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Monday, 30 January 2017

Freedom to dream...

In a world where I am not sure if and where I belong and a world that makes me cry more often recently, I am struggling to find positive thoughts to express myself… So today’s thoughts shared hopefully will help me be optimistic and cheerful again, maybe you too.

It has always been there; the belonging issue…especially the first couple of years in another country. My one foot was there and the other one was here. And trust me the two countries are very far from each other so the position was always very uncomfortable. Now, ten years down the line, things are better in my everyday life. I know where I belong. I don’t belong in geographical place; I ‘belong’ where my men are. But every now and then, a political incident, a statement in the press, a voting result and I am again hanging there not knowing where to go, where I am welcome and where not. Surely it is not only me. In current times, globalisation has been a constant presence in our lives. Look around you: surely someone in your family, or extended family or most probably you do not stay where you were born, or even if that is true, look at the goods around you…surely you enjoy a German beer every now and then (see? I changed the coffee/wine habit of past posts….), or a nice piece of sushi, and surely you all love tzatziki… (hmm hmm)…. So definitely, globalisation has hit us all somehow.

But before I go on about the issue of immigration, banning of people of certain beliefs, religions etc (because trust me, I am not going to be nice…), let us get back to the sense of belonging. So indeed learning to belong and adjust in your environment’s conditions is a crucial skill nowadays. But so is the skill of using your right and freedom to choice. This is something that has come back to my mind repeatedly in the last couple of weeks (and a bit before…yes yes during June –July last year…remember what happened then?). As much as I CHOOSE to be in a different country, that country can CHOOSE to not have me here, right? Oops, there is the issue again… So the two are connected?!?!?!

I am starting to put things in perspective slowly but surely… Everything that is happening in the world had to do with freedom of choice. Right… Two issues with that. One is when does my (yours, his…) freedom stop? I read a protester’s sign yesterday “No one is free when others are oppressed”. But then again oppression is a very subjective matter. My students might feel oppressed because in class they have to follow rules. As social beings thus, we have to follow rules and laws of the country we live in. We have the freedom to protest against things we don’t like in most countries…where real oppression does not exist (refer to the dictionary’s entry “dictatorship” – right or left - ) and we have the freedom to vote. Freedom, hence, has a lot to do with the majority rule that we need to accept and respect. Fine and well and I am so happy about this – I am a Greek remember? We invented Democracy…hmm…  

So then why does the world end up in a mess so often? Choices…Choices…. How do we make our choices? Do we think as rational agents, as selfish brats, as striving for survival individuals or something else? When does the wisdom of a choice kick in someone’s life? Surely, Big boy did not have any choice in the extra curriculum activities we chose for him, or my Baby boy has absolutely no choice in which school he will attend. So it is something that comes after we become adults, right? But are we prepared for that if for our first at least 16 – 18 years of life, someone else makes most of the decisions? I always wonder if our education does indeed prepare adults that are compassionate, humane and kind. We are failing in that. Recently, voters - people decide who to vote, or about their own choices, without thinking of their fellow human beings (let me not go on about animals, the environment etc.). Our education systems fail to educate our kids to go and sit with the shy, weak child and ask “are you ok?”.

By no means, I am not saying that future adults should make all their choices in life based on others’ feelings; no not at all, all I am saying is that all choices and decisions should have an underlying motto “my freedom ends where your freedom begins”.  In essence, then, we will elect leaders that will protect our human rights; we will run responsible businesses; we will fight poverty and hunger together. Each of us the way we can and with the tools we have. And before I am criticised for being in “pink cloud” again, it is the mentality that needs to be changed when we do business not the fact that we want profits. OF COURSE, we want profits…OF COURSE, we want salaries…OF COURSE we want money in our pockets and OF COURSE, I want to buy a new pair of shoes… But the world would have been different if we did that without hurting others.

