The oh yeah, that’s right post

Bondi Rescue lifesaver Harrison, rendered in gingerbread ©careerusinterruptus

Sometimes I wonder if my kids really are gifted. (Hello, imposter syndrome!)

Sure, they read early and zipped through their first couple of years of math, but then ill health, anxiety, a bad school fit, and a dash of bullying brought a screaming halt to their academic advancement. Since then, their disinterest in book learning is a source of perpetual bemusement to their dad and me – neither of them, really, has an academic bone in their body. So when I read about kids doing calculus at 5, or teaching themselves multiple languages, I do sometimes wonder whether I’m in the right parenting group.

And then we’ll have a 24-hour period in which one kid (it doesn’t matter which one, they’re both over age 10 and both more than capable of all of this):

a) soliloquises extensively about how desperate they are to learn everything, and “know the answers to all the questions in the world”;

b) throws a screaming fit over wrapping a Christmas present – they cut too much paper, you see, and had to trim in both dimensions, which “ruined everything” and then they didn’t know how to do corners so the whole idea was stupid and just FORGET IT, JUST CANCEL CHRISTMAS NOW;

c) carries on the screaming fit with floods of tears, on the floor, because they wish they were learning, but they can’t because they are sick, and they can’t find their math book, and couldn’t do any even if they could find it because their entire body hurts, but they need to do it before school starts in 8 weeks’ time or they will grow up stupid and end up living in some guy’s basement playing video games for their entire life;

d) insists they would rather flush their head down the toilet than watch any educational YouTube content, even though they are sick and need to lie down watching TV, and they’re bored silly with cartoons, and to thwart me, they turn on the TV themselves, flipping through the channels until they get to … the ABC’s educational programming;

e) and finally, after more tears because it’s the 2nd and we’re not doing anything Christmassy, settles on decorating gingerbread men and spend the best part of three hours contentedly creating artworks like the portrait above. And below:

Gingerbread cookies in the CI house
©careerusinterruptus

Hilarious, aren’t they? Take a close look at the designs on those Christmas jumpers. Some of those sprinkles were placed using tweezers, for the love of God, and that one down the bottom was decapitated deliberately. The Santa hat one is decorated the same front and back because that’s how hats work. And when a cookie’s leg broke off during the transfer from worktop to baking tray, they made a gingerbread wheelchair to put it in, with a lecture to me on the importance of representing all kinds of people, not just people with legs. There was a drag queen cookie, too, and both a topless sunbather and the creep who took photos of her (a storyline lifted from Bondi Rescue. You may notice a theme, here.)

This day was like a masterclass in teh gifted, banging through all the boxes: Intelligence and a thirst for knowledge, tick. Rampaging need for autonomy, tick. A tsunami of emotion, tick. A stonking sense of humour, tick. Anxiety (not necessarily a gifted thing, but often comorbid), tick. Social justice campaigning, tick. Intense and asynchronous up the wazoo.

I know, I go on about it. Partly, dude, I just need to vent. I mean, you try living with this. Partly I do it for that other mum who may be out there, wondering what the hell is going on in her house. And partly, I need to remind myself: yes, actually, I am dealing with somewhat … unusual kids, and if we all struggle sometimes, well, that’s understandable. And finally, partly, it’s to remind myself that yes, I am in the right parenting group, even without the calculus, because this is what gifted looks like.

The asynchronous development is a PITA post

Nostalgic picture of a well-loved, 50-year-old childhood toy
©careerusinterruptus

The thing about asynchronous development is, I can’t fairly write about how it looks in our house. All the stuff that would scythe right through popular one-dimensional notions of giftedness is too freaking embarrassing to my kids, and I respect them far too much to put it online.

Because the whole point of asynchronous development is that, whilst some of the stuff gifted kids do makes them look absolutely amazing, quite a lot of other stuff they do – or can’t do, or won’t do, depending on the issue – looks pretty bloody babyish. It is babyish. And my kids aren’t stupid; they know perfectly well they “should” have outgrown it like their age-peers have, but they haven’t, yet. That’s not down to my coddling or their manipulation or kids these days being soft/spoiled/getting away with murder, it’s just wiring.

