Category Archives: Love Life

Fun stuff!

Hello again

Forgive me blog-gods for I have sinned. It has been aaaages since my last post…. I’m not Catholic but I do feel bad for not writing. This isn’t some end of year/New Year’s Resolution thing though (I’ve already done the blog post on NYRs). It’s simply that the downtime that Christmas has provided this year means I actually have the time, energy and opportunity to write again. (Also, I’ve just paid my renewal fees to save this blog from going to its cyber-grave, and it’s hard to justify handing over money then not writing.)

In recent years I’ve come across the idea of coming up with a theme for the year ahead (in lieu of a NYR) several times. [And between writing this post and posting it every blogger and her dog seems to have announced their word.] And yet it’s never an idea that’s really grabbed me. I’ve toyed with it, asked myself which word or phrase I would choose if I were to choose one, but either I’ve not been able to get past the word used in whichever post I’ve been reading (I’ve never been terribly imaginative), or I haven’t been able to come up with a word that seemed specific enough to apply in practical ways yet at the same time broad enough to apply to everything. But this year, without even thinking about it too hard, one word popped into my head:

Simplify

Why simplify? Well, it sums up a useful principle for so many areas of life (possibly all areas). 2017 has the potential to be a busy, stressful year. Master L is starting school and I’m picking up a whole load more work and balancing 2 jobs plus a sizeable load of unpaid work- I’m going to need to keep things as simple as possible at a time when it’ll easy to let things get complicated. It’s applicable to diet, to exercise, to general household stuff (especially to clutter avoidance). It has the potential to make my mornings calmer, my evenings more productive and my days smoother, if I can block out the complications imposed by the buzz of social media, compulsive device checking and other general time wasters. And with relationships and friendships, it makes things clearer too- what are the issues, what’s the bottom line and do I need or want this friend(ship), encounter or conversation?

So cheers! To a simpler 2017. Happy New Year

 

 

Which wolf are you feeding?

I’ve been listening to past episodes of the Slow Home Podcast and the other day heard Brooke recount her interview with Eric Zimmer and the parable of the two wolves.

So apparently this is a Cherokee Indian tale about an old man talking to his grandson. The old man says: “Inside all of us is an ongoing battle, between a bad wolf and a good wolf. The bad wolf is everything undesirable in us, it is anger, jealousy, greed, pride and selfishness. The good wolf is the opposite, it is kindness, patience, generosity, humility and calm.” The grandson thinks for a while and then asks “Which wolf wins in the end, grandfather?” and the old man replies “Whichever one you feed.”

Immediately I realised how universally applicable this parable probably was. It doesn’t take much digesting to understand it, you hear it once and it’s there, in your head. Since hearing it, I’ve been thinking repeatedly “Which wolf will I feed?”

So far, I’ve been thinking about my wolves when it come to the most basic of choices. Do I complain about my sister not thanking me for the birthday present I sent my niece, do I send her passive aggressive texts that try and make a point that she should have said thank you? Which wolf do I feed? I can feed the resentment and anger or I can let it go and just be nice. Do I eat the whole block of chocolate? Feed the bad wolf- the lazy, over-indulgent, mindless side of me, or do I feed the restrained, mindful, responsible one? Do I snap at the kids because I am tired and they have asked me the same question for the hundredth time today? Do I feed the impatient, selfish, childish wolf, or do I feed the kind and patient one?

I then went and listened to the actual podcast in which Brooke interviews Eric Zimmer and her final question to him is “What do you think are particular traits or habits of people who mostly choose to feed the good wolf?” He tells her the things he believes are the most important are:

  • Awareness that there is a choice. No matter how big or small the issue, we choose how we respond
  • Awareness that feeding the good wolf is an ongoing process and a means to an end. You may not always feel like feeding the good wolf, but if you want the better outcome, you’ll feed it regardless.

Food for thought (and wolves!) I have subscribed to Zimmer’s own podcast, The One You Feed. Perhaps that’ll be number 4 in my list of favoured podcasts!!

Our Family Mission Statement

Bleuch….. nothing makes me roll my eyes and write off a blog post quicker than this heading. Lately it seems everyone is writing “family mission statements”. After hearing on a podcast today yet ANOTHER person (a man- so far I thought it was only women writing these things) talk about a “family mission statement”, I tried to put my finger on just what it was that makes me recoil from the idea of writing one for the L family.

Firstly, it’s cheesey. I mean there’s a certain cringe-factor about it. Which is a bit of a non-reason, but for me a mission statement carries associations of evangelical, all-American, lip-servicing Joneses showing off what decent, thoughtful, mindful people they are. I just think it’s kind of contrived and phoney. I’m not really one for having framed slogans and the like dotted around the house, whether they be fridge magnets saying “Kiss the cook!”, coffee mugs with some obvious statement about caffeine and mornings or framed “quotes” in white writing on a pastel backgrounds hanging on the wall.

