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Name: Mary Gardiner
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The Sydney Project: Powerhouse Museum

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

This was our second visit to the Powerhouse Museum, both times on a Monday, a day on which it is extremely quiet.

Bendy mirror

The Powerhouse seems so promising. It’s a tech museum, and we’re nerd parents, which ought to make this a family paradise. But not so. Partly, it’s that V is not really a nerdy child. His favourite activities involve things like riding his bike downhill at considerable speeds and dancing. He is not especially interested in machinery, intricate steps of causation, or whimsy, which removes a lot of the interest of the Powerhouse. Museums are also a surprising challenge in conveying one fundamental fact about recent history: that the past was not like the present in significant ways. V doesn’t really seem to know this, nor is he especially interested in it, which removes a lot of the hooks one could use in explaining, eg, the steam powered machines exhibit.

We started at The Oopsatoreum, a fictional exhibition by Shaun Tan about the works of failed inventor Henry Mintox. This didn’t last long; given that V doesn’t understand the fundamental conceit of museums and is not especially interested in technology, an exhibit that relies on understanding museums and having affection for technology and tinkering was not going to hold his attention. He enjoyed the bendy mirrors and that’s about it.

V v train

I was hoping to spend a moment in The Oopsatoreum, but he dragged me straight back out to his single favourite exhibit: the steam train parked on the entrance level. But it quickly palled too, because he wanted to climb on and in it, and all the carriages have perspex covering their doors so you can see it but not get in. There’s a bigger exhibit of vehicles on the bottom floor, including — most interestingly to me — an old-fashioned departures board showing trains departing to places that don’t even have lines any more, but we didn’t spend long there because V’s seen it before. He also sped through the steam machines exhibit pretty quickly, mostly hitting the buttons that set off the machines and then getting grumpy at the amount of noise they make.

Gaming, old-style

He was much more favourably struck with the old game tables that are near the steam train. He can’t read yet, and parenting him recently has been a constant exercise in learning exactly how many user interfaces assume literacy (TV remote controls, for example, and their UIs now as well). The games were like this to an extent too; he can’t read “Press 2 to start” and so forth, so I kept having to start the games for him. He didn’t do so well as he didn’t learn to operate the joystick and press a button to fire at the same time. He could only do one or the other. And whatever I was hoping V would get out of this visit, I don’t think marginally improved gaming skills were it, much as I think they’re probably going to be useful to him soon.

Big red car

We spent the most time in the sinkhole of the Powerhouse, the long-running Wiggles exhibition. This begins with the annoying feature that prams must be left outside, presumably because on popular days one could hardly move in there for prams. But we were the only people in there and it was pretty irritating to pick up my two month old baby and all of V’s and her various assorted possessions and lump them all inside with me. I’m glad V is not much younger, or I would have been fruitlessly chasing him around in there with all that stuff in my arms.

Car fixing

It’s also, again, not really the stereotypical educational museum experience. There’s a lot of memorabilia that’s uninteresting to children, such as their (huge) collection of gold and platinum records and early cassette tapes and such. There’s also several screens showing Wiggles videos, which is what V gravitates to. If I wanted him to spend an hour watching TV, I can organise that without leaving my house. He did briefly “repair” a Wiggles car by holding a machine wrench against it.

Overall, I think we’re done with the Powerhouse for a few years.

Cost: $12 adults, $6 children 4 and over, younger children free.

Recommended: for my rather grounded four year old, no. Possibly more suited to somewhat older children, or children who have an interest in a specific exhibit. (If that interest is steam trains, I think Train Works at Thirlmere is a better bet, although we cheated last year by going to a Thomas-franchise focussed day.)

More information: Powerhouse website.

Syndicated 2014-04-16 03:41:59 from lecta

The Sydney Project: Art Baby

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. I’ve therefore decided to embark on a self-imposed challenge to go and do different child-focussed activities in Sydney and review them!

Art Baby is a preliminary Sydney Project entry, because it wasn’t an activity for preschoolers! Instead, it’s an activity for carers of babies, who tour the Museum of Contempoary Art with their babies.