It’s integral to the full picture of what we’re wrangling here, though, because the one thing us parents of gifties want you to know is that honey, we ain’t bragging. We cling to these words along with our gin bottles, because often, the “asynchronous development” part of the gifted diagnosis is the only thing that makes our kids make any degree of sense.

So instead, I’m going to share a moment from my childhood, when the asynchronicity – the all-over-the-shop development that makes gifted kids appear several ages at once – really twinkled, now that I look back through the lens of Much Reading.

On one hand, my parents bought me a subscription to Readers’ Digest for my sixth birthday, because I was desperate for reading material and they were desperate for me to stop asking questions – and they knew I’d love it. And, oh my god, I did love it. I devoured it, cover-to-cover, every month until we moved to Australia when I was 14 and the subscription lapsed. I can still tell you a whole stack of things I learned from Readers’ Digest. So on this hand, the expected precocious little smart-arse, right?

On the other hand, when my younger sisters ganged up to shame me out of thumb-sucking and sleeping with my Humpty, age 9 (first clue!), I epically lost my shit and bashed them over the head with a broom (second clue!). This hand – whoa. This hand was Daffy Duck, except actually dangerous. (Having been on the receiving end myself, I must say the tantrums of a three-year-old are a picnic compared to the same fury and lack of control whomping out of someone six years bigger and stronger.)

Now I know how today’s parenting forums would pile on. The “I would not stand for thats”, the “completely unacceptables”, the “9yo is definitely old enough to control their tempers”. It was completely unacceptable, obviously, but the point is – controlling your temper isn’t about age. It’s a learned skill. At 9, I had the self-control of your average three-year old, because I had never lost my temper before. Until that point, my parents would reasonably explain their position in any conflict and I would reasonably accept it. I’d never hit anyone; I’d never even thrown a tantrum. So my fit that night was a double-whammy: not only had I walloped my sisters, the fact that I could wallop my sisters came as a giant shock to all of us. It terrified the crap out of me, and I burst into tears every bit as loud as theirs. I was A MONSTER!

That’s asynchronous development. That’s the reason parents of gifted kids clutch their gin: at any moment, your hitherto rational, advanced, and well-adjusted child may suddenly be taken over by a foaming poltergeist of their much-younger selves – or, as in my case, a developmental stage they’d seemingly skipped altogether. (Tip: they never skip stages. If you think your kid has skipped a stage, by all means, read ahead and meet them wherever they are, but mark the place in your book. You will be revisiting it, sooner or later. Sometimes much later.)

Sure, some gifties lose their temper regularly and still take forever to learn that control. For others, it’s different aspects of development that are out of whack: they can read but not write, or recite the periodic table but not toilet-train, or calculate orbital trajectories in their heads but still need to co-sleep. The point is the lows that come with the highs and the vertiginous zipping between the two. One minute your nine-year-old is waxing lyrical about David Hartman, the first blind person to graduate med school in the US; the next minute she’s lost all self-control, everyone’s screaming hysterically, and you’re checking the littlies for concussion.

As a parent, I have suffered this whiplash so many times, it’s a wonder my head is still attached. It’s the thing I most wish to convey when I talk about the gifted. Sure, there’s an intellectual component to the diagnosis that hogs the limelight, but as a parent, you don’t really care about that. No, what keeps you awake at night is the berserker lurking behind the vocabulary, ready to leap out and wallop everyone when least expected.

That’s the thing that drove me to the forums and eventually, to my tribe of other, similarly-traumatised parents, and it’s why I’m sharing this now. Because if you don’t get what asynchronous development is, you might not know that this is what gifted looks like.

The under-the-bed post

© careerusinterruptus

The delightful thing about living with intensity, is the intensity of the intensity. It’s absolutely relentless. If you do get a break, you’d better gulp air and fuckin’ brace, baby, because without a doubt, the next wave is coming. Welcome to inside my head.

