Square peg in a round hole: Why it is perfectly normal not to fit the norm

Norms… Sometimes I am under the impression that a lot of norms that exist regarding different aspects of life are just there to make us feel bad.”I don’t feel happy every day, what’s wrong with me?”, “My kid is 5 month and he doesn’t roll yet, what’s wrong with him?“, or “Oh, but my kid is almost two and he doesn’t talk yet, what’s wrong with him?“… Did somebody actually ever wonder if there is anything wrong with the norms?

I almost failed my physical education class in school because I could not run the 4000-meter torture that I was supposed to. I got 4 out of 10 (the last passing score) merely for my persistence. I ran the first 1000 or so meters and the rest I walked. I am no runner! Does it make me a failure? My daughter started rolling only at the age of 5 months. Only the lazy one did not ask me if I was not worried. I was not. She was physically in a perfect condition. She did not want to roll. Does that make her a failure? My son started walking at the age of 9 months. But that’s not normal! And what should I have done? Tied him to the chair?!

It gets worse. You should go to school, you should get a degree, you should get a job (and preferably in the same domain where your degree is), you should buy a house, you should get married, you should have a ring, a dress, a party for 200 people, you should go on the honeymoon to the fancy location at the sea, you should have kids before 30, you should lose weight  in the first 10 days after giving birth, you should have a career, you should have a dog/cat/hamster/horse/alligator… You should… Have a riffle to use every time you hear it? That would be a great idea.

I did not invent this quote but I like it:

All I should is enumerated in the Tax Code; all I should not – in the Criminal Code; all the rest is in my discretion!

I don’t believe in “shoulds”. I don’t believe in norms. And most importantly what I don’t believe in – is in being worried and feeling yourself down just because you or your kids don’t fit some stupid norm written by somebody. What I do believe in, however, is in respecting the choice of others that they made for themselves and their family. In the end you are the only one who knows what’s right for you.

You breastfeed until your kid is 2,5 y.o.? Good for you both! And you stopped at 6 months and your kid already eats steak at 1? Perfect! You chose to work and your kid goes to day-care? That’s fine. And you decided it’s best that you stay at home? Also great. You do Montessori and a whole bunch of other early development activities? Good choice. And you don’t believe in the value of an early development? You’re also right. You co-sleep with your little one? Super! But yours learned to sleep in his own bed since the beginning? Wow!

Bottom-line is: Universal “normal” applicable to everybody does not exist. Normal is defined by lots of factors, amongst which your unique life circumstances, but also your vision of the world, your attitude, your values and your perception. It is what you personally feel comfortable with and what is acceptable for your family, but not what somebody else tries to force on you.

And by the way all the great minds of the past and present were not “normal”: they did not fit, they challenged the norms, they rebelled against them and went their own way. They followed their own normal. They were square pegs in a round hole and that’s what in the end contributed to their greatness.

 

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Family yearly book: Keeping memories without cluttering home

Even though my taste and preferences have evolved quite a lot throughout the years, one thing stayed permanent since something like puberty – I am an adept of minimalism. That implies amongst others that even though I have a lot memories I don’t have that much memorabilia. I don’t have fridge magnets (but I do bring them for my mother who collects them). I don’t have art works of my kids hanging in all possible places. Every (numerous) piece of art my kids produce is admired for a little while, then I take a photo of it and it soon continues its journey towards recycling. I don’t collect tickets from museums or maps, or mugs, or any other travel-related junk. However, if it has a sentimental value it will also end up in the camera roll of my iPhone. I didn’t keep the hospital wristband from when I was delivering my kids (but, yes, I do have a photo of it!). Same with echo’s. Same with some hand-written notes. Same with a lot of other stuff.

