Tweeted movie reviews: Raazi


Here is a cross-post of my movie review for “Raazi”. I use Twitter for movie reviews because I use Twitter for Bollywood chatter. You can find me @veroniqueberg

 

Daily MEDS: Looking for work and finding it


I skipped a few days in my daily blogging this week. My husband was out of town and, well, life happened.

I attended a parenting talk and in the process of catching up with people I only see once a year, I mentioned that I was getting up at 4:45 am to make lunches and she noted that it was a whole 3 hours before walking the children to school at 7:45 am. It’s been bugging me ever since. It takes 2h to make lunches, until 6:45 am, then I feed, dress and sanitize the children. I don’t have breakfast and I don’t get dressed. I just work flat out and I simply don’t understand why it takes so long. Does it make sense to you that it takes 2h to make 6 lunches? Then a full hour to get 5 children fed, dressed, brushed and winter-geared? It behooves me. But so it is.

I’m going back to work in 10 days (more on that later) and I’m going to have to shave 30 minutes off my lunch-making or wake-up at 4:00 am, which is getting uncomfortably close to “middle-of-the-night” territory. I will need to be done making lunches at 6:00 am to have time to get dressed in grown-up clothes, put my face on and catch the bus at 6:46.

I’m sure that at this point you are throwing shoes at your screen wondering why (A) I make lunches in the morning, and (B) make lunches at all. There’s a reason for both and maybe I could be convinced to write about it.

With Paul gone for the week, I had to wake up at 4:30 am to walk the children to school (late) at 8:00. Before running out of daylight hours to write things, I started writing a series on marriage and several friends asked me to write about sex and marriage, which I know something about. I mean… we did it 9 times, which is more than the average Canadian who only does it 1.6 times. But there’s knowing about it and knowing what to write about it. On a blog. That might be read by my kids, my parents and my boss. It was ok last week when I was still sleeping with my boss but that all changed when my contract ended and I found a new job.

I bet you’re dying to know about my new job.

The long story started 6 months (or maybe a year?) before we moved to Stittsville. I was having a coffee at Quitters with my bottle of Advil when a charming young lady approached me and said she had peppermint oil and it might help with my headache. We hit it off, met a few times for coffee, I made her pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. I fed her, she was mine.

Fast forward 6 months and we were moving to Stittsville, a community in the west end of the City of Ottawa, just as the municipal election campaign was gearing up. As a former political aide and campaign manager, I noticed that a candidate in my neighbourhood was challenging the incumbent and running a remarkable campaign. I thought “I should probably volunteer,” but my husband was in Latvia, we were selling our house and we had 6 children starting in 3 new schools so it wasn’t looking good. I stopped for coffee at Quitters — it’s a theme — and found myself standing in line right behind the candidate in question. First I thought “this is uncanny” and then I thought “How weird would it be to ask him if he’ll need staff once he gets elected?” I decided “Probably too weird” and let the poor man buy his coffee in peace.

As predicted, he won. Deservedly.

Then I wrote a blog post about looking for work with a resume that screams “I PUT FAMILY FIRST!” You can read it here.

Then my friend (see above) read the post and sent me a Facebook message saying: “Our new Councillor just published a Facebook post about looking for staff, maybe you should apply.” And she added: “By the way, I applied too.” I laughed and told her he was probably hiring more than one person so we could both be hired and we har-har’d, ok bye.

He received 100 resumes, from which he and his campaign volunteers culled 15. The volunteers called 5 people each — including me — and came down with a short list of candidates that he would interview in person. I got a giant pimple on my face, so of course, I was invited to have an interview in person. That apparently went well because he asked me for references. I gave him three names, including one person I was married to and one person who used to be an elected official. Wisely, he called the one I wasn’t married to and made me a job offer as his Committee Lead.

(As I was writing this — I swear this is true — I got a call from my former boss, which gave me an opportunity to thank him for the good reference and he joked “I told him you were a bit scary but as long as he didn’t ask you to work on this or that he should be safe.” )

So there you have it. I’m heading to Ottawa City Hall in 10 days to work as the committee/policy assistant to Glen Gower, the new Ward Councillor for Stittsville. I sent a message to the friend who had tipped me off about the job to say thank you and she said “Guess what??” and I said “Noooooo…” and she said she’s been hired as his ward assistant, and now we’re like two 8 year-olds who just found out they were in the same grade 3 class.

Life. It’s been good to me lately.

 

A tale of two (arranged?) marriages


I was chatting with someone recently who might have been my therapist. She’s helping me with some somatic experiencing not related to my marriage but it’s hard to think about your life without thinking about your spouse so I gave her the elevator pitch. Now it’s your turn.

