Pint of milk – a lesson in love

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We live at the top of a steep hill, and when the sun is high in the sky, you’d be drenched in sweat by the time you climb to the top.

Yesterday, my daughter opened the fridge and there was no milk. She wanted to make a smoothie.

Immediately, her father said, “I’ll walk down the hill to get some.”

“She can do it herself,” the Asian tiger mum in me chipped in automatically. “She is a big strong girl.”

He waved me off. “No, I will,” in a tone that brooked no argument.

When he came back with the two bottles of milk, he was sweating profusely and slightly out of breath.

“You should’ve let her walk down for the milk,” I grumbled. “Look at you.”

He beamed at me. “No, no, I needed the walk. Good cardio exercise and I sweated out the alcohol from last night as well.”

I know he was just saying this, for who on earth would go walking up steep hills at the height of the midday in the tropics?

Except if it is for love of the purest kind. One without conditions or resentment.

And so, this reminds me of something beautiful in my favourite book that I read on Valentine’s day,

 

Let all that you do be done in love.

Especially in parenting ❤

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six ways to cuddle your teen:

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

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A heart-warming tale about my family

My mother-in-law was married for over fifty years, and when her husband died, she was bereft. My son Jack took a month off school and moved in with her in her house in South East London.

Mum valiantly tried to pick her life up. She remained cheerful for her family, keeping up a brave front. Then her dog died.

It seemed that she had no more reason to get out every morning for a long walk in the park. It wasn’t sensible to get another dog, as she was over 80 years old by then, so she went to the pet shelter and got herself an old black cat.

The cat, Laika, was (is) a nasty cat. Laika never came whenever Mum called her, and she often scratched Mum when Mum was slow with her food. She fought with the neighborhood cats and killed birds and squirrels. She wrecked the sofa with her vicious claws, though Mum bought her a scratching post.

But Mum never gave up on Laika.

We had suggested many times to her to return Laika to the pet shelter and maybe get a tamer cat.

“No,” Mum said. “She reminded me of my old cat Satan.” Yeah, the name does say something, doesn’t it?

“And we don’t get rid of someone just because she is too much trouble, do we?” Mum said defiantly. “That wasn’t how I was brought up.”

Sadly, Mum sank into dementia very quickly, to the extent that she was unable to care for herself, let alone Laika. My daughter Kat, honouring her grandmother’s words, refused to send Laika back to the pet shelter.

Kat took Laika home to London, to the flat she shared with her brother, Jack. They both worked all day, and it was not unusual for them to come home to a wrecked home. Being used to living in a house with access to a beautiful garden, Laika did not like being locked up in a London flat.

In summer, when we were home, we would take Laika with us to our other son’s house in Southampton. “Laika’s summer holidays!” We would say cheerfully, despite the fact that it typically took us a lot of time and trickery to get her into the cat traveling box.

Then Kat and Jack moved to a garden flat. They thought Laika liked it better at the new place, but one day, Laika ran away from home.

Jack and Kat’s boyfriend roamed the neighborhood looking for Laika. Late at night, Kat’s boyfriend came home triumphantly, carrying Laika in his arms.

“That’s not Laika,” Kat said immediately.

“How do you know?” He asked.

“Well, for starters, she hasn’t scratched you.”

It wasn’t Laika after all. They kept an eye out for her, sad that perhaps she had been run over.

Then one day, Laika came back. She was wearing a collar! It meant that someone had given her a home! She looked well-fed and fine.

I think Kat was secretly relieved.

Laika still comes to visit Kat and Jack – she leaves shit on their doorstep each time she visits, as if to stick her finger up at the Perry family who kidnapped her from her happy house in the suburbs to live in a small flat in London.

Our last photo of Laika at the end of summer, ready for transportation back to London from her summer house in Southampton:

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Monkey on his arm

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

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

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Photograph: Flight to light, London to Phuket flight

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

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

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

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

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

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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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

 

Parenting is Work, Work, Work

Last week was the celebration of St Joseph, The Worker.

