 year old is... to put the best construction on the matter... is allergic to thinking despite all her protestations to the contrary.

"You're allergic to thinking." I say as a parental passing shot for her calling out my name every 30 seconds.
"No, I'm not."
"Then why do you call out for me everytime you do a new exercise?"
"I don't..."
"Just try it first and when you've finished, I'll come and check."

A few minutes, I go to check up on the progress of the homework.

I look it over and tell her as gently as possible that she's made a mistake. I brace myself for the worst. And whaddya know, she doesn't disappointment. She throws a fit worthy of a reality tv personality.

"I always get it wrong. I can never get it right." Boohoohoo... Theatrics, hysterics and high drama.
But I am at my parental best so I wax philosophical. "There's nothing wrong with making mistakes... as long as you learn from them."

She scowls, moans and grudgingly takes out her rubber. (Not necessarily in that order) Immediately she goes to work on the mistake.

I walk away to safety (out of sight) and tell myself, maybe it's better that I let the Chinese teacher tell her what's wrong on Saturday.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Just Another Day on Planet Mum 27.5.10

The 9 year old comes bouncing up to my room at 7 o'clock this morning, dangling an A4 sized exercise in front of me.

"Hey mum, I need to do a project for school on festivals. I'm going to do one on Chinese New Year."

Sheesh... I'm thinking... Why didn't you tell me yesterday?

Instead my voice oozes with sarcasm... "Really..."

"Yeah, mum... Can I have some red packets too? I need to collect a whole bunch of stuff."

There must be a law somewhere prohibiting children from homework questions at 7 o'clock in the morning.

So now I'm on the defensive. "So, er... why didn't you tell me about this yesterday?" I emphasize yesterday so that no one can mistake my irritation for anything else.

The 9 year old knows that this was coming and evades it with her usual glibness. "Well, I didn't think about it yesterday."

I feel the internal temperature rising and feel the need to practise my taiqi deep breathing techniques from 15 years ago. I pick up the exercise book, scan through it and mentally take note of the due date.
"So is this a project you do by yourself or in a group?"

The 9 year old considers the question and then says, "In a group."

"It says here that you need to present it next Monday, 31 May."

A slight hesitation and a bit thinking time. "Yup.."

"And you're only telling me about it now..." Sarcasm is the last refuge of the annoyed parent who really wants their misbehaving child to know how annoyed mum or dad without raising their voice or hitting the ceiling.

Then the 9 year old knows she's treading on dangerous territory, so she dangles another object in front of me. It's the silk dress with the mandarin collar that she wore during Chinese New Year, commonly called the qipao or the cheongsum (Cantonese).

"Can I take this to school mum?"
"Today?" I sigh... and decide that this is not worth battling over.
"I need to bring it. L (from school) wants us to get all our stuff together."
"Why are you doing Chinese New Year?" I'm determined to be belligerent.
"I know, I'm Australian, I should have done Australia Day. But I'm slightly Chinese."
"Should have done Christmas." I insist.
"J is doing Christmas. She's done a good job. She put a picture of baby Jesus in her poster."

I wave her out the door. "There are red packets in a drawer out there." I heave a sigh of relief as I watch her skip merrily toward the dinning room.
At last some peace and quiet. I drag my feet towards the bathroom.

One minute later, a voice and a hand makes their way to the bathroom door. The door sits ajar and "Mummy" reverberates through. I regret not closing the door properly.
The 9 year old waves something that resembles a book through the gap.

"Hey, mummy is in the toilet. Don't come in here."
"Mum, I need you to look at this."
"Not now... When I come out okay? Now, go and have breakfast."
"Okay..." says the irrepressible 9 year old behind the door.

Moments later, I feel brave enough to face the music. I come out into the dining area. I see no breakfast, no kids. I hear a "Mummy is coming." A warning obviously as I observe the 9 year old is sitting on the sofa surreptitiously putting away Asterix or TinTin or something in that vein.

I take more deep breaths...

Just another day on Planet Mum.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Sexualization of Our Children #2

I have my mischievous moments I know but really, I can't believe anyone can write an article like this with a straight face.
High school students and college-age adults have been complaining to District officials that the free condoms the city has been offering are not of good enough quality and are too small and that getting them from school nurses is "just like asking grandma or auntie."
So D.C. officials have decided to stock up on Trojan condoms, including the company's super-size Magnum variety, and they have begun to authorize teachers or counselors, preferably male, to distribute condoms to students if the teachers complete a 30-minute online training course called "WrapMC" -- for Master of Condoms.
"If people get what they don't want, they are just going to trash them," said T. Squalls, 30, who attends the University of the District of Columbia. "So why not spend a few extra dollars and get what people want?" 

Oh dear... there are so many things wrong about this story that it's hard to know where to start. One of my journalistic heroes, Mark Steyn posts his reaction here. It's worth reading, like everything else he writes.

Last week, I posted a diatribe about this entitlement complex that is besetting our young. I did wonder a little afterwards if I wasn't just a tad too strident about the point I was making. Well, if that article is anything to go by, I probably understated the problem.

