Start as You Mean to Continue

This may seem like a morbid start to the year, but we took the wee one to St Andrews Cathedral a couple of days ago to let off some steam (read: pursue the enemy alien baddies and use the force to rescue the goodies) and this message captivated me entirely. The topic of mortality is a bit of a raw issue in our house, the wee one is still trying to get his head around it after a string of bereavements (of the human and animal variety) in the past year and no-one really wants to contemplate their not-being-ness for too long now do they?  But by far the most memorable start to a lecture series ever was the inestimable Roger Robinson quoting from the funeral sentences in the Book of Common Prayer – ‘In the midst of life we are in death…‘ and this thought has stayed with me for most of my adult life.  Life is joyous and fabulous in so many ways…yet shadowed always by the hint of our tenous grip on existence. The love I am so grateful to share now will sustain me through the pain of life – and the dizzying heights of happiness that life brings will always be a little shot through with the fragility of mortality.

Intimations of mortality at the start of a new year

With this music faintly ringing in my ear, I resolve to grasp life firmly this year, and to try to do the following…

  • Walk up this hill at least once a month (once a week would be good, but wholly unrealistic, given our schedule and the weather!):

Half way up

  • Organise the little bits of chaos around the house – in particular, find the books a new home, like this beauty maybe:

Books need a new home

  • Whip myself back into shape, perhaps with the help of a weekly class in the village, which is long overdue:

Pilates

  • Figure out whether or not it is time for the wee guy to begin school here:

Ceres Primary School

  • Take ourselves off for at least a week in the sun – hopefully somewhere like this:

Cote d'Azur cottage

  • Treat myself to a night at the ballet:

Highland fling

  • Spend more time outdoors with these guys:

Sunny New Year's Day on top of the hill

  • Find a place and time to give a little back in gratitude for all that is good in our lives.

Of course, life may get in the way of all these intentions…but it is wonderfully freeing to be poised on the brink of a new year, ready to blow the cobwebs of the old year out of your head and attempt to live a little more purposefully through the coming months.  Happy New Year everyone!

Magic Enough

The happiest Christmas ever! We have had so much delight getting ready for the magic of the festive season this year.  When we put up the tree, the little guy danced around the room in between hanging decorations singing ‘this is going to be the happiest Christmas ever!’  He loves every little tiny detail and has been as full of wonder at the lights in the trees on the drive home as at the treats discovered in the advent calendar bags each evening.  The moment we turned on the tree lights, he darted across to the main light switch, turned them off and sat in the middle of the rug with a beatific smile on his face, letting out a rapturous sigh.

My heart lifts with the magic of a story that has been told so often that it permeates the fabric of our culture and gives us a wealth references to share with one another.  We love a good story at our house and as an erstwhile teacher of literature and drama, it thrills my heart that the wee one needs little encouragement to read a story, begs often for us to tell him the stories of our lives and has recently been making up a raft of his own rather marvellous narratives.

I also love the magic of our reality – the mysteries of the world around us are revealing themselves to scientists daily, in ways that are sometimes more surprising and revealing yet more mysteries than we could have imagined. The world is an amazing place and it is our firm conviction that there is plenty of mystery and magic in the real world without needing to adhere to myths or tales as anything other than good narrative to illustrate rather than explain the world.

This is why Santa, that very jolly fellow who zooms about the skies with his magic reindeer, and spies on the children at preschool through the CCTV cameras, and sends emmisaries to the Christmas Fair to hand out pre-emptive gifts on his behalf, and is apparently able to get into our house even without a chimney as they have the technology these days, will not be coming to our house this year…or any other year.  We are those parents.

So, we were prepared to apologise if our little one broke the spell at preschool with his assertions that ‘Santa is not real’, but our feeling is there is enough magic in the world for our boy to retain his sense of wonder AND not lose faith in our explanations of how-the-world-is, based on a sense of disenchantment (fleeting perhaps) when it transpired that we had sold him a story as truth.

