Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sink or Swim?

This morning I felt very much like Mother Duck when our son competed at his very first swimming carnival.

Normally, I’d protest profusely and be seriously offended if anybody dared to compare me to a duck of any persuasion. While we might all admire a duck gliding effortlessly across the pond, nobody wants to think of themselves as waddling or even vaguely walking like a duck. Rumi associated ducks with gluttony, so eating like a duck isn’t very flattering either!

Where we live there are a lot of ducks and it’s not uncommon to see a mother duck crossing the road with a trail of tiny fluffy duckling behind her. We stop our cars, sometimes breaking quite suddenly to allow yet another mother duck with poor traffic judgement to cross the road. We look out for those tiny, little ducklings but we also take note that ducks don’t always make the best parents. Slowly but almost surely, the number of ducklings diminishes as 10 ducklings goes down to 8 then 6 and then maybe 5 and by the time the ducklings are adolescent, there might only be one or two left. It’s very rare to spot a mother duck with a grown up tribe of “ducklings”.

Anyway, as I said this morning I felt very much like Mother Duck when I sent my son off to his first school swimming carnival and I wanted to ensure my little duckling came home.

You see, my son was signed up to swim 50 metres freestyle and backstroke and it was being held in the big 50 metre pool. He is only eight years old, almost nine and he’s only really swum in this pool once before. That was when he was attempting to complete a 600 metre swim for Nippers and he conked out after 100 metres unable to breathe. We’re still not really sure why he couldn’t breathe but he does get asthma. Not knowing the cause, made it really difficult to know whether he should swim in the carnival or not and I felt I had justified concerns.

Being a school swimming carnival, there were the usual permission slips to sign and this one was quite clear. To compete, your child had to be able to swim 50 metres in racing conditions. You had to actually tick that box and sign on the dotted line. That I’m sure that constitutes a legal document so naturally I took that fairly seriously. I was putting my son’s safety on the line and I didn’t want to get it wrong.

At the same time, I knew that if I did make an error of judgement, that the teachers would fish him out of the water. That was a no brainer. Yet, there was still that element of doubt.

Not that I was catastrophising!

In 2008, a child actually drowned on a school pool excursion in the Blue Mountains and in March last year there was a near drowning at a school swimming carnival in Canberra. I’m sure those teachers loved those students every bit as much as our teachers love our kids. Even with the very best systems and procedures in place, things can go wrong. You just ask those poor mother ducks. I’m sure they thought they were taking fabulous care of their precious little ducklings as they slowly disappeared one by one!

I also have to admit that I didn’t take to water like a duck myself. I thought I was going to drown in the school pool. Admittedly, I was going for my Bronze Medallion and I had to swim a very long way fully clothed and I also have asthma. It was by no means a standard swim but I forgot all of those details while sitting beside the pool having a mild panic attack. I could see my poor little duckling sinking to the very bottom of the pool.

Breathe Ro! Breathe!

Yes, I know I wasn’t swimming but just watching Mister was becoming very, very stressful!

Anyway, we decided to test Mister out on the weekend and give him a bit of practice. We had tried to get into the 50 metre pool to have a run through before the carnival. However, the pool was closed so we headed round to a friend’s pool instead. This was when we found out Mister wasn’t taking his breaths, which could well account for his breathing troubles. So like a true blue swim coach, I was strutting up and down beside the pool: “1…2 breathe. 1… 2 breathe.” It wasn’t easy for him but he completed his 50 metres so we decided to let him compete.

At the same time, we decided to keep the whole thing very low key. We just encouraged him to finish. Anything more was a bonus. Whenever he started talking about getting a place, we gently brought him back. It’s not that we wanted to set low expectations and for him not to try but we just didn’t want him to be disappointed. We really had no idea how he was going to go.

I had been hopeful but this morning, he woke me up with a dreadful foghorn cough and it sounded like he had asthma, croup or both. This didn’t bode well for the big swim and I was feeling more and more protective and concerned. Things weren’t looking good. Should he compete? I was even wondering whether he should be staying home although I said nothing.

But he was really excited and went off to school really, really looking forward to the big carnival. I arrived a bit earlier at the pool and saved him a seat. I do the publicity for the school and much of the photography.

