I got the writing gene from my dad. Growing up, his writing was part of our household apparatus. We always had typewriters: first a little cast-iron manual, then an electric, then a bigger electric, then computers and a dot-matrix printer. Our paper supply was the backside of cut-down maps he used as an Air Force navigator, mixed with draft pages of his MBA.
After the MBA, Dad wrote a little bit freelance alongside his job – reports on his Fun Run Club for the base paper, that sort of thing – and his post-military career as a sugar industry lobbyist involved regular press releases and editing together a fortnightly news digest, which he loved.
But what I recall most was the novel. Dad pecked at it throughout my teens and 20s, around his full-time job, a fair share of the housework, the yardwork, and driving us kids all around town. I know the premise – a father, involved in some kind of accident, having to choose which of his children to rescue – although I don’t recall ever reading a single sentence.
From about 1982 on, we had Writers’ Digests and Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbooks on the shelves, too, so I guess Dad wanted to publish his novel. I don’t know whether he ever got that far; I suspect he never even finished it. He died suddenly, aged 56.
Dad didn’t exactly encourage me. In fairness, not many parents would encourage a kid writing her first ‘novel’ during her last year of school. And I understand that his own impoverished childhood underpinned Dad’s over-riding concern for me to get a stable job first, and write later. But that need to be banging away at something? That’s 100% him, in me. It’s why the only thing of his that I wanted to inherit, was his desk.
That desk is now buried under far too much crap for me to actually work there. But, I still write. I do some housework, but I’ve also learned to tolerate mess (mega mess, el grande supremo mess), because otherwise I’d never get to write. This way I do a little nearly every day. Fortunately the current task is editing back a completed MS, which I can tackle even when my brain’s fried after a day driving my own kids all around town. Prioritising writing over the housework is a way of sticking two fingers up to the little voice whispering how pointless it is, how insignificant the things I have to say. (Well hello again, Imposter Syndrome, y’old cow!)
Next month I turn 51. I’ve set myself the goal of finishing the edit by then, and I have an agent in mind to approach. I’m still walking towards my mountain. I’m not thinking about whether the MS is ‘good’ or ‘important’, or anything else; I’m certainly not trying to be clever or literary. It’s just a story. It still makes me smile and sad where it should, and all I’m asking myself is to give it a chance.
It took several readings about masking before I began noticing how often someone says something that shows they Don’t Get It so profoundly, I don’t know where to start. I’ve started thinking of these folks as muggles.
Some muggles are friends. While not Getting It, they like and respect us enough to keep their ears open. (These are the best people on earth, by the way.) And some friends who think they’re muggles, actually Get It. They’ve just never noticed, because they’re living it, and our tribe is our ‘normal’.
For instance, long before I heard of ‘emotional over-excitability’, I gathered people who, like me, are infuriated by injustice. We rant, rave, and are regularly moved to tears by others’ suffering, whether those ‘others’ are humans or not, whether they’re known to us or not. So many of us are so overwhelmed by anger and grief at what’s happening in the world right now – the protests; the virus; the climate – that we can barely breathe, and we forget that others don’t feel the same.
Similarly, ‘intellectual over-excitability’ explains the friends whose wide-ranging curiosity matches mine. Recently I was thrilled when approached by a new friend, a theoretical physicist (cooooool!) who also wrote a fictional, Arthurian ‘original source’. How cool is THAT?! On top of THEORETICAL PHYSICS?! I was so excited, I was running around in little circles squealing – though only in my head, obviously. Ahem. He’s gonna fit right in with the martial-artist-sword-collector-writer-of-speculative-fiction, the dude who re-enacted a Viking voyage in a genuine knarr and later wrote a history of plumbing, the mathematician-silversmith, the social justice warriors. Oh, and my husband, who after 27 years still regularly surprises me with the breadth of his knowledge.
And because these are my people, I never queried my kids’ Need To Know. It never occurred to me that it was unusual, for instance, when I shared a titbit about Richard I with my husband – who doesn’t do medieval but does military – for our then-9yo to demand a detailed explanation of the battle of Jaffa, just as he’s always demanded the background to every political or current-events comment we’ve ever made.
