Friday, 2 July 2010

There Goes My Baby

Truly was born on January 6th, the Epiphany. Because she was my first-born, and I was the first of my friends to have children, we brought out the fatted calf and sounded the bugles (I misplaced my vuvuzela). The three Magi came bearing gifts. We heralded her arrival with all the pomp and pageantry that befitted the second coming. Unfortunately, our scheduled parade through the streets of town was cancelled on account of the Blizzard of ’96.

We swarmed around her cot bed like flies buzzing around a picnic basket, hovering over this tiny new life, catering to each and every demand, and oftentimes anticipating the need before it was voiced. I made the switch from gazing at my own navel to gazing into her eyes, plumbing the depths of her soul, searching for the answers.

‘She’s wise,’ my sister said.
‘An old soul,’ I said.
‘Do you think she knows something we don’t?’ my sister said.
‘I hope not. That will make it difficult to keep up.’

Throughout the toddler years and pre-teen years, I managed to stay a half step ahead of Truly. This was, in part, thanks to the set of encyclopedias and later the Internet, always within fingertips’ reach. Also, when she was younger, I could get away with weaving tall tales which I fobbed off as truth. There was a time when she would come to me with all her woes, her stories of heartbreak, her moments of indecision, her cuts and bruises that required a bandage or a kiss or a special treat to dry the tears and light up her face.

However, as anyone will tell you, kids grow up. I’m not sure how I missed that section in Parenting 101. As children grow, we parents think we’ve been around the block for a while and assume that we get wiser and savvier, despite the teenager’s conviction that we know less than nothing with each progressive year.

Truly and I have a good relationship. She doesn’t get in trouble and rarely rebels. She excels in her academic studies. Unlike a few of her classmates, she steers clear of harmful substances and alcohol. Her star chart is filled with enough gold stars that I can overlook the occasional bouts of sulkiness, the wails of ‘it’s not fair’, and the bedroom that needs a ‘hazardous for humans’ sign on the door.

Recently, however, it dawned on me that maybe teenagers had a point. In some ways, we don’t know anything about their world. We know about the grades they’re getting in school, what they’re wearing when they leave for a friend’s house, the movies they’re watching, the books they read and the food they like.

But they are very selective about what they tell us when it comes to the inner workings of the teenage mind. Very little. The other day I took a trawl on Truly’s Facebook wall, perusing the tons of photos and comments, heavily peppered with enough LOLs to make me wonder if I had just laughed out loud without realizing it. Luckily, I didn’t find anything that would force Truly into a house arrest. But it brought me back to my own teenage years, the little secrets I kept from my own mother, and the conversations I had with my friends, secrets that my mother was never privy to. It’s not because I had anything to hide. I didn’t. I never rebelled until I went to university and that barely counts. It was more of a reminder that teenagers have their own language, their own location jokes (of the ‘you had to be there’ variety), crushes on boys at the school whose motto (according to the girls) is ‘God’s gift’, and a whole world that they only share with each other.

Truly is growing up and it’s a bittersweet time for me. She still has four years before university but she’s no longer the little girl who needs me to kiss it better. But you know what? She'll always be my baby.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Age of Austerity

Good morning, Nappy Valley Housewife.

Good morning, Next Door Neighbor. You’re looking very smart this morning.

Thank you. But, sweetie, I’m not sure about that bandana and the dirt-streaked face. It’s not the best summer look. It makes you look like a charwoman. What are you doing with that bucket and all those cleaning supplies?

Cleaning up after my builders.

They’re not finished yet?

They've barely scratched the surface.

They could have built a brand new house by now.

I’m starting to wish they had.

There’s no point in trying to clean when they’re still at it. Would you pull out your broom and sweep during a sandstorm in the desert?

No sooner than I would scrub the decks of the Titanic.

There you go. Well, I’m off to the Summer Sales. Care to join me?

I can’t. As soon as the machine coughs up the cash, it goes directly into the hammy fists of my builders.

Ouch. That hurts. Remember the days when you could fit in building work AND the Summer Sales?

Yes, vaguely . . . but fondly. Apparently, we’ve entered the Age of Austerity.

A bitter pill to swallow.

They say it will be good for our kids.

Like a daily dose of castor oil.

Or a stick in the eye.

Well, I won’t hold you up. What are you going to do with your new-found time?

Sit at my desk and stare at the blank screen on my computer.

Huh. Right. Off you go.

See you later.

So here I am, doing exactly as I promised. I love it when a plan comes together. My discipline is unequalled. Books write themselves, don’t they? Or maybe a very clever, industrious muse will take up the cause.

