to open or not open a gift … ?

Love the giver more than the gift.

— Brigham Young

An article in today’s newspaper, and an unrelated (but similar) topic on the car radio this morning, has prompted me to write this blog post now (when I really should be working on my novel … but some things just need to be responded to.)

The newspaper article was titled: 3 reasons kids should never open gifts during their birthday party. It yapped on about:

making other kids feel bad (perhaps because they weren’t getting the gifts, or because the birthday child was getting something they had been denied, or maybe because their gift wasn’t as good/big/special … whatever)

putting the focus on the presents (rather than the party itself and the importance of time spent making memories with friends)

putting unnecessary pressure on kids (to say thank you to everyone and to express their joy at each gift).

All valid(ish) points but they seem very similar to the new trend of ensuring every child gets a gift in pass-the-parcel and the birthday child gets the biggest one at the end.

Taking away the social skills aspect of birthday parties is doing nothing more than growing a society of entitled, non-resilient and self-centred adults.

When my two children were of the ‘birthday party’ age, I believe I could count on one hand the number of times gifts were opened at the party. (Other parties, mind you, not the ones we hosted.)

It used to shit me something chronic.

We would spend a significant amount of time purchasing the gift, and a lot of thought went into selecting the right gift for the recipient — only to have it tossed on a pile of other unwrapped gifts and never referred to again.

I think it was the ‘never referred to again’ part that shitted me the most. I was brought up, as were my children, to acknowledge the gift-giver. I was taught to appreciate the gift and to say thank you — even if I hated it, or had already received the exact same item. My children are expected to do the same; so when they give a gift and all they get in return is a muttered ‘thanks’, and then the present isn’t even opened — well, it grates a bit. A lot.

It takes less than half an hour to open a pile of presents, and to express thanks to each giver. And it is a brilliant opportunity to practise the expression of appreciation, if not for the gift itself, at least for the thought. There is too little of that in society, among adults, these days.

It’s also a good opportunity for the rest of the kids to realise they are not always going to be the centre of attention, or the winner, or the most appreciated of the bunch. Resilience, people, and less of the self-centred-ness that dominates our society.

As for the radio segment — I only caught the tail-end, but it appears they were talking about a woman who had blogged (or Facebook-ed) her disappointment at the size of the engagement ring she had received from her fiancée. It was too small apparently.

You’re kidding me?? My advice to the fiancée? Ditch her … put your hand out, ask for the ring back, and give it to someone later who actually appreciates the giver!

And my advice to the selfish, greedy woman? Oh my god!!! Just say thank you and be grateful he thought enough of you to buy you a ring at all. Count yourself lucky you have someone who loves you.

I was pleased to hear the majority of the callers felt the same way.

Maybe there is hope for our society yet.

gift giving


Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry.

— English Nursery Rhyme

Georgie Porgie
Picture from

There was an article in The Canberra Times this morning that I found rather disturbing. The author of said article, Cat Rodie, was describing an experience her six-year-old daughter had at school with a game known as ‘Kiss Chasey’. Essentially it is a game of tips, but instead of merely ‘tipping’ the chaser catches hold of his/her victims and proceeds to tickle and kiss them.

Furthermore, according to Ms Rodie, this game has been played ‘in the schoolyard for decades’. Centuries apparently, because she goes on to say ‘there are even nursery rhymes about it’.

What I found disturbing was not, however, the suggestion that Kiss Chasey is a common schoolyard game; despite the fact I have never seen it played myself over the 40 years I have ‘been at school’ as both a student and a teacher.

It was also not the assertion that the nursery rhyme, Georgie Porgie is about the game; it isn’t, but more about that later.

The thing I found most disturbing was what the playground duty teacher supposedly said when Cat’s daughter reported being held down and kissed, even though she had told the boys she didn’t wish to play. (Remember, the child is SIX.)

When my daughter told the teacher on duty, she was told that it was “just a game” and that the group of boys just wanted her to join in. The teacher also told her that the boys probably liked her and that she should be pleased that they wanted to play with her.

For starters, I am appalled that a teacher in this day and age would say this. I would love to put it out there and say, with authority, that no teacher would ever respond this way and that it must be a misinterpretation, or even an exaggeration, of what actually happened. Sadly, I am not confident in that assertion, so I can’t say it.