So… As you might have guessed I have a lot of photos. However, that is also a problem. In the digital era we tend to have tens of thousands of them that we seldom ever look at. Even if you structure them, it is still too much. I must admit that I don’t follow the “eliminate” route and don’t delete photos, maybe because the capacity of my external hard drive allows to keep everything. But what I do with our photos – I sort them, pick out the most important/beautiful/memorable and I make our non-traditional family yearly book. 

I am not into scrap-booking, yet this in a sense is a digital scrapbook that includes all the memories of us as a family that we would like to keep. This is not a classic photo album, it is more of a memory register, capturing what that particular year meant for us.

In just one book of about 50-60 A4 pages.

What is in there? First of all, it’s not really chronological, but rather thematic: I made one theme per spread. To illustrate, let’s take “art” again, as I am somehow in a bit artistic mode today – we have a spread dedicated to “art”:

  • there are photos of my kids in the process of drawing or sculpting, or cutting, you name it;
  • photos of art created by them;
  • photos related to us visiting art exhibitions, also those of my father-in-law (Riwart);
  • as well as some general notable events in the context of art that we would like to remember. For instance, last year the painting by Paul Gauguin “When Will You Marry?” was sold for a record $300 million and that triggered a lively and extensive discussion in between my husband and myself about appreciating art. It was fun and we wanted to remember it! That is how Gauguin ended up somewhere in between a drawing of a rainbow by my daughter and first attempts at using crayons by my son.

Another spread in our book of the last year is dedicated to the year’s favorite cartoons of our kids and the year’s favorite movies and TV-shows of my husband and myself. We could not have skipped a sad picture “R.I.P. Top Gear”, now could we?! Likewise some other notable events of the year like a discovery of water on Mars or a discovery of “super-hendge” were included, just to name a few. There are also themes “fashionistas”, “travel”, “parties”, “cars”, “studying”, and so on.

As to the practical side of the matter there are numerous websites where you can easily make and order a photo-book. I personally do it via Albelli because I find their software very user friendly and simple as ABC, but as I said – there is a big choice on the market. Time-wise compiling a yearly book of course requires some time and probably if you were not making mental of physical notes (I personally write down things in a Note on my iPhone) about certain events, it will be time-consuming at first to remember everything that happened. But, trust me, once you do it regularly you will have a neat, nice, clutter-free way of keeping memories worth keeping.

A game of life: Why teaching your kids to play golf is a good idea

It was my long-term dream to learn to play golf and finally last summer my husband and myself took golf lessons and obtained our green cards to get us onto a golf course. Our kids also participate in the game but so far mostly by bringing back the practice balls when I am pitching in the garden (using kids labor, I know!). However we do intend to teach them the actual game of golf in the near future. Why do I think it is a good idea? The short answer would be a quote on the matter by Bobby Jones:

Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball where it lies“.

Golf is by no means a lazy and boring sport of the old fat rich men. Yes, it is still not cheap yet neither is tennis or hockey or skiing. And with respect to gear: there is a huge second-hand market for clubs and bags if you want to minimize costs. I got my first basic set of clubs together with a bag  and a whole bunch of balls for 50 eur.

Playing golf good requires you to be in a decent physical condition, as every golf stroke uses numerous muscles on core, hamstring, shoulder and wrist. It is highly addictive and once you are in you’re in for good. I actually do love everything about golf: from the actual game to an equipment and an outfit of a golfer.

A bit off-top: if you are struggling to find good-fitting pants (which a lot do!), try looking in the golf shop. Golf pants are simply the best pants you can get! They usually have a perfect fit, with a bit of lycra in them, and you don’t really need to go for the insane golfer’s checkers, as the choice of classic colors is also abundant.

However, I am deviating from the answer to why would that particular sport be a good idea to introduce kids to. Mostly not because of the so to-say “physical qualities” of the game, but because of its philosophy, because of the underlying principles of golf.

