I learned a lesson last night. Way after bedtime, one of our kids came out saying “I don’t know why, but I don’t feel well”. Now 90% of the time, I would just usher the kid back to bed, but something about her phrasing made me pause.

We went to her room and after the perfunctory checking of her temperature and making sure she was hydrated and didn’t need the bathroom, I asked her if anything was on her mind.

No, she said.

I looked at her favourate stuffed toy and asked, “How about Nightsky, does she have anything on her mind?”

Turns out, Nightsky did have a lot on her mind. Soon our kid was opening up to me about some very big feelings and important thoughts she had that were troubling her. We ended up spending lots more time together where I listened to her worries and did my best to validate and reassure her. Sometimes, all I could do was offer a cuddle but I think it helped.

Like most parents, I have many days where my patience is thin and where I struggle to be a compassionate parent, particular when it is way past their bedtime and approaching my own.

But sometimes, like last night, I get it pretty right.

Thanks, Nightsky.

 

Today, a village

May 28, 2016

Having moved half-way across the world a year ago and still in the phase of building up friendships and connections, it’s not unusual for me to feel lonely. Not lonely as in, alone because there is nobody around me, but lonely as in, without that safe feeling of having people within a reasonable proximity with whom you can feel safe with. Who help with mundane things. With whom you can feel a little vulnerable with. 

There are many people who offer that in my life, but today, those known and comfortable people weren’t with me. Instead I was with work colleagues and their partners when our daughter fell off the hammock, and landed on a protruding lever on her back. I could immediately tell she was in pain and that her shouts were not just for show, from shock or surprise and anger. She was hurt. I rushed over and swept her up and moved to sit down on a chair when she literally screamed in pain. 

I had managed to squash her toe under the chair as I sit down and put my full weight, and hers, down on her toe. I felt sick with guilt. Our daughter continued to shout in obvious agony. And my colleagues, sprang in to action. One fetched the ice-pack, the other fetched a pain relieving cream. My husband and I tried to offer an emotional balm, fending off the older daughter at the same time. 

Eventually I carried our girl inside and laid her on the couch, she looked at me in obvious pain and told me that she was trying so hard to be brave. When I told her she didn’t have to be and that she could even say a bad word or two if she wanted, her face buckled and she sobbed. And when I saw her like that, my own heart broke a little bit.

I started to worry her toe was broken, more accurately that I had broken her toe. I started to suggest that maybe she needed a doctor, which just added to her distress. The thought of maybe missing the regional sports day tomorrow, just made her cry harder. Finally, I walked back out to the group of adults and looked around. “I don’t know what to do.” I said “I’ve never seen her like this. And tears welled up in my own eyes and my voice failed me.

One colleague, a mother herself to an young independent woman, calmly came to my daughters side and started gently examining the toe. With soft and light fingers, she had a close look, all the while speaking to our girl in a soft and kind voice. After a few minutes, she reassured us that the toe was likely just bruised and not broken. Relief flooded through me. This wonderful woman then proceeded to play our daughter a tune using only her head, her mouth and a spoon. It was a hit.

On the way home I felt exhausted as the adrenaline left my body. I felt like chastising myself for having been pretty useless at assessing the potential damage to the toe and I was just so grateful that this woman had stepped in and taken control with such a firm and calm manner.

I wanted to share this story because sometimes we feel estranged from the people around us and sometimes we feel that we have to face problems alone. That we live in faceless big cities and buildings and we grieve for community, for that village we were told is needed to raise our children. 
Today I felt as if I really was in a village, the women clustering around with soothing hands, the men were supporting with reassuring observations, having seen more broken toes than I. It felt fine to be a bit emotionally vulnerable and I felt held. 

The village is not all gone. 
Ps – our child seems well on the road to recovery ☺️

Suffering

March 8, 2016

In honour of International Women’s day (or as they call in here in Switzerland, International day of struggle for women), these are my musings about the movie Suffragette. There are going to be spoilers in here.

