The talent for life

July 26, 2016

frozen-tie-dye-cakeI think kids’ birthday cakes have got out of hand. Mothers ask their children what kind of cake they want for their party and they exclaim, ‘A tyrannosaurus! Olaf! A princess! Star Wars! A soccer ball!’ Mom then dashes off like a medieval serf and busts herself to research, design and craft the pièce de résistance of cakes. Some of my friends thrive on the challenge but most flail under the (unnecessary, self-induced) angst, stress and late nights it demands to concoct these elaborate masterpieces.

I’ve noticed that the taste of the cake is in inverse proportion to its fanciness. So the more complex and decorative the cake is, the more hideous it tastes. This is probably because of the bucket loads of icing and food colouring and the fact that they are made too far in advance.

One of my friends once announced she was making a swimming pool cake for her son’s birthday. It had little plastic swimmers and jelly for the water. ‘I bet it will look amazing …’ I said out loud and then thought, ‘…and taste like shite.’ Of course I was right.

What happened to the old-fashioned square, freshly made, light and fluffy choc/vanilla cake with a thin layer of icing covered in sprinkles? I miss those. I long for the day when I can have decent cake at a kid’s party.

I just wanted to get that off my chest.

It is the summer holidays. All my activities have stopped until September and most of my good friends are out of town or busy entertaining visitors. It’s clear to me that I need more friends. Today I met the loveliest, warmest lady in the park and I took her number. Meeting new girl friends is a lot like dating. We got on well and liked the look of each other, so we will take the relationship to the next level by organising a ‘play’ date. Maybe the stars will align (parenting styles, age of kids, similar routines, outlook on life, location, things to talk about, the infamous and intangible click etc) and we will become BFFs.

images8D8QLE1QEven though we’re a bit lonely, we’ve still been busy. For example, today we read multiple books, fantasy played in the Wendy house, watched a movie and made a yoghurt cake and muffins. I also cooked a healthy dinner from scratch, did a load of laundry and tidied up here and there. I should mention that this warm, loving activity was interspersed with thumping, pinching, hair-pulling, biting, whining and tears (them, not me). At one point I wondered if I could lock myself in the bedroom (them outside, me inside).

My Wednesday evening French lessons are now finished, thank goodness. They finished too late and I had to constantly fight with myself to stay awake until 10pm. They were worthwhile and I feel I’ve improved. I’ve noticed that I often overcompensate for my lack of vocabulary by being overly expressive in the words I can say. So people may ask me how my weekend was and I will respond with magnifique! fantastique! super! excellente! when, in English, I would have just said my weekend was ‘fine’ or ‘nice’. I like my sparkly sunbeam of a French personality. That part of me is a little one-dimensional but ever so positive and upbeat.

escape from sobiborI’ve just finished the most magnifique, fantastique, super book I’ve read in years. It was riveting. I’ve always read about 2 books a week, so trust me, I know a good story when I see one. I think everyone should read ‘Escape from Sobibor’ by Richard Rashke. It’s a true story about the escape from death camp Sobibor which was the biggest prisoner outbreak during World War 2.

I love books on World War 2, particularly the Holocaust. I devour Holocaust memoirs. Publishers are reluctant to publish books on this topic because they don’t sell well. I’ve taken it upon myself to read them all and give these stories the respect and awe they deserve. This sounds weird but Holocaust stories make me feel more alive and joyful. The turmoil of them centres me. They put my own preoccupations firmly in perspective and drown out my self-focused apprehensions and doubts.

There’s something remarkable about those Jews who survived the Holocaust and are able to talk about it. They have a special something, a unique and inspiring quality that I couldn’t put my finger on until I read the book ‘Into that Darkness’ by Gitta Sereny (another magnifique, fantastique, super book).

You would think it is religious belief or having a sense of hope or purpose, but that is not necessarily it.  One of the survivors said, ‘[The ability to survive] was an intangible quality, not specific to educated or sophisticated individuals. Anyone might have it. It is perhaps best described as an overriding thirst – perhaps, too, a talent for life and a faith in life.’

I love the idea that some people have a talent for music or art or maths and others have a talent for LIFE. They are good at living. Courage and resilience seem to be built into their character because they have it when others in the same situation would have none.  They handle life well, even when they are lost and hopeless. I know a few people like this. Do I have a talent for life? No. When the going gets tough, I have a tendency to crack and crumble into a heap. I would never have survived the Holocaust.

resilienceAs you know, I have this irritating habit of future tripping. I imagine what I would do if xxx happened, how could I protect us from yyy or how I would cope if our family had to endure zzz. Maybe if I had more of a talent for life, then these thoughts wouldn’t bring on such a dizzying head rush.

I want my children to develop this resilience, this courage out of nowhere, this determined and overriding thirst, this talent for life so that they will grab on to life and keep doggedly holding on and pushing through regardless of what they are forced to endure.

Coming soon … our trip to visit family in Toronto and Chicago (‘Cargo’, as Megan says). Alastair desperately needs a break from work. He’s tired and overwhelmed and it seems he’s got to the point of fighting off deadlines with his bare fists. I also want to check out the USA and see for myself if America is really going down the tubes, as the news and social media suggest it is.

