A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dr Zhivago

I was hoping to write this up a few days ago but life, you know, gets in the way. Mostly... I'm just knackered at the end of the day.

Last Friday evening, the husband and I caught a bus into town and went to see a live performance of Dr Zhivago at the Lyric Theatre here in Brisbane. It was a belated anniversary outing. We almost didn't make it... long story... but we got there, huffing and puffing, with 5 measley minutes to spare. Admittedly, it was my bright idea to catch a bus into town because the last time we tried to get out of Southbank parking (Star Wars Ep 3, I think it was), we were trapped for 30 minutes in an underground car park because a multitude of cars all had the same notion. Unfortunately, buses being what they are here... completely unreliable... So I was  relieved beyond words that I didn't have to miss the first act.

If you've never read the book or seen the film, Dr Zhivago is set during pre-revolutionary and Bolshevik Russia. It's a tragic tale about a doctor-poet and his ill-fated love affair with a passionate woman.

Before I go on any further, I have to say that I've never found Pasternak's novel my cup of tea. I've tried to read it a couple of times... but for some reason, I've never been able to get into it. Youthful ignorance perhaps. Hence, I went to the show purely on the strength of Anthony Warlow's singing talents. (The last time I saw him on stage was for Annie and that was 10 years ago)

I've decided after Friday that I still don't like the story but it doesn't mean that Dr Zhivago, the stage production is to be avoided like the plague. Artistically, the production values were high and the talent was something to behold. Music was likeable but nothing especially memorable. At the end of the day, it seemed to us, that it wasn't about the music but the story and characters. And the history. Now, for that alone the show rose several notches in my estimation .

After thinking it through and wondering about my reaction to the show, I came to the conclusion that I didn't really care about Yurii Zhivago or Lara. I gather that you're supposed to be all weepy that theirs is a love that cannot be. By now, all of us sophisticated, jaded modern types know that "tragic love affair" is really code for adultery. Okay... they have an adulterous relationship and it's okay because... well... she's his muse. Without her, Yurii would never be the great poet that he becomes. Even his poor, long-suffering wife admits it.
Ho hum...
But it isn't just the adultery itself that irks me, it's Yurii too. Despite regurgitating the mantra, that the strength of a man is in his mind or some such thing... he comes across as being rather wishy washy. Or tortured... code word for indecisive. No... I didn't connect emotionally with the character.. code phrase for... I didn't like him much.

Lara... I dunno. I didn't dislike her but she felt unidimensional, code word for flat. There's this great symbolic scene where 3 of the men who have loved her grace the stage together and croon about love. It summed up her role in the narrative to perfection. She was the catalyst to some major event in their lives... they loved her passion and she inadvertently changed their lives.

Ironically, the person I found most compelling was Pasha, the working class revolutionary idealist that Lara marries. Make no mistake, I despise his politics but as a person, he was the least hypocritical. He took his ideas to their logical conclusion and turned into a monster. Clearly the revolution was his big revenge on the "middle class" and their dissolute existence. In other words, he did it all... for her because she was the victim of bourgeois greed and lust.

That, I thought was interesting. Apparently sin is a class issue. (Don't remember reading that in the Bible.) At least in the mind of the revolutionary seeking a righteous mandate for his cause, it's an attractive way to frame the argument. He wanted to rid the world of sin and failed to grasp that he himself was the problem. Well, his intentions were good, right? That should be enough, right?
Hooray for the blindness of an idealist.

Here was I thinking that sin is rebellion against God which is the root cause for all our sins. But then it has always been easier to see the speck in another's eye than the log in our own.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Importance of Reading to Your Child

In a previous post, I mentioned that I've been doing a bit of private tutoring and it's triggered a few thoughts about literacy.
I want to plead with those of you who are parents, especially if you have younger children, to expend every effort on broadening their literacy skills through reading even if it isn't one of their great passions in life. Perhaps, it's becoming something of a cliche and you've become weary of hearing it but as someone with teaching background, I can emphatically say that it really is one of the most important skills you can impart to your children. Especially in this so-called "information age".

