Discovery and recovery

I learned a few things about myself this weekend. None were surprising, except perhaps the extent to which they impact my subsequent behaviour. I will endeavour to remember the lessons though. Being aware and acting to alleviate issues is important if I am to manage my life. I am responsible for my own well-being.

The first lesson was that I am not as physically capable as I once was. Having spent several days in a row carrying and shifting heavy items of furniture and their contents, cleaning up as I went along, the extra efforts put in over the weekend to complete the jobs that I had undertaken took me close to the limit of my capabilities. I had to make a concious effort not to take out my extreme tiredness on my family, who had been willingly helping me as best they could. It is not their fault that I am ageing yet am still demanding so much of myself.

When I eventually sat down to rest, late on Sunday evening, it took quite some time before the myriad of aching joints and muscles began to relax. A couple of glasses of wine helped, but I needed to consciously stretch out and think about relaxing each part of my body. I felt exhausted.

Perhaps it was because I was so very tired and achy but, when I eventually dragged myself upstairs to bed, I slept badly. The next day I made myself go through the normal tasks that are required of me before walking to my local swimming pool. I had hoped that a little gentle exercise would help, but I believe what I really needed was complete rest. Having slept better last night, that is what I am going to allow myself today. My body has given what it can and I need to allow it to recover.

As a stay at home mum I am sometimes asked what I do all day by those who hold down jobs or pursue active hobbies and social lives. It is hard not to consider and be influenced by other’s comments, often not unkindly meant, and I find that I am keenly aware of how I spend my time. For now my body is telling me that rest is needed and it is forcing me to listen. In my state of exhaustion over the weekend I was finding it hard to engage with my family. If I cannot muster the energy to involve myself in as much of their lives as they allow, to offer them my interest and support, then I must act. For now, that action is to indulge myself in a period of inaction.

The second lesson that I learned over the weekend is that my children are likely to be more accomplished than me academically. I have suspected this for some time but, as most mothers think that their children are amazing, have been reluctant to elucidate this thought, even in my own head. For me, the significance of this is that I am at risk of being considered an imbecile by my family unless I demonstrate my other capabilities. I am not so naive as to think that I will be able to impress my teenage children and sarcastic husband, but neither do I wish them to write my opinions off as unworthy of consideration just because I cannot display the in-depth knowledge of topics that interest them.

Unlike the rest of my family, I do not possess a detailed understanding of science, maths and IT. I have a grounding and an interest in these subjects but, when topics come up for discussion, I am rarely able to offer any useful contribution. More often than not, if I try I simply exhibit my ignorance. My elder son can be quite intense when he wishes to further his understanding on a topic. He can become impatient if I interject with some attempted witticism or contribution that is irrelevant to the point he is trying to debate.

I know that I have other skills. For the first time this weekend I found myself thinking that to myself and finding it a comfort. It is probably also true that the skills that I have are not those that my son will admire, but I do not require his admiration in order to gain self fulfilment. This was a light bulb moment for me; to realise that, however much I love my family, I can be satisfied that I am succeeding in something without their support. They are all so hard to impress, but I discovered that I do not need my family to admire my achievements in order to validate their worth. It feels as though a rope tethering my balloon to the ground has been cut and I have been set free to fly.

The final lesson that I learned over the weekend is how important my writing has become to my contentment. This is still a fairly new endeavour for me. Although I have been writing on and off since I was a teenager, it is only this year that I have started to give the thought and time needed to experiment with form, style and ideas. Apart from this blog, most of what I write is experimental and therefore private. However, just because I do not publish what I write does not mean that it is not worth the effort. I do not write for public acclamation but for my own satisfaction.

Over the weekend I was just too busy to sit down quietly and pour my thoughts into my electronic pensieve. It felt as though all the words that were building up in my head were fighting to get out, leaving me feeling tense and frustrated with no opportunity for release. I craved a little quiet time, yet the only moments of solitude that I could fit in were late in the day when I was too exhausted to consider coherent thought. I need energy and a clear head when I write as well as a peaceful and quiet environment.