It never occurred to me not to answer these questions because I know all too well the mental tantrum I’d throw – the agony I’d be in – if I asked and someone didn’t answer fully. Yes, we have anxiety, and yes, knowing what’s going on out there can be awful. And of course I don’t believe my kids can handle anything and everything. But when they ask, answering isn’t just about my commitment to honesty. It’s also about respecting them as fully-fledged, albeit young, members of my tribe.
Someone called me on it, this week. She doesn’t think kids should know about current affairs, believes that parents who share such information are prioritising their values rather than their child’s (mental) health, and declared that parents aren’t experts, especially about children with ‘special considerations’ like anxiety. After closing my mouth, I bowed out of the conversation because – yeah. Muggles.
Parenting these kids – balancing their hard-wired Need To Know against their equally hard-wired anxiety, knowing that a slip either way leads invariably to late-night grief – is quite tricky enough, TYVM, without trying to explain precisely how much I’ve had to learn and how hard I work at it. I’m a long, long freaking way from being an expert on giftedness (or indeed, parenting), but I know who can help – and it ain’t gonna be muggles. It will be those who Get It, either because they’re living it, or because they trust that I am, actually, the expert on my family.
Getting It isn’t about intelligence, necessarily. It’s about listening. Others’ experience is one of the hardest things for anyone to grasp. People are complicated, contradictory, and WEIRD, and often the greatest thing we can do for someone, is simply believe that they know more about their life than we do. Get that right, and you’re on the road away from muggledom.
One of my parenting groups asked, “What keeps you awake at night?” I found writing it all down to be rather cathartic, if only because it made me laugh at the theme park going on in my head. Sleep is for the weak! I mean, how else am I going to solve the universe?
fear that I am failing my kids on any number of measures, take your pick;
a child having a nightmare;
hard decisions looming about Mum’s care;
a different child – or possibly the same one – needing rescue from the möbius strip they’ve made of their blankets;
well-meaning people telling me stuff I “need” to do which I already know but am not managing (see #1, #3, #5, and #19);
things well-meaning people said about #1, #3, #4, and #5 that I strongly disagree with, but … maybe they’re right???
processing – it’s the only time nobody’s in my face;
climate emergency and guilt that I’m not doing anything to help;
some of the other measures on which I’m failing my kids;
wishing for a helpful professional;
anxiety about having to admit my many failures to said professional;
was that a noise?
fear of my financial future;
fear of my future health;
PLANS. Plans to fix it ALL!
Right. This isn’t helping. You can’t fix all that if you’re tired; better get some sleep now.
BUT… The State of The World!
hip and/or back pain;
worries for family and friends going through hard times;
words. Ohhhh allll the WORDS …
I should really get more exercise (see #5, #15, #19)
I said, Go to sleep now, please.
that thing I said in 1985 that was really fucking embarrassing;
hormones (turns out not sleeping is a symptom of peri-menopause; who knew? And why doesn’t anyone tell you this stuff?!)
I quite like making lists; this is fun!
boy there sure is a lot of stuff on my to-do list. Don’t forget…
trying to balance budget vs dreams vs practicalities; Being Sensible does not, ah, come naturally to me. Maybe we could …
did I mention fear that I am failing my kids? Yeah? Pick another couple of measures. Haven’t aired them for a while!
the Great Undone – not the stuff I didn’t cross off the list, so much as the stuff I forgot to put on there in the first place which only surfaces when I’m driving or in bed;
Oh, FINE – and the stuff on the list that I didn’t cross off;
that thing somebody I don’t even know any more said in 1993 that REALLY PISSED ME OFF BECAUSE HOW COULD THEY BE SO WRONG?!? AND YES I KNOW IT’S IN THE PAST LET IT GO BUT SERIOUSLY SO WRONG!!
Excuse me? I can’t help noticing that we’re still awake. Listen. You’ll feel awful, if you don’t stop this now. Take some deep breaths… that’s right… Concentrate on relaxing your toes. Ahhh. Good. Now, relax your feet…
No, but, seriously – THE STATE OF THE WORLD. I mean have you SEEN what’s going ON OUT THERE?!
maybe … maybe my whole life is wrong, and we should go start again from scratch on a remote island OH NO WAIT #9 SOON THERE WON’T BE ANY REMOTE BLOODY ISLANDS!
c’mon Rebecca, don’t be over-dramatic, this is all just because you’re really tired. Sure your life isn’t perfect but nothing is, it’s fine, just make a list of what you can fix and start there – wait, no! Not now, Jesus, go to sleep! (Wait, where have I heard that before?)
being too hot or cold and too whatever to realise/fix it before HELLO I’M AWAKE LET’S DO THINKING!
