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ABC isn’t always so easy – choosing schools in the modern age.

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” – Sydney J Harris

I love this quote. It is no secret that I am mad-passionate about education. I’ve spent most of my career in schools, working with children, since I was 19 years of age. First as a teacher’s aide, now as a teacher, and in the future, as a guidance officer. I believe that no educational activity is a waste of time, whether it’s primary school, TAFE, university, post-graduate learning, or learning on the job. It’s all good.

Theoretically, as someone who has the benefit of working in more than ten schools in a variety of roles, I know exactly what I want – however, choosing a school for Soren was a difficult task.

We sold our first house and moved to a suburb where we could access excellent state education options. No regrets. We love our suburb, and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. We would still consider state schools if our first choice doesn’t work out. I’m not fussed on public vs private, I care more about quality of the school.

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When Soren was about six weeks of age, I started emailing all of our local private schools – Catholic, Anglican, and non-denominational. We settled on an excellent prep – 12 school that was non-religious, all boys’, and had a good track record with inclusion, with several same-sex families enrolled with no issue.

The process we went through in selecting a school exposed me to a side of the schooling game that is vile, anti-human, and quite frankly, offensive – not only to me as a parent and a human, but to me as a teacher.

Almost all of the Catholic schools we emailed took months to get back to us. When they finally did, it was evident that they were delivering a script with a lot of vanilla keywords about “inclusion” and “tolerance.”

Note – I do not wish to be tolerated. I am not a fly. I am a human.

However, like a fly I have razor sharp eyes that can see through all the educational buzzwords.

When I pressed them specifically on same-sex families, they would ignore that part of the email and not respond to it at all. Do you really think I’m going to trust you with my child if you ignore the most crucial part of my email?

A few other Christian schools would not reply for months, then tell me they wouldn’t discuss this via email, and to arrange a time for a phone call. I did a few of these phone calls, and boy, were they disappointing.

One school told me that “It’s okay, everyone falls short of God’s grace in various ways, yours is just your relationship. We accept everyone.”

Um, I fall short of God’s grace in many ways, but my marriage to my wife is not one of them.

The same school also told me, “The family unit is quite a personal matter anyway. It’s not something your child would need to bring up at school.”

Yes, it’s a personal matter. Very personal. But like hell it will be a private matter to make everybody else comfortable.

The same school allowed students of other religions to wear garments that weren’t part of the Christian faith. I guess that’s more marketable – so people can see how “tolerant” they are – whereas the gay family thing is still seen as taboo and immoral. No pride badges, no talking about your family because people are funny about it.

For what it’s worth, I think everything should be included. Religions, cultures, and all family structures – not a cherry-picked selection of things that tick the “diversity” box for marketing fliers.

In any event, I found the conversation condescending, vile, and offensive. The fact that they wouldn’t correspond via email was also a huge red flag.

I think it is absolutely fine if consenting adults want to be in environments where they are not around us rainbow folk. By all means, build your churches and your super-straight bars and exclude us. But when it involves children – who cannot consent and are being educated in these environments – I think schools need to be held to a certain standard, one that reflects the values of the secular society that is largely funding its existence.

Why do I care so much? When I was a child, I went to three different private schools – one Catholic, one Lutheran, and one Christian. I was exposed to extreme ideas of conservative Christianity in two of them, including physical punishments. In another, I was kicked out with no chance of redemption for what was realistically not a huge mistake. The lack of “grace” was evident.

When I first came out in year 10, I was gossiped about within my school community, sent to an unqualified counsellor who burdened me with guilt for my existence, harassed online, and I was then kicked to the curb.

Again, no “grace” whatsoever. I lost all my friends and had to move schools, because my values didn’t align with their “values.”

It was messed up and it did a lot of damage. Still, I can’t be mad because it gave me exceptional insight into how I make decisions for my family – what can be tolerated and what can be avoided if possible.

The only advice I have is to drill any potential school. Do a tour, or two if you can. Go to their open day. Ask every question that is important to you. If they take months to respond, consider it a huge red flag. Check out their Google reviews – often a very accurate picture if there are a lot of disgruntled parents. Ask anyone who has their child enrolled at the school what the pros/cons are. See if there is anything about the school in the media – child abuse cases and articles about extreme bullying or sexual harassment are often very easy to find if they have been published. Ask about their teaching strategies, class sizes, how they choose their teachers, and why they have chosen the strategies they use in the school. I always asked about the school’s vision and 5-year plan if I thought we may consider enrolment.

Overall, trust your gut.

I did all of this. Will it be the perfect school? Goodness no. Will we have frustrations and disappointments? Yep. Am I the perfect parent? Most definitely not. But I feel like I’ve done my due diligence for now.

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I live with a broken bag.

I never hold on too tightly to things.

