Sunday, 27 November 2011


I introduced my kids to Avatar the other day.  And you know what?  They loved it.

So Erika calls it the Blue Papa movie.  Where the Blue Papa dies near the home tree that fell down and everyone is crying.  She asked Aunty J if she could watch the Blue Papa movie and Aunty J was stumped until she went to look at the recent DVDs watched and realised she meant Avatar.

So Erika's understanding of the story is (ie what I explained)

The people with the robot clothes and flying the helicopters are bad people.
The blue people are good people
The bad people made their home tree fall down and burned it
The blue papa died and everyone cried
Then the bad people came to kill the magic tree
So everyone came to save the magic tree

Piggy Bunny

Kids say the cutest things.  Erika calls this Piggy Bunny.

 Poor Piglet :P

Monday, 14 November 2011

Taronga Zoo's new tiger cubs

Being Family Fun day on Sunday, we decided to make a trip to the zoo and see the new tiger cubs, who are now 10 weeks old.  There are 3 of them, 2 males and one female.  We left really early in the morning to make sure we were on the 9:15am ferry and there were quite a few people there already.  I guess they all had the same idea we had.  And also, we wanted to avoid the hot weather, but the forecast did say a maximum of 24-26, with minimal chance of rain.

The tiger exhibit didn't open till 10am and there were signs saying that the cubs would be out from 10am till 1pm so they wouldn't get too tired.  So we didn't wander over that early.  We made our way there about 1015am.

But there was a HUGE queue!  Which I guess, was to be expected, since they were new.  And they were funnelling people through 30 at a time and letting them look for about 3-4 minutes, which was great - plenty of time and not too crowded so the kids and us could get some good views and pics if needed.  But the wait was horrible.  Lining up with toddlers for almost half an hour is not my idea of fun.

The zoo has gone some major renovations and the front entrance has been revamped and looks fantastic.

One of the startling things that occurred was at lunch, when I gave Julian a potato chip to eat, and he was holding it and an ibis came along and pecked it out of his hand!  He was startled, but didn't cry but he didn't want to eat any more chips after that.  Damn pesky ibises.  That was INSIDE the food hall too!

The baby elephants have grown up so much.  And the Free Flight Bird Show has changed a little as well, with black cockatoos including a Glossy Black (I think) being displayed as part of the show.  This time we had an Australian Hobby doing some fast dives which was new, and also the usual barking owl, barn owl, Andean condor (though I always like that one), Brolga and Galah.  Julian was asleep for the whole thing but Erika was awake.

The seal at the exit was cute as well.  Sitting there at the bottom of the tank checking us out.

The ferry back was on a catamaran instead of a ferry, which was nice!  Sat up top for a little bit, but the sun got to me after a while and I headed back down below with everyone else.  Weather was great though, and all in all it was a nice day out.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The missing maternal link

I was reading an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today about maternal ambivalence, and what causes a mother to spurn her own child.  But it is actually about a lot more than that.

It starts off talking about a movie coming out where the mother is examining the relationship between her and her 15 year old son after he's gone and slaughtered his school mates.  How it was difficult to connect with him as a child, and whether that led to his sociopathic behaviour.  Then it talks about how difficult it must be for parents who don't immediately love their child and how difficult it can be to talk about it because of reactions like "You must be a bad mother, what's wrong with you" as you, the new mother don't perform like the stereotypical happy-I'm-so-thrilled mother that you're supposed to be.

This quote from the article is an example:
Edwina, 40, remembers the horror on a colleague's face when she joked that she would probably be "cheering at the gate" when it came time for her two children to start school.

