Tag Archives: family life

The Island Of Sea Women by Lisa See

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If you love stories of strong, fearless women, their relationships to each other and family, the depiction of their path, stumbling blocks and successes, you will love this book. Lisa See gives us wonderful characters living amid a terrible yet fascinating history.

The Island of Sea Women is as exquisite in its rendering as it is heartbreaking in its storyline. Set over the course of seven decades it follows the lives of Young-sook and Mi-ja, best friends from Jeju, an island province of South Korea. Young-sook’s future as a haenyeo, a member of her area’s diving collective is guaranteed by her lineage. Mi-ja on the other hand is the orphaned daughter of a Japanese collaborator (Jeju was occupied by Japan for much of the beginning of the Twentieth Century) and as such tainted by default and ostracised by the village.

They meet as children when of course neither status nor heritage matters. Thanks to Young-sook’s mother being chief of their collective Mi-ja is granted an opportunity to dive and the other haenyeo have no choice but to accept it. Jeju’s matrifocal culture is steeped in traditions and beliefs. The depiction of customs and ceremonies utterly enthralled me and led me to marvel at the massive differences in cultures and yet also think about the common thread linking so many women – that of family and motherhood.

I quickly became attached to both Young-sook and Mi-ja, so different but so incredibly dedicated to one another. The girls live in a time of colossal change, they are fated to navigate life against the backdrop of horrifying events as the Second World War and its aftermath rages close by and rends the region apart. The milestones of life – marriage, babies, work, death of loved ones take place in spite of the upheavals but are by no means unaffected.

You will cry and feel heartsore. You will grit your teeth and knit your brows as you keep pace with Young-sook and Mi-ja. You will will them on. You will find yourself researching the history, in awe of the facts and of your ignorance. You will put a visit to Jeju on your bucket list. You will miss the book once you read the final page.

 

 

The ‘I did…’ list.

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Are you a ‘to do’ list person?

I set myself reminders on my phone and make lists in the notes app. I write bullet points in a notebook, stick neon notes on walls and chalk up chores on the blackboard.

The determination is always there to get through it, to enjoy ticking things off. But frequently I find I am frustrated with myself about the things that have gone unticked as I get distracted from the plan. I include things I’ve already completed, or ridiculous items like ‘get the boys to school’ in order to redress the balance. But then I just feel bad about cheating – unlike Pastor Shep!

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Today I had a couple of reminders hanging over from yesterday and I woke up in a super energetic and upbeat mood. Half an hour after the boys had gone to school I had aced my list. So I kept going with no list. The chores are mainly (all) really boring. But somehow having the peace and space to do everything in its own time made it weirdly relaxing.

So rather than beating myself about the head with reminders and ‘to-do’s I’m going to write an ‘I did…’ list from time to time and remind myself how much I achieve, however small and whether for others (much much washing in my life) or for me when I acknowledge the importance of taking time out for me and being glad of that.

So, today I did…

…begin the day watching the sunrise on the beach. I meditated (badly) and swam (not very far).

…make a green juice that all the boys drank – mum win!

…reply to the emails I’d been putting off.

…listen to a live lecture of the course I’m taking (usually I manage a recording if I’m lucky).

…stew the plums that looked like they’d been forgotten at the back of the fridge.

…prep supper during the day – something I always mean to do but never manage.

…four loads of washing. And dried, folded and put them away. Felt great!

…tidy my desk.

…apply liberal amounts of aftersun to my poor sunburnt body!

…not get to yoga because of the sunburn, silly me.

…make a phone-call I’ve been putting off.

…sit and enjoy a coffee while reading a new book at my fave cafe.

…take a book back to library on time.

…send out four pitches to editors (fingers crossed!).

…not drink any of the wine I was putting in the risotto.

…not make up an excuse about missing an ingredient in order to buy wine.

…sit and eat supper with my beautiful sons.

…read with all of them before bed.

…have a really early night.

…write this blogpost.

…thank the universe for having my back today.

I do…feel great satisfaction.

Let me know how and if you write lists. Share your ‘I did’ list!

Julia x

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Sorry, you’ll now have that in your head all day!

 

Allowing the apron strings to fray.

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Like many mums, the apron strings between myself and my kids have always been tightly bound and double knotted. They are growing up far too fast and every day I wish I could stop time, preserve them as my – mostly – delightful little boys. My eldest would definitely take umbrage at being called little but in my eyes he and his brothers will always display that kernel of babyhood, however tall and hairy they become. For years they are our shadows, having no choice but to be wherever we are, in the trolly while we shop, playing in the corner of the doctor’s room on the rare occasion we’re there for ourselves, in the creche at the gym while we claw back some ‘me’ time, even squashed into the cubicle of a public loo.