It is not unusual for me to throw mental clutter and old ideas away like the bags of throwaways in the thrift shop bin by the train line. I hate collecting knick knacks, old papers, and books I’ve already read. If it has no purpose, it’s as good as gone.

Anything we hold onto becomes part of our tapestry and if you hold on too tight, it hurts more when you let it go because you’ve let it become part of your bones.

Oh, my bones must be weak then.

Some things we hold onto too tightly hurt us because they are bags full of secrets. Secrets that wield razor blades which slice through our bags and cut through our skin. Then it hurts even more to pick it all back up again and make order of a broken bag. The disorganisation will weigh us down, even more than the weight of what we’re holding.

No one wants to live with a broken bag.

My broken bag is the story of who I am.

It is my collection of traumas. It is my sexuality. It is my dark treasures, my little darlings, which have stained my soul and cracked my glasses.

I can’t see straight.

I once read that when a pilot can’t see due to weather and low visibility, they become disoriented. They think they are flying straight, but in fact, they are not. It is only when their wing dips and the airplane enters the death spiral that they realise something is really wrong, and by then, it is too late.

Isn’t that a bit like life?

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You go along through life. You have tendencies. People are nice to your face. You bumble along, unaware of whatever is slowly eating away at you from the inside.

Then something changes.

Something big comes along. A near-death experience. A majorly traumatic experience. A grief. Or maybe all of the above, captured like a snowball rolling down your lifespan.

You begin to see things in your sleep. Visions of your own death a thousand times over. Your dreamscape becomes one never-ending snuff film…

Then you stop sleeping. Then you stop leaving the house.

Then your broken bag collects all manner of dirt and dust.

You can’t go on. But you do. And you do. And you do.

You never sleep, and you wonder why people always complain that nothing ever gets done. Have they not heard of the wee morning hours? Obviously not. The more days without sleep, the more momentum you gain. Then you peak. After that, it all becomes a little messy and disorganised again. You start drawing clocks with the numbers going around the outside of the circle. The doctor pulls you up.

“Are you taking the piss?”

Nothing makes sense.

“Maybe you just need some time away,” they say.

“At least it’s not cancer.”

“My friend had something like this.. they call it a disorder, can’t remember which one.”

The doctor interviews you. It feels like hours. You keep looking at her phone sitting on the table. You watch what you say. You are slightly paranoid. Whatever they’ve got you on, it isn’t working.

Electroconvulsive therapy has come a long way since the shock treatments of the 20th century.

First, they take you for a brain scan. They ask you if you feel safe as you cross the road.

The scan comes back fine and you’re cleared for your first round of ECT.

It’s not all bad and you won’t be awake for it.

You just wake up five minutes later, confused, in a room with a TV that’s playing One Direction.

They do it five more times over. You start to feel better.

You start to call your doctor, Doctor Frybaby.

The night terrors stop. You sleep through the night again. You won’t be able to thrash your body so hard you break yourself, but that’s for the best.

You begin to excel at your studies because this experience has gifted you an amazing insight into the human mental condition.

The only thing is, your mind never seems to shut off. The thoughts continue to race.

I can’t look at a licence plate without adding the numbers in my head. I get irritated when they aren’t even numbers. I can’t look at a sign without adding all the letters. Likewise, I hate a lack of symmetry. Even songs I listen to.. they have to be symmetrical.

Well, at least when my mind plays tricks like this, I am not having completely intrusive thoughts. It never shuts off, but maybe this is a small price to pay.

I can no longer shoot out of bed at 4am to run a hard and fast 5km…. but I know how many letters are in every word.

This is all exhausting. It is chronic. It is hard work. The self-criticism in my thoughts makes it all so much harder.

I keep an awful lot to myself and some of it is very heavy, and my bag is still broken.

I am not the person I was before all of this. But I am now a high-functioning sequel to the original horror story.

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The only boy in ballet class

When I was pregnant, everybody asked me if we knew what we were having.

Um… a baby?

In all seriousness, for the longest time, I thought Soren was a girl. Even right up until the delivery. Even after seeing clear testicles on an ultrasound still.

A lot of people would say to me, ‘Aw, if you get a girl, you can do ballet lessons! SO cute!”

I loved the idea of baby ballet. The calming music, the listening skills, the flexibility, and the gorgeous outfits.

But – I felt that I could enjoy that with a little boy, too. So when I realised I could sign him up at Queensland Ballet from the ripe old age of one year, I did exactly that. I thought it would just be an easy class with some sing-alongs and a bit of “dancing”, facilitated by the parents.

I thought there’d be time to chat and relax with the other Mums.

When I turned up, the class was full of two-year-olds who could already jump, spin, turn, and follow instructions.

So here I was with my 13kg chunk, jumping like a kangaroo, twirling like a jellyfish, sleeping like a dingle dangle scarecrow… definitely not relaxing or chatting.