"This woman told me, 'Well, that's disgusting. Those children should be everything to you,' " Edwina recalls. "She just looked at me and walked away."
I don't think I had baby blues or post natal depression, but I know that new mother life was not all about roses and cherubs.  I think most people accept that now.  But though complaining about the lack of sleep and constant work that a new baby generates is ok, it is the depression symptoms that people don't tolerate.  People who resent their child taking away their free time.  People who get angry and want to hurt their baby for crying and you don't know why.  People who secretly wish to kill their baby - people think OMG horror what a bad parent, but post natal depression is a real problem, and these parents need support because I'm sure inside they think "What is wrong with me, why can't I love my baby like I'm supposed to?" and feelings of guilt and self loathing perpetuate the depression.  Those people need support, reassurance, counselling and perhaps medication - not "You should be happy to be lucky to have such a sweet baby, shame on you."

It is amazing what people will say about your parenting choices.  I am not a stay at home mother, I work a full career and my kids have nannies 3 days a week for 10 hours a day and spend almost 4 hours in the car 2 of those days getting back and forth from nannies/work.  But at the end of the day, the kids love to see mummy, mummy is still their main source of comfort, and I do get satisfaction from that.  Who says you can't have a career and a family too?  It is just a balance of priorities.  When you come home and the kids want to be all over you, spend time with them!  In the morning, make sure you get up early and spend time with the kids before you go to work, no matter how early it is.  I am up at 530 with Julian, and then Erika wakes up and I try to get them fed before 7am so I can get to work.  So I do see them, even though I'm off early, and I like to put them to bed when I get home.  My kids accept that mummy has to go to work.  So putting in those extra hours always pays off, I think.  I am just lucky I don't need much sleep.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Things I wish I could fix about my son

There are some things that Julian does which I have no idea how to fix or stop:

Bleeding nose at night

The blood stained sheets and pillows, the dried blood all over his face and hands... GAH!  My mattresses and pillow all have blood stains on them and it drives me nuts.  I do have mattress protectors but stripping the bed every night to soak and wash sheets (especially in the middle of the night) just does my head in.  I have started putting cream/Vaseline in his nose to see if I can keep it moisturised and prevent more episodes, but if he is picking his nose at night... how do you stop that???  Very frustrating

Slipping his arms out of his seatbelt

Slipping his arms out of his seatbelt no matter how tight I put his seat belt is another irritating thing.  If only the harness clip was higher on his chest, then he wouldn't be able to get it out.  I tried tying it near his neck but he pulls that down and still slips his arms out, and he can lean forward to the chair in front and touch his head to it.  If the cops ever pull me over, I will be in big trouble.

Climbing, touching things, rolling the blinds down

This must just be naughty boy behaviour because my daughter never did it.  I keep trying to make him stop by taking him away and constantly telling him not to climb/touch it but he still does it.  Everyone says it's because he is spoilt and undisciplined.  But Erika would not touch things after being told, why won't he?  Even smacking doesn't work.  All I can do is continue to stop him from doing it and being consistent I guess.  But it is so hard when there don't seem to be results.

Waking up at 530am 
I am lucky that I get up early, so this doesn't bother me so much, but hubby is not an early person.  Going to sleep really late gets him up at 6am but I don't like him sleeping so late.  I like my kids going to bed between 730-830pm.  But he is a little alarm clock, most days he is up at 515am but he can sometimes be in bed till 6am if I'm lucky.  Not sure how to fix it though.  At least he knows that once it's 6am it's time to get out of his room

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Mona Simpson's Eulogy for her brother, Steve Jobs

It is not often that I read anything in the paper that moves me to tears.  I even remember the last time I had tears in my eyes from anything in the news, and that was a few months after I had Julian, and there was a run of toddler deaths on the news and my eyes were stinging from unshed tears - I blamed the hormones, baby blues or whatever fancy name they have for it these days.

Today, I finished late at work and I came home and read the paper.  One of the articles was a picture of Steve Jobs with the caption "Steve Jobs's last words: 'Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow'.

I read the brief highlights of the eulogy - and this line captured my attention:
"Even as a feminist, my whole life I'd been waiting for a man to love, who could love me," she wrote.

"For decades, I'd thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother."
I was curious.  So I clicked on the link to find out more about this long lost sister that was trusted with the eulogy of one of the world's most famous, and richest, men.

