Sticky Soul

You have let me know so strongly that you are not interested enough.

Not interested enough to at least try to be reliable.

Not interested enough to keep in touch.

Not interested enough to care about how I am doing.

Not interested enough to show concern when you know that I am not struggling.

Not interested enough to make sure that we see each other.

Not interested enough to make us a realistic possibility.

My head has understood. My heart is on its way.

But my soul is a completely different matter. So is my body. My soul reaches out to you every day. My soul doesn’t accept the distance. My soul reasons with my head, reminding it of your words and your promises and of how you feel to me, deep down. It begs my heart to have faith in you. Faith in those words, faith in your intentions, faith in life’s way of bringing together what needs to be together. My body craves you, and seems to accept no other.

Why do I have so much faith in you? Where does this energy come from that keeps me in this state of missing you, of wanting to be with you, and of looking for possibilities to close the geographical distance in a sustainable way?

I wish I was wise enough to understand myself in real-time.

As it is, I will stick to accepting whatever is at present.

Insight will follow if I am patient and observant enough. Sometimes, positive acceptance is the most satisfying path to choose.

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Trust and Trustworthiness

The kids are getting to the age when trust is no longer a given. Trust to us as parents has to be earned the hard way, like we expect any other adult to earn our trust through their trustworthiness.

Only, with one’s children, it’s not that easy. After all, there is still the parent-child relationship to be taken into account. The guiding role of the one, the following, experimenting, self-defining and rebelling role of the other.

I witnessed a scene today while bringing my eldest back to his dad’s after having spent some days in Rome with him.

My daughter told me that her dad had taken her phone away from her. This means that she can only contact me using her dad’s phone or one of the computers in the main room. In the past, she has experienced him forbidding all contact to me and making communication impossible. This is why she usually hides away to talk to me and still does not dare to call me if he is in the house, for fear that he will turn this way again. She usually writes to me on whatsapp, where she has  privacy.

This time, he had taken her phone away because he had a problem with her playing senseless phone games on it.

Fair enough.

Only – he has not understood that this punishment will only feed her distrust in him. He has never had a sensible conversation with her. He has this idea that his kids have to earn his trust – but not the other way around.

I personally think that as the grownup in the constellation with my kids, it is my duty to take the first step and communicate from a position of trust, even if I witness the kids doing something that I have explicitly told them not to do. All of them have often heard me say “I need to be able to trust you, just like you need to be able to trust me. It’s the only way we can work as a family. If you show me repeatedly that my trust in you is misplaced, the consequence would be that I have to take total control of you (being the responsible adult), until you can control this yourself, which would be an unfeasible and very uncomfortable solution”. I do not accept the absence of trust. However, I try to understand that they are growing people. Children don’t automatically learn how to be trustworthy. It’s something they learn with time, through recognizing the value of trust and trustworthiness, and it takes time for them to recognize the effect of their own actions within this complex inter-human system.

When they are toddlers, we spend forever and a day gently (and sometimes maybe less gently) explaining the importance of not hurting others. Or sharing. Or not throwing their food onto the floor. Etc. Nobody in their right minds would react by making the undesired behaviour impossible as soon as it shows itself the first time – in the case of hurting others, perhaps keeping the kid in question behind bars until it “is old enough to understand” – providing the behaviour is not seriously damaging. We know from years of research and wacky educational concepts that punishment only generates frustration, fear and in the end, rebellion.

As the kids grow older, they are able to learn more complex things. They go from accepting that parents make the laws of the family to questioning the importance of every single one of those laws. Being trustworthy within the family falls into that category, and is a very complex law indeed.

Because – why indeed is it important that a kid should not be playing games on the phone if the parent has forbidden it? Is there any direct harm? None that the kid would recognize as harm. As a parent, we might see addiction, passive waste of time, the senselessness of it, the hiding away from the real world. An 11 year old will not see this. To an 11 year old, games on a phone are a welcome break when there is nothing else (easy) to do.

In my opinion, our patience with our children should remain the same as they grow older as it was with the toddlers they once were.

Of course they are able to grasp more complex ideas as they grow older. But they are also dealing with more complex situations. Children will repeat mistakes, or misunderstand things, or simply have a changing opinion or understanding of things. Some children will learn certain concepts easily, others will take more time and require more patience to learn the same concepts.

But the important point is, that they won’t learn to understand the importance of the concepts we are trying to teach them if we teach them from a position of distrust. They may learn to hide the offending behaviour, or veil it with something else, but they won’t incorporate the concept if their whole behaviour and personality is inherently distrusted.

