Shelley and Dave Mason, both in their mid-30s, had spent nine long years involved in fertility treatments – assisted fertilisation, numerous operations and other therapies, before considering adoption. “I couldn’t handle IVF,” explains Shelley. “We were fostering for a few years, and the fertility ups and downs were destroying us. We decided there are a lot of kids in the world who need a home, so we would adopt.”
They had to wait a couple of years until the Expression of Interest opened in Queensland, “so we could get on the list for the waiting list just to apply,” says Shelley.
“Once that opened, in 2006, within a week we were undergoing education with the department and we had Sam within 12 months – one of the quickest adoptions in Queensland.” Shelley is referring to her son, Samuel, who she and Dave travelled to Taiwan to meet and bring back with them four years ago. Sam didn’t have a great start in life.
“Sam was a very sick child,” Shelley recounts. “He was three months premature, weighing just 1900gm when he was born. He was sick with ear infections and high temperatures. Initially, he was diagnosed autistic, but after four or five hours of play therapy every day play, he is a different child. He has conquered a lot of the challenges and today he is responsive and affectionate. He has done a complete 360. They think it must have been a trauma disorder.”
Shelley and Dave have created a loving, supportive environment that has helped change Sam from an infant with attachment issues to a happy little fellow who loves hanging out with his daddy.
“We made play a priority,” says Shelley, who in fact, started up her online business, Lime Tree Kids, following her own research in to “sensory toys and funky things to promote fun and attachment with Sam”.
“In seven months, we now carry more than 600 different products – gifts, toys anything you need for children from one to six years. I was inspired by Sam. My husband is a web developer and we had been thinking about starting up a business for me. When Sam arrived, I looked all over the world for the right kinds of interesting toys for him. Then it made sense for me to start selling the products.”
The hard work and perseverence over the four years since have “all been worth it,” says Shelley.
“Sam is a beautiful little boy. He is speaking, though delayed. We understand him! He has just started pre-school and is already writing his name.”
Shelley acknowledges that while the best place for a child is with his or her biological parents in their native country, children in Taiwan are not readily adopted. “Particularly children with special needs. Sam has been given a whole lot of opportunities and assistance that he would otherwise not have been able to receive. It was meant to be.”
Back home, Shelley, Dave and Sam participate in play groups and family days with the Taiwan support group and other adoptive families. “There is a massive number of families now, with children from China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Ethiopia, which we catch up with regularly for multicultural days. There are about 90 families just in our Taiwan group.”
Soon, the Mason family will add a fourth. Waiting in the same orphanage in Taipei is a daughter for Shelley and Dave. “Sienna is six months old. We are flying out today and will finally meet her on Monday.”
From the few photos they receive every four weeks, Shelley and Dave can tell she is “really cute, very healthy and happy”.
“She is in a much better state than Sam. Sienna is bursting with good health. We are so excited, but also nervous. It’s a big deal for her, and for us. It’s effectively bringing home somebody else’s child and suddenly making them your own. It can be a shock for everybody.”
Fortunately, the department works closely with prospective families to ensure issues relating to health, psychological effects, attachment and settling in are all observed and addressed. And the regulations are so strict both here and in the native country of the children, only ideal candidates make it through.
As Shelley explains: “You have to fit the Queensland criteria and then the country of adoption’s criteria. There are a few countries which specify which religion families should be. For Taiwan it was suited to parents with a practicing Christian lifestyle and beliefs. Then there’s your BMI index, which has to be below a certain level, income, age has to be below 40, married for two or more years, in Queensland you can’t be a single person or in same sex relationship. Some countries have stipulations on the number of kids in your family.
“There’s a two child limit in Taiwan. And for most of them, you have to commit to providing the child cultural exposure of their native country.”
Cost too is another factor. “The cost can be prohibitive, between $20,000 and $40,000. You have fees for psychological assessment, the cost of couriering documents, translation services, administration, post-adoption psychologist visits, doctors, medical appointments – all those things are expensive. Then you have to pay a fee to the country, to the orphanage to support the child.
“I don’t know many families who have more than two children, because it is a massive expense. The cost rules out adoption for many families, which is sad.”
But on the eve of meeting her baby girl for the first time, Shelley has only one thing on her mind, bonding with Sienna.
“She has never had that skin-to-skin contact, so it will be very odd for her and us. It’s strange. For about the first two months, it’s very weird, then the bonding starts. We have been on a massive journey with Sam, so we are ready for it this time.” The family will be in Taiwan for eight days, taking along Shelley’s best friend, Christina for another pair of helping hands. “On Monday, we have an appointment with the orphanage director. We will go to the orphanage and meet Sienna, find out about all her routines, then we leave with her. We will spend a few days with Sienna in the hotel to get her used to us. She’s never been outside the orphanage. But we are hoping she will relate to Sam and that will ease her in.