So is it not just my “thing”? And should it be? I think if I suggested to Mr L that we sit down and write our “family mission statement” he’d think I’d gone nuts. “Why do we need to do that?”, I think he would say.

And that, really, led me to the answer… Why do people feel the need to write a “family mission statement” and, more importantly, why don’t I?

For Mr L and myself, our values for life are pretty closely aligned already. Maybe there are some couples whose values aren’t, I don’t know, but I wonder why you marry someone who doesn’t mostly feel the same way about things that you do. I mean, Mr L likes to watch sport on TV while I’d rather be watching Teen Mom or some such trash, so I’m not saying we like exactly the same things on a day to day basis, but overall, we have the same basic priorities. We like to get out and do things, value experiences over stuff, and generally try to avoid pretentious people, things and fads. Those are the values we try to instill in our kids, too. It’s not like we sat down before we got married or when I was pregnant with Master L and said “Right, how are we going to raise our children, what sort of parents are we going to be, are they going to wear designer clothing or hand-sewn clothes?” How could we have known, for a start? But I felt secure enough knowing that our basic principles were aligned that I didn’t feel a big discussion was necessary. Of course, it’s not like we never even speak about these things, it’s just that we don’t really feel the need to be prescriptive about them.

All the mission statements I’ve read so far seem to state the obvious as well. I haven’t read any that say “We aim to sit inside watching as much TV as possible and be really mean to everyone we meet”. Do you really need to be reminded of your own core values constantly with a written set of instructions? And if so can they really be considered core values?

I find them vague, as well, which is probably because their purpose seems to be to cover every imaginable situation for an infinite length of time. I’m fairly confident the issues that we face now with preschoolers aren’t the same ones we’ll face with teenagers (although with Miss L I sometimes wonder) and that we’ll need the be flexible and sometimes innovative to make decisions about the issues that will come up later in life. And again, we’ll be guided by our own basic principles, which we carry around with us all the time, in our heads and/or our hearts. I for one can’t see myself dashing home to consult the mission statement before deciding whether to let Miss L stay over at a friend’s house and miss a family camping trip. And somehow I don’t think Mr L will be, either!

 

 

Reflections on 2015

And so we near the end of another year. That’s 2 (and a bit) years I’ve been (very sporadically) blogging!

My views on New Year’s Resolutions have varied from year to year but what I always enjoy is looking back on the year that was. The Facebook gimmick “Your Year in Review” has already appeared and people are beginning to share their yearly summaries. If this replaces the annual “Christmas newsletter” a lot of people send out, I think there’d be a sigh of relief from many reluctant recipients, but weirdly, I don’t actually mind getting those letters, I even like reading the details that really don’t concern me, about people I barely know.

(What always impresses me, though, is that people have enough self-confidence to send these things out, knowing how they are received by the majority of people, which is one reason it’s not something I do.)

So, 2015- what sticks in my mind?

More travel- this year we explored Marlborough at the top of the South Island and beautiful Martinborough at the bottom of the North, catching the ferry in between. I think we only managed 3 trips to our beloved Queenstown, once in March for Mr L’s off-road marathon, the Motatapu Classic, once in August to ski and then we’ll be back there next week for Christmas. I made several trips across the ditch- 2 to Melbourne for work and 2 to Sydney. We did a couple of local weekends away too- to Russell & Northland, Waitomo caves (twice) and just last weekend to Waiheke Island. Our list of places to visit and revisit seems to be ever-expanding, and if 2016 is to be our last year living here, we’d like to make some headway into that list!

Of course, our beautiful Baby L arrived in May and he has been a delight and a privilege to have completing our family. In many ways, seeing him change so fast has made both Mr L and myself all the more aware of the idiosyncrasies (amusing and not-so) of Master and Miss L, as we see them change and realise just how fleeting their stages of growth and development are.

This year has been a big year for me in terms of mindset, with determined forays into mindfulness (my favourite champion of this cause so far being Dan Harris) and happiness (I’ve become something of a Gretchen groupie). I feel that my/our Zero Waste dabblings (inspired largely by Bea Johnson) are, in many ways, an extension (or perhaps combination) of these two ways of thinking. I’ve become so much more aware of our impact on the earth and of the earth’s impact on us and I suppose you could say I’ve spent some time getting to know my inner hippie and seeing just how a simpler way of living, spending, thinking and doing frees up so much time for taking notice of what matters and what lasts.

On that note, as I look back through my calendar I’m surprise to see there aren’t a lot of scheduled events, for a year that has felt so full and formative. I think that’s because you don’t write down the little things- cherry picking with Master and Miss L in January, losing Miss L (ok only very briefly) on a plane in August, someone walking off with Baby L in the supermarket trolley (hmmm, maybe I need to start paying attention to my children more!), Master L astounding us one day by casually announcing he was going to write his name- and then doing it! Me falling off the side of a cliff while skiing, drinking beer in the middle of the afternoon in the Fork and Tap in Arrowtown (Miss L developing quite a taste for it too!), the feeling I had opening a box of macarons and a spa voucher as a “thank you” present from Mr L, playing Calon Lan to try and get Baby L back to sleep at 3am, getting both feet off the floor (not for long!) in crow pose…. And so on.

