Category Archives: Relationships

Mom’s Words of Wisdom to a Grown Up Child

A few pearls of wisdom from a mom watching her son move out and far away…

walkingaway

  1. Take care of your body. Eat vegetables. Use sunscreen. Drive defensively. Drink moderately. In other words, please take good care of this person that I have protected for the past 20 years!
  2. Take care of your brain. Eat vegetables. Read books. Keep learning. Drink moderately. In other words, please take good care of this person you have created for the past 20 years!
  3. Don’t let anyone change who you are.
  4. Life is long. You don’t have to get everything done right away, or accomplish everything quickly. What goes around comes around -eventually, the good guys win and the bad guys learn – it just takes time and patience.
  5. Life is short. Don’t waste your time on people or things that drag you down, that hurt you, that stop you from being happy.
  6. Don’t let anyone make up your mind. You don’t have to think like everyone else. The world’s greatest minds have often been independant thinkers with their own ideas, who didn’t allow themselves to be drawn in to a way of thinking just because it was popular. Be careful of small minded people.
  7. The world is huge. Many people have not had the chance to see the world like you, to experience 4 cultures, live on 2 continents, to be immersed in 4 languages, and to travel extensively. It is possible you will encounter people who live in their small corner of the world and think they know everything. They don’t. You don’t.
  8. The world is small. The theory states all people in the world are linked by 6 degrees of separation only. No matter how far you travel, you will never really be away from home, because you are always home.
  9. Avoid intolerant people. It is always easier to judge an entire group than to try to understand. Very few arguments can be won against someone who has made up their mind to be racist, sexist, homophobic or generally prejudiced. You cannot convince someone with words. But you can win by keeping your own heart and mind open and not letting generalizations influence how you see others.
  10. Choose love. This sounds silly but it’s the truth. If you can’t decide betwen two options, choose whatever is kinder, more tolerant, nicer, more fun, or will lead to more happiness.

How to help someone who is grieving, in 5 easy steps, from an Absolute Expert on the Subject

I know I haven’t written a lot recently. I’ve been doing so much for Zoé4life, I haven’t had time. We’re working non stop to fund research. And we’ve also put in place a system by which families can apply to us for financial support through the social workers who are at the hospital. The first time a request for help came through Natalie and I both jumped for joy and simultaneously felt like crying. It felt so good to be able to help other people who are actually in the cancer-fight, a battle we are both all too familiar with. But we also acutely remembered the pain and shock of a family hearing the words “your child has cancer”, and knew how limited our help really was.

Still, it felt good to do something.

Because sometimes, there is nothing you can do. And the powerlessness can be overwhelming.

Like when your close friend’s daughter dies.

What do you do? How do help with this?

Some people have actually asked me for advice on what they can do to support Natalie and Zoé’s family, or other friends who are grieving, deal with their loss. They are afraid to say the wrong thing, so they say nothing and assume I have some kind of magic technique.

So here goes. My list of Expert Advice. This is of course based on Actual Scientific Evidence. You will note that any time I capitalize words I am being ironic. Except at the beginning of sentences, and then I am being a Literacy Expert.

My rambling thoughts on the Obvious Clear Path to helping a person through intense grief.

Step 1. Make sure you talk a lot about the child, share memories and photos. Uh, no actually bad idea. Showing them photos you happen to have of their child is just going to make them sad. Revise that:

Step 1. Never, ever talk about the child, make sure you avoid all subjects that could bring up a memory, including: school, vacations, Christmas, any holiday, any other child in the world, any illness, toys, bedrooms, car seats, clothing, hair cuts, movies, tv shows, books, food, travel, any other person, kitchen tables, animals of any kind, toilets, grass, trees, clouds, stars, and the beach. In fact the only safe subject is the weather and then only if it’s raining. Hmm no I think Zoé thought rain was fun. Dammit, there is no safe subject.

So, avoiding the subject is useless and wrong. In fact the person wants to talk about their child. They need to talk about her. Not talking about their child would be like pretending they hadn’t existed, which would be the worst torture.

So Step 1. Make sure you talk about the child and make sure you don’t talk about the child. Good luck with that.

Step 2. When your friend is sad, cheer them up by reminding them of how great it was that their child existed, even if for too short a time. Uh, no. Wrong. That would be denying the fact that they have every right and reason to be sad.

Revised Step 2. When your friend is sad, distract them with talk of other subjects to get their mind off the child. Be careful to avoid all subjects from Step 1.
Ok that’s all wrong. Getting their mind off their child is an impossibility, it would be like telling someone to hold their breath and not think about breathing.

