Teaching Children Adult Love: The Six Tenets

We are more likely to teach our children about sex – especially the morality of it – that we often forget the much more important lesson in Adult Love, namely teaching them how to be in a loving adult relationship.

Whilst it is accurate to say (based on numerous scientific research) that children model their childhood home environment in their adult lives, they are also bombarded with media ideals and mixed messages from the external world.

By and large, we get by. We learn from our experiences as we go through life (perhaps that is why first loves and teenage affairs are often such dramas). We make mistakes in our early relationships, break hearts, get ours broken, and move on to the next one. That is how life goes in the modern world.

The caveat is of course if we do not learn and we end up in the same ‘wrong movie’ scenario of destructive, temporary relationships: those we love have such powers to damage us, and having been hurt, we go on damaging others, lost in the mire.

I am a strong believer in teaching children how to be someone’s spouse and parent. These are my six tenets:

  1. Be fearless

When you choose to be with someone, give yourself fully. Burn all your bridges behind you so that you can focus all your energy into your joint future.

Give children a safe childhood home that they can always come home to so that they are not afraid to be fearless.

  1. Give generously

This is not about material things, but the giving of something most precious: yourself. Do not be stingy with your love, your caresses and your kisses. Intimacy – physical and emotional – is the lifeblood of a lifelong relationship.

Be generous with your affections with your children.

  1. Focus inwards instead of running away/looking elsewhere

Being strong in times of adversity (or boredom) is the key to Forever-Love. Life cannot be on a high all the time, and having the strength to keep going is so important. As I often write: love is not an emotion, it is a construction.

Teach children to stick to something instead of giving up easily.

  1. Respect yourself and respect your spouse

Respecting your spouse means that your loyalty lies with him/her, rather than outside forces, including families and friends. This is because outside forces can be destructive to a relationship (for example, a twisted, poisonous aunt or cousin), and often, in the name of your best interest, actually cause more harm to an otherwise good relationship.

Teach children that loyalty starts in the home and never talk bad about people.

  1. Never destabilise the home

A home should always be a safe place for both parties in a relationship and their children. It is a construction and an expression of lifelong love. It is also a source of comfort and joy. If you destroy it, what do you have left? Careers and high octane sex does not last a lifetime, but a stable home does.

Teach children to value the home and the people who live within it above all.

  1. Think in terms of ‘us’ instead of I, me, mine

We are taught to be independent and self-sufficient. They both are good traits to have, but they must never obscure us to opening ourselves up to love. Life is so much more beautiful if we have someone we can truly share it with. 1 + 1 = ∞

Build close relationships in the first family so that it becomes normal for a child in his/her adult years to be sensitive to others.

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As parents, even in this modern day and age, we dream that our children will grow up to have families of their own and living happily ever after within this nurturing framework. This natural wish is corroborated by well-known, long-term research by Harvard University and other credible institutions showing that they key to a happy life is having a good spouse.

Teaching our children about Adult-Love is our contribution as parents towards creating a pool of good spouses who will bring love, light and kindness to the lives of others. For if we don’t, who will raise our children’s good spouses?

You are never alone in your dark hours if you have someone decent and true to share your life with. Cherish that person who ends your solitary confinement. Love him / her to your best ability ❤

This article and drawing are dedicated to Anneke, who died 36 years ago when her son was eight years old.

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The price of a happy child

Two years ago, we came to Phuket for Georgina’s football trials. We stayed for the weekend and had a lovely time. On the way back to the airport on Sunday night, we stopped at this beach, Nai Thon beach. We had an early dinner in a seafront cafe and watched the sunset. We were so happy.

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She is our much-loved youngest child and her passion is football. So we took the momentous decision to move countries for her. Her father gave up his well-paid job, and we moved into a simple, sunny house near the beach in Phuket.

She is such a happy, sunny child. She wakes up excited about life. Today, Friday, she has football practice after school and then she is going to a girl pal’s house for dinner after that. But chatting animatedly to us, she said she might have dinner at school first because she loves the ‘free’ food – apple pie with real cream, yum! – and the boarders order in pizza every Friday night.

“Don’t drink too much!” Her father joked. “You have football practice tomorrow morning.”