A few weeks ago we watched “Inside Out”. Since then, Mr L has talked about generating “core memories” for our kids. I agree, that’s important, but from a slighty more selfish point of view, I’m very happy to look after them in my own memory bank for now!

Here’s to 2015…. x

To Don’t Do List

It was timely I should see this video, burnt out would be one way to describe how I’ve been feeling lately. In fact, for some time.

I have thought on a couple of occasions lately how I might simplify my life, let go of some things that just don’t matter, try and pare things back a bit.

And so, my To Don’t Do list:

  1. Follow mummy/housewife/organizational blogs. The way you plan meals/cook dinner/organize the toys/clean the dishwasher is just fine. Only you know what works for you, and colour-coding your spice rack just because some blog says you should is stupid. (Besides, anyone with half a brain will notice the spice rack is in alphabetical order).
  2. Clean the bathroom (too often). Dust bunnies behind the toilet, soap scum on the sink, mould in the shower… who cares? Not Mr L, not the theoretical visitors who might drop in one day completely unannounced and certainly not the kids.
  3. Take the little Ls on an outing every time you want to do something fun or “special”. Staying at home cooking, gardening, bike riding and pottering can be fun too and probably teaches them more useful things than the observatory or a museum (not that I don’t enjoy taking them to those places too).
  4. Exercise to burn calories or get fitter. Exercise for fun and to clear your head. Fresh air may be a clichéed cure-all, but it’s a pretty reliable one.
  5. Stew over things. If it’s worth worrying about, say your bit and move on. If you can’t summon the nerve or the energy to take a stand, don’t waste the mental space.
  6. Waste time reading books (or magazines) that bore you, visiting websites that don’t help you or watching TV shows that don’t interest you. Put them aside and do something more useful, even if that’s going to bed.
  7. Check Facebook, Instagram and emails (ie anything on your phone or computer) when you’re with the kids. Take an interest in what they’re doing instead.

And #LetGo…

On Death and Dying

 I seem to be constantly reminded, especially lately, of the transience of our existence and how quickly it can all be taken away from us, and life turned upside-down for us and our loved ones.

Recently, I have experienced, in varying degrees of proximity, the death of a school friend from a rare form of cancer, the deterioration of one of my closest friends from uni from treatment complications of leukaemia and the death of the daughter of one of Mr L’s friends, a little younger than Master L, also from leukaemia (or its treatment, anyway).

Without wanting to be particularly morbid, all these situations can’t help but make me think about my own mortality and that of those around me. It’s a complex range of emotions- from feeling incredibly lucky to be healthy and alive and to have so much, to profound sadness when it’s someone I know, especially when I’ve witnessed the whole drawn-out diagnostic, treatment, relapse and deterioration process, (or their “fight” as the lay press likes to refer to it- a term I find interesting but more on that later if I remember). There’s sometimes an element of guilt associated with that luck and at times, a feeling of panic, impending doom and pessimism: sort of a “who’s next?” feeling and dread of something striking me or one of my family.

Media “personalities”, naturally, are not immune and I was touched recently by the experiences of two people, both writers, affected in different ways by death and dying.

The first is the author Hannah Richell. I have only read one of her books (Secrets of the Tides) and I was struck not so much by the story line (although it is quite original and entertaining), but by the complexity of emotion she manages to recreate so vividly. In summary, a toddler goes missing at the beach, presumed drowned, while he is being minded by his two teenage sisters. One sister tells the other to make herself scarce while she meets up with her love-interest, each assumes the other is looking after their little brother. To complicate matters, the reason the toddler is being minded by his sisters in the first place, is that the mother is having an affair of her own and lumps her son on her older daughters for the first time ever, not something she would normally do. The end result is that there are 3 people who directly blame themselves for his disappearance. As I read it, I really felt the author may have experienced first hand some sort of loss or grief, the complexity of reactions and emotions just seemed so real. So I Googled her out of interest, and was saddened to find that she had indeed experienced her own loss, not before writing the book however, but since, when her husband was killed in a surfing accident last July, leaving her widowed with their 2 young children.

Hannah continues to write, sporadically, on her blog, and her posts since her husband’s death have, understandably, been about the grieving and coping process. It’s not easy reading- it’s confronting and sad and you feel strangely voyeuristic, not to mention self-indulgent, getting a small taste of the anguish she’s feeling without actually having to experience her loss.

One particularly poignant passage she writes (actually as part of her husband’s eulogy) is reflecting back to the day of her husband’s death. She recalls:

 “…on his very last morning, at his suggestion, he and I enjoyed a rare early morning coffee at our favourite cafe… Then as we left, we kissed goodbye in the sunshine. He turned and threw a last joke and a smile at me and we went our separate ways. For a goodbye you never want to come, it was pretty perfect.”

