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Monday, 16 October 2017

TOO MUCH CHOICE


I was listening to a woman order her coffee the other day. It was one of those long, complicated orders that by the time she got to the end, she just looked at the barista and said, ‘You do know that DRY means less milk (I’m gathering that most baristas know that by now as coffee making demands a vast coffee vernacular).  I of course stifled a laugh, cause if you are at the point where you have to describe your coffee, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if it’s indeed a coffee you want in the first place! Personally, I think most people want a caffeine fueled milkshake, but are just too shy to commit.

I think coffee is a great mirror into the greater societal issue that now we simply have too much choice. There have been many research studies on this mere fact alone, how too much choice increases stress, and in some cases, increases unhappiness. Researcher Barry Schartz calls this “choice overload.” As he states, “as the number of options increases, the costs, in time and effort, of gathering the information needed to make a good choice also increase. The level of certainty people have about their choice decreases. And the anticipation that they will regret their choice increases.”  You see that, your dry, extra hot pumpkin latte with a dash of cinnamon vs. the triple vanilla shot, with organic Non GMO soy imported from Tibet is making you depressed!!

Now I am admittedly at the age where nostalgia has kicked me right up the backside with its large leather boot to remind me that simpler times of limited choice, pre-internet, and plain black coffee (with a non remorseful cigarette, ahhhhh) meant my head didn’t feel like it was going to explode on a daily basis. No matter what it is you're seeking, there are at least six to ten choices for anything you are after.  Be it shampoo, vinegar, cars, films, fabrics, houses, dogs, cats, books, or even chocolate, you need a dossier to work out a simple shopping list. Be it, non GMO, organic, artisanal, imported, homegrown, sustainable, animal-cruelty free, lead free... and so on, and on, and on... (Calgon, take me away!!... see that, even Calgon has three thousand competitors now).

I was reminded of how true complicated things have gotten the other day when I looked into doing some weekly volunteer work at a local children's hospital. In my mind, it should have been simple - Say you want to get involved, give them your details, and go hold some babies. Voila! 
Um, no. After filling out a five page form (with required answers in paragraph form detailing my viewpoints on empathy, compassion, team working etc.), obtaining references to my character, doing the required background checks, and so on, I was then contacted to let me know that IF I FIT the criteria, they would be in touch. I thought the criteria was that I wanted to help?! 

You see, complicated, complicated times... filled with paperwork, bureaucracy, and twenty different variations of a coffee beverage. And I wonder why I have a drawer full of sleep remedies in my nightstand – cause why have 1 when you can have 10!




Friday, 6 October 2017

DELIGHTED OR DISTURBED, THAT IS THE QUESTION

I’ve wanted to write for a while now (apologies for the utter silence) and focus on the ‘delighted.’ But I have to be honest, of late, I’ve felt only disturbed… or shall I say, there is far too much disturbing stuff out there and finding the light amongst the dark, has not been easy!

Between the gut wrenching tragedy in Las Vegas, America’s blindness to its gun problem (HOUSTON, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM), Mother Nature showing us who is really in charge, POTUS being his usual pigheaded self (oh, Harvey Weinstein you can join that list), AND a bout of insomnia, (hmmm, I wonder why) well, I’ve felt anything but sunny. You know when it’s bad when your 7-year old looks at you every morning and says, ‘Please say you slept well, Mommy?’ I’m confident that the King wants his old mother back and STAT.

At the moment, the King looks at me dubiously when I stumble out of my room, my hair like something out of a storm (in the 70’s), my face smushed with pillow lines and that eye squint that says, 'Please God don’t let it be morning, not yet!' He now politely (with a tinge of fear) looks at me and says, "I think you should make your coffee now." Not to mention, he can obviously tell that my general demeanor has been a bit different of late thanks to world events (and my lack of shut eye) and he's secretly hoping it will go back to normal. 

So what is there to do? For me, it kind of feels like the five stages of grief (there really should be 7 or 8 even… grief has way too many layers). I start the week admittedly wearing a cloak of anger and ranting on Facebook about the stupidity of man (ahem, the GOP)… which may feel good on some level, but I quickly realize that I'm doing absolutely nothing to change things… So then I sign a few petitions, promise to join an anti-gun group, and finally end up a few days later, on a profound hunt for hope purely so that I don’t spike my morning coffee with Xanax and end up asleep on a bench outside my son’s school. See, I didn’t say it was pretty. Oh, along the way, I also 'de-friend' a few people cause darn it, I've got power and I'm going to wield it. 

