Tag Archives: life lessons

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.

A History Lesson

.. and I’ve seen it before

.. and I’ll see it again

.. yes I’ve seen it before

.. just little bits of history repeating

I’m turning into my parents.  Actually, make that past tense. I used to think this was something to be proud of but now, more and more, I feel as though I’m channeling the worst of each of them.

My father- short tempered, socially awkward, he’s a strange combination of obsessive compulsive and procrastinator/non-finisher extraordinaire. He seems unable to see projects through till the end (what he does, he does perfectly but doesn’t finish anything which makes all that perfection kind of pointless).

My mother- much more submissive although hardly short of an opinion herself, can be incredibly judgmental but just when you think it’s really time to stand up and say something- she doesn’t.

Both of them are fairly low energy but compensate for that with high-ish ambition, which means they’ve been reasonably successful I suppose, by conventional standards.  Neither one expresses emotion particularly well, in fact sometimes I wonder if they feel much emotion, but that’s probably a bit harsh. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect everyone to wear their heart on their sleeve the whole time, but sometimes the no-nonsense, unsentimental approach wears a little thin.

I was always conscious of the fact that I might be “turning into my mother” and it never really bothered me that much, whether that was because of denial or just resignation, I’m not quite sure. But since having children (more precisely, since Master L has become a toddler) I hear the worst lines from each of my parents coming out of my mouth. Like my father, I find myself letting relatively minor irritations take over my mood, instead of just putting them aside and getting on with the relatively straight-forward business of being cheerful. Worst of all, I look at my beautiful two year old boy with (I think) the same feelings of awe and wonder that my parents regarded me with but, like them, I struggle to say the words “I love you”.

Today was a particularly trying day for various reasons. It’s preschool holidays and Master L seems to be in the throes of the terrible twos and I found myself shouting at him before 7am and wishing the day over by mid-morning. At one point I thought “I only have to get through today and then I’m at work for the rest of the week” and then immediately thought “these are your children, what sort of attitude is that?!”. At several stages throughout the day I said to myself “right, deep breath, let’s change this and make today a happy day” and we did manage to end up better than we started (amazingly). But several things really struck me that, after a whole two and a half years of parenting, I do the same way my parents did and I’m really not happy about them:

  1. Losing my temper– when I think about my childhood and the relationship I had with my parents, I’d sum up the day-to-day interaction with my father as “treading on eggshells”. He was volatile, unpredictable and short-tempered. He would fly into a rage at the drop of a hat, he’d shout at us, he’d smack us (hard) and we seemed to live in the perpetual and fearful shadow of trying not to upset him. Don’t get me wrong, he was also loving, involved, affectionate and fun, but it was always a bit of an unknown. And when Dad was in a “bad mood”, you braced yourself for an unhappy day of lying low and jumping every time a door slammed. I now find my buttons being pushed too easily by Master L’s toddler whims, tantrums and inconsistencies. I shout at him all too easily, the frustration when he doesn’t do what I tell him (AGAIN) bubbles up inside me and the only way to vent it seems to be to shout at him or worse, smack him (which I have so far managed not to do apart from on a couple of occasions). I need to find a way to deal with this. Shouting at a two-year old achieves nothing. It doesn’t make him do what I want him to do and it just makes me more angry. One of two things will happen to him- either he’ll become wary and afraid of his volatile mother, as I was of my father, or he’ll become indifferent and ignore me completely.
  2. Distance– I mentioned my parents were low-energy. I am well aware of this and try not to be the same. To a point I’m successful. I will say, “Right, let’s go and do something” and get us out of the house to find some entertainment without too much effort. But when we’re at home, I lack the energy to keep going. I can’t play all day, constantly traipsing out to the cubby house, following Master L around, playing trains or dancing or getting down on my hands and knees to entertain him. I try not to, but I find myself thinking about my own agenda, tidying up, getting dinner, sending that email, checking my phone. Every now and then I do sit down with them, on the floor, and just do nothing, let them climb over me, read books, drink imaginary cups of tea, listen to Master L’s trucks go beeeeep beeeeep beeeeep….. But sometimes I just feel like I’m faking it. I remember trying to constantly cajole my Mum to “come and play, Mum!” but now I notice it when my parents interact with my kids. It’s not that they don’t try, they just don’t have the enthusiasm to pull it off convincingly. This is in stark contrast to Mr L and his parents, all high-energy people whose energy seems to know no bounds when it comes to pretty much anything- toddler-related or not.
  3. And then there’s emotional distance– if I remember my Dad as the volatile, unpredictable one, it was my Mum who we went to for comfort, for warmth, for love, it was Mum who was “the favourite”…. Yet I could tell you the two specific times she said “I love you” to me. And one was written down. And in fact, I think she said “We love you”, not “I love you”. It was about 8 months before I said “I love you” to Master L. And even then I felt stupid doing it. At 10 months, I don’t think I’ve said it to Miss L yet. And I have never said it to the kids in front of anyone else. I always envied friends who would end their phone conversations with their parents with “Love you, Mum!”. Not that saying it every single time you speak to someone is necessarily what I’d consider appropriate, but it’s better than never saying it at all! I’ve started to notice friends’ children (older than mine) saying “I love you” to their parents and I wonder when Master L will say it to me. Although, if I don’t say it to him, I figure I’ll be waiting a long time! For the last week or so I’ve tried to get into the habit of saying it when I put him to bed, and gradually it’s feeling less awkward…  I mean, seriously, how screwed up is that???

