Monday, May 25, 2009

The Tonka Truck Theory of Parenting

I developed this theory many years ago, before I began regularly working with families.  No matter how hard a parent tries, they're bound to get something wrong. It's inevitable, and that can be, kind of, OK.

Nothing I have learned since has disproved it.
When you were a child, you wanted a Tonka Truck.  
    But for some reason your parents never bought you a Tonka Truck.  
         So now you are a parent, and whatever else your child may or may not have, 
              you will buy her a Tonka Truck.

But your child does not want a Tonka Truck.
Your child wants a rocking horse.
But for some reason you have never bought your child a rocking horse.
So now your child is an adult, and whatever else her child may or may not have,
She will buy her child a rocking horse.

But her child does not want a rocking horse.
    Her child wants a puppy.  
        But for some reason he has never bought his child a puppy.  
             So now his child is an adult, and whatever else his child may or may not have,
                 He will buy his child a puppy.

But his child does not want a puppy.
His child wants a Tonka Truck.

So there it is, my contribution to the social sciences.  By all means pass it on, but remember to say where you heard it:  I'd quite like it to go down to history as Spencer's Theory.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Yesterday was Mother's Day* which seems a fitting moment to pay tribute.  I'm not a mother myself, as the title of this blog announces, but I respect and admire both the task, and the women who take it on.  I know it comes with in-built positive feedback - children tend to love you back.  Still, it's not easy, even with the plus of loving your kids to distraction.

Our society has a lot of baggage about mothers. In historical terms, this is a new development. Every time the role of Mother has changed, we've tended to keep all the old tasks, and superimpose new ones on it as well.  This creates enormous, and sometimes conflicting, expectations.  It's a job that comes with shoes no single human being can possibly fill, which means every mother knows about, or learns about Guilt.  It's a real catch-22.

It shouldn't surprise us, with the current boom in assisted reproduction, that the first job of women for most of history was to try to become a mother.  (There was also the other job of trying not to become a mother unless you were married).  Carrying to term was a challenge. Read your history and its astonishing how ordinary having had two or three wives was.  Since there was no divorce, it's not hard to work out what happened to them.

The second job of women from the mists of time up until very recently, was to keep as many of your children alive until adult-hood, as possible.  Any woman who managed that - and she had to have a lot of luck on her side to do that - was a prize one, class-A mother.  Today, child mortality is so low, you don't even get a "pass" mark for getting the child to 21.

The third job was to pound some basic manners into the children.  And I do mean 'pound'. Manners included respect for your parents' authority in all matters. Until the early 1900s, even many adults, especially women, found it almost impossible to go against the orders of their parents.  [Yes, ladies, take a moment for a blissful fantasy.]  As teenagers had not yet been invented, most of the challenges of raising adolescents were many centuries in the future.  If you teen was giving you trouble, you locked them up or beat them.  Or put them out as apprentices.

I find it interesting that a concern with toilet-training isn't very high on the list until fairly recently.  Before that, children had nappies until they worked out what to do. Since those nappies weren't going to be changed near as often as modern hygeine requires - there were no washing machines back then - there was a built-in incentive.  And peer pressure too, from the many children that were around.

Early walking wasn't a feature either - swaddling was all the go for most of history.  If you're working in the fields, or around open fires (ie. the kitchen) its' better all round if the children don't move around too much until they have learned what "no" means.

In fact it's only within the last hundred years (or so) that the majority of women have had time to 'parent' in the way we now understand it.  Prior to that, anyone who wasn't middle class (or higher) was frankly too busy keeping people alive (ie. fed and clean) to worry over the children reaching their developmental potential.  And women of the middle class (or higher) expected the nurse to take care of most of the actual physical care.

Even in the 50s, it was quite common for mothers to encourage the children over about 5 to go outside for most of the day.  I have heard several stories of parents who would lock the doors so the kids couldn't get back in before dark!  That way the mother could do all her housework and possibly even sneak a little nap.

The Victorians came up with the idea of the 'angel in the house', the woman who is spiritually and morally superior, and so exerts a benign influence over her children's development.  Such women were not encouraged to spend more than about half an hour per day with the children, as it would never do to give vent to feelings of either irritation and displeasure on the one hand, or of "too much" affection and indulgence on the other.  The Victorian mother was told bluntly to leave the messy tasks to the Nanny, as it's impossible to stay serene and ideal if you're doing all of that.

Today's Mother is stuck with all of this & MORE.  She has to be an angel, and be serene and graceful and gracious, she has to adore her children (at all times) with a fierce and biased love, but she must be aware of their shortcomings and not brag on about them to others.  She must be with her children as often as they desire/require, yet make time for herself, and keep her romantic relationship alive and zinging along. She must have a lovely house, and cook wholesome nutritious food for her children, and work outside the house both to contribute income and to satisfy her own intellectual and professional needs.  She must attend all her children's MANY sporting activities, and cheer relentlessly from the sidelines, concealing any slight boredom she might reasonably feel, and equally must avoid being a pushy parent.  She must give her children space and time to 'just be kids' without neglecting a single opportunity to explore a new interest, nurture a budding talent or 'socialise' successfully with their peer group, and she must ensure the children are appropriately supervised at all times.