So, Step 2, Feel free to talk about and remind them of the wonderfulness of their child and accept their sad thoughts that are the result of the wonderfulness of their child.

Step 3. If they need to talk about the sad parts, the horrible parts, the injustice, the anger, the pain, encourage them to open up and share these feelings and acknowledge the unfairness.

But wait, are you not therefore encouraging them to stay in a negative place?

Revised Step 3. If they want to talk about all the bad stuff, remind them of the good times, and say things like, “Your child would want you to be happy”.

Nope, that’s not right. The fact is, everything about the situation sucks. They should be mad, sad, and resentful. I’m mad, sad and resentful.

Step 3. The horrible parts happened. There’s no way around it and there’s no distraction.

Step 4. If they have a happy day, a good day, are laughing or behaving otherwise normal, remind them that they are grieving and that their behavior is odd and probably they are crazy from grief and don’t really know how they feel.

Oh wow if I actually did that I would not live to see the sun set. 😉

Step 4. Ha! If they are happy, that means the grieving is over! We can all get back to normal now.

Uh nope. That’s just not how it works.

Step 4. Happy is happy. Every moment when the person is not feeling crushing pain is a gift. Don’t question it. Embrace it and enjoy it with them. And when it’s gone, trust that it will probably come back later. There is no normal way to grieve.

I guess it turns out there is no proper way to support a person through this incredible grief.

There’s no subject to talk about to take away the pain.

There’s no distraction.

There’s no going back to the way it was before.

There’s no normal.

And I am far, far, far from an Absolute Expert on the Subject. All I can say about that title is that when Natalie read it she might have laughed. Which is at least something.

So here is my ultimate Step 5.

Step 5: Just show up.

Show up scared, and angry, and sad, or worried, confused and desperate, or anxious, overwhelmed and frustrated. Show up happy and at peace, ready to have a wave of anger blow past you if it’s that kind of day. Show up serious and sad, only to be laughed at. Enjoy the gratitude and appreciation for your presence one moment but expect to be forgotten or ignored another time. It’s ok. There are no rules, just as there are no steps that show a clear path to take through a grieving process. There’s no perfect right thing to say, and there’s no reaction that means you did the right or wrong thing. It’s not about you.

Just.
Show.
Up.

 

New Year’s Resolutions

Conversation With My Husband…

 

We are sitting in the breakfast room of our hotel in Copenhagen on the morning of December 23rd.  We leave later today for Næstved to spend Christmas with Martin’s family and head home and back to work next Monday. No plans for New Year’s eve since Martin works in the evening till 11:20pm on the 31st and I work at 5:50am on the 1st.

Which makes me start to think about new year’s resolutions. Since I am a list-maker, the resolution idea is an list-making opportunity that can’t be skipped.

“Hey!” I say suddenly, waking all of us up from our dazed slow motion breakfast, “Do you have a new year’s resolution?”

Martin looks appropriately dismayed. He probably had harboured the secret hope that I would somehow forget about the concept and we could quietly pass from one year to the next without anyone proposing he reform anything about his already perfect-in-his-mind life.

Hoping to change the subject by using nonsense talk (a technique he uses frequently), he replies: “Yep. Eat less fish.”

I stare at him. He stares back. Elliot watches us and opens his mouth to comment (most likely something about the fact that his dad hardly ever eats fish). Before he can, I say: “Ok, that sounds good.”

“You think?” Martin looks slightly surprised and vaguely worried.

“Sure. Eat less, and fish.”

“Huh?”

“There was a comma in that sentence, I’m sure. So you’ve decided to eat less, and to take up fishing. I think that’s a great idea. We can go fishing with my dad next summer. I love fishing. In fact, that’s brilliant.”

Martin is staring at me with an unchanging expression, nothing in his demeanor betraying the rapidly evolving thoughts racing through his mind as he stares unblinking at me, but inside I am sure he is thinking: oh crap is she actually serious or just joking there is no way I’m going fishing even though I have never actually tried it I already know that I’m not going to like it and I’m not going to eat less nobody is going to tell me how to live my life although she’s probably right I need to eat healthier so ok I’ll give it a try but the fishing thing is out I’m putting my foot down on that one well except if there’s beer involved I could sit out in the sun holding a fishing rod if I have a cold beer at hand so ok I’m into the eat less and fish idea dammit why is she always right.

He decides to change the subject because he is not someone who can admit defeat but I know innately that I have won this battle.

“More coffee?”

Ah, true love. It’s great, isn’t it?

🙂

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family conversations

Amazing Family Dinner-Time Conversations

7:00 p.m.

Dinner table.

