Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On Raising Men: Cinderella Story

One of the greatest things about being middle aged (and having a baby)  is that I get to have friends way younger than me and friends way older than me. 

Bobbi, Fran The Balloon and Stormtrooper after The Bridge To Brisbane

 "You're not even my YOUNGEST friend," I remember telling Bobbi.

"Yeah, well you're certainly my OLDEST!"  she replied.

Cheeky.  You can see why we're friends.

Merle and I are soulmates.  She's older than MY mother, but she's not my mother.  We have a privileged relationship without that strain of maternity.

As a bridge between generations, I feel obliged to share what women learn as they get older with the young ladies out there.

It doesn't get better than this.

Andrew.  So sweet in his new school uniform.  But who is picking up those scraps of paper on the floor behind him?!

I am doing my best to raise young gentlemen, I really am.  But they have the emotional growth of six year olds.  Granted, two of mine ARE six but still, there is only so much a mother can do with what genetics and sex have already predetermined.   It starts with testosterone dominance in the womb, call it XY dysfunction if you like.

I reran Whitney Houstons' Cinderella the other day.  The one with Brandy as Cinderella and that really cute Filippino Prince.  After getting sidetracked with how interesting it was that a black mother and a white father could have a Filippino son....

"Maybe they adopted," someone suggested.

"Whoopi Goldberg can do anything," I replied.

They weren't worried about the interracial family, just trying to figure out the genetics involved.

While I was trying to show how a man should treat a lady. 

Aidan and Coach Neil...one of the good ones!!!
"Like a princess, I suppose," says the prince. 

"No, like a person.  With dignity and respect," answers Brandy /aka Cinderella.

Of course, by that time the boys had already lost interest and were in the playroom fighting with swords.

Matthew did come out at one point, near the end, to check and see how things were going.

Stunned shock and surprise.

"Hey, hey Aidan.  Come here.  Quick.  The shoe.  Look. The shoe."

They both stood in silence before the telly, mini maces and bludgeons clenched in their fists.

"I think it's going to fit her,"  Matthew finally breathed in relief.

"It is.  It is." replied Aidan with excitement.

They both turned to report to me.

"Mom.  The shoe fits."

And ran back into the playroom.

Honestly ladies, they've heard this story before.

I just don't think they get it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm Just Saying.....

A few years back I was at a town hall meeting in Altdorf, with scores of other outraged citizens, questioning the actions of our mayor.

Yeah, shit, I do manage do get myself into it, don't I?

As the mayor started to mock us and tell us we had no right to question his authority, I finally stood up and said/asked, in my American accent,

"This is ...uh ...a democracy?"

All of a sudden realising I had been raised on American values and wasn't exactly sure, I looked to the other citizens for confirmation.

Yes, as it turns out. A federal, parliamentary, representative democratic republic. I just checked.

The United States of America is also a representative democracy, which is a kind of republic, just in case anyone cares.

Australia is also a democracy (parliamentary democracy, I checked).  Phew.

But I'll be the first to admit that I consider freedom of speech a first amendment right.  Which is an American thing. 

But shit, the nation that bred Julian Assange has got to have that same belief, right?!

Actually no, not in any official constitution or statutory bill of rights, but yes, an accepted right accorded by the Australian government. 

You don't believe me?  Google it.

Does this mean that outraged Muslims in Sydney have a right to violent protest?  No.  It means they have a right to be outraged.  It means they have a right to protest.

But I for one would be really careful before I commit any crimes in a country of which I don't even have the privilege of citizenship. 

Out on your bottoms, mates! 

Does this mean that people shouldn' t be using the internet to spread their opinions?  I don't think so.  It was the internet messages that alerted the police in Sydney to what was happening.  Stifle dissent, stifle freedom of speech, and the government no longer knows the will of the people.

To me, it unfortunately also means that the video that has sparked these violent ant-American protests worldwide, is protected by freedom of speech.  Freedom of speech doesn't censor stupid.

Funny though, how noone wants to censor things they agree with, or that talk about how great their government is. 

I'm just saying.

Still, I haven't written an anti-Muslim movie and posted it on the internet.  I mean, DUH! 

I haven't even revealed any top government papers.

