Stone Cold Coffee

Life punctuated by half-finished beverages

When is a holiday not a holiday?

206We’ve just returned from a week in Vanuatu, our first overseas trip with the Mouse. A beautiful resort with friendly, welcoming staff… great food and generous drinks…long days by the swimming pool while Mouse played happily at the kids club…lazy lunches with My Beloved (see previous comment re kids club)…afternoon naps (see previous comment re kids club)…in short, tropical paradise.

Yeah. Right. Has nearly four years of parenthood taught me absolutely nothing?

We had some beautiful moments during our holiday. The lagoon was full of beautiful starfish, and the Mouse loved placing them in little water-bound families. A short ferry ride across the water, Erakor Island resort provided a beautiful playground and white sand and ice-cream sundaes. We found a lovely café in town that was welcoming of kids and their…idiosyncrasies. The Mouse loved the water and looking for coconuts and dancing at every opportunity.

Sadly, though, these were the bright spots in what was an otherwise underwhelming experience.

The Mouse had been so excited about kids club – grass skirt making, t-shirt painting, coconut husking, jewellery making…it should have been a nearly-four-year-old’s dream holiday. However, the kids club was little more than a room with a couple of disengaged carers hovering around the edges. We left her there quite happy, but by the time My Beloved arrived back there with sunscreen (not provided), she was in tears and inconsolable. We took her out, but she was determined to go back for the t-shirt painting at 1pm. She bravely returned to the zoo, er… kids club, and we left her to get some lunch. When we arrived back, she was staring into space while her t-shirt dried in the sun. She was suspiciously paint-free, but had a lovely t-shirt painted by one of the women. It even had her name on it. Needless to say, kids club was not visited again.

So we began replicating some sort of routine for the Mouse that comprised endless trips into the spa, the only pool warm enough for swimming the first few days, and a daily trip into Port Vila. Endless viewings of over-watched DVDs carted all the way from home, sticker books, games with imaginary friends, trying to anticipate mood swings less predictable than Sydney trains…our days were unrefreshingly familiar.

But the holiday was not all about Mouse: both My Beloved and I were made to feel special in our own way. His running shoes were stolen from outside our bungalow on the second morning, and I spent our third night talking to God on the big white telephone. It seemed to be a 24 hour thing – I spent the next day in bed, alternating between hoping they would come change our towels and linen and hoping they would just leave me to wallow in my own misery.

The following day, I felt a little better and we went up for breakfast to the restaurant, only to be greeted by the Sales and Marketing Manager offering her apologies: none of the resort’s staff had attended work that morning. The restaurant was being manned by the marketing, finance and HR team, as far as I could tell and guests were clearing their own tables and taking their plates into the kitchen. Eventually, someone found some bread (frozen and gluten-free, but bread nonetheless), and someone else managed to fill a milk urn…but things looked pretty dire. We hired a cab and went to the Secret Garden and then the lower part of the Cascade waterfalls. I felt headachy and washed out, but by that night didn’t feel too bad and, wooed by the romance of the ferry trip to Erakor Island and a lovely, welcoming restaurant, I decided fettuccine carbonara was just the thing to eat a day after vomiting.

Needless to say, I spent the next day in bed too.

I had probably invested too much hope in the holiday – I acknowledge that. I had visions of us all relaxed, finding an easy rhythm to the day that would include G and Ts around 5 each day. Instead, I wept as we had to dump an only half-consumed bottle of gin at the airport on the way back home because alcohol was the last thing on my mind for half the holiday.

I pictured myself all Pacific Island-chic, looking polished and well-dressed at the breakfast table. Instead, I had puffy eyes and stuffy sinuses, hair that refused to show any interest in cooperating and I wore my shirt inside out to breakfast on the first morning.

I pictured the Mouse making friends with other kids and running off to play happily leaving My Beloved and me to kayak, run, read and…well, you know – do the things that grown ups do on holidays. Instead, we spent our time finding new ways to entertain her (or rather, visiting the starfish in the lagoon two or three times a day) until we could get her off to bed.

Next time, I’ll just hope we all come back free from Dengue Fever and accept anything else as a bonus.

A ring is round and has no end…

…and that’s how long you’ll be my friend. Remember that from school days? It was one of those cute little things you wrote in a furtively-passed note or a school annual. Of course, most of those friendships never lasted much beyond graduation to high school.

This article got me thinking about friendships, how they bloom and how they fade. As we grow, we realise that friendships as adults are not as easily cemented or maintained as they were when we were children. The days of making a new best friend in the surf on Christmas holidays are long gone.

Now, when I meet someone I click with, I have to weigh up practicalities: do we live close enough to enable us to build a relationship? Do we share enough common ground that conversation will not feel like just another obligation or commitment? Are they going to demand more than I can give or am I going to expect more from them than they can give? In short, do I have space in my life for this person, taking into account who I am and who they are?

It sounds calculated and perhaps even cold, but if I don’t get past these practical questions, then I really should just hang out a “not hiring” sign. It’s not fair to plant the seeds of a friendship without the capacity or capability to nourish it.