I suppose that is also where the internet comes in handy. There is a litany of feel good videos that allow one to avoid life, procrastinate to no end (um, you're on deadline, woman!), and make one realize that on some level, there is stuff to be hopeful for. Be it animal videos where a duck and a dog are best friends, some clip from Ellen when she gets Wal-Mart to cough up 30, 4-year college scholarships, or a school where the teachers walk their under privileged kids home every day (otherwise, they’d have to walk alone), it’s out there.

And you find your peaceful centre (sort of) and tell yourself that despite the country of your birth trying to speed up its whole ‘going to hell in a hand basket death wish,’ life isn’t so bad.

This of course is also where the King comes in. No matter what is happening in the world, ones child is not only ignorant of it (unless he catches the word 'bomb' on talk radio and that opens up a really fun discussion about life. NOT), but no matter what, he is usually focused on the glorious minutiae of life.  So your day soon turns into, “Mommy look at the magnet train I built; I'm asking Santa to bring me a dog (um... sh*t); Do you like the fangs on the cobra I drew? Can I just eat cheese for breakfast? And, let’s watch Dinotrucks together and I can show you who all the baddies are (Oh, I know who the baddies are my darling, trust me). 

This is the beauty of children.  You can’t wallow. You don’t have time for it, and furthermore, they’ll spot the good, the beautiful, the exciting (to them) and make darn sure you know about it.  Which I suppose is a nice place to be.  You are still aware of the disturbed, you know it is out there, but it’s far more pleasant to... well, be delighted.

Friday, 1 September 2017

I Gotta Go!


I had one of those parenting moments the other day. You know those moments, when you step back and think, okay, perhaps some of this sh*t is sinking in!

The King has this thing where he always somehow needs to go to the bathroom when he’s NOT in the house. And we’re not talking the easy peasy, go behind the tree type bathroom need. No matter how many times I ask him if he needs to go before we leave home, he of course always seems to wait till we’re in the most inconvenient situation or place to go number 2. Needless to say, I’ve had to sit in public restrooms all across London while the King sits on his public throne for 25 minutes wanting to talk about ‘super cars’ while I try not to touch anything. You can imagine for my OCD, it is not a fun ride. In fact, I literally stand in the middle of the room, whilst plugging my nose, wondering about the bacterial trail from my position in the room to the sink.

Anyway, we were at the train station the other day about to board a train and he of course got that look… I will freely admit, I did not meet this “I gotta go” request with the utmost patience. Cause, well, this whole déjà vu scenario was getting old and I was in no mood to set up camp in Costa Coffee restroom while he waxed on about car chassis. 

Alas, he had to go and the station had one of those bathrooms that you had to pay for – to segue, I find paying to pee an affront to my civil rights and I want to literally hurl the King over the turnstile instead of paying and scream about the injustices of the world, but that's me - So, in my impatient rant about the King’s constant bad timing for poo-poo, I paid for him to go through, hurled the suitcase over the gate and then realised I was stuck on the other side with no more change.

It then dawned on me, he’s 7, I could see the stalls from my vantage point and we were in a rush. So I told him, take the suitcase (so I could identify what stall he was in), go in and get your business done and I’ll wait here. He gave me this panicked look (as this bathroom was like a crowded melee of men with suitcases), but he knew I was in no mood for negotiation. To sidestep for a moment, yes, I realize I’m coming off as overly protective, I live in a big city and he’s usually with me in the women’s room yapping away in the next stall so it’s rare he goes off to find the restroom by himself (judge me for my overprotection, I could care less).

So I stood there like a protective mother lion and watched his little feet in the stall for a few minutes. A few more minutes passed, then a few more. I of course started to pace and stare at passing men who rushed into the bathroom wondering who wouldn’t think I was totally odd for asking them to check on my son peeing in the fourth stall from the left. At this point our train was leaving shortly and I was starting to envision myself jumping the gate in a frenzy, tearing into the Men’s room and rescuing my son from whatever the hell was going on in there.

