With Kindness, Not Love

Many of us, by our thirties and forties, have built and established the veneer and persona of a successful and happy person to fit within the social infrastructure and to gain peer acceptance even if we are a seething mass of unresolved issues beneath the surface. We accumulate those charges against us from our childhood years, from our early relationships, from days long bygone. And often, we do not do anything to heal the old hurts; we just suffer in silence and plaster over the pain. The prevalent belief is that if we are outwardly successful, the old inner pains will go away over time.

Thus, the ignored inner child within us is subdued in this head-led environment, forgotten except in private moments occasionally, because who would want to sound like a loser bleating about Mummy and Daddy and how hurt still we are about episodes that happened decades ago?

A few weeks ago, I was in a therapy session with a small group of good-looking, outwardly successful professionals who were trying to make sense of the bad hand Fate dealt us.

Here’s the story of a 38 year old investment banker whom we shall call Abby. Abby’s father left the family when she was four, and she has not seen her father since. She decided not to let that pain of abandonment ruin her life so she worked hard and became successful at her job. She had several good relationships but never felt the urge to settle down. Then when she was 35, she met Paul. Paul was her Mr. Right in every sense of the word. Though she wasn’t the marrying kind – possessing such a dim view about marriage based on her parents’ – she and Paul began to make plans for a life with each other. They even talked about having a child together, despite her reservations. All was going very well, until Abby’s inner child spoke up and ruined her perfect plans.

Paul was divorced with a young daughter. His ex-wife had met someone whom she was planning to emigrate to Australia with, taking Paul’s young daughter with her. Paul was inconsolable. He sought legal advice, he also thought about emigrating to Australia with Abby to be near to his daughter and remain a part of her life. After weeks of pleading with his ex-wife, Paul was almost suicidal.

But just when Paul needed support most, Abby’s hurt inner child lashed out. “Why are you acting like this? Men are not supposed to love their children. Only women love their children.”

Abby is intelligent. She is outwardly normal. She has a huge social circle. Though her father abandoned her, she had read books and watched movies where men love their children. She even had male friends who love their children. Intellectually she knows that there are men who love their children, but her inner child, not having experienced that love, refuses to believe in it. Her inner child, still suffering from the pain of abandonment 34 years earlier, wasn’t going to lose this opportunity to be heard, whatever the cost.

And here’s the thing: we can’t subdue our inner child forever. Now and then, especially at the most inopportune moment, he/she will lash out. We can build as many layers as we like through self-deluding stories, positive affirmations and outward signs of success, but he or she will break through the barriers, angry and destructive, speaking with the illogicality and unkindness of small children, often ruining the good for no reason, as in Abby’s case.

I am not a psychologist and I know that releasing childhood emotional trauma is a big complicated area. I wouldn’t know how to start advising people, but as a mother of five children, I follow the old adage, it is easier to raise a happy child than mend a broken adult.

Parenting requires some thought, some very deep thought, though many stumble upon it accidentally. And here’s mine from living a well-lived 48 years, 30 of which I was a mother: raise a child with kindness always. I said kindness and not love, because love can be harsh, whereas kindness is always the soft marshmallowy feeling that makes a child feel safe, secure, happy and loved.

But most of all, do be mindful of how you speak to your sons and daughters. Be mindful about the words and the intention behind those words, because your voice becomes your child’s inner child, who stays within them for life. I hear my mother’s and my mother-in-law’s voices in my children all the time. I am blessed that my kids have wonderful voices from their past because that is truly the best we can give our children, this Culture of Kindness.

In the words of Albert Einstein, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value” if you want your child to be truly happy deep within himself as an adult. Outward success is a cold bedfellow when the inner child is still crying out.

Love is strong and kind

In my book-to-be, Catching Infinity, I wrote that life clusters around Zero and Infinity. When I first wrote that sentence several months ago, it was solely from a theoretical perspective. The female protagonist, Alice Liddell from Alice in Wonderland, now twenty years old and a postgraduate at Oxford, wanted to experience the breadth and depth of human emotions to root herself to this world.

Because for what purpose is life and the human body, if not to experience?

Do we just die, having left an enormous carbon footprint, with our life stories being remembered and talked about for one or two generations, three if we lead big, eventful lives? Or is life starker than that, namely human existence is merely about fulfilling biological determinism by passing on our DNA, creating a larger gene pool?

 I recently faced a serious health issue, which of course brought Infinity right up close and personal. There was this mad rush, this swirling chaos, all revolving round my unfulfilled dreams, two more babies yet to be born, a renewed vow to live a more meaningful life, to make every single day count, and yes, to experience the breadth and depth of human emotions NOW, should Infinity choose to absorb me before the year ends.

When the years and decades that I thought were mine by right were suddenly condensed into minutes, hours, days and weeks, my inner life suddenly becomes the event horizon of my own personal Black Hole. Black Holes, which used to be the most exciting thing in the Universe to me, suddenly became ‘not nice at all’.  Even light cannot escape its gravitational pull; in a Black Hole, everything will be gone, erased, scrambled. I was supposed to be getting married next week. How could I reconcile that beautiful, much dreamt-of occasion with what I am going through now, too sick to walk up the stairs? I don’t see myself when I look at the reflection that now stares back at me. In the short space of a mere two weeks, the woman that I had been was decoded into bytes and bits in a hologram-like Universe.

But in the case of life mirroring fiction, I wrote that order and chaos are not diametrical opposites. In Catching Infinity, the second female protagonist Karin Van Achterberg had to cope with her husband’s tumultuous mind in the aftermath of Alice’s destruction. But she, The Wife, found beauty and order beneath the chaos, because chaotic systems are an inseparable mix of the two. From the outside they display unpredictable and wildly random behaviour, ugliness even, but expose the inner workings and you will discover a perfectly deterministic set of equations ticking like clockwork to the steady beat of Love. Yes, according to Chaos Theory, there is an underlying order beneath it all.  It’s just that we don’t often have the wisdom or the peace of mind to see it.

Thus, I took myself and my chaotic mind off to church to fathom the underlying order when my life was spinning off tangent. Church for me is Westminster Cathedral, the bastion of Roman Catholicism in the United Kingdom.

He, on the other hand, is anti organised religion, believing instead in a myriad of Hindu philosophies and long-dead Eastern sages. He often commented – only half-joking, I’m sure – that he has to do the Sudarshan Kriya and invoke the protection of Lord Krishna each time before he steps through the doors of Westminster Cathedral. But he, who gets woken up when I can’t breathe at night or when I am just being a drama queen, has been sitting in Westminster Cathedral with me stoically as I prayed my heart out.

“Do I terrify you?” I asked.

‘Naw, but your church does, Jac. It gives me the beebeejeebies just sitting here.  But I pray with you, to your God, in your language.”

“Don’t,” I replied.  “Don’t compromise your own beliefs for mine, or you’ll lose the sense of who you are. And right now, more than ever, I need you to be strong for me.”

“Jac,” he began patiently.  “Beliefs, ideologies and even principles are just a set of rules to guide us by as we muddle our way through life. They are just ideals. They do not maketh us.  Love maketh us. It does not make me less of a man to yield to you sometimes, Jac.” He paused.  “Because I dare to. I have no fear because Love guides me.”

Being a mother of five, I resonated very deeply with his words. All too often we bring our children, especially our sons, up to be strong. We instill in them our values, our morals, our beliefs, and send them out to the world with siege mentality, to win, win, win, to be successful rather than to be of value to humanity. We prize success because in some perverse way, successful children are our justification as parents, our bragging rights to other relatives, neighbours and friends in our twilight years.

Yield is not a word in many parenting vocabularies, so over-written those vocabularies are by the word ‘success’.  We don’t teach our children to yield – there is something shameful even in yielding because it is mistakenly associated with weakness and relinquishing control – but yielding is oh, so important, because if we don’t yield, we break. Put this in ‘real’ terms: some of the tallest buildings in the world are built to sway in the direction of the wind before righting itself when the moment passes.  It takes an extremely strong person to put aside those childhood ideals, to be vulnerable even, to have the courage to go where life leads instead of clutching fearfully to old structures that stop us living meaningful lives. If life is not lived joyously, consciously and freely each day, for what purpose is life? The answer is in Catching Infinity, of course – big smile.

 

 

 

 

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Why We Want To Raise Lifelong Learners

A few weeks ago, whilst choosing books on Amazon to take along on my honeymoon, I bought Professor Mary Beard’s A History of Ancient Rome. I bought the book simply because it was on Amazon’s bestseller list, but to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. I finished the whole book even before the plane landed. It was a surprise, because the British education system forces us to make a choice about our future at the tender age of 16, when we have to choose which three or four subjects to study for A levels. These three or four subjects are the precursors of our University course two years later and our career path three years on.