As parents we have to trust in our children’s ability to adopt the values we see as being important, but also be open for a discussion of those values. We need to be able to explain why we think a certain concept or value is of importance. We need to live that value, and bring it to the table in the relationship with our growing children.

I don’t mean to say that we should blindly trust our kids, simply assuming that they are doing the right thing because we stubbornly stick to the assumption that they are good people. As adults I think we all know that there is space for good and bad in every one of us – we make conscious and unconscious choices about what we fill the space with, and for most of us, there will be a healthy mix of both, hopefully tending towards the good. I am saying that we should always offer trust to our children, but also confront situations we are unhappy about, or see to be harmful, or wrong. This can be a very difficult and exhausting thing to do, but then – who ever said that being a parent was going to be easy…

Let me give you an example:

A few weeks ago, I had to go out with the eldest late at night for some time. I asked the younger two to get themselves ready for bed and read or play quietly until I would come back, and I told them at what time about I thought they should do that, and when to expect me back.

I expressly told them not to watch any videos or play stuff on the phone, but when I got back, they were both in one bed, huddled over a screen watching minecraft videos.

I was disappointed when I got back, and I told them that. I asked them whether they knew why I don’t like them being on the screen late at night (which they did). I let them know that what especially disappointed and upset me was that they had agreed to not watching stuff, and that they had then gone behind my back and done exactly what they had agreed not to do. I let them know that I expect them to get in touch if they change their mind about what they have agreed to and to let me know. I let them know that of course there is no great damage done by watching a few videos once in a while, whatever the time, but that the real problem and the reason I was upset was that they had intentionally broken the agreement without a second thought.

Next time I have to go out and I ask them to agree to something similar, I will trust them again.

I will not switch the internet off or lock all smart devices up, nor will I call them every 10 mins to check up on what they are doing. I will however remind them that I expect them to keep to what they have agreed to or otherwise let me know and ask whether we can find a different agreement.

I hope that they will learn this way – learn to understand their own choices and in time, that they will form their own set of values which they will stand up for. I hope that being trusting and trustworthy will be one of their choices.

I don’t see that the children’s dad will succeed in having the relationships he envisions with any of his kids with the way he attempting to pull them towards the behaviour he thinks is important. Every time he punishes the “wrong” behaviour, he will push them a little further away from himself.

Trust lies at the bottom of every relationship – and children rapidly develop from trusting automatically, because they are programmed to do so by evolution in order to survive, to independent personalities who make more and more choices about who they are and who is worthy of their trust themselves, blood relation or not.

Burning Out

There we go.

I’m scared.

Not all the time, only when I’m noticing it.

For two weeks, I couldn’t breathe properly. There was so much I should have been doing – educating the kids, keeping the house clean, going to bed on time, getting meals on the table, going to appointments etc, and I felt glued to my seat in front of the screen, having to “work”, but not actually getting any work done, nor any of the things that needed doing, because I was busy panicking about that mountain of tasks. Yoga helped, but only while I was doing yoga – as soon as I finished yoga, the stress came flooding back in.

I now use an online to do list for all the work tasks and tasks around the house so that I can stop worrying about them and just get them done, one by one, without letting myself be distracted by remembering all the other tasks while trying to focus on one of them. This also lets me share household tasks with the kids without the stress of reminding them to help 20 times a day.

Most days, I feel more or less relaxed again, and I am breathing normally.

But lately, I have noticed that I am forgetting little things. Things I wouldn’t normally forget, for instance organisational stuff that was mentioned in an orchestra rehearsal, or something that had been said and I had even answered only minutes earlier. I don’t forget and then remember again when somebody reminds me. There is just nothing there, a blank space. Nothing.

I don’t forget things. I can quote you on something you said 6 months ago. I don’t forget stuff.

I am being ever so careful not to make mistakes, because I know that I am more prone them at the moment. The other day for instance, I answered an email from May, just because outlook happened to be showing the emails from May. I didn’t notice that the context was something old, but just replied. Thank goodness it was only internal and not something that went to a customer.

All this is scaring me.

I’ve googled symptoms of burn out about 100 times and know that those changes fit the pattern.

I feel in control at the moment, mainly because of this new task planning tool that I’ve found. It alleviates a lot of the constant stress in my head. I don’t feel that I am a victim of whatever it happening, with it happening without my noticing. Quite the contrary, I am closely observing myself from an outside perspective, ready to pick up any other signs of mental changes, and ready to try and find helpful solutions whenever something does crop up.

But still.

I’m thinking I should find out about getting help as soon as possible, before it’s too late.