The lady that I'm helping right now will be attempting an international English exam for a second time and desperately needs to boost her reading results in a major way. Listening to her lifestory of how she's sidestepped the entire process in her reading development has brought home to me again how important it is that children have a good headstart with their literacy skills whatever their first language might be.

Reading isn't just a school skill... it's a life skill. Even if it's just for 10 minutes a day in our hectic lives. A good foundation will give them something to build on even if they don't end up in tertiary education.
It isn't just about recognizing words, it's also about processing knowledge and ideas.
It's also about training the brain "muscles" to learn in a particular fashion.
It can also help stimulate the imagination and encourage creativity.

Find something... anything appropriate... that your child will read. I know it's hard. Some children seem to be naturally repulsed by books or be indifferent to them. However, I've noticed that the range of graphic novels have expanded over the last decade. 10 year old was reading a Nancy Drew graphic novel yesterday (I didn't even know there was such a thing) but 10 year old is like her mum and dad... she reads almost anything.

 More importantly, however,  (even if it's a magazine or the local rag) you need to read and be seen to read because that says to them that reading is an activity worth engaging in.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Self Esteem Gone Astern

I've never really bought into the self-esteem movement especially as it relates to parenting and children. Perhaps it's my upbringing showing forth its stripes but it always seemed to me that self-esteem as pop psychology was more about massaging egos rather than a properly conceived philosophy in teaching children resilience against the stark realities of life. More importantly, there doesn't seem to be any biblical basis for it. I imagine that it came about primarily as a reaction to authoritarian forms of parenting, paired with the notion that "being happy" is the ultimate goal in life.

Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherpist has written an engaging article questioning some cherished notions of happiness-based parenting published in The Atlantic recently. As this goes to the core of culture and conventional wisdom, I expect that it will and has raised hackles. Here's an extract:

A few months ago, I called up Jean Twenge, a co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, who has written extensively about narcissism and self-esteem. She told me she wasn’t surprised that some of my patients reported having very happy childhoods but felt dissatisfied and lost as adults. When ego-boosting parents exclaim “Great job!” not just the first time a young child puts on his shoes but every single morning he does this, the child learns to feel that everything he does is special. Likewise, if the kid participates in activities where he gets stickers for “good tries,” he never gets negative feedback on his performance. (All failures are reframed as “good tries.”) According to Twenge, indicators of self-esteem have risen consistently since the 1980s among middle-school, high-school, and college students. But, she says, what starts off as healthy self-esteem can quickly morph into an inflated view of oneself—a self-absorption and sense of entitlement that looks a lot like narcissism. In fact, rates of narcissism among college students have increased right along with self-esteem.
Meanwhile, rates of anxiety and depression have also risen in tandem with self-esteem. Why is this? “Narcissists are happy when they’re younger, because they’re the center of the universe,” Twenge explains. “Their parents act like their servants, shuttling them to any activity they choose and catering to their every desire. Parents are constantly telling their children how special and talented they are. This gives them an inflated view of their specialness compared to other human beings. Instead of feeling good about themselves, they feel better than everyone else.”(p.3)
Definitely worth reading.

God Talk: Striving After the Wind 2

As someone who has been wondering for the past 5 months where God is leading me to, Ecclesiastes has been a Godsend.
On the surface, it's an odd sort of book to be included in the canon of Scripture... pessimisstic rantings and ravings of a philosopher-king disillusioned with his wealth, achievements and relationships. How low can you sink without sinking into the "depths of despair"?
It's a rhetorical question, of course but as someone who has wallowed and groped around in the "depths of despair", I can speak to the dark places that the human mind can find itself in.

Ecclesiastes is, in short, a pride buster or killer or exterminator -- which ever word takes your fancy. Life's too short to waste on bragging.