"We are taking a comforter, a couple of toys and a few other things, and we will be bringing back some of her toys and her sheets so she has that familiarity. Everything will be new for her – our smell, a group of people in her face all the time, the sounds, travelling on a plane. It’s overwhelming for us, imagine for a baby!”
If adoption is in your plans, Shelley recommends chatting to the advocacy group International Adoption Families of Queensland www.iafq.org.au
The Queensland Department of Communities has its Adoption Services site for the nuts and bolts. More at www.communities.qld.gov.au/childsafety/adoption/intercountry-adoption
If your heart says “Disneyland” but your budget says Domestic,there is no better place to take your kids for a dose of culture and colour than Melbourne. And, for my money, it’s the better option. Let’s face it, we Gold Coasters think we have lifestyle covered. But I am here to inform you, Melbourne IS the pulsing, enervating picentre of food, family entertainment and fascinating things to do. Just a few hours flight – in itself, a major event for kids – from home, an entire new world of culture, art, history and people opens up for small minds and their minders. From the Melbourne Museum (King Tut, dinosaurs, bugs, butterflies, whales, polar bears, Phar Lap – all skeletal or stuffed of course), Cook’s Cottage, shopping, Laneways replete with glorious coffee, boutiques and bookstores, trams, the world-class Zoo and Aquarium, Eureka Skydeck, to the plethora of cuisine options from every corner and canton of this world. Oh, and the locals are so friendly and well-dressed, it inspired us to put our best feet forward and rug up in style. Lucky the shopping is so plentiful, and wellpriced. You need only trundle around city circuit on the Number 35 free tram that takes in the sights from 10am to 6pm (9pm some nights, but if you’re parents, you will be in bed, or on your second bottle of red!) to realise this city never sleeps and you are utterly spoilt for choice in every single arena. A helpful narration also indicates where to get off for the various attractions and historic landmarks.
And that is the major Melbourne drawcard – history. There is the Old Melbourne Gaol, complete with Ned Kelly’s armour and multimedia displays, which is creepy enough to scare every member of the family on to the straight and narrow; Queen Victoria Market where produce, seafood, meat, wine and clothing are all for sale in scenes that wouldn’t have changed since Victoria called most of the planet her Empire. Sample the cheeses and dips, settle on handful of hand-made chocolate koalas on sticks and some wellpriced bananas ($6.99 per kilo) for a mid-morning snack, and stock up with other supplies for meals and treats during your stay.
You need only trundle around city circuit on the Number 35 free tram that takes in the sights from 10am to 6pm (9pm some nights, but if you’re parents, you will be in bed, or on your second bottle of red!) to realise this city never sleeps and you are positively spoilt for choice in every single arena. Despite the allure of starredrestaurants, Crown Casino, the nightlife, pubs and myriad of restaurants from every nationality (we felt like we were in New York!) you may find younger travellers are pooped by night fall. The good news is you can’t get a bad feed in Melbourne.
Cross the road, grab a take-away brochure, order room service, pick and choose from the food hall and your epicurean desires will be well and truly sated. No exaggeration. Melburnians are food fiends! Even the not so salubrious Asian hole-in-the-wall boasts a write-up by esteemed food critics from The Age and pics of celebrities and sportspeople dining there adorn the walls.
From our hotel, Mantra on Russell, we could walk in any direction and discover layer upon layer of this cosmopolitan city. It is bursting with options – free and extravagant. For free family fun, you can explore the laneways and gardens, some with incredible slippery dips and swings, or on the other end of the spectrum, for $290 plus entry you can step on the ice with the penguins at the Melbourne Aquarium.
In all, three days was too short. A week is more suitable to enjoy the splendours of this vibrant capital where historic elegance fuses with eclectic grunge and cutting edge modernity. We didn’t even scratch the surface for Melbourne’s treasure trove of theatre, epicurean and events calendar. Rest assured, we are already planning our next sojourn south – there is so much night life and shopping to tantalise us. As excellent as our adventure was with kiddies in tow, our next trip will be sans enfants – that’s code, folks for grown up getaway!
Melbourne Aquarium – Fishy, friendly and totally fun for everybody, the Aquarium is perched over the Yarra River and easy to reach on foot or tram. Penguins, turtles, sharks, every kind of tropical and estuary environment as well as regular demonstrations and fish feeding will enthral and educate. You can dive with the sharks, or get on the ice with the penguins for a really close encounter. More at www.melbourneaquarium.com.au
Eureka Skydeck 88 – an unforgettable panorama of Melbourne, spread out, literally beneath your feet. Going out on “The Edge” is a spine-tingling additional experience that had the little ones yelping and the grown ups sweating with exhilaration – a glass cube which projects 3 metres out from the building - with you in it - suspended almost 300m above the ground! Make sure you buy the souvenir photo of the whole family quivering in the glass chamber. That’s one for the family album! More at www.eurekaskydeck.com.au
Melbourne Museum – What wonders can a $30m overhaul produce! This is my pick of the bunch. Until Dec 4, you can witness “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs” – a once in a lifetime taste of Egypt’s Boy King and life in Ancient Egypt. Even junior travellers were awe-struck by the dramatic lighting, golden artefacts, multi-media displays and glittering relics from King Tut’s tomb. Bugs Alive is a sensational, skin-crawling exhibit that kept our kids glued to the perspex for an hour, and the dinosaurs – well, you know how popular they are! The Human Body, history of Victoria and Darwin to DNA were also fascinating. Can’t wait to get back for a second peruse!
Melbourne Zoo – what an adventure! 320 species from all over the planet, including elephants, gorillas, Aussie animals up close and personal, a glorious butterfly house, the $20m Wild Sea exhibition, and some very rude baboons. Kids under 16 are free on weekends, Victorian school holidays and public holidays. More at www.zoo.org.au
Queen Victoria Markets – since 1878, the hub of fresh produce and apparel. For families, it’s a great place to stock up on yummy smallgoods, bread, coffee, chocolate, all manner of deli products and the full assortment of fruit, veges, meat and even wine. On Sunday, there is a more family vibe with outdoor café area and rides for the kids.
Luna Park at St Kilda – more suited for older kids, 7+. The bonus is it’s free entry, so even if you just want to wander around and take in the carnival atmosphere, it’s worth the tram fare. No 96 goes from Southern Cross Station (formerly Spencer St Station) and Crown Casino right to the yawning mouth of Luna Park.
Our sincere thanks to Tourism Victoria for arranging our itinerary, including Melbourne Museum, Melbourne Aquarium and Eureka Skydeck and use of selected images.
Thank you to the staff and management of Mantra on Russell for superlative service, comfy rooms and good tips for where to eat and how to get around.
The kids can’t wait to move back to their “Melbourne house”.. For all the amazing things to see and do in Melbourne visit www.visitmelbourne.com and for statewide travel and events, visit www.visitvictoria.com
With every good intention, the movement in the UK known as “PinkStinks” is urging parents of both girls and boys to challenge “gender stereotyping”. The movement, it claims, has “gathered support from thousands and thousands of parents, teachers and children around the world”.
PinkStinks focuses on parents, the media and retailers – whom they blame for perpetuating the “pink myth” that contributes to creating princesses and models out of our girls at the expense of other virtues, values and ambitions. “Pretty” is the term that appears to be the main offender. “Pretty, pretty, pretty. What does this tell a girl about what she’s worth?” chastises the group, run by two media-savvy mums, Emma and Abi Moore.
PinkStinks says it aims to “Inspire, motivate and enthuse girls about the possibilities and opportunities open to them, improve girls’ self esteem and confidence, raise their ambitions and ultimately improve their life chances and to challenge the ‘culture of pink’ which is based on beauty over brains and to provide an alternative”.
They are positive and constructive tenets, and when you consider the images of the outrageous items they target (padded bras, high heels for babies, sexualised girls’ images on T shirts with phrases like “Do you want candy?”) quite commendable. But do you think it’s taking this ethos too far, demanding change in a world where girls aged seven to 10 play with lipstick, make-up and high heels, enjoy Dora the Explorer and gravitate to sparkly things?
If you have a daughter, a granddaughter or a neighbour, or remember your own girlhood, you will acknowledge there is a natural proclivity towards pink hues. My own daughter is nearly three and adores dancing, dressing up and playing with lipstick. She has a dabble with her brother’s cars and trains, but her preference is for the girly stuff.
In the 70s, I wore brown shoes, navy ponchos and had a bowl hair do. Visits to Aunty June’s where I locked the bathroom door and played with her mascara and nail polish were Heaven sent. To this day, I love pink. Thankfully, I seem to be ok as far as esteem and ambition.
There is an array of great articles on the PinkStinks site www.pinkstinks.co.uk, naming and shaming ridiculous consumer goods and the celebrity worshipping culture that could very well be damaging to girls’ psyches and their esteem. But surely to deem everything pretty and pink offensive is throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater?