personal political

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Location: Sydney, Australia

I have now moved this blog to Typepad: the new address is http://susoz.typepad.com/personal_political/

Friday, July 30, 2004

that book

The only solely-Vietnam guide book I was able to buy before travelling was Lonely Planet . (Which I see says that Hanoi's population is three million, whereas I think I've said it was bigger than that. Actually, I think one of our guides told us it was four million.)

Every other traveller in Hanoi had bought this book. Actually, if they bought it there, as our pal Janice did, they were buying a completely photo-copied version - pirated!

In Europe, tourists stand on street corners and huddle over maps. In Asia, backpackers stand on street corners and huddle over their Lonely Planets. I always feel slightly furtive and self conscious when I do this. In some countries, bringing out a map or guide book is an immediate signal for touts and hasslers to descend, offering to take you somewhere or sell you something. I have a good head for maps and always tried to work out my route in advance, memorising the number of streets we had to walk before we arrived at our desired objective. But in the heat, my memory often failed, so I had to resort to bringing out the book. Fortunately, in Hanoi, no one bothered us when we did this, though I still felt uncomfortable - a hostage to mass-produced 'independent' travel.

And I discovered with a jolt that, at 48, I really do need glasses. I had great difficulty reading the tiny maps and tiny print. This was a tedious aspect to the holiday which magically disappeared when we came home and I could make all the print larger on my computer screen!

The book was somewhat responsible for the mixed ideas I initially had about what we would do in Vietnam. It is written, after all, for those who are doing long travel treks on a low budget and trying to get the cheapest possible deals on every aspect of daily life, such as catching a public bus to the airport. (Forget it, we went in airconditioned taxi.) It is full of safety warnings and has a slightly paranoid air. It took me a few days to realise that this did not apply to us. In fact, Hanoi felt very very safe. There was never any attempt to steal anything from any of us, to mislead us or exploit our ignorance. In fact one guide returned to the hotel at 10pm to refund some money as she felt she had unwittingly overcharged us. We walked the streets at night and felt safe. The people are reserved and polite.

For the first few days of our stay, we walked everywhere, because I could not face negotiating with drivers about directions and money, having had hassles in other countries. Finally, we jumped into a taxi and discovered that getting around was as easy as pie (and cheap enough to satisfy a Lonely Planet budget). From then on we consulted the book less and less and finally got hold of a glossy map which was much lighter to shove in the daypack. We got talking to an Australian woman who's lived in Hanoi for two years (where else but by the pool at the Army Hotel) and she wrote out a list of recommended restuarants, which we systematically sampled. So in the end, Lonely Planet was increasingly irrelevant and I could see why my pal who worked there ten years ago told me she'd finally torn up her copy.

[My brother-out-of-law worked for Lonely Planet in Melbourne and did not enjoy the experience. He'll enjoy hearing about this.]

digital surprise

Before I went, I had the impression that Vietnam was an undeveloped, mainly traditional society. I hardly read a thing in preparation, except for some notes made by a friend of mine who worked there ten years ago for planned parenthood - in which she mentioned bicycles and communes. I was envisioning a very low-tech travel experience.

When I went to the toilet on our austere Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City and saw a flight attendant crouched down SMSing, I should have had an inkling that something was awry with this concept. But it still took a couple of days to sink in. Vietnam is developing rapidly. Mobile phones were everywhere and young people (in the cities) are frantically texting with the same lightening fingers I have come to recognise in my work colleagues and partner. (I personally don't do SMS.)

My mother-out-of-law had fallen over in a London street and broken her elbow a week before we went away. Co-partner thus took her own mobile phone with her, which she was able to recharge with the help of a five-star hotel (this was beyond the abilities of the Army Hotel). She was able to call London and speak to her parents from our hotel room. Each morning she would turn on her phone and we'd receive the latest news via text message from her sister, plus various friends informing us of our dogs' progress in our absence. We were not at all cut off, as I had half imagined we would be.

Internet cafes were everywhere, mostly inhabited by 'backpackers'. We didn't need a specialist cafe, as our hotel had computers in the lobby, the Web for 5c a minute. Our co-traveller Janice was regularly updating her blog, occasionally able to upload photos from her digital camera, when she got the right kind of connection. (When she uploads her Hanoi photos, I'll include a link here.)

