INDIA: Kaleidoscope

INDIA: Kaleidoscope

How fast can the years rush by?

Shifting images:

Imagine putting your eyes to a kaleidoscope and marveling at the beauty of the image. Now, just a tiny flick of the wrist and the image shifts and coalesces into something completely new. Beautiful, but new. That is the feeling I have each time I get off the phone after talking to my rapidly-growing teenage son, studying 1800 kms away…

Image 1: Abhi at 6 – Ma, I can’t read this book. What lovely pictures! Will you read out one story?…One more, please?…One last story, Ma, promise!

Image 2: Abhi at 19 – Ma, did you read the book I recommended to you?

Me: (sheepishly) Nope, been too busy. But will soon begin.

Abhi: (a trifle exasperated) Ma, promise me you’ll read a chapter today – it’s excellent! I’ve been telling you for ages!

Me: I promise…

Image 3: Abhi at 7 – Ma, I forgot to wear the hoodie jacket. I was having so much fun at the winter carnival! I won’t catch a cold, hopefully.

Image 4: Abhi at 19 – Ma, when will you begin to take your own advice on health? Why are you working so hard? And the next time you are unwell, you are not accepting a new assignment!

Mom with sonny boy with their favourite stray at Gokarna beach, summer of 2017

The contrast:

And so on it goes…My heart turns into a happy mush with equal parts of pride and nostalgia, each time I listen to the oh-so-mature and earnest young man. Wasn’t it just yesterday that the voice by my side chattered excitedly about a hundred random things? Today, the deep voice travelling through all the distance between two cities, tells me the little chick has turned into a bird that can fly on its own.

Motherhood seems like an enchanting journey with twists and bends that are unpredictable and inevitable. No one tells you that one fine day the roles of parenting will get neatly reversed. Or that the constant flow of questions and words of the little one will one day taper down and that the ever-burgeoning timetable of your young one will need you to schedule calls. That you will watch and marvel from a distance while your teen will deal deftly with the demands of life, surprising you with his or her decision-making abilities.

Enjoying the kaleidoscope:

The temptation to step in, to answer the question directly, to supply the ready solution, is still there. But these days, I have learnt to wait. To answer a question with a counter-question. Notwithstanding the vagaries of distance and time. To be patient as he figures out the right solution.

In other words, I am enjoying the kaleidoscope! ☺

Enjoy the shifting patterns of the kaleidoscope!

INDONESIA: What I Learn From Meditating for 3 Months Straight

INDONESIA: What I Learn From Meditating for 3 Months Straight

I had heard about meditation before. I’ve tried it several times before. I didn’t just wake up one day and say to myself “C’mon Maureen…let’s try to meditate for 3 straight months!” No, no, no!

Actually, it wasn’t until I felt completely out of whack that I decided to install this app full of guided meditations, meditation music, and the likes.

“Nothing to lose,” I thought.

So I started…Eyes closed…I choose to lay down since my back was having a terrible flare up from herniated discs and all the stress I was carrying with me.

“Okay let’s do this…”

Music flows…the soft voice coming out was gentle and loving. I followed the instructions to the dots.

“Inhale…hold it in for 3 counts…” “Let it out…”

When I first started, my breathing was shallow. I could never inhale fully. A blockage maybe. I’m not sure but it was challenging. After all those guided meditations I feel light. Calmer! I kept doing these short guided meditations twice a day. Slowly, I began to see how much the simple acts of lying still, breathing deeply and allowing whatever thoughts came to my mind to just flow like clouds passing through started to shift me internally.

Here’s what I learned from 3 months of meditating every day:

  • I found peace. Cliche as it may sounds but I did find peace. I was able to find that soft spot in my heart that fills me up with a sense of peace. Each and every meditation sessions refilled it.
  • I am able to react less emotionally to things that are beyond my control. Example: One time at work, an angry lady shouted to my face so loud that the whole room heard her outburst of complaints. I was able to stay calm and actually sympathize with her. If this were to happen before my meditation days, I would have taken it personally and probably ended up in the bathroom stall crying! I thanked my daily meditation practice for this.
  • Patience. I am not the most patient person especially when it comes to parenting. When I am tired, my fuse is short and I often quickly feel irritated and I burst. At first, I didn’t notice this until my fiance pointed it out. He said I reacted in a more gentle and loving ways to my boy. Score!
  • I feel happier! No, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t happy before I started to meditate regularly. It doesn’t mean that my life is automatically perfect after meditating. But somehow by being calmer, more positive and grounded, it allows me to feel happier.
    Increased happiness level also allows me to be a happier mother to my son.
  • More Mindful. By focusing on the breathing, on how my body feels during meditation and examining my thoughts with clarity, allows me to be more mindful.