I need to find out what options there are. All I have seen are “stress-management techniques” such as meditation and yoga, and physical exercise. I’m already doing this.

It’s a scary feeling.

 

One Year of Running

I have been running for just over one year now. A year ago, in late summer, a friend asked me why I didn’t run. I went into the usual excuses – I told him that I get asthmatic when I run, and that it has always been like that, and that I am simply not built for running. When I was younger, I used to dance a lot and cycle and skate wherever I went, but I never ran, not even to catch a train. But instead of accepting all this, he pshaw – nonsensed me and said that everybody can run. Even if it’s just 2 mins running and 1 min walking.

That stuck with me and wormed its way into my brain, until a month later, a few days before my birthday and feeling unhappy about the level of my physical fitness and body happiness, I walked into a sports shop feeling very stupid and out of my comfort zone, and asked for help choosing a pair of running shoes.

The first ever time I wore those shoes, I went out after dark so that nobody would see me. If I was going to fail, I wanted to fail alone, without witnesses.

I didn’t even go along a nice route or anything – I just found a straight bit of path with a bit of light from the deserted station and went up and down that – 2 mins running 1 min walking up, and the same back down, for half an hour.

It was hard. I did get asthmatic, but remembered not to panic, but to slow down instead. After a while, I felt I was in control of my breathing. Towards the end, I felt as if I was dragging myself along – but I kept going, cheering myself on each round and counting down to the final round.

Two weeks later, I felt confident enough to ask my friend in the village whether she would like to join me, and that was one of the best things that happened last year. She and I have been running together ever since, improving continuously. We are now running 5k as our usual run, and planning to improve our pace and lengthen our runs next. On my own, I have also done 7k, 8k and 10k once.

In this last year, I have felt myself grow healthier from the inside. I have felt my confidence growing, and have felt more and more comfortable with my body. I have learned the joy of simply being able to run across the field without getting a stitch and breathing problems. I have watched the shape of my lower body change and grow strong. I have learned that I have the willpower to go through with something, even at freezing temperatures or with the sweat pouring down from the summer heat. I had a phase of extreme breathing problems – pain and ragged breath – and learned to listen to my body. I found out that I needed iron after worrying about all sorts of possibilities for months. Most importantly my running friend and I have a much deeper friendship now than we had before, so that our running sessions are not only doing us good physically, they are also doing our soul good.

In this last year, I have gone from hiding in the dark thinking “maybe I can try to run – a bit – maybe” to a proud “I Run”.

Thank you, M, for saying the right thing at the right time, even if you didn’t know that you were at the time. Thank you L for dragging me along on the days I would prefer to stay in bed. Thank you myself for trusting in myself and doing something that I thought was impossible.

The Value of Reliability

Reliability is something I have always taken for granted in anyone around me, no matter what the relationship was. Sure, some people are generally more reliable than others, but the intention to be reliable (and maybe occasionally messing up) seemed to be there and I never thought twice about expecting it.

Now, at the age of 35, I am slowly seeing that not everybody is actually reliable. Unconditional reliability is in fact something very valuable and unfortunately, pretty rare.

I have a colleague for instance, who always acts reliable, but never gets anything done if I ask him for anything, even if he has offered his help. He’s a charming lad, but in reality, absolutely unreliable in the context I know him in.

But these unreliable people are choosing to be unreliable only in certain contexts. They are flexible in how reliable they are, depending on how important the whole thing is, or depending on the context.

For me personally, if I tell you I am going to do a certain thing, you can be sure that I really intend to do it. I may mess up, but if I do, I will take responsibility for messing up and inform the people affected. It doesn’t matter whether you are a colleague, a friend, a best friend or some guy on the street.

If reliability is a flexible concept, this doesn’t work very well. How am I to work out whether to count on your words or not? Experience at work has taught me not to wait for this colleague to do anything I ask him for help with, even if he has the time and I do not, because in most cases, he will simply not do it. There is only one type of task which he will do if I ask him, so I adapt to that.

In a work context it is frustrating, but I can learn to navigate the waters, as the context is very narrow and predefined. In this case, the outcome is predictable and I know what to expect.

In a very personal context, flexible reliability is everything but simple to navigate.

Being unconditionally reliable for somebody means you are inviting them to be able to unconditionally trust you.

For me, it comes natural to trust people. Experience then may teach me otherwise, but first of all, even if things look different, I trust that the person I am dealing with is trying to be the best version of themselves, just like I am, and that includes being reliable and trustworthy.