Lessons learned are worthless if we do not then adopt better practice. After yesterday’s attempts to ease my aching body with light exercise, I have granted myself this morning to totally rest; and to write. Much of this weekend’s activity was required to complete the work that I have been doing around the house. My daughter’s bedroom is finished, new curtains have been hung in my bedroom, and our home library is stocked and in use. As I had hoped, this is a fabulous room for my favourite indulgences.

We have yet to turn the heating on in the house, despite the cooling days. Thus I am currently sitting at my desk, thick socks and slippers on my feet, wrapped in a duvet. I will write until all the words have been poured out of my head and I feel the now familiar, pleasurable release. My body and my spirit will recover, but only if I grant them the treatment needed to do so.

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The making of an incompetent cook – Part 3

(If interested, the beginning of this saga can be read here: The making of an incompetent cook – Part 1)

When I first got together with my husband he quickly realised that, unlike him, my skills in the kitchen were limited. He mocked many of my efforts so I left it to him to produce food for us. Gradually, as I watched and learned, I picked up enough knowledge to know how to treat various foodstuffs without the need to constantly refer to my cook book. I also started to bake the occasional loaf of bread or experiment with a tasty pudding. I found that area of food production more rewarding.

With the arrival of our children I left full time work and took on the task of running our home. I was determined to feed my little daughter and then my sons well, cooking up and liquidising batches of baby food for the freezer so that I knew exactly what was being consumed. As they grew older I would allow them some of the kiddy food that they tasted at friend’s houses and adored, but I was never comfortable serving fish fingers, sausages or chicken nuggets. I always insisted on large, daily portions of vegetables; puddings were most often made up of yoghurt and fruit. Even if I had missed out on the cookery, the healthy eating lessons that my mother had passed on had been well learnt.

When my third child started school I found myself with more time on my hands and dug out my mother’s recipes for wheaten, soda and treacle bread. I would try to bake a couple of times a week, a task that was welcomed by my family as I would produce a cake, crumble or a batch of cookies while the oven was on. Somehow this period saw many successes as I relaxed into the task.

As our family grew our house seemed to shrink so we planned an extension out the back. Along with this work I chose a new, large and airy bespoke kitchen. The work on the house took six months, during which time we lived out of one room downstairs. When it was finally finished I planned a big party with all our local friends invited. Naturally, I provided a supper.

My husband and I hosted many parties and dinners around this time with the majority of the food cooked from scratch by me in my fabulous, new kitchen. I would still try out new dishes for these events, but would back them up with trusted standbys. It was only when we started being invited back, to the reciprocal parties organised by our friends, that I began to feel that my efforts were not as impressive as they had seemed to me. So many of these ladies were admirable cooks, as well as having talents in table decoration and flower arranging. I should not have judged myself against their high standards, but my confidence in my abilities was knocked.

Why the disasters started I have no idea. My cakes started to sink, my bread became doughy, my puddings were undercooked. I began to dread having to produce food for anyone other than family, who ate whatever I produced although often with bad grace. I stopped inviting people round for meals, except for my in laws. They were always presented with the same sort of offerings; even I rarely went badly wrong with a roast dinner.

There were other things happening in my life around this time of course, many of which I have blogged about previously. Perhaps it was a culmination of everything that was going on that caused me so much disquiet; perhaps it was this that was affecting the shaky results I was achieving as I persevered with the daily grind of feeding my family.

One thing that my overall experience of cooking has taught me though is the importance of introducing my children to basic food production. My daughter has responded well to this challenge, producing a variety of pasta and rice dishes recently as required. Her desire to prove that she can be trusted to look after herself has encouraged her to take note of how certain dishes are prepared.

My younger son is less interested in cooking savoury dishes, but can at least make decent cheese or tomato sauces to go on pasta; he will heat up a frozen pizza for himself if left on his own at a mealtime. His pleasure in cooking comes from the yummy cakes and cookies that he will make unsupervised; these are often requested by visiting friends.

It is my older son whose attitude towards food reminds me more of myself at his age. Although he enjoys his food, he shows little interest in feeding himself beyond hydrating a pot noodle to go with his cup of tea and numerous slices of toast. I guess it is hard to interest a recalcitrant teen in anything unless they choose to participate.

My sister first picked up the basics of cooking from my mother, and I should have been able to do the same. When the lessons were being offered, I suspect that I just wasn’t paying attention.

