Apr 23, 2014


My daughter A. is a pretty sensitive kid, easily upset by playground shenanigans. She is also, unlike her sister, utterly guileless.  M. can be cunning and manipulative at times but her sister is unable to even THINK of any schemes, lies or tricks, let alone implement them.

When the kids fight at home, the outcome is often A. incoherent with rage, crying and yelling that M. hasn't told the truth or M. did such-and-such first or M. is pretending to be 'the good one' when both were to blame.

At school A. is not great at standing her ground or fighting back. M. is both naturally resilient and able to keep up with shenanigans, so is not picked on as often or if she is, I don't know about it. (It's not all easy street of course - she has plenty of friendship dramas and gets upset over different things).

A. has attracted more than her share of teasing and unpleasantness.  She's a popular kid (as I see whenever I observe her at school), but there is something a bit 'young', naive and 'good girl' in her manner that seems to attract teasing.

Also unlike M., A. is not a skinny kid. She's what used to be called 'sturdy'. She is not fat - and lest you think I might be a delusional fat mum with a fat kid, the school nurse and her doctor both agree she is not fat. She's rounded instead of angular.

Her friend V. is the same. Both sometimes get called 'fat' by other kids, not always in a mean way, but it still hurts.

I've talked to A. a few times about this, and explained some kids are skinny and some kids are not, and the ones that are not are sometimes called fat by other kids, but you are not fat. And that kids sometimes say hurtful things without realising how much they are hurting you. And that some kids are just mean and you have to stay away from them. And if they're your friends or kids you have to deal with every day you tell them 'Stop it, I don't like it', 'You're being mean', and all the other wholly useless things the school tells the kids to say to each other.

When A. was in daycare she was confident and outgoing and sunny. Since she started school I have watched her confidence shrink and her light dim, to the point where she was seeing a counsellor for anxiety and depression and regularly saying things like 'I hate my life' and 'I want to kill myself', when she was six and seven. That broke my heart. It still does.

In the last year she has made great strides and is closer to her old self, and she has grown much more resilient. But she is still easily upset by teasing, and struggles to keep her self confidence.

Today when I picked her up from after-school care she told me that a boy had teased her at lunchtime. This kid is a serial pest, not just to A, and is often disruptive or mean to other kids. I will call him 'Alex' for that is his real name.

Today Alex said 'Hey A,' and when A. came over he said 'You're fat.'  She tried to ignore him and he kept saying 'You're fat, you're fat.' Then 'What are you going to do, hit me with your fat head?' and 'Well, are you going to cry?'

Eventually A. cried.

When A. told me this she kept her composure and her voice only wobbled a little, but I was furious. I'd had enough. I abandoned everything I've told her before, and this is the advice I gave her:

'That kid is rotten. He's a horrible kid, and next time he says anything like that to you, you tell him: YOU'RE UGLY.  And - I know this is hard, because it happened to me too, and I remember it, but: don't let him see you cry. You try your best not to cry in front of him, ever. Be strong.'

'You're not allowed to be mean back,' said A.

'I know,' I said, 'And usually that's right. But that kid is horrible, and sometimes you just have to fight back. You have to stand up for yourself, and with some kids when ignoring or doing all the other stuff doesn't work, fighting back and standing up for yourself is the only way to make them stop.  So next time ANYONE calls you fat, you tell them: YOU'RE UGLY. And if they say anything else, tell them YOU'RE A ROTTEN KID.  And if you get in trouble for saying any of that stuff, you tell me and I'll talk to the school.'

She liked everything I said, she was comforted by it, and she understood this was special, exceptional advice for difficult situations.

The anti-bullying stuff the schools teach is all good stuff. 'Stop it I don't like it', ignoring, telling a teacher, are all fine. But at some point, when those things don't work, your kid has to get tough and fight back. They either figure this out themselves and manage it, or you end up having to tell them.


Apr 21, 2014

Alternative Medicine

Last year I read the fantastic 'Trick or Treatment', by doctor and researcher Edzard Ernst and science writer Simon Singh. It is a scientific examination of alternative medicine. It does not debunk all alternative medicine - indeed some are shown to be (moderately) effective. Rather it is an examination of alternative therapies with evidence for and against, and some surprising results.

In recent years we have thankfully seen a resurgence in respect for science and more questioning and rejection of some of the more outlandish beliefs that have been popular for years. The social acceptance of atheism and the explosion in popular science writing online and in magazines and best-selling books have all been part of this.

But there has also been an impact the other way. The more strident the science fans and atheists become, the more many people are irked and even suspicious. Perhaps it makes more people cling to 'alternative' worldviews, seeing the scientists and writers as part of a bullying conspiracy.

