Spreading our wings

Until this year, I had taken Kramstable in to school every day that I went to work. In his early days at school, I’d stay until the bell went and we’d read stories, look at work he’d been doing, and talk to his classmates, their parents and his teacher.

As the years passed, the time I stayed with him decreased, until by the end of last year I was seeing him to the door of his classroom, and he’d be off. I think by Grade 4, I was one of not many parents who would actually go into the school with their child, but I really liked it. I liked seeing his classroom, looking at what he’d been doing, and catching up with his teacher.

But it was time for a change, and at the end of last year Kramstable said he didn’t want me to come with him to school any more. I knew this was coming, because most of the other kids weren’t being walked into school, but I still felt I like I was losing something that had been a big part of my life for six years.

He said I could walk him to the school gate, so that was OK; I’d still have a chance to go in if I needed to, but I had a feeling that as this year moved on, his drop-off point would get further and further away.

It did, but it happened so suddenly – only two weeks into term – that I’d not had time to recover from not going in with him, before he asked me to leave him at the end of the street.

Ok. That was unexpected.

And last week we’re walking from the bus stop, and we get to the place where Slabs had dropped Kramstable off the day before.

He says, “I got dropped off here yesterday. Bye.”
That’s even more unexpected. I say, “I think I’ll walk with you a bit further.”
We walk on a bit to the next intersection, him skipping ahead as always. We stop and look for cars. I say, “Don’t you want to be seen with me?”
“No,” he says, and starts to cross the road. “Bye.”
“See you this afternoon,” I say, feeling incredibly sad, but also slightly amused.
I watch him cross the road safely, and he’s on his way.
“Bye,” I say to myself.

I know that he has to become independent. I know it’s my job to equip him so that he does become independent. I know I’m not going to walk him to school forever. I’ve always known this, but it’s never been real until now.

Of course he’s not going to want to be around me forever. He’s growing up and, as he grows, he’ll need me less intensely than he has done. And that’s the way it has to be; the same way I needed my mother less as I grew up; the same way every child does.

But he’s been the main focus of my life for so long – over ten years – and it’s hard to accept that this is changing, and changing fast. He has depended on me, and I’ve given as much of myself to him as I’ve had to give.

I feel like I’m bonded to him in a way I can’t imagine being bonded to any other person, because he’s my son. He has made me laugh, made me cry, made me so very grateful and feel so very blessed. I can’t imagine life without him.

It strikes me now as I’m writing this that I’ve spent his whole life making him ready for when he’ll be able to leave me and make his own way in the world, but that I’ve done nothing to make myself ready. It’s a minor thing, leaving him to walk a bit further to school. It’s such a small thing, but it symbolises so much more than that. I wasn’t prepared for how much this would hurt.

The worst thing in the world would be for me to be clingy and to deny him the freedom he needs. To try and stifle his growing independence. He needs to grow his own wings and fly. And while I’m so proud of the young man he is becoming and I love watching him learn and grow, I am also feeling deeply, intensely, painfully his gradual transformation away from the boy he has been. The boy that called me “Mummy”, the boy that would always hold my hand, the boy that was happy for me to come into school so he could show me what he’d been working on.

I cannot, will not deny myself this pain. I acknowledge it. It is real. I accept it as part of the transformation that I too must go through over the next phase of his life from being his provider and his care-giver into a role of adviser, supporter and (I hope) positive role model. Perhaps it hurts so much because it’s such a slow transition that will continue over many years to come. I can’t just rip the bandaid off and have a fully functioning adult before my eyes. I wouldn’t want to be able to do that. We have a wonderful journey still ahead of us.

He’ll still need me, even if he thinks he doesn’t. I treasure every moment he wants to involve me in what he’s doing, perhaps even more so now than when he was younger, because there are fewer of those moments these days, so they start to mean more.

And it occurs to me that, while he is still the centre of my universe, his decreasing reliance on me gives me my own freedom to focus on becoming the person I want to be outside of being “Mum”. So while this awareness doesn’t lessen the pain I feel, at the same time it inspires me and fills me with enthusiasm for how I might create my own future. In loosening the apron strings, I’m making room for my own wings to grow.

As I’m trying to figure out how to end this post without rambling on uncontrollably, I scroll through Twitter. This quote from Maya Angelou appears in my feed:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty”.

It seems highly relevant right now. The destruction of the old, the massive upheaval and transformation, and the eventual recreation into something new and beautiful.

2011 FOLIO 19 Butterfly

Even though there’s no actual end to this transformation – Kramstable won’t wake up one morning and be a butterfly, any more than I will – this quote still rings true in relation to the changes I’m going through. People say that it’s heartbreaking and difficult to let go, but it’s hard to convey to someone else how much it hurts until they experience it for themselves.

I’ve laughed and made jokes about how this has affected me, and have tried to carry on. I think that mostly we’re expected to accept this type of change, because our job is to prepare our children for the “real world”. There isn’t anything in the job description about taking time to reflect on different stages as our children move through them and to acknowledge how we feel.

I know it’s part of the job, but I’m not an automaton, I’m not a position number. I’m a person, I have feelings, and the process of letting go is upsetting me.

I think there’s value in acknowledging any kind of transition like this, rather just sucking it up and pretending we’re ok when we aren’t. This is the first time I’ve sat down and acknowledged how I really feel about it, and I’ve been surprised to find out how much it’s deeply affecting me.

It’s not the first time that a transformation has been painful, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But I’m ok with this. I’m grateful to have had an experience in my life that has meant so much to me, that moving on from it hurts this much.

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I’m struggling

I thought I was doing well in healthy eating and taking care of myself a few months ago. But I’ve slowly slipped back into bad habits that are sabotaging all of that, and I don’t like it.

It seems like every healthy habit I have is hanging there by a thread. After three attempts at quitting sugar, I hadn’t eaten it for months, and I thought I’d kicked the habit for good. But then, after a couple of “just this once” desserts, now I have a cake or sugary snack almost every day after lunch and I don’t know how to stop myself. I look forward to it. If I can get through the morning, I can have a treat. Eating crap was a habit that was disturbingly easy to pick back up.

I get up stupidly early in the morning and walk 20-30 minutes and meditate. I’ve been doing this every morning for over 18 months, but I still struggle to do it every single day. It takes a huge effort to do this – it’s not something I can “set and forget”. To maintain the habit, I refuse to let myself skip a day unless there’s a genuine reason not to do it, because it would be too easy to stop. I’d just miss one day, then another, then another, and the habit that I’ve spent so long to develop would be gone within a week.

I don’t love doing this. I think I’d love to sleep in more. Yet somehow I can hold myself to this obligation, but not the obligation to eat healthily. Why?

I know that a big factor in people’s success in achieving what they want to achieve is having a strong “why”.  A really meaningful and powerful reason for doing it that’s strong enough to override their impulse to not do it.

I can’t find any why stronger than that I want to be an active presence and positive influence in my child’s life for as long as I possibly can. I want to set a good example for him so that he can grow up fit and healthy and not have to battle his weight like I have.

But it’s not all about him. I want to be active and healthy for as long as I can be so that I can keep doing the things I want to do when I’m older, not be confined to a lounge chair full of regrets.

And if these two things don’t  motivate me I don’t know what will.

Yet I still feel like I did when I was 20 and feel like I have this air of immortality.

Logically I know that I don’t have all the time in the world to make the changes I know I need to to maintain my health into the future. I don’t want to be one of those people who ends up on their death bed regretting the things they didn’t do and the opportunities they didn’t take.

I want to turn things around because I’m making a lot of unhealthy choices and I don’t want to do that any more. But the unhealthy choice is usually the easier one.

Why don’t I want to make unhealthy choices any more?

Because making the types of unhealthy choices I am making will be bad for me  in the long term. I don’t want my health to deteriorate when I get older because of choices I’m making now. And I want to give myself the best chance of getting older in the first place!

Why don’t I want my health to deteriorate as I get older?

Because I want to be around for as long as I can be. I want to be physically and mentally able to do exciting things when I retire from work. I want to be around to see my son grow up. And if he has kids, I want to be able to do things with them.

Someone recently described this to me as wanting to be “a rocking Grandma” – if I become a Grandma. Great concept! And if I don’t become a Grandma I want to be a rocking old lady who is active, healthy, energetic, brave, fun and full of adventure for as long as I can.

Actually I want to be that person right now – I don’t want to wait until I’m old. I want to live a life where I can be the best version of me that I can be. I want to be healthy, active and creative. I want to learn and explore, have adventures, and create beauty. I want to be brave, calm and kind. I can’t be that person if I feel tired and uninspired from lack of sleep and sluggish from eating the wrong foods.

IMG_1032

My motivation

I also want to set a good example for my son so that he grows up fit and healthy, not like me with a poor body image and unhealthy relationship with food.

I recently realised that I most likely have had more yesterdays than I have tomorrows – unless I am incredibly lucky – and, unless I make some lifestyle changes now, my number of tomorrows might be even smaller than I think I have.

That means that I’m running out of days where I can say “I’ll start tomorrow”. As I get older, time moves faster and faster, the years all start to blend into one, and the next thing I know it’s another January 1st and I am exactly where I was at January 1st the year before. Yet I still persist in believing that I have time to turn things around, so I don’t have to start just yet. Next week will be OK, because we all know that next week, just like tomorrow, never comes.