Flexible reliability massively undermines the primary trust I give. How can I feel comfortable around somebody who’s words are not trustworthy, as I know from painful experience? How can I put myself in a vulnerable position if experience has taught me that I cannot trust a person’s words or future actions? In a personal context, being vulnerable to each other is necessary, but it only works if there is a tremendous amount of trust. Trust is built out of a combination of the primary decision to trust somebody and built up trust based on experiencing the person as being reliable and trustworthy.

I am mixing up the words trust and reliability a lot. Are they in fact linked in such a strong way? Maybe it is just my way of thinking of them. To me, trust needs reliability to grow. The best reliability for me is unconditional reliability – that way, another person’s reliability doesn’t depend on myself or the person’s momentary opinion of myself. It will still be there even if some other threads run thin.

The reliable people in my life at the moment that I choose to trust in a personal context are all women, and there are not many. The only unconditionally reliable man I can think of right now is my immediate boss.

Why is this such a difficult decision to make for people? Personal values are not something you switch on because you might get something in return. You have values that you yourself believe in. They are part of who you are. They would still be part of you if you were alone on a island. So, why is reliability such a hard thing to do? I don’t know of any negative effects it could have, and it really doesn’t take much effort. You can still be crazy and fun while being reliable. You can be the coolest guy on earth – reliability would actually just make you way more cooler. So what is it? Why is being unconditionally reliable so unpopular?

 

Questions and – finally – Answers

There is always one question you ask me. One of those questions that would require hours to explain. I end up not answering it properly, because the conversation veers off in a different direction. We’ve done this a few times already.

I’ll answer it here. It seems the best option right now, and we can carry on from there, if you like. This way, I can put my answer into words that make sense. When I try to put it into spoken words, I mix the timeline up and forget explanations that are necessary to understand the context.

So – Why did I stay?

It’s a question that I’ve been asking myself for the past 6 years. I think I have an honest answer now.

I will start long before I met Mr Ex, I will start 2 years before that, when I was 17. I was going out with somebody, Mr M. He was quite a boy actually, a little younger than me, an adopted kid and an aspiring musician. In fact, we met properly because we both played in the selected school orchestra. I grew to love him dearly, in a weird kind of way. There was no falling in love with a bang with him, but I was in love. Anyway, his parents were very strict. Apparently, in a discussion with them about me (they didn’t like the fact that he might become distracted from his music career), he told them that he intended to marry me (he didn’t tell me this though!). They went mad and forbade all contact. They even had some of the teachers at school keeping an eye on us.

He tried. He tried to find 5 minutes here, another 5 there. But it was wearing him out, and his situation at home wasn’t helping. His parents were watching his every move and were happy to dole out punishments whenever thought he had stepped out of line and seen me again. And so, in the end, he told me he couldn’t keep it up anymore.

Then he did something that I’ve never been able to understand in anybody. He kept right away. He made a point of keeping his distance, avoiding eye contact, and going completely quiet.

This broke my heart. I began to doubt that he had been sincere. I began to think that perhaps his parents had only been an excuse, and easy reason. As far as I could see, he wasn’t behaving as if he was hurt or unhappy, or as if he cared about me at all. People told me he was going out with that girl, then with this one.

I began seeing other guys – none of them anything serious or for very long. Mr M and I ran into each other sometimes, and exchanged an update, but no more than that. Once though, he called me in the middle of the night, drunk, somewhere outside, and I drove to his town to look for him, because what he had said worried me. I didn’t find him, but we ended up meeting up the next day, and this was the first time we had a chance to talk for a bit. He said that he still felt the same. But then the parents sent his sister out to look for him. He asked me to come with him to see his sister, thinking she would be delighted. She wasn’t. When he got home, she told his parents where he had been and apparently, his father beat him so hard that he passed out. All this is stuff that I never heard about until much later.

After that it was back to no contact, and I again couldn’t understand why. Again I began thinking (after months of trying to get a sensible word out of him) that what he had said did not fit to how he was acting. I didn’t know all the horrible details, all the things he later told me he had going on, and maybe because of that, I couldn’t put the words together with the behaviour I was seeing.

The other context that was happening in my life was that I was gradually failing at singing. I have a different view of it now – but then, I was failing in everybody’s eyes. I was hoping to be an opera singer. This was where I saw myself. I knew I could touch people’s hearts with my voice, and I wasn’t bad at acting. I had (and still have) a natural singing voice that has something special. But however talented I may have been, in the eyes of my singing teacher, I was failing. I was unable to fulfill her expectations. She had taken me on at a reduced rate, and was giving me free extra lessons every week, all because of what she expected of me. Only that never happened, and she became frustrated and stopped believing in me. I mirrored this and became equally frustrated and stopped believing in myself, but I was unable to see that I had to change something in this vicious cycle. I simply tried working harder, practicing more hours every day, I would not accept what I could feel my teacher thinking. Then, I auditioned at the big English music colleges. My dream was to study there – I didn’t think much of the German music colleges, and I didn’t think about going anywhere else at that time. I was going to take the audition, be accepted, and show my teacher just how wrong she was – that I wasn’t going to disappoint her.

Then I failed all three, spectacularly. By the time I was taking the fourth, I had lost my voice. Funnily enough, losing my voice repeated itself in much the same way in a great wave of healing 10 years later… but that isn’t part of this part of history.

The third part of my context was the non-existent family. I broke up with my father at 13 – he was forever jealous, whatever I did, and was either upset with me or very angry. After a year of fighting, threats and discussions, I chose to stop trying and stopped talking to him. This wasn’t too difficult as he was never at home. He moved out when I was 15 when he found out that my mum was with somebody else and had been for a long time. The separation totally threw my mum. She was overwhelmed by having to move house, and having to work and look after her kids. I was the one who looked for a new place to live, and I’d have to check up on her to see whether she had actually called the places and organized visits etc. She made things all the more complicated by refusing to tell me how much income we had as a family, so I was fishing in the dark. She would just sit somewhere and stare into nothing. She went completely gray that year. She picked up a little after that, but she wasn’t ever somebody to be supportive for me, it always stayed the other way around. She made me feel uncomfortable (and still does to an extent) and generally never knew what was going on in my life. If I told her anything, she would be sure to forget anyway. I helped a little looking after my younger brother and sister, taking them to their first days at school and helping with homework and stuff like that. My mum provided for us in a general way – she provided food, payed the rent, did the washing, but she only really had a relationship with my youngest brother, 10 years younger than me. I spent most of the time looking forward to moving out, sometimes I would spend the afternoon at school to practice instead of going home, and once I couldn’t bear it and went off to live with a girlfriend for a few weeks. I’m not sure she even knew where I was.

With all this going on, I finished school and had no idea what I would do. Music seemed impossible, biology maybe. I enjoyed studying for the biology exams. I wanted to leave Germany.

Then Mr Ex marched into my life, one day before my last exam. We met in a train, and although he didn’t say anything, it was very clear that he was attracted to me. But then – in those days, I was used to men being attracted to me. I could induce it, even, and liked to play with that sometimes. In the end, we were talking, and we got along wonderfully. I was falling in love with a bang this time. He was charming, witty, attractive, and eccentric, nicely strange. It felt incredible. He was also 8 years older than I was, and was telling me all about his university experiences and work experience. Apart from seeming educated and funny, he also seemed experienced and in my young 19 year old eyes, very grown up and wise.

Things stayed this way for about two weeks. Then he asked me how many men I had been with, and I answered, honestly (I think it was 7…), and he was absolutely shocked. His main message was “how could I have spoilt myself in such a way for him? What kind of a person must I be to have been able to injure him so?” I tried explaining that I do make a big difference between something serious and simple fun, and that I was absolutely reliable and trustworthy in a relationship. I wasn’t unfaithful at all. I just liked to be adored from time to time, even when there was no boyfriend in sight, and looking back, I think I needed someone around just to help me believe in myself.

He was so disappointed, so jealous, and so cross with me. I should have just gone, then and there, but I couldn’t leave knowing that he thought so awfully of me. I wanted him to understand that I wasn’t that terrible, unreliable, slutty bitch he was painting me to be. I wanted him to understand that in a love relationship, I was completely committed.

That was the point at which he turned it around – he didn’t just leave it at that, he turned it into a count against me. He explained to me that that was why my life was in such a shitty place. He explained that that was why Mr M had left (he had squeezed all the details out of me…), and why I didn’t have any supporting people in my life. It was all my fault. It was because I was such a bad person. He actually said that he wasn’t sure whether he was ready to sink low enough to spend time with me. On the other hand he said I was so attractive and he couldn’t resist, even though he knew better.

To begin with, I was torn between trying to prove that I wasn’t this “awful, slutty bad person” and feeling that I had deserved better.

