Category Archives: friendship


We’re at the house of J., a  friend whose father died last month. We’re good friends but the subject of this bereavement is a difficult one- it’s surprisingly hard to say, so, how are you feeling now your dad’s dead?

We’re sitting in the kitchen, me and Marcin and J. and his  wife, all the non-bereaved a bit shifty-eyed but determined not to pretend it hasn’t happened, and the conversation is lurching along, grief, what to do about it, etc. J. doesn’t really want to discuss it, so we’re skirting around him a bit, but still going, slightly braver for the wine but out of our depth .  Their kids come into the kitchen and start sniffing around for something to eat and J.  asks them what they’re going to have for dinner. Chocolate wafers, says Zosia. Oh, OK. says J. You’d better have two, then.


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Filed under friendship, grief, Uncategorized

Australia vignettes- friends


In Newcastle, we stay with our friends Chris and Laura. Of all the people we know, these are the ones who shared  the biggest part of our cycling trip 5 years ago- we saw Angkor Wat  and the Great Wall of China with them, lounged on a Thai island and unexpectedly ran across each other in the foamy streets of Vientiane when we thought we had already seen each other for the last time. Now we are all thoroughly domesticated, having produced 4 children between us in the space of 3 years. Of course, we talk baby farming, but not only. For 2 days we can have those lovely meandering conversations which happen around the obligations of the day. Sometimes we don’t say anything.

Maja and Janek fall in love with their son Hugo, and insist on going everywhere holding his hands, flanking him. They refer to him as HIM. Mummy, I want to hold hands with HIM. Hugo is not averse, as they race about the museum and leap into the fountain in one long glorious chain of 3 year old exuberance.


In Sydney, we are caught up in a social whirl. Our friend Kat organises a barbeque for us and I talk late into the night  with old friends. I am so involved in this day-long conversation that when a mad, cyclonic storm blows up in the afternoon I don’t even notice it.


Some of what goes on this trip is mere maintenance, hoping to keep friendships going for another couple of years until we come again. I’ve spent too much time being sick to fulfil the whole ambitious plan of visits. So instead, sometimes  there’s only a  phone call,  or a short, harried picnic, just to say, we love you, wait for us until next time.


Filed under Australia, friendship, travel, Uncategorized

A heart-warming story about how it’s not what you do, it’s who you do it with

We came back from Berlin on the Monday after New Year, and stopped off in Pruszków to give back the car, boast about our adventures and let Babcia and Dziadek fondle their youngest grandchildren.  In the morning it was -10, with bright sun, and that powdery crunch to the snow. We decided to go to Warsaw with Grandma, Marcin’s brother and his wife and the cousins, and chase squirrels for 5 minutes before everybody got cold and wanted to go home.

On the way we fell into a pothole, tore off the mirror on a roadside pole and got a flat tyre. Our expedition ended at the petrol station, where it transpired that the jack didn’t work. We took a stroll around the car park and then all climbed into the van and ate pretzels while we waited to be rescued. The children whined. Boy cousin insisted in taking off his nappy and peeing in the potty, even though it meant removing and replacing 16 layers of clothes. It got colder and we turned on the engine so the heating would work.

After about an hour, we were saved. But I didn’t really mind any of it at all. After 4 years I have an unburdensome intimacy with Marcin’s family which makes them almost like my own. I like our Sunday meetings, the lack of demands made on me, the fact that there is no necessity to perform. Being stranded at a petrol station with them in the middle of winter was almost fun.

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Filed under around Poland, family, friendship

Annual visit to my oldest friend

A. is my oldest friend, or at least the oldest that I still have contact with. We have known each other since we were 11 years old and starting high school, that big new world full of strangers and unprecedented social negotiations. Our friendship then was one of those horrifying teenage hybrids- passionate letter writing in the night one day, the cold shoulder the next, that potent, disturbing mix of envy and admiration.  Many years later I would find out that her father had a violent temper- our mutual confidences clearly didn’t stretch that far.

When I moved away, we lost contact. One day, many many years later, I was living in Sydney and studying. I was riding my bike to the beach, slowly and without expectation, when who should I see but her. It turned out she lived just down the road from me, with a chicken run in the backyard and a long-distance lover in Canberra.

And some more years later, after meeting the long-distance lover, many dinners and films and discussions about life together, they moved to Berlin, just as we were about to leave on our roundabout way to Poland. Another 2 years passed before we actually arrived in Poland and began a tradition of yearly visits.  Not long afterwards, it turned out that she was expecting her second child, due on the same day as my kids.

We have just been to visit. We have now known each other for over 25 years. The teenage  competition has slowly faded- since she is clearly richer and more ethical , with excellent teeth and a 2 year old who can already be trusted to cross the road without a lassoo, there is really no pleasure to be gained (for me) from making comparisons. So instead I just contented myself  with enjoying her graciousness and warmth and  eating excellent meals and trying to stop my big mean children from killing her small gentle one.

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Filed under family, friendship, memory

Getting our summer on

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Finally set up our bikes to carry the kids and went for a ride and a barbeque by the big brown Wisła, all full of foam and swirling brown water from the southern rains.  They had no objection to travelling this way and were happy to have their own (hideous gendered) helmets at last.

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Filed under around Poland, childhood, family, friendship, happiness, motherhood, travel, twins

Why having children doesn’t mean social death

Who knew? Because when you don’t have children, all the staying home at night because you don’t have a babysitter, all the not going to restaurants because your kids will wallow in the sugar bowl and then smash it into a thousand pieces, all the I’m- too -tireds and I-can’t-because-it’s- nap- times seem to mean it’s all over. But I, ladies and gentlemen, would like to report, both truthfully and optimistically, that it’s not.

My first inkling came when I managed to find a mother’s group. We would  meet once a week in a yoga studio, do yoga for a while (our kids were still tiny, and only one was ambulatory), and then talk about our tribulations- about our experience of birth and feeding, about what had happened to our relationships, about what had happened to us. Most of us were on our first babies, and still reeling. Contact with strangers is harder to make in Poland, but we seemed to have created a charmed circle where the usual rules of standoffishness didn’t apply. We would share our dark secrets amongst a chorus of wails, and I would go home feeling slightly less shipwrecked.

I also have another set of new friends which my children have brought me . A couple of months after they were born, looking for some connection, I joined a Facebook group of women who had twins due around the same time that mine were. Most of them are in the States, but some are in Europe, one in Australia, one in the Gambia. It’s secret group, which means that our ‘real’ friends can’t see anything that we write there. And oh, how they save my sanity. Together we have obsessed over sleep, over feeding, over the weights and skin conditions and moods and teeth of our offspring. Many of us have older kids, and one has already produced a younger sibling for her twins.

But it’s not only about children. When I get a new job which I desperately want to boast about, I boast to them. When one of their husbands is diagnosed with MS, she tells us. We confess  our  pain, our fear, our isolation, our triumphs.  We advise each other and commiserate and cheer each other on.  It’s the internet, and we are total strangers, and engaged in that most competitive of businesses-motherhood-, but we are gentle with each other, and unjudgmental.

And then there are the playground friends. At the mummy-cafe, I met an Austrian who takes care of his daughter while his wife works, and a Frenchman who does the same. We go to the playground, and try not to lose our children or let them kill themselves, while engaging in desultory conversation about all manner of things. The Frenchman divulges his plan to become a failed writer (“I’m well on my way”,) the Austrian tells me about his hobby of motorbike racing and shows me a picture of the 6 screws and a metal plate he had put in his knee after an accident. We cover the usual- food, sleep, a quick boast about new achievements- and then are free to talk about ourselves.

I expect it to go on like this, more or less. There will be preschool and school, and they will have friends whose parents I might like or not, but they will bring us into the orbit of people we would never otherwise have met. I don’t expect each and every one of them to be my bosom buddies, but it makes me realise that maybe kids aren’t tyrannical little jailers after all.


Filed under childhood, friendship, happiness, mental health, migrant life, motherhood, twins, Uncategorized

Having two homes

When we went to Australia last month, I hadn’t been home for almost 5 years. During which I had cycled from Tokyo to Warsaw, settled in Poland, learnt Polish, and had two children.

I couldn’t predict what would happen to me when I got out of the plane. On the surface, most of my apprehension centred on logistics- how to transport 4 people, two of them only one year old, from one side of the world to the other, with a minimum of squealing and disruption.

What I was really worried about was what sort of crisis the trip might force. I live fairly happily and unreflectively in Warsaw, and thought that maybe this was only possible because of the lapse in space-time that separated me from my real life and home. I hear myself brushing off people’s questions about why I have made this choice and what life is like with a sort of obtuseness- that I don’t really think about it, that I am as happy as I would be anywhere, stubbornly refusing to admit any real dissatisfaction or make any unfavourable comparisons, though I think this is often what they want or expect. I felt on some visceral level that my life in Warsaw wouldn’t stand up to any real scrutiny- that my friendships would seem superficial, my work senseless, my  attachment to place tenuous, if I started to compare.

And I loved  being in Australia. I loved speaking English all the time, getting all the jokes, talking silly slang and never thinking about my declensions. I loved feeling totally at ease and inconspicuous, I loved the sea, I loved being in a place where I had a long history and seeing my family and all my lovely friends.

But I also felt fine coming back to Poland again. Partly it was just because I was ready to be back in my own space again, after a month 0f screamy nights in other people’s houses. But mainly, I just felt alright. There were people and places I wanted to see. The freeze was over and the days were longer and the language was still familiar. I felt as if I had passed an important test.

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Filed under Australia, family, friendship, history, memory, migrant life