Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Own Personal Test for Aspergers

The funny thing about telling people you might have Aspergers is the reaction. 

Most people probably don't even know what it is, or what it means to have it, so you wouldn't get any reaction at all. 

These of course are not people you, as someone now almost officially diagnosed as slightly odd, would be talking to.

The people YOU are talking to have one of three reactions.

They either go, oh, but that sounds just like me.  And get really excited about the possibility of finally understanding themselves.

Or they go, but that sounds like me too, and aren't we all a bit that way, and it couldn't possibly mean anything.  And then take tests to prove they aren't as well.

The third group generally goes oh, yeah, that does sound like you.  Funny isn't it.  And then moves on.

Congratulations, you have just taken my unofficial Aspergers test. 

If you fall into group three you probably do NOT have Aspergers.

If you fall into group one, you could probably be diagnosed with Aspergers.  If you'd like.

If you fall into group two you are most likely very close to someone with Aspergers, whether you have it or not.  My guess is no, Laura, like I said.  Because if you did have it it would come as a relief to think you might.

The thing is that noone really knows what Aspergers is, or even IF it is.  Is it a form of autism?  Is it a disability?  Is it even something real?   Or just a personality type?

Van Gogh.  Michelangelo. Mozart.  Beethoven.   Newton.   Edison.  Einstein.  Darwin.  Hans Christian Anderson.  Jane Austen.   Mark Twain.  Alfred Hitchcock.  George Orwell.  Henry Ford.  Hans Asperger.  And Tony Attwood.  (A leading authority on Aspergers who lives and practices psychology here in Brisbane.)  Then you get Michael Jackson.  But you also get Bill Gates.

All people who exhibit signs of having or having had Aspergers.

Although Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven, and oh heck, just about every famous writer, artist or musician from the past also showed traits attributable to bipolar disorder.  Yes, Michael too, poor dear.

I have a lot of books on this disorder as well since THAT was my initial diagnosis at the clinic in Germany. 

All things considered, I'd rather have Aspergers.

Saying I have Aspergers answers so many questions I have always had about myself and about the world around me.  Mostly, like, why the heck is everyone else behaving in such an illogical and unproductive manner?  Why am I causing offense by saying it like it is?  Or trying to correct things and make them better.

And often, why am I the only one trying to make this better?  Why am I the only one this bothers?

Why am I trying so hard?

I was voted "most likely to show up late for an exam" in veterinary school.  I like it.  It shows I left an impression.  I was a mess.  But people still liked me enough to show up and vote! 

There was no vote.  And I wasn't the only mess in vet school.  But people have generally managed to see through my mess and find something worthwhile underneath.  I thank them for that.  I wouldn't have had the patience to be my friend.  (Oh.  Deep psychological insight there, right?!)

I was drinking.  I was partying.  I was everywhere.

I was also cowering in the downstairs bathrooms, crawled up in the fetal position, too anxious to make it to clinics on time. 

I was curled up in bed, sobbing hysterically, because I couldn't face the thought of being trapped in that building, surrounded by slabs of concrete, surrounded by West Philly, surrounded by the poverty and violence, the anonymous apathy of a big city.

I was trapped in my guilt and shame and inadequacy.  Because this was my dream and I was failing at it.

Or worse yet, because maybe this wasn't my dream after all.  But I didn't have the strength or self-acceptance to follow another one.

I got straight A's out at New Bolton Center, the large animal unit.  It was out in the country.  And I could walk around the horses and cows and feel the heat of their bodies and the warm breath of their muzzles on my hands and face.  I could lay down in fields of  tall grass and noone would know I was there.

The dogs and cats in their cages didn't elicit anything from me.  I couldn't bring myself to care.  Academically or otherwise.  Just cages.  And deadness. 

I thought I was weak and worthless.

But it took more strength than you know just to uncurl from my fetal position in the downstairs bathroom and force my legs and my body up those stairs.  Two hours late.  And then pretend I didn't care.  And party on all night in the hopes it might help me get up the next morning to face the same thing.

Do I have Aspergers?  I don't know. 

Am I brilliant?  Probably not.

But it helps to put those brilliant names onto a list and consider that I might have something in common with them.

Because the alternative is the empathy I felt for the mentally ill on the streets of Philadelphia.

Congratulations.  If you have never found yourself curled up in the fetal position on the bathroom floor you probably don't have Aspergers.  Or bipolar disoder.  Or depression and anxiety.

But you do know someone who probably does.  Me.

And its really not as bad as it sounds now that they have a name for it. 

Because the journey of self discovery is hard enough without a road map.

How nice to at least be given a starting point.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Good Intentions! (Belated Kids with Santa Photo)

Ryan, Matthew, Ian and Santa, Aidan and Andrew

Christmas in Queensland.  I keep promising to post the photos.  Mostly because my parents dont believe Damon and I are still together since we have not a single shot of the two of us.  Uh yeah, mom, it took about ten minutes to get Matthew to take a decent shot two weeks ago.  Andrew's were terrible.  Ryan had Ian.  And Aidan...oh darn, in the meantime we can't even FIND Aidan!

What about posting the photo?  Uh yeah, ma, I'll get to that.  Right after I send you Ian's baby photo.  I'm on it. 

And yes, those are my kids in bathing togs posing with Santa.  When in Oz!

Truth is we are having a fabulous time.  Christmas here is so different from anywhere else.  It falls in SUMMER!  Shona's fantasies about a white Christmas aside, Christmas in summer is the best there is.  We have the concerts in the parks.  Christmas light displays so big you get out of the car and walk around them.  In pajamas and bare feet.  We have Christmas barbeques.  Pool parties.  The beach.  Some more barbeques.  Amusement parks and water parks.  Oh and did I mention the barbeques?  And the beach?

Look, I can see it isn't everyone's idea of a perfect Christmas.  But it sure is mine.

We have the end of school and end of school fun combined with Christmas fun.  We have the summer holidays.  It's like all the good stuff all wrapped into one like, like, well, like a giant Christmas present really!

We're off to Brisbane today, to spend time in the lagoon.  In the middle of the city.  Swimming.

Will have to settle for a beer instead of a Gluehwein though.  And sunscreen and sunhats and sunshirts in place of scarves, hats and mittens.  Togs instead of snowsuits.

It's tough going, this Christmas in Queensland.  But we're doing the best we can with what we've got!


Friday, December 14, 2012

Our Australian Christmas Greeting 2012

We have been in Australia for just over two years now and this will be our third Christmas.

Our first Christmas was right before the big Queensland floods that devastated the area.  It HAD been raining a lot, but we didn't notice, having just come from Germany.  Then the dams flooded and we realised this was more rain than usual for southeast Queensland.

This Christmas finds me a little embarrassed to report how well we are doing.

The bridge that was damaged in the floods is fixed again just under two years later.  Can Haiti say that? Japan?  Christ Church?

We really do live in the lucky country.

I don't miss the snow and cold at all.   We love the beach and barbeque and plan to have nothing but hotdogs and french fries for Christmas.  Which we'll call sausages and chips.   Although it wouldn't kill southeast Queensland to open at least one biergarten or outdoor cafe. 

Our kids really do go to one of the best primary schools in the area now.  This after much soul-searching and self-discovery.  They aren't in the gifted and talented program - yet - but are at least back up to the academic standards expected by the National Curriculum. 

Andrew really is a star soccer and baseball player.  Although he is too short to play basketball. 

He stopped karate back in Germany because he told me he didn't like to fight.

I couldn't be prouder.