 

So on the positive side, I guess being aware of these things is surely part of the battle? I mean, I have insight, right?? Now all I need to do is figure out how to do something about it….

Changing Country

All Good Things Sarah Turnbull- a review

 I’ve almost finished reading All Good Things at the moment, by Sarah Turnbull. She’s also the author of Almost French, which I read at uni (almost 20 years ago) where, as a late twenty-something Australian woman, she moves to Paris and describes her experience of trying to adapt and live alongside “les Parisiens”. When I discovered she had a new book, I resolved to re-read Almost French and remind myself of her experiences and her writing style, but I was caught by surprise when All Good Things popped up in the Sony reader store on special, and I was too impatient to go and source a copy of her earlier work first.

All Good Things has taken me a long time to read. As with everything nowadays, some of that can be blamed on situational factors (too tired, too busy, the kids, conflicting electronic demands (ie too much time on the internet) but I can’t help but feel that for a really compelling read I’d put these things aside. I didn’t really know what to expect of the book, I knew that Sarah and her French husband leave Paris to move to Tahiti and that was it. If I’d thought about it, I suppose I’d have realised that a personal memoir of life on Mo’orea was probably not going to be particularly fast-paced.

 But overall I’ve enjoyed reading it. There are several aspects of her story that I was able to identify with- her experience of Polynesia, her journey to becoming a mother, even her scuba-diving adventures are all things I can relate to although perhaps in rather different ways to her.

 However there are two things that really appeal to me. The first is her writing style. Much of what I’ve read over the last few years has been, quite frankly, trash. Predictable, formulaic, albeit page-turning chick-lit. In some ways I’m a bit of a literary wannabe. I like to appreciate good writing, I enjoy thinking about themes and imagery and all that stuff, but I don’t want to have to think too hard about it. I want it to be there for me to appreciate without having to expend too much mental energy. And All Good Things allows me just that. Sarah Turnbull writes beautifully. Admittedly her subject matter (mostly the history and natural environment of Tahiti) lends itself to vibrant prose and imagery but her descriptive passages are so… vivid (fortunately she has a far broader vocabulary than mine) and her command of adjectives (although the excerpt below isn’t actually great example of adjectives per se) is astounding.

“Waves pounded the reef, sending white caps scudding across the lagoon and vibrations travelling through the air. Ferns shimmied and shook, coconut palms tossed their heads like impatient ponies, the rubbery papaya tree arched acrobatically. When the rain fell the power of it was thrilling. Water rolled down our iron roof, falling over the eaves in fat glass ropes that glittered under the bright garden lights. The percussive din was so load we had to shout to be heard.”

My English teacher, Mrs Wade, would have been in heaven with all this imagery, albeit a rather frustrated one due my inability to understand the difference between a simile and a metaphor.

While reading passages such as this and in particular her descriptions of her lagoon and ocean forays (swimming and scuba diving), I often wondered how Sarah translated her observations to paper. Did she take notes as she was pottering around the island (surely she must have)? Sitting on a beach with a notebook I can easily imagine, but scribbling notes straight after a scuba dive, all sandy and salty and dripping water on the paper? Did she ponder for hours searching for the perfect adjective or did they all just pop into her head? (Actually an early passage describing some of the writing drills she attempted to overcome her writer’s block would suggest there wasn’t a lot of popping. Nevertheless, I was impressed!)

The other angle that seems particularly pertinent to my own experience is her perspective on moving countries. She describes perfectly (I cannot find the passage at this point- annoying e-reader) how she felt on a brief visit to Australia after some time living in France, how she somehow expected everything to be the same and felt quite indignant that, in her absence, people had dared to move on. I clearly remember having the same feelings during my first trip back to England after we had emigrated to Australia. It was 4 years before we returned which, in anyone’s book, is quite a long time, but in the crucial years of adolescence, may as well be a lifetime. I remember naïvely expecting the comfortable niche I’d left as a 12 year old to be there when I returned at 16 and all my friends just sitting around missing me, as I had missed them since I’d left. Realising they hadn’t been doing that at all and that my niche had been solidly filled in for some time generated such feelings of sadness and loss that I found my visit really difficult in some ways. (Actually it was also exactly what I needed to realise where home really was now and get on with life instead of wallowing in sentimental thoughts of where I’d be now if we hadn’t moved).

Of course, with our imminent move to NZ, this theme becomes relevant again. At the end of the book, Sarah moves back to Australia with her husband and son, and in the final few chapters she describes the physical steps that contribute to such a life-change:

“Changing country requires commitment and energy. Finding or starting work, making friends, developing new rituals, locating favourite restaurants and pastimes- the process of settling in, or “blending in”, as my mother used to say, takes time and energy. Finally, if you’ve been diligent and your efforts prove fruitful, you end up with precisely what you left behind: routines and a regular life.”

As an adult, fortunately, these steps are easier. Not just because they are conscious but because you feel more in control of them than when you are dumped in a foreign country at the age of 12. The fact that you’re the one choosing to move in the first place probably has a lot to do with it as well. So does the fact that you feel much more confident in who you are and all these new discoveries are accessories to your life rather than the definition of it.

So I’m sorry it took me so long to get through the book. Whilst I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that I wasn’t compelled to read it faster, I think the fault was largely mine rather than the author’s. I’d be keen to go back and visit Almost French again. It did spend many years sitting on my bookshelf, only to be discarded in a fit of de-cluttering. But hey, that’s what a library is for, right?

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