I summed-up my marriage as two distinct arranged marriages. Sort of.

In India, the practice of arranged marriages is a robust part of the culture and it is adapting to modernization in creative ways. Traditionally, young men and women were brought together by their families and introduced once — if at all — before entering matrimony. Nowadays, a surprising majority of young Indians still declare a preference for arranged marriages wherein they retain the right to consent or refuse. They are introduced by their families, often with the help of a matchmaker (or a matchmaking website), go on dates and decide if they want to take the jump together or not.

(Here’s an arranged marriage first date scene from Netflix’s “Lust Stories”. The clip doesn’t have subtitles but Vicky Kaushal is such an adorable nerd, it’s still cute. You can watch the whole scene with subtitles plus the following marriage and honeymoon night on Netflix. It starts on the 1:30:00 mark.)

Even in Bollywood, where love marriage is King, several stories portraying the urban educated youth of India have elements of matchmaking thrown in. In “Manmarziyaan”, Rumi agrees to marry “the first loser her family finds her” if she can’t convince her boyfriend Vicky to propose. Her family finds Robbie, a young successful Indian living in London. He is returning home to Amritsar to find a wife. The rest of the movie is an emotional exploration of love (pyaar) and lust (fyaar):

Attraction and love are considered separately and neither is seen as necessary to have the other. Love can grow from a good match and can disappear from a passionate encounter. In “Manmarziyaan” again, Robbie finds out early in the story that Rumi is involved with another man. When asked why he wants to marry her regardless he answers that having agreed to marry him, she must be looking for something else, something that Vicky can’t give her. He’s smitten enough to take the challenge. Love marriages are seen as happening in the margins of extended family life, with eloping leading to forgiveness. Love marriages happen in the “Better ask for forgivenes than permission” space. We see this in the modern classics “Khabi khushie khabie gham” and “Jab we met.” In fact, “Jab we met” lead actor Shahid Kapoor chose an arranged marriage for himself, saying:

“I am a big supporter of arranged marriages. It’s simple, really. You start with zero expectations and once you hit it off, every day is better than the previous one and all the highs come in the course of marriage. In romantic relationships, you reach the peak of your romance before marriage. And then you are left thinking where all the love went and why everything has become so mundane. So I feel the graph in an arranged marriage is better in the long term.”

(The emphasis is mine)

You have to admit, he has a point.

Paul and I started dating when I was almost 20, the Summer before I started Law School. We didn’t live in the same city: I was in Gatineau and he was in Petawawa, an army base about 160 km away. When I got pregnant a year later, we had never even talked about marriage. We were just two people attracted to each other, with a baby on the way and a military deployment looming. We decided to make a go of it and got married a week before he left for Bosnia. I was 22 weeks pregnant.

The decision to marry when we did was a practical one. In the Armed Forces — this may have changed with the times — it was easier to receive support as the wife of a deployed member than as a girlfriend. We didn’t have a plan, we didn’t even have an apartment: he lived in the singles’ quarters on the base, I lived with my parents. We were two people in love with a baby on the way and a commitment to try our best.

I’d be lying if I told you that everyone was as hopeful as we were. I was a full-time student, he was a young army officer with a bright career ahead of him (the kind of career that wreaks havoc on marriages), we were expecting our first child 4 months into a 6 months deployment. You would be forgiven for seeing this as a shaky start at best, a trainwreck in the making at worst. But I think that — as Shahid Kapoor said — starting with no expectations, we really met along the way. As I mentioned in my previous post, the secret to a long-term commitment is the willingness and ability to change with the other. When your marriage is born out of nothing but a promise to figure it out, it sets the tone.

It served us well 7 years later when we hit the first sharp corner in our marriage. Paul and I do nothing slowly and coming to a 90-degree turn at 100 km/h, we flipped the car and burned it down with 4 children in the backseat. It wasn’t pretty. Everyone said “It was always a trainwreck in the making…” but Paul and I decided to build a new marriage from the ashes of the first one. It was not an emotional decision, it was a practical decision. We had 4 children and neither of us was ready to see them only some of the time. But also, having 4 children meant that our lives were inexorably intertwined, whether we liked each other or not. We would have to plan our holidays together, our major expenses together, our careers together, our moves together. It was immediately obvious that we would have to work just as hard on splitting-up as we would have on staying together.