I am angered by anti-vaccination groups and I struggle to empathise with and understand parents who don't vaccinate - but then I remember my own scepticism (due to lack of knowledge) when an anti-swine flu vaccine was developed so quickly, and when some batches of seasonal flu vaccine created adverse reactions in young children in 2010 (the problem was limited to a couple of bad batches and was not due to the vaccine itself, which is safe).

I thoroughly reject astrology, reiki, therapeutic touch and homeopathy, but I have been open minded (to some degree) on chiropractic, acupuncture and reflexology, as these at least seem to have some level of biological plausibility.


I saw a chiropractor fix my husband when his back went out some years ago. He woke up with his back having spasmed and 'stuck' and he was white and almost vomiting from pain. At that time I didn't realize chiropractic was alternative medicine. I thought it was a medical specialty, or an accepted therapy like physiotherapy. So I took him to a chiropractor. She showed me how he was all seized up on one side of his back, manipulated him a little, and he was fixed.

Of course I am sure a physiotherapist could have achieved the same result. But the chiropractor was still effective.

However, chiropractic for anything other than muscular-skeletal pain is completely implausible.
When my kids were babies in 2006 it became popular to take babies to chiropractors for 'colic'. I was appalled and amazed that anyone would take a baby to have its spine manipulated, or that any ethical practitioner would do such a thing, for a therapy that makes no sense at all.


When M had horrible reflux and screamed in pain, before the problem was diagnosed I bought a 'natural' medicine for 'colic' from a pharmacist. Only when I examined the bottle at home did I realise, amazed, that this popular medicine sold by a professional chemist was in fact a homeopathic waste of time and money.  I tried it, but it did nothing, of course.


Acupuncture and reflexology have always made sense to me for the purposes of pain relief and nerve-related problems, because we know nerves are connected. You know that thing where you scratch your leg and feel a twinge somewhere else?

But acupuncture for weight loss, infertility, quitting smoking or anything else makes no sense at all.

In fact, the authors of 'Trick or Treatment' show how neither therapy is that effective, despite seeming plausible. Acupuncture seems to make sense because of its seeming relation to the nervous system, and this is how I had assumed it worked. But in fact the 'meridians' used by acupuncturists bear no relation to the actual nervous system, and needles are only inserted under the skin, not in nerve points. This was a surprise to me and I was a bit sad to read all this about acupuncture. The ideas of ancient Chinese wisdom and 4000 years of history are so nice it is hard to give them up.

Kung Fu Panda (Dreamworks) 


Reiki and therapeutic touch were debunked by a 12-year-old for an American school science fair project some years ago.

I have a friend who practices reiki, and without really discussing it we agree to disagree on such therapies. What I can say is my friend is a caring, empathetic and ethical person who does truly help people. She is gifted and intuitive in her reading of people and their ailments, and she never professes to be able to fix anything outside of her remit. She is also a qualified reflexologist and masseuse, and I can attest from experience she is very good at these therapies.

The allure of alternative medicine = the limitations of conventional medicine

The authors of 'Trick or Treatment' paint a very good picture of the allure of alternative therapies. Conventional doctors are often busy and not always good at listening, the appointments are only 15 minutes and specialists can be brusque and have limited knowledge outside their specialties. In contrast a homeopath, naturopath or hypnotherapist will spend much more time with the patient, listen empathetically, and will prescribe a holistic treatment specifically tailored for that person. If nothing else, the placebo effect is triggered and the patient also feels well looked after.

A couple of years ago my father found himself with severe, ongoing back pain. He already has a terminal illness and has had periods of pain, so his doctors - even his very good specialist - were somewhat dismissive. I do believe due to his age and underlying illness, his doctors did not give the same consideration to his pain that they would have given a younger, healthy patient. His pain was chronic. It altered his voice and his personality and often he could barely move.

I kept telling him he should ask for an x-ray. I thought he might have a slipped disc. He asked his doctor who said no, it was just muscular. I couldn't believe it. For the next few months every time I spoke to my dad I told him he needed an x-ray.

Who finally raised the alarm (apart from me)?  An acupuncturist. She was feeling around his back and told him he had something strange sticking out of his spine, and said he needed an x-ray.  He told his doctor who finally ordered an x-ray, and the problem was diagnosed: a large tumor on the spine that needed major surgery and months of physiotherapy afterward.

In this case, although acupuncture itself was no help, the acupuncturist certainly was.

Apr 20, 2014

Sunday Selections #168 - New South Wales Central Coast and Sydney holiday

It's time for Sunday Selections!
Sunday Selections is a weekly meme hosted by River at Drifting Through Life. 

