A Woman’s Choice

Today I want to write about a special choice. One that is subject of so many discussions that it is almost arrogant to think I could bring something new to it. I guess my point is not very original at all, but one that I blieve could save us a lot of quarreling.

I am talking, of course, of the choice many women are struggling with: If you have kids, do you stay home or do you (continue to) work somewhere else (because staying home is work too).

I believe that there is no one-and-only-solution for this question that fits us all. The “right” choice, if it exists at all, is different for every single woman on earth, simply because there are not two people, much less two family situations, that are completley alike. (Also the definition of “working” could be debated endlessly, I am sure.)

My point is: Let it be everyone’s own choice. Let us work on it that every woman (and, if we are already at it, every man) can find the answer to this question that fits their personal situation best. Leave everyone the possibility of their choice – and then respect it! What is great for one could be devastating for another. Let us accept people’s choices and help them pull them through. Let us stop inducing guilt into each other. Let us stop justifying our choices by criticising the choices of others.

Can we have the courage to say: “This is what I choose to do. – Because I think it is the best possible way for me and my family. Someone else may choose differently. Because they are different, and that is ok.”?

Can we support each other in our choices? If someone encounters difficulties in their family life, can we stop thinking “that is because she is (not) working”. Can we instead think of a way to help?

As for the so called experts (politicians, psychologists, child development whatsoevers): Could you please stop trying to manipulate us into either going out working or staying at home, just as it fits your own agenda? Because we are people, not pawns, and I am really getting fed up with reading yet another political pamphlet about “what women should do (for their own good!)”. If you want to help: Create an environment that leaves room for choice. And then let us choose. Thank you.


Wrong Tactic for Coping with Grief

All those nice things I was writing about “choices” and “staying in control” (or at least re-gaining it), about choosing your reaction to things.

Yes. Quite. And now I am sitting here, typing this with a bit of a swollen, painful wrist. Because control did not work at all.

What happened? A friend died.

An old friend, someone I knew since childhood, since the day his family moved next to us. We used to play a lot, although we did not go to the same school, had different circles of friends. But it was always nice to just cross from one garden to the other and knock on his door.

Since we have both left the nest, we saw each other rarely, only when we both happened to be visiting at the same time. But we did manage to reconnect at least once a year, mostly during summer time. He would tell me about his jobs, and how he finally decided to go to university after all, to study law. He would describe how different he felt compared to all the young people freshly out of school, how much more concentrated he was. He said he did not need all the parties anymore, had had enough of them in his own time. He was very proud when he finished his studies quickly, but not as proud as his parents, who were positively glowing.

He also told me about his girl-friends, some of which were a bit complicated. Let’s say he did not go for easy. Until he found his love. The real one. They married recently, expecting their first child.

And then she woke up a few days ago, to find him lying next to her, not waking up any more.

When I heard it via my mum, who had got it from his parents, I first felt like in a bizarre dream. It could not have possibly happened. I spent some time staring at my tea cup that luckily was filled. I drank some tea. And, with my kids playing in the same room, I managed to actually go on with the usual things.

But after maybe an hour I snapped. I had forgotten to do some silly little thing, and that made me so angry that I had to leave the living room. I ran up the stairs and suddenly I was filled with some much rage at the universe that I clenched my fists – and hit the top of the stairs. Hard. As hard as I could.

Then I sat down, looked at my hands. They both hurt. Slowly, the pain in the left one started to recede. The pain in the right one got worse though. Stupid, I thought. That was really stupid.

And so the pain in my hand reminds me that sometimes choosing does not work. At least not if you are me.

As for my friend, when I think of him, I remember the last time we saw each other. It was this summer, at a BBQ in his family’s garden. He was the grill master, at one point he actually managed to set his own pants on fire. But only a bit. After having eaten, my kids were running around playing, his soon-to-be wife, being already pregnant, excused herself to get some rest. We talked. He told me how happy he was. He told me how the concept of having a family of his own had always seemed nice, but distant. And how easy everything had become since he had meet this woman, his love. How easy living together was. How much he was looking forward to becoming a dad. How everything had fallen into place.

It was a wonderful day. I want to keep remembering him like this. Happy.

I wish that one day his love will also be happy again, together with his child.

Strangeness in a queue

Sometimes you wonder what makes people tick like they tick.