I was also appalled when Cat admitted that she herself had a bit of a giggle when her daughter told her what had happened, but I quickly amended that feeling as the rest of the article went on to talk about the abhorrent practice of trivialising this sort of behaviour in kids and that we should be teaching them from an early age about consent.

This whole article no doubt came about in the wave of similar articles and reports following the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on sexual assaults on university campuses; it’s the way the media works. While the whole issue is of grave concern, my concern now is what is happening in our primary schools.

Despite a large number of years in the school system myself, with a broad range of experience, in the grand scheme of things my experience has been limited. Maybe I have just been lucky to have been in schools where this game of Kiss Chasey, or others similar to it, have not been tolerated.

Maybe it is much more wide-spread and ‘acceptable’ than my experience shows.

If so, then I fear for our children. I fear for future generations if our current six-year-olds are still seeing this ‘game’ as OK. We can have as many reports damning sexual assault and harassment as we like; we can have as many recommendations and policy changes as we like — but the truth of the matter is that we are currently breeding a whole new generation of people who will not understand what ‘consent’ is.


P.S. While the original Georgie Porgie nursery rhyme is not about the schoolyard game of Kiss Chasey, it is about a man by the name of George Villier (1592-1628) who had morals equally as abhorrent as this game. George was the lover (and ultimate user) of King James I, but also had an affair Anne of Austria (later the Queen of France, married to King Louis XIII) and likely a large number of other ladies (i.e. the ‘girls’ in the nursery rhyme who Georgie Porgie ‘kissed and made them cry). The story goes that King James I frequently intervened on behalf of George and got him out of a great deal of trouble. However, the Parliament (i.e. the ‘boys’ in the nursery rhyme who ‘came out to play’) eventually got sick of it, and stopped the King from sticking his beak in and saving George.


My recipe for dealing with anger and frustration: set the kitchen timer for twenty minutes, cry, rant, and rave, and at the sound of the bell, simmer down and go about business as usual.

— Phyllis Diller

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Our hands may be tied, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to feel frustrated. (image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at

Yesterday frustration the order of the day.

It was frustration borne out of having to juggle multiple appointments, with the juggling relying on the timeliness of others.

I had been living the life of a chained animal for nearly three weeks. (Yes, I exaggerate.) Having had surgery, I had been sent home with a bag of body fluids attached to my side by a tube. I won’t tell you what was in that tube, but it was pretty yuck. The magic number was 20 by 2 — essentially, 20mL (max) of fluid for 2 consecutive days before the drain could be removed. I had also been given some other numbers — 10 to 14 — which represented the number of days this should take.

The issue was I had bypassed the 14 and was heading rapidly towards 21. That’s a lot of days to be dragging around a plastic bag and being restricted to a 40cm radius of movement.

So, when I finally reached the magic 20, I then spent a nervous, anticipatory 24 hours hoping the magic 20 would be achieved again and the thorn (tube) in my side could be removed.

Yesterday morning I nervously squeezed out the contents of the bag and held it up at eye level … 20mL! Then came the wait for the community nurse to arrive.

This is where the frustration began … she was late.

And so my carefully constructed chain of events seemed about to unravel from the outset. Cue the frustration trigger.

As it turned out, the community nurse made it just in time. These nurses are an absolute godsend … they are amazing! She removed the drain and allowed me to get to my next appointment in time. This appointment then finished earlier than expected. Bonus!

We made it out to the Canberra Hospital for appointment number 3. Cue frustration again because it took us over 20 minutes to find a park. Turns out we could have circled for much longer, because the doctor was running 45 minutes late.

Upon finally making it in, we were then left sitting waiting for longer because my pathology results couldn’t be found. (I am not sure why this hadn’t been sorted earlier, but do acknowledge they are very busy people.)

Over an hour after my scheduled appointment time, I was lying on a hard plastic surface, gown gaping in a rather unfeminine way (why are hospital gowns made like this?), having my limbs pulled and pushed into weird contortions and allowing my skin to be drawn on. (This was the planning appointment and the simulation for upcoming radiotherapy treatment.)