I had planned, you see, a learning post. We learned how to sex mealworm pupae this week (yeah, I know, still no mealworm post, but I’ll get there); we identified the giant caterpillars devastating my patio pots as Eupanacra splendens, a type of hawk-moth larva native to just a few Pacific islands and Queensland; CraftyFish taught herself and me how to make macrame friendship bracelets; we learned about the ancient Irish origins of Halloween; we learned that it is possible for someone who has, theoretically at least, outgrown croup, to have it and asthma at the same time with the right virus; we learned how Huntsman spiders mate (so that’s what pedipalps are for!) and that they can move 50 body-lengths a second; one of us learned far more than she wanted to know about symptoms of menopause and found herself reading a very long article about corruption in Airb’n’b, a service we have never used and have no plans to ever use, because far out, interesting. All that goes into the ol’ cerebrum and swirls around all week, until thoroughly processed, which takes ages, because answers beget questions in an endless loop until you find yourself in the lougeroom with a torch trying to spot tiny specks of white on mealworm butts at 10pm.

Then life broad-sided us. CraftyFish picked up the aforementioned virus and spent the week on the sofa, milk-pale and miserable, and on Friday Mr Pixel went out to build a barrier to stop the chooks venturing onto the road and ended up losing a fight with a hardwood pallet. He’s in a backslab now, waiting for a referral to the fracture clinic at the Children’s Hospital. (NB: we also learned what an avulsion fracture is, and why a broken foot merits a knee-high plaster.)

These don’t sound like big deals. In the grand scheme of things, of course, they’re not – it’s just all the emotional and intellectual crap that goes with it. The two-hour flood of utterly heartbroken tears when CraftyFish realised she couldn’t go trick-or-treating because sick; the anxiety everyone felt around Mr Pixel’s evident pain and having to spend an afternoon at the hospital; my (quiet) shock at how brilliantly he managed himself and the staff at the hospital, even politely explaining to an admin about my hearing impairment; more floods when Mr Pixel – who in addition to the foot fiasco has now also contracted CraftyFish’s virus – finally snapped at his sister’s overwhelming, loving, fuss and in a moment of sarcasm, utterly broke her heart. Again. It’s exhausting, this. Not just the constant barrage of upset but the effort to not react, to model calm and to be supportive, when my wiring is just as fucking flash-firey as theirs and I hate hearing shouting, let alone having it directed at me.

All this against a background of whoops, Mummy has forgotten how to sleep again and is scraping five hours a night so that her head feels permanently like it’s being trampled by a herd of angry cows.

So we’ve been hiding on our screens a lot this week, and for me at least, that’s been disastrous. Because this week, out there has been a lot of bad shit. There was the old white man’s cartoon slamming mothers, the backlash, and his battening down the hatches with more misogyny.

Queensland not only handed over another 30,000 acres to fracking, it also gave its police extra powers to search peaceful protesters, while Victorian police went straight to brutalism (with overtones of white supremacy and – some other, just, repugnance) in a thoroughly shocking display of violence that their Premier thinks is great. We had a young friend there. Reading the post of a young man who was choked and beaten, I also come across devastating words by a sustainability professor that cut a swathe of horror and grief right through my guts – even though I already knew it, sort of, it’s a different thing altogether to hear it so bluntly stated by someone with the authority to do so.

Racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism and just plain nastiness continue to abound.

And behind all that, always, the climate. The questions and the fear and the bewilderment and the anger – the rage – that has to be constantly managed in the face of denial, false-information spreading, accusation, lies, confusion, inaction, and lately, aggression towards those of us who want change.

And against all that, the tiny details that never escape notice. The dead fledgling, the litter in the gutter, that child’s smile, the heat, the misuse of apostrophes, that woman’s tattoo, the moldy pumpkin smell, the bruised finger, the softness of the brownie and the sharp bitter curry, the sticky floor, the mountain of laundry, the dust, Soft Wookie/Warm Wookie/Great big ball of fur, Dr Barbie being the only (relatively) “fat” one, the tacit rise in doctor’s consultation fees, the dad on his phone while Mum rocked the sick baby in ER. All this. More. All the time. Going in. Sticking. Resurfacing. Raising questions but no answers.