Ryan has decided to try her hand - or hips rather - at gypsy dancing instead of ballet.  She hasn't given the modelling a go after all.  But she probably could.  If her father wasn't considering trying to make her wear a burkha.

Meanwhile she expects a Thoroughbred for Christmas.  Although a Warmblood will do. 

She and I are homeschooling.  Repeating sixth grade was a lot harder than I thought it would be, mostly because I kept having to remind myself that beating her wasn't going to help any. 

NASA hasn't come knocking about the space station yet, but we think they just don't trust us anymore.  Because we talk kinda funny now.  Why do I have a foreign accent in every language I speak?!

Damon IS actually coaching the baseball team.  But noone really wants to hear him sing.  We don't go to church.  And the dole is so good in Australia that I don't believe we have a homeless shelter.  The weather's good enough to sleep outside.  And wasn't there something about just setting up tents in front of government buildings this year?

I am, as usual, having troubles living up to my own expectations.  I still speak to the kids in German sometimes, but mostly when they are getting in trouble.  I'm having more difficulties with the English, not sure if I am speaking American or Aussie or maybe just Queensland dialect.  Not sure how this is going to help my resume. 

Having that extra kid probably didn't improve my employability rating either.

Ryan and I did repaint some kitchen chairs.  They make me feel like I've got something to show for all of the homeschooling. 

I cooked for the first half of term and still do homemade pizzas on Fridays.  I am beginning to abhor the smell of meat, something that is not going to bode well for our protein content since I also don't like the thought of preparing peas and beans.

I do have my Queensland veterinary license now.  And know they spell it licence here.

Which I still find weird and wrong.

And although I have started my young adult novel about a journey of magic and self-discovery, I am afraid my protagonist will get knocked up by the good-looking and enigmatic bad-boy-next-door before they find the door to the magic kingdom that shows them their potential to be so much more.

It's been the year that we learned what school sores were.  The hard way.   (Heads up, it's called impetigo in the rest of the world and they ain't kidding when they call it highly infectious.  Yuck.) The year we became illegal migrants and got sent to New Zealand for three days as punishment.    The year my tarot told me to "let go and let God."  Along with just about everyone else I know!  The year Grandma died.

Maybe she's up there intervening on our behalf.

Because all in all, it's been a good year.

Can we take a break before 2013 though, please?!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

An American Christmas Greeting

Our Christmas this year sounds embarrassingly close to this spoof I wrote two years ago.  I guess because you don't put in the bad stuff, or the hard work that got you to the good stuff, just the final success.  All of which should be okay to celebrate.  Still, in the spirit of sarcasm, this is up again this year.  I'd like to follow it up with our Australian Christmas Greeting this year.  A bit of honesty and a bit of laughing at ourselves too.  And maybe an Aspergers Christmas Greeting too.  Because I really do like to tell it like it is!!!

Merry Christmas friends and family,

Another year has come and gone in which none of us has had the time to visit, phone, email or even twitter. Check us out on Facebook if you get a chance.

And so we'd like to share news of our family with the 400 of you who are closest in our hearts during this joyous holiday season.

All of the kids are, of course, in the gifted program at school, the school being the best in the entire country. Our son is the star of the soccer, baseball, and basketball teams and is training for his black belt in karate, the youngest ever to do so at the age of seven. He also plays a Stradavarius. Our ten year old daughter is travelling to New York City on the weekends to dance ballet professionally. And weren't we surprised when NASA called to ask her opinion about the latest space station. All of which somehow led to a modelling gig. She'll also be in the Olympics next year for stadium jumping. We've enclosed the photo of her on her new Thoroughbred. My husband meanwhile is never home, business (which obviously is booming) taking him to Shang-hai, Syndey, Berlin, Moscow and Paris this year alone. And yet he somehow finds time to coach the soccer team, sing in the church choir, travel with the cub scouts and volunteer at the local homeless shelter.

I am not doing much, still busy with homeschooling the youngest two before they enter preschool. They are trilingual now, at the age of three, but having some dificulty reading the French. I've repainted all the bedrooms in our six bedroom home (photo also enclosed) and made curtains to match. In between preparing organic vegan home-cooked meals for the entire family (grown in our own garden) and sewing all of our clothes, I have found time to open my own silk-screening business, currently bringing in $40,000 a month, in addition to continuing to work as a cardiologist at the local hospital.

Wishing you and yours a blessed and holy holiday season. (The Connors)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Love Yourself?

A friend of mine did his first sermon as a lay minister-in-training (did I get that right, Neil?  Close?) on this reading from the book of Matthew.

(Really, sometimes I don't know why these good people hang out with me.  Fear for my children?!  A glimmer of hope?!  Comic relief?!)

Matthew 22:36-40
New International Version (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

  1. Matthew 22:37 Deut. 6:5
  2. Matthew 22:39 Lev. 19:18

Instead of going over the first part, loving the Lord your God, he was interested in defining neighbour.

Since this was at the same time that I was having trouble accepting having to leave our old school, accepting social inequity, learning that there are differences in people and their choices, I found it particulary disturbing. 

I was finding my tribe and realising that a caste system exists in the USA and Australia just as much as it does in India. 

I felt like I'd just crapped on my neighbours by choosing to leave the neighbourhood.

Except then I thought about the Brooklyn Bridge.

If your neighbour jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge, I don't think Jesus meant that you should follow.  He didn't mean that you have to accept your neighbour's poor choices in order to love them unconditionally, as another human being, as a spark of the same divinity that resides in yourself.

He didn't mean that you have to love yourself less because your neighbour is having trouble loving himself.

I think that Jesus meant you have to love yourself.  And to do that you have to know yourself.

Do you switch neighbourhoods?  Of course you do.  You owe it to yourself and your children to surround yourself with people who are good for you.  But that's not what Jesus meant by neighbour.

The secret is in the second part being like the first.  Loving your neighbour is like loving yourself.  Which is like loving God.

It is the secret of Namaste.  (Bowing to the divinity that resides in all of us.)

The trick is in accepting that life is imperfect, that people are imperfect, that inequalities will exist, that life is unfair and that bad things happen.  That some people make really bad choices that affect their ability to contribute productively to society or to their own personal growth.  That some people won't grow.  Or grow up. 

You can love someone unconditionally as a human being without approving of the choices they have made in this lifetime.  (Or you should try anyway.)

I have been feeling guilty about making the right choices and for taking advantage of the opportunities given to me.  I feel bad that I can do so well when others do so poorly.

This is only because I still have problems accepting this imperfect life.

I still don't get that it isn't all up to me to set things right, solve social injustice, end world hunger, poverty and war, find a cure for cancer, and malaria.  And AIDS.  (Oh sorry.  Bill Gates has a couple of those on his plate too!)

Loving my neighbour as myself means accepting that God can handle all of this without me.

That "no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  (Max Ehrmann, Desiderata) 

That all of this is okay, just the way it is.  Child abuse.  Illiteracy.  Rape.  Drug addiction.  Alcoholism.

It's okay.

"Whether or not it is clear to you ."   (Max Ehrmann, Desiderata)

I still have a problem with accepting that it is okay to excel while others are doing so poorly.

On the other hand, how am I loving God, or myself, or even my neighbour, any better by choosing not to excel when I can?

"You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here."  (Max Ehrmann, Desiderata)

Do I have a right to do well when others aren't?

I have a right to be where I am, Max tells me.

Maybe the trickiest part of loving my neighbour as myself is loving myself enough to agree.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Rose By Any Other Name


So we got our tentative Aspies diagnoses.  Pretty much before we walked in the door.

