From mother to mother

November 8, 2009

“What advice would you give a mother about to enter teenaged years with her daughters?’

This question was asked of me last Friday morning. I was putting in my usual half hours voluntary work at the primary school’s uniform shop. One of my co workers had served a woman and her little girl that morning. The little girl was her youngest and due to start school next year. They had fitted her into a school dress, collected her a bag, sun hat, reader folder, and all the other things she would need for her first day of school. This took time.  Its not unusual in this situation for the mother to end up in deep conversation with one of us at the uniform shop. In this instance, I had overheard her say how much she was dreading the time when her three girls, who are close in age, are all teenagers together. “Tell me about it!” I chimed in. “I’m there already”.

She turned to me then and enquired after the ages of my girls. I smiled and reported that they were 10, 12, 14 and 16. Nodding she confirmed that her daughters were also about two years apart. Her eyes searched my face. I felt a gentle hint of camaraderie in her unspoken language and she appeared to be thinking deeply. It was then she asked the question.

I wasn’t taken aback but her expression occasioned me to pause and think very seriously before responding. Searching for a truthful reply, I was simultaneously monitoring the need to reply seriously at all. Her unhurried way and open expression reassured me that she had asked seriously. This is what I ended up saying:

“Learn how to help your daughters develop emotional intelligence”.


My family are going through a difficult time. My eldest daughter is battling an eating disorder. It crept up on us slowly. The early signs (in hindsight) were her interest in buying low calorie and organic foods, beginning to want to eat differently to the family and over-exercising. The next thing I noticed were her sleeping patterns. She developed insomnia. The links I’ve included in this paragraph are to posts written in November and December last year prior to realising what was going on. She kept it quite secret that she was not eating at school and had begun purging after eating at home.

The pediatrician who we saw for advice about sleep picked up that she had an eating disorder in February this year. I had been worried. Over summer she lost more weight and her lack of food consumption became suddenly obvious. In March she became an out patient of a Melbourne hospital with weekly visits to a team of specialists for children with eating disorders. On her fourth visit she was admitted to hospital for two weeks where she ate strictly supervised meals and was allowed no exercise until she slowly regained her physical health.

Today she is going in to hospital for the second time. The first time it was a shock to her and to us. She resented being admitted, not accepting that there was anything wrong with her, eventhough her blood pressure was dangerously low. Since then she has been having cognitive therapy and we have been going to family counseling, learning how to best support her and at the same time allowing her to witness the impact her illness is having on her sisters. Can you imagine a therapy room with seven people in it? I have been very proud of my girls through this process. They have been honest and articulate. There is a great deal of love between them.

This time as she goes into hospital it is her choice. Although its traumatic for us on one level, its also a relief that she is now able to say, “I can’t do it by myself”.

Its a break-though but she still has a long way to go. This illness has a strong grip.

My family were trying to work out what to do over the school holidays while I am in San Diego. We were seated for dinner. “Lets have a family meeting”, my hub suggested.

“Oh great. I’m glad we’re having the meeting during dinner time. It means we can multi-task”, said Sally beaming and proudly anticipating the beginning of the meeting so that she could “multi-task”.

This reply came from our nine year-old! How had Sally come to value multi-tasking as an end in itself? Is this practice widely acknowledged by modern children as worthwhile? I’ve been thinking about Sally’s response and brought it up as a topic of conversation recently with other parents. The result was a circular conversation, the logic of which went something like this:

Is the skill of multi-tasking a worthy aspiration? As an example of an alternative way of thinking, buddhism would emphasise the importance of being present in the moment. If you are sweeping the floor, then you are only sweeping the floor. You’re not also on the phone and cooking a batch of muffins and checking your emails. Being present in the moment, which I’m interpreting as doing one thing at a time, is the pathway to happiness and enlightenment. Only through being present in the moment can you achieve a state of zen.

Is it relevant that Sally is female? Has multi-tasking become something girls in particular have come to identify with and aspire to?

The myth goes like this: women can multi task and men cannot.

But this is just a myth, like any other myth. There are hundreds of myths and stereotypes that circulate unreflected upon in our common discourses. For example, the myth that all men ever think about is sex. For a start, why can’t women think about sex as often as men? And secondly, this cannot even be true. If all men ever thought about was sex, how could Bill Gates have created Microsoft, or Rupert Murdoch his media empire?

They could have been multi-tasking, I suppose…

For my father (who is almost seventy) the internet and email have had no intrinsic appeal. He has not been curious to know what everyone else is up to. He does not own a computer. He could not see how owning one would improve his quality of life, for he his (apparently) content with his life the way it is.

