Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Life in England... goodbye ice creams and sunshine, hello school uniforms and snow!

We are back! England has welcomed us gloriously with snow and sun and frost and despite wearing hats in bed we are actually enjoying the cold. While there are many things I shall miss about Cambodia, right now I am loving the fact that I can run and skip down the road with the girls safely (apart from the patches of black ice), that they wake up at 830 each morning instead of 6, and that they have learnt how to walk further than from the front door to the gate or Tuk Tuk once more. We have walked up a hill every day since we arrived, been sledging, had hot chocolates by the fire and they have even stopped complaining about the ten layers of clothing they have to wear each time they leave the house. It is good to be home.

Yes, it feels like the right decision despite having left so many precious people behind. We still think and talk of Cambodia all the time and this feels like a holiday for the girls I am sure. For me it is frighteningly real. Jemima starts school on Monday. MONDAY! I have nightmares about her wearing the wrong uniform (we have not got it yet!) or arriving late or not being able to start the car but she is completely relaxed and excited. While I am in mourning at the thought of her not coming home for lunch all she can talk about is the school puddings she has read about on the menu on the school website!

I am sure this blog will be a bit of a T-E family settling back into life in the sticks for a while, so if you are good friends you will enjoy, especially if reading from our old beloved hot and sultry Cambodia. If you are new to Motherland you may find it more interesting to read some of my other less mundane scribblings :-)

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

What will I take home from Cambodia?

A dear friend asked me yesterday, what will you take home from Cambodia? Today these words come tumbling out, fast and furious. I could edit it but I don't want to. Better to give you the raw unfinished rough draft, a from the heart flow …


So many smiles mask so much pain.
So much gold, so much dirt.

Gold Towers, evictions, Lexuses, rape,
Swimming pools & sewers where children play.

White sand islands, plastic bags,
Coconuts palms, foreign owned.

Colourful weddings, music and lights!
Bride unrecognisable. Woman in chains.
Make-up that hides her soul.

Glinting green rice paddies, warm russet earth,
Yellow afternoons.

Sunsets that bathe a whole city in red.
Monks swathed in orange, photographed daily. Fed by the poor. Faith uncertain.

Mangoes and jasmine, cyclos and street kids.

So many smiles. So much pain.

What will I take home with me from you, Cambodia?

Scents and impressions of all of this. Branded into my soul.

And more.

Healing, love, art and peace
Destiny found and embraced

Humility, outrage and hopelessness

Hope, patience, empathy and light.

Flow, grace. Nightmares and dreams.

Tolerance for dogs and music and traffic
Yearning for space and tears and passion

A desire to see something here change
The fear that nothing will

Friends, forever, deep in my heart.

Soul touched. Soul love.

Bella! Conceived and nurtured from nought to two. Naked and free, loved everywhere.

Jemima, already five! Wise and beautiful, loving and strong.

James, closer every day. Forgiving, brave and true.

Loving, warm and trusting. Open hearts, open lives.

Cambodia embraced us all.

How can I leave?

How can I stay?

Trust. Trust and let go.

For more rough poems click here

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Who is out of control?

A thought for the day on tantrums - as a few people have asked me about this lately. Many people think that a child who does not have tantrums must somehow be happier or more secure. Parents absolutely dread their child having a tantrum in public. Children who have tantrums are often tutted at, what unacceptable behaviour! The mother who drags the tantruming child screaming out of the room (yes I have done it too) is, however, often sympathised with and considered absolutely right in her actions. The lack of empathy for a tantruming child in a public space often makes us parents respond wrongly simply because we know that all everyone wants is for that child to shut up, and we feel those judgments flying in our direction. We prioritise pleasing the crowd and getting the hell out of there fast, meanwhile increasing the already toxic levels of the stress hormone cortisone flooding our child's brain. If only we were able to accept and understand that tantrums happen, and for a reason, then maybe we would all be able breathe and smile and be supportive as the parent and child work together to find ways to calm down.
I absolutely believe that tantrums are normal and a sign that the child has a strong will that is alive and kicking. If we look at the five minutes before a tantrum starts we can often easily see how right and understandable the tantrum response was and how we can try to prevent it in the future. Imagine we could not express in words what we wanted to achieve and when we tried to no one understood or everything went wrong. Imagine we were whisked up from a game we were playing and undressed and plopped in the bath without prior warning. Imagine we desperately wanted to wear our green t shirt over our red dress but were not allowed out of the house until we had changed.

When we put ourselves in our children's shoes, trying to remember how small and 'about me' their world is, a tantrum almost always seems easier to understand and less likely to make us angry in our response. And maybe we will see that while some tantrums are beyond our control and will always occur at some point - one child snatching a toy from another - others are quite clearly of our own making.

I very recently witnessed a 4 year old boy playing with my daughters very sweetly. Something happened which I did not see - I think he did not come when his dad asked him to but perhaps he snatched something from someone, I am not sure. But what was a peaceful scene of kids playing one moment turned into a horrible scene of anger. Guess what happened? The dad had a tantrum!

The boy was smacked on the bottom and dragged off screaming and kicking and thrown in the car. So upsetting to watch. I wanted nothing more than to ask the dad to stop and think. (Actually I would quite liked to have sent him to the naughty step but I don't believe in them. At least not for children.) How he would have felt to have been humiliated and physically hurt in front of his friends and then banished without the chance to say goodbye. I could just imagine the feelings of injustice and lack of control flooding the little boy's brain as he sat crying in the car.

How can we expect our kids to have control over their behaviour when a parent has no control of his own? I was ready to tell him: "You have just violated your child". But he was gone too fast. He might have replied that I had no right to tell him how to treat his own child. Of course I think I do. His child is not a possession but a person with the right to be defended.

It is appropriate for a child to have a tantrum; just not a parent. And if children have a safe space to express their will, without suppression, but with support and love and help to process deep feelings, and gentle boundaries when appropriate, both parent and child can learn from each experience and both will be stronger and more emotionally aware as a result.

Here is what I wrote a good while back about tantrums to help us know how to deal with them and how to distinguish between those that need attention and holding and those that need to be ignored or gently but firmly handled. And here is another you might like.

If we act with an open heart and with humility our children will blossom in our light and love. Good luck

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Leaving Cambodia.. for real this time..

Ok, I know this blog has been sleeping for a long time. (I haven’t.) I also know that I wrote about a year ago that we were leaving Cambodia and I never quite got round to writing that we were not leaving after all. But this time it is true. After four incredible years here we are flying home for Christmas and not coming back. At least, not any time soon. So of course I have to write. I can’t imagine anyone visits my blog now it has been such a long time since I last wrote, but I need to write anyway, for the girls and to relieve my heavy heart. Oh, and for my mother. I know she will be reading. :-)
Cycling home last night through Phnom Penh at dusk, having spent the afternoon playing yoga games and creative arts with a team of Cambodian counsellors and social workers who are in great need of some Time for Me (as the project is called) to release stress and trauma and to learn to support each other, I was ready to cancel our flight booking. However much I long for the green hills of Herefordshire and however much I am excited for our new life in the countryside, I still cannot really imagine saying goodbye to this extraordinary city and its wonderful people. Last night the streets were madly busy, the uncovered sewer, or black river, was especially pungent, the sun was huge and red in the sky, weddings blocked off whole streets on my bike route, and the air was its usual warm, damp, musky self, with that unmistakable Phnom Penh smell that hit me the first time I stepped off the plane and which I will never forget.

There was a time, three years back, when I would have been so ready to leave here. Now, although I know leaving is the right thing for us to do in many ways, it feels as though time is slipping through my fingers. I don’t feel ready to let go, no matter how much yoga I do for the 1st chakra!

What has been incredibly moving, and also quite surprising, over the last few weeks, is to see how Cambodians become very emotional and expressive when it comes to goodbyes. I am used to the smiles that mask the real feelings within, when it comes to most of my Cambodian friends. However I am beginning to understand how goodbyes trigger off subconscious memories of previous endings - endings which, for most Cambodians, have been deeply painful traumatic events. I can honestly say that not a day has passed in the last week or so when someone has not welled up on seeing me or the girls. I totally understand of course. I fight back the tears (or let them flow forth actually) several times a day at the moment, at the market, in nearly every yoga class I teach, and especially when hanging out or working with one of my dearest friends and yoga colleague in Cambodia, Mindy, and her son Ivan, Bella’s best friend. Seeing my girls with their friends, lovely children who have come to mean so much to me, many of whom are also my little yoga students, is probably the hardest thing of all. It is at times like that when the urge to stamp my feet and shout “No, I can’t leave them!” comes upon me. But I was not prepared for the sheer amounts of love and expressed sadness from the Cambodians in my life. Bella and Jemima’s teachers, our beloved nanny and house help Sophy, her daughter, her daughter in law, her daughter’s friend…. It is overwhelming, exhausting but it is so honest and real that I would not want it to be any different. A friend reminded me that the pain of leaving honours the deep relationships we have built here. If it were easy to leave what would that say about the last four years? I never thought I would feel at home here, but right now this is the most at home I can imagine feeling anywhere. The fact that it is not our home is one of the main reasons we are leaving I suppose. To go back to England and put down some roots. Once we have a home back in England maybe one day we will feel free to move overseas to live again, knowing where we came from and where we will go back to.

Jemima is very excited of course. She keeps looking at the school menu in the local primary school she will go to and talking about uniforms and white socks and black shoes. Bella is altogether much harder to imagine in England. She is deeply settled and happy here. She is naked about 99% of the day. She is loved and adored wherever she goes. She has a touchingly profound friendship with Ivan, who is absolutely her equal in everyway – from naked bottom wiggling to non-stop conversation to butterfly catching and everything else… you should see them feeding each other raisins and caressing each other’s faces. When Bella is upset and I cannot console her, she knows who can. With a look of anguish on her face she will plead me with “I NEED Ivan, Mummy. I need to go to his house and play with him now!”

How will Bella be received in her naked splendour in England? (If you are thinking what I think you are, yes, I know but Bella likes to be cold. I think she will go sledging in her bottom given half the chance.) What will people say when she sheds all her clothing in the middle of the supermarket and sighs loudly and sensually “Ahhh, I got my botty. I love my botty.”? How will she feel without the constant company of Tuk-Tuk drivers, friends and general bustle around her? Cambodia is so full of life and there are people everywhere. Herefordshire, how ever much I love it, is rather quiet, let’s face it! While I can imagine Jemima curled up in a corner of the house looking at a book or lost in a game of make believe, what will Bella make of those long hours when her sister is at school and she is stuck with me at home?

I guess I will find out soon enough. In the meantime I plan to live every moment of this Cambodian life until the minute we board the plane. And probably the next time I write will be from the freezing hills of Herefordshire. It is currently 7 degrees Celsius, which I know thanks to the setting James has added to my desktop. Every time I log on I have to be reminded of the fact that we are leaving the constant warmth and light of the sun behind. It has been three years since I experienced a dark winter morning in England. 7 degrees?? I wonder what Bella’s beloved botty will make of that.

I am off to teach my little 5 year old yoginis. Today we will explore how it feels to say goodbye.

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