Entrance to the Museum of Contemporary Art, nighttime

by Robert Montgomery

Mostly, it’s a short (45 minute) tour of one of the exhibitions (it was Volume One today), and the fact of having babies in tow is largely irrelevant. (Most of the babies today were two or three months old, much too young to do much touching or exploring.) I very much enjoyed our tour guide, who significantly contributed to the artworks with some background about each artist, and with her personal reactions to the art works. Fine art has really grown on me in recent years, as I’ve come to understand many genres — fine art in this case, but not it alone — as a conversation, and that you need to come at it with a cheat sheet that brings you up to speed on the conversation. A good tour or audio guide is the way to go with fine art museums, given that I’m unlikely to ever follow the conversation as a practitioner or serious student. Today’s tour, by an art educator and artist, was an excellent insider briefing.

The baby-relevant part of the tour is the conclusion in the Creative Learning room where the older children would do the Art Play (3yo and under) and Art Safari sessions (3–5yo). This includes a piece specifically commissioned for the children’s room, a child-safe and welcoming artwork for them to interact with. (Much of the museum is an attractive nuisance for children, with many bright, changing objects that they must not touch. It’s a shame. This adult would like a museum of fine art you can beat upon.) Afterwards, everyone has coffee (included in the price) and goes their separate way.

I’m keen to trial Art Safari with my 4yo now.

Cost: $20 plus booking fee.

Recommended: yes. It’s a good introduction to the MCA collection, and the timing is suitable for people with babies in tow. You could also just attend a normal tour, of course, but sometimes it’s fun to be part of a WITH BABY market segment.

More information: Art Baby website.

Syndicated 2014-03-18 23:24:13 from lecta

Sunday spam: muesli bars and gummy snakes

Muesli bars and gummy snakes are what I ate at about 7am before my recent 9am childbirth… thus thematically appropriate for this small collection of links, some of which I’ve had sitting around for a while.

Using WOC in the Natural Childbirth Debate: A How-To Guide.

If you are a progressive in the Natural Childbirth Movement (or any other, for that matter), use Africa City women to promote the idea that “natural is better.” Talk about women who toil in the fields, squat down to give birth and return to picking rice. Or peanuts. Or anything else that can be picked. After all, the women of Africa City are resilient! Strong. So strong that they do not even require support from the other women of Africa City. Or medication. Or comfort. This example–of giving birth in the field–illustrates how over-reliant “we” have become on useless technology. Of course, you don’t expect “us” to be quite that strong. We are not beasts of burden, after all…

If you oppose the Natural Childbirth Movement (or any other, for that matter), use Africa City women to remind “us” of how bad “we” used to have it, before all of our live-saving medical advances. If women die in childbirth in Africa City, it is only because they lack the Modern Technology we should be grateful that every last one of “us” has unfettered access to. Use infant mortality statistics from the most war-torn countries to argue why a healthy woman from Portland shouldn’t give birth in her bathtub with a midwife who carries oxygen and a cell phone. Redact all mentions of Africa City women who are not hopelessly impoverished. Ignore those who are systematically abused with Modern Technology, sacrificed as Guinea pigs on its altar. All bad outcomes in Africa City are due to the lack of Medical Technology, never unrelated to it, and certainly never caused by it.

Early Labour and Mixed Messages

The emphasis on hospital as a place of safety whilst also encouraging women to stay away results in some very contradictory messages and ideas (please note these statements do not represent my own views)[…] We are the experts in your labour progress, our clinical assessments can predict your future labour progress… we will send you home if you are found to be in early labour… if you then birth your baby in the car park it is not our fault as birth is unpredictable[…] This is a safe place to labour…. but you can only access this safety when you reach a particular point in your labour… preferably close to the end of your labour i.e. you should do most of it on your own away from safety.

Warning for discussion of pregnancy loss. The Peculiar Case of Miscarriage in Pop Culture

Miscarriage is a tricky cultural thing, pop culture or not. It’s a deeply forbidden subject, much like many other things deemed ‘mysteries of womanhood,’ like menstruation, like pregnancy itself. People don’t talk about miscarriages and that discouragement means that many people aren’t aware of how common they are, let alone how devastating they can be. When people lose a child, they can reach out to their community for help and they are given space and time for healing. When they lose a fetus, they’re expected to keep it to themselves.

