The Beautiful Madness: Life With Six Year Old Boys

March 1943. “Rochester, New York. Mrs. Babcock, Shirley and Earl greeting Mr. Babcock in front of the house.”  From the Shorpy Historical Archive.

This column was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, February 2014

Have you ever heard that theory that our kids are all sent to teach us something? I think there’s something in it. My biggest child, for instance, is on a mission to save me from the sin of vanity (“Mum,’ she asked yesterday, ‘are you growing a beard?’) The smallest one is determined to protect me from the pangs of loneliness should I ever find myself in the terrible position of being alone in the toilet while I wee.  And finally, my middle child, my only boy, the sunshine of my life and the biggest nut in the whole cracker box, is sent to teach me patience.

T-Bone is six, and sometimes our relationship involves physical pain. His cuddles are vigorous – one might even say ‘furious’ –  and he likes to ‘teach’ me how to play the piano by violently pushing my fingers down on the keys.

Last night I dreamed I couldn’t breathe. I was being painfully squashed and trapped by some mysterious force. Eventually I woke up enough to realise that T-Bone had got into my bed in the middle of the night and gone to sleep right on top of me. He is so affectionate, in fact, that my osteopath bills are enormous.

At the beach this summer, we’ve been doing a lot of swimming in the waves. It’s been fantastic, but T-Bone and I had one terrible altercation.  The sea was angry that day, my friends.  The waves were big and dumpy. Still, T-Bone was determined to go ‘through’ them all, while I tried to encourage him to dive under.  I held tightly onto his hand. A big set started rolling in and breaking on top of us. ‘We have to go under T-Bone!’ I begged. ‘Just hold your breath!’ My stubborn child was insistent. ’Just go through, Mummy! It will be fine.’

‘We’ll get dumped! GO UNDER!’ I shrieked and ‘THROUGH!’ he yelled back. I could not let go of his hand and so the next moment, there we were, tumbling through the washing-machine of white water until we came up gasping. ‘We should have gone under that one, Mum, ‘T-Bone said.

But life with a six year old son is not all sea-weed hairnets and spinal adjustments. T-Bone also teaches me every day how much love my heart is capable of – infinite, delicious amounts. ‘Love you, Mama’ comes from his lips constantly, as does the phrase ‘What is there to eat?’ He can demolish a bowl of Weet-Bix like the Swedish judges are watching, and for a feeder like me, a son that loves to eat is enormously gratifying.  This beautiful boy who hates wearing pants, who hums all day long, who loves machines and mermaids; this boy is one of the great joys of my life.

Still, T-Bone is sent to teach me patience. Just a few days ago I was forced to throw out the oversized Coles hand just an hour after he got it, because T sang  ‘Down, down, prices are down’ at such volume and length that we all nearly cried.

There is a certain vocal pitch I hit when shouting at him.   ‘T-BONE!’ I shriek, as all the dogs in the neighbourhood run for shelter.  ‘STOP! T-BONE! STOP!’ He often seems about to cause irreparable damage to property or person, and sends my stress hormones into sudden overload,  but where my girls would be upset for hours if I bellowed at them like an angry moose, it all washes over T like a wave.  ‘What is it?’ he says when the yelling finally penetrates. ‘Love you Mama. Is there anything to eat?’

The Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids do

Computer scientist Gever Tully founded the Tinkering School, a sort of summer-camp-nirvana for kids, where they can  ’extend the boundaries of their safety zones’. At the Tinkering School, kids build whatever they can think of – using power tools, if they like.

Tully describes it thus:

In their wonderful book ’The Body Has a Mind of It’s Own’, Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee describe some of the amazing science behind how, when we pick up a stick or a tool, our minds extend our sense of “self” out to the end of that stick. We can “touch” things with the stick and get a very accurate “feel” for the object we are “touching”. So, it stands to reason that a power tool is just a very dangerous stick and we can learn feel through it as well — we just need the safe context in which to learn how to mitigate the risks the power tool presents. These risks are both real and imagined in many cases and part of the learning process includes dispelling the imaginary risks by developing skill through practice.

Let the kids play with fire, Tully says. Also, own a pocket-knife, throw a spear, and deconstruct appliances to find out how they work.

Here’s Tully’s full Ted talk:

I really like this.

I like Tully’s ‘lean out’ vibe.

