Tag Archives: life lessons

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.

168 hours

Some weeks ago, I read Laura Vanderkam’s 168 hours. Actually, I borrowed 3 of her books from the library but read 168 hours first because it was written first. Which was a good decision, because the other two I borrowed (I Know How She Does It and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast) are essentially the principles of 168 hours applied in subtly different contexts. I must confess I skipped the latter and returned it to the library unread.

I had mixed (but mostly positive) feelings about what she had to say. Essentially, the basic message of the book is that we aren’t as busy as we think we are and we have more time than we think we do (168 hours per week, to be precise). That’s a lot of time. Even if you work 50 hours a week and get 8 hours sleep a night, that’s still 62 hours a week to do other things. Which, regardless of how you look at it, is a lot of time. I guess many “busy” people will say “Oh but you still have to factor in your commute, cooking, cleaning, showering, down time (ie TV and internet in most cases), it’s amazing how it all fills up!” Yes, it is amazing, that’s part of Vanderkam’s point. We fritter away all this time and then complain that we have no time to do the things we “really want to” do.

She recommends keeping a time log for a week, recording every 15 or 30 minutes what you’re doing. I managed this for about 2 days. I found that, rather than make me to realise how much time I waste on Facebook (I don’t need a time log to tell me that!) it made me more productive as I was conscious of not wanting to write “checking FB” in my log. Which is one of Gretchen’s big things for habit change- the strategy of monitoring, whereby recording your actions has the effect of automatically improving your performance, even without any analysis or conscious attempt to change.

At first I started to think that what Vanderkam had to say was contradictory to the slow-living/mindfulness philosophy I’ve been working gradually into our lives lately. “Making the most” of an idle 5 or 15 minutes here or there seemed like a recipe for being overwrought. But much of her approach is very much in line with slow living. She says, in the introduction:

Like everything else, living intentionally becomes easier over time.

Another of the strategies the book advocates for creating time to do more enjoyable things and fewer chores is outsourcing. Vanderkam cites multiple examples of people (albeit mainly single men) who pay a cleaner, someone to do their laundry, their ironing and even their cooking. She suggests buying ready or partly-made meals. I have to admit she started to lose me here. We’ve had a cleaner before and while, in some respects, I do agree to paying someone to do the things I don’t want to do myself (she seems to assume money is no issue for most of us), I can’t pay someone to do all the things I don’t want to do all the time. For example, the most we would ever have a cleaner is once a week. Before they come I would tidy up and put things away, because I want them to clean the shower and mop the floors (jobs I hate), not tidy up (which I don’t have a huge problem doing). I think probably almost 50% of the benefit of having the cleaner comes from the tidying up you do before they come. Another 20% is the “Wow” factor when you walk into your spotless house. This lasts maybe half a day and then it’s all undone again. Chances are the vacuuming will need doing again before they come again next week. A maximally useful cleaner to me would probably come and clean for an hour every second day, then a bit longer once a fortnight or once a month. But what cleaner wants to do that? And who wants to be tidying up for a cleaner every other day?

Many of her other outsourcing suggestions conflict with our zero-waste/environmental aspirations. I don’t want to buy “partly made” (read processed) meals. I don’t really want to drive anywhere to drop off my washing and even if someone drives to me to pick it up, I still have to be home to give it to them. And they’ve used petrol to drive to my house. Taking Mr L’s shirts to the dry cleaners to be washed and ironed is nice from time to time, but they return then wrapped in plastic and then you have to remember to get him to take the hangers back…. So, I wasn’t sold on that.

What I did like was her suggestion that you make a “list of 100 dreams” (I got to about 20) of things you’d like to do. Then, instead of letting your week fill up with all the wishy washy, chore-like, non-specific busyness of life, you take a 2 or 3 of those dreams (she suggests one is physical exercise) and you schedule time for them.

She’s also a big advocate for working mothers getting on with it and I like that. Lately I’ve become a little bored of the constant whine of the mummy blogger- “I’m so busy, I do everything for my kids, I’m burnt out, I’m so stressed, I’m anxious, I have no time for myself, I’m having a nervous breakdown”… these women stressing about housework and cooking and getting their kids to 100 different activities, all while working from home, where “work” seems to consist of posting articles on immaculately designed blogs about how to make these activities more efficient, more rewarding or more beautiful. So it’s actually quite refreshing to hear someone say “You can work a full time job and have children, but you might have to decide what it is in your and your kids lives that really matter and be a bit innovative with your routine in order to fit it all in. Oh and you’ll probably need to organise some childcare.” While the mummy blogger cries into her kombucha because she chose to be a SAHM (which I sometimes think ought to be renamed BAHM- Blog at Home Mum) but she actually finds it a bit unfulfilling at the end of the day. I’m being a bit harsh, they’re not all like that, but there are definitely a lot of martyrish overtones out there that wear a little thin after a while.

She sums up perfectly how I’d like to describe my attitude to being a working mother:

…Motherhood did not ruin my career, and my work has not detracted from how much I love being a mom, particularly the small moments the universe grants in abundance when you choose to pay attention.