However, it seems this year that the apologies are not required – yet anyway.  He has been far more willing to accept the stories about Santa from outwith the home than our assertions that Santa is not real.  We have put Santa in the same camp as monsters, fairies, ghosts, baby Jesus, angels, ogres et al – all part of the mythical story repertoire that we cherish.  But I think for now this has just served to further confuse him and remind me that his little world is still expanding daily and he is so willing to believe anything – another compelling reason to maintain an honest line with him.

My only moment of pause was when he assured me that he would be very sad if Santa did not come to our house on Christmas.  Lots of things make our children sad.  We cannot shield them from all disappointment, we need to help them learn adult tools for absorping the disappointment and finding a happy equilibrium in spite of the reality check.  We will hug him if he is sad, remind him of how wonderfully fortunate he is in our lovely – real – magical world and help him to gain perspective while hopefully continuing to foster his delightful sense of wonder.

Making Ourselves at Home

The weekend has finally arrived.  It is time for a new look here at ‘Not Working’… As I mentioned earlier in the week, on Monday I enter the potentially crazy world of workinginsideandoutsidethehome.  I am shying away from saying I am going back to work, since it is abundantly clear to me…and most people who think about it for a few minutes…that there are all kinds of work done in our world – and not all are remunerated.  But from Monday, I shall be remunerated for some tasks I do, and I will be remunerating someone else to do the many happy tasks I have been doing with Kazuo for the past two years.

Akira and I will be renegotiating the roles we play in keeping the home running, though we have managed to develop a fairly smooth routine, so I am hopeful that there will not be too many teething problems there.  Kazuo will make perhaps the biggest adjustment – as he settles into a life of full time nursery school.

As I reflect back on what I have felt about ‘working’ over the past few years – and look forward to more time here in the blog (yayy for lunchbreaks!) I came to the conclusion that I was working hard to make us all feel at home, wherever we happened to be.  So even while I return to the paid workforce, this need to feel at home…and help my family and our critters feel at home…is perhaps the guiding narrative of our life together. (See more on this on the Where I Find Myself Page.)

This weekend I have bustled about trying to get our house in order to weather the changes ahead.  I finally managed to find some secondhand cubbies for the entrance hall, and managed to wrestle some control over the chaos that had developed in that little vestibule.  Now the coats hang in the corner, the boots have a space, and the wee guy can sit down for wellies/shoes/slippers and not stand up caked in mud (or latterly, chicken poop – ewwww!):

We’ve planted a tiny row of garlic in our little plot – and now to wait for the spring for the other plantings:

And we installed a compost bin and made a trip to the recycling centre – showing the little one the delights of separating out our waste:

Here we are then…making ourselves at home.  I hope you will too.

Mama Came Back

In younger days, when I contemplated parenthood, I had this idyllic dream of raising my children in community – surrounded by family and friends who loved and helped to nurture them.  My children, I mused, would be confident and relaxed and outgoing…and happy to spend time with any caring adults who came their way.  They would not be tied to my apron strings, they would be set free to flourish in a warm communal setting.  Lofty ideals…and still rather cherished.  But there is no accounting for circumstances.  Life as we are leading it right now has meant that Kazuo has spent rather more of his days with just Mama than I would have ever envisaged.  It is a happy existence, but it makes for a slightly different view of raising a child than I imagined.  It also means he has a few more hurdles to overcome right now as he is getting used to being with people outside the family.

This month I have begun the process of helping Kazuo to settle into nursery school.

He has been a brave little trouper really.  For such a self-contained little person, he is developing a fairly healthy sense of his own situation.  Yesterday was our last official settling session.  It is two weeks since the last as he has not been too well in the intervening period.  As we drove into the school carpark he said ‘No, no nursery school’…and my heart sank a little.