There is a growing body of research that supports the idea of children playing away from adult supervision, especially in a natural setting, and there is also some fascinating evidence that autonomy from adults can result in enhanced frontal or ‘executive functioning’ systems for children. One study found that kids who played with other kids in the absence of adults had about one year’s greater development of higher-brain function, improving their scores on measures like inhibition, problem solving and decision making, and even having an impact on lower drug and alcohol use in teenage years. Other studies have found an ‘inoculation effect’ from risky play like handling dangerous tools, exploring and wrestling. This effect can mean that children who play more risky games as kids are less anxious as adults.

There is also recent research supporting the benefits of ‘opting out’ of involvement with school and homework, so as to allow kids to ‘learn how to fail’ early, when the stakes are lower. Finally, and critically, research findings on empathy (or the understanding of ‘life as lived by other people’) hold that play dates where adults are quick to step in and solve problems, can prevent children from figuring out how to negotiate, trouble-shoot and manage relationships for themselves. In adulthood, this can have profound implications.

It’s all a process of taking the eyes of Big Mother off everything the kids do.

I don’t know that I will arrive at school pick-up today juggling two roaring chainsaws and shouting ‘Darlings! Mummy has a marvellous new parenting technique for you!’

But I might pick up a broken gadget from the op shop and set it up with some little screws for after school fun. Also, send them off to Kid Land in the bush across the road.

 

Far From The Madding Crowd

Well, comrades,  it’s been an intense few days around here at Ranch Mogantosh. I diverted from my usual path of light domestic comedy and entered the controversy-sphere, and to be honest, I didn’t enjoy it too much. All I can see are the holes in my argument – as much I do stand by it –  and all I can imagine are angry people upset with me. I’m not so comfortable with the stoush of it all.

The one thing I’d like to stress is that I’m sure that the vast majority of people following a diet like Paleo are undoubtedly sensible, rational people who are likely finding their health improved by this choice.

It’s the outliers I worry about – the vulnerable, the sick, the very young. I wish  that the ‘thought leaders’ of this community seemed more responsible and measured in approach. I wish I didn’t feel that they had all hadn’t drunk the bone-broth Kool Aid (mmm, yummy!) and were willing to stake everything – even the lives of babies – on the strength of their convictions.

There have been many messages of support and positivity from readers of this essay, which has been incredibly gratifying. Also, the comment thread on the post has been full of thoughtful and articulate perspectives. Dissent has been minimal (on this blog at least)  and I acknowledge the courage of those commenters who stepped forward to challenge my argument.

Thank you! Thank you all.

Public debate about these issues is critical in understanding the different ways in which we all choose to live,  I think. There is so much more that unites us than separates us.

But now I’m off to the mountains for a couple of days with the family. We’re going to eat pizza, read books, do puzzles, play Monopoly , go bushwalking and make fart jokes.

No laptop, no TV, and a switched-off phone. Enough of being a nervous, twitching gnome worrying about stats, composing responses and imagining angry Paleo-philes on the imminent attack, coming after me with their (grass-fed – boom tish!) stakes!   I’ve had enough heightened online life for this week.  I’m channeling Ann Margret instead. (via Dangerous Minds). I’m going to straighten my hunched shoulders, look out upon the real world and make sultry suggestions with my eyebrows.

I wish you a weekend full of love and understanding, whatever you choose to eat.

xx

Pete Evans, The Messiah Complex and The Dangerous Lure of Woo Woo

Jayne Mansfield, non-Paleo, 1947

Celebrity chef  turned nutrition guru Pete Evans has been under the spotlight again this week. The last time he got this much attention was when he outlined his complex Paleo daily diet in Sunday Life Magazines ‘My Day On A Plate’ feature. I was on Evans’ side that day. Who gives a crap whether he gets up at 4am to activate his almonds? He’s a big boy. He’s allowed to have a hobby.

But power corrupts, as they say in the classics, and over the last year or two Evan’s Paleo star has been on a meteoric rise. With large numbers of (fiercely engaged) Instagram and Facebook followers as well as an empire of Paleo cookbooks, TV shows and speaking tours, he has hit upon a cash cow.

