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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Stardust

Yesterday was a gloomy, dark afternoon but it didn’t matter to me.  My mum had invited her children around to hers to celebrate albeit belated, Diwali.  The house was full of noise of the grandchildren running, laughing, yelling at each other in excitement; the bustling in the kitchen created by my mother who had cooked a feast for us all – 3 different chicken dishes, (whole chicken curry, chicken jalfrezi and a tandoori chicken starter),  a separate chicken dish for the children, dall, aubergine curry, rice, puris, jelly for the children for dessert.  As soon as we pulled up to her house, my daughters screeched in delight as the aroma of Nani’s cooked drifted towards us.  ‘Yayyy!  Nani’s cooked chicken curry!’ The only time they were quiet was when they were eating, refuelling like racing cars, ready for the next bout.  

Whilst the children were eating in my mother’s cosy kitchen, my brother and I decided to escape to the front room and put on a film in the hope of achieving five minutes of peace.  The film we opted for was ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings’.  Enchanted by Cate Blanchett’s voice, my brother and I left the sofa and were gently transported into Middle Earth, reliving the epic tale of how the rings were given to the elves, dwarves and men to look after and protect their realms.  We watched how Isildur had the opportunity to destroy the one ring that ruled them all – but his greed for ultimate power overcame him and he refused to destroy the ring.  Instead, betraying all who had fought with him, he kept the ring for himself – but the ring’s power weighed heavy on him and would lead to his ultimate destruction. 

Every time I watch that particular scene:  Isildur is travelling back home, weary after the terrible war in which he managed to defeat the evil Lord Sauron.  His faced is etched with an immense feeling of tiredness – you can tell that he is completely spent.  He is an incredible warrior who should be jubilant that he has just saved the world – but he isn’t.  Why?  Because the ring of power – the ring that corrupts – the ring that doesn’t belong to him weighs heavy around his neck.  Every time I watch that scene – which is only a few moments long, I am so impressed with the actor’s acting, and the director, Peter Jackson’s sensitivity about how incredibly powerful and dangerous this tiny ring of gold is.  

I made my brother stop the film at that moment to talk about it, because even though those few seconds had a huge impact on me, I’d never had the opportunity to discuss that particular part with anyone before.  Unfortunately, for my brother, he was a captive audience – either listen to my musings, or help supervise the children as they eat – I knew which he would choose.  

We are Hindus and although from an outsider’s perspective, it looks as though all Hindus do is worship different forms of God and have many, many celebrations – it is actually more complex than that.  Hinduism is an ancient religion – the oldest in the world and yet it still survives to this day.  That’s because it’s not just a religion – it’s a way of life.  At its very core is the fact that we are a part of nature.  We are made of the same substance that every other matter in this universe is made from. 

The Hindu priests create astrological horoscopes that chart periods in your life, based purely on the date and time of your birth.  They study the alignment of the stars, the positions of the planets, and they can determine the period of your life when you will marry, when (if), you will have children, when you will be going through upheavals in your life, when you will have a steady, prosperous period in your life.  In the old days, the priests would have used paper charts to help them.  Nowadays, technology has moved on and they use computers.  If you are going through a tough period, they will tell you approximately how long this phase will last and why you’re going through it.  And invariably they give you the most incredible, sage advice.  You’re going through this period because you need to go through it.  There are lessons you need to learn.  Learn those lessons.  This time will pass and you will get through it.  Have patience – and learn.  The phases are determined by the positions of the planets in our solar system.  

Sometimes, the priests can offer more advice.  They can tell you that there are particular stones that you can wear to help you through some of the tough times.  Emeralds, yellow topaz, jade, sapphires, moonstones, pearls.  They tell you whether you should wear them with gold or silver.  They tell you which finger you should wear your stone upon, and they tell you to ensure that the stone actually touches your skin.  If it’s not touching your skin – it won’t do any good.  

It is believed that the stones generate an energy.  All stones generate their own energy – and this energy can either do you an immense amount of good – or – affect you in terrible ways.  