But the thing that made me sit up and notice is the fact that this programme distributes condoms to high school students. What does that say to young people about sex without strings attached? Apart from the fact that governments shouldn't be involved in how people use their bodies, shouldn't this in actual fact be the purview of parental oversight? Or is this another instance of how parents have ceded ground to the all-powerful hand of the State?
While this story has parallels with certain childhood memories of my maternal grandfather handing out forbidden sweets to his grandchildren despite parental protestations, the reliance on condoms for "safe sex" can do far more long-term damage than short-term glucose indulgence.


There's something slightly amusing and pleasingly heartwarming about sisters being the worst of enemies and the best of friends. There's a largish gap between mine and so it's particularly gratifying to see that bond developing between them as they both mature and develop.
There are days when they're both ready to renact the Cain and Abel narrative but mostly they're partners in crime, conspiring to watch a little more tv or egging each other on to misbehave... much to the chagrin of their parents.

As we were coming out of her kindy room today, the 3 year old did her 10 m dash down the corridor and ran toward her big sister, shouting out her name like she hadn't seen her for a month. At the end of the finishing line, she gave her big sister a warm hug.

It's moments like this you remember why you have more than one child.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Indoctrinating Our Children? The Proposed National History Curriculum

I'm all for our public schools teaching our children history... especially local history. Personally, I take the position that every child should learn some history (whether he or she becomes a butcher, baker or candlestick maker) because as the saying goes, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Plus there's also the all-important fact that butchers, bakers and candlestick makers do become taxpayers and voters. But there is huge a difference between teaching the facts and figures, on the one hand, and on the other hand, trying to pummel our children with a particular view point or ideology. Over the weekend, a news item appeared in the Melbourne Herald Sun that caused a reaction in some circles:

HISTORIANS say the new national modern history curriculum for schools reads like a Marxist manifesto that ignores popular aspects of our past and neglects Australia’s role in world politics and war.
The course, designed for years 11 and 12, is heavily focused on revolutionary struggles, colonial oppression and women's struggle for equality...

Historian Andrew Garvie said the course agenda should be altered to give a more balanced view of history.
"This appears to be a very trendy, right-on curriculum. It looks heavily influenced by a Marxist view of history - there's lots about about revolution and struggles against oppression," Mr Garvie said.
"But it lacks an appreciation of Australia's place in the world.
"There seems to be very little about our military history or our links with Britain. Gallipoli and Kokoda appear to be just footnotes to the whole thing."
He said the course also seemed to be organised as a "slice of life" approach to history.
"It seems to me students will be given bits of history to study. They may not gain an appreciation of the whole of an era or century," Mr Garvie said.
Education consultant Russell Boyle said the history curriculum was too selective.
"The ancient history curriculum spans the period from pre-history to 500BC, while the period of investigation in the draft modern history curriculum is from the late 18th century through to the end of the 20th century," Mr Boyle said.
"There is much in the period in between that would deepen students' understanding of the events and issues that have shaped humanity and our contemporary world."

On reading this, it immediately disturbed me that our public education system is being employed a) to promote a certain worldview and b) to compel young learners to think in a certain way. Still it isn't the first time and it won't be the last.

However, reminding myself that it's hard to judge the merits of the proposal just relying on someone else's opinion, I felt, as a literate individual and parent, that it was vital for me to check out the Modern History curriculum for myself as a stake holder in this process of drafting educational material for our children. I chose the Modern History curriculum mainly because it's the area of history that I'm most familiar with.

Some initial thoughts. 
A cursory look at the draft curriculum does suggest a kind of piecemeal, bitsy overview of history. I'd be quite interested to see how it all fills out contentwise. While I wouldn't throw around words like "brainwashing" or "propaganda" as readily as some have, I would say that the curriculum does adopt a Marxist lite approach to making sense of recent history. A Marxist approach, if memory serves, tends to dwell on conflict and oppression as a major theme of history and is stridently political in its outlook. Marxism by its nature, is inevitably divisive because it perceives the world in terms of competing interests battling it out in the public sphere for political status.and credibility
I am also someone who is of the opinion that Marxism with its political expression in Communism, with its underlying atheistic, materialist focus was ironically the harbinger of much conflict in the 20th century and some of its aftershocks can still be felt in this new century.

While I accept that a reasonable argument can be made for adopting a model like this at some minor level it concerns me that it can skew a young person's sense of history in a particular direction and perhaps lead to a misinformed cynicism. While I do agree that the twentieth century is marked by a great deal of global conflict, I am not sure that a Marxist approach will cover the scope of western history. My other problem with the Marxist worldview is its tendency to deal in simplistic dichotomies of oppressors and oppressed, colonizer, colonized etc without taking into account the complexities within social groups or give consideration to the historical context in which these relationships take place. It bothers me that a lot of thinking about history today has a tendency to impose our modern sensibility on people who lived 50 years or a hundred years ago. A case in point is slavery... often seen as an exclusively imperialistic European practice which really had been going on for thousands of years practiced by many world superpowers throughout history.

