Loneliness

He stood in the centre of the world, and watched the people passing by. An old couple hand in hand walked silently across his path, and he smiled at the idea that they had been holding hands for a lifetime, even though for all he knew they were newly-weds. He didn’t think so though. Something about the way they had no need for speech, and the uncanny way they almost looked the same as one another, gave the impression they had spent decades not just falling, but growing in love.

A child skipped past his feet, lost in his own world of thought. He looked instinctively for the parents watching, and found a young mother across the way, never letting her eyes move from his tiny figure as the child enjoyed his imagined independence. The boy’s innocence was palpable, and as he watched his limbs dance to silent music, he tried to suppress the white envy from spreading across his chest. He moved his gaze from the child and shook his head in self directed frustration. Children should be innocent, and the boy didn’t deserve to be looked at that way.

A young couple arguing caught his attention through the crowd of faces. They moved their arms in passionate gestures, talking over one another, each clearly desperate to win, rather than be heard. He clucked his tongue gently, knowing that the lesson couldn’t be taught until they were ready to learn it. The intensity of their argument moved him somewhat. You don’t argue unless you care. He hoped one day they would learn to talk as emotively as they fought.

Faces and figures passed by, some he knew, some he didn’t. He saw wives, and thought of his own, who knew him better than he knew himself most days. He saw siblings arm in arm, and thought of friends who were closer than brothers to him, and family members who almost filled that gap, in fact-so closely that an outsider wouldn’t see the hairline fracture which kept them from slotting in as neatly as they would in a perfect world. He watched parents lamenting the crises their children weathered alone, and wondered if his own parents were looking down on him and if they were proud.

As he watched the population of the world move seamlessly in unison, like a dance too impossibly complex to choreograph yet still somehow working perfectly, he knew that all those people were here somewhere, hidden by time and space and sometimes mere fate. He wondered what he would say to any of these people if they were standing close enough to ask with genuine concern why there were tears on his face.

He might try to respond with the truth, and let the crushing weight of sympathy take his breath away from the pain for that single moment. He might laugh it off and give the questioner the relief of not having to find some words to fill the empty silence. He might pretend he hadn’t heard them, and start a new conversation, drawing attention to all the things they had to talk about rather than the one thing they didn’t.
In all honesty, he’d probably just turn away and get lost in the crowd once again. They wouldn’t understand the answer anyway. And there was nothing more lonely than that.

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Six Moments For Six Years

Tonight is six long years since my father passed away. I set aside from nightfall tonight until tomorrow night to remember him and all he gave me, and to learn in his memory.

Here are six moments in time I would love to have with you if I could.

1. Invite you for Shabbat at my house, the way I so often came to you. I’d cook, and plan, and worry about the food, and be so excited to welcome you into my own home. We would sing, and tell stories, and the time would run away from us, and I’d stay up all night asking the questions I never thought I wouldn’t get to ask.

2. Have a hug. As simple as it sounds, after it’s gone you never get the same kind of touch again that you receive from a parent. When the relationship is good, they know you, they empathise with you, they love you in an unconditional way, and that kind of emotion cant be transferred any better than through touch. Better than wishing for an entire day to sit and talk, I would love a chance to hear you call me sweetheart, and feel safe and loved in your arms again just for those few seconds.

3. Play with R. I’d sit back and watch the two of you spend effortless time together, him jabbering nonsense and you answering with pride. Reading him books, sitting him on your knee, looking into each other’s identical eyes, and singing him the same songs you once sang to me. Every day I hope that I can make up for the fact that he wont know his Zeida, and I’d love to see you with your grandson, just once.

4. Watch some Sci-Fi, play some board games, read silently next to each other, and pretend that the time isn’t precious and irreplaceable, and that we could do this every day if we wanted to, and that the choice to just exist together hasn’t been taken away forever.