For those who don’t know, Suffragette covers parts of Britain’s history of women fighting for the vote. I say ‘parts’ of the history because, as many others have correctly pointed out, the story completely erases black women from the story. There is not a person of colour in the entire movie as far as I can remember.

From the little I know about the historical details, the global suffrage movement was complicated and looked very different around the world. In Aotearoa New Zealand all women (white and indigenous) were the first to get to vote in 1893. In Britain it was first only women over 30 in 1918. In the USA the suffragists were segregationist and closed ranks against black women in order to further their cause. So it is very important to point out that while this movie was a win because it shows (part of) the story of struggle, it was really just a win for white women. And in my opinion, that is just not good enough.

There is no good reason that I can think of that the movie couldn’t have included some important truths about how black women were deliberately excluded from the suffrage movement. The film would have been far richer and more honest if it had shown what really happened, instead of ignoring an important part of history. And it’s important that this part of history is not erased. When my daughters are old enough to watch this film, I shouldn’t have to sit them down first to explain what was missing.

The struggle for equality is real. The struggle was different for different women then and it still is different for us today. Let us please start acknowledging that more.

To be honest, I found the film horrfying to watch. I was in tears for at least half of it right from the early minutes. Don’t get me wrong, the film was well made but it was incredibly suspenseful. I use the word horrifying, not because of the violence, although yes, there was violence. Women were beaten by police during peaceful protests and gatherings.

In general there was a fair amount of violence in the film, but it wasn’t gratuitous. It was factual, unenhanced, yet slumbering underneath the surface all the time, creating suspense. The element of risk and danger was ominipresent and frankly incredibly draining and stressful to hold in your awareness all the time. I kept wondering if the next scene was going to be a husband beating his wife, or the boss abusing his underage workers. In one scene the police round up the women who had been listening to a leader speak and instead of taking them to jail, he just says: “let their husbands deal with them.”

I use the word horrfying because the outrage, the anger was just was so relatable. I could tap straight in to personal memories of experiences and people that resonated with those in the film. If you have ever been to protest an injustice or been close friends with someone who gives so much of themselves to a cause, then you too will be deeply moved by this film.

The anger bubbles up so easily. I am of course so lucky to live in a time and place where I have the rights that so many women fought for me to have. Yet my anger is fuelled by the knowledge that so many women are still fighting for rights all over the world. That we are still fighting for the world to take our needs seriously and to treat women and our concerns as equally important as those of men.

As the film drew to a close, a women in the audience yelled out the date of the next women’s march to commemorate what they call ‘international women’s day of struggle’.  But the word for struggle in German is ‘kampf’ which also means to fight. To me, this is very fitting. According to Gerda Lehrner, one of the founders of the field of women’s history, women organised and fought for over 70 years to get the right vote. Here in Switzerland it took until 1971-ish until women could vote on a federal level. That was like, yesterday, in the scheme of things. Saudi Arabian women got to vote for the first time last year, for crying out loud.

So let us keep fighting. And let us keep supporting and caring for each other, especially across our differences. One of the elements in the film I enjoyed the most, was this commeraderie, this bond between sisters that was forged. The way they looked after each other is something I have only ever seen from women. But I am by no means letting men off the hook either. (Note to men: you need to step up and be a visible part of making the world a better place).

There is so much more to say, but I will end with saying that our battles are not yet over. This film may have been a ‘historical period drama’, but there is still work to be done.

 

 

 

I love Podcasts. I listen to them all the time, mostly on my way to work and back home again. This gives me a solid 2+ hours of listening. So I consume podcasts quickly and am often on the hunt for new ones to fill the gaps.

I am so grateful that podcasts exist. They are sources of education, inspiration, art, entertainment and drama. And they are free. Free!

So to support the podcasts which have filled my ears and mind with endless hours of education, entertainment and thought-provoking questions about the world, I am going to write a short review of my favorite series.

