Sunday, August 28, 2011

End of the summer...

I am sitting in my mother’s garden in southern Sweden. It’s windy, cloudy, but a comfortable temperature. I can hear the boys playing in the forest, enjoying their last week here. The days are getting shorter, the nights are colder, and it’s getting time for us to head back to our real life, in Lebanon. Work, school, sports activities, choir rehearsals, dinners, dishes, laundry, play dates, the beach, and everything else that is part of our life in Beirut awaits us. As does moving out of our beautiful apartment across from Idriss in Hamra, and into a great apartment on the AUB campus, into a community, right next to the playground.

I am well rested, almost a little weary of the quiet, slow and uneventful life here that I long for at times during the busy school year. I am ready for some action! Days filled with activities, work and fun, friends, and exciting new developments. I even look forward to moving. It is a lot of work but it will also make for a fun step in our life; socially, health-wise (we’ll have immediate access to the sports facilities), economically things will lighten up a bit, etc. Good things will come.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The heir to the throne is carrying an heir to the throne

You all know I'm secretly a bit of a royalist, so imagine my joy yesterday when I got to share the great news with the rest of the Swedish people: Crown Princess Victoria is pregnant!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kids out of control...

The boys have been playing with kids here in the village where we’re staying in Sweden, and have made a few friends, which is great. The bikes I bought for the boys off Sweden’s version of the Craig’s List at the beginning of the summer have provided the boys with a lot of freedom. They bike around the village with other boys and can go to the school playground whenever they want, without me having to bring them. It’s our first summer with this kind of independence for the boys. They are big boys now and I trust them. I know that they know to be careful on the bikes, that they know how to behave at the playground and towards other children, and that they are nice to others and look out for each other.

What I have no influence over however - as I’ve come to realize – is how other children act. William was at the school playground playing soccer with a bunch of kids, and when he was getting ready to leave, putting his helmet on to bike home, a boy came up to him and threw a handful of wet sand straight into William’s eyes. Twice. Somehow he managed to bike home, and I heard his cries as he locked his bike outside. When he came inside his eyes were totally covered in sand and he was rubbing them ferociously, screaming from the pain. Courtney and I tried washing the sand out as best as we could with water. It’s an amazing creation, the body, and how fantastic its defense system actually is. Your eyes will produce very large amounts of phlegm to lump together and expel foreign objects. It took us a while, but by bedtime William had a fairly clean, albeit very sore eye. It was red and extremely sore for a couple of days. You could see the cornea was scratched. We gave him Ibuprofen and kept a close eye on it (no pun intended, ha ha). Finally, three days later, William’s eye is much better.

The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers; Reclaiming our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity: the run down

I like books by Dr. Phil. Yes, really. And this book by Meg Meeker reminded me of Dr. Phil’s books. I assume a lot of you will disagree, but I don’t often appreciate these kinds of books. I don’t read a lot of books like this and admit my experience is limited, but from a handful authors (most writing on family, children or education), I have to say that the best I’ve encountered so far is Dr. Phil. Meg Meeker – or to make you even more upset, should I call her Dr. Meg? – gives sound and straightforward advice. She has a very clear idea that she presents, and it’s logical, kind, and good advice. It stems from natural back-to-basics gut feelings combined with scientific evidence and Christian morals (in the good sense). I know, that’s a mouthful of a theory – but it works.

Dr. Meeker suggests that we will become better mothers, wives and persons if we can create ten habits:

1. Understand your value as a mother: it doesn’t matter if you are fat, unemployed, poor; you are valuable!
This was a great chapter to open up the book with. Why are we so afraid of feeling good about ourselves? Why should we not be proud of who we are and what we accomplish?

2. Maintain key friendships: friends are good – they empower you, make you feel better, help you, and make your life happier.
This chapter made me thoughtful and a bit sad. In theory I think the author is right, however as an expat homeschooling mother, I don’t currently have any “inner circle” friends – I really can’t - in the sense that Dr. Meeker presents, and I’m feeling the loss. I do have really close friends, friends for life that were at some point that kind of friends, but now they all live far away, and although I know they are always there for me, it can be in spirit only. If something happened and I needed urgent physical help from a friend (and it couldn’t be my husband), I wouldn’t know who to call. I had close friends in school, close friends in college, and great friends in Belgium. I made some great friends in Cairo over the three years that we lived there. I’ve managed to make friends in Lebanon – I’ve met some great women - but I haven’t (yet) made friends like that. This takes time. Finding good friends is hard, and making great friends takes a lot of investment – time and emotional effort. After x number of painful good-byes, and knowing that we are not in Lebanon to stay, it’s particularly difficult.

3. Value and practice faith: you need to believe in something good; be it God, the goodness of mankind or Allah. Faith, hope, and love are essential to our existence.
I don’t spend enough time exploring my faith. Do you?

4. Say no to competition: if you are constantly comparing yourself with other people, you will never be able to feel quite content about yourself, you will feel unsatisfied, jealous, and you will have trouble developing good friendships. Accept yourself for who you are, be happy for others, and you will be happier.
This chapter pointed out something I haven’t thought about a lot: how we compare ourselves to others, and obscurely turn what is good about someone else into something bad about ourselves. As Dr. Meeker points out, sometimes this bad feeling even turns into jealousy. Elizabeth Foss discusses reading blogs, and says:

"I think that blogs, for all their good and for all the community they foster, are particularly detrimental to helping women stop comparing. It's so easy to compare when it pops up right in front of you day after day.