The rules are very simple:-
1. post photos of your choice, old or new, under the Sunday Selections title
2. link back to River somewhere in your post
3. leave a comment on River's post and visit some of the others who have posted and commented: for example:
    Andrew at High Riser
    Gillie at Random Thoughts From Abroad

This week we drove up the Hume Highway to New South Wales. These days it's about a nine hour drive from Melbourne to Sydney, and the road is fantastic: well designed to ward off sleepiness, dual carriageway all the way, rest stops every few kilometres, and you drive past, rather than through, every town and hamlet on the way.

We were driving with two kids and we also made sure to stop and stretch and swap drivers every 2 hours, so it took us a bit longer. We stopped at Glenrowan ('Ned Kelly's last stand') and the Dog on the Tuckerbox ('five miles from Gundagai') for the entertainment value, and an obligatory roadhouse/petrol station complex for lunch and car snacks.

When I was a kid we drove up to the Central Coast and sometimes on to Queensland's Gold Coast a few times - each time a marathon hell trip without air conditioning, bottled water or electronic entertainment devices, with metal seatbelt buckles, car sickness and my dad driving like a maniac and refusing to stop because he'd just passed all the traffic, dominating my memories. The road wasn't as good then and as bad as I remember these trips as a kid, the torment must have been worse for our parents.

With this in mind we invested in a portable DVD player, and charged up every device we could distract the kids with, for the two days leading up to the trip. Loaded up with DVD player, iPods, iPad, DS consoles and phones, drink bottles filled with refrigerated water and a cool bag stuffed with fruit, biscuits and crackers, we were ready.

The trip is actually not at all difficult (though I'd hate to try it with younger kids), and although my car charge outlet doesn't work and the DVD player died after one movie, the kids were able to keep themselves happy and it all went well.

We did underestimate the time it would take us though. We were driving to The Entrance on the Central Coast, which is an hour and a half past Sydney, but the last stretch was done in the dark and it was a bit tricky navigating the (weird) Sydney highway system in pitch dark. Sydney, why you name multiple roads and highways with the same name?

We arrived sweaty and tired, collected the key to our holiday flat, climbed the three flights of stairs, and arrived in a (literally) stinking flat. There was no water - at all - and someone had, let's just say "used" the toilet, which was the source of the stink.

With no way to flush the toilet or clean up we rang the after-hours number for the flat and were told the problem couldn't be fixed until morning. Finally they told us to call the plumber in the emergency listing, so we did that and he turned on the water, then the next morning came back to fix the massive gushing leak which appeared, which was obviously the reason the water had been turned off.

The next battle was cockroaches. Lots of them. That night we killed TWENTY of them, and none of us slept well. A trip to the local 7-11 for cockroach spray left the flat finally insect free but faintly toxic for humans. I went to sleep having made up my mind we were leaving the next morning.

But the next morning everything was better, there were no more cockroaches, and we were living with this view:

We only saw one more cockroach during our stay there. Unfortunately it was on my arm while I was lying in bed... but at least it was the last of them. 

(I write this calmly, but I was not calm).

Our unit's position was magic: right on Marine Parade, on the top floor, corner unit looking over the beach, channel, bridge and waterfront. It was the kind of place you never usually get to stay in. We were lucky I think (and maybe the cockroach nest lowered the price).

We stayed three days at The Entrance, then two days in Sydney, then drove home again. Another two days away would have been perfect, but other than that it was pretty darn good.

Central Coast

Pelican feeding at The Entrance:
daily at 3:30 pm

Quite old signs on the wall of the
unit next to ours
(note the reference to 'garbage tin')

Crackneck Lookout

Seagull at Shelly Beach

The beach and channel at The Entrance: 

The channel looks calm but is deceptive, with fast moving currents and shifting sandbars - not safe for family swimming. There are plenty of puddles and pools for splashing around in though, and lots of beautiful shells and rocks to collect.


Entering Sydney Harbour from the
Paramatta River
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Opera House and ferry

Darling Harbour
Ibis (and seagull) at First Fleet Park

Walking from Circular Quay
to The Rocks

Home again

It's not the Sydney skyline, but I do love the view of Melbourne coming over the Bolte Bridge.  I took this shot a bit too late - a few seconds earlier with the Melbourne Star ferris wheel in the foreground looking over Docklands to the city buildings is the better shot.

We got back last night, so today has been all about relaxing at home. And chocolate eggs, of course.


Apr 13, 2014

Sunday Selections #167

It's time for Sunday Selections!
Sunday Selections is a weekly meme hosted by River at Drifting Through Life. 