By identifying a couple of my favorite episodes from each I hope that you too will give them a shot and get hopeless hooked like I have become.

This page will serve as the introduction and the running list of the podcasts I plan to write a little review about. Feel free to recommend some to me if you know of any that are not on this list. Plus I plan to do one a month, but I will probably struggle to choose.

In order of my current state of affection for them all:

  1. Radiolab
  2. This American Life
  3. Savage Lovecast
  4. 99% Invisible
  5. Reply All
  6. Strangers
  7. Serial
  8. Here’s the thing
  9. The Heart
  10. All Songs Considered
  11. Criminal
  12. Freakanomics
  13. Invisiblia
  14. Pop Culture Happy Hour
  15. Limetown
  16. Song exploder

 

Since my goal is to do one review per month in 2016. So I behind as it is already February!

 

 

 

Podcast Review: Radiolab

February 11, 2016

  1. Radiolab (35 episodes and counting)

There are a few things I credit with having “this changed my life” status (other than having my family). UTNE reader, NPR and Radiolab. I seriously believe that if I had begun listening to Radiolab at an earlier age, I might have chosen a science-based career instead of social work. This series has had me laughing out loud and moved to the point of tears streaming down my face while I sat in traffic. Sometimes while listening to the same episode.

Description: Radiolab is hosted by two men who have a good natural chemistry with one another. They are quite different from each other which adds to their impact. One is an old school journalist from NYC and the other is a sound guy, Lebanese-American.  The main trust of the show is ‘science and curiosity’ so they feature a wide range of stories about humans and the world we inhabit. Over time, they have reached further afield and traveled further to gather interviews and information for their show. However their earlier, simpler shows are classics in mind.

What makes them unique is that they use beautifully engineered sound to add character and tone to their, at times, highly academic topics. Cells become animated with children’s voices, choirs sing chemical formulas and music provides punctuation to elaborate and skilled story-telling. The sound keeps you company as you sit with your thoughts.

Why I love it: The stories told on this podcast, are beautiful and moving, but sometimes they are also highly amusing or just trigger deep thinking. I just simply couldn’t recommend this series more. It reveals how amazing, inspiring and flawed we are as humans.

My only complaint: I would like more women’s voices and stories that include the female reality. For example, they have done an episode on sperm, but nothing that corresponds with female biology. One of their most recent episodes dealt with the topic of birth and even that featured a surprising amount of male experience and perspective. The presence of their female producers sense to have increased over time however I am basing these statements solely on my own subjective experience.

My favorite episodes are: Patient Zero, Limits, Sleep and the heart-breaking Memory and Forgetting.  But there are so many more. They are all very, very good, but most are even incredibly good. Please listen to a couple of episodes and I would love to know what you think. In fact, start with Detective Stories, the Goat on a Cow segment in particular.

Quilt project

December 27, 2015

Crochet. It is an addiction.

Now that I am pretty fast and able to interpret most patterns mostly correctly, I just keep going and going.

I made a couple of hats, one for me and three for other people’s Xmas presents. Pattern found here.

Zigzag pattern

Zigzag pattern

 

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This hat was a total improvisation. I tried out a new stitch, the crossed-double stitch (sounds harder than it is) which was quite fun. Pattern here.

But the big project was a granny-square quilt. Inspired by I started in July and finished in November. I mainly used my commute to work to get the squares done. I ended up doing 10 x 17 rows. So it’s not huge, but I haven’t added an edge to I could potentially add to it in the future.

I used a very basic pattern (found here) and opted for a black last round on each square. When it came time for attaching them, I tried a few different stitches but settled on the whip-stitch. I liked the ridge created by only picking up half the stitch.

I love it. It is so beautiful and it is heavy and warm. It has pride of place on our lovely teal couch, so it as much an accessory as it is a practical item.

IMG_1589 IMG_1734 IMG_1733 IMG_1731 IMG_1737 IMG_2653

IMG_2948 IMG_3119 IMG_3239

 

 

This is a list of things that go through my head as we settle in to our new flat:

1. Where are the families with kids located?

2. Can I hear the neighbours through the walls?

3. Can the neighbours hear me through the walls?

4. Where exactly does the PFZ (Pants free zone) begin and end or do I have to put down the blinds?

5.  Is the balcony or the window the best way to escape in the zombie apocalypse?

6. Was that stain already here or did we make it?

7. Can we smuggle a cat in here?

8. Maybe I should tell the landlord about that stain?

9. What new rules for the kids can I blame on the landlords? Maybe there is a building rule about bedtimes?

10. How long can I delay unpacking the remaining boxes and suitcases?

11. How should we introduce ourselves to the neighbours if I am too lazy to bake?

Nine lies I told my daughters and why I told them

  1.  Your great-great-great grandmother was not an elephant

You once asked me why our elbows have such thick wrinkly skin. While it is true that people refer to this skin as elephant skin, this is not because we are distantly related to an elephant. (But for the record, how cool would that be?!?) The term ‘elephant skin’ could be viewed as derogatory and I wanted to give you a positive association. So I told you that not only is it called elephant skin, but it is also a connection to our heritage of which you should feel proud. Elephants are beautiful, strong and fiercely matriarchal and maternal.

  1. Grey hair is not an indication of increasing witch powers

Oh how I wish this one were true. When you started noticing my grey hairs I realized that this was an opportunity to set a tone with regards to the inevitability of aging. I do not wish you to grow up dreading yourself aging. I hoped by using this simple metaphor that you would see that not only is aging unavoidable but that there are many advantages to aging. That we grow wiser and in many ways more powerful. Let’s embrace that.

  1. Your father and I did not meet 250 years ago slaying the last evil dragons of Wellington

This story came about one day when your dad was shopping for tools and I, in need of a serious distraction for you and your sister, answered the question ‘how did you and dad meet’. What followed was a story of strength, courage, fantasy and companionship that surprised and delighted even me. Even the other people shopping let their own conversations trail off as they moved within earshot. The story went that we were part of an ancient order of sword warriors and when the call went out to defend Wellington from the evil dragons we responded and met while saving a fellow warriors life. By the way, those swords are tucked away in a cave somewhere in case the dragons should return one day.

  1. Also, in related news, I am not 285 years old

Age doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. Instead of trying to make myself younger to the world, I exaggerated my age because we should be so lucky to become old. Plus it adds this timeless quality to me because you are too young to worry about my mortality.

  1. Those big rocks are not evidence of epic troll battles

No there are no trolls in the world and they don’t come out at night sometimes, hurling boulders at each other in fierce troll-battles. Sorry. I wish it were true as as well.

6. My jelly-belly is not my favorite part of my body

Sure I love my postpartum tummy, because it nurtured you and your sister, but it is not the part of my body I love the most. But I’ll be damned if I breathe even the tiniest of indication that having you both in some way ‘damaged’ or ‘ruined’ my body. Our bodies change and our self-love should not depend on how much it approximates the current unrealistic body type.

7. I can’t actually read your mind

Well, this one is actually somewhat true. While I can’t literally see into your head, I know you. Oh, do I know you. I recognize the expressions on your face and the minute body movements that telegraph your intentions. And while a day will come when you have developed a better poker face and stronger self-control, until then, be wary little one.

8. The elevator is not broken

Elevators are surprising reliable and not nearly broken as often as I tell you they are. I tell you this because movement is good, making an effort is good.

9. I don’t know everything.

I know a lot. A really big bunch of stuff. But you and your sister know more than I did at your age and I am absolutely sure you will know much more than I do when you are my age. But in the meantime, I tell you this lie because I want you to have confidence in the advice I give. It also conveys my own confidence in my statements. (Plus, let’s face it, smartphones and the internet really do enable us to know everything). Yet, I also will tell you that I don’t know the answer to things sometimes. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter to you at all. It is like a strange Schrödinger’s cat of simultaneously knowing and not knowing, such as can only exist in a child’s mind.

Don’t be mad at me darling daughters. I know that soon you will realise the various truths, just like you already know that there isn’t really a tooth fairy or an Easter bunny. Hopefully these stories will become treasured memories so you can recall with fondness a childhood where we fostered your imagination and helped create alternative metaphors for serious and sometimes scary topics. And this magic mixture where truth and perception of reality can still be so lovingly manipulated? Long may it last.

Rockin’ the suck

May 8, 2015

Wow, I have to share just how hard that actually was.

So this morning I posted a selfie. A tired face, not smiling and said this in the caption:

I am posting this because it’s been, quite frankly, a sucky week. I feel it’s important to show a fuller range of human emotions on FB sometimes, lest we forget that not everyday seems Instagram worthy. Posting this helps me feel powerful which is more important right now than sympathy or pity.

I’ve had some lovely comments on the thread and private messages offering kind and supportive words.  My favorite? ‘Rock the suck!’And at first I was a little like: ‘hey, I wasn’t fishing for sympathy!’ and then I thought, wait, maybe I was fishing for sympathy, but is that so bad?

Let me explain.

Speaking for myself, my Facebook thread is often filled with amazing photos by other people doing amazing things and going to amazing places. Things often look glamorous, beautiful, perfect, happy happy happy.

And I started thinking to myself that this probably sets up an unrealistic view of the world that minimises or erases pain and struggle. Now, I have many brave friends who post about their struggles but it was never something that I had done, but I certainly admired those who did, because it was honest and I really feel there is something so precious and often beautiful in seeing vulnerability.

But I was so scared to post that photo. People will think I’m fishing for sympathy, people will think I’m narcissistic, people will think (fill-in-the-blank-negatve-thing-here). But then I also thought about how I don’t think that way about others, so why would I be so uncharitable towards myself. If I was my own best friend, what advice would I give myself?

So I posted it. Mainly because it was true. I have had a sucky week. I was feeling particularly low and heart-sore. And this beast called social media is one way, certainly not the only way, but one important way that I connect with people who live far away from me. So if I showed up to my buddies house feeling low and tired, they would notice, they would ask, they would show care. But I would have to ‘show up’ and not stay home with the curtains closed.

So this is what the photo was about; showing up and showing that struggle and hurt is part of my life at this moment. And that’s ok. Because in sharing it, I named it, I became an active author, not just a passive part of the story. And that felt powerful.

Rocking the suck

Rocking the suck

My children are not my children.

They do not belong to me or their father. Their purpose is not to do my bidding, nor is it to fulfill my own desires. I am merely in the privileged position of watching and seeing them, truly perceiving them as they grow and discover the world and themselves and their place in it.

My children are not my children. They are not required to follow in my footsteps, not expected to like the things I love or hate the things I despise. Instead I am here to help them understand their own reactions and fond feelings or the sudden powerful riptides of grief and anger and fear.

I am not their owner, I am their caretaker, their educator, their guide. I keep them safe enough so they can retreat and collapse in exhaustion and gather strength just long enough so they can romp through the wilds of our world again as caring and contributing creatures.

The children are not mine. That word, mine, does not adequately describe the responsibility and duty that comes with parenting. Mine refers to things I can acquire and discard. Mine implies they are all of my doing, the result of only my labour.

But my children are not mine. The children are the world’s children. Children of our infinite universe, stardust children, simply reconfigured in to these luminous elemental beings, readying to launch themselves in to orbit.

While they are in my care, I will do what I can to shape a good world, to nurture them, guide their energy, to fan their passionate flames and to inspire them to lead a good life.

The children are not my children. All children are mine and yours and ours.