Monday, 6 July 2015

Feel this

For Jack's birthday, we took the children out for lunch and then to see Inside Out in 3D yesterday. Before the movie, I was quite tense - almost itching for a fight, keeping it together because I didn't want to ruin the birthday celebrations, but secretly wondering if I could get away with ordering the prominently advertised mojito (I didn't). Then we went into the cinema, waiting for ages (we were pathetically early), trying to breathe through Marie splashing her entire drink-plus-ice over the carpeted floor, dealing with the family arriving loudly to sit behind us with an assortment of crinkly bags and crunchy crisps.

The movie started, and within minutes I was choked up with tears. It is so beautiful, so human, so understanding and loving. I wouldn't recommend going to see it with a four year old, the way we did. He found it very sad. It was sad, but in such a beautiful way, and in true child movie style they stopped the story at a happy moment. I wouldn't even recommend taking a stressed and naturally silent man. My version of that found it 'so depressing'. I would recommend it for women, men who like to mess with their own heads, and boys and girls from about seven to twenty. How's that for a shameless generalisation? I don't want to say too much about the movie in case you go to see it, other than I cried several times (I'm not such a crier normally), I laughed hard several times, and I came out feeling like my emotions had been cleansed, opened up, and sanctioned by going to see this film.

When we got back home, I went to lie down for a while (I hadn't slept the night before), and got completely engrossed in a book I'd heard about on Saturday on my Women's Hour podcast, The Wild Oats Project by Robin Rinaldi. It's a memoir by a woman who tried to have an open marriage for a year. I heard her on Woman's Hour, talking intelligently and frankly, followed by reactions from listeners, some of them very disapproving and judgemental, basically calling her a slut. Other reactions were much more positive, appreciating her honesty and her willingness to talk about things most people won't even acknowledge. I got curious and downloaded her book Saturday night, then read it yesterday and finished it this morning. I would recommend it if you're happy to read some very graphic sex. What resonated with me was not so much the explicit stuff (although I never mind that and definitely consider it a bonus), but the beauty of a woman daring to explore her own inner workings, the limits of love, and the nature of her friendships with other women. A woman showing her most vulnerable side, her mistakes, her lessons learned. It makes me hopeful that even when I have trouble finding more than a couple of people locally willing to discuss anything more profound than their favourite lasagna recipe, that the other kind of person exists out there, even if they live at the other end of the world. It's what I look for in people, in friends, in blogs, in my life. It's what I find a lot in blogs, sometimes in friends, occasionally in books, and not quite enough in my life.

The combination of that gorgeous film and then that book opened up my emotions in a not scary way. It felt beautiful, safe, like being a teenager again, but in the good way. In the way I used to lie on my bed and draw, write, listen to music, dream of boys, being myself and purely myself. When I ventured back down for dinner, I was not even tempted by the glass of wine Babes offered me. It repulsed me a little. I didn't want my emotions flattened, chemically blotted out - I wanted to feel them.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Sweaty brainless post

If I ever move to Florida, I need to remember to take an air-conditioner with me. We've had hot weather for a few days, and my brains are fried. I can't think, nevermind write. Our houses are not made for this temperature. It's 30 degrees in the living room and the bedrooms, probably hotter even in the children's rooms under the roof. My ankles and feet feel swollen - I don't know if they actually are, but I won't even consider running until the temperature goes below 20 in the morning.

I will be back when we've had that thunderstorm they've been promising for days and my brain starts functioning again.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Stick runner magic

During An's birthday lunch yesterday - may her bottom get ever perter - and over a glass of prosecco, I was lamenting to her my struggle to give up my daily glass of alcohol. I want to give it up. I know it's not a good idea to have one (or two) every day, but it's so yummy, and it's in the house, and when the children are tired, and I'm hungry, and I'm cooking, bladibladibladibla. You know - a million excuses.