I did Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry. I abandoned Geography, History, Literature, Languages, Art and Humanities a long time ago, because they were not in my school curriculum. Being not inclined academically, I struggled with the rigours of getting good grades for three A level subjects, and alongside partying, chilling out on the beach and being a teenager generally, I did not have the time nor the inclination to broaden my knowledge base. Later, a demanding career and children meant that I had very little mental capacity to indulge in frivolous pastimes, which learning unrelated subjects was considered as in my overloaded life.

But my love of learning never left me. I owe it all to my mother, my first teacher. She never minded that I did not get good grades and showed me, over the years, that it made no difference to her whatsoever that her daughter was at the bottom of the exam results table. She was happy with the daughter she had and she delighted in raising me. The stuff she invested her time in teaching my brothers and I were never related to schoolwork. It was always about the magic of the world around us.

It is a wonderful gift to be raised as a lifelong learner, because my mother has given me eyes that are open to beauty and wonder, however harsh and difficult reality and life is. It doesn’t take me much – just a deep breath and a heartbeat – to remember my magical times with my mother. When I was choosing a honeymoon location, I chose somewhere not far from my home: Isle of Wight. I could have chosen half a dozen exotic locations, but I chose the Isle of Wight. I remembered our many unforgettable seaside days.

And at 47, I was delighted to rediscover them with the man I am planning to share the rest of my life with. The windswept bridle paths and coastal roads that I loved as a teenager, the seaweeds that I know as well as the back of my hands and the fossils that delight me so. On our honeymoon, I showed Thomas a part of me that he could not find anywhere else, with anyone else, except me. I showed him too, my fascination with cosmology (lying in bed, looking at Venus rising over the English Solent), the 11th dimension, mathematics and the warping of space-time that brought us, in the most unimaginable circumstances, into each other’s lives. The world around you is full of magic, if you open your eyes to it.

Thomas’s article on theoretical physics and business is here: http://agermanonthemove.blogspot.co.id/2015/10/the-heart-of-matter-metaphors-in_18.html?m=1

We Travel To Come Home – An Indonesian Odyssey

My time in Asia is rapidly coming to a close. After almost a decade of being away, I am finally returning home to London with my partner. It is somewhat unusual that he, a German, and I, a Brit, met each other halfway across the world, only to come home to set up a family together. I think our time spent in the pressure cooker of another culture somehow forged a strong bond between us, because there we were, together in a strange land, trying to find a smidgeon of happiness, peace, ambition, laughter and love so far from home.

It wasn’t always easy. My biggest challenge was the lack of nature and open spaces in Jakarta. Being a Portsmouth girl, my happiest memory had always been skiving school and going to the beach with my younger brother in the summer months or walking the South Downs with my parents. In Jakarta, it would take us nearly two hours driving time to get to the nearest strip of sand and sea. I just could not get into the shopping mall and cinema culture. Only last weekend, my partner and I hopefully searched the Internet for a reasonable film to while our Saturday, but ended up at home instead. Fortunately, we enjoy being in each other’s company very much or the whole thing between us would have fallen apart, given that there was no escape to ‘go tell it to the sea’.

I was terribly homesick in my last years, but in the words of philosopher Martin Buber (b 1878, d 1965), “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware”. For me, the secret destination that I was meant to be, but was unaware of, is in the heart of the Mediana family.

Dr. Achmad Mediana was a doctor practicing in Jakarta when I first met him. In those days, I was newly arrived, the Rule Britannia mentality virulent in me, and I was idealistic and arrogant. On my first day, I demanded to know what pain relief options were available to patients.

“My face,” Achmad said with a big, beaming smile. “When patients see my face, they are happy and they forget about pain.”

In the years that I worked closely with him, I began to open up and let go. I grew softer and more yielding. In the process, I learned amazing new things that are breathtaking in simplicity yet deeply meaningful.

One of Achmad’s favourite sayings (which became a private joke between us) is ‘God’s assets’. Achmad is remarkably generous with his material possessions, including his money, which he distributes easily to his various charitable projects and sometimes, to his patients. “It’s all God’s assets, Jacqueline,” he would say with that same big, beaming smile.

