Alphabet Soup

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Last year we had a dream run with Magic’s first school teacher. We watched her blossom under the warmth, care and guidance of someone who knew and delighted in all of the little quirks and special things about who Magic was. She was busting to read and write when she came home, she became more confident and she missed her teacher on the holidays. This was a miracle for us. It was a hectic first year of marriage of which we jumbled our way through, but for Magic, the year was a triumph.

This year Magic has struggled.

While we successfully made changes to create a more balanced and enjoyable life, Magic’s progression with literacy took a nosedive. Apparently it is common for children to regress academically a little after the summer, but she did not pick up. She became resistant to practicing any form of autonomy when it came to reading and writing. I would volunteer to read with the children in her class and was shocked at how ‘far ahead’ many of her classmates were, whilst Magic stagnated. She just would not even try. It was baffling. Her teacher expressed concern, told us to do more at home and said she thought she had learning difficulties, which she wanted her to get her tested for. This sent me into a spin.

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Thanks for the tips, but I’m already an expert.

Firstly, I did the thing that all well meaning, but not necessarily constructive mothers do. I blamed myself. Then, I helpfully heaped an extra measure of guilt and failure on, because I am an English teacher. It often seems that whatever your profession, you will face a personal experience of the area you are supposed to have some expertise in and find yourself floored. I suspect this is life teaching us to be human.

Anyway, this reactive cocktail led to a series of anxious encounters between myself, Magic and her take-home reader. As, naturally, my child’s refusal to read a simple sentence, I can jump, meant that I had failed as a parent and a teacher and my existence was therefore meaningless.

Obviously, I had not read enough to her in the womb or taught her the alphabet as early as I should have. Clearly studying, working and being both Mum and Dad to her for the bulk of her life, along with all of the recent changes had taken their toll. Finally that big night out I had before I knew I was pregnant was coming home to roost. She was doomed and it was because of me…

That emotional chamber within, entitled “Mothering Department” was working around the clock to get this thing nutted out and some of the responses were desperately irrational. You get that.

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Fortunately, I quickly figured out that holding up my child and peering into her like a mirror, then having my ego crushed when I did not see an exact replica of myself at the same age, with all the things that made me feel okay and special (such as praise for my academic ability) was in fact not helpful or realistic and a rather unhealthy manifestation of emotional fusion, I changed tact.

The words of the prophet Kahlil Gibram echoed in my mind;

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Children are wonderful teachers.

Magic is in fact her very own person. Which is to be celebrated. She has her own unique needs and strengths. How could I help her express them?

This became my quest.

I diligently sought the expertise of Dr.Google. I talked – and listened to a lot of people. Teachers, psychologists, welfare coordinators, other mothers old and new, and Magic herself.

Magic did not have a lot to say. Her behavior told the story. She was demonstrating regression in a number of areas. Her sleep was disturbed. She was having nightmares and wanting me like she was an infant again. She was flighty and demanding. Magic was highly anxious. What on earth was going on?

This resistance to reading and writing seemed like the tip of the ice-burg.

Never-the-less, I continued tackling the literacy stuff head-on and it proved to be very pivotal. The key ingredient to my strategy for improving Magic’s reading and writing?

Love.

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Whilst I began unpicking some of Magic’s issues, I found a book by Paul Jennings, a popular children’s author. It was entitled ‘The Reading Bug… and how you can help your child to catch it‘. There were many gems within, but the one that struck home was the idea that reading to or with your child is an act of love.

Without words you are saying, ‘I am not washing the car, reading the paper or watching the news. I am sitting here with you, reading a story about a little dog whose family don’t recognise him when he gets dirty. I am enjoying the fellowship of this magic moment. You are the center of my world…. This act of love forms an association between the child and books. The word book brings pleasure. The feel, look and smell of books is forever linked to the feelings of warmth, security and love. You have started a lifelong love affair between a child and reading.”

Reading needed to be entwined with love and connection – not struggle. We were going up the wrong path by pushing through her reader every night. Jennings says, “Make sure the word book gets as big as an emotional response as birthday“. Heck yes!

It made me reflect on my own childhood (helpfully this time). How did I come to love books?