This was the eulogy published in Sunday's New York Times:
I grew up as an only child, with a single mother. Because we were poor and because I knew my father had emigrated from Syria, I imagined he looked like Omar Sharif. I hoped he would be rich and kind and would come into our lives (and our not yet furnished apartment) and help us. Later, after I’d met my father, I tried to believe he’d changed his number and left no forwarding address because he was an idealistic revolutionary, plotting a new world for the Arab people.

Even as a feminist, my whole life I’d been waiting for a man to love, who could love me. For decades, I’d thought that man would be my father. When I was 25, I met that man and he was my brother.

By then, I lived in New York, where I was trying to write my first novel. I had a job at a small magazine in an office the size of a closet, with three other aspiring writers. When one day a lawyer called me — me, the middle-class girl from California who hassled the boss to buy us health insurance — and said his client was rich and famous and was my long-lost brother, the young editors went wild. This was 1985 and we worked at a cutting-edge literary magazine, but I’d fallen into the plot of a Dickens novel and really, we all loved those best. The lawyer refused to tell me my brother’s name and my colleagues started a betting pool. The leading candidate: John Travolta. I secretly hoped for a literary descendant of Henry James — someone more talented than I, someone brilliant without even trying.

When I met Steve, he was a guy my age in jeans, Arab- or Jewish-looking and handsomer than Omar Sharif.

We took a long walk — something, it happened, that we both liked to do. I don’t remember much of what we said that first day, only that he felt like someone I’d pick to be a friend. He explained that he worked in computers.

I didn’t know much about computers. I still worked on a manual Olivetti typewriter.

I told Steve I’d recently considered my first purchase of a computer: something called the Cromemco.

Steve told me it was a good thing I’d waited. He said he was making something that was going to be insanely beautiful.

I want to tell you a few things I learned from Steve, during three distinct periods, over the 27 years I knew him. They’re not periods of years, but of states of being. His full life. His illness. His dying.

Steve worked at what he loved. He worked really hard. Every day.

That’s incredibly simple, but true.

He was the opposite of absent-minded.

He was never embarrassed about working hard, even if the results were failures. If someone as smart as Steve wasn’t ashamed to admit trying, maybe I didn’t have to be.

When he got kicked out of Apple, things were painful. He told me about a dinner at which 500 Silicon Valley leaders met the then-sitting president. Steve hadn’t been invited.

He was hurt but he still went to work at Next. Every single day.

Novelty was not Steve’s highest value. Beauty was.

For an innovator, Steve was remarkably loyal. If he loved a shirt, he’d order 10 or 100 of them. In the Palo Alto house, there are probably enough black cotton turtlenecks for everyone in this church.

He didn’t favor trends or gimmicks. He liked people his own age.

His philosophy of aesthetics reminds me of a quote that went something like this: “Fashion is what seems beautiful now but looks ugly later; art can be ugly at first but it becomes beautiful later.”

Steve always aspired to make beautiful later.

He was willing to be misunderstood.

Uninvited to the ball, he drove the third or fourth iteration of his same black sports car to Next, where he and his team were quietly inventing the platform on which Tim Berners-Lee would write the program for the World Wide Web.

Steve was like a girl in the amount of time he spent talking about love. Love was his supreme virtue, his god of gods. He tracked and worried about the romantic lives of the people working with him.

Whenever he saw a man he thought a woman might find dashing, he called out, “Hey are you single? Do you wanna come to dinner with my sister?”

I remember when he phoned the day he met Laurene. “There’s this beautiful woman and she’s really smart and she has this dog and I’m going to marry her.”

When Reed was born, he began gushing and never stopped. He was a physical dad, with each of his children. He fretted over Lisa’s boyfriends and Erin’s travel and skirt lengths and Eve’s safety around the horses she adored.

None of us who attended Reed’s graduation party will ever forget the scene of Reed and Steve slow dancing.

His abiding love for Laurene sustained him. He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere. In that most important way, Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic. I try to learn from that, still.

Steve had been successful at a young age, and he felt that had isolated him. Most of the choices he made from the time I knew him were designed to dissolve the walls around him. A middle-class boy from Los Altos, he fell in love with a middle-class girl from New Jersey. It was important to both of them to raise Lisa, Reed, Erin and Eve as grounded, normal children. Their house didn’t intimidate with art or polish; in fact, for many of the first years I knew Steve and Lo together, dinner was served on the grass, and sometimes consisted of just one vegetable. Lots of that one vegetable. But one. Broccoli. In season. Simply prepared. With just the right, recently snipped, herb.

Even as a young millionaire, Steve always picked me up at the airport. He’d be standing there in his jeans.

When a family member called him at work, his secretary Linetta answered, “Your dad’s in a meeting. Would you like me to interrupt him?”

When Reed insisted on dressing up as a witch every Halloween, Steve, Laurene, Erin and Eve all went wiccan.

They once embarked on a kitchen remodel; it took years. They cooked on a hotplate in the garage. The Pixar building, under construction during the same period, finished in half the time. And that was it for the Palo Alto house. The bathrooms stayed old. But — and this was a crucial distinction — it had been a great house to start with; Steve saw to that.

This is not to say that he didn’t enjoy his success: he enjoyed his success a lot, just minus a few zeros. He told me how much he loved going to the Palo Alto bike store and gleefully realizing he could afford to buy the best bike there.

And he did.

Steve was humble. Steve liked to keep learning.

Once, he told me if he’d grown up differently, he might have become a mathematician. He spoke reverently about colleges and loved walking around the Stanford campus. In the last year of his life, he studied a book of paintings by Mark Rothko, an artist he hadn’t known about before, thinking of what could inspire people on the walls of a future Apple campus.

Steve cultivated whimsy. What other C.E.O. knows the history of English and Chinese tea roses and has a favorite David Austin rose?

He had surprises tucked in all his pockets. I’ll venture that Laurene will discover treats — songs he loved, a poem he cut out and put in a drawer — even after 20 years of an exceptionally close marriage. I spoke to him every other day or so, but when I opened The New York Times and saw a feature on the company’s patents, I was still surprised and delighted to see a sketch for a perfect staircase.

With his four children, with his wife, with all of us, Steve had a lot of fun.

He treasured happiness.

Then, Steve became ill and we watched his life compress into a smaller circle. Once, he’d loved walking through Paris. He’d discovered a small handmade soba shop in Kyoto. He downhill skied gracefully. He cross-country skied clumsily. No more.

Eventually, even ordinary pleasures, like a good peach, no longer appealed to him.

Yet, what amazed me, and what I learned from his illness, was how much was still left after so much had been taken away.

I remember my brother learning to walk again, with a chair. After his liver transplant, once a day he would get up on legs that seemed too thin to bear him, arms pitched to the chair back. He’d push that chair down the Memphis hospital corridor towards the nursing station and then he’d sit down on the chair, rest, turn around and walk back again. He counted his steps and, each day, pressed a little farther.

Laurene got down on her knees and looked into his eyes.

“You can do this, Steve,” she said. His eyes widened. His lips pressed into each other.

He tried. He always, always tried, and always with love at the core of that effort. He was an intensely emotional man.

I realized during that terrifying time that Steve was not enduring the pain for himself. He set destinations: his son Reed’s graduation from high school, his daughter Erin’s trip to Kyoto, the launching of a boat he was building on which he planned to take his family around the world and where he hoped he and Laurene would someday retire.

Even ill, his taste, his discrimination and his judgment held. He went through 67 nurses before finding kindred spirits and then he completely trusted the three who stayed with him to the end. Tracy. Arturo. Elham.

One time when Steve had contracted a tenacious pneumonia his doctor forbid everything — even ice. We were in a standard I.C.U. unit. Steve, who generally disliked cutting in line or dropping his own name, confessed that this once, he’d like to be treated a little specially.