I don't see how else one can read it. I'm no Que Sera Sera fatalist but there is a sense whereby we are piddly little beings and not always in control of our circumstances. There are things that happen to us that we just have not a lot of control over. Many things happen around us that defy belief or common sense. But they happen, nonetheless.
That's just one aspect.
And then there's our achievements, our talents, our skills. The world around us tells us we have something to be proud of when we gain worldly success. I remember going through a phase in my life when I landed my first real teaching job after being a perennial student. I was excited and not a little fearful to be gainfully employed. During that initial idealistic phase I believed that if I could prove myself in that job, I would have attained something of importance in my short life.
Of course, that's the sort of thinking that ends in tears. I was pretty disillusioned after about a year. While I liked what I was doing, buoyed by the trickle of compliments that I got for doing it, the build-up wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
I learnt quickly that we aren't supposed to find meaning in our jobs -- it's something we do and not what we are. Jobs keep us in breakfast cereals, dead animals and help pay the bills. Occasionally we meet people we really like and build friendships in those situations. God may at his pleasure, grant us opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ to our workmates.

But they're not to be our raison d'etre.

Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us also that there are seasons in life. There are times when something may be right/ripe but not at other times. That is for me, I think, one of the hardest lessons in life to embrace.

I'll be honest and say that I've been wanting desperately to go back to work. I felt ready earlier in the year to do so but the doors haven't open for me. The industry in which I worked previously is at a low point and not much recruiting seems to be going on.
However, in the last couple of months I feel like I'm coming out of some kind of semi-depressed state. I'm doing some volunteer English teaching. I've taken on a couple of private tutoring jobs which I had previously resisted doing and I see more and more that I'm meant to be at home for the children and the husband.
There is a sense of freedom for me in that realization. To be busy in what I knew in my heart was necessary and really I didn't need a zap of lightning from heaven to know that the welfare of my family should be a priority especially when 4 year old is still a 4 year old.

I don't know what the next year will bring. Perhaps more of the same.While I'm open to any new opportunities I'll continue to do what I need to do because keeping busy in my case is better than wondering what might have been.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Typical Day

Last week I came up with the bright idea of breaking down my week. As a stay-at-home mother, it's often frustrating how quickly the day goes by and one is left wondering where all the minutes and hours went to. I'd been thinking too that I wasn't on top of things like housework and wondered how much time I actually spent on it. It's so easy to procrastinate when there's no one to be accountable to. So I did it the old fashioned way... it's almost as if I haven't left school sometimes... made up a time table and saw the spaces fill up far too readily.

I found this exercise immensely helpful as it exposed to me my actual priorities and my stewardship (or lack) of time. Kind of galling to see it in technicolour (that was deliberate) but the results were not entirely surprising. Stuff like time spent on internet or watching videos etc etc.

I've made a few changes and am still tweaking things. Problem is... my weeks vary quite a fair bit and I've taken on a bit of tutoring. How to fit it all in...

A Typical Week: Before
QT: 30 mins
QT: 30 mins
QT: 30 mins
QT: 30 mins
QT: 30 mins
QT: 30 mins
QT: 30 mins
English Convo Class : 3 hours
Housework: 1 hour
MOPS/Susannah: 4 hours
Housework: 1 hour
Playgroup: 3 hours
Housework: 2 hours
Church: 4 hours
Housework: 1 hour
Lunch: 30 mins

Lunch: 30 mins
Lunch: 30 mins
Lunch: 30 mins
Lunch: 30 mins
Lunch: 30 mins
Lunch: 1 hour

Housework: 1 hour

Swimming 2 hours

In-Laws: 3 hours
Homework:  1 hour
Homework: 1 hour
Homework: 1 hour
Homework: 1 hour
Homework: 1 hour

Meal Prep: 2 hours
Meal Prep: 2 hours
Meal Prep: 2 hours
Meal Prep: 2 hours
Meal Prep: 2 hours
Meal Prep: 2 hours
Meal Prep: 2 hours
Preparation for MOPS: 2 hours
Bible Study: 2 hours
Home Group: 2.5 hours


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Children, They Ask

Just the other day, we were on our way to playgroup and the 4 year old at the back of the car noticed a bicycle atop a little hatchback. She asked, "Why is there a bicycle on the car, mum?"
I wondered... Is she asking me an epistemological question? Or an ontological question? An aesthetic question?
Does she really want to know why? Does she find it aesthetically displeasing -- the oddity of the bicycle on another vehicle jarring? Or perhaps she's looking for a scientific explanation... of how the bicycle can physically stay on top of a car without falling off...
So I give the shortcut mummy answer, "The person driving the car wants to take their bicycle somewhere far away so this is the best way. So they don't have to ride their bicycle a long, long way."
She seemed satisfied with the answer.
Or maybe she was delighted to get any answer.