A few weeks ago, during the October break, we spent a day on an apple farm: picking apples and pears, enjoying nature, running around (the kids), chatting on a bench in the sun (the grown-ups). “We” being three mums with their kids of various age and height, enjoying a relaxed day, everything being easy and running smoothly (except maybe for the youngest girl, who was still tired from having started school 6 weeks before and therefore found life in general hard to bear).

At one point I got up from the bench and ventured into the cafe to get us some hot chocolate. Inside it was not very busy, but there was a small queue at the coffee bar, where you also had to pay all your other food and drinks. While I ordered our drinks from a nice young man I noticed two things: One was that the woman at the front of the line had some trouble with payment (card not working properly or something like that), that probably being the reason for the queue. Second was a woman hovering slightly behind us, carrying a tray with apple pie and obviously waiting for someone. “Someone” turned out to be her two teenage daughters (or maybe even granddaughters, I am horrible with age estimates) who apparently had needed some extra time to choose their food. The mum/grandma said something to the girls rather coldly, put their plates on her tray and moved closer to our queue.

Now you would have expected her to step to the end of the line, in this case two people behind me. But she didn’t. I did not see her move, but suddenly she was standing between the woman first in line (still trying to pay) and the woman in front of me, but still in second row. She ordered a cappuccino. A few moments later, a cappuccino arrived, actually belonging to the woman in front of me, who had ordered it minutes ago. At the same time, the woman at the front of the line finally won the fight against her card, took her tray and left.

And with one fluid movement , the woman from the second row took the cappuccino, stepped to the front of line, put down her tray and made herself ready to pay.

The woman standing in front of me seemed to need a few seconds to realise what had happened. Then she said something like: “Sorry, but that actually was my coffee?” She did not even mention the fact that it also was her place in the line. The other woman turned her head half way, just looked at her in complete calm, turned her head back and proceeded with paying. Then she took her tray and left.

The woman in front of me just stood there. Then when a puzzled expression on her face she took the second cappuccino, which had arrived in the meantime. The cashier had either not noticed the whole gambit at all (being maybe still stressed out from the payment trouble before) or chose to ignore it. I turned to the woman behind me and made a “did what just happened really happen?”-face. She shook her head in disbelief. “Well”, she said, “maybe not everyone can be nice.” Which I thought was a remarkable sentence.

When I got back to my friends with our mugs, I could see the strange woman sitting a few meters away. She was one of those immaculately dressed middle-aged(?) ladies who look like the impersonation of politeness.  I told my story to my friends, to share my puzzlement. One of my friends said: “You know what I always think when I meet someone like her? I am really thankful that I am not like this. And that I am raising my children not to be like this either.”

So, why I am putting this here? Because it is still on my mind, after a couple of weeks. It was not the rudest thing I have ever experienced, but I think what bothers me is this: The complete calmness, coolness of it. This woman acted not in a stressed-out, being-in-a-hurry way of someone who has waited too long and suddenly cannot bear it any longer. She looked like she just decided she wanted that coffee, she wanted to pay now. And had the right to do it. Without any trace of guilty conscience. And managed to make the woman whose coffee she took look small and lost and defeated.

And so I walk around wondering how it must feel to be such a person. And at the same time I remember the words of my friend (be thankful you are not like this) and the words of the woman behind me. Maybe not everyone can be nice.

Ranting Management

I know the pleasures of ranting. “Venting anger”, as it is called. It does feel good to throw around sarcastic comments on life, universe and everything – or more specifically on that guy who just pinched “your” parking space, the woman who placed her bike in the middle of the sidewalk, or the teenagers that almost bumped into you because they were playing with their smartphones. So you transfer your anger into some smart, nasty comment that clearly shows the contempt of a superior being towards those stupid people in your way. Or you just get plain angry and get the load off your chest.

Yes. Feels good, in at twisted way, and does not hurt anyone, right? The people you are ranting about do not hear it, anger gone, no harm done?

Maybe. But – recently I started to ask myself:  does it really make me feel good? I read an article about some recent studies this summer, stating that ranting in fact “maintain[s] a person’s attention on angry thoughts, rather than dissipating the anger. Venting and ranting effectively keep angry feelings in memory and increase rumination about the offending event.” (full article: The Myth of Catharsis: Why Ranting and Venting are Terrible Ways to Handle Anger) And that would be exactly the opposite of the desired effect. Not good.