One day, during one of our many long journeys in the car battling the legendary Jakarta traffic jam, Achmad turned to me and said, “Eh, Jacqueline. When my mother died, I learned one last lesson from her. I learned that however rich you are, you can only take with you the white cloth that your corpse is wrapped in. Your grave is still the same size as everyone else’s. The rest is God’s assets.”

Today, Achmad co-owns a small private hospital. I told my partner about it. My partner laughed as we discussed Achmad’s unique take on the world, including when it comes to business. He has four full-time doctors, 32 medical staff and 11 patients, but he is a happy man.

“Eleven, Achmad?” I asked incredulously. “Only eleven?”

“Don’t be greedy, Jacqueline,” he said, totally unconcerned. “I am happy when my patients are happy.”

My dear Dr. Achmad Mediana, this is your legacy. You have shown these two foreigners how to look at values and valuation in a totally different light, and this is what I travelled halfway across the world to learn. Thank you for the years, with much love always.

My partner’s blog post on Dr. Achmad Mediana:

http://agermanonthemove.blogspot.com/2015/09/11-patients-4-doctors-and-1-happy.html

Real-world stuff for teenagers with an inquiring mind

It takes a whole village to raise a child……I never doubted that after raising five children. My children’s father and I are fortunate in that we seem to have an endless stream of engaging, inspired adults who are willing to contribute to our children’s development from so many angles. For me, it is all about taking textbook learning into the context of the real world, so that my children are excited about learning which happens when they begin to see for themselves how the world actually works. The ultimate for me when it comes to educating children is to encourage them to think and connect the dots for themselves, rather than passing exams.The possibilities are endless, exciting.

Whilst searching for a parking spot along Bondi Beach last Christmas, Georgina had a brilliant idea for an apps to solve a real-world problem. But how to take a brilliant idea off the drawing board into the real world? I have no idea. Fortunately, her stepfather has plenty of experience (as it is his work).

And the news for G is, it takes more than a brilliant idea to make something work business-wise. You need luck, commitment, some capital investment (she knows that), some legal stuff, some financial stuff and the know-how. Quite a lot for a 15 year old with so many interest to take onboard, but the conversation opened her eyes to the world of work. It also opened a lot of interesting discussions.

“She should go to Silicon Valley, get an internship with some innovative company like Google. Because developing an apps is not just about finding programmers. And she needs to have good relationship with the local council, who will be her partner for this venture.” All very sound advice for a teenager to think about – because it would probably costs only U$50k to develop this apps in Asia, but perhaps the U$50k would be better spent on airfare to San Francisco?

That’s his blog: light enough for a teenager with an inquiring mind to read 🙂 http://agermanonthemove.blogspot.co.id

Six ways of having a fabulous summer on a tight budget

As the summer months edge into September, I cannot help but feel a tinge of regret. I always do, because summers had always been magical for me ever since my children were born. We were financially not well-off in those days, given that I was a University student and my children’s young father did not have a highly paid job. But we had something infinitely more precious than cold hard cash, and that was time plus the mindset to enjoy that time with our children. OK, I must confess here that in the beginning, we used to fight over this: I would rather we worked during the summer months to ease our tight financial situation, but he resolutely would not work at all from July to September. Oh, how we fought over our ideals, but I am glad he won hands down in this instance, because we have had close to 30 magical summers in our lifetime together.

Here are our trialled and tested ways of having a fabulous summer on a tight budget:

  1. Home exchange

This sounds unbelievable, but we exchanged our humble council house in a rough estate in Manchester with a couple from Italy who wanted two weeks of ‘hard culture and party’. Welcome to the Barlow Hall estate, folks, where most of our unemployed neighbours stayed up late drinking cheap beer and watching football on television (you could hear the swearing though the thin walls). The couple from Italy was quite tight-lipped about what they had to offer (they posted photographs that gave very little clues), but we thought we had nothing to lose anyway because no house could be crappier than ours. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at a small palazzo in Venice. Apart from the stress of our children wrecking priceless carpets and falling into the canal, I must say it was one heck of a fabulous summer.

Websites for home exchange:

https://www.homebase-hols.com

http://www.homelink.org.uk

  1. Camping

Over the years, I have visited some really amazing places, but when it comes to sheer magic, nothing could ever beat waking up in a tent in the morning, stepping outside and seeing hundreds of wild New Forest ponies streaming past within feet of me. My children were completely blown away.

