A Lesson in Philosophy

Do you on some days feel that there is too much noise, distractions and interruptions in your life?

The kids crying, begging for TV and candies. The dog barking. Your phone ringing. Your husband asking you to check that the door is locked. Your mother telling you to clean up the kids’ spills on her floor. People at work demanding that certain things be done urgently. Little arguments between family members. The floor getting dirty after you have just vacuumed in the morning. There is no milk left in the fridge. The TV remote control is not working. And this is only a small fragment of the list.

These daily distractions used to irritate me, a lot, especially on days when I needed to get things done because it felt like I would never get there. At times the noise level got to a certain point that I just wanted to shut everything out. I found that these instances climaxed for me after I returned to work – I guess it goes in hand with the number of things you have to tend to in any given day, the more expectations and responsibilities the higher the noise levels and the lower your tolerance levels.

After a while I realised that unless I was contented to just let myself slowly turn into an angry, miserable human being over the course of time, there is something that has to change. It was not only affecting my health, but also my relationships with the people closest to me. I was snappier and losing my temper quickly. But I couldn’t stop people from expecting things from me, for example people at work are always going to demand priority on things that matter to them. And I couldn’t stop most of the events from happening in my life, for example, the floor is always going to get dirty again within the same day with the dog and the kids running in and out.

And then I realised that the only thing that needed to change was myself and my way of thinking. I was letting external events affect me too much.

A (very) wise man named Epictetus said 2,000 years ago, in relation to how one should live:

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

And he also said that:

People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them.

So that is what I set out to change. I need to be clear in my mind about what my true goals are and focus on them – my health, my family, my career, all and aspects of them. This year I am breaking them down into achievable periodical goals (for example, successfully transitioning my daughter into kindy and getting her enrolled in swimming classes, getting another article published, moving back into our new home); and then let the rest be what they are supposed to be i.e. noise and distractions. I will either still deal with them because they matter to other people, but I do not let them affect my mood and well-being nor distract me from the goals I set out. I will handle them calmly as they come up, to the best I can, communicate accordingly and move on. Or alternatively I can sit on them for a while and do nothing, because sometimes things resolve by themselves without me having to do anything.

I can’t say that I am already doing this all the time, but just by being conscious of my thinking has already brought me more calm. Here, to being a better me in 2018.

That Jolly Time of the Year

Another 9 days until Christmas.

You see and feel it in every corner – Christmas tree in every building and shopping centre, ham and prawns lining the supermarket fridges, bakeries framed with gingerbread houses, TV channels playing Christmas themed shows, city bars filled with office workers having a drink with their mates. It is a lovely time of the year and it seems like people are generally happier and more approachable.

What is Christmas to me?

When I was younger all I knew was that it was just another public holiday. I was not brought up a Christian and I did not grow up in a country where it was widely celebrated. Although I knew the meaning of Christmas and why it was celebrated I never truly understood the significance of the day.

Many years have passed since then. I am still not a Christian, but it is somewhat different now. In between then and now, I have moved to a different country, grown up, married a devout Catholic with whom I have two beautiful kids. As families do and with most festive seasons we started developing our own traditions and our own interpretation of what Christmas is to us – how we feel about it, what we like about it, what activities we associate it with. As such to us Christmas symbolises more than just a religious occasion, it is a time of year where we make time for and do things to show appreciation for each other.

So what does Christmas mean to me now?

  • Putting up a Christmas tree and decorating it with the family and lining it with lots and lots of presents (although this year we are putting a hold on the tree until we move back into our house).
  • Taking the kids to see Christmas pretty lights in the city and around the suburbs.
  • Going to Christmas markets and street parties to experience the feeling of community.
  • Getting to get into work later and leave earlier and still get lots of things done because most of the office is out on leave.
  • Christmas shopping (and always, always last minute despite my best intentions).
  • Sweltering hot weather.
  • Christmas eve dinner with his family and Christmas day lunch with mine (or vice versa) and eating ham, sumptuous seafood and salads and drinking cool drinks like beer and punches.
  • Building a gingerbread house for my daughter (and this year I plan to let her help me decorate with smarties, candies and all things sweet).
  • My husband going to church and maybe taking the kids with him this year – last year we tried but it did not turn out too well.
  • Watching the Pope and the catholic church on TV on Christmas day.
  • Watching It’s a Beautiful Life and Mr Grinch – this used to be my husband’s personal now turned family tradition.