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Exam results

The long summer break from school is progressing with only two full weeks of the holiday left before the autumn term of the new academic year must be faced. My teenage children are acting bored at times but show little interest in suggested activities. The essential shopping trips have been completed, dental appointments and haircuts endured, bedrooms have been tidied and the clearout of last years books and papers accomplished. The main challenge still to be faced is exam results which are due at the end of this coming week.

Naturally I want my children to do well. They have high expectations and I do not wish to see their self esteem knocked. Whatever their results though, I hope that they will accurately reflect their abilities.

I did better than expected in the exams I sat at sixteen, largely due to the fact that the friends I had at the time were conscientious students who were willing to coach me in aspects of the subjects I was studying and struggled with. I was eager to impress and responded enthusiastically to what was, in effect, private tutoring. Whilst this did wonders for my eventual grades it did not make me any more clever. Once I moved on from this group and was left to manage purely on my own resources my exam grades fell. I felt, thereafter, a disappointment to my parents who did not realise that I had been helped to prepare for that first set of important, public exams.

I have read that straight A students struggle when they first fail. Whether this happens at school, university or the world of work, life is never going to be filled with unmitigated success. Learning to pick oneself up after a fall from grace and move forward with renewed determination to succeed is a life lesson that all can benefit from. It is, however, such a difficult experience to deal with at the time. The fear of failure can cause bright students to aim lower than their abilities could allow, leaving them questioning thereafter what might have been. The stress of overly high expectations can cause hard working students to burn out rather than flourish.

As a parent it is difficult to know how to approach the subject of exams. I know that my children are capable and wish to encourage them to stretch themselves. I do not, however, wish them to think that the results of exams will define them. In the world in which we live their exam results matter, but so too does personality and ambition. How we treat others and our attitude to the world around us can have a greater impact on where we end up than an A grade in a subject studied as a teenager. The exam result may be needed to get the interview, but genuine interest, determination and resourcefulness will impress an admissions tutor or an employer at least as much as a top grade.

I would guess that my children have heard all this before but do not perhaps understand just how important the ability to cope with set backs is. My son in particular has sailed through academia without much effort; I wonder if he will know how to apply himself when he reaches the point where this becomes necessary. He has an expectation of success without trying. He is not learning the importance of planning and preparation because, thus far, he has not found effort necessary in order to achieve.

These are lessons that I cannot teach. When I try to encourage more focused endeavour I am accused of nagging; when I try to talk about the importance of achievement I am accused of causing stress with my high expectations. I cannot seem to get my children to understand that it is not the absolute result that matters so much as trying to be as good as one is able. I do not need my children to shine so long as they have done their best.

Whatever the outcome of these exams, and they will be the first of many that my children will have to sit in the coming years, I hope that I can respond in whatever way they need. Whether we are celebrating a success or supporting a setback it is how they move on from here that matters.

Good grades may make things easier at this stage in their lives, but the performance of schoolchildren tells us nothing about the grown-ups that these children will turn into. Whatever their abilities and potential, how they use and develop these, their attitude, treatment of others and how they manage their life experiences matter more. The people they become may be shaped by the options available based on exam results, but how they utilise the opportunities available will define them.

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Benefiting those who already have

Next week my elder son will not be going to school. Instead, he will be spending five days in an office as part of his school’s work experience programme. Whilst the idea behind this scheme is commendable, in practice it seems to benefit those students whose parents can organise a suitable placement for them. I wonder what lesson we are teaching our children when it is demonstrated to them that those who already have influential contacts within the world of work get the most interesting opportunities, leaving the rest to cope with what is left as best they can.

Perhaps my views have been unfairly skewed by my own, limited experience. Last year my daughter had to go through the process of finding a company willing to take her for this week of work. She followed the instructions given by the school and searched the database of companies supposedly willing to take students on. She made her initial applications through this system for the positions that best matched her interests, but received no response. When she was advised that some of the companies may have withdrawn from the scheme and she would need to apply to others, the database would not support the change. The application process that had initially looked well thought out and straightforward did not, in reality, work.

From talking to friends with children in the same year group it became obvious to me that parents were circumventing the school’s processes and sorting out placements for their children within their own workplaces or those of family members and friends. These children were being offered a week with computer games designers, journalists, accountants and sports coaches; all of interest to the individual students. School was more than happy to accept these placements, subject to health and safety checks. The paperwork required did make me wonder why any companies were willing to take the students on. I wondered how many favours were being called in by parents in influential positions.

