Tag Archives: attitude

The trouble with busy

I don’t believe in busy. I haven’t for a long time. I used to. I always liked the expression “If you want something done ask the busiest person.” That conveys what I consider to be “proper busy”, legitimately busy. Busy before busy got a bad rap. I always think of a select few people when I hear that phrase. They are active, productive, involved, interesting, interested people. And if you want them to do something for you, from reading over a job application or writing you a reference to meeting up for coffee or lunch, they make time in their busy lives and they do it with good grace. No moaning, no hassle, no sense that you’re putting them out, they cheerfully slot you in and are happy to tell you what they’ve been doing and ask a million questions about you and your life, because despite everything going on in their lives, they have plenty of mental space to consider and show interest in what’s going on in yours. And you know what, they would never moan about being “busy”.

But busy nowadays has become an excuse. An excuse for being disorganised, an excuse for being self absorbed, self important and self righteous. And worst of all, an excuse for laziness. Too lazy to get organised and prioritise and use your brain instead of flapping and blowing hot air.

A recent (text) conversation:

Me- Don’t suppose you are free for a coffee tomorrow?

B- Can’t do sorry. Busy for the next few weeks but maybe March we can catch up? Our weekends are so full!

Me- We are away for the whole of March

B- Ok- April?

It’s 7th February.

All this from someone who works Monday to Friday (sometimes). Has her late primary school aged children 50% of the time (the rest of the time they are with their father). Her current partner works 9-3 and has school holidays off. What is she so busy doing? She’s one person who gives “busy” a bad name.

Some time ago I read something that suggested the next time someone tells you they’re too busy to do something, swap their words for “That’s not a priority for me right now”. This works both ways. I use it to work for me as follows: Am I too “busy” to do this thing? Maybe. Is it a priority right now? No. Busy/priority/whatever label you want to use, it goes to the bottom of my list. But it also works in reverse. Someone’s too “busy” to fit you into their lives? You aren’t a priority to them. No hard feelings, it just helps put things in perspective.

That’s why I don’t believe in busy.

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!

 

 

Trying to be mindful

After my recent (actually it was about 6 months ago- wow) foray into mindfulness I was kind of aware of the fact that it might be useful to practice some simple techniques on a regular basis (mindfulness aficionados would refer to this as a “daily formal practice”) for the whole thing to really benefit me when it counts. But, like most things I know I ought to do (or not do) regularly, it kind of got shoved in the “too hard” basket (which should really be re-named the “can’t be bothered basket”).

We are in Canada skiing at the moment, and getting myself down a ski slope is one such time when, you could say, “it counts”.

Skiing is not something I am naturally good at. For starters, I didn’t ski for the first time until I was 33 years old.

The other things that go against me are:

  • I am not very brave. Specifically, I don’t like going very fast (on skis, horses or mountain bikes), I don’t like falling off (skis, horses or mountain bikes) and I don’t like breaking bones (which I have only ever done in association with horses and mountain bikes…. so far)
  • I don’t have a great innate sense of balance (although luckily it turns out that this can be developed)
  • I am not naturally very coordinated
  • I tend to be put off by previous bad experiences (such as broken bones)

Sometimes I have these amazing skiing days when things just effortlessly come together. Each time this happens I try to identify what it is that’s going right. Somehow, my posture seems spot on, my weight is balanced, I’m relaxed and I gain confidence with every slope I comfortably negotiate.

Conversely, I sometimes have days, or at least runs, when it seems I’m doomed. I try to lean forward, remember what I’ve been taught previously, be brave and confident and relaaaaax…… easier said than done, right?

Well maybe not any more.

I didn’t have the best day yesterday, it wasn’t terrible but it ended with a long, difficult, icy, monotonous run home. Not my finest moment. (If only it were just a moment, it was actually over an hour of “moments”). At the top of that steep, white, icy descent, my brain went from thinking “Ok, let’s do this! Final run!” to “Oh my god it’s steep! It’s long! How long is it exactly? And how long will it take? My legs are tired! Will I be able to make it? How long till I can take a break? Is there a bail-out option? Why did I ever think this was a good idea?!?!?! HEEEEEELLP!!!!”

