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I have no words.
Actually there is ONE word… The question on my lips today, and probably on the lips of many others, is “WHY?”
WHY target children enjoying themselves at a concert and wish to kill them? What on earth can one hope to achieve from such a heinous, cowardly and senseless act?
Regardless of one’s religion, nationality, beliefs and ethics, nothing positive or constructive can be found within such behaviour.
Is it some primitive, vestigial need to CHANGE people? To react against our individuality and independence? Is it a wish to convert ALL people into the same way of thinking? To enforce a blanket rule of oppression and control over an entire planet of people?
Maybe there is an instinctual desire for uniformity – a throwback to our long-vanished ancestors, who relied on a rock-solid community of like-minded tribesmen and women; whose very existence and survival could be threatened by change or a single rebel. And yet, it was the ‘rebel’ – the person who thought of different ways to do things – who ignited progress; who would lead the way into new pastures and new developments.
We are a planet teeming with different cultures, histories and visions – we have migrated to all corners of the earth and have created myriad ways of living, shaped by our passions, our habitats and the resources available to us. That is the way of things. That is human nature.
It saddens me that some of these corners are still subject to the iron rule of outdated despotic autocrats but, generally, there has been progress.
Who, but the most tunnel-visioned, ignorant bigot, could want to halt such progress?
I have NEVER been able to understand that glitch in human nature – that need to mind other people’s business; that need to make EVERYONE see their own way of thinking; that unshakeable belief that one way is right, and all others are wrong.
Even as a child, it puzzled me. Why did we have to wear the same clothes? Why was one child ostracised for speaking, thinking or acting differently? How could the expression of one child be so threatening to the ‘clique’ that they needed to thoroughly quash, humiliate and punish the ‘odd one out’? What did it take away from the others? Nothing. Why can’t people mind their own business?
And the bigger question – what kind of immense insecurity and weakness lies at the root of the person who feels the urge to change others?? Only those with a gaping chasm where their personality should be would need to fill that whistling hole with endless campaigns to radicalise those around them. Only those who cannot find their own contentment can be so enraged by the happiness of other people.
I know something else about human nature though. If you threaten to remove someone’s freedom; threaten their liberty to express their individuality, to create, to follow their passions; you will only deepen the rebellion. You will only galvanise them into defending their independence to their dying breath.
Some of us may be happy to be ‘sheep’ on the conveyor belt of life, but even sheep will rise up if you tell them they can’t be sheep any more.
A threat to our safety – worse; to the safety of our children – will only fan the fire in our belly. Such abhorrent and despicable violence will never subjugate those who value their freedom.
Relationships are hard, aren’t they?
Not just ‘significant other’-type relationships, but all relationships – friends, colleagues, family…
The more I think about it, the more I see a mental image of people bringing enormous suitcases of personal histories, experiences and injuries to every meeting; dressed in camouflage or odd disguises; toting a dictionary of exclusive definitions (no two dictionaries are alike… “I’m fine” ranging in meaning from “I’m absolutely ok,” to “I’m utterly unable to address my myriad problems and I don’t think you’d understand anyway,”) and covered from head to foot in plasters, under which cuts and bruises fester in varying degrees of severity.
Given that many of us don’t even realise that we carry all this stuff around with us every day, it’s not surprising that sometimes it’s damn hard to get out of bed of a morning – our limbs feel heavy, our brains thick and slow like a computer struggling to process too many background programmes, and our spirits raw and painful to the touch.
It’s frustrating and inexplicable when we try to interact with our loved ones and each word seems to take us further and further away from the intended outcome, until what started as an insignificant comment turns into a screaming match of devastating proportions.
How does that happen? How do two people who have chosen to be together, think of each other all the time when apart, and want to grow old together end up reinforcing such destructive behaviour time after time?
I can only speak for myself, but I have gradually realised over the years, that I often view the present through a filter – a filter of ALL the memories I have ever retained; a filter of all the people I’ve ever met and known; a filter of both positive and negative interactions with the world out there.
For example, I remember my father used to be notoriously unreliable in his time-keeping. He would tell my mother that he’d be back at 7pm. She’d cook dinner, lay the table, make sure I’d had a bath and was all clean and scrubbed in my pyjamas…and then we’d wait, and wait…and wait. And wait some more.
I recall one particular occasion when he was so late that the dinner was ruined. I’d been sitting patiently at the dining table for over an hour, watching my mother’s face sag and blanch; warding off a fizzing, uncomfortable sting of anxiety, and wanting desperately to make it better but not knowing how. The sight of my dad’s empty seat and clean, untouched dinner plate would always cause a sensation of butterflies and internal pressure.