In between agonizing over my own fictional characters and plots that unravel, I’ve been doing a lot of reading of other writers’ books, authors who actually put the words onto the paper and then find a publisher.

What's on my bedside table?

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
Her writing is so exquisite that it makes me feel I can never write another word again. She makes me see what real writing is all about.

Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd
William Boyd lives in Chelsea and I’ve been told by the owners of the book shop I frequent that he comes in there a lot. I’ve stalked the bookshop as much as legally possible but still no sightings. On the plus side, they’ve not clamped a restraining order on me yet.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
It promises to be very juicy. I love to read good historical fiction.

Monday, 21 June 2010

What's for Dinner?

Last year my daughters and I visited a street market in Beijing. As you can see from the photos below, the delicacies were so tempting that it was difficult to choose. Suffice it to say that we were starving when we left the market; despite the abundance of creatures, there was not a bite to eat.

Starfish lollipop anyone? Try them flash fried and served on a stick. Yum! What's that next to the starfish?

Would you like your scorpion dipped in chocolate or sauteed in garlic?

Sorry about the blurry photo. I think they were still moving.

When we lived and travelled around Asia, we were introduced to many creatures, great and small, most of them served up on a plate. We went to a Korean BBQ where they plunked a platter of horse sashimi onto the table. Because it is a delicacy, I suspect that there is strict rationing of glue for the schoolchildren of Seoul. One time, in Tokyo, my husband's Japanese colleagues treated him to dinner at a restaurant that served live crustaceans. The expat community called it the Wiggly Restaurant. In Malaysia, they snuck some chicken feet into our stir-fry. In Asia, food is an adventure and we were game, up to a point.

Heston Blumenthal, eat your heart out! The Asians know how to throw a banquet to remember. But to be fair, I have to say that creepy crawly creatures aside, Asia has some of the best food I've ever eaten. Tokyo, especially, is a foodie's dream. We still fantasize about the fresh sushi, wagyu beef, odorless fish that is fresh from the sea, and the delicious seasonal produce and exotic fruits.

I'm participating in the Gallery at Sticky Fingers and this week's theme is Creatures. Clearly, I took a great deal of artistic licence with my interpretation. Due to my non-existent photography skills, you can probably understand why I'm a first-time contributor to the gallery.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

If I Had Magic in My Fingertips

I wish that I had magic in my fingertips, the same fingertips that smooth your troubled brow, mend your cuts and bruises with a Dora the Explorer plaster, and single-handedly wrestle the dragons and monsters that lurk like cowards under your bed and in the cupboard. If I had magic in my fingertips I would move the storm clouds to make way for sunshine and endlessly blue skies. If I had magic in my fingertips I would lift boulders to smooth your path and sprinkle gold dust on your silky hair to stave off poverty and sickness and the tyranny of slavery of any kind. If I had magic in my fingertips I would part the waters of the sea so you could travel unharmed and keep you safe from abuse in a world that doesn’t always believe in magic. If I had magic in my fingertips I would guide you in your journey so you wouldn’t fall down or get mired in hopelessness, cutting a swathe through the dense undergrowth of the jungle so that you could see the height of wonder without tripping up and experiencing the lows.

Remember that time, at the birthday party, when the magician coaxed a rabbit out of his top hat? With the wave of his magic wand he turned an empty box into a treasure trove of sweets. He produced a gold coin from the folds of your dress. Your face lit up as you laughed and clapped and said you believed in magic. I said I did too.

You believe that the clouds don’t fall out of the sky because they’re really magic cows and sheep and elephants floating. You believe that a vibrant bloom that grows from a tiny seed you planted in the soil is magic. Santa Claus coming down the chimney is magic. There is magic all around you and you are so innocent that you can still see it, believe in it unquestioningly.

Someday when my very hungry caterpillar turns into an independent butterfly with wings to take you away from home, I hope that you will still believe in magic, that you can conjure it up on a bleak day and know that spiralling down is not the only direction. And someday maybe you will know the joy of holding your own magic in your fingertips. My wish for you is that you will always know that the magic is inside you.

Thank you, my darling girls, for making me remember that the world is full of magic. It’s at every hairpin turn in the road, in the leaves of a mighty oak tree, in the cry of a baby’s first gasp of breath, blinking in the light after so many months of darkness.

Did you see that? It’s the magic surging through my fingertips. It’s love. It’s wonder. It’s motherhood. For me, it’s the greatest show on earth. It’s magic. But not always. Sometimes it's just life. And that's why we all need a little magic.

I wrote this post for the Josie's Writing Workshop and chose prompt #3: What is your magic power? Or what would you like it to be?

