Dreams, Coco Chanel & 16 staples

Sometimes you get the feeling that every day is the same. In a way it is. There are repetitive tasks and routines. Bringing the kids to school, going to work, driving home, etc. This is why we believe that each day is ordinary.

And then there’s yesterday.

I wake up still remembering the last dream. A good one. My mother and my aunt are in a cool bar dancing, drinking one shot after another and having fun. Not uncommon as such, but consider the fact that my mother doesn’t go to bars at all, nor drinks shots, or feels physically fit to dance through the night. She’s 72. The barman approaches me (in my dream) concerned that both my mother and my aunt might have had too many shots and that he should not serve them any more. I agree. I look at them. I smile. Happy that they have fun. Proud of their energy.

I’m awake. I’m driving. I call my mother from the car. Hands-free mode. I tell her about the dream and how cool it was that she was having fun with her sister. In a bar. Drinking shots. Dancing. Her response surprises me. That’s not a good dream. Something bad will happen. I interrupt her. Telling her that’s nonsense. It’s not a bad dream. It was a great dream. No, she intervenes. The dream means you are going to receive a bitter message. Something bad will happen today. Whatever, I reply and hang up. I regret telling her about the dream. She spoilt it. Nothing bad will happen.

10 minutes later. I’m stuck in traffic. I receive a phone call. Unknown number. It’s a colleague of my husband. He can hardly speak. Your husband, voice interrupts. He’s not good at all, voice interrupts. He’s not moving, voice interrupts. He passed away, call is interrupted.

I’m in shock. The kind of shock where you cannot react at all. The one where the autopilot takes over and manages to drive out of the heavy traffic and into a direction that is still meaningful. Incoming phone call. I take it. It’s from another unknown number. Same colleague, this time I can hear him better. What happened I ask him? How is he? Up to know I haven’t yet reacted to the ‘passed away’. I’m still in shock. My brain has not processed it yet. And it is good this way. Cause it turns out that my husband has not passed away. He has passed out. as in fainted. The French speaking colleague does not distinguish between away and out. Same to him. Not to me though.

The moments between the first and the second phone call appeared to me as long dreadful minutes. In reality they were less than 30 seconds apart. But the amount of thoughts that went through my head in those 30 seconds, would easily fill several pages. I don’t think I ever managed to think so many different things in so little time. From the worst case scenario to the wonder that everything will be fine, miraculously. Though my mind concentrated mostly on the worst.

But this is just the beginning of my story. The emergency room where my husband is being brought to in order to make the necessary exams to exclude a potential stroke or heart episode is full of people with various health problems. I am not one of them. And everybody can see it. So I make my way to the reception desk and ask about my husband. I must be impatient. I’m being asked to wait and not to be impatient. I do sit down for exactly 3 and 1/2 minutes, patiently. Then I go back to the reception desk saying that I will definitely be less impatient if I know how my husband is doing. This obviously makes sense to the person behind the desk as he immediately stands up and goes to inquire for me. He comes back after a few moments saying that my husband is doing fine but that the doctor is currently doing a scan. I can take a seat now and wait until I’m called inside to see my husband. I find a seat in the overcrowded waiting area. And this is where the interesting part of my day begins as I witness the conversation between a man and a woman that meet again after a long time. At the emergency room. He because he fell, and she because she was accompanying a younger friend who had breathing problems. Coincidence. They start talking and I eavesdrop intentionally as they seem to be the only human beings to me in the overcrowded emergency room. He’s Italian as it turns out and she Portuguese. I’m Greek. He’s 87 and she 80. They could be my grandparents. She looks aristocratic. Well dressed with a coco chanel bag. She keeps her hair unlike all the other older women. Short and with real pep. Classy. They start talking. She’s whispering and he talks in normal voice. They talk about the old times at the beginning. And then quickly move on to tell each other stories about who died, when and how. How she found her good friend on the floor when she went to pick her up for a festivity. Died of embolism. From cancer, to heart failures, to strokes and finally to pulmonary embolism. they go through the full range. Every now and then she says, I’m not complaining, I lived my life.

And this is the point they start to list to each other their injuries and operations they had undergone in the last years. As it also turns out, she’s not whispering all the time out of respect, or in order not to disturb anyone. She’s whispering because she has undergone the 15h or 16th operation until now in her fight against cancer. She had a colostomy due to the colon cancer and now has to live permanently with a sack that she has to carry with her. A colostomy pouch. Her body is open she says, that’s why she doesn’t have the power to talk louder. I turn around to look at her. She seems so full of energy. And yet, her body must have suffered. Is suffering. She went dancing on Saturday she tells him. You did, he asks. Yes, she said, one has to live.You know, I enjoy dancing. I always did.

Nowadays we break down easily, burnout syndrome, the flu, headache. I thought I was dying when I was giving birth. And here was someone who had seen everything, who had lost husband, relatives and friends. Who had been through so many operations, who had fragile labelled all over her body. But while fighting courageously cancer, could still celebrate life.

I still have the 16 staples that kept my body together (after the operation) she says proudly. He looks at her. You really did, he asks? Souvenirs of life she replies with a smile. 16 of them.