Thus, investing in a tent was the best investment we ever made. If you are a camping newbie, you could try ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) or camp in specialised campsites where you could find help on hand, running water and loo.

Though for me, nothing beats hitting the road with the children in the backseat of our old Land Rover, pitching up our tent wherever fancy took us. We camped in a cornfield in Luxembourg one summer (which must surely be the weirdest place ever) and had such a beautiful time in the fields of gold, feasting on corn, making corn dollies and going on long walks. Sometimes we ventured into the town for showers, to buy provisions and visit the sights. We waited every morning for the farmer to evict us, but he never came. We left a bottle of wine and a heartfelt Thank You note thanking him for one of the most magical holidays we have ever had.

  1. Visit hospitable friends

My eternal gratitude always to my dear friend Ruedi Achermann who very kindly loaned us his sumptuous apartment in front of the Rhine when we couldn’t afford holiday lets. We would chug to Basel on our trusty old beast of a Land Rover and live like lords for weeks on end. Look earnestly into your address book – you will have friends like Ruedi Achermann somewhere in there.

  1. Pack up with similar friends

Exploit economies of scale. Go on holiday with like-minded friends with children of the same age group. Not only do the children entertain themselves, adults can trade babysitting duties too.

  1. Collect coupons

We painstakingly collected coupons from The Times for free ferry crossing to France in low-season February, sailed to France for Valentine’s Day and made our magical third daughter there, all on a shoestring budget.

  1. Work for your board

My daughter’s martial arts coach from the UK will be running a three-month martial arts training camp on the beautiful tropical paradise Phuket. His wife and daughter will be accompanying him for this experience of a lifetime. And you guess it, free board and lodging for the whole family, an opportunity to visit somewhere amazing and start something …. all on a shoestring (airfares covered as part of the deal).

An evocative article on autumn: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3220331/Crackling-bonfires-new-books-school-Yes-end-summer-saddest-time-year-adore-it.html

Love letter to my Mother-in-Law

I finished my University final exams on 11th June, 1992. I was no more than a child, still an inner void within me to fill, but I was already a mother to four children who went to University with me and grew up together with me.

It would not have been possible without my mother, who was always just a telephone call and a 3-hour car-drive away. My mother was always there to comfort and cosset. She never criticised, she just loved me unconditionally.

My mother-in-law was different from my mother. She was not as tolerant as my own mother. The summer the children and I had to live in her house whilst saving up for a deposit for our first home was a torture for me. I was expected to work, as opposed to being treated like a princess whenever I was at my parents’ house. Whenever I was in my parents’ house, my mother took over everything so that I could have my much-needed rest from my studies and from being a mother to a large brood.

My mother-in-law cured me of my spoilt behaviour, but it was a baptism of fire. I was lazy and incapable, and her son deserved more than the teenager who was dumb enough to fall pregnant on the first date, and who wanted grand things in life rather than knuckling down to being a mother, taking care of the family the proper way. I should have been thankful for the things I had, instead of chasing silly dreams at the expense of the family.

I used to run back to my mother, crying.

She, my mother, would tell me to learn to love my mother-in-law instead of commiserating with me.

“She’s your mother now,” my mum said, though her heart must have been bleeding at my tears.

And yes she was. My mother-in-law was my mother now. She made my maternity dresses. She was up at 3am with my colicky baby. She took the time to sit in the garden with me in her busy day. She tried to understand me.

Slowly, we began to laugh together. What started as an argument between us would end up in laughter. We began to cherish magical moments together, like sitting with a three week old baby in the rain eating soggy cheese sandwiches, because she was adamant that children need lots of fresh air (even in the rain). Slowly, the enmity turned into a deep and abiding love. It wasn’t an easy relationship, but nonetheless it was one that shaped my life.

This summer, I cut flowers from her garden to bring to her in her nursing home. I found this letter, and it brought it back to me, the love I have for my two mothers, two amazing women, whom I owe everything to. They are still my mothers, and I their daughter, though I am 47 with a string of qualifications, impressive work experience, financial independence and five grown-up children. This positive dependency was brought into sharp focus this summer: though my mother-in-law is no longer capable of looking after herself, I still run to her, as I did this summer, when I needed a home.

