about guilt… and shit

A colleague of mine told me at lunch that she thought I looked so zen about life in general that she thought she should adopt my attitude towards everything. Which sounded quite flattering, up to the point where she said she thought I was simply not thinking about certain problems (that she does/others do worry about) – which sounded as if my attitude was a bit silly and at best mildly irresponsible. But, in any case, if I did worry about the same things, then the zen was just a facade and her image of me was ruined 🙂 .

Luckily, I trust her and, generally, people around me, therefore I didn’t get sucked into any kind of spiral of suspicion about what kind of implied judgment her comments may have contained. I just realised how differently people can value things. Because balance, to my mind, is not made of ignoring any kind of stimulus that might throw you off balance. And therefore ignoring stimuli doesn’t bestow any value upon one’s state of balance. Balance is taking in all the stimuli, thinking about what makes them powerful and choosing, in an as informed as possible manner (insert ten-line disclaimer here), which ones you allow to change your behaviours and which ones you stop fretting about. (Because, as far as I am concerned, balance is about managing comfort, angst, guilt and perhaps other little runaround cousins of theirs.)

Some decisions are easy: apparently worrying that somebody else makes less of an effort than yourself in a commonly run process is really time and energy-consuming for many people – I hardly ever bother thinking about it, except maybe when I fold a mountain of laundry – again. I realise though that it’s a matter of trust in the process partners and that trust works like a market force (I’ll have to think about this in more detail at some point – apparently people write whole dissertations about this 🙂 ).

Worrying that you will get ill or that you should eat very healthy food so that you live longer is, again, something that doesn’t keep me on my toes. I’ll go with the mainstream in maintaining my body in functioning order, check everything regularly and take action when there are repairs to be done, just as I maintain the house, but, although I might feel guilty about things I eat for ecological reasons, I refuse to feel guilty about `feeding my body poison`. Foods will keep being processed, ingredients will change with the years, either I’ll get cancer or I won’t. But I’m not going to pay for the insurance daily and get it anyway, I don’t think it’s worth it.

Some decisions are hard: motherhood decisions are hard. Do I adopt an all-healthy diet for the kids? No. Am I irresponsible for not doing so? Do I cut the tv completely? No. Are they going to develop attention disorders from it? Do I teach them schooly stuff early? Not really. Aren’t they going to miss the headstart I had when I went to school reading fluently? Do I try to dam in the pink spree of my four-year old? No. Shouldn’t I stand at least a little bit more feministically in the matter? (all right, the last one is already discarded to the non-issues bin.) 

Also, womanhood decisions are sometimes hard. Do I work at how I look or do I try to accept myself, my age and my body as they are and be happy with that? Do I like who I have become or do I want to change as a person? Is this point in my life determined more by comfort or more by fulfilment (and then again, who says they can be told apart?)?

Political decisions are horribly hard. There is so much information to take in, so little time to deal with it before there’s more information, so many voices that should be listened to properly before dismissing, joining or splitting their message into usable and unusable bricks… Am I guilty for being partly an economic migrant? Do I have the right to protect myself by not reading the garbage or should I know it all in detail?

All these decisions, taken on a daily basis (do you use two or three sheets of toilet paper?) or for life, entail a plethora of feelings about who you are based on those decisions and about your human worth. The most common of these, in my case, is guilt. Which seems to never stop pouring from everywhere, even with so-called zen. I remembered twenty things, I forgot one birthday  (guilt). The children who came to my daughter’s birtday party didn’t actually eat sweets – ever (doubt and guilt). Guilt for consuming, guilt for ecological gestures that you couldn’t afford or simply didn’t have the time for, guilt for non-bio food, guilt for your economic status, guilt for the age of the car’s engine, guilt for ever watching tv, guilt for being broken by the time you get home and not feeling like a good roll over the floor with the kids, guilt about fishsticks, guilt about the fact that you felt good about doing a nice thing, therefore it’s not nice anymre, because it’s not selfless – and it spirals slowly into the absurd.

Balance is being a witch from Discworld (I really loved this image): you learn to balance the pain (or guilt) into a big ball and pour it into something else. One day at a time. And this is why trying to achieve balance is, to me, more valuable than many other things – because you get to live and experience and learn from all the shit, but you do your best not to put it on others.