The Paleo diet eschews processed food, dairy, grains and sugar for fresh vegetables, fermented goods, meat and ‘superfoods’ (pretentiousness is optional.)  Now, there is some good eating to be had with this diet, despite the fact that the committed Paleo-phile is required to spend hours in the kitchen fermenting, preparing and  activating their food. Also, its costs a lot of money to eat this way. ( Products don’t have to be hand-rolled on the hips of fair-trade Peruvian pansexuals , but it helps.)

Lately, the activated-almond jokes have been replaced by more serious questions. As his influence grows, health professionals have increasingly questioned Evan’s claims that the Paleo diet can shrink tumours, prevent autism, cure asthma and reverse chronic fatigue, amongst other things. The Facebook group Blocked By Pete is populated with nearly 5000 users, many health professionals who claim that comments challenging his nutrition stance have been deleted from Evans’ Facebook page.

This is unsurprising. Pete’s Instagram and Facebook pages are bursting with enthusiastic followers claiming medical breakthroughs, cures and miracles that have resulted from their Paleo lifestyle.  They are defensive of their community and leap quickly to deride and discredit any objection. Evans himself calls his critics ‘the non-empowering media’.

Last week, publisher Pan MacMillan decided not to release the cookbook ‘Bubba Yum Yum; The Paleo Way For Mums, Babies and Toddlers’ (where the Dads are, I cannot tell you)  which Evans co-wrote with blogger  Charlotte Carr and naturopath Helen Padarin.

Le controversy!

The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA),  expressed fears about the DIY baby milk formula recipe contained in the book, a liver and bone broth containing Vitamin A levels found to be 749 percent higher than in commercial formula.  Also, the broth was found to be 2,326 per cent higher in vitamin B12, 1,067 per cent higher in iron, 879 per cent higher in sodium and 220 per cent higher in protein, all of which can lead to adverse outcomes.

Dr Joanna McMillan (via The Glow website) says

The concern…with this ‘Paleo formula’ is the quantity of liver and the frequency it would be fed to the baby. Consider that half a cooked chicken liver (about 10g) contains almost double the upper limit recommended for vitamin A for an infant aged 6-12 months. Lamb liver is even higher with the same quantity providing 4.5 times what is considered the safe upper limit. You can see that while a small quantity of liver once or twice a week as part of a mixed meal might be a wonderful nutrient boost, drinking a liver-rich broth daily could be extremely dangerous. Amongst other problems, chronic vitamin A toxicity can cause bone abnormalities.

Professor Heather Yeatman, president of the Public Health Association of Australia, was blunt. “In my view, there’s a very real possibility that a baby may die if this book goes ahead,” she told the Australian Womens’ Weekly. (Incidentally, the book is being investigated by the Federal Health Department.)

After Pan MacMillan decided not to publish,  Pete Evans remained silent on the topic for days, and then announced that he would be ‘thrilled’ to publish the book on a digital platform. In his words:

Charlotte, Helen and I are thrilled to announce that “Bubba Yum Yum The Paleo Way” will be a proudly independent digital worldwide release in April with print to follow. We didn’t want to wait, too many people are wanting this beautiful treasure trove of nutritional recipes and we are extremely thankful to all our followers and colleagues for their support. A huge thank you also goes out to all the media for them helping to raise awareness about this over the last week, we hope you continue to do more of the same. Keep up the great work promoting paleo. Xo

‘We didn’t want to wait’.

‘Too many people are wanting this beautiful treasure trove.’

Look out Pete!  Your hubris is showing.

I’m floored by this.  Respected Australian health bodies have expressed concern that infants could die as a result of his advice –  professionals that don’t have the skin in the game that Evans does, with his fast-growing, profitable empire. But Evans does not – or cannot – respond to their concerns. If  Evans can defend his position, he has a responsibility to do so.

Still, this non- response itself fits Evans Paleo ‘brand’, which positions itself as edgy and unconventional, in opposition to the mainstream of nutritionists, dietitians and traditional health bodies. In Evans’ happy, glowing Paleo-Land,  ’haters are gonna hate’, and true believers have to rise above the  fray to fight for what they know to be true, in their (nutrient-dense) hearts.

Cultural obsession with diet is nothing new. You know that old saying ‘every generation thinks they discovered sex and coffee’? Well, it apples to food fads too.  The Israeli Army diet, macrobiotics, raw-foodism, fruitarianism, Pritikin, juice-cleansing…the list is endless, even just from the last century. Paleo is the latest in the line, but the Paleo Way has landed in something of a perfect storm of vocal anti-scientific sentiment and social media culture than gives its moment in the sun a dangerous edge.