Not only did we have CNN or BBC World to watch over breakfast in the socialist-decor hotel dining room (large portrait of Ho Chi Minh, complete with Christmas decorations which apparently stayed up permanently), we had American movies with Vietnamese voice-over in our bedroom. Or CNN Asia, so a lot of news about the World AIDS conference.

Luckily, the world is not yet completely homogenised. And Vietnam is so full of life that it overshadows and outshines cable television. CNN might be droning away in the corner, but we'd be eating papaya at a circular table, chatting to some of the fascinating other guests (Army Hotel was the place to go if you had children, were an aid worker, were over 35, gay, single or all of the above).

Each morning the daily issue of the English-language newspaper would be hanging in a cotton bag on our door. This was quite unlike a typical western newspaper. Front page news would be of visits from Bangladeshi politicians, speeches by Vietnamese officials, trade deals, factory output... Yet it was not all dull communist rhetoric. There were feature stories about Vietnamese artists, performers, health workers. It was refreshing to view the world from a slightly different angle.

Hanoi has cyclo-rickshaws side by side with a bright sparkly department store selling expensive DVD players. There are cafes everywhere, and people cooking on the footpaths. There are Toyota Landcruisers in the streets, passing emaciated ponies pulling carts loaded with cement blocks. There are incredibly beautiful tailored fashion boutiques and women selling bananas carried in baskets held on poles across their shoulders. The 21st century side by side with medieval life. Both are scary.

child traveller

Olle was the perfect traveller in Vietnam. Not that we did much internal travelling. We arrived in Hanoi very late Friday night, one week before my friend Sue was due to meet us there. I had planned for us to go south to Hue in that week. But by the time I tried to make train/plane bookings on the Monday morning, everything was full for the next few days. So we decided to remain in Hanoi for the week, taking some daytrips to the surrounding countryside and villages. The second week we went up north to Halong Bay (scene of the film Indochine, if you've ever seen that - we haven't, we'll have to rent it soon).

So we spent most of our time in Hanoi itself, a city about the same size as greater Sydney (four million), but without a skyscraper district, so that it felt small and manageable and, in one kind of way, even gentle. (Traffic excluded!)

Co-parent and I have both travelled "independently" in the past (she spent a full year in India in 1977 on two hundred pounds sterling!) and when we first arrived in Vietnam, our urge was to fill our days with walking, museums, pagodas, watching and sampling as much of the life as we could. Small hitch: five year old child who first wants to sample the hotel swimming pool for a couple of hours after breakfast and falls sound asleep by 7pm (which in Australian time is 10pm, so he was doing well to make it that far.) We had to readjust and reschedule: organise our days around two swimming pool sessions (after breakfast and before dinner), head for a restaurant by 6pm, plan one main event (museum, whatever) per day. It was very hot and steamy, so in fact these parameters were welcome to us, too. And of course they changed, so that by the end of the two weeks, he was able to stay up till 9.30pm, so we could go out to restaurants at a more civilised hour.

When I told people we'd be taking Olle to Vietnam, there was a quick twitching of eyebrows and perhaps a glimmer of concern. I felt as if we were doing something daring and possibly dangerous. But close friends of mine took their then-five-year-old there ten years ago. So I knew it was possible. Still, I admit I had a sense that we were entering uncharted waters. I couldn't have forseen that those waters were salty and belonged to a hotel swimming pool.

The pool at the three-star Army Hotel (about which there is a great deal more to be said) was the highlight of Olle's visit to Vietnam. (The simple pleasures of childhood!) Here he first swam across a pool unaided in the deep end. He learnt to do handstands in the water, to jump in backwards, to dogpaddle the full length of the pool (35m or so). He hung out in the shallow side pool and made overtures to non-English-speaking children. On weekends the wealthy citizens of Hanoi brought their chubby children to swim there - we saw no Vietnamese with a spare ounce of fat on them, except in that pool. In the pool on our fifth day, we met Canadians Janice and her almost-seven-year-old daughter Bao (pronounced Bo), who became our instant friends and travel companions. They had arrived the day before on the train from China, where they'd spent a month travelling, revisiting the orphanage where Bao spent the first year of her life.

The kids ate many plates of chips (French fries) by the pool, some of the most delicious I've ever had in my life. We watched a rat run in and out of the bushes to retrieve berries which had fallen from a nearby tree. We watched the changing panorama of other guests, in an array of multiracial and multicultural families - many couples of Vietnamese with Europeans, many Europeans with Vietnamese children. We drank numerous cups of Liptoms black tea with a slice of lime and cans of the insipid Vuietnamese beer. The kids drank Orangina and Sprite - enough Sprite to last Oli the next ten years.

