18 February 2008


Background: We have an episode of The Upside Down Show on DVD in which Shane's hair gets very long (after visiting the very hairy room). He's a little apprehensive about going to the barbershop, but eventually conquers his fears and his hair gets cut back to normal length, ie. bald.

Me - We should take you to the hairdresser to cut your hair.
Ella - No! I don't want short hair, I want long hair.
Me - Yeah, we're not going to get it all cut off, only a little bit so it looks nicer.
Ella - No, because then we would be Shane. And we don't want to be Shane, do we? We want to be Ella and mummy.

I like being Ella and mummy.

Playing families

Ella (from the sandpit) - Do you want an icecream?
Me - I'd love one!
Ella - What kind do you want?
Me - I want er... coffee!
Ella - I don't have coffee
Me - Do you have er... banana icecream?
Ella - No, I have no banana.
Me - So what flavours do you have?
Ella - I have chocolate.
Me - Why do you ask what kind I want when you only have chocolate anyway?
Ella - Oh ok. I have berries, chocolate, strawberries...
Me - Ok, I'll have chocolate after all.
Ella - Here you go. It's a baby icecream because you are the baby. You are the baby and I am the mummy.
Me - (lick, lick, lick)
Can I have another one?
Ella - No, you can only have one.
Me - Waaa, waaaa! I want another one! Waaa! Waaa!
Ella - Ok baby, you can have another one.
Me - Maybe babies need to learn that they cannot have everything they want?
Ella - Oh. Baby you cannot have another one.
Me - Waaa, waaa, waaaa!
Ella - Oh baby, do you want a cuddle?

14 February 2008

Ella on tv

I watched all the news reports on the apology on Wednesday night, except for Lateline on ABC. But 2 people emailed me yesterday saying that they thought they saw Ella in the footage shown in the program.

I found the video on their website: Lateline report on the apology
And there's Ella scratching her nose. With 'new cat'. I love the way she appears when the voice-over starts the dramatic introduction: "To Canberra they came in their thousands, the young and old, black and white, from near and far." And they picked her from thousands of people to illustrate "the young"!

We watched it about a dozen times last night. I'm now trying to source a better quality copy on DVD. It's only a split-second appearance, but how cool is it going to be to watch this with Ella when she's older and when I can explain in more detail what it was about!!! It'll be like a 'personalised' history lesson. And undeniable proof that she was really there.

13 February 2008


As most of you will know, yesterday was a historic day here in Australia. The Government and Parliament formally apologised to the Aboriginal people for past wrongs, and specifically for the systematic removal of Aboriginal children from their families, ie. the Stolen Generations.

I started explaining the issue to Ella after I burst into tears last weekend when reading a story of a member of the Stolen Generation (it turned out to be the story that opposition leader Nelson quoted in his speech). Even though at first I found it too harsh to tell her why I was crying when reading the paper, I did eventually explain in very simple terms what it was about and that we should say sorry to the Aboriginal people to show them how sad we are about what happened to their children.

When I asked her a couple of days later if she remembered why we are saying sorry. She said: "Because we are very sad". When asked why we are sad, she said "Because the white people long time ago took the kids away from their mummies and daddies. And that was very sad. That was a bit naughty, wasn't it?".

The same night I interrupted our reading books to listen to the report on the actual text of the apology on the news and the one thing that Ella picked up and repeated to me was: "Mum, we have to say sorry to the sisters!"

Totally coincidentally she also found a book with Aboriginal stories on her bookself a few days ago and now I can explain to her that the Aboriginal people were already living here when the kangaroo did not yet have a tail.

This is an issue very close to my heart. I think some people may find it hard to understand why I feel so strongly about it considering that I wasn't even born in this country, have only been here for 10 years, am in no way related to the people who supported the forced removal policy then and my background could hardly be more different than that of the Aboriginal people.

You could argue that it is just my passion for social justice and that would definitely have lots to do with it.