Golf teaches you a number of life lessons that are also useful to teach to kids:

  • Golf teaches you honesty and integrity. When you are playing you are also the one keeping track of your strokes. It is not really done to cheat in golf.
  • Golf teaches you strategy. It is not just about hitting the ball, it is about hitting the ball while already thinking about your next stroke. If there is, for example, a water hazard in front it might be a good idea to go a bit side-wise first in order to be able to succeed at your next stroke.
  • Golf teaches you humility. Even when you are a PRO, even when you have a great technique and perfect clubs, the game can still go wrong. You learn that sometimes a human effort is really futile and sometimes you are just damn lucky.
  • Golf teaches you endurance. The average game of 18 holes takes about 4-4,5 hours and implies walking for 8-10 kilometers (unless of course you take a golf-cart, you lazy bastard!) And by the way, walking outside, breathing fresh air, enjoying the beautiful greens of a golf course – isn’t that what’s called “healthy lifestyle”?
  • Golf teaches you that your main opponent is yourself. You can of course participate in different competitions, but you can also go solo. And competition or not, it is anyway about your score against objective par (number of strokes allowed to get a golf ball in a hole) that matters the most.
  • Golf teaches you not mere equality but fairness. You can equally play golf with those who are stronger and with those who are weaker players which is not possible in other sports. Thanks to the adjustment that the handicap system provides, your allowed stroke count on each hole is calculated based on your handicap. That means that you as an amateur can play together with a professional golfer and maybe even beat him in the particular match-play (because he is allowed e.g. 3 strokes, but your handicap gives you additional 3 strokes on that hole). So you will not feel yourself a loser!
  • But above all golf teaches you to enjoy. I will add another quote here (but in the context of kids, better park it until their adulthood!): “Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at them“. So true! (giggle)

In other words, this sport is a unique combination of being a way to stay toned and energized and at the same time being a teacher of important life lessons. Hence, thumbs up, golf, you’re on my kids to-do list!

P.S. This year is also special for golf because for the first time since 1904 golf is included in the list of sports for the Summer 2016 Olympic Games – hurrah!

 

 

Exceptional every-day: why I don’t keep much items for special occasions only

This short post is about let’s call it – my life philosophy with respect to everyday items. Throughout my life, I have seen a lot of people having two sets of items: the ones for everyday use and the ones that they take out on special occasions only. That always left me puzzled as to why would anyone do this.

Personally, I like to surround myself with beautiful items. I like comfort. I like luxury. And I don’t understand why people drink from a broken cup if they have a good cup standing in a cupboard for those special occasions. Which special occasions? When somebody comes for a visit? When you have a party? When you win the lottery? What is so special about those special occasions? Why doesn’t your every day deserve to be exceptional? What if today is your last day? No, ok even without being fatalistic, I still believe in the beauty of today and I truly want to enjoy it to its fullest. I like when my dining table is nicely set. I like when a dinner I serve looks maybe not totally haute-cuisine yet at least has some presentation effort in it. I like to dress up. I like having nice decor items at home… I can go on further, but the bottom line is – I like to be surrounded by beauty. It energizes me! 

Old broken items clutter your home and drain energy and that is precisely why I never keep them. Yes, you might have that favorite high school coffee cup that you were drinking from when you were writing your thesis. It has a sentimental value to it. But look it at: it has a crack, the paint is off, and your taste changed from drinking brewed coffee with tons of milk and sugar to having a properly made Americano. It doesn’t fit who you are anymore, it doesn’t fit your taste anymore. Isn’t it time to let go?

Obviously, with clothes you will have items for special occasions, for instance, you are not going to wear an evening dress in your everyday life, or a strict suit or alike. However, as for me, I don’t have that much of those items. And also with clothes: for example, I never keep a new dress for that very special moment that maybe will come one day. I make that special moment today because my today is always exceptional.

