Raising Girls

Call me a soppy old bag, but Steve Biddulph’s interview on the ABC brought tears to my eyes. If you have something to keep your hands busy, this is really, really, really worth listening to:

ABC Classic FM – Midday – Parenting author and educator Steve Biddulph

Not only does Steve have awesome taste in music, but he has a lot of awesome things to say. I was particularly inspired by:

1. The idea that if you subtract 12 from your teenager’s actual age, you will get their emotional development age. eg 13-12=1; 14-12=2 (o joy, the tantrums and self assertion stage revisited!)

2. Girls with involved fathers, who invest in their daughters the belief that they like hanging out with them, typically delay the age at which girls become sexually active by 2 years.

3. Steve is convinced he had Asperger’s as a teenager and jokes that he studied psychology in order to learn to talk to girls. He says Asperger’s differs from autism in that Aspies care what people think about them and crave friendship. They feel separated by a pane of glass from others in their efforts to connect with them and they can learn techniques to combat this. (Aren’t we all closet Aspies on the spectrum somewhere?)

Mild mannered, clearly speaking through a smile, Steve rails against the vampire marketers and psychologists that have targeted 8-year-old girls as easy fodder, along with those of us who dare to be unhappy with our unphotoshopped bodies.

A great interview. A great man who wants only greatness for our girls.

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Prevention is the best medicine

Once upon a time there lived a treasured and adorable Chocolate Point Siamese called Lord Claude Minkit.

Claude had a great life: his people took him on holiday; he had a big garden full of interesting smells and great sunbathing spots to hang out in with his BFF, HuckFinn The Stray; every day he got a plate of fresh kangaroo mince and just before bed, a bowl of teeth-cleaning pellets.

But Claude had a secret addiction that he hid from everyone, especially his people…

One day Claude went to see Dr Paul for his yearly vaccinations and check up. Dr Paul was pleased to see a happy and bright little fellow on the table. He took Claude’s temperature – normal – examined his teeth – immaculate – and felt his tummy. Hmmm, something was wrong. Dr Paul felt something large and hard that shouldn’t be there.

‘I don’t want to alarm you,’ Dr Paul told Claude’s mum, ‘but there’s a mass here that I need to x-ray.’

Despite being cross when his mum left him behind at the surgery, Claude behaved beautifully and lay quietly while he was x-rayed from different angles.

The films came out clearly, but they flummoxed Dr Paul. He’d never seen anything like the large mass that sat near Claude’s stomach. He took some blood samples and sent these off to be tested. The results came back inconclusive. He sent the x-rays to specialists for examination, but they too couldn’t say what the mass was.

We need to do some surgical exploration, Dr Paul decided.

Dr Diana did the operation. When she opened up Claude’s stomach, she found a long sausage something that appeared stripy.

Has he eaten a snake? she wondered.

When she removed the mass, Claude’s dark secret was revealed: for the seventeen months of his short life, he’d harboured a sneaky addiction to hair elastics and rubber bands. While his mum laughed at the way he danced and played with them, whenever anyone wasn’t looking, he’d eat one. These stayed in his stomach, winding around and around each other, and trapping grass and food so that eventually very little made its way into Claude’s colon.

Had Dr Paul not noticed the mass, Claude would have become a very, very sick cat and have suffered a great deal of pain. He was lucky that he went to the vet who caught it in time.

Like every good story, this one has a moral. The moral is not that everyone should cut their hair short, it is that no pet should ever, ever miss its annual check up.

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Proud to be a Bigot

Until today I’d never heard of Bernard Gayer. He has emerged from a swamp of anonymity as senate nominee for the Australian Party, heralding his presence by tweeting, ‘I wouldn’t let a gay person teach my child and I’m not afraid to say it.’

Bravo. I have every sympathy for Mr (aptly named?) Gayer (than what?)

I feel similarly.

I would not let a bigot teach my child. And I’m not afraid to say it.

Dear Mr Gayer

What’s it like, living in 1950?

I am so glad you are not a teacher.



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Stop. Think!

In the Australian news this morning: ‘Hundreds of Australian women are mutilating their genitals each year by having cosmetic surgery driven by pornography, gynaecologists say.’ (The Age.)

In the British News this morning: ‘A nurse has been found guilty of manslaughter after causing a baby’s death by botching his circumcision.’ (BBC News.)