Earlier in the evening, the husband tells the 4 year old that it's time for a shower and so she asks,
"Why do I have to go first?"
I wonder to myself... Is she:
a) trying to stall for time
b) protesting injustice
c) thinking that her status in the family has been elevated

So I give the shortcut mummy answer, "Because Daddy asked you to."

Oddly enough she seemed happy with the answer.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

God Talk: Striving After the Wind

(This is first in a series of posts about the book of Ecclesiastes, which is currently part of my Bible reading plan)

During my high school days, I stumbled onto this wonderful classic in the great canon of Chinese literature:

Or maybe it was this one...

Or this...

Pictures helped... A LOT. Hey, there are over 600 names and hundreds of military engagements mentioned in this work. Me with my below average high school Chinese... Well... there was no way at the time or even now, that I could've have read this monumental work of historical fiction in its orignal form. And the tribute poems would have slain me. In terms of its dramatis personae, it's far lengthier than Lord of the Rings but despite the weighy aims of the project it still manages to effectively capture the reader's imagination. I noticed elsewhere that it's been hailed the Illiad of Chinese literature. That's no comparison, the Three Kingdoms is better.

Maybe it was just the pictures that brough it alive to me. Besides, in those dim dark days of my misspent youth I was more interested in American television than I was in Chinese lit. Anything to lure me into reading the good stuff (albeit second hand) was probably worth its weight in gold. It's a bit of a mystery now as to  how I tumbled onto it... through a classmate perhaps... but the engrossing exploits of some of China's greatest military strategists have stayed with me.

Especially this one: Zhuge Liang (I've had a lifelong infatuation with him). 

Apparently half of his exploits in the book were "grossly exaggerated" which was a bit of a let down because they should have happened.

And his various television incarnations:

I've been mulling over the Three Kingdoms mythos of late because I've been following the most recent television adaptation. It's such a slow moving piece of television and yet I find myself drawn to the testosterone charged environment -- the political wheeling and dealing, the battlefield strategms, the power grabs and the oneupmanship. It isn't just about connivance... there's death defying courage, comaraderie, unwavering loyalty and exemplary leadership to admire also.
For about a hundred years, men  battled for hegemony at the end of a waning dynasty, torn apart by corruption at the highest levels and internal power struggles. Consequently, the country was carved into 3 kingdoms by warlords and held tentatively by brilliant and in large measure, capable men. However, as soon as they shuffled off their mortal coil, the powerbases that they had painstakingly built gave way. Their vision for reunification never took hold. Lesser men followed and the last of the great men standing became the ancestor to a new dynastic regime.
In light of history, all the carnage and connivances came to naught. All their efforts were in vain. These characters achieved greatness in their own right but as far as the ultimate goal of reunification was concerned, they had failed. Ironically, because there were so many smart guys around at the time vying for equal honours, the goal for reunification became unattainable.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I've been reading the book of Ecclesiates this past week and the parallels between the two narratives are compelling. The Three Kingdoms works as a perfect analogy of the that kind of existential crisis which the author of Ecclesiastes bemoans.

What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done,
    and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 ESV)

One can't help reading Ecclesiastes... on the surface level at least... without feeling a tad depressed. What is the point in anything if everything ends up in dust?

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 1:14 ESV)
I read Ecclesiastes in two ways. Firstly, as a philosophical treatise on the futility of life. Secondly, reading it in light of the gospel, I see it as a reminder that the good news of Jesus Christ, the Creator gives eternal meaning to our endeavours. The impulse in men is to build, to conquer and to leave a legacy but given the shortness of our time on earth, can we achieve anything of lasting value?