Blending cultural identities: raising multicultural kids when you are culturally homeless

“Who are you and where are you from?” – these two questions are supposed to define ourselves but for a lot of people they are very difficult to answer. If somebody asks me now: “Where are you from?” what should I reply? I am from Belgium, however I am not Belgian. I am originally from Latvia, I hold Latvian nationality, I did my University studies in Latvian and worked in that language. I have a mother tongue fluency in Latvian and a solid knowledge of history and culture of Latvia, yet… I am not Latvian. I am ethnically Russian, but I have only been to Russia twice and not to, so-to-say, “deep-Russia” but to Moscow and Saint-Petersburg, and for a total of less than 3 weeks. What I remember vividly from those trips is that I was culturally shocked in what I believed to be my culture. I consider English to be my home language now because this is the language I talk percentage-wise the most: and with my husband and with a lot of my friends. Those who hear me talk English without knowing that this ain’t my mother tongue based on the accent assume I am American. Yet I am obviously neither American (haven’t even been to the States yet), nor even technically English-speaking as such. I was born in the Soviet Union, however the Soviet Union broke down before I even started elementary school, so for those who understand – I haven’t even had a chance to be oktyabryonok. Wait, it gets worse! Even my name – in my Belgian ID my family name is “Wynants”, yet in my Latvian passport – I am “Vinantsa” transliterated according to Latvian language rules. So who am I and where am I from actually? To think about it – I am culturally homeless.

If things are so complex with myself how am I supposed to raise my kids? And who are my kids going to be? Belgian? Wait, there is no “Belgian” as in this country things are also kinda mixed up. Flemish? But they are exposed to Russian culture and language a lot, and their first words were in Russian. Plus, they hear hell of a lot of English and to my horror (giggle) start to understand it as well, despite the fact that we never directly address them in English. So this is a difficult question that I am still in the process of exploring it for myself, thus I am always eager to hear other people’s experiences and thoughts.

While researching the subject myself I have stumbled upon a term “Third Culture Kids” (there are quite a few TED-videos on the subject if someone is interested). The term “third culture kid” or TCK itself was first coined in the mid-20 century to describe the children of American citizens working and living abroad. The “third culture” comes from the fact that parents have one culture, the place where a family lives has another culture, but the kids raised in such circumstances create a sort of an amalgamation of two cultures mentioned to create something of their own – hence the third culture. However, I do consider that with globalization and with an enhanced mobility this term should be expanded to include all those people who grew up under a significant impact of diverse cultures. It is no longer a 20 km life! More and more people are born in one place, go study to another, then go working to yet another and settle somewhere completely else with somebody from a different culture, and maybe after a while are again on the move. This is a reality already now and it will be even more so when today’s kids grow up. So the question “Where are you from?” is no longer simple.

On the one hand this sort of cultural homelessness creates a lot of difficulties in self-identification, but on the bright side this also brings enormous opportunities, such as an expanded worldview, an enhanced cultural intelligence, a 3D view of the world if you will. But then again, consider a situation: a family is sitting in front of TV watching, let’s say, football. Which national team is everyone supporting? Think about it for a moment. This silly example portrays a situation which might be psychologically difficult for parents to accept. We are talking about confused loyalties, about different values, about accepting that your kid doesn’t share your identity. But then again, the beauty is that you have a choice. Nowadays you can choose to define yourself not just based on the ethnicity, not based on the location where you were born or where you currently live. You can choose to define yourself by different categories: by your own personal values, by your own beliefs and not just by a tag somebody placed on you. Thus, there are for sure lots and lots of positive consequences of blending cultures if you approach the subject with an open mind.

Also as a parent there are myriads of benefits that you are able to give your kids (language, traditions, literature, perception, even food habits,…) provided that you yourself are open and willing to expand your personal worldview; if you are willing to explore your own culture and the other cultures you encounter on your way. Without prejudice, without judging, with a sincere wish to understand and enrich yourself. I guess that would help us all a lot and would allow to raise a truly multicultural people of the future.

 

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Self-development, reaching goals and lifestyle balance through the prism of parenthood and immigration

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