It turned out to be a workout for me as much as him! Which was fine, because he absolutely loved every second of it… until he was asked to sit still on his dot.

Because the rest of the students in the class had proper leotards and shoes, I decided to go shopping to get him the outfit so he could look the part. I had to research quite a few shops to find shoes small enough, and when I got there, I noticed that there was floor-to-ceiling displays of everything dance – and everything hyper-girly.

Shoes, bags, outfits, hair accessories… the lot. Then I looked over to the corner. The boys’ section had been relegated to one tiny place in the store.

Unlike the girls’ section, which offered hundreds of products, the boys’ section had just a small offering.

Not one to be discouraged, I dressed Soren up and he started shaking his bum as soon as he was in the outfit.

His joy did plant a thought in my head, though. It is so challenging to be the only one doing something. He is likely to always be the only boy in ballet class. It would be a shame if he ever gave it up, just because it’s not popular with boys.

I wish I had the answers. I just hope and pray that as he gets older, he sees his uniqueness as a strength rather than a weakness. I can only keep on encouraging him and hope he remains true to what he enjoys doing.

That’s all we can hope for our children.

#BoysDanceToo

 

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She’s so messy.

“She’s so messy. If you open up her desk, it’ll swallow you whole.”

That is what the girl next to me in Year 4 once said, and she was right. My desk was a maelstrom of snapped pencils, drawings, lots of bad handwriting, and dried up pieces of glue.

A few years earlier, my Year 1 teacher pulled my mother into the classroom after school just to watch me try to organise my things from afar. I would become so overwhelmed by all of it, that I would kind of just step back and forth in a dance.

“See? She can’t organise herself.”

In Year 12, I sat an English test. I had to write a monologue for a specific character in a book. I knew exactly what I wanted my character to say, and my fingers couldn’t spew the words out as fast as my mind wanted them to.

At the end, my teacher was splitting hairs about marks that she “could have” given me, pointing out to me smugly that, “If there weren’t three gaps in between the parts of this word, I would have known you meant ‘educated.’ Can you see now why I marked you down?”

Yes, lady. I can see now why you marked me down and I don’t care. 

Now that I’m nearing 30, you only ever see small glimpses of this past-self in my current life. For instance, I have this process where I need to leave my laptop and school bag out on the bench so I know to take them in the morning. If I don’t, I will get halfway to work before realising that I don’t have my belongings.

It drives my wife mad because it’s mess and clutter.

But – my Tupperware is perfectly organised, my handwriting is neat, my bench is clean, and my books are organised. I work to perfect to-do lists.

Why is it that I struggled so much to do those things in the past, yet I am now a neat perfectionist?

I guess the difference is that back then, I felt like it didn’t count. It was easy enough to coast through primary school without a care in the world, and once I got to high school, the divide I felt between scribbling out the fictitious monologues and the exams and the actual real world where you turned up for work, ate your vegetables, and paid taxes just seemed so far.

Put simply, I felt that there was no ‘buy in’. 

I had spoken at length with the careers counsellor and I had no idea what I wanted, beyond wanting to be educated, but the longer I sat in the four walls of my high school, the less educated I felt, the messier I became, and the more I failed.

It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now I have one and a half university degrees with distinction (I’m sure that means something to someone, somewhere), a minimalistic, organised apartment, and a crisper full of vegetables.

I am neat. I am successful.

I got all of those things because they became things I wanted, so I figured out how to strive towards them. I tidied the handwriting. I learned to study. I became ruthless with clutter. I watched hours of YouTube videos that taught me how to cook.

Yet, I see adults scowling at the messiness of today’s youth, hanging them by the threads of their inattention, the untied laces of their dress style, their schoolwork, or even their handwriting, and I cannot help but wonder….

Maybe they want it all, but just not now. 

mixed paints in a plate

Maybe a lot of us are artworks in motion and the best is yet to come.

 

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Is he a good baby?

As a new parent, this is the question I am asked the most. 

Yes, Soren is a good baby. But you know what? All babies are good babies.

In fact, I would suggest that all children are good children. Some are born with challenging traits or placed into situations that ultimately lead to the development of less adaptive coping mechanisms, but that does not make a child ‘bad’.

They are a product of their genes and environment, both of which are out of their control.

They are coping with the situations in their lives, with the brain wiring they were given at conception. 

For example, some babies seem to sleep well from day one, whereas some babies are all-night ragers.

Some babies and children need a lot of reassurance, whereas other babies need less, or ask for it in different ways. 

Some babies cry a lot, others don’t cry unless they’re completely overwhelmed. 

‘Well, what’s wrong with saying he’s a good baby?’

baby lying on inflatable ring

When we think about good versus (bad?) babies, it’s important to think about our language. “Good” implies that a baby or child is capable of making considered, moral choices. The opposite, of course, is “bad.” 

