Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Releasing to move forward

Deep breathe and write - this is a loaded subject from Keep Calm Eat Cake for the Sleep is for the Weak workshop.

My earlier blog I talked about reading Oliver James' book about Families called appropriately The F*** You up. In the interests of being a diligent reader I have followed his steps to help me 're-write my script', as he would call it.

Okay, here goes... I am releasing my Mother's negative influence over me. I don't need to go on trying to impress every strong willed and superior women in the knowledge it will get me nowhere and will ultimately result in me getting upset.

It is not that I dislike my Mum, far from it I love her and she is an amazing woman - she just was an absent Mum in the early years and her encouragement was to point out my faults before I got hurt (er, there is logic in that, I'm sure). I was lucky that when she went off the change the world and do great things she left me with an amazing Nanny, who I am still really close to now. I never lacked love, hence coming to these conclusions is not too heartbreaking.

It is simple - you notice it and suddenly so much becomes apparent. Funny though, just writing it brings a tears to my eyes, but it is true and it is time to move on. Now I've written it down now, so there is no going back.

Bye bye heart ache and a few unhealthy friendships!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Hello Again

I read Deer Baby's heart-breaking blog to inspire me to write to someone you have lost contact with explore what I would say. That blog was beautiful so it has inspired a reverential and alternative approach!

I can think of three people, Chou Chou, Jo and Jenny. Chou Chou was like a French sister, really like a sister. She is still on my horizon and we text occasionally. Jo was a good friend until she turned and, boy, was that nasty and Jenny was a work colleague and friend whose life just took her in another direction. What would I say to them?

Exactly! Blogging has taught me so much. If I am not listening I have nothing really to say. Time to stop filling the silences with noise, time to think rather than trying to create comfort with sounds (and in so doing make Bridget Jones seem coherent and considered) - time to listen. Yes, I am happy, I love my life, but what about you? I want to really hear about you, your life and where destiny has taken you.

This morning I was up for a 7.30 networking breakfast and it was truly rewarding. I did not push my wares at all I sat back and listened. I got back to my desk and asked to hear more. I can share with you the poem that I was offered.

The Hundred Languages Of Children
The child
is made of one hundred.
The child has
a hundred languages
a hundred hands
a hundred thoughts
a hundred ways of thinking
of playing, of speaking.
A hundred always a hundred
ways of listening
of marvelling, of loving
a hundred joys
for singing and understanding
a hundred worlds
to discover
a hundred worlds
to invent
a hundred worlds
to dream.
The child has
a hundred languages
(and a hundred hundred hundred more)
but they steal ninety-nine.
The school and the culture
separate the head from the body.
They tell the child:
to think without hands
to do without head
to listen and not to speak
to understand without joy
to love and to marvel
only at Easter and at Christmas.
They tell the child:
to discover the world already there
and of the hundred
they steal ninety-nine.
They tell the child:
that work and play
reality and fantasy
science and imagination
sky and earth
reason and dream
are things
that do not belong together.

And thus they tell the child
that the hundred is not there.
The child says:
No way. The hundred is there.

Loris Malaguzzi
(translated by Lella Gandini)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

I should have listened to the warning

For writing workshop 16: Under Pressure and Parallel Worlds inspired by New Day New Lesson's 'Document your Parents life story before it is too late'

I should have heeded the warning signs earlier, but I was young and life went on. The collective family memory seemed to rest with Great Uncle George, the token member of the older generation. Looking at family pictures we were always assured that if no one there know then Uncle George would, he was the sage.

I remember just one particular anecdote: after the war he was billeted to a large house in Berlin and the owner came to him, pleading with him that he and his men would not damage the house and be kind. She said how she had lots of English friends who could vouch for her good character - and when asked to name just one she replied with the name of my Grandmother, MB. Happy coincidence in the face of post war chaos! I seem to remember even then asking myself, who would remember all these things and more when George was gone.

Next there was Dagi, or Dagmar Von Lewinski to give her her full name. She had been MB's best friend and she had to England for her final days. I knew my Grandmother (MB) but everyone said how alike we were and so I had always felt a special bond with her, despite her having died before I was born. Dagi was a grand lady who had spent all her life flitting between countries, cutting a somewhat sad path; alone and struggling in adult life in a way that she could never have anticipated as a wealthy child in turn of the century Berlin.

I really got to know Dagi, just before she died, when she moved to Twickenham and I would do her shopping and visit her most weeks. We talked about all sorts of things, almost as if she recognised a spirit of MB in me. She seemed to pick up streams of conversation that she had started decades before with MB. We discussed ancient Greece, philosophy and random musings of a German in London.