Not to mention there are tons of scientific studies that have shown the benefits of meditation.

How about you? Do you meditate?

Maureen

Founder of Single Moms Indonesia, community leader and builder. Deeply passionate about women empowerment.

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SRI LANKA: What do You do When you Chose the Wrong School?

SRI LANKA: What do You do When you Chose the Wrong School?

What are you supposed to do when you can tell that the school your kids are in isn’t exactly what you’d like a school to be like? Not everyone has the luxury of just moving kids from school to school just because they don’t like it. I am thankful that our constant nomadic lifestyle let’s me make drastic decisions like taking the kids out of school and doing a year of homeschooling before moving on to the next country. The road of decisions getting here wasn’t exactly easy though.

Basically, we’ve taken the kids out of school and I’ve given up my free time so I can homeschool them as best I can. Everyone gets up later now and I admit it take lots of patience to get them interested in anything but I’m trying and I hope the decision was a good one. Whenever I think of the teachers notebook slapping my son, it becomes completely worth it

Before

For about a year I managed to get up before 6 am to wrangle my kids out of bed, into uniforms and every day was tougher than the next. It was hard for me to hear the little one cry every day about not wanting to go and how much she hated it. The older one put up with the daily routine but grew to also hate it. We all ended up hating it.

I obviously put up with it because well, school life is like that right? You get up unwillingly and go to school and go on with your life. But something just wasn’t clicking.

When we were in Bali they loved their school. The little one was allowed to go in pyjamas with the uniform in her bag and the teacher would dress her nicely and even braid her hair into “elsa” braids. My son has always been rambunctious but not once did they notebook slap him across the head there.

The year they spent in the Cambridge style school here in Colombo could have easily been a torture for them and I was telling them to suck it up because I needed my space.

Insert the mom guilt.

Those five free hours in the morning were mine, all mine and no one else’s! But things just kept getting worse. My daughter was constantly picked on by a little boy, every single day and the teacher took months to finally intervene. She was miserable and her only friends would switch to Sinhalese at any time, leaving her out of conversations.

The first day I took the kids to that school, it had me wondering; a first grade teacher was yelling at the top of her lungs about rules while the kids sat as still as possible in their seats in a room way too hot for comfort. I sort of brushed if off because it was the end of the school year, but later I feel bad that my kids had to put up with these teachers for a whole year.

I can’t tell you if the teachers are bad or just have had too much, they were nice sometimes and horrible other times. My son got notebook slapped quite a few times because he was tired of writing. My daughter was told to put her head down if she didn’t want to work. She wasn’t given other choices, like coloring or puzzle building. She was four.

Are all “academic style” schools like this now?
Forcing four year olds to write and read by the time they are five?

So, I took them out of school completely. I sent an email to the school which they never answered back, not even with a “bye bye it was nice to have you here”, nothing. Good Riddance, I say.

We are Expat Homeschoolers once again.

My son has come to hate the art of writing but he loves making up stories, my daughter says “no pencils allowed” everyday and I have to figure out other things to do with her. She will trace letters but won’t let me tell them what they are. She still can’t count to ten properly but you know what? I doesn’t matter, she will learn eventually. I have a feeling one year in that school has left a bit of a mark that now I have to erase.

I’ve lost those five free hours that I used to have but at least my kids aren’t being forced to spend their day in a hot uncomfortable room being picked on for being different and made to work incessantly with a fear of notebook slaps!

How do you feel about your kids’ school? Do you ever just want to take them out and do the schooling yourself? I know I have the luxury of doing something like that, and I am thankful to be able to.

Orana Velarde

Orana is a Writer, Artist, Mother and Wife; Peruvian Expat currently living in Sri Lanka with her husband and children. She writes on her blog Crazy Little Family Adventure about Worldschooling her kids and the trials and tribulations of being an Expat Mom.