I suspect many will pooh-pooh the first – I know I did: ‘How crazy is it to undergo surgery to improve the appearance of something very few people are going to see?’ / ‘How relevant are the aesthetics of a vagina?’ / etc.

I wonder how many will see the second story as just another version of the first?

I know I’m treading hallowed ground here, but as much as I care about people’s sensibilities, I care more about babies who are subjected unnecessary and painful procedures. Please put aside your holy book, if you have one, and think about it for a minute. Many of us believe it’s unthinkable to circumcise a girl. If so, why is it okay to do it to a baby boy?

We live in the twenty-first century. We have soap, we have water, I hope we have compassion. Isn’t it time to stop hurting kids for the sake of tradition? Is there really a huge difference between genital surgery for pornographic aesthetics or religious belief? Really?

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/national/health/genital-surgery-on-the-rise-doctors-20121214-2bfde.html#ixzz2F4eNWEMF; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-20733674

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Cruel kindness

HuckFinn is our garden stray. He is nothing special. A medium sized, medium pretty grey-and-white boy (although I believe grey is in nowadays, so possibly he could raise his medium prettiness status to Hot now). He’s been walking these streets since long before we came and is battled scarred and world-wise.

I’m terrified that one of our neighbours is going to report him to the pound one of these days and that he’s going to be picked up and given an immediate green dream. He’s never been, and never will be, anybody’s lap cat. In fact he won’t let a human anywhere close. Also he has tendencies that some non-cat lovers find unappealing: food theft and a drive to spend his cat seed at loud and long length in the wee hours.

But he has an indomitable spirit that I admire beyond telling. He has dug a niche for himself in the neighbourhood, despite receiving nothing by revulsion, and he is Lord Claude’s only friend. I feed him every day, trying to keep him here, rather than on the unfriendly streets, but the streets call him, and he is only a brief visitor, sometimes disappearing for over a week at a time.

Did I mention he is a warrior? Battle scars detract from his already compromised beauty, and he’s always gathering more. Today he’s on three legs and I’m very worried the one in the air is broken. How long before I have to trap him and take him to the vet, where I will, of course, have him desexed? I know the day’s coming, but when it does, that will be the end. He will never let me near again and my back yard will be minus a brave wanderer, Lord Claude minus his friend.

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My ghostly prostate

There is a reason you will never hear me whinging about my prostate. I’m sure you can guess what that is.

How I wish some politicians thought the same way.

Richard Mourdock, Republican Senate Candidate:
‘I struggled with it [abortion] myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.’

Todd Akin, one-time Republican Senate candidate:
‘If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.’

Roger Rivard, Wisconsin representative:
‘Some girls rape easy.’
(Apparently his good old dad advised him that consensual sex with some girls might become ‘rape’ after the fact.)

Gentlemen, you are very, very unlikely to be raped, you will never get pregnant and you are never going to have to decide whether to have an abortion.


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Do yourself a favour

I don’t make any claims to being the sharpest tool in the shed, but there’s enough battery juice in the old brain to make it work okay. All the same, there is stuff that I just don’t get; things that are irretrievably, inconceivably incomprehensible, like:

• How anyone could hurt another human being or animal
• How neighbours allow their relationships to deteriorate and continue living in loathing only metres from each other
• How divorcing parents use their children as weapons
• How the Twilight and Fifty Shades trilogies are best sellers, and yet so few of my reading friends have heard about Liane Moriarty’s books

I truly find it irretrievably, inconceivably incomprehensible that millions of readers waste their time on the schmaltzy zero personalities of Bella Swan and Anastasia Steele, whose literary lives drop gorgeous men, great wealth and awesome sex into their laps, but whose negligible efforts don’t generate personal growth or very much learning. I’ve read both trilogies (research, you know) and not once did I stumble upon a piece of moving prose or a moment of brilliance.

This morning I only wrenched myself out of bed and away from Liane Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot when my kindle ran out of battery. This is the second of her books I’ve read and I was equally entranced by The Last Anniversary.

If, like me, you just didn’t get Twilight or Fifty Shades, do yourself a favour and read something by Moriarty.

