Legs Are For Walking

Parenting is a very personal journey, and I am sure I will be slated for this post. However, I will still post this, because I would like to see a shift in mindset towards raising healthy kids.

Each time your child whines, “Carry me” and you give in, you are not ‘spoiling’ your child emotionally. You are de-skilling your child. You are taking away his opportunity at that moment, to learn resilience. You are also not giving him the opportunity to work on his developing muscles.

Let us start from the scientific angle. Children need to develop muscle tone. It is that muscle tone that allows a flexible foetus to be curled up in the womb, to develop into a baby who could sit up, crawl and eventually walk upright. The primary muscles required for this is the group of muscles that are loosely referred to as the core muscles. The core muscles can be visualised as a broad belt encircling the human body. Weak core muscles are the cause of bad posture, which over time, can lead to chronic back pain. For a child with weak core muscles, you see slouchy sitting position (exacerbated by hours sitting down). A floppy child is also often tired, because in that suboptimal position, he is not breathing efficiently. Her internal circulation may also be compromised. She may not be as active as she should be for her age group. Having weak core muscles is certainly not a good foundation for a young body that still has many decades of living to get through.

As children do not go to the gym to strengthen their core muscles (and there is no need to), they need to walk at every opportunity. On the emotional development side, children also need to learn to be resilient and self-sufficient. By three – yes, during the Terrible Threes – they should be learning about their body and the world they live in. Walking is one of the fundamental movements in life, and it also moves a child towards being independent from the mother. It empowers them.

If a child has strong physicality, she feels empowered. She is not afraid of feeling breathless or hot or tired. She embraces the different experiences. She feels confident about exploring the world and confident of her place within it, once she is comfortable with her body and its many experiences. You are empowering your child, when you move her from whining “Carry me” to “Yes, I can, Mummy.”

Children need to move for their brain development, and being attached to a parent like a limp rag doll does not constitute moving.

It is also about learning boundaries. Children need to know that there are certain things in life that they have to do for themselves, which Mummy cannot do for them. And walking is one of them.

Teaching boundaries to children is one of the challenges of parenting, namely how to teach them with love so that they grow up joyous. For me, over the course of five children, I discovered that it is with love, laughter, firm rules, consistency, joy, forgiveness and unconditional love that we teach our children that they have to accept parental autonomy. Parenting is not about giving in all the time, but a healthy balance of meeting your child’s needs as well as teaching him the things he needs to learn.

So if you have a child who is older than three, I would like to suggest trying to do away with the pushchair/stroller and see the changes. You will thank me in a few months time … big smile.

Photograph: 2 year old Georgina trying to keep up with her parents and siblings in foot-high snow.

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

Why I advocate NO PLASTIC TOYS for children

I first became a mum at 17. Back in those days, I was fiery, idealistic and willing to fight till death for my ideals. When doting grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends bought plastic toys for our kids, I would politely return them and caused a lot of bad feelings.

At 47, I would probably do things differently these days.

However, I still feel the same aversion towards plastic toys from the numerous examples of tortoises and other sea creatures being poisoned to painful deaths by discarded plastic. I am also concerned about the environmental pollution that this plastic industry and its resultant mountain of plastic waste that chokes our planet.

I was concerned about the health aspects, too. Children put toys in their mouths, don’t they? We had a dog that suffered cancerous growth all over his body, because he ate plastic bags.

I also didn’t like the feel of plastics, and toys with flashing lights and electronic sounds were the ultimate nightmare for me.

But enforcing this tough policy has resulted in surprisingly pleasant outcomes. The main one is that my children learned to engage themselves actively, either with pen and paper, make-belief dolls from corn stalks, paper costumes, pet circus and a whole myriad of creative past times that became the hallmark of their materially poor but spiritually rich childhood. They never asked for Disney programmes or any TV programmes or merchandise associated with the ‘in’ movie or iPads. When we saved up and took our young children to Disneyland Paris, my youngest son Jack screamed in terror when Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck approached him. Because in his world, mice and ducks are not made of plastic and neither do they wear shoes.

My children learned to love being outdoors too, because the garden was a whole lot more interesting than sitting in a room devoid of electronic entertainment. They learned to climb trees, build tree houses and burrows, caught insects, drew leaves and grew things. Whatever the season, they would be out in the garden. I attribute their immunity to childhood diseases largely to their outdoors lifestyle, for those were the days before hand sanitisers and needless medication. Fever, coughs, colds and diarrhea were treated with lots of water, rest and fresh air rather than a trip to the doctor or medication.

Having no toys in the house also disciplined us parents. We had to make cars and cookers and dollhouses from discarded cardboard boxes. We had to get up early to take them out for walks. We had to think harder on how to engage them rather than letting them be passively entertained by the television. We had to incorporate them into our lives (shopping, cooking, reading), which brought us the precious closeness that we enjoy to this very day.

But thinking deeper beyond these points, I really do think that children’s playthings should be things that exist ‘naturally’ in real life, like pots and pans and wooden spoons. Why buy plastic tea sets when they can play with real freebies? It doesn’t make sense, right? By compelling our children to engage with their natural world also grounds them to this beautiful planet.

Yesterday, whilst walking with my partner along a breathtaking beach at sunset, I could not help but notice these tiny turquoise medallions in the sand. I could not resist investigating further, and was blown away by the delicacy and complexity that exists in the smallest, humblest organisms that escape the notice of the world at large.

What are those blue buttons? I emailed my father this photograph.

Blue button jellyfish, he replied, though they are really colonies of polyps, known as Chondrophores.

How so very lovely they are, dotting the beach like tiny turquoise orbs, making the sunset walk even more magical. I hope my children will find such enchantment in nature, as they walk the beaches and woodlands and roads of their adulthood, as I have, growing up with a toy-less childhood, which opened my eyes to the bountiful beautiful free things around me.

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.

One life, One Love

My mother never fell out of love with my father. He is her only love, the man she left their hometown with, both of them filled with the optimism of the young. He had a high-flying career in many foreign countries whilst she kept the home fires burning. Life had not been that easy or ideal for her, but she always smiled her big, beaming smile that made us all feel loved and important. We have always known that we were very important to her. Though she was a shining star before she fell in love with him, she shone only for him from the moment they met, and not the world. To the rest of the world, she was just an extension of him, the appendage, the stay-at-home wife.

Many modern women would scorn her – she could have been so much more – but she is my inspiration. If I am 1/100th the woman my mother is, I would be honoured. I have always wanted to love only one man, to bear his children (pieces of him), to put all my emotional investment in the family we build together and to grow old with the one I started my journey with. My mother has taught me over many decades that the only true love is one that is tempered by the years and forged in selfless love, and that being in love means waking up with the same person, looking forward to the new day together. My mother taught me too that excitement is seeing the world through the eyes of my children, not through exciting idealised love that does not exist nor last. My mother, my role-model, I believe her.