Tag Archives: friends

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.

How do you tell someone that you don’t like their partner?

Well the first question, I guess, should be DO you tell someone that you don’t like their partner? Of course, it depends. If that person is your boss, then no, you don’t. If it’s a friend, well, it probably depends on how close a friend they are, if they’re happy with said partner, how serious it is and why it is you don’t like this partner. Do you just not “click” or is he (let’s assume for simplicity’s sake your friend is a heterosexual female) demeaning her, cheating on her or hitting her? Ok, so it’s a grey area with a lot of factors to consider.

 Let’s now assume for the sake of the argument that the heterosexual female in question is your sister. And the partner you don’t like is unofficially moved in with her, soon to be officially moved in with her. So the “person” you want to tell is important to you and all the signs are there that this is serious. To be absolutely sure, you ask “So, what do you see happening with Mr P long term?” and she says “Oh we’re planning on getting married”. So that clears up that glimmer of hope/doubt you may have had.

 You are philosophically at opposite ends of the spectrum from your sister and Mr P on several issues, namely religion, which doesn’t make objective analysis any easier, but you try and be as objective as possible anyway.

So what about him? Do you click? No. Have you ever? No. In fact, he struck you as slightly odd the first time you met him. Not just because of the dodgy boy-racer car and service station sunnies he was wearing (at the age of 36) but by the slightly immature way he said he didn’t mind driving 3 (noisy) hours between their houses because “she’s worth it”. Obsequious people always make you uncomfortable. The second time you met him he struck you as downright inappropriate, it was hardly an hour after giving birth to your second child and he tagged along with your sister when she visited you, still in the delivery suite, the blood-stained hospital linen barely cleared from the bed and you still naked from the waist down (under a sheet, but still….) Being half naked and dripping blood from your privates in front of any man other than your husband also makes you uncomfortable.

Is he good to your sister? Well, superficially, yes. He gives her gifts. He holds her hand. Constantly. At family functions. Glued to her side on the couch. According to her he’s very loving and supportive. Now consider your dog. She gives you tennis balls. And places her paw on your knee. And jumps up on the couch to put her head in your lap the minute you sit down. She dribbles a bit, which is probably the main difference from Mr P, but then you haven’t scrutinised them closely enough to be sure he doesn’t either.

Is he good for your sister? No. Definitely not. He has no job. He seems to have no particular desire to obtain or hold down a job. Putting food on the table is easily done when she pays for it. Oh and cooks it for him after he’s had a hard day doing nothing. It gradually emerges that he has some bizarre ideas. Ok so the religion is excusable, being the most widely socially acceptable form of lunacy there is (apologies to whoever I am misquoting there). But the anti-fluoride campaigns? The anti-vaccination sentiments? He never struck you as the kind of person you wanted hanging around your children, but suddenly you’re almost relieved that in 3 months you’ll have a newborn and you’ll be able to emphatically say “NFW he’s coming near my baby and giving them whooping cough”. And then you think “Stuff it, NFW is he coming near any of my babies with his kooky ideas and other weirdness.”

So you try and say to her “Is he REALLY what you need”. And she says “Yes.” Ok. Oh, sorry, you didn’t realise he had reasons to be weird and useless… the ADHD, the depression… excuses, excuses, excuses. And then the moving in becomes official, and they’re moving into a house which is going to be mortgaged in her name only, he’s still without a job, and your parents have put up half the deposit for the place. And they will be defacto in the eyes of the law and in 2 or 5 or 10 years when it all falls apart he’ll be legally entitled to half of what she has. And so you say “I know you think this is a good idea, but I DON’T and I feel I have to tell you why.” And then you wait for a response….

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.

Choose your own adventure

When I was about 10, I went through a phase of reading “Choose your own adventure” books. It’s probably around that age that many kids fancy themselves as Nancy Drew, or the Secret Seven, or whatever the current trend is (I must be dating myself terribly, now I’m sure it’s all Harry Potter and Wimpy Kid books). Regardless, when I was in primary school (before all this “tween” nonsense and at 10 you were still a kid) all I really wanted to be was a character out of Swallows and Amazons.

I liked the idea of choosing my own adventure and having some part in deciding how the story ended, even if most of the books seemed to be based in haunted houses fighting various ghouls rather than doing anything I really fancied, but they frustrated me no end as I always seemed to end up in a loop. Instead of getting to the end of the story and out of the house, I’d keep being directed back to the same page, having to make the same decision over and over again. Trying to choose a different door to leave the room by somehow never seemed to work: no matter what different options I tried to take, I’d keep coming back to the same page until I eventually got frustrated and gave up.

Of late, on our own big adult adventure, I’ve had a couple of moments (ok days) where I’ve really struggled. I like to think I’ve maintained perspective, that I’m acknowledging that changing countries is going to be challenging and going to take time to adjust to but even so things have, at times, felt a bit miserable.