It made me think. My love has had his doubts about my venting techniques for quite some time. He does listen sympathetically, but also points out that maybe I would feel better if concentrated on the good stuff, instead of mentally rolling around in the bad. For example I could try to feel happy that I did find another parking space in the end.

Oh yeah, I used to think. There are times when you definitely don’t want to hear good advice like this. But, as I said, the article made me think. And, to be honest, while trying to teach my son to not work himself up on small things, I somehow got the feeling I was the wrong person to preach.

I realised that my ranting had become some sort of habit, a not so nice one. And it wasn’t a very good example for my kids either.

So. I decided to rant less. I choose to try to see things more relaxed, take it easy. (And, when choosing to do so myself, it felt much easier than when I heard it as advice from someone else.) I does not always work, but I think my stress levels are actually decreasing. I do try to look at the positive side or, if finding one is ridiculously hard, I try to concentrate on something else completely. Just let it go. Not play the game. Step out of it.

Although, to be honest, sometimes I allow myself a bit of a relapse. No one is perfect. – And maybe it is like it is with sweets. Too much of them is definitely not good for you, but a bite of chocolate now and then does no harm.

Doesn’t it? 😉

Battling reactive mode

To start it positive: today was a good day, mainly. More ups than downs, and some opportunities to be creative. I spent time doing what I wanted to do. But in the evening it somehow went wrong.

Half of the day I pictured myself using the evening for nice activities on my blog:  playing around, exploring the possibilities, maybe writing something nice, maybe starting to fill the bookshelf.

But as soon as I settled down at the computer I was sucked into reactive mode. The email I had prepared yesterday to quickly finish off and send: draft disappeared, needed to be re-written from scratch. Other e-mails coming in, demanding attention. My phone starting to beep, giving me text messages that wanted to be answered. My laptop feeling like going on strike, needing to be re-started.

After I dealt with all this: one look at the clock, telling me the nice cosy evening has almost passed without being nice and cosy at all.

Any choices here?

I chose not to force it. I chose to go to bed – almost. I thought, why not write it down. Turn it into something. Something that will give me the feeling that this evening was not utterly lost.

So maybe that is an idea. After having dealt with the chores that force themselves upon you, allow yourself some nice little reward. Does not have to be a piece of chocolate. Could be something  that gives you back your feeling of control. Some moment of happily doing what you love to do.

And now I choose to go bed.

Good night.


Evening in an Old Mill

This summer, while spending a few days hiking in the Mosel valley in Germany, we came across a restaurant that was special. Not so much because of the food (don’t get me wrong, the food was great!), but because of the atmosphere.

It is called “Alte Mühle” (= “old mill”), an old stone building completely covered with vines, with a beautiful patio filled with tables, chairs and countless plants. Inside you find a labyrinth of small cosy rooms, also filled with tables and chairs, with waitresses whizzing around, radiating speed but calmness at the same time. They give you the feeling you just made their day, in a quiet happy way without forced cheerfulness. The menu is really a book, not a mere list of food and drinks. It is filled with funny little comments, suggestions about what to do if it starts raining while you just settled in the patio, thoughts on the food they are offering… you can busy yourself for quite a while with it.

Later, after having enjoyed a delicious meal, we found our way into a little shop that is part of the restaurant. You can buy their own wine there but also a variety of gifts and toys. What caught my eye were cards, plaques and signs with sayings on them. Wise words, some big, some small, made of cardboard, made of metal,  distributed all around the shop. I wandered around looking at them, thinking which one I would like to take home with me. For some reason I had decided I would take only one, and remember the rest.

One said: “I cleaned my house last week. Sorry you missed it.” – That would certainly fit on my front door.

One said: “Write your hurts in the sand. Carve your blessings in stone.” I do try to remember this one.

One said: “We do not make mistakes. We do variations.” This one now hangs in my kitchen.

Now I try to do new things from time to time, without being afraid I might fail. Not only in my kitchen.

And if you ever are in the Mosel valley and are looking for something special, try the restaurant: http://www.thomashoereth.de/restaurant-alte-muehle. I hope it will give you the same enchanted evening we enjoyed there.