28 July, 2013

An aperitivo with an Italian bebè

Last week we went out for an aperitivo (drink) with our landlords.  I was looking forward to meeting them properly, and thought they might know some interesting places to go.  Sabina mentioned in her email that they have a three-month old baby.  I could tell from the gushing emails from Sabina that she was a head-over-heels-in-love-with-her-baby mother.  She was so excited, she said, to introduce us to her baby.

I was less excited.  I wasn't dreading it, by any means.  I just hoped it wasn't going to be one of those awkward occasions.  You know, the old "expect the worst" feelings we always seem to have around events like this.  (More accurately, it should be "expect the worst, and makes yourself feel horrible in the process.") Anyway, I shouldn't have done that.  Because anticipating the worst doesn't actually help.  And besides, it was fine.

Our landlords were very nice, the baby was beautiful and happy and calm the entire time, and the only time it was mentioned that we didn't have children was when I volunteered the fact.  It was in fact a very pleasant evening (despite the humidity and heat), and I almost found myself wishing I'd asked if I could hold the baby.  Just for fun.  Not to torture myself.  Not to imagine what it would have been like to have had my own.  No.  Just for fun.  That's how good it was.

And the only reason I write about it here, is to provide evidence that it does get easier.  (Yes, I'm ten years on, and so I imagine a lot of people would roll their eyes and say "about time!"  But that's another post.)  I know it might often seem that it is easy for me to say it.  But I think when we recount real life encounters where we feel fine afterwards, it counts as actual evidence.  And so I hope it helps you too.

A small PS.  Sabina and I communicated via email.  She wasn't confident with her English, and I wasn't confident with my Italian.  So I'd double-check what she was saying with Google Translate.  The name of her baby - which is a beautiful name I think - always translated as "detrimental."  I hope she never discovers that particular fact.

24 July, 2013

Little slices of life

It’s obvious to anyone who knows me that I am a fan of the internet. I have met some very dear friends as a result of my on-line activities. Some I have been fortunate enough to meet and visit and formalise our already close relationships. Others are still “to-be-met” in real life. I see this as a “when” not an “if.” Blogging became an important part of my life about six or seven years ago. I “met” a small group of people who were working on the same project  - the x365 blogs, where we wrote, every day for a year, about a person in our lives.  The trick was to use only as many words as you had spent years on the planet. It was an introduction to creative writing for me, and a joy.  I only wish I could have maintained the discipline that a short word count gives you. I am however glad that I have maintained contact with the friends, the first bloggers, I met there. I was in awe of many of those bloggers I first met.

One whose writing has never ceased to impress me, to draw me in, to flirt with me, court and seduce me, has just published a book,Songbook for Haunted Boys and Girls. I am so pleased for him, and I’d like to say proud of him, but that sounds condescending, and how could I do that, when I can only dream of  getting near to his level of artistry. But why am I talking about his book on this blog, on my No Kidding blog? What does it have to do with us? Well, aside from the fact that Wayne has no kids (as far as I'm aware), he embodies the philosophy of soaking in the little moments, of living each day as a separate life, each day, each hour, each moment. The book comprises little slices of life, slices that are sweet, never bitter, sometimes sad, always moving, often funny, and sometimes risque. And for those of us who have known grief, for readers who might be struggling to find joy again, it's worth being reminded to take joy where we find it, and to read about the moments in life that are to be treasured, remembered even through their sadness, cherished for what they brought to us at the time and what they have made of us today. These moments stay with you - haunting in the very best sense - and always leave you wanting to know more. This is a blatant advertisement, yes, and I apologise for that. It's the first time I've done this on this blog, and I hadn't intended to do so.  But I started reading Wayne's book on my iPad (after downloading it yesterday as soon as it was available), and his writing touched me. Again. And I thought it might touch you too.
“This “testament made of trees” is a sort of memoir told in short prose pieces or prose poems: the joys and terrors of childhood, the quirkiness of our teenage years, growing old; old friendships, old love affairs, old grudges; food and drink, music, the sweetness of conversation. It’s also a portrait of a neighborhood—one of shops and restaurants and pubs and patios. Songbook for Haunted Boys and Girls is a song you put on and listen to over wine, a book of encouragement. It’s a sturdy and unpretentious affirmation of life, expressed simply and exquisitely.”
It has already garnered a number of five star reviews on Amazon. Go read them, because like this book, they’re delicious.

13 July, 2013

What next?

Many women say that they have only ever wanted to be mothers.  And they feel lost when that turns out not to be an option.  Whilst I have never said that I only ever wanted to be a mother, I too felt lost when that turned out not to be an option.

This week, Kathleen on Life Without Baby pondered the "what next?" question we all find ourselves facing.  She said:
As I grieve the loss of my dreams of motherhood and family, I sometimes get really stuck. I can’t figure out what to do with the next week let alone the rest of my life. Do I focus on my career? Do I become my community’s most giving volunteer? Do I challenge myself to break the marathon record for my age group?