This has never sat comfortably with me. 

In my studies last semester, I completed a unit on child abuse and neglect. One of the core aspects of the curriculum in this area was about risk and protective factors. In the first year of life, one of the most significant risk factors for child abuse and maltreatment is the child’s temperament. 

So – a high-needs baby with colic and a need for reassurance is more likely to be physically harmed, ignored, shaken, or emotionally maltreated. 

They are vulnerable. 

This doesn’t mean it will happen, but the higher stress levels brought about by challenging temperaments and behaviours can create conditions where maltreatment is more likely. 

In my mind, to then label babies as ‘good’ places the blame on an infant for stress brought about by higher needs. In a very small and implicit way, it blames a child for how others respond to them. 

In any event, babies just need our love – and when they challenge us, they need it even more. 

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The joy of travelling alone

Ever since I can remember, I have had the travel bug. It probably started the first time I watched Madeline; I always had a deep desire to stretch my wings and walk on the roads less travelled.

As I grew towards my adult life, my parents encouraged me to ‘wait until I had friends who wanted to travel.’ As I started to meet new friends, I realised that our styles would be completely incompatible. My friends wanted to drink and party with Contiki, I wanted to travel at my own pace and to do so quietly.

When I was 20, I booked my first trip alone to Tokyo, Japan. My parents begged me not to go, but I did anyway.

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My only big mistake was that I nearly missed the flight back because I assumed a flight from Tokyo – Osaka – Brisbane started as a domestic flight, therefore, I only had to be there a half hour early.

Oh, well. I made it in the end.

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The next year, I took a teaching trip to Hangzhou, China and visited Beijing and Shanghai when I was done. After that, I thought I could conquer the world….

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…. then I visited India. At the ripe old age of 22. Probably one of my poorer life decisions, but I have no regrets.

I did the golden triangle – Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra – where I saw rats the size of cats, experienced real Indian accommodation ($7 a night and no running water), and had gastro out of both ends.

I also had a taxi driver who tried to scam me out of money after I’d run out, so I had to distract him and run into a hotel.

Smooth.

In 2012, I came out of a three year relationship so I spent the slush fund I’d had tucked away for a European jaunt with my ex and spent 3 months travelling in Greyhound buses on the west side of the USA, Canada, and Mexico.

Some highlights included couchsurfing at Richmond Arquette’s guest house, meeting survivors of Jonestown, and hanging out with lots of internet friends.

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Greyhound Buses – where hope goes to die

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Before I left, so many people got busy telling me why I shouldn’t travel alone, but I did it anyway. The only downside was when I got bronchitis in Las Vegas on New Years’ Eve and ended up spending it in Sunrise Hospital, Nevada. So many drunks.

Good times.

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Christmas Day was good, though. Spent the day skiing and nearly crashed when I stupidly took on the steep mountain.

Right before Soren was conceived, I travelled to Sri Lanka, Qatar, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia on my own.

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Sri Lanka was an adventure from start to finish, with dirt-cheap Air BnBs, crowded trains, hot weather, and about 21km of walking most days.

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The high point was when Natalie joined me for Christmas and we spent the day surfing.

From there, I left my love and went for my first trip to the Middle East – Qatar.

Obligatory camel photo

It was there in that dusty corner of the world that I learned the value of drinking tea, enjoying extravagance, and being left alone.

On New Years’ Eve, I boarded a flight to Azerbaijan. Most people I spoke to would raise their eyebrow and say, ‘Where the f#*k is Azerbaijan!?’

In case you wanted to know, it is part of the far-Eastern-European part of the world and a former Soviet nation. It is untouched by tourism, full of stray cats, and cold as anything in January – so much so that it started snowing flurries when I went for a run.  The highlight was definitely catching two buses to a place out of town and finding an eternal fire – very valuable in the cold weather. You can also buy 75c Russian vodka in the supermarket – also good for keeping warm.

From Azerbaijan, I took the no-frills overnight train to Georgia. It was somewhat confronting to cross a border in the middle of the night, especially when the uniformed customs officers spoke very little English.

In Georgia, I got a $50 tattoo and also ended up in a bath house after catching a random bus. I had no idea what was going on when the lady running it took me into a locker room and told me to ‘strip!’ I obliged, and she took me into an underground shower room filled with 20 other naked ladies, all different ages. The water came from the Earth and was boiling hot. In the corner, an elderly lady was being washed by her daughters with a rag on a stick. It was oddly beautiful. 

I took another overnight bone-rattler from Georgia to Armenia, where I finished my Eastern European jaunt. It was beautiful from start to finish.

Some people fear travelling alone, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. You learn to love being alone, and to solve problems independently. My goal was to get to 30 countries by 30 and 10 of them, I have done as a solo traveller.

No regrets.