The counsellor is asking me if I need a hug.  (Uh, yes please!)   And I am thinking, at last, some support and understanding about how difficult it is to parent an aspie child.  They get me, they really get how hard it is.

We sit down and the counsellor starts talking to me about high functioning aspies slipping through the cracks and masking their differences by overachieving and struggling and just working oh so darn hard to do everything right until they just have a meltdown.

Which I was in the middle of having.

And I'm thinking, but what, my child is NOT overachieving and not working so hard and not having any meltdowns at all.  She is apathetic and withdrawn.

I look over and she is in fact smiling at the counsellor.

It doesn't take me long to figure out the counsellor is talking about me.  I AM quick on the people skills.  Quick enough that I can't have aspies.  Right?

I'm a little embarrassed.  Uh, yeah, we're uh here for my daughter.

High functioning aspies often come across as very gregarious and exciteable.  But it isn't mania, it's just overstimulation, sensory overload, compensating for the exhaustion.

Yes, thanks for that.  But my daughter is shutting down and not at all exciteable.

Uh uh.  The counsellor keeps going.  You're having a meltdown.

Exactly, I say. The kid is driving me crazy with her apathy.

Often it's the undiagnosed aspie parents who are the toughest on their aspie kids. 

Well, she needs to suck it up at some point.  Get with the friggin program.  Oh booh hooh I'm special needs, I just want to play with my horses.  Life doesn't work that way.  I don't get to do what I want.  I have to push myself.  I make it work.

You're working really hard, aren't you?  she asks.


You are struggling.


You are exhausted.

No kidding.

Burned out.

Keep going.

Having a meltdown.


Isn't it time to stop working so hard and figure out why it's always so hard?

Oh shit! 


We start talking and it all starts to fit together.  The depression.  The anxiety.  The exhaustion.  The pushing myself day in and day out just to get out of bed and do things I can't bear the the thought of doing - like facing the kids at school, like going grocery shopping, like going to a mums and tots play group.  Not only have I done all this stuff my entire life, I have done it exceptionally well.

I would like to think that writing - and words - and brutal honesty and a high social conscience are my aspie traits.

But no, I think it is pleasing others and exceeding expectations.

This was easy at school but tougher once the expectations became my own.

The feeling of relief though - OH THANK GOD I CAN FINALLY GET SOME HELP FOR THIS - turned into second guessing.  Should I be chatting with the receptionist at the gym or is that overkill?  Am I being weird?

And, hey, wait a second, how can Ryan and I have the same diagnoses?  We are total opposites.  She is the child I least relate to.  I don't get her at all.

Or do I?

Or might it be that we both see things differently from others?  In part because of our diagnoses.

But also in part because of who we are.

We are two very different people who face challenges in two very different ways.

We are unique.

I wanted to pursue a diagnosis for Ryan in order to help us both understand her better, in order to help her learn and cope and thrive in a world that isn't going to be easy for her.

Don't I owe myself that same understanding? 

The few people I have told I might have Aspergers are not at all surprised.  It's been a joke since I was a kid that I was a bit of a psycho, a little odd, kind of a spaz, crazy Christine....even now friends joke that I am a little off but they like me that way.

I've always felt different. 

Lately, I've been driving Damon crazy asking him how other people see things, asking him why other people don't remember the stuff I do or make the connections or JUST DAMN THINK.  This is the first time in my life I have been in the real world.  I grew up in Germany, the Asperger nation of the world, as a close friend calls it.  I excelled.  In the USA I learned to hide my academic aptitude and fit it.  Then I went to highschool with the NYC Super Jews - half of who are probably highly functioning aspies themselves.  Sure, I was a bit weird but...hey, I was a decent looking blonde and I was getting straight A,s on the cheerleading squad, student council and yearbook.  I won academic achievement awards.  Who was really going to argue with that?  I went to an Ivy League University.  Two in fact.  Again, who was going to notice?!

And then Germany.  Uh yeah.  Love ya guys, but social isn't exactly Germany's strong point.  And any quirkiness there was attributed to me being American.

But it adds up.  Black and white thinking.  High moral standard.  Unwilling to bend it.  Black and white thinking.

Black and white thinking.  Which I might as well admit up front I feel is better than yours.

Admitting I might have Aspergers would be a real relief.

On the other hand, I shouldn't need a label to finally allow myself to be myself.

And cut myself some slack.

I'm more than a little embarrassed that a session I had booked for Ryan turned into a session all about me.

See, Lori, sometimes it really IS all about me!!!

Next week we have two separate sessions booked.  One for me and one for Ryan. 

Because we might both have Aspergers.

But we are still two entirely different human beings.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sex on Sunday

"You people need a telly."

We get this a lot when we tell people we have five kids.

Last weekend we sat all five kids down in front of the telly.  And then locked ourselves in our room. 

Somehow I don't think this is what people had in mind when they told us to get a television!  I must have been out of my mind.  Or drinking.  Funny how what worked in highschool - uni I mean, uni - is what still works now.  Pleading.  Over and over until I get tired of saying 'no'.  Rum and coke.  I'll even drink 'em warm.

Just like highschool. 

Except now we're hiding from the kids instead of from our parents.

(Oh God, there is such a good reason I am not sending my daughter into highschool!)

So we go to open the door.  Turn the lock.

And something doesn't go click and the handle doesn't turn and the door is jammed shut.

From the outside.

What the hell are we going to tell the police when they have to come and get us out?  It's a Sunday afternoon.  There is alcohol on the kitchen table.  And five children - including a one year old and twin six year olds - unsupervised in front of the telly.

Oh Lord, we are going to prison.

For having sex on a Sunday.

We consider - or I do anyway - sending Damon out the window.  Two stories down.

I am telling you.  This was just like highschool all over again!

We end up calling the kids downstairs through the open window.

"Andrew.  Andrew."

No answer.

"Andrew.  Get up here."

All five of them finally come trudging up the stairs, breathless with excitement.

This is An Emergency. 

What the heck are Mom and Dad doing locked in the bedroom?  Unfortunately the twins are old enough to have their suspicions, although they are a little unclear on the details.  The older two know.


But better this than explaining it to the police.

"Silly Daddy played a trick on Mommy and locked us in the bedroom."

Ryan and Andrew go along with it.  It's a bit like believing in Santa Claus.  You don't really anymore but you go along with it anyway for the free presents.  Or in this case, hiding from the Ugly Truth.

"Stick a little pin in the hole near the knob."

I would laugh if I wasn't so angry.

"I can't do it Dad, I can't do it."

"It's that or call the police son.  Give it another go."

I consider calling out the windows to the neighbours.  Except they already don't speak to us.

Should we send the kids outside for a ladder?

Meanwhile Damon is trying to get the door off its hinges.  With his fingernails.

Finally something clicks and the knob turns.

The boys all turn and run back downstairs as fast as they can.  Ryan smirks at me.

"It's your Dad's fault."  I tell her. 

Lord, please let her be wiser than I am.

Or at least have a higher alcohol tolerance.

Rum and coke and a telly.

Thinking maybe we should start watching the programming!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

On the Road Again ( Moving Forward)

Could it be possible that Ryan was both underchallenged at school academically  and overchallenged socially at the same time?

She is zooming through her maths books.  Little bitch.  She told me she hadn't had all this before.  She told me - after two weeks of taking the testing - that she didn't need to go on because the rest was new.  She's repeatedly told me she doesn't know fractions to decimals.

And yesterday she was whizzing through it so fast she finished the entire one week section in twenty minutes. 

All of a sudden she tells me she's had it before.

She just finds it boring.

"Was the work at school harder for you?"


