Monthly Archives: April 2014


On Saturday, we were on Plac Grzybowski in Warsaw with the kids, chasing pigeons and having a picnic. Suddenly a group of English-speaking tourists appeared, trailing behind their guide across the bridge. I was with Janek, who stopped trying to jump off the picnic table as the parade went by and stood there like some knee-high old man in his corduroys and cardigan, mouth open, shamelessly staring.

One of the teenage boys with the group noticed him and stopped. He dug around in his bag and came up with a little bag of Canadian flag pins, and said, would you like one for him? I took it, not because I thought a pointy little choking hazard was a great present for a 16 month old, but because I suddenly remembered a time in my life when I desperately coveted a pin exactly like this.

I’m in year 2, so I must be 7 or 8. It’s most likely 1984,  and we have a great big ginger moustachioed exchange teacher from Canada called Mister Teeft. His son is called Patrick- he is  the same age as me and has the most exotic accent I have ever heard. This must be time for the initiation of adult memory, because I remember quite a lot of things from this year. It is the year that my penchant for going to the toilet in rainstorms is noticed and commented on. Our classroom is the demountable on the hill, not far from the principal’s residence, and the doors in the toilet block are painted pumpkin-orange.It is the year of my spelling triumph, when I successfully spell ‘ocean’ in our class test. Kylie Taylor, the pert, curly-haired, snubnosed policeman’s daughter,  writes ‘oshen’.

Anyway, Mr. Teeft gives out these pins as prizes throughout the year. I desperately want one, but despite my genius for spelling, I don’t manage to get my hands on one until the very end of his stay, when he clears out his maple-leaf pin supply and the whole class gets one. I keep it for years in a little box of treasures- I like collecting things, especially teeny-tiny things.

Remembering all this among the waving grasses of Plac Grzybowski, I realise my own children are embarking on their own path of  unfathomable, thwarted desire. They will urgently want things of which I will be totally unaware -I’m pretty sure Mr. Teeft had no idea how I yearned for a pin. I decide to keep it in mind at moments when their hankerings seem especially baffling.



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Filed under childhood, children's brains, family, history, language, memory, motherhood, pure autobiography

Love your work

If I have made any resolution this year, this is it. It is made partly in the spirit of resignation-there are certain things I have no choice about- but it is also recognition of the fact that the things I have to do bring a measure of enjoyment which isn’t marred by the sense of obligation.  It doesn’t prevent me from facing some days with the feeling that I am trudging off to my own execution, as I wonder where I will find the energy and enthusiasm to make it to nightfall.

There are two things which I consider to be my work. One is taking care of the kids, and the other is teaching. I have to confess that I am more inclined to find the childcare draining and the teaching energising. Maybe it’s a matter of the sheer number of hours I spend at each task, or maybe I am an attention junkie who needs to perform for others, and I don’t treat Maja and Janek seriously as an audience. Maybe it’s just exhausting to perform repetitive tasks all day- in particular, I am not a fan of cleaning high chairs.

Anyway, the point is that, though I often wake up with an internal groan,  I generally feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I don’t mean a I-am-clearly-raising–two-children-who-will-cure-cancer-and-teaching-all-the-Poles-perfect-English kind of way.  More like an I’m- not- dead- and- haven’t– killed- anybody,- now let’s- sit- down- and -watch- Game- of- Thrones  kind of way.  It makes me realise that there is something to be said for compulsion- doing things which I don’t necessarily feel like doing  makes me paradoxically content.


Filed under English teaching, family, feminism, happiness, mental health, motherhood, time management, twins

Five things at fifteen months

Well, my little darlings, I think it’s time again for a quick recording of what is happening in our lives. Thanks once again to blue milk for this idea– a regular reckoning of the pluses and minuses of baby farming.  Though I am going to play the twin card and reduce to 5 things each.

You are both especially charming at this age, and are learning to play together. Mainly this means concussing each other with whatever is to hand and biting each other, but sometimes you actually do have fun together.  You both also love wiping things with sponges or towels, sweeping the floor, and using forks. You are both pretty steady on your feet now, and we are embarking on the era of playgrounds and INCREDIBLY SLOW walks. Here are some of the things which charm and irritate me at this juncture.

Janek- five things

1. You have become an  incredibly affectionate little boy who likes to cuddle just for fun. I love it when you squeeze me and bury your face in my neck.