During my latest bout of negativity, exacerbated by work, child and stress-related sleep deprivation, I got a bit sick of myself and my own attitude towards things and decided I was tired of feeling rotten and looking on the negative side and that it was time to pull myself together. I embarked on this adventure upon without coercion, with my eyes wide open. I agreed to leave my job, my friends, my home, and come here for a change of scene and to experience new things. To be sitting around feeling homesick because I liked Master L’s old swimming school better or I was missing my weekly catch-ups at the local park with 4 women known only to me through the random birth-dates of our eldest children, seemed pathetic, but much to my dismay, it was how I felt.

So I decided I needed to focus again on choosing my own adventure, embracing the positives and trying to see through or around the negatives.

Friends & Family

When we left I boldly declared “I only see each of my friends once every 3-6 months each anyway, I don’t think I’ll miss them.” Besides which, now that no one has phone conversations any more, I wouldn’t even miss talking to them, as the main acceptable mode of communication these days seems to be via text message, email or Facebook.

As you are pottering around the house one morning you decide to:

a) Facetime a friend

b) Skype your Applephobic parents

c) Both of the above

 You choose c. Fuelled by the success of a (long-planned) Skype chat with your parents once morning, you suggest a Skype chat later in the day with a friend. Her kids are at daycare, Miss L is asleep and Master L occupied, and you have a lovely long chat with fewer child-related interruptions than if you’d been face to face on a “playdate” (as catchups with kids now seem to be known).

Kids

Not a patient person at the best of times, I sometimes (ok frequently) wonder how I will keep from going insane and how my kids will ever turn into functional humans who don’t hate me, if I keep yelling and screaming at them. I hate myself for getting frustrated and angry at them but it’s hard when I’m tired, bored and not really sure what I’m doing.

One evening after a particularly angry day, you decide to

a)    Take a vow of silence. Maybe if you don’t speak and just ignore them they will feed, dress, toilet and basically raise themselves

b)    Ask the dog to look after them some afternoons to give you a break

c)     Seek out a simple, more socially acceptable (and legal) strategy to help you change your approach

You choose c. Surfing the good old net (again!) you stumble across the Abundant Mama website and in particular this post strikes a chord. You adopt “Just be kind” as your new mantra and it probably helps reduce your yelling by about 30% on the first day. Plus it has lots of other useful-looking bits and pieces on it to check out.

Things to do

I must admit, at times I’ve been a bit bored. I scratch my head to think what it is I would have been doing at home that would have prevented such boredom, I can’t think of too many worthwhile things there were to do at home that I don’t have here. Perhaps playdates and coffees and catch-ups did happen more frequently than I thought. Or maybe I just spent more time than I like to admit surfing the net and watching TV. Loneliness is probably boredom’s best friend, so not having much to do has certainly not helped me feel any less homesick, either.

Given you have a surplus of free time you decide to:

 a) Bake lots of cakes and eat them

b) Take up stand-up-paddleboarding

c) Plan lots of fun and exciting things to do with the other Ls, in and out of town

You start off with a but then realise your pants are too tight and you have gained 3kg. So you try b and have an awesome SUP lesson with Mission Bay Watersports and learn to stand up and paddle the SUP Master L bought on the weekend. You are also going to do c, but one thing at a time, right?

Work

Possibly the biggest challenge. I’ve taken a slightly less senior job than I had in Sydney, as there wasn’t anything directly equivalent available. While being very positive about this on a good day (I’m getting out of the house, maintaining my skills, not getting caught up in bureaucracy and, if nothing else, earning money), on a not-so-good day it can be a little frustrating being condescended to (on occasion) and constantly explaining myself to people and trying to tell them I’m better than they might think.

After a particularly demoralising day at work you decide to:

a)    Skulk around complaining about how bored and under-challenged you are

b)    Roll your eyes and mutter how no-one realizes you’re more senior than this

c)     Prove yourself by performing and acting appropriately for your level of experience and ability and in time maybe there’ll be an opening for you at a more senior level (unlikely if you choose a or b)

You choose c.  As soon as a vacancy comes up, you are put into the position and everyone expresses their admiration that you were humble enough to get a foot in the door this way, as well as the more junior people confessing they felt secretly threatened by the fact that you are more senior to them.

So there you have it: my very own choose your own adventure. And hopefully, unlike the books, with this one I won’t end up in a loop coming back to the same page over and over again.

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

Things that matter

For some reason over the last week or so I’ve been drifting back towards the organisational blogs (reading them, not writing them). I’m not sure why, but I’ve been avidly reading about how people set out their diaries, organise their pantries, fold their laundry… it may be because there’s a preponderance of these types of posts with it being a new year. Or perhaps I’ve been seeking this kind of thing out, after all, we have some big changes coming up and what better way to ease the stress than be organised?