I am also in agreement with Russell Boyle, who was quoted in that article, that the time period needs to be stretched out a bit more covering significant periods such as The Enlightenment and the Age of  (European) Exploration. It always surprises me that the Enlightenment, which has had such a significant impact on Western Civilization (for good and bad) gets very little play in public discourse.

I think there is a place for young people to be exposed to to multiple view points as they do when they enter university after they've been properly equipped to think for themselves. I don't think I can depend on the public school system to do that for my children. Like it or not, it behooves us as parents to be proactive in our children's education, whether we use the public system, enrol our children in private schools or opt for home schooling.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Sexualization of Our Children

As a mother of girls I confess to being extremely paranoid about the way the wider culture attempts to sexualize our children through the media and the entertainment industry. From the day the 9 year old was old enough to be interested in Bratz, I've been fighting an uphill battle to protect her from being bombarded by sexually suggestive images. It could be my age or philosophical bent showing but it always baffles me when parents become willing participants in this process. Take the recent case of this dance video which has gone viral on the internet featuring five eight and nine year olds dancing to Beyonce's "Single Ladies".  The entertainment industry in its self-interest knows that there's money to be made by pushing young talent into the spotlight but for parents to give consent to their children using their bodies in a sexually provocative manner, blows my mind completely.

Have we no more boundaries or standards?
Or is it just me?

One worrying trend that we've seen is the way certain well-known child actors "progress" from their wholesome girl-next-door image into musical sexpots, as this article from Newbusters point out.
From Lindsay Lohan to Britney Spears, positive role models are hard to find in the entertainment industry. Even teen sensation Miley Cyrus, known for her breakout role in Disney’s wholesome “Hannah Montana,” has been shedding her good girl image. Despite wearing her religious faith on her sleeve, Cyrus has had some controversies in the past and was recently hit with a couple more scandals. Her new music video, “Can’t Be Tamed” featured her dancing provocatively, and footage recently emerged of her grinding with a man in his forties at a party.

This is the stuff of parental nightmares. (I'm secretly hoping that our girls continue watching Dora the Explorer right through their teens.)

When I was a teenager, it was Madonna making waves flaunting her knickers in public and singing suggestively about virgins but while Madonna was trying to shock and provoke reaction, we have gradually seen this kind of emphasis on female sexuality become normalized. It seems to be the right of passage, almost,  for child celebrities to disavow their girl-next-door image for a sexually evocative image to transition their careers into "adulthood".

The normalizing of media sexuality is troubling because society is on a slippery slope to becoming desensitized to the exploitation and objectification of women and children's bodies. The film, Taken gives excellent insight into the trafficking of young females except in real life, few have a Liam Neeson father figure to pluck them out of their despair. A friend of mine who reads this blog, can tell you horror stories about girls in Southeast Asia who are tricked or kidnapped by unscrupulous human traffickers and sold into houses of ill repute.
Granted that's an extreme scenario but if you've been following the Roman Polanski case closely, you'll see that it isn't as far removed as one might think. Young, starry eyed, aspiring actresses being sexually exploited by Hollywood heavyweights as a matter of course. So much so, that many (not all) in that industry have come out in support of the director despite his flouting the law for a few decades.

Clearly, it's a symptom of a larger problem. The sanctity of sex has been taken out of marriage and become an effective marketing tool. The entertainment industry, where anything goes, milks it for whatever it's worth.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Southside International MOPS Fundraiser May 2010

As I've mentioned on previous occasions I belong to a mother's group called MOPS, a cutesy acronym for Mothers of Preschoolers. Each year MOPS holds a conference for the leadership of MOPS groups all over the country and this year in October, MOPS leaders will be gathering together in the outskirts of Sydney for the Australasia Conference.
A member of our steering team had the notion that we should piggy back on our church garage sale and organize a food stall to raise funds for the coming conference.
And so we did...

This is moi and my lovely assistant, Vivian promoting our wares. Not a difficult task, mind you, the wontons sold out in 2 hours.

Moving out of the sun, members of our baked goods stall awaits patronage.

Bargain hunters out in full force... all in search of the Holy Grail of garage sales -- a steal.

It's almost noon... and it's time to pack up. With only a trickle of bodies coming through, the team takes it easy... and indulges in a little chit chat and delectable delights.

Who knew... selling food could be so fun... and I have an inkling that certain people in our church are going to suggest that we do this again... and on a larger scale.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

God Talk: Park Encounter

Something interesting happened when I took the 3 year old to the park today: I was accosted briefly by a Jehovah's Witness... but before anything really exciting happened, I was saved by a grumpy child and a poopy pair of pull-ups.

A couple of things occurred to me during this exchange. The first was that Jehovah's Witnesses embrace a kind of religious utopianism. It was fascinating that she mentioned "paradise" at least twice during the ten minutes or so and used a "house" analogy to describe the state of the planet, suggesting that tenants who trash the house will be shown the door. Secondly, according to this friendly if not persistent lady, reading the Bible will help me lead a better life and hence become a better person.