As I wrote, today, a man helped himself to a chair and a place at my little cafe table, without so much as making eye contact, let alone the polite chitchat of checking whether that’s okay – and then when his coffee was delivered, got up and walked off, leaving his chair in the walkway. It is such a little, almost insignificant thing and yet, so telling.

I’m done, people. I’m going to hide under the bed.

Bang! There went the week.

©careerusinterruptus

Sigh. There’s the whiteboard. Last Sunday night I brought it down to the playroom, so that CraftyFish and I could put together a plan for what we needed and wanted to get through during the week.

We don’t do well with routine in my house. Everyone gets bored if we do the same thing twice in a row and we’re all constantly generating new ideas for cool stuff to do, then getting sucked into the internet when we look up how to do it and forgetting what we originally planned. I haven’t quite decided whether we have executive function issues, ADHD (inattentive) or if this constant mental hyperactivity is just what gifted looks like.

Then, too, life is constantly throwing new and unpredicted excitements our way that knock us so thoroughly for six, we may take days to find our feet.

My aim, therefore, is for something like a melody, rather than a schedule, a routine or a plan. There are needs I aim to meet, one way or another, during the course of a week: the need for exercise, for getting outside, for creativity, for social connection, for the house to be somewhat slightly cleaned, for the animals to be taken care of, for stretching our comfort zones, for spending time with family, and for learning.

CraftyFish has Guides on Monday and piano lessons on Friday. In between is a blank slate. There’s no order; I just aim to keep the mix right. This week we needed to look in on Mum three times; she lives on her own and although she’s quite happy and safe, she can forget lunch, and won’t get out or see anyone at all if we don’t help her. On Sunday, though, CraftyFish was so busy doing … something, that by bedtime all I had for a “plan” was a trip to the skate park the following day and this week, art and literacy classes on Thursday afternoon. They didn’t even get written on the board.

And then Sunday night was one of those no-sleep three-ring circuses (even the Skeptic was up, briefly), topped, first thing Monday morning, by Mr Pixel’s computer blowing up when he turned it on. I mean, what sort of chance did that give us?

Exactly.

It went downhill from there. Eventually, we got out to a skate park that CraftyFish wanted to visit, only for it to be so thoroughly overrun with wild schoolkids that she freaked (not about the kids, per se, but about the possibility of running them over, since they appeared to have no self-preservation instinct whatsoever) and demanded to leave.

So we went on to IKEA, where CraftyFish refused to eat IKEA food because “it’s expensive junk and I don’t want to make you broke and I want to be healthy” (plus, also, probably, because she was still disappointed about the skate park and mad that we were there to buy something for her brother). Then she fell over onto her wrist and it turned out I couldn’t move the item we’d come for anyway, so we left with a disappointed Mr Pixel, a frustrated Mum, and CraftyFish in floods.

Tuesday involved Mr Pixel visiting the dentist; CraftyFish unable to decide whether to spend the afternoon at school or with us and therefore, yep, more floods; and the week’s first visit to Mum – on the way to ER to get an X-ray for CraftyFish’s swollen wrist. (Just sprained, fortunately.)

And yet somehow, things came right after that. CraftyFish has done about 15 pages of math that she’s getting 95% right. We set up her email address and a shop – writing the ‘About’ blurb, coming up with a shop name, etc – on the online marketplace where she wants to start selling the scrunchies she taught herself to make. A friend has already bought three. We bought stickers for the printer and she figured out designing and printing labels for her shop. She’s made a lot of LEGO and learned how to make plaster molds of her baby-doll’s face. (Don’t ask.)

On Wednesday we took Mum to the library and borrowed a book on LEGO stop-motion animation, so on Friday CraftyFish made half-a-dozen tiny but quite hilarious films. She counted her money ($103.75) and made another baby doll mask.