Occasionally now I have this awful thought after waving Mr L goodbye on his bike, or if he is late home from work, or slow to answer a text “What if that was the goodbye I never want to come??” But of course, thankfully, so far it hasn’t been, and I return to the relatively safe assumption that he will be home tonight and everything will continue as normal. There’s that old saying about living every day as though it’s your last, but as well as the fact that you’d never get anything constructive done, you’d be an emotional wreck if you thought that every time you said goodbye might be the last.

The other author I came across recently facing his own issues with death and dying, is Oliver Sacks, a Neurologist who has written extensively on neurological disorders and neuroscience is his various books, which are aimed not just at a medical audience but also at a lay population. He has recently been diagnosed with liver recurrence of an eye tumour which he had treated some years ago and was believed to have been cured of. His recurrence is incurable. He, however, is 81, obviously has time to “prepare” and contemplate how he will spend the rest of his days and make sure he spends time with the people who matter the most to him. He doesn’t mention if being 81 somehow makes it easier to bear, but you can’t help feeling that dying at 81 is somehow less unfair than dying at 38….

Timely to my own comparison of such different end of life experiences was an article I stumbled across via the BMJ (ok, and facebook) by a man called Richard Smith, who I hadn’t heard of before, about what kind of death he wanted- the slow type you can prepare for, vs the unexpected type you can’t really. After seeing my grandma’s very gradual decline and ultimate demise at the age of 95 last June, I said several times I thought it was better to go suddenly while you were still fit and healthy. The caveat to that, of course, is “but not while you’re still too young”… however young “too young” is. Harder, undoubtedly, for those around you but probably less unpleasant for the person who dies.

Anyway, enough of this, it all seems a bit morbid. At the end of the day, few of us get to choose how we go or how those around us go and so, while I don’t necessarily embrace living every day as though it may be our last, perhaps taking time to appreciate the small things, the big things, the everythings, is a more constructive approach to making the most of our remaining days.

Energy

I have talked before about my changing perspective of my parents and how I hate the feeling I am turning into them. This feeling was magnified recently by a two week visit from them. My fingers were itching to post about the many issues I had with their behaviour, but I realised in essence I’d be re-hashing this post.

So instead I thought I’d try and identify what it is about them that I don’t like and don’t want to become, or pass onto my children, rather than just rant in a teen-rage style, generalised objection to their presence.

One of the things that really struck me was how very low energy they are. In the murky depths of my memory lies some reference to high vs low energy personalities during our very basic psychology lectures at uni. I’m sure there was some kind of 2 x 2 matrix (evidently popular with basic psychology theories) where high/low energy was plotted against high/low motivation, or effort or something, which correlated to overall productivity- ie you can compensate for being low energy by pulling your finger out once in a while and trying really hard to achieve something worthwhile. I can’t find any reference to this specific model on the internet, which quite possibly means I either imagined or misunderstood the entire thing, or that in the last 20 years, theories have changed. All I can find are Myers-Briggs-style introvert/extrovert scales which, while similar in concept, are not quite the same.

So seeing as I can’t back up my observation with any objective or at least widely observed kind of evidence or reference frame, I should probably explain what I mean with examples.

By high/low energy, I don’t necessarily mean physical energy, although high energy people do tend to be physically active as well. It’s more of a state of mind, an attitude. My parents started each of their days with us slowly, they luxuriated each morning by sitting around in bed drinking tea (two cups each) every morning, before having a leisurely shower and then eating breakfast together. Cereal AND toast. This probably represents the fact that they are retired and don’t have much to get up in a hurry for, but it was really irritating when I’d been up with Master and Miss L each morning since before 6, to then have them not be ready to get going for the day much before 10.

But I don’t think lying around in bed is what makes them low-energy, it was more their attitude that irked me than their routine. Their interactions with the kids, for example. They would sit and watch them play. Everything was very passive. There might be a bit of book reading. There was some wandering around the garden after them, watching them do stuff. There was a lot of “Hmmm?”-ing and “Oh, yeeees!”ing and “Really?”-ing. While I know it’s not fair to compare them to Mr L’s parents (I’m not sure why I say it’s not fair, but anyway), the difference was startling. My mother in law, in response to Master L’s requests for the same story/game/train-track-build 100 times over, would respond with “Come on then!” put down her tea, get shoes/books/other paraphernalia ready and engage enthusiastically in said requested activity, regardless of convenience (or some would say hassle) factor. My own mother’s response would typically be “Well not now darling, I’m eating breakfast” or “Yes ok in a minute, let me just finish my tea”. Not once did my parents initiate an outing that involved the kids (“Shall we go to the park? Do you want us to take them out somewhere? We thought we might go to xyz and give you a chance to rest”).

