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Thursday, 26 July 2012

32: Bringing up daughters

I still remember the first, second AND third time each obstetrician announced Matt and I were expecting a daughter.  And each time, I was dubious.  Maybe the child had a shy member?  Sigh.  Denial?  Yes.  But I grew up with brothers and I guess in the back of my mind, my subconscious always expected at least one son. But I didn’t realize the affinity until the third time.  Nevertheless, three daughters later, the ‘shop’ is well and truly slammed shut (and sealed with super-strength cement for good measure); and unless you count Buddy (formerly known as “Homer” before we rescued him from the SPCA), I am well and truly a mother of daughters.

The first time round though, I distinctly remember telling anyone who would listen how I would NEVER EVER dress my daughter in pink.  Famous last words.  And once it started, I realized going against the tide of girlish paraphernalia Matt and I suddenly found ourselves drowning in was fruitless.

Fast forward nearly 13 years since our first daughter (and I finally see their pink phase coming to an end!), I am very thankful someone ‘up there’ had the compassion to give us three girls who are not only healthy but also very tolerant and accommodating.  Well, to be honest, to me, yes.  Towards each other, not as much as I would like.  But its all good.

A couple of weeks ago, our dinner companions seemed somewhat surprised when I voiced how going to university was non-negotiable at Chez Farlow.  The girls know the reasons behind my firm stance:

According to hearsay, in the days following my parents’ break-up my mom rang her successor to discharge a barrage of accusations.  This was followed by a missile, from the new adult in-charge of my brothers and I:   a vow that none of us would finish our education.  And so, I was ‘nudged’ out at 17 – a year before finishing high school.  What followed was a series of lousy jobs and, not surprisingly, painfully limited choices.  Long story short, after years of juggling the realities of supporting myself and signing up to courses that ranged from typing to various writing certificates and diplomas, I finally came to my senses and enrolled as a mature age university student.  I sat my final paper at the ripe old age of 32 – just before Tia was born.  And when I was done, I felt SO much better about myself – which is why I never want my girls to be hampered by the same inadequacies or be limited by available options.

But its not just about education.  I counsel the girls not to be in a hurry to have children or tie themselves to anyone for life; waxing lyrical about the importance of financial self-sufficiency, of the benefits of traveling the world to experience all it has to offer, of learning about themselves.  I urge them to do things today their future self will thank them for, preaching the importance of finding the courage to be authentic and to live with integrity.  I remind them to be kind to themselves, to show empathy and the importance of balance.  And I tell them how beautiful they are and to make sure whoever they give themselves to treats them with the same love, care and respect as their father shows to me.  And finally, I encourage them to dream.

I never expected to have children, let alone daughters.  And though sometimes I wake up in a panic in the middle of the night, worrying about how I can protect them from the pests of the world, my daughters make my heart smile and their existence spurs me on to be the best person I am – if only to lead by example.


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

31: Everybody has a story

Since I started “a40something life”, a few readers’ comments got me thinking about how everyone has a story.  But more often than not, they choose to keep it to themselves, preferring not to expose themselves nor re-live the past.  And I get that.  After all, why dredge up the past and re-open old wounds?  And yet, I write.

In a previous life, the one where I was NEVER going to get married or have kids, my ambition was to travel the globe singing and writing songs that would touch people.  I did get a little taste of that life, even going on to win a publishing deal for one of my songs;  but then, life had other plans for me.  And for the longest time after that, I forgot about writing.

In the years that followed, the idea to write did raise its head now and again but I was at a loss what to write about.  It was only earlier this year I decided to take the plunge, opting to touch on a broad range of topics, with the intention of (hopefully) getting a chuckle or two.  To entertain.  But never in my wildest imagination did I think I would end up scrawling more somber topics and leaving myself so bare.  So emotionally naked.  And yet, still I write.

I smile when some of my readers are surprised to learn that it sometimes takes me several re-writes before ‘publishing’, with some taking weeks to complete before feeling ‘right’.  Why?  Because although some of the stories can be heart-rending, it is not my intention to come across that way -- there is no need to feel sorrowful for my past for it’s a bygone time.  Nor are my stories intended to shame or discredit as no one is perfect -- we choose diverging paths, each trying our best the only way we know how. 

And yet, as I reflect on the stories of people all around me, (many of whom have much more harrowing stories than mine), I am reminded that the anguish of my youth is trifle, and pale in comparison with the atrocities that so many suffer undeservedly.  And I feel humbled.  And petty.  And so I write.

Not to air dirty laundry.  Not to garner pity.  But to say: “Hey!  I know things are rubbish at the moment, but hang in there, because things have a way of eventually falling into place and I’m a good example of it.”  For those lucky enough to never have known a hard time, that’s fine.  But for those who are stuck in a chapter of their lives where things just seem impossible, maybe, I can make a difference.  And if I can touch one heart, move one soul, inspire one person, then, that is why I write.

Everyone has a story to tell.  Some have really fantastic ones and others not so.  But our lives are made-up of our stories and chapter-upon-chapter of character-molding and sometimes life-changing experiences.  The person working in a call centre taking your order, the driver in the car overtaking you, the garbage guy, even the person who doesn’t know you but goes around spreading idle gossip about you.  They all have a story and its not fiction.

And so, to everyone out there with a story, you are not alone.  Don’t give up the good fight and remember American author, Mary McCarthy’s words:

“We are all the hero of our own story.”


Sunday, 15 July 2012

30. An obsession with FOOD!

I have an obsession with food.  It started when I was young, when my stomach seemed to rumble persistently in the days my father thought it was a good idea to use the grocery money as leverage against my mother after she discovered his secret life.  I remember she often went without so we could eat; and so, after a while, I started pretending I wasn’t hungry either.  Except, I was permanently ravenous.  Some nights, my hunger propelled me to clandestine visits to the kitchen where I would eat spoonfuls of peanut butter in an effort to assuage the gnawing hunger.  And then, when my father got custody of us, the other adult who became responsible for our well-being thought it was a good idea to give my brothers and I food that had started to spoil – as punishment for being the children of her predecessor.  Let’s just say, a lesson was very quickly learnt: don’t be fussy or you go hungry.

Now, Matt and the girls witness my meltdowns whenever I am hungry while we are out and about.  It starts with a rumble and ends with nausea and headaches.  I go very quiet and cannot meaningfully partake in ANY kind of conversation, becoming useless socially (ie dangerously grumpy) until I have food.  And then, food crosses my lips and a transformation takes place.  I lose the crazed look and my poor family exhale a collective a sigh of relief as conversation becomes less strained and I stop shooting daggers at the waiters for being slow with my food.

But its not ALL doom and gloom or unhinged breakdowns.  Out of the belly of a not-so-stellar childhood, a great love for food sprouted and a ‘call’ to feed (nearly!) anyone who’s orbit happens to cross mine has burgeoned and grown.  And I love it.

Yes, food still constantly plays on my mind – but for different reasons.  As THE adult now in charge of sustenance in my house, I spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about food.  What to cook.  What to buy to cook.   What to eat.  Today, tomorrow, next week...  I wander through supermarket aisles looking for inspiration; cookbooks and recipes torn from magazines form a little Mount Everest in one corner of the house and I love the drool-inducing-aroma of recipes that come together! Breakfasts at Chez Farlow start with the girls’ individual orders, lunches during school term are made with love, and dinners are devised to expand and excite their palates.  Let’s just say next to school fees, grocery bills are probably our biggest expense!  

Furthermore, when we have gatherings, I am rubbish at managing the guest list.  Matt jokes that when I invite people over, it always begins with a couple or two (because I’ve promised to keep it small and intimate!), but I always end up catering for at least twice that and almost the same number of children.  Simply put:  I cannot help myself!  I love the energy of a busy kitchen, the orchestra emitted from cutlery and glasses clinking, people chatting and laughing, and the wonderful ambience created when new and old friendships grow and strengthen over a table of food prepared with love. 

And so, out of hate, a love was born:

Buon Cibo, Buon Vino, Buoni Amici per Una Buona Vita
– Good Food, Good Wine, Good Friends for a Good Life