Qoheleth (title of our disillusioned philosopher), translated Preacher in our Bibles, was not too different to one of those smart guys mentioned earlier:

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.  Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.  (Ecclesiastes 2:9-11 ESV)

Despite his public achievements, his wealth and his personal gains, there's a lurking dissatisfaction in the Preacher's soul. It is depressing... to possess everything that is humanly possible to do so and then to realize later that in reality, one has nothing.

So being talented, rich, wise, successful and attractive is transcient? Why bother with anything?

So where to from here?

This Mum Needs Grace

Gasp... wheeze... puff...
This mum is need of grace... and exercise, no doubt. A little exertion and I'm undone.
It's back to swimming next week methinks.

Sadly, there is no end to housework... and by golly, I miss my childhood every time I look at my "To Do" list, reminiscing over a time when we lived in a multigenerational household with grandma, cousins and aunty where labour was lightened and divided through job sharing.

Yesterday, I unofficially designated Wednesday as "Clean-Up with 4 year old" Day. Since there's no chance of any rest for either of us in the afternoons after MOPS, I decided that it's a good opportunity to get some cleaning done in the children's bedroom. I tried unsuccessfully to turn it into a game as the entire activity progressed at snail's pace. Kids, perhaps universally, demonstrate their disapproval for housework by dragging their feet. Yeah, so there was plenty of feet dragging. But at least we made some noticeable difference under the bed and on the floor.,

I was super tired yesterday, yawning incessantly on my way home from MOPS. Don't know why though when I slept unusually well. Got up... felt reasonably energetic, roused the troops and started making dumplings for MOPS. I think that's when things began to unravel and go a bit haywire because I underestimated the time I needed to boil the dumplings, get the children out of the door and pick our new volunteer carer up before whizzing to church. It slipped my overcrowded mind that I had to plod through some bad peak hour traffic. And as it turned out, I had to stop at every single traffic light on my way to MOPS. Gah... and in some cases for two light changes.
While I was waiting at the train crossing for the light to change, I remembered to my chagrin that I had forgotten to pick up the Term Schedules on my way out.
Not happy.

The yawning was merciless in the afternoon. Did the school pick up, took 4 year old to swimming and then did a pretty meagre dinner of bangers and mash. Really had no idea if I could get the Bible Study... I was so tired.

But I did get there... and was glad I did. Still tired though but came home really enthused about life and studying God's word.

Our Bible Study leader wants us to start journalling as we do our daily readings. Not sure if I'm going to be able to journal and blog. I had a bit of chuckle today when reading Ecclesiastes 7 and Solomon whines about only finding one good man in a thousand and not finding any decent woman at all. My first thought was: That's what happens when you have a harem of a thousand, brother!
Okay... I'm being facetious... but only a little. Sucha hard life, Solomon! You poor, poor man.
: D

I'm past the half way mark now on the Bonhoeffer biography. Been listening to it while doing the housework. The husband, who read it before I did, said that Bonhoeffer had an upbringing not unlike the von Trapp family.

Bio is well-written, engaging, full of facts that I hadn't heard hitherto about Germany in the 1930s. Didn't realize there had been so many internal plots to do away with Hitler. It's been quite an education. In many ways, Bonhoeffer was a big picture man and was way ahead of everyone in how he saw the Nazis, the Jewish Question and where the German church was headed. It's a great read.

My beautiful glistening floor... sob... that I just cleaned earlier today. I just spotted a couple of black streaks. Sob.
Cleaning is so depressing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Contentment-Driven Life

About a decade ago, Christians got on board the whole "Purpose Driven Life" fad. At the time I embraced the notion with a certain degree of enthusiasm  because I was sick to death of the self-centred motivational titles floating around in bookshops.
A book that begins with the sentence, "It's not about you" seemed to me to have the right idea.

Ironically a book that begins with "it's not about you" does end up sounding like it is about me.