The nurse is coming to bring me to my husband. He is being released. Everything is fine. I stand up hesitantly. I almost don’t want to leave. I want to say something to this woman. But I don’t. The nurse is in a rush. The whole emergency room is. Except from the three of us. Me and my ‘grandparents’. I leave. 30 minutes later I’m home with my husband. Strange day he remarks. I couldn’t agree more.

Yesterday was not an ordinary day. None is. Ever.

#life is like a thin porcelain cup

I am tired.  Very tired.  And it’s not just physical fatigue. It’s sort of a depression. First stage maybe.  Either that or simply frustration. Resignation. I’m surrendering to a truth that I don’t want to accept. That there are some things in life that I can’t change. Life. Is. Fragile.

The fragility of life sometimes strikes hard. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like that for us fortunate enough to live healthy, in affluent and peaceful societies. Ignorant to the millions of tragedies playing 24/7 in the lives of others. But no person is protected against the really rough parts on the path of life. Whether rich or poor. Young or old.

While we’re young, we’re often blessed with ignorance concerning the frailty of our existence. And that is a good thing. To set out in life with a solid portion of (perceived) invincibility is maybe even a precondition to dare to take important and essential leaps in life like settling down with a partner, having kids, taking on big projects, moving abroad and so on.

At some point though reality catches up. Necessarily. As we become parents,  our parents grow older – and we start to spot our own hair going through all shades of grey – the probability that someone in our close circle of family, relatives or friends will suffer an illness or even die is high.

2 old women

The realisation that life can break as easy as porcelain can spur a sort of life crisis. Not a so-called midlife-kind-of-crisis that makes you run off and buy a motor-bike or get a lover. That might even be considered a positive move  by some weird TV shrinks.  But something much more profound happens. Witnessing someone you are close to being very sick makes you think and feel a lot. Feeling sorry for the person in pain. Thinking a lot about how to help in the best possible way. Taking in the anxiety that you or your kids can become sick. It is a combination of very abstract and very concrete thoughts.

I play this game often.  What if it would be me.  But with my parents getting older I play another game too.  What will happen,  if shit happens.  How will I cope?  Well the short answer is I won’t. I don’t want to.

I don’t know how I believe.  But I do believe in something.  Can’t get more concrete than that.  All I know is that good and bad energy have an influence. I like to believe in the power of positive thoughts.  And in rare, rational moments I get it. But most of the time I don’t.  And irrational as I am, I keep wondering why? Why do people,  good people,  innocent people,  young people,  brothers,  parents, children have to die from accidents, diseases and own will. Why? Why can’t we cope with the loss?

Unable to provide an answer and fully aware that I can’t change things but have to accept them I go to sleep. My mind once again wandered off the really dark paths.

This summer is not an easy one.

# who’s counting?

A few days ago it suddenly struck me – in my family there is a minimum of 70 socks per week going through the “laundry-cycle”. Sounds simple, but the socks involved set out on an uncertain journey – starting out as a couple, many of them lose their sock-friend, get lost and end up waiting for weeks in some basket or hidden in a bedsheet.

What spurred me to think about socks in the first place was not some sort of extra sympathy for this type of garment. It was more the result of a quite profound frustration concerning the non-functional sides of this household. I am not a particularly tidy person. But I like the house – especially kitchen and bathroom – to be clean. And I like finding things I need when I need them. For example the matching sock…… My husband is on the same wavelength as me concerning this. We do however tend to put things down, and forget about them for a while. Things pile up. The hallway for example is always cluttered. The kids naturally have our genes (and from time to time it seems as if this untidy gene grows exponentially). In addition we do not set the best of examples. The result is that we do find ourselves in chaos sometimes (and even more often than that).

Our struggle with the socks is a sort of symbol of how we deal with the house logistics. And it annoys me, pisses me off even. I am a bit ashamed. Because we’re not up to par.

sokker

I am not really sure that calculating how many socks we actually need to put in the laundry basket, bring down to the laundry room, put in the washing machine, hang to dry/ put in dryer, retrieving them in pairs, and (not to forget!!) finally getting them into their correct drawer – is very constructive.. .. But thinking about things in numbers comes natural for me, maybe to give me an illusion of control?

The fact is that there are 70 socks to deal with per week. And that fact panics me. The pile of unsorted socks makes me understand Cinderella when she was given the task of sorting beans from peas by the mean step-mother. With socks there are no quick-fixes that I know of. Of course one could handle it like some friends of ours, not nerds enough to get annoyed by household chaos. They just put all the socks of their kids (unpaired) into a drawer. Kids can chose either to pair them (good luck) or to just randomly select two socks. It’s the waldorfian solution.

But I’m a nerd. My only hope is that the kids more and more will understand that socks do not find their sock-friends on their own – they are in need of some assistance!

On the other hand, the socks should also take some initiative to stay together and stop hiding in places nobody can think of.

#shout shout, let it all out

Have you ever had the feeling that you need to scream your lungs out? We do. Not very often. But still, quite often. Kids, husbands, colleagues. They all have secret talents to drive one crazy.