“I don’t need alcohol to be happy,” she retorted.

She is indeed a happy child, sunny all the way through. Her first years were spent in Portsmouth, less than 500 metres from her grandparents’ home. Apart from her siblings, she had cousins around her. She went to Story Time Nursery, and the principal is Mrs. Janet Josephine Storey, seen here. I don’t think they did much reading and writing, just lots of French, playing outdoors (even in winter) and being read to endlessly.

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She has a gift for maths, but we did not pursue that. In school, when she should have been in the Gifted & Talented programme, she was kicking a football around in the hot sun. She could have done much better at school, but for a girl who couldn’t read until she was eight, we were happy with where she was. She couldn’t draw and she couldn’t play musical instruments, though she occasionally strums the guitar alongside her rocker dad, but that’s OK. Those afternoons were filled with her howls of laughter, curious questions and sunny energy.

She played football in the midst of exams, she went on a little holiday with us and a little party here and there too; life went on as normal. But incredibly, she sailed through her IGCSEs with a very respectable number of A’s and A*’s. Even if she hadn’t, it wouldn’t have mattered, really. Her eternal sunshine and positivity would have seen her through the darkest days and highest mountains just fine.

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Raising my girls to be strong women

I have been asked, given my traditional views on parenting, if I raised my girls to be subservient to the boys, their protectors. Do I raise my girls to know how to cook, clean and be good parents? Yes, in the same way that I raised my boys to know to cook, clean and be good parents.

But in addition, I raised my girls to honour their evolutionary biology. Our strength as women is not gained from trying to be ‘better’ than the boys and beat them at their own game. Physiologically, women are weaker. Biologically, women have periods in their lives when they are reliant on others (during pregnancy and nursing). Emotionally, women are peacemakers and homemakers to ensure the survival of our species. Why change something that had served us so well for so many millennia?

Our great strength lies in our ability to cooperate with each other. Women need to trust and work together rather than regard other women as competitors in the fight for men and top jobs.

“I am more of a man’s woman than a woman’s woman,” an Asian woman brought up in Germany once told me proudly. What does that mean? Does that mean you are more European than Asian, this ’emancipation’?

“I have no time for women,” this person told me. “I prefer the company of men. I have more in common with them.”

Oh, I see.

We gain so much more from working together, especially with other women. Our biology supports that. In the periods when you need to rely on others, that others do not have to be a man. It can be other women who form your protective blanket. When I was gravely ill, apart from my male partner, my strongest supports were three amazing women.

You might denounce this article as amateur psychology, but just look at the success of Grameen Bank founded by Mohammed Yunus that concentrates the bank’s microcredit efforts on women. Women work so beautifully together.

And thus, I raised my daughters to be great friends with each other first and foremost, to learn this basic quality that makes us stronger than tempered steel IF we honour our difference. This is truly our real strength, the inane ability to build and grow together.

Back to my daughters. There are nine years and a son between my two daughters. Their lives together started with Kat, the older one, nurturing and caring for baby sister G. Kat was like a little mother hen and a fierce lioness all at once, protecting her young. She was so proud and defensive of her younger sister.

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But over the years, that role slowly evolved. Though still very much the respected one, Kat was relaxing her strictness towards her little sister bit by bit. They began doing things together like shopping for clothes and going to parties, though they are very different as individuals. They began having secrets with each other than no one else was privy to. And slowly, they became equals of sorts, evolving from mentor/protege to confidantes. You couldn’t find two young women who are closer friends, and that is indeed truly lovely to see.

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Six ways of managing teenage rebellion

I get absolutely no sympathy from my mother whenever I complained about her grandchildren. She would remind me with a smug grin that I was even worse. “You were a hundred times worse, Jac,” she would say cheerily.

Which leads me to think, teenage rebellion is a rite of passage. Children become teenagers before they become adults, and thus, the teenage years are a staging post where they push the boundaries and explore who they really are (rather than extensions of their parents). When teenagers rebel against your house rules, they are testing how far they can go and what they can get away with. Clamp them down too much and they fail to develop their own personalities. Give them too much liberty and they become unlikeable, obnoxious adults.