The evenings were similar. 5 o’clock was beer-o’clock. Watch the kids eat dinner. Watch the kids in the bath. Watch, watch, watch, while I got out food, pyjamas, nappies, milk, books, then hung up towels and took dirty clothes and empty cups and bottles downstairs where they waited around murmuring “is there anything we can do to help?”. That’s a little unfair, a few loads of washing up were done and some toys were put away… But as far as I’m concerned, all the washing up needs to be done at some stage and all the toys need to be put away, so I did the rest.

I know, I know, they’re the grandparents and I am the parent. They’ve done their dash, they’ve raised their kids (with daily declarations from my mother about what hard work it is and not one acknowledgement of any of it being worth the effort, I got the distinct impression they felt slightly smug and wanted to point out what they had been through and what I had now chosen to enter into). There is no rule of grand-parenting, that says you are obliged to change nappies (my Mum changed about 4 in that 2 weeks) or buy gifts or take grandchildren on outings or get up early to entertain them and have the throw Weetbix at you…. But there is also no rule in my house that says “Feel free to come and stay for 2 weeks while my husband is away, under the auspices of helping out, only to encumber me with two more mouths to feed and voices to listen to”. Again, harsh and perhaps a slight exaggeration, but that’s how I felt at times, that it would actually have been easier if it was just me and the kids.

But I digress, this is meant to be a discussion of high/low energy personalities, if such a thing exists. By nature (or nurture) I think I am probably low energy. Yeah ok, so being constantly tired etc doesn’t help but it’s not like I thought I’d be getting 8 hours a night with 2 kids (or even 1): I knew what I was in for. And it’s not like pre-kids I was one of those crazy can’t-sit-still kinds of people either. Luckily, Mr L is (again, probably by nurture) high-energy. Until now, I thought I was just free-loading off his energy. He suggests something and I say “Yeah! Let’s! Great idea!”, knowing that he has the tenacity and drive to make things happen and see them through that I just can’t seem to summon de novo (typified in several of our holidays with kids). But having looked after my parents for a week, I think maybe some of his energy and high-energy personality may have rubbed off on me. There were days when my parents were happy to just sit. The record was 6 hours sitting reading in the sun…. like who does that???!!! And it was me going “Right, I’m going out for a walk” or, knowing we were all sluggish and bleuch, dragging everyone out for some fresh air cos I knew it would make us feel better. Filling the gap between afternoon sleeps and dinner with a bike ride or trip to the park. I mean it’s all relative, and like the introvert/extrovert axis, put me in a room of low energy people and I probably seem like an absolute dynamo, but put me in an over-achievers’ convention and I’ll be the one in the corner groaning “Do we HAVE to?”

And so, what have I learned? As a child, I remember many quiet, often boring hours spent waiting. Waiting for my parents to wake up/finish dinner/finish their tea, wanting to spend longer riding bikes or at the park, but always being hurried on because my parents wanted to get home (to more tea and books and TV). I would have loved to go camping or walking or sailing or a whole host of activities. I would have loved (and benefitted from) the chance to go running with one of my parents or done things in the evenings other than watching tv. One of the best holidays we went on as kids was to a place called Centerparcs, where there were activities all day- we played badminton, went sailing, swimming… it was awesome. So different from our usual sit-around existence. A few years I got to go to day camps which were run at school and they were so much fun. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect my parents to have run a holiday-camp at home, and I do think kids need to be encouraged to find their own entertainment sometimes, but there’s a balance.

Most of all, I don’t want my kids to sit around all their childhoods and then look back and say “I wish I’d been given the opportunity to do that. And that. And that.” And I don’t want them to look at me when I retire, or when I visit my grandchildren and say “Far out she’s hard work, when’s she going home?”, I want them to say “Wow, she’s so great with the kids, we really love having her here.”

Group mentality

I went out for dinner with my Mother’s* group last night. We have known each other for as long as Master L is old, ie just over two and a half years. It was part farewell (to me) dinner, part baby shower for the last of the 5 remaining members to have baby number two (due exactly one year after Miss L was due; so we’ve all managed round two within 12 months of each other).

I had such a lovely evening and it obviously lent itself to reflecting on “Mother’s group” as a concept and, in fact, groups in general as a concept. Of course, being a farewell dinner, there was an air of sentiment, which motivated a blog post, but hopefully not too much of a rose-tinted one.

I approached Mother’s group two plus years ago with an open mind. Most of my friends seemed to enjoy the companionship it brought, for some it was a temporary convenience which dissolved when real life kicked back in, a few didn’t bother with one at all, and of course all of my child-free friends rolled their eyes and snickered “Mother’s group… you aren’t are you??”

My friends with children mostly live a fair distance away (although, to them, it’s me who lives a “long way away”, they each live in the centre of their own individual universe and seem to have trouble comprehending  how anyone who lives north of the bridge manages to make the “huge” trip any time they want to go anywhere… completely oblivious to the fact that we have all the same things [and more in many ways] north of the bridge that they have south). Anyway, the benefits of having a group of mums locally who I could meet for coffee, playdates and whatever other mysterious activities having children seemed to foster, required no further consideration.