The rules are very simple:-
1. post photos of your choice, old or new, under the Sunday Selections title
2. link back to River somewhere in your post
3. leave a comment on River's post and visit some of the others who have posted and commented: for example:
    Andrew at High Riser
    Gillie at Random Thoughts From Abroad

Here is a selection from the last couple of weeks:

School holidays means the girls could have a friend over for a sleepover. Here they are in a completely candid, unposed shot, just delightful:

Here is the fallout from the sleepover the next day, just delightful:

I found a surprise in the veggie bin this week (Y does most of the fruit and veggie shopping): the world's largest tomato. It was twice the size of my palm and my photography skills were not up to the task of showcasing it:

It was a week of mutant edibles.  M. found this grape which I at first thought was a set of conjoined twins and then realised was actually conjoined quadruplet grapes. Again, the photo doesn't capture it, but it was huge and weird, believe me:

Rather full on at Greek school for the Greek national day recently:  the caption on this colouring exercise reads "Freedom or Death".

This week we had four days of rain.  This is how the dog spent most of it:

Cooler, rainy weather also makes Tia more cuddly:

Here is a drawing M. did of Scooby Doo. I found this on a bit of scrap paper and it was so good I got a shock:

And here is A's drawing of a dress-up party: love it:

During the sleepover I moved this lounge chair into the kitchen to make my own little loungeroom so I could watch TV as well. Harry was also pleased to take back "his" chair:

Here's my little personal loungeroom. Sweet ambience:

What did you get up to this week?

Apr 12, 2014

Inappropriate Toys

If you have a child between the ages of 5 and 20 you are probably familiar with the Rainbow Loom, and you have probably been dealing with one or all of these scenarios:

1. Your child has made you a rubber band bracelet and you are wearing it to work
2. The floors of your house are covered with tiny rubber bands
3. You are unable to procure any loom items at all as shops have sold out

Having already been through 1 and 2, we recently arrived at 3. 

M. got a Rainbow Loom kit for Christmas and little did I know we rode the crest of the "most popular toy in the world right now" wave as they have been sold out at toy and craft stores in Melbourne (and I'm guessing elsewhere) for the last few months.  I know this because M. needed more rubber bands and I assumed it would be easy to get more. Not so - all the toy stores I checked online had sold out, and even Spotlight had sold out of all Rainbow Loom items except single bags of blue bands and C-clips, so we bought one of those. 

Then yesterday we took a trip to the Caribbean Gardens market to stock up on cheap DVDs and scribbling paper and a new phone charger, and what did we see?

So we were able to replenish M's supply of bands and even get the RIGHT kind of clips ("S-clips, Mum, not C-clips").  

A. has no interest in Rainbow Loom and is a bit grumpy that all her school friends have been hijacked by this craze, but she was allowed to choose something from the market for the equivalent value we'd spent on M, which was five dollars. 

Which brings us to the actual topic of this post: the dangerous, weird and inappropriate toys on sale in markets and "two-dollar shops".

A. chose this, and I have to say it's been fantastic:

Unlike the regulated toys sold in toy stores, this one could easily put out an eye, as the arrows fly very fast and even with the kids just waving them around they are a bit of a menace. But it's lots of fun. Surprisingly, it hasn't broken yet, one full day later. The kids and I have had good times doing archery competitions down the hallway. A. loves her toy even though she was given it with a bunch of caveats like "never aim it at anyone", "don't throw the arrows", don't pull back the bow right next to your face", "don't shoot at a wall you're facing close to" and "it probably won't last very long".

The Caribbean Gardens whetted my enthusiasm for cheap stuff so today we did the rounds of two dollar shops looking for a couple of other things I needed that I no longer felt like paying $10 for at the supermarket or Kmart.  And in the course of doing that, probably with toy arrows and guns and counterfeit Rainbow Loom bands still in my mind from the market yesterday, I noticed these things in the toy aisles:

"Beatnick" Cigarette Holder - with toy cigarettes:

Cap gun:

Oh, how I wish I'd taken a photo of the table of toy AK47s and assault rifles at the Caribbean Gardens. 


Actually, these ones are kind of cool: foam puzzles of brain and body innards:
"System Muscle"

"The Encephalon"  
(I'm guessing this was an attempt to translate to "The Brain"):

If you're not sure about those toys, there's always the classic:

Or how about this sweet little bib for your darling baby?:

Moving away from human toys now, but this is weird:
Chew toy for a dog in shape of a purse.
At least I assume it's a chew toy, and not an actual purse?

Truly, we live in a consumer's paradise.

Seen any weird and unregulated consumer goods lately?

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