Sadly, sometimes pro-choice people can be the most vehement about this, concerned about blurring the lines between fetus and child, and saying that claiming a fetus is morally or ethically equivalent to a fully-developed, extrauterine human being could be dangerous. This makes the mistake of applying broad strokes to the issue, though. Legally, of course, a fetus should not be equivalent to a child. Personally, however, losing a wanted pregnancy is an intensely emotional experience and it can feel on some level to the parents like losing a child, with the added burden of not being allowed to acknowledge it, talk about it, or ask for help.

Syndicated 2014-01-19 01:18:38 from lecta

A year with orthokeratology

A year ago, I did something that’s very rare for me, I made an expensive impulse purchase. Specifically, I was fitted for orthokeratology lenses. These are a vision correction technique: hard contact lens you wear while you sleep, that mold your cornea into a corrected shape so that you don’t need to use vision correction while you’re awake.

I have mild myopia (-1.75 left and -0.75 right, I think) and very mild right-eye astigmatism and I’ve had vision correction since I was about ten (initially only for my left eye, my right eye only became measurably myopic about 5 years after that). I’ve worn glasses and contact lens each about half the time. I like contacts better than glasses but still find them annoying when they are dry or one gets stuck to the wrong part of my eye. I have enough medical and surgical anxiety that I’m not going to be interested in surgical correction any time soon. So that was the appeal of orthokeratology.

To cut to the chase, while I’ll keep wearing them now I have a good fit, my recommendation is mixed at best.

The first few days and weeks were not promising. The problem with anything that’s supposed to be “uncomfortable” or “take some getting used to” is determining when something is actually wrong. So when I first put my lenses in in the optometrist’s office and my eyelids slammed shut in agony over the top, I figured it was par for the adjustment course. In addition, it took a while to achieve good correction, I think a week or more to be reasonable and another week or two until I tested as having an acceptably negligible prescription. During this time, in transition, I couldn’t use my glasses either. So in the evening, it was a question of putting them in and then immediately staggering upstairs feeling my way to bed while my husband probably cooed lovingly at his loyal un-painful glasses. It’s also, as you would think, not especially easy to get to sleep when your eyes are trying to alert you to their imminent death, although once I was asleep I tended to sleep well and wake up with them adhered to my eyeballs (once they seal on, it hurts less). The crisis in the mornings seemed to be more that they adhered too well, and the force required to get them off tended to flick them around the bathroom at random and I’d get stressed and need to get Andrew downstairs to help me find the lenses (replacement cost is multiple hundreds of dollars).

Which reminds me, these require touching your eyes a lot more than soft contact lenses do. Getting them on involves applying them straight to your pupil, and getting them off is done (most easily) with a little suction device, again, more or less applied to the lens over the pupil. Getting them off sounds like it should hurt, but it doesn’t, it’s just a slight pulling sensation. But a large number of people cannot bear to touch their eyes, or at least not very much. That is, at least, a caution to many people. This wasn’t something I was asked about or warned about at all; luckily I am very able to touch my eyes, but it seems like I should have been asked.

Once the teething pains, as it were, were over, I had a nice few weeks of naked daytime eyes. Even Andrew briefly expressed envy, swimming at Waikiki, that I could see everything and also not have to worry about losing a lens in the water. It wasn’t to last long, as on that same trip, one morning I woke up with my eyes in agony. The only relief I could get, even slight, was to keep them open behind very dark glasses for most of the morning. I put it down to bad cleaning and made a note to be extra careful.

But it kept happening, with increasing frequency. On the fourth or fifth time, back in Australia, I ended up at the optometrist. He couldn’t find anything wrong other than dryness… and that my vision correction was weakening badly to boot, so I wasn’t even getting much for the pain. He wanted me to stop wearing them. He doesn’t seem to be a terribly good communicator; all I could get out of him was a vague promise that I wouldn’t be out of pocket. I got a call a few weeks later to come and pick up new lenses. He wasn’t even around so I didn’t really know what the deal was until my next check up: it emerged he’d actually done a fair bit of work phoning different suppliers trying to find lenses big enough to cover my (of course) enormous corneas, thinking that probably the fit was actually the issue.

Sure enough, the bigger set of lenses have solved the problem of the mornings of extreme pain and dryness. They were also never as painful as the first set, despite several weeks break before starting to use them, which makes me wonder if the level of pain inserting the first set was always a bad sign. (But then, “may take some adjusting” and “may be uncomfortable” means “don’t complain for a while”, so they’ll never know.) The correction is pretty good; I actually have to be careful with the right eye not to wear a lens every night because it’s easy to overcorrect. I wear the left one about three nights in four and the right one one or two nights in four. It’s more of an artform than I’d like, to be honest.