5. Send you out with C, on a ‘male bonding’ outing. Who knows where you would go, and you’d probably both come back so very awkward, and to my annoyance, neither of you would remember what you even talked about or did. I’d just be so glad you got a chance to get to know each other, even in a small way, because my mind still finds it impossible to comprehend the two men in my life existing for me without true knowledge of the other. So yes, I’d gladly give up one of my nuggets of time with you, to know you got to meet him as my husband, even just that once.

6. Show you my world. How bitter-sweet to think of the amazing way my life turned out over the last six years, and yet how little of it you would recognise. You were always so unconditionally proud of me. Back then, I had just finished high school, now I have a degree and my own business. Like all 18 year olds, I worried I would never find ‘The One’, and now I proudly share my life with my best friend. The idea of kids didn’t cross my mind more than fleetingly, now my son is never out of my thoughts and yet somehow a complete stranger to you. These have been the years of my life that I’m likely to change the most. I’m simply a different person.

Six years on, would you even know me? And Daddy, would you still be proud?

The Usual Suspects of Rhyme Time

It’s been a while since I’ve observed and blogged a usual suspects post, but this one has been on my mind for a while. There are a few different types of baby and toddler groups that all mums who don’t work full time will try to frequent. The paid, term time classes tend to be quite structured and organised, they normally involve committing to coming every week for a term or more, and therefore you quickly get to know the other mothers and babies, as well as whoever is leading the group.

That’s not the kind of groups I’m talking about today. I mean the drop in, sometimes free, often council provided, in a library or community centre type of class. It may be called Rhyme Time, Stay and Play, Mummy and Me classes, Bright Beginnings, but you get the drift.

The availability of such classes is amazing, and I’m sure most new or first time mums would find it hard to cope without a cheap and local place to spend some time with other adults and their kids. Added to this, like any situation where you are in a closed space with strangers, there can be some interesting and entertaining moments to be found. So join me, and humour me, while I put on my judge-y cap and point out some colourful characters that I often see on mine and R’s travels.

The Awkward Assistant
I’ve seen it be a teenage girl on work experience, or a middle aged librarian. I’ve seen elderly ladies who should have long ago retired, or a guy who thought the silence involved in working in a library would mean he didn’t have to speak to anyone. But they all have one thing in common; they have no idea what they’re doing. Too shy to ask the bolshy woman why she’s taken two tickets for the group when she only has one child? Too nervous to stop a toddler from wandering out the electronic doors? Too incompetent to count the correct number of heads in a stationary line? You’ve found them.

The Lackadaisical Au-pair.
This type often moves in groups of the same species, and can be identified by the fact that they are rarely looking in the direction of the kids in their charge. They chat to each other mostly in their native tongue, which makes sense except it means that they normally have a bored looking baby spacing out on their laps. These type of groups are easy for them to go to, and therefore they continue to frequent them even when the kids are really not age appropriate for the activities provided. Spot a ten year old girl sullenly fiddling with a toddler jigsaw? I can guarantee you wont find her mother there.

The Awkward Child/Oblivious Parent
Oblivious parents are seen everywhere. They let their kids run off without supervision, they prefer to sit still in one place and hope the kid comes back, and they very rarely notice what’s happened in a tumble or collision.
Awkward kids are the kind that are just that bit too friendly, climbing into your lap when you’ve never met them before, or bringing you the entire contents of the Lego box piece by piece until you are crushed under the weight.
When you put these two together? Dangerous combo. The child is busy desperately trying to get attention from you, (how sad that they already realise there isn’t any point petitioning the parent) but you have your own kid to watch, and frankly-you didn’t come there to entertain someone else’s! Do you say something to the parent, who is nonchalantly scanning the room blankly, avoiding your gaze? Do you keep removing the kid who clings to you like a limpet, and start ignoring them too? If anyone knows the correct etiquette for that one-do tell.