And nobody should take this dream world away from me and my kids. The role models for that world are already out there. They are the heroes that speak out in words and actions in difficult situations. And yes in a sense, we need shitty (oops…) situations to have these heroes stand out from the crowd, to allow them to make a difference, and why not to help these exceptional humans to make the world a better place for ALL. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Malala Yousafzai did not stand out while being happy, content and eating popcorn in front of their TVs. They stood out for their own freedom of choice against all odds during tough times.

 Now I feel better…Now I feel stronger. I do not have many tools to help, but I have a bazooka in my hands. I educate people at work and I raise future adults at home. I aspire to see them building a world where everyone belongs, where everyone is as happy as can be, where no one has to worry about whether he/she will be allowed to come back home, where no one has to choose between seeing their dying mother or keeping their job, where no one has to escape war (because others are making money of it), where no one has to explain themselves and their beliefs and faith, where no one is automatically categorized as good or bad based on body characteristics, where everyone has real, true freedom of choice.

The rest of the world can be cynical, I choose to dream…


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Throw that toxic banana away? Or maybe not yet…..

It seems everyone is writing about that. It appears at least once in everyone’s resolution. The last week it seems as if we all made a pact and we all promised with our pinkies to “get toxic people out of our lives”. Only the last week, I read more than five different blogs in two different languages giving advice on what to do if you have toxic people in your life. And there are as many approaches as you can imagine. From “throw them out NOW” to “take your lessons” to “change them with your positivity”. All of them especially confusing when it comes to practice.

But even before we start thinking of the plan of action with them (us?)...The question is “who is a toxic person? How do I identify them? And eventually, if someone is a toxic person for me, is he/she a toxic person to everyone?”.

It is the person that behaves badly, that gossips with bad intentions, that wants to keep people below, that is not happy with the others’ successes, that is jealous, that creates drama for themselves and the others around them; a manipulative person; that uses others to fulfill their own needs; that complains but never takes responsibility; that thinks the worse only happens to them; that cannot empathize; that cannot inspire; that criticizes constantly everyone; that takes no responsibility for their own feelings; that does not apologize – it is never their fault anyway; that expects you (and sometimes pushes you) to prove yourself and defend your choices; that is not interested in what is going on with you and their usual response to everything is “yes, but mine…” or “yes, but when it happened to me…”.

Come now, don’t tell me that you have not met one of those… [ I admit sometimes I am one of those…hmm..]. We all have periods in our lives that we exhibited at least one (if not more) of those characteristics. Or even more accurately, some of these characteristics are aspects of our personalities but in isolation only.

So, all in all, I classify a person in my life as toxic if the effects of the interaction are negative to my personality, my mood, and my everyday life. Because a toxic person at some social function does not affect me as much as a person that I consider a friend that we interact daily, intensely and personally.
Of course, I am not going to sit with the above list of characteristics and check how many and which ones are present. It is a feeling; a very simple “this person does not make me feel good”. In a recent experience, it was more of a “this person makes me doubt everyone around me; this person makes me suspicious of everyone; this person does not take what I say into consideration; this person does not value my advice, my experiences and in essence my existence; I do not admire this person”. It is a feeling; sometimes more specific than not.

And that is an issue: how quickly do we identify someone as a person that makes more damage than anything else? Sometimes the feeling is instant; this very vague feeling that I should keep myself away. There is a mismatch from the beginning. I wish that was the case with all relationships. It would save time, effort, frustrations and tears to all. But it does not work like that always.
As a person, I give chances, opportunities to understand everyone around me, where they come from, their backgrounds, experiences, and reasons. I try to put in practice my theory of “everyone gives love in their own language and manner, let me try not to speak the same language – I have my own – but at least understand it”.

Even this afternoon: “Mummy”, said Big Boy, “this banana is blah… it is black outside… please do not put it with the other bananas in the lunch box, it will make them also blah…throw it away now”… But I could not, what if that banana was perfectly fine inside?...