Being yourself and being honest towards your children- and others for that matter – is very important. When it comes to anger, rage and fury it is not that easy. Screaming and shouting is not compatible with the picture of the patient and understanding mum, or the calm and diplomatic colleague one usually wants to be perceived as.

From time to time it just explodes – not from inside the head – but from deep down within – and there is often little opportunity to consider beforehand the pedagogical sides of the outburst. Because it just happens.

And just to be clear – we are talking about non-violent anger here. Corporal punishment – even if the offspring did unspeakable things – hitting your child (or an annoying colleague) is a no-go.

 

So – to what extent is it ok to show anger – and to be angry? Especially considering our parenting role? Tantrums are common at an early age – they are our way of strongly saying we disagree with our surroundings. Being part of our social vocabulary anger is a tool to make our voice heard. It earns respect – but can also create fear. The first you would want from your children – the second preferably not. How to make that balance? Our kids should experience the full menu of human emotions – otherwise they will grow up believing it is natural not to show your feelings. This could be much worse than having your mother screaming at you (occasionally). However a golden rule for the times we’re out of line is to make sure to explain why Mummy turned all red in the face and different profanities and unknown words came out like pearls on a string. At the same time they see that Mum is a real person – with normal feelings and reactions. And they might already guess where their tantrums are coming from.

Anger is seen differently in various cultures. Being from Mediterranean and Scandinavian cultural backgrounds we have references to quite distinct and differing approaches to the legitimacy of anger. What can be perceived by others as loud shouting is a normal conversation among Greeks. However for a Norwegian, being yelled at is being perceived as a slap in the face. The southern way seems to follow a rationale of getting it all out there. The more cool and Nordic approach highly values reaching a consensus as implicitly and silent as possible.

Working in an international environment there are numerous examples of how irritation – and yes also anger – is being expressed differently. A requirement when you work in such a place is to be open for a whole range of different kinds of outbursts: from the top-of-your-lung-screams-down-the-hallway to the more silent aggression responses. And not take anything especially personally. And being able to laugh about it later. There are lessons to be learnt. Some situations call for direct and maybe even a loud intervention. Other contexts benefits from a silent-treatment, or maybe just a slight frown.

Shouldn’t there be an equivalent to the “good cry” when it comes to anger? And how much rage could be considered constructive? If at the end of the day it leads to a good discussion or increased positive inter-family (or inter-collegial) understanding it definitely can.

Conclusion is: Adults too are allowed to have tantrums.

Reversing the #disconnect

What happens when you mash-up the parenting styles of a Norwegian and a Greek mother, and then transfer it to the digital world? Interesting things happen!

Empowering confused parents to be good parents is already quite difficult. What makes a good parent, what are the criteria that need to be fulfilled and who sits on the jury? But being real role models in the digital age is another challenge.

 

Kids nowadays spend tons of time online, at home, on the bus, when they hang out with friends and even at school as part of the new wave of digital education. And what about the adults? Us? We are equally spending a lot of our time on our laptops or beloved tablets or smartphones.

When trying to figure out how to succeed with the balancing act of parenting a digital teen, tween or toddler – challenges like parental lack of awareness and parental apathy are brought up as central challenges. And it’s true; these are real problems that we hardly pay a closer look at. But as an additional exercise it might prove worthwhile also to engage in some self-reflexive thinking. That’s the hard task to do. We’re good at saying where others fail, because it justifies our approaches.

But to what extent are we, the parents, good role-models in terms of showing when and where it is ok to get absorbed into their device and when to turn off and engage in the physical social context. There is face-time and there is face-to-face time. Our engagement as parents probably has room for improvement. We need to engage in conversations with our kids. One of the main reasons for this is that one size certainly does not fit all. The recipe that worked wonders with one of the kids might fail miserably with the next one. Why? Being siblings might mean that the hair-colour is similar and that the noses has the same curve – personalities however are in our experience wildly differing. Having a simple set of rules works well in some families where kids obey and are disciplined. We firmly believe that by listening more and better to our children is the better approach. Hoping (and praying) that the need for regulating every single step they take online, might evaporate. It could be interesting to have a set of digital tools, a toolbox of useful apps/add-ons that help both us the parents to get rid of our mostly unjustified fear of the potential threats online, but mostly company our kids through their online journeys and explorations. Those tools should help them in navigating safely, but most importantly, help them to develop skills and resilience to master unknown tempests.

 

Some important issues require us parents to be up to speed in order to be able to help our kids. Not knowing necessarily everything it should still be possible for most of us to discuss for example bullying and sharing inappropriate pictures. Management of personal data and sharing is only a small part of the big picture; as there are also more complicated issues. The blurring between paid and sponsored contents as well as getting tracked are matters that are difficult also for adults to grasp. So who can help the parents?

At the end of the day how are the practical implications of our views on where to draw the lines: restricting activities and content online as opposed to a more open and free internet. Or should we leave our kids alone?

Working with these topics on a daily basis, allows us to reflect and try to implement as best as we can the good advice we hear from researchers, children, parents and other experts.

Interested to learn more? Have a look at what some good researchers have published.