Of course, there’s room in our lives for friendships of different levels: there’s the shared-hobby friendship; the chat at the gym friendship; the catch-up-every-few-months friendship; the facebook-friendship. Each has its place and provides its own kind of nourishment to me as a person.

But it’s when you get to the next level of friendship where you sense the capacity for deep connection, that this person could occupy a subtantial space in your life, that more care needs to be exercised. Then, the big questions need to be asked: do I think I could trust this person to see who I really am and accept that? Do I have the capacity to hold the things this person reveals to me about who they are?

Because, when I think about the friendships in my life that have ended (some spectacularly, some with barely a whimper), I realise their endings were probably inevitable.

They were invariably intense in nature. We were drawn together by a spark of something – common thinking, common experience, common emotion. In the early stages of our relationships, we were quick to establish our picture of the other. We drew the other in our hearts and minds as we saw them: funny, smart, patient, a thinker, bohemian, caring, insightful…they were useful handles on which to hang our admiration for and attraction to the other.

In the now-no-longer friendships I am remembering, sadly we drew those pictures in permanent marker. When, with the passage of time and shared of experience, the other was revealed to be more complex, more nuanced, somehow different to our portrait we were unable to adjust our image of the person.

For one reason or another, we wouldn’t or couldn’t erase the lines we’d drawn and re-define the basis of our friendship. Those dark marker lines stayed stubbornly put until one or the other of us gave up on the friendship.

Intense pain accompanied the end of some of those relationships: “but this is so unlike that person…I never would have thought her capable of that…doesn’t she know me at all?” We are quick to wonder what happened to the other, what changed in them, when perhaps the beginning of the end can be found in the way we formed our relationship – too fast to connect, to commit ourselves to a close relationship.

Patience, allowing our picture of the other to develop over time, might lead us to stronger, more real relationships in which we value the fullness of the other, the changing, complex beautiful nature of the individual, more than the hastily-drawn, convenient image we hold in our head

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Day 31: Post a Day for May: A vivid memory

donax-deltoidesHunting pipis with my grandfather on Lighthouse beach.

Watching as he confidently dug his broad, tanned feet into the cool, foamy sand and kicked the mollusc up to the surface. Salt spray drying on my skin, watching the waves slip away and scanning the sand. Wriggling my tiny pink toes as deep as I could, chasing the unseen shell. Dropping my prize into a bucket of sand and water.

Later, at dusk, on a beach hosting only fishermen, my grandfather would scoop the unsuspecting pipi from its shell, bait the hook and send it soaring on an invisible line out beyond the breakers. Bream hopefully, but maybe whiting.

Day 30: Post a Day for May: Letting go

sometimes-its-better-to-let-go-her-by-graham-francioseOne of the hardest things to do as a parent is to let go. To let go of the sort of parent you “should” be to accept the sort of parent you are. To let go of the need for order and to embrace chaos. To let go of the outcome and relish the process.

So many occasions of letting go: a birth plan thrown out the window because she had other ideas. The Mouse’s first night in this world, not beside me but in the nursery. Her first bottle feed. The first time her grandparents looked after her. Her first wobbly steps. Her first day at childcare. Kissing her tiny face before leaving her in an operating theatre. The first time she climbed the rope tower at the playground, so high off the ground. Every one of my letting go moments is essential to the Mouse mastering her world.

Now, she makes her own decisions about what she wears, what she eats, what she listens to, reads, watches. I maintain overall artistic control (crocs, for example, shall never enter this house) but the Mouse is confident in making her choices and making them known. Sometimes quite forcefully. I think that’s a good sign.

I, meanwhile, continue to perfect the art of letting go. Just today, in fact, I have let go of the dream of a full night’s sleep any time before she’s twenty-seven. After 8 nights of being up with the Mouse twice a night, I have let go of the idea that bribery and rewards are ineffective behavioural change agents. And, in a sign that I am mastering a new level of letting go, I have promised that if she goes all night without calling out for me, not only can she have a Kinder Surprise in the morning, she can eat it BEFORE BREAKFAST.

This letting go business is going to end well, I can tell.

Day 29: Post a Day for May: Thank you for the music

See what I did there? Skipped right over Day 28. I was half way through the day before I realised that the topic for the day was “pictures only” and I hadn’t taken a single photo.

So without further ado, I move on to today’s challenge: 5 songs or pieces of music that are meaningful to me. Five? Geez, 50 would be easier…but here we go:

1. Before Too Long – Paul Kelly. This could have been any one of a hundred Paul Kelly songs. Without a doubt, my favourite singer/songwriter. Paul Kelly is a poet. If you like what you hear, I’m more than happy to suggest a playlist.

2. Scarlett Ribbons – Harry Belafonte. This was the song my mum would sing to me before I went to sleep when I was little. It’s so sad and lovely.

3. I Need Love – Luka Bloom. His cover of the LL Cool J song. Stays with me to this day.

4. Miracle – Foo Fighters. Our wedding dance.

5. Romeo and Juliet – Dire Straits. We had a fantastic English teacher in year ten, Mr Casey. He brought in a huge boom box one day and played this song for us as part of our study of the play. The song has remained one of my favourites. The video? All 80s.

