The sunrise

This morning my youngest was getting ready in her room, putting on her school uniform, tidying things up, making her bed, finally pulling the curtains open. I was in my room doing pretty much the same things when all of a sudden she gasped with surprise. ‘Mummy!’ she screamed. ‘Mummy, it’s the sunrise. Have a look at the sunrise!’

At this point, I had two choices. Tell her that’s great and get on with my jobs as I was running late, or go and have a look to see what she was so enthralled with….

I chose option 2. And when I went into her room I thank God that I did. Out of her window, on the opposite side of the street, past the roofs and chimneys in the distance, the sky was incredible hues of pinks and purples. I couldn’t see the sun but it delighted me to see that she was making a grand entrance. Trees were silhouetted against the background and I hugged my youngest as tightly as I could, thanking her for alerting me to this beautiful sight.

I hope she remembers that. When she’s older and has children of her own, curly haired, bright eyed, beautiful children of her own who get excited about sunsets and sunrises and the colours of the sky – I hope that she too can drop everything in a heartbeat and share their awe and wonder with them.

Tomorrow is a painful day for me. My father passed away 31 years ago. He was 33 years old. There are so many things that I never got to share with my father, so many things I never got to tell him, that he never got to tell me.

I know that he would have loved his grandchildren. All four of them. Their curiosity. Their humour. Seeing the world again, through their young, innocent eyes would have invigorated him. He would have loved their spirit, their intelligence, how they care about others.

Life is cruel at times. When I think of him, I remember him as a giant of a man, kind, stern, brave, full of wisdom. Then I remember that I am older than he was when he passed away – and it never fails to astound me.

If getting older has taught me anything, it is this – growing old is a bloody privilege – not something terrible. A privilege. Grey hairs, sagging skin, hair loss, weight gain – none of it compares to growing old to see your babies grow into toddlers, children, adolescents, adults and then seeing them have children of their own…that’s a miracle. A gift – not something that everyone gets.

What I would give to share my excitement about the colours of the sky during the sunrise, with my father – I cannot even begin to explain. But it can’t happen. So I make sure that I share those moments with my loved ones so that they have those memories with me.

Life is too short to be busy doing jobs – and forgetting to live. So – you’re a couple of minutes late for work? You’ll never share that excitement of the sunrise again. Life is a gift. Getting old is a privilege. And your children – they are only little once. Spend time marvelling at how wonderful life and the world is when they are little…because looking at the world through their eyes makes everything more beautiful for you too.

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Ambition

It’s interesting – the word ‘ambition’.  The definition in most dictionaries for this word is, ‘a strong desire to do or achieve something’.  The word conjures up an energetic go-getter.  Hardworking.  Determined.  Lets nothing get in their way.  Ruthless at times.  Focussed.  People to be admired!

Ambitious people don’t understand people who don’t put their careers first.  Ambitious people don’t understand when people have other priorities in their lives and therefore are not motivated by money or promotion.  Ambitious people find those people very difficult to understand – because they do not know what motivates them.

Family, you tell them.  Yes, but everyone has a family, I have a family – what makes yours so important?

And therein lies the difference in perspective.  A career driven person is deemed to be ambitious because they are chasing a desire to be financially successful and achieve status and respect because of their talent – what they do.

A family driven person is also ambitious.  They have an overwhelming desire to have a family life where they can look after their partner, be there for their children, be present and mindful and make their house a happy home.

Sadly – this is looked down upon as a lack of ambition.  But if we go back to the definition of what ambition actually is – then what is the difference?  Following one path will make you financially rich and secure – but it may come at a cost.  What cost?  Not being able to be there for the ones that you love because of the demands of your job.  Not noticing that anything may be wrong with the ones you love because of the demands of your job.  Having to neglect the ones that you love – because of the demands of your job.

Following the other path may mean that you are seen as lacking commitment by your employers because you put your family first.  You may miss out on opportunities for promotion or not even be considered for certain roles because you don’t give your ‘all’ to work.  This may mean that financially you are not as well off as you might have been, if only your thought processes or approach was different.

In each case – neither person is wrong.  It is not wrong to want to be successful in your job, to be talented in an area and want to strive to reach new heights and be good at what you do.  However, it is also not wrong to want to look after your family.  To have the time to tuck your children in bed so that they sleep peacefully.  It is not wrong to refuse to take on additional responsibilities at work, because you know that takes time away from how much you will be able to be there for the ones that you love.  The latter choice is not a lack of ambition – it is a different ambition though  – to have a successful family life.

