Tag Archives: mindset

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.

Hello again

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

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

Simplify

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

So cheers! To a simpler 2017. Happy New Year

 

 

Which wolf are you feeding?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections on 2015

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

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

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

So, 2015- what sticks in my mind?

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to 2015…. x

March Happiness Project- Vitality

It’s autumn! I love a change of season and I especially love the first day of autumn. So my plan for March: Vitality.

Gretchen does this one first up. I guess she figured it’d stand her in good stead for the rest of the year. Which is partly why I chose to do it early as well (and also because, getting late in my pregnancy, I figured I might need it the most about now!)

I think I’ve pretty much lifted my resolutions directly from her. They are:

1. Go to sleep earlier– I really need to do this! Since giving birth to Master L, when everyone seemed to be full of the advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps!!” I’ve resisted having a nap when the kids have theirs, or going to bed as soon as they do. It helped that as tiny babies, both my kids were good sleepers so I seemed to have less of that new-baby sleep deprivation than other mums do, I think. Apart from the fact that, even at my most tired, 7pm is generally too early to go to bed (and I need to have dinner), I’ve always valued my child-free/child-asleep time so much, that to sleep it away myself seems like a waste. I welcome the opportunity to do my own thing, whether it’s getting dinner ready, tidying up, watching TV or surfing the net. However, now that I have 2 kids and am 30 weeks pregnant, I’ve come to realize that staying up being an adult is all well and good, but if you’re so tired the next day that you act like a child (and a tired one at that), it’s better for everyone that you sleep. For me, I need to not just go to sleep earlier, but go to sleep “cleaner”. Sleep hygiene is something I’ve never been great at, and now that we have mobiles and laptops and i pads to keep our minds buzzing right up (and even after) we turn off the light, I’m even worse. So I’m going to try the following to sleep longer and better:

  • Start the bedtime routine at 9.30- laptop off, last cup of tea, start getting kids’ milk ready, make sure kitchen either tidied to my liking or make conscious decision to leave it till the next morning (and be happy with that decision!)
  •  Upstairs at 10- no more checking phone for emails or FB updates
  • Read for up to half an hour before lights out at 10.30
  • Get a bedside clock ASAP so I can leave my phone charging downstairs and am not tempted to check it at 4am!

2. Exercise- I’m limited by what I can do at the moment (yes, I know, excuses, but really, I have horrible varicose veins that start in my groin and ache when I try and do too much on my feet) but I’d really like to swim or walk (well, stroll/waddle) 3 times a week. The dog will be happy about that too (not me swimming, but the strolling part). I’m conscious of being VERY unfit in this pregnancy, which I’m sure I’ll regret in labour, if not before

3. Act energetic– ok so being the size of a baby whale is not really conducive to this but the theme of this month is “Vitality”, after all! I came across a man called Richard Wiseman last night, a psychologist and author of 59 seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot (I have asked the library to reserve me a copy). One of his basic theories about behavioural change is that if you pretend to be what you want to be, you will be. So pretend to be more energetic, and you will be! Same goes for happy, powerful, calm blah blah… (Maybe I could save myself this whole Happiness project series here!)

4. Toss, restore, organise– This is generally something I find fairly easy although we have still not got on top of things 100% since moving house. This weekend’s task is to get 2 more of our remaining rooms sorted out. I’ve also become a bit slack with tidying the kids’ toys in the evening- “Do an evening tidy up” is actually one of Gretchen’s daily resolutions for her vitality month. It needs to be reintroduced in our house! I’ve also been intrigued lately by a blog called Zero Waste Home– but more on that later.

5. Tackle that nagging task– oh my perpetual to do list!!! Gretchen’s rule- if you can do it in less than a minute, do it now (actually she got that from someone else, I’m not sure who though). To whittle my To-Do list away I’m going to try:

  • Once a week, cross an item off without doing it (ie just get rid of one non-essential task)
  • Schedule 2 items per week
  • Anything less than a minute- do it now!

6. Eat better– I debated about including this as it probably falls more in the domain of “Health and Fitness”, which I have planned for July. However I can’t help but feeling that my terrible diet (too much food and of the wrong type) probably also plays a part in my lack of vitality, not just through excessive pregnancy pounds gained, but in the general malaise and sluggishness that comes from feeling constantly full and never hungry. So although I think the motivation to really lose my baby weight won’t kick in until after the baby’s born, I’m going to try making some small changes now so that a) I feel better and b) I don’t have as much weight to lose come May. Starting with 3 meals & 2 snacks a day, instead of the constant grazing and mindless eating I’ve been allowing myself to do.

 That seems like a lot of resolutions for one chart. Let’s see how I go….

 Commandments

  1. Let it go
  2. Act the way I want to feel
  3. Do it now
  4. Enjoy the process

February summed up

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

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

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

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

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

So, overall, as far as the resolutions went:

 

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

 

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

February Happiness project- Attitude

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

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

So my mini-goals/tasks/resolutions were:

1) No negative FB updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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.