Elliot, age 8, on my left. Daniel, age 19, on my right. Martin, AKA Hubby, across from me.

Supper tonight was a family favorite: steaks smothered in tomato and olive sauce served with pasta.
After supper, we stay sitting around the table and chat for a while. Which is nice, right? Nice, normal family, chatting about nice, normal things.

Elliot is eating a clementine. He picks up each piece and picks away at it until it comes apart, using his teeth to open it up and eat only the inside then discards the leftover skin on his napkin.

Martin says to Elliot, “Stop doing that.”

Elliot picks up the next piece and does the exact same thing.

Martin, “Stop doing that to your clementine.”

Elliot replies, “What?”

I say to Daniel, “So, have you given any thought to what you are going to do after you finish school in a few months?”

Daniel replies, “What?”

Martin, “Eat normally.”

Me, “Like, do you think you should already be looking for a job?”

Daniel, “Now?”

Elliot, “I am eating normally.”

Me, “Yes, now.”

Martin, “Stop tearing your clementine apart before eating it.”

Elliot, “But I have to.”

Daniel, “But I can’t.”

Me, “Why not? Either that, or apply for some training positions that start after summer.”

Martin, “No you don’t have to, just put the piece right into your mouth and chew.”

Daniel, “I don’t have any time.”

Elliot, “I can’t eat the white part.”

Martin, “Why not?”

Me, “Why not?”

Daniel, “I don’t have any spare time these days.”

Elliot, “It tastes bad.”

Martin, “No it doesn’t.”

Me, “Yes you do.”

Elliot, “Yes it does!”

Daniel, “No I don’t!”

Me, “Sigh.”

Martin, “Sigh.”

Silence.

Martin turns his head to the left and says to Daniel, “You sleep in till noon every day on the weekend. You stay out late on Friday and Saturday night. You do have free time during which you could work.”

Me, to Elliot, “Why don’t you just try a piece without tearing it apart?”

Daniel, defensively, “I need some time to relax! I have such a full schedule already I hardly have enough time to do everything!”

Elliot, defensively, “I did try it and I know I won’t like it! If I try it again I’ll probably puke!”

Silence.

Martin and I stare at each other.

Martin says to me, “So how was your day?”

Me, “Good! I had a really nice…”

Interrupted by Elliot who loudly spits out a clementine seed which bounces off the table and onto the floor.

Elliot, with an innocent but slightly worried smile, “Oops…”

Daniel is laughing.

Elliot starts laughing because Daniel is laughing.

Martin is sighing again and rubbing his forehead with his hand in that defeated way, and I’m just grateful the seed missed the pot of leftovers that I’m planning on saving.

Tell me your family dinner conversations are similar?

Conversation with my husband

He is sitting at the kitchen table hunched over his laptop computer, in a position that makes me want to tell him to sit up straight.

I am on the couch, sitting cross-legged, laptop on my lap, possibly in a similarly posture-wrecking position. I’ve been writing on and off for the last while, browsing the internet, facebook, my emails, and texting with my friends. I’m supposed to be actually writing but have yet to be inspired. Martin has been working on creating a computer program all morning.

Finally, I have an inspiration! I start to write about a recent girl’s trip to Paris. It’s good, it’s funny, and I’m into it.

Martin suddenly sits up straight and says, “Arrrrgggggg!!!! This is SO frustrating!”

I stop suddenly, mid-sentence, “What is?”

“This stupid program isn’t working! I’ve been working on it all morning and I can’t get past this next step!”

Me, innocently enough, “Oh why not?”

And this is where the lines of communication get blurred.

His response or at least, the way my non-computer lingo savvy brain hears it, minus the missing parts that my brain cannot register, “I have to use a program that allows me to blank blank blank in order to blank blank blank but every time I try to blank it blank blanks!”

Me, supportive, “Oh that’s frustrating! Have you looked it up online to see if anyone else has had this problem?”

“Yes!” he is exasperated but not at me (I think), “but all I find is that blank blank when you blank blank and then blank and blank and also blank blankitty blank. And I don’t want to blank! I just want blank! Why is that not possible? I mean, it’s not like this is blank!!!”

I am making sure I continue to keep eye contact with him during this, which is extremely difficult, because I achingly want to finish the sentence I was writing before I forget it. My head is turned sideways away from my laptop and I can feel the heat from the screen on the right side of my face, calling me like the mermaids of the Odyssey.

“Hmmm,” I say, “that’s really annoying. But what else could it be?”

“I don’t know!!! I think it’s blank but I tried to blank and it just blanks!”

