Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Thank God for Australia Day, or about the January Krisa syndrome.

One of my favourite slang Russian words these days is Krisitsya. It is a verb, based on a krisa, which is a  Russkiy word for a rat. Thus, to krisitsya means to start acting like a rat. ( Slightly different meaning to what it  means in English.) My cousin taught me that one years ago, when we were discussing his shunning away from something he had promised to do. 'Sorry', he said, justifying his behaviour, 'Ya skrisilsya v poslednee vremya'. ( I have skrisilsya recently for some reason).

Since then, the word has become my favourite.

And why am I bringing this word up now? Well, I have realised why most of us dislike January so much. You keep hearing it is the most depressing month, mainly due to the weather, the anti-climax after the partying in December, and the lack of money due to the over-spending during the holidays.  Those are all, of course, pretty rational reasons. However, I can add one more reason to hate January- because I, and not just I but most of the people I know, start krisitsya during this month.

One of the things I hate doing is when I promise someone something and then do not deliver. I know most of us throw comments this way and that way, just being nice, you know. Such as "Oh, it was lovely to see you, we must catch up sometime!" or " Oh, let's have a coffee one morning soon!" and we smile and we agree that would be nice, and then don't see that person for another year or so. That happens to us all, more often as we grow older. However, if I promise to have someone for lunch or dinner soon, I usually actually mean it. But….not in January.

I absolutely loathe this feeling of shame, when I know I owe people an invitation, but simply cannot bring myself to do it. And, typically, I am more than happy to have people over, I swear I am! But…In January, something happens. I lose interest in hosting. I lose interest in seeing people, and  I even!!! lose interest in talking, and that, if you know me at all, is pretty serious.

And of course, I have my excuses. My mother has been visiting us for a long time, I had friends over for Christmas dinner, following by other friends staying with us for a week over New Year. I thoroughly enjoyed having my house full, but as a result...I have officially over-hosted, over-socialised and over-spent. And so now, being perfectly aware that I had said to a few people it was my turn to host them, that I would invite them over…. I have drawn my curtains, locked the doors, switched off the phone and been lying low in my burrow.

And trust me, I am not the only one. Many of my friends disappeared for a month without a phone call, even the usually generous types. So imagine my shock when Husband announced we were invited to a BBQ party this Friday night.

My mind went lazily around everyone I know. I could not think who- in January?-would bring themselves to hosting a party. 'Seriously?' I asked. 'Whose place?'

It turns out we are going to an Aussie barbie dinner at our Australian friends' house, to celebrate the Australia Day.

Cool, I thought, my lack of desire to socialise instantly disappearing at the thought of BBQ meat and drinks. Thank God for Australia Day, I say, sheilas and blokes! My social calendar is slowly returning to normal. I am ready to say goodbye to the mean and lazy krisa January, and welcome February, when we have more friends arriving from the UK. I will be ready to socialize again then. I promise.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Parenting style as a calculator for weirdness

I went to a friend's birthday coffee the other day at a posh hotel. It was very nice, indeed. Very civilized, you know. A bunch of western expat ladies, sipping tea and coffee, exchanging pleasantries.  At first glance, we all had a lot in common, despite being quite a mixed bunch (There were a couple of Americans, a few Brits, a couple of South Africans and an Australian or two…And of course, as you know, one Azeri.) However, we were all married expat women, all in Doha, most with the kids going to the same school…Lots to discuss, lots to agree on. And yet, I witnessed a major clash of personalities, right there. A girl next to me, who I had briefly met before, was a young American mother of a small baby she brought along with her. She was a certain type, you know…A type that I would label as an environmentalist. (Note: See my old posting for a classification of the British suburban ladies here.)
As the beautiful birthday cake was cut and passed around the table, and the baby squealed in excitement, the South African mum across the table smiled and suggested that the child was probably after a slice.

No, said the American mother. She is not allowed any carbs until 12 months of age.

Having met this lady before, I was not that surprised. But the SA lady looked shocked. What do you mean? she asked with an intense sort of smile, tilting her head to one side. Why? Based on what??

The environmentalist mother proceeded to explain how, according to a recent research, babies' stomachs were not ready to digest carbs very well until they were a year old. Encouraged by the obvious interest, she added that she was going to try feeding the baby raw liver next. (She read somewhere that many generations of native Mauritians let their babies suck on the raw cow's liver. Not sure why she decided it was therefore a good idea? Perhaps she read that Mauritians tend to live longer, or are known for superb brain development. I did not want to ask. I felt that asking that question would sound like I was trying to challenge her.)

She found liver from an Indian water buffalo, which feeds on green grass only, and therefore is quite safe.

At that precise moment, I am sure I noticed the SA's mother jerk compulsively in the direction of the baby, as if following an impulse to grab her and run for the door.

It is amazing, isn't it, how aggressive and judgemental we all get when it comes to parenting? Parenting approach, to me, is one of the most dangerous topics, in many ways not unlike a religion, something mothers from all sorts of cultures can get incredibly passionate about, if challenged by someone else. Yet, it is something we all, without fail, seem to consider ourselves experts in. Even when we pretend, like I did that morning (hopefully successfully) as I nodded and smiled, listening to the Mauritian raw liver theory, to understand and respect a very different approach to what we are used to, we still secretly think to ourselves 'jeez... what a nutcase!'

Just like in this quote of George Calin where anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you a maniac, we tend to judge other parents for their inability to handle a tantrum, their bizarre sleeping rituals or crazy feeding routines.

It was easy for me, to be honest, raising my first child in England. I, having had very little interest in parenting or babies before I actually had one myself, submerged myself happily and entirely, without questioning what was actually right or wrong, into the way things were done in the UK at the time. Besides the division between most of the mums I knew back in the UK between those who followed Gina Ford's routine, or those who believed in a softer, Baby Whisperer approach, there were not many other major differences to get excited about. Most of our babies were weaned on the same foods, no raw liver or other unorthodox products involved, went to bed around 7pm and played with similar toys.

However, living in Doha, I see that there are so many more different approaches to everything I used to do back in the UK! Not all parents put their kids to bed at 7, some small children stay up as late as 11pm, running around the compound while I could already be on my second dream about Clive Owen. Some mums are a lot more earth-motherly than I'd ever met before, with washable nappies and co-sleeping, some are stiffly strict about no-sugar diet, and some don't believe in vaccinations. It is unsurprising, really, how different we all are and why shouldn't we be? In the end, all the babies (hopefully even the one fed on the raw liver ) survive.

It is okay to have such different parenting approaches. In fact, it can be quite useful. Parenting styles are brilliant tools for being able to judge the extent of craziness in some people. You might want to use this tool if you are otherwise unsure or unable to tell if your new acquaintance is cool, alright, a bit wacky in a charming sort of way, or a total nutcase. And we all have our own threshold of how much madness we are happy to deal with. I always try and understand. I honestly do. And sometimes, I even take something back from other approaches, having compared them to mine, and having perhaps realized where I could improve what I am doing. But then there are some cases where I just know, very quickly, that the person is soooo different that she or he lives on a different planet, somewhere in the galaxy far, far away, so far that no translation into any Earth language would ever be possible. In such cases, I just smile and wave. Smile and wave.