Eventually my mother dished up – after all, I was only little and needed my bed. As I started to eat (though I wasn’t hungry any more) my mother caught sight of my father’s car rounding the bend and heading towards the house. An odd expression crossed her face – a glint of frustration and fury, disguised as a tight smile.
She scooped me out of my seat and said, “Quick! Let’s play a trick on Daddy. Let’s pretend we’ve been abducted by aliens!”
I was a little bemused by this uncharacteristic ‘playfulness’, but willingly ran upstairs with her, and we dived into her bedroom cupboard and pulled the door closed.
Ensconced among dresses and ironed shirts, I heard the muffled sound of the front door opening and closing, and Dad called out, “I’m home.”
Instantly, every fibre in my being wanted to run downstairs, but my mother had a firm grip on my arm, and shushed me.
I could hear my father walking from room to room, calling our names, and the strain of not answering him turned into downright distress. I didn’t like this game, and I wasn’t sure what my role was, and whether I should be playing it.
Eventually, we heard his slow, measured tread up the stairs and into the bedroom, and suddenly the cupboard door was pulled open, the yellow light from the ceiling lamp flooding my eyes. He pretended to look surprised and amused by his discovery, but I looked between the faces of my parents…and the tension in my body just grew and grew.
I KNEW that my mother had slaved away to get dinner on the table. I KNEW she’d been expecting him at 7, and that it was now 8.30pm. I KNEW he did this almost every time. I also knew that he’d probably finished work hours ago, and had been drinking in the pub with his colleagues – I could smell alcohol and cigarette smoke on his suit jacket.
But as soon as my mother started her recriminations, my heart just broke in two. I couldn’t stand to see his guilty, sheepish face. I didn’t want to listen to the gradual crescendo of her voice, or the naked desperation revealed behind the shrewish words.
“You made your own 5 year old daughter wait for nearly two hours for her dinner because she wanted to eat with you!” my mother cried, the air between them spiky with unhappiness.
At this, I remember bursting into tears and jumping into my dad’s arms, repeating over and over, “But it’s ok Daddy, I don’t mind! I don’t mind.”
I even remember seeing the shocked, betrayed expression on my mother’s face… and thinking with a cold, little adult’s voice, “But he needs me more than she does.”
An intolerable situation for a child to be in really. And with hindsight, not so surprising that I developed into a woman who used to lose the plot if Hubby ever came home late – even if it was only a few minutes past the expected time. It was one of my ‘flashpoints’. I would fly off the handle, without any real idea why I was overreacting so badly.
It takes A LOT of mindfulness to stay in the moment – to NOT bring all your sh*t with you to the table – to treat people as themselves, not ghosts of people from your past.
Whenever I turned into the Ice Queen because Hubby was 15 minutes late getting home, all he could see was an unreasonably sulky response to a pretty mild misdemeanour. What he couldn’t hear was the 5 year old child inside me, crying, “But I married you because you’re RELIABLE! I married you because you don’t drink and prioritise the wrong things. I married YOU, and I need you to be that safe, conscientious person so that I never have to feel abandoned and insignificant again.”
I don’t believe that there’s a single person alive who doesn’t see the world through the filter of their history, but I DO believe that we can be helped. Knowing the source of our pain, understanding the deeply buried motivations behind our actions, and acknowledging and validating our responses… these are the first few steps to being able to let go of the past, enabling a change in our behaviour.
It’s not about blame. I’m not looking for a patsy upon whom I can pin my bitterness or moan, “Look what you did to meeeeee!” As a ‘grown up’, I hope I can at least begin to take responsibility for my own actions and words, and bring a more grounded personality to my interactions with my loved ones.
One day, I may even be able to say these words during an argument:
“It’s not you. It’s me.”
Sorry for the long silence. I’m not doing so well at writing every day, am I?! My excuse this time? We’ve just had our annual ‘Crazy Birthday Bonanza’, where three members of the family have their birthdays within the space of 9 days. And yes, that DOES mean that three quarters of this family are food-guzzling, earthy, moody Taureans, with severe territorial issues.
This also usually means that I put on about a stone of pure cake-weight in May, but given that I’m now hurtling towards my mid-forties, I thought it would be sensible to make only ONE cake to celebrate all three birthdays this year.
However, that doesn’t mean I was any more organised than usual, so the evening before my daughter’s Harry Potter themed party found me sitting in Lidl’s car park, as I scouted for last minute supplies.
