Category Archives: happiness

Autumn in the park

We live on the edge of  Morskie Oko Park, and rare is the day when we don’t spend at least half an hour there. We walk through it to and from pre-school- we air the kids there, even now. In summer we lived there, spending the day in the playground and only coming home to sleep

This is our first autumn in this flat, and although it’s the insalubrious month of November, I love the park at this time. After the golden blaze of October,  the palette is primarily brown. There is a stillness there, a leaf- muffled silence. A milky-pale sky gleams through the bare trees. Despite the melancholy weather, it’s always full of ecstatic dogs who don’t share their owners objections to the season. It smells like dirt and water, and the ducks, exiled by the winter draining of their pond lower down, come up onto the escarpment to graze like a herd of little goats on whatever they can find.

Now that the sun sets at 4 pm, it gets dark when I’m bringing the kids home from preschool on Fridays. They disappear on their bikes amongst the trees in the dusk, and usually as we climb the hill towards Pałac Szustry, the lamps come on. The kids feel the same way as the dogs about the park- for them it’s a source of endless wonders. They stuff their pockets with chestnuts, chase pigeons, spend all their duck bread on a hideous rat the size of a chihuahua which lives in the reeds near the claypit and which they call ‘mousie’.

Living next to the park, I feel more like an aristocrat than a poor man, even though we live in 60 square metres next to the busiest road in Warsaw.

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Filed under around Poland, childhood, family, happiness, mokotow

Obsession

My blog is falling by the wayside because I have become obsessed with teaching. If I am not doing it I’m planning it or thinking about it. I am clearly not very talented or I wouldn’t need to spend so much time on it all, but I am fascinated by trying to find the tricks and magic formulas which make things go well in the classroom. I have never had a job that absorbed me like this- it’s simultaneously exhausting and exciting.

Part of the excitement is just the onset of the school year after a long, slow summer. Part of it is that I did the extension to CELTA for teaching kids at the beginning of September, and now I have my own classes of 10-year olds to contend with, with their ever-shifting social alliances and wild enthusiasm for giving answers and their very involved parents. It’s a different universe to the classrooms I have inhabited until now, with their jaded accountants and teenagers who will do anything to fly under the radar.

For the first time I have to impose a system of rewards- initially I thought, with my almost 40 year old system of priorities, that nobody would do anything to get a star next to their name, but it turns out I was wrong. I try to remember being 10 myself and suddenly recall my desperate contortions at Friday aerobics, trying to get the free drink from the school canteen that was given to hard triers. It’s a trip back in time for me, and a foreshadowing of what is to come with my own children. The time is fast approaching when I will stop worrying about their eating and sleeping and start to worry about their social life and education, a far more complex set of problems.

 

 

 

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Filed under childhood, children's brains, English teaching, happiness, language acquisition, memory

Mad July

I have been slacking on the blog front. For the whole of July I have been teaching 5 hours a day, and I am stretched in so many ways that I can hardly believe I am still standing at the end of the week. I spend all day (beginning at around 4:30 in the morning) in a ferment of lesson planning and teaching, and come home to the whirl of dinner-bathtime-bedtime. After which I fall into bed myself and the whole cycle begins again.

I’m happy and relieved to find the teaching exciting instead of terrifying. I have a class of 11 young Belarusians who amaze me and amuse me (“Rose, your tights remind me of a rabbit”) every day. Their neurons are also firing madly,  so we are in it together. They do not realise the extent to which I am experimenting on them-I feel like I need to try out any new trick I can think of while I have such an energetic and responsive audience.

So much of this is new. For the first time I am developing warm and constructive relationships with my colleagues. For the first time I am farming out my children all week long, so that I hardly see them. Sometimes I hear their sleepy early morning jabbering building as I exit the flat in the morning- more often, everyone is still sleeping when I leave.  I know that my parents (who have the kids 3 days a week and often do overtime on weekends) are stretched as well, and I barely see them either. I call in the afternoon to remind them I’ll be late and hear the sounds of their secret life together-we’re just in the kitchen having our nana, says my father, and then, he’s escaping too! We’ve got two Trobriand Islanders, and they’re not wearing their leg ropes!

I don’t plan to live like this on a permanent basis, though I know that many people do and somehow manage. But I don’t feel guilty either. For this month, I can wallow in work and see how it feels.

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

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.

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

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.

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