AGE OF REASON

Henry, my three-year-old son holds a chicken nugget and pretends it’s a person.

This is my Mummy, she’s short and round.

Cue a muffled half-snort-laugh from the husband and an all-out cackle from the seven-year-old daughter. Ha-di-ha-ha.

Apparently, children don’t develop a brain filter until about seven years of age, give or take a year. Until then, children will give you unfiltered truth as they see it and it can be hard to hear.

Like the time my son gave me his assessment of everyone’s role in the family.

Daddy’s job is going to work. Mandy’s job is going to school. My job is playing. And Mummy’s job is yelling.

I almost spat my coffee in surprise, and that surely would have ended in some yelling.

As children grow older, changes to their brain development means that there are greater cognitive capacities for processing emotions and showing empathy.

So situations like this won’t happen. You can only hope.

Me: Can you get me some toilet paper from the other toilet, please?
Henry: No, I don’t want to.
Me: Henry! Get me the toilet paper!
Henry: Fine. I can’t open the door. (Ten minutes of negotiating a door handle)
Henry: Here. (Throws the package at my feet)
Me: They are wipes! I need toilet paper!
Henry: Just use it!
Me: No! Please, please, please get me the toilet paper.
Henry: Okay. Here.
Me: This one’s too little. There’s almost no paper left. I need another one.
Henry: No. I got you one.
Me: You can watch all the TV you want if you get me another one.
Henry: (brings me a bagful and leaves to watch TV)

They begin to develop their own internalised sense of right and wrong, and hence, understand and respect rules.

We all know that it’s important to respect rules, especially ones that our parents make. Like using manners with greetings and farewells. While I wait for my son to develop a healthy respect for rules, instead of the standard goodbye, he may say this…

GOOOOOOOD BYYYYYEEEE BumFace.

Along with emotional development, they become better at problem-solving, identifying patterns and using logic to questions.

Henry has begun understanding these concepts. Just like how he waits until his Mummy is busy homeschooling his big sister to grab the Nintendo controller and hide behind the couch to turn on Animal Crossing, his favourite video game. I believe that’s a form of identifying patterns and using logic. And hey, it doesn’t matter that he can’t read, he just button bashes until he gets the results he wants. That is called problem-solving.

I have four years until Henry reaches the “age of reason”. In the meantime, I’ll have to dig deep, pull out the big parenting guns, use open communication and guide him along the way. Next time we’re stopped on our walk by the waving elderly man, maybe he won’t whisper loudly, “Why is that man waving like a weirdo?”

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MY KINGDOM FOR A BISCUIT

The traditional ANZAC biscuit, a sweet biscuit made from rolled oats and golden syrup, is my favourite biscuit. I love the crumbly, crispy outer texture and the slightly chewy centre. I adore desicated coconut mixed with that buttery taste.

So when my husband suggested that we make ANZAC biscuits to commemorate ANZAC Day, I was all on board. I sent him off to the supermarket with a photo of ingredients needed for the recipe.

He came home with a packet of Monte Carlos, a packet of Butter Snaps and all of the ingredients for ANZAC biscuits except the most important ones – golden syrup and desicated coconut.

It appeared that every other Australian was commemorating in the same way, which was fair enough. This pandemic had restricted Australians to holding dawn services at the end of their driveways and baking ANZAC biscuits. We were just too late to the party.

Almost a week later, I tried online ordering golden syrup, coconut and treacle (as a substitute, just in case). I had my heart (and stomach) set on making and eating ANZAC biscuits. Plus I had a surplus of rolled oats that would never be eaten otherwise. Imagine my disappointment when only coconut made an appearance.

I thought to myself, “What kind of weirdo conspiracy is this?”

By this stage, it became a matter of principle. I was getting that golden syrup. I wasn’t about to let a pandemic or supermarket shortage stop me. I spent days trawling aisles at different supermarkets. I visited local grocers and natural food stores.

It was as though the Universe was taunting me. “You don’t need those biscuits, love.”

After searching for almost two weeks and on the verge of throwing in the towel, I finally found the object of my desires. By chance, while at my local supermarket, I found two precious bottles of golden syrup tucked right in the back of the top shelf. The only problem? I could not reach them.

Being vertically challenged, I had to get creative. Tippy toes. Jumping up and down. Using my phone and other grocery items to tease the bottles forward. Trying to chase down unwilling and unhelpful store assistants.