I’ve had periods where I’ve thought I’d succeeded. I’ve been able to run 7 km and have weighed 56 kg. I kicked the sugar habit, once, twice and finally (or so I thought) a third time. I know all of this is possible to do because I’ve done it before. But what I have really learned is that we never really succeed – we don’t reach a point where  all of a sudden we are the person that we set out to be. Life is a journey, not a destination. We reach milestones along the journey, and we might know the general direction we are heading in, but we don’t ever get to what we might consider our final destination. Because we don’t become the person we want to be and then stop. We have to keep on being that person, and doing the things that make us that person.

We don’t “become” healthy and then stop. We only remain healthy because we continue to make healthy choices. We don’t “become” creative and then stop. We are creative because we continue to create.

So it’s up to me – to know that if I want to be a rocking old lady with an active and positive presence in my son’s life, I need to put the foundations in place now. If I don’t, one day I will wake up in that lounge chair full of regrets instead of being the rocking old lady I wanted to be.

I have to go back to basics. Again. And what better time to start then now?

Next time: Baby steps towards restarting.

 

 

Challenge 4: Activities 21-27

I think I missed a few days after Day 18 (Thursday) when I did three activities (18-20) and learned about the Edamame Threat.

Day 19: I was home with a sick boy, so the thing I had booked to do that day didn’t happen. I had to reschedule.

Day 20: That was Saturday. I can’t remember what I did on Saturday.

Activity 21: Approach someone I met once a few years ago and reintroduce myself.

This was an opportunity activity, because I hadn’t planned to do it, but the chance came up so I went with it. I was at an event and saw someone who I follow on Twitter and who I’d met several years ago, but I wasn’t totally sure it was her. I kept staring at her to try and figure it out, and felt really awkward. Finally she and I were in each other’s vicinity so I took a deep breath and said hi. Turns out it was her and we have a brief chat.

Fearometer: 5/10. I was pretty nervous.
How I felt before doing it: Nervous and that only built up the more I thought about doing it.
How I felt while I was doing it: Awkward at first, but we had common interests so it was fine.
Would I do it again: I have introduced myself to random Twitter people in the street if I’ve interacted with them a bit, so probably. Depends on the person.

Activity 22: Get an outstanding medical check
Won’t go into details here, but in 2013 I was asked to get medical clearance so that I could do something I’d wanted to do. It has taken me this long to make the appointment.

Fearometer: 2/10 I was only slightly worried that maybe there would be some issue that had cropped up that I wasn’t aware of
How I felt before doing it: Just wanted it to be over. Doctor was running late. I had 30 minutes to get through. (Lesson for #fixwhatbugsyou – the doctor will always be late, even if you call to ask whether they are on time and are told they are. Take a book. Write a blog post. Don’t waste time with the trashy waiting room magazines. They will rot your brain.)
How I felt while I was doing it: Fine once it became apparent there wasn’t anything to worry about.

Would I do it again: Yes

Activity 23: Have a Tarot reading
This has been something on my wanna do list for ages, but I never knew how to go about organising this or what to expect. I know a little bit about the Tarot but felt very awkward about having a reading because I’m not an expert and had no idea what I might find out.

On Twitter earlier in the week one of my friends said she had had a reading and that the person doing the readings, Jodi, was giving away 20 free readings (she still is – click the link to get in touch!) to help her make sure what she was doing all worked before she went into business. I felt a bit awkward asking someone I’d never interacted with before if I could be one of her guinea pigs, but she was happy to sign me up and, striking while the iron was hot- before I could chicken out –  I set it up for the next day and we connected over Skype.

It was amazing, and I’ll write a fuller post on this a bit later because it’s inspired an upcoming challenge. The thing that grabbed me was the insight into my situation that Jodi and I read into the cards – she calls it a ‘collaborative reading’ –  and it left me feeling like I was completely on the right track with what I was doing. There are so many things that are coming together about this situation right now, I feel like a little step I took about a month ago has started to build momentum. Ad it also manifested in an unexpected way a couple of days ago, which assures me I am doing the right things and is pushing me to keep going.

Fearometer: 6/10
How I felt before doing it: Nervous about what might come out of the reading. Scared about connecting to someone online I’d never interacted with before.
How I felt while I was doing it: More and more relaxed as time passed. Jodi was very easy to talk to and I was really grateful to have had this opportunity.
Would I do it again: Absolutely

Activity 24: Go to the accountant and get my tax done
Oh the dreaded tax time. I’m not sure what I was worried about. I keep good records and most of the information gets downloaded into the ATO site anyway, so it’s really no big deal. I mainly needed to go to the accountant to get some advice on the disposal of some assets. That sounds serious. It’s not. It ended up being under $50 on a section of the tax form I never knew existed. It’s all done now and I’m expecting my snappy $80 refund any day now.

I’m almost embarrassed to put this in as a year of fear activity.