I love amber jewellery.  I love the fieriness of the stone.  I love how amber changes in the light.  It always looks as though a fire is glowing inside it. I have amber necklaces, rings and earrings.  But wearing amber has the most terrible affect on me.  Even if I wear amber for an hour or two, I can feel myself filling with rage.  I feel out of control.  Stressed.  Unable to manage my emotions.  This is not how I feel normally and I hate feeling this way.  So despite loving this particular stone, and admiring it from afar – I will never wear it.  I know that the energy that this stone emits, is not good for me.  

I have seen other people wear other stones and it has done them a world of good.  Helped them to achieve success in their careers; helped them to keep calm and regulate their emotions; helped them to improve their health.  Different stones have different properties.  Different purposes.  Different energies.  However, they will only bring positive outcomes into your life, if they are meant for you.  

Looking at Isildur, weary, drained, riding back home on his horse, and ultimately dying before he could make it back – it reminded me again of how powerful these metals and stones are and the effect they can have on us.  

I also started thinking about diamonds.  Diamonds, we are told, are a girl’s best friend.  You’re engaged to the love of your life – and you’re expected to purchase a diamond for her.  But diamonds also emit an energy.  They are no different to the rest of the stones on our planet.  So what if diamonds are the wrong stone for your fiancé?  There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to stones.  So why do we assume that every woman who is about to be married, should have a diamond?  Retailers have told us this is what we should do – but what if she would actually benefit from a sapphire?  Or an emerald?  Or a ruby?  Or a pearl?  

Interestingly, the priests that I have spoken also said, that if you wear a stone that does not suit you, you will know straight away.  It might make you ill, irrational, unhappy.  But also, if you have been wearing a stone for a very long time and have been happy – but one day you lose it – it means that you do not need it anymore.  If it’s lost, it’s lost for a reason – and if you find it again – you’ve found it for a reason. 

So my poor, unsuspecting brother, who had only been looking for a little bit of peace, was subjected to listening to my ramblings for a full ten minutes or so.  When I had finished, I fully expected him to give me an exasperated look, make a sarcastic comment and continue with watching the film.  Instead, he took my by surprise and said, that all makes sense because we are all made from stardust…

His reaction astounded me even further  because the bookmark that I had only purchased last week said exactly that – which is why I had picked it up in the first place.  ‘We are stardust, meant to shine.’

Whether you believe me or not – it doesn’t matter.  It’s something that I believe and all I’m doing is offering you a perspective to life and stones and jewellery that you may not have thought about before.  

I’d also like to finish with this thought – people who are about to propose to your loved one – ask them to marry you and take your loved one with you to choose their ring.  After all, diamonds may not be a girl’s best friend!

Darkest Times

It’s funny when you have two children, you give them the same upbringing, the same experiences, give them the same values – you expect them to be quite similar in likes, dislikes, personality etc.  It never fails to shock me how different both of my children are.  My eldest walks into a room and can make friends or at least talk to people straight away – a bit like her father.  My youngest – she has to hang back a bit, assess the situation, suss out who is there and then she may or may not interact with others.  I think she must get that from me.

My eldest, will naturally find people, make sure they are ok, look after those who need to be taken care of.  My youngest – is still finding her own way in this complex world of ours.  So this evening I was completely taken aback when she casually mentioned a name that I had not heard before.  My ears pricked up.  ‘Who’s this?’ I asked.  ‘Ohh, she’s a new girl.  She started today and she looked like she was going to cry because she had no friends.  So I played with her and made her laugh.  Now she’s not lonely anymore.  I’ll play with her tomorrow too because she’s a really nice person.’

My heart was almost bursting with happiness with the kindness she had shown, without being prompted, towards another person.  We talked about how being new to somewhere was so hard and not having any friends can be so tricky.  And she recounted how things were tricky for her when she first started school, but then she made friends with other people and is happy.  She wanted this new girl to feel happy too.  The way that she could remember, reason and articulate her feelings astounded me.  I realised that both of my little girls are growing up so quickly, both of them now, are happy to take care of others.