My feisty and headstrong sixteen year old G who has strong views on everything is surprisingly easy to deal with. For someone who claims to run her own life, she is surprisingly compliant with our house rules. For example, a few months ago, her whole year group was going out to the notorious party town of Patong to celebrate the end of the year-end exams. Our curfew was midnight. “But the party hardly starts then,” she protested half-heartedly. True. They were meeting up at 11pm. Her friend’s mother offered to accompany the girls and took out a hotel room in the middle of town. G asked if she could stay over. No. Of course. “Why?” She demanded. “I just want to know.”

And really, that was the end of our unpleasantness. I think a lot of it is down to establishing good communication between you and your teen. Recently, a mother issued her daughter ‘rap sheet’ which the daughter posted online and it went viral:

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You can read the story here.

These are my six tried and tested strategies of coping with teenage rebellion:

  • It starts long before then. It starts when your children were small enough to listen unquestioningly to your words. That is when you lay down the foundations of how your home is run and how your family life is lived. And what you find acceptable or not acceptable. For me, rudeness is never acceptable, so even when we are disagreeing, everyone must do so with respect for each other.

 

  • Build a good communication platform. Talk often to your teenagers. Show them that you are a good guy who sometimes have to play bad cop because that’s your job as a parent.

 

  • Don’t have too many rules. Have a few key ones that are non-negotiable. This means that you don’t exhaust yourself and use up your merits over inconsequential battles.

 

  • When rules need to be broken, come to a reasonable agreement. Because as parents, don’t be too arrogant about learning, too. It is never that simple and nor is parenting black-and-white. Be prepared to discuss and negotiate.

 

  • Don’t expect to solve everything with one conversation. Be prepared to park the matter and return to it later.

 

  • Do your best to create a happy family home (and that means you yourself being happy too). A happy teenager would be more likely to cooperate with you.

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Six ways of raising unfussy eaters

My childhood home had too much food. My Ma is addicted to food. She uses food to celebrate and she uses food to commiserate. Food, food, food. At 48, I still feel jumpy if there is no food in the house. I am suspicious of women who can’t cook. I don’t believe that people can be genuinely happy without proper home cooked food. Yeah, inherited prejudices. And oh, my kids can push my buttons so easily when it comes to food.

Many of us have an unhealthy relationship with food and we unconsciously pass that on to our children. To compound our inherited problem, small children are pretty smart creatures who learn from a very young age that they can use as a blackmail tool. Does ‘if you eat another mouthful, you’ll get ice cream’ sound familiar to you? I was guilt of saying this once to my eight year old son Kit, “If you don’t behave, you won’t get another cup of Ribena until you’re 20 years old.”

This is what I have learned from my 30 years of bringing up five children:

START THEM EARLY

I am a great believer that children should eat the same food as adults, with some modifications, of course, viz-a-viz salt and spices. Eating is a natural part of family life and I love this old adage, a family that eats together stay together.

EAT AS A FAMILY

Eating should be a celebration, not a battlefield. Even if you are eating simple takeaways (seen here), make it a lovely experience.

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MAKE FOOD INTERESTING

Involve children in the food preparation process. Make it child-play. Even boring food can appear interesting if (1) they enjoyed making it and (2) it looks funky.

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THEM ABOUT FOOD

There is so much to learn and it is all very fascinating. Even for parents. And learning about food is wonderful thing to do because you learn about staying healthy and taking responsibility for wellbeing. I think the best way is to actually grow something, even if you don’t have a garden. Container gardening works very well for growing herbs.

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ALLOW THEM TO EXPERIMENT

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it gives children the opportunity of finding their own way to loving food. My daughter makes the most disgusting concoctions which she tries to get us to drink, expounding on the health benefits of her lethal sludges.

You could try new foods together, explore together. It is about you, too, after all.

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TEACHING RESPECT

It’s about respect. If I respect your wish not to eat mushroom, you have to respect mine and eat carrots. I suggest having a “NO NO LIST” – allow your teenager to list six things that they have amnesty from. In return, they have to respect you back and eat what you painstakingly cook for them. It is a two way thing.

Bon apetit!

