Anyone who happens to be a regular on the toddler party circuit can confirm that pass the parcel is not what it used to be.
Contrary to the rules of old, where convention dictated that only a few – or perhaps merely one – of the paper layers unwrapped would unearth a prize, it has gradually been decreed that every single child must win a toy.
Leaving a friend’s birthday celebration laden down with cake and a lolly bag is no longer enough with parents now pressured to comply with the ludicrous notion that no partygoer should emerge from a game empty-handed.
All children inevitably ask where they come from. One potential mother is going to have a harder job than most.
“Well darling, your father committed suicide and I had to get a court order to retrieve his sperm within twenty four hours of his death. Then I had to get another court order to use the sperm. And that’s how you were born.”
Last week one woman’s bid to access her dead husband’s sperm was granted by Supreme Court Justice James Edelman, paving the way to allow West Australian women to access their dead husbands’ sperm without a court order.
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The kids still look miserable when a cold wind blows. The car still fills with sand on the way home. And a hot shower still fixes everything by 10am.
I’ve been watching the kids do VACSWIM at Port Vincent all this week – on the same beach where I splashed my way through the iconic summer swimming program 30-odd years ago.
A few things have remained the same since the ’70s – but a whole lot’s different too.
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When my children were babies, we’d lie in the garden, bums in the sun (theirs not mine), and gaze up at the sky. As the clouds drifted, they’d suck their toes and I’d tell them the hopes and dreams I had for them.
“Gobble the whole apple of life, darling – even the core,” I’d whisper into their ears, as they kicked and gurgled then peed on my leg. “Live big, even if you’re always small.”
But as they grew older and we moved further from the ‘extraordinary’ of their births to the ‘ordinary’ of child raising, life became more transactional. “Eat your vegies, then we’ll go to the beach”, “Clean your room”, “Get dressed” became the dominant dialogue, and somewhere between making sandwiches (one with avocado, one without) and laundering, the dreaming disappeared.
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If these walls could talk, what would they say? As they are plastered their speech would probably be slurred and we’d have difficulty understanding them. But why is that phrase limited to just the walls? Why can’t we imagine other objects having a voice? I do. Frequently.
Apart from being a damn satisfying word to vocalise, anthropomorphising is the act of giving a human personality to non-human things. Think Disney movies, like Fantasia and Beauty and the Beast. Now this may seem like fun, however, there is a down side to being perspicaciously personificatious - I very rarely throw anything away.
“Please don’t get rid of Steve,” I plead to my girlfriend “Steve is my favourite mug. He and I have shared so many coffees together.”
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If there is one topic that is guaranteed to cause much debate and controversy it is about the “right” way to deal with, and discuss overweight children. Many still believe that even though one in four Australian children has a significant weight issue that it is simply “puppy fat” and that children will grow out of it.
Based on this belief, it is inferred that we should basically ignore the fact that a child is overweight or obese - we should leave them be.
If only this were true. After working in the area of child and adolescent obesity for more than 10 years I can tell you that childhood obesity is a massive issue here in Australia. When you see a child who appears to have a little “puppy fat” or “muffin top”, you are actually looking at a serious weight issue.
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One more sleep till D-Day… but this year, I’ve actually felt good about Christmas. It’s not a familiar feeling. In my adult life, Christmas tradition has involved ambivalence tending to hostility, a fortnight of creeping despair, then curling up after a bottle of cognac to cry in a corner and throw up mince on the rug.
Many of those years, if the bloke in the red suit had existed, I would have left him out a roast leg of venison and hoped that the reindeer could smell it on his clothes. No doubt many of us go through stages like this, where we want to go out and club a ringy-dingy elf right in the head.
And no wonder. The season can’t compete with how it was as a kid, when days were as long as novels and “Ten more minutes” was a judicial sentence. The heat somehow arrived earlier. The lead-up to Christmas stretched out to the horizon, as afternoons led a charge deep into the evenings and the grass dried to gold. Stepping outside to air already hot before we’d dressed for school. The toy shops excruciating in their possibility. The advent calendar crawling by, glue and crappy chocolate marking days that dragged out their final demise like a row of dying grandparents.