At the end of the day, it was a motivational book intending to get Christians off their rear ends and out there doing good.
Whether it did that, I can't say. But doing good works isn't the mission of the church. Helping people find their purpose in life isn't the mission of the church either.
Okay, I'm being provocative.
(Not really)

And while I'm in a provocative frame of mind... I want to start a new fad... I want to start the Contentment-Driven Life.

Contentment... how hard a concept is that?
Contentment as antidote to materialism, not an excuse for mediocrity. Contentment with simplicity, to embrace the ordinary vistas of life. To be content is to master oneself, one's appetites.

In this consumerist age... the distractions and temptations are many. But when I fill up my life with stuff, I seem to feel emptier.
But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. (1 Tim 6:6)
It's impossible to be content without God though. But if He is your treasure, then all else pales in significance. If we find joy and pleasure in him, then we won't need stuff to make us happy. Stuff will just be stuff... useful, fun and convenient.

Now, how do we instill that in our kids?

Monday, July 11, 2011

I am a Broken Record

Q: What does a suburban mum spend most of her time doing around the house (aside from cooking)?
A: Chasing the kiddies to clean up after themselves.
Q: What does a suburban mum do when she is really, really looking for something to do?

A: She insists the 10 year old remove the growing clutter from her bed so we can get to the sheets.

Well, it's amazing how much stuff can fit into a bed. I had no idea. Very Tardis-like, this bed.
Well... it could be worse... it she could be growing penicillin.
So we went out and got ourselves plastic storage boxes. To find a new home for the plush toys, rubbers, art supplies, all manner of useless knick knacks and general junk.
This suburban mum is imposing a temporary ban on Gomu rubbers. The bed is now strictly a junk-free zone. Squirrelling is forbidden.
It'll be another few years before I'll feel safe about respecting her privacy.

Let's see how long this lasts.
People... people who have older children and more experience than me in this... tell me that the penny drops eventually.
I'm wondering when "eventually" is.
Can't come soon enough.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lunch and Other Ways to Digest the Planet's Problems

Met up with an old student today for lunch. It's been 13 years since I last saw him. Happily enough about two years ago, he found me on Facebook.
During that time he's been to the States, back to Japan, changed his occupation a few times and now he's feeling restless. Japan doesn't seem to be where he wants to be right now and if I understood him correctly, there's a widespread feeling of pessimism in the country. He spent several minutes at the table working out his country's national debt which he reckoned was worse than either Greece or the US. There's also a general mistrust of the government and the media. He had no doubt that Toyota would do  a better job running the country than the ragtag bunch that heads their particular brand of parliament which seem to go through Prime Ministers more rapidly than most people change cars.
Pretty bleak stuff. All too big for me.
In a couple of generations, a country known for its well-oiled industrial complex is at the mercy of a disenchanted young generation and incompetent governance.

One of the things I enjoyed about my old job is meeting people from different countries and getting the inside story on what's really happening about the everyday issues that touch them. For most, it's really that simple -- (un)employment, family, their children's education, and to generally stay ahead of the pack.
But there are things that divide people too. Sharp differences and there's no use pretending otherwise. Unfortunately there's a false tolerance that pervades our world... a corrupting faux tolerance, that is imposed on us by the political class. A new kind of morality that has no patience for absolutes except its own.

I look around at the country that I call home and I see similar predicaments. It's amazing how much good can be undone in a matter of two or three years. Undoubtedly, one of the downsides of the democratic process.
Still it's a brutal but timely reminder that one should never put one's trust in chariots or horses or the intentions of men.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Bitsy Sort of Life (and some God Talk)

Do you feel as a stay-at-home mother that your life is a montage of tasks and roles? Bits and pieces that, on the surface, don't seem to have much of a relationship with each other apart from you being the centre of it all. The trouble with trying to hold the mosiac together is that one can't properly focus on any one thing for any length of time without some kind of self-imposed interruption.