Really. What could I possibly have to say about it? Nothing, obviously. Many people, smarter and better-researched, have written far better posts and probably books about imposter syndrome, than I ever could.
Although, I can tell you that academia is an excellent place to contract it. Brains are the name of the game, and it’s easy to feel like an idiot when you’re surrounded by smart people, with faster processing and/or better memories, who have read more and/or who just happened to have read that one crucial item that undermines your whole idea.
And in my experience, the vast majority of scholars are combative as all get-out. They’re dying to show that they know something you don’t, to challenge both the content of what you have to say and your right to say it. They’d much rather be right, than kind. Whether this stems from a terrier-like commitment to intellectual rigor, love of battle, competition fostered by a shrinking sector, plain old insecurity, or all of the above, is hard to say, but meeting the rare scholar who lifts rather than digs really highlights how keen everyone else is to put you in your intellectual place.
If you have even a skerrick of intellectual OE – that burning desire to know – this culture kicks you pretty regularly in what’s already a sore spot: the painful awareness that you will never learn all that you want to. That realisation, when I was about six, was my first true grief. Like any proper grief, the pain has never completely gone, so every time someone bopped me with something I didn’t know, it throbbed. That happens often enough, you start to wonder what, if anything, you do know, and what the hell you’re doing there. When my office-mate even challenged my sadness over a colleague’s death (“Did you really know him, though?”), I began to feel that perhaps my entire existence needed peer-reviewing to be legit. Okay, I didn’t really feel that. I just felt an enormous disconnect, a terrific sense that I was not a real academic. I did not belong there.
Of course, I knew that was imposter syndrome speaking, but everyone has that, don’t they? Heck, I even read an interview where Michelle Obama talked about it. She said, you get over imposter syndrome when you realise that those people aren’t that smart, after all. Hm, maybe — IF YOU’RE MICHELLE FREAKING OBAMA! I’m not that smart. Obviously.
But a funny thing happened after I left academia: Parenthood. I definitely knew nothing about that, so like a proper swot I researched my arse off, becoming more and more confused as book after book failed to describe anything remotely like what was going on in my house. Not how I saw the world, not my values, not how my kids behaved. (Free tip: don’t ever get me started on reward charts.)
Eventually, though, through reading, I found my way to teh gifted. (‘Back’ to teh gifted, I should say, since I was identified as a kid.) And these people! Oh, my goodness. Smart. Funny. Sensitive. Snarky. Passionate. Ambivalent. Crusading. And wrestling with the same issues: the screaming, the kids who’d happily die (DIE, I tell you!) before giving in to any authority they perceive as arbitrary, the anxiety, the perfectionism, the stubborn, the under-achievement, the big, tender hearts, the burning thirst for knowledge (STRICTLY on their own terms), the … imposter syndrome. Oh, yeah. I’d found my tribe.
I still don’t think I’m that smart. I’m pretty much always convinced that everyone is smarter than I am. Everyone has achieved more, done more, read more, and for sure, knows more about just about everything, than I do. I frequently wonder whether perhaps we’re not gifted, just, you know, really emotionally dysregulated, over-thinky, and a bit useless. There are 6yos out there who do calculus for fun, for goodness sake, while my kids at 11 and 13 spuriously insist they can’t tell time – and will hold their breath to prove it!
The lovely thing about the gifted/2e tribe is, they get that. There’s no pissing contest about whose kid is more gifted or whether you’ve read Silverman, Tolan or Merrill. We all know we are learning on a job where there’s no union, no OH&S, and no damn tea-breaks. We don’t really have a clue what’s going on (because these kids mix signals like nobody’s business) or if we do have a clue, we remember all too well the bruises from our own days of seeking.
So we tootle along, sharing, laughing, and crying, and when someone wobbles, wondering what the hell they’re doing there when their 13yo has read nothing but the same two book series over and over for the past TWO YEARS, they all just laugh, empathise, proffer gin and if you’re after it, advice. It’s that recognition that saves my sanity, every time. The knowing laughs when I complained about starting this very column two months early and twelve different times, the women offering the balm of their likeness, rather than a reference to fix that.