It was my mum curling up in bed with my sister and I, reading us into another world with her soft and expressive voice. It was visits to the library. It was my Dad’s noisy praise after I read my first novel. It was the joy of reading to my toys. The reward of getting a picture book my friends and I wrote on fairies put in the library. The pride of helping my sister to write her first poem. It was curling up on the holidays in New Zealand with novels, fairy tales and Reader’s Digests from my Grandfather’s bookcase and having the time to devour them. It was the clever poems he sent us for our birthdays and the funny stories he told us, whilst we sat with him on his lazy boy. It was absolutely the emotional connection. Books became a haven.

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Books to me are as nourishing as a warm soup on a winter’s day. So that is what I focused on giving to Magic. A kind of metaphysical alphabet soup.

We skipped her reader for a good month. No use pushing the proverbial up hill. We hit the library once a week and brought home a stack of new books for me to read with her. Her choice. I made colourful special pin up sheets and snap cards of commonly used sight words. I sat with her between my legs, all snuggled up close and we went through them. There was praise and stickers. Every small victory celebrated. I made a travel diary for our trip to Thailand and helped her write her own story. I downloaded the audio version of Andy Griffiths’, The Day My Bum Went Psycho. Knowing it would appeal to Magic’s wicked sense of humour. And when I run out of fresh picture books, I read whatever is on hand. The night before last, it was a travel brochure about Rio De Janeiro.

Progress has seemed slow and, at times painful, however we have noticed a shift. Not only does Magic delight in story time at night, but her confidence with reading independently has gradually improved.

Interestingly this shift has coincided with a change of classroom teacher. As the year progressed, we observed that her previous teacher had a rather ‘chilly nature’ and seemed to have a knack for discipline, but little else. I was so busy blaming myself, that I neglected to question the person she spends the bulk of her productive waking hours with. There is more to say about that, but I’ll keep it simple by saying her new teacher is wonderfully warm and cuddly, approachable, funny and encouraging. Magic bounces out of class again. The classroom is filled with colour and noise and the kids have been told it’s ok to laugh (yes, I know!). Magic has been talking a lot about how much she loves, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which her new teacher is reading to them. She is also sleeping. She can focus more. She is asking to read her reader.

I am convinced her new teacher has added a pile of wholesome metaphysical vegetables to the broth.

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Okay, maybe not the asparagus. He looks a little off colour.

As I am learning, it takes a village to nourish a child’s passion for reading. So, do me a favour, grab the nearest child in your life, snuggle up and enjoy sharing the reading of a story today. It is a gift that will strengthen bonds and help them grow into healthy, imaginative and confident members of society, who know they have a place.

After all, metaphysical alphabet soup is not made up of stock and ABC pasta, it is made of stories… and the A-Z of Tender Loving Care that goes with sharing them.

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DIY Village

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mOther’s Day

I found you
in a valley
in a thicket
filled with briars.

It cut to take hold of you
and unravel you from the tangle;

a tiny shiny thing,
a glimmering seed,

You

took root in my heart,
opening a dormant chamber
filled with the music and mirrors
of life itself.

The Aurora Borealis
lit night in full spectrum,
as you grew into
flesh apart from mine.

Our umbilical connection remaining as
a guiding star of reason
beyond any doubt, or fear,
to forge a better way
to a better place;

To make you shine,
Always.

Jesus versus Chocolate

On Easter Sunday we discovered we had been robbed. Our house was broken into by a man – we know this because he left his dirty big boot print on the couch under our window. He, literally, stole through the house, trashed our bedroom, collected a camera, the little precious jewelry we had; including heirloom pieces, my original engagement ring and the pearls my daughter, Magic wore on our wedding day. He took an iPod and… my new Macbook. He even let our pet bunny loose onto the street – which was sort of comical, being Easter Sunday and all.

One could almost link this occurrence as a response from the universe to my revolt at our love affair with things, particularly Apple things. It could be seen as some sort of challenge. We were probably just unlucky, but the timing has certainly made me think.

It is upsetting, disappointing and a little scary having someone invade your space and take your mementos and belongings for quick cash. Especially on a day when there is meant to be a holy reverence. But, let’s face it, Easter is, for the majority of Australians, more about consuming chocolate, than Jesus. We consume more easter eggs per capita than anywhere else in the world.

