Holiday Musings

Hello from our holidays.

We are in sunny Israel, (although it rained today-very pleasant actually) and are enjoying several blog posts worth of home truths about traveling with babies. All I have to say is there should be a new word for it, because it isnt called a holiday if you’re doing exactly what you do at home on a non-work day, just in another location. Because while it’s lovely having a day or two off work, it is not the same as a holiday.

Holidays (at least in my lucky experience) entail long lie-ins, late romantic dinners, spontaneous trips to exotic locations, exploring new areas and little if any responsibilities.

Someone should teach my son a little holiday spirit.

Lets tick them off one by one.

Lie in’s
We had a plan folks. London time. If he was two hours ahead of us for the whole trip, then he would always sleep in until 9, (laughable that this has become a lie in, but we were happy to accept it.) and he wouldnt get grouchy when he had to stay up later for family engagements. Well, he is thoroughly enjoying staying up until ten or eleven at night….and yet has been waking on the dot of 7 each morning! Blackout the room? Tried it. Our son has stolen someone’s early riser genetic make-up. Feel free to claim if you’re missing it.

Late romantic dinners.
Sigh. I even accept that he has to join us for the meals. But why does he just stuff the food into his face so quickly that we haven’t even touched our main course? And romantic? Sure, if having a plate of mac and cheese thrown on your new sandals is romantic.

Spontaneity
There’s only so spontaneous you can be with an 18month olds copious luggage in tow. The most spur of the moment we get is “Oooh, in three hours after his nap and his snack, lets hope he is in a good enough mood to let us drive to a pre decided baby friendly spot for a half hour excursion until he gets bored”

Exploring new places
Babies dont like new places. At least mine doesnt. So while it is lovely to spot the differences between the soft plays and baby gyms on this side of the world and the ones back home, it is hardly a massive change of scene.

Responsibilities
Babies are for keeps, not just for at home folks. They come with you everywhere! They still need getting up and changing and feeding and cuddling and looking after, and they will still get the chicken pox and ruin your plans of fun days out and carefree sunny activities. If anything, they are more confused and tired and out of sorts than ever, so the responsibility part of parenting kind of triples when not at home.

So it’s not that were not having a great time, because we really are. And if you other parents imagine a week of just Sundays you’ll know what I mean. I just think we should appeal to the Oxford English Dictionary for a new word for parents. Because ‘holiday’ seems to be checked in at the entrance to the delivery room.

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Social Networking, Face to Face.

Some people thrive in social situations. These people look forward to events where they will see both their nearest and dearest and also meet new faces, potential friends and contacts of all kinds. They enjoy getting dressed up, making small talk, mingling and shmoozing with all kinds of people, finding out about others as well as opening up about themselves.

A lot of people say that they dont enjoy social affairs. Oh-I’m no good at small talk they will sigh, or I never know where to put myself at these things. This type, despite their protestations, normally find the people they already know and stick by them, or choose a wing man for the duration of the engagement to keep them company on the daunting task of meeting new people. Truthfully, they are fine, even while they do not shine at first impressions or superficial chatter, they go home perhaps glad that the evening is over, but no worse off for having attended.

There are those out there however, who have a real phobia of not just crowded events and new people, but even socialising with current friends and family. Just being taken out of their comfort zone, out of their own homes can be a serious mental and physical ordeal. Watching someone with a disorder like this is an eye opener into both psychology and sociology. They may stand frozen to the spot, not knowing who to talk to or where to go. They will perhaps look moody, or act rudely, not speaking to the host or hostess, not answering direct questions, not engaging in conversation, eating hardly anything or in an anti social manner. In contrast, they might be overly interfering and pushy, make a scene, burst into tears, or fall into a noticable sulk. They may even walk out.

The drama begins far earlier than the time listed on the invite, with anxiety starting perhaps months beforehand, and debriefing and rehashing continuing for the same amount of time afterwards. A 2 hour cocktail party can become a 6 month ordeal.

This kind of issue is all the harder to understand because simply talking to another person, especially someone we know already, is something we all do on a daily basis, without even thinking about it. It is so second nature to us all, that it seems almost laughable that just being in a room with more than 3 or 4 others can cause such a strong and negative reaction.

But it happens. I see it. I’m sorry for it. I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry for the host, and I’m sorry for the people who are just trying to make you feel more comfortable. And if I’m honest, I’m sorry for me too.

Unfortunately being sorry for us all doesnt make it go away, or make it much easier to deal with.

On Divorce, and All the Trimmings

I am what is known as the product of divorce. As melodramatic as that sounds, it just means I grew up with my parents in two separate homes. I wasn’t the victim of endless screaming matches and custody battles, although I believe there were both. I’m not scarred from being caught in the middle or being unduly spoiled or missing out on quality time, although I believe all those things have been true at one time or another. The truth is that the divorce and its trappings were over before I was old enough to remember that any of it was happening at all.

As a kid in primary school, we had a bit of a club. The divorced parents club. And it wasnt sparsely attended, lets put it that way. It never occured to me that it was something to be sad about, to lament in any way. Just as some people had rich parents, or some people had strict ones, some people had divorced ones. When I got to high school, and started visiting other friends houses, I suddenly realised for the first time that having a family structure was something worth having, something to be proud of,  and yet something I didn’t and couldn’t have.

Compared to others, I was lucky. My folks could bear to be in the same room together, could have a decent conversation which didn’t only include the times I was being dropped off or picked up, and much to the surprise of my fellow club members in primary school, could take me out for the day together, and we’d all have a really nice time. I nearly got my membership card revoked. In fact, while I never remember actively wishing they were together, it took me until age 14 to work out why they were even apart.

At that age, I started wondering for the first time why certain things were different for me, and tracing them back to the relationship between my parents, a thought I’d never even entertained before. In many ways, I felt like I had two different lives when I was with each of them. They even called me different names, something which I hadn’t and haven’t seen in any other ‘product of divorce’ then or since. My mum had her secrets I wasnt allowed to share with my dad, and although far more serious than the usual “dont tell your father how much these shoes cost” of a regular household, no one ever taught me to feel uncomfortable about hiding the truth, and so I started to keep my own secrets and lies. The arguing and ignoring was by no means constant, [as I said, they usually got on well] but when it came, it was harsh and brutal, putting me in a frightening place I didn’t want to be, perhaps all the harder for the unexpected and sporadic nature of their fighting.

I got on with life in 1 and a half houses, finding my own family and friends to escape to, reminding myself that one day I would have my own home to build the way I wanted to. That I had a choice to treat marriage and family with the sacred language and actions that I saw others doing seemingly effortlessly, everywhere I turned but home. But it took me until my year abroad after high school to accept and open up about these issues which I didn’t even really know were affecting me.

Since then, and after I lost my father in 2006, I no longer ever feel like the product of divorce. It got devastatingly overtaken by my new title, That girl who lost her dad at 19. Not coincidentally, the timing also fits with when I started dating my husband, and began building that home I always dreamed of.

Nowadays, I try and take whatever bad feeling is left about my parental situation and channel it into being a better wife and mother at home. And I just hope that R is as surprised as I wasn’t, the first time he comes across a friend who doesn’t have both loving parents at home with them, as they deserve.

Cooking and Connecting

Can you remember the first time you cooked with your mother? The first time you were given a wooden spoon and told to stir, carefully? Or handed the oh so heavy bag of flour to pour slowly into a mixing bowl? Or even taught how to crack an egg without having to pick bits of shell out the batter immediately afterward?

Most people probably have formative memories of baking and cooking with their parents, helping to prepare simple suppers or special ocassion baked treats. Apart from being a fun activity to keep kids entertained, it also helps children feel included in the household and is a truly bonding experience for both adult and youngster alike.

My first memory of cooking with my mum however, was this week. “Surely not!” [I hear you cry.] I suppose I’ve never asked and she never offered. We’re very different types of chefs, to say the least, and while she learned all her cooking from school, (meaning she knows all the right movements for ‘fold’ vs ‘stir’ and ‘blanche’ vs ‘saute’) my culinary efforts, mainly self taught, often do end in picking eggshell out the batter. Nevertheless, I’m happy for the most part with my gut cooking instinct, and I would tentatively say I’m a better cook than my mother, perhaps just because I try harder. Perhaps down to the differences between us, both in the kitchen and out of it, we’ve just never bonded over a hot stove.

But this week, I half asked and she half offered to teach me one of our only ‘family recipes.’ As we stood in my kitchen, unpacking ingredients and peeling vegetables, I was struck by how strange it was that we hadn’t done this countless times before. It’s such a standard mother/daughter activity, and surely should have just naturally occured before I was even old enough to remember it. But it didnt. And now, at 24, that natural part of it has drifted somehow askew. As I peeled and chopped and stirred the passover ingredients together, I felt some other emotions being mixed in too. As a child these may have been excitement and wonder at watching our own creation come into fruition. Each slice of our masterpiece would taste better because of the fun and closeness that went into it. As a child, it would be an adventure. As an adult, there was a touch too much inhibition and self-consciousness to give our activity the natural smoothness it should have had. Somewhere mixed in the batter was both of our yearning for this to be just another normal family activity, and to wipe away the bittersweet knowledge that this was the First Time. It felt forced.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer in its never too late, and I am so very glad that even at 62 and 24 respectively, we’re finally learning to engage in these ‘normal’ mother/daughter pastimes. Its just that like so many other new things we’re both trying of late, it makes me wonder why we didnt try it years ago.

But the answer to that is obvious. In fact, I’ve already mentioned it right here. Where did my mother learn all her cooking? At school.

And so the way out of this cycle is a no-brainer also. The next time I have an urge to bake a cake, I wont be waiting for R to have his nap. I’ll be making sure he’s right next to me smearing batter over the walls and spilling the flour on the floor. Creating a memory that he’ll never be able to remember.

‘Not about me’ Day

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I hate mothers day. I have nothing against motherhood, or mothers in general. Heck, I’m a mother and some of my best friends are mothers. But I do resent, in the same way as I resent Valentines day or Secretaries day, anyone telling me when and where I should be grateful for the people in my life. If my husband deserves a box of chocolates, whether it’s February 14th or October 3rd, he’s gonna get one.

Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. Well if this is the motto to live by, then I’ve done it every mothers day of the past 25 years. Nothing. I would be embarassed if my son ever bought me so much as a card for mothers day, and so therefore I’ve never thought to do anything for my own.

But this year, the year that myself and my mum have been taking steps to understand each other better, I’ve been having thoughts. Ok, I don’t agree with the concept or implementation of this faux holiday. I think it’s fake, impersonal, forced and insincere, and I think its pretty much meaningless. But it’s not called Daughters day, and so it really isnt about what I want. What I want, (by the by) is to ignore the whole thing and roll my eyes whenever I hear it mentioned. Not only is that what I want, but it’s what I’ve always done. And yet I know that she would love me to mention it or do something out the ordinary. She’s even said as much from time to time. And then I spend my time complaining that she doesnt ever think about me.

Hypocritical much?

So this year, I’m thinking again. I still hope my son never even mentions this day to me, let alone acts upon it, and I would be upset if he did. But that’s because I’m his mother. And I suppose it makes sense to say that as upset as I might be about it being celebrated at some point in my future, the same emotion might be felt by my own mum at itnot being celebrated.

There are many things that the two of us disagree on, and basically have to agree to be polar opposites about. We discuss, argue, attack and debate each other about so many aspects of our very different lives and feelings on a plethora of topics. This does not have to be one of them.

So I’ve bought the flowers, I’ve signed the card, and I’ll be giving them with a smile. The smile at least, I know has meaning. And I hope to get one more meaningful than ever back in return.