You know the drill. One moment I'm making sandwiches, the next I'm taxiing the children to this place and that, next thing I know I'm mopping the floor, standing in line at Coles, jumping on the computer doing the MOPS newsletter, on the phone to Samsung because the printer isn't printing black for some reason and then I'm making cupcakes.
Cliche alert! Although these tasks don't define who I am, they become a part of how I live. How I balance all of it say a lot about who I am and the kind of choices I make.

So I'm a mother. My life is a little bit of this and a little bit that. But does that have anything to do with me being a mother?

As a word, is "mother" is meant to represent all these different roles that I play? But wouldn't that merely reduce it to a shortform for the tasks I manage? "Mother" is more than that... it's a word expressing relationship as opposed to something like "housewife", "domestic engineer" or "homemaker" which suggests am unpaid family P.A.

I don't think a jigsaw puzzle is quite the right analogy regarding this conundrum because the pieces don't always fit. More often than not, these pieces clash. They don't lead to the completion of a single project and with some jobs there's never any end to them.

It's easy to feel a tad unaccomplished in such a situation... or maybe it's just me. There doesn't ever feel to be enough hours in a day to do it all. Us modern types with all these conveniences at our finger tips often fall into the trap of thinking that we can do more because we can do them more quickly.

For some one like me that verse in the Bible that says, "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10) is pure torture. I read shamefacedly and yet with great comfort that in times of great tumult and disaster, this psalmist can be at rest and peace because his focus is not circumstantial but heavenward.

It is often the case when someone is worried, we tell them that they're thinking too much. That's not right. When we worry, we're probably not thinking enough... in fact, we're likely not thinking rightly.
Christians can have inner peace not through any effort of their own but because they have a God who is above everyone or everything. If I had conjure up "inner peace" a la Kung Fu Panda, it'll never happen because it means it's up to me to make everything right.

The higgledy piggledy hodge podge that I call "life" can only make sense in light of God. He is sovereign over all things. He holds the power of life and death in his hands. To know him is to see life in terms of eternity. And eternity is a very, very, very long time. Certainly longer than my "mothering" days. Definitely longer than any of us can conceive in our feeble little minds.

Edited: 8 July 2011, 9:46pm

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

Kung Fu Panda 2 is bucketloads of fun and it swings. Boy, does it swing... and at times quite literally. The fight sequences are a zinger and as a long time fan of the genre I found the experience... exhilarating and rather impressive.
It's a terrific (albeit tongue-in-cheek) homage to the martial arts genre while retaining universal themes of friendship, family and courage. I'm not a huge fan of the Jack Black school of comedy but restrained by the limitations of animation all his usual over-the-top antics are kept to a bare minimum. We can all be grateful for small mercies.

Po, the eponymous panda, was designated the "Dragon Warrior" in the previous installment but the great mystery still remains: How in the world did a panda become to be fathered by a goose that ekes a living out of selling noodles? Well, the sequel gives the backstory in flashbacks complete with a rather dark tale of panda genocide -- ailuropoda melanolucacide. (Had to look that one up... added the -cide there myself) Po is no longer the panda he once was -- still spotting a paunch, played to the hilt for humour but looking trimmer now that he's become a formidable martial arts exponent and a guardian of his district along with the Furious Five.

KFP 2 can't really work unless it plays on the edges stereotypes and so it does with such good natured mischievous abandon that it's hard for anyone to take offence. I didn't and I can't imagine too many doing so.
I sat in a cinema... not full of but with a healthy number of children giggling and cackling at all the right places. 4 year old had her eyes glued to the screen when she wasn't... erm... prowling around for marshmallows or prawn crackers.
10 year old ooed and aahed over the cuteness of baby Po... yes, he really was a baby once... and this mum even a shed a tear or two during a couple of surprisingly moving scenes.

Watching this reminded me once again of the sad reality that the best things coming out of Hollywood in recent days are animated features.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

4 year old sums up Kung-Fu Panda 2

"Did you like the movie?"
Nods her head... "Yes."
"What was it about?"
Gives a blank look... "I don't know."
Mummy thinks... Okay, that question was probably a little abstract. Start again. "What animals did you see in the movie?"
"I saw a bird... "
"What kind of bird?"
The 10 year old pipes in. "She means the peacock."
"Don't interrupt. Any other animals?"
"Another bird (crane)... a panda,"
"What else did you see?"
"A snake... and a tiger... And a baby panda."
"There was a baby panda?"
"He was in a basket because his mummy put him into the basket."
"Why did his mummy put him in the basket?"
"She put him in the basket and ran away..."