My personal view was that getting the job was as valuable an experience as doing the job, and I was reluctant to become involved. I also felt that my daughter should be able to travel independently to and from her place of work, which necessitated a direct and regular public transport link, thus further limiting her choice. My view was not popular; school became more and more irate as she failed to organise her own placement. Her numerous phone calls to companies on the database led nowhere.

With just a couple of weeks to go and no placement sorted my daughter was threatened with a week of emptying bins around her school. This looked to me like a punishment more than a valuable week of work. At the last minute, a split placement was found for her which required a uniform that we were expected to provide. We paid for this, and her travel expenses, allowing her to spend two days in a publishing house and three days as a waitress in a coffee shop. The process was frustrating, the implementation costly, the benefit negligible. I know that other children enjoyed their week of work so do not condemn the scheme. However, I was not impressed either with the expectations of the school or the  lessons learnt by the students about how one gets a job.

My son had observed his sister’s experience so was aware of the limitations of the school’s application process. He experienced the same issues with the database not working, companies he rang not having places to offer and school becoming more and more annoyed at his inability to secure a placement. Once again, at the last minute, he came back with some options for us to agree to. Unbeknown to the school, the placement suggested was at the company where my husband currently provides his services.

As the contact listed was known to my husband, it was he who made the initial approach. He was told that, although no placement had been offered (again), they were happy to take his son. We were doing just the thing that I had been trying to avoid; showing my child that nepotism gets you in. Suddenly it was all so easy; we were not going to turn this down.

My son will spend a week in an IT department gaining an insight into the sort of work that interests him; it is a great placement and school is delighted that we have sorted it out. It seems that everyone is happy except for me. It may be the way things work in the real world, but I am uncomfortable with the lesson it teaches my son.

When I was a student I gained work experience by getting a part time job. I learnt about the application and interview process, the discipline required to hold down a job that plenty of others would be willing to do if I quit,  the tediousness of repeated tasks and the need to be always polite and responsive to customers and colleagues. I needed the money so I did each job to the best of my ability.

I know that there are plenty of students who are in the same position today. They compete with others for the low paid, part time work available in shops and fast food outlets; they give up their evenings and weekends to hold down these sought after jobs and earn their spending money. To me, this seems to be a more realistic and useful experience than being handed a role by mum or dad.

I know of many older students who wish to be doctors or nurses and volunteer in hospitals to gain an insight into a job they may wish to pursue. Likewise, summer jobs in an accountants or lawyers office for those who aspire to these disciplines make sense before final decisions about degree courses are made. All the young people I know who have made the most of these opportunities have had parental contacts as well as the get up and go to sort out the placements for themselves. Nepotism is alive and well.

If I were able to exert any influence then I would not hesitate to help my children. I guess that I just feel uncomfortable with school promoting such practices. Our young people will have enough problems gaining a foothold in whatever occupation they choose to pursue without learning so young that their qualifications, aptitude and attitude are not always enough. Opportunities are not always offered equally, real life is not always fair. I am not comfortable, though, with fostering such cynicism at fifteen.

I hope that my son does derive some benefit from his week of work; that he enjoys the experience of learning how an IT office operates and the jobs available in this environment. The idea behind work experience is sound. I remain uncomfortable that it seems to benefit those who already have so many advantages the most.

Graph of Videos Operating System placement on ...

Learning from history

I love history. From Mary Beard’s ‘Meet the Romans’ to Simon Schama’s ‘A History of Britain’; through fictional novels woven around historical facts to memoirs of growing up in cultures I find hard to imagine; the places, times and experiences relayed show how much has changed about the way we live, yet how little the people portrayed differ from ourselves. Humanity may have adapted to a different way of living, but we still think and feel as our ancestors did. We still react to our immediate, personal circumstances and cope, because we have no other choice if we are to survive.