This afternoon while Master and Miss L (both) slept (at the same time, yes, I know!) I found myself reading a post about a lovely-sounding Californian blogger’s fridge. How she cleaned it, organised it and, finally, photographed it in all its tidy glory. I read all about how she “hates” packaging and so she unwraps her fruit & veggies, throws away the shop’s plastic bags and packets, washes the fruit & veg, then places it into her own plastic bags (or disposable tubs, which I bloody well hope she re-uses). As I scrolled down the page there were photos of her fruit bowl (empty and full), a plastic container full of (washed) baby carrots and then, finally (before I closed the page) her kitchen sink, half full of water, with apples, blueberries and strawberries bobbing around in it (allegedly these are the fruits that “really” need cleaning…. Do they? Maybe in North America but not here they don’t).

I couldn’t believe I was wasting my precious “me” time looking at this stuff. I mean really, the only time I EVER wash fruit or veg is if you can actually see SOIL on it. I fed Mr L a caterpillar last week because I didn’t bother washing the herbs from our garden (or, more accurately, the garden from our herbs). What a completely unnecessary exercise. Not to mention a waste of time, water and, in this lady’s case, plastic!! So I got up from reading this blog to do something useful. My laundry cupboard has had a strange smell coming from it for the last few weeks, it’s gross. So I took everything out of it and wiped it down, waited till it dried and then put everything back again (Actually, no, I rehoused 2 cans of dog food and 3 unused nappies). The offending odour-emitter remains a mystery. I also made a batch of MYO (make your own) washing powder. Hopefully it’s better than the liquid version I made, as I have a whole box of soap flakes and sodium carbonate to use up…. I then tidied a shelf, updated my to do list, and sat back down at my computer, feeling slightly virtuous that I had got up and “done something”.

So the afternoon ticked along pretty much to plan, the only glitch being Master L’s tantrum at the shops when the ride-on car he considers “his” was occupied by another child and I decided I would not indulge him by hanging around waiting for the other kid to get off, I would teach him that life’s not fair, sometimes you miss out on car rides and the like but life goes on and you come back tomorrow. You assume.

So I was feeding the kids dinner and my phone pinged with a text message. I wondered who it could possibly be as Mr L was home already, finishing some work upstairs. I actually thought maybe it was him texting to ask me to put the kettle on. I wish it had been.

Instead, it was a close friend of mine sending a group text announcing that her leukaemia, first diagnosed 10 years ago, had relapsed again and was now involving her brain. She apologised for the text but said the last 72 hours had been so emotionally exhausting, being diagnosed and then telling her and her husband’s families, that she didn’t feel she could speak to anyone else. I’m not a haematologist, but her prognosis must be pretty bleak. My first thought when she rang me after she was initially diagnosed in 2004 was “She’s going to die”. Ditto in 2011 with news of her first relapse. Just the other day I was wondering how it must feel for her to live with the shadow of the possibility of yet another relapse over her head and was she really “cured”?

I have felt irrationally guilty both times I have told her I was pregnant, each time she came to see me each time in hospital after giving birth and every time she has asked to hold my babies, because she can’t have her own. Medically it was not always out of the question and after her first treatment and supposed “cure” she was trying to get pregnant, but very early on she admitted to me “I don’t want to have motherless children” and I knew that, despite her positive outlook and brave face, she recognised that my (pessimistic) view of her long-term prognosis was not an unreasonable one. Countless times I have felt bad complaining to her about grizzly kids and not enough sleep and early mornings and never have I genuinely envied her nice dinners out, her business class flights, the things you just don’t do with children. The price she has paid for those luxuries is just too high.

She’s not the only person who’s made me think about what matters, about how very lucky I am, about how, in a moment, it’s all gone…. Not even 6 degrees of separation, but just one degree away, awful, awful things happen to people… a university acquaintance of mine took his own life, one of my work colleagues died of a heart attack at 36, leaving his wife 6 months pregnant with their 4th child, a school friend of mine is currently struggling along with a rare incurable lung cancer. Stillbirths, miscarriages, kids with cancer (actually, anyone with cancer), people’s husbands dying in freak accidents…

I think about how fragile we are when in a moment- the moment the lab technician looks down the microscope at a field full of blast cells, the moment the atheromatous plaque ruptures in the left main coronary- it can all be whipped out from under us. They’re everywhere, examples of the transience of life and how precious our time here is.

And so I say to myself, on days like this… who cares if someone chooses to wash their already-clean fruit (and write about and photograph it?) Who cares if my laundry cupboard smells? Who cares if Master L wakes me up again tonight for milk he really doesn’t need and I get 15 minutes less sleep? Because these are not the things that matter. The things that matter are cherishing the time you have, the people you love and the world around you. Because one day, you will be gone.