She of the pert bottom and the birthday glass of prosecco asked me the only question that was pert-inent: 'Why do you want to stop it?' It's only one glass; it won't kill me - why is it so important to me? Randomly saying I want to stop and feeling guilty won't help me along. What do I want? And is it more important than the relaxation I get now during peak household chore times? That's something to weigh up, too: for years, during that damn witching hour when they start bickering and moaning and are too tired to just do what I ask them, that glass of wine or beer has helped me immensely. But Charlie is four, and he now gets in his pajamas by himself (after being told only seven times), and Marie is seven and will set the table (excruciatingly slowly) when asked, and Jack is ten and does (with a sigh of despair) empty the dishwasher when prompted with firm insistence. So technically I can do without my beer of delight now. My wine of sparkly soothing. Yes, I can. 

What I don't like about having my daily glass, is that I will be a little more sluggish the rest of the evening. That I will happily sit in front of the TV instead of reading a book. That I will sleep slightly worse, and that I will feel like the lights are a little dimmer the next morning. And the calories, of course, which are pretty empty ones. I'd be better having a piece of fruit or some vegetables or even some meat - something with more useful nutrients. 

Turning all these negative effects around, there's what I want from this change: I want to have more productive evenings. I want to sleep better. I want to feel brighter in the morning. I want to eat better things. (And it would be nice to be fully present around my children when they are tired and going to sleep. It's only one glass, but I wouldn't be having it if it didn't make a difference.)

I felt very optimistic after this conversation that this was going to be my day of change (it could have been the prosecco making me feel like that). When I got home, I drew my reminder person on my hand:


She reminds me to live life the way I want it. To make choices that would make me happier and fitter. I accidentally got her left leg wrong to start with, but that's okay because I do actually wear a small skirt over my leggings when running. (No one needs to see my bum wobble.) When I got the children from school, they were worried I'd gone out and got tattooed on my hand.

Stick runner worked her magic, and I did not have any alcohol last night. I had a handful of cherry tomatoes to stop me feeling peckish while cooking. I knitted a couple of squares for my blanket after dinner, so I was more productive than I have been in a while. Then I continued some research I'd been doing and I still ended up going to sleep too late, but I'm being kind to myself about that. At least I slept through until about five o'clock. That's not bad for me. Baby steps. This morning, I went straight out for a run and felt quite light. I call that a brilliant result. 

I'm keeping my lovely stick runner on my hand for a few days, I think. To help me when it gets harder. She has lost her skirt already, being redrawn after my shower and random hand washes. I have a reception tomorrow morning, after music school graduation, and one on Monday night, after Jack's school graduation, but I may not have a drink there. I'm not going teetotal at all (holidays in Spain coming up - one has to be realistic), but wouldn't it be lovely to show to myself that I can make my own healthy and considered choices, instead of reacting like Pavlov's dog to alcohol being offered?

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Just five more days

The end of June feels like the sprint at the end of a race. All the schools have special events on. Everyone needs to throw their own graduation, squeeze in some last-minute parties, go on special trips. Just five more days and finally the alarm clock can be switched off, or at least go off later. Meals can be eaten when we get hungry instead of when we have half an hour between running around. Just five more days and we can take more time to cuddle and be and read and linger - and write. Just five more days. It feels like we still have to climb a mountain.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Halloween in Summer which feels like Autumn anyway



Marie brought that picture home from school yesterday. I keep stopping to look at it. The photo doesn't do the vibrant colours justice. I love how the cat doesn't just sit in the tree. It meows. The birds hang so wonderfully in the sky. The leaves are falling and have different colours. The deer's antlers stick forward so optimistically. The thing that kills me is the pumpkin in the tree. Of course there's a pumpkin in that tree. It wouldn't work without the pumpkin.

Next year already had eleven separate out-of-school events each week (mostly music school, some swimming, some Scouts-like things). Now we have twelve. She wants to start art academy, and chose the perfect day to ask.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Face plant win

I was walking along the street earlier, having just dumped a subset of my children in their youth thing/whatever, and I was pitying myself terribly. 'No one appreciates me, everyone takes me for granted, they all just suck my energy, and it's always on their terms, never on mine' - you know how it can go, when you're a mother and a wife - and then, and then, and then - I fell flat on my face on the pavement.