So much of the history that we are taught as fact has been gleaned from the merest scraps of information. Archaeologists and anthropologists become very excited when new finds are uncovered as they may revisit premises and further their understanding. They are not afraid to question established orthodoxies; to share and build on knowledge gained elsewhere. They will interpret the artifacts, location and any other information available from elsewhere to establish the historical story as best they can. They make educated guesses based on what is already known; what has gone before and what we have now; they use their expertise, but do not try to claim that they can explain everything fully. It is often the unknown, the what might have been, that makes the tale so compelling.

More recent history benefits from information preserved in writing. The oldest scripts would have been written by the very few scholars; wealthy or religious, educated men with time to write and resources to allow this pastime. The writers may have had employers or sponsors; they were most likely under the influence of the rulers of their age. The histories of the time need to be read in this context to be understood. The physical evidence preserved in land and grave can often tell of a more sinister undercurrent pervading the culture of the time. Social history is complex and often disregards the impact of events on the poorest yet most prolific.

As literacy spread, so too did the nature of the writings preserved. Life expectancy and leisure time increased for many allowing the slightly less wealthy and even some women to start writing accounts of their lives and times. The official records would still be produced by the powerful victors and, through the ages, some have tried to destroy accounts of histories that did not tell the tales that they wished to be perpetuated. The power of propaganda was well understood and the general population considered too stupid to be trusted with interpreting events for themselves.

Eminent historians are well aware that context and bias must be taken into account; authenticity can be scientifically checked but reliability is harder to gauge. Talk to a sibling about their memories of an event from a shared childhood and differences in recollection become apparent. When a history is recorded it is from the perspective of the writer whose own recollections will vary over time.

With the advent of the internet it sometimes seems that we can research the true facts with just a few clicks. Unfortunately the very opposite is too often the case. The hidden agendas of the powerful come into play as their influence and subterfuge skew the perceptions of the general population, still considered too stupid to be trusted with interpreting events for themselves. One of my pet grievances is the way in which global warming, now referred to more accurately as climate change, has been presented to the public over the past thirty or so years.

I am not an expert in science or climate science, merely an interested observer. I can see the sense in not polluting the soil where we grow our food or the air that all living things need to survive. I understand the benefits of biodiversity and the importance of being good stewards during our time on this earth. What I object to is the pervasive anthropomorphic climate change industry and the lies woven as facts to influence decisions made by the wealthy countries of the world to financially benefit the few at a significant cost to so many.

The Natural History Museum in London has a display in it’s dinosaur section showing temperature fluctuations over millions of years. It is clear that the earth’s climate changes regularly and has always done so, even before man walked this earth in his present form. These climate changes are very gradual in terms of a human’s lifespan but obvious in the geological evidence that exists. Keeping detailed records of temperature, rainfall and other weather phenomena are a very recent practice (from around a century ago) and the data collection methods have changed over even this short period of time making reliable, scientific comparison tricky. Examples of extreme weather are mentioned in some historical documents but these do not provide a clear picture (mentions refer to the effects of the Little Ice Age which was a period of cooling that occurred after the Medieval Warm Period but climatologists and historians working with local records cannot even agree on either the start or end dates of this period just a few hundred years ago).

Given that this is a controversial topic in which I have an interest, I will save my opinions on recent climate change pronouncements and their impacts for another post. I see it as a prime example of the wealthy and powerful trying to force their opinions on a gullible public with a clever mix of carefully placed publicity and misinformation. More than anything though, it is a lesson in how history can be skewed to suit the influential of the time.

It can be hoped that, in the not too distant future, the truth will be uncovered by those who are capable of unearthing the evidence and interpreting the facts with critical and impartial deliberation. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we can learn from history if we open our eyes to how and why it has been written. Our descendants may well look back on our gullibility and wonder how we could not have questioned what was being done ‘for our own good, and that of our children’. I hope that they do not judge us too harshly for not taking more affirmative action to prevent the inevitable impact of our inaction; for passively complying with the wishes of those in power.

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Giving due consideration to an alternative point of view

I am often perplexed as to why my supposedly intelligent friends seem unable to give due consideration to points of view that do not concur with their own. It is not that I expect them to change long held opinions on the strength of a simple exchange, but I do expect them to be able to appreciate why other views are held; to understand the basis of the alternative even if they disagree with the conclusions reached. When a large number of equally intelligent people espouse differing opinions I do not see how each side can be so unwilling to consider the possibility that they may be wrong. Such conceit seems at odds with their otherwise impressive intellectual capacity.