Sure, I have a long way to go to guru-dom. I should definitely read more University Press books, especially about giftedness, homeschooling, and being a good human, instead of books with curly embossed titles and drawings of teapots and frocks on the front. But I don’t, because my brain hurts from living it, and because I’ve come to realise that actually, that’s all the expertise I need, to write about what happens in my house. I do get us. And as long as I’m sharing something that might give you a glimmer of recognition, of connection, of feeling less alone in your confusion, then I’m on the right track. Perfectly entitled to my position and right to speak it.
November and, so far, December, have not been kind to us. CraftyFish has spent most of her time flat on the sofa, miserable AF – and for a kid who is normally swinging from the chandeliers, that’s distressing as hell. Especially to mommas who bear the brunt of the misery, and the responsibility for fixing it. I eventually got her blood-tested – which sounds so easy to say, but is so taxing, when your kid is super anxious, super vocal, and has never had blood tests before – and we discovered that her iron was on the floor. Not, technically, anaemic, but in the bottom 6% of the normal range. Which is bloody marvellous – relieved a lot of anxiety, let me tell you, and eminently fixable, even if it will take a long time.
At the same time, I asked the doctor to test me, too, because my brain fog was back. Last time, I didn’t notice until a doctor told me – that is, I knew I wasn’t right, but I didn’t know how not-right I was, until he told me – but this time, thank fuck, I noticed. In one week I lost my keys and took three visits to remember to tell the doctor everything and then there was the morning I caught myself wandering around the kitchen trying to remember how to make toast – with the bread in my hand the whole time. This time I knew, hey, I wasn’t like that six months ago, so off I trotted. Turns out, my iron is only marginally better than CraftyFish’s. So we’re trying to iron out our iron and be kind to ourselves: trying to remember, as we achieve so very little, that we’re not useless, we’ve just been temporarily hamstrung by biology.
It triggered me, a bit, the brain fog. I lost years to it, last time, years of barely keeping my head above water and anger and exhaustion and not being able to start, let alone finish, anything. I do not want to go back there.
The world continues to burn and the news is horrific: our government continues its march towards authoritarianism, denying – in the face of all the evidence – that there’s anything unusual happening as the biggest, hottest fires ever recorded sweep vast areas of land, killing record numbers of animals, driving thousands of people from their homes. They rejected calls for more funding for the exhausted firefighters, saying that as volunteers they “want” to be there, forcing the firies to crowd-fund for lunches and equipment; they’ve brought in a bill to allow people to discriminate on religious grounds – to fire you for being gay, or to deny you contraception; they folded the Arts, Environment and Education portfolios in with Transport, Agriculture and Employment respectively, even though those would seem to be at cross purposes; and rumour has it that they’re planning to cut the pension for both the aged and job-seekers. This week Australia was downgraded from being an open to a narrow democracy and ranked bottom of 57 countries for its climate policies.
Then there’s Brexit.
I can’t look away from this stuff. Can’t focus on the small picture, making sure my kitchen is tidy and my Christmas shopping is done and prettily wrapped. I find it utterly impossible to give a flying fuck about this stuff, to be honest, to pretend it’s business as normal, when it is so abundantly clear that painful, violent times are coming, fast. (The sky, normally so clear and blue has been relentlessly low and beige, and the temperatures over 30C every day this week, which makes it really hard to ignore.)
And then. Mum had a minor stroke and, when she was released 24 hours later, another slightly more serious one. She’s okay, she’s at home now, regarded as fit and safe, although one side of her mouth still droops. It was a lot of hospital time, though, much of it with tired and emotional kids, and I’m the sort of wimp who has to look the other way when there’s a canula in the room, let alone sticking out of my poor Mum’s thin, tissue-skinned arm. She doesn’t really understand why we made her go to hospital; can’t remember that she didn’t used to slur her speech and have trouble lifting her arm, because of the dementia. And she doesn’t remember the explanation so we tell her, over and over again, and she is struggling to process. My sister has done most of the work and I feel bad about that, too.
It has been hard.
A friend tried to remind me that I don’t have to always hold it all together, but I haven’t been able to cry. I don’t know whether that’s exhaustion, distraction (thoughts in my head like flies), good old-fashioned repression, or the profound conviction that worse is to come, but it’s just not there.