2. You are completely unafraid of strangers, and go up to them wherever we are, holding out your arms to be picked up. Last weekend you tried to go home with Marcin’s parents’ neighbour in Pruszków. At the playground, you love to approach other kids and see what they’re doing.

3. You are starting to communicate with language, which I find utterly amazing. Yesterday you asked me for a nana.

4. I love the way you jump from foot to foot pant and snicker when you see food you want.

5. You are sleeping much better since we came home from Australia. Luckily for you.

Janek: another 5 things

1. You still have bad eczema, and it still worries me.

2. You are developing your tantruming skills when you don’t get what you want, flinging yourself on the floor and wailing like a siren. It makes me feel impotent and furious in equal measure.

3. You are often very clingy, especially when you’re tired, and want to be picked up a lot. I now understand my mother’s constant requests when we were kids to ‘get out from under her feet.’

4. You wake up like your father- slowly and grumpily. Even after a good nap or a full night’s sleep, you stagger around grumbling with your dandelion hair sticking up, pissed at being conscious.

5. You have learnt how to climb onto the chair in the kitchen. Technically this is a step forward, and should maybe impress me, but I don’t really like the way it opens up a whole world of benchtop murder weapons and suicide options. Though the way you lounge about there, grinning at me, is pretty funny.


Maja- 5 things

1. The way you say “Uwaga!” (look out!) , when you want Marcin  to tip you backwards off his knees.

2. The way you show all your teeth when you smile.

3. You love trying to put your own clothes on. The other day you got into Marcin’s t-shirt, which reached your ankles, and sat on the lounge laughing and waiting for me to notice.

4. You can amuse yourself for a long time, and come up with all the fun games- climbing into the cupboard and closing the door, putting the Mr. Lion puppet on your arm and waving it around, throwing my shoes into the bathwater.

5. Your dancing. You can’t help yourself when you hear music, and you have this hilarious zombie style where you put your arms out and shift from side to side.

Maja- another 5 things

1. You’re an early riser. Need I say more?

2. You’re a biter. I never know when I’m going to get a ferocious nip on the back of my leg. You are impervious to my stern ‘no biting!’, which is basically all I have in my discipline arsenal at the moment.

3. The way you like to poke Janek and sit on him when he is already asleep.

4. Your consummate skill in finding  used kiddy bandaids at the playground or the mummy cafe, and putting them in your mouth.

5. Your ability to hit your head. You have a never ending series of bruises on your forehead, sometimes with no apparent cause.


Filed under childhood, family, five things, memory, motherhood, twins

Women at work in Poland



In the weekend magazine recently, there was an article about women in the workplace in Poland- about their pay, their treatment, and their chances of getting to a higher position. I read it with that sort of sick excitement you get at having your worst fears confirmed, thinking somewhere, subconsciously, that things look much better in Australia. And definitely in Australia people might think twice before asking a female architect to make them coffee because she’s a woman, or telling a recruiter that they want a man for the job because they don’t breed, or telling a female in the police force that she should be happy to have gotten this far as a woman, and why does she want a promotion; it will only make her family suffer. In Australia I might not prefer to pretend that I am sick rather than confessing to a childcare crisis (which I have definitely contemplated in Poland.)

Well, guess what, ladies and gentlemen? If you are only interested in the pay gap, it’s much smaller in Poland (9-10 %) than in Australia (15-17%). Looking to confirm my prejudices, however, led me here ; the report uses more data than the pay gap, (it analyses four categories- economic activity, health, educational attainment and political empowerment), and now  Australia ranks 24, and Poland 54.

Anyway, one of the things which struck me in the article was that women said they had trouble negotiating; that they were too apologetic, not assertive enough. I realised that it was true, in my case anyway- I am too busy trying to be nice, and my first instinct is to say yes. I vowed to value myself higher, and didn’t have to wait long for a chance; I was offered some work in a preschool, and the first move was to try and beat my price down. As my own children screamed in the background (making it easier to do something which I knew would lose me the job), I named a price only nominally lower than the current one, and said that there was no way I could work for less. I would only call it a partial win; taken by surprise,  my initial instinct was still to please. And I am in a very privileged position- I can only imagine what it’s like for people who can’t afford to say no to work.


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Filed under around Poland, feminism, gender, observations on Polish society, Reading