Sunday, November 18, 2012

Travel time

The USA has been at the top of my travel bucket list since I was a little girl. Even though I do my best to be a patriotic Aussie and I know I live in the Lucky Country, I believe I may have been misplaced in the Cosmos at some stage and should have been born American.

I admit to an entirely romantic notion of the country, founded on all the stories I've read, the songs I've listened to and the movies I've seen.

This trip has been many years in the planning, interrupted by babies and study and financial restarts. Given my penchant for procrastination I would probably never have actually made the trip except that middle child Sophie has gone to the US to study for 6 months and has thus provided the impetus for me to actually put the trip wheels into motion.

My original, literary based itinerary dreams included driving through the Mid West a la Little House on the Prairie,  shopping at Needful Things whilst traipsing through Stephen King's Maine, being Sleepless in Seattle and tracing Scarlett O'Hara's path through the deep South.

However, even with nearly 8 weeks we can't see and do it all so the itinerary has been trimmed to what I hope is a manageable one. Sophie's placement is at the University of Texas in Austin and so that is where our trip will begin. From there we'll head to New Orleans, via Memphis if we have time or Houston if we don't. Then we'll fly to Florida for some warmth and R & R before flying north to the Winter of Washington and New York. We're booked to stay at the Grand Canyon for New Year's Eve and then it's on to Disneyland for a few days before we come home.

WOW! The very thought of doing all that is surreal. But it's about to happen. We've slaved away for the last 3 months to make sure everything at home and school is under control, some lovely people have moved in to mind the house & look after the menagerie. I've packed and repacked into what seems like a ludicrously small bag for 8 weeks. Geoff has packed on the way to the car ( and as a result has NO shirts!)

Now, here we are at the airport with child no1 and her husband and child no 3 and his iPod getting ready to board a big tin can and fly over the sea to catch up with child no 2.

For someone who has lived her entire life in the shadow of Mt Shadwell, it's a big adventure!

If you'd like to follow our adventures you'll find them on our travel blog demansersintheusa .
Until then, thanks to everyone who has helped us to get ready and wished us well. Bon voyage to me!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me.

It's my birthday.

Up until this one, I've always looked forward to my birthday. It's lovely to have one day of the year that's all about you. But I haven't been looking forward to this birthday with great anticipation. This one is somehow different & I'm not entirely sure why.

Today I reached an alliterative number that, if I live to be 100 (not impossible the way human organ replacement is going), puts me in the middle of my life, with just as many alliterative birthdays behind me as there are in front of me.

Maybe it's because I have gone over that hypothetical hump and no matter how optimistic I am about my chance of living to 100, there are most certainly more years behind me than in front of me. At 50, I changed the rules about half way by making up the alliterative rule but I've run out of ways to fudge the numbers. It's time to face facts. I'm running out of time. The list of things I can do when I grow up is dwindling rapidly :-(

I embraced 50 in lycra but there's no way that super suit is going to look sexy at 60. I don't have any grey hair yet but my eyebrows are disappearing and my neck looks like motley, pink crepe paper.

Then there's the look of shock on peoples' faces when you tell them you're 55. Their eyes glaze over and you realize you've suddenly moved into that invisible wasteland that belongs to women over 50.

Perhaps it's because my body no longer reacts correctly to the messages my brain sends. I lose things and forget names and some days I can only manage to do two or three things at once instead of ten! If I join in a drill at netball training I can't walk for a week. The doctor says I have high cholesterol so now I have to feel guilty about the KFC my daughter's bringing me for my birthday dinner.

I've reached the age at which I am legally allowed to retire from teaching. If I only worked part time I would be eligible for a Senior's discount on my insurance. I've moved up an entire age bracket on the 'tick your age box'. In fact, it's the second to last box. The next one on the list is 64+ , and then what?

I should be grateful just to have made it to 55. My Dad didn't and my Mum, just barely. Genetics aren't on my side. Because of their untimely deaths I have no vision of how I should look or act as an old person. To have suddenly become older than the last image you have of your parents is a very confronting experience.

And yet, I don't feel old. Not at all. I feel exactly the same as I did when I was 25, except maybe a bit smarter and more broad minded. I think back on all the birthdays I've had and the calendar says a really long time has gone past, yet it seems like a blink since I was a kid. No one tells you that growing older will be like this. There's no warning that, bit by bit, your life changes until you realize that there are some things you will never get to do again and some that you will never do at all.

Reading back this all seems a bit depressing but birthdays are a great opportunity for reflection. I can't change the fact that I'm 55 but I can choose my attitude to it so I'm going to set myself some rules for the next 4 alliteratives.

