Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Category Archives: Family

Congratulations to Nate

For those who haven’t seen, Nate’s daughter has arrived!

Are We Human? Or Are We Dancer?

So I was driving somewhere with my five-year-old son on Saturday night. The car paused at a stoplight long enough for him to look out the window at a large crowd of people, dressed for dancing and waiting for a tram to the city. Most were female, which caused my son to remark: “There are lots of women there.” And then, after a short pause: “And only one human.”

“Only one human?” I asked, guessing what he meant but wanting to make sure.

“Only one human – that guy,” he pointed.

“Only one man, you mean.”

“Only one human,” he insisted.

“No – the women are human too,” I found myself wondering how, exactly, I ended up needing to defend this point.

“No they aren’t!” he said in the tone he usually uses when I’m saying something deliberately absurd.

“Yes they are. ‘Human’ includes both men and women – it’s a bigger term than either.”

“Noooo…” he said, sceptical.

“Yes!” I said, with attempted enthusiasm.

He gave me a “taking it under advisement” look, but seems, on the whole, to remain unconvinced…

Intersecting Interests

There are certain kinds of family interactions that I sort of wonder: how often does this happen in other households?

My five-year old son has been playing tonight with some whiteboard markers and an eraser I brought home from university. A few minutes ago, he plonked his whiteboard down beside me and asked: “Mummy? Can you please draw me a Venn diagram?”

Uh… sure?

So I drew two circles with some overlapping space. Next question: “Do you like puppies?”

Uh… yes?

“I like puppies too! How do you draw a puppy?”

I drew a puppy – having been directed to a marginal space on the whiteboard, not close to the Venn diagram. My son then painstakingly drew a puppy inside the intersecting space. He proceeded to ask whether I liked other things. If I liked them, and he didn’t, they went into the non-intersecting bit of my circle alone. If he liked them, and I didn’t, they went into the non-intersecting bit of his circle.

We did have a conversation about Venn diagrams a few days ago. I just hadn’t been expecting that the concept would percolate, and come up again in quite this form…

Talking to Myself

I have been editing the introductory chapter of the thesis (I’ll put this online with the others soon). This morning, editing was taking place with my son bouncing up and down all around me on the couch, chanting various things, clambering up my back, and generally doing the sorts of things kids do when adults are visibly concentrating on other things. At some point, he plonked down beside me to read the text over my shoulder – out loud. This resulted in an extended period of having the text read out to me just as I typed it in, which… had a bit of a surreal effect on the editing process. At some point, he paused, confused, and asked: “Where is the other person?”

“What other person?” I asked, confused myself.

“Who are you talking to? Is it Jessica?” he wanted to know.

I suddenly realised he thought I was chatting with someone else online, and tried to explain, “No no – I’m not chatting with anyone. I’m writing. There’s no one else there.”

He mulled over this for a while, looking increasingly puzzled, and then, in an uncertain, quavering voice, slowly asked, “So… are you? Are you talking to yourself?”

Hmm… Good question…

Writing from Home

A very small sample of interactions with my son today: Read more of this post

Up the Water Spout

huntsman spider on toilet rollI’m one of those people who wanders around the house, obsessively turning lights off. My obsession competes with the opposing impulses of someone who, disliking things that go bump in the night, tends to leave them on. The delicate and ever-shifting balance of power in this ongoing conflict is currently being upset by a third party: a huntsman spider, who has chosen to share our toilet with us these past few days. It’s a selective creature: it hasn’t yet introduced itself to me. It’s apparently not quite as large as the creature in this photo – although it certainly looms large enough in the imaginations of members of the household. I somewhat suspect that, even once it is no longer with us, the ghost of its presence will continue to haunt our discussion over whether lights in disused portions of the house are best left on…

Making It Last

Like all young children, my son enjoys repetitious games. He’ll ask: “Again?” And then: “Again?” On and on until I finally announce a countdown – a number of times we can play the game, before we hit the final time, and then have to stop. Around this time last year, I mentioned on the blog the first moment when it began to occur to him that perhaps there might be some way to evade the dreaded “Last time!” decree. That effort didn’t work, but this initial failure was no reason to stop trying to circumvent the system… The current strategy involves waiting for the “Last time!” – and then making a break for it. So, we might be playing ball, for example, and get to the last toss – and, instead of actually taking his “last time”, he’ll run off with the ball and shut himself in a room.