I write this out as a marker, so that it’s there, the background against which I think about my kids, make decisions for them and for myself. So that if I seem distracted, or pessimistic, or that I’m spending too much time watching Guardians of the Galaxy and reading romance novels, I remember it’s because I’m carrying all this, all the time, and try as I might, I cannot put it down.
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.
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.
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.
Wanna play a fun game? It’s called, “spot the curriculum checkbox”.
I’m strongly of the go-with-the-flow homeschooling ilk, mainly because whenever I’ve tried to lead there’s been such an almighty blow-back that we all have to lie down with cold gins compresses for two hours afterwards and nothing gets done at all. See my other posts on teh stubborn.
Then, too, part of my reasoning is that my kids will have days like this:
CraftyFish decides to write a song about how rich she is. (Literacy)
It’s kind of going all over the place so we discuss beats, rhythm and syllables. Then, dredging up a forty-year-old memory, I talk her through the AB AB C AB structure. (Music theory)
We edit and rewrite. CraftyFish is so ecstatic at her own wit that she decides she must make a music video to go with the song.
She gets out paper, pencils, ruler, scissors, and starts making fake money. (Art, but also math because she’s measuring and dividing and ruling)
Then she searches up some logos which she prints to make herself some bling accessories. By now Mr Pixel has caught her enthusiasm and joins in. I don’t even try to keep up with their discussions on branding but I do chip in on wealth, performance of identity, costume, and ‘flexing’. (Social studies)
As they work CraftyFish describes the video to Mr Pixel (this is verbal storyboarding; art again I guess or maybe literacy?) One scene involves her minion walking ahead of her, strewing money out of a basket for her to walk on. But our box of foreign change (Geography, history; because yes, we discuss where coins are from and the switches from sterling to decimal; francs and marks to euros) is old and manky, so we start trying to clean it.
Toothpaste doesn’t work so we ask the internet and learn about salt and vinegar. Only the first recipe doesn’t work fast enough for CraftyFish, so she fiddles around with it. Mr Pixel comes in to see what we are doing. He wonders which way is better, mine or CraftyFish’s – so he decides to set up separate boxes with, you know, actual measurements, and compare the results after a set time. (Science!)
So many questions emerge from this: does it work differently on different currencies? (Yes! Because different metals) Why is that one black coin there fizzing like an alka-seltzer? (No idea!) What is that green stuff called? (Malachite, apparently.) Does leaving it in longer get it cleaner? (Only up to about ten minutes.) What is the chemical reaction that is occurring? (Umm…. let’s see. I grab pencil and paper. Salt is NaCl + vinegar which is CH3COOH gives sodium hydroxide NaOH and water H2O, but the copper’s clearly reacting too so… um… kids? Hello?)
Kids have taken my phone and are shooting gangsta-style “publicity shots”. (Photography. Also, we talk Goldie – no, child, you cannot have gold caps on your teeth) – and rap culture and ‘bling’, so more music history/pop culture studiels. Also: God help me.) They send some shots to a friend with a similar sense of humor. His mum messages back, suggesting that we get them together for an afternoon of filming. This sends my kids into a frenzy of coin-cleaning, costume-constructing, and cash-creating.
But it’s lunchtime and the sizzling energy in the air is in danger of leaving everyone scorched (and starving) if it burns out of control, so I order everyone to sit down for an hour’s quiet time and food. (Health studies)
Their friend arrives. He teaches them all he knows about iMovie and they spend the next five hours making movies, talking cars, chickens, Lego …
Do you see? Do you see how one idea can lead to an entire rabbit-warren of learning for these kids? Can you see how they ended up literally exhausted, by the end of it? Because let me tell you, we were all exhausted, that day.
Yes, I would dearly love more order and predictability. I would love love love to direct their learning. What I am coming to realise, though, is that my job is to make their learning possible: finding and creating opportunities, chase them out of ruts and habits, facilitate looking-up and getting in supplies. Anything else is just ,,, yeah. Throwing marshmallows at their heads.
I got nothing, today. I’ve got ideas that drift away before I can take their measure; I wrote a post that contradicted in the end what it started off saying – but that’s fine because I somehow deleted the whole thing before I published. So instead of a post, here’s a picture of CraftyFish, running out into a huge empty park at dusk, full of joy for being out with me, for the kookaburras we saw in the carpark, for running, for the park, for dusk. May you experience any fraction of her joy.