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NEW ZEALAND: The Oppression of Expectation

NEW ZEALAND: The Oppression of Expectation

As a new mum, I quickly realised that I wasn’t capable of meeting my baby’s needs, staying alive/sane myself, and having a clean house and the garden the way I would like it. I’m not sure if that’s just me or if it was my baby (eventually three babies) or the way I chose to parent, but it was that simple. I made the only choice I thought I had: the mess ruled, and still does, the babies and I came/come first.

It cost me people: after my anti-natal coffee-group had been around on one particularly messy occasion, I had several in that group who never returned; I had someone close to me, on more than one occasion tell me she couldn’t live this (with dramatic gesture) way, and my ex-father-in-law was postively rude every time he walked in the door.

I care. I cared. It upset me. I like things to be clean and orderly, I’d love my garden to be gorgeous with trimmed lawns. I’d like it done and it drives me nuts that in my  otherwise very well organised life, I can’t pull it all off.  I’m not sure how others can. How do you?

Now the boys are older (15, 12 & 7.5 – don’t forget the half), and I’m a solo-mum. I work full-time equivalent between two jobs, and the kids and I still come as first as we can. The boys contribute to getting things done and daily/weekly I do the basics like loo and washing, but still outside and inside usually look like a tribe of elephants has been through. I still get people calling in and casting an eye and giving me the frosty-nostril – to the point I’ve never really had visitors come to the house for over two years.

I have lovely friends, and the vast majority would visit me and not my house, but that sense of not being enough remains constant. I rarely even have my parents around for a meal and I’m always watching people’s reactions as they walk in the door. I’m conscious of not meeting some ridiculous standard of perfection. All. The. Time.

I also have no inclination to exercise beyond the incidental 10,000 steps I do each day; none of us is fit – but apparently that’s a capital offense too.

And, there’s the new issue of having been separated for over two years of – why are you still single, have you met anyone yet, time to get online dating, he’s got a new girlfriend, why haven’t you…

And dammit,this all bugs me. I’m 49 years old and pretty damned happy with the way my life is panning out, the boys are well-adjusted and make me very proud (mostly because, kids), I love my work and I have great friends and enough of a social life to keep me feeling part of the world. But these things still get to me: why isn’t my house cleaner and tidier; why isn’t my garden looking pristine; why aren’t we all fit and gorgeous; why can’t I really be bothered to be out looking for a new partner?

And why do I care what other people think?

Karyn Wills

Karyn is a teacher, writer and solo mother to three sons. She lives in the sunny wine region of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in the city of Napier.

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SRI LANKA: Heavy Backpacks and Uniforms

SRI LANKA: Heavy Backpacks and Uniforms

Kids are out on holiday for the next two weeks. Funny how it’s Easter Holidays in some places, Spring Break in others, and here it’s the Buddhist New Year. In the end it doesn’t really matter what it is I’m just glad I don’t have to wake up at 6 am to convince my kids to eat something before heading out dragging heavy backpacks and in my son’s case;  an uncomfortable uniform and terrible shoes.

I still can’t believe my 4.5 year old daughter brought home SPELLING homework for the holidays. I’m in shock as to why she would need to do spelling at that age. It pains me, she hates going to school just because it’s all WORK WORK WORK. She does not have fun and she’s not even out of Kindergarten yet.

My kids have been going to a “Cambridge” School for the past year and thankfully my son is ok with it. He likes to learn so accepts the heavy backpack and uncomfortable uniform. I am surprised that he always gets a C in Art and I don’t care that he is in “position 21” of 22 kids in the class. I couldn’t care less.

When there are parent teacher meetings previous to exams, some parents write down notes as to what needs to be studied. I sometimes don’t even go to the meeting and most of the time my son misses one day of testing cause we travel so much. I’m not sure what the teachers think of us.

My daughter’s teacher calls my home complaining that she is “missing so much work”, I have no heart to tell her that I don’t care.

So why do my kids go to school? Why don’t I just homeschool them if I think the school is just suffering?

Because I need those free hours to be with myself, even if I mostly end up doing errands for the house in the end. I need to have those hours to be able to work in silence ( I have to go to the coffee shop or the maid will talk to me while I’m trying to work on the computer). I’m a bit glad when the maid doesn’t come for one reason or another, it means I can come back from school drop off, help my husband get off to the office and I can get back in my pijamas until noon. And yes, of course I feel guilty!