Let me go back a step.

I’ve got no problem with the Paleo Way per se. Clearly, focusing your diet on natural and unprocessed foods is far superior to the modern packaged-convenience food culture.  Michael Pollan put it best with ‘Eat less. Mostly plants.’

I’m a cook. I get it. I like the Everyday Paleo cookbook my mum has – there are some gorgeous recipes in it. I believe, like many people I know, in buying organic where I can, fair-trade, sustainable,  free-range, fresh and pasture-fed.  I think there is a lot of scientific sense in the growing body of knowledge on gut health, a suspicion of GMO, and a rethinking of traditional approaches to nutrition.

But the danger lies in the absolute evangelical passion of the ‘food as medicine’ bandwagon, and where it intersects with the ‘bio-hacking’ and ‘wellness’ movements. Dig into Paleoland a little and you meet a near-impenetrable wall of psuedoscientific jargon. It is almost impossible to discern the fine line where the descriptions of anatomy, physiology and psycho-pharmaceuticals veer from authentic science into nonsense.

Any human should have the right to live their best life, as they see it. It is where these desires intersect with social media, and the value we give to information gained there, where the terrain becomes murky. Like Evans, bio-hacker Dave Asprey of Bulletproof Coffee (with a shot of butter) fame, has a huge social media following, and an incredibly engaged audience who regard him as something of a guru. (Incidentally, Asprey, like Evans, is not above testing his theories on newborns. He describes sprinkling ‘probiotic powder’ on his wife’s nipple immediately after birth so that their infant could have a supercharged first breastfeed.)

Listening to Asprey talk is like trying to understand Esperanto. Where is the line between bullshit and reality? Like Evans, he is charismatic. Like Evans, he is business-minded. Like Evans, he co-opts the language of science, while discounting the very core of its evidence-based foundations. And like Evans, he is making a shit-ton of money.

Charismatic leadership and compelling shared stories were at the heart of the ‘wellness’ movements of Jess Ainscough and Belle Gibson. Both of these bloggers amassed huge social media followings (and in Gibson’s case, a highly lucrative ‘wellness’ app and cookbook) by parlaying the story of their own fights against cancer into profitable business platforms. Both advocated the (largely discredited) Gerson diet, which replaces conventional cancer treatment with vegetable juices and daily coffee enemas. Sadly, Ainscough, known widely as the ‘wellness warrior’,  died this year, as did her mother, who also followed this diet. Many doctors have stated that both their lives could have been prolonged with the conventional treatment they refused.

Gibson’s case is slightly different. Although she is yet to comment publicly, her platform The Whole Pantry is in free-fall after allegations surfaced that funds were misused, and that her claims of cancer in her ‘brain, liver, spleen and uterus’ (which she blamed on the HPV vaccine Gardasil) were likely bogus.

These women were a source of hope and advice to many suffering with cancer. It is hard, in fact, to imagine how many lives were shortened as a result of following Ainscough’s (sadly misguided) and Gibson’s (at this stage, it appears,  utterly fictitious accounts of) treatment.  The fresh-faced youthful beauty of these two wellness bloggers was critical to their success, adding gorgeous visual punch to their anti-scientific, dangerous brand. They are the poster children for the Age of Woo-Woo.

As with climate change (where media persists in stating the outlying, hugely discredited stance of denial as ‘the alternative position’) and childhood vaccination (where rates are plummeting due to the misinformation available online) these wellness platforms offer a lifestyle that places itself outside the mainstream. Why be part of the staid, untrustworthy, ‘government-owned’, conventional, Big-Business, so-last-century medical maintream? Why not join the hip, fresh-from-the-surf, natural, energetic and fashionable counterculture? Why not try….the Paleo Way?

In the end, people will do what they will, and they can follow a guru if they choose, but we  have a shared responsibility to care for  the vulnerable in our communities. In the cases of Ainscough and Gibson, ill and desperate people with cancer were exploited and harmed. With Pete Evans Paleo cookbook, infants are placed in danger.