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Often, I use the privilege of being a journalist to write some flippant observation or other about life according to one working mother with an eye for the ridiculous and very little shame.
But I couldn’t let this week pass without writing about a deeply serious subject that has touched thousands of Melburnians in the last couple of weeks; the suicide of a high-achieving school captain at a prominent private secondary school.
When it happened, the ripples spread well beyond the school community to parents and students who knew the boy from Melbourne’s sprawling school social network - who were calling and texting each other madly in states of high distress, just as the Year 12 exams began.
Were the recent British riots caused primarily by children who were placed in forward-facing strollers?
Another dilemma for mothers – as if they didn’t have enough on their plates – is the forward/rearward-facing stroller/carrier controversy raised by Cathrine Fowler, Professor of Child and Family Health Nursing at the University of Technology, Sydney.
I am acquainted with Cathrine as a professional colleague and respect her work; in many areas we would be to total agreement. I’m sure she has sound reasons for her thoughts on strollers and carriers. Nevertheless, I see it differently.
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When my daughter told me she felt stressed one Saturday morning, I did a double take. She’s 10. She sleeps with a stuffed bear and has drumsticks and dirty socks strewn across her bedroom floor.
In my eyes, she’s still a child. Yet here she was, “stressed”. I asked her what it felt like (“Like I can’t really enjoy myself”) and why (“Because I have to write a speech and then do all this maths homework”).
I wrapped my arms around her and declared it a homework-free day. Instead, we went to the park. Later, we baked her favourite cake and read The Encyclopaedia of Immaturity together, in which we learnt how to make vegie-proof tongue covers and take photos that look as if your head’s fallen off.
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Childhood is supposedly a time of joy and carelessness; an endless frolic of dimpled cheeks, flaxen hair and rubious joy (to paraphrase Irish poet George Darley).
The Academy Award-nominated Australian children’s book illustrator and author Shaun Tan sees things very differently.
Firstly, he acknowledges that children can concertina with hopelessness and misery just like real, live humans.
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When the shower on the bottom floor landing began sprinkling water on my face I knew our project was complete. We had built a three-storey tree house, decked out with a cooking area, carpeted living room and water supply system.
Parents from Baradine came to admire it, the Australasian Post came to photograph and the four of us – Bimbo Kelly, Rusty Patterson, Oscar Purdy and Emu Emerson (that’s me) – came to make it our “adventure home”.
Oscar and I built on the design work of Bimbo and Rusty who, in 1968, spent days walking along the gullies of Baradine Creek in search of a gum tree big enough to cradle a tree house. Obligingly, there it was - a magnificent soaring red gum, its roots plunging deep into the wide shoulder of the sandy creek bed. At its back, over a fence, was a stand of native cypress pine trees – a perfect source of timber.
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The worst - or maybe just the most memorable - thing about getting in trouble as a kid is that split second when you get sprung by your olds and the game is up.
America’s “Balloon boy” Falcon Heene will surely remember for the rest of his life the moment he first saw his dad after hiding for hours in the attic, fearing he would be yelled at after tampering with the balloon.
Most of us have a story about the worst things we did when we were kids but very few of them will be of Falcon’s order: “I started a national panic and a desperate mid-air chase of a balloon that was covered live on the network television for hours. People worried I was dead but I was just hiding in the attic.”
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Any day now researchers can be expected to conclude the best thing parents could do for children is to have none in the first place.
It wouldn’t be all that surprising amid the deluge of useless advice thrown at parents on how best to raise their kids.
The latest tip for mums and dads, in draft federal government guidelines reported this week, is that children should not watch television until they’re two years old.
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Noted US Professor of Economics James Heckman is a much quoted figure by the Australian Labor Party.
In these times of economic upheaval and challenge his message has a unique and appealing social angle – essentially his work outlines the economic benefits of investing well in early childhood education to address social disadvantage.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has quoted Heckman extensively in the past, and did so again this week in his Burgmann College Address , saying:
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