Our first grandchild was born a couple of weeks ago.
It was not only the first grandchild on both sides of the family, but the first great-grandchild for all great-grandparents.
She is so calm and quiet when we are around although the parents have had some sleepless nights. She squawks a bit on the change table but then sees something on the wall and stops crying even though she has no clothes on. She has not inherited her grandmother’s loud voice!
Last weekend Hubble and I were on grandparent duty looking after her in the hospital waiting room while her mother was sleeping. I have nothing much to report as the baby just slept and woke every four hours for a feed, then slept. What an ideal first baby!
Many things have not changed since our children were born in the 1990s. The hoo-ha around birth is the same as ever. Parents and grandparents still think their baby is the most gorgeous baby they have seen. The plastic cribs new-born babies are kept in are the same, as are the flannel gowns with ties on the back that hospitals provide for newborns. The nappy fold for newborn babies still seems to be the ideal fold. While my brain could not quite remember it, my hands automatically did it when I relied on muscle memory.
Mothers still have ultrasounds – albeit better resolution and at different stages of pregnancy. There has been progress on finding the causes of sudden infant death syndrome. They seem to have settled on placing babies on their backs when in the cot.
Some things are deteriorating. Sadly, hospitals are now contributing to our ever-expanding landfill because they no longer provide a cloth nappy and laundry service for new-born babies so parents end up using disposable nappies. Food for breast-feeding mothers in public hospitals is ridiculously meagre. My daughter counted five pieces of penne pasta in her ‘dinner’. Rice and cous cous are regarded by the hospital as vegetables – and only one ‘vegetable’ is allowed in a meal. So much for the dietary guidance of the National Health and Medical Research Council. Even hospitals don’t follow it.
At any rate we stepped in and ensured she had enough to eat.
Other aspects of life have changed profoundly. Now, parents need to develop a social media policy ready for the birth. How much do you want disclosed on Facebook? What should you do to protect the baby’s privacy?
When our children were born I kept the newspaper of the day as a memento, but hard copy newspapers are such a minor thing nowadays I didn’t bother. Now grandparents like us get their news off social media and websites. We blog, tweet and use Facebook (although I use Facebook reluctantly).
A blog can be many things including a personally curated news summary. So this post was intended as a twenty-first century version of recording the news in brief for the first week of our grand-daughter’s life. However, as I started writing it became a litany of the world’s woes. Those newspapers we kept when our children were born would have been similar.
I have found it quite confronting writing this with the image of our grand-daughter as a baby in my mind. One day she will be grown up and mature enough to read about the history of the times she was born in, but I can’t bring myself to write about it for someone who I see as a baby now.
I have drawn up this compendium in part by referring back to my tweets of the last couple of weeks. I find that Twitter is great for helping me hear about things that might not be publicised in Australia, as well as an opportunity to contribute news that my network may not be aware of. My tweeting policy is to focus on those news items which will alert people to injustices and that by sharing will raise awareness and therefore help all of us to treat people more fairly. I also tweet news that contributes knowledge that will help improve the world. I avoid the daily grind of political barbs. Life is too short to be weighed down by that.
So while the following news briefs discuss some of the dreadful things that are occurring in the world, each item also includes a gleam of hope.
News in Our Granddaughter’s Momentous Week
The plight of the growing number of refugees from the war in Syria was headline news around the world and keenly discussed on social media. At the moment the focus is on Europe where in July alone over 100,000 refugees arrived after perilous journeys from their war-torn countries. Thousands have died in travel across the Mediterranean on rickety, over-crowded boats. Others have died after being suffocated in the back of trucks. The world was horrified at recent discovery of 71 dead refugees in an abandoned truck on the side of the road in Austria. Last week that horror changed into demands to do something when the world saw the photo of the body of a three-year old Syrian refugee, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.
That photo seems to have finally galvanised the western world into action. German Prime Minister, Angela Merkel is showing leadership in her country by loudly and unequivocally welcoming refugees. Europeans are using social media to offer their homes and other assistance to refugees. In some countries politicians are being led by the surge of public sympathy for refugees and implementing a few positive changes to previously restrictive policies against refugees.
As Janine Rizzetti noted on her blog, the refugee problem is complex. This week the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Migration and Development (what a mouthful!), Peter Sutherland, pointed out that refugees are the responsibility of the entire world, not just those countries which are closest to the wars and persecution which produces refugees.
It is telling that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) have titled their summary of the refugee situation in 2014, ‘World at War’. War and persecution are at the root of the world’s misery. The entire world bears the burden of wars and severe persecution in a few regions. In 2014 three countries were the source of over half the world’s refugees. There were nearly four million Syrian refugees, two and a half million from Afghanistan and one million from Somalia.