Attempting to engage in debate over an issue can be so frustrating if one side presents their opinions as proven facts and then refuses to consider anything further that is said. They will too often cite what they believe to be expert opinion and declare any similarly qualified experts holding differing views to be inept and their followers deluded. It is as if shouting loudly ‘I am right and you are wrong’ is enough. This is not debate, it is injunction.

When opposing sides in a debate present interesting arguments backed up by real life, practical examples; facts and figures from application; expert, academic opinion formed from historical information; then I am always eager to hear the response from the opposition. To have them turn around and disregard everything said as simply wrong, deluded or not nice with no further explanation is so disappointing. How are those of us watching the debate to be persuaded if no balanced discussion with reasoned exchanges is presented?

When I was younger I used to enjoy watching television programmes featuring courts of law where the prosecution and defence would present facts, argue their case and ask the jury to decide which side was correct. Often the main character would have some surprises to unveil at the optimum moment that would swing the case, but I loved the clever way in which both sides could almost persuade me that they were right (I am told that real courts of law are nothing like this!). To me this was the best way to win an argument; with clever persuasion and attention to factual detail.

I wonder if the art of debate has been lost or if I am simply looking to the wrong people to persuade me. I only know one politician personally but he is very good at arguing his case in a gentle and persuasive way. He could make a point of view that I would consider ridiculous appear reasonable without descending to personal put downs or insults (I admire his skill and am even more wary of politicians for knowing him!). Too many  people try to prove a point by attempting to assassinate the credibility of the dissenters. Making others appear wrong will not make their own views appear right to those who are capable of thought and true consideration of detail.

The fallout from recent events has polarised the opinions of many yet so much of the argument is emotive rather than reasoned. True discussion of cause and effect has been set aside by feelings of hate; debate is being stifled by those who wish to talk but are unwilling to listen. I have never performed well in debates, which is perhaps why I admire this skill in others. I do, however, enjoy listening to clever exchanges and will look out for that previously unconsidered fact that will swing a case. Good debaters will not employ personal insults or attack the character of their opponent; this tactic has been much overused in recent days.

School and university debating clubs offer valuable experience for those who wish to learn how to present an argument and back up their point of view in a reasoned and skilful way. A good debater can present any case and sway an audience; something worth remembering when forming one’s own opinion on a matter. These skills are not being employed by the many who are currently arguing for their political ideology. I am seeing only frustration and personal attacks when dissenters attempt to enter into a discussion between friends who are happily agreeing with one another. These incestuous exchanges only serve to bolster intolerance of dissent; a very unhealthy situation to allow to develop.

Practising a healthy tolerance and according respect to those we disagree with demonstrates an empathy that civilisations should strive for. We do not need to agree with a point of view, but persuasion is more powerful in the long run than force. Leaders require popular support and being righteously assured of one’s own integrity will not generate followers, especially when others present a case more appealing to more, ordinary people.

I sometimes wonder if the inability amongst the intelligent to properly consider an alternative opinion stems from choosing to mix too much with others of their ilk. They may consider that the rest of the population is too stupid to see things as they do but, in a democracy, that matters. If the movers and shakers wish to change things then they require support. Support will not be forthcoming if the best they can do is to shout ‘You are wrong!’.

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Good or evil and why?

Learning to Blog

Twelve days into blogging and I am taking note of my behaviour. I started this as a therapy; as a means to exorcise the seemingly constant stream of conversation and discussion that was going on in my head and never got shared.

When I did have a real time, face to face conversation with a known person about any of this sort of stuff I never seemed to get across either the feelings or the meaning of what I was thinking. I have no idea if this is typical or unusual, but it was getting me down. Writing this blog has helped. I can think through and edit what I want to say. I am hoping that it comes across as I want it to; that it is real.

What I didn’t anticipate was how I would react after I had emptied my overfull head of those thoughts. I was doing this for me yet I started watching the blog stats; the number of new visitors, views, likes and follows offered a validation of what I was doing. I started to note what seemed to be of interest; the best time to publish; where the views were coming from.