I have to admit that while I was waiting there beside the pool, that 50 metre pool seemed to get bigger and bigger and bigger. It was huge. I couldn’t imagine swimming the full length of it myself let alone an 8 year old. I was pretty sure that I could only dog paddle when I was his age. These were huge expectations and I felt like scooping up my little duckling and taking him well away from the ocean. This pool was no pond!

But I restrained myself and tried to be encouraging!

While I was waiting, I also realised that I was only an arm’s length from the edge of the pool and could jump in, even fully clothed, if necessary. I know this probably sounds a little crazy but I was on red alert. Make that red alert with a flashing light. I was going to be a good mother duck! My little duckling was going to come out of this swim alive!

Meanwhile, Mister was really excited and was really looking forward to the swim. I know you’re not supposed to run beside the pool but as he was called off to the marshalling area, he was running…just a little bit.

Mister is eight almost nine years old. He is quite capable of crossing a road unassisted and he is able to swim. He is starting to become independent. I am quite happy to let him go most of the time but when it came to this swimming carnival, I just found that I wanted to wrap him up in layers and layers of bubble wrap. As far as I’m concerned, it’s times like this that you have every justification for being a helicopter parent and zooming in right up close to make sure your little duckling isn’t going to drown. That’s just being sensible. I would have felt much more comfortable with him only swimming in the novelty races but he wanted to be stretched. He had shown that he was capable of making the distance. We just didn’t know how his breathing would go

As much as I wanted to protect him, I also knew that parenting is also about letting go. Giving your child enough space to grow, develop and become their own person. Sometimes, you have to take a deep breath, or two or three and all you can do is wave to your little duckling, who really isn’t quite so little anymore and wish them good luck. You are watching by the sidelines or even from home or from work. You can’t keep holding their hand forever.

The race is about to start and I now notice he is in the far lane and so I get out of my seat to take the photos. I am watching the race through the eye of my zoom lens and I am almost right beside the pool. Not to jump in to save him but to get a good shot. I have momentarily relaxed.  I am now the proud Mum and I want to capture this moment forever!

So there I was poised beside the pool with my zoom lens when my heart sinks once again as he climbs up onto the blocks to dive. I was so proud but very fearful. The blocks weren’t that big but they looked big enough and he seemed quite small up there. It was like he was made of glass and he could shatter any minute. These thoughts all seems quite silly in retrospect but I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was his Mum and my little duckling was about to launch into his first swim and anything was possible.

“On your marks, get set…” The whistle blew. I was watching him through the zoom lens and he was keeping pace with the other boys. He was actually swimming quite well and he wasn’t even coming last. I felt a surge of pride and even started to wonder whether he could actually get a place. His stroke was looking good and he was powering through the water. I noticed he was also remembering to breathe. “Good boy! Well done!”

The next thing I knew he was being pulled out of the pool. Not being rescued but at about the halfway mark, he pulled out and was looking a bit short of breath. He was pretty upset… guttered even. He had really wanted to get a place or at least finish but he didn’t make it. I could feel his pain and was pleased to be there with him and him a hug. He hadn’t finished but he had kept pace and I certainly wouldn’t describe him as a bad swimmer. I congratulated him on getting halfway and for having a go.

It was now all about “having a go”.

His friends and other parents were also very encouraging and it was good to see him warm up and slowly feel proud of his efforts. It turned out that a lot of kids in his age group didn’t compete so he actually went quite well!

Now back at the relative safety of my laptop, Mother Duck is feeling quietly more confident about letting her duckling venture out that bit further next time knowing he’s going to be okay…even if he doesn’t make the distance!

I should also say that the school was exceptionally well prepared and were very safety conscious. There were teachers with rescue float thingies walking beside both sides of the pool and I was pretty sure all the teachers had eyes all over their heads. They were very capable and extremely vigilant. As much as I was anxious, the teachers always  had my absolute trust. I knew he’d be fine but that’s the logical left-brain talking and I’m very right-brained.