But he kept finding situations in which in his eyes, I behaved according to the “old” pattern. He reckoned that I bumped into a man on a crowded street because it excited me to feel his body brush against me. He disapproved of me seeing friends from school, as they were part of the “old” pattern. He made a huge scene when I wanted to go to the blade night in Munich because I had stayed with somebody I liked going skating with on a couple of occasions. I tried to explain that I liked skating with him because he was as fast as I was, but all that didn’t count. He got jealous if I went cycling somewhere on my own because somebody might see me. He started making sure that I never went out with clothes that were more revealing than he liked them to be. I wasn’t to mention anything that had happened before I knew him. I wasn’t to wear jeans, sometimes he said this was because he didn’t like jeans, but much later on he said it reminded him of the day we had met (I was wearing jeans then) and he didn’t want to be reminded of that awful day. With him, I learned to bow my head and to become invisible outside the house.

All through the first year I was torn between leaving and wanting to prove that I wasn’t a bad person. I still valued the same things in Mr Ex that I had valued right at the beginning. I wanted him to believe me and to trust me. I supported him with my very first job and paid for an apartment big enough for both of us, and provided everything we needed. He “couldn’t contribute” because he was finishing off his university thesis. He had various girls he would meet up with so that “he could understand what I was coming from” and make up for the feeling of inexperience he said I made him have. I put up with it because how else could I show that I really was faithful?

After about half a year of living together, we had a major row. We had rows all the time, mostly about how bad I was, but this was a big one and it left me hurting. By then, I had nobody to turn to. I tried to ring Mr M, who I had been on friendly terms with when I left school. I needed to talk to somebody who would hopefully be nice to me, although by that time, I didn’t believe that I deserved to be treated kindly anymore. Anyway, I didn’t reach him, but Mr Ex saw that I had tried to call somebody by checking the phone and phoned the number that he didn’t recognize. He did get through while I was at work, and had a chat with Mr M.

Mr Ex confronted me with this when I got home and told me that he (Mr Ex) had been right all along, Mr M had indeed told him that he was pleased to have gotten rid of me and that he agreed about me being a slutty bad person.

Another part of my soul shattered. I believed Mr Ex everything he said, after all, he was reliable and he never lied, or so he said.

Later that year, there was another major-major row. After that, I started looking for apartments to move into alone. He picked me up from the office where I was working then, making a huge scene of crying and telling one of the lawyers there how sorry he was and could he send me out to talk to him. He also made sure that I understood that this was only because of me – if I hadn’t been so inconsiderate of his feelings before I met him, he would be totally different. I didn’t completely give up on the idea of moving out and leaving, but it became less urgent, because he said that he was sorry to have hurt me so much. In the end, it was the last time I tried to leave.

Two months later I was pregnant with the first baby. After that, there was no question of leaving anymore. I now had three goals in life: caring for the child, proving that I was worthy of being loved, and not being a disappointment to Mr R in my education, i.e. being top of the class and managing exams without visiting lectures, as well as not disappointing him as a partner, meaning dinner had to be on the table when he came home and the baby had to be happy too, and sex had to be joyously given at any time he felt like it. And of course it was ok that he refused to ever hold the baby or change a nappy or do anything around the apartment.

This is why I stayed. I believed him, and there was no support network around to help me see otherwise. I was extremely vulnerable in every area that mattered to me at that time, and he provided answers that had some logic to them, even if they were based on lies. He promised me that he would love me – if only he could. If only I could show that I was a good enough person to love.

Later on I stayed for the added reason that he depended on my physically. I needed to take care of him and his ailing health. And you really can’t leave an invalid without showing that you are a very heartless, unfeeling person – the very opposite of what I was trying to prove for 9 years.

He is a broken person himself. More broken that my temporarily broken self ever was. I think that half the time he doesn’t notice what kind of harm he’s doing. I believe he bends the facts just how he needs them, so that he really thinks that he doesn’t lie. If I would have stuck to it one of the many times when breaking up was an attractive option, things would have happened differently. But I didn’t have the strength to do that then, and I have forgiven myself for being as weak as I was back then.

Your next question is “Then why did you go on to have four kids with him?” – I’ll answer that one another time.

Week 2

My 2nd week here in Romania has been quiet, but full of learning from the kids in particular.

More than anything, I have come to recognise how grateful I should be for my own children, and what effect normal upbringing has as opposed to not much upbringing. As I have said before, each of the kids at the village is a sweet person. But I have come to see some common traits in them too, which I know I have worked to channel in my own children without thinking about it most of the time.