Despite being exposed to evangelical Christianity at a young age, I used to hold to something similar. It seems to me that people in the East think that the nature of religion is to teach people to be good. I used to hear this a lot growing up. "Oh, it doesn't matter which religious system you embrace, as long as it teaches you to do the right thing." Another one I've heard in its different configurations is, "All religions are the same, right? They teach people what is good." The problem with those statements, of course, is that a) we all need to agree on what "the right thing" or "good" is and b) really, even a cursory study of all religions will show that they aren't the same at all.
No doubt, it's the sort of squishy, diplomatic thing people say when they really don't want to rock the boat. I get that. But after a while, the danger is that it becomes a kind of meaningless platitude that everyone throws around as if it's an immutable fact and feels no need to look further into it.

That is why I don't really think of Christianity as "religion" although I understand why people do. It has something to do with "God" or transcendence so it's a religion. The thing is though, I'm not a Christian because I follow a whole bunch of rules and regulations for life... I am a Christian because I've been forgiven by the Creator of the universe through the death and resurrection of his Son. Because His Spirit lives in me, I can now begin to live the impossibly "good" life as I read His Word for instruction and guidance.

People read the Bible for all kinds of reasons. Some want to nitpick, others think it's a good piece of literature and still others think perhaps if they practice the ten commandments or the Sermon on the Mount they'll find peace on earth. More recently, with the rise of motivational literature, the Bible has also been marketed as some kind of self-help instructional manual.

Well, if reading the moral teachings of the Bible were all that it took for people to become good then Jesus didn't need to come and live among us and die for us. Just think about the Pharisees and teachers of the law, for example, who were so religiously zealous for the law and yet Jesus said to them
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which inwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness." (Mattehw 23:27, ESV)

It seems though that we've lost the art of reading  the Bible as history...  and not just any history but the unfolding of God's plan of salvation through human history and through the birth of a nation. That there's only Plan A from the time of Adam and Eve to save human race from eternal consequencs of sin. We've also forgotten about the real hero of the Bible -- God. We're so bogged down with wanting the Bible to speak to us individually that we've neglected to worship the Speaker of the Bible. More than anything, God is the protagonist... the sovereign Lord of time and space who is calling men and woman to himself.

Those Pesky Things Called Values

Last night, while I was chatting and making cards with a lady from my mother's group, we happened to trade tales of individuals who don't pull their weight or abuse their position in their place of work. She recalled a situation in a place she worked at previously whereby a co-worker, who used her "gift of the gab" to manipulate her employer and regularly negotiate for herself pay rises. This same co-worker, however, was not beyond flouting company policies, taking extended lunch breaks regularly and not doing her fair share of the labour. I also mentioned that my husband once worked with a man who was basically an imposter -- who lied on his CV and conned his way through the interview, making claims about his skills and abilities that turned out to be bogus. My new friend shook her head and wondered how such people can live with themselves. My response was that most of us know and believe that we must earn our way in this world but there are those who at their core think that the world owes them a living.

Years ago, I was talking to a colleague of mine about the social welfare system in this country. To my great surprise, he said that he didn't mind people "abusing the system" and living on the dole, afterall, according to him, we can't impose our values on everyone. If certain people are happy spending their whole life hanging around the beach and surfing, that's their perogative. (Except that, although I didn't say it at the time, that they were doing it on other people's money)

That conversation has become particularly meaningful in recent days when I think about the kind of values I'd like my children to have. Coincidentally, we are now witnessing the gradual collapse of what were once great European civilizations because one by one, they turned into cradle to grave welfare states. What a welfare system seems to do is suck the life out of its citizenry and give them little incentive to be enterprising or to take care of their own needs.

Furthermore, things that were once considered luxuries and privileges are now perceived to be entitlements. It bothers me that my daughter comes home from school insisting that she "must have" a Nintendo DS lite because "everyone she knows has one". Unfortunately for her, her parents aren't bandwagon jumpers, so we've held off for as long as we can and have told her that she needs to show marked improvement in school before she gets one.

Lest you think me a luddite, I will hasten to add that I come from a short line of gadget freaks... and really, I don't have any problems with DD#1 eventually owning  a DS. But what I'm resisting strenuously is this entitlist mind set.

I don't say it's easy because it does mean swimming against the tide. The temptations are everywhere. I know my own heart, and what my inclinations are. I haven't discovered the secret of successfully overcoming this entitlist thinking even in myself but I know it's something I'm not sure I want to instill in my children.

Perhaps a return to frugality is what we need or just good o'l common sense to say to our children, if the need arises that somethings are not affordable within the family budget. Or that even if they are affordable, our children need to see them as privileges rather than rights.