Monday, 14 June 2010

How to survive your teen years being Truly you!

This post was written by my 14-year-old daughter who, on my blog, goes by the name Truly. I haven't edited a word and am posting it exactly how she wrote it. Thank you, Truly, for your words and wisdom and for being the best 14-year-old daughter a mum could ask for. I love you.

Here it is, the post you have all been waiting for! A guide for all of the teenage daughters out there on how to stay yourself throughout one of the most difficult parts of your life: The Teenage years.

Step one: (as corny as it sounds) you need to know yourself. Know your limitations, and know when you’ve had enough.

Step two: you have to learn to say no, and saying no is the hardest thing to do. I know most teenagers (like me) have had the talk from their parents about saying no to drugs, smoking and alcohol etcetera. However like most things in life that is easier said than done, but it is not impossible and though it seems ridiculous at the time, you will be grateful afterwards when you see the effect it had on anyone else who does it. Harder than saying no to things like alcohol though, is saying no to your friends. If they ask you to do something or go somewhere that you don’t feel comfortable with you should be able to say no without worrying. If they are really your friends then they will accept your wishes and leave you alone (and not hold a grudge).

Step three: Surround yourself with people you like. People who share your interests, or if they don’t then who don’t hold them against you. You want people who will always be on your side when you have a fight (because face it, you're a teenager, you will have fights).

Step four: Avoid the popular people. If your not one of them, don’t try to be, be yourself and if they like you they will try to be your friend, not the other way around.

Step five: Clothes. Go crazy; wear what you want to wear if it’s in fashion cool, if not even better. If you want to wear outrageous colours go for it! Don’t care too much what other people think about you, because most of the time they are jealous of you! They want to be the one to stand out in the crowd, to be special.

Step Six: My favourite one! If you are getting bullied, you tell the bully that you know a girl with a black belt in karate and judo who can kick their butts if they mess with you. Say Truly’s going to come and get you! I’m not actually a black belt in anything but why do they have to know that! Most bullies are cowards so they will be too scared to test you anyway.

Step Seven: The best way to make friends, is to be nice and be yourself, because if your not yourself who else are you going to be?

So there you have it, my guide to help you stay you. I really hope it helps you and that you try to follow it, you have to put in a lot of effort (I would know), but it does work! I have four close friends and I am a very happy teen!


Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The Time Traveller's Trouble & Strife

We humans 'know' past and future and, as far as scientists can tell, this ability is not shared by other animals. It’s interesting to think that animals can’t conjure up memories or envision something in the future. Time is a tricky business. We all seem to take it for granted that it does exist but why do we believe in something that we can’t see, taste, smell or hold? Why does it only travel in one direction, from past to present to future and not the other way around? If this thing called time is so elusive, does that mean that it’s real or a figment of our imagination?
Time may be elusive but, for the past few years, it’s become painfully obvious that it’s not a figment of my mind nor is it travelling backwards. I know this because of the deepening furrows on my forehead, the crow’s feet, the laugh lines and the spreading and sagging and creaking. I not only know what a wattle is but I have enough to share. But you know what? I’ve earned all these battle scars and I wear them proudly. Also, I’m not so keen on needles or scalpels.

Besides the inevitable ageing process, I’ve discovered another interesting thing about the passage of time. As I get older I’ve begun to identify with my grandparents’ need to share their stories from the past, memories of their golden sun-dappled days of youth. I find myself doing the same thing lately, telling my kids all these old stories that I unearthed from my own childhood, digging them up like an eager archaeologist, blowing off the dust and entrusting them to my children as if they were the treasures in King Tut’s tomb.

Partly, I’m reminiscing because my long-term memory is becoming better than my short-term memory. But there’s another part of me that gets a thrill out of remembering the past. Sometimes, as a parent, as a spouse, as a tax-paying, bill-paying member of ‘responsible society’, it’s fun to remember that I have a history, that once upon a time I was young and carefree and devil-may-have-cared but I didn’t. I tell my kids about some of the crazy hijinks from bygone days, editing out the truly disreputable parts and skipping the story about how I jumped off a moving train that was headed to Budapest when I needed to get back to my school in Germany for final exams. And that is a true story. [Aside: Just for the record, even if you can still see the platform, once the train is moving it’s going faster than you think and the majority of train station platforms are not made out of that spongey stuff they use in playgrounds. Just saying. ]

But mostly, I reminisce about the good times and the funny times and the times when I felt sad or confused or scared but came through it okay. I share my stories with my kids as a way to connect with them and I like to think it helps them make sense of the world or maybe just lets them see that I’m a person too and not just their mother. They like to hear about the music I listened to and the TV shows I watched and the trouble my sister and I got into. They ask a lot of questions about what it was like to grow up in the cave ages, before the Internet and Facebook and Skype and Twitter and Nintendo. So I tell them that I read a lot of books, the kind with real paper on the inside and I listened to record albums. And they laugh. And it’s a little bonding exercise, free and fun for the whole family. But, despite all the reaching into the past for jolly tales of yore, time keeps moving forward. And there’s nothing that we can do about it. Hopefully, time is on my side but, if it’s not, my kids will remember some good times and funny times and sad times and pass them on to their own children some day. I give them my time today and my memories from yesterday and they’ll have that in the future.