We didn’t want the old marriage back. That one was broken. We wanted a new, happy one. This was our second arranged marriage. It was transactional, it started from somewhere even farther than being complete strangers because we had baggage. Strangers don’t trust each other because they don’t know each other. Paul and I didn’t trust each other because we had reasons not to feel safe. And to this day, it’s not entirely clear how we climbed out of that hole and went on to have 5 more children. Hard work for sure. A lot of self-awareness. A willingness to move on without needing to assign blame. An understanding — from both sides — of the difference between forgiving and forgetting. An ability to let the other heal without picking the scab. And a metric ton of prayer from friends and family who were rooting for us. But the experience of walking into our first marriage with an openness to receive whatever life threw at us was the template on which our second marriage was built.

In “Bridges of Madison County,” Francesca (Meryl Streep) explains to Robert (Redford) that she can’t erase her life.

Sometimes, we don’t want a new life. We want our own life, but happier.

Love and Marriage, Love and Marriage: 7-year cycles


Continuing down the list of suggested blog topics, marriage was a recurring suggestion in different forms:

– Maintaining a healthy marriage despite the chaos

– Grey divorces

– That time you were thisclose to divorcing your spouse

– Sex after marriage (as in sex in a long term committed relationship with children, not as in abstinence until marriage)

Writing about marriage is a tall order, especially when it involves sex, because, well, I have other people’s feelings, perspectives and boundaries to respect. Anyone who has ever bought me coffee — and even some I bought coffee to — knows that I hold nothing back in private conversations. Blogging is a different kettle of fish but I’m ready to tackle it (tackle, fish, geddit?)

I learned a lot about marriage through my own experience and through watching other people do it. Some are inspirations, some are cautionary tales, everyone has something to teach everyone else. In my writing about parenting and family life, I strive to avoid the word “should.” If I learned anything in my 22 years of parenting — and as many of married life — it’s that there is no recipe for a happy and well-adjusted family life. There are broad lines — don’t hit or shame people, give plenty of physical affection and healthy foods — with room to adapt our own circumstances. Families are made of a mish-mash of different personalities, temperaments and life experiences. Some apples don’t fall far from the tree, some apples are adopted into foreign orchards, and some apples pull DNA three generations removed. And of course, as my children noted with horror, you marry someone you’re not related to. (Lucas, when told he could not marry his twin sister: “I’m not marrying someone I don’t know!!!”)

The truth is, there is more I don’t know about what makes a happy marriage than what I know. One thing I noticed is that when couples find an easy magic solution to marital bliss in a book or at a conference, it’s almost always the calm before the final storm. Because there is no easy path to long-term marital happiness. It’s a work of constant reinvention and acceptance

One of the keys to maintaining a healthy relationship through the ups and downs of a long-term commitment is to accept this constant reinvention, of ourselves and of the other. It takes resilience and flexibility to accept that the person we married will not always be the same, and to make the decision to love whoever this person becomes. In one of the better-known scenes from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Rochester tells Jane:

“I have a strange feeling with regard to you. As if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly knotted to a similar string in you. And if you were to leave I’m afraid that cord of communion would snap. And I have a notion that I’d take to bleeding inwardly.”

I love this image of commitment as attaching to something deep within the other person, something essential that exists independently of appearances, goals, and ambitions. As the years pass and life acts on us like a river molds its banks, what matters to us may change. The ability of a marriage to withstand this constant reinvention is to connect somewhere under the left ribs, to the heart of the other. It’s to accept the other for the other’s sake rather than for what the other brings us.

When we fall in love, the dance of hormones and emotions makes connecting easy. It makes connecting necessary. We love, we thirst, we need the other to feel complete. As we age and family obligations take their toll, we look back on the ease of the early days and wonder “If he/she hadn’t changed, would things still be easy?” and we answer in the affirmative because our minds are like water, always rushing through the path of least resistance. But the dance of hormones and emotions was never supposed to last. Its purpose was to get us naked and reproducing. Now that the deed is done, the rest is up to us, and it’s hard work.

Marriages turn on a 7-year cycle. Breakdowns — whether they are permanent or not — happen at the 7-year mark, the 14-year mark and the 21-year mark. These cycles are not written in the stars, they correspond to inflection points in our personal growth. The first 7 years are a blur of babies, chaos, and sleep deprivation so deep we’re not even allowed to impose it on hardened criminals. The next 7 years are spent getting to know the new adult version of ourself and our spouse. At the 14-year mark, our children are now teenagers. After 21 years, the children are leaving and we take stock of where we are, sometimes wondering if this is really where we were meant to be, with a crushing sense of the merciless march of time.