… none of the above :)

There’s obviously no wisdom highground to be taken by someone who is being emotionally incontinent online (in the illusion that this saves some energy from friends who might not have any to spare for one’s shit and also, hopefully, it prevents one from blurting out inappropriate relation-altering nonsense just because it hasn’t received any vent for too long) on the notion of dealing with one’s emotions. With that disclaimer in mind, though, I’m wondering whether there’s not something to be said for… denial. If the fact that it’s part of one’s process of acceptation of traumatic experiences doesn’t mean that it might have a useful part to play in how we deal with our emotional reactions to all sorts of things.

All right, perhaps I’m being too vague. I wonder if the things we feel cannot, sometimes, be made less aggressive towards our own fabric by recategorizing them somewhat. If the consequence of calling something an emotion which is socially accepted as intenser doesn’t allow it to take over you in a more depletive way. It’s probably the same approach I have to pain thresholds (we are, after all, creatures who think in categories). What if, as soon as you say `I’m depressed` instead of `I’m sad`, that changes the quality of your emotion and it empowers the emotion over you. And while I think it’s a good idea to live one’s emotions instead of burying them completely, I’m wondering if sometimes we don’t live more dramatic emotions just because… well, I don’t know – they give us purpose as individuals, maybe?

It seems to me that the yoyo (I know, I have a fetish-image, get over it already) bounced back at some point from an (overly masculine, some will say) overly rationalistic way of conceptualising the world, towards an (overly feminine) overly emotional manner of dealing with things as a mainstream. What if the divide is not as simple as `rationalistic defies nature, emotional embraces one’s impulses`, but instead, being rational is just as natural an impulse of repressing the feelings that make one incapable of functioning effectively, while what we experience as `embracing one’s emotions` is also a greencard for filling one’s life with a host of `issues` which get in the way of experiencing any good, growth-bringing feelings? What if we might imagine this as only a gradual scale between the two attitudes and what if there was a, perhaps healthy, way of balancing the rigid, starched collar with the fluttering tye-dye robes? What if our children need to learn to harden themselves just as much as they need to understand how important empathy is?

full time work, OPOL and unintended bilingualism experiments

Thanks to one of my daily reads (even when she doesn’t post daily), I have decided to write my two cents for the

Although we practise raising our children bilingual and finding the right balance in the linguistic input has been occupying my mind for a few years, I haven’t written about it much. It was among the things about which I had read a lot and theory seemed to work much better than practice. Or my practice of it, anyway.
With our first daughter we started, in theory (without calling it anything in particular), following the one parent one language method. However, the home language would be Dutch, therefore I would code-switch a lot. And, when tired, I would stop switching back to Romanian for the benefit of an infant. Or later, I would be speaking Dutch to her in the park to make sure parents around were aware of what I was saying (you know the multidirectional type of communication of the type `we’ll get on that swing as soon as the little boy/girl finishes playing` co-aimed at stating one’s own waiting status). And there were the songs and the books, which, because dad would be home after the end of the bedtime ritual, I would read and sing in either Dutch or Romanian, according to the chosen book. And I was working fulltime by her seventh month, therefore I would only see her for a couple of hours a day. And then there was daycare, where everything was in Dutch. No wonder Dutch was the dominant language. However, apparently my input was not as reduced as I guiltily thought, because she could understand Romanian, although very few words came out.
When number two was on the way, we made up our minds – life was way too hectic with two full-time jobs that couldn’t be either reduced or given up. We chose for an au-pair. A Romanian speaking au-pair, obviously (of whom, I have to add, we shall think, even after she leaves, as family). The Romanian of our first daughter improved drastically, up to the point of completely switching from one language to the other with different persons, one year later. The youngest grew up more in Romanian than anything else, but with Dutch input from her dad, her sister and grandpa and grandma.
Of course, they are two different children. Of course, they have different abilities and interests, not to speak of the whole first child/second child psychology which makes our first want to slow down all growth and the second accelerate everything a millionfold. Still, that said, this unintended experiment – with uncomparable subjects – yielded some amusing, though intuitively explicable, results. Our oldest now speaks exclusively Romanian to the aupair, my mom and switches back and forth with me, according to how consistent I am myself (which also improved a lot since the aupair is here). She produces gorgeous instances of acquisition of rules, like placing the generic genitive marker even after her full name („Maria Sara-lui”) but generally, you can hear her translating from Dutch as if Romanian is a learned, new language. I suppose this will no longer be the case after a while (if exposure to this degree remains the case), but I am intrigued by the process – although there is no „final” theory on how we learn languages, I tended to believe that, at early ages (M is not yet 4), language was acquired as a linguistic expression/conceptual element whole, even bilingually, and not by placing different linguistic forms on the concepts one has stored through another language. But then again, maybe even at early ages, there is such a thing as successive bilingualism.
The surprise is probably enhanced by the youngest – who is, as far as we can tell, at not yet two, a rather balanced simultaneous bilingual. Het utterances in both languages are impressively correct for her age – and she switches before parents! I was in awe last night when dad said something to her in his Dutchy Romanian („Vreau pupici?” – „Do I want kisses” instead of „do you…”) and she answered it serenely with the equivalent in Dutch („Ik wil niet kusjes!” – ok, ok, it was not the correct „ik wil geen”, but she’s still 22 months and I’m a bragging mom 🙂 ! ).
I wonder what things will look like two years from now, when H, the youngest, will also be immersed in the school system. Will this `headstart` in Romanian keep? Will M become more fluent in Romanian and the difference between the girls will dissipate? We shall see. So far, I can only say that, for the situation of one parent of a different language immersed in a monolingual context (same linguistic context for other parent/interparent communication/social contact). I’m voting for the intensification of the input by either choice of aupair or import of a family member 🙂 . It works like a charm.