Activity 25: Ask someone for something they have no obligation to give me or expectation that I might ask for

Fearometer: 4/10. I always get a bit nervous asking this person for something
How I felt before doing it: Nervous

How I felt while I was doing it: A bit more anxious as at first they didn’t know exactly what I was asking so I had to explain myself again
Would I do it again: Probably if my desire for a thing outweighs my nerves

Activity 26: Ask to exchange a product I bought that’s the wrong one
This is a silly thing to be anxious about doing, but I always dread having to go back to a shop and ask to exchange something. It’s not as bad if the product if faulty but if I’ve stuffed up and bought the wrong thing because I didn’t check what I needed first, I feel like a bit of an idiot.
Fearometer: 2/10
How I felt before doing it: Nervous that they would say no, you got it wrong, suck it up buttercup
How I felt while I was doing it: Fine once they said yes
Would I do it again: I guess so.

Activity 27: Secret squirrel!
Activity completed. I am annoyed to have been put into the situation that made this activity happen, but it’s done now.

Photo of the week. Me 10 years ago. Who needs a professional when you have a self-timer and a black velvet sheet to throw over the book case right? Seriously I wish I had had some lovely pregnancy shots done, but it didn’t occur to me at the time, and less than three weeks after this picture, boom, all over.

BW1 huge_retouched

 

 

Book 23/24: Changeling

You’re probably sick of hearing me say, “I didn’t know much about [author of the book of the moment] until I read the book”, so I’ll simply say Mike Oldfield’s story was nothing like I’d expected.

I remember when I was in Grade 7 one of the older kids at school talking about the experience of listening to Tubular Bells, and I’d built it up to be this amazing piece of music that would completely alter my mind. After that build up, I don’t remember when I first heard it, or even if I actually heard it before listening to Tubular Bells II, which was released in 1992. What I do remember is that around the time I was listening to Tubular Bells II, there was one of those end of the world rapture prophecies floating round. I hadn’t quite weaned myself off my grandmother’s religious views at this time, so I wasn’t too sure whether to believe this or not, but I clearly remember thinking if the world was going to end, that was the music I wanted to be listening to when it happened.

Also around this time I went to see the musical Hair (at the Theatre Royal), which I loved, and I had the cast recording on high rotation along with Tubular Bells II at that time. When I was reading the book I thought it was kind of cool that Mike Oldfield had been in the orchestra for the original production of Hair during its West End run in the early 1970s. Strange grooves.

And for with that rather long and rambling introduction, here’s my thoughts on the book.

It’s broken up into five groups of three chapters, and begins with an intense description of a rebirthing process Mr Oldfield went through in 1978 (the Exegis seminar), where he faces his demons and survives, an experience that he describes as resulting in “the huge blood-crazed demons that had been stalking [him] for the previous 20 years suddenly disappeared”.

Book 23 - Changeling

Most of the book is about his life from when he was born in 1953 to 1981; the final chapter covers the period from 1990 to 2006, and there are four short interludes written in 2006 and 2007 that cover his thoughts on Family, Spirituality, Fame and Rebirth. I liked the structure. It was hard not to feel the pain of the little boy who never fitted in, and whose family gradually fell apart as he grew up.

He writes of Christmas 1960:

My dad had made me a beautiful model of the Ark Royal aircraft carrier [he was into planes]. It was complete with little tiny planes, each on individually painted. I remember that Christmas like it’s locked in my brain because of that model. The fact that my father made it and hand-painted it himself really impressed itself on me. When I was later to write music, maybe that was part of why I wanted to pay great attention to detail, to make sure it was something really special. To be worthwhile, I knew it had to be really big, epic and important, not something to be thrown away. Perhaps those feelings go back to that wonderful Christmas present.

As a child, Mr Oldfield came to music as a release from his problems at school and at home. He writes of how he would listen to records and spend hours trying to work out how to play a certain piece: “It was like a switch went on in my head: I’d finally found something that I really liked and I really wanted to do. . . . I must have looked completely obsessive, but for me it was a way of escape.”

At the age of 12 he started playing regular gigs at the Reading Folk Club. His older sister Sally was playing in the clubs as well, with her friend Marianne Faithfull, and he says of the time that he he wasn’t really socialising, as most of the people he was around were older. He was using his guitar as a means of communication and escape from school, his mother’s mental illness and family problems. He writes:

I understood music like other people didn’t. I felt it and saw it very deeply, with crystal clarity. When I listened to a piece of music I could see all its components, its parts and how they fitted together. I didn’t just sit back and think, ‘oh that’s nice.’ If someone said something like that to me I would be furious with them, ‘What do you mean, can’t you see what’s going on? It’s brilliant!’ Music to me was something different, a vast kaleidoscope of magic and wonder. To this day my mind boggles at how superficially some people listen to music.

In music, he had found a way of coping with life. He writes that it was a sanctuary where he felt safe, it was something that he found interesting – and it was something that made him socially acceptable.

Mr Oldfield recalls his first music class at school after his family had moved from Reading to Harold Wood, where he had to conform to the rules. While he created beautiful harmonies, it wasn’t what the teacher had wanted, and he found the whole experience boring. However, he credits this teacher for introducing him to one of his favourite pieces of music, Sibellius’ fifth symphony, and he says that the beginnings of Tubular Bells started from him wondering how he could do something like that piece.

It was at this time that he was introduced to LSD and hash, and he explains that things wouldn’t have happened the same way without drugs:

That first experience might have flipped a few switches in my brain that led to the utter paranoia I experienced later, which left me feeling incapable of doing much at all for years and years. Through all of that came my life as it is, Tubular Bells and everything else. I wouldn’t put it all down to my drugs experiences but they made me who I am and made the music the way it was.

His experiences with drugs were relatively short-lived though. Following a horror trip in 1970 when he saw reality as it really was, which was the beginning of a decade of panic attacks, he says he’s never touched LSD again.

By this time he was waiting for his 15th birthday so he could leave school. In the meantime he recorded some demo tapes with his sister Sally, under the supervision of Mick Jagger. They ended up recording an album together under the name Sallyangie, but eventually Mr Oldfield felt as though he was in his sister’s shadow and he wanted to do his own thing.

The book continues to tell the story of Mr Oldfield’s first band, Kevin Ayers and the Whole World, which he joined at the age of 16. He notes that he felt like he was the young boy in a band of much older guys, and he didn’t think they took him seriously -they tolerated him, but he wanted to be as good as them. It was with Kevin Ayers that he first started drinking, which he says helped his guitar solo in the show become one of the wild points – like Angus Young of AC/DC (who actually doesn’t drink!).

After this band disbanded, Mr Oldfield continued working with Kevin Ayers and eventually ended up at Shipton Manor, owned by Richard Branson, having been given the chance to work on the album that would become Tubular Bells.

This was recorded over two periods in 1972 and 1973, and the book describes the huge amount of work he put into this album that became a monstrous hit – and how he signed a contract with Virgin that in the end committed him to 17 years and 13 albums with the label. On becoming famous, Mr Oldfield writes:

Eventually I realised that I couldn’t have any true friends any more, because I couldn’t trust why they were being friendly. . . . It’s horrible but I couldn’t see any way of avoiding the feelings of mistrust. To succeed in the music business you have to be very savvy and worldly wise. If anyone can rip you off they will, without a second’s thought. . .  The paradox is if you become strong and tough enough to deal with it, you could lose the sensitivity needed to create whatever it is, the music, the art.

Mr Oldfield goes on to describe the difficulty he had following up such a successful album (Hergest Ridge, the difficult second album), his increasing dependence on alcohol, and the release of his more successful third album Ommadawn in 1975. As the 1970s progressed the world of music was shifting to punk and Virgin, which was essentially a one-artist label, was feeling like a laughing stock, debating whether to drop the “progressive” label and focus on punk. Mr Oldfield writes that he wasn’t marketable at that time, and was constantly attacked in the music press. Consequently he lost his spark and music became a chore to him. It was around this time he attended the Exegis seminar, after which he felt like he was floating on a cloud. He decided he needed a new way of living and working – he writes that it was like starting a completely different life.

He writes of becoming a father, losing his fear of flying then learning to fly, and even going on tour, which he had refused to do in the past.

The final two chapters of the book cover 1981 to 2006. He writes of the settlement agreement with Virgin and another breakdown he had at the end of the Discovery tour in 1984, the break up of his relationship and the albums he made in a more commercial vein with actual songs on them (this was the Moonlight Shadow period). He writes that that last album he made that was full of songs was Earth Moving in 1989. His next album Amarok, was another instrumental album. Richard Branson had wanted him to call it Tubular Bells II but he refused. He said he wanted to do Tubular Bells II, but that wasn’t it. As a result, he says, Virgin didn’t promote it, and it didn’t sell well. He says this is a shame because it’s probably one of the best things he’s ever done.

It’s a single 60-minute piece, which was probably difficult to isolate a piece for radio or release from, and has been described as Mr Oldfield’s protest album against Virgin, and apparently includes Morse Code spelling out “FUCK OFF RB” about 48 minutes in.

Mr Oldfield finally did get to make Tubular Bells II, released in 1992 on his new label Warner. He describes working on it as a joy and that it, and therapy, helped him get through the break-up of his family, his second relationship break-up involving children.

The book ends with Mr Oldfield’s musings on “now”:

I’ve had to learn what I am and it’s not a musician, it’s something else. To me, a musician gets out his instrument and just plays or entertains. That’s not me at all: What I can do is transfer the essence of a feeling or emotion, express it in music. … I’m an interpreter, a sonic mood translator if you like. I can take the beautiful feelings you get in life, and the horrible ones as well, and I can turn them into aural sounds, give form to them in music . . .

From now on my music is not going to be cool, it’s not going to be hip or sexy. It’s going be hand-played and mathematical; it’s going to be as complicated as I feel it needs to be. I’m not going to care if anyone likes it or buys, it, which is exactly the way I felt when I was 19. . .  If I can somehow persuade people how to play again properly, to stop concentrating on how good they look on TV and really start to do interesting things with music, then I’ll try to do that.

I found Mr Oldfield’s story fascinating and knowing the stories has made me want to track down more of his work. I’m currently listening to Ommadawn, which I love and have on high rotation. I think I’ll figure out the Morse Code in Amarok next!

Post script: As I was putting this post together, I learned that Mr Oldfield’s father, Raymond Oldfield, passed away last week. In the book Mr Oldfield says that he has tremendous respect for his father, and that he’s learned how important it is to accept your parents the way they are. He learned in the Exegis seminar that “we look at our parents like gods” and that “if you don’t grow up and see them in their proper place, as proper human beings, you can carry on your whole life looking at them through the wrong perspective”. I think I know what he means there, and it’s a good lesson to learn.

Book 13/24: Mindset

I’ve skipped a few book posts because this one is important to me starting out my second #steppingonthecracks challenge next week.

I had never heard of the growth mindset until recently. A few weeks ago, I saw it mentioned in three unrelated things I was reading, which made me want to find out more. (Either it was the universe telling me something, or it was an example of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.) All three articles referred in particular to the work of Dr Carol Dweck. Dr Dweck is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, who has discovered how the power of our mindset can bring us success.

In the book Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, and her website, Dr Dweck distinguishes between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Book 13 - Mindset

Basically, people with a fixed mindset believe that things like intelligence and talent are fixed and that success comes from talent without putting in much (or any) effort. People with a growth mindset believe they can develop their basic abilities by working hard and that brains and talent are just the starting point. They believe that to achieve success they have to put in a lot of effort.

Dr Dweck observes that “this view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.”

She says that people with a growth mindset look at their mistakes, use feedback they get and alter the strategies they are using so that they improve their performance. Unlike people with a fixed mindset, they don’t feel “esteemed by innate talent”.

After explaining what the two mindsets are, the book outlines what the implications might be for people that have these mindsets. For example, it compares school children who are praised for being smart and for achieving good results because of their intelligence or talents, and those who are praised for effort, overcoming failure and learning new skills.

Dr Dweck notes that studies have shown that the kids who are praised for intelligence (for “being smart”) develop a fixed mindset and focus on continuing to display their intelligence and have a tendency to avoid challenging tasks so that they don’t fail. They tend to blame failure on “being stupid” or on factors outside their control (the teacher, the noisy classroom). This contrasts with the kids who are praised for effort develop a growth mindset, where they see making mistakes as opportunities for learning and growth, they relish the challenges of difficult tasks and they show a high level of resilience.

Dr Dweck provides several examples of people of each mindset type in sports, business, relationships and schools.

She writes of John McEnroe, who was exceptionally talented, and rose to the top because of this, but who was unable to take responsibility for his own failures and rather than learn and work on his game and try to do better next time, he’d throw a tantrum and blame someone or something else.

She compares  fixed mindset people like McEnroe with someone like Michael Jordan, who went from being cut from the high school varsity team to being one of the greatest basketballers in history – and he achieved this by getting over his disappointment rather than labelling himself as hopeless, working even harder than before, a trait which he continued throughout his career.

The book cites research that found that people in sports with the growth mindset:

  1. Found success in doing their best, in learning and improving. (In the fixed mindset success comes when you establish your own superiority – being worthier than the “nobodies”. For these people effort isn’t something to be proud of. Rather it means that you’re not talented enough.)
  2. Found setbacks to be motivating, informative, a wake-up call. (I interpret this as them being resilient.) (With a fixed mindset, setbacks label you.)
  3. Took charge of the processes that bring success and that maintain it. (I interpret this as them being proactive.) (People with the fixed mindset don’t take control, rather they look to their talent to carry them through. In instances where it doesn’t, it’s not their fault that they failed – they have to “protect themselves, lament and blame” rather than take responsibility for what happened.)

Dr Dweck provides similar examples of CEOs of companies, and how those with fixed mindsets put their own egos and a sense of being better than everyone else above everything, including ultimately the success of the company.

Some of the most compelling stories in the book are those about teachers tasked with teaching kids that many considered to be unteachable. These teachers instilled a growth mindset in children who had believed they were stupid and who had showed no interest in learning. The teachers refused to give up on students who were labelled as “dumb”, and didn’t believe that they had no influence on the ability of their students. One such teacher had his fifth graders reading Of Mice and Men and The Diary of Anne Frank, and his sixth graders passing algebra tests that would stump most eighth graders. Dr Dweck reports that this was “achieved in an atmosphere of affection and deep personal commitment to every student”.

I loved the story of the college student who had been late to maths class, seen some problems on the board and assumed they were the homework assignment. He found them challenging and they took him a few days of hard work to solve, but he finally did, only to find they had been previously unsolved equations!

Many of the examples, and the end results, Dr Dweck uses in the book are extreme, but I found the patterns of behaviour were easy for me to identify with, even if the results weren’t. I’m no John McEnroe or (Enron CEO) Ken Lay, but I recognised some of the elements of their mindsets outlined in the book.

On a level closer to home, I recognised myself in a lot of the statements that the kids with fixed mindsets made throughout the book, and some of the things those kids did when things got tough at school are pretty much what I did.

I also found the chapter on parenting especially enlightening in terms of the messages I might be sending by the type of praise I give and the things I praise Kramstable for. It’s something I’ve been paying a lot of attention to ever since I read this article on Dr Dweck’s website.

This book was a real eye opener for me, and I think it fits in perfectly with the theme of my #steepingonthecracks project – that I don’t have to be defined by my beliefs about what I can or can’t do.

But more of that in the next post. All I will say for now is that this book has made me change how I’m going to start my project. It has introduced me to one of the most powerful concepts I have ever heard of and made me determined not to be the person who has “She had potential” on their headstone.

Recommended.

Book 7/24: One Magic Square

I’ve had this book, One Magic Square: Grow your own food on one square metre by Lolo Houbein, on my bookshelf for several years. I bought it because the concept of being able to grow food by starting small, in a one metre by one metre square, appealed to me. I’m a victim of the big-thinking-but-not-acting-because-it’s-all-too-overwhelming mindset (not just in gardening, although my lack of a food garden is one of my more notable achievements in this sphere).

Book 7 - One Magic Square

I’ve had vegetable patches in the past, and in the years BK (Before Kramstable) I’d spend hours working in the garden. I had visions in those years that if I was to ever have a child, she (whom I’d named Angelica Rose) and I would carry on my passion, spending hours together growing our own food, talking and having a wonderful time.

However, in one of life’s great lessons, the reality of actual parenthood is rarely like the parenthood you imagined. Kramstable (as well as not being a girl called Angelica Rose – thankfully for him and me; I would never choose that name now!) hasn’t really showed much interest in my garden, so the dream never came to fruition. (We never did any of those crafty activities that all the parenting books and blogs led me to believe I’d be partaking in either, and Kramstable’s interest in his cars and train set was conspicuous in its absence. So it’s true. Your kid will never be the kid in the “250 Activities Your Toddler Will Love and You Can Do Without Spending a Cent” books, and that’s perfectly fine. He’s who he is, not a model child from a book.)

Back to the book.

I’d skimmed through it a couple of times and vaguely thought that the idea of a square metre plot seemed doable, even though my weekend free time was limited. But it never eventuated, and the book has sat on the Shelf Of Good Intentions since then.

After I read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, I knew I couldn’t ignore the need to get growing any longer. But where to start? Last year I started by throwing some old pea seeds into a pot, which took off pretty well only to be felled by a couple of hot days just as they’d started podding. I realised I already had the basic infrastructure in place: four raised garden beds that I’d dug into the hill a couple of years ago, with the view of a putting in place a rotating system supplemented by letting the chooks scratch up each one for three months, followed by three months rest.

Actually I think the plan was to have five beds, so one for each season and one resting. The other one is still unconstructed in the shed and I don’t have the energy to dig another square metre into the hill right now!

The book has four parts. The first part is what appealed to me most: 60 pages of magic square metre plots, from which you can choose one, suitable for the season, to start straight away. These include salad plots, stir-fry plots, pizza/pasta plots and soup plots, which contain complementary mixes of vegetables. There is also a mono-crop option, where you fill the square with one crop and once each is done, put in another seasonally-appropriate crop.

To get started, Ms Houbein suggests you go out to the garden, dig over a square metre and choose your first plot. Then go to the nursery, get the seeds or seedlings, a bag of blood and bone and a bag of soil to top up the bed.come home, prepare the bed, plant the seeds or seedlings according to the plan and water them in.

Apart from the actual digging over of the bed, it will only take you a few moments to become a food gardener.

While you’re waiting for your plants to grow, you can read the rest of the book to learn more about food gardening, how to grow the plants you’re interested in, and why growing your own food is so important.

Part two provides an overview promoting similar ideas that Ms Kingsolver wrote about: the industrialisation and globalisation of food, and the enormous havoc this plays on both our planet and our health.

“There is no cheap food,” writes Ms Houbein. “Consider the real cost of a cucumber in a plastic jacket, grown in a temperature-controlled poly tunnel, refrigerated, put in the jacket, transported a great distance, and displayed in an air-conditioned supermarket under burning lights. The cucumber you grew yourself has to be fresher, tastier and healthier than that.”

Indeed it does! And the third part of book tells you how to do that. It’s made up of about 20 short sections covering things you need to know about in your garden like watering, compost, mulch, weeds, saving seed and pruning. It’s all useful information when you need it rather than as a read through once like I did.

The final part of the book provides more detail on how to grow specific food plants.

Overall I found it a very thought-provoking and interesting book, though I did struggle with reading it through as a whole. Having said that, it’s not really the sort of book you’re supposed to read through once and forget about. You’re supposed to get out there and plant stuff!

And that’s the next step I have to take. Beds 1 and 2 are ready for their winter plantings. Today’s excuse is that it’s raining . . .

Week in review – 2-8 February 2015

Week Goals:

  1. 16,000 steps per day – achieved every day. Gold star for me!

What we did:

This week was almost back to normal. School went back on Wednesday, and you already know how I felt about that.

Juniordwarf was with Slabs on Monday and I went to work. It was my last long day, where I got in to work and left at around the same time as most of my colleagues.

Since going back to work from maternity leave I’ve worked full-time (for 5 months), part time (3 days a week with 2 days at home) and part time (reduced hours for 5 days a week). I’ve made this choice because I want to spend time with Juniordwarf. I don’t want to put him in afterschool care every day and I don’t want to impose on my mother too much.

I’m grateful that I’m able to make this choice and that I have the opportunity to hang out with Juniordwarf after school.

But (there’s always a but) – I’ve found the reduced hours-per-day model is a lot harder than the 3 days full time-per-week model. I find it very draining, and one of my goals for this year is to make it work better for me.

The 6-hour days, where I take a lunch break and leave work some time between 4.00 and 4.30, aren’t too bad. It’s almost a standard day. But the 5 hour days, where I have to leave at 2.30 are awkward. I feel like I’m walking out almost straight after lunch, just when everyone else is settled into their afternoon.

I’m sure they don’t think this, but I’ve convinced myself that they’re thinking that I’m a slacker and not committed to my job because I’m leaving so early.

Of course this isn’t the case. First, I’m only paid for part-time hours, so I’m doing exactly what I’m being paid to do. Second, spending the afternoon with Juniordwarf isn’t the same thing as taking the afternoon off to do stuff I want to do. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s tolerable, and sometimes it’s downright frustrating and I wish I was back at work.

Mostly I let him decide what we do. If I try and get him to do something I want to do that he’s not interested in, it usually ends badly. So, rather than stress about this, I’ve dedicated the two afternoons we have together as Juniordwarf time. He can choose what we do – mostly. Sometimes I have things that I absolutely have to do, but mostly it’s up to him.

As I said, sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s tolerable, and sometimes it’s frustrating and I can’t wait for Slabs to be ready to go home.

So no, it’s not an easy afternoon off. As several parents I know have said, spending time with a small child – while you’d never give that up – can be way more draining than the time you spend at work.

I could go on, but I think I’ll leave it there for now. There’s work to be done here!

Here’s another picture from the main street – this is the Shoe Mart, a longstanding establishment in the town, which is closing down soon. I love the signage. I hope it can be preserved.

The Shoe Mart

The Shoe Mart

The Wooden Boat festival is on in Hobart this weekend. Two Metre Tall has a stall there, so there’s no Farm Bar this weekend. Unfortunately I had to go out at lunch time on Friday. I’m not sure how I ended up here.

Ooops! How did this happen?

Ooops! How did this happen? It’s a Salty Sea Stout by the sea …

While I was enjoying my Salty Sea Stout, the Constitution Dock bridge was opened to let boats into the dock. I’ve never seen this before. My initial hopes that I’d be trapped in the boat festival’s Waterside Tavern indefinitely were dashed when I realised I could get back to work the long way round. Oh well.

Constitution Dock

Constitution Dock

I’ve been walking every morning in preparation for CARE Australia’s Walk in Her Shoes Challenge. On weekends I’ve been doing 90 minute walks that include the track around the river. The forecast for Saturday was 34 degrees (it actually got to 35 degrees). You’d never have known that in the morning.

Misty start to the morning

Misty start to the morning

We got two new chooks on new year’s eve. Today we got our first egg. This one is compared to the old chook’s egg.

Little egg

Little egg

Today we took Juniordwarf to MONA. Slabs and I had been in 2013 (it was one of my 100 things to do that year – and one of the few I actually ticked off).

We’d told Juniordwarf about it and, as you’d expect, he was fascinated by the idea of the ‘poo machine’. Slabs and I had seen it get fed the day we went, but didn’t stick around for the other end of the process. So today we finally got to see it. Juniordwarf said it was gross, or to use the terminology of the day, courtesy of Coraline, ‘gross-sgusting’.

We had an interesting afternoon and we think Juniordwarf enjoyed himself.

IMG_7689

IMG_7694

Snake!

Snake!

Yes it's the poo machine

Yes it’s the poo machine

Fat car

Fat car

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Next week’s goals:

  1. 16,000 steps per day – I don’t want to peak too early.
  2. Go to bed before 11.30pm.