Finally, after 10 minutes (which felt like 100) the King opened the stall and hurried out. He had a look of half victory, half mortification on his face. By the time he got to me, we were both acting like he had been backpacking across Europe. I hugged him, telling him I was proud of him for venturing into the big bad bathroom all by himself, and let’s get the heck out of here cause we had a train to catch.

He looked at me, a tad overwhelmed, hugged me and said, ‘Mommy, I just need a moment.’ [Clearly he now feels the same way about public restrooms as I do]. It was in that moment that I felt a ridiculous sense of pride (no, not for the fact that he used a bathroom by himself).. but the fact that he was clearly having an emotional reaction to what just transpired and he had the wherewithal to ask me for a moment to just gather himself; something I tell him often to do if he needs one as I'm big on taking a moment in life to just...well, work things out!  Let’s be honest, it takes some men decades to identify an emotion and ask for the time to process it. But he's 7 and well, the kid sometimes just gets it. 

And yes, I love him for it… I just wish he’d start using the bathroom at home! 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

VALUE


At the moment, I am intrigued by value. Society’s emphasis of it, the subjective nature of it, and moreover its utter transience (in regards to certain things that is). Which then of course begs the question, ‘Are certain things that valuable in the first place?’ All one has to do is take a look at the stock market and currency exchanges to see how volatile and fleeting certain ‘value’ is. Currency is a prime example of something on which we place so much importance and yet it can be frighteningly volatile and easy to devalue. (Which of course also makes one go, hmm, who are these entities dictating value and how do we fire them!?)

As a society, as most of us know by now, that society’s definition of ‘value’ can only be described as subjective and often, well, backward as h*ll. We sadly live in a world where money holds more value over nature; a screen holds more value over a book; a celebrity holds more (monetary) value than a teacher (there are many many examples of backward placement of value, but we don’t have all day). If we put money aside for a moment and simply look at the nature of a teacher vs. an public figure per se, and who holds more actual value, I suppose one could come up with some sort of algorithm to determine who provides more value to society and how many people does one affect in a positive or productive manner. I know what my answer would be…

I suppose I define value as this: things that are not transient, volatile or fleeting, for me, hold the most value…Love, children, friendship, work (this is a broad term I realize so let’s define it as the action of working, the passion or productive nature of a work ethic, not necessarily your job title!) parenting, communal involvement…All these things posses a value that is unquantifiable and moreover requires or possesses a profound, unalterable consistency in order to make society function. [There are also the esoteric and more intangible things that hold value but again, I fear I would fall down a rabbit hole and never get out again]. I place an extremely high value on being a parent and being involved in my child’s life, school etc. In my mind, in order to help raise a child with principles, values (there’s that word again), and an ethos of helping others, I have to put the work in. I also value my son as a human being (even in his current, child state) and try to show him the respect (with parental discipline of course) that he indeed exists.

Not to mention, what I put in as a parent comes back to me in the (valuable) way of love, friendship, amusement, and a kid who isn’t a total pain in the rear end. Furthermore, when it comes to something like school, I place great value in being involved in my son’s education, or the education system as a whole. Especially in regards to the state system, it is vital that a parent is active in regards to their child’s education and the school community because it truly is a ‘what you put in, you get back’ (or your child does!) system. Not to mention, with all that is being detracted from our schools, they could use all the help they can get. 

The part where it gets very interesting is realizing that each and every one of us places value on different things. The King for example values cheese and Lego. And to him that’s tantamount (and who am I to judge his 6 year old mind). But his cheese is another man’s mansion and second home in Ibiza. And that second home in Ibiza is another woman’s meditation, religion and community service, and so on. And yes, in the grand scale of things some things are much more valuable in terms of how they positively affect society, nature and the planet as a whole. But in regards to each person’s subjective definition of value, well that’s up to them. And that’s the hard part. I know many people who do not place any value on being a full time mother/father (how, I don't know). It’s an age-old argument, who has more value, a homemaker or a woman/man who works out of the home? And there are arguments for both sides. The point being, it’s important that both have value without judgment (or if you’re going to judge it, my best advice is to keep those judgments to yourself). And it begs a mention that mothers/fathers that are raising kids in the home, day in and day out, I'm sorry, they have the hardest more undervalued job out there. It's a life commitment, a day in, day out, 24 hour, 7 day a week, thankless task that is not always viewed by society as something of value. And that's profoundly depressing.