I told him: Steve, this is special treatment.

He leaned over to me, and said: “I want it to be a little more special.”

Intubated, when he couldn’t talk, he asked for a notepad. He sketched devices to hold an iPad in a hospital bed. He designed new fluid monitors and x-ray equipment. He redrew that not-quite-special-enough hospital unit. And every time his wife walked into the room, I watched his smile remake itself on his face.

For the really big, big things, you have to trust me, he wrote on his sketchpad. He looked up. You have to.

By that, he meant that we should disobey the doctors and give him a piece of ice.

None of us knows for certain how long we’ll be here. On Steve’s better days, even in the last year, he embarked upon projects and elicited promises from his friends at Apple to finish them. Some boat builders in the Netherlands have a gorgeous stainless steel hull ready to be covered with the finishing wood. His three daughters remain unmarried, his two youngest still girls, and he’d wanted to walk them down the aisle as he’d walked me the day of my wedding.

We all — in the end — die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories.

I suppose it’s not quite accurate to call the death of someone who lived with cancer for years unexpected, but Steve’s death was unexpected for us.

What I learned from my brother’s death was that character is essential: What he was, was how he died.

Tuesday morning, he called me to ask me to hurry up to Palo Alto. His tone was affectionate, dear, loving, but like someone whose luggage was already strapped onto the vehicle, who was already on the beginning of his journey, even as he was sorry, truly deeply sorry, to be leaving us.

He started his farewell and I stopped him. I said, “Wait. I’m coming. I’m in a taxi to the airport. I’ll be there.”

“I’m telling you now because I’m afraid you won’t make it on time, honey.”

When I arrived, he and his Laurene were joking together like partners who’d lived and worked together every day of their lives. He looked into his children’s eyes as if he couldn’t unlock his gaze.

Until about 2 in the afternoon, his wife could rouse him, to talk to his friends from Apple.

Then, after awhile, it was clear that he would no longer wake to us.

His breathing changed. It became severe, deliberate, purposeful. I could feel him counting his steps again, pushing farther than before.

This is what I learned: he was working at this, too. Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it.

He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to a better place.

Dr. Fischer gave him a 50/50 chance of making it through the night.

He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths. She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again.

This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude.

He seemed to be climbing.

But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.

Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.

Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.

Steve’s final words were:

By the end of it, tears were pouring down my face.  What a beautifully written tribute to her brother.  The admiration and love for him was shining from her words, and she described him in the brightest of lights.
I remember when I heard Steve Jobs died.  I was at work, in the private hospital.  Someone walked into my theatre and said Steve Jobs had died.  I said, but I just read the paper, I didn't see that in the paper.  So back I went to the Sydney Morning Herald and it was splashed all over the front page.  I sms'd my sister, who was sleeping.  When she woke up she said "Who?" but I knew she would realise who it was as soon as I said "CEO of Apple".

I never really knew anything about Steve Jobs except that he had so many funky ideas for Apple.  I knew he was one of the creators, kicked out and then came back and made Apple even more fantastic than it had been before.  He was what I imagined famous CEOs to be - full of ideas, faces for the company, the symbol of their brand.  He also seemed to be a bit of hippy to me as well - I heard he tried alternative treatments for his cancer before he returned to conventional medicine.

So I was a bit sad, but not overwhelmed or moved to tears at his death.  People die.  A sad day for Apple and Steve Jobs' family.  But I thought nothing more of it except that I'm sure that multiple biographies and stories and quotes would flood the internet for a while.  Maybe there would even be a limited edition iPod with a tribute signiture or something for those die hard Apple fans.  I thought no more on it.

Until today.

So after reading it, I thought I had to put it here so I could read it again without having to google it, and remember the feelings I felt when I read it.  Admiration for his determination.  I could feel the love his sister felt.  The sadness of losing a sibling, which you felt was before his time.  The desperation of a man who had so many things he wanted to do and not enough time to do it.