Family outing

What happens when you take four boys to Ikea.


Yesterday afternoon we bundled all four boys into the Berry Bus and went for an outing to Ikea. This was due to a somewhat impulsive decision of mine that the state of chaos in the little boys’ room was no longer tolerable and we had to bring my solution to fruition. Why yes, it does involve an expedit shelving unit, what of it?

Let’s just take a moment there shall we. Afternoon traffic, check. All four children, check. Ikea. CHECK. Chef’s been feeling pretty blue of late so you can imagine what a salve this was for his soul.

On arrival everyone was issued with a pencil. Compulsory. And then, as they say, it was on. Felix instigated a game where he would call the name/colour of a lounge and then the first brother to the seat won. He’d keep a tally on one of the pieces of paper you’re meant to write the aisle and shelf of your desired product. You know the one, where you work it all out, write it all down, get to the warehouse bit to discover an empty shelf. Of course he didn’t just keep a tab on victories, there were categories for LOSER and CHEATER. Good times.

Oscar was dawdling as is his want so this was really none of his concern. That left Jasper and Grover, two peas in a pod when it comes to character allocations of competitiveness and the need to win. Grover, who’d actually fallen asleep in the car (unheard of) was too tired and emotional for such shenanigans and it only took ONE round of this game for him to be in tears and on a hate vendetta against Felix.

Let me just reiterate that this all transpired in the lounge section where you’re so barely over the threshold you can still breath air from the outside world.

The crying and sibling hating carried on for most of the progress through the Ikea Interminable Maze of Organised Hell. In fact, the only thing that really caused its cessation was the world of jumbo trolleys in the warehouse. Of course then, engaged in activity that could possibly end in pain or being maimed, they were as thick as thieves.

We managed to avoid the cafeteria – I don’t care what you say, those meatballs are nasty – and ended the whole experience with dumplings, which we all know make everything better.




We’re two weeks in to a rather substantial punishment for one of the boys. I guess I should protect the guilty so let’s just say his name rhymes with helix. No phone, no laptop, no xbox for a month. A month.

Granted, I meted out that teenage death sentence in the heat of the incident but I am still of the belief it is fair for the crime. Every now and then my cold dead heart melts a little and I consider shortening the sentence but then he asks for his laptop back and my steely resolve is shored up once more.

I know the length is appropriate because last week one of his wails on not getting his laptop back was “I didn’t even hit him that hard”. He’s lucky I didn’t add another week for that one.

The weekday evening moping is deliciously excruciating involving a lot of lolling about on the lounge or the floor wrapped up in a blanket personifying misery.

But here’s the kicker, it’s SO NICE having him back when I didn’t even realise he was gone. We hang out on the lounge, tonight has been a relentless campaign on who can get in a tickle before the other one flees or, in my case, wets their pants in hysterics. There’s discussions about politics, about what he’s learning in science at school, about STUFF.

There’s two long weeks to go and I’m quite sure this week will be as hellish as the last with moaning and wailing but there’s a perverse pleasure in that anyway.


On raising boys

Every now and then an article appears which speaks sense. Which leaves all the theatrics and gross generalisations at the door and says something you hope every parent of every boy reads. This was in today’s SMH. I’m reprinting it below because it’s good.

And look, if that’s not your style then go check out these pics of awesome specimens of men in peak physical condition from today’s AFL Grand Final. I was a tad devastated for St Kilda, I think after winning 20 from 22 games all season they had earned their stripes to take home the major prize. And I think Nick Riewoldt is hot. And that hotness is only exacerbated by the reality of his leadership skills, work ethic (the guy warms up for something like 2 hours before the game and still gets so nervous he spews) and passion for the game. I’ll stop now. *Cougar alert Code RED*

The fear is boys who will be boys forever

Tim Hawkes

September 26, 2009

A girl looking for a boy to love is not always turned on by a bulging biceps or a washboard stomach. She is more likely to be attracted by a gooey mass of crinkled jelly at the front of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex. This may come as a disappointment to some boys, particularly those relying on their biceps and washboard stomachs.