My arm would not go all the way up over my head (still post-surgery stiffness) and I had a huge dressing on my side from where the drain was taken out less than 6 hours prior. BUT the staff — indeed, the doctor herself — knew about this and had told me to come in anyway because ‘there are ways around everything’.

Fnally I’m all manipulated into position, my skin is a painted canvas … and the doctor walks in. She looks, tut-tuts and says, ‘Oh … no, we can’t do it. You’ll just have to come back again next week.’


I am about to explode. But I don’t.

I want to scream at the doctor who told me to come in anyway, then made me wait for over an hour, then decides she can’t do it after all. But I don’t.

All that happens is that a sigh escapes my lips as I say, ‘Okay.’

She pounces, ‘You sighed, what is that about?’ She must have skipped the bedside manner tutorials at med school.

So, I told her. It had been a long day, I was tired. Now, I’m disappointed that I came all this way, waited for a long time, only to be told ‘too bad’. There’s 3 wasted hours of my life I won’t get back.

I knew my hands were tied.

I knew her hands were tied.

But surely I was entitled to my frustration?

Apparently not!

She proceed to patronise me; telling me she knew she’d made me wait but had many important things to do and asking me how I could expect her to perform the procedure if it wasn’t going to work.

I knew all that and, quite frankly, it wasn’t the point. Eventually I shut her down … in the most polite way I could, ‘I do understand. I’m not blaming anyone. But you need to just acknowledge that I am annoyed and frustrated that all this time has been wasted for nothing. Anyone would feel the same.’ Then, I shut her out.

On the way home I ranted to my long-suffering husband about the arrogance of this doctor, all the while trying to work out exactly why I was so angry.

I figured it out. It boils down to this: I was justifiably frustrated after a long wait with no outcome. I’d been through quite a bit already (chemo, surgery, nearly 3 weeks on a leash) and I’d psyched myself up for this next event (which was going to be rather unpleasant from what I’d been told).

Then, it didn’t happen. So I was frustrated.

The doctor did not acknowledge my feelings, so the frustration turned into anger.

This is why I was (and still am) angry. But, in writing this, I am going to let it go now.

Getting overly and consistently frustrated when things don’t go your way is not helpful. I know that.

However, feeling frustrated is a natural human response to stress and we should be able to express this frustration in an appropriate way without being told off, lectured or made to feel bad.




reading prompts wondering

I woke up dead. At the mall.

— Judy Sheehan

I woke up dead at the mall

This is the opening line of an intriguing YA novel of the same name by Judy Sheehan.

It is the story of 16-year old Sarah who, after being poisoned at her father’s wedding, finds herself among other newly murdered teens at the Mall of America. Sarah and her new friends have to let go of their past in order to ‘move on’; if they don’t, they risk walking the mall, reliving the last moments of their death, for eternity.

However, as much as I enjoyed this story, this post is not meant to be a book review (but you needed background).

What the book did was make me wonder about ‘afterlife’. I am not usually prone to thinking this way, but a good story should make you wonder ‘what if?’ — and it did.

The Mall of America in the story is a regular shopping mall, frequented by the living. The difference (or maybe there is no difference … hmmm?) is the dead also inhabit the mall, moving around with the living, but also with their own special floors and an elevator by which they can ‘go back’ and access the rest of the ‘living world’.

As a teenager, there would have been a certain appeal at spending all eternity at the mall. Especially a mall where everything is free, and you can eat whatever you desire at the Food Court without fear of getting fat or pimply.

I can see why Judy Sheehan chose this place as her primary setting; it lends itself to so much analogy if you are prone to probing deeper into these things rather than just enjoying the tale at face value.

As an adult, I feel that being stuck at the mall for longer than absolutely necessary would be a fate worse than death!

So if this is what happens, as I am no longer a teenager with access to the mall, where would I like to end up? (Let’s pretend we have a choice.)

As the main goal of being in this quasi, sorting-yourself-out, limbo-land is for you to eventually be ready and want to move on, it would need to be somewhere desirable yet increasingly irritating over time. The last thing you’d want would be to end up being stuck there forever because you’d overstayed your time. (In Judy Sheehan’s story, the overstayers end up in a nightmarish, sleepwalking state — walking in an endless loop, reliving their final moments and unable to enjoy the benefits of the mall.)