I write a blog which is averaging 7 page views per post last week.  (Thanks Mom.  Hope you like the pictures, Monica.)

I'm just saying.

Yeah, I guess I am just saying.

Is that really a crime?

(What follows was just meant as research but...in case anyone DOES care....I left it in by accident at first and now just leave it with this short explanation....see, sometimes I DO actually research before i write something!!)

Or as Voltaire has been paraphrased,
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."


On a more practical plane, freedom of speech serves many functions. One of its most important functions is that decision-making at all levels is preceded by discussion and consideration of a representative range of views. A decision made after adequate consultation is likely to be a better one which less imperfectly mirrors the opinions, interests and needs of all concerned, than a decision taken with little or no consultation. Thus freedom of speech is important at all levels in society. Yet it is most important for government. A government which does not know what the people feel and think is in a dangerous position. The government that muzzles free speech runs a risk of destroying the creative instincts of its people.

Freedom of speech is also important to governments because when criticisms of a government are freely voiced, the government has the opportunity to respond to answer unfair comments and criticisms about its actions. On the other hand, when freedom of speech is restricted, rumours, unfair criticisms, comments and downright falsehoods are circulated by word of mouth. These have a habit of spreading across the length and breadth of the country through conversation and surreptitiously circulated writings. The government is in no position to answer these views, because they are not publicly stated. It is in a government's interest to have criticisms in the public arena where it can answer its critics and correct its mistakes. The government generally has access to electronic and printing communication far in excess of individuals and groups. It is able to present its view only if the opposing views are in the open and known.

Finally, the freedom of speech is the single most important political right of citizens, although private property is required for its operation. See further chapter 8. Without free speech no political action is possible and no resistance to injustice and oppression is possible. Without free speech elections would have no meaning at all. Policies of contestants become known to the public and become responsive to public opinion only by virtue of free speech. Between elections the freely expressed opinions of citizens help restrain oppressive rule. Without this freedom it is futile to expect political freedom or consequently economic freedom. The sine qua non of a democratic society is the freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech involves toleration of a great deal of nonsense, and even of matters which are in bad taste. There are those, among them notably Justice Douglas of the American Supreme Court, who have argued for near absolute freedom of speech and against the restrictions based on many of the common exceptions. In Roth v US 354 US 476 (1957) a case about obscenity, Justice

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mad at God - Sexual Abuse in Children

I've said it before.  I don't get God's messages.

But does He really need to work this hard to get his point across?

Okay God, I get it.  But please, leave the little kids out of it.

You see, this is why I can't believe in you.

I can believe in a great universe, with good and evil in it, striving towards perfect balance.  This way evil is noone's fault and it is just up to us to do the best we can to eliminate the small pockets of it that we can, strive to eliminate evil in ourselves and hope for more balance the next time around.

Baby steps and all towards balance.

But when you keep shoving these poor kids in my face, these children who are beaten and neglected and abused and unloved, these children who stand no real chance at all in this life, children whose best hope is to stay out of prison, whose greatest achievement might be, maybe, just possibly, with some luck,  to learn how to read and maybe stay away from drugs and just stick to alcohol, and maybe only beat their wives and not their children.....

Really, Lord, if you are out there, what are you trying to prove?

Alright.  I am leaving Lawnton.  The twins are out too.  I get the message.

But what about these other kids?

Why are these children exposing themselves sexually to mine?  Why are they touching my boys where they shouldn't be touched?

Why are the adults not seeing this?  Or treating it as normal?

Why am I scared to make waves and warn my friends about this?

Why am I worried that people will say I overreacted?

It's more than one child, Lord.  It's little girls and boys crying out for help.

Why don't they get it?

All I can do is trust that there is a reason for all this - or that there is no reason and it is up to me to protect mine.

All I can do is protect mine.

How can I raise boys with respect for themselves and for women if they are going into school everyday and their classmates are showing them their vaginas?  Or touching their penis's out on the playground during tigi/tag? 

Why am I the only adult this seems to disturb?

Alright God, I get the message..  I'll get mine out and let you take care of yours.

But I gotta tell you.  If you expect me to let go and let you, if you want me to have faith and leave it all in your hands, well, I'm expecting a little more effort on your part here.

I get the whole "there has to be evil so that we can choose good" thing, I really do.