Growing up without plastic toys

I first became a mother when I was 17, and had 3 other kids by the time I was 25. I was an idealistic young mum, spiky and full of definite ideas about how my children should be brought up. I took my children along to university with me, so they had lots of playmates. We did not have much money, so my children had to make do with the little material things we could afford.

I banned plastic toys. I caused quite a lot of bad feelings when I firmly requested no plastic toys for Christmas and birthdays, and made a point of returning them when those requests were ignored by indulgent grandparents.

I became a mother for the fifth time when I was 33. I was more relaxed, less idealistic. And I thought, “Gosh, I was draconian!”

But I was glad about my no-toys stance.

It forced us to do more with our children, though that was a challenge sometimes after a long day at work or university. But the kids learned a very important lesson: they learned to cope with boredom by finding their own ways to engage themselves, instead of relying on us or electronic gadgets to be their chief entertainers.

They used to build houses that they invited us to visit. They used to make dinner for us with real kitchen utensils and fruits, seeds and nuts, giving those dishes imaginative names such as rabbit poo pie. They used to put on performances that they sold tickets for, setting the whole front room up as a theatre. They used to build a rabbit hole behind the settee that led into a wonderland, with my Princess Kat declaring, “Alice did not fall into the rabbit hole; she stumbled into one”. They were so tiny then, with the eldest being no more than 10 at that time.

When they were teenagers, electronic games became a rage, but they continued on their own sweet way. They became experts at Charades and Pictionary, and then of course, the naughty stage of mixing alcohol. My son Jack started a newspaper delivery business with his best friend Anton and my nephew Matthew. My niece Kate, now in her 20s, made food balls for birds to study their preferences. This summer, my 15 year old decided to rewrite school textbooks in a mind-mapping sort of way. Maybe they are out of sync with youngsters of today, but they are fine growing up without plastic toys, expensive gadgets, designer wear or shopping malls.

Being outdoors also gets children in sync with the world they live in. They learn to navigate and negotiate with trees and animals and gravity, they learn to lose their fear but grow healthy respect for danger, and they get to meet germs and interesting things.

Thus my belief: the best toys for children are nature and their peers. Dr Richard Woolfson, a child psychologist, confirms through research that traditional games also bring families closer. In an increasingly isolated world engendered by virtual reality, it is important to be connected in real life to each other and to consciously work on that connection.

This summer, my youngest child was reading ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and of course, her father and I unwittingly became involved too, as we wracked our old brains to answer her Why mockingbird? And I realised there is another upside to not growing up relying on Professor Google for answers: my children continue to keep me young. I could not shut them out or fob them off or put them away like unwanted toys – they have become engaging human beings with strong views, vivacity, energy and enthusiasm for the world they live in. But maybe, just maybe, that after 30 years of parenting, it is time to buy an iPad for the 15 year old so that I can shut my eyes on long journeys.

(Photograph: my children, my nephew and my niece playing their own sweet game one fine day in the Alps)

The Joy of Learning

The world is full of magic to be discovered, and it was my children’s library and laboratory during their childhood years.

I would like to begin by saying that I am not an educationalist, but my children’s father is. He has a Bachelor of Education degree from King Alfred’s College, Winchester, but the best of his education philosophy (in my humble belief) comes from his mother.

My mother-in-law was brought up in a poor part of South East London. Her mother was a Spanish immigrant who did not speak much English and went blind when my mother-in-law was 11. The war came soon after that, so my mother-in-law had a very low level of formal education. She worked as a cleaner, cleaning offices and schools. But she self-taught, despite her limited hours, to better herself. She finished her years of work as a clerk at London Electricity Board, a huge achievement for a girl who did not go to school and had a lot of responsibilities.

The great thing about my mother-in-law is, she did not harangue her blue-eyed boy to study, study, study. And so, my children’s father grew up cycling round the Kent countryside from the age of 4, played with the family pets, and later on, jammed away in a rock band in some mate’s garage. He is the most balanced, happiest person I know, and he learned a lot and earned enough to buy us a magical life.

When my kids were young, we did not have enough money to keep up with what other families were doing. Thus, my kids grew up without electronic toys or even a colour television. We had to ‘make do’. Pots, pans, wooden spoons when they were young, and later, family games of Pictionary and Charades. We built forts from blankets and sheets, collected interesting things from our walks for our Seasonal Nature Table, and from this way, we all learned about ourselves, the natural world, family values and the beginnings of language, literature, the sciences.

Later, when iPads became the rage, we could have afforded it but somehow never got around to buying it for our youngest child. Her former school had made it mandatory for each student to have an iPad, the much touted learning tool, but she did not do too badly without ever having owned an iPad.

We had to work harder as parents because we did not have the whizzy gizmos to educate our children. We don’t use the internet to babysit them either, so much as the temptation was there to allow them to passively learn from the ‘Net, we taught them the old fashioned way, namely by experiences in the real world.

My second son built a real-life go-kart with his father in the garden shed. He raced the go-kart, became quite good at racing, and then sold it for profit. He wasn’t an academic child, and he certainly did not leave school with a string of A’s, yet he managed to win a scholarship to study Mechanical Engineering & Electronics at Southampton University, and in a time where there are many unemployed graduates, he is second in command of all the weapons on a Royal Navy warship. He is 27, exuberant, boisterous, balanced, loves life.

His younger sister is enjoying the closing years of her very magical childhood, living in a land of aquamarine oceans, blue skies, winding island roads. She rides shotgun to school everyday with her father, chatting away happily, and often, with her mother too. She talks about her day, uncensored, with passion and heat. The teachers were sometimes unfair, there were bitches in her school and dumb boys. History and English Literature are confusing, Maths is boring, and the Sciences are easy. As for English Language… “don’t get me started” with a roll of her eyes.

Unbeknownst to her, as we soothed her, answered her, rebuked her, we are teaching her. Not only about the syllabus, but our family values, the ways of the world, humanity.

And because we limit the time she is allowed to spend studying, she dives on her books with great gusto. And because she is only allowed limited time on her subjects, she on her own accord brings them into her real world, in our car conversations and whenever she makes the connection with the real world. And her eyes and quicksilver brain are always searching to make the connection, sometimes between the most innocuous events and objects. A casual conversation about “those shoes” became the laws of Spanish grammar and ultimately, the trivium. She argues heatedly, sticking her head between her parents’, intent on getting her point across.

We see the joy of learning awakens in her, and it is a great feeling.

Six Ways of Raising Employable Kids

My mother didn’t do one part of parenting that well: she treated me as if I were too important for ‘real’ life. I never had to do any housework and she never brought me down a peg or two, which I sorely needed. She gave me the impression that jobs are something that shouldn’t concern me, on the grand scheme of things.

Fortunately, after flunking out of my private school with three measly O levels (in English, French and Maths), I continued my studies at my local community college. As it turned out, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

It gave me the much-needed reality check.

First of all, I had to learn typing. Yes, freaking typing. But hey, I met my children’s father in Mrs. Jean Bushby’s typing class, when he wandered in, looking lost, needing someone to help him type something. Of course I volunteered, he was this Adonis-looking male in tiny football shorts and blazing blue eyes and impressive muscles. The rest, as they say, is history.

And then there was a Mr. Jim Crow. I was on the track to study Medicine at university, so Mr. Crow arranged for me to work once a week at St. Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth. He and Sister Ayling at St. Mary’s became my torturers of sorts. I didn’t want to go back, after senile patients expected me to clean their bums and junior doctors treated me like an annoying kid that they were forced to babysit. The nurses, who were supposed to be angels, weren’t too kind with me either: I was told on many occasions that like all doctors, I was as thick as two short planks, just because I couldn’t find things and didn’t know what NG tubes were. I could sense Mr. Crow’s lips twitching under his bushy moustache as I retold my woes to him week after week, but he and Sister Ayling did not let up. The Princess had to relinquish her crown before either of them would endorse my university application.

But much as I hated the weekly come-down-to-earth sessions that lasted for the best part of two years, I must have known subconsciously, that the tough love is representative of the real world: my first job was at St Mary’s Hospital, and I still have my first paycheck framed up.

I was also fortunate that my mother-in-law came into my life when I was still a teen and thus still not too late to be reformed. I was pregnant with her precious son’s child. She was tough on me, in the way that my mother never was. And oh woes, we had to live with my in-laws when we were saving for the deposit for our first home.

“Why are you still in bed?” my mother-in-law would demand.

“I was up late last night studying,” I would bleat. My mum would have soothed my hair and run off to get me anything I wanted. Not so my mother-in-law.