This blog is entitled ‘Darkest Times’ – and so far, I haven’t mentioned anything remotely related to the title –  but bear with me, I am going somewhere with this.

In Hindi there is a very famous saying, ‘Sukh ke sab saathi, dukh mein na koi‘.  This translates to, ‘In happiness, everyone is your companion, in sadness there is no one.’ And this is so true.  If you want to know who your real friends are – you have to go through the bad times.  You have to go through the tough times.  Only then will you realise who is truly there for you.  Who truly valued you.  You realise that the people that you were there for, and would still be there for at the drop of a hat – they just don’t want to know you.  They don’t want to hear your problems, they don’t want to meet you, they don’t want to get involved.  After all, they have ‘enough going on’ themselves – or worse still – you’re not someone they want to be associated with anymore.

It’s almost as though God intentionally gives you the tough times to cull the rubbish from out of your life.  You discover who and what is good for you – and you dispose of the toxic.  People you were really close to, behave like strangers – and you receive support from those you may never have dreamed of.  You go with it though – it may pain you to discover the true colours of some people – but you go with it.  Because that’s life.  You have to keep learning.  You have to keep rolling with the punches.  You will never stop being surprised.

And I suppose that’s why I wrote this blog tonight.  It hurts to feel let down.  It’s extremely painful to want and need support from others and realise that there is none there.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  If we teach our children that kindness isn’t buying people presents; kindness isn’t a simple case of celebrating people’s good news and making a song and dance about things going well.  No.  Kindness is intangible.  It’s letting people know that you think of them.  It’s noticing that something is wrong – and then proactively doing something about it.  It’s letting people know – you might think that you’re on your own – but you’re not and you don’t have to be.  I’m here.

I’ve been on the receiving end of some unkindness in life – but the kindness that I have received far outweighs that.  I’m lucky enough to have children of my own and also work with children for a living.  So I am constantly surrounded by immense kindness.  Children asking me if I’m ok, did I have a good lunch, a good break time, a good day?  They help me – sometimes without me even needing to say a word, and make sure that my life is that little bit easier.  And I tell them – the kindness that they show me, is more valuable than a huge box full of money.  I mean that.  I’m geuninely not being twee – I mean that.  Because if our future generations of children learn that kindness matters – our world can only grow to be a more beautiful place.

In the meantime – we adults need to take a leaf out of books of the little ones.  Be kind to those who need it.  Notice those who are struggling and be brave enough to do something about it.  Don’t cut those in need loose because it’s inconvenient and annoying for you.  Help others.  God knows, you may be in their situation one day and hope that people will be there for you.  So – take the time to notice and help people – especially during their darkest times.

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.

Ocean of knowledge

I think it is fair to say that when I was a little girl, times were tough.  My parents had to scrimp and save for everything.  Times were genuinely hard.  My mother was the finance minister of the house, and every penny was accounted for.  If a purchase had to be made, it was thought about many times before a deal was finalised.  Necessities – we had them all.  Luxuries – few and far between.  As well as being the finance minister, she was also the education secretary and what she instilled in us was a hunger, a drive, an ambition.  Work hard.  Be educated.  No one can steal your knowledge from you.  If you don’t like the way that we live now – that’s fine.  The only person that can change that, is you.  And she was right.  I am grateful for the childhood that I had, I am grateful for the hard knocks, I am grateful that I had a mother who was no nonsense – because all those aspects combined, made me who I am today.  I know what it was like to struggle financially – I never want to experience that again.  I am full of gratitude for the education that I received – I am a living example of someone who had nothing – studied – and am living the life that I dreamed of when I was a little girl.

