Programming Tells, Intercultural Relations and Picking Husbands.

The last few weeks have been rough, but perhaps necessary. I have found the process of venting to an invisible listener helpful but not without its own issues. Over the last couple of days I have been feeling slightly vulnerable and overexposed. I have also been questioning my own sanity and validity and needing to work hard to remind myself that I am not insane or worthless. Someone much wiser than me suggested that I make a list of things that I think I do well. This is what I have so far.

Things I do incredibly well.

Studying. On a good day I have to admit that I have been a very good student. On a bad day I have to admit that I have been clever enough to convince everybody that I am a good student. If it is the latter, I still think the fact that I’ve managed to fool some of the brightest academic minds is pretty impressive.

Picking husbands. Ok so the pluralisation of that statement seems a little self-defeating I know, even I am laughing a little, but let me explain. I met my first husband when I was 19. We were doomed to fail from the start but we made a go of it for almost 10 years. Aside from the fact that I probably should never have married him in the first place, it was kind of ok. We really enjoyed each other’s company, had two children and parented very well together. He wasn’t abusive or mean, and up until the end things were peaceful and nice. My next and current partner (technically not yet married but details, details) shares many of my ex’s good traits, but if I had to choose only one word to describe them both, it would be KIND. Either of them would help anyone and everyone if they could. They are also both loving, caring and attentive fathers. Between the three of us, our kids have received so much love, support and parenting, that it can’t help but show. We have worked through all the crap and manage to have a friendly, civil relationship where we parent like a team. We have had birthday dinners and BBQs, and most years we all spend Christmas together. It hasn’t always been easy but we have made it work. I think that if it wasn’t for the extraordinary kindness and compassion of both of these men, my children would have missed out on feeling like they had a unified family. Things could have been so different for my children so easily, and given my history I think that it is kind of amazing that I didn’t end up in really abusive relationships.

Making the most of limited resources. By first-world standards I’m poor. Student poor. Student with three kids and a partner on minimum wage poor. It’s not easy but I think I have managed to give my children a good life. One of things that has always been beyond our means though, is traveling, and we have never taken a family holiday together. It makes me a little sad. I want my children to feel like they are part of a bigger world than just what I can show them here. I think travelling is good for the soul and for humanity and I don’t want my children to think that the world stops at their doorstop or with their perspective. So because I wasn’t able to travel with the kids, I brought the travelling to them. Around 10 years ago now, we opened our house to overseas guests, families that wanted to come to Australia, learn about the culture and practice their English. This has been one of the most rewarding decisions I have ever made. We have all gained so much out of it and we even found a new family.

One of the first families that came to stay was a woman from Japan with her two little girls, 5 and 1 years old. They lived with us for three months over the Christmas period. Despite not speaking the same language it only took a couple of moments for the children to become best friends, and to say that the mum and I shared a connection would be an understatement. The children (and the rest of us) learnt so much about communication, understanding, and patience, it was so beautiful to watch. Together as a big blended family, we just worked. Since then, the same family has returned every single year (except for one, but one year they came twice so that makes up for it) so we can spend time together. On a few occasions her husband has been able to come too. Our oldest kids are now teenagers, and despite still having very limited language between them, they are like cousins. The Mum and I have become sisters. Whatever we are doing together, there is constant laughter. I just love them. I love them all.

A couple of years ago, my middle son who must have been around 10 or 11 at the time, was having a problem. His birthday was coming up and I had agreed to let him have 6 friends come round for a party and water balloon fight. He had already chosen the friends he wanted to come, but as he informed me, was now facing the dilemma of needing taking one of his friends off the list and didn’t know which one to choose. When I asked him why, he explained to me that a new boy had started in his class and he wanted to invite him instead. This new kid had just moved to the country and didn’t speak any English yet. My son was concerned that he might be feeling nervous, shy, and left out, and he thought that if he invited him to the party he could feel properly included because you don’t need a common language in order to have fun pelting someone with water balloons. My heart just burst at his empathy and compassion. Needless to say, he ended up with 7 boys coming round for the party.

Handling my children. There are a million things that I could do better, but every so often I come up with a nugget of pure parental genius. One of my most devious but absolutely brilliant techniques has been to deliberately give my children a tell: I now know when they are lying even before they do. Now I’m going to tell you how I have done this, but first you must promise not to misuse this new power. This kind of devious manipulation is not for the faint-hearted or inconsistent parent. I know that somewhere out there, someone will say “but it’s wrong to lie to your children like that!” To them I say: Oh puh-lease. Last Christmas, I told my 4 year old that he had to go bed nicely because Santa was watching. Soon the tooth fairy will be starting to visit and I will be telling my son that she doesn’t visit messy bedrooms, so go put your toys away. The only difference with this trick is that it’s a long con.

So, timing is everything. You are going to need a child of around the age of two, and then you need to wait until you catch your child in a blatant lie. It MUST be so obvious, and you need to know with absolute certainty that they are lying, like when you ask them if they ate the chocolate biscuits and they reply with their gorgeous little chocolate-covered faces, no mummy. Or when you ask them, did you paint all over these walls? And they cutely reply with full conviction, ‘no mummy. It was the cat. I saw her do it’, while they try and hide the paintbrush behind their back.

At this point you say to them, show me your thumbs. Stare at their thumbs for a moment, tell them you now know that they are lying, and then continue with your parenting. Repeat this trick every time you catch them in an obvious lie and soon they will be walking off into time-out, staring at their thumbs and wondering what it is that gives their lie away. As they get older and start to ask, but “how do you know?” tell them it is a little bit like how the police use fingerprints, but this is an old family secret handed down from generation to generation on the day someone becomes a parent, and one day they will possess the power also. Before you know it they will be coming at you with hands wide open when it’s the truth, and hiding their hands behind their back when it’s not. Of course, just as it is with Santa and the Easter Bunny, it’s not going to be too long before they cotton-on and realize that they have been fooled, but I swear that to this day, my teenagers still tuck their thumbs in when their have something to hide. Lets hope none of my children ever hope to become professional poker players.

Impostor Syndrome

The writing of my first university assignment was a traumatic event. It was 1000 words of pure hellish agonising torture, with alternating episodes of dramatic wailing and pitiful sobbing in front of my computer screen.

I was convinced that this assignment would reveal my inability to go any further with the degree, and as a result I would be taken aside and quietly asked to leave. Now I know that that seems a little melodramatic, but there were good reasons that I doubted myself. The last year of high school I completed was year 9. In my favourite high school subject – and incidentally the one that I was now pursuing in uni – I received a final grade of only 17 and a half percent. I applied for uni as a mature-age, full-fee-paying student, and during my application interview I literally begged. They kind of had to let me in. Now that I was in, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was terrified and completely intimidated by the aloof and relaxed faces of my classmates who seemed in no way daunted by the task ahead.

That short 1000-word essay was one of the most terrifying endeavors I have ever undertaken. When the results were returned, I discovered that I had received a high distinction. I hid in the toilets and cried. First, out of relief, pride, and feelings of sheer luck, and then out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to fluke it again.

The writing of my second university assignment was yet another traumatic event. 2000 words of pure hellish agonizing torture, again with alternating episodes of dramatic wailing, pitiful sobbing, and even a little yelling and swearing in front of my computer screen.

This time I dreaded the eventual embarrassment that would follow the assignment. I feared the look of disappointment on the face of the teacher who had given me that first HD, and the expression of resigned pity from friends and family that surely had known it was a fluke all along. I wished I had been unmasked the first time. This seemed like a lot of work for something that surely was doomed to fail.

The third, fourth, and subsequent essays went more or less the same way, although I did find a few more things to panic about as I went, like: ‘maybe I’m just cheating the system because I put ‘too much’ time and effort into my studies. I bet really smart people do this easily.’ And then, as my results came in: ‘maybe they felt sorry for me’, or: ‘maybe they didn’t even read it and gave everyone the same grade’. As I look back, the idea that the markers weren’t taking their job seriously seems ridiculous, if not a bit offensive.

I finished the year with a perfect GPA. Secretly I felt crap about it. I comforted myself by thinking that even if I had just cheated the system, surely it was proof of at least some level of intelligence as obviously I had been clever enough to crack the secret university code.

The rest of my degree was hard won. I soon lost my perfect score – I handed in an assignment late under the incorrect assumption that I had an extension. Under my faculty’s rule, late assessments get an automatic grade of 0. This will do terrible things to your GPA. I have always wished that I had just handed in what I had by the due date. It would have been incomplete, unedited and ugly but maybe I could have just scraped a low pass out of it. Even a failing grade of 3 would have been better than the big fat zero I ended up receiving. However, to say that I worked hard during my undergraduate degree would be an understatement. Even I am able to recognize that I did in fact put in the effort. Furthermore, over the course of those years, a lot of ‘life’ happened that didn’t make studying any easier. Of most lasting impact was the surprise pregnancy and birth of my third child, after which I went part-time for a while, and pumped breast milk between lectures. It was hard and there were moments when my confidence bottomed out and I genuinely considered leaving. I am pleased I didn’t. Despite all my self-doubt, I made it to the end of my course. And while I may not have finished with a perfect score, the 97.8% that I did manage is undeniably impressive, especially given the circumstances. I received first class honours, a university medal, and an offer of a full scholarship to complete a doctorate. Not bad for a high school dropout.

Reflecting on my achievements, my intense fear and self-doubt seems like a completely melodramatic overreaction. And it is. But apparently it is also quite common. Introducing…. Impostor Syndrome – the feeling that despite your accomplishments, you are actually a fraud.

It appears that not only am I not a complete raving lunatic, I’m also in quite impressive company. Apparently Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, the amazing Maya Angelou, and a string of other celebrities have all suffered from feelings of fakery. Impostor Syndrome is also rampant with academia, particularly in female academics. The first time I heard of it was when one of my lecturers posted an article on her Facebook. While I feel awful for taking any pleasure in someone else’s discomfort, the idea that this particular lecturer believes herself to be anything other than absolutely amazing, is both absurd and a little comforting. If she can’t always see herself objectively, then surely Impostor Syndrome is a real thing, and so maybe I haven’t been seeing myself completely objectively either.

If you would like to know more about Impostor Syndrome, or Impostor Phenomenon as it is often called, I would recommend Dr. Pauline Clance’s website. It was Clance, along with her colleague Suzanne Imes, that first described Impostor Phenomenon back in 1978. Continuing her work since then, her website includes an extensive reference list from 1978 to present.