There you have it... Kung-Fu Panda 2 in less than 50 words. Pretty revealing stuff.

Madame Chauffeur

This past week I earned my chauffeur and outdoor Mummy badges the hard way. Pity there's no organization that hands these out.
When these holidays are over, I will heave a loud sigh of relief and know that I will have earned some extra "me" time when the 10 year goes back to school.
A quiet holiday after all that would be ideal but methinks that'll fall under the category of "fantasy" at this stage.

Let me see... there was Kids Club on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Dreamworld on Monday and Wednesday. Shopping on Thursday and Kung-Fu Panda on Thursday night. Park visit on Friday and swimming on Friday. Today it was another 30 minute drop-off to Nana's.
But who's counting, right?...

I've been rewarding myself each evening with a nice cup of ginger drink and my favourite scenes from "Three Kingdoms", the latest tv adaptation of the Chinese classic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. No doubt, it's slow going but am loving the performances.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

The latest installment of the X-Men movies is quite likely the best one. Not that I consider myself an X-Men aficionado but I've seen all the films including the mildly interesting Wolverine origins story. When I say it's the best one, I'm referring mainly to the laser-like focus of the story and the captivating performances of the two leads.

The biggest difficulty with most of the X-Men films is the hoardes of characters that take up room in the narrative. Peter Jackson did a generally commendable job in the Lord of the Rings with the myriad of characters that graced the screen. What he did have, was time. In previous X-Men movies, mutants A, B, C, D, E, F, G all competing for screen time could potentially sink the story and turn the show into a parade of supers. X3, which was soundly panned, suffered from a bad case of bloat. I suppose the script is the partially the problem... the two hour format can't have helped and direction must be another factor. While I enjoyed the earlier films (even the much derided X3) and it seemed to me that the characters (apart from a few exceptions) were more or less showcased like chess pieces rather than real people.

This prequel avoids many of those pitfalls by focusing on the origins story of Charles Xavier and Eric Lensherr, who later become Professor X and Magneto respectively. They are both charismatic and powerful mutants drawing an increasing number of followers but what drives them is their rabidly opposing views of mutant evolution. Xavier wants desperately to co-exist with "normals" while Lensherr, coloured by a bitter brush with anti-semitism, holds a vehement "them or us" philosophy. They exemplify two sides of the evolution coin in constant tension.

 (Credit: IGN AU)

For me, evolution is a deeply problematic theory of origins, and as a philosophy of life it often comes across as being overly optimistic or horrendously brutal. Either humanity is evolving to a higher state of being or it's a case of survival of the fittest. Neither of which fits comfortably with the biblical worldview that I hold. After several thousand years of recorded human history, it behooves us to face the reality that man is deeply flawed and no amount of window dressing is going to make him better.

 As a morality tale, X-Men feels uneasy because of its biological determinism. A world without fear of God looks for alternatives. Biology may answer some questions but it cannot meet humanity's deepest spiritual concerns. Biology, as we see depicted here, certainly cannot be the arbiter of what's right or wrong.

Xavier believes, naively perhaps, that humans and mutants can live together without fear of one another. Given enough education and time, this could happen. Eric, on the other hand, thinks that "normals" and mutants can't co-exist. Self-interest always rules. Since mutants are a superior form of humanity, it doesn't matter anyway because at the end of the day "might is right".

Both positions are extremes and therefore, untenable. The rule of law must still serve to restrain the appetities and flawed nature of all men. At the end of the day, mutant evolution as depicted in these films only serve to remind us that a man may gain mastery over the elements and even over the minds of others. But at the end of the day, if he cannot master his fallen nature, he is not much more than a weapon for the destruction of himself and others.