But this morning, when my thoughts started to rapid cycle, I took some deep breaths. In and out. Cold, pure, mountain air. I looked at the snow on the pine trees. I saw the icicles hanging from the tips of the branches. I noticed how the trees seemed to grow out of the rocks, from barely any soil. In the distance I took in the blue sky, the mountains, how the snow goes from a dense white blanket to a speckled mixture of green and white, to dense evergreen lower down- a gradual transition from white to almost black without any discernible borders. I made a point of thinking “Just take it as it comes. Not even one run at a time, but one turn at a time, one moment at a time. It is what it is.”

Did it make a difference? I don’t know. I was less anxious than yesterday. I didn’t ski brilliantly, but I didn’t ski terribly. I didn’t have any moments of complete and utter panic and despair. I still wimped out of a lot of stuff I should have been able to do.

But at the end of the day I thought “It was what it was. I’m better than I used to be. I wasn’t as good as I can be at times, but that’s ok.” I didn’t worry about wasted time or wasted money. I felt like I had spent the day doing what it felt right to do at the time.

And I have convinced myself that as well as lots more formal skiing practice, I need lots more formal mindfulness practice. Fortunately, unlike skiing, I can do that every single day. Without breaking any bones.

Family Barometer

Some weeks ago there was a link on Facebook via The Guardian.com to an advice column written by Molly Ringwald– an actress who I associate mainly with the early 90s given that the only movie of hers I can name is The Breakfast Club, which was my best friend at school’s favourite movie (I was never entirely sure why but anyway).

I wondered what an ex (?forgive me Molly if you are still acting) actress might have to say in an advice column- so I idly followed the link to find out. She actually seemed to give quite sensible advice, the problem in question was posed by an adult (man or woman not specified, age over 30 but also not specified) who felt their family (mainly siblings) were becoming increasingly distant and disinterested in them. The details of the situation aren’t important but Molly made a point which I thought was quite well put, in saying “The true barometer for family is showing up, telling the truth and treating those we love with dignity and respect.”

My recent revelation to my sister that I don’t think her partner is a good choice for her (compounded by a couple of other fundamentally different opinions on various issues) has been playing on my mind a lot. Things came to a bit of a head over the Easter weekend when she announced their engagement, of which I was informed by text message. Still no attempt to address or even acknowledge my concerns. Neither has there been an invitation to the wedding, nor an express statement that I am not invited. They are getting married later this month, which for me, currently 38 weeks pregnant, makes it pretty much impossible to go (given that we are living in different countries). In fact, her only reference to me going or not was to say “I realise it’ll be impossible for you to come”. What makes me more angry than being invited or not invited is her (to my mind) evident cowardice in hiding behind my baby as a reason to avoid the issue of inviting me or not, not just with me but with other people who will no doubt all just assume (and if they don’t I imagine she’ll tell them) the reason I’m not going is because I’ll have just had a baby. Maybe I’m just being overly suspicious, but it all seems a bit too convenient. I had the decency to tell the truth, she replied with nothing remotely resembling dignity or respect, and now won’t even show up to the discussion.

It’s not the first time I’ve thought about my family, not just my sister, but also my parents, the way our relationship has turned out, the way we deal with (or, more commonly, avoid) issues as a family, and why things have turned out the way they have. Of course, it’s easy to aspire to the cheesey, convenient TV family set-up with its (usually mildly flawed but) functional relationships and thick layer of warm and fuzzies, but I’ve never been under any illusion that that was us. Thinking about some of my friends, (somewhat depressingly) none of them seem to have what I’d class as an ideal relationship with their parents, or their siblings for the most part. Mr L probably comes the closest with his parents, which seems to pretty much fit Molly’s definition to a tee.