Not to end on a 'disturbed note,' I suppose my question to you is, how do you define value? Your value in the world, your value as a parent, a worker, and a human being. It’s definitely something to think about.. and you might just realize that the things you used to put value on can now be thrown over the side of the proverbial boat. Or it perhaps will simply make you think, and be more open to the notion of value and how each and every one of us defines it. 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

KUNG FU NOISES


The other day I had one of those parenting moments where I could see the lesson in front of me… know the lesson needed to be learned by the King at some point in life (but really, now??), but wanted to do everything in my mommy power to stop time in its tracks and REWIND.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The King’s school was having a talent show; or as my husband calls it, ‘an entertainment’ contest (his talent show wounds run deep). The King decided that he wanted to audition and decided he was going to do his first pattern in Kung Fu (patterns are a series of moves that they learn to advance in their belts). It’s an intricate set of moves that he has done at competition and it’s honestly one of the cutest things you’ve ever seen – especially when he hops back and does this little squat maneuver. [Yes, I know very little about Kung Fu]. Anyway, he decided in conjunction with the pattern, he was also going to join his friends in doing a ‘silly show.’ What that entailed I had no idea, but I wasn’t sure if it contained any talent per se.

A few weeks into his preparation, I mentioned that perhaps he should make his ‘power noises’ when doing the pattern; in competition, one can often hear sighs, grunts and loud exhalations as a sign of power. Okay, fine, the first time I heard it, I burst out laughing (internally of course as the Master is damn scary), but understood it was all part of the Kung Fu vibe. The King wasn’t so sure and said he was going to continue practicing, in silence, and gave me the signal that he had this, so to speak, and didn’t need my advice.

About a week out, he alerted me that he was only doing the Kung Fu pattern and didn’t want to do the silly show. Great, let’s do this I thought… Let’s show the world your adorable Kung Fu talent.

Morning of, he takes his outfit to school and is his usual confident self – not much sticks to this kid, so while other parents weren’t fans of the talent show because of the unnecessary competition, I figured, he’s the King, he’ll be fine. So, I wished him luck and off he went.

That afternoon I picked him up. I usually spot him across the schoolyard and he always greets me with a huge grin (followed by, ‘where’s my snack!’). But I could immediately tell something was wrong. VERY wrong. The second the words ‘How did it go’ fell out of my mouth, I regretted them instantly. His face was about to crumple into a million pieces, but trying to save face, he managed a short, ‘Let’s go!’ before the tears started quietly streaming down his face. For blocks, it was just silent tears and him refusing to talk to me (there is nothing more heartbreaking than silent tears). 

He finally stopped in the middle of the road, looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, they laughed. They laughed at me!’ I said who laughed? His response, “54 children!! 54 children laughed at me when I did the noises. You said to do the noises and they laughed at me!!"

Yeah, I now know what it feels like to be gut punched. So thanks to me, I hand delivered my child to be laughed at in front of 54 children. Nice one Mommy. Of course, I launched into a fierce defense of his skill, ability, his misunderstood greatness, the power of Kung Fu, the ‘people are simply going to laugh sometimes’ defense, and that they were laughing WITH him (not at him). Finally, grasping at straws, I said, “Remember when Dave (his instructor) first made those noises, what did you do?” He looked at me and said, ‘I laughed.’ …. Yeah, ok, let’s focus on that then, shall we. You laughed. As did I.  I guess the moral is, Kung Fu power noises are funny.

Then the ultimate kicker, or at least I thought it was, who got through and made it to the final round? Hi pals in the silly show. To his credit and a mirror into this kid's comportment, he exclaimed that their bit was the best, and made him laugh so hard and he wanted to see them perform in the final. Meanwhile, my husband, hysterically chimed in that he had a similar thing happen to him at his talent show when he was young and he never did one again (um, not helpful, Daddy!).

To the King’s credit, he shrugged it off pretty quickly and is already practicing singing Blackbird (Lennon/McCartney) for next year, so I suppose the wound wasn’t that deep. At least one of us is resilient.

Copyright © 2014 Anthea Anka - Delighted And Disturbed