Is it too much for your kid or simply a new challenge to overcome?

‘I don’t want to go to school,’ wails my eldest.  

‘I’m not going to school either,’ echoes my youngest.

‘Why not,’ I ask my eldest and try to tune out the barrage of whining that comes from my youngest, something about if her sister doesn’t go then she shouldn’t have to go because that’s not fair etc, etc.

‘I want to go to an English school,’ she says and then bursts into tears.  ‘I only have one teacher who speaks English, they all speak Dutch.’

‘Are you having trouble understanding what they are saying?’

‘Yes.’

‘Does it feel really hard?’

‘Yes,’ she wipes her face and then tightens her jaw.  ‘I’m staying home.’

‘You are both going to school.  I know it’s a hard thing.  I have my dutch school today, and it’s really hard.  I haven’t done my homework and I don’t want to go, but I need to.  Sometimes we have to do hard things.  Remember when you started kinder, you didn’t want to go, but after a while, you loved it.  And when you changed classes, you didn’t want to.  That was another hard thing, but you did it, and you know, after a while you loved that too.  And then when we came to Amsterdam, you started at a new school, and you didn’t want to do that either.  But you stuck with it, and now you miss it, that’s how much you grew to love it.  Let’s give this school a little more time, you know, you might grow to love this one too.’

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Are you brave enough to get a Pixie cut?

‘I thought you were growing your hair long’ laughs our nanny as she walks through the front door and spies my hair.  

‘I was….  I am…’ I run my hand through the centimetre of hair I have left, ‘It’s just that I’ve had this bee in my bonnet about a pixie cut, and if I don’t do it now I’ll grow my hair to my shoulders, then get irritated with it because it’s at an awkward length and it’s taking too long and then I’ll cut it all off again.  I figure if I get it over and done with now, then I can let it go.’  I’m really very complicated, I think as the words pour awkwardly from my mouth.  

I’d like to be simple, to ease through life, steady, reliable, consistent.  Instead, I’m up and down like a yoyo.  I’m growing my hair long, I’m cutting it short.  I’m a writer.  Yes.  I’m writing a novel.  Also, I’m writing a picture book.  And, actually, now I’m writing a chapter book for kids.  I’ve also written a ten-minute play, and now, well now it’s time to focus once again on the novel.  

‘I’m starting a blog,’ I tell my husband.  

‘Good,’ he says, ‘I think you should.’  

‘I think I’ll start a blog,’ I say again, a month later.

‘Okay, great.’

‘Do you think I should start a blog?’ I ask him a few weeks after that.

He doesn’t answer.  I’m irritated, but not surprised.

A month later, I’ve started two blogs and am possibly collaborating on a third.  There’s an all or nothing thing about me.  It bugs me, but I can’t seem to find the balance.  I took up salsa dancing in my 20’s.  Some weeks I couldn’t be bothered and I would miss classes for a month.  Other weeks, I was so obsessed, I danced three nights a week until I could no longer stand.  

Sometimes I think I force myself to do things, just to chase the fear into the dark recesses, to prove to myself that I will not be beaten by it.  Eventually, though the effort exhausts me, and I collapse in a heap of fear and self-loathing as I watch too much bad tv and eat an entire block of chocolate (or maybe two, but ssh!).  

I went skydiving once.  It was the most terrifying thing I’d forced myself to do up until that point.  I didn’t really want to jump.  I remember that clearly, but I forced myself to. As if it would prove something. When the door was pulled open and the woman I was strapped to inched us closer to it, I decided I’d changed my mind.  Unfortunately, she didn’t hear me over the raging wing.  There’s a reason they ask you to tilt your head back and stare at the sky above you before you jump, because if you’re anything like me, when you look down at the patchwork quilt of earth just waiting to smash you to smithereens, you’ll never jump.  I didn’t realise until about halfway into the free fall when it occurred to me that I had not only stopped breathing but that I couldn’t actually recall how to get started again.  ‘Scream,’ the young, long dark-haired instructor with the fluoro stars stitched onto her gear told me, as we boarded the plane.  ‘If you find it hard to breathe out, just scream,’

‘Scream,’ the young, long dark-haired instructor with the fluoro stars stitched onto her gear had told me, as we boarded the plane.  ‘If you find it hard to breathe out, just scream,’

So I screamed.  As if I were being murdered.  

‘You’ve got some lungs on you,’ she said as the parachute opened, and the world became eerily quiet.  I’d have felt embarrassed if I wasn’t just thrilled to still be alive.  A friend of mine had also jumped, and when I caught up with her on the ground, she was jubilant.  I’d wished I was jubilant.  

Terror, has been my constant companion for so long, I don’t really know what life is without it.   I wish it had made me more comfortable with its existence, but mostly I just throw myself into awful situations as a way of ‘facing’ the terror rather than running from it.    

So when I rang the hairdressing salon to book an appointment for a pixie cut, and the woman suggested I come in that afternoon, my stomach jumped into my throat as if I was jumping out of that stupid plane all over again.  

‘Okay,’ I said weakly, not really sure now that I wanted to cut all of my hair off, but still unable to let go of the idea.  So, I got on my bike and cycled across town and let a strange man I didn’t know cut all of my hair off.

Do I love it?  I’m not entirely sure, but it’s done now and I feel relieved.  

‘You look like Grandma,’ says my eldest when I finally take the beanie off my head the next day.  

‘Thank you, darling.’

‘You look like Papa,’ says my youngest, touching my hair.

‘Do you think so?’

She nods.  ‘You look like a boy.’

‘You’ve got the face for it,’ I hear over and over again.  So I suspect I’m not the only one who is not entirely sure if they like it. 

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On fixing oneself versus accepting oneself…

I type away, feeling particularly good about myself, as I sit waiting for a train. It’s one of those moments where I feel not just grown up but successfully grown up. With my laptop out, and my book. My green jacket and checkered grey and black scarf hung over my hand luggage. Yes, I think, far too smug, I look the part. It’s a lie, of course, I’m not sure if the jacket really goes with the jumper. Or if the boots are too much. Technically they are snow boots, and it is not snowing. But I’m cold, really cold, I mean it’s after midday and the fog still hasn’t lifted. I’ve seen other people wearing them already, so I should be okay, shouldn’t I. Not a complete newbie. And the scarf, which I love, is one from Zara and I’m afraid I’ll walk passed someone else with the same one like it’s high school, and that matters anymore. Beyond that, I don’t really know how to wear it. It keeps slipping off my shoulder, and I keep flipping it back up but I think it’s a battle I’m losing.

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A Perrier Lifestyle…

‘Don’t drink that,’ says my husband shaking his head and screwing his forehead up in distaste at the generic silver and black can in my mum’s hand. ‘Soda Water pulls the minerals out of your body and leaves you more dehydrated. Drink this,’ he hands her a bottle of Perrier.

We are perched on stools in the business class lounge in Hong Kong. It seemed to be the least offensive place for us to perch, given that my girls’ ‘spirited cuteness’ tended to be viewed as a personal affront, in places like this.

Mum laughs and looks around at what has to be one of the largest business class lounges I’ve ever been in. It’s like a luxury hotel, chandeliers hang from the ceiling and people mill about in various states of activity – from those furiously tapping away on their laptops to those asleep on the chaise lounges. Staff stand at the ready behind four different buffet stations, offering a wonka-sized selection of doughnuts, ice cream, noodles, and antipasto.

‘This is my daughter’s life,’ says my mother, waving around the bottle of Perrier, ‘and this is mine,’ she says holding up a silver and black can of soda water.

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