Working on this post has made me wonder whether I might have been catastrophising just a little…

Anyway, somehow we both managed to survive his first swimming carnival. I’d say we both deserve a gold medal!

xx Rowena

PS I edited this bit out when I was writing my post and thought I should put it back in. When I filled out the permission slip, I actually attached a note about Mister’s breathing problems and then mentioned it when I saw his teacher. At this point, I thought putting him in a lane at the edge of the pool would be a good precaution. That worked well because when he stopped, it was easy for the teacher to help him out of the pool. There was no big drama or rescue. He had a go!

I have also since spoken to his swimming instructor. Apparently, he was swimming too fast in his lesson this week and he needs to slow down a bit at this stage to finish…ie slow and steady wins the race.

As much as I sound like a nervous Nellie in this post, I was pretty together because I had taken these precautions. That still doesn’t mean your heart doesn’t flutter when your boy swims in his first carnival.

Addiction…the ladybug blog

Addiction.

Hi Everyone,

I’ve decided to share another one of Claudia’s great ladybug illustrations.

She called this bug Addiction and while I have to confess to being a bit of a caffeine addict, those of you who know me a little, either in real life or in the blogosphere, might know that I have transfusions of Intragam, the white part of the blood, every three weeks to help keep my auto-immune disease under control.

So for this little ladybug, the IV treatment is more of a necessity than an addiction, although I must confess that most mornings I could use an intravenous caffeine drip. I am not a morning person.

Well, I also love ladybugs (I even have a ladybug handbag and even though I’m over 40 these days, I’m not afraid to use it!!)

Anyway, this ladybird design really appealed to me and I wanted to share it with you.

xx Rowena

PS You need to click on addiction up the top to view the illustration.

Postcard from the Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich, Queensland.

If you haven’t been to the Workshops Rail Museum, then perhaps you’ll have trouble grasping the magic… especially if you’re not a “train person”.

Year after year, we faithfully go back. We can’t stay away…even though we actually live more than 1000 kilometres away! Perhaps, that gives you some idea of just how special this place actually is!

Mister has found a few signs.

2013 Mister has found a few signs.

Whether you are a train person or not, steam trains have a magic appeal. For some strange reason, we still fall in love with that old chugga chugga toot toot and that puff of smoke rising from the boiler. Yet, I still don’t know why they call it the “romance” of steam. There’s actually nothing romantic about the stench of burning coal. Coal dust isn’t very pretty either. It’s actually filthy, stinky stuff which does terrible things to your lungs and the environment.

And always light, aerial, underneath

Goes the elate metre of her wheels.
Steaming through metal landscape on her lines…
Of phosphorus on the tossing hills is white.
Ah, like a comet through flame she moves entranced
Wrapt in her music no bird song, no, nor bough
Breaking with honey buds, shall ever equal.

An excerpt from The Express, by  Stephen Spender

Yet,  our love affair with steam trains lives on.  When any little kid pretends to be a train, they still pretend to be a steam train, not a modern locomotive and the great popularity of the Thomas the Tank Engine series also testifies to the continued popularity of steam.

The train,
A rage of smoke, a laugh of fire,
A lighted anguish of desire,
A dream
Of gold and iron, of sound and flight,
Tumultuous roars across the night.

An excerpt from The Bridge,  John Redwood Anderson.

DSC_5612

But the Workshops Railway Museum isn’t only about steam trains and aside from special days, you can’t actually ride on one. The museum covers the history of Queensland railways from its beginnings to the present and includes a number of diesel and electric engines as well as historic memorabilia.

Image

Image

The Workshops Rail Museum http://www.theworkshops.qm.qld.gov.au/   is located in North Street, North Ipswich and is just 40 minutes by car from the centre of Brisbane and 70 minutes from the Gold Coast. It is open from 9.30AM to 5.00PM daily and is closed Christmas Day, ANZAC Day and Good Friday.

Taken on the Workshop Tour

Taken on the Workshop Tour

The original railway workshops were built at Ipswich in 1864, close to the location of the first railway in Queensland. They soon became overcrowded and between 1884 and1888, new buildings were constructed about 1 km north of the original workshops. In 1900, construction of new railway workshops began on the current site. The original site ceased operation in 1907. In its heyday the workshop employed 3,000 people.

The  Workshops were also an important part of the Australian war effort during WWII, when it employed over 3,000 people on site. Some of the windows are still blackened out to protect these top secret operations.

