Citronella

I had the strangest of dreams.

In real life, I am suffering from winter fatigue (anyone else?).  I dreamed that I met one of my childhood friends for coffee and she said her mum told me to use citronella for energy.

Back to real life again.  I woke up feeling tired and thought it was strange that I had dreamed of said friend whom I hadn’t heard from in a while.  Anyway, I had a massage booked later that day.  As the therapist starting rubbing massage oil onto my back, I smelt it.  The therapist confirmed it was citronella oil.

Bizarre to say the least!

Don’t make girls cry

We have a cultural ritual for girls when they come of age.  Women gather and bless said girl, the ceremony is filled with prayers, the girl is adorned in traditional clothes akin to a bride.

This ritual is alien to me.  Growing up, it was just my parents and my sibling.  We were a few thousand miles away from our extended family and thus, traditions and rituals were never really part of our daily lives.  Mum and Dad were strict parents, discipline translated to love which we tested from time to time like all children do.  But I never defined myself by the colour of my skin, my religion or background.  This remains true to today.

I digress.

When I told my mum about my first period, she rang her mother to ask what she should do.  Grandmother prescribed eggs, a daily teaspoon of oil (coconut? I don’t know) and perhaps other traditional concoctions for my consumption.  My parents agreed that it wasn’t practical for us to adhere to traditions where we lived.

Fast forward two years later, we went back to my grandparents for my aunt’s wedding.  Cue elaborate ceremonies and traditions.  The elders agreed that since my coming of age wasn’t marked previously, they would do so whilst the family were together.  A lot of fuss went on in the background and my mother told me that I was to wear a traditional dress for the ceremony.

It was all too alien for me.  I was a tomboy, happy to run around in shorts and t-shirt all day long.  The boys regarded me funnily as they suspected something was up but the elders kept them in the dark and away from the fuss.  I felt extremely uncomfortable as no one bothered to explain anything to me and I really didn’t want to wear a traditional dress.  I just wanted to run to the field and kick a football with my cousins.

My mum wasn’t having any of it and reprimanded me, to which I responded by tearing up and the tears kept flowing all day.  A well-regarded elderly neighbour dropped by with some flowers in the afternoon and saw how upset I was.  When she found out it was because I didn’t want the fuss nor to be clad in the dress that was picked out for me, she gave out to my mother and aunt.

‘Why are you making a girl cry on such an auspicious day?  Don’t us women have enough tears to bear in our lives? Let her wear want she wants.  The garment isn’t important.  She’s  been brought up in modern times and doesn’t understand tradition like we do.  What’s key is that we’re here to help her transition from a girl to a young woman.’

I ended up wearing a simple outfit – a tunic top and leggings.  The ceremony was kept extremely short.  I was blessed by my elders including my saviour, there was a flower bath which I was left alone to partake in and it was all over within an hour.  My mum wasn’t best pleased but she came to accept that I was part of a new generation where traditions, though important, possibly need some assimilation into modern lives.

I am now a mother to a little girl and I’ll never forget my elder’s words ‘ don’t make girls cry’.

(She bawls at the drop of a hat by the  way!)

 

 

Lessons from my daughter

My daughter started school in September last year.  We were naturally worried about her transition from full time nursery care to big school.  I wasn’t ready for her not to be in the care of her nursery school teacher, who had looked after her from 8am to 6pm Mondays to Fridays for the past two years.

When we dropped her off on her first day, she cried, holding on to my arm, begging me not to leave.  I cried.  I couldn’t bear to see her upset.  But I asked for her teacher’s help who pried her away from me.  My heart broke.

It’s now been six months and she’s used to her new routine.  I am amazed by how far she’s progressed in terms of reading, which is testament to her teachers’ efforts.

Unfortunately, she’s still struggling to find her tribe in class.  According to her, all the  other children have paired up and no one seems to want to play with her.  ‘It’s as if I’m always by myself’, she confided in me.

My husband and I sat her down.  I said that before she can be comfortable in the company of others, she needs to be comfortable in her own company.  Perhaps it is an opportunity for her to set her own boundaries on what she likes/dislikes before being dictated by group-think.  She’s five by the way, and I’m not sure how much she took in but the forlorn look never left her that evening.

The next day, when I asked about her day, she told us that one of the girls she tries to play with – a sort of a gang leader – had told my daughter that another girl was no longer part of their gang.  Now my daughter decided to relay this message to the girl herself – who was heartbroken at being excluded from said gang.  When we asked my daughter what had propelled her to do so, she refused to look us in the eye.  I gently asked if she did so to feel accepted by the gang.  ‘Yes, and I felt very bad for Hannah’, was her response.  She agreed to apologise to Hannah.  I was disappointed to say the least but understood that she was merely surviving in a lonely existence in school. When an opportunity presented itself for her to feel part of a group, she jumped at it.

Just gone five and already ganging up against others.  I hope she comes into her own in time and makes good, meaningful friendships.  No gangs, no exclusions.