"Did you finish it this quickly."

Uh huh.   (Itching to get her head back into her horse book.)

"What did you do when you finished this quickly?  Was there more?"

No.  I had to wait for all of the other kids to finish.  I did a lot of sketching.

Ryan lives in her own world.  I don't know if this is true or if this is just how she saw it as true.

But all I get is that she was spending most of her time at school waiting for other, slower students to finish, that she was stuck in reading groups especially with students she considered so remedial that she didn't even bother trying anymore.  She really seems to have resented the slowness of the other students.

(This is in total contrast to Germany where it didn't seem as if she could keep up.)

Andrew, on the other hand, came home with this terms maths tests.  He's done really well.  His class at his new school seems to be working at a level higher than Ryan's class at their old school.  He hasn't placed into the Gifted and Talented program because he is just catching up on all the stuff he has been missing for two years.

This child started off two years ago two years ahead of his classmates.  And was so underchallenged he began a new school behind academically.

I'd say he is struggling to catch up but he isn't struggling at all.  He loves it.  He soaks it in and can't wait to learn something new.  He is totally confident in his abilities to do the work.  He just hadn't been presented with it before. 

And the twins.  Oh thank God we got them out when we did.  They fall all over themselves to tell me what they have learned every day.

I don't know why we think that children don't have the right to surround themselves with better people.  Adults don't have to put up with people exposing themselves or touching them or smacking them on the ass in the workplace.  If someone punches you or repeatedly threatens you outside of school you call the police.

We say we want our children to get along with everyone, not just coddled rich kids in private schools.  But the kids my children were being exposed to - and their behaviours - aren't ones that I would ever want them to have to deal with as an adult.

Why do I feel like a snob for expecting something better from myself and my children?  And for doing something about it.

I was told Andrew wasn't all as gifted as I thought he was.  Uh.  Fine.  Then what does it say about your school when he could easily do the work of the grades two years above his?  And leaves two years later known as the smartest kid in the school (this from the 7th years we meet) and is barely working on par for the standards expected at the school just down the road?  Another state school, not private.

You are who you surround yourself with.  Especially in the formative years when you don't know yourself yet.  Is it cool to lift up the girls' skirts when they walk by?  Is it funny to see someone else's privates? 

Or is it maybe even more exciting to find out that you are able to read chapter books without pictures?  And learn about the Leaning Tower of Pisa?  And sing Christmas carols.

The boys are fine.  But I am still scared at how close I let them come to being less than what they are capable of.

Ryan?  Hmmm.  I don't know.  It's going to be a long journey.  Does she have a cognitive processing disorder?  Somehow I doubt it.  The points don't fit as well as the Aspergers signs.  But I am willing to give it a go.  She could have both.  And some days - like yesterday afternoon - I don't think that she has either, that she is just a kid who got beaten down into assumed inadequacy, gave up and withdrew inside herself.  Depression is a bitch.  Even if you aren't aware you have it.

Yesterday she not only breezed through the maths but was excited to spend the evening at the shops looking for bathing suits and meeting friends of ours for icecream.  She was like a giggling teenager.  For the first time.  Ever.  She smiled at her friend and pranced and giggled instead of standing next to her awkwardly not really knowing what to do. 

Then again, earlier in the afternoon I left her sketching Christmas cards on the kitchen table while I put Ian down for his nap and blogged for an hour and a half.  I didn't check on her.  When I came out there wasn't one card done and she was on the couch happily going through old horse magazines from Germany,

I could have killed her.  Except she WAS reading in German!  (Listen, she'd be reading it in Chinese if it had a picture of a horse on it!)

And the other day I took fifteen minutes to do dishes and found out her on my bed reading her horse book when she was supposed to be online doing maths.

It's more than disobedience.  It's an inability to continue something on her own, a disability that would have been masked at a school where the teachers have to continually keep the whole class on target.  It's an inability to plan the day's events:  flute, math, write a story, sketch a Christmas card.  An inablility to start, continue or finish anything without me right there beside her pushing her along.

And again, and absolute lack of interest in just about everything.

Ryan will be fine too.  I have my working list of differentials:  cognitive disorder, Aspergers or just plain assumed inadequacy.  The last is probably the saddest but also the one we should eventually be able to work our way out of. 

If I don't kill her first.

And so I end the term - and the school year - at peace instead of angry.  I hated the move.  I resented having to move. 

But all four of my kids are on the path they are meant to be on. 

And moving forward.

Which leads to me to wonder could a homeschooling mother be both underchallenged academically and overchallenged socially in her new role?!

You betcha!  


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Breaking Out Of The Box!

Homeschoolers talk a lot about the failure of the traditional education system to meet individual needs.

We talk a lot about wanting more for our kids than the national average.

We say we don't need - or even want - our kids to fit into the box that they've been labelled and sorted into. 

I don't want to be in a box, interrupts Ryan, I'd rather be in a paddock.

Yes dear. 

She's been taking art classes too.  And doing exceptionally well. 

Except she moans about having to use colour.

I like it better in black and white, she says.

No kidding.

We saw the specialist yesterday, showed him our just-about-national-average scores, the rave reviews from her teachers here, the condemning ones from Germany.  Thank God, at least the teachers LIKE her here!

Contributions in class are highly dependent on whether or not the topic interests her.  Doesn't know how to tailor her conversation topics to interest the other kids.  Seems exhausted by the demands of the day.  Is unable to express her thoughts clearly when writing.  Has to work on her handwriting.  (This is a German thing!!)  Isn't able to apply the rote maths she has learned to higher level problem solving.  Is dreamy and unfocused.  Doesn't get the point of school.  Often doesn't seem to understand the directions and then just does the work any which way she pleases.  Is polite and respectful to the teacher. 

I got mad translating the remarks into English.  WHY oh WHY should this child have been so polite and respectful for so long?  WHY oh WHY did I make her go back into that demeaning, aggressive, entirely unacceptable situation for so long?  HOW did she do it day after day, hour after hour, knowing she would never be good enough, never meet expectations, never get the help she was unable to ask for.    She is a much stronger person than any of us ever give her credit for.

Of course I sent her because I didn't know any better either. 

And, finally, because I would have been arrested if I hadn't sent her.

The system in Germany refuses to meet the needs of my child but then refuses to accord me the right to meet them myself.

I honestly don't get the point of school either.

Or worse, I get it now.

In Germany, its a form of social control.  The state controls you.  You conform to the state. 

I think Australia and the USA use it as the best means of babysitting the children of the masses that they can find.  Let's face it, at some point, all you are trying to do is keep the fifteen year olds from getting knocked up.  Or ending up in juvenile detention.  Off the streets and out of trouble.

What's the point of 12 -or more- years of school, when the average person reads at a Grade 7 level.  Doesn't know the multiplication tables.  Or enough basic maths to add up a column of grocery items or do double digit addition and subtraction?

How many Americans know what the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria did?  Or what Plymouth Rock is?  Or why we remember Washington or Lincoln for that matter?  Or celebrate the fourth of July on the fourth of July?

Go ahead and laugh.  How many Australians really know the significance of Botany Bay?  The First Fleet?  Willis and Bourke.  Let alone who Mabo is?  What the Rabbit Proof Fence is?  And who that guy is on the Fifty Dollar Bill? 

Listen, the Germans don't learn ANYTHING about their history until after grade school.  I tried when I was homeschooling.  There wasn't anything appropriate for children of that age.  Better to let them learn about the Egyptians.  And concentrate on their handwriting.

The traditional education system - public mass education - was implemented to train farm workers to work in factories.  It wasn't meant to churn out brain surgeons or astronauts or poets and philosphers.

