From comics to poetry with creativity

car-poem

Poem and picture: Car Crash

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:

Car Crash
Flames burning the rusty old metal
Scraps of chaos flying through the air
Tiny glass shards continuously falling
Soon, metal turns into ashes
KABOOM

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.

 

A Day in the Life of a Working Mother

stocksnap_t1nuhz0su7

I wanted to whinge about this crazy week but ended up penning down a story instead. I plan to slow down but here I’m 1am and still going. One day. Soon.

“Kids get your bags and get in the car.”
Amelia recites this phrase every morning, except the days she works in the office. Those days her husband deals with the morning chaos.

“Being late is a bad habit.” She says running upstairs, two steps at a time, almost tripping over the last step. Steadying herself she glances over her room, looking for her bag. It must be in the wardrobe. Amelia notices the kids’ flannelette pyjamas still on the floor and squints. They never pick up their clothes. She wonders if it’s worth yelling again asking them to come clean the mess. Why bother, we will be even later. This is just an irritation, a minor irritation. Her spacious bedroom looks small with all the clutter. She walks over the jumble of clothes and stops in front of the sliding mirrored doors of her robe. Before she slides the door open she notices the face starring back at her. Her eyebrows climb, there is no spark in those eyes. She looks tired and her hair hasn’t seen a brush yet. Amelia pulls an elastic band from the pocket of her blue Nike jumper and quickly ties her short, unruly hair, into a ponytail. That will do.

Amelia races downstairs, this time holding the rails.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” She instructs the kids, who don’t seem to hear, they are totally absorbed in their game of Pokemon cards. Amelia always repeats ‘let’s go’ three times. A single ‘let’s go’ doesn’t express her sense of urgency.

“There is no canteen money if we are late.” She warns them and this time the kids get moving.

They drive to school talking about Pokemon and the upcoming birthday party that she hasn’t started planning yet. She printed extra copy of the invitations to send to their family overseas but unknowingly to her Steve distributed every single invitation to his friends at school. She is uncertain of who or how many kids have been invited.

“Mum can you pick us up early?” asks Steve.
Her heart feels heavy every time she hears this question. She wonders if she is giving her children enough quality time. Is car time quality time? She read somewhere psychologists saying that car time is part of the equation. She finds this reassuring. She is focusing on the traffic ahead but notices Steve is still staring at her.
“I’ll try.” Amelia says unconvincingly, she knows she won’t be able to.

She finds a spot in front of the school.
“This is our lucky day!” Amelia cheers up.
“A school day is never a lucky day.” Steve mumbles.
“Common, you enjoy playing with your friends, don’t you?”
“Mum, no child likes going to school. We just go because we have to.”
“Ok but you have to hurry now, the bell will ring in a few seconds.” Steve’s mouth is a horizontal line now. She immediately regrets saying the word hurry and gets out of the car to kiss them good bye and straighten their hats.
“I love you.” She shouts as she watches them climb the fence. Her boys never use the school gate.

Amelia drives off waving at some parents chit-chatting at the gate. She sighs. She doesn’t want to be a stay at home mother but she wishes she had time to chit-chat sometimes. Her days start early and are full. Here she is, not quite nine in the morning and has already done one hour of work, before the kids got up.

The school traffic steals a couple of minutes from her morning. As she waits at the pedestrian crossing, she notices the blue sky dotted with a few specks of fluffy clouds. The thermometer in the car’s dashboard displays 18C. The perfect weather for a run. But she has so much on at the moment, she has to resist. She is hopeful that she will have a break for a run later in the day. That’s why she is wearing active wear and her GPS sports watch.

But the day doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. There were no pit stops. The only break she’s had was to scramble some eggs for lunch. She spent the whole day staring at the screen in her computer. It’s already time to pick up the kids and she still has emails to reply. She will have to return to the computer at night. Her eyes are red and sting. Amelia puts her elbows on the desk in front of her, holds her head with her hands and massages her temples with the tips of her long middle fingers. I’m working too hard.

On the way to school she sights runners pounding the pavement and wonders how they find the time. Don’t these people have mortgages to pay? For a moment she wishes her life was different. Amelia stops at a set of red lights and spots her birds. The common birds that are always there performing a synchronised dance across the sky, in perfect harmony. Amelia thinks they are pigeons but she isn’t certain. It doesn’t matter what they are and it doesn’t bother her that she has to stop at these lights for two whole minutes. She enjoys the show. She tries to count them, 25, 30, more. More than a messy sum of birds. This is a self-organised dynamic system showing cohesion and movement of a group without a leader. A show of competence and cooperation among birds, qualities she admires.

She arrives at after school care and from a distance she spots the boys playing soccer. Amelia worries that her kids don’t spend as much time at home as they would like to but she is watching them play in the soft rubber field, they tackle, they dribble and they don’t seem in a hurry to leave. This makes her feel better.

Amelia signs them off and they walk to the car talking about Pokemon and the homework that still needs to be done. But not tonight. They are now heading to music lessons and she will be there replying to emails while she waits at reception for thirty minutes. If the lessons were longer she would go for a run instead. She is still in active wear and wearing the GPS watch. She is not the only mother waiting in the tiny reception at the music school but she is the only one working on a laptop. The others are reading Women’s Weekly and those types of magazines. She wanted to reach out for one too, just for a bit of entertainment but she knows her night will be even longer if she doesn’t deal with the emails now.

Thirty minutes go by and the boys are back at reception before she sends the second email. “Just a minute boys.”
“Mum I’m hungry.” Whinges Jack.
“Just pressing the send button… now.”
She looks at them. “Ready to go.”
“Mum, can we stop for hot chips, I’m starving.” Jacks insists.
Stop? Stop? Who has time to stop. “We’ll have dinner shortly at home.”

They are walking across the footpath of the quiet shopping village. By now a cafe and a take away shop are the only stores open.

“But mum I am hungry now!” Jack doesn’t give up.
Amelia raises her arm to check the time and calculate how long it will take to whip up dinner, quickly read the kids a story, have a shower and go back to the computer. She feels a drop of sweat running down her back.

“My stomach is grumbling mum, please?”

Amelia stops walking and stares at the trees at the end of the road soaking up on what’s left of the sun in this gorgeous spring day. Even trees do a better job of looking after themselves. She wonders if she will ever finish reading the book she started last month. Amelia doesn’t give her kids junk food very often, she thinks this is lazy parenting. But she is too tired today.

“I just had an idea.” She says putting her arms around the kids’ shoulders. How about we go to Macas and grab a take-away dinner and you can eat in the crèche at the gym while I do my exercise?”

The boys don’t like going to the crèche. They say creches are for pre-schoolers.

“Only if I get a milkshake with my meal.” Jack tries to negotiate a deal.

“Ok, you choose your dinner tonight.”

The kids arrive at the gym carrying a brown bag in one hand and a clear plastic cup with a cold drink in the other.

“I’m sorry but the creche no longer opens on Thursday nights.”

Amelia gave the receptionist a blank stare, she could not believe it. Maybe she didn’t hear the girl properly with the thumping sound coming from the treadmills behind her. The girl showed Amelia a copy of the gym’s timetable, circling the creche’s opening times.

“Really? I rushed so much.” She didn’t mean to say that, the words just came out of her mouth, she could not hide her frustration. It was her fault, this is what happens when you are too busy, sooner or later you make mistakes. Why am I cramming in so much? Why do I have to be so productive?

She turns back to look at her boys and they smile.
“Mum, now this is a lucky day for us. Can we go home?”
“Ok, let’s go.” This time she only said it once.

Sydney is a privilege

Getting out of bed at 5:30AM on a Sunday may not sound like a privilege to many people but I felt really lucky this morning. I went with the kids to the Spring Cycle to cross the bridge and explore the centre of Sydney with our bikes. I was joined by a friend from Croatia and another from Iran and we were there enjoying every moment of our expedition with the blue sky above our heads and in awe to be living in such a beautiful, safe and multicultural city.

I’ve been living in Sydney for 18 years and am now used to such high standards of living but having grown up in Brazil I’m all too aware that the way we live our lives in Australia is a privilege denied to most of the seven billion people that share this planet with us.

I’m not talking about wealth accumulation—although I’m sure that there are plenty of opportunity for this to those that seek financial riches—for me it’s the little things in life that make Australia so attractive. For instance, today I was able to catch a train at 6am with my bike without feeling threatened that I could be mugged or had my bike stolen. Then during the race my children took off and I only met them again at the finishing line and it didn’t worry me that they were out of sight for a little bit.

