What to do when the youngest child leaves home! Help!

My psychologist-friend told me with grave seriousness, “Read back your last 10 Facebook posts to me.”

Eeek ….. food, food, food, misbehaving teenager, misbehaving twenty-something, food, chemistry tests, medical school application for the youngest, friends, food.

“That’s where you are at,” my friend said smoothly. “Mentally and emotionally.”

“Jac, I hope you are not going to fuss over me instead when Georgina leaves home,” my partner said with a heart-felt shudder. “I don’t need a mother, housekeeper, cook, office manager or tutor, you know.”

“I don’t fuss,” I told him haughtily.

“Yes, you’re right. You don’t fuss. You OBSESS.”

“Well, that has always been my nature. I give 100%. That’s what makes me successful in everything I do.”

“Just don’t make me into what you do,” he muttered.

Truth is, my whole world has shrunk to encompass only green smoothies, bone broths, energy balls, organic food, the forthcoming international baccalaureate exams and running 35 kms a week.

Sure, I am content enough with my life. Who wouldn’t be? It is a blessed existence. And I am fortunate enough too that I write books that win awards that people want to read. But a small voice inside me asked, “Will this be all?”

Yes, a very small part of me miss getting dressed to go to work and not care about food, kids and a properly-run home. I feel like not nagging sometimes or not getting all huffy when my bread goes wrong. Hmm, I didn’t used to be like that…..

I began putting out feelers for the D-day, which is the last day of my youngest child’s all-important exams (May 2018). You know, JUST IN CASE.

What’s out there?

A few years ago, UK’s National Health Service talked about working with Harvard University to train leaders for the health service. That scheme came under a lot of criticism because currently, the NHS is so poorly managed that it is always in deficit. Hospitals are closing, wards face severe shortages, staff over-worked…..there are certainly challenges and opportunities there for reform. With the right training, it could be the perfect desk job for someone who has strong views (and experience) about how the health service should be run.

Mumsnet, the leading UK website to support parents, have a Returning to Work section within its careers area.  The Return Hub is a specialist recruitment agency working with financial firms which are supportive of women returning to work after a career break.  Credit Suisse runs a very interesting programme for senior returnees who undergo a 12-week trial period before walking back into top positions (yes, with lots of mentoring, emotional support and learning new technologies):

If like me, you are thinking of the “just in case” scenario, do get your CV shipshape. Just in case, you know. There are certainly plenty of opportunities out there.

To help you, here’s some good advice I found: https://jobs.barclays.co.uk/how-strong-is-your-cv/

Who knows, I might do another postgraduate degree.

“Just not in my area,” everybody at home gasped, aghast, even my beloved father. My daughter threatens to have extensive facial reconstruction and change her name by deed poll should she find me lecturing at the medical school she intends going to. But you know, the world is my oyster in my second stage of life.

Main photo: in the days I used to get dressed and go to work.

How to cuddle your teens (and grown-up children)

I fight with my 17-year-old.  “Hellcats, both of you,” her father says in exasperation.  We fight about everything, like two feral cats in a paper bag, in her father’s colourful terminology.

Yet I hold her close always. I mean physically close. Especially when words fail me. Our physical closeness nullifies our meaningless fights:  immediately after a shouting match, she would huff at me and tell me I am annoying, but with that slant of a smile in her eyes, building up to a hug that makes everything better between us once again. I will worry the night she goes to sleep without hugging or touching me, or if I could not kiss her cheek, her hair, and feel her melt into me.

I notice this is an oddity, even in Western cultures, to be always touching and hugging one’s teenage child. Those who spout attachment parenting in early years are surprisingly non-tactile to their teens.  My psychologist friend tells me that there is this belief that the teenage years is about “individuating” a child, that is to say, force them to become self-sufficient.

‘Ah,” I said. “Be tough to a child in order to raise a tough adult who will be successful in a tough world.” I understood. I have seen, first hand, the destructive effect of the mindset that values self-sufficiency and independence above all.  I knew one woman who sneered at me, “You still run home to your parents, at your age?” She left her parents as soon as she could, never looked back and I suspect, she would not allow her son the luxury of this “weakness” of coming home to the family, of asking for softness. The son, a qualified pilot, is handsome, healthy and outwardly successful, but he is beset with something inside that made him break off a two year engagement because of fear of commitment rather than flaws in the relationship, have outbreaks on his youthful skin, and being unable to work in a career that he had trained so many years for.