The Bully
I know we’re supposed to believe that all kids are born innocent and lovely, and that everything they do that seems like pure evil is really just a phase… but I’m not too sure. Whether you want to believe that their shortcomings are the fault of the parents, or that they were born that way, there is something just not nice about that child. Nature/Nurture debate aside, why is no one telling that boy to stop throwing sand in everyone’s eyes? Why is the mother taking photos of her little girl snatching the drum stick and using it sword-like to poke other kids until they fall to the ground? And.. did she just laugh and point at the baby who is now crying in pain? Scan the room and watch the rest of the parents lead their kids by the shoulders to a different area, and don’t feel bad when you catch their eyes and silently thank heaven for your normal discipline issues.

Also to be found in such scenarios, is the Over-helpful Leader who asks just a few too many personal questions about your family structure, gives advice when it hasn’t been asked for, and keeps coming over to make sure you’re all having a lovely time. The Screaming Crying Kid, whose parents really need to just take him home, and stop him spoiling the activity for the rest of us, and Over-Indulged Child who has enough snacks and extra toys to draw jealous looks from everyone else’s kids (which is only going to lead to them asking us for non-existent treats and getting rightfully tearful at the unfairness of life when we turn them down).
Also on display for the lucky viewer, is Freakishly Bright Girl (its always a girl) who rotates her appearance and skills, but can be found doing any of the following list: Walking at 7 months, Chatting full sentences at a year, naming and choosing colours at 18 months, using the building blocks to make a replica of St Paul’s Cathedral, etc etc. She is usually accompanied by Smug Parent who obviously doesn’t realise that not only do none of us care that our toddlers haven’t memorised the periodic table yet, but also that their kid isn’t even that cute. more annoying.

Please do share if you think of any others!

Parental Control(s)

We live in an amazing time. We have never had a world so small, or access to as much of it as we do in this generation. Unlike our great-grandparents, our children have equal opportunities and a chance to be children for longer. Unlike our grandparents, we will be blessed with countless photos and videos of our children for posterity and reminiscing. Unlike our parents, we have access to a wealth of information and support from around the globe.

But what is this doing to family values?

Fifty years ago, our parents and grandparents had questions about raising their newborn or toddler. Of course they did, we all do. For all parents, there are parts of parenthood which are like foreign countries, needing to be navigated cautiously and with plenty of advice. Generations before us had one simple line of enquiry; their own parents. Who better to ask about raising a child, than the people who raised you? As long as you didn’t have any huge culture or life-choice differences, they were bound to have an easy answer to your query. This helped mothers and daughters bond, helped grandparents feel like they were being included with their grandchildren, and made for a happy family dynamic.

But now, we have been given the super-tool which is the World Wide Web. And suddenly our own parents cant compete with the hundreds of online doctors, the thousands of baby forums, the millions of other mothers with their own two cents to throw in the pot. And to make things worse, for most of us, our parents arent anywhere near as adept at using this technological encyclopedia.

I know this doesnt count for everyone, but for a large part of the older generation, we are lucky if they can send a few emails here and there, or look up the odd opening time of a favourite shopping centre. Research and socialising are pretty far from our parents minds a lot of the time.

So while we know that cot death has halved since parents started putting babies to sleep on their backs, we still have to listen to great aunt Sophie maintaining loudly that all seventeen of her offspring slept on their tummies for 18 years and it never did them any harm. Although we are listening to medical studies which suggest we offer certain foods later than others to avoid allergies, it’s not so easy to ignore the grandparent who offers peanut m&ms as a ‘treat.’

There is a divide. And in a way which the world hasnt ever really faced before. We know with certainty that our parents are wrong, or badly informed, and yet there isnt really a polite or easy way to say so. To make things even weirder, our generation is really the only one which will be faced with this problem. When my son goes online in 2032 and tells me that the latest word from the doctors is that babies should be hanging upside down by their ankles, I will say “Ooh how interesting”, google it, and probably share it on whatever social media platform I’m using. Not that he wont have other advances which I am not adept with, (Like what on earth is foursquare?) but information will still be as accessible to me as it is now.

I know that I am being somewhat unfair to people over 50 who are computer-whizzes and have usernames for every chatroom in a appropriate time-zone, so let me be clearer. It isnt that our parents cant understand the idea of finding out facts and answers on the internet. It’s that nowadays, especially when faced with the realities of being a stay at home or part time working mother, the internet is more than just information. It’s a community, and for many- a lifeline. The friends that mums make online, the readers of their blogs, the people they share advice with from across the globe; they become family. And not that they can take the place of our parents, because of course they cant, but they are family who are going through the exact thing that we are, at the same time, and who we can interact with in a matter of seconds. The generation before us cant really understand that, because they were never young parents going through it themselves.

And so I see time and time again, questions in chatrooms which start with “My mum thinks I should….” and end with “what should I tell her?” and I think it’s pretty sad. To some extent, there isn tthat much we can do about it. But like most things, it can definitely be helped by communication. All your parents want is to be helpful and involved. If they are a reasonable person, print out an article or two and let them know you found it interesting and it had a lot of info you didn’t know, so perhaps they didn’t either. Agree with them on a few points that don’t really matter long term. If all else fails, smile and nod and then do whatever you wanted to do in the first place.

Of course, if they are not a reasonable person, you pretty much have to live with it. I tell you what, add me on Twitter (@LiterallyAdvice) and we can have a chat about it.

 

The Building Blocks of Life.. Literally.

Today I’m going to be making a deep point about lego. Well, to be more accurate-Megablocks.

As a side point, I wonder how many more kinds of lego are going to be patented. It’s actually shocking that in a world where no one has invented a truly leak-proof nappy, or a vest with poppers that fits a child older than 2, or a device which gets your kids up and dressed in the morning, (preferably activated by parents snoring) that we have about 18 dozen forms of connect-able block.

Anyway. My son has recently started enjoying mega blocks. He excitedly brings me the bag to unzip, and empties them out onto the carpet. He rifles through the assorted sizes and colours, hand picking the ones he wants, and is now truly adept at putting them together and pulling them apart. The last few weeks he is even building complex constructions and skyscrapers galore. It’s amazing.

However (and this may be a shock to some). My son has neither an engineering nor an architecture degree. And at the ripe old age of 1 and three quarters, he has very little concept of foundation or structure. So lego and its peers are very much a supervised activity, with parental help as and when.

Which brings me to my point. How much help is too much help?

I have 3 options. (In lego at least.)

  1. I help him build his tower, replacing pieces in his hands when I can see he is making a poor choice, trying to explain why, making the whole thing pretty much a formal learning game. In other words, let’s call option one, Sucking all the Fun Out of Life. 
  2. I secretly rebuild the tower as we go, waiting until he turns to get another piece before rearranging the four pronger from on top of the one pronger etc, and remaking the foundations until I don’t have to hold it secretly between my own hands to get it to stay upright. Let’s give this one the ever catchy Lying to our Kids title.
  3. I let him make his own mistakes, letting the tower fall to the ground every time he places another brick, and hope he starts to work it out for himself instead of the far more likely options of him getting very angry and/or giving up. Let’s give this the optimistic heading of Embrace the Tantrum.  


I doubt I need to explain the metaphor. There is so much that my son is on the cusp of understanding and doing himself. Every day he is trying to learn new things. But he is a baby. And the combination of easily frustrated and not very good at stuff is not exactly a match made in heaven. To avoid the seventeen episodes a day which range from mild whining to full blown tantrum-ing (I know sweetheart, it’s because the square doesn’t fit in the triangle hole.. Overreaction much?) I either have to do something for him, basically taking away his independence and causing a different whining episode, or make it look like he’s in control, when really he isn’t. (In which case-how is he ever going to learn?)

Like so much of parenting, it’s a balancing act. A lot of over-forced happy sounding “Oh dear!”‘s and “Let’s build it again!” and trying not to get frustrated audibly or noticeably with my own adult shortcomings, thus setting a bad example for how to deal with failure.

But part of me is waxing nostalgic over the days when play time was a simple trying to chew the head off a plastic dinosaur.

The lego guy never gets to go out with his friends…