But children, Lord? 

Better you didn't exist.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Homeschooling Goals and Philosophy

Proposed Home Schooling Program For Ryan Elizabeth Connor

I have enclosed the steps that Ryan and I have taken in coming to the decision to home school as well as a personal statement on that decision.

We have stepped up our initially agreed upon start date from February 2013 to October 2012 due to continued teasing at school but already have a curriculum in mind so that we can begin four months earlier. Starting earlier will give us time to test in maths and English and to set up our outside lessons, such as flute, dance and knitting, before the start of summer holidays. It will also allow us to assess our program and tweak it as necessary before the 2013 school year.

Goals and Philosophy

My broad goal as a mother is to raise a happy, creative, independent, confident human being.

My academic goals as an educator are to give Ryan a firm foundation in the maths and English. I would like her to be able to take that foundation and use higher order thinking to master basic life skills. I would like her to be able to do sums in her head, to round numbers and do simple percentages, to apply long-term thinking as well as multiplication to figure out yearly charges from monthly bills. I would like her to be able to alphabetise rapidly in order to go through lists, to use a dictionary and thesaurus, find books in the public library. I would like her to be able to read between the lines and know what someone is saying. I would like her to expand her vocabulary for the same reason (as well as possible foster a love for words). And to learn proper punctuation, particularly when something is possessive versus plural, something modern English speakers seem to have decided is no longer important!

To balance this, I hope to foster a love of learning and a sense a sense of adventure about the world around us. We will use Ryan's fondness for German to read some classic German children's tales (in German), her American heritage and Queensland residence to compare American colonial history and the history she sees around her every day, taking into account the plight of both country's indigenous peoples. We will also use the environment around us to learn about the ecosystem, about life's processes and about our responsibility to a sustainable planet.

My creative goals are Ryan's own. She will continue flute lessons privately as well as join a local youth band. She wants to enrol in gypsy dance classes. We will also look for ways for her to develop her interest and talent in the fine arts, by enrolling in art classes and/or taking advantages of workshops offered in the Moreton Bay region as well as visiting the GOMA in Brisbane regularly.

Ryan's own goal at the moment is to be a horseback riding instructor. She will continue her weekly riding classes and her Equine Australia certification course with the goal of becoming a Junior Instructor at the end of two years' time.

My long term goal is to develop Ryan's natural interests and talents in horseback riding and the arts while at the same time strengthening her basic life skills in maths and English. I would like her to be able to build upon her education when choosing a life path, a path that will eventually include artistic circles other than the two of us, one I trust leads her to university and one that allows her to make her own choices and create her own happiness in the future.


My approach to teaching draws comparisons to both Montessori and Steiner philosophies.

The Montessori educational approach looks for more than retention of knowledge. It aims to also generate security, trust, and independence in the child. As a result of individual teaching and a child being allowed to work at his or her own pace in a peaceful, non-competitive environment a desire to learn is developed and concentration is enhanced. Thus Montessori Education provides education in harmony with life. “ (http://parahilwps.sa.edu.au/montessori/philosophy.htm)

Like Dr. Montessori, I want to foster Ryan's independence, her self-confidence and her self-discipline, instilling in her a desire to learn, initiative and creative self-expression.

Like Steiner, I want to nurture Ryan's imagination and creativity as well as her intellect. By home schooling her, I am able to cater to her individual needs rather than what is expected from the status quo.

Steiner schooling strives to support the development of well rounded human beings who are able to feel deeply and broadly, to think penetratingly and clearly, and then to act rightly out of conscious and free choice. The best overall statement on what is unique about Steiner education is to be found in the stated goals of the schooling:

"Our highest endeavour must be to develop individuals who are able out of their own initiative to impart purpose and direction to their lives". Rudolf Steiner

In practice, I will be using Maths and English workbooks from an Australian based company that will lend a more structured learning approach to these two subjects.

I will be loosely following the Australian National Curriculum especially in history and science and especially for the rest of the 2012 calendar year.

LOTE will be German and the arts will be Ryan's flute, dance, sketching and knitting initiatives. She will also continue with horseback riding with the aim of achieving Equine Australia Junior Level Instructor certification in two years.