As well as being in charge of finance and education, Mum was also responsible for our spiritual and moral development.  We weren’t brought up with a sense of entitlement – in fact it was a sense of gratitude.  Be grateful that you have a free education – millions of children around the world would love to be in your position, going to school everyday, instead they have to work.  Be grateful for the food on your table – millions of people don’t have anything to eat – don’t waste your food.  And she would both terrify and inspire us with stories about people in India, more specifically Bengal – people who changed their own lives, and the lives of others for the better.

I distinctly remember the day that my father realised that although my sister and I were brilliant and fluent English speakers, we no longer spoke in Bengali at home and even though we could understand it, we would always converse and reply to our parents in English.  I’m really not sure what the final straw was, but one day my father declared that we were only allowed to speak in Bengali at home and if we wanted something, we had to speak in Bengali – or not at all.  There was a pin drop silence in the house.  Nobody spoke.  I remember my sister and I – probably aged 6 and 9 at the time, exchanging horrified glances!  I found myself panicking and wildly looking at random objects wondering – ‘What’s the Bengali for cup, or wall, or stairs?’  I couldn’t even remember.  My father wasn’t someone to be trifled with, so we took the matter quite seriously.  Initially, we communicated in very hesitant and broken Bengali.  However, in a matter of days we surprised ourselves with how easy and natural it seemed.  There was a method behind what appeared to be complete madness to us.

My mother then decided that I would learn how to read and write in Bengali…

And this was when I was introduced to a character who inspired me, and changed my life for ever.  She had ordered some Bengali books from India and they were all created by the same person – his name was Ishwar Chandra Vidysagar.  (Vidyasagar, in Sanskrit means ‘Ocean of knowledge’).   From a small age, Vidyasagar had a desire to learn and be educated, his father encouraged it too.  He was a poor Brahmin boy and would have to work during the day to earn money for his family.  Where they lived, there was no electricity in the house, so Vidyasagar’s father would make him study beneath the light of the lampposts on the street.  Sometimes, his father would find the little boy cross legged, slumped over, fast asleep with his book in his lap – so his father would tie Vidysagar’s small pony tail to the lamppost, in case his eyes did close and he drifted off to sleep, the pull on his hair would jerk his head back again, and the little boy would continue with his studies.  Vidyasagar grew up, went to university, became a successful scholar, championed the upliftment of the status of women in India, and fought for the rights of widows to be remarried.  He helped to reform the education system on India and set up a high school for children.

Throughout his lifetime, he wrote many books, but in 1850 he wrote some books for children learning Bengali, called Borno Porichoy.  More than a 100 years later, through this book, I was introduced to him.

My parents were old school in their approach to bringing up children.  I shower affection upon my own daughters, constantly tell them how proud I am of them, tell them that I love them all the time – it wasn’t how I was brought up.  It was a silent acceptance from both sides – we knew our parents loved us, we loved our parents – it was never verbalised – it was never discussed.  We were never publicly praised.  If we got an ‘A’ grade – there were no congratulations, or bright smiles, or pats on back.  The response was a simple ‘Good, do better next time!’ At the time the best grade was an ‘A’ – so there was that!  To be honest, I knew what that meant.  You can’t be complacent.  Good – you have achieved an ‘A’.  So have thousands of others.  Keep going.  Keep working hard.  This ‘A’ is not the ultimate goal – you have many more ‘A’s to achieve.  We knew that.  And we never stopped.  We never gave up.  We continued to keep going and secretly hoping that one day our mother would say ‘Well done!’.  I write that with a broad smile on my face as I type – because she always reads my blogs – and I know that the stubborn woman that she is – that’s never going to happen!  I accept it though.

But I have digressed – Borno Porichoy was full of short stories with a moral.  I had always found reading English extremely easy.  I remember when I was in Reception, my mum practised some key words with me, the next thing I knew, I could read every book on this blessed Earth.  Bengali – was a challenge.  I had to sound out every letter and blend them to read the word – which was a frustrating but helpful experience for me.  It helped me to empathise with those who didn’t find reading that easy.  I became more fluent, the more I practised – but even now, if I’m given a Bengali newspaper to read, I take a huge deep breath and know that it will take some time to decipher each word.