I'm not saying that they aren't doing the best they can.  The sad thing is that I think they are doing remarkably well given what they have to work with. 

At some point, an institution exists mainly to perpetuate itself.

The brutality I have heard about in schools would be considered sexual harassment in the work place.  It would be assault on the street.

At school it is called bullying. 

The social skills I hear about from highschools are not the social skills I need my children learning.  These are not the people I want my children to have to learn to get along with. 

My three boys are doing fine at the school they are in now.  They are learning, they are happy.  They are with children who behave the way we expect ours to behave. 

My boys fit in.  They are bright, they are athletic, they are friendly and funny and social.  They can break out of the box and excel because they know how to fit into the box in the first place.

But for those who DON'T fit in there is ridicule, rejection, fear and pain, emotional violence and actual physical danger.

And an institution covering up for itself instead of protecting those it is supposed to nurture.

Ryan is lucky.  It didn't get that far.  We can homeschool.

But we did get that buck up and fit in attitutude from friends in Germany.  Like Ryan should accept her inferior status and be happy to have it.

We are out of the box. 

The box is broken.

But I didn't let it break my child.

Successful Failure

I was pretty excited to tell you about the success of my big November failure.

It turns out that sometimes you just CAN'T squeeze just another extra hour into your day for something you love.

I already get up at 5 AM to workout.  4 AM just doesn't seem human.

I don't watch TV.  Really, at this point I don't watch TV.  At all.  Have watched one full show - Supernatural - for as far back as I can remember.  One show.  Two weeks ago as a date night with Damon.  Love that show but someone has GOT to put that show out of its misery and give those boys the chance to do something else.  What about killing them off?  And KEEPING them dead this time?!

I am rarely online.  This last time it was two weeks between email and fb check-ins.  I don't have time.  If I am online, Ryan isn't getting her schoolwork done.

And fuck...the baby just woke up.

(Two days later....continued...)

That was the first ten minutes I have had to sit down alone and write something in over three weeks.

I carry a notebook.  I jot down notes.  I have ideas going on all the time.  Brain-writing, Michelle, another busy mother of young children, calls it.

But ten whole minutes?

Haven't got them.

I could give up working out.  And gain back the 30 pounds I have lost and go mentally insane.  The gym is the only time I have without the responsibilities of children all day.  From 5:30 - 6:30 AM.  Where fit women yell at me asking me cheeky things like " are you giving it your all?" 

And "show me what you've got."

"Push it.  Push it.  Until the tank is empty."

There are times I have cried during rpm class, warm silent tears in the dark as I keep pedalling.  Because I STARTED the class with an empty tank.  And because when I finish at 6:30 AM, I still have to dress and feed five children and make it through a day.

How long can you run on empty?!


Uh no....THIS is my beach.  My mountains are waiting for me at home!

Of course, the gym is also where I get such gems as "wow, you look fantastic.  You have really lost a lot of weight."

And, "you have really increased those weights, good on ya mate!"

And, " you did 5 kms in 35 minutes...way to go!"  Even though she's done 10 kms in just about the same time!

Last Monday I walked in feeling really sorry for myself.  OMG.  My daughter has Asperger's.  She will never ever be able to live life fully independently from me.  I will be pushing and pulling and - uh, yeah, gently guiding - her through life FOREVER.  She will never leave home.  I will be doing sixth grade math with her forever instead of sitting beside her writing my novel as I'd envisioned in the homeschooling scenario.  AND I AM GETTING ABSOLUTELY NO WRITING DONE!  Nothing for me!  (I have left my protagonist walking home from school alone with the good-looking but enigmatic bad boy next door.  If I don't get to them soon, she'll be pregnant before they discover the hidden door to the magic kingdom that will change their lives and help them discover who they are!!)

And I get "she is your challenge."  (My daughter, not my protagonist.)

Goddamnit, it's hard to work out next to little Miss Sunshine sometimes!!

"Challenge yourself.  Go go go.  Don't give up.  Don't stop.  You can do it.  YOU CAN DO IT!!!"

You can see why I need the gym.

I made it through the week running on empty.  I thought I would collapse.  I remembered the last time I felt this beaten and exhausted.  When the twins were about two and I couldn't make either one of them happy all the time, when I couldn't meet any of my childrens' needs, when I was so tired and beaten that all I wanted to do was lay down and never get up.  And I just dragged myself from one chore to the next.  Nothing was fun.  Nothing was ever finished.  And I was never there - for anyone- enough.

Ian is 1.  Ryan needs constant supervision if she is to do her schoolwork.  And here I thought I was done with not being able to meet the needs of two people simultaneously.

Then the other three come home. 

I end the day with a dirty house, no dinner planned, no nap (for me, not Ian), no writing done, and the feeling that all I have done all day is sixth grade over and over again. 

There has been nothing for me all day long and I am too tired at 9 PM when the kids are in bed and the dishes done - by then I have been running from one task to another for 16 hours without a break - to do more.   

The last time I was this run down I ended up in the hospital for two weeks.  With a false diagnosis.  Ever consider sheer exhaustion you friggin' morons?

Failure just wasn't an option this time.

And so I amped it up.  I kept going.  I did more with less.

And now I think that maybe, just maybe, I CAN wake up at 4 AM to write my novel. 

I can at least give it a go!

That gives me 2 and 1/2 hours a day for myself instead of the 1 1/2 I take now.

And so National November Writing A Novel which I managed 5 days of writing....wasn't a complete failure just because I didn't finish.

I started. 

I started on empty.

I ran out and I stopped.

But I can start again.

And start again as many times as I have to.

The only thing that is going to fill my tank is writing. 

And so I will do sixth grade.  And go to baby time.  And sports events and assemblies at school.  I will clean the house the best I can, cook some fairly healthy meals, read bedtime stories, hang up awards, make art projects and collect shells on the beach.  Grocery shop, replace outgrown shoes, decorate the house for Christmas, sort through last year's schoolwork and cover next year's books, keep my veterinary education points up to date, meet for playdates, have people over, take the car in for repairs, make that psych appointment and the hearing test, read up on Cognitive Associative Processing Disorder, wrap Christmas presents, laundry...

And yeah, the baby is up.

I was going to tell you that starting my novel showed me that there is no way in this world that I can finish a novel in a month.

Instead, I realise that I don't have to to be successful.

I can write for me.  Because I want to.

Because I have to if I have any chance at all at keeping up with any of those other things.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

From the Mouth of Andrew

The problem is that I heard everything that happened that day from one of my four kids.  Before I'd pulled out of the school parking lot.  I had the rundown of who was swearing at which teacher, where the kids were pulling down their pants, which fifth grader was making out with which sixth grader, who was smoking, who bullied who, why that kid got sent to reflection (at some point, reflect on THIS mates, call it detention and give them something they can REALLY reflect on!).

The last day of school Andrew sat next to me in the car looking slightly ill. 

"Are you sad to be leaving your old school?"  I asked him.

"It's time to go Mom," he replied.


"I  just don't understand why she had to pull us all in during break to talk to us.  It was my last break."

Uh huh.

Look, even I don't want to post EVERYTHING that was going on.  Suffice it to say it WAS time to go and that Andrew had a reason to be looking green.  I mean, who DOES that sort of thing?

I know.  Getting over it.  Just not quickly.

Social inequity sucks.

I was even angrier once I realised the inequity here was just as brazen as in the USA.  I mean, how can we have this huge disparity only a five minute drive across the friggin' bridge, for crying out loud? 

