Ode to George

/21 August

A friend had to go overseas for a month for work. He asked if his dog, George, could stay with us while they were away. George is an English Bulldog. I had met George and he seemed very nice. I was happy to have George come to stay. P (mad dog lover) was “stoked”.

So George is here. I had totally forgotten. I’d forgotten how you fall in love with them. I LOVE GEORGE. Now I remember other dogs I have loved.

Jasper the beagle. He was only with us for two days before his owners claimed him. His face at the end of the bed. Another night and he would have been up there.

Bundy the Samoyed. A rescue dog who came to us through a friend. He’d been with us for 5 days, and at his vet check-up he was diagnosed with heart worm. We handed over the $600 without a blink. We loved him. He was supposedly 10 when he came to us, but he lived for another 7 years, so that must have been wrong. That faithful fluff. I’m *crying* typing this. He died when I was pregnant with T.

I sort of thought that now that I had kids, I couldn’t fall in love with “mere animals” anymore. So wrong.

I’d met George. That whole bulldog look. He looked sort of grumpy – almost angry. He didn’t have a tail. He was hard to read. He seemed sedate enough.

He’s been here five days now. I feel like I know him. I talk to him all day: “You’re lovely, aren’t you??!! Oh yes, you’re great!!  What a special boy you are!!” He snorts and snuffles back at me. I pat him and cuddle him so much, I stopped washing my hands days ago. I just can’t wash my hands that much. I kiss that grumpy forehead. A lot. I am, what you might call, “attached”.

And he, bless him, is sort of attached back. He snoozes a lot. But if the pack leader moves rooms, he moves his snooze to the room they’re in. That (unfortunately) is normally P. But P has gone to the Isle of Man, leaving me as undisputed pack leader. George moves his snooze to the room I’m in.

For the first two days I think George was in a bit of a depression. But then he seemed to perk up a bit, and blew my mind by demonstrating an ability to run. Like a cannonball, after that soccer ball. He popped it of course, but that didn’t stop the games. He brings the deflated ball, the rubber bone, the tug of war rope thing and presses them up against your leg. IIIIII’MMMMM REEEEAADYYY!!

And… I play! Of course I can’t beat him. The only person who can actually play a proper game is P. But, most likely to the amusement of the neighbours who share our backyard here, I can pull on the end of the toy, and throw it when I get the chance, with an accompanying one-woman commentary of “Whose got the ball! Whose got the ball! I’ve got the ball! Good boy, Good boy! Oh you’re strong!”

I love how he is another person, that P and I can sort of just look at each other when he “does something” – just to share the joy of his existence. Just like we do with the kids. But with George we can also look at the kids when he “does something” – just to share the joy of his existence.

T: I like George. He doesn’t do much. But even just his face is fun.

J: I think George is my favourite dog in the world.

We’d already decided that we were going to get a dog when we got home. We have to give George back. Only because it is in George’s best interests, you understand. Otherwise you wouldn’t see us for dust.

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Dear Kids. I’m flying by the seat of my pants here.

/21 August

Knowing we were heading to Richmond, North Yorkshire for some weeks, I explored the local amenities online. Like manna from heaven, I found a summer school programme “A Play in a Week” for 10 – 14yos. Rehearsed and performed at the gorgeous Georgian theatre – the oldest working theatre in England. My 10yo loves acting. My enormous brain made the connection.

My 10yo’s didn’t. I invested a bit of time talking him into it. (Why? Because I thought he would enjoy it. Why do I think I know what he’ll enjoy more than he knows what he’ll enjoy?) We went on a tour of the theatre, and T agreed that he was up for it. Sort of.

Day One. P picked T up from the program and when I later opened the front door I was greeted by a twisted face of fury and a shout: “I HATE IT!! I’M NOT GOING BACK!!!” The wave of emotional intensity didn’t let me over the threshold.

“OK” I said. This was not a strategic response. It was more an automatic calming response to a wild animal. But it did serve to diffuse the intensity and I was able to enter the house.

Of course, I wasn’t really OK that T would just “not go back”.

Are we are family of quitters?? No!

Why am I so against people quitting things they don’t like? No idea.

My default worldview seems to be that life is hard and we should get “used to” doing things we don’t like. I’m quite baffled as to why I think like that, when that is not my experience of adult life, nor the experience really of anyone I know. In the main I know people who are actually pretty happy with their life. I mean, sure, they might like to do less paid work, but they make the informed choice to work to pay for other things they want. Adults are consistently picking the “least worst” option from the smorgasbord of life choices presented. But (I guess) my parental role is to somehow present a more balanced view of what the choices really are… facilitate the “informed choice” so to speak. (Just stop me if I ever start waxing lyrical about how some school assignment is the passport to a dream job. I mean really… just stop me.)