about languages… and stuff

This is about bilingualism. Or at least, that’s where I started. Then it turned out to be about identity. And then about history and information in general. I am in awe at the fact that people ever manage to stick to one `subject` – to me everything seems connected with everything else. It might be time to convert to some native religion on some virgin island 🙂 .

Aaanyway – an article about unbalanced bilingualism got me thinking about why it was that I seem to have trouble speaking my own language with my children, although it is a language I am still very comfortable in, of which I love the versatility and of which, conceptually, I want them to have the benefit. Of course, there are all the contextual excuses – that the home language is the same as my partner’s language and the school language, therefore it’s far more contexts of Dutch to outbalance Romanian exposure; that I have to switch a lot and that I am not comfortable with the people in the room not knowing what I just forbade the kids to do or the people in the supermarket not being aware of the contents of a conversation that has them as a subject (`please let this lady pass in front of us at the register`, `watch the cart!`) etc. But there was a question in the article addressing one’s potentially internal reasons for linguistic inconsistence. And, while painting walls in the study, I went with it to see where the answer might take me.
It may be that what I often perceive, while translating, as shortcomings of Romanian in comparison to some Germanic languages is also perceived, consciously enough, as proofs of shortcomings in the `signified`, of empty spots in the fabric of `the world according to the Romanian` (because I strongly believe that language shapes the way one sees the world). It may be that those shortcomings (that I supplement linguistically by long and uneasy periphrastic constructions) become symptoms of where my original identity was lacking perspective, symptoms that I compensated by adding new layers of identity on. It might be that the fact that I am embarrassed to place the kids in front of even DVD’s dubbed into Romanian because of the sloppiness and fake tone of the translations, the unnerving quality of the TV shows when we are there on holidays and the `quick-and-dirty` way of making money by publishing children’s books/CD’s with idiotic poems/songs illustrated with a couple of animal shapes printed off the Internet without paying the rights, or printing Disney’s integral with texts that twist the language in ways it was never supposed to be twisted – drastically reduce my linguistic exposure resources – but also, mainly, get me down. It might be that my guard is down insofar as speaking Romanian is concerned because I’m all the time angry at and dissapointed with my country and that it takes an effort to filter the `now` out of the legacy of beauty that I need to pass along.
And that took me to another thought. I am very much aware that there is no such thing as absolute truth where personal or national identity and even history is concerned. But, for the sake of the game, we hold some stories to be commonplace in order to be able to relate to one another. Obviously (to me), Romantic nationalism put in place all sorts of fictions about nations and collective identities and especially about reasons to be proud of what you are (even though you have no merit at all in being born where you were born and even less in not trying to see how anyone else sees the world). These fictions have been, to large extents, debunked at some point in the 20th century – in any case to the point that nations had to admit the existence of quite a few skeletons in their closets. However, manuals all over the continent kept selling plenty of the Romantic dough – and many of us didn’t question it. I have met an extremely