From this example and others, I am convinced that emotional distance and lack of physical bond between grown-up children and parents is not healthy. Our adolescents and young adults still need to hear, feel, and know that we love them and enjoy being with them. Heck, I am almost fifty, and I blossom each time I hear those words! Thus, it feels good for me to be home in my first family’s home. I love the fact that sometimes, it seems as if my brothers and I have not yet left home.  The closeness remains, despite the miles and the passing time.

Hold your children close, and I mean physically, because sometimes, this matters more than words. But how? I hear many ask. Teens are especially prickly to close proximity, especially if they have not been brought up within a touchy-feely framework.

Six ways to cuddle your teen:

  1. Cook unhurriedly together with your teen/grown up child. With cooking, you stand close, work in concerted harmony, learn to anticipate each other’s moves and yes, touch.
  2. Rough and tumble. My children’s father still wrestles with his grown-up children – I have to remind the children not to be too rough with their old father! He is not 30-years-old anymore!
  3. Do things for each other, such as massage, manicure, reiki.
  4. Cuddle up together on a sofa watching a film. Slowly move closer.
  5. End each night with a goodnight kiss. I miss my mother’s “No star” (goodnight in Welsh), the way she touches me gently as she kisses me.
  6. Make time for each other. All of the above has to happen naturally.

IMG_1503.PNG

Why Emotions Coaching should be on the school syllabus

At a certain stage in their lives, our young-adult children leave an institution of higher education (be in high school, college or university) with a piece of paper that declares them literate and numerate, and thus ready for the world of work.

Unfortunately, there is no syllabus, tests or qualifications on the very important subject called Emotions.

In a bygone era, it was kind of taken for granted that children learn that from the home. That was in a time where families lived close together and children had the luxury of playing with neighborhood friends after school. It is amazing how much children learn from unstructured play and from being outdoors; how to get on with others, how to make up rules, conflict resolution, self-regulation, handling playground politics, coping with losing, managing own safety and the world they live in, to name but a few.

When unstructured, outdoor play and the benefit of extended families are removed from children, the task of Emotions Coaching is left unfulfilled. To compound matters, growing up in emotionally cold households does not provide children with the opportunities to learn about Emotions – theirs and other people’s.

Emotions are living beings within our physical selves, vibrant and alive. We have to learn how to connect with the Emotions within us and to manage them, rather than control and suppress a part of the human being that is meant to live and breathe. Controlling and suppressing are the cornerstones of Discipline. I think a more positive coaching path is to teach children how to connect and deal with the entity within.

We tell children to stop crying, without finding out why they are crying. We tell them it is silly to be frightened, without knowing what their fears are.

If we don’t know the Emotions that live within us, we feed them the wrong diet. They either grow into beasts or they die. If they are unloved, they will someday rebel or they will simply stop breathing. Even if these worst-case scenarios don’t happen, isn’t it sad that we are strangers to our own Emotions?

I have known adults who have successfully built cages for their Emotions, but there are incidences when their caged Emotions break free – as they do when they grow too large or too strong to be successfully suppressed by will power.

In some cases, Emotions die from neglect or never had the chance to grow to their full maturity. I have known a successful professional, a very charming friend and an attractive looking individual. But peel back the layers and you find a hurt and frightened little boy who lashes out uncontrollably, who was never given the chance to mature into a grown-up lover, a strong husband, a tender father. No outward career success, long line of exciting lovers or big address book of acquaintances can ever compensate for not knowing the deep joys of really loving and being loved, that only comes when we are connected with our own Emotions.

Thus, we have to step up to the mark and implement Emotions Coaching, first on ourselves, then our spouses and children. Be literate in this subject, because you have to know love before you can love; you have to love yourself the way you want to be loved before you can teach someone how to love you in the same way. Yes, it is deep. Yes, the syllabus is arduous and can be complicated. But you can’t afford not to invest in Emotions Coaching. Leave no child (including yourself) stunted, silenced and dying.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 5.06.19 PM.png

How to raise empowered children

This is my older daughter, Kat. She has a lovely, gentle temperament and is not in the least feisty, unlike her fiery younger sister.

But when Kat was around 9 or 10 years old, something that the American government did annoyed her a great deal (I can’t quite remember what). It was pre-Facebook days, so she couldn’t do what people these days do, namely spend hours venting on Facebook.

Anyhow, I suggested to Kat that she sits down and write to the President of the United States about her grievances. Take the complaint direct to the cause, rather than be angry, impotent and spread it round fruitlessly, which serves no purpose whatsoever other than raise the toxicity of the world with more angry, frustrated words.

Kat did write to POTUS in her meticulous hand and trotted off to the post office to post the letter.