All in all, this was quite a motivating book which encouraged me to look at how much time I have, how much time I waste, and re-think how I go about deciding what to do with my time. I also realised it’s actually nice to have a bit of time to do nothing, but it’s much nicer doing nothing when you do it intentionally. The book was easy to read and satisfying to finish. Thank you Laura!

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!!

To Don’t Do List

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

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

And so, my To Don’t Do list:

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

And #LetGo…

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.

 

 

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….

The “ick” factor

There was an episode of Sex and the City, I’m sure, with this title. Yep, I just Googled it, there was, but it had nothing to do with what I’m about to write about so I’ll stop there.

Several things this week have left me with an icky feeling….

A Christmas gift arrived from my parents. A case of wine. My heart sank for several reasons when I saw it. We bought them wine for Christmas, so there’s the obvious, ironic futility of buying each other essentially the same gift. Only it’s not the same gift. We bought them a gift pack of 4 wines from our favourite winery (Amisfield, FYI). We love their wines. My parents love their wine. In fact, they love any wine. And therein lies the problem.

I felt, even thought it was just wine, it was a reasonably thoughtful gift from us. I was raving to them when they came to stay about this Amisfield [no this is not a sponsored post, are you serious?] how we go there every time we are in Queenstown, how we joined their wine club, how amazing the food there is, how great they are with the kids…. And I thought buying Mum and Dad some (nice) wine might share a bit of that experience with them.

I’m not sure when we became such wine…. Connoisseurs? Snobs? Enthusiasts, perhaps, is the nicest way of putting it, but we like to drink nice wine. Not lots of it, just a glass in the evening, and we would almost NEVER get through a whole bottle between the two of us in one sitting and so we feel we can afford to pay a little more for our wine. Sure, there are the cheap and cheerful bottles you buy for a mid-week drink, or to have at a larger gathering where you might not get much of a look-in, but as a gift or for a special occasion, or even just for a weekend dinner, we like to splash out a bit.

Which is why I chose the smaller selection of pricier wines from a winery we love that means something to us, instead of just ordering a mixed case of sub $20/bottle wines to be delivered from a distributor down the road. I’d like to add it’s NOT about the money. At all. I wouldn’t actually have cared that much if they’d got us nothing. And I am glad they didn’t get us crap to clutter up the house.

It’s just the fact that, even after spending 10 days with us drinking our wine (not to mention all the other occasions we’ve taken wine along to dinners etc and they’ve commented “Oh, this is nice!” they seem to be so totally disconnected with what our interests and the smaller details of our existence really are. Did they not notice we don’t usually choose to drink $13 bottles of wine? Again, not about the money. That we generally choose Central Otago Pinot Noir, not Marlborough? Maybe they thought they’d diversify our tastes. That if we want a cheap mixed case we’ll buy our own? Actually, no, they didn’t notice that we don’t buy cheap mixed cases at all. Maybe they found it hard to justify the delivery cost for less than a case but found a case of nicer wine too pricey? I faced the same dilemma myself and just forked out the $50 shipping fee because I wanted to get them something nice but blowed if I was going to buy them $400 worth of wine!

Anywyay, as Mr L pointed out, we should try it first before we (I) get too carried away. And, as I pointed out, we can always save it and give it to them next time they come to visit.

Note to self, next time, just have a ready list of presents they can get us when they ask. One thing my sister seems to have down pat.

Facebook misunderstanding On a completely different note, on the same day, a friend took offence to something I said on Facebook. I was aiming for dry humour, he interpreted it as grumpy confrontationalism. (Is there such a word? Spellcheck seems to think not, but then again it can’t spell organise either.) Which just got me to thinking (again) what a waste of time FB can be.

Other things have made me re-think FB lately- some of my sister’s inappropriate postings, how much time I waste reading articles and blog links. I got full marks on a quiz the other day called “Do you know your plurals?”… like, duh, I did Latin and am a grammar Nazi. Of course I do!

It has its uses of course (FB, not the quiz, or Latin). For example I follow some vaguely useful pages such as the NZ Herald, so now have a clue about what’s going on in the world (see below). Some of the stuff people post is useful and interesting. But I think I have to reintroduce some ground rules, like limiting my hours and posts and culling (again) people who frequently seem to post time-wasters.

Anyway, back to my friend. He’d sent me a message saying “That was a bit odd…”, implying that he was offended by my comment, so I apologised, tried to explain what I’d been meaning to say, then when I went to delete my comment, he’d already removed it so I figured he really MUST have been offended. So I apologised some more. I think he felt a bit foolish as there then came an olive branch of a message by way of “Oh maybe I was just being grumpy, so how’s everything anyway?” No major damage done but it made me think how much of my time am I wasting thinking up witty retorts to other people’s inane comments when I could be doing something way more useful and avoid offending anyone?

Anyway in the grand scheme of things (and the grand scheme this week has included a Taliban massacre of school kids and teachers in Pakistan and the death of a 38 year old mother of 3 in Sydney in a hostage situation in a CBD café- she was the year behind me at school and the thought of her 3 kids spending Christmas next week- not to mention the rest of their lives- without their Mum brings tears to my eyes every time I think of it) these are not big issues.

But I think we’ll all be glad of a break over Xmas and I personally am very much looking forward to 2015.

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.”