Meanwhile, Mr Pixel is thinking about how he’s going to build his computer himself and we are talking about options. While he ponders this he painted his Nerf armoury, did a LOT of LEGO, worked on a Nerf modification project, put the slats into his new double bed, played a lot of Minecraft, looked up videos to solve an algebra problem on his game, meticulously tended the mealworms – wait, have I mentioned the mealworm project yet? He helped me measure CraftyFish’s room so we can make sure the redecoration fits and has read all the library books – not a lot, granted, but he knows more about rockets than he did before. There have been some heavy discussions about Extinction Rebellion and quantum physics, which I’m reading but he wants to know about. Oh – and he went online and ordered the heavy IKEA item himself.

The Skeptic took them to classes on Thursday where Mr Pixel talked (and wrote) Dr Seuss and CraftyFish learned macrame, although she didn’t do much on account of the wrist. And they caught up with friends.

And on Friday, after piano, we went to Mum’s. Mr Pixel prepared the snacks and helped make her dinner and then we walked Mum down to the park where the kids went nuts on the exercise equipment.

It’s like this all the time. Sometimes I feel like I’m just hanging on to a pair of breakaway horses; all I aim for is to hit the big bollards on the way through. We got ’em all this week, I think, except Mr Pixel’s social life, which is on hold until we figure out the computer. And then we got some extra. Because in our house, this is what gifted looks like.

I was Dunning-Krugered and I don’t know what to do with that

We all have our bubbles. I know that. We choose friends who think like we do. And I know there are people out there who think differently. That’s okay. That’s great, in fact.

Because that’s what makes humans so freaking awesome, right? Our diversity. And because fundamentally I’m a curious bird, I have over the decades read a fair bit of the incomprehensible, because I need to know what makes people tick. What drives someone to – well. Anything, really. Anorexia, cutting, BDSM, polyamory, OCD, addiction, religion, math – all things I do not practice or want to practice – but by god I want to understand why someone else does it, and so I read and read and read.

It’s not just people, though: I also want to understand the world, and the things people have learned that I haven’t had time to study. In recent years this has led me to read everything I can get my hands on about quantum physics and cosmology, not because I have dreams of becoming a quantum physicist but because once you hear about quantum entanglement, how can you not want to wrap your head around that? (Have I mentioned, I have a bad case of intellectual over-excitability?)

I don’t, for a moment, think I fully grasp any of this. My understanding of self-harm, for instance, is based on words on a page and a reasonable degree of empathy, but I get that I don’t truly know what it feels like to sit there holding an emotional pain so big, so intense, that slicing into my skin with a scalpel comes as a relief. As for quantum: I love the idea, but I accept (grudgingly) that I will never understand the math that describes why or how physicists know that the photons are acting in unison.

In short, I know what I don’t know.

Most of the folks in my bubble are the same way. We’re all hyper-educated and well-traveled, and we know our limits. We all tend to slip towards thinking we know less than we do.

This week, though, I came up against the first person I’ve ever met who thinks she already knows enough. A person who has formed opinions based on “doing my own research” (ie, watching YouTube) and who has a whole constellation of “reasons” why she doesn’t have to accept any evidence that might require her to change her mind – including that she feels “attacked” when presented with some of that evidence.

I’m floored. I mean, how do you have a conversation with that? I don’t mean, “how can I change this person’s mind, in those circumstances” – well, obviously, I sort of do mean that, because I’m a recovering academic and you bet we are all about changing people’s minds, especially when they are so obviously, patently, bloody, WRONG.

But I mean, how can I wrap my head around it? How can we have communication? She’s not, I think, fundamentally a bad person, although – given her views on refugees, the Greens, governments, trans people and atheists – she is certainly a sheltered, frightened person. But she is also, like myself, a mother concerned for her child’s future, a home-schooler, and a voter. There has to be some connection, right? Not by avoiding the tough conversations but by being able to hear without springing to the defensive.

In the abstract I know that the key here is to take my ego completely out of it: to put myself wholly in a position of fascination, not frustration. Because only genuine wonder – asking from a truly curious, completely non-judgemental point of view – can get inside her head enough to understand why she’s so attached to her thoroughly misguided worldview.

As you can see, I’m failing.