What I’m about to share with you is a story from this book, that made me view my parents in a different way.  I remember hesitantly sounding it out and reading it to my parents.  The story was about a boy called Gopal.  Gopal was a good boy.  He listened to his parents and always did as he was told.  Sadly, his parents died, and he was put in the care of his aunt.  He liked his aunt – and she liked him but Gopal soon discovered that he could behave in her care, in a way that would have been completely unacceptable for his parents.  One day, he stole from a shop – the shopkeeper complained to his aunt, and although his aunt knew of his guilt, instead of chastising him, shouted at the shopkeeper and said that Gopal would never do such a thing.  That became the undoing of Gopal.  It didn’t matter what Gopal did, his aunt defended him and never told him off.  Time went on, Gopal grew older and instead of being a successful man as his parents had dreamed – he became a criminal.  Stealing and lying had become second nature to him.  Eventually, in the middle of a theft, he ended up killing a person.  The sentence for which was death.  As a last request, Gopal asked to see his aunt before he died.  His aunt was touched by her nephew’s love for her and hurried to the jail to bid him a fond farewell.  Gopal saw his aunt from behind the bars and asked her to approach him so that he could whisper something in her ear.  Curiously, she sidled up to the bars and put her ear towards him.  Gently, he leant towards her ear and all of a sudden, with a huge strength of force, bit her ear off!

As a 9 year old girl, I had not seen this event coming and I was horrified with what I had just read, but I continued reading.

Gopal’s aunt screamed with terror and pain and shouted at her nephew – ‘I did nothing but love and protect you all your life, why did you do such a thing to me?’  But Gopal’s answer was painfully honest – and as a 9 year old, I remember thinking how his answer made so much sense to me.  He replied, ‘Oh Auntie, you didn’t love me.  If only you had told me off and corrected my behaviour when I was little, then I wouldn’t be in this jail now, about to be hanged.’

I have never forgotten this story.  I remember looking at my parents differently from that point onwards.  When they would tell me off, or expect more from me, or not let me do things that other children seemed to get away with – I suddenly realised why.

It is easy to be a friend to your child.  It is easy to be the good cop – always making excuses for their behaviour, allowing them to get away with things because they were tired, or not well, or had had a bad day.  It is much more difficult to be the ‘bad cop’ – enforce good behaviour, make sure there are consequences for poor behaviour.  It means being consistent – which is tiring.  It means facing the wrath and displeasure of your child – which is heart breaking.

Although my approach to parenting is different to that of my own parents, I will always be grateful for the richness, the diversity, the literature, the life stories that I was exposed to as a little girl.  I will always be grateful for the hunger to succeed that was instilled in me.  I will always be grateful that my behaviour was corrected when it needed to be.  I will always be grateful that my parents never needed to tell me how much they loved, because they always showed it in their own ways.

Lessons we can learn from bears!

 

This morning, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw the most heart warming and inspirational video that I have ever seen.  When I was a little girl, I remember my father telling me the story of Robert the Bruce.  Robert was a Scotsman who had been fighting the English.  He had fought many, many battles and kept losing.  The story says that Robert was on the brink of giving up, and sat down in deep contemplation, thinking about what he would do next.  Whilst he was sat down, his eyes rested upon a spider who was trying to spin a web.  The spider kept trying, kept falling, but each time undeterred, the spider got back up and carried on with its endeavour. Legend says that on its 7th attempt, the spider was finally successful.  This tiny spider inspired Robert to continue in his battle of independence and was subsequently successful.  The video below, illustrates another beautiful example of another animal refusing to give up.