My relationship with my parents is harmonious enough, but at times superficial and lacking in depth or honesty. The other thing I really feel is missing is an active interest in my life (and perhaps mine in theirs too). I mean, they ask how things are, how are the kids, how’s work etc but occasionally it becomes painfully evident that my parents have no idea what I do on a day-to-day basis. As was perfectly demonstrated when I passed my second big set of post-graduate exams, marking the “end” of my vocational training and thus signifying I’d “made it” in my chosen career. I even invited them to Melbourne for the graduation ceremony (which they attended). My Mum then told me some weeks later that my grandmother had asked what I’d “become” now that I’d passed these major exams and she hadn’t been sure what to tell her. I’d devoted over 1000 hours of study to these exams, travelled interstate and overseas to train for and sit them, and my own mother couldn’t actually tell anyone the significance of them to my career, what they “meant” to me.

It’s slipped out before that she really has no idea what I do at work, and I very much doubt if she’d be able to tell you much else about my life in detail, like how many marathons I’ve run (two) let alone where they were (the Gold Coast and Auckland). In fact, she probably wouldn’t confidently be able to tell you I’d actually run a marathon at all. In contrast, Mr L’s parents (who admittedly we do speak with more often but I think that’s a result of their interest rather than the cause) will know if I’m doing even a 10km local fun run and will wish me good luck as well as ask how I went afterwards.

At times I’ve felt close(ish) to my sister. It’s usually been when she’s been at a time of change or uncertainty in her life, such as when she left her first husband. I’ve always thought is was quite telling that I didn’t ask her to be a bridesmaid at my wedding. This was partly because we had a very small wedding and having too large a wedding party would have been silly, but also because I felt absolutely no genuine desire to have her standing beside me as I got married, I didn’t think too hard about why not, I simply felt it would have been a bit token and meaningless. And that was 6 months after she’d left her husband, so based on what I’ve just said, that’s when I thought we were closer than usual!

I’ve sometimes blamed the 4 year age gap or the fact that she’s devoutly religious, and I really hoped that as we went further into adulthood and the relative age gap narrowed that we’d maybe have a bit more in common. Then when her marriage broke up and she left her (loser) first husband, I thought and hoped that maybe a bit of her personality had returned, she’d move away from the hypocrisy that so much of religion is and that she might become more “normal” and our relationship more functional or at least meaningful in turn. But sadly, husband-to-be number 2 is even more of a loser than number 1, and the way things are at the moment, the chances of ever being functional are slim…

In many ways, I feel it’s too late to fundamentally change the relationship I have with either my parents or my sister. I think the reasons we’ve ended up the way we have mainly include personality (that’s just the way they/we are), habit (that’s the way things have always been) and communication style (avoidant and minimalist) but the main reason it bothers me is that I don’t want my kids to be saying similar things about me one day. I can’t do a lot to change my personality but I can certainly show up and communicate better than my family has with me and avoid letting apathy and complacency become a habit.

“Showing up, telling the truth and treating those we love with dignity and respect”: food for thought.

 

 

February summed up

Well, I feel as though I am ending February with a spectacular FAIL. I got as far as printing my resolution chart out but neglected to actually put it up anywhere visible (in fact I’d go so far as to say I lost it) let alone fill it in.

I limped through last weekend at work, thinking “I just have to make it to Tuesday”. Well I made it, and then struggled through Tuesday tired and preoccupied instead of enjoying being at home. Wednesday was better but then yesterday fell hopelessly apart by bedtime with Master L, Miss L and mummy all tired (Master L after preschool, Miss L mysteriously having refused her daytime sleep and mummy having stayed up too late the night before doing nothing constructive).

I feel like I am constantly making excuses for myself- yes I’m pregnant, yes I’m tired, so what? So go to bed earlier! It was MY decision to have a third baby (and a first, and a second), no one else’s (well except Mr L I suppose!) and it’s not fair that I take out being tired and pregnant and fat (not just pregnant fat- too much food fat!) on the kids.