Of course we know from the moment they are born that the day will come when their reliance on us will be at an end, the hope being that our efforts are rewarded with the emergence of a thoughtful, articulate, well rounded and capable individual. Knowing this makes the stark truth no less horrifying: ultimately I will no longer be needed. So I have decided to put myself into training. Independence will not be an overnight severing of the apron strings, more of a gradual fraying as the boys slowly start forging their own path in a organic way.

I have always been guilty of doing things for them that they should probably be doing themselves since doing it myself is quicker and easier. Uniforms are put out the night before, I make their lunches, pack their bags. I’m sure it would teach them all sorts of life lessons were I to ask them to do these and many other pesky tasks of daily living but I know my stress levels would go through the roof. They are so easily distracted that it’s a battle just persuading them to put the damn clothes on most of the time.  With a little planning I am changing things up. Before they go to bed their uniform has to be looked out, before the tv goes on in the afternoon their bag must be unpacked. I deliver a pile of clothes to their room and ask them to put it away. Baby steps.

I used to walk them to school, delivering them to the gate with reminders and hugs. When I went back to work last year I began sometimes only taking them halfway, peeling off towards the bus stop. They were, of course absolutely fine. They stayed together, adhered to road rules, my eldest making sure the younger two stayed safe. It turned out he relished the responsibility and it wasn’t long before he suggested they could go all the way by themselves. The first time I followed them. Yup, I felt utterly foolish but somehow compelled to shadow them back as they had me for so long. These days none of us thinks twice about it and they are always raring to get to school for half an hour of playtime.  The only stipulation is that they have to give me a hug first, something my twelve year old is unsurprisingly much more comfortable doing away from his mates –  wins all round.

The boys recently upped the ante when they suggested they could go and buy the milk we needed to save me a trip. That they also took their own money and added chocolate to their shopping made the experience all the sweeter! I came home from work one day to find they had decided to bake their own afternoon tea (my husband was working at home). Muffins and pancakes had been made and half the fruit in the house cut up. Hot ovens, open flames and knives, OMG what was my husband thinking? However there were no burns or cuts, just three very self-satisfied boys and a kitchen on which a flour bomb had dropped.

With my eldest moving from primary to high school next year there is no doubt the time is absolutely right for him to be emerging from beneath my wings, his brothers following in his wake. The knots are still holding for now, just fraying ever so slowly. And at the end of the day they all still ask to be tucked in and once they’re asleep are still my delightful little boys.

Working Girl

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Working Girl

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Sadly I’ve missed the 80’s boat – even the second time around – so don’t have the chance to take on the best back to work look ever. But in terms of that feeling of empowerment and desire to succeed, I’m giving it my best shot.

And seriously, oh my god, everything a lot of people say is true! Going back to work after taking time off to concentrate on motherhood is the best bloody feeling in the world! The fact that I am working in my first regular paid job in sixteen years may have some bearing on my ridiculous sense of excitement as might the fact that I have landed my absolute dream job but the changes it has brought me, and by definition, the whole family are massive and nearly all positive.

After over a month the novelty has yet to wear off. A regular income of my own, getting dressed in an outfit I’ve thought through instead of chucking on active wear (and sometimes actually doing something active) or scruffy jeans and a tee because all I have planned is time with a reading group at school followed chores. There are so many reasons for the whole change in my mindset. Following are a few.

Being seen as something other than the mother, the shopper, the coffee drinker, the wife, the referee, the chef, the nurse, the cleaner, the party pooper…

Being seen as a person who knows about something other than earaches, kids suppers, the place to find the best value organic bloody meat.

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Being able to direct and advise people on what to buy for their seven year old grandchild (boys at least – I’m still getting to grips with girl reading past the Worst Witch – all suggestions gratefully received).

Being in on book news, reading reviews in the paper having seen the book already.

Being part of a team that doesn’t include anything else my life – that is mine.

Being appreciated by my boys, who when I first started threw their arms around me at the end of the day like I’d been away a week (this has somewhat worn off).

Being challenged to plan and organise more. Coordinating diaries with Andrew around school pick up and after school sports.

Being able to buy myself flowers (I actually often did this but felt like I was taking the food from my children’s mouths – or at least putting fish fingers instead of flathead in).

