Tuesday, February 26, 2008


F is on the front page of this week's local paper with a big fat photo and his name in the headline.

It's a story about the petition he's written and is collecting signatures for against the dredging of Port Phillip Bay.

I'm so proud ... and chuffed ... my boy, eight and a half years old.

UPDATE: Here's the online version, which is slightly shorter, but I'm too lazy to retype and I can't cut-and-paste the full version. (Not too lazy to edit out our names though - though if you live locally, you only need to look at your paper to see the real deal. Hello Helen!)

Headline: 'F'S PLEA'

F, 8, is one of many Yarraville residents angry about the dredging.

AN eight-year-old has taken aim at John Brumby over the Premier's support for the dredging of Port Phillip Bay.

In a show of passion, K Primary School student F was involved in a verbal stoush in his school playground over the dredging.

"I feel strongly about it because I have this friend and he told me about the dredging and how it would make us richer," F said with much aplomb.

"He's for it and really happy about it so I was feeling so angry with him."

Instead of forgetting about the conversation, F decided he wanted to take action.

He wrote the petition himself and started collecting signatures after his mother, Ariel, suggested it,

"I decided to ask mum for advice so she came up with the petition idea," he said.

F has visited shops in Anderson St and attended the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group protest against the dredging last Wednesday.

The Yarraville boy said he was against dredging because it would damage the bay and force more trucks down Yarraville streets.

His petition says "John Brumby should know better" and "The environment is way more important than money!".

Western Metropolitan MLC Colleen Hartland was so impressed with F's petition, she has agreed to table it to Parliament.

F was happy to hear Ms Hartland would table his petition.

"That makes me feel very proud of myself for listening to my mum," he said. "I did the right thing and it makes me feel a bit happy with (my friend) for telling me about the dredging."

As for the playground rivalry, Ms Ariel said F's friend had started his own petition in favour of the dredging and they were both vying for their other friends' signatures.

"It's funny, I hadn't thought too hard about the dredging before F started talking about it," Ms Ariel said.

"But this has inspired my husband and me to find out more about it, which is great. And it's fantastic to see kids getting politically involved in something they believe in."

Mr Brumby said last month Melbourne would become a "backwater" if the dredging did not occur.

He said the State Government had spent two years putting in place the most stringent environmental safeguards to dredge in a way that caused the least damage.

Mr Brumby said channel deepening was about jobs and economic security for the future of Melbourne and Victoria.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hypothetical trauma

F: Mum, what do you think would be worse? If you fell onto the train tracks and hit your head BUT there were no trains coming for two hours ... OR ... If you were hit by a car but it didn't squash you?

Me: Well, which would hurt more? How badly would I be hit?

F: You wouldn't get hit AT ALL! The car would just sort of roll right OVER YOU.

Me: Oh. Well I guess I'd take the car.

F: Oh no, for me that's easy. It's THE TRAIN! I mean, there's no other one coming for TWO HOURS. So there's no way you'll get hit.

Me: Well, I thought, if you hit your head on the tracks, what if that knocks you unconscious and you're unconscious for the next two hours and then the train hits you anyway?

F pauses, thinking it over. 'I hadn't thought of THAT,' he says. 'You're right, I'd rather get hit by the car.'

Friday, February 01, 2008

Back to school

Wednesday morning began with a face-splitting grin by my bedside.
'Mum, can I make my lunch?'
'I made it. It's on the counter.'
'Wow! You're so good.'
Seconds later: running feet. A small voice interrupting my half-sleep.
'Mum! I can't find it! It's GONE.'
'I think it's under a tea towel.'
I close my eyes. It's 7am.
A few minutes pass before the voice materialises again, bursting with excitement.
'Maybe I should be the Mum, huh?'

My eyes snap open. He's holding a transparent microwave container: a bread roll, crackers, an apple and a carrot inside. The Husband stirs at my side.
'No!' he mutters. 'That's my container.'
I drag myself out of bed as F disappears again, his dejected voice floating back down the hallway.
'Well, I CAN'T take my lunch in a plastic bag. What if I get teased?'