Even now, there are a dozen other songs clamouring for inclusion. I can’t include them all…Oh the humanity!

Day 27: Post a Day for May: Dear Readers

Dear readers,

Some days there are a lot of you, some days there are only a few. But each time I get a notification that someone likes one of my posts, or that someone new is following my blog, I feel a little bit more like a real writer.

I have always, always loved words. As a child, never popular, I was happiest reading. Immersed in a world existing between two pieces of cardboard I could find and feel all sorts of emotions, explore all manner of ideas, meet all sorts of people. At school, I excelled at spelling; grammar and English expression came easily. Creative writing was my favourite activity.

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When I was in year 6, computers came to our school. Two Commodore 64s, I think, complete with cassette drives were set up in a dark utility room. Each week, two students were selected to spend half an hour or so a day writing a story on the PC. We’d never seen anything like these machines. We certainly didn’t have one at home. The other kids were so keen for their turn that they’d keep asking “when will you be finished? Are you done?”.

I loved language and its malleability. I loved that where you put a comma mattered. I loved that spelling, grammar, expression were important.

I had a lot of feedback that my writing was good. I won an award for one piece I entered in a national competition. I wrote 30,000 words of a novel. A published author who’d read the first chapter said she would love to see it in print one day.

But I have never been able to jump off that cliff to see what I can really do with my writing. Do I have things to say that people want to hear? How exposed will I be if I put myself out there? Could my words make a difference to someone? Could I be commercially successful? Is that important to me?

So blogging, for me, is like dipping my toes in the writing water to see where it leads. Thanks for being here to watch me test the temperature.

Cheers.

Day 26: Post a Day for May: Read this!

Today’s challenge: post a link to something I read on the interweb and discuss (if I want to). It was actually yesterday’s challenge, but I was too busy dealing with other challenges yesterday. And, actually, if I had responded to the challenge yesterday I wouldn’t have known what to post. Because I only found this today, and it wasn’t even posted until yesterday (I know, right?).

It speaks to what is going on for me right now in a way I couldn’t have articulated myself. It’s my favourite thing of today. Maybe this whole week. Including coffee.

 

 

Day 25: Post a Day for May: Look out, men.

Someone once told me that I intimidate men.

Ah, the awesome power of being me.

Day 24: Post a Day for May: Under the spotlight

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You know the question I hate most in job interviews? The one where they ask you about your worst qualities or traits. Everybody in the room knows that your answer will just be a reframe of your answer to “what would you say is your strongest attribute?” So, you say:

“I’m a perfectionist. I don’t accept second best” or “I’m sometimes too single-minded” or “I do tend to work much longer days than other people” or “I expect too much of myself”.

And we all move onto the next question, knowing full well that the answer you really should have given is:

“I don’t achieve anything after 3 in the afternoon” or “I tend to overshare with my colleagues – take a look at this rash I’ve got?” or “I drink the tea and coffee but never put money in to the kitty”. Or whatever.

So this blogging challenge has asked for my worst three traits, which is a difficult challenge because I’m not a “ten things I love about me” kind of person. Over the years many of the traits that others may have identified as weaknesses are the very qualities I have come to appreciate in myself.

Since childhood, I have been labelled as too sensitive. My sensitivity to my surroundings, other people’s emotions and my own processes actually make me a good listener, partner, friend, mother, consultant and writer.

I am, according to some, too quiet. I don’t believe every silence needs to be filled and am very happy with my own company. I like that self-sufficiency. I don’t feel the need to report every event in my life to every person I’ve met since 1993.

I’m not particularly social. I don’t like parties. I find big crowds overwhelming. I prefer the company of one or two good friends at a time to a house full of noise and people.

I’m not a joiner. I don’t join clubs, groups or associations. I have missed concerts by artists I love because I was just too tired on the night.

I don’t frequently voice my opinions or speak up about issues. I think there are enough people spouting opinions around the place. I don’t like conflict and a little known side-effect of giving birth is that you lose the ability to hold a line of argument in your head for more than 14 seconds. But I’m not a pushover. I stand for some things and will not sit quietly while injustice stomps around. And I know what I believe and what is true.

So worst traits? Acceptable attributes? Beautiful qualities? It’s probably in the mind of the beholder (with apologies to Plato).

Day 23: Post a Day for May: What I didn’t learn at school

1. It doesn’t matter if you’re not an athlete.

2. Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes.

3. There are more things in this world that are grey than are black or white.

4. Never date a man who wears more jewellery than you do.

5. Who you are and how you treat people is more important than where you live, what you wear or what you do for a living.

6. Speak your truth with grace and love.

7. Never trust a woman whose thighs don’t touch at the top.

8. Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not. Squeeze the life out of each moment.

9. Difficulties seem darker and more terrible at night. The morning brings new light in every way.

10. Love is all you need. Sometimes cheesecake. And coffee.

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