At the previous session,  I left him for 20mins. First I  announced my intention, then I  gave him a hug goodbye, and satisfied myself that he was intent on pottering about in the tiny kitchen and would find some toys to play with.  Then I retired to the reception area and watched him on the CCTV.  Thank goodness for modern technology!  I could see that he was happily engaged for most of the time, and that the nurse in charge was very attentive.  As I returned he had a little meltdown, having just really noticed my absence.  But some cuddles from the nurse, followed by hugs from Mama seemed to do the trick.  Our dialogue for the following week went along the lines of ‘Mama left, Mama came back, cried…’  ‘Who cried’  ‘I did’…this last part was eventually replaced with ‘The babies’ – either a little displacement, or an observation of the slightly more needy nature of several of the much younger babies in his class.  I choose to think the latter…

Yesterday Kaz was a deal more reluctant to let me leave.  But in a firm but Mama-like manner I hugged him, said ‘Just like Dada going to work, I will come back’, waved out the classroom window and retreated for 40mins to the reception and the CCTV. He did remarkably.  The staff ratios were good enough to allow him to have the attention he needed, when he needed it.  So he got hugs during a couple of tearful episodes, and they managed to ascertain that he likes to read Charlie and Lola (since he seems a little obsessed right now this does not surprise me) and got him a special book to read.  Last night  he also told me that he cooked ‘ham and sausages with the lady’ in the teeny kitchen.

The overriding narrative is still ‘Mama came back’…which allows for time to discuss the fact that I will ALWAYS come back…and that the ladies at nursery school are lovely…and that it can be fun playing with the kids.  But a little overwrought episode post-nap later in the afternoon, when he thought I had left him and in fact I had just gone to do a little cleaning in the bathroom, suggests that deep down – or perhaps not so deep – the separation is quite affecting.  Which of course is to be expected, but nonetheless heartbreaking.

I know that he will become a stronger person for these interactions. I am fairly confident that we have found a safe and stimulating and caring environment for him to learn a little independence.  I know that these days it is normative for children to be cared for outside the home and that advocates of daycare focus on potential social and developmental benefits…But for all that, he seems so little to be making this transition.  And I am concerned that maybe he might not really understand it…so I am doing all I can to help him feel safe about it…

The best we can say is that ‘Mama came back’…’cos she will ALWAYS do that.

Working…or not…

I began writing here a couple of years ago when we landed in the USA and I suddenly had no paid employment prospects on the near horizon.  At the time I was searching for a new sense of worth…convincing myself that being at home/unemployable (for reasons of immigration policy, not a sudden lack of competence, though at times that is still how it felt) was a legitimate use of my resources.

Then, in true international-post-doc-wife fashion, I fell pregnant, and the ensuing couple of years became about the labour of love that caring for Kazuo certainly entails.  There is a kind of strange interplay between the Stay At Home Mother and the SuperMother…a bit like the evil dichotomy of Virgin/Whore that women have been trying to shake off for decades.  I feel very strongly that both positions are valuable, that we make the choices that best fit our circumstances and that women who are at home with their families AND women who return to some kind of paid employment outside the home are doing the work of community building and should be celebrated.  Personally, it was suddenly much easier to create a kind of network and sense of legitimacy in being a SAHM, even though I knew that had to be a temporary state of affairs.  This early in our life together (without owning a home or establishing ourselves) we cannot really afford to live on one income for too long.

But returning to the UK (and thus, the possibility of employment) has thrown up a raft of new Not Working kinda issues for me.  In the intervening years there has been a global recession, a change of government and some massive (and ongoing) belt tightening in the UK economy.  This is not a good time to be trying to find employment in a small community.  I am also discovering the costs of moving countries twice within a decade and of leaving here mid-career in my mid-thirties.

Finally, there is some cost involved in some of the other decisions I made over the past decade with respect to my teaching career…moving into boarding and letting some of my teaching professional development fall by the wayside was perhaps a bit of an error.  It was certainly foolhardy to keep thinking (in a very ostrichy way) that I would one day return to New Zealand, so jumping through hoops to register with the General Teaching Council when I had a secure position in an independent school was unnecessary.  Sigh.