To our surprise, she received a letter from The White House a few weeks later, signed by Bill Clinton himself. We still have that letter somewhere at home. So though Kat had not changed US policy one bit, she had learned a very important life’s lesson.

And here’s the thing: anyone can write to the POTUS or the UK Prime Minister, and this is often far more fruitful than bashing away impotently on social media, spreading negativity, heaping on more vicious junk on the Internet junk yard. You probably have more chance here of someone taking up your case.

A few years ago, I was so so so incensed by Lloyds Bank and HSBC in the UK. I had requested an electronic transfer from my savings account held at HSBC to my current account held at Lloyds Bank for £5,000.

But the money never arrived at Lloyds. I marched into HSBC and demanded to see the manager, bearing all the necessary paperwork to show that my account had had £5,000 removed from it but my account at Lloyds had not received the £5,000.

The manager shrugged his shoulders and said, “Your money has left HSBC but we don’t know where it went.”

Surely there is an electronic trail?

HSBC would not budge and did not want to help me further. Lloyds Bank said there was nothing it could do. It seemed that the £5,000 had gone missing during its transfer between these two shitty banks. The physical distance between the two banks on High Street Kensington was less than 50 yards, yet they were not able to pick the phone and speak directly to one another because of “Data Protection”. I was so frustrated.

I could have posted a lot of incensed posts on social media about my rage, but instead, I wrote one letter to my Member of Parliament, Sir Jeffrey Archer, whose office sent one letter to both banks, and the matter was instantly resolved, with HSBC changing its tune completely. It went all the way up to the HSBC Head Office.

Two years ago, I had enormous problems with Vodafone UK, which a lawyer’s letter could not resolve. Vodafone continued charging me for a phone line that I tried cancelling NINE times, by letter, by phone and by personal visits to the Vodafone outlet. I cancelled the direct debit as a last resort, and Vodafone sent a debt collection agency to deal with my “debts”.

I wrote to every single Board member of Vodafone and London Stock Exchange’s Disciplinary Committee (Vodafone is a public listed company) outlining Vodafone’s shoddy back office system and disgusting behaviour towards its customers. Within a very short time frame, a pleasant member of staff phoned me with a groveling apology from Vodafone in the form of free line rental for six months for my current line for my “trouble”.

When my younger daughter disagreed with something the textbooks say, I told her to write to either Professor Stephen Hawking or Professor Carlo Rovelli, the world’s leading authority on relativity, space and reality who had written several best-selling books. The result? Professor Rovelli read through the manuscript of my book, An Evening In Wonderland.

Children learn from their parents. Monkeys see, monkeys do. Show them that we can get answers, if we direct our issues appropriately, rather than venting on social media. Set the example. Empower your children to be stakeholders of their world rather than impotent bit players.

When do we stop teaching our children?

We teach our children how to walk, to use a spoon, to cross roads. We teach them to lock doors, to know about money, to plan their future. For me, the teaching never stops, because it represents a transmission of family history and values from one generation to the next. Parenting is indeed a lifelong labour of love.

I feel extremely fortunate that I am able to devote myself fully into teaching my youngest child. I teach her the physical sciences, though her mathematical brain is superior to mine. Indeed, I wrote a book for her, a novella that builds the bridge between the world of theoretical physics and the one we live in.

Screen Shot 2017-02-11 at 13.29.18.png

I also teach her ‘school’ subjects, but with heart and soul woven into the endeavour. After all, history has shown us that scientific theories come and go with new discoveries. What remains is the beautiful lesson embedded within them.

I put my teaching resources on The Times Education Supplement. Until Sunday 12th February, you can obtain £3 credit off my Physics Relativity Option for 16-18 year olds, which includes an e-version of the book mentioned above. To redeem, enter code SUNDAY3 at tes.com/redeem. The link to the resource is:

https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/ib-physics-option-a-relativity-powerpoint-lesson-prompts-handouts-and-reading-material-11411922

You will find much here, lots of physics and love ❤

Photo: lesson plan for Chemistry that extends beyond the syllabus.

img_6462

Monkey on his arm

I recently met someone special and we got to know each other deeply very quickly. Probably it was because our friendship began on a different plane, free from this world of social posturing, empty chitchats and sexual expectations. It was simply a case of two souls meeting each other by grand design: we also happened to be reading the same book (Sapiens: A History of Being Human by Yuval Noah Harari) at the same time, albeit in two different languages. But right from the start, we spoke the same language, laughing about the same silly things and understanding the deeper things without the need for words.