Most alarmingly, Easter, for my daughter is more about consuming chocolate than Jesus. Just like “the robber”, as she likes to call him, Easter has become more about what she will get than taking stock of the most significant event for the human soul in the time-space continuum. Events of 2000 or so years ago mean very little to her compared to cracking and sucking on that sweet brown goo found under the coloured tin foil. Who can blame her? It is tangible, tasty and she is seven. And, for some reason chocolate crucifixes haven’t taken off in the same way as Cadbury bunnies and eggs.     

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Hmm, can’t see these catching on.  They just don’t seem to have that ‘cute’ factor.

With the benefit of hindsight, I realise I have made a massive mistake. I introduced the Easter Bunny and his mate Santa Claus, with little question. My parents did it for us. It seemed mean spirited not to do it. It was about the “magic” and it was kind of fun to put out the stockings, balloons, port, shortbread and reign deer food. It was sweet to watch Magic delirious with excitement in the mornings on an Easter Egg hunt.

That was until it recently became an unhealthy obsession for her. She could not sleep on Easter Saturday, as she anxiously gawked wide-eyed around the dark room, looking for a sign of Easter Bunny. For weeks leading up to Christmas, all she could think about was Santa. With the irony being that she doesn’t actually like Santa. She is petrified of him. She just wanted the goods. The questions were endless, too. The details we had to come up about Santa became more and more elaborate. Until, I found myself writing a long letter from Santa on Christmas eve, pointing her back to the fact that Jesus was the special reason for Christmas and that he was just a big fat man in a suit that didn’t really matter. Yeah, I know, Santa had to give cred’ back to Jesus. It is just not right.

I also found myself a bit annoyed at getting zero credit for the great gifts we gave with our hard earned money on Santa’s behalf. Magic would declare excitedly, “Santa got me a scooter…” and less enthusiastically, “Mummy got me a helmet”. Ok, so that was bad planning on my part. The point is, we have to phase them out. It’s time to go, mythical Fat Man and fanciful Fluffy Bunny.

The meaning has been lost. We need to change the focus.

On Easter Tuesday, my husband and I decided to pray about a bunch of stuff that is concerning us – something we don’t do nearly enough. During this time, my husband began to pray about the robbery. I was genuinely touched by his prayer and my admiration of him went just a little bit deeper in that moment. He did not ask that our things be found and returned to us or that burglar be caught. He prayed for the thief. For his life and for him to find a better way to exist as a human being. That was it.

*Pause*

Let’s just take that in for a minute… Rather than getting mad and asking God for justice – which was warranted, he prayed for mercy and for freedom for this person. Wow. That sends shivers into the deepest recesses of my being. And, well, it reminds me of something. Of someone. I’m not saying my husband is Jesus – although, to my amusement, physically, he bears a remarkable resemblance. It reminds me of what happened at Calvary. Jesus had pretty much been shat on by all; kicked, beaten, broken, stabbed, ridiculed, nailed up to bleed to death – despite doing nothing but promoting good and what were his last words?

“Father, forgive them…”

This profound, even divine shift in focus, from retribution to grace, compassion and forgiveness, is what Easter celebrates. That is what Jesus did.

This is is who Jesus is and what chocolate will never be.

…….

What do you do to make Easter meaningful? What are your feelings about the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus? Whatever your religious persuasion, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

iCost

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Last year my teaching position was at a brand new public secondary college, which amongst its list of in-vogue boasts, became one of the first all iPad schools in Australia.

When I first met the principal in September 2010, he was toying with the idea of becoming an exclusively Apple school and rolling out the iPad. Thanks to my mac-head husband, he was impressed by the fact that I already owned one. An iPad1.

Needless to say, my little accessory helped me get the job, and, while everyone else waited for their devices to arrive, I was the hippest cat in school. Sadly, my fifteen minutes of cutting-edge-tech-geek-fame were over, just four short weeks after the school year began. iPad2 was launched. Overnight, my zippy little machine became a relic.

Two weeks ago, just another short year later, The New iPad hit stores.

Typically, there was a buzz around it all. Some Vietnamese bloggers managed to unwrap it and go viral with the footage, before Apple officially did. The clip had an uncanny resemblance of some of the golden ticket scenes from Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. In the same fashion, people were camped out, lining up around the block and smooshed against the glass of stores to get their latest Wonka tablet on Friday March 9.

