If I met my teenage self, I’d cringe and pretend I didn’t know her.

Sitting in Starbucks this morning, I found myself in a situation I haven’t been in for almost a decade; sitting next to two teenage girls on study leave, complete with massive ringbinders and several too many different coloured highlighters. As with all girls who have committed the day to serious revision, they spent most of the morning chatting to each other and putting on unnecessary amounts of eye-liner. I normally feel pretty young, but when confronted with the real deal, I left the coffee shop at the ripe old age of 25 feeling almost painfully old in comparison.

Sharing the same seating area as the couplet, and as a result of teenage girls having absolutely no concept of privacy, I naturally now know these two better than most of my own friends. (I shudder to think the amount of people who know my entire life story from multiple loud coffee shop and bus ride conversations that I ignorantly broadcasted before I left school.)

I wouldn’t want to spill confidences, but here are my fave tidbits from the few hours we spent together. Wise words from the youth of today, all verbatim, all said with entirely serious faces.

On friendship.

“We’re not exactly best friends.”
“Well, would SHE consider you to be her best friend?”
“Yeah, probably. But I wouldn’t say she’s MY best friend if you know what I mean.” -pause- “Obviously don’t tell her I said that.”

___

“I used to make friends so easily, like remember when we were in year nine, you could pick and choose you know? Now it’s just so much more complicated.” -worldly sigh-

On relationships.

“Did he call you?”
“Well he didn’t call me, but he did text me before he went to sleep. And then I replied, but he didn’t reply.” -pause- “..but he was probably asleep.” -longer pause- “…although he’s probably awake now.” -checks phone-.

___

“Did you see them together?”
“Yeah, I was really surprised. But look, its up to him who he gets with isn’t it?”
“And she IS so skinny now.”
“Yeah that’s true. Maybe I’m not that surprised. -pause- I wonder if she’s like, anorexic.”
“If she is, someone should definitely tell him.”
“Yeah, maybe I should tell him.”

On family

“Wow, I really love that skirt.”
“I know. And my mum said it didn’t match my top!”
“My mum said the same thing!”
-high five-

___

“I personally think you’re prettier than your sister.”
“Right but she IS really smart.”
“She’s fake blonde though right?”
“That’s true.”

On politics

“Do you want to study at mine tomorrow?”
“I actually said I would study at X’s. I would totally invite you but I’m not sure if people are invited or if its like a thing.”
“Oh ok.”
“You know if it were my choice them of COURSE you would be invited, but I just don’t really know what’s happening. -pause- why don’t you phone and ask? You should definitely phone and ask.”

On work ethic and self image

“Can you test me on this vocab?”
“Sure. But first look at this pic from X’s Instagram.”
-laughs far too loudly- “That’s amazing!!! Here, lets take our picture.”
-they move to sit next to each other and spend five mins taking the same selfie over and over and deleting it-
“Ah, that ones good. You’re so pretty.”
“What do you mean? You’re stunning! I look awful today!”
“You’re crazy!”
-returns to studying, vocab clearly forgotten-

Five mins later:
“We’ve been revising for ages. Want to go get food?”

 

Definitely the world leaders of tomorrow. Now to spend some time on Google checking no one’s written a blog about the creepy lady who was frantically transcribing their conversations all morning in a less than subtle way.

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“I know my kid’s a brat, who do you think she learnt it from?”

I was asked recently if I would tell off someone else’s child.

Tough one.

This is one of those situations where I think it doesn’t make a difference how close you are to the person in question. If you don’t know them that well (or at all) then you’re the evil stranger who is telling off their child… But if you do know them, then what kind of friend / relative are you to be telling off their child?

Firstly, I would never dream of telling a child off for what might call ‘bad behaviour’ in my own kids. I’ve witnessed scenes like this, and no-one takes it well. I’ve seen adults commenting on other kids table manners, (I think it’s so refreshing that you don’t mind him talking with his mouth full!Play skills, (Don’t you think she’s had a long enough turn?) and language (Oooh, where did she learn to talk like that?) with disastrous consequences for the relationships with the parents in question. There is generally no reason at all to comment on someone else’s kid’s behaviour when keeping quiet would have no effect on your own children.

I would even say this is true when it is affecting you. You’re an adult; just try and get over the fact that little Timmy is kicking you under the table / drew all over your carpet / spat your lasagne onto the floor. But what to do when the behaviour is affecting your kids? 

I have always been of the opinion that most things can be said tactfully to the parents, and in agreement that parenting should be left to parents, not well meaning observers. I would say (well…hope) that in at least fifty percent of cases, especially when you know the person, parents know that kids all misbehave and will at the very least stop their child from hurting yours in that particular instance. If you still find it awkward bringing it up, you can always opt for vague statements/questions that make the other parent stop what they’re doing and notice the event occurring. These need a subtle degree of acting, and include:

  • Oooh.. What’s happening there? I missed it, who was playing with that toy first? (Translation: Notice that your kid just took his favourite bear please.)
  • Oh sweetheart, did you bump your head? That’s so strange, I didn’t see you fall over… (Translation: Because he didn’t. Your kid pushed him.)
  • How lovely that you can give -insert childs name- two biscuits, that would ruin my own kids appetite. (Translation: Pay attention you lax parent, she just stole my son’s cookie.)

But what about the other times, where you come across either complete strangers who don’t care about you and your kid, or parents who are just frankly bad at parenting? All parents come across other mums and dads who basically use soft play / libraries and the like as babysitting services, and are nowhere to be seen while their toddlers wreak havoc. There are even some parents who will watch with rose coloured glasses as their kids kick and punch their way to their favoured toys.

You can’t force them to discipline their child, but you cant really ignore the situation either once your own kid is old enough to point out the injustice. Apart from anything else, surely without getting some acknowledgement from the other side, you are condoning the behaviour in your own child.

First step always has to be try approaching the parent as above. I once was at a soft play with R, not long after he got his glasses. He was about 15 months. Another child, around 2 years old was following his army crawl around the area, pulling them off his face and laughing. I ignored it twice, and then (knowing how difficult it is to get a baby to wear glasses to begin with) looked for the mum. Spotting her, I gave her a friendly smile and said “Sorry! (why did I apologize?!) your little girl keeps taking my baby’s glasses.. do you mind to watch her?” which I thought was possibly the nicest way of asking that question humanly possible.

The mother scowled angrily at me, and replied, “Well, it was your choice to put your baby in glasses” and then turned away. I was actually flabbergasted, and felt absolutely no qualms in giving the little girl an evil glance and a slightly sharp “you mustn’t take his glasses, he needs them to see” the next time she approached him.

From then on, I always approach the parent as nicely as possible first, and then if they are entirely useless, have no concern in saying something to the child themselves.

So there we have it parents of the world. (Bearing in mind the golden rules so we don’t all get thrown in jail: Absolutely no touching, shouting or swearing at kids other than your own!) You now have my permission to tell off other people’s children, only when they are mistreating your own and when their parents are being brattier than they are.

This of course includes mine, I plan on ignoring R locally tomorrow if anyone wants to pop by and give him a good talking to.

Rosh Hashana 2012

Hopes and thoughts for the year ahead

  • My little once baby boy is now a toddler. I am so proud of C and myself for everything we have managed to give him in the last year, and he is a confident and happy little boy. However, I am hoping that this year will give him the communication skills to speak to us and to others, and make himself verbally understood. By this time next year he will be starting his third term of nursery, and I can only leave it in Gods hands to make sure he is ready for this huge step in interaction and social understanding. (Gulp.) He hasn’t ever let his eyes hold him back until now, long may it continue! I get frustrated and worried when people ask me ignorantly “is he really partially sighted?” I suppose my greatest hope is that people always continue to ask me that question!
  • I could never have imagined coming this far in my relationship as a daughter this time last year. My mother and I no longer argue, (although we drive each other mad sometimes) and in many ways our relationship is stronger than it’s ever been. I can say without doubt that I understand her more than I ever have done, and that I no longer worry that she doesn’t really want the relationship to start with. I hope that this year we can begin to enjoy each others company the way we sometimes used to during the manic bipolar nature of our time together during my teenage years. I also hope I can show her that she can trust that I’ll always be in her life, she isn’t alone, even while I cant soothe her loneliness. If I’m really honest, my fear is being sucked back into the craziness, and losing myself in it, in trying to help what can’t ever be changed. I think only heaven can show me a way to balance love with self-preservation. It’s certainly not something I’ve ever had much luck with in the past.
  • I could never have imagined that the biggest challenge of adulthood would be friendship. While my old friendships hold strong for the most part, it seems to be a well known but un-discussed fact of being a grown up that it is about 50 times more difficult to make lasting relationships. While in high school, all it took was a few shared classes or break times, nowadays things are so much more complicated. Play dates, Shabbat lunches, chats at the library… when do acquaintances become real friends? I finally feel like we have a community to be a part of, and have met some lovely people with kids similar ages to R, and a similar lifestyle to C and me. I hope that this year will bring us closer in a deeper way, and they will move from being people to pass time with, to being people we call in times of joy or need.