Being part of the workforce, a woman who feels empowered and knows her worth rather than telling her family they have no idea of it.

Being really bloody grateful of my decades old make up regime. Seriously, I still have the same eyebrow compact I bought at uni – think this simply shows how seldom I used to bother with my appearance.

Being able to buy myself a pair of earrings that I never would have done before – it took three times in and out of the shop before I committed. Also the savvy saleswoman going from telling me that the 30% off deal would be finishing soon to finishing in about five minutes in order just to get me the hell out.

Being able to share bus chat with my husband. Honestly. We swap stories about the most irritating of irritating passengers flirting excruciatingly with his paramour (describing what he was wearing was the least of it), to sharing our incredulity at other passengers rudeness, or the fact that they are bold enough to apply their full face of make up in public.

Being able, on my days off, to read and read, when previously if I sat down and opened a book the dark cloud of ‘should be doing x, y and z’ would look large bringing on a massive sense of guilt and probably a bout of really bad baking.

Being able to be around books all day, obvs! Seriously, I walk through the door at the beginning of my shift, inhale deeply and feel happy.

Being unable of containing my the small kernel of smugness when people tell me that working in a bookshop is their absolute dream and I do a little happy dance inside thinking ‘I know, but I”m doing it!’

I’ve said to friends I wished I’d known this sooner, that the satisfaction I am getting from being both mum and worker is a feeling I could have done with ages ago. I wrote, I know, and that did bring me happiness when it was going well. But I didn’t cope well with the insecurity, the rejections, the having to pick myself up after a disappointment. However, I do believe life is all about timing and opportunities and that while we make many of them ourselves, often our paths have to cross with another’s at an auspicious moment.

It is an amazing and lucky feeling – I just wish I could pull off Melanie’s hair.

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Try a few years…

The unexpected benefits of (mildly) sick kids

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off schoolI remember when my youngest started school, “you won’t know yourself” was the common refrain. Of course rather than the inferred endless time to myself, I instead managed to fill my time with chores, as much writing as I could find motivation for and, I’ll admit, quite a lot of faffing about.

It is a well-documented curse of our age that we all feel permanently run off our feet, pulled in different directions by myriad demands. This can then lead to a complete lack of appreciation for the things we are able to do once our children are out of the house for six hours a day. Like go to a yoga class, eat a sandwich while reading the paper, grab a coffee with a friend for an hour, make a phone call involving a call centre (have you ever tried this with children anywhere near you? It’s as though they have a radar alerting them to the most rewarding time to bug you).

Last week I had one or more children at home Every. Single.Day. I had to make the call to school daily, sounding no doubt more and more unhinged as I laughed manically, “Me, again, you’ll never guess what….”. A friend tried to bolster me midweek when I described the week as a write off – “it’s only Wednesday!” she reminded me – yeah, you don’t have the parental power of insight that somehow lets you know optimism will be wasted here, you just need to give up, focus on next Monday and breath deeply.

However, it had its surprises too. On Tuesday my son felt well enough to play so we made a train track, played Jenga, hide and seek, eye spy over lunch, had a teddy party and to top it off I taught him patience, a game I haven’t played for years and which reminds me of being little and poorly. We connected in a way that we never really do at the weekends when the rest of the family is around. We enjoyed each other’s company. Once I had come to terms with not getting a thing done, (and I mean not a thing of use – we all had fish fingers for supper) – it really was quite relaxing.

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After three days of course the playing vibe was threadbare. Money was chucked at the problem – a new comic, a jigsaw puzzle, and the latest Weird Oh book were grimly chucked into the shopping basket in an attempt to claw back some quiet time at my desk. And when the novelty of those wore off I turned on the TV.

When I found him watching the ABC educational channel – about women’s working conditions in 1950’s Britain I almost frogmarched him to school. Clearly his mind was in dire need of sustenance. But then his brother was off the next day and the whole cycle began again.

At least on Friday they were both off and managed, thank you universe, to play harmoniously – with the new toy monkey and another jigsaw. At least the local shops will be happy with me.

So, unexpected though it was, the week wasn’t wasted as it both helped me have fun with my kids in a way I haven’t for ages and most definitely made me appreciate those precious few hours I have without them most days. In the week to come I imagine I won’t know myself.

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*While I wrote this very lightheartedly I do want to acknowledge that my kids simply had a virus. I can’t imagine what it must be like to care for and worry about a chronically or seriously ill child and honour and admire those parents who do.