What is interesting for me in this video, is the adult bear.  I showed my daughters this video, and my eldest exclaimed with horror, ‘Why isn’t the big bear helping the little bear?’  Good question, I thought. Why not?  Is it because the big bear was frightened for its own safety and was thinking about self preservation?  Is it because the big bear wanted the little bear to make the climb on its own and that was the lesson it wanted to teach?  Or was it because the big bear had complete faith that the little bear would find its own way – regardless?  I don’t know…

It made me think though.  Animals know that the world is brutal and in a lot of instances, they teach their child the skills of how to survive – and then, when it’s time they let them go.  My youngest’s favourite story of all time is ‘The Three Little Pigs’.  What does it teach you?  You have to be strong to survive.  If you’re mollycoddled you won’t last a minute.  Either you won’t be able to find food and shelter, or you will be hunted down and ripped apart by a predator.  Animal parents know this.  And I think that is what the big bear is thinking, whilst she watches her cub making that climb.  Climb or die baby, climb or die trying.  Whilst watching that, I was questioning my own parenting skills – I wouldn’t have been able to help myself – I would have intervened.  Thinking as a human, I would have slid down that mountain and pulled the cub up – but it made me question – what would I have taught my cub?  Would that have been the right approach?  My instinct is, I don’t want my child to get hurt. Fine.  However, should I be thinking – it’s ok if you hurt yourself – what lessons will you learn from that?

The thing is, as a parent, you can’t always be there to protect your children and fend off predators.  The lessons that a lot of children learn in life, are when their parents are not there to intervene.  I’ve spoken and written about this before, but one of the things that we teach our children, is to be polite.  Use good manners.  Say please and thank you.  Talk to people, don’t ignore them.  Be polite.  I was brought up in this way, and so have my own children.  I worry though.  I worry because I know what they will have to encounter when they get older.  How do I know?  Because I faced some troubling situations myself.

I was polite.  Even when I was with people – ok men – that I didn’t particularly like, I was polite.  Treat people how you want to be treated yourself – that’s what we teach children isn’t it?  So, that’s how I would behave with others.  Talk, be polite, be interested in what people say – don’t be rude.  What’s wrong with that, you may wonder?  Well, nothing.  Until – men – some men – mistook that politeness – pure politeness – for interest.  Suddenly, you find yourself in quicksand.  You try – politely – to let the other person know that you are not interested – they don’t take the hint.  Suddenly, it’s a game.  Of course you were interested, you were so polite, you both got so well – now, your polite refusals are just an indication that you’re playing ‘hard to get’.  Just a bit more persistence and pressure and you’ll change your mind and ‘give in’.

That is what worries me as my children grow older.  Balancing politeness with being absolutely assertive and clear cut when they need to be.  Be polite.  Be kind.  It is good to be those things, I firmly believe in that.  But, always be totally clear and fearless when speaking to people.  If someone does or says something that you don’t like – you don’t need to be polite in that instance.  You need to be clear and know that when you are assertive, you aren’t being a bad person.  Self preservation is self preservation – whether that be in the animal kingdom, or in the concrete jungle.

I won’t be able to be there all the time for my daughters.  My parents were not able to be there all the time for me.  But I trust, that like the big bear in the footage above, I have given my children the life skills that they need to survive.  And know that even when things feel at their lowest – they should never give up.

Is it love?

Love is such a funny, overused word isn’t it? The problem with the word is that it fits everything, it means everything. However, said at the wrong time – it could spell trouble. If it’s not said when it is expected – it can cause anguish.

I love watching Game of Thrones. I love the seaside. I love being by the sea. I love hugs and cuddles at bedtime with my girls. I love being in my pjs, after a day at work, snuggling on my sofa and relaxing. All wonderful, acceptable uses of the word ‘love’.

If I came up to you, after only knowing you for a short time and told you that ‘I love you’ – how would that make you feel? Uncomfortable, I imagine? Uneasy? Creeped out? I know I would feel that way.

So – it’s a throw away, overused word, that can be used in any context. However, it can also be extremely powerful – and evoke quite positive or negative thoughts and responses too.

Lots of acts are committed in the name of love. Lots of unholy, unhinged acts – all in the name of love.