Here's the thing: most bloggers sweep some powder across their noses and put on a little lipstick before they open their virtual doors. Even when we're honest about our bad days, most of us are conscious about how appropriate it is to put things in print. If the blogger comes from a print journalism background, even  more so. She understands the power of the written word and she's inclined to be prudent. We put on our company manners so to speak."
I thought about this issue as well when I read this chapter. I read a few blogs written by homeschooling mothers, writers, and although I find a lot of inspiration in their writings, it sometimes makes me feel bad to read about all the amazing activities, look at the beautiful pictures and find out about all the amazing things that happen in their lives. What is wrong with me who did not come up with all these fantastic, creative things to do with my family? Why haven’t I worked harder to find time to write like these mothers do and publish my work? I should have written several books by now! Why don’t I knit beautiful sweaters, teach yoga, take my daughters to ballet every day (if I had daughters), organize trips, finish my dissertation, run 10k every morning, bake beautiful cakes and all our bread, build a science lab in my kitchen, spend more time on teaching the boys music, pray and meditate more, and keep up with all the cool stuff on the internet? Clearly, there is something wrong with me; I must be lazy and stupid.

5. The money issue: money can never buy you complete security, or love, or certainty that your kids will turn out well. For these things, you need something else: your faith, hope and love, your time and effort.
Well. I can’t say this is one of our problems because we don’t have any extra money to spend on our children, and since there’s no option, we don’t feel bad – we just can’t. I can see how this would be a problem in a lot of families though, and especially here in Sweden it seems children have *everything*, yet they don’t seem more happy or closer to their parents.

6. Make time for solitude: we all need to think and spend some honest time with ourselves. It makes us stronger as persons and as social creatures.
I’m one of the mother’s who would say, “I don’t even have time to do things I LIKE – why would I try to set aside time to do something as boring as NOTHING?!” However I will give this a chance over the next month. I do feel like sometimes I need a break, if only for a few minutes.

7. Give and get love in healthy ways: Love your kids, your family and friends for who they are, unconditionally, and show it. Accept your loved ones the way they are, but don’t take no shit! “Nothing is tougher than loving well.”
My children are still young, and I have yet to experience the problems that seem to come with puberty. I am thankful that we have these early years to build up a good, healthy and loving relationship. Dr. Sears writes more about this topic in his Discipline Book.

8. Find ways to live simply: Don’t let life get ahead of you. Figure out what is important to you and live by it.
I found this chapter very helpful as well. There are so many things I still want with my life, things I am trying to do, and it is easy to lose track of what is important. Making a list of priorities when things get out of hand is a great idea.

9. Let go of fear: Don’t worry so much. You can’t control everything.
Hard for any mother. This chapter made me think of the time that William’s side was cut open by a sharp spinning nail at an ancient playground along the desert road Cairo-Alexandria. I remember how I felt when I looked at the wound and quickly concluded that this was something I could not fix by myself. I needed a hospital with a doctor, shots, suture kits, bandages. I was in the middle of the Egyptian desert, my boy was severely hurt, and I could not help him – I didn’t even know how to start helping him. Asking for help and receiving it was luckily not difficult, however the feeling I felt the moment I saw my baby so badly hurt, the complete loss of control, was a bit of a shock. (You can read the whole story here.)

10. Hope is a decision – so make it! Appreciate what you have, have faith in yourself and others, and expect good things to come.
I think I can, I think I can. I have so much to be thankful for. A.J. Jacobs works for Esquire and is the author of a couple of funny, witty and interesting books, all of which I have read (I just finished My Life As An Experiment). One of the books is The Year of Living Biblically. He said after his year of living according to the Torah and the Bible that one major impact it had on his life is that he is much more thankful; thankful for the great things in his life as well as little things. I think this ties in with the first chapter of Dr. Meeker’s book: we need to think about what is good, expect good to come, and if we do, we will be happier.

1 Corinthians 13:13: “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers; Reclaiming our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity

Despite my limited exposure to all the brilliance out there in the web world, once in a while I run into some great inspiration. One of the blogs I read has been discussing a particular book for a while, and I got so inspired I ordered it (which may sound easy if you live in the US, but please remember I live in the Middle East and spend my summer in Sweden, making book orders either difficult and/or very expensive). The book The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers, Reclaiming our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity is written by Meg Meeker, M.D. and is not like other books that may come to your mind when you hear that kind of title. It’s inspiring. 

There are some ideas that are obvious – this is the main problem I have with books like these, that they often just state the obvious and nothing else – but the author goes a little further and makes the discussions interesting, by bringing in personal stories, experiences and accounts. I’ll get back to you after I’ve finished the book, but so far, I’m very excited to be reading it. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer fun

 Abraham  plays in the backyard. Sometimes I get a glimpse of the older boys as they ride by the house or come in for an occasional drink. Warm and sunny summer days are good.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The World Wide Amazing Web

It’s a stressful environment, the internet. I have many friends on Facebook who frequently post links to really interesting articles, blog posts, websites or studies, and mostly after having read whatever was posted, I think, “Gosh; how do these people find time to FIND this stuff?” How do they have time to read or even just browse every single New Yorker issue, all the New York times blogs, the Al Jazeera in-depth articles, every single Ebert review, hundreds of blogs and I don’t even know what else? And then to post what they liked best on Facebook, their blog, or Twitter? Am I missing something? Is there a magic collection engine that find everything you would like that has been published over the past 24 hours and delivers it to you with neat little abstracts?

I wish I could organize my time better online, but I feel like I’m stuck in a slow system. I check Facebook, my gmail, a couple of newspapers and I’ve selected out of the thousands or more interesting blogs just a few that give me thoughts and ideas or make me feel something – happy, sad, excited, inspired, or just content. Even though I would love to read about the latest research on women’s health, education, child development, or articles that relate to certain political or other issues I am interested in, I don’t scour the New York Times, the Chicago Sun Times, BBC or other media for reading material every day, or even every week or month. I just don’t have the time.