The right side of my face is actually burning. But he’s really upset about this, and it’s moments like these when you need to support your husband and show him you care. Also, I am hoping he’ll offer to put gas in my car for me so… Must stay in the good books.

“Ahhh, ” I say. I’m really searching for appropriate responses. Starting to feel a bit panicky actually. “Well that sucks.” It’s the only thing I can come up with, but I seem to have hit the nail on the head.
“I know!!! Well I think I’ll just blank and if that doesn’t work I’ll have to blank. But I really would rather not.”

Me, “Ok.”

Him, “Sigh…” (quite loudly and despondently).

A moment of silence while the right side of my face begins to sweat.

Finally:
“So what are you working on?”

“Oh!” I reply, excitedly, “I’m writing about the trip to Paris I took with Sylvie and Lisa! Remember I told you about the little boutique we went into and that sales clerk and how she had this very unusual way of figuring out what size we wore, by looking at our butts?”

“Oh yeah, that’s interesting.”

“It was hilarious! We were laughing our heads off!”

“Haha.” (His mouth twitches and his eyes dart back to his computer).

“But we all bought jeans anyway!”

“Oh good. So it was all good.”

He’s looking a bit hot.

“Well, I guess so.”

We stare at each other for a while.

Finally he clears his throat and says, “Well I guess I’ll keep working on it.”

We both dive back into our computer world.

I win.

Keeping the love alive.

Martin and I have recently gone through the 7 year itch phase. Oh don’t worry, nothing actually happened. We hardly got itchy at all. Barely a tickle.

We just kind of noticed that we had been together more than 7 years, in fact, in a few months we’ll be at the 9 year mark, which means we made it. Right?

I actually think there is something to this 7 year itch thing. It’s not that relationships all fail just then, but it’s certain that the honeymoon phase is over. You have kids, responsibilities… Well actually we had that even before our honeymoon so I’m not sure how that fits.

I think what really happens around the 7 or 8 year mark is you get comfortable. Doing anything extra is, well, extra. It takes work. And the person is there anyway, it’s not like you need to make an effort. Subconsciously, you start to feel that if they stuck around this long, they are probably not going anywhere. Besides, they have no time to go anywhere. Every minute of every day is already taken up with keeping the apartment clean, feeding the hungry masses of kids around here, controlling the crazy masses of kids around here, and entertaining the bored masses of kids around here. There is realistically no time to get itchy.

Tomorrow Martin leaves for a mini-vacation to Zurich to see a friend. This morning I quite lovingly said: “Hey, I’m going to miss you.” (Hey is our term of endearment for each other. You know, like others say dear or honey or babe? We say hey. It’s all really quite romantic over here.)

He replied: “It’s only 3 days”.

Now who here agrees that is the WRONG answer??

Theoretically, I should grump about this for several days. Or at least several hours. Or a few minutes, minimum. Oh who has the energy to grump, really. He’s right, it’s only three days, and in fact, the truth is, I’m TOTALLY looking forward to it. I’ll have the apartment all to myself! At least, during the six hours when Elliot and Daniel are gone to school and assuming Jesse is not home. I can do WHATEVER I want!!

I can go back to bed in the morning. I could eat ice cream for lunch. I could look at the laundry pile and not do it.  I could write without interruptions. I could put whatever music on I want!! I could even watch TV, in the MIDDLE of the day, by myself!!!! And it could be show with absolutely no violence or action of ANY kind!!! Oh my goodness I might just have to change the locks and not let anybody back in.

Ok so I guess I forgive him for saying it’s only three days (oh no! It’s only three days!?!??!)

Plus, he just got back from getting groceries and got me flowers. I know you are all saying “awwww” now and picturing my husband at the doorstep holding a bouquet of roses. In actual fact he came in carrying four heavily overloaded shopping bags and handed them to me, and in one, right there between the chicken wings and the jar of tomato sauce, is a bouquet of yellow and pink flowers.

So I guess we’ll be ok.

 

 

Our First Date

 

heart

Martin and I like to look back on our “first date” with fond memories. The funny thing is, when we started comparing how the date and the lead up to it went, we had quite different versions of the same story. So, here, in all its glory, is the story of our first date, and I’ll let you be the judge as to who probably has it right.

 

Nicole’s Version.

 

So there I was, a single mom, living in Switzerland, enjoying life and work and travel, when one of my friends at work decided it was time for me to start dating again. I thought it over. I hadn’t dated in uh… a little while. Life was good, who needs a man anyway? Ok, it would be nice to have someone to go out for supper with, watch movies with, someone kind and intelligent and willing to be in charge of bug squashing and remote control battery buying, two tasks that were sorely unmet in my home. So I decided she was right. I was Ready To Start Dating.