Or maybe the key is just being a good role model... and we know how (impossibly?) difficult that is...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mealtimes Musings: Slow Cooker Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Taken from: Simon and Alison Holst's Year Round Recipes for Crockpots and Slowcookers

Using a 5-6 litre slow cooker this receipe makes a large 6-7 cm deep cake. Halve the mixture if you're using a smaller cooker (and use 2 small eggs)

For 1 Large Cake (12-20 Servings):
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup yoghurt, plain or flavoured
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
3 cups (300-350g) grated zucchini
1/2-1 cup chocolate chips or pieces (I had chocolate melts in the pantry and chopped them up with food processor)

Turn the slow cooker to HIGH and line with non-stick sprayed baking paper

Measure the oil and sugars into a food processor or beat with an electric mixer to combine. Add the eggs and beat or process until light and creamy looking. Add the vanilla and yoghurt and mix well.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into the food processor or mixing bowl. Add the spices and then mix just enough to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared slow cooker, sprinkle the surface with the chocolate chips, then cover and cook for about 2 hours on HIGH or until the centre feels firm and a skewer comes out clean. The cooking time may vary from 90 minutes to 2 1/2 hours, depending on the size and model of the slow cooker, and the moisture content of the zucchini.

When the cake is cooked, remove the lid and lift out the cake -- still in the slow cooker bowl -- and leave to cool for 20-30 minutes before carefully inverting the bowl onto a rack to cool completely. Cut when cold. Store in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

Monday, May 17, 2010

7 Year Old Girl Singing Amazing Grace

Vibrant and heartfelt.

Learning to Say "No"

I used to think that the only reason I had so much trouble saying "no" to things was because I cared too much. To a large extent, I did care. A lot. I was schooled single-mindedly in the art of caring by my uber active, uber practical parents. It was drilled into me from a young age that church life is not a spectator sport and I saw my parents live it to the max. Hence, I've been a lifelong church volunteer and I've done everything from washing dishes to teaching Sunday School to organizing church events. My own observation has always been that the harvest is plentiful and the labourers are few and it's always baffled me that people can attend church week in, week out and not latched onto the Apostle Paul's teaching regarding participation in the church.

All through the years, there's been a significant part of me that has been arrogant enough to believe that I can make up for the slothfulness of others until... of course, I crash... and burn out. This was the norm despite a nagging suspicion that I was taking on far more than I should ...  Result: I devolve into an unholy bundle of nerves, terrible to live with, yet I continue to perpetuate this pattern with a kind of pathetic glee.

Lately, I've become better able to make sense of this insane cycle of self-inflicted, painful do-gooderism... now that I'm saying "no" a lot more... and now that I'm standing on the outside of this phenomenon and seeing it unravel in others.

Apparently you have to have a certain temperament to succumb to this kind of preening... creative, energetic and highly motivated. And underlying all that, a grandiose vision that you can change the world. None of those qualities are bad in and of themselves but if one lacks a certain ... wisdom... it can be a problem.

At the bottom of this is the Devil's problem... pride... I can't speak for others but I know my own proclivities. It is flattering when others tell you that they need you... that they think highly of you... at least enough to ask for your help. It's nice to be asked, it's great to be wanted and  when everything turns out well... it's so good to get that pat on the back. Soon you develop a reputation... everyone knows that you're capable or trustworthy that you'll get it done well... and everyone knows that if you want something done, you give it to a busy person.
Before I think it through and refer to my diary... I utter the unthinkable "yes" and the mind starts chugging away full speed ahead.

That's why I have trouble saying "no". With all my show of modesty, deep down I think I am indispensible.

But the beauty of having children is that you're forced to say "no" to some things because sooner or later you realize that you cannot be everywhere at the same time. You have to choose... and because I'm their only mummy and I'm not completely selfish, little by little, they take precedence over everything else.
Making choices in favour of the children, however, isn't always gratifying... they don't always seem to appreciate "what you've done for them". Thus, one develops a certain kind of humility. The kind of humility that comes from sleep deprivation, changing nappies, cleaning up vomit, picking up food scraps and pushing a screaming child through the supermarket checkout. Because a screaming, hungry child doesn't really care if mummy has a Masters degree in English literature or that she spearheaded  a church event. The priorities of that child are far more visceral.

These days I'm more or less inclined to say "no". If I want to live to the ripe old age of 45 and retain my sanity in the mean time, it's a foregone conclusion. The big surprise though, is I'm okay with it... It's weight off my shoulders that I don't have to prove myself and mostly it's quite a relief to know that the world will continue to turn without my help.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Film Talk 16.5.10 What's Coming Soon

I'm not sure what it is with Hollywood and remakes. But the worst kind seems to be remakes of popular television shows. You have to give them credit though, for persisting despite the fact the great majority have been complete duds. And for good reason.
With their track record of pillaging the past, it was only a matter of time that they would turn their attention to the 80s hit, "The A-Team", which incidentally, is one of my childhood favourites. Looking at the trailer, I'm vaguely optimistic... it does seem to be made in the spirit of the original. However, as much as I admire Liam Neeson, it's mind-bending to imagine anyone else but George Peppard as Hannibal Smith smugly declaring, "I love it when a plan comes together."

It's difficult to know, looking at this trailer what the new Robin Hood is all about. It looks kinda arty... beautifully shot, obligingly medieval with the usual paraphernalia... plus a respectable body count... Still, it begs the question, what is the story about? I'm scratching my head, hoping that the film is better than it looks... Crowe and Blanchett are terrific actors... and I'm largely drawn to this flick because of them.

