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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas memory

"Things I Want To Tell My Mother" is running a competition, inviting readers to submit a 100-word memory of a Christmas moment spent with their mother or grandmother. My mother always made Christmas such a special time for us that I felt compelled to write my own vignette.

Here it is:

It was Christmas Eve. 

The house was spotless, the Christmas tree glittering magically, the air fragrant with Christmas baking, and my siblings and I were delirious with anticipation--tiny pyjama-ed elves, shrieking excitedly and bouncing off the walls.


Mum sat down at the piano and started playing carols. We clustered around her and sang. We sang with discordant innocence; with our whole beings; not understanding the words but feeling their magic anyway. All was calm, all was bright, and our hearts were full. 

Mum’s eyes were filled with tears that I didn't understand at the time.


Now I understand, Mum.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

What happiness isn't

I want to be happy, really and truly I do. However, I am starting to realize that happiness is not what I thought it was.

I am starting to suspect, with a sense of horror, that deep down I honestly WANT life to be just that bit too hard for me.

Looking back on my life, it appears that I’ve consistently done my darndest to engineer situations of high challenge, high stress, tight deadlines; beyond-my-comfort-zone difficulty left right and centre.

My schoolgirl self was a high academic achiever. I was also on high school teams for cricket, netball, rhythmic gymnastics, athletics, and debating. I also played in the school orchestra and sang in two different choirs. I also participated in public speaking competitions and won a national speech contest. When I write it all down, I am incredulous at how I did it all, but looking back with honest eyes, I remember loving school life.

After leaving school I threw myself into a student exchange in a small town in Japan; I felt that I was in over my head and that I couldn't last the distance, but stubbornly I refused to give up, to the point of borderline anorexia.

During university I worked two full days a week, while taking a full course load in law and Japanese. Since that apparently wasn’t enough, I also tutored in Japanese and did an associate diploma in Speech and Drama on the side. The mother of my then-boyfriend took me to task for not making more time for her son; while she had some nerve, I am frankly amazed I found any time to spend with that poor sweet guy.

I dropped out of law and went to work in Japan, where I got a job as a bilingual Legal Assistant and worked anything from 10 to 24 hour days. It was so exciting at the time; I remember bouncing off the walls in the middle of a deal, full of energy even late at night, humming the Indiana Jones soundtrack as my own personal theme song, cheering and exasperating my colleagues in equal measure. Once, for a whole week I finished work at 5am every morning and was back at my desk by 9am. I remember the day I finished work at 5:30am and raced home to start packing for a scuba-diving holiday; I made it onto the 7:30 am airport train literally by the skin of my teeth.

Later I went back and finished my law degree and got what by all objective standards was a great job at a top foreign law firm in Tokyo. I started work the week I found out I was pregnant with my first baby. That poor kid was dragged in utero to business trips in America and China, through endless late-night conference calls, and through high-pressure working days that went on and on and on.

I didn’t give up on this lifestyle even after she, and subsequently her little sister, were born, but already after a few years of trying to combine parenthood and full-time work I suddenly realized it was bloody hard, that suddenly I was very unhappy, and that I was barely holding it together any more. The lifestyle I had once thrived on was suddenly killing me.

I stubbornly ploughed on until my husband gave me the out I needed, by suggesting we relocate to Finland.

I tried my hand at being a stay-at-home mum, convinced that it was all I’d ever wanted to do and that I craved time with my kids above all else. After a year I discovered that, if anything, I was even more tired and beaten down than before.

Fed up, and exhausted beyond belief, I decided to embark on an "oxygen mask" quest for happiness. I would try to change and simplify my life for once and be kind to myself by getting rid of as many responsibilities and self-imposed burdens as possible. I would write a blog when and if I felt like it. I would exercise as the mood took me. I would dip into my Finnish textbook now and then. I would still have all afternoon and evening to enjoy and care for my children and husband, while having every morning all to myself… OMG, I would be enjoying that elusive, almost luxurious thing sought by so many women - *me time*!!

I assumed that this lifestyle change would make me feel happy, at peace, well-balanced, calmed and re-charged, and all that good stuff.

I am pleased to report that I no longer feel stressed or stretched too thin or operating at the limits of my own resources. On the other hand, I also feel flat. Restless. Anxious. Turns out that life within the four corners of my own comfort zone is a calm place, but also dull beyond belief.

Stress and self-imposed high expectations are gone, but those bastards went and took all of life’s bling with them.

It took me a while to work out that ironically, I really miss challenge and achievement. What's more, I can’t seem to manage without a bit of pressure. Without hard goals, time pressure, or self-imposed stress, I get very little done and feel crap about it, because I know I am capable of so much more. The stubborn S.O.B. within me WANTS to set difficult goals, to try and succeed at hard things, and to get recognition for effort.

And yet, part of me just does not want to take on any more challenges AT ALL. I feel so tired just thinking about doing difficult things. I really want to be happy just lying on the sofa, alone with my thoughts, writing a bit while drinking a lovely hot cup of coffee.

I think about going back to paid work, and instantly memories of my hectic life in Tokyo come rushing back at me with epic force, like a wall of dirty flood water – superiors and clients lined up in a row demanding agreement re-drafts, comments lists, spreadsheets, issues charts, timesheets, conference calls, talking points, meeting summaries, and all by 9am tomorrow; panic and anxiety a constant dead weight in the pit of my stomach; heart aching and eyes stinging with tears at missing my kids’ bedtime yet again; every nerve dreading telling hubby that yet again I would have to work over the weekend; head aching and whole body aching to lie down and sleep, preferably for about 3 solid days; running down to buy myself a hot chocolate and iced cupcake at the Starbucks in my building and trying to convince myself what a lovely treat it was and how it would completely fix my exhaustion, stress, and happiness deficit.  

I so don’t want that life back.

And yet, telling myself to kick back and do nothing is not being kind to myself; it’s actually doing me a disservice.

Oh crap.

Stay tuned while I try and figure out what to do; how to find a happy medium. At least now I know what happiness ISN’T.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I Don't Know How She Does It

I loved Allison Pearson’s book I Don’t Know How She Does It. I discovered it when I was pregnant for the first time, and was wondering how on earth I was going to balance a demanding job with the realities of parenthood. Over the years and the two children that followed, I re-read it countless times, reaching for the book when I felt overwhelmed and in danger of dropping every last one of my Working Mum juggling balls, and dipping into it when I needed comfort that someone else knew what I was going through. The book spoke to me; it was as though Allison Pearson had read my innermost thoughts and used them to create Kate Reddy.

The recent movie of the same name, starring Sarah Jessica Parker as Kate Reddy, claims to have been based on Pearson’s book. To be honest, so many details have been changed, so many characters eliminated or merged together, so much left out, that it is really only the essential spirit of Kate Reddy that remains from the book.

I walked in determined to hate the movie; ready to pick it, brutally, to pieces. And yet, in spite of myself, I enjoyed it – a lot.

I won’t turn this into a spoiler. I will say this much - the movie ends differently from the book, and your first reaction might be to walk away in an indignant huff.

On reflection, though, I do think the movie was ultimately true to Pearson’s Kate Reddy and her battle cries:

  1. Being a working mother is like holding the pieces of a big jigsaw puzzle in your head. The number of pieces and even the picture you’re trying to create change constantly, and often beyond your control. Some people (read: spouse) watch you trying to do it but don't help you nearly as much as you wish they would (and tend to get all sulky and difficult when you suggest they help more). Other people do help you with bits of it. Sometimes you or they fumble, and a whole section of the puzzle falls apart. Sometimes, unasked, they jump in and finish your bits of the puzzle, and while you know you should feel grateful, instead you feel a horrible pang of "That was my job; I could have handled that (couldn’t I?)" or, worse, "I wanted to do that myself, even though I also had 50 other things to do."

  1. Being a working mother (whether your work is in an office or at home with your baby) is Hard.Work. It is even harder if you have the kind of office job that requires you to work long, unpredictable hours and keep one eye on your Blackberry at all times of the day and night. It is frustrating beyond belief not having control over your own schedule, and not knowing from day to day whether your work will call you away at a moment’s notice, forcing you to endlessly re-neg on even the most tentative evening/weekend/holiday plans with spouse and children, and meaning that you can never confidently promise your children that you will be there for them at any given time. That kind of job means avoiding ever saying, reassuringly, that Mummy will be home by bedtime, or Mummy will make a snowman with you tomorrow; it is more than likely you will end up disappointing your poor kids, who will find it harder and harder to forgive you. Your spouse, meanwhile, is probably already so beaten down with accumulated disappointment that he doesn’t know what to say any more, and has resigned himself to the fact that this is the way things are.

  1. If you work in a high-powered, highly competitive environment, there is always someone else at the office ready to jump in and do your job at a moment’s notice – to take your credit, steal your thunder, and make you, ultimately, redundant (literally and metaphorically). If you are determined to stay in the game, you basically have to take the crap that the job deals out, otherwise you will be sidelined. The very rare exception is if you are a person who has already worked her arse off and has achieved results so stellar that she has proved herself indispensable, or at least worth keeping happy enough that she will not jump ship to a competitor. Even such people, though, cannot rest on their laurels. They may have earned the right to demand that others cut them a teeny bit of slack. They may be finally able to orchestrate the work-related crap somewhat, so that it ruins the rest of life a little less. However, they still have to keep achieving stellar results, and in order to do that it’s still necessary to work long and hard and make frequent sacrifices on the home front. Some jobs are just like that and there is no way around it.  

  1. If you are going to do a job like Kate Reddy’s, you had better love what you do with a passion so great that it consumes you. Otherwise, you will not have the heart to stick with it, or you will stick with it but end up so bitter and jaded that you would have been better off quitting.

There were parts of the movie that got me right in the heart.

The scene where Kate has just come back from a business trip, and has to leave almost immediately for another one. She says a heartfelt goodbye to her children, leaves the house, and starts walking down the road, tiredly dragging her carry-on luggage behind her. Her shoulders start to shake and she bursts into incontrollable sobs, distraught and at that moment not caring who sees her.

The scene where Kate is at dinner with her boss Jack, and something reminds her of a game her family always plays. Without thinking, she starts telling Jack about it, artlessly and with her whole face lit up. Suddenly she stops and catches herself in the act, and shuts herself down, with an anguished look on her face that says, “I can’t let him see how much I miss my family.”

The scene where Kate and her boss are working late (again), and Kate excuses herself to use the restroom. We see her on her cellphone in the lobby, singing a bedtime song softly and sweetly into the phone; oblivious to all around her; lovingly, completely connected to her little ones (“I love you, a bushel and a peck...”) It broke me up completely. As the movie went on I kept remembering that scene and breaking up all over again. I remember sneaking out to make that phone call so many times myself... Knowing I wouldn’t make it home by bedtime, phoning my replacement as a mother our nanny just so I could hear my older girl’s little voice on the phone, singing softly into the phone, missing her and her baby sister so desperately that my heart hurt, wanting just to be there all snuggled up with my sweet little people. At times like that, I vividly remember thinking, What on earth am I doing here? Sometimes a meeting would run so late that I would miss that Bedtime Window. I would get back to my office to find a voicemail message from my tiny big girl, saying goodnight to her absent Mummy. I have several of those messages saved. I can’t bring myself to listen to them.

This movie brought back a lot of difficult memories and made me recall many moments of personal anguish. At the same time, it also made me feel happy and relieved, as it confirmed something I’ve been suspecting for a while now - that although there were things I loved about my job and that nowadays I miss, there is much, much more about that world and that life that I absolutely don’t miss. It is a world that some people - even some working mothers - thrive on. I now know for sure that I am not one of those women (at least, not right now).

I want to have the time and space to treat my husband as my best friend, not just my partner in panicked daily logistics and the person I end up bullying for help with my jigsaw. I want to have time to be alone with my own thoughts sometimes. But most of all, I want and need time with my children that is not just snatched moments and fleeting bedtime kisses. Although they drive me crazy sometimes, I really, really love them. A bushel and a peck. 



Monday, November 7, 2011

Alex P. Keaton and the death of my teaching career

Until I was 12 years old, my number one career goal was to become a teacher. This was hardly surprising. My primary school teachers were legendary, and I still hold them in the highest esteem (Miss Nuttall, Mrs Catchpole, Mr Holmes, Mrs Kenny—I’m thinking of you).

Teaching is also ingrained in my gene pool—my mother and two of my grandparents were teachers, and my brother and sister carried on the tradition.

I am the odd one out; the one who became a lawyer instead.

I can remember the exact moment that I started questioning my long-held teaching ambitions. I was 12, and our Year 7 class was having one of those “What I Want To Be When I Grow Up” discussions. I announced proudly that I was going to be a teacher.

Later, I was waylaid by the class upstart. For the purposes of this story, I will call him Alex, because at the time he bore an uncanny resemblance to the Alex P. Keaton character from Family Ties (the one played by a young Michael J. Fox) – sleek hairdo, smart talker, entrepreneurial tendencies already clearly in evidence. Alex demanded, quite seriously, “You are the smartest kid in this class. Why do you want to be a teacher? You can do better than that.”

It was the first time I’d heard anyone suggest that teaching was not the highest calling; the be-all-and-end-all of brilliant jobs. Alex explained to me that other professions could earn me more money, and that the smartest people never became teachers because there were much better jobs out there.*

I know now that Alex was talking out of his arse, or at the very least was just repeating something he’d heard from some misguided, money-grubbing adult. Shame on me for listening to him.

Although I abandoned my own teaching career before it even began, I have never stopped being a fan of great teachers. As a parent, I have started to grasp the enormity of how hard it is to be an educator. Explaining something in clear and simple terms is a skill that is grossly underrated. Being consistently patient, kind but fair, level-headed, intelligent, calm and reasonable, is even more difficult, in my opinion—and most days I am only dealing with two children at a time. Imagine the challenge of being a primary school teacher—exercising all the skills I listed above, but in addition having to adjust your approach at will to suit the vast range of ability levels, moods, temperaments and tiredness levels that you might encounter at any time in a group of twenty 6-year-olds. Someone who can pull that off is nothing short of a genius.

Why is it, then, that teachers are so grossly under-appreciated in so many countries? I don’t doubt that many people look back and remember, with fondness and appreciation, their favourite/best teachers. Teachers’ paychecks, however, do not reflect this at all (on this one point, Alex was right on the money). As a first-year lawyer, with the ink still drying on my law school diploma, I got a job at a U.S. law firm in Tokyo. My annual compensation was literally three times that of my highly-experienced-Australian-high-school-teacher mother’s (and let me point out that my mother worked in the private system, so her salary was probably higher than that of the average Australian teacher of her age and experience). It was embarrassing. It was wrong. It surprised no one.

My 6-year-old started preschool this year—the first level of compulsory education in Finland. I love her teachers. They are highly experienced. They have Masters’ degrees in education. They speak fluent English. They are lovely, kind-but-will-take-bullshit-from-no-one people. When my daughter first started preschool, I went around telling anyone who would listen how lucky we were to have found such a great school.

It wasn’t long before Finns started informing me, gently but firmly, that probably our school and its teachers are not the lucky find I thought they were--not because they aren't fantastic, but because the teaching profession in Finland is full of similarly fantastic people. Finland boasts high standards for the admission of graduates to the teaching profession (including a Masters'-level university degree). Teachers are highly educated and highly respected. No one here would dare say that teaching is the kind of profession you choose because you are incapable of doing anything else.

In my early 20s, when I lived in Japan (before I went back and finished my initially-abandoned law degree and got a “better job”) I walked into a part-time teaching job armed with my Bachelor of Arts in Japanese and a diploma in Speech and Drama. Had I studied theory of education? Did I have extensive practical teaching skills? Did I have specialist pedagogical knowledge? Um, nope, none of the above! No one cared. No one even asked. Here in Finland, none of the fancy letters after my name would get me anywhere near a teaching job. By law, I would be required to undertake further study and get practical experience before being allowed to get a paid teaching position. In my opinion, this is exactly as it should be, and this is the perhaps the biggest reason that Finland scores consistently stellar results in the OECD’s PISA testing of 15 year olds’ ability in reading, science and mathematics. In 2009, Finnish students’ scores were 3rd, 2nd and 6th in the world in those respective areas. Australian students’ scores were 9th, 10th and 15th in the world. American students’ were 16th, 22nd and 35th.

(if you’re interested, see http://stats.oecd.org/PISA2009Profiles/# for complete results).

Cheered at this rosy picture of wonderful Finnish educators and the strong results being achieved by their students, I went looking for data about Finnish teacher’s salaries, fairly sure the higher status of and greater respect for teachers here was reflected in much better salaries than in other countries. I was absolutely shocked to find out that (according to 2005 figures I found here) Finnish teachers are in fact paid less—significantly less—than their counterparts in America, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Korea, and the United Kingdom. They do earn more than teachers in Italy, Eastern Europe, Thailand and South America. Oh, what a relief [cough].

How is it that, while we want our children to have a high-quality, unparalleled education, we as a society aren’t prepared to pay more than bargain basement prices for that privilege? Maybe we are, in idealistic theory, but when push comes to shove, no one wants to put their hard-earned money into an investment whose returns, though vitally important to society in the long run, are unlikely to come back to the original investor in monetary form.

Lawyers and money-market dealers earn big money because that’s what the market is willing to pay for their services; a market with deep pockets that are kept full thanks to the work of said lawyers and money-market dealers.  Teachers, on the other hand, do nothing but take on and fulfill the responsibility of educating our children in every aspect of the school curriculum and in countless other aspects of life—ethics, social skills, physical fitness, psychology, you name it.

I mean, really. Why would we waste our money on something like that?

*************

* Irrelevant but interesting: Alex went on to an expensive private secondary school, got a high enough score to get into law school, and abandoned the profession after a very short time. Now, in his mid-30s, he is a long-haired, would-be rock star who hasn’t quite made it. True story.

Even more interestingly, another boy in our class, with whom I shared the honour of being dux of our primary school, is now a university lecturer—a teacher.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The essential nature of oxygen

The single most ethically-charged subject I studied at law school was Family Law. It was fascinating and heartbreaking. The law is just not equipped to deal with the emotionally-difficult and fraught human issues that end up before the Family Court.

As our lecturer commented, in the hardest cases the judge makes the best decision he or she can, and hopes that no one dies. Professor P. wasn’t just being dramatic. In Australia, at least one Family Court judge has been killed by a distraught litigant who had hoped for a different decision. Yikes.

At that time, the law stated that in decisions regarding shared parenting, a judge’s paramount consideration was “the best interests of the child”. My classmates and I spent lots of time learning how that phrase had been interpreted by legislatures and judges, and whether or not we agreed. Does “the best interests of the child” mean giving primary custody to the parent with the most stable income, the parent who has spent the most time with the child, or the parent who is the more responsible and dependable? Should we always aim to split custody 50:50, on the assumption that children need both Mum and Dad? Should we try to determine whether an estranged Mum and Dad are in fact being sincere about their respective pleas for custody of their children, or whether (intentionally or not) each is just trying to score points? If a judge’s decision is likely to anger one or both parents, what kind of collateral damage might their children later face?

We were then asked to consider an awkward scenario: what if Mum (primary caregiver) wants to relocate to pursue a positive new job opportunity in a city where she has close family and friends, and wants to take the kids with her; what if this potential destination is hundreds or thousands of kilometres interstate or overseas; what if the children’s father can’t or won’t similarly relocate and insists that his ex-wife stay put? If the issue went to court, should a judge let Mum go ahead and make the move, or command her to stay?  

You can see why Family Court judges (and in fact all those who work in Family Law) have my wholehearted admiration, as well as my heartfelt sympathy.

At the time, my loyalty swung backwards and forwards between that fictional mum and her ex-husband. I read lots of articles, trying doggedly to find the elusive out-of-the-box solution that would be “in the best interests of the child” and still wouldn’t make anyone miserable (I never did find that solution; probably it didn’t exist).

One article I read stayed with me. It drew a compelling analogy between a parent and an airline passenger experiencing a drop in cabin pressure.

Airline safety demonstrations always advise us to ensure our own mask is secured before helping others. The logic behind this is unimpeachable – how can we help our children or others around us if we ourselves run out of oxygen and pass out?

The article argued that securing the best interests of a child meant securing the best interests of his or her primary caregiver – whether those interests are a decent job and financial security, a strong support network of family and friends, remarriage, or other elements that would likely bring happiness and stability (both in concrete terms and emotionally). The article was strongly in favour of making sure the child’s primary caregiver had a fully-functioning oxygen mask in place, and was in the best possible position to care for his or her child. The writer was clearly a supporter of that fictional mum's relocation plans.

I don’t remember whose side I came down on in the end (especially given that our lecturer was a well-known proponent of dads’ rights, and I was not one to let emotion ruin my GPA). However, I found myself thinking of that oxygen-mask article again lately.

How many parents really do stop to consider – daily, weekly, or even at all - whether their own metaphorical “oxygen mask” is in place?  When I became a parent for the first time, I found myself completely absorbed in my baby and lovingly (if annoyingly) anxious about everything that concerned her. At that time, the idea that I might have not just a right, but also a responsibility to continue to act in my own interests was literally beyond my comprehension. I remember noticing articles in parenting books and on blogs that urged me to secure “Me time” and to take care of myself and my own individual needs. Privately, I couldn’t help thinking it was all a load of selfish B.S.

Looking back with wiser eyes, I hereby extend a humble apology for all those slurs I mentally let fly against people who (I now realize) knew better than I did. I now see that I spent much of the first 6 years of my life as a parent over-extended, rapidly burning out, and growing more bitter, jaded and unhappy by the day. It is a saintly person indeed who can focus all his or her time and energy selflessly on other people, especially pint-sized ones – a paragon who can work and cook and mop up puke, patiently feed and soothe a crying baby for hours at a time instead of sleeping, brightly endure entire days with a toddler in the throes of the Terrible Twos, and voluntarily replace all previous leisure activities with trips to the park, Wiggles songs, and Fisher Price toys - and all without feeling exhausted, fraught, or plagued by a tiny inner voice demanding, in a rising crescendo, “What about me?”

In the unlikely case that there was any doubt in your mind, let me confirm that I am not one of those saintly people, and I extend a heartfelt sorry to my kids and my husband for having to live with me at my burnt-out worst. 

My own oxygen mask is still in prototype form and doesn’t always work properly. Persistent user error and residual “I’m FINE, ok?”-type stubbornness hasn’t helped. However, at least I have finally admitted that I need that mask and its reviving oxygen. If you don’t own your own mask, or aren’t using it properly, do something about it. This is not just about your rights as a person; this is about your responsibility to those who depend on you – you need enough oxygen not only to stay alive and conscious, but also to have the physical and emotional energy to stay on top of your parental responsibilities, and even (hopefully) to be the kind of person you’d like to see your own children become.

It isn’t easy to find that source of oxygen if you’ve been doing without it for a long time – you might feel as though you don’t have the time, money or resources to be changing direction career-wise, getting help with home duties/childcare, reading books, exercising, sleeping more, or doing whatever big or small thing is that will revive and energize you – but finding a way to get that personal O2 is a necessity, not an extravagance.

You can’t be the best parent you can be if your own life is suffocating you.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, before I pick up my children I am going to enjoy a cup of coffee and a piece of cake – the cake that will be eaten by my kids and my husband as well, but that secretly I made for myself, because it’s my favourite.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dazzle Lamp

It’s the first day of November, and the darkness is already starting to get to me.

Finland, my adopted home, is pretty far north – on a par with Alaska, and the northern parts of Russia. In practical terms, this means that summer days are long and glorious, and winter days are basically non-existent. Today, on November 1, already we are down to less than 9 hours of daylight. Sunrise today was just before 8am, and sunset will be just before 4:30pm this afternoon.

I was thrown by how quickly the shorter days started to affect my moods this year. Last year our family made it through until January before we started seeing persistent grouchiness, constant cravings for carbs and sweet things, perpetual lethargy, and even headaches and feelings of being just not quite well. At the time, I was still firmly in denial about Seasonal Affective Disorder, honestly believing that it could be prevented or cured with The Power Of Positive Thought. I was sure that if I told myself often enough to “suck it up” and “get a grip”, and brightly encouraged my exhausted kids to jump around the playground in the cold, weak sunlight, then we would be just fine.

We really weren’t. My then-5-year-old summed it up perfectly: “Mummy, I just feel sleepy and sad all the time.”

This year, I am already feeling that dark, leaden curtain of Seasonal Affective Disorder descending on me. I feel unreasonably exhausted and snappish and S.A.D. 

This year, though, I am ready to fight it - tooth and nail.

Practical strategies are already firmly in place. The whole family has been religiously taking Vitamin D supplements. The kids play outside at least 1 hour every day, and sometimes more than 2 – rain, hail, or shine (since, as Finns like to say, “There is no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothes!”) – and I force myself to take a brisk 20-minute walk twice a day between home and Little Sister’s daycare. I’ve been feeding us all lots of Positive Energy foods – bananas, oatmeal, blueberries. We are trying to sleep longer nights.

We even bought a Brighter-Than-Bright light-therapy lamp! The instructions recommend that our retinas be within 1 metre of the Dazzle Lamp for at least 30 minutes each morning. If the idea of sitting in front of a bright light for a full half hour sounds odd, let me tell you that at first it really was a weird feeling, not to mention difficult to accomplish as far as my lively children’s retinas were concerned. Eventually, we put it in the middle of our breakfast table. There we sit each morning, like deer in the headlights, eating our highly-illuminated oatmeal or eggs.





(PS: I took this photo without a flash not only to make it look artsy and to showcase Dazzle Lamp in its full glory, but because a flash would have highlighted the mess arts and craft centre that is the other end of our dining table…)

It is the middle of the day here as I write, but it’s so dark and gloomy outside that I have turned Dazzle Lamp back on. It does seem to help – a lot. The brightness is apparently lowering our levels of melatonin; in practical terms, having it on actually makes me feel brighter. Comforted. Empowered. 

It is, quite literally, a light in the darkness.