Realistically, I do not want to return to the classroom just yet.  I know many mothers do so…I am just certain they have more personal resources than I do…I would find it difficult to sustain planning, marking, reporting and being a committed member of a school community whilst still maintaining a focus on the family life we are trying to build while Kazuo is still so young.  Equally, I think that since he has not been cared for by anyone outside the family, the transition to daycare/nursery needs to be a little more gradual (we are settling right now, and it seems a heart-wrenching process for both of us…), I would find it hard to leave him in care for a full week  just yet.

But it seems that right now, I am suddenly less employable than I have ever been, in the most fiercely competitive market I have ever entered.  Part-time jobs that pay well and have regular schedules just don’t seem to exist.  I am still looking…and persisting…but that feeling of being a little unworthy has descended again…even though I still have the safety net of our daily Kazuo and Mama routine to anchor me.  I am not sure I will feel properly settled here until I have resolved this issue, and gotten our schedules a little more fixed, and figured out just what I am ‘about’ for the next little while.  This keeps shifting every time I spy something I may be ‘qualified’ for…a stranger concept than I ever expected.

Anyway, there is a what’s-on-top about all that just now…I am sure I will bring some more clarity to this discussion in the next wee while.  But it is Wednesday, and I feel the need to try and find something new to apply for this week.  One job a week is the goal…getting there.  Wish me luck!

Charmed By…

With thoughts of creating a thrifty yet homely and hospitable space in Scotland that finally brings ALL our beloved things from around the world into one place, I have been casting about in my spare time for inspiration.  In the meantime, I have also tripped over a few things that have me longing for disposable income.  But since that may be a LOOONG time coming, I will just post them here and come back and daydream over them from time to time.  And you can enjoy them too.

  • Black seems a theme in our meagre decor and I really like how this guy has done it:

  • Am already dreaming of painting everything I find…so I need to have some good DIY tips to fall back on.  This post is really handy.
  • I would LOVE this beautiful stationery…

  • …and I have been dreaming of William Morris for years.  So if anyone feels like sending me this gorgeous book for Christmas…well you KNOW I will love it, hehe.

  • While seeking handmade double espresso cups, I stumbled across these beautiful Japanese-style pottery bowls…love, love, love.
  • Which reminds me of how grateful I was to receive these darling dishes from my sister when she came (not strictly a covet as I HAVE them…but I would love some more earthy gems to go with them…):

Ten Things of Happiness

Right now there is a lot buzzing about in my head…here are few things that are making me happy.  How about you?

1. The wonderful images created by Bianca Gomez, especially the wonderful birds she created for Poolga.com:

2. Cucumbers, they taste so good right now…looking forward to when they will grow in my yard:

3.  Hoping to find a spot in the new house for crafty things, and with this in mind, I want to source some better quality materials on our arrival, like this wonderful plant dyed wool felt.

4. Gingerbread, and the little one’s delight at eating ‘Men’ – especially the overjoyed dance of foodie ecstasy:

5.  The gorgeous images at The Vintage Moth:

4. Finding some good thinking about eating locally has been going on at our destination.

5. My orange mint plant spilling abundantly out on the balcony – not much else can thrive out there, but this little hardy number gives me some hope!

6. I’ve not worn these for years, but they fill me with thoughts of sandy summer afternoons:

7. Slowly a little Autumn wearing for the wee guy is taking shape on my needles:

8. I know I am horribly conservative here, but my feet are so particular, and the last pair of these I owned were SO comfy that I overlooked the slightly less than stylish thing…and I could walk for days in them and they lasted AGES, it is time for some new ones this winter I think:

9. This bag – I know, not terribly practical, but rather lovely all the same:

10.  These guys…they ALWAYS make me happy…

Getting Your Heart Set

Today is one of those days when I am trying not to get too excited about the prospects of our relocation to the UK.  It was one thing not to get too worked up about the possibility of the job Akira has been offered…but now that is a done deal, there are other massive unknowns in our near future and it is hard not to hope that the universe will continue to move favourably in our direction.