“But you are not sick, are you,” she countered. “There’s nothing wrong with you at all, just lazy.”

I learned one very important thing about myself: that though I was smart and have a bright future, I was not very likeable.

I was arrogant and imperious. I had the entitlement mentality. In later years, I look back and count my blessings that I had come face to face with real life, though it was painful at that time. I am especially grateful that my children have never been anything like me, thanks to their down-to-earth father. My kids had always been ordinary, likeable folks, and this had served them well, and without all the heartache that I had to go through, without my baptism of fire into the real world.

What I have written here relates to something I have been reading about lately, namely the number of unemployed young people.

These unemployed youngsters often have the much-coveted, sometimes expensive degrees, yet employers are not beating a path to their front door trying to hire them. I am not an economist, so I cannot make pronouncements about government policies, the economy and other factors that may cause the situation.

But I want to put this to parents: are you raising employable kids?

Unless you have a business empire for your child to walk straight into immediately after graduation (is a degree that important, by the way), your child needs to get a job.

  1. The likeability factor

First of all, that means he has to be likeable. And I mean likeable to the outside world and not just to you and his grandparents. I read somewhere that the impression is made in the first few seconds after meeting someone: the following minutes and hours only serve to build evidence for or against the first impression.

  1. The art of conversation

Many over-schooled children cannot hold a conversation. Because believe it or not, children need to be taught how to verbally engage with others. And that, I mean ask relevant questions politely, listen to the answers, process the information, form own opinion, and discuss topics eloquently, in context, and in an age-appropriate fashion (a child discussing heavy topics that he or she does not have deep real knowledge of is like listening to a performing monkey parroting rubbish). 

I once asked a seven year old little girl in my yoga class, “What shall we order? A cheeseburger or a toffee ice cream?”

Her reply, “I got to ask my marder first.”

Yet this girl knew – or should I say, could parrot – the most impressive book knowledge ever.

  1. Service with a smile

Does your child have the right attitude? What I have learned, through my own experience, is that in the real world, everyone needs to start from the bottom rung. How does your Little Emperor / Little Princess cope with being an office junior? My mother didn’t do this part of raising me too well – I was so shocked that even after my degree from Oxford, I was expected to do menial tasks for my boss. Whaaat? Moi? Be your bag carrier? Are you serious? But that’s real life. Carry your boss’s bag, sharpen his pencil, bring him coffee and do it with a smile.

 

  1. It hurts but that’s life

Perhaps most important factor of all, can your child cope with criticisms? You spend his early years telling him that he is wonderful. What happens when someone out there in the world disagrees? You can bet your last dollar that someone out there will, and how then will he react?

I met a boy a few years back, who had a massive meltdown in public (he was about ten at that time) because a mother told him not to touch a display stand at a science exhibition. He screamed and pinched the lady who told him off, and his own mother’s rationale was, “All gifted children have some degree of social problems.” Well, Little Einstein is going to come in for a big shock, because like it or not, he has to be likeable enough, to be able to be social enough, to get a research post at some university, however gifted he is.

  1. Be alive

Is your child inspired? Does he have the fire within that makes him want to make something out of his life? Does his CV show initiative? I think my second son has one of the most interesting CVs for a schoolboy: he built and sold his racing go-kart for profit, he organised illegal boxing matches and he worked as a furniture removal man in a rough part of London during his summer holidays. And somehow, I wasn’t too surprised that it was this child of mine, the least academic one, who won a prestigious sponsorship for his bachelor and masters degrees, and a job immediately after graduation when many of his more academic peers were struggling to find jobs.

I didn’t have the best academic record, yet I was given a full scholarship for my second degree at Oxford. At the interview, I was asked about my terrible grades. My (truthful) answer: it was a beautiful spring that year, and I was sleeping on the beach with my children’s father on most nights, including the nights before my exams.

  1. Show commitment

Start something, stick to it, finish it. Chasing for bigger and brighter things every few months does not look good on the CV. A good way for small children to develop this quality is the humble jigsaw puzzle….and no moving on until the piece is finished.

Note: my four adult children are all gainfully employed: an investment banker, a naval officer, an interior designer and a property developer. I, however, am currently unemployed. I blame my mother for growing me with the belief that all a girl needs to get by is fresh air, sunshine and love.