On another note regarding time, I have always been fascinated with the whole concept of time travel. If you were given a chance to travel in time, would you take it? Would you choose to travel to the past or the future? And, upon your return to the present, would you want to remember what you had seen?

I wrote this post for Josie’s Writing Workshop at Sleep is for the Weak. The prompt I chose was Time.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

There Are So Many Colors In The Rainbow

Scrumptious has two new friends. Chloe lives in China and Clara lives in Candyland which is, apparently, a 2-day trip from London. Chloe and Clara are Scrumptious’ imaginary friends. My only explanation for their land of origin is that there was far too much crispy duck and chocolate in the breast milk. The biggest surprise is that neither one of these imaginary friends lives on a vineyard in Puglia.

When Chloe and Clara made their debut a few weeks ago, my husband and I shared a knowing glance across the dinner table. Here we go again, the look said. We’d all but forgotten that, at the same age, Truly had an imaginary friend named Alice who lived in a palace. For a few years, Alice jetted around from one exotic location to the next but still managed to spend a fair amount of quality time with Truly in our humble abode. If these friends were real, we’d be hard-pressed to off-set their combined carbon footprints. It would take more effort than my weekly delivery of an organic vegetable box or our hybrid. But Chloe and Clara are invisible and imaginary, seen only by Scrumptious, just as Alice was for Truly.

My husband, Truly and I go along with Scrumptious and don’t try to dispute her claim that these friends have joined us for a Sunday roast or love to play Legos and Groovy Girls just as much as Scrumptious. We know that, eventually, the friends will move on and this too shall pass.

My husband and I are the type of parents who celebrate Scrumptious’ fertile imagination and if we’re wrong to do that and there’s a whole team of experts who say differently, then I don’t care to know about it. That’s why I’m still kicking myself for mentioning the imaginary friends to another mother, merely an acquaintance really, a woman whose brow puckered in dismay. She wasn’t comfortable with the topic and brought up a whole slew of ‘issues’ that I might want to explore further, even going so far as to slap on a few child-friendly labels. Depression. Loneliness. In her words, ‘It’s not normal.’ There is nothing on this planet that gets my juices flowing more than the words ‘not normal’ when referring to kids or people in general. How does one define normalcy? In this case, I suspect the woman was her own role model for ‘normalcy.’

Later, thinking about this woman’s reaction, one song played over and over in my head. When my sister and I were young, my mom used to play a song called ‘Flowers are Red’ by Harry Chapin. Every time we heard the song, my mom would tell my sister and me how sad the words made her feel. I was too young and never really got it then. But I get it now. Honestly, read the words of this song or listen to it on YouTube and you will understand.

The only time I ever had a gripe with a teacher was many years ago when Truly wrote a story for school. Her teacher sent it back, all marked up with red ink and question marks. The teacher’s remarks were all negative and she gave Truly a low score because the story was ‘too fantastical.’ Huh? It was a creative writing assignment. I didn’t give a fig about the score but I was slightly alarmed that, potentially, one teacher could stomp on Truly’s creative writing style and turn it into a generic regurgitation exercise. Luckily, the teacher was very kind and receptive to my concerns. She explained to me that she set a specific assignment, with an end goal in mind and, although Truly missed the mark, she may have been too harsh and critical in the remarks section. Maybe the teacher had a bad day and got fed up with marking papers which is easy to understand but, happily, the rest of the year this teacher encouraged and celebrated Truly’s imagination without trying to curb it or fit it into a neat cardboard box. To this day, Truly creates wonderfully crazy worlds and believably eccentric characters who inhabit them, not square peg characters jammed unsuccessfully into ill-fitting round holes. And this makes me happy.

So I don’t know. Maybe I’ve always been attracted to the more eccentric characters, possibly because I don’t always fit into a box myself. The times I have tried to be what I thought was expected of me have been some of the most miserable times of my life. Who knows if I’m doing the right things by my own children but at least nobody will accuse them of being boring.