More than half of the world’s refugees are children. In the Middle East the UNHCR reports that around 700,000 Syrian children are not attending school. In Lebanon 70% of Syrian refugees are living below the poverty line and 86% of refugees are in a similar situation in Jordan. The UNHCR has had to reduce their food aid to refugees in these countries this year due to lack of funds.
In writing this I reflect on the birth of our granddaughter. It was not an act of good management or skill on her part that led to her being born in Melbourne to Australian citizens. It was simply chance that she has been blessed with this good fortune. She will receive greater care than Aylan Kurdi, simply because she happened to be born in the right place to parents with the right status.
If she is ever in difficulty I would want her to be cared for by strangers wherever she happens to be in the world, just as her refugee father and great-grandfather were cared for in Australia. Likewise, I want all the children in the world who are in need to be cared for. I live in one of the wealthiest countries on earth. It is fair that I should share the bounty which I have received through an accident of birth.
Refugees are my people no matter where they live or how they are brought up.
There is another gleam of hope that is occurring in Sydney. The Sydney Sacred Music Festival started in the week that our grand-daughter was born and will continue until 20th September. The program includes music from the diverse peoples and religions of the world. Fellow blogger, Katherine Knight has written about a number of performances in western Sydney. A choir of singers from all over Australia as well as New Zealand, Germany and the United States performed at the Sydney Baha’i Temple. They sang in seven languages including the language of the Wurundjeri people of central Victoria, Hindi, Maori, Persian and Arabic as well as English. I am looking forward to hearing the recording of this performance on the ABC Radio National program, The Rhythm Divine, this Sunday at 1:30pm. Have a look at the website of the Sydney Sacred Music Festival for videos of Festival performances.
The Sydney Sacred Music Festival highlights the fact that our lives are enriched by living with people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds. This is just one of many examples of multicultural harmony in Australia. There are just too many examples of people from different cultural backgrounds working together in harmony to argue that people of different backgrounds cannot live together. With a bit of effort and goodwill it can be done.
Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick finished her term at the Australian Commission of Human Rights recently. During her term the national paid parental scheme was implemented. I am glad that our grand-daughter’s parents will be able to focus on their daughter’s well-being in her early months without the worry over finances and job security that we had.
A working group of the NSW Bar Association has proposed a scheme to address the barriers preventing women barristers from achieving the same successes as their male counterparts. This is just one of a number of professions where the prospects of women are significantly lower than for men. Women have been working in information technology since the nineteenth century. Our baby’s great-grandmother was a professional computer programmer. Yet women have struggled to participate on equal footing in the information technology sector today. I have become more optimistic this year as increasingly I can see that the IT industry are conscious that there is an issue and there are a few projects to address it. I would like to see a lot more done to address this issue in schools and homes where the negative stereotype about girls and computers is developed.
Elizabeth Broderick said wished she could have done more about the domestic violence issue. I never, ever expected to reach my half century and find the rate of violence against women would be as high as it is in Australia. As I was writing this post three women and two children were murdered by men in their families and other women survived awful attacks by their partners. But among the horrifying news each week about this violence, there is a gleam of hope.
Men are stepping up to try to change a culture that allows this. What better way to address this than through those crucibles of popular male culture in Australia – football clubs. It is good to see the video from the Yarra Valley Mountain District Football and Netball League with footballers declaring their abhorrence of domestic violence. “We as men need to stand up and be accountable”, they said. “The only acceptable number of deaths from domestic violence is zero.”
It is a simple idea but the act of discussing the idea for the video, scripting it and getting men to stand in front of the camera would have required a great deal of discussion among men about the issue.
They are right – women’s issues are men’s issues. Nothing is going to change unless men own the issue and take action.
Every day there are a lot of small-scale good acts which improve lives for others. The Pavement Bookworm, Philani Dladla of Johannesburg in South Africa is one such person. He worked his way out of drug addiction through selling books on the street and is encouraging literacy in children through his Book Reader’s Club in a local park.
Then there are always novelty news items which capture the imagination of people and get coverage that is probably way out of proportion to the true significance of the event. Recently a sheep with a massively overgrown fleece was spotted near Canberra. It is not known who owns the sheep, but it was affectionately named Chris by its rescuers. The world followed the story of Chris the sheep while over forty kilograms of wool was shorn from it – an unofficial world record. The finder of the sheep said that this was an issue of animal welfare, not records, and described the world-wide attention as ‘bizarre’.
There is a lot of good stuff happening but the awful things tend to have more drama and hence attract more coverage than the masses of people who through billions of small acts are building a better world. We need to maintain perspective by noting the positive changes and recognising that the horrifying events signal the bankruptcy of harmful behaviours. Eventually we will learn to cast off that which brings us down, and devise better ways. Unfortunately we seem to go about improving the world the hard and slow way.
I have shrugged off the despair I had when I started writing this news in brief. Our new grand-daughter has helped me work harder to find a more balanced perspective of the state of the world.
She is a gleam of hope.