Occasionally she dipped into her personal history. She had fled Berlin for Cairo, with her husband, when she was publicly opposed to Hitler. She talked about the deceit of her husband, spying back to Berlin on her activities there. The years had enabled her to talk about it in a matter of fact way, but nothing could disguise the fact that once trust is broken it is hard to ever build that bond again.

Her death came as a surprise, I was even out of the country for her funeral. As if to taunt me further, it was just as the film, 'The English Patient' came out. I knew that she was there in Cairo at the same time as it was set, she would have had the inner story on the intrigue and the real history of that era. I have never been interested in dates and wars and the patriarchal histories, I love the details, the people, what it would feel like to there - and that is what I lost with Dagi.

Since then there has been a roll call of deaths. I miss my Mum's parents horribly, although I did listen to certain key lessons. Grandpa never really talked, he listened - leaving the talking to Granny as she did it so well and so freely. She was a historian, teaching adult education classes until she was in her Eighties. She has a real gift for imparting knowledge, neither taking anything forgranted nor assuming that anything was beyond you. Hence, on meeting DH starting with 'I came from Glasgow, do you know where that is?' and still being able to softly chastise me when I got the date of some chairs in the stately home mis-dated by 60 years (I was amazed I was in the right century, but unabashed she continued about how the chair backs had some important function in the way that the ladies had ornate wigs of that decade). She managed to do this with charm but never superiority.

It is through Granny that I gained that delight in historical context; looking into paintings to see how the 'real' people dressed behind the bejewelled statesmen and woman, imagining the effect of the costumes on the way they moved or danced. How to forget about prices, market values or reputation but to look and enjoy. The lesson I still failed to learn was to ask the right questions of her while she was still here, such as what was it like being loosing her father when she was so young and then going to University in the days before it was the social norm for girls to do so.

As Susie says in 'Document your Parents life story before it is too late', you never know when life is going to be cut short. With my father a degenerative illness just gradually stole his power to communicate; to start with we thought he was just getting progressively eccentric with age, then we thought that he was just having difficulty explaining himself. Then it was too painfully clear that it was an illness that would even steal from his the capacity to breathe. Daddy told such vivid stories, about him and his mother and Aunts - who were larger than life (and as Great Aunt Gertrude reputedly had vital statistics 40'40'40' it follows that they had BIG characters). I remember that Gertrude's wartime letters resembled confetti after the censors had checked them and his epic trips to London, but what else did I forget?

So that leaves my Mum. Her family moved to Berlin after the war and only left during the Airlift. What must this have been like for a seven year old? This time I must listen to the warning, nobody lives for ever, but through stories their memory can. Watch this space for another blog about my mother's war time experiences.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

And the Award goes to...

Josie's blog Can you see me? made me think. Looking at the comments it is easy to see that I am not the only person who values her blogs and her amazing writing work shop. I started to consider other people who have touched my life and who will never really know how I have valued them.

Michael, my postman. He is the only postman who knows when I am out walking the dog and will go away, to do the rest of his round, and then come back a second time.

Gemma, at nursery. It was tough going back to work after Sarita was born (I thought could go back full time after only one board meeting away: WRONG) but Gemma made it easier. I went to visit some other nurseries and it was clear that they read and adhered to every bit of regulation but something was still missing. With Gemma, at the end of the day would greet us with a delighted smile, breathlessly telling us the amazing thing that Sarita had day. Yes, it was her job but it was clear that it was also much more, she loved it being there.

Debbie, at pre-school. Debbie has immense patience with kids (the parents rather bore her). Just watching her and her belief in the abilities the children is amazing - she does not talk down to them, but she does not tolerate anything but good behaviour. I have seen her quell a volcanic toddler mid flow without resorting to raising her voice. When my blood pressure rises and Sarita is doing a public display of her toddler temperament I just channel Debbie.

A Random Doctor. I never seen her before or since, but this lady was a healer. I went in to see why I was not conceived yet (one year on) and she somehow managed to manipulate the situation. I was becoming a bit disillusioned by conventional medicine and was expecting a patronising pat on the head followed by a letter to a consultant that would be answered sometime in the next few years - instead she made me cry. Let me explain, my Dad had died a while earlier, his funeral had been anything other than a private affair. I remember after the ceremony trying to take my coat off while a guest/mourner just wanted to make small talk with me and just trying, in vain, to have a few moments to myself. There was no time for mourning as after the very public funeral as I seemed to move onto finishing my Masters and our wedding (an irony of timings) at great speed. The Doctor seemed to know this and just asked me a few pointed and pertinent questions then just let me cry: I finally could sob about the death of my Dad. It did not help me conceive but it was such a healing moment. It helped me grieve properly which, in time, helped me move on.