This doesn’t, however, mean that the adult with whom he’s been playing is free to go off and leave the game unfinished. If my son walks out, and – as normally happens – finds the adult has given up after a few minutes, and wandered off to do something else, this is the occasion for tears and indignation: “I want my last time!!!” So back to the game he and the adult will go, preparing for the final ball toss. But once again he makes a break for it, and ends up hiding with the ball in his room.

The desire, apparently, is that the moment should be frozen – the game must last forever – eternally suspended, hanging incomplete – as long as my son doesn’t effect the “last time” by enacting his side of the event.


One of the nice things about living and working centrally in Melbourne, is that you rarely really need a car. Read more of this post

Some Lesser-Known Benefits of Higher Education

I just dropped my son off at his childcare centre, and had a nice conversation with the woman who heads the teaching team in his room. I’m very happy with the centre and the staff – not least because they’ve dealt extremely well my son’s rather… non-institutional personality, allowing him an unusual amount of flexibility to drift around within their schedules and routines. Their tolerance is paired, though, with a fair amount of bemusement, and it’s not unusual for staff to pull me aside to share stories about my son’s strange combination of politeness and intractability (I’ve overheard staff joking with one another, describing the phrase “no thank you” as “classic Lyle”). He seems to be perceived as having a positive temperament, but staff seem genuinely puzzled, given this, by his desire to go off and do his own thing – as though politeness ought to correlate with instant compliance or desire for conformity… Thus is the stuff of parent-teacher conferences made…

This morning, the familiar conversation around these things took an unexpected turn: “So… what’s your son’s sign?”

Thinking I must have misheard: “His… what?”

“His astrological sign?”

“Uh… I have no idea…”

“That’s okay – what’s his birthdate?” I provided this, and then received his sign in return. I tend to respond to this kind of thing with a sort of extreme blankness, which for me signifies that I don’t really want to get into a discussion with someone about what they’ve just said, as I’m concerned that they’d find my reaction offensive, and I don’t think the issue is important enough to justify providing offence. This blank reaction, though, is often interpreted in strange ways by other people. In this case, the interpretation, apparently, was that I was struck speechless by how impressive it should be that they should be able to deduce the sign from the birth date. They blushed, and then tried to reassure, “I know – don’t worry – I can only do this because I studied it at university. Helps me with understanding the kids’ personalities.” I’m not sure I find this reassuring…

(Just a side point, from an immigrant’s perspective: astrology and other forms of new age spirituality or practice (often in instrumentalised form, as practice of manipulation or at least prediction of external events) come up startlingly often, in my experience, in professional settings in Melbourne. Every workplace I’ve been in here – the university is no exception – has quite casual, apparently sincere, discussion around new age themes, often by people who are quite scathing in their opinions of mainstream religion. And I’m not just talking about watercooler discussion or chats over coffee – I’m talking about discussion introduced into staff meetings or other formal contexts. Not that everyone or even the majority of people in a workplace participate – but there is no visible public disapprobation to airing these perspectives in a professional setting. I don’t know that I have a question here – more a sort of expression of… anthropological curiosity: what gives? What’s with the strange combination of reflexive scepticism toward older, established faiths, and the receptivity to demonstrably rather recent new age beliefs? Or have I just had profoundly atypical experiences, leading to a kind of strange new age bias in my selection of workplaces?)

When I Upgrade, I Want to Be…

I’ve been doing a lot of writing recently, mostly on a laptop that I cart around and perch precariously on my knees while I sit in various ergonomically-dubious positions. Today, my son walked up, wanting to sit on my lap. He expressed this by saying: “Could I be a laptop now, please?”

ouch, ouch, ouch…