When a big life goal - whether you've held it for your entire life, or simply the years in which you were trying to conceive - is taken away as an option, we often feel that we need to replace it with something equally big. How do we save the world, make a difference, feel as if we've achieved something, and leave our mark on the planet if we're not going to be a parent?  We feel a huge loss, and a huge pressure to fill this void. That pressure comes from ourselves.  But from others too.  "Are you going to do something else now?"  "You must have so much free time without having children, how do you fill it?"  Etc.  Etc. 

I know I felt this void, and this pressure, in my case largely self-imposed.  I wanted to change the direction of my life completely.  I wrote a list of all the things I dreamed of achieving in my life.  And I wanted my husband to write a similar list, and see where we over-lapped, or how we could help each other to achieve these other big goals.  My husband - not particularly into such things - never wrote his list, and to my frustration I felt as if we were drifting along for 5-10 years.  But we didn't actually drift, as he has pointed out.  He had a great job and was happy, I achieved some really interesting things career-wise, and also in other fields.  We were able to stay in the city to be near elderly parents.  I was able to support my mother during and after the death of my father.  We travelled to some amazing places, places I had always wanted to visit.  I found that I could help people, and  I know I made a difference in their lives.  And yet that was something I fell into, unplanned, yet enormously rewarding.  I discovered (or remembered) too how much I liked writing when I found blogging (way back on my first blog).  Whether this ever comes to anything or not, it is something I enjoy.

Best of all, I found peace in the little things in life, as Kathleen has suggested. Yes, I loved my travel and trips and some of the professional achievements, and I wouldn't be without them.  But I also appreciated the little things in life:  dinner with friends, cooking new dishes, writing a simple blog post, going to the gym, sitting with a coffee on the harbour on a beautiful or stormy day.  I found that I didn't envy the huge achievements of others, because I know what that costs them.  My ambition now is more about what matters to me, than how I look to others.  I feel sorry for those who have only one big goal (career, money, family), and who base their happiness on whether or not they achieve that.  They judge themselves harshly, and yet without that goal - whether it is impossible to achieve, or is taken from them - they wonder, what else do they have? 

Perhaps these thoughts are a result of my age.  But they're not unique to those of us without children.  I look at people whose children are growing, have already left home or will leave home soon, or those who have retired, or lost their jobs (like us), and they wonder what they will do next too.  They've never had to think about their lives, and often flounder around looking for a purpose, or worse, grieve that their lives have no purpose now their children are grown/their jobs are gone.  Sound familiar?  We just had to do it earlier.

So perhaps the answer is simply to realise that sometimes the best things in life are those that aren't planned. And that life isn't a failure if we don't reach the big goals.  All we need to do in life is make sure we live the life we've got.

06 July, 2013

High Season

The timing of our trip to Europe was purely decided by my husband's work ... or rather, the timing of his redundancy.  They took ages to confirm, then to decide dates, and so it meant we left about a month or even two months later than I would have hoped originally.  (Though in reality, there is no way I could have organised the trip and got everything ready at home in time).  So.  Here I am in Rome.  In July.  

Travelling through the Middle East for the last few weeks was fine, as it is getting hot (and when I say hot, I mean HOT - 47 degs C was the hottest day), and so it is the low season there.  Tourist numbers were low, even in Israel.  But here we are in Rome.  In July.  With the rest of humanity.

Or so it seemed today, as we ventured into the centre of the city, to retrace some steps from our first visit here 15 years ago.  The tourist spots and routes thronged with people.  The Pantheon was full.  I remember being there in November 1998, standing inside in silence, with only two or three other people there with me.  Today, there were hundreds.  Lots of American accents, some German and some very pale Scandinavians.  All it seemed with at least two kids in tow.   Have I mentioned I detest crowds?  Especially in the heat?  

I have never before truly appreciated how lucky I am to be able to travel outside school holidays, and to be able to avoid the peak season in Europe in summer.  Even Bangkok at Christmas/New Year is better than this!  

And yet, because we have the luxury of time, because we're living in an apartment (airbnb - thanks Nicole for the recommendation you didn't realise you had made) in a real, middle/working class, section of Rome, we can escape the tourist routes.  It made me feel sad for all the tourists, because only about 50 metres from Piazza Navona, there were beautiful quiet streets, the type of streets you go to Italy to see, and they were empty.  Stuck to a timetable - not just because of kids, but with jobs too - the tourists missed these streets, the streets that were always my enduring memories of Rome, long after the Colosseum or Vatican.  And here at my apartment, there is a small street market every morning just two minutes walk away, just past the bar where we can get coffee in the morning, and beer/wine in the evening, and just past the small pizza place, and just before the gelateria, and a small square where people sit in the evening.  And even though I am in Rome in July, I know I am still lucky.