In many cases in my life, I gained new perspectives like this; I found out I am loved and appreciated; but in the few sad cases, I wasted my time. And to be honest? I am happy with myself I wasted my time! Not because “every person is a lesson”… I am not THAT zen… I am happy with myself because I have no regrets that I did not try enough (see? It was a selfish reason…) Oh that is something that no other blog/post/meme/article I read has suggested before (I stand under correction here, of course…).

Do not classify people… Explore them, learn them, give opportunities, and appreciate them…Do everything to have rounded and holistic experiences and opinions of those around you… Not to change them, not to bring them to your measures but to truly, meaningfully understand them. I am not saying be a victim to whatever others do to you; not the whole “people that are bad with you are lessons”. No, exactly the opposite, be the better and stronger person that will have no regrets and no “what ifs” later. And trust me, you will know when enough is enough…

You will know when to throw the bruised banana out of the lunch box and you will do so without regrets, then.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Dodging THE worse mummy-question on a …trampoline!

The last week or so, my thoughts have been revolving around the most important question, the one without an answer: “am I a good enough mother for my boys?”. If you are a mother, don’t try to convince anyone that you have not asked yourself the million (billion plus) dollar question. At some point in your kids’ life, or maybe your kids’ day (or during the last hour), you – we- doubted ourselves.

THE question comes in all forms for different reasons and at different times for all mums, mamas, mothers, mummies. The stay-at-home mum for not contributing financially, the working mum for not spending enough time with the kids, the breastfeeding mum because she is always tired when the other kids need her, the bottle-feeding mum because she does not breastfeed, the militant-mother for being too strict, the hippy mama for being too lenient, the stressed mum for reaching limits quickly, the relaxed mum for maybe not caring enough, the divorced mum because she left daddy, the unhappy mum for what does she teach her kids by not pursuing her happiness?…and the list goes on. So maybe the connecting point for all mothers is not the love for our kids but rather the guilt for our kids.

But let me take a step back. Why has this question arrived in my mind the last week like an uninvited guest? I spent almost a month (more?) with the boys at home on holidays. I spent the absolutely minimum required time working (just a few emails here and then; I am an e-addict…yes yes and a workaholic). I was with them 24/7 actively spending time with them. So why now? Yes, the last few days I was not patient; I was expecting too much from them but they were also busy and frustrated (maybe because they could not play outside because of the rain, maybe because their daddy went back to work…). But the fact that we had a couple of difficult (VERY difficult) moments cannot be the reason for questioning myself…So why now? Because I started admitting to myself and to the people around me that I got tired and I wanted them to start going to school again. Because I admitted loudly and seriously that I am a better mother when I see them few hours every day. How is THAT possible? Why does it happen to me? Am I a horrible person that I do not enjoy EVERY minute spent with my kids? Am I a good enough mother for my boys? Oops there it is…there is THE question

The moment the question hits me – regardless of the reasons each time –  I feel like….poopoo (“mummy hat” on…). As if I am not worthy, as if my kids will hate me, as if I ruined their lives forever… I hit rock bottom as if I am at the lowest point of a trampoline. Yes, that’s it. A trampoline… As if my motherhood is a trampoline. The higher it goes, the lower it will end up; and the lower it will end up, the higher it will fly again. If I do not go low, how will I fly higher? If I don’t ask the question to myself, how will I ever improve myself? If I am not always uncertain if what I give is enough, will I ever encourage myself to be better? As the cutest koala in the world recently said: “When you‘ve reached bottom, there’s only one way to go, and that’s up”!

I made a promise, as every mother in the world (I hope as I am sitting up in my pink cloud) that I will not allow anything and anyone – not even myself – to deprive my boys’ of a happy mother. I will jump in the parenting trampoline, with force and strength so that the troughs do not last long, and then we are off flying again, laughing our hearts out!

Come, mothers, fellow travellers in the guilt trips, and friends in the trampoline: let’s jump! Let’s enjoy the ups and the downs. And even more, let us learn from the lows and give us a boost to fly higher.