Like so many things at the Army Hotel, the pool was a bit shabby and didn't work properly ie it was warm - uncooled. With the outside temperature at 34C, this was unrefreshing, to say the least. This did not deter the children but it did deter me. In the end, I stopped getting in.

Maybe swimming in a pool gave life a gloss of normality for Olle (not that we have a swimming pool in our tiny house). He appeared to take the fact that we were in a foreign, Asian country completely in his stride. (He had been to Singapore and England when he was three, but I don't think at that time he realised he was in another country.)

What a different life he leads compared to mine. It's the difference between the mid-20th and the 21st century, I suppose. I didn't fly in an aeroplane until I was ten. I didn't leave Australia until I was 20. At 20, the difference of Asia certainly struck me with immense force. Everything - the noise, the smells, the sights - was an assault on my senses and established view of the world. Olle, however, seemed cool, calm and collected at all times. In the mornings he would pull the curtains open, look down on the street and describe what he saw. He especially liked watching a group of boys play soccer as motorscooters and bicycles weaved through their game. He didn't seem to think it in any way remarkable that most people were speaking a language he can't understand. He quickly learnt to say 'thanks' in Vetnamese. He's a 'good eater' anyway and we had no trouble finding rice, grilled fish and chicken for him to eat (plus baguettes and cheese, pancakes and pastries at the delightful Cafe.) He always found something to amuse himself with at visits to temples and museums, whether it was watching large lizards in the sun, spotting goldfish in an ornamental pond, gathering fallen frangipani flowers from the footpath (something he likes to do in Sydney too) or gazing at ancient scimitars in the History Museum.

The cheek-pinching began on about the third day. A man walking past in the street actually slapped him, or tapped him, on the cheek. Well, I had been told the Vietnamese loved children. It happenned again and again, usually a little pinch. People seemed fascinated by his curly hair (which went very curly in the humidity) and bright blue eyes. A stallholder in the indoor market said "Booty bebe!" and held up three fingers. No, five fingers, I showed her in return, realising she had said he was a beautiful baby. Many people at first thought he was a girl, or asked if he was a boy or a girl, because of his long-ish curly hair. Thus when we went places with Bao and Janice, we ran the gauntlet of questions about where Bao was from ("China, yes, the south, yes, she does look Vietnamese") and how old Oli was and was he a boy or girl. Followed by a quick pinch of the cheek or hug.

The face of Mr Viet Nam (really), aka Nam, our 25 year old guide to Halong Bay, took on a cast of religious bliss whenever he spoke directly to Olle. I found this very interesting to watch. I couldn't tell whether it was a "this is how happy I'm supposed to look when talking to small children" face or the face of unself-conscious, unmediated joy. I still can't decide.



another take on Hanoi

I was looking around on the web for references to Jane Fonda and Joan Baez, both of whom took shelter against US bombs in the hotel we stayed in (for three nights) in Hanoi. I came across this curious account of a recent visit to Vietnam by a wargamer - someone obsessed with the 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu, in which the Vietnamese finally and decisively defeated the French, who had been the colonial power for the previous 100 years.
[In museums in Hanoi, I saw photos of Richard Nixon with French generals in Vietnam in the early 50s - quite an astonishing link.]
Despite the wargame aspect, this account of arriving in Hanoi is accurate (and I offer it here as a substitute for the one I am trying to write! There's so much to say that I can barely say anything...)

Thursday, July 29, 2004

heartbreaking

Medecin Sans Frontier is pulling out of Afghanistan. And if you read deeper into the article, the spokeswoman has some interesting and disturbing comments about the US military's "hearts and minds" campaign in Iraq.

[I do plan to write about our visit to Vietnam.]

back and on my bike

I'm back in the country and back on my bicycle, which is a double shock! I'm physically tired, whether from the remnants of jetlag (it's only three hours time difference from Vietnam, but I like to overestimate the effects of jetlag) or from the unaccustomed 30-minute hilly ride to work in the bracing winter air.
This morning I rode past a small protest against the jailing of the men who wrote No War on the Sydney Opera House last year. As they were sentenced to weekend jail last February, I don't know why there was a protest today - maybe it's a regular event, to raise money for them... I would have given them a thumbs-up except I have to keep my hand on the brakes at all times.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

ciao

And on that sombre note, I'm off to holiday in sultry Vietnam for two weeks (it will be fun to rediscover rain). We fly directly to Hanoi, where we'll meet up with my English friend who is currently in Bangkok for the World AIDS conference. I don't think we'll move around much, but stay put and explore Hanoi and its surrounds. On our return, it's straight back to work, school ... and blogging!