He is a very active man. He retired at the age of fifty-three, taking a retirement package to leave the government job where he spent his entire working life. In his retirement he has been through many ‘fads’. I’m sure he would not think of it in this way, but my brother, sister and I would agree on the nature of his interests. They can be plotted in waves. Initially he went through a dancing fad. He danced almost every night of the week. He went round dancing, line dancing and square dancing! That’s right: he used to dance every possible ‘shape’. His next fad was a bushwalking fad. This continued for many years and resulted in my brother’s old room becoming a store room for all of the gear he accumulated in the process of becoming a bushwalker and leader of walks for others. The latest fad is for cycling. He joined a local riding group and cycles more days in the week than he stays home. He often goes away for extended trips into country Victoria.  He has riden up every mountain in Victoria and a few passes in New Zealand. 

Its the bike riding that seems to be the most enduring fad. It has the social element, the experience of the natural world and a health and fitness element without his aging body needing to shoulder extra weight. It is also through cycling that he has strengthened his relationship with his grand daughters (my girls). He used to take them riding every saturday morning. Now that they play basket ball on a Saturday, the routine of being with them has morphed into attending their games and often taking them to them (especially if the times clash and their parents can’t manage to be in two places at once).

But I digress. I was talking about his relationship with technology. However the brief sketch of his interests during retirement will give you a picture of his life and the fulfillment he feels living it without technology. 

Recently he has been considering becoming ‘connected’ technologically. Modes of communication have become largely email orientated to the point where he feels he is missing out on important planning discussions within his riding group. He feels this even more acutely with the deteriorating health of one of his friends from this club who whilst physically able (he is suffering from a degenerative asbestos-related disease) had been printing out important emails, sealing them in an envelope and posting them to my father!!

You get what you pay for

November 22, 2007

I want to tell you about Martin. I don’t know how old he is, but I think he’s probably older than me. He has just become a grandfather, but he still looks very young, and is very young in the way he relates to people. He is enthusiastic and kind. He is also excellent at what he does. He is a musician and he plays violin, classical guitar and mandolin. He is also a music teacher.

Martin has inspired my children. My two youngest are learning to play the violin with him and my oldest is learning to play the guitar with him. Emma was the first to ask if she could take up an instrument. Martin runs group lessons at my children’s primary school and for the first year, Emma hired a violin from the school and went to a group lesson for twenty minutes once a week. She enjoyed it and took it seriously.

That was three years ago. She now has a private lesson with Martin in his own studio. Sally took up violin at the start of this year and also has a private lesson with Martin. When Kathleen expressed an interest to learn the guitar, Martin made a time to fit her in as well on the same day as the others. On Tuesdays the three of them have their lessons in half hour stints all in a row. So on Tuesdays, I pop in and out of Martin’s studio four times. We always chat while the children are setting up their instruments. He is always happy and has something interesting on the go. The children feel energised and encouraged by him too. He is a wonderful, gifted musician and individual.

Once I was leaving his studio and another parent arrived with her daughter, who is Emma’s age. I stopped to greet her. On this particular occasion it wasn’t long after Emma changed to individual lessons. She had been thriving and had expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to change from group to individual and to be learning in the serenity of his home rather than at school. I made a remark to the other parent, something like, Oh Emma is loving the individual lessons. Martin is wonderful isn’t he? Her reply to this was:

You get what you pay for.

I did not voice my opinion at the time. However, I certainly did not give any indication that I agreed with her. This particular statement I found insulting, to Martin and to my general philosophy on life. Who Martin is and what he gives to others is priceless.

Later, I wondered if she had passed her philosophy on to her children. I wondered how many people subscribed to it. I wondered if they also unthinkingly applied it to people. I wondered what it meant for society the way I thought I knew it.


We have the technology!

October 30, 2007

Here at my place, dancing in the kitchen has never been easier.

I was inspired whilst staying with friends in Tuscany earlier in the year to set aside time to download my music collection onto my ipod. In our Tuscan villa, we selected music to dine, cook or relax by from our friend’s entire music collection, at the convenient touch-twirl of a dial and click of a button. With a little set of travel speakers, he was able to provide good quality music for us anywhere in our villa.

Last week I accomplished the transfer and was amazed to see just how little of the coloured-in ‘capacity sausage’ my entire music collection took up. Upon completion only a few milimetres of the sausage were coloured in!

I set my ipod up in the little travel speakers I got for my birthday in the kitchen and I’m very pleased with the result. This little technological gadget has revolutionized singing and dancing in the kitchen here. I have discovered the ‘play all songs’ option and have begun playing my entire collection alphabetically. Today whilst preparing chicken shaslicks I was up to C and got half way through D when dinner was ready to be served. How strange it was to listen to songs from my music collection out of sync with their usual albums! For example in C, we had ‘Chain of Fools’ by Aretha Franklin followed by ‘Chunky, Chunky Air Guitar’ by The Whitlams, ‘Close to Me’ (INXS) and ‘Come Fly With Me’, Frank Sinatra!