As I sat in church, half-listening to the priest, I wondered what St. Joseph had ever done to deserve this great honour that lasted over 2,000 years. The Worker? It wasn’t as if he built roads or led armies to war. He didn’t do all that much. He didn’t even preach. Not much was written about him in the Bible.

Then I thought back to the biblical tale of the boy Jesus who got lost in the temple. At that moment when He was found, Joseph was a better parent than Mary. It takes a lot to be a good father, I realised.

The most difficult thing is resting the “I” in order to be able to rise to the role of being a parent. A parent is a safe haven, fair judge, tireless servant, kind heart and pair of loving arms. To fulfil all those important roles would require a serious reallocation of priorities, intentions and energies. It is a BIG job. Some would say it is the biggest and most important job you will ever do.

My children’s father did not consciously choose to become a father. He was in his twenties when it was forced on him. He was having the time of his life, why would someone what to change the rules when the going is good? And the going was indeed good for this happy chap from South East London. He was sharing a small house with another bachelor in my hometown, had three sailing dinghies and did what he wanted with his life. He was planning to move to Paris. He certainly did not jump for joy at impending fatherhood. But he had such a magical and beautiful childhood that he automatically, unconsciously, created that sweet, happy space when the honour was bestowed on him. It was as if he could not be anything else but the parent his were.

I, on the other hand, liked the idea of motherhood, largely due to teenage idealism, but then realised very quickly that it required life-changing sacrifices. My life was no longer my own. I couldn’t even afford to go to the University of my choice, because there was no affordable childcare. I wasn’t raise to be a worker, I was raised to be a princess by my adoring mum. It was a shock to my system. That resentment could have lasted for years, blighting my children’s childhood. There is nothing more damaging than a resentful mum, because resentment breeds discontentment, impatience and unkindness.

But fortunately, with investment from my Ma and my in-laws, the resentment did not take root.

Slowly, with humour, warmth, kindness, love and tough love (from my in-laws), I found my way to a different life than the one I envisaged. Some would say it is a better life. Parenting is not a sacrifice, but a compromise. I had to work harder, I had to work longer, just to keep up, to stay afloat. I didn’t have any time for myself, and I no longer owned my own life. But I had little people who looked at me with adoration in their eyes and a man who laughed uproariously with them. We had a crazy-busy life, with me trying to juggle University exams and part-time work, but our life was sweet. Slowly, I learned that compromise is beautiful when those chubby baby-arms and starfish fingers wrap themselves round me like octopi.

I no longer missed what could have beens and found great contentment in what I have. It wasn’t the life I planned for myself, to be cleaning the bathroom on my one day off and working in minimum-wage menial jobs to pay the bills, but the rewards were huge. It was then I became a Worker, with gladness in my heart.

Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love, but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy.

Kahlil Gibran, Artist, poet and writer

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Pancakes & Parenting

My youngest child Georgina does not like to cook. She thinks it’s a waste of time. She thinks she has more important things to do with her time. If she needs food, she’d rather blitz something in the blender and chug it down. We have enough chia seeds, maca, acai berries, Udo oil and stuff like that in our kitchen to open a health food store. Optimum nutrition, she calls it.

Me, I come from the school of old-fashioned parenting. My Ma who asked very little of me, insisted that I spend time in the kitchen when I was growing up. That, rather than studying for exams. “I don’t care, Jac, even if you become the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, you are still a woman, a wife and a mother first and foremost.”

I rebelled (of course) but took on board her indoctrination. In time, I began to love cooking. “You can’t teach someone how to cook, you’ve got to teach people how to love domesticity and to have the desire to nurture others and build a home,” my Ma said when I told her I wanted to run a cooking course years ago. “It’s not just about putting ingredients together.”

A couple of days ago, I made this flourless, sugar-free pancakes which went down a treat with my family:

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Last night, my undomesticated child asked, “Mum, can you make me more of those pancakes, please?”