The museum itself opened in 2002.

Miss checking out Sir Topham Hat

Miss checking out Sir Topham Hat

On this visit, there was a special Thomas the Tank Engine theme for the school holidays. Engines were dressed up as characters from the series and there was story telling with Sir Topham Hat (AKA the Fat Controller) as well as colouring-in and other activities. Our kids had outgrown Thomas this visit but have enjoyed it in the past.

There is a children’s play area at the back of the museum called the Nippers’ Railway. A “Nipper” was the youngest member of a railway gang. The nipper did odd jobs around the camp to help the men who built and maintained the railway line. The Nipper’s Railway has a play train track set up and the kids can sit in a wagon and an adult can push them around the track. There is also a train station, a railway crossing and signals. The kids can ride trikes around the track and wear safety vests and very much look the part of a railway ganger. There seems to be something new every time we visit but I have very fond memories of the kids dressing up as police and fire people. They have always had a wonderful time and it’s also been a chance for Geoff and I to relax while the kids wear themselves out. The Nippers’ Railway is my sentimental favourite.

The kids in the Nippers' Railway 2007

The kids in the Nippers’ Railway 2007

Miss driving in the Nippers' Railway play area in 2007 aged 1.

Miss driving in the Nippers’ Railway play area in 2007 aged 1.

Mister’s favourite is the model trains. He says they are fun to use and likes that “it’s actually about Queensland.” The model train layout is big and impressive. Naturally, it is set in Queensland and includes palm trees and Queenslander houses. Being from NSW, that also makes it more of a novelty.

Model Railway 2007

Model Railway 2007

There are a number of opportunities where you can pretend that you are actually driving the train using computer simulation programs. They are great fun.

Mist3er "driving " a train.

Mister “driving ” a train.

You can also go on guided tours of the operating workshops. There are two different tours available: Blacksmiths Shop Tour where you see a real modern blacksmith at work and the Steam Shop Tour where you’ll see real Queensland Rail workers maintaining and restoring trains from of the Queensland Rail heritage train fleet. You need to wear enclosed footwear on these tours.

Miss driving the train 2013

Miss driving the train 2013

My only reservation about going to the Workshops Railway Museum is allowing  enough time to really experience all the exhibits. If you have read my previous post, you will understand why an hour just isn’t long enough to satisfy a 3 year old boy or any other train enthusiast. There is so much to see and experience, I would strongly recommend going for the day or if you live locally, becoming a member. It is a particularly good way to keep little people happily occupied. We have always loved it!!

Anyway, we had a wonderful time and, of course, we wished you were here LOL!

Best wishes,

Rowena

Time to go home. 2010.

Time to go home… 2010.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blogger’s Block and the Ghost of Steam Engines Past.

Have you ever found that this blogging business is much more difficult than you’d ever imagined?

That when you just want to write a seemingly simple post, for some unknown reason, the words, the thoughts, the structure simply won’t come together?

I’m not talking about writer’s block. It’s not about staring at a blank page or an empty screen. There are words. There are ideas. You’re just not “in the flow”. All those thoughts, words and ideas won’t link up. They’re like random Lego bricks refusing to snap together.

That’s where I’m at.

I just wanted to post a simple postcard from the Workshops Railway Museum in Ipswich and yet it’s not coming together. I’ve been working on this post for a couple of days now and what I thought should have been a pretty basic exercise, has become an epic struggle.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Our family has been going to the train museum since 2007 and I thought I knew it pretty well. Moreover, I’m not trying to write anything that fancy…only a simple postcard. It should be Simple Simon… “Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here” and upload a couple of photos.  Yes, I know a blog post has to be a bit better than that but it’s not rocket science.

My problems all began with trying to write about the big, black steam engine out the front. As much as I love it, I couldn’t tell you what type of train it was or anything about its history. I don’t know what it was, how many wheels it has or whether they are big wheels or little wheels and what gauge of track it requires. It is simply the big, black engine. I can just vouch for the colour but if you were to tell me that it is green instead of black, I wouldn’t argue the point. I just remember photographing the kids on it and Geoff discussing its technical specifications (not that I can actually remember any of the details). I love the romance of steam trains and all the history but I am not technical!! I am really not technical.