When Master L sobs back at me “Mummy why do you have to shout at us?” and Miss L goes and hides in the spare room…. I feel like the worst mother in the world. Especially when I answer his question in my head “I have no reason, bubba, except that I’m just being a shitty mother this evening”.

Maybe I should have followed Gretchen’s lead and worked on Vitality first rather than Attitude. Some fresh air and more quality sleep might have put me in a better frame of mind….

So, overall, as far as the resolutions went:

 

No negative FB posts- B+ This was easier than I thought
Use your kind voice C- Started off ok and got worse. This is really a conscious decision. I can choose what I use!
Area of refuge C+ I got better at this, but didn’t feel it had a huge impact
Use your kind voice FAIL I was terrible at this!! But it sort of reappears in March, so I’ll give it another crack.

 

Anyway there are just under 48 hours left of Feb… probably not enough time to redeem myself but I can at least improve on the past 48 hours!

February Happiness project- Attitude

And so (given that I finished her book at the very end of January), I decided February would be the start of my Gretchen Rubin-inspired Happiness project. Not long to plan, exactly, I know, but I thought I’d ride the motivational wave and get stuck in.

More t/f on the rest of the project (assuming I keep at it!) but it’s fairly closely modelled on Gretchen’s: essentially, tackling one area a month with some more specific goals laid out. I thought I’d start with “Attitude”. Interestingly, she leaves this one until November, which didn’t make much sense to me when I read the book. I thought if I worked on this first, the remaining 11 months might be a bit easier.

So my mini-goals/tasks/resolutions were:

1) No negative FB updates

2) Use your kind voice– funnily enough as soon as I started this I got an email from The Parenting Place– some NZ parenting support group I’ve had almost nothing to do with except signing up for their newsletter in a moment of weakness. They don’t send a lot of useful stuff, but I found this timely:

“As parents it’s easy to forget that how we say something often matters as much as what we say. If you have a child who can be resistant, keep the fight out of your voice and try using charm instead. It’s amazing what can be achieved when our tone of voice lets our kids know that we expect them to make a good choice. Making a decision to sound calm and happy often has the added benefit of making you feel calm and happy – a win/win for everyone.”

Sounds so simple doesn’t it? Along with it went a resolution to try and say “Yes” as much as possible. “Yes I’ll play with you. Yes we can go to the park. Yes you can help me make your breakfast”. What no one has told me is how you’re meant to respond when they throw it back in your face- when, after a morning of speaking kindly and saying “yes”, Master L has a meltdown because you say (kindly) “Yes we can build sandcastles on the beach…. Another day. Now we have to go home and have lunch and put Miss L down for a sleep”. And suddenly your sweet obliging child turns into an ungrateful, entitled monster and you’re almost sorry you bothered indulging him in the first place.

3) Find an area of refuge– “when people’s minds are unoccupied,” Gretchen says, “they tend to drift to anxious or angry thoughts. And rumination- dwelling on slights, unpleasant encounters and sad events- leads to bad feelings”. I’ve found this hard as it’s a bit vague. Apart from the argument with my sister, which has taken up more of my headspace than it should, what I’ve been trying to do is think of nice things- the new baby, holidays etc, before I go to sleep at night.

4) Smile more– especially when you feel negative or anxious

Gretchen recommends keeping a resolution chart, ticking off each day which resolutions you pretty much stuck to and reviewing it to see how you are going.

Now that we’re half way through February, I wonder if the reason she left this one till last is that it’s so bloody hard! Apart from the fact that it’s a bit more abstract in nature than, say, eating healthily, it requires an incredible amount of determination, resolve and energy to maintain a good attitude towards life in general. As Gretchen her self says,

“It’s easier to complain than to laugh, easier to yell than to joke around, easier to be demanding than be satisfied.”

Especially when you are moderately heavily pregnant with your third child… (Don’t make excuses, fortunately, is not on the chart).