I don't mind Matt Damon... he's been in a few good things. Unlike most people, I thought he was miscast as Bourne but the films were decent enough that it didn't really matter all that much.
He's in a new flick with Emily Blunt, which looks to have an intriguing plot. The film, The Adjustment Bureau, is based on yet another Philip K Dick story. Emily Blunt, whom I liked a lot in The Young Victoria, is the second biggest selling point of this film for me. Young Matt, however, looks extremely uncomfortable in the trailer... almost as if he's been compelled by an outside force to twist his largish physique into a Victorian corset.

Crafty Moments: Handmade Cards #2

Well, I'm emerging temporarily from my self-imposed card-making exile to do a few internet things. Pity it takes me a long time to get one completed to my satisfaction but alas, I like variety and on a utilitarian note, I don't have sheets and sheets of the same kind of patterned or plain cardstock. Besides, it feels too much like homework doing the same o'l same o'l.

My craft table has morphed several times from disaster area to unuseable to manageable back to disaster area.

I'm a bit of a hoarder... having accumulated a whole range of craft items over the last 14 years. Now that I've jumped back on that horse (in a manner of speaking), I think I realise that there's not much point in letting the stuff lie dormant, collecting dust. All this started because I was trying to give someone a bit of pleasure... whether it was me or someone else.
I had a vague notion that DD#1 was going to inherit all my junk, but I've never really encouraged her to use any of it in the past for fear of ruining the really good stuff. It's ridiculous I know... Talk about being irrational.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lena Horne and Stormy Weather

In our footloose and fancy free days... circa BC (Before Children), the husband and I used to attend the Brisbane International Film Festival fairly regularly. As I'm not beyond a bit of shameless name dropping, I will also mention that we were in the same room as Kevin Spacey one year while he was promoting Albino Alligator.

At the risk of sounding highly immodest, I didn't do too bad a job picking films from reading synopses and one year, we hit the jackpot with a musical featuring an all-black cast. It was the title that caught my eye... Stormy Weather... named for the song, undoubtedly.The acting was nothing special... but the MUSIC... the dancing... was eye popping stuff. The cast included Lena Horne, Dooley Wilson, Fats Waller, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, Nicholas Brothers -- a veritable who's who of African American entertainers.

Lena Horne passed away on the 9 May at the age of 92.  She had a long career in music and was involved in the Civil Rights movement. For more on her life in movies and music look here.

This is my favourite part of the same film:

Before Fred and Gene, there was the Nicholas Brothers...

Crafty Moments: Handmade Cards

In the last few days, I've been making cards for a fundraiser and so I haven't had much time to do much real blogging. My makeshift craft table looks like a mad professors lab...

I took this photo earlier this morning. The table now looks like a disaster area.
The fundraiser that I'm involved in will be held next Saturday, 22 May.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Crafty Moments: Sun Catcher Mobile

You know, I'm not even sure if that's what it's called (it was pretty noisy and it was difficult to hear what was going on) but it does a fantastic job reflecting light wherever you happen to hang it. We've put ours in the patio temporarily... the husband doesn't want another web trap or us encouraging the local spiders set up shop so close to the house. So we'll see how long it before we'll have to move it into the girls' room.

The 9 year old attends a Girls' Brigade group at the local Baptist church and last night they had a special Mother's/Grandmother's Night. Luckily for me, the featured activity was craft-related and for a clueless clot like me, it was thankfully all a matter of assembling and gluing.

What is a Mother's Night without food, right?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mother's Day at Victoria Point

The lovely thing about living in Southeast Qld is that there are so many parks and beaches to hang out at. My in-laws organized for us to go to the Thompson St Esplanade/Beach at Victoria Point for a Mother's Day afternoon tea. Better still, there was a well-equipped playground for the kiddies to run around and go berserk over.
Talk about windy. My hair wildly slapping against my face despite my best efforts to exert control. I had to get my jacket out of the car after about 20 minutes and another 15 minutes later, my nose started to leak...
That's the kind of relationship I've had with my nose for as long as I can remember having one.

The kiddies had a lot of fun playing with their cousins and I had a lot of fun walking around taking pictures.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day Thoughts

Reading my blog, you probably harbour the strange idea that I don't enjoy my children that much. Well... you'd be... not right.
Although it's against the grain to gush over the girls, I do appreciate them from on the macro to the quantum level. They've changed my life in ways that I am only beginning to fully appreciate but mostly they've taught me about reality.
As the story goes, I was born an idealist... a dreamer... a lover of books... an escapist to far away places where I was the heroine of my stories, captain of my fate. My mind seldom stops which is probably why that as a grown up I'm paying for it with sporadic insomnia and broken sleep.
When I went to  university, I found my niche... I studied the history of ideas, I read great novels and learnt to write. More importantly I met a wonderful man that I liked and thought he was someone that I could spend my life with. But great as it all was, I lived in a bubble... a dream within a dream... and I didn't feel like needed to grow up.