In this manner, I hope to blend the best of both philosophies with a practical approach to the basics of maths and English especially.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

WHO is a social misfit?!!!


The most common argument I hear against homeschooling Ryan (which I am doing starting in October) is that it will hurt her socially to be away from all the social aspects of highschool.

What highschool did you people go to?!

Simon and Garfunkel sum it up nicely.

"When I think back on all the crap I learned in highschool, it's a wonder I can think at all."

I've spent the last 25 years of my life unlearning what I learned in highschool.

Justin Timberlake got teased in school. For his looks. (!!!!) Lady Gaga got bullied in school. She was told she would never be good enough, that she had to lower her expectations, that she wasn't as great as she thought she was, just a backup singer at best. And this was by her teachers!

Speak to any great artist, any controversial thinker, think of Bill Gates now changing the world.

Then tell me those little shits they call the leaders of the school are really people my daughter needs to put up with.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Homeschooling Ryan

Proposed Home Schooling Program for Ryan Elizabeth Connor
(as submitted on September 4, 2012)

Background: I have given a great deal of thought as to what is best for Ryan in terms of her academic, artistic and social and emotional development. I have always been an ardent supporter of the state school system in any given country, firmly believing that it is in our state schools that the hopes for our country lie. As newcomers to Australia, I am proud to have three children in the state school system here in Queensland and plan to have a fourth enrol when he is of age.

Coming most recently from Germany, a country where home schooling is illegal, I also value the choice we, as Australians, have in determining our child's education. I believe a formal school environment is the best choice for most, but not all, children. Ryan has had difficulties learning in a classroom since she began school in Germany. As a gentle, artistic spirit she has also been picked on and teased since she began school.

We chose to leave Germany in part because the option to home school Ryan was not a legal option there. They were unable or unwilling to meet the academic and emotional needs of my child but also unwilling to provide me the freedom to do so myself.

The Queensland state school system has surpassed our expectations in every way. Ryan repeated Year 5 in 2011 (the equivalent of Year 4 in Germany). She gained confidence as she repeated skills she had been unable to grasp the first time around in Germany and she gained pride in her achievements as an artistic spirit and creative being. I am grateful to her teachers at Lawnton State School for giving her a sense of self-worth.

Ryan still struggles academically to grasp basic mathematical and literary concepts. More concerning is her personal dissatisfaction with her peer group at school. She still gets teased and picked on. She is different. As the school year continues I begin to see the same signs of depression and anxiety that I saw in Germany. And here, I can do something about it.

I never saw myself as a home schooling mother. I saw myself as a career woman who would go back to veterinary medicine, or take a creative writing and literature course at university, once I got the kids settled into their school routines. Watching Ryan quietly grow into a creative, independent being and watching her struggle in a traditional educational environment has forced me to reconsider my priorities.

As a veterinary surgeon with eight years of post-graduate education, I have the academic background necessary to teach Ryan maths, science, English and technology. As a writer and creative being myself, I have the interest to help her explore the arts, society and environment, and language. As her mother, I am more qualified than anyone else to help her discover and improve upon her strengths while developing basic academic skills I deem necessary for life in the real world outside of the arts.

My goal is to raise a happy, creative, independent, confident human being.

I propose to home school Ryan through 2103 and then see how she and I feel about her reentering a traditional school system in 2014/2015. In that time we will work on basic maths and English skills as well as explore other cultures (India in SOSE, German in LOTE and American/Australian early settlement contrasts and comparisons in history), the ecosystem, biology (through her interest in horses!) as well as having her explore, expand and develop her artistic interests in visual arts, music (flute) and knitting.

Our strengths will be our flexibility within my rigorous academic expectations.

The only argument I have heard against my home schooling Ryan has been a caution to avoid isolation. She has her horseback riding with a group of girls at the barn. We intend to continue private flute lessons and have her join a youth band. She wants to enrol in a gypsy dance class and in knitting classes. She and I will also begin as reading volunteers in her twin brothers' year one class next term.

I question the premise that our most important social skills are formed in high school.

I have struggled for twenty five years to unlearn the need to satisfy the expectations of others, something my daughter has already managed to discover without my help.