All this in a society where supermarkets put lollies (candies) at child-eye height in the checkout and then everybody glares at you when the child has a melt-down temper tantrum because you said, "No".  (Or glares at you for allowing your child to eat all that sugar.) 

Within the job description exist warm, wonderful, intelligent and above all tired women, who daily battle against untold obstacles to raise their children, and mostly keep their tempers and their senses of humour while doing so.

Here's to you.

*unless you're in Great Britain.  They're traditionalists and stick to Mothering Sunday.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A perfect pair of pants

O happy day!  

Last November, while in the US, I bought a pair of knit pants.  They were on sale and I thought they'd be comfy for the flight home.  They were.  They only come in black or charcoal grey, and they had a high waist which I wasn't so sure about.  Turns out they look elegant with my various shirts and sweaters - so much so I usually get complimented - and are the best things to wear at gym, lazing around the house, shopping (easy to get on and off in cramped changing rooms) etc.  They're also warm in winter, and cool in summer, as they're a rayon spandex mix. They dry easily overnight, and don't need ironing.

So, you'll realise I've been kicking myself ever since that I didn't buy more.  My husband said, "see if you can get more, then." But I didn't want to face the disappointment.

Today, however, I'm trying to avoid doing my taxes.  I got onto the web and found the company who makes them - J Jill.  They do international deliveries.  Better yet, my dream pants are still available!  They are called the "wherever" pant.  I have them in the wide leg version, but they come in straight leg and cropped versions too.

I plan to travel again, later in the year, and these are just the best thing to take with you on the go.

Few things in this life approach perfection.  These pants do (for me).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

5 Things I'm feeling Opinionated About

Because I don't have time to craft a post... I'm behind on my paid writing, so this is a quick one for you.

1. Swine Flu
I think swine flu is dangerous, and the governments were right to worry. I've read a lot about the 1918 influenza pandemic, and we don't ever want to see another one of those. This flu was more dangerous than bird flu, because it passes easily person-person, rather than needing a live bird as the link.  It's because the governments got aggressive that it has been contained (more or less).

That said, I think the media have shamelessly milked it for all it was worth, causing needless anguish in the process.  And I think they guy who wore a paper facemask to the Logies last night was poseur.

2. Recreational Shopping with <12s
Usually, just don't.  Most children don't browse.  They don't "do" recreational shopping.

Children like to go shopping if you are going to let them browse until they find something they want, then buy it for them, then take them straight home again.  A visit to Maccas/icecream/Krispy-Kreme may be demanded and (somewhat) enjoyed, but will then render the children overstimulated and sugar-high for the next 24 hours.

If you must take your child with you when you go shopping, think of it like the perfect 3 year old's party:  there is a game, there is cake, then we go home within the hour.

Children can't filter the way adults can, when kids get glassy eyed and bratty, they are not acting up, they are simply responding to the environment they are in.  I laugh at parents who threaten:  "If you don't behave, we're going home RIGHT NOW!" and you can see the child look all hopeful...

Under 7s find shopping difficult, because they're naturally programmed to want to touch things dangled at eye height - and you won't want them too.  There is very little good here.

3. Faux-Environmentalism
I'm no expert, but I feel that some of the fashionably "green" products are... dodgy.  I have recently read articles encouraging the use of plant dyes, for example.  I had done a natural dye course, and while the dyes themselves are natural, if you want them to have any light-fastness at all (ie not fade within a couple of weeks) you have to use a mordant.  Mordants are all sufficiently toxic, that except for vinegar, you can't legally pour the leftovers down the drain - they need to be removed by a chemical waste specialist.  

I also have my doubts about using candles for earth hour.  Most decorative candles aren't beeswax, and where they are, they were possibly shipped in from China, thus negating the green cred effect.  The ones made from stearate are a by-product of petrol, basically.  The soy candles are very nice, but I suspect that the turning a soybean into wax process may be more consumptive than I would like.

I know it's the latest fashion, but do your homework or just don't bother.

4.  Bubble Skirts
Of all the unlikely fashion resurrections.  I was so unfashionable in 1984, that I cut the lining out of my only bubble dress, so it was a 'normal' dress.  The noughties incarnation has a daggy limp little bubble that reminds me of nothing so much as the way your cossie daks looked when filled with sand after you were dumped by a wave at the beach.

5.  Popular Assumptions About the Overweight
Today I read a spray arguing against expert medical opinion that we have had no success in fighting the battle of the bulge, and governments should focus their energies on encouraging people to not get fat in the first place.  The (average weight) journalist encouraged the overweight to "have a bit of willpower" and eat less.  And not use the excuse that "we don't have time."

In spite of what the latest fad diet, or tv-reality show may tell her (and you), there is solid evidence that once people gain an ample amount of weight, they are going to have a really difficult time getting rid of it.  Or the reality tv-show would not exist, among other things.

In fact, the low calorie diet + exercise is not proven to work for this population, however much it may help the "mums trying to lose a bit of baby podge" community.

Which is why I think the personal trainer from Northcote who is force feeding himself junk food in order to "understand" his overweight clients is an idiot.

Phew! Glad I got that off my chest.  Have a good week.