Om.  This is not a new social phenomenon.  Om.  This is nothing you will solve alone or anything you need to feel guilty over.  Om mane padme om. 

Breathing through it.  Still breathing through it.

It is so nice to hear what the kids are talking about at the end of the day at their new school.

The twins are reading at levels far higher than their previous school suspected.  Aidan is done with those damn numbers, which according to the numbers, means he is reading levels ahead of Ryan.  (This is why I don't like numbers!!!  She is reading fine now, books a day since we started homeschooling, she will just probably never get the leap to full inference.) 

They are talking Zac Powers and Kai Masters and chapter books without pictures.  Although I beg Matthew to bring me some nonfiction books about snakes or dinosaurs or bridge building or something every now and then.  Because I like the pictures.  And because I am tired of reading about 12 year old boy spy superheroes.  And because the Kai Masters series has got to be the worst written series for young readers ever.  With incomplete sentences.  Like this.  Of two or three words.  With capital letter and periods.  Which have.  My kids.  Reading. Like.  This.

Remember people, I have to have them read to me TWICE!

Aidan has told me he was asked to leave the playground for running last week.  Definite rules.  No exceptions or explanations or trying to figure out why or reflecting on this and that.  Reflect on that you can come back tomorrow and stay the entire break as long as you follow the rules.  Reflect on that you won't be allowed to stay if you don't follow the rules.

Reflect on the adult supervision during breaktime.

Om mane padme om.   Still breathing.

Andrew is talking about mercury and its liquid state at room temperature.  Andrew is asking me if I know why water condenses around the outside of a glass of ice that has been turned upside down so that the ice or anything  melting inside of the glass cannot escape.  And then explaining it to me.  BEFORE we reach the car.  Andrew knows the principles behind how a photocopier works.  (And cares!)

Today I heard about how you can get a dead frog to twitch by hooking him up to electricity.

Uh yeah, sometimes you do wonder what they are learning at school! 

Except he's also finally told me how relieved he is to be at a school where the kids his age aren't all pairing up and holding hands and kissing during break. 

He's coming home and scribbling maths equations on the board because he is so excited.  

"I just tell my teacher we hadn't learned that yet at my old school and she fills me in.  We are learning so much faster."

Because the teachers aren't having to spend their day teaching kids how to behave, they are able to teach the kids what they were meant to.

My kids are still telling me everything they can remember about their day at school.

But they are speaking a new language.

Although twitching dead frogs aren't half as gross - or upsetting to me - as what they were coming home with before.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ryan's World!

Ryan this morning as I asked her how her dictionary and thesaurus skills were coming along.

"Horses...a four- legged mammal."

Look of utter disgust.

"They are so much more than that."

Yes, honey, we know, they are your world. 

Mind spending maybe just an eensy weensy moment here with us in ours?!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Horse, Of Course! (Ryan's Twitter Story)

Ryan's entry for a FastFic 140 Writing Competition through the Moreton Bay regional libraries.  ( For ages 12 - 25, entries close November 12, information at for any interested homeschooling mums in the area.)
Betcha wish I could write this succintly!!!
I'm going to fall! The clock slowly ticked away as we approached our final jump. A triple bar! I was nervous as we took off over the three bar jump. The blue ribbon was ours!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cleaning Up For The Cleaning Lady!!! (On Rediscovering and Redefining My Tribe)

Knowing who you are, not one of my strong points.

Knowing where I come from, though, becomes clearer to me the more I travel away from it.  And perhaps, as I begin to travel back to it.

Back to the values I grew up with if not the physical locality.

How do you know where you come from if you don't know anything else?

On the other hand, maybe those are the people who already know who they are and don't need to travel around the world to find out.

I've been a chameleon my whole life.  A very bad chameleon.  I can get along with - and like almost - anybody.  I can become the group that I am with at the moment.  I can empathize with whoever I am with at the time.  (Within limits, I am seeing recently, within limits!)  I always saw this as a good thing.

In the Peace Corps they told us, though, that the people who do best in other cultures are the ones who know the differences between their culture and the one they are currently in.  The people who truly know who they are.

I have unintentionally morphed and changed with every culture - or socioeconomic group - I have joined.    This is probably a natural part of growing up and of finding yourself.  It's just amazing how long it is taking a woman who was supposedly gifted and talented as a student this long to find out about her role outside of academia.

Let me be clear.  This has nothing to do with money or with what your dad did for a living or how big your house was growing up.  It has to do with the expectations around you, who your parents and your neighbours and you, yourself, saw you as as you were growing up.  It has something to do with values - but that always comes across as so judgemental.   (let me just say this right now, and yes, I mean you N and C!, that if you are reading this, you ARE in my tribe, and I am NOT saying this to judge or offend you!)

It has more to do with expectations and who you really are as a result of what influences - yes, values, and morals and belief systems and expectations, and just not knowing that there was anything else out there but what was around you.

I am who I am today because of the values and expectations of the tribe of my childhood.

They say all of your values - the core of your belief system - are shaped before you are six years old.

That, for me, was a university setting in Germany with a young father who was studying to be a doctor and a stay-at-home American mother who had graduated Georgetown University with a degree in languages. 

My formative experiences were at uni.   The people my parents hung out with were uni students, crazy 70s psychology students, hippies, but still educated, thinking, adults. 

The move to well-off North Stamford (note the North, do they still do that there to distinguish ourselves from the REST of Stamford?!!!) came after a four year interlude living in the resident units at Stamford Hospital.  Sure, the neighbourhood was working class.  And the school was in a low-socioeconomic area where I got to meet - and get along with - people whose parents didn't go to uni and who had no expectations of going to uni themselves. 

But our immediate neighbours - international residents from India and South America as well as the USA - were all residents at the hospital.

These other people I went to school with were always other in my mind.  I only see that now.

My tribe.

I found - and still do - North Stamford  boring.  It is only now, from the scope of what I have experienced since, that I see it as a unique culture in the world, one that doesn't exist in the same exact form anywhere else.  22 million people in the NYC metropolitan region alone, a region that DOES strongly influence the rest of the world.  Forgive us our smugness, world trading goes heywire when we shut down due to the cyclone of a generation.

I remember going to a play put on by students at a prominent community center in North Stamford.  It was about the trials and tribulations of growing up and it was written by the kids.

The only song I remember was "Cleaning Up For the Cleaning Lady."  The kids were on their hands on knees (maybe not, but that's how I remember it NOW!), like the opening scene from Annie, where they sing "It's a Hard-Knock Life".  And they were whinging about how hard - and silly it was - to have to pick up your room, and your dirty clothes off the floor, because the cleaning lady was coming that day.  Very clever actually.

And, it seemed to me even at the time, that the adults in the audience all chuckled smugly at their precocious brilliant children and at their own ability to provide the financial means for this sort of lifestyle.
You can take the child out of CT, but you can't take CT out of the child!   Thanks Meka for the outfit.  Really, people don't wear plaid anywhere else in the world, except maybe for Scotland, Ireland....and CT!

In retrospect, good on ya mates!  You worked hard for it.  Especially since the audience consisted of refugees from Nazi Germany only a few decades before, people who had been robbed of everything, including the title of being human, and started over with nothing in a new country.

Maybe having a father with a German accent did make it harder for me to relax within the confines of my tribe in Stamford. 

So I grew up with trips to the Caribbean like everyone else I knew.  Although we didn't have a cleaning lady until later. 

We did have that room though, the white room in our house, where the kids weren't supposed to go.

And the expectations that not only would we go to uni, but we would obviously go to one of the best ones - really, people mocked my first choice, Cornell, as a safety school! - and become someone who would make a difference in the world. 