 

Of fussy-eaters and two way respect

My 60 kg 16-year-old daughter is strictly a carnivore. She eats greens under sufferance, namely to neutralise the acidity of the meat she eats. She often blitzes these greens up into a smoothie, fibre and all, and chugs them down. I have her sports to thank for that. As a footballer playing in high level, demanding international tournaments, she has been taught how to pay close attention to her diet. She herself can see the consequences of not eating well.

Since commencing football training four days a week and following a professional programme, she has filled out nicely from a skinny 14-year-old into a powerfully built 16-year-old:

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Georgina has an informed and healthy attitude towards food (she does not drink, do drugs, smoke or stay out late because of the strict Academy rules) though she eats more meat than I would like.

I, on the other hand, love my greens. I could eat salads all day, fresh greens with just a light, homemade dressing. I would rather my family just eats greens, no meat. Indeed, in my militant vegetarian days in my misguided youth, I used to enforce a no-meat policy in the house. Looking back with hindsight, I realised it was the wrong decision in my household as a family who values kindness and Self very highly. I should not have tried to impose my ‘right beliefs’ on my loved ones, in the mistaken belief that I know what is best for them.

These days, I honour my family’s tastes and choices, but at the same time, I integrate my own wishes and likes into the food I make. I strongly believe that food is a two-way respect thing, not a warring turf. Unfortunately it has been that way in many families for decades – food has been used as an emotional blackmail tool and we often have unhealthy relationships with food stemming from our childhood battles with our parents and from our parents’ unhealthy attitude towards food.

Georgina has several friends who suffer eating disorders in varying degrees of severity, a couple of them requiring hospitalisation. The biggest tragedy is one who lost her life to anorexia. I do not think good eating habits alone can prevent this, but I do believe that good eating habits fostered at a young age goes a long way towards keeping children healthy. Here are my tried-and-tested tips:

(1) Never fight over food. That’s why it is important to exert your authority in this matter when your children are still young.

(2) Introduce children to a wide variety of food at a very young age. I don’t believe in cooking special food for 1-year-olds. They do not need special porridge or special bland food. They can eat what we do and they jolly well should. Just be careful about fish bones and small things like peas and sweetcorn that are choking hazards, and ensure that there is not too much salt in foods.

(3) Terrible Twos is the stage when food battles begin. This is the time to manage it right. Never allow a toddler to win the battle of wills. Be firm (but not unkind or dramatic). When I was in my early twenties, I had three children under 5 years old and was a full time student at University. There was no way I had the time or the patience to pander to food squabbles. My children simply had to eat what was on the plate. No force-feeding and no chasing toddlers with food either. Make the dining table a fun and happy place to be and everybody will eat well.

(4) If they choose not to eat then they can go to bed hungry. They won’t die or suffer malnutrition overnight.

(5) Foster good eating habits in the home.

(6) No snacking in between meals.

(7) Ensure that children understand the consequences of their food choice but no empty threats (for example, if you don’t eat carrots, you will die).

(8) With older children, have a dialogue with them. No drama. I respect your food choices, now you have to respect mine. It is give and take always, as is everything in life.

Here’s my burger, loaded with nuts, seeds and vegetables:

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She conquers the world

My Ma expressed some concern that my youngest daughter Georgina, who is in the midst of her IGCSEs, is helping me with my new parenting book and that she has a full-on football training schedule. And a busy social life to boot. My Ma – who is a strong proponent of the theory that all human beings need to live happily is fresh air, love and sunshine – thinks that her youngest grandchild has too much on her plate.

“Oh, Jac, you weren’t brought up like this at all,” my Ma admonished me. “You were on the beach before your exams!”

But, Ma, I have a child who is wired differently. She has her snout in many pies, by her own free choice, and thrives on the pressure and challenges. What stress?

“With smart organisation, you remove stress,” Sixteen year old Georgina explained patiently. “A Game Plan brings order to the chaos.”

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It is indeed true. I was at University with three young children and no helper. In those days, I had to be very organised. Monday was washing day, Wednesday was catching up with University work day and Saturday was house-cleaning day and preparing freezer bags of food for the following week. It was only by being super-organised that I managed to survive those years and get a degree to show for it.