Also, the next closest-in-age first-born among my friends is 11 months older than Master L. That is practically grown-up to someone who has a new baby. The changes that occur (to Mum and baby) in the first 11 months are so massive that having someone with an 11 month old child give you advice is almost as useless as having your mother give you advice. Correction, having my mother give you advice.

And besides, what did I have to lose?

In the first session the (very normal-looking, late 40s) child health nurse told us how she hoped our Mother’s group would be a valuable experience and how she had just been on a weekend away with her Mother’s group- and their babies were now 27 years old… Hmmm, I thought, sorry but I just don’t see that happening.

After 4 facilitated sessions it was time to strike out on our own. The same child health nurse recommended we meet at a local hotel, “great” for Mother’s groups by virtue of its soulless cafeteria-style bistro, “play area” for the hoards of screaming toddlers and preschoolers who get dragged there (completely useless to us with newborns), easy pram access and bad but cheap (well, voluminous anyway) coffee. Shudder…. There was no way I wanted to meet there. We trialled a series of meetings which went from the sublime (Bather’s Pavillion in Balmoral- unsurprisingly, NOT a great Mother’s group hang-out) to Gloria Jeans (speaking of bad coffee) and after a couple of weeks I was a bit jack of the whole thing… I resolved to go if I had nothing else on but not to specifically keep my Thursday mornings free just for Mother’s group.

The whole thing just seemed so contrived, I remember thinking, I mean what did I have in common with these women apart from geographical location and the experience of being first-time mothers? They were all (well mostly) very nice people but not people I thought I’d ever call friends.

But now that I think about it, what have I had in common with any of the “groups” I’ve been part of… I think my school group (both year group and group of friends) was probably the most contrived group I’ve ever been part of, but then I suppose that’s the nature of school friendships, you make them at an age when you don’t even know what to base them on). At uni I felt I’d found my niche and formed close friendships with people I perhaps had more in common with than I’d had at school (ex high-school geeks now trying to get a life and conveniently finding themselves at the cooler end of the geek spectrum at uni). But really, that was also pretty arbitrary. And since then, one of the things that has struck me about the friendships I’ve maintained is that none of my friends are really friends with each other, there is no “group”, my friends are disparate and have little in common. Not terribly conducive to organising “group” functions, including birthdays, weddings and baby showers, but in a way quite handy for me, who is definitely more of a one-on-one than a group socialiser. Still, I’ve often wondered if I’m missing out on something by not being part of a group. Mr L’s friends fall into several groups- there are the ex-housemate boys, the rugby boys and several other groups and they seem very strongly bonded to each other… but mine are really just a series of individuals.

But back to Mother’s group. Just when I’d decided I was jack of this, we (thank god) broke free from Gloria Jeans and started meeting at various parks around the place. We also started “hosting” and taking turns to have our get-togethers at each other’s houses. We abandoned the (ridiculous) suggestion by one Mum that we bring songs and books and things to “do” with our babies each week…. I mean seriously, was I the only one who just wanted a coffee and a chat?? Fortunately, apparently not. And so slowly, week-by-week, I got to know the other girls in the group. It was nice to have “mummy friends” now that motherhood was a big new part of my life and we’d moved even deeper into the green leafy depths of suburbia. It was even nicer once I went back to work and (happy though I was to see my work-mates again) found myself among a group of largely childless professionals. The girls I warmed to the least dropped off and there remained a core group of five mums with varying ages & backgrounds and very different personalities, but all really very supportive of each other whilst maintaining their own lives and identities.

I’m going to miss them when we move. My reflections on this whole “group” process (and, therefore, much of the “friendship” process) have surmised that groups are generally gatherings of people with an arbitrary link to each other. At times, if you’re lucky, friendships arise from those groups. But if nothing else, they provide some kind of structure and support network at uncertain times in your life. Which makes me wonder what my next “group” experience will turn out to be…

Can I see us going away for the weekend in 25 years time? Well no, but there’s not much I can imagine about what might take place in 2039. Would I be happy to go away for the weekend with them now in 2014? Yes, I most definitely would.

*I pondered moderately intensely the apostrophe placement for this blog post. You could make an argument for Mothers’ group rather than Mother’s group, but I went with the same logic that spells Mother’s Day like so- the day exists for each individual mother… except that I suppose a Mother’s group doesn’t so much…. anyway. There was no rationale or logic behind the use of a capital letter, but it’s late and I can’t be bothered to go back and change it.