It is early days yet (we won’t move until the Autumn) but we are already checking out the real estate/letting markets with almost obsessive regularity.  Last night we found another perfect little house in the tiny village of Kingsbarns and after googling more images of this little piece of Scottish heaven, I am convinced it is the place for us.  Check out some of these amazing beach shots.   Almost as good as being here:

…albeit with a cooler climate, more frigid seas, more swanky golfers and more archaic (and thus more wonderful) buildings.

Silly me.

But I am sure that wherever we finally end up…it will be such a relief to (a) be in our own space [NO shared housing this time around], (b) be in a place where we have access to free healthcare, free education and family, (c) have a fenced yard for the wee guy to run about in…that I will be happy as can be… So I am not really getting my heart set on this one place…just daydreaming for now.

All Change

So a week ago, I wanted to write and tell you about the crazy night we’d had.  In fact I had so many other things going on too…bubbling up and running over…and wanted to let them all blog out of me.

Then it got a little hard to get to the PC.

And then I got a little shy…am feeling terribly nervous at the moment about social networking and blogging, and blabbing too much about my world and plastering it all over the web…not that many people read my meanderings, but it is still out there right?  So I took a wee break.  Sorta.

Still musing about all that.

But had to tell you some stuff anyway…can’t help myself.

1.  Last Wednesday night was MAD.  First – we moved to STL just after it was declared the Murder Capital of the USA (think that honour yoyos between several faded-glory urban areas) and so prepared ourselves for regular exposure to shoot-em-out gangsta culture.  Mercifully, it has been pretty quiet.  In fact, apart from emerging from Blueberry Hill on Halloween in 2008 to discover a local cop had just been shot in his car outside the Starbucks opposite, it has been totally tame.  For that we are grateful.  So last week, when we were clambering into bed at 10.30pm, it was a bit of a shock to hear shots ring out in rapid fire just a few doors down from us.  We are none the wiser as to cause and effect, but it did give us a bit of a reality check.  THEN – at 3.30am there was the most incredible thunderstorm.  At this time of year they are loud, long and full of non-stop lightening.  Of course the baby woke up – but he wasn’t scared, just awake, for two hours!!  So we lay around listening to nature’s tempest.  Here is the neighbourhood the next day – you’d think nothing had happened.  But it was a NIGHT!

2. The baby has finally changed from a two naps a day guy to a one nap a day guy – a little early I think, he is only 16mths.  But like all these things, it has been on his cue.  I just read the signals and gently alter what we do a little to suit his changing needs.  He is sleeping much better all round (he’s been pretty good really anyway), so getting him into bed for naps and bed is currently a dream (I know, just a phase, but I am enjoying it for what it is worth.)  But I realise now that I MISS that extra sleep.  I have to bustle around and get two meals (lunch and dinner) in one, often short, sleep.  So online time and crafty mama time is really suffering.  But I do love the time to get out and about in the afternoon (yes, our little weirdling is sleeping in the late morning, not the afternoon like most kids…apparently it is what happens with some children…who’d have thought?) and we are enjoying the sunny playground afternoons.  Here is sleepyhead just after his one nap of the day:

3. We have a destination!  This past month or two has been quite a rollercoaster ride.  However, I can now report that Akira has accepted a position at a university in Scotland and we will be relocating there in the Autumn.  It means I will spend this last summer here hanging out with Kazuo, rather than trying to take up paid employment, which will be nice for all concerned I think.  Our new location will be a permanent move for us, so we can look at starting to put down some roots.  I am really looking forward to being by the coast again.  We are all very happy about this move.  But we have made so many good friends in STL, so it will be a sad parting…we have a summer to enjoy more picnics and loveliness like this – come join us: