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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. 

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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?’

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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.

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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.