Getting ready for the Melbourne Cup next week!  (Election Day for you folks in the USA, good luck with that!)

Why do I feel as guilty about this as I do about that German accent?!

The truth is that my tribe hasn't judged me on my socio-economic status or my accent.  I do that to myself.

The truth is that my tribe accepts me because they understand me.  That they understand me because they share my same values and expectations.  And this goes beyond how much money we had growing up or what country we grew up in. 

On Friday,at our homeschooling playdate in the park,  I heard a woman saying that the goal of education should be to enable each child, irregardless of ability or circumstance, whether they are special needs or gifted and talented, or in the forgotten muddle in between the two, to reach their full potential.

It was like she was quoting me back to myself. 

And why should I still be feeling guilty about giving my children everything, about expecting the best, accepting absolutely nothing but the absolute best for them just because others are making other choices?

What is best for me and mine is not what is best for everyone.

But I am done feeling guilty for wanting more - and achieving more - for me and mine - just because others don't have that inclination or opportunity.

Sounds Matthew enjoys.  Freddie Mercury with Justin Bieber.  Sorry about that, mate!

It's not about the white room or the cleaning lady or the trips to the Caribbean.  Those are only signs of the opportunities our parents took advantage of to give us the best that they could. 

My dad was an immigrant too.  Within his own country.  His family left East Germany, as refugees, with nothing, when he was thirteen. 

Two years ago we were sleeping on mattresses on the floor and grateful for a roof over our heads during The Floods. 

Until less then a year ago Damon was a bartender.

What we DID bring with us was an educational background - and a lifetime of expectations - that allow us to make choices that better our lives daily.  We have more opportunities because we have been raised to have certain expectations for ourselves and for our children.

Thank you Tribe, for reminding me of who I am, of where I come from, and of what my values are. 

I will give my children everything, because I was given everything.

Even if we don't have a white room to keep them out of and even if I AM the cleaning lady.  Who by the way is very undependable, extremely erratic and always taking sick days when I am quite sure she is probably off somewhere typing away at her novel!


Friday, November 2, 2012

The Child The Fairies Sent Me

The homeschooling has been going so well that I was going to call and cancel Ryan's appointment with the pediatric specialist in December.

Fortunately, I never found the time.

I've spent the last six years wondering what was wrong with my daughter academically.  And then finally accepting her as she is, special and different from the others, not bowing to peer pressure, slightly odd but 100% confident in who she is.

Today I went to a homeschooling playdate, not expecting anything but a nice bunch of people with small children and too much time on their hands (sorry ladies, really!), and instead found a dynamic group of engaged, caring, educated parents who want the best for the children, even when (or especially when) those children don't fit into the pigeon-holes assigned them by the traditional education system.

I'm almost embarrassed to try to find a diagnosis for Ryan at this point.  She really is just fine the way she is.  But, in reading further about Asperger's Syndrome in girls, I feel it might help her understand herself better for the future.

Should the educators and psychologists in Germany have seen this?  I don't know.  One thought that the obsessive interest in horses was self-defence mechanism due to all of our traveling around the globe.  (Mind you, we had lived in the same home in Altdorf for six years at that point, but whatever!)  Most everyone else just thought she was dreamy and unfocused.  ADD I kept saying.  But no, she wasn't enough of a disruption in class for that.  But it's different in girls, I kept saying.  Dreamy and unfocused.  But the literature I found was all in English.  Noone ever mentioned Asperger's until today.

And honestly, what are the Germans going to do with a special needs kid anyway?

(She still has problems speaking to anyone, especially her peers, about anything but horses.  Adults love her.  Older girls adore her.  Her riding instructors were flummoxed when I told them she wasn't a straight 'A' student; she is that focused and that good with the horses.  Has she been modeling her behaviour on mine?  Getting by with a socially strong parent?  Girls tend to be able to mask their social awkwardness by staying quiet.  And she did have that one caring, socially competent friend - Celin - in Germany.  Everything fits.)

Ryan now has her horses and her art and her flute.  She IS just fine the way she is.  I don't know that I need or want a label for her.

I do see her in these articles I found online though.

And there is the documentation I didn't even know I was keeping all along in my blogs.  Skip straight to Third-Grade-Math Part Four for the shortened read...

My daughter is different.  She is special.  And it doesn't matter what - or if - there is a diagnosis in the end.

My daughter is the child the fairies sent me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

(Un)lucky Day (By Andrew Connor)

Yeah, I made Andrew enter the contest too!!

“And the heir to crazy Mrs. Ptarmigan’s billion dollar fortune is....Andrew Connor!”

Suddenly I was being patted on the back by a bunch of people I didn't know. A foggy mist of happiness and embarrassment crept into me. I had inherited the billion dollars Mrs. Ptarmigan had left in her will to a worthy person of the town. Boy was I glad that I had helped her with her household chores!

The mayor gaily came down to shake my hand. He might have been drunk, but I wasn't sure. After him lots of other people came, only they weren't waddling, drunken, over to me. They were all very unusual. One person specifically caught my attention. Instead of a smile on his face his face was filled with hatred. He did come up to me, but didn't congratulate me. Instead, he whispered coldly, “Give me the money!” I looked him in the eye. It was a horrible and disturbing sight. He had tattoos all over his forehead, temple and cheek, scars on his jaw, other temple and scalp and, I noticed with horror, a knife clenched in his hand....

The next few weeks were okay, my family was happy that we had got the billion dollar fortune, but sad that Mrs. Ptarmigan died.

But then I got lost in town. I was walking along the street in town with my family when I stopped to tie my shoe. I don't think my family noticed, because when I got up, they were gone. I stood there for a moment, then walked along an alley, yelling. I never found them. Eventually, I got tired of yelling and screaming. So I found a man and asked him for help. He just stood there, transfixed, then slowly, he began to turn around. I gasped. It was the gangster from before!

I didn't breath. I just stood there, frozen in horror, when he pulled something from his pocket. It was the knife! Before I had time to react, he leapt at me, his blade aimed for my heart. I smiled as he flew past me, then winced at a terrible and sudden pain coming from my arm. He was smiling cheekily, then began to laugh a cold, evil laugh.

That's when I lost it. I was so full of anger, hatred and agony I began screaming at him, like a teacher disciplining a usually well behaved child at the end of the day (teachers can get quite cranky and tired at the end of the day).

First, I pulled the knife out of my arm, cut his arm, and threw it aside.


“The money.”

“Then take the stupid money! It's only giving me trouble!”

So I flung all of the money I had on me and walked off. That's when my mother called. She had a message for me.

“And the heir to crazy Mrs. Fredericton’s billion dollar fortune is....Andrew Connor!”

“Not again!!!”

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Billion Dollars For Wildlife (By Ryan Connor)

But enough about me!  Here's the 500 word story Ryan entered in a competition today.  She had to write about inheriting a billion dollars.

“Steffy, you've got mail.”

Steffy's mother, Rosalina, called from the kitchen.

Steffy scrambled to get dressed. She had just graduated from university.

“Probably a congratulations from somebody,” she thought.

As Steffy reached the kitchen, she saw that her family was at the table; her brother Mike, sister Sally, mother Rosalina, Peter her dad and Buster the dog.

Steffy opened the envelope. She held her breath as she read it. It was from the government. It read:

Dear Steffy Mcdarf,
Congratulations on passing your college assessments.
We would like to inform you that you have inherited a billion dollars from your Great-Great-Great Grandparents.
Rudolph Mcbarf

Steffy handed the letter to Mike to read out loud.