On the spectrum of love, you have the positive sides – someone surprises you with a gift that you have wanted for a long time, or someone takes you out to dinner, or jets you away on holiday, or is an ear that listens when you are in distress. These are what we expect and enjoy about being in love. Moderate love. Extreme acts of love could be self-sacrificing – we haven’t got enough food to eat, so you give away your portion, your loved one needs a kidney – you give them yours – this is not ordinary – this is extraordinary love.

Of course, then you have the other polar end of the spectrum. Love supposedly brings out the best in you, but it could equally bring out the worst in you. So you start off mildly negative – checking your partner’s phone messages and emails. You monitor who they are calling, who are they interacting with apart from you, who are they interacting with on social media? You start discovering things that you don’t like. You start building stories in your head. And then comes the next step – control. You set conditions and ultimatums – you can’t see that person anymore. I don’t want you to communicate with that person anymore. If you don’t listen, then there will be consequences.

Perhaps you ‘love’ someone from afar? Perhaps you haven’t got the nerve to talk or interact with them in real life? Perhaps the love is unrequited? So, you start taking an unhealthy interest in everything they do. Their likes become your likes. Your thoughts, every aspect of your life, revolves around everything they do. Then comes the next step – control. For whatever reason, you cannot be a part of that person’s life – either it won’t happen organically, or they don’t want you around. So – you start to try and shoehorn yourself in. You go where they go. You do what they do. Whether they like it or not – you are there. Control.

Those examples of negativity seem quite mild, don’t they? After all, it’s not physical violence, it’s not sexual assault. So, it’s ok. It’s not that bad.

Is it?

Survivors of physical violence and sexual abuse know something. The violence and abuse did not start straight away. The perpetrators are smarter than that. If someone you have just met, is violent or abusive, would you meet with them again? No – of course not. No. These people mask their behaviour. They present themselves in the best light possible. They take time to get to know you, make you laugh. Know what makes you tick. And then, when they have gained your trust – that’s when it starts. Of course, there are the apologies later. They never meant it. You drove them to it. It will never happen again. They have a back story that makes you ‘understand’ their behaviour…but it happens again and again. And each time, a chunk of you is torn away – which was their intention all along. Control.

Love is not about control. You do not control the people that you love. You show respect. Everyone deserves respect. You expect your partner to love and respect you. For example – when entering into a relationship with someone, you create some rules that the both of you decide to live by. Perhaps you decide – we’re going to be mutually exclusive, we won’t be with anyone else. You decide how often you will see each other. What you will do on special occasions. And there are unspoken rules – I won’t cheat on you; I won’t discuss our private moments between us with other people; I won’t text or flirt with other people in a way that is disrespectful to you. If you feel that the other person is breaking those rules – then instead of trying to modify and put conditions on their behaviour – surely you should think – is this love? Confronting them and hearing them lie and calling you crazy – that’s not love. Lying awake and wondering where they are and what they’re doing – that’s not love. Seeing them talking and laughing with an attractive person and wondering what might happen next – that’s not love. Knowing that they have strayed before and you have to put sanctions in place. That’s not love.

Being suspected constantly when you have done nothing wrong – that’s not love. Being told who you can and can’t speak to – that’s not love. Being ordered to get home daily by a certain time and knowing that your every move is being analysed. That’s not love.

Controlling someone or being in control – this is not love.

Love is easy. Love is respectful. Love is letting people grow. Love, sometimes, is letting people go.

If you are with someone you do not trust – let them go. They don’t make you feel good about yourself. You deserve better.

If you are with someone who doesn’t trust you – walk away. You deserve better.

If you are with someone who controls you – walk away and don’t look back. Get advice on how to walk away so that you are safe. But don’t stay and be controlled – no one deserves that.

And if you are a person who feels the need to control others – get some professional, medical help. Controlling others, hurting others, it doesn’t make you happy – get help.

The point of love is – it should make you feel alive. It should make you feel invincible. You should feel free and elated. You should feel that anything in the world is possible. You should feel that you could tell them anything and you should feel that you would gladly do anything for them.

If you’re with someone and you don’t feel that way – is it love…?