So (interestingly) P & I have this shared value that you don’t quit when things are hard. We have two different parenting approaches to it. P informs child that sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, and they’re going to do it. I talk with child endlessly to try to get them to conclude for themselves that the “right thing to do” is to keep trying. Talk about a pair of retro enforcers. Sigh. Child emancipation R not Us.

So I had about 7 hours of parenting time left before T was due back at the program the following day. There were two problems. One, he was bored stiff as he only had four lines in the play, so was spending hours “waiting”. Two, he’d been “shamed” by another child.

Resultant discussion about dealing with “difficult people”. I love that euphemism. T was hopeful that I could provide him with a knife with which to stab this person. Funny. When I was kid I used to fantasise about stabbing “difficult people” too. So far I haven’t, so I’m hopeful that T won’t either. In the absence of a knife, T wanted the foulest rudest names that he could use to call this person. Again, I was not particularly forthcoming, though I was encouraged that we were going to “use words” to deal with the issue. Wanting to arm my tweeny child with some kind of defence against potential shaming remarks, this was my suggestion. When perpetrator says something like that to you, you could say: “Whatever.” Then turn away and talk to someone else.

OMG. Is that the best I can come up with? I feel so inadequate. Not only do I not want T to say that to me, but that strategy has a limited life span. But coaching my child through some kind of “discussion” with said perpetrator around “I don’t like it when you say that to me”, when I can’t equally coach the perpetrator on their lines seemed… futile. Maybe I underestimate 10yos. I don’t know very many. Anyway. Next time.

My other parenting gems seemed to come straight off the set of Oprah. I’m Oprah-ised, and I’ve never even watched that bloody show.

Attempting to provide backbone:

“It will be hard. But I believe you’re a person who can do hard things.” (inward wince… hope P isn’t listening.)

On why T has to tell the people he’s not returning, rather than employing me as his messenger:

“Because it’s your decision. You have to own the decision.” (double inward wince… hope P doesn’t laugh out loud… luckily he is content with an ironical eyebrow.)

Etcetera. Like I was suckled on Oprah’s teat.

Day Two: We had developed a strategy. T agreed to attend until lunchtime the following day, and we would pretend that he had forgotten his lunch, in order for me to come and see how he was going, on the pretext of delivering his lunch. Almost at the door he stalled out. No he wasn’t going. Ok, let’s go and tell them… then at the door, a gruff “I’ll stay until lunch.”

Then lunch delivery to my happy child.

At the end of Day Two, when I couldn’t help but enquire as to how things had gone with that “difficult person”, he disclosed that he now realised that their criticism was justified and he was following their advice ?! Really? Wow.

We are currently Day Four and he is filled with enthusiasm for the whole thing. I am one happy, baffled mama. Performance night tomorrow night. Wine, anyone?

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Domestic Dalliance

/15 Aug

While in Croatia, P & I cooperated in sweeping the floor. P commented that we had our retirement banter all ready.  “How do these floors get so dirty?  Heh. Heh.”  Another recent conversation to arrive at a shared understanding of who exactly had hung out the washing. (Both of us, we deduced).

Hmmmm. Should I slash my wrists now…. or later? I should really check with P.

It goes without saying that P is fully operational in the home environment. I don’t like the way he does things, but I learnt early to shut up – and I learnt late to appreciate that he does do things differently. Would I really want to have sex with a man who carefully folded T-shirts? Or wouldn’t sit down until the kitchen benches had been wiped? Or was snitty about the way I’d left the pegs? Of course I wouldn’t, and I wonder how I might be able to advise my sons on this conundrum: “Do housework. But do it in a manly way.” I don’t even understand it myself.

For the first 10 years of our relationship P pretty much ran the home, while I squandered valuable time at the office. For the most recent 10 years I was more on “home duties”. (One of my favourite marital memories is meeting some new people and in the inevitable “what do you do?” conversation I said I was a housewife. P actually sort of choked: “Really? You’re a really bad one!” That was so affirming honey.)

Now we’re together and we share “home duties”. And we’re still navigating this relationship. I’m lazy. P is all action. We have to – gasp – “talk about it”. I didn’t mind talking about it so much until it was brought to my attention that we’re a couple of old ducks.

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Looking Bad

While I am in the confessorial, I thought I would mention this. I’m vain. I try not to be. I try to live like beauty is all on the inside, but can chalk up another failure in this regard. I actually sort of care what I look like (gasp!) How un-PC is that?

Before leaving on this trip, I felt that I was doing OK with this particular genetic inheritance, given that I have ruled out injections and surgical interventions. I joined the slippery slope when I started dying my hair, but I have to draw the line somewhere, and it is oh-so-easy to draw the line at things that I can’t afford and frighten me.

A few years ago I bought a book by a woman, a Noo Yorrker, who scored a book deal writing about her experiences of stopping dying her hair and “going grey.” (Competition for My Year of Fuck All.) So I read that, and tried to overlook the fact that she had cheekbones that could cut glass, and could possibly have found work as a hair model. Within 12 months I had had my first dye job. I left some of the grey in, as a nod to my ageing skin, but mostly covered it up.

When we went to Spain I knew that one of my “immersion in the local community” activities would be attending the hair-dresser for a top up. But then I got nervous, and found myself an English-speaking hair-dresser. From Manchester. About 3 days after attending this event, I was completing a survey for an insurance company (see how the chapters are just writing themselves?) and had to describe a recent positive customer service experience. “That gorgeous hairdresser” I thought! I waxed lyrical about how he had listened to what I wanted, and then provided expert advice, had known when to chat, and when to be quiet, etc etc. About 7 days after this, my hair went to shit.

Good Process Does Not Equal Good Outcomes. Write it on the back of your hand, folks.

I let him talk me into a permanent colour, not semi-permanent. What was I THINKING??? He must have bleached the shit out of it, and I was left with an ever-growing skunk stripe down the top of my head, and the brassiest, driest ends in history. On our first return to the UK – while we were on P’s whistle-stop tour – I could only gaze wistfully at salons as we drove quickly past. Then, I was too nervous for the Croatian salons. So, after sporting this “look” for almost 10 weeks, it would be fair to say that, on return to the UK, I was gagging to get myself into that salon seat and have someone try to “fix it”. And all the salons here in town are closed on Mondays. I couldn’t even make an appointment.

Oh My God. And have I mentioned yet that I have turned into a butterball? A butterball with a skunk stripe. Glamorous international travel it is not.

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Land of the Dominatrix

So here in Croatia, I have confirmed my love affair with Eastern European women. They are so Alpha, I automatically prostrate myself at their feet.

I don’t know if they talk amongst themselves like this, but when the words go through that translation filter, everything comes out in the English imperative. Come here at 6.20! You wait! Your tickets! You come back here if you want melon! You need a bag!

I hurry to obey.

I swear the men don’t talk like this.

The tourist season is relentless for three months, and they have no time for the twits who have turned up. They open your wallet and quickly count out your kunas and lupas. Not to rip you off, but just to get you bloody moving. There’s a queue – can’t you see??

In Split we decided to do the free walking tour. I’d seen it in progress with a young man in charge – fascinating stories of Roman times. Sounded amazing. When we turned up, our tour was being run by a lady that I can only describe as a Miss Universe contestant. P’s eye brightened. Maybe the tour was going to be OK after all. Once the second hand hit the 6.30pm departure time, we were off. Miss Universe took us in hand to the first stopping point. A chainsaw in the background did not elicit a flinch, as she delivered her information. “You can hear me OK!?” “Yes, ma’am! We don’t need it repeated, ma’am!” Off to the next stop. Where it was revealed that her story-telling ability was perhaps less than that of the young man I had spied the previous day. She provided an overview, and then asked “Questions?! Do you have any questions?!” Foot shuffling. “Give me questions! I need questions!” T stepped into the breach. That elicited a smile. For the 20 adults, she had the hairy eye-ball. Her whole demeanour radiated her feelings for us: I pity you.

At one stop, we were not allowed to enter the site, as the Prime Minister was arriving for a function and the area was roped off with a security guard. She steamed. The security guard quailed. I actually thought he was going to let us pass, but then his backbone snapped straight with the arrival of a colleague. Her high-heeled clicks said it all. At one point P tried to help by telling her that a laneway was closed off. She turned from him in disdain. “We don’t go that way.”

Her rare smiles were like precious jewels. We wanted more. We gathered close. We wanted her to love us.

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PS(1) Compassion Tourism

This snippet sort of fits with the previous post, but not enough for my own liking. So I am baking it in its own cupcake here.

