What a pleasant surprise today when my 9-year-old opened the door of my office and handed me a handwritten note. He said he felt inspired to write a poem. So adorable, totally out of the blue. This is what he wrote:
Flames burning the rusty old metal
Scraps of chaos flying through the air
Tiny glass shards continuously falling
Soon, metal turns into ashes
I encourage my children to read and write and at present, this child is always reading and creating comics. The problem is that I question the value of comics as the only source of reading, I tend to think that these books are little more than glorified picture books.
I understand that stories are stories. I know that regardless of the format in which they are delivered, they make us think and form options. But comics are easier to read than other types of books and they require less attention. And graphics replace the intricacies of plot and emotion that words alone can convey. If the pictures are telling the story for you, what work is left to the imagination?
The benefits of reading in developing imagination and creativity are well documented and every parent I know starts reading to their children as soon as they are born. But experts say that creativity has been on the decline since 1990. Although the loss in imagination has nothing to do with comic books, it makes me think that preference for comic books is a reflection of shorter attention spams of kids today. Scientists don’t know what is the main culprit in the decline in creativity but they suspect that the number of hours kids now spend in front of the screen rather than engaging in creative activities plays a part. And we know that technology and information overload is reducing our ability to pay attention.
When I see my children restricting their reading to comics I wonder if their brains are just getting lazy. But then, they constantly surprise me with bursts of creativity. Whenever this happens I think that doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they read, the children are all right.
Yes, we did it again and, yes, he beat me again! I wrote about this same race with my reluctant runner last year. This time around he was much more willing, not to mention faster. He ran 5km in 23 minutes, knocking my socks off. As the start gun went off, he sprinted to the front of the crowd to catch up with the lead runners and within 300 metres had disappeared from my sight.
When I first wrote about this fun run, I was debating with myself how to find the right balance between pushing my children to excel and encouraging them to explore the world and be kids. A year has passed since that blog, and today, as I pounded the horrid hills of Roseville trying to catch up with an 11-year-old, I was thinking about this dilemma again.
My son is such a natural runner – if only I could convince him to train a bit more. Last year it was the first time he showed an interest in running. After a lot of parental nagging, I convinced him to do a fun run with me. But training was not fun. He often complained he would rather be doing something else and on the day of the race and whined all the way from home to the start line. After last year’s race, he did well at the school athletics carnival but refused to train for the next level of competition. Maybe a tiger mum would have punished or threatened him to continue. I offered encouragement and incentives instead – to no avail. Then, this year to my surprise, he announced he wanted to run again.
This time around he was more committed to training. Sometimes I had to insist but for most part, he was willing to join my morning runs and for about a month we managed to run consistently twice a week. On race day he was excited and did his best.
There were dozens of children in the race. Most of them were wearing a club t-shirt like Little Athletics or Sydney Striders. These are children that take their training seriously. Maybe they have tiger mums and dads behind them. Maybe they are just naturally driven. Maybe it’s both. With my own children, every time I try to get them to do more than they think it’s necessary, it backfires, it becomes a chore and they lose motivation.
I still don’t have the formula figured out but from observing my children and their friends, to get kids to do something with passion it’s not about pushing, it’s much more about encouraging children to explore and learn and giving them support when they are ready for the challenge. The problem for most parents is to learn when encouraging becomes pushing, where to draw the line.
“To get kids to do something with passion it’s not about pushing, it’s much more about encouraging children to explore and learn and giving them support when they are ready for the challenge.”
To address that, I came up with the term ‘short burst of pushing’. For the child that is not willing to try new things, sometimes they may just need that extra push. My theory is that you create the opportunity for the child to experience a new activity and if they like it, they may return to it even if at a later stage. In the context of this race, if I had not pushed my son a little bit last year, he may not have realised that he enjoyed the sport and could be really good at it. I hope he continues training but I will not insist. If he wants to pursue the sport, I’ll provide support and encouragement.
I’m a strong believer that childhood is about exploration. I’ve created an opportunity for my son to explore running as a sport. Maybe if I hadn’t, he would have found the sport own his own anyway. I don’t think we need to create endless opportunities but listening to our children and being in tune with their needs and interests can help us give them a little push (or a short burst of pushing) to help them push a few boundaries when they are ready.
What a challenge these races have been for me as a parent and a runner. I had trained much more than my son and still came two minutes behind him. I’m not getting any faster with age but I hope I’m getting wiser. Time will tell.
My book is launched! Pieces of North Shore. I say ‘my’ but the book is a collection of short stories from seven writers from Stanton Library Writers Group. Here is my presentation at the event in which I share the background to my story The Bridge Less Travelled. The book can be purchased on Amazon and Google and independent bookstores in Sydney.
2 April 2017
Can I have a show of hands, how many people crossed the harbour bridge to get here today or came from outside the North Shore? When I finish my speech you will understand why I asked this question.
When I first arrived in Australia I went to live in the south of Sydney. I knew nothing about Sydney’s suburb rivalry and every area looked just fine to me. Then one day, I was waiting for the train at Riverwood station and started chatting to another commuter. With such a strong accent, I always get asked an inevitable question: “where are you from?” When this gentleman learned I was from Brazil he said: “wow, you crossed the pacific ocean! I’ve never even crossed the harbour bridge.” – I thought he was joking, I didn’t think it was possible for a Sydney sider to have never crossed to the other side, so I asked: “Are you serious?”
He answered: “Sure, am. There is nothing to see on the other side.”
My train was approaching so I left it at that but I took a seat next to the window thinking that there is a lot to see and experience on the other side of the harbour bridge or any bridge for that matter. And that’s what The Bridge Less Travelled tries to explore.
My story is about a beautiful Australian icon that connects places and people. But, as I show in the story, the structure that joins can sometimes separate and isolate people from change, acceptance and inclusion.
When you cross a bridge for the first time you leave behind the familiar and comfortable to enter the unknown. The more you do it the more used to difference you become. I’ve met people on both sides of the bridge that were pretty comfortable to live within the very well defined boundaries of their suburbs. But by limiting their lives by geography and excluding others from getting in, these people can only see the world through a very narrow template. My character, Sarah is one such person:
This is how the story begins:
‘Oh, you were brave to cross the bridge,’ says Sarah looking more immaculate than the unit she is trying to lease.
‘What’s a bridge when you’ve crossed the Pacific Ocean,’ I reply referring to my pilgrimage from Brazil to Australia just a few months prior.
‘True,’ she concedes, while tucking her straight dyed-blond hair behind her pearled ears. ‘But the North shore isn’t just like any other place in Australia darling,’ she pauses, ‘the North Shore is the Promised Land, home only to the “chosen few”.’
My character’s stereotyping is shameful and we are quick to look down on her but what strikes me though, is that if we really stop to take stock of our own attitudes and behaviours we will find that we all have lots of bridges to cross.
There is an old proverb that says “Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it” – after moving to Australia I learnt that the problem is that many times we don’t event realise we’ve come to a bridge. When we are blinded by stereotyping we normally only see the gap. To close the gap it takes effort and courage. In this respect, I agree with Sarah, you have to be brave to take a step in the other direction.