And most of all, to me, it is a time to give, to show gratitude, to count our blessings, to spend quality time with our loved ones and to reflect on all the good things that have come to us through the year which we never do enough of in our busy lives these days. Amen. Have a Merry Christmas everyone.

What does Christmas mean to you?

And Then There was Us..

[written at 8:32 am local time on Wednesday]

It was -3 degrees last night when the two of us walked along the streets of Yeouido looking for a place where we could sit down and have a drink. We were looking for somewhere that was not a fried chicken and beer place which seemed to ninety percent of places selling alcohol. Nothing wrong with Korean fried chicken (in fact they do them well – always crunchy on the outside and moist inside) but at that stage we could no longer stomach fried chicken after a big meal of fresh raw fish, barbequed salmon head and hot steaming seafood soup at the biggest fish market in Seoul. We were just after a drink and a bit of a night-life experience in Seoul.

Where were the kids, you wonder?

Ah-ha. My parents took them so it was our night off. We all happened to be conveniently travelling in the same place at the same time.

The financial district of Seoul was still bustling at 9pm last night; many people had only just got off work and were having dinner and drinks with their friends or colleagues. The area was brimming with a variety of colours, a combination of busy neon shop lights and also still star-like lights which lined the street hedges in anticipation of Christmas.

After 15 minutes of walking we finally found a place where we could have a stout and a cocktail – and good timing because my legs were starting to feel like frozen matchsticks. We scurried quickly into the well-heated pub like mice to cheese.

Last night reminded me of our trip to Seoul seven years ago, not married and with no kids. Just carefree individuals then, taking a trip together and doing whatever we wanted to do.

What was the one thing that changed the most for me after children? Not my body although it will never the same again. Nor is it my sleep pattern although that does come close. It is my relationship with my husband.

Having kids changed us in ways that we could not have anticipated; as individuals but more so as a married couple. The hormonal changes from the time of pregnancy, the changes in your body as your baby grew within you, your perception of your new role as a mother, the development of an instinctive protection towards your child – it changes you and therefore also alters your expectations of your husband’s role. Whilst you were able to be a good wife to your husband before by doing things like making all his meals, this was no longer the case once the baby was born. In between breastfeeding, night soothing, nappy changing and bathing the baby, you would be lucky if you even get time to feed and clean yourself. You expected him to be able to help out more. Naturally you expected him also to be around more.

At times you did not get why he did not understand what you needed and what you considered important. You also felt like there was a gap that was widening between the two of you. If initially it felt like men was from Mars and women from Venus, after kids it felt almost like we were from completely different universes. (E.g. the year in which our daughter was born, Will said that he was going over to his parents’ house by himself on Christmas day to spend the day watching old movies because that was his personal tradition. BY HIMSELF. I blew my lid.)

The other thing with the kids is that you spend all your time doing stuff for and with them and more often than not you forget to spend time together as husband and wife. It is easy to “accidentally” de-prioritise your relationship with your husband for the benefit of your kids as everything is now about them, and less about you.

So it was tough, initially. With a lot of potential misunderstandings and not a lot of time to understand each other it is easy to see how things could have gone pretty bad. Eventually with time and some frank discussions we decided that we needed to spend more quality time with each other again. (I have my husband to thank for that, he is the one with the good ideas and the cornerstone of our relationship).

So with some conscious effort, we started doing things together again. Then we started talking and communicating again. After a while, we started to work more closely together as a team. While we were previously just two people who enjoyed each other’s company, we were now becoming true life partners – who would pick up the kids; who would grab the milk on the way home; where would the kids go to school; what values do we want to teach them; what are the career moves that would best progress individual opportunities but at the same time accommodate the family unit. It did not just happen by itself, we made it happen. At the same time we progressed from merely tolerating each other’s odd habits to truly embracing each other for their strengths and also help strengthen their weaknesses.

We reminded ourselves that in the beginning, there were the two of us. Your love and trust in each other is what brought to life the kids and then one day when the kids are older and they leave the nest, there will still be the two of you. So we do need to try and make time for each other even though that may very well require a lot of extra effort – complacency is what stops a relationship from growing.

So last night as we talked and laughed about everything kids and non-kids related and sipped on our drinks in a warm pub in a city far from home, we were enjoying each other’s company again. It felt good, it reminded us why we are a good match for each other and it would serve as another memory for us to relive on many occasions to come in the future.