I told her that the batter was in the refrigerator. She could easily make some for herself. This was her result:

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The first pancake was burnt because she put the pancake pan on too high a heat (typical of her, rush rush rush). She tried again. Her logic: cook for a shorter time. The result: the second pancake was not burnt, it actually looked nice on the outside, but it was sticky and uncooked on the inside. it never occurred to her to turn the heat down, because turning heat down would imply more time to cook, more time in the kitchen, more time doing something she does not enjoy.

Her pancakes made me think: this is just like parenting! As parents, we are given raw batter when we have children. Notwithstanding fatal diseases and accidents, we end up with a pancake after 18 years when the child grows into an adult. What sort of pancake you get depends on what you do in the 18 years. Thus, I strongly believe that slow-parenting with a deep love for the path produces the best result.

This is Georgina’s latest attempt, once she realises that you can’t hurry life if you want to bring out its full flavour 🙂photo 1-130.JPG

You can browse my cookbook, inspired by my mother-in-law, here.

Related article: Killed by Busy-ness.

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.

A lot to be grateful for

Life is like shifting sands, it changes so quickly. Something you are grateful for a year ago sometimes is no longer there for you to be grateful for today – last year, I was grateful that I had all my children sitting in church with me, but this year, one has gone away for a tour of duty as an officer of the British Armed Forces in a dangerous part of the world. I had to search very hard in my heart to be thankful for that, namely to feel grateful that I had 25 amazing years with him and hope that with the grace of God, there will be more of those years with him.

But one thing I am eternally grateful for, which never changes, is my mother-in-law Anna. She is my second mother, because I was just a teenager, a spoilt one, when I joined her family and though her judgement of me was harsh, she never gave up on me, believing in me always. My mum taught me the pleasant things in life, such as cooking and planting flowers, and my MiL taught me the less-enjoyable things such as cleaning, getting up early, mending clothes, budgeting, serving … and kneeling in church for what seems like hours. Both are equally important, there is no doubt.

My MiL taught me to serve without resentment. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn, because I have always had someone serving me. I did not know how to give without taking pleasure in the giving. For example, I resented being in her small dark kitchen cooking for the family when they were all out there in the garden laughing away. I would bang the pots and pans, and heaven forbid if someone dared to shout for refreshments. But over time, as I matured and loved my MiL deeply, I saw that hers had been a life of sacrifice and service, and she bore her load in life with equanimity and even happiness. My MiL’s mother went blind when she was 11, and my MiL had been a carer since she was 11. But my MiL spoke of her mother with love only, never the difficulty, even though other members of the family often commented over the years how heavy the burden was. My MiL’s mother spoke no English, only Spanish, when she moved to live in a working class suburbs of South East London. Her husband died early, so her daughter, my MiL, shouldered the load all by herself since she was 11. If she could do all that for that many years but yet has not a single trace of resentment of being robbed of her childhood and youth, how could I then be resentful about having to spend an hour or two in the kitchen?

I can see my MiL’s grace and beauty in my daughter Kat. Kat has always been my tower of strength and voice of wisdom, and I have my MiL to thank for the genes. But I see her strength and resilience in all my children, in the way they triumphed over the little adversities in their young lives undaunted and emerging with a smile on their faces.That will be from my MiL.

My MiL taught me to love God in the deepest sense and to see that God hath no greater love than family. My children’s father is her beloved son, but sometimes, for the family, she would take my side…me, the ‘silly little girl’ who was immoral enough to have a one-night-stand with her son despite promising herself to another man.

Yesterday, walking through the streets of a Spanish city, I felt the desire to embrace every white-haired Spanish old ladies who walked past me to transmit the deep love I have in my heart for my MiL. Dearest Mum, my love for you is unchanging in this changing world. I have done my duty to your family to my best ability in the name of love and I hope you will know that, somewhere in your Alzheimer’s ridden mind.

This is the article I wrote about my much-loved MiL: https://raisinghappystrongkids.com/2014/09/25/my-much-loved-mother-in-law/