posting, not coasting

I know I'm supposed to be coasting, but I couldn't help posting about this article ... if you scroll to the bottom you'll discover that the US is making plans to call up yet more reservists. Today Australia has signed up the new Star Wars and enlarged on a deal to train US forces up north. I hate these stupid men (Downer, Hill, Howard) who are hitching our wagon so closely to the US military juggernaut.

boys and toys

Tracie wrote (hello Tracie): "I often wonder if boy interests and girl interests are something that are innate or learned behaviour. All the toys my son got for his first birthday were particularly boy toys - trucks, balls, trains etc. Did you ever try consciously to not promote gender specific play or did you find your son naturally went for boy's toys?"

I'm firmly in the nurture/learned camp when it comes to gender. Not that I subscribe to a 'role model' view of how children learn. I think it's much more complex than that (they can rebel, react against 'role models' as much as mimic them.) And I think we're all much more complex personalities and people than our mere gender. But (unless we're transexual) we do basically identify as boy or girl and I think identification is one of the key psychological processes young children have to go through. But ... identification with what? Notions of what's masculine or what's feminine change according to different cultures and times, even from decade to decade. I think, on the surface, children's lives are much more gendered now than they were when I was a child in the 50s and 60s - and I think that's due to increasing commercialism. My sisters and I were never dressed in pink. We wore shorts to play in. We played outdoors in mixed gangs of neighbourhood children. We had few toys. Yes, my brother got the meccano set for Christmas while I once got a miniature sewing machine (which I hated and hid at the back of the wardrobe, never to be used). But toys featured much less prominently in our lives than they do for my son and his peer group of little consumers. So that pink=girl=fairy=princess stuff was almost completely unknown to me as a child, whereas it seems to be the dominant feature of most little girls' lives we know today.

As a mother I have tried to de-promote gender specific behaviours and play - at least, I have tried to make sure that certain toys, colours, clothing, books, descriptive words, don't dominate in and circumscribe Olle's life. Quite a large component of that was trying to keep commercial influences to a minimum, because the branded toys/clothes carry the loudest gender-message, as far as I can see.

I've tried to keep ahead of the game at all times. If he needed heroes, than I'd rather he have heroes that were not Hollywood creations and who embodied values I could admire. I introduced him to Robin Hood when he was three. He's been obsessed with knights, swords, castles, horses, Robin Hood, Will Scarlett and Errol Flynn ever since.

Some studies of children raised in lesbian households show that they "are less confined by gender stereotypes". Which makes a certain sense to me.

But the gender system is bigger than all of us - you can't ever get away from it. Yet I don't feel defeatist. You often hear women say "but I treated them the same and yet my son is XXXXX". I don't buy that (that they were treated the same). We convey subtle expectations and hopes in our most intimate gestures. The Courage to Raise Good Men (which you can buy in Australia)takes an interesting look at the mother-son relationship in that context.

I would love to write more about this when I have more time.


Wednesday, July 07, 2004

coasting

For the past few weeks I've been coasting, in the political anger department. There's just so much fury one person can sustain, from day to day, week to week. A relentless succession of things to be angry about ... and fearful of. Not that I want to give the impression of myself as someone consumed by anger. I'm happy and satisfied with my life, probably more so now than at any other point. I walk the dogs in beautiful Centennial Park, read lovely stories to my boy at bedtime, eat and chat with friends... But it's just not in me to ignore what's going on out there. I compulsively turn on ABC TV news each evening, even if we're in an adjoining room so that it functions like radio ... I dash in whenever I hear a headline I want to know more about. In my daily web-surfings, so much catches my attention that I want to comment on or, at the least, point out to others. But there's not enough time.
Today, I'll just mention in passing (for local readers) the Back Pages analysis of our pre-election chess game. I hope he's correct.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