As it was relatively late, the car park was only 30% full, and I swung into a space, with spaces on either side of me. Annoyingly, within seconds, despite 70% of a car park to choose from, someone pulled in to the space to my left… and then one of those ridiculously and pointlessly enormous 4x4s tried to pull into the space on my right. The hapless woman driving was so close to my car that she set off all my parking sensors. She sat there, her car at a weird spatially-challenged angle, switched off her engine in a self-satisfied manner, as I wondered how on earth I was even going to exit my car. And then she took a good look at me.
Suddenly, she turned her engine back on and roared off, parking on the other side of the car park.
As I pondered this, it occurred to me with a great deal of amusement, that she had caught sight of my hair! From the left, I look pretty demure. From the right, I apparently look like someone you wouldn’t want to park next to, especially with children in the back.
This past month has been an interesting social experiment. For the first time in my life, people notice my hair before they notice my nationality.
Maybe it was naïve of me to think that I could change my appearance drastically without consequences, but I’d do it again. In fact, it has taught me something very important.
It has taught me that what other people think of me is completely immaterial. It changes nothing about the person I am.
About a week after my haircut, when the shaved patterns on my head were still very conspicuous, I arranged to take my kids and meet a friend and her kids at a National Trust house.
Now, I have been a National Trust member for nearly 15 years. I love old houses and architecture; I love historical artefacts and the stories behind them; I love the beautiful landscaped gardens; and I love taking my children to soak up the atmosphere and knowledge available in these well-preserved bubbles of British history.
In those 15 years, I cannot tell you how many times I have been approached by middle-aged-to-elderly people who want to compliment me on my children’s beautiful manners, or express their approval that my toddlers drank from a proper glass rather than a sippy cup, or exclaim over my son’s ‘cleverness’ in being able to recite all the kings and queens from William the Conqueror up to the present day.
In their eyes, I could always read the same story – “What a lovely, middle-class family! Not British perhaps, but Chinese/Japanese people work so hard, and really value education…”
However, this recent visit had a slightly different flavour to it.
First of all, when I showed my house ticket to the elderly volunteer at the desk, she actually took a step back from me. She peered at the ticket warily, and then back at my face, as if doubting my motives.
Then, instead of being constantly surrounded by people – it’s a familiar moan of mine that no one is interested in a picture/statue/cabinet until I’m looking at it – there was a respectful distance around me, and mothers kept their children close. Lovely.
I wandered into the music room and inspected the Broadwood piano in the corner. Many years ago, I did my degree dissertation on pianos, and though the dissertation itself wasn’t very good, I’m still interested to see if I can date a strange piano to within 3 decades of its manufacture.
I became aware of an old gentleman staring at me hard, as if expecting delinquent behaviour. Maybe I was about to scratch the mellowed varnish, or eat a Nature Valley bar over the open lid, or even – oh horror – play chopsticks raucously at triple forte.
I noticed a sign on the piano that said, “IF you can play the piano, you may try me. But please, not for very long.”
Inwardly, I chuckled. What a very ‘National Trust’ sign.
The old man was still standing there, frowning at me.
In a moment of defiance, I sat down at the piano and played the first page of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata – 2nd movement.
I was aware of the old man visibly starting, and he hurriedly exited the room - no doubt perturbed to hear Beethoven being played by someone who looked more likely to bite the head off a live chicken.
In summary, people still look at me and put me in a box – a box constructed of their own prejudices and opinions – but the difference now is that I have stopped putting MYSELF in a box of my own making. I have absolutely no problem with the strange contradictory effect of my clothes, my appearance, my accent, my skills, my personality – it may be a confusing and eccentric jumble, but it is a glorious jumble, and I realise I don’t need to find a category to define me.
I look at my kids and I love how free-spirited they are with their appearance. Admittedly I sometimes wish that my son’s supreme nonchalance didn’t comprise fishing out clothes that are too small for him, although he looks cute in a ‘homeless waif’ kinda way. Admittedly, my daughter’s sartorial flamboyance is occasionally utterly inappropriate (woolly jumper, polar bear gloves, stripy socks, ballet tutu, and flip flops, anyone?) but I wouldn’t change her for the world.
Hopefully my children have realised, much sooner than I ever did, that other people’s opinions cannot take anything away from you – not without your permission – and that conforming to a nebulous standard dictated by a murky, hypocritical society only robs you of your individuality.
I must remember that when my daughter comes to ask me if she can have every extremity pierced, and a tattoo of a spider placed in the centre of her face… #doublestandards #mumrules
I realise I’ve been away slightly longer than I said, but life has been full to the brim.