For me, this would have to be one of those day spa places or a health retreat. Right now, the idea of: having someone cook for me and make my bed; having ready access to endless massages and facials; and being able to choose from a range of activities from yoga to bushwalks — all seems a blissful and highly desirable way to spend my afterlife. At the same time, I do imagine I would become sick of it after a while (a very long while) and would want to move on to new challenges and experiences.

ID-100317189 health spa
Image courtesy of Rattikankeawpun at

Not that I savour the idea of dying, especially at someone else’s hand, but if that were to happen (and who knows what our fate is, really?), then I would be happy for my tale to be I woke up dead at the health spa. (Note the capital ‘I’ in my title; I do not like the increasing use of the lower case ‘i’ in this context.)

I quite like the idea of everyone being able to access their own ‘dream location’, spending their post-death hours in their own version of heaven while making sense of their ‘life’ and sorting out what they want to do next.

I love what books can do to you! If you let them.


Intelligence quote

I love this and, yes, I can read it. In fact, I didn’t even have to think about it.

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.

— Stephen Hawking

There are lots of little ‘intelligence’ or ‘genius’ tests around; my favourite is a fact I heard somewhere years ago: if you can read upside-down, it’s a sign of intelligence. I like that fact because I CAN read upside-down, very efficiently and fluently as it happens.

But does this necessarily mean I am intelligent?

It’s a good party trick, and very useful when I am wandering around the classroom checking out student work, but it’s probably more of a freak skill than a sign of intelligence.

Then again, by being able to read words that are not presented in the ‘normal’ way, I am demonstrating my ability to adapt to change. According to Stephen Hawking, that is a marker for intelligence. I’ll take that!

According to various dictionaries, intelligence is:

♦ the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills

♦ the capacity for learning, reasoning and understanding

♦ the ability to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria

Intelligence is, apparently, measurable and we all know it is determined by tests.

But should it be? And should we use it as a defining label?

I’m not going to argue about the psychological definition of intelligence or how it is determined, because I don’t know enough about it, but what I do know is this: intelligence, or the perception of intelligence, should also be objective. Intelligence is NOT all-encompassing; very few people could lay claim to being ‘intelligent’ with regards to everything life throws at them.

Intelligence is a weapon wielded by teachers, parents, peers, society … and the individual. People are defined, from a very early age, according to their intelligence — their perceived ability to learn and apply knowledge and skills. It starts at school, where children are very aware of the hierarchy — grades, seating arrangements, spelling/maths groups, reading levels, merit awards — and continues thereon throughout life.

The other thing I know is that being labelled ‘intelligent’ can bring upon you all manner of pressure and unreasonable expectations. Everyone fails at some point, and it’s distressing and frustrating; but the fallout for an ‘intelligent person’ who fails can be far worse. The ‘unintelligent’ label is unpleasant and detrimental, but not necessarily a life sentence, while the ‘intelligent’ label does not guarantee success; I know a number of ‘unintelligent’ people who went on to do great things, and a host of ‘intelligent’ people who struggled in adulthood.

Labelling has to take a considerable portion of the blame. Being ‘labelled’ as the intelligent student, the straight A student, the D student, the naughty kid, the special needs kid … it all leads to expectations and often becomes a prison we cannot easily escape.

‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and it should apply to intelligence as well.

Wouldn’t it be an awesome world to live in if we stopped labelling and expecting, and instead saw the inner beauty and intelligence of everyone we met … and applied the same standards to our own self judgement.



on being outwardly proud of ourselves

What hypocrites we seem to be whenever we talk of ourselves! Our words sound so humble, while our hearts are so proud.

— Augustus Hare, Guesses at Truth, 1871*

Imagine yourself at some social gathering, or even during a lunch break at work. You’re in a small group, but one person is the centre of attention; nobody else can get a word in. Said person has launched into a  monologue on his/her favourite topic — me, me, me, me, me! You notice the others in the group slowly slipping away; then, out of the blue, it is only the two of you — you’re stuck!