I've spent the first half of my life reading about how you should grow old gracefully. I'm fairly sure that means I should cut my hair, stop wearing short skirts and keep my opinions to myself. What a load of crap! Why should I behave any differently now than I did 10 years ago, or 20 or 30 years ago for that matter?

  • I will remain just exactly who I am and who I want to be. I will wear whatever I like & I will not cut my hair unless it becomes a convenient option.
  • If I get rich/ all risk is removed/ plastic surgery gets good enough that you don't look like an alien afterwards, I'll have some. I liked the way I looked better before I got old. In the meantime, I promise myself to not wear my glasses when looking in the mirror so I can pretend I look the way I do in my own memory!
  • If anything, I will become more opinionated & I will voice those opinions loudly and clearly, especially when they concern bullying, racism or other forms of ignorance.
  • I will stop saving so much for a rainy day & I will spend every extra cent I find on exploring the world.
  • I will work until someone tells me I'm not allowed to anymore. (Or until I get rich & then I'll just share my infinite wisdom with really well mannered children & their appreciative parents.)
  • I will continue to give thanks every day for my beautiful children & I'll accept the fact that my husband actually does love me for who I am not how old I am.
  • I will keep learning for the sake of learning & because it will help me retain my cognitive powers for longer.
  • I will think less about what other people think about me and more about what I think of myself.
  • I think I'll become more of an advocate for things that are important because I have an interest in the world still being viable for my grandchildren & their children. I won't give up on the idea of becoming famous.
  • I will stop regretting the things I can't do anymore and embrace the ones I can (This is rubbish. I hate being old).
Happy Birthday to Me.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Be careful what you wish for 
(with thanks to Kate Calvert for the title of this post:)

" Twenty years from now you'll be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Mark Twain

Today we took Sophie to the airport and she got on a big, jet plane and took off to America for 6 months.
When she hugged me goodbye I just wanted to scream at her to get back in her baby cot where I could control her every move and keep her safe.

Of course I didn't,  (mainly because I knew Geoff & Jaime were ready to gang tackle me if I did!) and with a happy little wave she strode off confidently through the 'gates of no return' while I tried to sob quietly so she wouldn't hear me.

14 years ago, when she was just 7, she took her first overseas trip with her sister and me and I remember telling her that it would be the first of many trips for her. That I wished her a lifetime of travel & exploring and that one day she would grow up to be a confident young woman who would take her  destiny in own her hands and seek adventure in new places & live every minute of her life to the full.

In between then & now we encouraged her to set goals, to dream large, to aim high. We helped her to set boundaries for her behaviour, we praised when things went well, we condemned mediocrity. We traveled all over the countryside for sport, we saved hard so she could go to university.

She responded by having a go at everything, excelling in most things and persevering with the others. She developed great self belief & the confidence to bounce back from setbacks and learn from her mistakes. She stuck to her goal of finishing her degree in the States and got several jobs to earn the money to get herself there.

So, today I got that wish from long ago.

Treasure your children. Keep them close until it's time for them to fly the nest. Time passes quickly. 7 yr olds become grown ups overnight!

Parenting is hard.

If you get it right your children do just what Sophie did today.

We've done a good job. And so has she.

Happy trails Fofie. Explore, dream, discover. Take the path least travelled, but don't forget to wear your sunscreen and watch out for bees!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Advice for Facebook Posters

Two items on the news this morning highlighted the fact that the sensible use of social media lobby still has a way to go. The story about the three Adelaide school girls and their sexual favour video and the racist Facebook comments of the Energy Watch CEO reminded me that there's still a lot of education to be had in the field of social media so I jotted down some of the points that I try to get through to the kids at school. I think they are valuable to everyone.

1.The Ostrich Approach
This has two parts.
a) Don't be an ostrich parent, as in, 'If I can't see it, it doesn't matter'. If your kids are into social media (and they are) then you must at least be aware of how the process works and what programs they are using.Your child's Facebook account is not a private diary. You should have visual access to what they are saying and reading online. In my opinion if they don't want to add you as a friend then they shouldn't open an account. At the very least, you should insist on being able to look at their wall from time to time. Just as you should know who and where they are meeting people in the off line world, it's your right and duty as a parent to know who their friends and meeting places are in online spaces. This may sometimes cause discomfort and embarrassment for you or your child. That's OK. It will also provide a safety net and a social conscience that teenagers aren't always able to provide for themselves.

b) Don't be an ostrich poster. Just because you can't see the thousands of people who are seeing what you write doesn't mean they aren't real. Facebook is a public forum. When you post on a friend's wall, lot's of other people see what you write. Would you say those things if your friend's Grandma or Aunty was in the same room? Unless you've been very careful with your privacy settings and filters, it's not just your friends who are seeing your posts, it's your friend's friends and the friends of those friends. Just because you've refused to have your mum as a contact doesn't mean your friends' friends' friends have!