“It’s amazing!”

“So beautifully packaged!”

“Such a fine piece of technology.”

“So intuitive.”

“And economical”

“Look how streamline it is!”

“The potential is incredible!”

Yes. Sure. I absolutely agree. But, there are some things about all of this iMania that really bother me.

Let’s start with the fact that, thanks to Apple, technology years have become like dog years. Similar rules apply. Like a dog, my 2-year-old machine is the equivalent of 24-years-old in human years. Oh and the bigger the dog or device, the quicker it ages. Continuing with the comparison, this means iPad1 would be ready to retire at 10 years of age. Hmm, I’ll be lucky to get another 2 years out of it.

So, thanks to Apple, technology years have become much, much shorter than dog years.

As an educator, it seems wonderful that students (in developed countries or privileged schools) are able to gain access to a one-to-one device for an affordable price. The potential is enormous. Just days ago, I was back sub’ teaching at my old school and I marvelled at how students could read, calculate, research, create, organise and play, all on something lighter than a textbook.  Wonderment aside, watching us encouraged to upgrade our devices sooner than we change a long-life light bulb, makes me very, very uneasy.

The question begs to be asked, what is the real cost of that illustrious little ‘i’ and all of its electronic friends?

I’ve done a little scratching around to find out…

The Human Cost

In May of last year, Lai Xiaodong and two of his colleagues paid for our beloved ‘i’ with his life in an explosion at an Apple factory in China. A New York Times article details this event along with a number of other perilously strenuous working conditions that violate human rights. These include pressure to work excessive overtime, exposure to hazardous toxins, cramped living conditions, under-aged labor, low wages and a blatant disregard for employee health. The aforementioned factory blast is not an isolated event, neither is the event of injury and death. Unfortunately there have been more than just accidental deaths occurring, this Sydney Morning Herald article lists concerns of the alarming amount of worker suicides, which have occurred as a result of the demands upon them.

As Wagstaff’s Time report points out, there is a deep irony in all of us sitting around smugly sipping fair trade coffee and tapping away on our iProducts. Not that these occurrences are isolated to Apple products, they are just insisting on being the stars of the show.

I sincerely hope that fighting for fair trade electronics can become as sexy as the crusade for fair trade chocolate and coffee beans has.

Speaking of sexy, do you remember that Lionardo DiCaprio movie, Blood Diamond? Remember it showed the way the innocent little rock that every girl in the West wants has caused enormous conflict and helped finance war in parts of Africa? Well, I know that ignorance is bliss, but similar atrocities are being financed by our love of electronic devices.

All the bells and whistles of our e-bits have not materialized from plastic and glass factories. They are created with minerals from the earth. Tin for the solder boards, tantalum for battery charging, tungsten for vibrating phones and even gold for conductivity and soldering.

KY3 highlights that the Eastern Congo is in a right mess because of the conflict caused by the demand for the minerals that go into all of our electronic devices.

The Environmental Costs

Where did all the dinosaurs go? Into the ground and that is exactly where our toxic laden dinosaur devices are going – well either that, or, like me you have a drawer full of them that you’re not really sure what to do with. The point is, they do not just vaporise. And they most certainly are not biodegradable. Levels of electronic waste are increasing at six times the rate of other domestic and industrial waste

Apparently just one Apple factory cranks out 1000 iPads a day. One Thousand. Per day.

Now, Apple runs a lot of factories. They pump out a lot of different products and then create a lot of new products to pump out and replace the one you just bought. Does your iPad or iPhone come with instructions of what to do with it when you upgrade in a year? Or are you supposed to know that intuitively, too? And what about all of that beautiful packaging? Is it, or can it be recycled?

For a cutting edge multi-billion dollar company operating in a world with serious environmental threats, these kinds of gaps are utterly irresponsible.

The Value Cost

Another concern around the rate at which new, widely accessible technology devices become available is what it does to our ability to truly value what we have. This is not a new issue. It has become progressively more ingrained in the fabric of society, since the 1950s, when the powers that be decided we needed to more consume stuff to make post-war society productive and positive. (See this fantastic expose on The Story of Stuff).