February’s been an up and down month anyway. It started with a solo night away in Melbourne for me at a work meeting. I finished the book the night before I left and was all fired up to plan my project and start! I found 2 days (and one, blissful night in a comfortable bed in a cool, dark, quiet hotel room) unbelievably refreshing. I came back relaxed and energised and feeling like I’d had a holiday. Maybe something to do with the fact that we did, then, go on holiday for a week, back to Sydney, which was also a really enjoyable week.

Since coming home though, I’ve really struggled with work, especially, but also the day to day routine in general. I’m tired, annoyed with the annoying bits (of work) and desensitised to the good bits. Maternity leave is within view but before it lie 2 more night shifts and another weekend. Plus a number of work things I need to get done before I go on leave. And it seems like every week for the next month or so either Mr L is away or I am either away or working a weekend. Other things, like petty arguments with my sister, a slight change in routine for the kids and a ton of things on my to-do list that I never seem to get on top of, have allowed a negative attitude to stomp all over my resolutions and February happiness goals.

So I’m finding it hard! But half of Feb is left. The last couple of days I have been angry Mummy and I don’t like it at all, so I’m going to do and print my chart out right now and hopefully add some more ticks to it…

Happiness is…

One of my “things” for 2015 was to look more into the concept of happiness. I had stumbled across Shawn Achor already and then I stumbled across Gretchen Rubin and her “Happiness Project”. Intrigued, I reserved her book of the same title in the library and I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago.

It’s hard to say what I thought of it. She certainly had a lot of interesting stuff to say and it provided ample food for thought over the last couple of weeks. Evidently intelligent, educated and articulate, she writes about a year of her life where she conducts her own Happiness Project, dedicating each month to a specific task, area or goal intended to make her happier.

I guess I was expecting a light- hearted, witty, entertaining account where she transformed her life with minimal effort into something shiny and bright. Instead, the book was an honest, considered, almost thesis-style report of some of the day-to-day details of her life she felt she needed to change to become happier. As I said, there was a lot of interesting stuff in there, but there were also quite a few bits I skipped (such as reprints of lengthy comments posted by her own blog followers). She came across as a rather serious person who really had to try hard to embrace happiness. In her own words:

“I had a tendency to be discontented: ambitious, dissatisfied, fretful, and tough to please.”

She just doesn’t come across as a particularly likeable author, protagonist and main character and I think that’s partly what un-did me. Likeable’s possibly the wrong word, it’s not that she’s unlikeable either… but then, it’s not a work of fiction and I don’t think it’s designed to entertain, as such, it’s an act of sharing, and if by sharing, it helps people, great. Of course, it’s also how she makes a living now (as a writer).

I think the main things that bothered me about this book, through no fault of the author’s, were

  1. There was no overnight transformation, no magic bullet, just a series of real, practical steps requiring effort and commitment (and therefore much more applicable to most people’s lives).
  2. Instead of featuring someone I fancied myself as in a slightly more glamorous, story-book life (my “superhero self”), the author, in all her serious, grudge-bearing imperfection is actually much more like the real me than I like to admit.

Unfortunately, the week after I finished it, it was due back at the library but I managed to spend some time going through the book again and picked out some of the bits that might work for me. In fact, at the back of the book she includes the web address for her blog and some practical tools that might help the reader with their own happiness project.

And so I have mapped out my own rough Happiness Project for 2015, starting this month, Februray, with “Attitude”…. TBC!

 

Moving countries- 6 months on

It’s almost 6 months since we moved country- admittedly not a huge cultural leap from Sydney to Auckland but nonetheless, a move which brought with it significant logistical and psychological challenges.

This is the second time in my life I’ve moved countries, the first was from the UK to Australia at the age of 12. While there are certain aspects that are easier to deal with now, as an adult, there are several things I wish I’d realised back then, which might have made the transition a bit easier. I will endeavour to remember them for next time, should there be one (back home or onwards elsewhere).