By that, I mean I went to Belgium for a long weekend, supporting my Hubby and his amazing band at the prestigious European Championships. And by ‘support’, I mean I walked around on the beach, ate Croque Monsieur and waffles, and drank too much at the after party and had to be guided back to my room by kindly members of the aforementioned band.
Never try to outdrink a Welsh band… especially if you’re a small Japanese woman.
Our method of travel, both there and back, involved several hours of coach journey, where I had time to sit and think about the last few months; about the peaks and troughs, and my general personal development – which includes a surprising turnaround in the way I view certain parts of my own body.
Now this might not seem particularly dignified or appropriate subject matter for a blog about Japan and parenting (although the longer I do this, the more I realise I don’t really know WHAT my blog is about…) BUT I need to talk about my backside.
I am NOT the ‘correct’ shape for a Japanese woman. Whenever I’m in Japan, I notice that the women seem, not just several kilos lighter than me, but also more delicately boned, with narrow hips and shoulders… and above all, with small bottoms. Now, I don’t know what happened to my genes, but I certainly can’t answer to the above description. Very likely, a western diet (and barbell squats) have encouraged growth in that particular area.
As a kid, I was thin and brown and bony – unremarkably shaped in every way. So it was quite the shock when at 10 years old, I suddenly developed (before the other girls) child-bearing hips and a 36B size bust. Not only did this result in my mother coercing me to wear her psychedelic tailor-made outfits from the swinging sixties because I was actually able to fit in them, but it caused my already sensitive personality to withdraw, turtle-like, into my shell.
My ballet career was destroyed in an instant – one week I was a moderately successful little dancer, with a good memory for steps and a natural ability to coordinate movement to music. The next week, I was crawling with embarrassment in the shiny pink leotard which cruelly emphasised the dramatically changing shape of my body. A body more suited to burlesque than ballet.
I suppose adolescence is an uncomfortable, painful experience for everyone. I just remember feeling discontented with the way I was turning out. Maybe this is common for people who are displaced from their natural countries of origin, but I constantly wished I looked different.
I didn’t like black, straight hair – it was boring. I didn’t want brown eyes – I wanted limpid, expressive blue eyes. I didn’t want to be short-limbed – I wanted legs up to my ears, and willowy graceful arms. And I certainly didn’t want, at 5 ft 2, to have a butt almost the same width as I was tall. It was the eighties – the narrow hipped, flat-bottomed look was in vogue.
Being unhappy with my appearance was a daily struggle. In fact, it was an odd, almost schizophrenic experience; on the one hand, I would look in the mirror and my first instinctual response would be satisfaction, but then a spiteful inner voice would draw attention to all the things that hopelessly prevented me from blending in with the crowd.
I did some ridiculous things, in my youth, to convince myself that I was like everyone else – things that ironically made me even more conspicuous.
For example, I’d ALWAYS dreamed of having curly hair, but Japanese hair is rarely naturally curly. When I was 16, earning some money of my own from teaching piano to a steady stream of littlies on a Wednesday evening, I finally had the funds and the freedom to book a slot at my local hairdressers. I was given a ghastly bubble perm that made me look like a labradoodle, for the princely sum of £40… and I LOVED it! Somehow, I convinced myself that I now looked like everyone else.
Anyway, I’m done with all that now. I have accepted that I only look like myself, and I’m more than fine with that.
Over the years, I have observed the whimsical and fickle nature of fashion. It was bemusing to find people started dyeing their hair black, and bemoaning their bad luck in having blond, curly hair; bemusing to discover that an appliance called ‘hair straighteners’ existed, because why would anyone want straight hair?? And most bemusing of all to find out that people actually WANTED bigger bums – that there were ‘butt building’ exercise routines, plastic surgery procedures for increasing butt size, and pioneering in Japan, special pants for sale with false buttocks to create a curvy silhouette under one's clothes. Ha! What?!
So, without any rhyme or reason, I find that the physical traits I once hated so much are now attributes?
It’s immaterial anyway. I have finally, finally (*weeps at how bloody long it’s taken) learned to take what I am, and make it work for me...
Hair straight and black? Undercut it. The darkness of my hair highlights the contrasts in the shaved patterns.
Limbs short? Lift weights. Deadlifts are a doddle – I’m already so close to the floor. Lol
Uncharacteristically large-ish bust for my nationality? Hm…. Actually, I’ve never met anyone who saw that as a problem.
Big ass? Forget ballet - learn to dance Kizomba – it’s definitely an asset to have a big bottom, as you’ll see from the video below.
My point? Life is too short to wish we were different. Embrace the individuality. Be proud of all the things that make you YOU. Make the decision to commit to loving yourself – because until you’ve done that, all your other relationships are just built on shifting sand.