intelligent Finnish guy who claimed unflinchingly that the Kalevala was an absolutely unique product of national genius and that no other nation had ever produced a saga (he was a bit appalled at the wikipedia page with which we opposed his stance). Just as I have only met Dutch people being very-very-very proud of being Dutch – because oh, their commercial and colonial history and oh, their standing up to everyone and anyone and oh, such a little country among so many powerful nations and water… And of course, when asked, they will tell you that it’s not always the nicest of histories and that in fact it is based on a lot of suffering for others and mistification afterwards, but the core is unchanged – whatever is objectionable can be swept under the carpet of national pride. Where I come from, relativity in this sense has become the norm – because we know that the communist-nationalistic manuals we learned our history in gave a very warped vision of the world and because we are aware that their predecessors stem from a rather nationalistic age as well, I, for one, have no clear idea about any historic truth (apart from years and wars – which can be interpreted in all manner of ways). My lack of trustworthy information about the place I come from makes me relativise all messages I’ve ever received about my identity. Having been fed `national poets` whose value I couldn’t really, objectively, appreciate and `national values` which turn out to be inexistent in a free world, there is this fundamental lack of `pride` in my identity: there are, of course, wonderful things where I come from, but I see them being destroyed year after year by greed, stupidity, cowardice and, more than anything, a basic incapacity of working together towards any goal. So the strange thing is – I question other people’s rationale of national pride and can even find it misplaced, but, for the simplicity of self-definition, I miss it.
And this might be it – we live in a world in which nurture, as far as values are concerned, is placed significantly above nature. If you are a greatly successful farmer on land where your ancestors were greatly successful farmers, your added value is seen as minimal. If you come from a modest family and make something of yourself intelectually, it’s all your merit – these are, I think, strong and widespread beliefs (maybe `well-bred` as a concept is going to win back some force in the years to come, who knows). Conserving your given identity feels like little work, shaping a new and better one gives you an individuality which you can take pride. It might be then that it is sometimes easier speaking a foreign language because it is the signifier of who I worked to become instead of the signifier of a random complex of events shaping me from the start. With the added bonus that the people that I tried to approach were actually happy being what they were, as opposed to the people I was slowly drifting away from. In which case the right operation to sort this out might be embracing all of the identity layers instead of unconsciously fighting some of them; and only buying one’s resources at an old books’ shop 🙂 .

anecdotice

Maria întreabă, şezând pe toaletă şi arătându-mi buricul ei: „Mama, hoe komt deze hier?” (Mama, cum a ajuns ăsta aici? – deja o întrebare despre cauzalitate care-mi sună tare doct în urechi la momentul punerii ei). Mă apuc şi-i explic destul de pe-ndelete, în ciuda orei târzii, şi mă ascultă cu atenţie, toate cele cinci minute de aberat. După care precizează „şi mâncarea pentru bebe din tubuleţ e udă?” „Cum adică?” „Is nat, he? e udă?” „Păi… da, zic, e lichidă, că nu pot să treacă bucăţele de mâncare prin buric – deci da, poţi să zici că e udă.” „Şi mama are buric, nu? Şi Hanna?” „Da, toată lumea are buric, fiecare om a fost legat cândva de mama lui.” „Ok, zice copilul, deci V are dreptate.”