Like in the Age Of Enlightenment, we humans rail against the cold rationality, the unpalatable ambiguity of science. We want fast answers. We want stories. We want pretty visuals and digestible soundbites. Like Mulder in the X Files, we ‘want to believe’. Unfortunately,  evidence-based, peer reviewed science is not infallible. But like democracy, it’s the best system we’ve got.

This current place we’ve arrived at, where great swathes of ‘consumers’ throw off science and medicine in favour of what feels right, looks good and sells well, is a frightening place to me. And the rulers of these new landscapes, the gurus of these new paradigms, don’t seem to be using their power carefully.

Activate your almonds Pete,by all means. But don’t activate your Messiah complex while you’re at it.

 

Sex Tips From History: The Sex Impulse Is Like A Fiery Horse (1924)

Helpful advice from a 1920′s health film on heath, hygiene and all matters sec-shual. First, a film for the young men.

Readers, take note that athletics, an abundant outdoor life, wholesome companions, lots of good fun, constant occupation and determination will help a boy who has acquired the habit of masturbation (“self-abuse”) to overcome it and repair any harm it may have done.  It is a selfish, childish, stupid habit.

Also, pimples do NOT indicate sex disease. Phew! A victory for scientific discovery, although a sad day for spotty virgins trying to attach some Fonzie-esque cred to their pustulating faces. Finally, I’m a little confused. Our educational clip ends with the father on his hands and knees,  wildly bouncing a baby on his back. Is this an extension of the earlier horse metaphor? Is this chaste husband now a tamed stallion? Answers on a postcard please.

Next, a film for the young ladies:

I watched this clip as I did  calisthenics in my palm-filled courtyard. Constipation? What constipation? But I’m bummed – the lady of today needs brains, fidelity and sound training to be a fit mother, this tells us. Once again, my Arts degree proves useless. But all was well by the end, when I was overjoyed to meet again with the syphilitic children who can’t catch a ball.

As always, happy Hump Day, and all the best with your climax!

xRach

Sex Tips From History: Hair-Sniffing and Cat-Nipping in 1936

Sex Tips From History: Masters and Johnson

Sex Tips From History: Sexual Positions, for Medievalists or Modern Multi-Taskers.

Sex Tips From 1972: The Hairy Joy Of Hairy Sex (It’s sexual. And it’s hairy.)

Sex Tips to Avoid (doughnuts, forks.) 

 

A Letter To The Pregnants: Don’t Panic!

Johnsons Baby Oil Powder ad, 1947

This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, January 2015

Dear Mums,

This letter is for those of you contemplating life at home with babies and wondering how in the name of holy guacamole you are going to handle it. Maybe you are at work reading this, resting a cup of tea on your handy belly-shelf while you wrap up reports and handover documents, preparing for maternity leave. Maybe you are reading this in hospital, a little shell-shocked and hormonal after labour, sewn up from bum-crack to breakfast-time, and not quite able to believe that the tiny person in your arms is really truly here, and not just one of those wild third-trimester dreams.

I hear you. That transition from being a capable lady-person, busy with work and life and friends, to housebound-mama-on-duty  is nuts. It’s like one day, you’re eating rock oysters and dancing to Macklemore on a bar-top at 4am and the next, you’re hiding in the laundry eating cooking chocolate and crying. The speed of the life –shift is enough to give you emotional whiplash. But I’m writing this letter to tell you that leaky nipples and sleepless nights are only part of the story. They are the high-drama parts. That’s why mothers like me talk about them more.

But there’s another truth too – that life at home with kids can be a deeply grounding experience. Creative, peaceful and full of small joys. Mums, you might be feeling panicky about the massive lifestyle change that lies ahead. You might feel that your full and complex  life will shrink to nappies and onesies and breastfeeding apps, and it will, for a while, but then it will expand again, and you’ll be a richer woman for it.

You will be connected to other mothers everywhere, which taps you into your compassionate self, and you will find new worlds open to you, socially and emotionally. You will find time for your old interests again, and you will appreciate them more. (For instance, people at Life Drawing speak in full sentences and only very occasionally vomit on you.)  Plus, you will never look back from your discovery of the elasticated waist.

As a Mum, you’ll create an entirely unique and idiosyncratic family life that will look like no other home on earth.  That ‘soft place to fall’ that you build will have a culture, language, diet and energy unlike anywhere else in the world, and it will be the first place that your children imprint onto their hearts. Perhaps you will work full-time, or part time, or not outside the home at all. Perhaps you will have a strong partner.  Maybe you will go it alone.

