Monthly Archives: September 2014

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credit where credit’s due

I have a pretty good life. It would be easy to sit back and say, ‘look how well I’ve done.’ No one would like me any more and things would go downhill a little from there, but it would be easy to think that way.

It would be easy to jump from that train of thought to another which says that people who are doing it rough have done that to themselves.

I want to be honest – give credit where it’s due. I can take a tiny percentage of the blame for how good my life is. TINY.

I have done some good things, yes, but through no virtue of my own…

– I was born to a stable home, never went hungry, was not abused, did not even witness addiction until well into adulthood.

– I was always expected to get an education. People believed I was capable of learning, of looking after myself, of becoming a contributing member of society.

– I was taught how to save and spend money wisely. I was taught how to cook healthy and cheap meals. I was taught how to read and write and think for myself, to question authority. To not be a sucker. To not go into debt on a car.

– I went to excellent state schools. I had friends from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, boys and girls, and several with severe disabilities.

– The personalities in my family meant that there were lots of engaged (cough-enraged) discussions and debates over the dinner table.

– I lived overseas. I saw that whole societies operated differently to the way I thought was ‘normal’. I realised ‘normal’ was a myth.

This was all before puberty. I was given a damn good start in life. And through no virtue of my own, I do not struggle with anxiety, depression, addiction or severe health problems.

Wouldn’t it be IGNORANT and ARROGANT to assume that other people should be able to have a life as sweet and comfy as mine, if they just set their minds to it? If they just believed in themselves, and got to work, and quit making stupid decisions?

Someone whose home life was unstable, who was not infused with security and confidence from the word ‘go’.

Someone who was emotionally and/or physically abused by the very people meant to care for and love them.

Someone surrounded by addiction.

Someone who was not taught how to spend money wisely. Who doesn’t understand that a pair of sneakers or a car are never an ‘investment’. That $10 can buy one take-away meal or a whole day’s worth of groceries.

Someone who never learned how to cook healthy, yummy food.

Someone not confident in their ability to read and understand, to communicate effectively.

Someone who was punished for questioning authority, or who only ever saw adults believing every bit of spin going. Every advertisement promising to peel 30 years off your age. And perhaps they live in a neighbourhood with a bunch of loan sharks.

Someone who only ever had friends who looked and talked and lived the same way they do.

I could go on.

Well, I just got lucky, didn’t I? Some would say ‘blessed’. Whoever gets credit, it’s not really me, is it? My parents get some credit, but they can’t take all the credit for their nice lives either. So, my grandparents get some credit, and indeed some of them came from some pretty dire situations.

I think it’s time to stop the blame game. Be thankful, and humble, and treat others with compassion and grace.

Some people need a lot more help than I do. That’s not because I am better than them. NOT AT ALL. I do not DESERVE a happier, healthier existence. I am not entitled to more.

We will probably go on disagreeing (we being society) about just how to best lift people out of the cycle of poverty, but can we please discuss THAT rather than all the eye rolling, finger-pointing, ‘not my problem’ B.S.?

*deep breath*

That said, let’s actually have these discussions. Let’s get involved and speak up. Let’s tell the politicians that we do care and we expect them to do something about it. We’re stuck with them for the next god-knows-how-long. AND THEY’RE STUCK WITH US.

 


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finding pace

We’re back at it. Luuk’s at work, Elena’s at halte garderie (well, not this very minute. Right now she’s watching Monsters Inc. for the thousandth time), Louis is at school and I’m in the thick of revisions… again.

the kids and their friends

The kids are happy to be back in routine, and playing with all their buddies.

They’ve gone and changed up the school timetable, so Wednesday is now a school day – but a half day – and every other day wraps up at 4pm (used to be 4.30) which means everyone’s a bit confused… but three weeks in, it’s settling down.

I’ve found myself a french conversation group, and signed Louis up to stay after school on Thursdays so I can go. I’ve even got myself a little job – talking English with a kid for an hour a week. Yeah, it might cover the cost of printing all my drafts. But probably not.

lovely autumn

Lovely autumn

September is gorgeous in this bit of the world, if you can slow down enough to notice. They have a cheese and wine fair in Antony each year, which seems a wonderfully hedonistic way to celebrate.

cheese and wine fair

Foire au fromage et aux vins!

champagne at the antony foire au fromage et aux vins

My happy place: the champange tasting.