I know we can’t go round all the time being grateful and not sweating the small stuff and all that crap. I’ve already talked about the “living in the moment” philosophy. I know I will go back to reorganising the wine glasses in the cupboard by category, to straightening the hand towel in the bathroom (yes, I’ve seen Sleeping With The Enemy) and to complaining about things that really don’t matter. But someone I once worked with told me “It’s a wonderful world and you’re in it”… and today I’m reminded how very true that is.

Other People’s Children

Recently (well actually ever since my eldest child reached playground-enjoying age) I have been thinking to myself increasing frequently how much I abhor other people’s children (OPCs). There are some exceptions, of course- I do tolerate my friends’ kids, I even think some of them are quite sweet but on the whole, I’d have to agree with the (so far childless) friend of mine who once said children are like farts- you find other people’s universally offensive but your own strangely gratifying.

My mother always said how easy it is to raise other people’s children, and god knows I’m sure there are many mothers who have watched me with disapproval in the shopping centre/playground/library when I fail to toe the parenting line. But on the whole, I’m prepared to risk accusations of hypocrisy and complain about several OPC traits:

OPCs are rude They interrupt. Constantly. And because whatever they have to say is so important, their parents do not teach them to wait. Instead, the child will start blabbing to its parent when you are mid-sentence and, annoyingly, the parent will immediately stop listening to what you are saying and usually go so far as to prolong the interruption while they engage in a new conversation with their child. “Please don’t interrupt, I’m talking” is a phrase that I don’t think I’ve heard since I was a child myself, coming from my own mother’s mouth.

OPCs push in This is the physical equivalent of interrupting and irks me not only because I am trying to teach my own child some manners but also because I don’t like to see him pushed around. Once he can put more than 4 words together in a sentence, I plan to teach him to tell OPCs to bugger off and wait their turn- politely, of course.

OPCs are entitled– they insist in climbing UP the slide when other kids are trying to slide down it. They ask ME, a total stranger, to push them on the swing. They strike up random conversations with me when I’m happily minding my own (and my child’s) business. They seize my child’s bike (in the rare moments that his own bottom’s not firmly planted on it) without asking… surely there is some kind of playground code of conduct outlawing this kind of behaviour? If not, I’m happy to write one.

OPCs screech and shriek– I cannot understand why their parents allow this. I can’t stand the sound of my own child screeching, are their children’s shrieks somehow less offensive? When Master L was about 8 months old he started screeching intermittently. It was awful…. I was terrified that it would continue and I would have a screecher. Fortunately it didn’t. Once I figured out that me shrieking at him to stop shrieking was completely ineffective, I decided to ignore the shrieking and instead reply enthusiastically as often as I could to his more melodious, measured, although just as nonsensical babble. The screeching phase lasted less than a fortnight.

OPCs eat constantly. They eat crap. Their mothers offer their child’s crap to my child and I feel slightly inadequate that the only thing I have in my mummy-bag for my child is something boring and un-sharable like an apple. Not pureed (although this is obviously forgivable if your child is yet to sprout teeth and learn to chew & swallow), not dried, not boiled up in sugar and rolled out into a flat synthetic sheet, not even peeled and cut up into pieces (and definitely not prophylactically rinsed in lemon juice to stop it going brown although there are apparently mothers out there who do this) but an apple. Skin intact, for eating in the traditional way. The only processing required is removing that annoying little fruit sticker.

OPCs are intrusive– They run around my house (when they are allowed into it). They run up the stairs and through all the bedrooms (shrieking all the way). Their shoes remain on their feet. They jump on the couches and go through the cupboards. They roam around the house eating (see previous point- I forgot to add they never seem to sit down to eat their crap), smearing their synthetic toddler snacks over the couch, the TV screen, the walls… everywhere.

OPCs are obsessed with my dog– This behaviour is encouraged by their parents, who always announce proudly “oh he loooooves dogs!” These children do not love dogs, in fact these are the children who barely know what a dog is. Children who are actually familiar with dogs completely ignore mine because they generally have their own at home (or in tow if the mother is really saintly/crazy). Moreover, I am expected to protect the OPCs from my dog, hoping desperately that she tolerates the ear-tugging and eye-poking without snapping at the kid. That would undoubtedly be completely my fault and my dog would be classified as “dangerous” rather than “normal”. Fortunately my dog is actually infinitely more tolerant than me and seems to cope with the poking and prodding fairly well.

I’m beginning to think I could learn a lot from my dog about tolerance. On the other hand, sometimes I think it’s not the OPCs I find so irritating, but simply the OPs themselves…