In every case, the work that you do as a Mum – - all the cooking, the cleaning, the listening, the planning – will at times feel transient , repetitive and frustrating, but all those small, everyday actions will add up to a larger, indescribably beautiful  picture of love and support. It is hard work, it is a long game, but it is rewarding, in the deepest, most important parts of you. (Not the spleen.)

It seems crazy now, but one day that tiny person in your arms will tell you their worries, refuse to eat your lasagne and make fun of your dancing, maybe all in one conversation. Mums, you are entering a beautiful new world. Don’t panic.

Love Rachael

Ps – Buy wet wipes. You can never have too many.

Honest School Notes #8

Dear Office,

I’m happy to say that this note isn’t about being late to school, because we were on time for school today! Well, so close.We would totally  have been there before the bell  if Peanut had not had to run back along the road to get her public speaking notes. That’s actually what I’m writing about today.

It’s about the speeches and the homework.  The way I help the kids do their homework is to set up our Study School on the big table and then I hover about helping if they ask me, but otherwise leave them to it. (Usually I am too busy to helicopter over them because I am leaking salty tears as I play Mums and Dads with my three year old for the fourth straight hour. )

Third-grader Peanuts speech, entitled ‘The Making Of Me’, was supposed  to be about her values and beliefs. We sat and had a lovely talk about what she thought about the world, I helped her brainstorm some ideas, and then I left her to it. A while later she said she was ready to do her speech for me.

‘I was made when my mum and dad had sexual intercourse!’ she opened with. ‘The sperm met the egg and decided ‘should we make a boy or a girl? Should she be beautiful or ugly?’

‘That’s the joke to start things off, ‘ she told me in an aside. I nodded mutely. There is very little controlling Peanut’s ideas when they get started. She went swiftly into a Communist rant.

‘I believe in fairness in business. Like, a banana cost 9 cents, but the manufacturer makes, likes, six cents and the farmer makes, like …something different, or the shop might…wait. The banana is thirty cents, but they don’t…wait. They should all make, like six cents!’

Peanut trailed off and looked back at her notes. ‘Fairness in business!’

She moved on.

‘I believe in respect. Like respect for yourself means not being all ‘you did that so bad, you idiot! And then…’ She mimed shooting herself in the head and stuck her tongue out in a dead face.

‘You should have respect for people with disabilities and people with religons, ‘ she said.’Don’t be all…’ She screwed up her face and  put on a funny voice. ‘You’ve got a religon, ew! That’s disgusting!’

She then spent a long time, for no reason, and against my advice, outlining the plot of her novel A Bushwalk Into Books which shamelessly plagiarises, one by one, Harry Potter, The Faraway Tree, Nim’s Island and Tintin.

Meanwhile, 6 year old T-Bone’s homework requires him to use his spelling words in different sentences. So far they have all involved death, zombies or trauma. For example: ‘I was in the road and a car hit me I am dead. Ow my leg. I am a zombie now I can walk and talk.’

In short Office, I had very little to do with this homework. Please don’t call in the psychologists.I’m pretty sure that this is normal. I mean, what’s ‘normal’ right?? It’s all relative, right?

Right? Ha ha!

Right?

Yours,

Ms McIntosh

Honest School Notes #1

Honest School Notes #2

Honest School Notes #3

 Honest School Notes #4

Honest School Notes #5

Honest School Notes #6

Honest School Notes #7

 

 

 

3 Inspirational Articles To Start The Week

Australia’s oldest man knits jumpers for penguins.

 

This Tasmanian woman recycles Bratz dolls into proper little people. She is adorable, and the dolls are too.

Finally, a week in Florida’s sexiest retirement village, where 100, 000 people live in a sort of rebublican-tinged utopian wonderland, all owned by a reclusive billionaire called The Deveoper. Folks may be old at The Villages , but they sure are bold. Keith is off to Florida for work soon, and so I shall get him to pick up some brochures for our retirement files. Me, I like the Mamma Mia brunches where the ladies get together to have a dance, and as for Keith, I think he could really get into the hyper-competitive Pickleball league, a cross between Ping Pong and tennis.

