Missing stories up the family tree

May 14, 2016

The other day I watched Stephen Colbert interview the CNN presenter Andersen Cooper. Andersen’s father died when he was 10 years old and he said, ‘Throughout my childhood, I fantasized that my dad had written a letter and it would show up sometime, like on my 18th birthday, and it would tell me things I didn’t know about him and things he hoped for my life. Of course there wasn’t a letter.’

When I heard that I thought, ‘That’s my blog! It’s like my evolving, growing letter.’ Actually, so far, it is this blog and the five volumes of journals that I have filled with articles, quotes, clippings and personal thoughts.

UntitledSometimes people say to me, ‘Julie I read your blog’ and I don’t care, to be honest. I have never been concerned about who reads this thing. More than five years ago, I found this place, this tiny, quiet corner of the internet just for me to play around. It was pure whimsy. I started this blog for myself as a release and escape from the dryness, pointlessness and misery of my day job. My career gave me no outlet whatsoever for the creativity that I felt humming and stirring deep inside me. It’s funny, isn’t it, how creativity is often a greater gift to the creator than it is to the audience. This blog has become one of the possessions and hobbies that I treasure and enjoy most.

Then I had children and the blog evolved into a record of their development. It is my gift to them and future generations because it’s become the story of our lives. I look back on things that I wrote about months ago and I’ve already forgotten they happened. I’m glad this blog jogs my memory.

Family treeI’ve been working on my family tree recently. I’ve gone all the way back to the late 1700s – so cool! I look at the names – this Alice Wakefield, this Janet Smail, this Elizabeth King, this Annie Dougall and I wonder, ‘Who were these people?’ I want to know. It matters to me but there’s nothing tangible of them left behind (that I know of). There are no letters or diaries or journals or even samples of their handwriting. Their thoughts, their trials, their tribulations, everything about who they were and what they did have disappeared. All that remains of them is a name buried in the branches of the family tree.

My great great grandmother was called Charlotte McIntyre. My great grandmother told me that her mother, this Charlotte, was a below-average parent. Her five year old daughter fell off a low wall and died and Charlotte was never the same after that. She was wrecked, absolutely broken and so she couldn’t function well as a mother to her remaining child, who was my great grandmother.

I think it’s poor form that, four generations later, the only thing that remains of Charlotte – her legacy, if you will – was that she was a hard, detached mother who lived most of her life in a daze of grief. The most upsetting part for me is that no one in my family remembers the name of that five year old girl so I can’t slot her into the family tree. It is as if she never even existed.

If you’re going through a problem of some sorts, people may try to comfort you by saying, ‘In the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter’. When anyone says that to me, I want to bop them over the head with a pick axe. But in terms of this life, the one here on earth, that comment is dead right, on the mark and so very true. In three or four generations, all our happiness and angst and toil and whatever it is we have lived through won’t be remembered. Nobody will give a shit about you and your life. It will be gone, forgotten. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I’ve seen while working on this family tree, while I lingered over Charlotte McIntyre’s name, that in the big scheme of things here on earth, it truly doesn’t matter.

I love history and, ever since I was about 12 years old, I’ve been fascinated by World War 2 and the Holocaust. Nothing puts life in perspective like the Holocaust. A few months ago I was browsing on the Yad Vashem website and stumbled across the last letter a young Polish boy sent before he was deported and then shot. He asked his friend to please not forget him. He wrote, ‘I should like someone to remember that there once lived a person named David Berger.’

As a Christian, I believe that we have a future and an eternal life over and above this one on earth so I probably shouldn’t get so hung up on memories and mementoes and the mysteries of the past. I just think that it would be nice to have remembered that there once lived a five year old girl in my family called … XYZ.

StoryI’ve always been fascinated by peoples’ stories. That’s why I most love reading biographies. I remember that when we first moved to Switzerland, Al and I went on a hike with some random strangers. It was a social organised by an expat website. I asked so many questions because I was genuinely interested in the story that brought these people to Switzerland too. I remember one guy asked me if I was an undercover cop.

Paul Young, the writer of The Shack said, ‘There is no such thing as an ordinary human being. All of us are extraordinary but most of us don’t know it yet. Every human being is a story and every human being has a story. Every story matters. That’s probably why we have such an affinity with story. Story has a way of climbing inside the precious places of our heart without asking for permission. When you are with someone and you begin to hear their story, you are on holy ground in many respects.’

Magical-Story-Image-720x720I wish I had some story for Alice and Charlotte and Janet and Elizabeth and Annie and the others in my gene pool. As I get deeper into this family tree, I have this sense of being on holy ground but there’s nothing I can do about it because their stories have fizzled out into nothing with the passage of time.

I’ll never forget watching an interview with the South African beauty queen and my first ever childhood crush Anneline Kriel. The interviewer said, ‘What is your legacy? How would you like to be remembered?’ and she replied, ‘I don’t care if anyone remembers me.’ I agree. I no longer care about leaving a major, name-in-lights kind of legacy but I would quite like it if, after a few generations, someone remembered that there once lived a person named Julie Surycz.

Maybe one day I will have a great great grandchild who is intense and curious like me and I wouldn’t mind leaving her a bit of story of my big, crazy, hungry, searching life. She can wander about on this blog, walk on my holy ground and read this electronic graffiti on the wall that says, ‘Julie was here.’

Berger

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May already?!

May 2, 2016

Wow, I can’t believe it is May already. Time is like this speedboat on a dam and I am attached by a rope while water-skiing behind it, hanging on for dear life and wondering why it is going so darn fast.

Spring arrived, placed some green leaves and blossoms on the trees and then left again. In a frenzy of glee when warmer weather began, I washed and packed away our winter gear and within a few days I was forced to resurrect it. I’ve never worn an anorak in May before. I hope this summer won’t be a bust like it was in 2014.

In April, Al went to the Philippines for a week for work. This is when time drags. I coped fine but it was intense with no respite. I was on the go for 15+ hours a day with no break (I asked Megan and Jessica if they would give me one but they refused). During that week, the video below did the internet rounds and I hooted because the speed and facial expression of the girl on the slide sum up how I feel when Al travels.

I’ve been a mother for almost 4 years and have reached the conclusion that the age when children are between 12 and 24 months is by far the most challenging, demanding period so far. It’s hectic, man. Children can’t communicate their thoughts, needs and desires clearly so they tend to use a lot of whining and tears.

At that age, they can’t amuse themselves for long. They’re into everything – exploring, touching things they shouldn’t and putting stuff in their mouths. Jessica is obsessed with the iPad and she goes to great lengths to find where I’ve hidden it. When I give in to her moans to play with any electronics, she pours over the screen and watches her cartoons, like a crack addict hunched over her pipe.

The 1 to 2 age is also when children test their boundaries and explore with boundless enthusiasm and absolutely no common sense or awareness of danger. I’ve caught Jessica playing with my oven, teetering on the top of a bar stool and standing on a chair with Megan’s scissors in her mouth. Today she breezed past me while slowly munching. She had that nonchalant, I’m-so-cool swagger of someone chewing gum. ‘Where did she get that from?’ I wondered and then I discovered she was chewing a round plastic eye out of Megan’s craft box.

Jessica doesn’t just push boundaries – she hops right over them. She reminds me of a puppy in need of training and our communication involves a lot of firm No! Down! Sit! Now!

Every day I catch her doing something that freaks me out and then I future trip and imagine in blow by blow detail the consequences if I hadn’t intervened in time. I’m overwhelmed by all the awareness and caution I need to instil in her. It’s petrifying. She keeps my nerves permanently shredded.

Jess Monkey

Recently I read that one of the greatest skills and gifts a parent can give a child in this day and age of instants is to teach them delayed gratification. Amen, I totally agree. One of the most important values I want to impart is that some of the best things in life are worth waiting for.

Given this parenting aspiration, I am not doing so well. How do you teach patience? I wonder. Megan and Jessica have no clue how to wait for anything. I’m at their beck and call, like their slave. I reckon maybe I must teach them to wait by standing my ground. I mustn’t take the easier route by giving in so much. If Megan wants to paint at inopportune times, or eat a biscuit 10 minutes before dinner, or demands this or that NOW, then I must say, ‘WAIT’ and deal with the rage and tearful fallout until they learn. Oh my nerves.

BIRDBeing a mom is my favourite job. It’s rewarding to finally poor my energy into a chalice rather than down a drain. I adore fussying and clucking over my precious babies, my sweet little chickens. Given that my love for them is so pure, so primal and so blissful, it then shocks me when Megan throws a wild and hysterical tantrum and I feel the urge to grab her by her feet and lassoo her out the nearest window.

I know I’ve said this before but every day I am astounded by these strange paradoxes, these contrasting emotions within parenting. For example I so enjoy cuddling and snuggling my babas but sometimes, when they both want to sit on me while I type an email or eat my lunch or do a poo, I want to shout, ‘GET OFF MY F*** LAP.’ One minute I feel serene and ever so nurturing and then I hit a limit and, all of a sudden in that moment, I don’t.

I must tell you about my new favourite children’s book. It’s called Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy. What a hoot. It’s about this mommy elephant’s quest for a 5 minute break from her three kids. As she slides into her bath, the children come in and disturb her. The first one wants to play her the recorder, the second one wants to read a story and the baby toddles in with his toys and chucks them in the water. Eventually all the kids take off their clothes and jump in too. So much for her break.

I loved this bit where the daughter wants to read some of her book and the mom says, ‘Just one page.’ The next line goes on to say, ‘So Laura read. She read 4 and a half pages.’ Bwahahahahaha, I love that! It’s never ends up being just one page.

ELEPHANTS

Anyway, the mother elephant then went downstairs and got a mini break of 3 minutes and 45 seconds before the kids came bounding in. I can relate. Megan and Jessica seem to think I’m the coolest company. They never leave me alone and they follow me around like I’m the Pied Piper.   You must buy the book, it’s so funny.