When I woke up today, I realised with a sinking heart that it was Monday.  Now that really isn’t  so unusual you might say-get in line with the rest of the world, for goodness sake. The first hour didn’t improve matters: channelling my not so inner Klutz, I managed to drop chocolate powder all over the kitchen floor, spill some bleach, chase the dog around the garden, and swear enough times to ensure that the Stomberg Swear Box for charitable donations had had a fine start to the day.

Sitting down to concentrate on meaningful work eluded me, so after tackling chores with uncharacteristic vigour, I caught up with friends, which put me in a much better frame of mind, and I resolved that this was the day to edit that manuscript.  The hint of rain in the air reminded me that I should tend to the puppy/surrogate child, and whilst walking, we spied some of his mates, who were not being walked by their usual walker. The reason for this soon became clear.  Their owner, a neighbour, and the local butcher, had died in his sleep.  He was 46.  My age, and a family man.  Now this is not someone I knew well, but I know his wife, and his children, and this has served to give me a right kick up the bum.

I certainly do not intend this as a post to depress you, or perhaps even worse still, one of those posts that reads like a Hallmark card of false positivity.  I just feel compelled to sit back, reflect and realise that so many things, when examined closely, simply do not matter, whether that be the corporate rat race, dust bunnies under the bed, or that room I’ve been meaning to paint.

I have finished my walk, sat down at the screen, and am now resolved to edit that manuscript, with a giant cup of tea at my side.  Prosaic, even mundane, things have their pleasures.

 

I was going to start this post with the sentence,

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one really reads blogs’-you know, get an Austen reference in there, be semi, well very mildly controversial.  But then I thought it was rather prattish, so I shall start again.  When logging on, I was informed that I had been saved from 20 spam comments, which got me thinking, ‘Is that all?’.  Then I thought of the line, ‘Your communication style is spam-like’, and thought that I would save that for a rainy day, when trying to build a character in a story.

Of course, rather than save it for a story, it made me think of my own communication style, which is very probably spam like.  In my old world, I used to send and receive hundreds of e-mails a day, but on reflection I’m not sure how effective my communication style was, or indeed is.  With all the wonders of computers and social media, it has nver been easier to post a view, ‘sharing’ one’s witticisms or crassness with the flick of a button.  What did I do before I could post my views or write an e-mail?  Probably forgot about it and made a coffee instead. Guilty as charged m’lud.  Doing it now, but with the self awareness defence in play.

I was thinking back to the days when I wrote letters and post cards to my parents, extended family and friends.  At school, telephone calls were strictly rationed and the avid appetite of the phone box necessitated speedy chats.  However, effective communication was made and maintained.  An older friend of mine recently commented to me that before the advent of smartphones, it wasn’t so easy to cancel appointments at the last moment-if you said you were going to do something or be somewhere, you generally did or were, no wriggle room allowed.

When the kids go on school trips, there is generally a no mobile/smartphone policy and that parents are to consider that no news is good news. Constant, intrusive contact with the world you know gets in the way of a world waiting to be discovered.  And, emergencies aside, there is rarely anything that can’t wait for a few days.

And that is the end of this post, which may be read. Or not. But in the meantime, the kettle is going on.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of Wednesday Addams in ‘Addams Family Values’. There is the marvellous scene where Wednesday, the ultimate subversive, gives a hilarious and bloodthirsty version of the Pilgrim Fathers’ first Thanksgiving, not quite in keeping with the traditions of her more conventional camp mates.  This post is not about that, but it does remind me of when I learned about Thanksgiving, asking my poor father interminable questions, only silenced when my mother summoned me to help her with the cornbread stuffing.  I was 6 years old, and this was my first Thanksgiving in America.

I had started 1st grade earlier that autumn, and was still coming to terms with having chocolate milk out of a carton for lunch, and navigating the school district’s bus system (I once had to be retrieved a couple of stops down the line by my exasperated older brother; when asked why I had got on the wrong bus, I told him that just seemed to be the right thing to do).  The leaves changed, Disney’s Robin Hood came out at the cinema, and I was confronted with my first thespian endeavour, devised by my first grade teacher, Mrs Loffgren.  The first grade was to re-enact the first meal between the settlers and the Native Americans.  I believe I was a convincing ear of corn.

My parents had celebrated Thanksgiving before, but this was the first time I was going to be surrounded by members of my American family; Great Aunt Winifred, Uncle Jim, Cousin Barbara, and my Great Uncle’s aunt, Aunt Regina.  I remember getting glared at by my mother when I first met Aunt Regina and made the ultimate error of mispronouncing her name,

‘Aunt Vagina, can I get you a drink?’

I was saved by the fact that the nice old lady was deaf, and the older relatives (other than my mother) were out of earshot.

My mother, a German by birth, embraced cooking the Thanksgiving dinner with vigour.  The turkey was roasted, hams were baked, and she thought we would starve if we didn’t have at least 8 side dishes.  I had helped her bake pecan and pumpkin pies (well, I licked the bowl) and a couple of German desserts just in case there wasn’t enough.   As we sat down to that memorable feast, the snow settlng outside, and the chat wafting over me about traditions and loved ones no longer with us, I remember feeling content, with a deep sense of belonging.  And very, very full.