The whole family gasped in surprise.

Five days later Steffy saw a big property for sale.

5 Million Acres-2 Million Dollars

Mike agreed that Steffy should buy it and save the wildlife.

Sally, Mike and Steffy started drawing up signs while Rosalina and Peter put down some pebbles and gravel for paths and put up wooden fences.

Soon it was time to create a website. They took pictures of the wildlife and posted it on the site. They also put up the sign that said:

“Welcome To Wildlife Reserve and Rescue.”

A week later people were lined up at the gate ready to come in and enjoy the wildlife. Sally handed out maps, Mike answered questions while Steffy, Rosalina and Peter directed parking.

“We have koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, kookaburras, cockatoos, echidnas, cassowaries and even snakes, “ Mike told the visitors.

“Where is the restaurant on this map?” asked a lady.

“We don't have a restaurant here and no littering either. This is nature,” Sally answered.

“Why do people even put restaurants in the bush when there are animals that could eat the litter?” Sally thought.

The park became a famous reserve and some people even went jogging in the reserve. Nature runners were soon counting on the reserve to open at 4 AM. People loved racing in nature.

Occasionally a wallaby would be sighted and koalas heard.

The park improved a lot over two years so Steffy thought of carriages for tours. Steffy bought a big glass carriage that could hold up to twenty people. She bought four Clydesdale horses and two Shires to pull it.

The park went on and on and soon trail rides were going through the park and people coming to line up at 6 AM to be the first ones in. Everyone loved to see the baby koalas, joeys and birds. They even respected being quiet.

Two years later there were over 200,000,000 koalas, 100,00,000 kangaroos, 200,000,000 wallabies and 200,000,000 birds. The reserve was a huge success. The only thing the Mcdarf family had to worry about was food for themselves and the mighty horses, taking care of the carriage of glass and of course running the reserve.

What a success saving the wildlife!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Not a Tall Poppy, Just a Failed Lotus!


I got my first negative review last week.

That it was better written than the blog it was criticising probably says it all.

That the author was apologising for it before I had even read it reminds me I'm in Australia.  Really, you don't hear about New Yorkers apologising.  Germans?  Ah, ja right.

I am hanging the critique on my wall to remind me of the power and responsibility of words. 

She was dead on in her rather scathing picture of the true me.  Scary, really, how much she sees through me.

She missed the whole point of the blog - the self-condemnation and sarcastic bitterness, the anger turned inward but projected outward at the wrong target - but showed me that I need to put the power of my words to better use.

I CAN get people talking.  It'd just be nice if they kept talking to me too!

Then she told me about tall poppy syndrome, a social phenomenon attributed especially to Australia and New Zealand but apparently also to Canada and the UK, in  which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.  (Thanks Wikipedia.)

This has been a huge cultural distinction for me, coming from the highly motivated and ambitious upper middle class suburbs of NYC where achievement and success are admired to the point of idolatry. 

(Bear with me here Nicole, the following is NOT pretentious, it is really just me undertstanding some very real differences between Oz and the U.S.)

I grew up not only knowing that I would go to college, but that I would finish graduate school and become a doctor.  (Okay, a veterinarian, but give me something to work with here!)  Not everyone in my highschool went to college, far from it, but certainly everyone in my social circle did.  I had never had a friend who hadn't attended university until after veterinary school when I went to Alaska and met the fish hippies.  Many of who probably HAD gone to college, now that I come to think of it.

You didn't let on how smart you were in American schools either.  Until later on when everyone knew anyway and there were people way smarter than you in your class anyway.  I went to school with people who now work for NASA.  Wall Street.  (For better or worse!).  Doctors and lawyers and museum curators.  Oh, and obviously lots of veterinarians.  And more architects than I would have thought.  Its not (just) about the money; its about the education and a broader world view.

In the USA everyone is either trying to go to college or embarrassed that they didn't.  Unless they are Bill Gates.

College (called university just about everywhere else) is part of the American dream.  Life, liberty and the pursuit happiness automatically includes success.

The first shock came in Germany when it was seen as uncool and overambitious if you had aspirations of your child attending university.  You weren't supposed to presume.


I haven't heard very many people talking about university here in southeast Queensland at all.  This is partly a result of a good social phenomenon;  working class people in Australia have a really high standard of living.  They are comfortable, happy and financially secure.  Only Australians are going to laugh at this; they are having tougher times now than five years ago apparently.  But in comparison to what I saw in Europe and especially in the USA,  Australians are very well off.  Without going to uni.

What they are missing is the learning for learning's sake in itself and this HAS been attributed in part to tall poppy syndrome and not wanting to appear snobby or pretentious or better than your neighbour.

My friends telling me to shove it up my rear end was not tall poppy syndrome though. 

I've only been using arrogance as a self-defence mechanism recently.  Mostly I'm still just dazed and confused and honestly trying to figure out what everyone else seems to think I should already know and keep quiet about.

This is also an anglosphere thing a German-American like me wouldn't understand.  Give me a break, willya, I've just learned how to pronounce 'scones' and make a decent cup of tea!  (This is tough actually; it is easy for an American to fit in here but most Aussies, like most Americans, have not been abroad much, so the subtleties in culture are attributed - by myself as well - as character flaws and not cultural misunderstandings.)

There are subtleties to what is accepted and what is silently understood and what is not said out loud that I am just getting the hang of.  Americans have been accused of a lot of character flaws, but subtlety has never been one of them!

A (British) friend in Germany tried to explain it to me once.  "I guess there are just some social conventions and rules that have to be followed in a group."

Yeah.  I just wish they weren't unspoken ones.  Could someone just write them down for the barbarious non-anglosphere people in the room?! 

Plus, Australians want to be fair.  Americans like to be right.  This is a bigger difference than it first apears.  Germans just want to be sure everyone is following the same rules, also a subtle distinction from fair AND right.  Having been raised in Germany and the USA, I want everyone to do things the same way, the right way.  And am just learning that that's not fair!!! 

I'm making it sound a lot tougher than it is.  I love it here. 

People approve of my "100% Aussie" T-shirt and welcome me into the poppy field.

Everyone at the gym and at school has done nothing but encourage me in the pursuit of my weight loss and fitness goals.  When I tell people I want to be a writer they applaud and never doubt that I can do it.  (Try walking into a writers' workshop in NYC with a baby on your hip and see what happens; you wanna see pretention and arrogance, mate I got nothing!)   I have never felt so supported.

I honestly think Aussies have less of a problem with others reaching their goals than most people.

This takes a lot more self-assurance than they give themselves credit for.

Although I might have (unintentionally) shown the arrogance, I have not showed the merit to be a tall poppy.

I have certainly not elevated myself above my peers.  My peers are running faster, writing better, achieving inner peace and personal growth.  My peers are growing as fast as I am.

I'm not a poppy though, as much as I'd like to be.  And every now and then I am going to do or say something that makes the other poppies remember that.

Right now I'm probably still just a dandelion, a pretty weed that tends to take over if you let it, that scatters her seeds aimlessly if the wind blows too strongly, that you can still uproot fairly easily if you just give a strong tug.

I'd like to be a lotus.

Transplant that I am,  I'm very happy and grateful to be growing in a field of poppies. 

Who knows what the other flowers see in me.  Maybe they feel sorry for me, poor crass bold and brash dandelion, loosely rooted and spewing all over the place.  Maybe they like the fertilizer I dish out every now and then.

Maybe they see in me the lotus I am trying to become.

In any case, tall poppy syndrome poppycock.  I haven't earned the distinction.  Thanks for still letting me play in your field though!