When I turned 30, I had my first child... that's when my bubble burst. For the first time, I had to grow up... there was no fairy tale... there was just bloodsoaked breastfeeding, tears, and dirty nappies. Suddenly I had to smell the earthiness of the world around me and I didn't like it all that much. Such fragility... and so dependent... and so incomprehensible at times.
For a time I fought it... why couldn't I go back to how things were... but seeing a precious new life growing before my very eyes I now understood that I had entered a new season... although I was too much of a child still to see what that would mean. It wasn't just a paradigm shift, it was a global earthquake, with the plates below my feet re-adjusting themselves and the continents in my world were being remade.

I became more melancholic than I had been... but God was determined that I should learn to give unconditionally... so he gave me an extrovert. A child with a sunny disposition, with no fear of giving and demanding affection... She loved the people around her unabashedly and she taught me to love them too.

After years of ahhming and ahhing... I finally decided that two would be better than one. And 3 years on... I can say that, in spite of the daily morning sibling battles and the hyperactivity, I have been proven right.

Having children too has brought me into the world where many others live. I've made many new friends, and
I've had new opportunities to serve now that I've come to know many other like-minded mums. I thank God for MOPS and what that has meant for my own parenting and for extending my sphere of influence.

The year I turned 37, my mother left us for heaven. She had been a rock in my life. My mothering world had been more tolerable because of her. Her departure changed my life again forever. But this time it was the children that saved me from plunging in to the depths. For them, I gained courage... for their sake, I felt compelled to move on... to become half the mother that my own mother was. DD #1 would remember grandma fondly but No.2 would never really know her.

When my oldest turned 8, I realised how much I missed my mother's wisdom in bringing up a child. I thought too that when I had a school aged child, that things would be easier... but it hasn't been. With mounting pressure to try and solve a whole multitude of issues, I made the difficult choice of leaving a job that I loved to become a better mother to a child struggling with mathematics and classroom etiquette. This is reality... we have to make choices... life is made so much more complicated when there's so many more to think through.

In the past fifteen months, I have really come to understand the awesome responsibility of raising children into adults. I have come to realise that if I don't champion on behalf of my children, no one else will. Mothering is more than bringing children into the world or even providing the everyday necessities and occasional luxuries. Mothering is a stewardship... a divine calling... to train children into adults. Everyday I remind myself of this simple truth:

If I don't do it... no one else will.

And that truth, more than anything else, brings me crashing back down to earth with a thud.

Book Review: The Difficult Child Part 1

(I anticipate that this will be the first of a series of reviews on this book)

I don't read that many parenting books. I'm not sure why. I have a vague sense that I probably should but then there are so many interesting books out there that I tend to avoid self-help screeds. Plus I know a genius child health nurse parenting mentor that I regularly badger with questions. Perhaps for a few years now I haven't had that sense of desperation that drives people to seek answers... that is, until quite recently.  Still, I've read a handful of parenting books in the last 9 nine years and all of them have been helpful in varying degrees. But I've never experienced so many light bulb moments as I have with The Difficult Child.

[Update: It's an unfortunate title really, because I think, as YN says below, that every parent could really benefit from reading this book. It's a very practical behaviour modification resource.]

It isn't even that everything in the book is earthshatteringly new but the notion that one should parent according to temperament is not something I've heard a lot about or thought much about. While the Love Languages series is terrific and has at its heart sound principles of relating to those closest to you, it doesn't necessarily deal with a specific kind of child. A child who doesn't quite respond to the usual parenting tricks. This is where Stanley Turecki's book comes in.

To understand the premise of the book, it is crucial to engage with the simple but insightful questionnaire that forms the basis for the author's approach. I have reproduced it in full here and linked to Turecki's website.

FAMILY QUESTIONS          Answer “YES” or “NO”
1. Do you find your child hard to raise?
2. Do you find the child's behavior hard to understand?
3. Are you often battling the child?
4. Do you feel inadequate or guilty as a parent?
5. Is your marriage or family life being affected by the child?
The headings below identify possibly difficult areas of your child's temperament (his or her innate makeup). Rate your child, in an overall way, on each item, using this scale:
0 = No problem (never present or just a little)
1 = Moderate problem (sometimes present)
2 = Definite problem (often present)
3 = Extreme problem (nearly always or always)
Rate from 0 to 3 