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Loving the backlash

I dunno about you, but I’m loving the taste of the recent tide of feeling that I’ve felt rising in cyberspace. I’m talking about things like:

I’m with Jennifer Livingston who took to task on air an emailer who called her fat and reminds us of what we really should be teaching our daughters about body image and self-esteem:

  • Julia Gillard going nuclear at Tony Abbott for his rampant hypocrisy, misogyny and sexism. I’m not a fan of Joooolya*. But neither am I of Tony and I took mean pleasure in watching the smile wiped off his smug face during the course of Jooools’s tirade.  It was with even meaner pleasure that I noticed his uncomfortable shifting from buttock cheek to cheek towards the end when he realised his political goose was getting distinctly charred.

    Do yourself a favour and if you haven’t already watched the footage, grab a cuppa and go here:

 I’m with Mrs Woog on this one. See http://www.woogsworld.com/2012/10/anyone-else-had-enough.html

[And, by the way on the subject of sexism: to those hoons who catcalled my twelve-year-old daughter from the safety of their car this week: shame on you! I know she’s pretty, but seriously, boys, she’s twelve! And if you don’t rein in your sexist, female objectification, I warn you: she’s one belt away from black and I’m going to teach her not to hold back in the face of such behaviour.]

*I find Joooolya’s stance on gay marriage and her self-awarded pay rise particularly bitter pills to swallow.

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Love me, love me not

I have just posted 73,000 words to a publishing house’s writing competition. I may as well have sealed myself in that super strong envelope for the yawning reader on the other end to pull apart, dissect and criticize inside and out. Because, unusually, this manuscript is about me.

The idea dawned last year, which was my year for memoir writing. (The one before that was the year of writing about farming; the one before that, Kenyans; the one before that, property.) Anyhoo, I wrote two ladies’ memoirs in 2011 and became tail-waggingly excited when I learned that there is an annual competition for such material. I could not, however, persuade either of the ladies to enter. Then I remembered that I’d written my own memoir of a sort…

Do any of you remember Australia News? It was a pre-Facebook, pre-blog, wanna-be-monthly (often quarterly) newsletter I sent to loved ones, updating them on our doings Down Under. Well that’s what I’ve submitted.

I feel as though I’m lying on a slab, naked, exposed to strangers. And I need them to love me. It’s different when it’s an article about renovating or fertilizer. It’s even different if it’s my novel. Not everybody’s going to warm to material that doesn’t do it for them. But this time the material’s me. And there’s 73,000 words of it, so the stakes are higher.

Love me: it’s shortlisted.
Love me not: it’s not.

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Mum: Wrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaagggggggggghhhhhhhhh! Who put a banana skin down the toilet???????!!!!!!!

R: It was me. Sorry. I was eating a banana on the loo this morning and I dropped the skin in by accident. I didn’t want to take it out, cos I’d done a wee, so I flushed it.

Mum: You cretin! I’ve been plunging this toilet all day, after QueenBee’s mammoth poo this morning.

R: Sorry.

Mum: Not good enough. You’re on cat box duty for a month. Sift it out! Don’t miss the corners. On Tuesday, you can empty and disinfect it. I’ll inspect it every day and if it’s not immaculate, you’re dead!

R: *mutters under breath* If one of the cats poos in it, I’ll kill it.

Mum: *fortissimo* If you touch one of my cats, you’re moving out!

QueenBee: If R leaves, I get his bedroom and all his toys!



Mum: Hello?

R: Hi. Mu-um, something happened at school today…

Mum: What?

R: I forgot to take some school library books back last year and today I got a letter *gulps* and … and … *starts to cry* they’ve given me $125 library fine, which I have to pay. *breaks down in tears*.

[R’s phone runs out of battery.]

Mum’s phone: beep beep beep

School secretary: Hello?

Mum: Hi, it’s Vicky. My son has just rung, beside himself, because he says he has $125 library fine. Who gave him that?

School secretary: I have no idea.

Mum: Well, could you please find out? I need to speak to them. My child is distraught.

School secretary: I’ll ring you back.

[Mum stamps around friend’s kitchen, cursing cretin teachers loudly. When she has wound herself into a state of abject fury, R arrives.]

Mum: Give me that letter! I’m going to eat whoever got you this upset for breakfast.

[R hands over letter.]

Mum: R!!!! This is a receipt for the $125 Dad and I gave towards the school library fund! It says fund, not fine!

R: Ooooooh!

School secretary: Hello?

Mum: Er, hi *brightly*. It’s Vicky again …

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