Paul and I often joke that we front-loaded all the marriage trouble at the 7-year mark, so we didn’t really feel 14 and 21 pass us by. But what I think really happened is that having failed to love the other for the other’s sake through the first 7 years, having relied too much on the forces of attraction and too little on hard work and understanding; having made a decision to stay together and do it better for the next 7, we gave each other permission to change. We supported each other through questionable choices, new ambitions and sharp turns. We gave each other permission to stumble and a hand to grab on the way down.

Falling and flying are almost the same until you hit the ground. The difference between a thud! and a smooth landing is a bit of air, moving at the right speed, in the right direction.

 

 

 

Daily M.E.D.S. — Minimally Edited Daily Stuff


I retitled my daily blog to Daily MEDS because we’re military-adjacent and nothing says family like a good acronym. Also, I want readers to know that these daily posts are a discipline in leaving well-enough alone. I don’t need to learn how to write like Steinbeck, I need to learn how to ship. I mean… writing like Steinbeck would be nice too…

“You’re bound to get idears if you go thinkin’ about stuff”
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

 

Daily Blog: Change, Change, Change Part 4


You may be wondering why I titled my series “Change, change, change”. Everything comes to me with a song and this one was the melody to Aretha Franklin’s Chains of Fools. It just occurred to me that she’s singing “Chain, chain, chains” and that my series title made no sense to anyone but me.

In my previous post, I wrote that children can withstand a lot of life-altering change without trauma when the fundamentals of attachment are well in place. But, you ask, what do you do if you are not starting from a place of perfect attachment? Last weekend, I reposted two old posts about spanking and in the ensuing discussion on Facebook, many mentioned that a swat on the bottom, applied in an otherwise loving relationship, was of no consequence. Love and attachment are not the same. We can love our children fiercely while leaving attachment gaps the size of Eurasia in our relationship. Love is what motivates neglectful parents to pull all the stops when their children are the object of a removal hearing. Love is why abusers apologize and beg their victims to stay. Love is imperfect and subjective. Most of us wretched sinners would be well advised to approach questions of attachment with a droplet of humility and assume that we are currently messing-up our children in all sorts of harmful and harmless ways, just like our parents did before us.

Listen, none of us get into this parenting thing hoping to mess people up but many of us will. Forewarned is forearmed, that’s all I’m saying. When our families are facing life-altering changes, can we take concrete steps to guard our children’s little hearts and make it as easy as possible for them?

In my previous post, I mentioned Gordon Neufeld’s “Hold On to Your Kids”, which should be mandatory reading for every parent. In fact, they should make parents read it before discharging them from labour and delivery. Like a car seat check for children’s hearts. But Neufeld is talking in broad lines: don’t hit your kids, don’t shame them and remember that children need a large quantity of quality time to attach properly. For practical input, I turned to Kim John Payne and his book “Simplicity Parenting. ”

Kim John Payne is an educator who studied the cumulative effect of small stressors on cognitive disorders and mental illness in children. His studies revealed that when parents were able to reduce the bombardment of stimuli on their troubled children’s brains, cognitive disorders such as ADHD, ODD and OCD became manageable to the point of becoming a quirk rather than a dysfunction. He identified 4 paths to simplifying our children’s lives. When I started reflecting on what our family did to ease our children through moves, new siblings and general life adjustments, I realized that our approach lined-up with Kim John Payne’s paths to simplicity.

1. Predictability and routines. Children thrive on predictability, it’s one of the pillars of attachment. A child’s life is built on answering two recurring questions: Am I safe? and Can I trust? When these questions are answered positively, children are freed to be creative, innovative, attached and secure. Based on their temperaments, some children require more predictability than others. As parents, we must accept the hand we’re dealt and avoid dealing in “should’s.” When our lives are in upheaval, when our families enter periods of instability, we cannot always maintain routines but we can always be predictable. The instability and upheaval can be predictable. Even when routines are difficult to maintain, small routines around meal times, bedtime, and points of transition can be upheld and go a long way in grounding our children in what they know, even in the middle of the unknown.

2. Declutter toys and books. When I wrote about Kim John Payne in 2o12, he mentioned that the average North American child had 150 toys, in which a 3,000-piece Lego set counted as one toy. An over-abundance of toys and books and our inability to declutter reveals more about our state of mind as parents and resistance to change than our children’s. When we explore why we need to provide so much for our children, we often have to address deep-seated fears and insecurities. When our children watch us — and eventually help us — declutter toys and books with a focus on quality, they learn that our identity as a family doesn’t come from what we own but from who we are. It flexes the change muscle in small ways every day so that we are trained when big changes come our way.

3. Media. Our family went through a screen detox almost a year ago and we still limit our children’s exposure to screened entertainment. Overuse of screened entertainment and media rewires our brains, stunts our creativity and shortens our attention span. It may not be immediately obvious how over-exposure to media can affect our children’s ability to weather changes with equanimity but bear with me. When we cut our children off screens last winter, we realized how much mental energy they used thinking about their video games or TV shows, even when they were not watching them. Media of all stripes — especially media directed at children — is designed to be addictive, to grab us and make us come back for more. As parents, we appreciate the calming effect of screens but this stupefying effect comes at a cost when our children come to need screens as a coping mechanism, as a tool of emotional self-regulation. To face challenges and to adapt, our children need mental agility. Over-exposure to media ribs them of that agility.

4. Protecting their innocence and sense of wonder. Sometimes change is imposed on us by circumstances and sometimes we need to make changes that are difficult to comprehend for children. We need to use extreme caution in sharing details they are too young to understand. It doesn’t mean that we lie to our children but we need to use judgment when exposing them to the motivations and possible consequences of a change. To be able to embrace change positively, our children need to believe that the world is a beautiful place. Children are naturally able to see beauty and goodness in every circumstance and we must protect their sense of wonder as long as we can. If we do that, they will show us the beauty in the mess and help us see the world through their eyes.

Daily Blog: Change, Change, Change Part 3


Do you sometimes think about the grown-ups who existed in the periphery of your childhood and wonder who they would be if you met them adult to adult? I often remember them through their children: the kid whose parents were on-again-off-again, the kid whose parents were in an open relationship, the black kid adopted into a white family, the kid whose mom was always unto the next fail-proof business opportunity, the kid whose parents went bankrupt, the kid whose parents didn’t speak French, the kid whose parents chased an ideal larger than themselves, and so on.

I sometimes get a glimpse of how our family is seen from the outside based on the comments people make about the size of our family or about the number of times we’ve moved or changed cars.  The assumptions that people make reveal so much about their on fears and foibles. There is a world lurking behind an innocuous: “I would have had more children but Little Joey is way too attached to me,”  “We only wanted two children and now we really want a third one and we don’t know what to do!” or “We want to sell this house but this is where we raised our children.”  People wed themselves to things and ideas, it’s little wonder that everything feels like a divorce.

Paul and I don’t change for the sake of change. We make decisions that we revisit when circumstances change. Paul and I were expecting our first child within a year (almost to the day) of meeting each other. I was 21 and had just finished my first year of Law School. We were expecting our second child a year later. If that doesn’t school you in expecting the unexpected, nothing will.

If you look back at your twenties, you might find that the time you spent in University was a time of intense questioning. You may not have finished the same degree you started. You may not have been in the same country anymore. Maybe you took a temporary placement in a new city and stayed with a full time job, maybe you followed someone somewhere and liked the place more than the person. People seem to partition their lives between a time of self-discovery during which change is expected and a time of settling down after which change is to be avoided. Paul and I went through the same iterations as anyone else, but we had to discover ourselves with a family in tow. We had 4 children in our twenties, 4 children in our thirties and one in our forties. They were along for the ride while we made money, lost money, built things, tore them down, started businesses and went back to school. But through it all, we always kept a focus on our relationships with each other and the primacy of our family.

I’m no child psychologist but I read Gordon Neufeld often enough to teach a graduate class on “Hold On to Your Kids”. From Neufeld, I learned that children can withstand extraordinary change in their lives as long as the essential of survival are met, and this includes the first survival mechanism: attachment. Listening to your children, you might get the impression that a lot of niggly things are necessary to their survival, like junk cereals, video games and fingerling monkey things. But if you look past the pyrotechnics — and read Gordon Neufeld — you will discover that children have deceptively simple needs: care and affection. We can get away with a lot of topsy-turvy when the fundamentals are in place.

In many ways, change is like a form of exercise. There is exercise that strengthens and exercise that injures. And the degree to which a certain exercise can traumatize your body is not a function of the exercise itself but of the state of your body. Walking may be good for you but if you have a broken leg, it will ruin everything. The same goes for change in family life: the degree to which our children can be traumatized by a change in their circumstances is more a function of their emotional health and sensitivity going in than the material circumstances of the change.

Throughout the changes in our lives, we have worked to maintain a strong family identity and nurtured a sense of belonging, not to a place, or a school, or a level of comfort, but to each other. Our children trust us to love them and keep them safe in good times and in bad. They may not always welcome change with enthusiasm but we remain steadfast in our commitment to them.

I’m leaving you with this wonderful scene from “Bridges of Madison County” about change, and making the most of it: