Four’s a Crowd

Me and my mother don’t really argue any more. We have ‘near-fights’ instead. They are similar to how women generally argue, ie: it doesn’t seem like we’re fighting, but we are. Women can be smiling, laughing, talking in an un-serious tone, and yet be having a huge fight at the same time. It’s all about the subtext. So it is with the two of us. We’ve got really quite good at not ignoring each other, or storming off in a huff, or shouting in public any more. But we still say mean things, or start a controversial topic knowing it wont end well, or say things in a sing-song happy voice which we know will grate on the other’s nerves. All part of the process, we’ll get there eventually.

Today we had a ‘near-fight’ about something which I think people will have  opinions over. So I’m going to throw it into the public domain and see what I get back, even though I know some people may disagree with me.

While out and about running errands together, I mentioned what we’d done at the weekend. By we, I mean myself, my husband and our 1yo. We went fruit picking. I didn’t say anything else. My entire sentence was “We went fruit picking at the weekend.” I’m not sure what I expected as a response, maybe “That’s fun-where did you go?” or “How nice, what did you pick?” or “Did R enjoy it, was he old enough?” etc. Basically I was just starting a conversation, and sharing-as I’ve heard people do with their parents once they’ve left home and lost the teenage secretiveness. Maybe I wanted to tell her how we went home afterwards and made strawberry ice cream together, or how the blender woke up R in a frantic state and it took an hour to get him settled again.

I didn’t get to say any of the above however, because the response I got was so negative. “Oh…. I would have loved to go fruit picking.” 

What can I say to that? Should I have said I’m sorry? Should I have said “next time we’ll invite you along then”? Should I have ignored the comment entirely and just carried on with the ice cream part?

Obviously I did nothing like the above, I got irritated and asked why she would answer like that, (putting her on the frightened defensive) and told her how the 3 of us rarely get a chance to go out as a family together (making her feel excluded of course) and that it’s not like every time we go out the house I think how lovely it would be if my mother joined us (making her feel like I dislike her company) and gave her a list of answers she should have said instead (making her feel condescended to). Her response was “you have so many lovely outings, and I have nothing.”

I did all the wrong things, and by the time we parted company, things were stilted and awkward, and ‘near-fight-like’ and no progress had been made. But I don’t think I’m wrong for the underlying point. Surely it’s fine for C and I to take our son out for family day-trips or outings just the 3 of us, without worrying about her not being there? It’s not our responsibility to invite her along every time we’re doing something she might also enjoy.

It’s not that we don’t ever want our parents with us. We spend lots of time together, and I told her that it would be lovely if she thought of something fun to do, and she phoned us up during the week asking if we wanted to do that on the next available day we all had. (she never would.) But nevertheless, if we make a plan, and carry it through, and have some much needed ‘the three of us’ time, I’m not going to feel like I have to keep it a secret because anyone else may feel left out. Especially when it is something that can so easily be replicated again anyway.

I know that at some point in our lives, our parents are meant to stop looking after us, and we start looking out for them instead. For some, it starts earlier than others, and certainly some of the older generation have more of a ‘life’ than others and so need it less. But I think we can only take responsibility for them so far, even if we do empathise with their loneliness. If a person chooses not to ask for what they want, or not to find the means and drive to do the activities they enjoy, it’s not up to their children to do it all for them. And it certainly doesn’t seem fair to make your kids feel bad for having that ‘get up and go’ which they themselves lack.

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Change Please

I have a friend who had her first baby about 6 months ago, who I merrily judged throughout her pregnancy for the ridiculous things she said. “I wont get stretch marks because my sister never got stretch marks” “I wont have any trouble breastfeeding because I’m really committed to it, and I don’t give up” “I plan on working throughout my maternity leave, while the baby plays and stuff.” “I’ve read an article about how to get a baby sleeping through by 6 weeks. I plan to follow that, and then I can see my friends in the evenings.” I could go on, but you get the picture. It can all be summed up in one sentence really. Having a baby won’t change my life, and it wont change me.

What a crazy notion.

In no other area of our lives, do we go through a huge experience, and expect to come out the other side the same way we went in. In no other area of our lives do we want to. For me at least, starting a family was the single biggest adjustment I am ever likely to make, it has involved the most changes to my lifestyle, the most alterations to my mindset, and the most practical differences in my day to day activities that I ever could have conceived beforehand. And before you do it, you simply cant understand that. Truthfully, you will never be truly prepared. But to go in with the naive and selfish assumption that you can (or would even want to) keep your life the same afterwards, just makes me think that a person isn’t ready for parenthood in the first place.

But as I said, none of us know what it is going to be like, and therefore we cant really be blamed for our naivety. What we can be blamed for, is taking that out of the pregnancy, and into our lives with our babies.

I haven’t spent much time with the woman I mentioned above since her pregnancy became an actual child, so I couldn’t say whether her ignorant viewpoint has passed over into motherhood. But I do know plenty of people for whom this is the case. The mums who are shocked when the ‘fool-proof’ technique for sleeping through the night doesn’t work from 2 weeks old, and therefore they can’t manage their usual 8 hours per night. The mums who complain that their six week olds aren’t able to be left with a babysitter so that they can regain their lost social life. And the parents who drag along toddlers at all hours of the evening to fit in with their own plans, long after they should be asleep.

I’m not saying there is no life after kids. But it adapts. It has to. If you cant afford a babysitter, the answer isn’t to drag your 2yo along with you and hope they nap in the buggy. You just can’t go out. Or you have to go somewhere free and use the money on the sitter instead. If your baby is still a newborn and genuinely needs feeding at night, then that’s what they need! There aren’t any ‘quick-fixes’ to help you feel better rested, that’s your job right now. It is true that we’re not all equipped to be with our kids 24/7, some of us find it impossible, either emotionally or financially. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in working mums, at least part time, and taking the help when it is offered. But even that has its limits. If we are truly honest, we all know when we are acting in our families best interests and when our motives are mostly selfish.

Your baby hasn’t read the books, she doesn’t know what she should be doing; only what you teach her. And acting like your kid is an inconvenience to your schedule, teaches nothing but that, even if on the outside it seems to be working fine. Parenthood is meant to change you, not just the way you feel, but the way you behave. That’s why it is such a big deal in the first place.

It’s not always a case of forcing a baby out of a routine in order to keep your schedule of course. There are families which have full time help on hand to deal with all that ‘baby stuff’, night nurses, au-pairs, mother’s helps and the like, which means your life doesn’t have to change, as others would. But I really believe that even in these cases, you are not being honest with yourself about what your family needs. Whether you are both full time working parents, or just ladies of leisure who want the extra pair of hands, if your life is exactly the same as it was beforehand, then this may sound harsh, but why did you have the kids in the first place?

I’ve heard people say “Why should I have to choose between my social life/work/hobbies and my family?” and I laugh. That’s just life. We make choices, we make compromises. Surely the one factor that should never be compromised is your children, however great your own adjustments have to be.

So whether it’s someone else that’s doing the parenting for you, or whether you’re shaping your baby to fit into your schedule; if you’re in a position to say “Having kids hasn’t changed me” then I hate to be the one to tell you- you’re probably doing it wrong.

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.

 

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.

Struggling into the light

Hardship. Some of us seem to have so many problems and worries, while others swim through life avoiding any simple misfortune. It hardly seems fair.

Robert Frost once said “Depression occurs when one looks back with no pride, and looks forward with no hope.” I think this is so poignant and true. If we can isolate an event, or even several events, to certain times in our life, it becomes much easier to deal with. If we can say, “I have so much in my past to be happy about, so much up until now that is good” it makes it much easier not to dwell on an unfortunate circumstance. The same is true about the future. Looking ahead, if we can say “Wow, there is so much to be excited about and look forward to” no matter what age we are or stage of our lives, it makes it simpler to believe that this too shall pass.

We all know people who seem to be permenantly upset. Things are always going wrong for them, they always have something to moan about. Conversely, we all have neighbours and friends with constant sunny dispositions, happy-go-lucky types who never complain. It can’t be true that everything in the happy persons life is always great. Similarly, it would take an extreme situation to have absolutely nothing to be glad about at all. I believe that how we show ourselves to friends and acquaintances is key to our own mood.

Dont get me wrong, when it comes to close family and friends, there is nothing better than a good cry and a vent, both of which can be surprisingly therapuetic. Letting yourself say how unfair things seem and expressing your misery is a valid step in the process of getting through any upsetting event in your life. But then what? However many times life knocks you down, there isnt an opt out button. A quote from an excellent film while discussing a characters wife’s death expresses this more succinctly than i ever could. Forgive my paraphrasing.

“I don’t think i could continue living”
“That’s the worst part of all, you do.”

And so we search our lives for the pride and the hope which Frost is referring to, and we try as hard as we can to rebuild whatever is broken and where that is impossible, just clear away the shattered pieces of ourselves and start again. And it’s difficult, and painful, that cant be denied. But at the same time, it is growing, and changing, and learning more about yourself and your life and the people in it during the stormy parts than you could in a lifetime of calm waters. Some people find it harder than others to pick themselves up again, and some people undoubtably have to do it more times in their life than others, but for everyone, it is possible.

I don’t really think going through difficulties is the hardest part. After all, we have no choice, and unless you enjoy being miserable, we dont even really have a choice as to how we respond and whether we pick ourselves up again or not. Plus I have seen firsthand how out of some of the most painful experiences can come the most wonderful rewards.

No, going through hardship isnt the worst thing, because it’s all about your own choices and what decisions you make and when. You are in control. Harder in many ways is watching the people we care about have struggles. Helpless to do anything, impossible to take it from them, wincing at their mistakes or their lack of ability to move onwards and upwards.

All we can do is try to remind them of the pride they should feel in all their past accomplishments, the unlimited hope and faith they should have in their future, and try to keep them company until they can find a way out of the darkness on their own.