Past imperfect

I never did read that “Letters to my 16 year old self” book, although I did read a few snippets that were published in weekend newspapers and the like. However, I do occasionally indulge in an idle fantasy where I am asked to speak at some kind of assembly/speech day/welcome to students of my old school and I think about what I would say. This fantasy is often triggered by a school reunion, or running into someone from school, or another such reminder, not just of how far I’ve come in the last 20-odd years, but (somewhat narcissistically) how much I’d love to show off about it to all the cool people at school who never gave me a second thought. I wonder if I’d been like I am now, when I was at school, how different my high-school experience would have been.

Now that I have my own daughter I do spend quite a bit of time wondering and thinking and hoping that she becomes a slightly more functional teenager than I was myself (I’m conveniently assuming Master L will be a carbon copy of the highly-functioning teenager his father was, in marked contrast to his mother). More to the point, I hope I can at least set a decent example, if not guide Miss L, in areas where I feel I’d do things differently second time round (which, to be fair, I think is most areas!) I know it’s often said that parents want for their children what they never had themselves, or got to be, as if they want to live vicariously through their kids. I think it’s less selfish than that though, you just want to try and spare them the hassle of the hard stuff and the time-wasters and show them the best that life has to offer, which you often don’t realise yourself until after the fact.

I’ve often regretted how much time I wasted at school agonising and having attitude over things that a) didn’t matter or b) did matter but I should have bloody well just got on with it instead of bitching and moaning the entire time. I know part of growing up is figuring these things out for yourself, but I do think of all the other things I could have been doing if I’d known this all along!

So, if I am ever invited to give that speech or write a chapter for that book, here’s what I’d say:

1)    Do what you enjoy even if you think you aren’t the best at it. The main thing that comes to mind is sport. You like running (and you are quite good at it, you know that). Do more of it, work on it, find out how to get better at it. Not so you can win, but so that you get a sense of achievement from it.

2)    Be to other people how you’d like them to be to you. You want people to chat to you, be interested in you, ask you about things, invite you places. Maybe you should make the effort too instead of waiting for them to do everything. Just say hi, how are you, what did you do on the weekend? Keep an open mind, they might be a nice person. And if you find out you don’t click, move on, that’s ok, not everyone does click. But get over this obsession that no one really likes you. For a start, they’d like you better if you did (get over it)!

3)    On a similar note, you don’t have to have a “best friend”. Friends come in many different guises and pop up in all walks of life. Things that you have in common with one friend, you will not have with another. That’s what makes them interesting. Friends come and go through different phases of your life. Being comfortable with lots of different people is much more useful than trying to force one person into a “best” friend mould.

4)    Your time will come, be patient. Not everyone needs to be kissed by the time they’re 16, be going out drinking in Year 11 or have a boyfriend in Year 12. There is plenty of time for all this and it’s just making you miserable comparing yourself to girls in your year who’ve got there first. You’ve got other places they haven’t, so make the most of those places, there’s all the time in the world for boys and all the rest of it.

5)    You’re right to worry about your weight, NOT because of the way you look, but because of how you feel and your health. It’s not about being super-skinny and you can’t really change the basic body-type you’re meant to have, but carrying excess weight is bad for you, mentally and physically. Eat healthier food, and less of it, savour the delicious things in small amounts regularly, and busy-up your life so you don’t have time to sit around and obsess about eating. I don’t know how to spare you a 20 year obsession with food and chaotic, unhealthy eating behaviours, but it doesn’t need to be so hard, it really doesn’t.

6)    You know who around you has got it right. Think about what it is that they do. They have it figured out already. They’re smart, busy girls, they fit a lot in. They play sport and do well in class, yet they have no more hours in the day than you do. They talk to all sorts of people without demonstrating the hang-ups you have. These hang-ups are purely mental, but you need to physically push them out of the way sometimes- i.e. get out there and just get on with it!

7)    Make the most of opportunities that come your way. You never know where they might lead. And even if they lead nowhere, at least you aren’t left wondering what would have happened if you’d tried something new.

8)    Keep dreaming your dreams. You will become the person you want to be and you’ll learn a lot along the way. You pretty much can do anything you put your mind to (ok maybe professional ballet is out, but most other stuff!)

9)    Your parents know a lot but they don’t know everything. Don’t model your way of life on them. They could be busier, more active, more positive, more sociable, more adventurous. So could you.

10) Smile. It’ll make everything easier.

xx

Family Travels

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Exploring the snow at Whistler Creekside

We’re at the end of our 8 day trip to Canada now. It’s always sad to get to the end of a holiday, although I know I’ll be glad to be home once we actually walk through the door.

This wasn’t our first overseas trip with children, although it was one of the more logistically complex. There was a conference I wanted to go to in Whistler and given that we love the place and love to ski, the obvious choice was to take Mr L and the two little Ls with me.

A number of people (most of them with children themselves) expressed their admiration, as in “Wow, you’re brave coming all this way with 2 young kids”. A couple of others (without children and unlikely ever to have them) simply gave me the impression they felt a bit sorry for me having to compromise my holiday “fun” because of my kids.

