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Timeline – Growing Up in Australia

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Growing Up in Australia is a long term study, conducted in partnership between the Department of Social Services, the Australian Institute of Family Studies and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The study follows the development of 10,000 children and families across Australia. It tries to identify key contributors, such as social, economic and cultural environment, to children’s cognitive development and wellbeing. Since its inception of 2004, Growing Up in Australia has provided policy makers and researchers some very valuable statistics which further influenced government’s family legislations.

As early as 2003, not long after Skye’s birth, we were contacted by Growing Up in Australia to ask for the permission to be included in the study. Our cross-cultural marriage might be one of the reasons why our family was selected. We became one of the first families in Australia that joined this longitudinal study.

Last week, a new interviewer came to our house to conduct this year’s interview. The previous interviewer, as we were told, has retired. Looking at my husband and Skye, a wave of sadness suddenly rushed over. I realised how much my husband and I had aged, and how much Skye had grown up. Skye was in his baby rocker when the first interview was conducted. He was waving, kicking, and making all kinds of noises in excitement. Now he is over 160cm in height, a young man with a striking presence and great sense of humour.

Each of Growing Up in Australia interviews brings back memories: memories of the great anticipation of becoming a parent, memories of the birth of our first child, memories of the growing up journey of our children …

Easter 2003, my husband and I spent our last holiday at Byron Bay, as a couple, before the birth of our first child. We were anxiously waiting for the arrival of our son.

Byron Bay is a coastal town located close to the border of Queensland and New South Wales, two hours drive from Brisbane, a city where we lived at the time due to the re-location of my job. Byron’s artistic atmosphere and its well known alternative life style attract many tourists year after year.

After checking in the B&B, we went for a walk on the main street to enjoy some fresh air. All of a sudden, we saw a man running rapidly from the other side of the road towards us. The man was in his 50′s. Judging by his appearance, we gathered that he was one of those local hippies.

“Man, this boy, this boy,” he was pointing to my heavily pregnant belly and trying to grab his breath at the same time, “is going to be extraordinary! You are pregnant with a God.” His voice was full of excitement. “You must look after him! You must!”

He left just as quickly as he’d appeared after giving us an encouraging smile. I stood where I was, trying to comprehend what had happened. My husband put his arm around my shoulder.

“Please don’t take it too seriously. He might say it to every pregnant woman he sees.”
“How did he know it’s a boy? How did he know?” I was indeed shocked.

That scene, until today, resonates with me. I have never talked about this with anyone again, but I often recall that moment and wonder if there is something in this world that is pre-determined.

A few weeks later, after a difficult and prolonged labour, my beautiful boy Skye was born. He weighed close to 10 pounds. We could never forget the first look he gave us. His large and curious eyes stared straight at us. Then he started looking around the room as if he was checking things out. My husband fell in love with his son at the first sight.

Skye turned out to be a very healthy and happy baby. Before he was one month old, he was already sleeping through the night, 11 hours straight. During the day, apart from a decent nap, he was awake most of the time, and kept me entertained.

We never felt anything unusual about our first born. As new parents, we did not know any benchmark, and assumed all babies more or less behaved in the same way, and reached milestones at a similar pace.

One day, when Skye was one, my mother-in-law commented how extraordinary that Skye remembered a teddy he had lost at a supermarket six weeks earlier. Around the same time, he had learnt basic shapes and colours from reading two baby books.

The purchase of an interactive toy called “LeapFrog” was yet to uncover more of Skye’s self learning and discovery abilities. By 20 months, he was reading picture books with words at the bottom. He also had mastered numbers up to 100. Sooner after, he started doing sums. Years later, I asked him how he learnt reading by himself, his answer was simple, “from LeapFrog!” That was completely unexpected. I was also told that was the time Skye developed his Grapheme -> Colour synaesthesia. He associated letters and numbers he saw on LeapFrog with colours to help him remember and learn those new things. Some of the colour associations remained until today, but many have changed after his exposure to new experiences.

The arrival of our second boy Thomas was a reality check for us.

“This is green. The colour is green.” I was patiently teaching my two year old Thomas, a task I had never performed on Skye.
“Sweetheart, what colour is this?” I tested Thomas the next day.
“Blue, this is blue.” Thomas said in confidence.
I asked my husband if we should get Thomas’ vision checked.

Thomas was slow with learning colours. His strength was in numbers like Skye. When he was 2.5, he was also able to read a digital clock down to a minute, and calculate how many minutes left before his train would depart. But his real strength is people and negotiation skills.

“Mummy and Daddy, my brother has been a good boy, can you PLEASE please let him play computer games?” Our two year old was negotiating on his elder brother’s behalf, and our five year old was hiding behind his bedroom door pleased with his little brother’s performance.

“Why didn’t your brother come to talk to us himself? Who are you?” I was a bit annoyed.

“I am Skye’s manager.” Thomas certainly had received a big promotion from Skye who believed everything could be outsourced to his younger brother as long as he was capable.

It was not until later, we were told by some medical professions that our second born was actually normal, and our first born was not normal. Then our worries were reversed.

A sharp statement made by Thomas one day really summarised what the definition of “Normal” might be. We were dining at a restaurant close to Disneyland in Paris. Skye was thinking big things and doing something unusual again. My husband asked him why he could not be a bit more normal like Thomas. But then my husband looked at Thomas and commented with a sigh that Thomas was not particularly normal either. Thomas offered a brilliant explanation, “daddy, that’s because I am not as a genius as Skye, but I am probably still a genius myself.”

As the years go by, for my husband and me, each of those Growing Up in Australia interviews has become a checkpoint of our family life, our marriage, and our career. As we are getting elder, we appreciate more and more what our family life means to us, our children, parents and siblings. The true happiness is from within.

I have spent a long time to recollect some events happened years ago, and to re-appreciate some wisdom I learnt from my own children for this blog. I am writing to pay tribute to those families who have lost the loved ones, especially children, in the fatal MH17 flight. The rights of growing up were stolen from those children. Words cannot adequately describe how much I was affected by this tragedy……

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