play gender

Having a son means we inhabit a different country from those of our friends who only have girls. They are countries with different colours, languages, images. I was struck by that peculiar fact again the other day when discussing 'Shrek 2' with a friend who saw it with her five and a half year old daughter. My friend especially liked the film's ending (where Princess Fiona chooses for her and Shrek to remain as ogres rather than attractive humans) because, she said, her daughter is constantly bombarded with the opposite message - about pretty princesses rescued by handsome princes - and it was a relief to watch something which undercut that. I too had liked the fim's ending, because I saw it as choosing happiness over appearances. But of course the 'princess' paradigm doesn't get picked up on Olle's radar at all, so his reception of a story like that is a much more generalised one. (We haven't spent much time reading fairytales as I don't like them much - maybe because I was a little girl once! - so his reception of the 'Shrek2' story was probably full of holes.)
Last night we had dinner with friends who have two little girls. The two year old spent a lot of time wheeling two miniature strollers around with her dolls in them. The mothers would occasionally comment on her play - "do your dollies need a pat?" "if you take them for a walk they would stop crying" "oh, you are so kind to those dollies".
Olle also had a mini stroller at that age and used it to wheel around teddies and sometimes a doll. But somehow this seemed very different and our way of talking to him (even though we liked to reinforce such caring acitivities) was different too, not fitting so neatly into an established play paradigm - the established world paradigm, really.
Later that little girl was playing with another, much smaller doll, a miniature Barbie, with clothes that could be put on and off (in pastel pink shades). I was forcefully reminded of Olle's love for miniatures of any kind at the age of two. He had some soft toys and yes, a doll or two, but mostly his minatures were different objects altogether, little plastic or wooden people and animals, boxes and tins, in all shades (not just pink and mauve). The same fine motor movement was required, but something different about the world was learnt.

Monday, July 05, 2004

crud

Sydney weather continued bizarrely summerlike over the weekend. Officially it was 24C yesterday but I'm sure it was hotter than that. Everyone was in summer clothes. I wore sandals all day. It was also very windy. Olle went to a birthday party at a harbourside beach and gusty winds kept blasting across the park. About two hours later the tell-tale white blobs appeared in the corners of his eyes - conjunctivitis. Normally I would have relied on saltwater bathing to clear it up, but as we're leaving for a humid third world country on Friday, I sent the co-parent out to a 24-hour pharmacy to get some pharmaceutical drops. This morning he woke up and could not open his eyes, they were so crusted together, but once we'd prised the crusts off his eyelashes, he didn't look too bad. The family who had agreed to take him today have three school-aged kids and weren't especially worried at the prospect of cross-infection, so he has been farmed out for the day.
Meanwhile, we parents are trying to fight off a cold/flu thingy. I'm popping echinacea/zinc/vitamin C lozenges and thinking healing thoughts. At least it's happenning this week, not next.
At the party, the birthday boy's mother was eager to ask me if I was indeed part of a two-women couple. It turned out that her mother, a stunningly attractive 54 year old who was being the life of the party, is too. Weird, that she became a grandmother at the age I am now. (She had her first baby at age 19.)
When we got home, I told Olle that A, the birthday boy, had "two grandmothers", just like he has two mothers. He seemed completely disinterested (but probably did file it for future reference.) Coincidentally, last year he developed a friendship with another boy at preschool who we later found out also had two mothers - we found out when one rang to accept the invitation to Olle's birthday party right at the end of the year and made a point of describing herself as "J's other mother". At the end of the party we compared notes - it turned out that we had both questioned our sons as to whether they'd realised that the other one had two mums and they had both reacted with disinterest (their family configurations had no relevance to their liking for playing together).
It was nice to find out about the lesbian grandmother, as I do have moments of mild paranoia about the other families in his class - the ones we don't know about. What do they think of us and more importantly, how will they talk about us to their kids? I'm normally not given to such paranoia, but the recent Gayschool incident has fanned the flames. [I heard from a friend whose friend is an ABC announcer that ABC radio callers were five to one against Playschool on that issue. Blah. Organised call-ins, maybe.]

Friday, July 02, 2004

future citizen

The other day in this blog, I moved from a discussion of a parent-teacher interview to thoughts about people who use hard drugs. A strange segue, maybe. Being a parent, especially now that my child's at school, I can't help but think about the future and in thinking about the future I can't help but think about my past.