However, I really don’t agree with either of these sentiments (although I was happy to accept the admiration of the former group!) Like many things in life, and definitely life with kids, not only do you get out (to some extent) what you put in, but you learn fairly quickly that if you really want to make things happen, you can. Yes it might be a bit more work, but there’s a good chance it’ll also be more rewarding.

A lot of it boils down to mindset, I think. When I was pregnant with Master L, friends of ours announced they were getting married in Whistler (he’s Canadian). They hoped as many people as possible would make it and were planning a week’s skiing leading up to the wedding. I calculated that Master L would be about 5 months old by then and so my first reaction was “Oh, that’s such a shame, we won’t be able to make it” but before I could say words to this effect out loud, Mr L said “Awesome, skiing in Whistler, sounds great!”. I was a bit dubious, but once I realised Mr L was serious, I thought “Well if we’re going to do this I need to be positive about it and make it work”.

And so we did. And it was brilliant! Flying with a 5 month old, breast-fed baby is a piece of cake (now that I look back on it anyway! Ok, so at the time it seemed like a bit of a big deal, but it was fine). We stayed in a self-contained apartment at so we had everything we needed including a kitchen. I hear a lot of people complaining about going away with kids and staying in self-contained places, they grumble that they still have to cook & wash and tidy up, so “you may as well be at home”, they say. But I disagree. You cook a bit, but much more basic stuff, the biggest load of laundry you’ll do is the contents of your suitcase (and that’s unlikely to be done all at once) and someone comes in every day and spruces up- but only when it’s convenient for you, of course. When Master L was playing on the floor or sleeping I a) read b) slept as well or c) drank wine (well, at night anyway!) I did a bit of skiing- we’d get a babysitter for a long morning (which is about my skiing limit anyway, especially 5 months after having a baby) and it was actually very relaxing. Plus there are none of those chores and ongoing projects calling to you and making you feel guilty for sitting down and relaxing.

So we had similar plans this time. I took loads of distractions and snacks for Master L on the plane, we booked an apartment with an extra bedroom and we had my conference to complicate the logistics slightly. It’s a little harder flying with 2 kids, in that you end up each “having” a child the whole time, instead of passing one back & forth between you, but that’s ok, at least he had his own seat and I gave up the expectation of reading or watching movies with children on planes a while ago. Babysitting costs no more, really, for 2 than for 1. And because you have a toddler there’s not as much time for the reading & sleeping etc, but then there isn’t at home, either. And we still had our wine!

A spanner was thrown in the works by Miss L, who came down with a nasty bug the day after we got here which meant we had to cancel the baby-sitting a couple of times to stay with her ourselves, which was really disappointing, but those things happen at home, too. It also meant Mr L and I didn’t get an awful lot of time alone together. With her cold, Miss L slept terribly all week and in a strange bed, Master L didn’t sleep well either. So we are all tired!

There were some great things about going away with our toddler, though. We got to spend more time actually doing things with Master L and watching him enjoy them- like playing in the snow, riding in the cable car and watching the trucks clear the snow each morning. Last time we went, at 5 months old, these were the things we wanted to enjoy with him but he was more interested in practicing rolling over! We got 8 days away from the work-home-sleep-work cycle to take stock. I really enjoyed my conference. We both managed to get in some skiing. We went on a sleigh-ride….

I’ll never be one of those “I backpacked around south-east Asia with my baby on my back” type of people, nor have I been brave enough to try camping with the little ones yet, but I do think you can do anything if you really want to. You will undoubtedly have to compromise at some stage and be realistic about what you can enjoyably do. So while I look at those people who do go traipsing round the world and think “you’re crazy!”, I also say to those people who tell me “Oh I wish WE could go skiing with our kids”, you can! Yes we are lucky that we can afford it, some of it’s about affordability, but from a  logistical perspective, some if it is really just a bit of lateral thinking and determination.

So, what did we learn?

  1. Get to the airport extra-early. Toddlers hate to be rushed, they also love running around the airport and plane-spotting. And toilet stops take a long time!
  2. Don’t plan to do anything much within 24 hours of a long-haul flight. The kids need time to recover.
  3. Don’t worry too much about not having “exciting” things for little kids to do at your destination- riding buses and going to new playgrounds can be just as much fun as things which cost money.
  4. If you have the luxury of being able to take or meet (helpful) friends or relatives on holiday, do it! We realised (way too late) that Mr L’s mother was off work this week and it would have worked out perfectly if she’d come with us. It would also have solved our problem of not being able to leave a sick child with a baby-sitter.
  5. Don’t overestimate how much time and energy you will have to do your own thing- we booked a 5 day lift pass, of which I skied 2 and a bit days, and I brought 2 new books with me, and haven’t read as much of a page of the book I was already on!
  6. It’s your holiday too, so while you need to consider your kids, you also need to do what you want to do some of the time as well.
  7. You can make it work with kids, you might just have to compromise a bit!

So, to our next holiday, bon voyage!