Slowly but surely, the cause of my writing difficulties was coming to light. I was trying to write in my husband’s voice, instead of my own. You see, he is the train enthusiast, along with our son…not me. I don’t actually know much, if anything, about trains. I was trying to give a technical tour of the museum when clearly I’m not a technical person. I was trying to crawl inside my husband’s shoes, or more pertinently his head and it’s no wonder I couldn’t string everything together. There were too many gaps to fill in. I like trains and I love the train museum but I’m there taking photos and that is my love. I’m not into all that nitty gritty train stuff just like I have no idea what’s under the hood of my car.

So I’m going to give you my very own unique tour of the train museum and that involves a bit of a history of our visits to the museum, which all started off with a bit of a bang when our then 3 year old son threw the tantrum to end all tantrums and almost busted his boiler and mine along with it when we had to leave.

Almost heaven!

Almost heaven!

This is not an uncommon event at the train museum. You could just imagine what that place is to a little kid. They’re in heaven and their mean and nasty Mum or Dad is dragging them away…you’d be complaining too. Fortunately, the museum’s staff are very obliging and will turn things off to help you get out the door.

Captain Newton...the Captain lends Mister his real Qantas Captain's Hat.

Captain Newton…the Captain lends Mister his real Qantas Captain’s Hat.

At Sydney Airport before Take Off

At Sydney Airport before Take Off

We were in Ipswich to attend an official service to celebrate my grandfather’s 70th year of ordination. At 92 years of age, my grandfather was the second longest-serving minister in the Lutheran Church in Australia.  My father and I had a bit of time to fill in and decided to take Mister to the train museum. We were just planning to check it out and come back the next day if it was any good.

Train Driver

Train Driver

Well, Mister was happy beyond his wildest dreams and thought he had died and gone to train heaven!!! You could just imagine his delight when he was surrounded by huge big steam trains. His eyes were almost bursting out of their sockets and I can just imagine how he felt when all those magnificent steam trains suddenly came to life. He was beyond excitement. Moreover, there wasn’t just steam trains. There was also a huge model train track which totally dwarfed his little wooden train set back home. He was fixated watching the model trains and pressing all the buttons. For a little 3 year old boy who adored trains, this place was just superlative. He was happy beyond his wildest, wildest dreams!!

Then, it was time to go.

Now, I’m sure you can see it coming… the tantrum. Not just any tantrum either. Mister blew a boiler!

My Dad ended up carrying him out of the museum and he was still kicking, screaming and fighting with all his might to go back in when we finally managed to get him into the car. Even then, he absolutely refused to get into his car seat and he certainly gave fresh meaning to the power of persistence…

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Calvin Coolidge.

You know how these events work. The entire day is planned out with clockwork precision and meltdowns by toddlers aren’t factored into the schedule.

We were in big trouble.

The Cake

The Cake

Well, we managed to get there on time in the end but it was a lot of stress.

Looking at cards the next day with Papa Bert

Looking at cards the next day with Papa Bert

I laugh when I look back on it all now. You know how it is. The worst moments often make the best stories down the track.

We have all loved the train museum so much that we’ve had annual membership passes even though we live inter-state over 1000 kilometres away. We just make sure we stay for the best part of a day to keep everybody happy. There is so much to see and do!!

This still isn’t the postcard I’d intended to send from the train museum. That’s still to come. Perhaps, we’ll call this one the ghost of steam engines past.

One interesting little PS to this post.

Both children at the train museum.

Both children at the train museum.

I finally finished this post last night and then went hunting for the photos. They turned out to be quite an insight. You can’t just trust everything to memory. Our daughter was also in the photos.  Somehow, she had been omitted from the story. I had assumed that we had left her back at the house with my Mum but there she was in all the photos. Photos I had mentally attributed to a later visit. I also found photos of the technical details. Perhaps, they were for Geoff. He couldn’t get time off work for that visit and we had flown up with Mum. There is also a remote possibility that I was trying to educate myself on the technical aspects of trains, although that has to be pretty doubtful. Who knows? Memory is obviously an unreliable witness.

Taking care of his little sister.

Taking care of his little sister.