Monday, February 15, 2016

Do kids need their own rooms?

We are a family with three children (all daughters) aged 12.5, almost 11, and 7. We live in a three-bedroom house that in all other respects suits us extremely well ... but it does mean that two children have to share one of the relatively small bedrooms at all times.

When they were younger, this was not only not a problem, it was actively useful, as the elder two (who are close in age) shared interests, hobbies, and, from when they were both school-aged, a bedtime. We managed the space issue by installing two loft beds in the shared room, with a desk under the bed and cupboard space built in. To be totally honest, the beds are over-large for the reasonably small room, and they dominated the space, but we used them for the big girls for four years (from 2010 to 2014) and it worked.

Then, my eldest started getting too tall to sleep comfortably in the loft bed, and was hanging out for her own space. The youngest and the middle were keen to try sharing, so we switched things up and put #2 and #3 in together in the loft-bed room, while #1 now a room with single bed, desk and dresser to herself. This has been the situation for about 15 months now.

It hasn't been a roaring success, for a range of reasons. It's got slightly better since we got rid of one of the lofts (littlest really hated sleeping high, and frequently refused to do it) and have replaced it with a single bed for the 7 year old. Nonetheless, almost-11 is in Grade 6 this year and is agitating to have her own room to start high school next year ... a thing we cannot actually physically accomplish in our current situation. (She's the only one prepared to "sleep high", which unfortunately leaves her in the position of being the only one who CAN share, as we can't fit two single beds + desks in any of the rooms).

We're kicking around options for dealing with this. The design of our house makes adding a room on an unlikely measure - it could be done, but to do it sympathetically to the house is likely to be too costly to be realistic. We do have a detached double-brick slate-floor garage, currently used as a storage / junk space, and we're contemplating whether, after a big clean-out, replacing the garage doors, and the addition of skylights and cooling / heating, we could render that into a habitable room. This would be initially probably as a shared study / relax room for the kids, and maybe down the track we could add plumbing for an ensuite and turn it into an actual bedroom. (We don't garage the cars and have no plans to start doing so!) Another option that's been considered is building a small granny flat in the yard, to be used as a work office for me which would mean that one of the kids could have my desk in the open plan study area.

The other option, of course, is to move house - but there is significant reluctance to do this, for a range of reasons, not least of which is our constant awareness of the financial precarity that may come by increasing our debt now that I am a freelancer (so, have a variable income). Having looked at the market, I don't think we could move to a bigger, nicer house in the same or similar area without almost doubling our current very manageable mortgage, and I'm just not sure we want to, or should, do that. Although our neighbourhoood is not perfect, it's very convenient for our current lives - kids' schools, work, the community we have embedded ourselves in. I can't imagine being willing to take on more debt to live somewhere LESS convenient just to get one extra room.

I think what needs to happen is that we need to get proper professional advice from a builder about what would be required to turn the garage into a proper room, and how much it would cost, including, importantly, whether there is a feasible way to connect the garage to the house by creating at least a covered access if not a corridor. At the moment we're really flying blind.

The big question I have, though, is this: Do you think kids need their own bedrooms? At all? Always? When they are teens? When they are in VCE? Never?

I grew up having my own room, as did my brother, whereas my husband not only didn't have his own room, he didn't even have *A* room - he slept on a fold-out bed in the family lounge which had to be packed up every morning. So we bring very different lenses to this question,

Your thoughts welcomed!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Stella Prize Longlist 2016

The longlist for the 2016 Stella Prize has been announced, and it's as follows:

The Women’s Pages by Debra Adelaide
The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop
Panthers and the Museum of Fire by Jen Craig
Six Bedrooms by Tegan Bennett Daylight
Hope Farm by Peggy Frew
A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories by Elizabeth Harrower
A Guide to Berlin by Gail Jones
The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau
A Short History of Richard Kline by Amanda Lohrey
Anchor Point by Alice Robinson
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger by Fiona Wright

That's 8 novels, 3 short story / novella collections, and 1 essay collection, which is a less self-consciously egalitarian spread than in previous years, with their dutiful inclusions of non-fiction, history and biography titles that probably didn't really belong there. Perhaps this signals a maturation of the prize selection process, which would be no bad thing.

I have an ambivalent relationship with the Stella. I've followed it with interest since its inception in 2013, and have discovered some truly amazing books through my annual attempt to read the shortlist (Margo Lanigan's Sea Hearts, Lisa Jacobson's The Sunlit Zone, Hannah Kent's Burial Rites and of course Sofie Laguna's unforgettable The Eye of the Sheep spring immediately to mind). I'm on board with the need for, and value of, a prize that celebrates writing by Australian women, and I like the fact that it is genre-agnostic, although not at the expense of quality.

That said, in my opinion, the prize has a 100% batting record for picking the wrong book to win, and in at least two of the three years, I would argue they actually chose the weakest book on the shortlist. 2013's winner, Mateship with Birds, was ... OK, I guess ... but honestly not a patch on either Sea Hearts or The Sunlit Zone, or even the over-long but still interesting Questions of Travel. Clare Wright's Eureka history, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, which won in 2014, was frankly dull. Emily Bitto's The Strays, that took the prize in 2015, was a pretty interesting read but not close to as good as the mind-blowing The Eye of the Sheep.