He did not have a good time in his childhood. And like many wounded souls who were wounded by a parent, he did all the ‘bad’ things in his youth. It is the obvious course of action. As the Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr said, “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it”. Pain is like a monster that cannot be contained.

IMG_8723 copy.jpg

Photograph: Flight to light, London to Phuket flight

Few of us are fortunate enough to escape childhood unscathed, as childhood is the time we are most vulnerable to hurts, especially the hurt inflicted by primary caregivers (often parents). This is one of the reasons why my children’s father and I are absolutely committed to making our children’s childhood as safe, beautiful and magical as possible – despite the harshness of the world we live in – because we have seen enough people who are outwardly successful, yet these ‘accomplished’ folks are Walking Woundeds on the inside, their lives blighted by their inability to walk away from past damage. They go on, passing their pain to others, because that is the nature of the beast.

In his late 30s, this special person I write about is self-aware, reflective, gentle and deeply in touch with himself. I find that he has shown tremendous courage to face his past and evolve from it, rather than deny, run away, build walls. Totally not in keeping with the rest of his appearance, he has a prominent tattoo on his forearm to remind him always of his path towards transformation. Once we own something, we can begin to transform the beast within us into what we want it to be. Running away does not help.

It could easily have gone another way with this special person – as I have seen in several others – if he had not been brave enough to transform his pain. He could have gone on destroying everything in his path, and in the process, destroy himself. Rather, he makes the flowers in his path bloom just by being the way he is.

But what I find most amazing is the depth of love in him for his family. Today, he is flying home to be with a sick relative. This is something I resonate deeply with: he is not stingy with the things that matter most in life, namely giving of oneself freely still, despite past injustices that had been done to him. Of course, when you give generously, you leave yourself open to potential hurt down the line. But really, it is the only way to be, to find our own salvation in the good things we do for others in the name of love.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 8.58.02 copy.jpg

Photograph: Views over Patong, Phuket. Its beauty escape many people.

A Little Sister For Christmas

There was a time when people thought it was not important to educate girls.

The story of Malala Yousafzai (born 12 July 1997), who fought hard for the education of girls in the Swat Valley in Northwest Pakistan under the Taliban rule brought world attention to the fact that though it is eschewed in the constitution of many countries, girls still have to fight for the right to be educated equally as boys. Rural girls in developing countries are still not getting the opportunities.

*****

Last year, a man visited the British International School Phuket and brought a message of change and empowerment. The school, set amongst the hills of Phuket, is home to some 850 students, ranging in age from four to 18.

unknown-13-49-26

The visitor’s aim was to encourage privileged girls to help those who are less fortunate than them. Several girls visited an orphanage in India last April, and during their visit, they got to know one little girl who stood out amongst the rest. They wanted to give this little girl a chance to study at their school.

Together the girls took their idea to the Headmaster and to their great delight the management were willing to offer a scholarship place the school.  However, the school could not also support travel costs or the cost of laptop and uniform. This left the girls with a major challenge, but they refused to be put off.

And so, the project began with the International Women Association (IWA) Phuket and the school. Cosima Der Roche De La Baume, Emily Varley, Emiri Matsui and Sophie Duncan, all aged 15, threw themselves wholeheartedly into raising the necessary finances. Their target was to raise THB100,000 (approximately £2,255) by the New Year. So far, they have achieved 85% of their target via a series of well-planned fundraisers.

Screen Shot 2016-12-16 at 13.20.11.png

Of course, there were the traditional bake sales. These were sold alongside tiny boxes of ‘love’, namely beautifully wrapped little keepsakes with a hear-warming message. A tennis tournament and a boot sale added to the girls’ coffers. The Christmas hamper raffle was a big contributor to the finances, as the hampers were filled with irresistible luxuries such as a Christmas cake, mincemeat and chocolates, to name but a few. An innovative project to make a quilt from donated secondhand uniforms is currently taking place, and the quilt will be auctioned off to help the girls meet their target.

All in all, it had been a really hardworking few months for Cosima, Emily, Emiri and Sophie as these hectic activities were happening in the midst of their IGCSEs.

“I think this experience has made us realise just how much time, effort and money has to go into changing the life of one individual. We all feel so proud to have been able to give a young girl the same opportunity that we take for granted. It has taken a long time to bring her to our school and it feels amazing to know we are making significant progress. We have gained much from this. This project has definitely developed our organisation and time management skills as well as educate us on the difficulty of changing the life of a young girl for the better.