HIGH ACTIVITY LEVEL: Restless, squirmy, fidgety; always into things, "hyper," makes you tired; "ran before he walked"; easily overstimulated; trouble sitting still or playing quietly; "motormouth"; hates to be confined; easily gets wild or "revved up."
IMPULSIVITY: Acts without thinking; quick hot temper, easily frustrated; impatient, excitable; interrupts, calls out, doesn't await turn; grabs or pushes; can lose con­trol and become aggressive; can suddenly take off~
DISTRACTIBILITY: Has problems focusing and paying at­tention, especially if not really interested; trouble fol­lowing instructions; doesn't "listen," tunes you out, daydreams; disorganized, forgetful.
HIGH INTENSITY: Loud voice; forceful, overwhelming; strong emotions whether miserable, angry or happy.
IRREGULARITY: Unpredictable body rhythms; can't tell when he'll be hungry or tired, resulting in conflicts over meals and bedtime; wakes up at night; erratic toilet habits.
NEGATIVE PERSISTENCE: Very strong-willed, stubborn; goes on and on nagging, whining, or negotiating if wants something; relentless, won't give up, wears you down; gets "locked in"; may have long tantrums.
LOW SENSORY THRESHOLD: Physically, not emotionally sensitive; highly aware of color, light, appearance, texture, sound, smell, taste, or temperature (not neces­sarily all of these); "creative," but with strong and sometimes unusual preferences that can be embarrass­ing; bothered by bright lights and loud noises; particu­lar, picky; clothes have to feel or look right; doesn't like the way many foods look, smell, or taste; feels too cold (or too hot) when no one else does.
INITIAL WITHDRAWAL: Shy and reserved with new adults and/or children; doesn't like new situations and unfa­miliar settings; holds back or protests by crying, cling­ing, or tantruming if forced to go forward.
POOR ADAPTABILITY: Has trouble with transition and change of activity or routine; inflexible, notices minor details; gets used to things and won't give them up; can want the same clothes or foods over and over; "creature of habit"; even after initial response takes a long time to adapt.
NEGATIVE MOOD: Serious, doesn't show pleasure openly; not a sunny disposition.
FAMILY “YES”        CHILD                        CONCLUSION
   0-1                    +    4-7 points              =    Some difficult features
   2-3                    +    8-14 points            =    Difficult child
   4-5                    +    15 or more points   =    Very difficult child

I experienced my first light bulb moment when I completed this questionnaire some weeks ago. The 9 year old scored very highly in the High Intensity, Distractibility and Low Sensory Threshold areas which caused me to recall various incidents during her childhood which had completely bewildered us. Her distractibility I've already blogged about but in the area of low sensory threshold, another penny dropped.
Once while she was about 4, my parents and I took her to see the Chinese New Year festivities at a local shopping centre. Everytime a dancing lion waltzed past us, she clutched onto me in sheer terror for her life. During her preschool year, her teacher told me later that the 9 year old, then about 5, had to be taken out of the Chinese New Year festivities and into the principal's office because she was utterly terrified by loud noises accompanying the dances. Rubbish trucks would drive past our home and she would cry and cower in fear. Same thing every time we turned on the vacuum cleaner -- she would take off like a rabbit into another part of the house and close the door behind her. I've also come to see the rationale behind her incessant blinking with flash photography and her inability to pose for photos without a great deal of discomfort in the sunlight.

The truth is, I never realised that any of this was related to her make-up. I thought she was just being oddly "difficult" (a kink) for the sake of being difficult. I think I needed to know that this was something I had to work around rather than try to fight at every turn. Reading this book has reminded me that behaviour modification is as much important for parents as it is for children.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Now Showing: When in Rome

When in Rome is a ridiculous, slapstick rom com that has one thing in it's favour, it is joyfully quirky despite its conventional storyline. The story has a madcap twist on the 1954 classic, Three Coins in a Fountain, in which three American expatriates pining for romance put their fate into the hands of the famous Fontana de Trevi, each tossing a coin in the hope of finding the man of their dreams.
This most recent version sees successful curator, Beth (Kristen Bell) heading off to Rome to attend her younger's sister's wedding. At this wedding, Beth meets Nick (Josh Duhamel), a groomsman and the two hit it off straightaway. A misunderstanding occurs and Beth wanders away from the wedding party and into the Fontana di Amore. Beth, disappointed about her romantic prospects and wallowing in a drunken stupor wades into the fountain and steals 4 coins and a poker chip from the fountain in her attempt to "save" these deluded creatures from falling in love. Unbeknownst to her, the fountain really does have magical powers and the effect of stealing the coins leads 4 perhaps 5 men to pursue her with terrifying ardour all around New York. Much of the action doesn't actually take place in Rome. But Rome is the catalyst or more specifically, the Fountain of Love from which all of Beth's woes begin.
Much of the film focuses on Beth's indecision and dwadling. She does like Nick but she fears that his affections for her are not genuine but merely the result of a spell cast over her suitors. There's a wonderful sense of fun weaving all through it and all the more so because the people in it don't take it or themselves too seriously. And on a personal note, I've always wanted to visit the Guggenheim Museum and now at least I've been there vicariously.

The execution is balmy, no question about that. But Bell and Duhamel rise above the happy-ever-after formula and the slapstick contrivances with their exuberant performances. Well, if I hadn't been a fan of Josh Duhamel before seeing this movie, I am now. His good looks aside, he is a fine actor and his chemistry with Kristen Bell is palpable. Obviously this isn't going to set the world on fire or win any awards. Nonetheless, I've been astonished by the drubbing that the film has received from film critics and the the bad rating on IMDB.

Or it's just that underneath my cynical demeanour, I'm too easily pleased.