Last year it rained… but this year I think Luuk got a bit of sunburn. Needless to say, we are stocked up to our eyeballs. We will be eating a lot of cheese in the next few weeks. Wine, at least, lasts for a long time. But in our enthusiasm to taste it we have two bottles open right now – one has gone into a bowl with chicken (I’m gonna try coq au vin) and the other will be going into tonight’s risotto. (The chicken needs a day or two of swimming so we’ll eat it tomorrow.)

So we’re eating well. Surprised anyone?

There have been a few cool bits and bobs in the past couple of weeks:

– I met Margaret Atwood at the Festival America at Vincennes. And she signed a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale for me. I was not at all cool about it. Star struck silly, in fact.

handmaid's tale, signed by margaret atwood

– Elena is biking to school and garderie, so we’re inching toward the end of the pushchair.

elena on her bike

– There was writers’ group last week, and we tackled a whole novel. We’re all working away at novels and usually do a chapter from each, in a session. But for editing purposes, looking at a piece of work in its entirety can be hugely helpful, and it went very well.

photo (2)

 From beginning to end.

I also found it encouraging to read a complete manuscript, written by a member of our group, and next time we’re doing one of my whole manuscripts. There’s at least one other member with a finished one so perhaps we’ll tackle that (when said member gets back from hiking in Nepal…)

– There’s an election in NZ, in a couple of days in fact, and there have been lots of great conversations via social media. I’ve been particularly encouraged by how many of my former students are taking an interest and getting involved. One of my favourite units to teach was on government and democracy (link is to a great documentary) and five years later those kids are old enough to vote, and still give a damn. So, win!

– I’ve been reading ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig – a downright brilliant book. Highly recommend. It’s not long or difficult, but wow, talk about tackling the big questions with humour and heart.

I feel like I’m forgetting something, but that might be it. Elena’s gone down for her nap so I’d better get back to my disgraced heroine and the unconventional earl she’s accidentally falling in love with. As you do.

 


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and then

So, I was going to write a blog post or two about our summer road trip, our 3,500 or so kilometers and 4 countries (and yes, the sound of music tour).

But then we got home and the rentrée has been BUSY, but also about a hundred times easier than the past two years. I was going to call that post ‘third time’s the charm’ because I finally feel like I’ve a clue what’s going on.

But then grandma died.

I knew this would probably happen while I was here, on the far side of the globe. Even when we first left NZ, two and a half years ago, I wondered, as you do when you’ve got grandparents in their late 80s and you move to the other side of the world.

Louis and his great grandparentsGrandma and Grandpa with Louis, just before we left NZ.

I’m 29 and a week ago I had 3 living grandparents. All in all, I’m incredibly lucky. I spent ten years of my life living just a few kms away from Mum’s parents, and school was a stone’s throw from their house. We spent a lot of time with them, until we moved to the south island, but even at that distance, we had skype, and often twice annual visits, and a foundation of knowing one another well enough that a bit of distance didn’t freeze us up. On seeing each other there was plenty to catch up on, plenty of connection.

grandma and baby LouisShe took a lot of good photos with Louis, turns out.

And now, I’m on the far side of the globe and everyone, even my sister who lives in Ohio, is coming together to mourn and celebrate and all that… but not me. We visited at Christmas. Things had deteriorated. I said goodbye and knew. I thought I knew and it turns out I did.

grandma and big Louislast wee cuddle, last January

Funny how fully expecting a thing to happen doesn’t actually make all that much difference to how you feel when it actually does.

Grandma was (past tense)
a great artist
mistaken for the queen
by six year olds
hostess of a hundred afternoon teas
taught me how to make beds with hospital corners, andailsa caradus
that cross-stitch should look the same on the back
that a thimble can be worth a lot of money
that jelly beans aren’t just for kids
that its worth crossing town for just the right frame
or cup of tea and sandwich.
Believed in quality.
Believed in a lot, in fact,
but not in hell
and not in drink
proud great grand daughter of temperance suffragist
stubborn and generous

Grandma is (present tense)
fondly remembered,
and a link between me
and so many wide-spread people,
a lot of whom believe she is (present tense)
still going strong on another plane.

party, grandmagood sport, Grandma

(proving to the great grandkids, that a party hat is nothing to be afraid of)