If we could – we would marry the two up.  Be extremely successful in our careers and have plenty of time to spend with loved ones.  Some people to manage it – at least from afar, it appears that they do…

But the point of my blog today is, let’s not dismiss the homemakers – the people who make a choice to stay at home and look after their families; or the ones that decide that they only want to go ‘so far’ in their careers.  Let’s not think that they are lacking in ambition, are lazy, or just don’t have what it takes!   Let’s dig a bit deeper and realise that their ambition – to create happiness and stability in their family homes is one to be admired as well.  These people that are there to comfort their loved ones, who have the time to ensure that their family is healthy (mentally, as well as physically), and happy  – these people are just as important and necessary and are just as deserving of respect as those who are financially successful and receive promotion upon promotion.

It is important to remember – and this is where I will end really…a job is just a job.  If you love it – that’s brilliant.  I have a job that I am fortunate enough to love.  But it’s the people in my life that drive me.  Not money.  Not finance.  Nothing else.  It is the people around me who look after me when I am feeling sick, or tired, or need cheering up.  It is the people in my life who I share my happiness and successes with, who make me laugh and bring me joy.  Jobs will come.  Jobs will go.  Family and loved ones – we should do our best to keep them forever, and make as much time as we can to be with them.  Money, you can earn again.  Promotions, you can achieve those later.  But once a person that you love has gone, or once your child’s childhood has changed into adulthood – no matter how much you try to turn back the tides of time – you can never get those people, those moments or those missed opportunities back ever again.

Good enough!

I don’t think there is a profession in the world, where the ‘must do better’ culture does not exist.  Every person I speak to, regardless of position, profession, part time, full time – the factor that is in common between us all is – striving to be better all the time.

What’s wrong with that, you may ask?  Absolutely nothing at all.  Nothing! How does anything ever improve if people are always doing what they have always done, in the same way, never questioning, never analysing, never reflecting on how things are.   And it’s certainly the culture that I was brought up with, both at home and in the workplace – have goals, strive to do better, achieve more, smash targets etc.

The one area – that I feel, the ‘must do better’ culture isn’t helpful – is parenting.  In fact, I was fortunate to sit in on some training at school, about ‘Attachment Theory’, and the impact this has on children in the very first few months of their lives.  How babies are treated by their parents, at the very beginnings of their tiny lives, goes onto shape their behaviour and how they form relationships with others as they grow bigger.  It comes as no surprise, that the children who display a lot of ‘unlovable’ behaviour, need the most love, and the psychologist who was training us, explained that if you remember nothing else – ‘connection first, then correction’.  Which meant create a connection, a relationship with those children who present challenging behaviour first – then correct their behaviour.  For those of us who have been teaching for a long time, or have worked predominantly with children who can present quite challenging behaviour, this came as no surprise, although it was nice to have that soundbite to take away; ‘connection, then correction.’

What was particularly refreshing, and actually blew my mind a little, was when we were learning about attachment theory, and the significance of the first few months of a baby’s life, the psychologist called effective parenting, ‘good enough parenting’.  I was stunned when I heard it.  I repeated those words again and again in my mind.  Good enough parenting.  Good enough parenting.  Not good parenting.  Not great parenting.  Good enough.

This meant that as a parent, you were doing what you could to respond to the baby’s needs – be that milk or nappy change or sleep or comfort – you were trying to solve the problem.  You might not get it right every time, but at least you were trying.  You are being good enough.  You’re trying your best.  You are good enough.

In many professions – it’s not ok to be ‘good enough’.  You have to be the best!  That’s all I’ve heard since I was tiny – aim high, reach for the stars, be the best.  But the hardest job of all – parenting – it was so incredibly refreshing and calming to hear – if you’re doing your best to meet your child’s needs, even if you don’t get it right each time – you are good enough.  And you know what?  I’ll flipping well take that!  I’m happy to be good enough as a parent.

One of the things that causes me the most amount of concern, is am I giving my own children enough opportunities to do things out of school?  Do they go to enough clubs?  Are they getting enough exercise?  Are they learning enough instruments?  Do I need to teach them some languages?  Should they be going on more playdates?

After that training – I’m now thinking to myself – are they fed?  Do they have clothes to wear?  Are they getting to bed on time?  Are they reading and doing their school homework?  But most importantly – are they loved?  Are they loved? Are they loved?  I can categorically say, yes to all of those questions.

And I am happy to say, that I pronounce myself bloody well good enough!  All the other stuff – it doesn’t even matter.  If I want my children to remember two things about their children, it’s that they felt happy and extremely loved.

What more could anyone ask for?

Time to live

It is the first day of my summer holidays, and I’m delighted.  I had a lie-in. Woke up feeling relaxed.  It was finally here.  The day that I’d been waiting for, for weeks on end.  The hallowed first day of the summer holidays.

My husband has known me for over 10 years now, and he knows things about me, that I forget about myself.  How I need to drink water after a shower because I get dehydrated; when I’m feeling tense or drained, I need to get to the gym because the weights and the cardio make me feel a thousand times better……and he also knows how difficult I find the last day of the school year – even though my body may have been crying out for it for weeks…

I have just finished working with the most amazing group of children, (every year I feel like this about my class), and this year it’s such a wrench saying goodbye to them all over again.  The amount of love I’ve received from these children has been phenomenal, and I’ve absolutely adored them.  Everyday this week, I’ve come home, my arms laden with gifts and cards – some handmade, some bought – all equally precious, thanking me for what I have done for them. And I’ve been immensely grateful, some of the unexpected messages have touched my heart, and I’ve found it difficult to switch off.

Thinking about a group of children everyday, thinking about what they need – teaching isn’t just teaching – you’re counselling; you’re nursing; you’re caring about their aches, pains, cuts, dry skin, fall-outs with friends; home-life issues; sharing stories; knowing when to be sympathetic; knowing when to be humorous; knowing when they’re hungry or tired or grumpy or just too plain-old-hot.

So, I’ve been dragging myself out of bed everyday.  Giving myself pep-talks – come on, you can do this!  Three more get-ups; two more get-ups; one more get-up; final day.  And then I come home.  Drained.  Physically and emotionally.  And I realise that I won’t have to care for that set of children everyday anymore.  And it hits me – like a lead balloon – every year, without fail – and like a fool, I never see it coming.  I’ve been so preoccupied with my own tiredness and needing to get to the finishing line – I forget how sad I get when I come home, knowing that ‘that’s that’, for another year.

But it’s not just incredible, loving children that I’ve met this year.  I’ve encountered some phenomenal adults too.  Once in a while, you meet people who are absolute beacons of strength and positivity.  People who have suffered loss or illness in their lives, have had to make life changes, and haven’t let life beat them, get the better of them – instead they walk around, head held high, as an inspiration to others.

One person I met recently, was really successful in her job, running half marathons, working hard, playing hard, never resting – then her world came crashing down as she developed ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’.  From being a hyper, energetic, high performing individual – she described the pain she felt when she couldn’t even put one foot in front of another to walk.  In order to recuperate, she had to make substantial life choices – give up the job that she was doing, concentrate on healing her body and getting back to a position where she could function again.  She’s in a much better place now, but as it’s a condition that will never go away, she has to be careful not to overdo things, to know her limits, slow down before things spiral downwards for her.  Whenever she sees me though, she’s always greeting me with a massive hug and a kiss, making sure that I’m ok, telling me not to work too hard – and I feel humbled.

And then I met another incredible, phenomenal woman.  I only spoke with her for 7 minutes.  But I don’t think that i will ever forget her.

My friend introduced me to her, and explained that she wasn’t well.  I felt confused.  In front of me sat a petite woman, I guessed in her 40’s, with glowing mocha coloured skin, shiny black hair cut into a bob, sitting quietly and still – just an immense sense of stillness about her.  She opened her mouth and in a very matter of fact way explained that she was living with cancer.  Bewildered, I didn’t know what to say, but the fact that she was so open, made me feel that she wouldn’t mind if I asked her questions.  I was right, she didn’t mind.  She explained that she had breast cancer, but the doctors were not able to operate because the cancer had spread to her spine and ribs.  The doctors were incredible with their treatments, and she had carried out a lot of research to support their treatments with a massive lifestyle change and using alternative remedies too.  She explained how cancer thrived and was most comfortable in bodies with a lot of acid.  The acid was in processed foods and food that contained a lot of pesticides and growth hormones.  She was having a mainly vegan diet and only bought organic food to reduce the amount of acid in her body and make the conditions in her body, more alkaline based.

I asked if stress caused more acid in the body, she replied most definitely.  It’s so important to eat well and avoid stress as that helps your body so much.

If it was up to me, I would have carried on talking to her for as long as I could. But I had to leave.  But she and her words stayed with me.

Both women made me think that we – everyone – we have to slow down.  We must slow down.  We are a world of people pursuing money; having the nicest houses; having the nicest cars; having the best holidays; leading the high life – but does any of that matter if you don’t have your health?  Mental health?  Physical health?

I, for one, am going to slow down.  Love life.  Love people.  Not stress.  Not worry.  Eat well.  Be happy.

Life is too short, and on the flip of a coin, circumstances can change within a heartbeat.  So I will avoid those who enjoy drama, those who enjoy competition, those who revel in the misery of others, those who are there to make life harder for others.  And I pray that I meet more people, who inspire me, who remind me of what life is really about – people who make the world a much better place.