The speed at which new technology products have fed the marketing machine has accelerated this consumerism. New technology has also, by design made marketing more sophisticated, pervasive and allowed us to spend on impulse at the click of a button. It is fueling a frenzy of iWant, iGet. And we can get it, because, the price tag is low.

It is low, because someone else is paying.

What is unsettling is that, on the surface, all of our iTechnology nestles in so comfortably with some of our current highest ideals.

The iPad school I work at synonymously promoted it’s commitment to sustainability, social justice and helping create global citizens, along with it’s commitment to cutting edge technology. These notions are entirely relevant and appealing for parents trying to prepare children for life in the 21st century, but as we have seen, there are issues around the iProducts that mean the hidden costs of this technology is incongruent with these other high ideals.

Yet, there is something about Apple products that are still so utterly desirable. I have been, for the most part, completely sucked in. Judging by every second person that walks past fingering their iPhone, I am not alone. This is because some switched-on people somewhere over at Apple sat down and very cleverly packaged us an identity.

When we see an Apple product, we see relevance, intelligence, innovation, sophisticated simplicity, ease, beauty, creativity and uniqueness. What’s not to want about that? And it is probably more reliable than a relationship to boot; if there’s something wrong with it, you can just upgrade to the next glitch free generation.

How can we possibly value what we have, when it’s true cost is not reflected in its beautiful packaging or the dollar price we pay or the ease with which it is replaced?

In creating product platforms that promote social connectivity, responsibility for our ethical connectivity from the start to the finish of the supply chain needs to be taken seriously.  For the Apple identity to be authentic, we need more than an iPhone app listing Fair Trade t-shirt, cocoa and caffeine items. We need Apple to get their six figure earning sex-me-up think tank to bring a fair trade, sustainability action plan to the consumer table and activate it throughout the production cycle. Those of us that love their brand would be right on board. Otherwise Apple are merely marketing high-tech whitewashed tombs.

Taking Time

February 29 seems like good a day to get this blog on the road.

Otherwise known as a ‘Leap Day’, February 29 is an unusual little blip that occurs creating a ‘Leap Year’ – otherwise known as the year we hold the Olympics. February 29 is perhaps a date for which many of us give little thought toward, except maybe to wonder what it might mean if we were born on this day – how we might feel a little jibbed by our birthday being celebrated only once in every four years. Or otherwise, how we might be able to say we are technically only 10 years old when our 42nd birthday comes around. Which would be quite fabulous, actually.

The thing that I find particularly significant about this day is that we get an extra 24 hours up our sleeve for the year.  Ok, ok, I know, the complaint is that there are not enough hours in the day, not that we need more days in the year. Besides wouldn’t it be better to have our leap day as December 24.5, so we can get all our Christmas shopping done with time to spare?

Actually, what I like about February 29 is that it is possibly one of the only significant days in our calendars of which the markets haven’t pounced upon and created a bunch of plastic fantastic toys, trinkets and treats to convince us to buy.

It doesn’t mark anything like New Year’s Day or Easter or Valentines Day.  It marks something of which I find to be ever increasingly precious; Time.

Extra Time.

This is particularly precious to me, as recently, in order to grab some of this magical ‘time’ elixir, I took a knife and carved out a significant slab of schedule.

I quit my teaching job.

So, here I am, knife in one hand, bleeding career in the other, sanity slowly returning. Here I am on the one extra free day we get to blow, every four years.

I am here, taking the time.

Time to connect to the heart – matters of the heart. Time to explore the heart of matters, in the jumble and complexity of modern life that I find myself increasingly wrestling for peace with.

In the past two years I have gone from student solo Mum of a toddler, to fully qualified secondary teacher. I’ve met, dated, got engaged, wedded and began the adventure of marriage with a darling man – who travels regularly for his altruistic career.  To add to this daring cocktail, my daughter has started the brave new world of school. I knew some exciting things were arriving in my 30’s, but wow, I need to process the amaze and craze of the old, the new and the bamboozlement of doing things all inside out, upside down and back to front.

So, I’m taking the time to write this, my first entry, as the beginning of a little exploratory journey of meditative musings on things such as parenting, relationships, education, spirituality, creativity and living mindfully.  It’s always been a prayer of mine that all my broken bits would make something beautiful. I would love you to help by joining me as I take some time to make my mosaic.

Many thanks for taking some of your time to read my first ever Inside Out post.