 

Memories of Amsterdam

Many years ago, I was in love with the idea of living in Amsterdam.  Who wouldn’t – the romantic canals, bridges, tulips, museums…

Around 18 years ago, a few friends from work and I planned a long weekend away – a night in Brussels followed by two nights in Amsterdam.   I contacted a friend in Amsterdam whom I was still in touch from our course in Crete a few months before and told him of our plans.  He suggested meeting up and showing us girls around.

We couldn’t have planned a more perfect trip.  The weather was gloriously summery.  Brussels was lovely and we took in many sights – the Mannekin Pis, The Grand Place, sampled artisanal chocolates and couldn’t leave without tucking into mussels and finishing up with Belgian waffles.  The night was too short and after a few hours’ sleep, we dashed to catch our train to Amsterdam.  I was excited to be reunited with Edwin!

Edwin met us at Amsterdam Central station with his friend – I can’t remember his name.  They accompanied us to our hostel near one of the main squares – Leidensplein perhaps?  Drinks soon followed at the square where we caught up on news and whiled the time away crowd-watching.  The boys pointed out the outdoor toilets for the men which was a point of amusement! The glorious weather continued and I was entranced by the sight, sounds and general atmosphere.  There was something decidedly familiar and enchanting about Amsterdam.

We explored around the city – the boys were very informative, absolute gentlemen and proud of their city.  I remember thinking they were such lovely hosts.  They walked us back to our hostel so that we could change for dinner – I can’t quite recall what we had that night, but we were all in fits of laughter.  Amsterdam was so good for my soul.  We bade them goodbye as they rushed to catch their last train home.  Edwin and I kept in touch for a few years thereafter but we eventually lost touch.  Sadly I never got to return the hospitality of showing him around Dublin!

The girls and I spent the next day sightseeing – we queued for Anne Frank’s house, which ticked a big box on my lifelong list of things to do.  I felt immense sadness when I reflected on what Anne and her family must have gone through.   We caught the last canal boat trip that evening and I toyed with the idea of moving to Amsterdam.  We ended our stay on a high note (no pun intended), we were just giddy from being on a fabulous trip! I vowed to return for another visit.

Which I did several years later with my husband – twice actually and then another trip to Den Haag to visit a friend who had moved there.  All our subsequent trip were equally exciting but by then I had lost the notion of living there.  I had my heart set on Sydney by then!

During one of our trips to Amsterdam, we were desperate for the washroom and I suggested going to a pub to use their facilities.  Whilst my husband headed to the gents, I ordered us both drinks but didn’t have anything smaller than a EUR50 note. The barman spoke to one of the other punters in a mocking tone whilst beckoning at me, and as soon as my husband returned that, I hissed under my breath that I was not going to be labelled a ‘bloody tourist just here to use the loo’.  So I made him stay for three drinks and by then the barman had warmed up to us.  He used to play semi-professional football and we asked him about the photos which he had on display behind the bar.  He made us try a liquor ‘Pisang Embun’ upon learning my association with Indonesia.  I have a photo of us behind the bar and we parted as friends that evening.

It has been 11 years since our last visit to Amsterdam.  It will always hold a special place in my heart.  The Eurostar now runs direct to Amsterdam so watch this space!

 

 

 

The day I betrayed myself

You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.  And chose them wisely I did.  Prioritising quality over quantity, the friendships I celebrate and maintain are the ones where the relationship is effortless, give and take is the norm and we are united by love and respect.

One particular friendship has deteriorated over time.  I am only just coming out of a period of doubt, low self-esteem and you should never kick someone when they are down.  She did, about a year ago and I remember being pushed into a corner filled with despair.  I attended a stress management course last year and explained to my counsellor that every time I met this friend thereafter, I experience a form of PTSD.  My counsellor asked why I continued to invest in the friendship – you see, I have known her other half for many years.  He was one of my first friends in London and is one of those people you would be lucky to have in your life – caring, considerate and just lovely.  I felt compelled to continue with this friendship, otherwise I risked losing him.  A brother I wished I had, if you will.

But I couldn’t shake off the PTSD.  Against my better judgement, I invited them over for dinner last Saturday.  I spent three hours cooking and my husband helped tidy up the house.  Throughout the day, I was in a state of panic – worrying about what she was going to say to me.  I was filled with negative energy and kept trying to remind myself that what I focus on expands.  Did I manifest a disastrous evening?

Well she didn’t disappoint.  Verbal attacks commenced very soon over dinner.  I stood my ground politely, and I saw how uncomfortable our husbands looked.  When the next attack happened, I softened my stance out of consideration for my own husband – and carried on tidying up and putting away the dishes.  I avoided eye contact and wished they would leave.  I felt assaulted.

I betrayed myself.  This was one relationship I should have severed 2 years ago.  I should never have let her in again, and to be verbally assaulted in my own home, after I had spent hours cooking and making the house comfortable for their visit.

My husband and I both love our friend (the other half), but this is just not a healthy relationship to pursue.

A good friendship is meant to be nourishing for the soul, not detrimental.

And so, as I put an end to this friendship, I wish them well.  Always.