In the end, an elderly lady who was browsing nearby took pity on my short ass. She reached over, grabbed a bottle of golden syrup and put me out of my misery. We had a lovely chat afterwards about ANZAC recipes.

When I finally sat down with a hot cuppa and took a bite of the biscuit… well, let’s just say it was worth the wait.

So to my neighbours and friends who received a pack of my home-made ANZAC biscuits, the secret ingredient was… time.

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KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE

Why are personal statements difficult to write? Being the sole expert in the subject matter of me, it should be a breeze to write a highlight reel. Alas, it is like drawing blood from a stone. It’s worse than sitting in the dentist’s chair.

The last time I wrote a personal statement for a university application, I was a sheltered eighteen year old girl with tall ambitions. Now, I am wiser, wealthier and womanly. Ok, that’s far-fetched, I’m a whole lot of woman and maybe a touch more wiser. At the very least, I have a wealth of work and life experiences to write about.

After staring at a blank computer screen for ages, I took the easy way out and googled how to write a personal statement.

Sell yourself. Highlight achievements. Make it interesting. Be concise. Show the admissions team why they should accept your application. Focus on relevant work and volunteering experiences.

How do you even sell yourself these days? I’ve been out of the game far too long being in my last job for almost a decade. And spruiking my strengths and achievements feels conceited and boastful. It doesn’t come naturally for me. After much deliberation, I wrote my first draft and read it to my husband for a second opinion.

“You’re a mature aged student. No one cares about your high school score or your university grades.” Slashed that section out.

“I think highlighting work experience and achievements isn’t necessary. It’s in your résumé.” Slashed that section out.

“It sounds like you’re trying too hard to sound clever. People will see right through that and think you’re a chump.” Simplified the language. Stopped googling synonyms for every second word.

“Get to the point. Don’t use unnecessary words.” Edited text to be more concise.

“Meticulous, quick to learn, independent… everyone uses them. The reader has probably read thousands of these.” Removed trite phrases and words. Tried to be original.

“Think of who might be reading this. Who is your audience? What are their incentives to say yes or no?”

At this point, I got mad at all the feedback and cracked the sads. I demanded my husband tell me the answer and stop trying to get me to think critically. I don’t know who will read my personal statement but they probably want people who are capable of completing the course and can pay the fees.

“What do they want to know about a non-school leaver who obviously has the capabilities to do the course?”

I scrapped the whole damn thing and started again. In fact, I scrapped many drafts and slept on it for a few more before it finally dawned on me.

Know your audience. Why am I applying? What has led me to this point? What is my story?

I left my job to become a primary caregiver to two young children and started volunteering at the local neighbourhood community centre. That is when this journey began and so that was where I started my personal statement.

I wrote about how I enjoyed the challenges of helping students from diverse backgrounds. I highlighted my admiration for the dedicated teachers who taught the courses. I chose to remove the fluff of achievements, work experiences and skills to simply express my passion in seeking a career in education. I showcased my desire to make a difference in the community and to help others.

Hopefully, by being authentic and truthful, whoever reads my personal statement will look beyond grades, scores and experiences to see the capable woman who is really excited for the next chapter of her life.

As proud as I am of what I’ve written as my personal statement and the lessons learned from the task, I’m nervous about the outcome. I’m checking the email every day for that rejection letter.

Update: I got in! Come July, I’ll be starting a course to become an adult and vocational educator. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I had the kind of courage needed to dr


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FRIDAY FUNDAY

Friday. It has become my favourite day of the week. It marks the end of another exhausting week of “teaching” a whingeing grade two daughter and a short-tempered kinder son. It’s a temporary reprieve from having to lavish excessive praise, plead and badger, and issuing empty threats to get the children to complete tasks in a timely manner. It’s the end of being the rope in the tug of war between two children who need my help. I get a breather from juggling household chores and schooling the children. By Friday, I am utterly and completely spent. I’ve tapped out.

Back in mid-March when my daughter was still attending school, my husband and I had many arguments on whether it was safe to send her. At the time, the number of confirmed Coronavirus cases in Australia was on the rise, and there was mounting pressure from parents and school teachers for the Government to close schools. My husband was working from home, along with hundreds of others from his workplace. We had pulled our son from childcare to save money and reduce exposure. So in my mind, I couldn’t understand why we would risk my daughter and us by sending her to school.