Jurnalistă o facem, că-şi verifică informaţiile din mai multe surse de la trei ani!

esenţă şi comportament

„Dar n-a vrut, nu e un copil rău!” a fost replica pe care prietena mea mi-o relata deunăzi ca paradigmatică pentru incapacitatea (încă descifrabilă în mulţi oameni) de a deosebi între un comportament de moment şi esenţa omului. Şi abia atunci am aprofundat mai temeinic gândul ăsta, că am preluat (în masă) dichotomia language/speech în educaţie în mod temeinic abia de.. curând. Acum vreo două luni, când mă confruntasem cu revolta colegei mele la comentariul educatoarei de la grădi „ils doivent dormir, autrement l’apres midi ils sont mechants” (despre copiii obosiţi), nu pricepusem încă în ce consta deosebirea de substanţă, era doar o expresie cu iz tradiţionalist pentru mine. Dar aplicam distincţia comportament-esenţă pentru ai mei pe negândite, ba chiar mă revoltam mereu la comentariile soacră-mii cu „e un copil facil/dificil” despre nepoţii proprii (dificil putând să însemne şi că nu stă în ţarc 2 ore legate, că se trezeşte mai devreme de 9 sau că e bolnav cam des – adică tot ce poate afecta întrucâtva confortul părintelui).
În ultima lună, însă, după un număr de Dilema despre admiterea greşelii în mentalitatea românească, am reuşit să extind ceva ce trăiam doar în micro la o paradigmă de gândire care îmi explică multe. Certurile furibunde de pe forumuri, în care prea puţini sunt capabili să discute opiniile celorlalţi şi nu persoanele lor şi în care fiecare se simte atacat dacă se pune la îndoială modul său de a privi fie şi un aspect minor al vieţii proprii sau comune, sunt rezultatul aceleiaşi lipse de distincţie: dacă spui asta, nu poţi fi decât… Eşti ceea ce spui, eşti comportamentul tău în situaţia x. Şi sigur că ceea ce spui şi cum te comporţi sunt semne a cine eşti, aşa cum şi maşina de teren şi lanţul cu bling de la gât sunt semne. Dar pentru fertilitatea oricărui dialog este util să asculţi mesajul dincolo de cratimele strâmbe, în loc să spui „eu nu pot să vorbesc cu cineva care…”. Iar pentru educaţie, diferenţa dintre esenţă şi snapshot e uriaşă.
Accepţiunea generală e că un copil care se dă cu fundul de pământ în supermarket e prost-crescut. Şi da, probabil că e un comportament pe care părinţii nu l-au evitat la momentul oportun. Sau poate că e prima oară când se confruntă cu el şi e interesant de văzut cum îl rezolvă. Dar există o grămadă de motive pentru care un copil recurge la comportamentul respectiv, altele decât acela că „e un copil rău/nesimţit/prost-crescut” şi alte minunate etichete bine lipite în capetele noastre româneşti (şi, aparent, şi de alte naţii). Şi sună, pentru cei care nu fac distincţia, ca şi cum, căutând motivele comportamentului, îi cauţi scuze copilului şi îl răsfeţi („e obosit, săracul”). Dar dacă ştii motivele, probabil că afli încetul cu încetul şi cum să schimbi comportamentele indezirabile, cum să le încurajezi pe cele care-i vor folosi plodului ş.a.m.d. Pe când dacă vei închide ochii la un comportament nedorit pentru că ai stabilit deja „că nu e un copil rău”, sau dacă vei oferi invariabil atenţie negativă comportamentului neplăcut al unui „copil rău”, le vei face rău amândurora. În acelaşi mod în care neascultarea argumentelor oamenilor din jur din pricină că i-ai închis deja în cutiuţe mentale şi nimic din ceea ce au de spus nu poate fi relevant pentru tine creează o societate schizofrenică, în care toţi vorbesc în paralel, cu dopuri în urechi, şi nimic nu e bun comun.
A greşi, deci, mi se pare o parte a procesului de creştere – care funcţionează prin trial and error, nu? Generaţia mea a fost crescută în frica de a face greşeli. În „mai bine taci decât să spui o prostie”, deşi dacă spui o prostie pe care o crezi ai putea fi corectat şi ai putea învăţa ceva. Imaginea că eşti ceva anume era mai importantă decât procesul de a deveni acel ceva. Şi cred că de asta se leagă multe poveşti pe care le-am vorbit cu fetele în weekendul care a trecut, de care însă am să mă leg altă dată… când o fi timp de la stăpânirile mele multiple.

leapşă cercetătoare cu poveşti

(la care am ajuns din blog în blog)

1. Ați citit/vi s-au citit povești sau basme în copilărie?
Poate chiar ceva românesc? Ce titluri vă amintiți sau v-au rămas dragi?