One is that most of the kids have so sense of value of things. In their world, things (such as toys, books, pencils etc) appear, and if they trash them, more will appear. It happens by magic. And so, they don’t think twice about destroying things or just flinging them over their shoulder after they have finished with something. It’s paradox that they are actually in quite dire situations and will have to come to terms with starting at 0 once they reach adulthood, but that living in this village supported by the government and donations actually teaches them the opposite of being frugal. The cycle of having to work to gain something just doesn’t exist, so how are they going to realise this? My kids see me working, and they know about our family finances, our income and our normal expenses. In my opinion, this is something that could be improved at the village, maybe by having a store in the village instead of magically replenished supplies, meaning that kids within a family will come to realise that resources are limited and need some care and thought.

There are also issues with aggression – which is to be expected. I have been teaching my kids how to deal with feeling aggressive for ever, and it still comes up sometimes, so how should I expect the kids in the village to be able to deal with it? I am not quite sure what could help in this area. I remember that at school there was a natural system where the older kids regularly brought the younger ones in line. I remember one situation when a guy from my class tried to pick a fight with some other guy in the first year at “the big school”, aged 11. A boy from the upper classes (must have been about 17) stopped him, and the main message was that violence was despised and who and where did he think he was? This one occurrence worked wonders, and it kept on working well as long as I was at the school. So maybe the natural authority of the older kids could be used, which would also help them taking on responsibility. I also think that there has to be a strict set of rules that counts for all kids. No punishments, but simple rules like “move away from somebody if they are being aggressive” – “get an adult to help in an argument instead of it developing into a fight” – ” if you are a threat to other kids and cannot control your violence, the natural consequence is that you will have to stay within the vicinity of an adult who will control you” – “always talk, state what you want, why you want it, and listen to what the other person has to say”. This should be published to anyone involved in the village to help develop a stable understanding and give the kids a system that they can use within the village, at school or anytime later in life.

Another difficult point is the overall organisation of the holiday times. There are some people who give certain lessons regularly, others (like me) who are there for a certain period of time, and the families also have some sort of programme, such as any other natural family would also have. As these 3 sources for activities are not very coordinated, it often ends in chaos. Bearing in mind that these kids come from difficult backgrounds and have problems with consistency, concentration etc, I think they would benefit more from having a fixed programme that they can sign up for and also contribute to. Therefore, they would know in advance that somebody called Anna would be around making papier mache figures from mon-fri 10-12, and after finding out what that is, they could sign up for it (or not). If they sign up for it, the expectation would be that they take part for the whole activity, not just for one day of it. They would also have the option to offer courses themselves. One boy gave me a skateboarding lesson the other day, after being very doubtful whether that would at all work, seeing that I am a girl. You should have seen his happiness when his instructions started showing effect! Kids are talented. They are usually not little Einsteins, but I know one who would be able to give drawing lessons, another who could teach all sorts of gymnastics tricks, some more who could teach clapping games etc.

Some of the kids have appointed me as their personal translator, which I am just a teeny weeny bit proud of. Of course, this only means that they know they have a greater chance of me understanding them than with any of the other volunteers and it doesn’t say much about how well I have mastered the language until now – but it still feels good.

All in all, I can see myself doing this again. I would know what to expect next time, and might be able to coordinate things better upfront. It is definitely doing me good to have this time to grow for myself, without work being a major block in the road and taking up most of my time and causing so much frustration. I am happy here, when at home I would just be missing my kids and worrying about them. As I am in the city, I have time in the evenings to meet up with new and old friends easily and spontaneously

Adventures

So, here I am, somewhat settled now, after a few days of finding my way around the neighbourhood, getting used to how things work at the children’s village and juggling that with normal work (which is only more or less successful, but that was to be expected).

The kids at the children’s village are lovely kids to be working with. They each have their issues due to their past and present situations, but most of the time they are loving, open-hearted, interested and helpful little people. They can be a bit out of control sometimes and have little self-control in certain situations, but they will also come running to the gate when I arrive, or just come up for a hug for no reason at all, and all sorts of other lovely little gestures.

The day I arrived was a little chaotic. I had a late flight, and arrived in the city at about 10:30pm. My airbnb host had already said that she might be a little late, and had told me on the phone that she would send a friend to meet me at her address where I could stay until she came. She said this would perhaps be half an hour or so, so no problem there. However, when I reached her house, I called her and she told me that she was still in the middle of nowhere and that she had arranged for her neighbour to let me in to his place, where I could also sleep if I wanted to, as she was going to be much later.

Now, this neighbor is a heavy smoker and a single man living in a big mess.

I had no intention of closing my eyes for one second there, and if I could have held my breath for the 3 hours that I spent there, I would have gladly done so. I swear I could feel my lungs shriveling up every passing minute. By the time my host got back I was no longer a happy person.