The man with muscles - once when I was living in London I ordered a 1/4 tonne of lovely white pebbles for my tiny garden (a alternative to decking or paving) and the **** delivery arrived a few hours early and so just dumped in unceremoniously on my doorstep. I just looked down and in my wisdom thought that I should take the first sack in with me as I unlocked the door. It must have the sight of a strange girl in 1920s style tight tweed skirt and some ridiculous pony skin high heeled boots getting to grips with a leaden sack - but a total stranger stepped in a volunteered to help. He carried the whole lot through the house into the garden. As he approached the last few sacks I started to consider the possible quid pro quo nervously; but he dropped the last sack and with barely a wave off he went.

My saviour - the time when I was saved from possible death. How may times have Londoners heard 'Mind the Gap' well, this time I didn't! I raced down the steps, a little too fast, to catch the tube and went flying. Thank goodness for my womanly derriere, my feet and legs disappeared into the gap and my bottom wedged my on the platform between the train and the abyss. Oops! Suddenly I felt two arms under mine and with one great heave I was standing into the carriage safe and sound.
Here comes reality check: I had just extricated myself from a long term relationship and as I turned around I was alive, whole heartedly relieved and a little bit hopeful. Well, he saved me, I want to show my eternal gratitude BUT (on catching a glimpse at him) that was certainly going to be our last physical contact...ever.

People are amazing, random strangers can do the most extraordinary things. Just don't expect fairy tales!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Inspired Reading!*

I swore that I would not read parenting manuals. There are so many amazing books in the world and I wanted to experience motherhood first hand rather than through a veil of dogma. Then I was challenged to read Gina Ford by someone declaring I was too much of a hippy to do so. Hippy? Moi? Just because I was planning to use reusable nappies! Anyway after that I really had to, and in the interest of balance I also read the Baby Whisperer too.

As a Mum-to-be with previous experience running to...well, holding a friend's baby the right way up...once...cautiously...So why did I want to throw these books across the room with such violence. After all, if I followed their sage advise by the minute, I would have a baby that slept through the night, fed perfectly and no doubt genuflect at the alter of these parenting Saints.

Then suddenly there was a book worth going to bed early for: Debra Jackson's Baby Wisdom. It looks at how different groups around the world raise their children for the first year as well as the history of looking after babies. It was fascinating and the antidote to prescriptive parenting. I could forget about looking at my maternal stop watch and dream of the Kalahari instead. Sure, it did have recommendations and to be a true acolyte of the approach I would have thrown away the cot and buggy. It may not be practical but it certainly was a stimulating read.

Also there is nothing like a contrast to help you view things more clearly - or for the philosophers amongst us I had found my dialectic!

Eureka! It is clear - we keep on reading advice until we find something that reinforces our own prejudice. If you need routine, stick with Gina... if you are a free spirit, go for Deborah.

Then enter @VivGroskop who recently wrote an amazing review of Nurtureshock, the latest book of parenting wisdom to be imported from the States. She recommended Oliver James, 'The F*** you up' amongst others as more credible alternatives.

This book is another compulsive read, it has found me turning on the light again after DH has started snoring. This morning (while the three of us had breakfast in bed together) I was reading a psychological profile of George W Bush based on the parenting he endured. Let's get the criticism out of the way, Oliver James is impressed by his own opinions, very impressed, and he is out to convince you beyond any doubt (reasonable or not) that not only is his theory right, but there is no room for deviation. All behaviour is 100% incontrovertibly nurture rather than nature - and if you don't agree then you should read his book again.

Does the negative out weigh the positive? No, way. I thoroughly recommend it. It is a serious eye opener! It is not aimed so much as a parenting manual but as a guide for all children, to understand the messages of our upbringing and how not to become over burdened by the negative messages that still subconsciously affect us.

The Oliver James book has clarified so much - we need to look at ourselves as people before we take the next step to thinking about how we behave as parents and, by extension, the skills we need to be a parent. Being a good parent is immeasurably helped by having a clear state of mind.

All I want for my little girl is to be happy and fulfilled, I need to be strong enough to guide her firmly but with true kindness, take the time to listen and the effort to empathise. Even though he may be too mighty to appreciate my gratitude, I wholeheartedly thank Oliver James for giving me a rewarding context for all other advice I receive, be it from books, blogs or Mummy friends.

* Inspired by Josie's blog about A Book that Changes your life