Mi s-au citit, am ascultat şi am citit cu ochişorii proprii basme de aici până-n fundul Chinei. Văd coperţi în rafturi întregi, de la coperta îmbrăcată în hârtie verde a „Zînelor din Valea Cerbului” (Nestor Urechia, dacă nu mă înşel) la cea albă cu schiţe cărămizii a poveştilor englezeşti, de la coperta galbenă a lui Apolodor, că tot l-a readus în modă Ada, până la cele negre ale celor două volume tocite grav de „Din marile legende ale lumii”, de la Micul Prinţ (căruia nu merită să-i mai descriu coperta) la Alice, de la Habarnam la Hauff, de la Grimm la poveştile chinezeşti, de la teancul albastru de 101 de nopţi până la raftul de poveşti nemuritoare de la biblioteca unde păstorea bunica. Toate mi-au rămas dragi şi abia aştept să le dau mai departe.

2. Credeți că au avut vreun rol
în dezvoltarea voastră, încă din copilărie, ca viitor adult?

Neîndoielnic, cred că basmele sunt o cărămidă esenţială.

3. Sunteți de părere că fenomenul povestitului, mai ales în mediul familial,
are o funcție importantă în educarea copilului încă de la vârste fragede?
(Mai) dezvoltă acesta anumite legături între membri
și transmite valori morale elementare pentru educarea unui copil?

Hmmm – al cititului sau al povestitului din memorie? Că povestitul cel frumos, tradiţional, „transmiterea pe cale orală” la noi cel puţin e cam pe moarte. Suportul vizual pare esenţial pentru copiii mei. Dar da, sunt convinsă că împărtăşirea poveştii leagă generaţiile între ele. Şi transmite valori – nu ştiu în ce măsură ele sunt caracterizate în primul rând de „moralitate”, adică nu cred că basmele mai condiţionează copiii pe paradigma bine răsplătit/rău pedepsit, ci transmit în principal valorile cu care le investesc părinţii.

4. Citiți/ați citi povești copiilor dumneavoastră?
Ați alege povești românești, basme din repertoriul internațional
sau cele mai noi cărți pentru copii de pe piață?

Citim în fiecare seară şi de nşpe ori pe zi. Şi alegem şi una, şi alta – deocamdată sunt oricum cam mici şi cărţuliile mici cu poze multe sunt cele mai practice.

5. O carte inainte de culcare sau un desen animat?

Un desen animat peste zi, în sufragerie. Înainte de culcare, o carte, în braţe la mama sau la tata, în cameră. Sunt ritualuri diferite, pentru mine.

6. Credeți că o poveste “din carte” stimulează mai mult imaginația unui copil
și simțul său etic elementar decât alte metode care implică povești?
*În ce măsură vi se par nepotrivite sau marcante pentru un copil
scenele de violență din basme (fie ele românești sau nu)?
Ar trebui ele „îndulcite” sau păstrate așa cum au fost create inițial?

Multe întrebări într-una. Da, cred că o poveste în care trebuie să adaugi nuanţele de culoare, drumurile, interioarele etc. stimulează mai mult imaginaţia decât desenul animat care ţi le dă pe toate mură-n gură. Nu ştiu însă în ce măsură povestea stimulează mai mult simţul etic decât o altă formă de naraţiune cu suport vizual sau auditiv. De ce-ar fi aşa?
Cât despre scenele de violenţă, încă n-am reuşit să îmi precizez poziţia. Îi citesc Mariei scena finală din trei purceluşi, cu lupul care fierbe în ceaun, fără să-i explic că lupul moare, dar şi fără să recurg la artificii narative – cred că deocamdată am suspendat decizia, ceea ce implică mai degrabă păstrarea formei standard şi opţiunea de a clarifica mai încolo cum e cu violenţa… S-ar putea să fie o laşitate, dar pe de altă parte, nu mi se pare nici oportun să expun copiii unor naraţiuni făcute exclusiv din puf. Încurcată treabă, trebuie să mai citesc.