So I will be approaching this year's longlist with caution (also born of the fact that I have Much to Do over the coming month other than read books, alas!) I've already started The World Without Us, which I am enjoying, so I'll finish that and review it before shortlist day on 10 March, and I will probably succumb to peer pressure and read A Guide to Berlin to satisfy all those raving about it. I'm unlikely to do more than those two before shortlist day, but I will make my usual valiant effort to do the shortlist before prize day if at all feasible.

As always with prize-list reading, I expect there to be some gems and some turkeys. I'm just crossing my fingers that the judges break the streak of picking weak winners this year.

Monday, February 8, 2016

On drawing back to germinate

I started an indefinite social media shutdown last night, which means absenting myself from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (my primary SM outlets). I haven't set a time limit on this, although I'm sure I will be back on for my youngest child's birthday near the end of the month, if for no other reason than that my extended family will get shirty if I don't post birthday piccies on our main shared communication network (FB). I think it might not be much before that, though.

I don't count this blog as SM, even though I suppose it could be seen that way; I tend to write here intentionally and at spaced intervals, rather than constantly / episodically, and I don't find it a distraction in terms of constant checking and responding the way I do "true" SM. The blog is much more of a writing tool for me than an interactive / communication tool.

Using all my writing tools is in keeping with my primary reason for pulling back from SM at this time. I am in a welcome phase of burgeoning ideas and creative output in my writing life, and to nurture this and make the most of it, I need the headspace and the lack of distraction that divorcing myself from the ever-moving river of SM affords.

I am very busy with work and family life, and the time and energy I do have available, I want to channel into poetry, revising my NaNo manuscript (Theory of Mind) from last year, and going back to two previous novel "starts" that I've had sitting around since 2011 and 2013 respectively, but am newly inspired to see what could be made of them. (They are tentatively called, respectively, All the Fur and Fin - which has 20,000 words on it - and The Ark At The End of the World, which is sitting around 18,000 words. All the Fur and Fin is a fairly straight narrative, possibly but not certainly YA, while The Ark is science fiction / dysytopian.)

So if I am here in the coming month, it will be with my writer's hat on - trying out poems, teasing through tricky plot points, maybe test-driving some characters or situations. I find that a useful thing to do, for me, and hopefully it's of at least some interest to a few others.

Monday, February 1, 2016


January was an odd month in a lot of ways. It was less summery and relaxed than I wanted it to be, punctuated by some unexpected sadnesses and challenges, and apparently possessed of wings - I cannot remember another school summer break evaporating so rapidly. The weirding of the weather didn't help either, nor my month-long health hiccup. It felt like a much more disjointed month than I am used to for kicking off the year, and it's left me with a pit of unease in my stomach that I'm hoping a productive February will shift.

I worked for almost all of the month, going back on 3 January after 2 weeks off over Christmas and New Year, and for the first time ever, I worked predominantly at home, with all three kids around. Although I did work the majority of January 2014 and 2015, with one week off only in each of those years, that was in the office, and my husband had the majority of the month off to look after the kids. Prior to that, I hadn't worked between Christmas and Australia Day since 2005 - the summer I was pregnant with my second daughter, when I was only working 2.5 days a week in any case. I've managed this by using leave or simply blocking out the time when freelancing.

It was neither as bad as I feared nor as smooth as I hoped; we had good days and less good days, I had effective work blocks and times when I was working at midnight to catch up on the day-time I hadn't been able to put in while mediating School Holiday Sibling Wars or taking the kids places. By the time my husband commenced his week off on 18 January, I was super ready to be able to concentrate more fully on work, although, as I was still physically here, it was still more prone to interruption than was ideal. I did end up taking 25 January off to make a 4-day long weekend with the public holiday on the 26th, and I really deeply needed to by then (not to mention that a day to prepare for the return of school was not optional!)

January was also a month in which a number of unexpected deaths shook our little bubble. Two acquaintances from our church died, both people that we did not know extremely well but were on a friendly terms with; in one case after a long illness, in the other case very suddenly. It might sound foolish, but I also felt personal sadness and loss at the death of David Bowie, and the girls were upset to learn of the death of "Professor Snape" (Alan Rickman). The pall of world events felt heavy in January - perhaps it's confirmation bias, but the news felt grimmer than ever, and a rising tide of futility and pointless rage threatened to overwhelm me more than once.

Facing the future, on an individual, familial and societal level, made us more anxious in this past month than it has for a while. Some of these nerves were / are "good" nerves - anticipation of my eldest's start to high school, for instance, which has gone very well so far. Others are less easy to belay with positive transitional experiences. We have some hard miles ahead this year in a number of areas, and realising this in January wasn't easy.

Of course, there were good aspects to the month as well - moments and days of lightness and joy, satisfaction and connection. We did a lot of family walks, which was great. My second daughter learned to ride her bike well. I participated in, and completely loved, Month of Poetry for the third year running. We had a truly superb family outing to Adventure Park in Geelong. We went swimming and caught up with friends and played board games and continued our rising addiction to colouring books.

So really it wasn't a terrible, awful, no-good, very-bad month, overall; but it was a month of more challenges and less vegetating than I had hoped and planned for, a month that allowed no easing into the year, but smacked us in the face with 2016-ness from the get-go.

Some years this is how it has to be, I guess.