Let’s jump high!

PS. My thoughts, love and compassion to all the mothers that will leave their precious children to school in the next few weeks. Sit back and (yes!!!!) enjoy the quiet house, enjoy your time at the office, enjoy even the time alone in the bathroom... (oh yes!!!)

Cheers till the next time that we will say “Bloody hell, I miss them…” and this moment is coming…quicker than we think- perhaps the same day, before we even fetch them from school!

Monday, 2 January 2017

Capturing memories...

It is this time of the year again. The beginning of the new year that brings with it wishes and hopes for a better future, a more prosperous one, an exciting one with opportunities for success and happiness. But while we all dream of the memories to be made and promise to ourselves to be our most perfect version, exactly at the same time, we make snapshots of our present, we take photos, we try to capture the present as if it the most precious thing in our lives. And isn’t it?

Efforts to capture the present seems to be almost essential part of the humans as a social beings. And of course, I will not (and I cannot) offer history lessons… Just during our recent trip to Italy, we visited Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last supper, an impressive piece of art, considering the time it was painted and technique used. Surely, it does not capture the present times of the painter; it, however, captures the beliefs and faith of his time. I heard there that the artist that did the restorations of the painting spent almost 23 years of her life on making sure we can have a look today at the original version (if you are interested, read on what how the painting was “treated” through the centuries…. From trying to change it, to trying to save it, to use the room as a stable…) I am hence sitting here wondering WHY it was so important to be able to see the original. It seems we are interested in looking at the original; the art or photo or any picture is the form it was originally created to try and understand the artist’s mind better, to interpret the intentions.

Yet, why do people wonder why others take photos (some particularly criticizing them)? Yes, sometimes too many photos…I am one of them; I take photos of my kids, of my surroundings, of my friends, of my pets, of my coffee…anything that “tells” me something. The same way I try to write down feelings and stories. And I share them; oh yes I do…a lot… with many people…knowingly, most do not even care about them or spend more than one second (even if…) to look at them (sorry if you are one of them!). Why do I take photos? Many times I wondered myself…

For me, they are my Last supper; they are my capturing of the moment forever. They are my only way to keep the memory a bit longer. They are my only way to hold on to something in an ever-changing world, in a world that spins faster than I can manage inside me. It is my Last supper to go back to remind me the story and the intentions and the feelings of the moment. How else? Unfortunately, the human brain does not have the capacity of a computer in storing all the little memories forever. We tend to remember the big moments in our life (let me not start with the question on the definition of what a BIG moment) and forget the everyday ones.

But yiayia waiting at the balcony for us to come back from the beach; pappous looking to the street from his terrace; eating ice-cream with Mistiko during summer holidays; my Prince’s face after a sleepless and difficult night with the boys; Big Boy having his first apple or Baby Boy feeling the sand in the beach for the first time are all moments that might have faded away like a dream through the years. Every time I look at these photos though all the sentiments of the moment come back: the warmth in my heart, the smile on my face, the smells in the garden, the sun in my cheeks, the sparkle in their eyes, even the headache… everything comes back. They are my own sacred Last supper, my own story to tell (to myself?) one day. Maybe no one will ever look at them again, does it matter? Of course not… Is Last supper less valuable if they close the exhibition and nobody can admire it again?
Entering the New Year thus I don’t follow advice such as “live your life and not try to capture every moment of it”… Richard Branson of Virgin Active posted recently “One tip for 2017 WRITE IT DOWN”…

I might add “Take a picture of it!!!” and at the end of the year, pour a glass of wine (there is the wine again…ok ok… pour whatever relaxes you), sit comfortably and enjoy the memories you have made for 2017. Some will be intense, some you will have forgotten by then, some will make you cry, some will make you smile… I will do the same. I will cherish them, embrace them and enjoy them. This year will make me stronger and wiser- every year does the same, every year is a lesson. And at its end, I will go through them again by looking at my Last Supper Season 2017! 

Cheers to 2017!!