It's The Husband who finds a spare lunchbox on the top shelf of the cupboard (F lost the lid of his old one last year and somehow I haven't thought to replace it until now). F eats his Nutri Grain quickly, perfunctorily. His schoolbag is packed with the diary I've bought him and a few exercise books he has used to write stories and draw cartoons in the holidays.
'I have schoolbooks already! See?'
The Husband pumps up F's Christmas footy, still in its plastic wrapper, for playtime. (The good one, the Sherrin, is for home, he reminds us.)

On our bikes, out on the footpath, F's excitement dissolves a little.
'I'm nervous' he tells me. He elaborates on the ride down the main road, over the crossing and through the park. 'It's a new teacher. I don't know how far I can go.'
'What do you mean?'
'I don't know with rules of the classroom yet. What if I break one without knowing it?'
'I think you'll be fine. The teacher will tell you the rules. And you pretty much know them anyway. Don't talk while the teacher is talking. Don't get up and walk around the classroom when you're supposed to be doing your work. Don't be a smart-mouth. Don't talk back. Do what you're asked. Do those things and you'll be fine.'

At the end of the park, the bottom of the street the school is on, he dismounts to walk his bike up the hill. He leans close to me and murmurs more misgivings, softly, so no one passing can hear.
'I have to fit in. I have to blend in. I have Asperger's, you know?'
My heart breaks a little, just a hairline crack.
'I might be too smart.'
I laugh.
'Asperger's isn't just about being smart, you know. It's also about learning the rules of how to behave. The way your mind works. You just have to think about it a litle more. But you're doing that. You should be fine.'
He thinks about this.
'Think of it this way. You're not alone, you know. You have a silent partner at school with you. If you're unsure of anything, if you have any problems, if you have any worries about your teacher or the other kids, come talk to me and we can sort it out together. I'm your silent partner.'
I don't think about this in advance; it just comes out. To my surprise, it works.
'You know,' he says, 'that makes me feel a bit better.'
And he gets back on the bike and cycles across the road to our final stretch of footpath.

At school, we wander the schoolyard a little after putting our bikes away. Familiar kids pass by and F greets them lustily: 'WHOSE CLASS ARE YOU IN?' One of them, a new and tenuous friend from the end of last year, is in his class. He forgot. The boys beam at each other before moving on, each rushing in separate directions.

He shows me his classroom before the bell goes for morning assembly. The door is open and F strides right in. The teacher is standing at the whiteboard.
'Hello!' he greets us. I apologise for intruding and he smiles back at us, waving away my apology. He watches benevolently as F circles the room, scouting for the best desk, then waves us goodbye as I lure F back into the courtyard. It's a good sign. Last year's teacher would have shooed us away in record time.

F is one of the last kids into the assembly hall. He looks about anxiously, clutching my hand tight in his. 'Where's my teacher? I can't find him!' Last year's teacher's aide approaches us and bends to talk to F.
'Hi F! I think you're going to have a great year.' I wonder if she is alluding to his change of teacher. F frowns back at her.
'I haven't made a very good start,' he mutters, his voice wobbling, just a micro-amount.
'You've made an excellent start! You're here. Who's your teacher? Okay, he's over here. See? Fine.'
I step back, relieved. I am still holding F's library bag, with last year's overdue books. I'll have to wait out te assembly and catch him on hi way to his classroom.

Ten minutes later, F is second in line when his class troops out of the hall and past me, where I stand, banished, on the fringe of the other parents. His buddy L sees me first and waves.
'Mum!' He reaches out and hugs me tight, surprising me. Last year, he was past the stage of public affection. I am both delighted and slightly afraid for him. I pass him the library bag, squeeze him back and urge him to march on with the others. He holds onto my hand for a few seconds that seem more like hours, a beseeching look in his eyes, then turns and carries on. I watch his retreating back with tears in my eyes.

And he's eight years old. My eyes were dry on his first day ever. What's happening to me?


At the end of the day, he runs into my arms, but he is smiling and full of news of his fantastic new teacher and what he did in the playground.

Two weeks on, I'm still getting my hugs. And I'm still both pleased and wary.