It might also become a disappointment to be told the PFC tends to develop more slowly in boys than in girls, and may not fully mature until a male is at least 20 years old. No amount of “how-can-they-resist-me” gel to the hair or compelling man-fragrance on the chin can make up for an underdeveloped or damaged PFC. It is the seat of many of the qualities that turn a stupid boy into a mature man.

As often as not, the sort of thing that wrecks marriages and destroys romances is selfishness, poor self-control and thoughtlessness. The part of the brain that contributes most significantly to the presence or absence of these qualities is the PFC.

For some boys it is a “pretty fantastic centre” of the brain which contributes to their reputation for good judgment and being particularly fine company. In others, it is a “positively foul centre” which contributes to their reputation for high-risk actions, poor social skills and immature behaviour.

The health of the brain is also of interest to employers, not renowned for tolerating high-risk or unco-operative behaviour. The penalty paid for a poorly developed PFC can be considerable; they may be unlucky not only in love but in wealth.

Quite literally, some boys are becoming mindless. Their lifestyles will damage their neural pathways, resulting in fewer connections in the brain and a reduced efficiency in its operation. The mindless brain is typically consumed with wanting “experiences” and is preoccupied with the here and now. The mindful brain is typically consumed with wanting meaning and is preoccupied with thinking. The one is infantile and the other is adult.

The cry emanating from exasperated parents and disappointed partners of wanting a boy “to grow up” is a medical diagnosis of brain malfunction. It can be the result of high-risk behaviours which can lead to a pruning of the brain. The result is a denuded mind.

The brain has a remarkable capacity to grow or shrink depending on whether it is used. If a boy wishes to engage in experiences which blow his mind, he will succeed in more ways than one. Thrill seeking, binge drinking, drug taking and overeating will damage the brain and render it less effective in guiding its owner towards mature behaviour. A childish state can result: a man trapped as a boy.

For a brain to be kept healthy and functionally efficient, it needs to be exercised and kept free of bumps, drugs and too many baths of dopamine. Dopamine is an addictive chemical, much like cocaine, which is released in the brain when the body engages in thrill-seeking “fight or flight” behaviours.

Getting high on adventure is a literal truth in the lives of some boys. The high can also come from drugs, drink, sex, food and dangerous activities. Reward-seeking activities are fuelled by dopamine so they are craved time and time again. The price paid can be the development of an infantile brain.

Evidence suggests a significant engagement with video games, social networking and TV can also promote an infantile brain. A gamer’s world is characteristically filled with violence without empathy, behaviours without consequences. Little wonder these qualities become learned and transferred to the real world. The gamer is bombarded with images, sound, and compelling action.

How can a teacher compete? Armed with only a whiteboard marker, the teacher is no match for the visual armoury of the computer screen. Small wonder that the number of boys being treated for attention deficit disorder is growing dramatically. The battle of the real world against the virtual world is being lost.

It is easy to sensationalise this thesis just as it is easy to dismiss it. The truth lies somewhere in between and requires a boy to counteract those activities which have little meaning with activities that have great meaning. How many boys have a worthy cause, a charity, a calling in their life as well as a computer, mobile phone and television?

The most frightening situation occurs when there is an accumulation of brain-deadening behaviours. It is difficult to believe an under-exercised, jelly-bellied video gamer, with an affection for junk food and late nights, is going to survive childhood without being mentally damaged.

We need to be concerned about the possibility of a brain-damaged generation of children. To this add a desensitising to violence (by the age of 18 a boy will have watched about 20,000 murders), a premature sexualising (12- to 22-year-old males are the biggest users of sex-chat lines), and exhaustion due to social networking (peak use of teenage networking is just after midnight).

There must be a renewed urgency to ensuring our sons are readers of books as well as watchers of screens. They must eat well, exercise, sleep and be given experiences beyond the trivial. To fail in this is to condemn boys to perpetual boyhood.

Tim Hawkes is headmaster of The King’s School, Parramatta.

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