We have decided to stay one more year in Sri Lanka, I hope my daughter doesn’t suffer too much with the “no crafts, no playing” schooling style of this school. I always tell her, you won’t have to go to this school forever, just for a little more. In the next country I will find you a more artistic school, I promise.

For the past few weeks people have been telling me to go to the supermarket on Monday because the rest of the week I won’t be able to get any provisions, cause everything will be closed. They must be exaggerating right? Who knows. We managed to organize an out of the country trip to where it’s also Buddhist New Year but mixed with Carnaval. We are going to Thailand for Songkran, where the kids will probably learn more about life and stuff than in those hot uncomfortable classrooms where they work work work.

In the end, all they really want to do is travel. School is just to give them some kind of routine. I hope the next year will be ok for them.

Orana Velarde

Orana is a Writer, Artist, Mother and Wife; Peruvian Expat currently living in Sri Lanka with her husband and children. She writes on her blog Crazy Little Family Adventure about Worldschooling her kids and the trials and tribulations of being an Expat Mom.

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INDIA: Home, Mothers and Love

INDIA: Home, Mothers and Love

A few weeks ago, I found myself rubbing a strained back, while contemplating a few dozen cardboard boxes, spilling with myriad possessions. My family and I had just shifted residence and while the bigger home was welcome, the sense of being uprooted, was downright disturbing. Over the days and weeks, while I got back to arranging cupboards, emptying out the boxes, and deciding what went where, there was an almost palpable sense of shaping and creating a living space imbued with warmth. A feeling that this apartment was slowly but surely turning into “home”.

That got me thinking. What is it that binds the woman so closely to the sense of “being home”? Why are bachelor pads the butt of jokes, almost as if they can’t be anything more than functional places of stay? And what is it with mothers, that transforms a space with walls and ceiling, from house to home?

Keepers of memories:

“You can’t possibly throw my old soft toys” was the plaintive wail over the phone, from my now grown-up teenager, studying engineering, hundreds of miles away. The tall, bearded young man can dismiss tech troubles and maths equations with ease, but will turn into a 7-year old when confronted with the threat of parting with his precious old buddies of childhood. While I laughed and assured him his dear Spiderman figurine and other assorted ‘friends’ would continue to live with us, part of my mind wondered about how easily mothers slip into the role of “memory-keepers”. In my family, I get to be the person who decides about the keeping of old birthday cards, letters (yes, we still have those!), hand-written notes and little reminders of days gone by. And so there are three burgeoning bags labeled “Sentimental keepsakes”, holding varied treasures such as a favorite insect-print shirt of the sonny-boy when he was a toddler, a teddy-bear with a missing eye, painstakingly created art projects and more. I guess being the protector of the little tangible reminders of precious reminders comes with the territory of being a mom.

Strands of love:

Bidding goodbye to the previous apartment was very difficult due to the myriad of experiences and special moments that had enriched our lives for 16 long years. Would this new home hold a special place in our hearts too? I sighed and realized that when a family lives in various places in succession, no two homes can ever hold the same position in the heart. Each place is linked to a distinct palette of memories. Children are born and they grow up, moving through the years with frightening speed. Our parents leave us, moving from the earthly plane to a higher and better place. We shed our hair and gain some pounds and our faces reflect the battles lost and won in the arena of the world. And our children leave their homes, to find their own wings. Amidst these milestones, big and little, the home remains our sanctuary, the shelter where we return to find ourselves. And so, woven in our homes are strands of love and laughter. Of care and sacrifice. Of sleepless nights and faith-filled days. And again, mothers seem to gravitate towards this process of “weaving love” almost effortlessly.

And so…

Mothers are often, thus, the binding factor, transforming houses into homes. It does not matter whether the mother is the caretaker of a child with special health-needs or the mother of a potential Olympian athlete, or the mother of a daughter in a country where females are routinely treated as second-class citizens, or the mother of a little child, living in a refugee camp, trying valiantly to use lullabies and a rag doll to create the illusion of a home for her little one. Home isn’t a space alone – it is a physical space that is imbued with the most sublime of human feelings and emotions. It is the sparkling magical reaction between a safe dwelling place and a mother’s love.