But I think just the fact that I am a migrant gives me another reason to feel very strongly about reconciliation with the indigenous people of this country. When I first came out here - knowing next to nothing about Australian history - I got thoroughly confused when I tried to grasp this concept of 'white Australian' history only starting 200 years ago. I just could not understand how white Australians dealt with this geographically fragmented history. I grew up in a country where my forefathers were the firts humans to have lived on that land. And when I say 'land' I mean a tiny patch of it compared to Australia! That is why I feel I can understand when the Aboriginals talk about their connection with the land.

And that's why I think Aboriginal history is an important link in our (as in ALL Australians) connection to the land we live on. Personally, I feel that through learning about and connecting with Aboriginal culture I will allow myself (and Ella) to grow deep roots in this land. And so for me saying sorry for this most horrific result of the policy of assimilation is a first step in acknowledging how important their history and culture is to us.

So yes, I felt very excited and emotional when we drove to the lawns of Parliament House early yesterday morning to see Prime Minister Rudd deliver his historic speech on the big screen surrounded by thousands of people from all over the country. The speech and the way it was delivered by Rudd was impressive. It showed great empathy and leadership and a way with words that made Rudd's predecessors seem like grunting cavemen.

The Opposition leader, Brendan Nelson, did somewhat spoil the moment. I heard someone describe his speech as "going all non-sorry". I thought he was downright insulting. I saw a father trying to cover his 6yo son's ears when Nelson started to describe the recent rape and murder of a 4yo girld in an Aboriginal community in graphic detail. This was part of his defense of the intervention in the Northern Territory which I - and many with me - regard as barbaric and counter-productive.

I was very dissapointed that I had to leave soon after the speeches. While I was driving Ella to her dance class, my friend sent a text just saying: "John Butler". I swore. I love him and Ella knows his music too and it would've been so moving to watch him perform "From little things, big things grow" in that crowd.

But I'm glad we went and were part of it. I'm glad I will be able to tell Ella about this when she gets older and can understand more of the nuances. I'm glad to be living in Australia and yesterday for the first time ever I felt genuinely proud to be Australian.

I feel hope and yesterday felt like a new beginning for Australia and that makes me extra happy for Ella, who will inherit the decisions we make now.

11 February 2008

Pearls of wisdom... that I keep losing (or mis-using)

As a parent you soon store a bank of useful tips and tricks on how to deal with toddlers in the most effective way. Some are really obvious and get put into practice on a daily (if not hourly) basis, like being consistent, ignoring bad behaviour and choosing your battles.

Though even those require lots of practice and trial and error to make them work for your child. Being consistent and choosing your battles (they are inevitably linked) may seem dead simple, but paired to the fact that toddlers can be highly unpredictable and you are sometimes required to make split-second decisions, more often than not at the worst of times, can turn a simple practice into a minefield for the parent. I mean, you may regret a decision the moment you make it, but once you've voiced it, you need to stick with it no matter what. I can get very annoyed at myself in this process, which makes dealing with a tantruming toddler all the harder.

And other tricks are less obvious and come to you after a cathartic light bulb moment which may give you the euphoric feeling that your life (and that of your toddler) has been saved and you might be able to retain some sanity after all.

Unfortunately my brain is as messy as my house and time and again I forget to apply some of these pearls of wisdom I've discovered along the way until I suddenly rediscover how useful they really are.

One of those tricks I keep forgetting is the one I've mentioned in the dummy post: pre-warning. Seems pretty obvious again, and you do it automatically for out of the ordinary situations, like unexpected outings, etc. But what I keep forgetting is that sometimes the rule applies even in situations that don't obviously require it. A few months ago Ella got clingy at daycare drop-off. What got her over it was a simple chat in the car on the way over there about the details of the drop-off process. "We'll walk in, there are going to be some kids there already, what would you like to do when we get there, are you going to ride a bike, or go play in the sandpit? Then mummy's going to leave and you can stay and play and I'll pick you up again after afternoon tea" Worked a treat even though after nearly 3 years in daycare 5 days a week (and loving it!) you would think that she already knew the process. Never presume anything!

Another one that I have to remind myself of sometimes is to create opportunities for praise. Praising young kids to enforce desirable behaviour is pretty logical and becomes second nature for most parents. But there are times when it's not enough to wait for an opportunity to reward them to arise. The more you praise them, the less they push the boundaries, the more compliant they become. So I try to think up simple tasks for Ella to perform for the sole purpose of creating an opportunity to praise her. Sometimes changing the way I phrase things is enough. I might ask her to help me do something instead of just telling her to do something. "Could you please help me with cooking Ella? Can you put this spoon in the sink for me? Wow, you're such a great helper!" Easy to do, but also very easy to forget.

I suppose the good thing is that toddlers (at least mine) tend to keep you on your toes as a parent. You grow as much as they do and have no choice but to participate in the crash course in toddler handling that you have been volunteered for.

10 February 2008


We went to the Multicultural Festival today an ended up watching some dance performances. The first was a Japanese group from about 5yo to in their 20s. They all had big grins on their faces and the dancing was such fun to watch. As soon as they started Ella jumped up and started imitating them. Watching them and trying to hold her arms the way they did and jumping up and down with them. I was torn between watching the real dancers and Ella's mirror performance.

Next was a group of belly dancers and I was really looking forward to see how Ella would imitate them. She tried some of their hand movements, but looked rather puzzled at the hip swinging and when they all did a shimmy, she looked flabbergasted. When questioned later, they were her favourie performance. Though that seemed to have more to do with them entering the stage with baskets on their heads than with their dance moves.


After I had dragged Ella out of the supermarket because she refused to hop off the hand rail thing, she stopped to adjust her sandal outside and we had the most bizar conversation.

Ella - I'm not going to kill you mum.
Me - That's good.
Ella - Mum, is getting killed fun?
Me - Is getting killed fun? No, I don't think getting killed is really fun.

(For some reason I do enjoy responding to her questions in a lukewarm manner as if they are questions 'normal' people ask eachother all the time.)

06 February 2008

Nature and nurture

I have thought a long time about this post and it will be a long post. Bear with me...

It all started 10 days ago with Ella saying: "Mum, when I'm as big as you, I'll give my dummy to Santa."

Hold on, rewind. It all started when Ella was a few weeks old and I gave her a dummy for the first time. I was in tears. Torn apart by guilt. In the months and years that followed it became clear to me that the disrupted sleep (because of losing the dummy or interference with her breathing), the endless searches to locate the lost dummy, the arguments over when it was appropriate to use the dummy (eg. NEVER when talking!) did vastly outweigh the initial benefits than the comfort the dummy seemed (s-e-e-m-e-d) to give that tiny little baby or the respite it may have given me.

About 8 months ago, I took it from her during the day (for the second time). Huge tantrums ensued, but she adapted totally to the dummy-free days within 48 hours. I did not have the heart to follow the same strategy for the dummy at night though.

In the lead up to Christmas, I started talking about putting the dummy under the christmas tree on christmas eve so Santa could give it to a poor baby who had no dummy and leave an extra special present for Ella in return. She clearly liked the idea of it, but bailed out at the last minute and I know when I've lost a battle and so didn't put any pressure on her.

A few weeks went by until, ten days ago, we had following conversation:

Ella - Mum, when I'm as big as you, I'll give my dummy to Santa.
Me - You don't have to wait until you're as big as me. You could do it when you're as big as [insert name of 4yo here]. In fact, you can do it whenever YOU choose. It'll be your choice.
Ella - I don't need my dummy anymore. I want to give it to Santa so he can give it the babies who have no dummy.

I must admit that I looked sceptical, but I happily participated in the rest of the conversation which mainly revolved about speculation on how many babies Santa had, where she should leave her dummy so he could find it, about calling Santa on the phone (letters to the North pole are so passé) and what she wanted him to leave as a present in return for her dummy: a new cat, because she already had two bears and only one cat, so the new cat would even the numbers.