We are both looking forward to beginning this journey together, not knowing where it will lead us, but confident that we have the right partner to travel with.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fathers' Day Parade

August 4, Not one of the days it all came together.  Aidan with his badge:  Last Connor Standing.  The rest of us had the flu.

There are days when everything seems to come together.

Spring is here. 

My husband wore my favourite blue shirt and marroon tie to the Fathers' Day assembly.  (Australia being what it is, he was not only the only father wearing a suit and tie, but the only father wearing SOCKS!)

Aidan and Matthew's first grade class prepared a skit on valuing diversity.  (Imagine Elmer Fudd stumbling through "We value diversity.  We are caring, inclusive and tolerant." and you will get an idea of what they sounded like but I still love this school, officially our old school now, for just these sort of values.)

Ryan was recognised for a piece of artwork she did based on the cover from "Twilight."

Andrew wrote the script for the Optiminds performance that got Lawnton State School the highest award it has ever received, Honours.

All of us got to touch an Olympic medal, won in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, by Daea Wolfgramm, in boxing, the first person from Tonga, the first Pacific Islander at all, to ever win an Olympic medal.  His son is in Andrew's class at Lawnton, having moved here from New Zealand the same week we did. 
Aug 30, Fathers' Day Parade:  Andrew showing why it is so hard to talk to some of the dads : they are too high up!

And I got to enjoy the Lawnton school community for what it is, for what it was for us two years ago and for what it will continue to offer to the community.  (Diversity IS a huge part of that, having spent most of the morning tea with friends from all over the world.  Five years, mates, trip to India, all of us!)
Aug 30, Lawnton Pals

It wasn't a perfect week for the school.  Three suspensions.  Curse words written on the bathroom mirrors.  Swearing and roughhousing in the courtyard. 

But having made up our minds to leave (the enrolment process at Kurwongbah consisting of me trying to calm down a sick baby and finally having to whip out a boob in the middle of the whole thing!) I can now appreciate what Lawnton does.

Reading Week: Come as your favourite literary character. 

It brings hope and opportunity to a community that wouldn't have them otherwise.

It does an amazing job with at-risk kids, with at-risk families and with kids with severe behaviour problems.

It is the school Jesus would have attended.  (Academic and athletic excellence aside, he would have been lecturing the local private "Christian" school around here for their lack of tolerance and compassion.) 
Spinner: a character by dc green who spews vomit.  You can lead a boy to the classics, you can even make him read them.  But he'll still go to school covered in blue paint and pretending to vomit on people.

I will miss the Lawnton community.  It taught me everything my "Peace Corps" experience didn't:

To value and accept another culture or socioeconomic group for what it is.

To have hope that, given the proper opportunities, this culture can solve its own problems.

To accept that these problems aren't mine to solve,

That these problems will always exist,

That all you can do is lead by example and give tools to those that ask for them.

Queen Susan of Narnia. 

Being a part of the Lawnton community, being accepted as a part of it, made me realise who I am, what I stand for, and where I belong.  I am Lawnton because they let me in.  But I am leaving because I can. 

Both Buddhist and Hindu belief say that your children were given to you for a reason, that your children chose you to parent them.  I can give Ryan a liberal, fine-arts based education at home right now and so I should.  Her gentle spirit chose mine to protect it.  I can give Andrew the opportunites to meet other children who shine as he does and so I should.  I can give all my children exposure to arts and literature, music and drama, sports and...oh heck, who am I kidding, all the boys want is sports anyway!   (During his enrolment interview, while I was trying to convince the deputy principal to place Andrew in the gifted and talented program, Andrew suggested that his best talents lay not in maths OR creative writing, but on the soccer field!  I'd still like him to have something to fall back on though just in case World Cup Australia DOESN'T work out!)

Ian too cool for school

I was angry at Lawnton, not for being what it is, but for forcing me to choose to leave when all I really wanted to do was stay, stay, stay in one place instead of row, row, row to another.

My strength lies in my ability to change my circumstances, not accept them. 

And so I leave you, not with ANOTHER analogy about going where the current leads you, but with the promise that my kids will find better ways to express themselves than I can, that I will lead them where they need to go in order to become the people they were meant to be. 

These kids chose me for a reason. 

Aug 13 at Bribey Island.

Perhaps being their parent is more important than anything else.