When you grow up in a country that has a decent welfare system and public infra structure that makes live more enjoyable it’s easy to complain when Sydney trains are running five minutes late. Sometimes when I hear friends whinging about minor irritations in essential services I wonder how they would cope in a country that offers very limited resources to their citizens.

Of course Australia has problems too, we just have to look at the inequality in the Aboriginal communities and we have to raise our voices to fix what’s not working. I think if we show gratitude for what we have and remind ourselves that many of our privileges are often determined by your geographical location we may become more generous as human beings.

Mum, brace yourself, I’m going to high school

1stdaycommamae

First day at school – the backpack was as big as him.

The rain is falling on my window pane setting the perfect mood for this nostalgic Sunday afternoon of sifting through hundreds of moments frozen for digital eternity. I’ve procrastinated this task for a few weeks but today I rolled up my sleeves and sat in front to the computer with a pack of biscuits, a coffee and a mission: to find photos for my son’s end of primary school video. It was a retrospective look at the last seven years of our lives and it didn’t happen without smiles and tears.

I knew this day was coming and I’m grateful that I was able to participate in all transitions, from cot to playground to pre-school to primary school and now high school. But my heart clenches at the thought that from now on it’ll be more of me trying to get involved in his life than him in mine. I got used to him not reaching for my hand when we walk, saying ‘stop embarrassing me’ when I hug him in public and complaining when he has to join the family in our outings. I’m uncertain what’s going to be the next step of independence.

Looking at the images today made me realise that time is moving faster as my children get older. Perhaps because every time I look back there are more and more memories to remind me of what life once was, how cute they were, how much younger I looked. Sometimes I want to get back to the past to revisit those moments, make them last a bit longer. Other times I’m just happy that some of those moments are just a memory.

But what scares me is that some of these memories are just a vague recollection. These are the moments that I think I wasn’t as present as I should have. I was either too busy or life got in the way of living and if it wasn’t for the photographs some memories would just evaporate as if they had never existed.

That’s when I remind myself that I have to slow down and stop the auto-pilot because you can really only appreciate life if you are present to experience it and I want to look back at the end of Year 12 having not only collected memories but feeling and appreciating the different stages of life.

Now if you excuse me, someone is calling me to play with Pokemon cards 🙂

The night I got changed in the car

gettingchanged

The sun had already set when we arrived at the oval for Lucas’ soccer training. While his session is running, I normally dash to the shops with Thomas to get dinner. But today there was a change of plans. “Mum can we practice for my cross country?” Thomas asked firmly. I wasn’t really in the mood for a run. I had covered 11KM in the morning before work and my gross, sweaty workout clothes stayed in the backpack all day. But how can you say no to a child who spent the whole day at school and after school care?

Our cross country training started with hurdles – where to get changed? I checked the public toilet but the lights were off, so we walked back to the car. I scanned the vicinity to ensure there were no parents around the car park, got in the car and started to unpack. Man, I never realised my own clothes could stink so bad. I quickly put the top on and my body shivered when the wet fabric touched my skin. Yuk! Then the contortionism began to put the sticky running pants on. Eventually I managed to get dressed and nerved myself to action in the track field, hoping I wasn’t going to pass by any parents.

Despite the hygiene situation it was an occasion for celebration – Thomas has never shown any enthusiasm for running, or for any other sport for that matter. “Ready, set, go” he commanded and we started to race. Well… I did. But Thomas started skipping. And jumping, cart wheeling and pretending to fly like superman. He also stopped a few times to climb over the fence. Close to the finish line he went on all fours pretending to be Snoopy. I was trying hard not to laugh of the whole situation. Thomas was clearly having a wonderful time but my poor baby was probably going to come last in the cross country.

“Mum, I’m glad I practiced for the race, I think this year I’ll go really fast,” he said. My heart sank. I was thinking how disappointed he was going to be. Running 2KM with that level of focus he didn’t stand a chance. I’d better say something to prepare him. “Thomas”, I went, “remember, it’s about doing your best, it’s not about winning.” – “I know mum,” he replied, “everyone gets an ice block at the end. Everyone is a winner.” What a gorgeous boy. Yes, Thomas, everyone is a winner. A life lesson right there. Please sweet heart, never ever change.