Given the initial pain and the lengthy adjustment period, I think with hindsight that I wouldn’t choose to start the process, which is why I am hesitant to recommend it to others. Most reviews I’ve read have had better experiences, although the only other person I know who tried it had to give it up entirely because it caused such bad night blindness it wasn’t safe for her to drive (not a problem I’ve had). Proceed with care.

Syndicated 2014-01-07 22:07:18 from lecta

The Alphabet Sufficiency: brief reflections

At the beginning of the year, I was indirectly responsible for the creation of the formidable Alphabet Supremacy project, which has just wrapped up. Jono and Bice have a few reflections on it at mid-year (Jono, Bice) and end-of-year (Jono).

I was frankly jealous, and, trying to know my limits, created a more limited project, the intended six week Alphabet Sufficiency. This resulted in five weeks worth of posts from me, and I think four from Martin Pool (who shared them in a non-public forum). Mine were:

Of these, my favourite by far is the acceleration one. I can remember writing it: well past the deadline, from a hotel room in Honolulu, while experiencing the second-worst case of jetlag I’ve ever had, with Andrew no doubt wondering about my priorities in reconstructing the web walks I’d been detailing to him for the month prior, rather than sleeping.

As expected, priorities were a problem. At the beginning, I wrote:

If the amount of personal change and variability of energy levels I experienced in 2012 continues I will be living in a leper colony on the Moon by December 2013.

Not as it happens, but I will be wrapping up the year with one more degree and one more child than I started it with. Those entries are over February, March and April this year, during which time (on top of my job) I made the “minor corrections” needed to complete my PhD thesis (this resulted in 20 pages of additional text, about 10% of the length of the final document), took my hopefully one-and-only overnight long haul flight in sole charge of a distressed toddler, and visited California for a long and intense week of planning for the Ada Initiative. If Martin had given a prompt for the final week, it would have been due the week I found out I was pregnant again (a week which involved, I think, three sudden medical appointments to plan my pregnancy care in light of a pretty weird medical history).

If I recall, Martin suggested that we start the project ASAP because neither of us was going to get less busy. While this was perfectly true, from my end this probably suggested not starting the project at all, because I really didn’t have time for it.

I began the year feeling like “write more” was the resolution least suited to me of anything I could possibly resolve. I’m ending it feeling the opposite. The most obvious thing that founding a business, study, illness, pregnancy and parenting have taken from me in the last two years is writing. On the other hand, I don’t think that for me personally, resolutions or competition are the way to get it back. The only way out is through. When I have stability, I will pause for breath, and I will write. Ursula Le Guin says:

What inspired you to be a writer?

Learning to write, at five.

That is not quite true for me (in no respect do I claim to be comparable to Ursula Le Guin, which as a small benefit makes me a less testy interview subject) but my relationship with writing is something like that. If there is time and energy, writing is something I will do.

As for the specifics of the project, one-word prompts are surprisingly difficult. Over on Dreamwidth at the moment, some people are taking a prompt a day for the entire month (I am not, for reasons you can infer), and, looking at the prompts, I can easily imagine it would be easier by far for me to write a response to “tell me about a day you spent in your favourite city” than “City”. I found this just as bad for a words I chose: “Kin” was by far the hardest prompt. Having stumbled at the gate, “Acceleration” and “Favourite” were very deliberate pitches to something I was thinking a lot about at the time anyway (general relativity and the plot of Toy Story, respectively), in an attempt to construct a gimme for myself. Despite the superficial difficulty of never having been to Montreal, that was the easiest entry to write: I suspect that the more concrete the word, the easier the writing.

If I was to take on such a project again, it would be more like the interview meme or the December meme, with far more detailed prompting. One word prompts are a very hard place between writing about whatever the hell I feel like, and writing to a prompt. I’m waiting to see what the next baby is like before committing, but there’s always the possibility of the “parent to newborn pretends to be well-rounded” meme (results: one, two, three, four, five). Stand by.

Syndicated 2013-12-17 05:00:43 from lecta

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