I’m failing not just because frustration (how can anyone be so – so – so – AARGH!), but because I feel attacked, too. And I think I’m going to have to spend some time sitting with that, to unpack all the reasons why I feel attacked, so that I can let go of the dumbfounded and the angry, move forwards and learn to hear. To talk, sure, but mostly, to hear.

There’s a part of me that thinks, “oh fuck it, why should I bother, she’s an idiot, why waste the time?”

But a bigger part of me knows that every time someone thinks that – stays in their bubble – the walls between us grow a little bit higher. And that is a far greater threat to us all, than someone merely thinking differently.

The art post

© careerusinterruptus

I had a plan about what I was going to do with that board, but when I got the paints out, this is what happened instead. Art is like that; it demands a life of its own, I think. White history and culture is thoroughly imbued with myths of control, which I think leads so many of us to despair. Nothing is in control. The only thing that is, is how you respond. The challenge is to listen, to hone the skills that will allow you to see and honour what is, to let it bloom rather than bolt, without losing yourself. This applies whether it’s a painting, a story, or the child you’re raising. Art reminds me of this hard-learned truth. As a recovering high achiever, I need frequent reminding.

© careerusinterrutptus

I made a couple of these boards in the lead-up to the party, partly because the space needed some art and partly because I needed to make some myself. That need, for me, is quite visceral, shouting much louder than the need for exercise, for instance. That need comes from my brain, telling me ‘I should’; art comes from a profound craving for colour and line, for play, for something that, however imperfect (and like every one of us, all art is imperfect) pleases my eye and lifts my heart.

©careerusinterruptus

I mostly make art in parks and on beaches. Partly just because that’s where I frequently find myself with time on my hands; partly because the materials are there, their curves and colours singing; partly because I love love love the idea of someone else finding it, that moment they realise ‘oh, someone made this’, and smiling; wondering. Maybe looking around. Maybe snapping it. Maybe feeling like they discovered a secret. Maybe not.

I know, there are bound to be kids or dogs who run over them all unseeing, and likely others who wreck just because, while gravity and weather wreak their own damage. It doesn’t matter. Nothing I make is about permanence – that’s a control thing. Rather their time here, like ours, is both beautiful and fleeting – indeed the latter lends meaning to the former.

I don’t expect anyone to see that in anything I create, except perhaps dimly; that’s okay. It’s enough to put it out there, into the world. It is, I’d argue, all we can do with our time here: Listen. Honour. Create. Share.

Patio reveal

Drab, ugly, or mismatched colours hurt me. Physically. Whenever my eye falls on them I flinch inside. And in our brutal sunshine, the brash orange of 70s brick is one of the rudest kicks Brisbane regularly delivers to my poor retinas.

Irritatingly, until last week I had to put up with this around our home. Every time I looked out the kitchen window to the back patio, ow. Rude, it was. An offence to not just the eyes but to my whole sensibility: the need for shelter, shade, cool, for hidden secrets to explore, for subtlety and shadow, were all affronted by the harsh plain of glary, baked terracotta. Ugh.

So if I say, ‘the back patio used to be just plain brick, and I hated it with an unholy passion’, please read into that statement ten years of retinal abuse every time I poured a glass of water, hung the laundry out, or watched the kids in the pool.

That’s probably why I failed to take ‘before’ shots. It was just so feckin’ ugly.

I’m quite happy with it now. Now it’s a place where the Skeptic and I sit of an afternoon to catch up on the day and eat chocolate digestives. It’s still going to get unbearably stinking hot, but at least it won’t look like we’re on Mars.

Finally, after ten years, it’s got enough of our artworks to feel like we’ve made a mark, but it’s not finished yet. Not by a long shot. Watch this space…

14 days

Him: Okay, so, just don’t paint the patio.

Me: <blink>

Him: Or, just don’t make yourself a dress!

Me: <blink, blink>

Him: It’s that simple!

Me: <squints> Dude. You’ve known me how long?*

Him: <throws up hands in despair>

Heh. He doesn’t even know about the mirror. Or the artworks.

*answer: 26 years. 26 years! Seriously. You’d think he’d have learned by now.