2. Potty mouth
Most people swear. I swear. I swear in context and sometimes I embarrass myself by swearing. However, just as I don't swear in my classroom, I don't swear on social media because that's stupid. People judge you when you swear and even though you might think you're being all grown up and edgy by dropping f bombs, you aren't. You just make yourself sound stupid because clearly you have no better words to use.

3. Fishing for sympathy. 
If something bad happens to you then it's ok to let people know via social media. In fact sometimes it helps spread the word and you don't have to add the awkwardness of having to repeat the news. But the constant whining and 'crying wolf' thing is just plain painful. Go back and check your last 20 status updates. If more than two of them were of the 'Why me?, I'm so over it' variety, get yourself a happier outlook or a counsellor.

4. Portray the person you want to be.
You won't always be the hormone overloaded, angst filled teenager or immature adult you are today. Sooner or later you are going to be part of the real world of jobs and lasting relationships. One day you may have children of your own. Every time you post something on Facebook, imagine a prospective employer reading it. Every time you upload a photo, imagine the mother of your future boyfriend/girlfriend looking at it. How will your children feel when they look back at your digital image in 10 or 20 years time? I'm an employer and I promise you that when I get job applications or requests for student teacher placements, I always check out the applicant's digital footprint. I'm also a mother and I'm honest enough to admit that I have googled every one of my girls' boyfriends.

Instead, actively build your own, positive digital image. Use social media for powerful, personal promotion. Start creating a positive footprint for yourself and it will pay off in spades later on. Create the type of image that you will be proud to produce as an accessory to your resume. One of the benefits of the Facebook timeline is that you can be selective with your history. Just show the good bits. Present a positive face online. Celebrate your successes in words and pictures. Join groups and like pages that reflect the positive aspects of your personality. Disassociate yourself with pages that may reflect poorly on you.

5. There are no permanent erasers in cyberworld.
You can delete and edit posts & photos but chances are if you post something offensive, someone will have screen shotted it or saved it or forwarded it and it will come back to bite you. Our kids learnt about the speed of the internet when we did our Teapotting experiment last year.This applies to phone convos as well as inbox messages. It's pretty embarrassing to see a private text message appear on someone's Facebook wall but it's happening more and more frequently.

6. Fishing for compliments.
'Like for a like'. Worse still, 'like for a rate'. What are you hoping will happen when you ask someone to rate your looks? Do you seriously want to be publicly compared to everyone else? There's nothing but misery to be gained from this. Unless of course you are a confident, drop dead gorgeous super model and everyone rates you a 10. Then you're asking for misery for everyone else who is rated less than you and that's mean and clearly you aren't as confident as you thought!

7. Save the sexy photos for your MTV career.
Anything that involves a view of your cleavage from above, a lack of underwear, pouting lips or provocative poses in the mirror will come back to haunt you when you get old enough to realise you actually look a bit silly pretending to be a Playboy bunny. These photos will also invite insulting comments from acquaintances on your friend's list and that will more than likely lead to an online fight and you will get upset and defensive and so on and so on. Worse still, your photo could end up in a much nastier corner of the internet and you really don't want to think about the sort of people who might be ogling it there. It's much easier to wear extra clothes in your profile pictures :-)

8. Impersonating other people is illegal. 
It may seem funny when you hack someone else's Facebook page but usually it's not. At the very least, you'll embarrass them. At worst you'll get yourself or them into serious trouble. If you're an adult and you're still 'fraping', stop being such a bad role model.

9. Remove inappropriate posts. 
If someone does hack your wall with something inappropriate, remove it. Don't just leave it there and explain it away by saying you've been hacked. It's like being a bystander to bullying. The people who see it on your wall will think less of you and it will become part of your digital footprint. If you're scared you'll lose face with the hacking friend if you take it down, you probably should re think the friendship. If you have to, use the trusted adults in your online space as an excuse. 'I had to take it down or Mum will kill me'.

10. Don't spam! 
Back in the good old days, we called them chain letters and we taught our kids not to allow threats of bad luck or promises of good fortune to suck us in to forwarding them to other people. Activism is one thing. As Kony2012 proved to us, Facebook is a great way to get your message out there, but don't be manipulative in the process. Anything that begins with '97% of people won't repost this but my real friends/people who love me/ones who care will' is obnoxious.

I have more advice ( in fact I'm full of it!) but 10 points is apparently the golden number for blog posts.
If you have some timely advice for social media users, please add it in the comments box.