  1. Embrace the differences– it’s so easy to moan and groan about how much you miss x, y or z about home, about how things “just aren’t the same here” (anyway, if they were just the same, what would have been the point in coming?). We moved to NZ in winter, and while I was prepared for NZ winter weather being awful (which, as it happens, it wasn’t), I wasn’t prepared for the seeming absence of a spring. The wet, cold weather seemed to go on forever. As I drove home in an icy rain from Miss L’s swimming lesson one day in early November I lamented that it was only 12 degrees in the middle of the day! I’m used to high 20s and low 30s in November! While our friends in Sydney showed off about swimming in the ocean on circa 30-degree days, I just got sick of hearing “November rain” on the radio (yep, hilarious, every DJ seems to think they’re being clever playing that song when it rains in November). This last week or two, however, I’ve been really enjoying the weather. Yes, the rain has eased, which helps, but I actually much prefer 20 degrees to 40- you can’t DO anything in 40 degrees. The kids are hot, no one sleeps well, it’s just horrid. And the odd rainy day is easier to bear, because I’ve valued the nice ones so much more. One of the other things I’ve missed is breakfasting out- we haven’t really found any café that does a decent, reasonably priced breakfast. But we’ve found alternatives: breakfast at home (pancakes, scrambled eggs, home made bacon & egg rolls) and rediscovered the pleasure of lazing around in our pyjamas till 9am catching up with the in-laws on FaceTime, or driving out to the Farmers’ Markets at Clevedon, where they do awesome bacon and egg rolls and coffee, the kids can run around and we can stroll around and pick up some free-range eggs or farm-grown veggies and make a whole morning of it.
  2. Get involved– in September I joined a playgroup. I had always avoided them in Sydney, having had a couple of mediocre experiences which left me wondering why I’d bothered dragging the kids out to sit around with a load of strangers watching everyone fight over the communal toys. But here I have been lucky enough to find a lovely playgroup and have met some very nice, very normal Mums. A couple have become people I can catch up with at other times during the week, a couple more are just people I run into every now and then at the library or the supermarket, and it makes me feel so much more at home in our new neighbourhood to be able to say hello to people I know in the street! Maybe taking up a new sport or joining some other group might have helped me at school, too, instead of sitting around with my instant group of 4 arbitrary friends waiting for more people to come up and initiate contact.
  3. If something’s not working, move on (but give it a good go first)- Next year we are changing swimming schools. I’ve given our current one 6 months and have decided it’s not for us. I sometimes wonder if I’d been truer to myself at the age of 12 and not bothered with things I wasn’t really interested in (like some of those arbitrary friends, perhaps), or didn’t feel rewarded by (the violin, the agriculture club), I might have avoided a lot of the angst I felt then.
  4. Pursue your pre-existing interests but also look for new ones There are so many running events- long, short, on-road, off-road, local, far away, regular, one-offs etc around here. I’m really looking forward to getting into some of them after Baby L is born. We bought a stand up paddle-board shortly after arriving and (to my surprise) I’m actually not too bad at it. Somehow putting on a wetsuit and paddling out on the harbour when It’s 14 degrees doesn’t feel as crazy here as it would in Sydney! When I left England I had just discovered I wasn’t a bad runner and had started playing rounders with a team after school. When I moved to Australia, the spots on the athletic team were all taken and I didn’t know the rules of softball so decided there was no way I could play and clearly I’d never be considered a good runner at my new school if the places were full already, so they went by the wayside, to the detriment of my fitness, weight and probably general well-being.
  5. Put a positive spin on things– so my job isn’t my dream job and in retrospect I should have taken on more hours, if for no other reason than to help me settle in a bit quicker. But hey, that leaves me the luxury of being able to pick up extra shifts when I want to, for a higher hourly rate, and also gives me the flexibility to get some new experience doing other things. I’m enrolling to do an extra qualification while I’m here which will hopefully not only be useful and interesting, but make me more employable next time I apply for a job, as well as giving me something concrete I can say I’ve achieved whilst here.
  6. Make the most of it– we have made a big list of places we want to see and visit while we’re here, and we’ve been making an effort to go to as much as possible around Auckland too- from Christmas carols on the local village green to visiting waterfalls, volcanoes and bike tracks further afield. Not to mention the zoo and the various museums. We don’t want to turn around at the end of our time here and say “Well we always meant to see more of NZ but somehow never got around to it”. As a 12 year-old who’d migrated permanently without any say in the matter, it was harder to see our move from England as something finite to be “made the most of”, but when I look back at my high school days, what I really regret was finishing school and feeling like I’d missed out. On friendships, experiences, hobbies, all sorts, essentially due to the giant chip on my shoulder, which constantly whispered in my ear “It’s not fair, I hate it here, these people aren’t my friends, I wish I was at home”. With an attitude like that, it’s clear to me now that it’s no wonder I didn’t feel like I fitted in. Maybe if I’d been less concerned with fitting in for the sake of fitting in and more concerned with taking an interest in other people, places and activities because they might actually be fun and new, I’d have found my company was much more appealing to other people. No one (really) seeks out unhappy, bitter, grudge-bearers to spend time with. Someone who’s enthusiastic and willing to give things a try, whether it’s sport, music, language or anything, really, is always going to get more out of life.
  7. It’s not just you having to adjust– something I never really thought too hard about after we emigrated to Australia was that maybe my parents found it hard as well. My mother, being the way she is (and possibly because she was the one who drove the move to Australia) was very vocal and somewhat patronising about how wonderful Australia was and how fabulously we were all doing, while I personally thought nothing could be further from the truth. Whether that was cover-up or what she truly believed, I’m not sure. Rather than this false bravado, I don’t think it would have hurt for my parents to have asked how we were doing, or at least acknowledge that things might have been hard for us, and for us to do the same. I remember my sister telling me years later how she’d been picked on and at times pushed around in the playground because she had different shoes to the other kids and because of her accent. I was really ashamed to hear that, because I’d never for a moment considered she might have had trouble settling in too- she was only 8 and I so I thought she was too young to feel any kind of adjustment shock. She seemed to have a close group of friends so what was the problem? Teenage self-centeredness to some extent, but sometimes, even now, I find myself assuming it’s all so hard for ME changing jobs and leaving my friends, when in fact I also need to think about the kids (ok they are really tiny, so probably not analysing the differences too much!) but also Mr L, who has taken on a whole load of new challenges himself, not to mention gaining a (at times) homesick and complaining wife!