I saw a lot of people drop by the wayside in my early 20s. They were young too, fresh out of the family, bright-eyed and excited about life, sex, the universe. But that quickly gave way to glazed eyes and the narrow, repetitive life of drug-obsession and dependency.
These were people from middle-class homes, a distinction I make because it's superficially apparent why the disadvantaged become addicts - out of a sense of hopelessness, idleness, to numb the pain of jobs like prostitution...
That doesn't explain why a married vet became an 'anarchist', began shooting up and then prescribing pethidine for all his young friends (who were my friends) - a position which made him popular and powerful. He died 'in his sleep' a few years later, the Jimi Hendrix way.
Doesn't explain why some of my friends got caught up in narcotics, while others resisted or managed to pull away, sooner or later. Why do some people have a strong sense of self-preservation, others an equally strong sense of self-destructiveness?
Doesn't explain why my Melbourne friend got herself together to leave the country, fleeing drugs, leaving behind a girlfriend who later got HIV/AIDS from shared needles.
It had to be something about that historical moment, the mid-to-late 70s. [Helen Garner wrote about the Melbourne version in Monkey Grip, a book which had a powerful hold on me when I first read it, as I so identified with the heroine.] We'd inherited the counter-culture and the liberation movements, the drop-out mentality, the group household verging on a commune, but the Vietnam war was over and the tide was beginning to turn towards the decade of style, consumption and money, the 80s.
One friend of mine, who died 'in her sleep' after several years of barbituate abuse, was beautiful and talented but wracked by fear of failure - convinced she could never write poems or make drawings that were good enough. Good enough for who? It's trite to say 'her mother'(though it was).
When our sons were two, a friend and I attended a talk on instilling self-esteem in our children. A nebulous concept and an equally nebulous process. I still don't know what exactly a parent would have to do to really make sure that a child had self esteem strong enough to withstand the vicissitudes of adolescent and adult life. I'm sure my friend's mother loved her deeply but something went terribly wrong somewhere.
So the school assessment system triggers in me a jumble of thoughts and feelings linked to my dead and surviving friends - thoughts about success, happiness, personal satisfaction, inner creativity... What's being measured? Who measures up, in their own eyes and the eyes of the world? Does my child have a solid core, a passion for life which will see him through?
Last year I was reading a fairly boring public service document about the provision of services to under-5s when I was startled out of my inertia - the writer made the point that children are often spoken of as "future citizens" but they are actually citizens now. As such, they deserve to be taken seriously, treated with dignity and have their needs met now, not just because they are going to grow up and become tax payers themselves.
I think I mostly have that attitude to mothering in general. I mostly don't think about how I want my child to "turn out". He is as he is. Let's live in the moment. [I just hope our moments now add up to something which will sustain him in the future.]

feastday

I've completed my shopping for an Indian vegetarian feast tonight at home. I selected three recipes from a Madhur Jaffrey book and have bought everything for an authentic taste, down to the asafetida. It's my birthday and an eclectic group of friends is visiting this evening. This morning Oli gave me my three gifts in bed - one from him, one from the co-parent and one from her parents. His was a little petal-shaped bowl. I found a tiny Made in Japan sticker on the side of it and peeled it off, then offered to stick it on to him. "No", he said, "then people will think I'm a sculpture".

iraq, not vietnam

Yesterday I wrote about how the situation in Iraq creates a deja vu of the Vietnam war for me. But as Robert Fisk, eminent British middle east journalist, writes, the deja vu truly belongs to the British occupation of Iraq in 1917. (Imagine, they were losing thousands of men in the trenches of France, but still had time and resources to slip down and invade Mesopatamia. Then as now it had something to do with oil.)

baghdad burning

Self-description: Girl blog from Iraq ... let's talk war, politics and occupation.

psychoanalysts for peace and justice

There's enough reading on this site to keep anyone occupied for days.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

parent teacher interview

It went swimmingly.

And it turns out that not all public schools in this state give out the kind of report card we received last week, as I'd thought. Some only give a report at the end of the year.

Several people suggested to me that the reason our child (and by extension, other children) received mainly the middle ratings on his report was so that he could be seen to improve on his end-of-year report card. The teacher confirmed this, not in exactly those terms, but she did say she expected him to "move up" in most categories of assessment on the final report card.

When we had a baby, we learnt all about percentiles. Now we have a school pupil, we're learning all about the current school assessment system.

At the interview, the teacher showed us a selection of O's work, which normally would have been presented to us as an annotated portfolio, but which had been kept back as part of the teachers' recent industrial campaign. She said that when the industrial action is officially over, she will put it into portfolio form. (I got the impression this was against the spirit of the industrial action but within the spirit of a kindergarten teacher who loves her class.)