Love and community

copyright CareerusInterruptus.com

Writing time for me is two hours on a Sunday morning. I call it my ‘time off for good behaviour’; it’s often the only time I get to myself in the week.

I’ve been coming to the local library regularly for a good few years now. The women at the cafe know me and what I usually order; they ask after my kids and catch me up on important news in their families.

Then there are the other regulars. The elderly mob who are super friendly and cheerful, who always ask after my Mum.

The big nerdy English chap, whose studies have been interrupted by his stroke, who always comes and says hello.

Most weeks I’m very good at saying, “hello, how’s things, right now go away and let me write”, but this week a new friend finally moved past the ‘friendly nod’ stage. She sat down for a natter and whoops that’s half my writing time gone, just like that. Or more, because after discovering just how fascinating and delightful this new friend is, it takes me a little while to wrestle my brain back into harness. I have to relax, to remember that we have time. Time to ask those questions, unearth those stories, share those laughs. Friendship time is unlimited; writing time is not.

I’m not sorry, though. I am thrilled. The first library friend I made was literally a ten-minute chat before we both turned back to our respective screens. We only connected properly five months later when she turned out to be my son’s new kindy teacher. And over the years she’s become so much more than that: she’s a model of how I want to parent and woman and teach; she’s taught me about chooks and gardens and sewing; she’s started a community project bringing people together to sew cloth bags instead of plastic. I’ve helped her with university papers and childcare and chicken soup when she was sick. Not only are we richer for our friendship but so are our children, who have made friends with each other and gained a safe-house in the process.

We might’ve eventually figured it out during that chaotic kindy year, but with the library encounter under our belts we already knew we were onto something.

That something is rarely what you think it is. We’re not polished, perfect individuals. Every one of us has been shaken: failure, divorce, anxiety, illness, just plain feeling that we don’t fit in. Sharing it with a stranger in the library is really a great strength. It’s how we connect, by being vulnerable.

It’s taken me a long time of being out of academia to get – to remember – that connection is the whole point of this life. Connection is joy, connection is support, connection is power. It is the source of all our strength. We forget that at our peril.

Go. Be vulnerable. Connect.

The Dish

You know that whole 17-day, 3000km road trip was organised around this, right? The CSIRO radio telescope at Parkes. Very first time I sat down to consider possibilities, I looked it up and it turned out, they were having a rare open weekend to mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. They would do tours! Well, there was no way I was missing out on that.

We got there 45 minutes early, I was so scared of missing out – and given that we had a 1.5hr drive to get there, that’s really saying something in our slow-starting household. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited. Quite possibly, never.

I will not pretend the kids gave a damn. The boys stayed on the ground while CraftyFish came on the tour, pulled along somewhat bemusedly by my excitement. And I was completely, ridiculously, viscerally, excited. Nearly a month later and I still thrill to think of it, to see these pictures. It is like an A-list celebrity encounter, multiplied a couple of orders of magnitude. I would’ve gone on the tour three or four times, if they’d let me, except I did also want to share it. With EVERYBODY.

It is not just that I think it is stunningly beautiful. The epic parabolas, the lacework against the sky. It is not just that it’s a hub of brilliant minds from around the world. They had an “Ask the Experts Marquee”, where I would’ve quite happily stayed all day talking to people about gravitational waves and pulsars and the temperatures of merging galaxies and the Square Kilometre Array, except that I was actually a bit too excited to stand there and talk to any one person for more than about ten minutes.

It is not just the stonking engineering: the 1000-ton dish, unattached to its base, still in its sixth decade at the forefront of the science, leading a global network ever forward technologically. It is not just the way this magnet for the curious rises out of the surrounding kilometres of flat red dirt like a massive sunflower, always turning, always searching. Listening.

It is not even the mind-emptying scope of what they do there, probing the farthest reaches of our universe for the birth of the cosmos. It is all of this, all at once, that fires my rockets. It’s like every crevice of my entire brain is being thoroughly, running-round-in-circles gasping-for-breath tickled. Think about all those big ideas for a moment. The hugeness of them. The implications. The burning questions still to come. Can you feel it? Even an inkling? Yeah? Welcome to inside my head.