But often, children and teenagers don’t know how to organise themselves. This is largely due to helicopter-parenting: control-freak parents micromanaging children to the extent that children stop thinking for themselves. What is the point? Mummy/Daddy has planned the day down to the last hour for them. They just have to show up for the free ride, no need to switch the brain on.

In the parenting book that Georgina and I are working on, I explored this issue of disempowered children. How to cultivate motivation and initiative in children?

“Get off our backs for starters!” Georgina exclaimed. “Give us space.”

Yes, we used to allow her to wear her mermaid outfit everywhere, even to bed. It got dirty and tatty, but she still wore it. And we allowed her to. Why not?

Georgina spends a lot of time making detailed notes. Though she has told me to get off her back, I could not help but ask, “Aren’t you wasting your time, spending hours making pretty notes instead of studying?”

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“I’m organising my brain, Mum!”

OK, point taken. But why don’t you just read it from textbooks?

“Because the act of writing down the concepts in my own way and in my own words forces me to understand, Mum. I write down notes in class too which I often don’t look at again, for the same reason: it forces me to understand.”

Maybe not having an iPad throughout the years helped her in developing a good relationship between her brain and pens, pencils and paper. She is actively engaged whenever she is faced with something rather than passively entertained, be it studying or her social life.

Recently, I interrupted her whilst she was studying. She was wearing headphones.

“Can you concentrate whilst listening to music?” I asked curiously.

“It’s white noise, Mum,” she said. “It helps me to concentrate better.”

I listened in. Yikes! I had a blinding headache coming on immediately!

She grinned. “You see now why it focuses the mind?”

Our children are not us. They are wired differently from us. This is also their world. The future is theirs. And I think we have to trust them to find their own way, even if their way seems illogical. Dig deeper and often, you will see beautiful logic emerging from the madness of a teenage brain.

Work hard for the right reason

 

It’s no secret – I detest work that requires sitting down and I detest work that requires using my brain. These two traits were the cause of my dismal exam results: I managed three ‘O’ levels despite going to an expensive private school and those three ‘O’ levels were in subjects that required literally no studying: English, French and Mathematics.

Though my Ma did not give me a hard time over it, in later years she confessed that she was shocked that I did not even manage a ‘C’ for Biology. “You knew so much,” my Ma said.

Well, the reason was, I never had the discipline to study.

In my parenting books, I enclosed this diagram:

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My Ma never forced us to do anything. She used to say cheerily, “Ooooh, when you are an adult, there will be so many people telling you the things that you can’t do, or things that you have to do. So enjoy what you have now, dearies.”

Thus, we had a magical time growing up. I will always remember the closing years of my childhood sitting on the beach with my younger brother when we were supposed to be studying for our ‘A’ levels, and going to the Polytechnic library to waste time instead of work.

Whatever issues that arose from my Ma’s magical ways were laughed off with her cheery, “Don’t worry, it will all come out in the wash.”

Maybe we were just plain lucky or maybe my Ma had been right all along, but all her children turned out just fine academically and in our careers.

Because you see, though my Ma was easy-going with us when it came to ‘unimportant things’, she taught us very strong work ethics, moral courage, inner strength and commitment where it matters. And where it matters is human relationships.

I began working fiendishly hard when I became a mother and my baby-daddy was a happy-go-lucky chap who did not earn that much (and who had no intention of climbing the career ladder). To the amazement of all who knew me, I won a scholarship to Oxford. Whilst at Oxford, apart from the burdens of studying and caring for three young children, I worked in part time jobs to supplement the family income. I worked hard in my career too, not for my own glory, but to provide for my family.

 

I write this post because very rarely do parents teach children the reason for working hard. These children grow into adults who work for the sake of working. “Can’t see the wood for the trees” as the old adage goes. I strongly believe that if we work hard for the sake of work alone, it is a very empty life. We might get bolstered by our colleagues’ accolades, the financial rewards or job satisfaction, but what is at home and in our hearts? Many true anecdotes abound about men who keel over and die the minute they retire or marriages breaking up when the husbands retire. And even more about driven careerists who did not place enough importance, commitment and hard work into the family, often causing pain to their partners and children.

I believe that we exist to love. Love is the Universal Law. In Mathematics, what an object is is not determined by what it is composed of, but rather, by how it behaves with respect to other objects.