She went to bed without a dummy for the first time in almost 3 years. She got up to ask me for another last cuddle about six times and I was unusually lenient because I realised how hard this was on her. She finally fell asleep and I cheered (quietly) and celebrated this milestone with a glass of red in front of the tele. She had a great night sleep.

In the morning we called Santa (Thanks C!), gave him instructions and by the time we came home that evening the dummy was gone (did you know the North pole is actually at the top shelf of my hallway cupboard?) and in its place was a brand new cuddly cat.

That night things started to get ugly. Even though (or because?) she would not admit that she was upset because she missed her dummy, there was lots of crying and lots of reassuring to be done, and I even had to resort to sitting with her in bed for a while, something I have always refused to do (and not only for selfless reasons!) in the past.

The following two nights were pretty much the same. Last Sunday things escalated and she cried in bed for over an hour while I went through the whole gamma of pity, guilt, frustration and anger. The image of the dummy in the hallway cupboard kept haunting me.

There were some (you know who you are!) who questioned how long it would take before she got the dummy back. I replied I am so not raising a quitter. If she hadn't made the decision herself, I wouldn't have been as tough. But she did and I had to make sure she persevered. We stick to our decisions and we do not give up when the going gets tough.

Fortunately after that Sunday night I suddenly realised that - again - I had forgotten one of the most important rules when dealing with toddlers: pre-warning! The next nights I made a point of preparing her well in advance for the inevitability of going to bed without a dummy, lavished praise onto her and she went to sleep without protesting or crying. I've been sneaking into her room every night since to watch her sleep without a dummy. It chokes me up. Not only because she looks so perfect, peacefully asleep with 'new cat' tightly clutched to her chest. But also because she did it! She showed real perseverance, bravery even and she's only three! And because I felt proud of myself for helping her through it too. For helping her do something that would allow her to be proud of herself and to gain confidence in her own strength.

It resulted in me thinking a lot about what parenting is really about for me.

And it made me think of one particular story of my own childhood. When I was about eleven I heard for the first time kids talk about how they asked their mum for something and she said no but they would "nag and nag and nag until she said yes". They were all laughing about it and exchanging ways to wear their mothers down and I just sat their with my jaw on the floor in shocked silence. The thought had never occurred to me that one could do this. And it only took me about thirty seconds to realise that the 'one' in this sentence did not include me. When my mum said no, it remained no always. The decision was set in concrete, never to be changed again. I also very quickly decided that my life was a whole lot simpler (even at that young age simplicity was a state I highly aspired to) than theirs. I did not waste my energy on nagging and begging. I could spend my energy on accepting the decision (which, mind you, was by no means always fair from where I stood) and move on to other things.

In hindsight it was also ironic that the kids that were so proud of their manipulation strategies were all rich kids. The offspring of lawyers and plastic surgeons. And they grew up begging for things and even feeling proud of doing so. I was the poor kid in school and I have never begged for anything in my life. But this is not the right time or place to launch into a discourse on good old-fashioned labour class values...

I remember these - and other - constants from my childhood very clearly. I don't think it's really possible to learn which values to pass on to your children from parenting books or documentaries. I believe we all dig into our histories and from there source the values and principles that we believe made us who we are. These principles and values echo through generations. The methods we use to teach our kids these values do change over generations, but the underlying principles don't.

The idea that by teaching my daughter perseverance, I also prepare her to pass this gift on to her children and their children and so on makes me grow silent. I feel like I am just a link in a chain and I feel a huge responsibility to not break that chain and at the same time I feel a relief that I am not doing this alone. I have my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents behind me on this.

05 February 2008

The secret

At a party on the weekend, Ella's godmother whispered a secret into Ella's ear, which turned out to be "I love you". Then she asked Ella to go tell mum her secret.

Ella leant over to me, took a few seconds to think and whispered into my ear: "I love getting money and buying lollypops."