I can’t say that any of this has affected what I write. I sit down at a quiet time of day with a soothing drink, put my feet up and log on. What I produce is what is in my head, not what I think will be read. I am still doing this for me. I find it interesting though that I do take note of how it is received. I generally have no idea who is reading, just the numbers. I have no idea what readers think, but I still like the fact that it is being read. I am not just writing and storing the document in my computers memory; I am publishing and it is being read. That is a satisfaction that I had not anticipated.

It will be interesting to see how my reader stats evolve as the novelty of posts from a known person diminish. Will I pick up new readers from shares, searches or tags? Will it matter?

Thus far the effort I have put in has been more than repaid. I have found writing to be like a sports massage for the mind. It still feels good to be read though.

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Responsibility and Control

Parents and teachers will be all too familiar with the outraged child, unfairly blamed for some misdemeanor, crying out in protest ‘But it’s not my fault!’ Nobody likes to take the blame for something over which they had no control. ‘That is so unfair!’ the child will cry. They want to be heard, to be understood, to be exonerated of blame. It is a hard life lesson to learn – that sometimes things are not fair; that sometimes blame will be apportioned based on what seems obvious without questioning what went before; that some people are expected by others to behave in certain ways and will be judged accordingly, whatever the facts of a particular situation.

I am a great believer in taking personal responsibility for the path that my life follows. In most situations we have a choice. Choices have consequences and, because we do not live in isolation, those consequences can impact others just as their choices can impact us. This must be taken into account in decision making, but need not be seen as a negative. The happiness of those close to us will feed our own happiness so what is good for them is often what is good for us too. I do not wish to burden another person with the responsibility of making me happy. I may find happiness in their company, but if I am to achieve happiness then I must make it happen. If I am unhappy then it is up to me to sort it out.

In order to take responsibility for the way I live my life I must be allowed control over what I do. I have found that this can be very difficult to achieve. There are so many rules that we are expected to follow, so many conventions and concerns that have been drilled into us since childhood, so many expectations that we will act in a certain way whatever we may think or feel. I have never liked being told what to do. As a teenager I found it incredibly frustrating to have to live by my parents rules. I could see that many of the rules were sensible but I desired autonomy. The sense of powerlessness that I felt helped to mould in me a resolve to gain financial independence. I saw this as the means by which I could run my life by my rules. I studied challenging subjects that would lead to employment rather than subjects that I enjoyed; I was determined that I would succeed. The sense of freedom that I felt when I was able to move into my own flat in a different country was cathartic.

I think that a lot of people confuse independence and freedom. The independence I gained allowed me to make my own decisions and I felt free of the strictures imposed on me by my parents. However, to enjoy life I knew that I needed to earn a living. I was not free to do exactly what I wanted but rather free to choose the course my life would take. I made the choice to marry and have a family and thereby took on serious responsibility for others. I still hate being told what to do though. If it affects me then I wish to be consulted, not coerced. I can still feel the despair and impotence that I felt as a teenager. How can I take responsibility if I am denied control?

It is the seemingly little decisions that have the greatest impact on my happiness. I get angry about the creeping, invasive, corrupt and foolish decisions made by governments who seem to wish to control so many aspects of our lives that are better looked after by family. However, on a day to day level, it is the actions of those close to me that will either pick me up or knock me down. Does that sound as if I am holding them responsible for how I feel? One of my biggest challenges is making myself heard and understood. It seems that this will not happen if I just go along with what is easy. I have come to realise that it is up to me to consider my well being and act accordingly. However selfish that may sound, a miserable wife or mummy is not good for any family.

Just as the enraged child will cry out against unfair blame over which they consider they had no control, so we as adults must sometimes deal with situations where problems are heaped on us through no obvious fault of our own. Perhaps we did not see the signs; perhaps we made decisions without realising the consequences; perhaps those we trusted proved to be untrustworthy. It can be very hard to put the reasons behind us, to move forward as best we can. Shouldering regret or bearing grudges can be exhausting. If I am to take responsibility for my life then I must be willing to accept what has gone before as it cannot be changed, make the best of what I have now and move forward. There are so many variables in life that will affect us and we cannot know them all. We can only hope that by learning from our worst times, not blaming others, we can find peace. My life, my rules but not in isolation. I do what I want, but what I want is to be a good person; a good wife and mother; to be accepted and loved for being me.

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