Thanks to guest blogger extraordinaire, Franki Meijer, for this interview and post about another wonderful Lane Cove local identity.
Please meet: Jodie McMahon – Busy in our community, celebrating diversity and promoting acceptance.
Jodie is a psychologist and an author of children’s books. She is a brave, yet unassuming lady, who believes passionately in helping children find a voice for their experiences and feelings.
Driven by her desire to foster an acceptance of diversity in children, she has written the extremely well received book ‘We are Different’. In fact, the manuscript received first prize in the 2010 CYA (Children’s and Young Adult Writers) conference.
So, Jodie, what motivated you to write the book in the first place?
“I have two sons and the eldest was pre-school age,” she recounts. “He was really tall and he started to recognise that he was different to others and wanted to know why he couldn’t do the things other kids were doing. I knew where he was coming from, as I’d been through it too. I tried to find a book to help him understand that everyone is different, but there wasn’t really anything out there.”
Jodie describes how her intention for the book was to make it relevant to a multitude of characteristics, so that all kids can relate, in some way, to the message.
“People are different in so many ways. It can be as basic as hair colour, but it might be physical or cultural; it can be about disability – or even ability. Some differences you can see and some you can’t. I think, sometimes, people are afraid to point out differences to kids, but in reality, kids are very aware of them.”
What I love, personally, about the book is how it encourages people to embrace diversity and not place value on what’s good or bad, or the ‘right’ way to be, or to look. The underlying attitude is non-judgemental and promotes acceptance – both of ourselves and of others. It also highlights how people can come together over common ground and shared loves.
Throughout the story, the kids grow their friendships by spending time together doing the things they enjoy and it ends with all of them reaching for an ice-cream. That ice-cream becomes a concrete symbol of unity, irrespective of the presence of difference.
The illustrations are also key to carrying the book’s message and for those, we can thank Mark Curnow (shown below), previously another Lane Cove local.
I notice the book is aimed at pre-school and early primary-aged children. Was that due to the age of your son at the time?
“In part, yes, but more than that, it’s aimed at an age where kids sit down with their parents and their parents read to them and talk about what’s in the book. It’s a book an early reader can read by themselves, but because it’s got a deeper meaning, it’s a book that can help parents talk to their kids about their own individual experiences. It’s an opportunity for any problems, in relation to feeling different, to come out. It’s also an age where we lay the foundation for a broader attitude of acceptance that kids take with them, as they grow.”
The book definitely facilitates communication between kids and their carergivers.
When the finished product was launched, how did you feel?
“It’s always been a dream of mine to write a children’s book. I used books a lot, when I was working with kids as a psychologist, to help them work through their situation. I’m really proud of myself that I’ve been able to put something into the market that can make a difference to kids. It’s easy to doubt yourself, but the positive feedback has really grown my confidence. And I saw how proud and excited my boys were, when the book was launched. I think ultimately it’s shown them that you can do anything you want to do, if you work hard at it.”
Jodie talks about how rewarding sharing the book with kids in schools has been – both locally and in a special needs school in Gunnedah, where she grew up.
“It’s amazing to see how absorbed they are and how much they can relate to it… In one of the classes that I did, one of the kids said ‘Somebody told me that it was bad that I have red hair’, so we got to talk about that and how it wasn’t bad. As an activity, the kids write their own stories about the differences between them and their friends and the common ground that unites their friendship. I’ve had parents coming up to me saying that their kids keep talking about the book at home. The idea of being accepting seems to stay with them and hopefully that will help them think about being accepting in the playground too.”
This is a beautiful pic from Matilda:
So, what does Jodie think about living in Lane Cove?
She doesn’t hold back on enthusiasm and is clearly a big advocate of the village, really enjoying the friendly, familiar atmosphere.
“I really love living in Lane Cove and I have, since I moved here in 2004. It reminds me of country life. It’s got a great community feel, which I really love and in the plaza you run into someone you know every couple of steps… I think people here care about each other and I think it’s because they have a bond to Lane Cove and they care about the place itself.”
And how does it shape up to her value set of acceptance and diversity?
In terms of acceptance, it gets a big tick and the family-centric nature of the village drives that.
“There are so many restaurants and the kids feel welcome everywhere. They’re family-orientated and accepting of kids. More than that, I think it’s an amazing place for my children to be brought up. They’re growing up with a really important sense of community and I want them to grow up to be responsible adults, who can continue that community.”
Diversity is a little more complicated.
Sure, there are quite a few options, when it comes to food, and Caesar’s Pizzeria, Meno Diciotto and Sushi Train are the current faves for a refuel for Jodie’s boys, after their numerous sporting activities…
But perhaps we could do better.
“I think Lane Cove seems to attract the same types of things – gelato, sushi, bacon and egg rolls… I think they try and stay safe by doing the same thing, but I think people would be willing to accept something totally different.”
And besides, Lane Cove isn’t only about the kids.
“I’d like to see a nice restaurant, that’s open a bit later and I think there’s a 20 something age group that want the same thing. Sometimes you want to go out for some adult-only time and it’s nice to be in a restaurant after the kids have eaten.”
But like many, Jodie’s main cause for concern is the rapid population expansion, which she feels will put increasing strain on local services and infrastructure, as well as representing a potential threat to the close community spirit.
“I’m worried that the schools are expanding too quickly. I think they’re doing their best job at dealing with it, but it’s a big ask. And there are more and more buildings going in still.”
So, what’s next for Jodie… and us?
“I have other manuscripts in the pipeline”… (Incidentally, one of which also won a big award at last year’s CYA conference). “My goal is to help teach kids to dream and aspire and to value their friendships. Ultimately, everything I write is motivated by the experiences I have with my boys”.
And I, for one, am very much anticipating her next instalment.
In the meantime, Jodie shows us how we can embrace and celebrate diversity, whilst sharing an underlying value system of acceptance. And it’s not just about accepting others; it’s about accepting ourselves too.
Are there any final thoughts, you’d like people to take away from our chat?
Jodie smiles and says “Before you judge, you need to look at yourself first, because everybody is different – including you. And being different is… really awesome.”
For more information and to purchase Jodie’s current book, go to http://jodiemcmahon.com.au/product/we-are-different/
Franki Meijer is originally from England, but over the last decade, she has lived in Cape Town, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and now Lane Cove. She has a background in Psychology and Research and is inspired by the people around her. We can’t wait to hear more from Franki as she chats with other colourful Lane Cove Identities. Do you have a suggestion for who Franki should chat to next?