Parenthood falls into distinct phases: those little crying bundles, helpless and utterly reliant on you, the explosion of joy you feel when they first smile back at you; the tottering words and steps. which indicate an infant declaration of independence and then school.  School begins as a great adventure, and your child finds an outlet to establish themselves, whether it be creative, academic or sporty.  They make friends, form opinions, sporting and musical alleigances. Wise children continue to laugh at their parents’ jokes, and so it goes on, that symbiotic relationship that transcends the basic things, important as they are. I am so blessed that I have one of each, with their own special talents, foibles and methods of communication.  With my son, perfect communion is unspoken, sharing a moment at a concert or foorball match, all emotion at bay, except when I quietly receive a newly bought packet of sweets on my lap.    With my daughter, it’s all words words and more words, often spoken with the wisdom of ages.  Suddenly, they are taking their steps into the adult world, looking back for reassurance but with a firm sense of purpose.  I suppose this could descend into a chrysalis analogy, but quite frankly that has been done to death.  I prefer music and chocolate.  As I reflect on what parenthood means to me and how proud I am of my kids, one can’t go far wrong with listening to Steve Cropper and eating chocolate buttons.

The kids figured out some time ago that I wasn’t perfect.  They even know that Dad isn’t perfect but he’s more likely to let them watch unsuitable television programmes.  I expect that there has been a wealth of material written on the thorny conundrum of how to bring up your kids to be independent, critical and robust, yet retain the qualities of empathy, thoughtfulness and most importantly, kindness, but I  haven’t read them.  Jane Austen always won out  Thus unencumbered, I venture my opinions.

An interesting tension exists between the wish to have your children feel free and unrepressed, and the importance attached to respect for the adults in their life, at home, family and friends, teachers and beyond.  Too often, a child that has been brought up to be ‘free spirited’ is the one who’s sitting behind you on a plane (they’re practising karate kicks) or they’re exercising their considerable vocal range while you’re trying to eat a Fiorentina in Pizza Express.  Perhaps it’s a whole new blog topic to discuss the importance of manners.  For the purpose of this post, it’s about how they relate to elders and as Cartman would put it ‘authorita’.

I admit that I am old fashioned, with a subversive edge perhaps.  I have primed my children to respect their teachers, almost to the point of becoming Victorian Mum. However, a few recent experiences have made me step back.  There was the PTA meeting  a couple of years ago where it was clear that the teacher had no idea of who my daughter was (interesting in a class of 16). More recently, I had an encounter with a teacher which provided Daniel with considerable amusement.  Apparently my voice became quiet and steely (he recognised that voice apparently) as I listened to this person try to alternately badger and then cajole me.  I was subjected to a masterclass in manipulation, one that a child would not be able to withstand.  I suddenly understood what my child had tried to tell me over a period of time, something I had glossed over as I had pointed out the importance of sticking things out, and showing respect.

What conclusions did I draw?  That respect has to be earned, and is not just a default setting.  As a child growing up, you realise at some point that your parents are not perfect, but in the vast majority of cases, you realise that they’re just people trying to do the best they can. It’s important to instil in your child the need to be critical, and  that they always feel that they have someone that they know will take action for them, until they reach an age that they can do it for themselves.  That’s not good manners, that’s learning the rules of engagement.

As a committed couch potato, I offer these musings on the nature of sport, identity and belonging. My father presented me with a choice of an Arsenal or a Chelsea mug when I was 4 years old, I chose the colour blue over the colour red, and the die was cast. I seem to remember that there was a rollicking good team song, and so the Stomberg household had to get used to me trilling ‘Blue is the colour’ at the most inopportune times, but that was the extent of my committed sports support for the next couple of decades. Being an internatonalist, or more accurately mongrel of several national backgrounds, I then supported Germany for football, Sweden for tennis and England for rugby, and that seemed entirely natural. It still does. In terms of participation, people who know me well, will not be surprised that rather than playing sport, I naturally segued into sports event management, running the sports day tea tent at a profit for the last 3 years of school. I had a few isolated memories of nationalist fervour, once demonstrated by locking Martina Apelman in the art cupboard for failing to congratulate Germany on winning the World Cup in 1974 (being Dutch, she just wasn’t very sporting about it all). Active sports support geared up in the 1990s when I realised that the 5 Nations was played in rather nice places such as Paris and Dublin, and I was delighted when Italy joined the fray. The biggest lesson I learned was to never, ever say ‘It’s just a game, what do you want for tea?’  My first proper memory of the Ryder Cup was the 1995 European triumph, forever grafted on my memory when we were driving up to North London for Jewish New Year, lstening to the radio, and Daniel alternately whooping or trying to converse non committally to our elderly car passenger who had no time for the fripperies of sport, but was very keen to share all their news, often at the most crucial time for a put. The Noughties arrived, and with them, children and more responsibility, and I decided that I would have to commit to supporting a national side, and other teams on a more consistent basis. That is still a work in progress, but I can honestly say that there is nothing better than being at a sports stadia, whatever the sport in question, and having your side win. Conversely, the lessons that your child learns (as well as the fruity language) about the nature of loss. One of my favourite memories over the last couple of years was my son asking me whether he could possibly say ‘f**k’ after a particularly painful missed opportunity at Stamford Bridge, and me knowing enough to just go with the flow. I don’t claim to have sorted out my national identity for sport, but I have learned about the happiness it gives others, the feeling of belonging when you support your team in adversity and triumph and the importance of experiencing those things, and not just read about them in the comfort of your own home. Perhaps that’s more important than getting worried about who to support: I love the fact that I have a choice, even if that can lead to split family loyalties, notably in May 2012. By the way, Bayern Munich is still my German football team.