She told us that when they do their daily sentence-composition, Olle often sits deep in thought and sometimes doesn't get to finish his sentence because he can't find the right words. The makings of a writer (with writer's block already)?! Some of the sentences he did finish were lovely. We recently attended the RSPCA's Million Paws Walk and the next day he wrote: "Yesterday we went on the milly poos wark". (They do all the spelling themselves!) One day last week he wrote: "Shrek is really human" - all spelling correct.

While we were in Melbourne last weekend, I had an interesting conversation with a friend who dabbled in narcotics in her early 20s (30 years ago). I was not a dabbler myself, but did move in a milieu in which others more than dabbled - I knew a few people who died from ODs in their twenties. Becoming a mother has led me to think about the nihilism which I think was behind their drug addiction. Nihilism, emptiness, fear of competing, too much pressure to succeed ... I've rather incoherently thought that anyone who has a personal sense of creativity and productivity, a passion for something, whether it's knitting or swimming, is not likely to succumb to the nothingness of drug abuse. When I look back at my own childhood, I now see that I had a father who valued academic success very highly and a mother who was threatened by it, and my own position as an academically successful girl thus caused me a lot of anxiety. I suspect that anxiety was re-triggered by receiving Olle's first report card last week ... but hopefully I've managed to contain it now ;-)

A very good friend sent me this in an email: "I think when you get funny feelings about why not more 'E's for O you have to let go quickly!! Just think about your childhood and unhappiness and then think of O and his satisfaction in life. G's are good!! He can go anywhere with his early G's. The world's his G-oyster. Is it such a good thing to 'excell' at school at age 5? - great expectations then set up etc. I get the picture of an exploring, developing child who is doing very well indeed and is intriqued by and getting a lot of pleasure out of life."

She's right. Gs are good and the world's his G-oyster!

Bush/Howard convergence

Over one third of George W Bush's speeches and policy pronouncements have been at military bases and US veterans' gatherings. Next time you see him on TV, note that there is likely to be a blank audience of uniforms behind him.
This excerpt from a book about his draft-doging past and love of being "commander-in-chief" makes an interesting point about the Freudian shadow over Bush's militarism. His father, GB the elder, was a genuine war hero, but GWB ticked the box saying 'no' to overseas service when he joined the National Guard to avoid the Vietnam draft.
This got me thinking about John Howard, who also loves nothing better than to pose with Australian soldiers, whether in Baghdad or at home. Howard's father and grandfather famously met up while fighting in the trenches in France during WW1. But Howard himself has never served in the military, although he was an enthusiast for the war in Vietnam and of course an Iraq protagonist too.
Maybe the bond between Bush and Howard is based on a mutual "Freudian self-delusion".

you know your child loves his teacher when...

... he tells you over breakfast that during the upcoming holidays, he will find out when she has a spare day and invite her to go on a picnic with us.

fish

Bad news from two US-based groups, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Society of Reproductive Health Professionals. They say that children and women who are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant should eat eat salmon, sardines, herring or bluefish only once or twice a month. Anyone else should eat fish only twice a week and should completely avoid swordfish, tilefish (I don't know what that is), king mackerel and shark.
I don't know if the mercury and PCB levels in fish caught in or near Australia would be at the same unsafe levels, but I don't suppose it's worth taking the risk to find out. (I should do some further research.)
I'd already decided to completely avoid shark, as their numbers are running dangerously low. I thought eating farmed salmon was a good alternative, but not according to this article. I remember having swordfish every single day when I was in Sicily in 1990, it was heavenly. Looks like that's to be a historical relic in my memory.
I developed an aversion to fish when I was pregnant (ironically, as eating protein is touted as a preventative against pre-eclampsia, which I ended up with) and my appetite for it has never fully recovered. I'm 95% vegetarian from week to week. But I'm angry that fish have now been so ruined, I have no choice.

transition to what?

"You won't read this in your daily paper or see it on the nightly prime-time news, but I assure you that what we're witnessing in slow motion is likely to be one of the great imperial defeats in history" says Tom. I think he's right. Anyone over 45 who paid the slightest attention to the Vietnam war as it unfolded will have had a strong sense of deja vu at many points during the Iraqi affair of the past two years. I think that's only going to get stronger as time goes on.

disoriented

I think I'm having a delayed reaction to moving office locations. Even though I'm with the same people, doing the same job, my journey to and from work is a completely different experience and I'm in a different place all day long. I feel disoriented. I'm not gettng much done (including writing in this blog and paying an overdue parking fine).

Progressive Women's Blog Ring
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