I certainly find that I am more committed and more dedicated to work when there is a human element involved. For example, I am now working fiendishly hard on my forthcoming parenting book that I am co-authoring with someone. It will be her first book and I feel morally invested in making our book a success for her.

If you are looking for something to think about this morning, I would like to urge you to think about raising children to be firmly rooted in love for others, love for themselves, love for the world and love for the Universe.

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No need to move to Finland

It’s easier to think that the solution lies in the external rather than realise that you create your environment. Many people think that if they move house, move neighbourhood or move country, they will be happier. I have known people who complain about their houses, their neighbourhoods and their countries of residence, who then move and find out that the land-of-milk-and-honey is not what it is all cracked out to be. The streets of London are not paved with gold. Happiness and contentment starts with YOU.

The news and articles that had been making its rounds in recent times is how Finland tops the Global Education Ranking (as the US declines) by its daring and innovative education policies. Oh, the number of parents who tag their partners with the comment, “Let’s move to Finland.”

Uhm, can you stand the long hours of dark in the winter or the high cost of living? I strongly believe that we do not have to move to Finland to give our children the benefits. After all, school is only half the story. What you create in the home is every bit as important, if not more. A teacher once said, “A child who gets his education only from school is not educated.”

o, what’s so special about Finland’s education system that gets so many parents dream of packing their bags and relocating?

No homework. Shortest school day (20 hours a week for younger children including lunch hour) and shortest school year. You learn more by going to school less because your brain has to relax to be more effective.

 

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OK, you cannot dictate the school hour and the school year. But aren’t you adding on to your child’s burden by tuition?Our policy in our house is, no more than 1 hour a day during the week for homework, project work and studying. 2 hours maximum at the weekend. She has to learn to work efficiently. And here she is on a Sunday morning, making use of her 2 hours. You know what is the surprising thing? She has an exam on Monday and here she is, working on something else not related to her exam.

“Shouldn’t you be studying?” I asked, playing the devil’s advocate.

“Finished,” she said. So yes, 9 hours a week is plenty.

Another thing about the success of Finland’s education system: children are given a voice (yes, they learn respect too). The children help to design the school playgrounds with the architects who consult them. Wow, great! But your child’s school is not progressive, right? Well, neither is my child’s. But hey, you know what? You can foster that same accountability and creativity by allowing your child to choose his/her own wardrobe and bedroom design. Allow some freedom of choice, relax parental control-freak tendencies – your child goes a long way.

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Most of all, the implementors of Finland’s successful education system talked about happy, happy, happy. The Principal of my child’s school talks about happy, happy, happy, too. He said he told his staff to make sure that they have a good relationship with the students; learning comes second because a happy child learns more. So what does it take to make a child happy? I would say, it starts with happy parents and happy household. It’s not about moving but about you and what you create.

The things you don’t say…

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My father took this photograph of me in October 2015. I remember it was a beautiful morning at home. We were staying in my parents’s house for a week or two, and had just come back from the Farmers Market in the town square. I had bought these organic curly kale.

Yet he harassed my Ma. “There’s something not right.”

I was outwardly normal but my Daddy knew that deep down, there was another picture. He and I fought viciously but he loves me very deeply, and with the depth of that love he has for me, he felt rather than heard. I was, and will always be, his little girl. My mind, body and heart were sick, and he knew. We sometimes communicate best when we say nothing at all, because we fight each time we use words.

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My normally docile Ma fought with him and ordered him to hold his tongue. My Ma with her infinite wisdom. “It shall come to pass”, she knew. Though she admitted it was difficult for her. She said she just trusted in a God that she does not believe in, but one that I believed in with all my heart.

In the mysterious way the world works, I went down to the depths of hell and arose again. I had six of the happiest months of my life. Just compare the photographs from October to April. The years and the cares fell off my as I live my best life. My partner says he could power a generator with my smile though he remembers a different me from November 2015 so very clearly.

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So my point is, be happy. Especially if you are a parent. That is the subject of my parenting book. Because if you are not happy and content, your kids will sense it (like my father sensing my true feelings). And that is nothing more damaging than that, even if you provide your child with good food and good house.

Here’s a cheesy song: When you say nothing at all