Despite the Chief Medical Officer and Prime Minister reiterating that going to school represented a low risk to children, it did not sway my opinion because what-if my children were the exception? I wanted my children safe at home and I did not care about the costs or impacts of that decision.

My husband had a different opinion. He believed that the cost of closing schools and businesses was too steep a price to pay, given our significantly lower confirmed cases compared to other countries. He strongly believed that the economic and educational impacts far outweighed the risk of transmission through schools. He argued that schools needed to remain open for people who needed to work, hospital workers and emergency service personnel. He reasoned that children need normality and remote-access learning could affect children’s mental health and see vulnerable children left behind. He didn’t feel the level of response matched the level of threat.

The debate raged on for weeks and we kept to our staunch views on schools. I was relieved when there was a state directive to close Victorian schools. I was prepared to step up to the plate to do my best with home learning if it meant keeping my family safe from Coronavirus.

As of yesterday, Victoria had six new confirmed cases, with a total of 14 confirmed cases nationwide. Have closing schools made a great impact on reducing infected numbers? Was the cost to students, parents, carers and economy worth it? Or was the success in reduction largely due to social distancing, restriction of businesses and border closures? Who knows. The important thing is that our collective efforts and temporary hardships have led to containing this virus and prevented the devastation seen overseas.

Now with the threat diminished, I want to return to some kind of normalcy. I would like to see schools reopened and children able to see their friends and teachers. While I love (*cough*) playing substitute teacher, sitting in a classroom with fellow students being taught by a teacher is better for everyone. No parent needs their seven-year-old discovering that they have to google and phone-a-friend lifeline the answers to grade two homework.

More importantly, at this point, home schooling my children poses far greater health risks than any pandemic.

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OPPOSITES ATTRACT

My husband accused me of being a pop culture fluff ball today. Why? We were having an intense discussion about why people are attracted to those that are fundamentally different to them.

You see, my husband and I grew up in very different households with ethnicity, culture, socioeconomics, religion and parental life experiences, impacting on our cognitive and behavioural development.

In my view, he had a fortunate and stable upbringing. He lived in the family home for most of his childhood, made life-long school friends, given opportunities to participate in extra-curricular sports and had few disadvantages.

My upbringing was decidedly different. My parents were refugees and that in itself brought a vast number of issues. I didn’t stay at any school (bar my last few senior years) for longer than two years. Both my parents had undiagnosed mental health issues. We were dirt poor most of the time.

My husband is a logical, pragmatic and heavily systems thinking based person. Emotion is the last variable in his decision-making. His objective to any problem is finding the simplest solution that makes the biggest impact.

While my decision-making is often driven by emotion. This is not to say that I don’t have capabilities. I can hold down a high-pressure and high-level job. I can run a household. I am capable of making good decisions. But compared to my husband, I don’t like to face variables and I tend to veer towards confirmation bias.

If a stranger came up to me and asked me to peel an orange, my immediate response would be… why? Whereas, my husband would think… what’s the best and worst thing, that could happen? And peel the damn orange.

We agreed that the diversity of thinking or lack of was attributed to our differences – our tapestry of life experiences, leading to the software and hard wiring in our brains.

My argument was that given the same upbringing, my husband would not have the same decision-making abilities. He might even be a bit more like me. 

Nope. No way. My husband was adamant that given the same upbringing, he would still be who he is. He would still be the observant, boundary-pushing, thought-provoking and forward-thinking person.

His counter-argument was that while our childhood experience had some influence, the main reason for his diversity of thinking was due to his open-mindedness to challenging assumptions and expectations. Particularly those of people in positions of authority and power – like his parents and teachers.

It’s really no wonder that he had so many school detentions and reprimands. It’s also not surprising that our offspring are cheeky buggers, full of sass and curiosity.

Anyway, we debated many points and in end, I was as befuddled as this post. Back to my original point. Why are people attracted to their opposites?

My husband’s answer? It’s because of our chimp brains and natural selection.

My answer? Because of my husband’s definition of diversity of thought, I have no option but to love pop culture.

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FIRST CRUSH ADVICE

Do you remember your first crush? Or the first time someone declared their undying love for you?

I was eleven-years-old when a boy plucked up the courage to ask me out. I’m not sure what the young kids these days think ‘going out’ means but back in my day, it meant stolen kisses behind the school shed, holding each other’s sweaty hands and hugging real close. Innocent kid stuff.

I remember that day like it was yesterday (clichéd much?). Almost three decades on and the memory is as fresh as a daisy (I’ll stop with the clichés soon, I promise!).

I was the new kid on the block (again)… an awkward and shy girl, just moved houses in a different suburb, attending a new Catholic school, and starting sixth grade. It was the first time that anyone had shown any kind of interest in me, and I guess that made an impact on the memory bank.

The school bell had rung, closing another day of learning. All of the school children were rushing out of classrooms and making their way home. I was this meek-as-a-lamb girl, sporting a thick monobrow and an unfashionable blunt fringe, wearing secondhand uniform and lugging a heavy bag full of books home. I reeked of loneliness and sadness. Not really a boy’s pin-up girl.

This scrawny boy with pants a smidge too baggy, chased after me with his two friends in tow, calling out my name. After stopping next to me, he shifted nervously on his feet before spilling his guts. He liked me and wanted to know if I’d go out with him.

My mother had prepared me for boys and their interests. She had given me her version of the birds and the bees, which was simply to avoid those bees altogether. She had taught me what to say in these events.

I recited her words. “Thank you. I’m trying to do my best in school. I’m not interested in a relationship.”

I might have been this poor boy’s first crush and he was my first admirer. Two kids on the cusps of teenagerhood and its burgeoning hormones. The situation was utterly embarrassing for both of us and made unbearably awkward by my odd response. So much so, that two decades later when I walked into a burger joint across from work, we immediately recognised each other and the awkwardness continued.

This guy ran a fantastic burger joint, serving perfectly seasoned fat cut chips that were fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. And the burgers had you salivating in anticipation. It was such a pity that the owner couldn’t look me in the eye and I couldn’t stand the weirdness of our conversations. My relationship with the burger joint ended prematurely. We didn’t stand a chance!

I’ve learnt from my experience with first crushes. I vowed that if my children came to me for advice, I would do better than my dear mother’s attempts.

Not too long ago (before school closed due to the pandemic), my seven-year-old daughter let me in on a secret and asked for my advice. This was how the conversation went.


Mandy: I think a boy likes me.

Me: OOOOHHHH, first crushes! Be cool, be cool Mumma! What makes you think that?

Mandy: He put his reading box next to mine.

Me: Uh… ok… Anything else?

Mandy: (shrugs) He always sits next to me on the floor.

Me: Hmm… need more to work with here buddy. Ok, anything else?

Mandy: He tugs my hair and calls me Mandy Moo Shoo.

Me: Ah… teasing, telltale signs. How does that make you feel?

Mandy: (shrugs) I don’t care. He also hugs me a lot.

Me: Wait a minute! What the hell? How does he hug you?

Mandy: He hugs my arm. And smacks my butt.

Me: What the?! Oh hell no, that is not cool!

Sometimes people can do strange things like tease or pull your hair to show you that they like you. BUT, that does NOT mean you should let anyone touch you without your permission. There are boundaries.

Mandy: Are boys just stupid and do stupid things?

Me: Try not to rant. Keep it simple. You can do this without preaching. Don’t waffle!

Uh, sometimes. Just remember that if anyone does anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, you tell them to stop and if they don’t stop, you tell the teacher. Remember that your vagina, your bottom, your chest, they are your private areas and no one should be touching those areas.

Mandy: Eww. Why would anyone do that?

Me: Um… not for this conversation. It can happen. You understand what Mummy is saying?

Mandy: Yeah.

Me: You know you can tell me anything, right? I will always listen and try to help you.

Mandy: I know Mummy.

Me: (Hugs) And no more hugging with this boy. We’re in a pandemic for Pete’s sake.


I think I did a decent enough job. Let’s hope I don’t accidentally come across my daughter’s blog post in future and read how she could have given better advice on boys.

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GROCERY STORE ANXIETY

A racing pulse
Many stolen breaths
Heavy weight upon my chest

A dizzy spell
Shredded nerves alight
A mental state of unrest

My eyes they seek
An invisible threat
That causes panic from within

A simple task
Once taken for granted
Now sends me into a spin

Copyright © 2019, KN J Tales and Snippets. All rights reserved.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought destruction to our economy, disarray to our lives and death to our doorsteps. The mental health impacts of this crisis will be profound and long-lasting. I know that my mental health has suffered from the isolation, the fear for my family and friends, and the disruption to our routines. It isn’t so surprising that I experienced a panic attack while doing a grocery run.

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