Here I am in Europe, spending the money my Dad left me, in a way in which he would have thoroughly approved. (Well that glib phrase doesn’t really capture it… Dad would have been astonished that he left anyone any money. He would have been astonished that anyone had a use for the money. In the last 15 years of his life, he was sort of post-money.) And I feel guilty. I should have given the money to the poor.

So when our trip plans fell over and we had to come up with new plans, I was struck with inspiration. We should go and volunteer at that Mother Theresa outfit in Calcutta! I got the information and told P all about it. He looked at me like I had run mad. Not only did he not want to spend his long service leave doing that, but he thought I would be bad at it. OK OK, I thought. Not lepers. Something else. I went looking. And unearthed a whole new world of “compassion tourism”.

Of course I’d come across this idea before. Church groups raising funds so they can go and visit poor people and… look? Just send the money for crying out loud!

As an aside, I realise this I might have been in at the beginning of this idea. About 25 years ago I attended the inaugural meeting of the South Africa – Western Australia Friendship and Solidarity Alliance for the Re-Building of South Africa. Or something like that. How did I even find out about it? I didn’t know anyone there. But I could help! (I am nothing if not hubristic.) The meeting was chaired by a true activist. Her short hair, her slightly rastafarian-themed clothes, her extravagant arm gestures. Here was someone I could learn from. The first order of business was fund-raising, so that Rasta-woman and her side-kick could go to South Africa and conduct a “Needs Assessment”. They would then return with the information so we could appropriately direct our resources and energy. “Yes!” I said. “Or, instead, maybe we could use the money to fly community leaders here so that they could meet with us, and people in their field and get ideas!” Deathly silence. I didn’t go to any more meetings.

Anyway. I didn’t realise this had become a boom industry. Of course (Thank God) there is acknowledgement of “serious ethical concerns”. It seems orphanages have been established solely to cater to this “tourism market”, with all the resultant attachment issues, and now other groups are trying to clean up that mess. Other sites strongly discourage you from doing any work at all that might be equally done by a local person, as you screw the local labour market with your free labour, in order to ease your own guilt, or raise your own awareness… or something.

OK. So compassionate action can have unintended consequences which further entrench disadvantage for the people you thought you were helping. I know this. This is the subject of Post-Script 2. (Currently unwritten.) I did move on to animals and environmental projects. Looking for volunteer work where we could be assured we were not inadvertently screwing with people’s lives. There are some amazing scientific projects you can get involved in, but at large cost, as they are – at least in part – funding these projects and acquiring unpaid workers at the same time.  A really quite brilliant strategy. Not for us though. We can’t afford to participate, and our kids were too young for many of them anyway.

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Yesterday

So yesterday was useful. I know I said I wouldn’t publicly disembowel myself, but bear with me – this is only partial. Some other poor sod might find this useful, and I feel some sense of responsibility to provide “follow-up”. (You’ll appreciate this sentence more shortly.)

P (husband of 20 years): So… I didn’t know you were so dark. [Face sort of contorts]

J: Didn’t you? [laughs; cue Psycho music] I’m not really, it was just that moment.

P: What is it exactly that you’re so pissed about?

J: waffles.

There’s a lot of things I can get angry about. But really, it’s so obvious. The main “bad, smug, wrong-headed, apathetic, fucked-up thing” that pisses me off, is me. There’s a lot of things in this world that need sorting, and lil-ol-me should be getting on and fucking sorting them. I should be “making more of a contribution”. Since starting this trip I have envisaged a multitude of potential ways in which I could contribute more to the community. A Surf Lifesaver. An Aged-Care volunteer. A Foster Parent. A Sea-bird Rescue volunteer. A Prison Visitor. I’m not joking. These are just the things I can remember off the top of my head. In a frenzy, I can plan a schedule that encompasses all these activities, plus vastly improved participation in social justice activism.

I’m not doing enough. Interestingly, I don’t look at anybody else’s life and form some judgement on their “social contribution”. I just judge my own life. Everything is potentially in my ambit of responsibility. I’m “overly-responsible”. It’s my official diagnosis. Daughter of divorce, etc, etc, etc.

So over the months I have discussed all the above options with P. He has not really been in favour of any of them. I can see his point. For everything I potentially sign up for, he’s left carrying the can. I’m less available on the home front, and while I get the inner glow of “doing something”, he gets more housework. In particular, he drew the line at Sea-bird Rescue. He doesn’t want birds shitting in the shed.

But, as I am always astonished to discover, he is my best counsellor and support. Over the course of the day we might have come up with an idea. Something small. Something contained. Some small thing I might be able to do.

So there you go. Not so dark. In fact, one of those irritating recurring themes previously mentioned.

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