The universe put me in my place well good. There was this plastic loop on the street - I hardly even saw it - and when I stepped on it, it flipped up and caught both of my feet, sending me hurtling down on my knees, hands, and - slowing down rapidly, thank fuck - on to my face. I only just felt the pavement on my cheek and forehead. Slammed down hard on my knees and hands. Bleeding only a little. Scuffing my favourite summer shoes.

Now that was a major 'Fuck You!' from the universe. What do I have to feel sorry about? Absolutely nothing. And now I'm getting sympathy from everyone who took me for granted for my scuffed knees and hands. Win!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Mock this

Babes got me some wonderful BBC Radio 4 podcasts to listen to in the car. Earlier, I was listening to In Our Time with Melvin Bragg, about Pieter Brueghel The Elder. This was delicious to me in so many ways. The programme, In Our Time, is fantastically high-brow - radically and unapologetically so. It generally starts with Melvin going, 'Today we are discussing Completely Obscure Esoteric Theory X from Long-Forgotten and Obscure Era Y, and with me to discuss all this are professors A, B, and C from universities D, E, and F, all experts in their field.' This has my heart singing, especially if I know nothing at all about the subject. I've listened to programmes about dark matter, about long-forgotten Indian mystics, about the physiology of the eye, and about Pliny the Younger. Today was extra special because Pieter Brueghel is from my home town of Antwerp.

What finally inspired me to write (my imagination went rather blank this week - I am anxiously awaiting the start of the Summer Holidays), was one moment in which all the experts were tittering about the sons of Brueghel the Elder - how they weren't nearly as good as him, and never measured up to him. Titter, titter. Giggle, giggle. I felt instant compassion for them. How atrocious to be born the sons of one of the most imaginative and talented painters in the world, and to be forever compared unfavourably to him! If they had been born to anyone else in the next town along and become painters, they would have been considered reasonably talented and good enough to decorate any church in the vicinity. Because they were born from the seed of genius, they are condemned to being mocked even four hundred years after their lifetimes.

(I know something about this feeling, being the daughter of a minor star of business, and not even planning to try to live up to that example. I'm sure some tittering and disappointment has gone on behind my back, but hey.)

I am noticing more and more how everything is turned into a competition by people who really should know better. It is impossible for everyone to be the best at what they do. That's a plain fact. I'm not even sure we should all strive to be the very best in the world at something. What about having a balanced life? About embracing more than one skill? About being human, kind to ourselves and others, and not thinking a mistake is the end of the world? (Except perhaps if you're a brain surgeon or something - by all means let them strive for perfection in their jobs.) Brueghel the Younger was a perfectly competent painter who may not have had the sparks of inspiration his father was blessed with, but I'm sure he worked hard, and he could still paint a million times better than I can. Why mock him on the radio four hundred years after he lived his life the way he did? The people mocking him were history or art professors - I doubt they could paint as well.

Last week, Charlie swam his 100 metres brevet. Marie cried her heart out because her younger brother had 'overtaken' her - she hasn't had an opportunity to swim for the same qualification yet. It is ingrained in my little children already to compete, to show other children they are better than them, to be the best. It strikes me as relatively sick. When I praise Marie for her beautiful art work, her brothers hover around me until they get a compliment, too. Competition is baked into them. The Belgian school system starts grading children in nursery school. They all have targets to reach. Then from age six, pupils are marked every day. They get told every day if they're a six, an eight, or a ten out of ten. Every single sodding day. At six. The children are measured, compared, told how they compare to the average, passed and failed. The teachers don't even see how this might be problematic for all - not only for the 'weaker' students who are always catching up, but also for the 'stronger' students, who are constantly being told how clever they are. It's all maths, language, knowledge - very rigid and with little space for the interests or creative spirit of the individual children.

I wonder if we can have outstanding achievements (in sports, arts, medicine, science, etc.) without this harsh environment of competition. I don't want to stop people excelling. I want 'the best' to receive all the encouragement and help they need. I would also like to see more compassionate and loving attention to people who are 'good enough'. Only one can be the best. That doesn't make all the rest of us losers, to be mocked. Good enough is just that: good enough.