Reconnecting with old friends and family, finding peace with things which cannot be changed. Making the next steps towards goals both old and new, treating ourselves to much needed “me-time” and “family-time” alike. Success in our careers and family life and personal aspirations. The ability to give and accept, in equal measure.

I want to wish all this and more to all my friends and family, along with a huge thank-you to everyone who continues to read and support me, I cant say how much it means to me. To everyone who celebrates in one way or another, a Shana Tova U’Metuka, a healthy, happy and sweet new year.

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 Grudge

Tonight, I went to one of those social events where you’re bound to run into a million faces you haven’t seen in forever. Some are genuinely a nice surprise, while others you cross the room multiple times to avoid. Awkward encounters are inevitable, as facts and faces are forgotten and small talk ensues for far too long when the appropriate ‘get-out’ sentences elude you.

Normally, I enjoy these mingling affairs, and catching up on what people are doing in their lives. Tonight, a weird encounter almost immediately after I entered the venue put me on edge for the night, and has left me bemused to say the least.

The hall was filled with stalls and tables, women everywhere, familiar faces and otherwise, and I decided to make a quick circle around the room before a more detailed second viewing of the ladies and their various wares. I was in a semi-conversation with someone I hadn’t seen in ages, and was genuinely interested in swapping baby-talk with, our kids bridging any gap that existed as a result of time spent apart. A lady approached me, who seemed entirely unfamiliar. She launched into what sounded so much like a prepared speech, that it took me a few seconds to realise I wasn’t being given sales patter for any of the items on sale this evening.

Evidently, we had worked together at some point, not very closely, but in the same place. And her being far more religious than I am now, (and certainly than I was at the time) I had inadvertently said something which had hurt her feelings. Not only that, but so oblivious to what I was doing, I had apparently repeated the thought many times over the time we worked together. Tonight, she repeated the story like it was so big deal, a funny anecdote to share with an old colleague, but as she quoted me verbatim, I could tell that it was so much more than that to her. Frankly, I didn’t even recognise this woman; I wouldn’t blink twice if I saw her in the street, after all it has been over 4 years since I saw her last. And yet she made a beeline for me the moment she saw me, and offloaded her hurt feelings which she has clearly been holding onto for almost a half decade.

Why didn’t she just say something at the time? I would have apologized, we might have laughed, I certainly wouldn’t have said it again at the very least!

I can appreciate that different people, like different cultures, can take serious offence at various things which I myself wouldn’t even consider. Personally, even after hearing from her tonight, I think what she is upset about is ridiculous, and even after being told, I don’t really understand her point of view. But without being told, I have zero chance of ever understanding it.

Sheer fluke brought us into the same room tonight, and we mix in entirely different circles. If she hadn’t run into me this evening, would she have held this grudge forever? Tonight, I laughed as if it was a semi-joke, out of sheer awkwardness, and said sorry almost too effusively-to keep up the appearance of levity that our conversation was balancing its fragile weight on. Her words “Dont worry about it” seemed flat even to me.

I wish she’d made the effort to explain to me her point of view 4 years ago. We were colleagues then, we saw each other every day, the conversation wouldn’t have been that awkward, and we both might have learned a thing or two about the different kinds of people that embrace our religion and how to live in harmony despite our differing practices. Certainly neither of us would remember it today.

Now its far too late to have that conversation. Even if I knew how to get in touch with her, it would be beyond awkward and ridiculous, and she would have to admit that it bothers her, an impossible thing to ask of a virtual stranger. All I know is, unfortunately for me, a woman I barely recognise is somewhere out there holding a grudge against me, and unfortunately for her, she still holds that grudge.