“Our next steps are getting the girl settled into our school as well as provide her with everything she will need for her new life at BISP. This girl will then become our “adopted little sister” and the four of us will take on the role of making sure she settles into the school and her new life as quickly as possible. After that we will come up with a new project or find another girl or group of girls to help, although we have not thought this far ahead just yet.”

The gift of education, empowerment and lifelong friendships – what better gifts for Christmas than this modern trinity of incense, frankincense and myrrh.

Photo: The girls with their Christmas hamper winner.

15578738_393271741019027_4283449419369592852_n.jpg

Related article: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/hard-girls-rural-india-stay-school/

 

Children get their intelligence from their mums – NO.

It is headline-grabbing but rather thin on the science. If I had published that as a research article, my supervisors would have slain me. Well, serious peer-reviewed journals wouldn’t have published it anyway. And who are the authors and affiliated institutions?

******

There is an article that is making its round on the social media circuit, namely that a new “study” shows that children get their intelligence from their mothers. Intelligence, apparently, is carried in the X-chromosomes, of which women have two (men have XY). This study was published in a psychology blog and the article is not peer-reviewed.

Even with my limited biology knowledge, I find this claim dubious. A person gets half their chromosomes from mum, and half from dad. Thus, one half of mum’s intelligence-dwelling X chromosomes came from HER DAD anyway! So this headline-grabbing article falls on the first logic test. And hey, even men do have an X-chromosomes, though admittedly, they do not pass this to their offspring.

Moreover, the DNA unravels and combines in the most magical way that we don’t yet know about – the way they splice, cut, repair, meld, sew up. And it is not the whole X-chromosome that is about intelligence, maybe just a variant within the gene. And I don’t think geneticists know which particular variant is responsible for ‘intelligence’.

We are also just beginning to know that the same DNA sequence can be read differently, depending on the chemical markers.

And what is intelligence? It is the complex relationships between neurons and synapses that allow for recollections, memory, analysis, logic. The ‘best’ grade neurons and synapses, if not trained to fire effectively, are as useless as electrical circuits without a power supply.

Sure, it is headline-grabbing. And as mentioned, I have limited but strong foundational knowledge in biology, but even to a layperson like me, it doesn’t sit right.

But what I know for a fact is that my children get their emotional intelligence from their father. “Intelligence” needs other factors to make it work, like providing the right environment for developing brains, teaching young children how to think, creating safety in the brain so that the right triggers are fired.

My children’s father has this intuitive way of making little people feel special. It’s as if he is a gardener, only that he grows his little children instead of flowers. And his garden blooms very well, because it is his life’s work. So maybe there is the intelligence there, to focus on the task (whatever it may be), be grounded in faith and following our inner wisdom instead of fad. To learn to be kind always, to laugh a lot, to take a balanced view on achievements and most importantly, to nurture others.

Perhaps this is a better definition of intelligence.

Our Supermoon

Last night was supposed to be a special night. The moon was supposed to be the largest it has ever been for decades. Our friends had booked romantic dinners with their partners at various beachside locales, poised to be in the right place to get the best view of the Supermoon.

My sixteen-year-old daughter G wasn’t particularly fussed about the Supermoon. She was more concerned about the piles of homework yet to be done for the next day. But her father insisted that she walked up a little hill with us to look at the Supermoon. She protested whilst he insisted. “Homework is just homework, whereas you will remember this moment forever,” he had told her. “Something that you can tell my grandchildren about, you seeing the Supermoon with your parents on Andaman Hill in Phuket when you were sixteen.”

After some screeching on her part, she reluctantly came outdoors with us. The moon was tiny! And it was clouded over! I waited for her to jeer at her father, but instead, she said kindly, “I bet it was larger earlier on, Daaad. Remember the huge one we saw in Devon last summer whilst we were camping? Do you remember? We have seen some amazing ones, haven’t we, Daaad?”

At that moment, I thought she was the most magical child, the way she could transform herself instantaneously from a grumpy teen to a human being wise beyond her years, who has the capability of creating enchantment for her father with her words. For her words had taken him someplace special, to a place where the moon was huge and luminous and studded with love.

And so, we stood there on this magical night, just three of us, chatting about basketball, school, the weekend, standing in the glow of a very small, weak moon. But for us, it was magic all the same, if not more. Magic and Supermoon exist every night, if you have the eyes to see them. It is indeed a postulate of physics that things come into being only when we are here to witness their existence.

As for the three of us, we will certainly remember this November night in the year G was sixteen, standing on Andaman Hill, watching our Supermoon. The moon was shining magnificently in us that night ❤

FullSizeRender-94 copy.jpg