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CVs, camping, the bee’s knees and Brexit

July 1, 2016

In June, a friend from my working days announced her promotion and international transfer on Facebook. I looked her up on LinkedIn and her corporate profile was impressive.

I was then sucked into the labyrinth that is LinkedIn and, in a frenzy of self-mutilation, I perused the profiles of various old friends and I felt more and more of a duff, career-wise.

I don’t have much to show for myself in the zigzag and dog’s breakfast that is my CV. It makes me nauseous and hyperventilate when I look at it. Sadly, my past work trajectory is in no way a reflection of who I am and what I can do. These days non-linear CVs are not that attractive and, when I look for work again, I will need to wordsmith it in such a way as to sew a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I’m not being insecure about myself, just realistic.

CVIt is illogical for me to envy the careers of my super-successful friends. As Alastair said of the girl with the promotion, ‘She has children like you but works full time. Do you want that? Would you seriously enjoy that?’ The answer is an overwhelming, resounding NO.

I like staying at home and giving my children the full beam of my attention although I understand that is not for everyone and it doesn’t make me a better mother than women who work. For the moment, since I’m not forced to, I’m not ready to unspool the thread that connects me to my girls. At the end of the day I would feel too tangled and unravelled and mad with desire to be back with them.

Eventually my utopia would be to work 3 days a week at a mentally stimulating, deeply rewarding, borderline orgasmic job but I can’t even articulate what that would be.

Many of my stay-at-home mom friends miss their careers because their minds are sticky with boredom. My brain was like that when I worked, not now that I don’t. I’ve never had a job that I loved or that was particularly fulfilling. Although aspects of parenting are mind-numbing (such as reading the same book 10,000 times), I keep my brain well oiled. I mostly miss the financial rewards of a proper job. It made me feel good contributing something that was deemed worth paying me for.

hire meMany of my friends find full time motherhood intense. It is hard but it’s not that hard. It’s simply project management. Parenting is about structure, objectives, milestones, change control, program and activity management, contingency plans, budgeting, risk avoidance and workarounds. I find project managing Megan and Jessica is similar to the project managing I did in my jobs and sometimes the people I worked with also had the mental capacity or emotional maturity of toddlers.

The reason we full time moms get so twitchy about careers is not so much that we don’t have a job but that we won’t get a job if we needed one. We want to know we are hireable in case we need work in an emergency. Many of us feel awkward being so dependent financially on our husbands and worry that if something happens to them, we would be eff-you-see-kayed.

Camping

Campsites here in Europe are often located in the best, most scenic spots. I haven’t done much camping in my life but I’m attracted to the concept.

These days I’m constantly overwhelmed by the way, thanks to modern technology, I am always connected to the hum and rush of the world. There is almost nowhere on the planet to escape from it and it requires monastic discipline to turn away and be with nothing but each other, nature or our own thoughts. A moment of calm is a major achievement. I want to disconnect more.

Whenever we go on day trips, I’ve noticed the mobile homes at camp sites and thought, ‘Aw cuuuuute!’ I’ve always wanted to try living in one and this past weekend, we did. I picked a spot in the Jura in France. It was ok. We found the campsite to be a bit weathered, scruffy and past its heyday (like most of France in fact).

The mobile home was like living in a shoebox. Or a Wendy house. Or an oven. Or a car in an open parking lot on a boiling summer’s day. Megan called it the ‘tiny house’.

campingIt was a pity that I chose Friday, the day the UK pulled a zap at the EU and all hell broke loose, for our day to run away and disconnect from the roar of humanity. Al was especially twitchy at the lack of connection and missed reading the headlines while on the loo.  ‘It won’t kill you’, I kept reassuring.

In the end, we drove home early because it started to rain and it wasn’t fun being stuck in a small metal box with two bouncing toddlers while the rain battered down on us like a shower of ball bearings.

Ask me what my Happy Moment for the weekend was…

When we were having dinner at a restaurant on Friday night (the kids only smashed one glass – yay!), I noticed the French waitress struggling to communicate with a table of Brits. They couldn’t speak a lick of French, not even merci or bonjour or oui and the waitress was stressed.

I approached the table and offered my translation services. I wasn’t perfect but they were so grateful and I felt like the bee’s knees. After the dent that LinkedIn put in my self-esteem, this was just what I needed. I practically floated back to the trailer park after dinner.

Trailer park mom

Trailer park mom

Brexit

It was foolish to put such a controversial, misunderstood, hot-potato topic out to vote in the first place.  What the fexit, Cameron.

For the record, I voted to remain.  I had to analyse this beforehand because while I didn’t think the UK should leave the EU, I don’t want Switzerland to join it.

churchill

While researching my vote, I was concerned that the remain campaign’s message had a bit too much of ‘How could you even think of leaving the EU?  Are you dumb?  Are you a bigot?’  Maybe that was just my Facebook feed.  I’m aware of the supine elements within the British population but, still, no one likes to be told they’re stupid.

I think there were many people who believed the EU could do with some reforms but didn’t know how to express that, other than by voting leave on their ballot.  Also, the remainers didn’t pitch their message well enough to  those people who didn’t care about the economic implications of leaving because they felt they had nothing left to lose.

Coming soon … Trump for president? Help!