All of the possibilities get me to daydreaming about what sort of retiree I’d be if I lived here. The marketing department is aware of this sensation; they have a sales video online called “Permanent Vacation.” I price real estate. I spend hours at night perusing the activities bulletin. In this fantasy every day begins with a bike ride or lap swimming and then tennis. I’d spend my afternoons kayaking or learning golf or playing H-O-R-S-E with a rotating cast of old sonsofbitches who like drinking Coors more than shooting hoops. I’d partake in Pilates and competitive dragon boat racing. I’d carve out time for some occasional indoor activities — maybe join the “Wanna Be Writers” group or take a woodworking class.

It’s not all Pilates and Pickleball though, The writer describes a group of older ladies dancing to Blurred Lines who look at him like a ‘well-marbled steak’. Also, there are many tales of geri-action.

A waitress tells me about key parties at an Italian restaurant on Sumter Landing: “Golf cart keys get put in a fishbowl in the middle of the table, wives wait in the parking lot for their mystery dates.” I’m told about a prostitution ring that has recently been broken up. Orgies are said to be a regular occurrence. I am warned about women prowling around bars indiscriminately offering oral sex. There is reportedly a black market for Viagra. One of Bob’s buddies confesses to watching a couple fuck in a golf cart on a dead-end street. I’m told that sticking a loofah on your cart antenna signifies you’re into swinging. So does wearing a crimson button. According to multiple people, wearing gold shoes or letting your shirt tag stick out in the back signals you’re on the prowl. I hear a story about a scorned woman painting “YOU FUCKING PRICK YOU GAVE ME HERPES!” in red letters on her lover’s garage door. Recently, a married 68-year-old woman became a folk hero after getting arrested with a 49-year-old man for having sex in the square at Lake Sumter Landing. The cops brought her to jail and a Villages restaurant named a drink after her — Sex on the Square. It involves whipped cream and a cherry.

A long-form article, this one. You might want to settle in with a nice warm cardi and a Pina Colada.

We spent lots of  last week learning this French tongue twister, courtesy of my boyfriend Stephen Fry in his Fry Chronicles. It translates as ‘Dido dined, they say, off the enormous back of an enormous turkey’; and in Fronch, it goes ‘Dido dina, dit-on, du dos dodu d’un dodu dindon.’ It’s taken me a few day, but I’ve got it.

We are hoping to spend 2017 living in France.  (Excitement all round.) I may come home from the supermarket with eight large watermelons, but I have one tongue-twister under my belt. Last things first, as they say.

Happy week ahead, my cabbages! May the road rise to meet you, and the wind be at your back. May we all, this week, feel as vital and gorgeous as the young Liz Taylor and James Dean – pictured here just months before his death –  and remember that we don’t know how long we have the remarkable possibilities of life before us. Let’s embrace them, comrades! Let’s go and eat off the enormous back of that enormous turkey!

Elisabeth Taylor and James Dean on the set of Giant, 1956

ps - I’m thinking of starting a series on marriage. Email me if you have, or know, somebody with an interesting one – long, short, unusual or notable in some way. I’d love to hear from you.

An Explanation For That Dress That Broke The Internet

This dress broke the internet today. Some people see it as white and gold (me), some as blue and black (Keith.)

WHAT?

The WHAT?

It even upset Tay Tay, who tweeted ‘I don’t understand this odd dress debate and I feel like it’s a trick somehow. I’m confused and scared. PS it’s OBVIOUSLY BLUE AND BLACK.’

Here’s a great explanation from Associate Professor Andrew Metha from the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences at the University of Melbourne:

 “This is a great illusion, and I’m not surprised to learn it is going viral.

I suspect that the in-office and over-dinner-table arguments taking place all over the world right now are caused by each of us making a different set of (internal, unconscious) assumptions about the visual scene we are shown.

The first thing to assume is the nature of the illuminant under which the photograph was taken: was this in full sun, under clouds, or maybe indoors lit by incandescent lights?  Each of these conditions have a very different spectral profile – that is, the amount of different wavelengths of light.  This issue is something our brains have to deal with all the time as we move indoors and out through different environments. Vision scientists and psychologists have coined the phrase ‘colour constancy’ to describe the phenomenon by which an apple, for instance, retains its colour (perhaps red) under such widely different lighting conditions, even though the actual distribution of photon energies raining onto our retinas in each case can be very different.  Exactly how we do this is still a matter that is hotly debated at vision science conferences, and all sorts of crazy and not-so-crazy schemes have been proposed as to how we “discount the illuminant’, even going back over 150 years to Helmholtz!