Of course, some of these things are lessons learned not through my specific experiences but just as part of the general process of growing up. At 12, belonging to a “group” at school is the most important thing in the world- having people to eat lunch with or walk from the train station with are make-or-break issues in the daily happiness of a teenager. I remember asking my Mum when I started at my second new school in 6 months and she started her second new job “Is starting a new job as bad as starting a new school?” I just couldn’t bear the thought that for the rest of my life I was going to have to deal with the overwhelming feelings of loneliness and fear that starting a new school brought, every time I started a new job (which both my parents did frequently so I assumed this was the norm). Fortunately, her answer was “no” and, even more happily, she was right. Partly I suppose, because adults are generally better adjusted and more considerate of social niceties than kids, and of course, a professional setting is very different to the largely social setting that is school.

But what I really like about being a grown-up trying to make new friends is that if I don’t like someone very much, or don’t have much in common with them, I don’t have to spend time with them. It’s ok to have friends who belong to more than one “group”. It’s ok to have friends who are different to all your other friends.

The other thing I know is that if we decide we were happier back in Sydney and that’s where we want to be, then that’s where we’ll go. But I need to be mindful of the last lesson in the list:

      8. Everything changes– Just as you are changing and moving on, so are the people “back home”. When I was 16 , we went back to the UK for a visit and the hardest thing was realising there wasn’t a space reserved with my name on it, people had moved on, they weren’t sitting around waiting for me to reappear (I had flattered myself!) I need to remember that if and when we go back, my job will have changed, my friends will have changed, mothers group may no longer meet, Master L’s preschool may have closed down, neighbours will have moved out, our nanny may not be available any more. But that’s just part of life really, all the more reason to make the most of now.

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.”