ID-100145544 monolog
We’ve all been here. (image courtesy of bplanet at

We’ve all been in this situation. The monologuist may have initiated the topic of ‘conversation’ from the outset, or they may be a one-upper: a person adept at taking any topic and making it about themselves. Either way, being trapped with this person can be a living nightmare.

It is, however, this very attitude that stops most people from talking about themselves with pride.

How hard is it to sell ourselves and our achievements?

I’ve just had four of my short stories published in two anthologies and a rather scathing article about one of our politician’s poorly articulated opinions published in our union magazine.

Upon receiving praise for these achievements, this is what I started saying:

“Thank you, but they are only … “

This is what I should have said:

“Thank you. I am so thrilled with what I wrote and so proud and excited they’ve been published.”

It took me quite some time to decide to announce my recent achievements in this post.


We are drilled from an early age not to be boastful. We should be proud of what we’ve done, but not talk about it too much lest we be judged as ‘full of ourselves’.

The thing is, there is a significant difference between being overtly boastful and being proud of what you’ve achieved and sharing this pride with others. We shouldn’t feel compelled to dumb everything down. If we don’t sell ourselves, then who will?

Australia’s tall poppy syndrome — our tendency to knock the chips off the shoulders of successful people and to barrack for the underdog — has a lot to answer for. Does it really stem from giving the hardworking ‘bloke’ a go, or does it stem from jealousy?

Is modesty, to the point of saying you didn’t really do anything, such a good thing? Nobody wants to hear another person bleat on and on and on about how wonderful they are; but neither should we want people to say their success had nothing to do with their effort and hard work or talent.

Credit should be given where credit is due. And we should celebrate and acknowledge our own success without feeling guilty, embarrassed or ashamed.

A very good friend is teaching me to do this. She encourages me to share my successes (and she does this for me in a very articulate way) and she also pushes me to share my work and ‘put it out there’. I owe her a great deal!

Bragging and being boastful is not a good thing.

Monopolising conversation is not a good thing.

But, being overly humble and self-deprecating is worse than the previous two; I pledge to myself not to do this anymore.

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

* I need to acknowledge Edmark M Law for inspiring me with this quote, posted on his amazing blog Learn Fun Facts.

on being a duck

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Shared on the Vancouver Island Dragon Boat Teams Facebook page

I love, love, LOVE this analogy.

It is so who I am. Most of the time.

At other times I am the fake explosive duck I’m sure I’ve seen in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Elmer Fudd thinks it’s harmless … then realises it’s fake … and then thinks it’s harmless again until the moment it blows up in his face.

I have been known to do that … blow up when I (and people around me) least expect it … but most of the time I am the duck in the picture above.

‘You are so organised,’ people say.

On the surface, yes.

Inside I am like the internal workings of an ant nest or beehive — ideas, responsibilities and ‘things to do’ running all over the place, narrowly avoiding bumping into each other, each with its own important role to fill.

Internally I’m also somewhat like my new Nespresso milk frother. There is a fine line between putting the right amount of milk in so the machine does its job properly, and overfilling it so, without warning, it overflows, making a huge mess and causing great angst.

Most of the time my internal turmoil and chaos is my own fault. I take on too much and I’m a perfectionist. People see the organised exterior and think, ‘She can cope,’ and I often can’t say no. If I’m honest, I don’t want to say no most of the time — I like being busy.

It’s not that I take on an impossible-to-achieve amount; things get done to a deadline and if I tell you I’m going to do something, then it will be done. Sometimes the ferocious paddling under the surface is extreme, but never has it been out my control.

Whenever the surface ‘calm’ cracks, I am quick to smooth it over. When I’m asked if everything is ok, I will often say it is — because I know I’ll get through it; that’s who I am. But, recently I have learned to delegate a little and to accept some assistance; I won’t stop paddling, but am happy to allow myself the luxury of going with the current — just a bit.

I like that people feel they can rely on me. I enjoy helping people. I also love the personal satisfaction of having taken something challenging on, and achieving it — like biting off more than (people think) you can chew, and finally swallowing it without choking in the process.

I know one or two people who have learned how to ‘play the system’, to always get what they want without having to work for it — at all. I have to wonder where the satisfaction is in that.

I’d rather be a duck.