Anyway, I spent the next day exploring the area, finding breakfast (soya milk for my tea!), buying a few things for my projects at the village and picking up a heavy bunch of newspapers at a hotel that had been saving them for me.

At the village there were about 15 volunteers this past week, and about the same number of kids. It was a little chaotic so I decided I would just keep in the background, get to know some of the kids a bit and take a look at what kind of things the other volunteers were doing.

They are all young students, some studying pedagogics, others not, but none of them have any real experience with children, nor do they speak a word of Romanian. There is only one other girl who does speak a little. They seem to be doing games mostly, which usually kind of disintegrate after a few rounds.

I started my first project the next day. I have three things vaguely planned – animals made from papier mâché using balloons to form the general shape of the body, some “scientific” experiments and kids yoga. I started the papier mâché figures first, which are a huge hit. At first there were only some 5 kids around, and I started them off making pigs and cats. The following day I had kids asking whether they could also make pigs and there were actually too many to deal with on my own. As I mentioned, they have issues, and patience is not one of their strengths (in general). Also, they easily get engrossed with blowing balloons up again and again and don’t seem to readily understand that if they keep doing that (and the balloons subsequently burst in the sun), there won’t be any more balloons left for the animals they wanted to make in the first place. So I’ve started being a little more strict and explain these things to them, trying to show them that the problem is not them personally going through 10 balloons in as many minutes, the problem is everybody doing this. The same as I have done many times with my own kids.

Next week I will start the yoga sessions. There will be fewer volunteers there next week and more kids, so I feel confident that it will be a little less chaotic. I also have a better feel for the kids now and know that I will have to introduce some rules for yoga, such as “no laughing at anybody during or after the session” and things like that. I’m looking forward to doing the first yoga story with them now; a week ago I was dead scared…

Otherwise I’ve been out and about in town, I’ve done yoga with my host, I’ve been running in the park (but I feel I should find somewhere to run where there are natural paths instead of tarmac everywhere), I’ve been meeting up with people and working of course. Some of the people I have met online who live here are such inspiring people – being here and being able to spend time with them for realz is worth so much.

And yet again I feel completely safe and at home here, and more and more confident speaking without falling back on English. My host assumed I had Romanian roots but had grown up somewhere else, she was very surprised when I explained that actually I was English with no Romanian history whatsoever.

Tonight I stayed in as I seem to have caught a bit of a runny nose and didn’t sleep well last night, which is why I am here blogging instead of being out J

Next week will bring D back to town, which makes me glow with anticipation every time I think about it. I am looking forward to simplicity together, to being able to spend time with each other without the pressure of only having a very limited number of days, and to being able to reconnect far away from the internet again.

I’m so glad life has led me to be here right now. I don’t think I could be in a better place. I feel I am doing something sensible with the kids here, I’m growing myself and my belief in myself by doing things that initially seemed quite scary, and I’m strengthening trust in my intuition by following along this trail in the first place.

Thank you, Life!

The Shelf

There is a shelf where are all the broken hopes and dreams are kept, to be taken down from every few years to be looked at, then placed back again with a sigh.

Hopes and dreams are all very well. I have a shelf like that too. Singing professionally is up there, so is painting, and dancing is there too. I have also temporarily shelved some things, such as traveling outside Europe, singing regularly, and living somewhere where I feel comfortable and at home.

Sometimes I have put people on that shelf too. But people don’t stay on those shelves. They leave a trace, that is true, but when you go back to your shelf every so often, you will find that the people you may have placed there are gone, leaving only a shadow behind. They leave quite suddenly from my shelf – one moment they are there, even if they may be starting to look a bit faded, and the next moment, they are gone. I am sure they make a decision to get off the shelf and creep away before I can place them back. You can’t keep people on the shelf against their will.

I feel placed on such a shelf myself at the moment. I keep trying to get down, not to creep  away, but to be a real person again, not jammed on that shelf with all the other shattered hopes. But every time I get down, I am met with something that feels like “no, no, you are a broken dream, you go back onto the shelf where you belong”. And so, that’s where I am put again. I’m sitting between the happy family and simplicity.

I’m not going to creep out just yet. I have no inclination to do so, and there is no place I wish I was instead, apart from off the shelf and in reality.

I just feel so confused every time I do muster enough courage to get down and join the real life going on. There I am, as real as anything, and ready be to exactly the same person as I was before I was declared broken. I definitely haven’t changed since then! But however I behave, whatever I do or don’t do, say or don’t say, I am unable to gain the right to stay off that shelf.

Maybe I’ll just stay on the shelf for a bit and just concentrate on quietly looking after myself.