 

She took this on as a mission. I found folded newspaper pages in my locker at work, the classified “men seeking women” section, with big red circles around certain candidates, and notes written on the side like “this one sounds fun!” and “loves travel!”. I read them with interest, put them in my bag, and never looked at them again.

 

My friend did not relent. She started checking into some of the new guys at work, a whole batch of them had just arrived, having been transferred from Zurich. “Fresh meat!” she said, rubbing her hands together greedily (Ok she actually never said or did that, but I like to imagine it that way).

She came up with a candidate.

“Martin. He’s Swedish or Danish or something. One of those countries up there.”

I nodded.

“You don’t know who he is, do you.” She accused.

“Uh…  Is he, uh, tall with dark hair?” I was just guessing.

“They’re all tall with dark hair. Nicole. He’s got potential. He’s taller than YOU. “

I hesitated.

“He reads. He speaks, like, a lot of languages. He’s smart.”

I headed for the door. “My break is over, I’ll check him out” I said enthusiastically.

“He’s perfect!” she called after me.

 

So a few days later. I‘m at work, on a break (you’re starting to think we’re always on a break, but we do actually work too.)

 

I’m sitting at a shared computer area, at one of the many computers available for our use during breaks. I am aimlessly reading emails. Nothing new. I think over this Whole Dating Thing. I really should make more of an effort.

Then I notice him. It’s that guy my friend mentioned, sitting at a computer just across from me. Martin, right? He looks ok. Harmless. Hey, he has a book! Potential.

How do I ask him out? I actually am free tonight, Jesse and Daniel are in Canada at their dad’s for a week!

I get a bit nervous. Come on now, just strike up a conversation. Say something clever and funny.

Silence.

Ok say something deep and meaningful.

Silence.

I have re-read the same sentence on my computer 17 times.

Say anything. Seriously.

“Hey, have you seen that new movie, blah blah blah?” (The blah is because I now can’t remember which movie it was, since I was obviously just pretending I wanted to go see it.)

“Oh,” Martin replies, glancing up from his computer at me. “No. I want to, it should be pretty good.”

“ Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard too!” I say enthusiastically, clearly overjoyed at the possibility of soon seeing blah blah blah.

Silence. Martin goes back to looking at his computer.

I try again.

“Do you know where it’s playing?”

“Uh, nope” he says, and looks away again.

“Oh, that’s too bad.” Now madness takes hold of me. “Maybe I’ll look it up. I could go see it tonight after work. My kids are in Canada, so I’m pretty much free.”

“Hmmm” Martin says, obviously not interested.

“Yep, I’m free as the wind. Free as a bird. Free to do whatever I want. It’s great” I chuckle. (Inner voice: WhatintheworldamIsaying?).

“Huh.” Martin offers, and then stares at his computer again.

“Kind of don’t feel like going alone though.”  (Inner voice: DidIactuallyjust saythat??)

“Hmmmm.” Martin says, staring at a spot next to my head.

“Wonder if anyone else here is off work soon and feels like going too?” I look around the room vacantly, not seeing anything at all, my eyes blinded by my temporary insanity.

“Oh.” Martin looks around too. Then his eyes finally stop on me. “Would you like to go to the movie together?” He asks casually, like the thought just occurred to him.

“Hey, sure, why not?” I respond, acting spontaneous and cool and sophisticated and thrilled and casually interested and nonchalant and bedazzling.

The bedazzling is the best part, isn’t it?

So that’s how I remember it. Then we went out, first to a restaurant downtown, then started talking in real English, and never did see blah blah blah.

 

Martin’s Version.

New job posting in Geneva. Cool. Work is fun. Nice to meet new people.

Hey, there’s a girl who seems nice. Find out name. Nicole. Find out if single. Yes. Make mental note to ask her out when the opportunity arises.

Sitting at a computer on break. Reading about cool interesting gadget stuff. Make mental note to buy everything.

Thoughts interrupted by voice asking about the movie blah blah blah.

Oh, it’s that girl.

Mind goes blank.

Try to think of a way to ask her out.

Nothing.

She keeps talking.

Still trying to think of a way to ask her out.

Nothing.

She is still talking.

Maybe should just take a risk and just ask.

If she would just stop talking I could concentrate on how to say it.

Ok here goes.

“Would you like to go to the movie together?”

She smiles. Says a lot of things. Pretty sure it’s a yes.

She is quite bedazzling.

 

So there you have it, Version 1 or Version 2, who knows which is closer to the truth (well, mine obviously), but regardless, the date was a success since we are now happily married 7 years later, and have still never seen the movie blah blah blah.