The second assumption we make is the nature of the reflection from the material.  Some materials, like satin or taffeta silk, are naturally very shiny and have what we call ‘specular’ or ‘glossy’ reflection properties – like light bouncing off a mirror.  Other materials are diffusely reflective, like matt felt or t-shirt cotton.  How we ultimately perceive the dress photo, particularly the darker parts (gold or black) will depend on what type of material we assume this part of the dress is made of.  There is not enough information in the photo to be sure, and so we unconsciously decide this material has a reflection behaviour in one way or another, along a continuum from shiny to matt.  The result of this unconscious assumption profoundly, and unexpectedly, affects how we ultimately interpret the colour of the dress.

I’ve polled about 7 of my colleagues now – the blues are winning here. It is such an interesting phenomenon, and it’s got us who love thinking about colour vision all puzzled.

And I am not certain the perceptual/psychological arguments given above are the whole story. In addition I wonder if there are some internal physiological differences going on amongst us, such as the relative proportion of L (long-wave sensitive, or red), M(middle-wave sensitive, green) and S (short-wave sensitive, cones) photoreceptor types in each of our eyes, that this is revealing?  I am hedging for the former, but my mind remains open…”

So even the scientist is saying that our perception of what colour the dress is might be some kind of social construct? IS NOTHING REAL? I’m still spun out, and I love it. Happy weekending my little cabbages. May your dresses take you on interesting adventures, no matter what colour they are.

x

The Sweet Still Moments of Marriage

Fred Van Schagen, Paris, 1954

 

What is it?

I wake up, with that inexplicable, magical mother’s alarm clock, and switch on the bedside light to stare blinkily at a sleeping Pudding in the bed next to me. I don’t  remember her getting in, and as I watch her sleeping,  she makes a yelping sound and throws up, copiously, on my pillow.

Oh.

Kay.

Here we go. The gastro zone.

Keith! I call to the lounge room, where he’s still up, working on his algorythms. ‘Bowl!’

He knows what that means (dad of three), and he moves fast. We strip the bed, change Pudding and move our little field hospital to the lounge-room. We tuck the little sweaty, floppy one up with towels and cushions, and settle in together. Every twenty minutes or so, Pudding mutters ‘I feel sick’, and we sit her up, rub her back and murmur sweet nothings as she vomits.

Keith takes the bowl and washes it out. I wipe down Pudding’s hands and face with paper towels and warm water. All the while we wait for the call from the big kids room.  This little radio-play usually gets worse before it gets better.

I put on a load of washing and change Pudding’s little bed, and we scrub our hands with hot water and soap every fifteen minutes. Keith plays the piano for us as I tuck Pudding in close. He plays his gentlest classical pieces, and I read to Pudding from the book Raggedy Andy and The Hobby Horse. For a long period, Pudding and I half-sleep between the rising and falling crescendos of her sickness,  while Keith’s music fills the room. It’s very peaceful.

The vomiting slows and we try to tuck her into our bed but we’ve jumped the gun – Pudding throws up in the doorway. We change her clothes again, put another load in the machine, return to the MASH unit on the couch. Tucked between us, Pudding is limp and quiet as she listens to Keith make up a long, rambling story, and I read a cookbook on my lap. At some point, we all three fall asleep.

Sometime after 3am, we make it back to the big bed, relieved that the other kids have slept through, and pass out like the zombie dead. At 7am Pudding is bright and perky. ‘Make my dretfast! she demands, and haggard and achy, I comply.

It’s been years now that Keith and I have been engaged in these routines. The heart of our life together is with our three children, and when one of them is sick, everything else fades away. There’s a beauty to it, a simplicity. They need us, all the everyday stuff drops away, and it is in these moments that marriage is so beautiful.

(Spew n all.)

Time keeps on ticking. The bottle of  hand sanitizer is still on the arm of the couch, Monday has already raced away with the week, and life rushes forward, forward, forward. But  much as I would have loved to stay asleep at midnight last Friday, and save my little buddy from her pain and discomfort,  I feel the beauty and the romance of that quiet room, caring for a sick little one and listening to Keith play piano, and I cherish the sweetness of the memory.