Friday, June 22, 2007

Think Before You Speak

21st June 2007

One of the very first things I remember being taught in school was to “think before you speak”. It is extremely good advice and a rule I always try to live by. The other thing that has always stuck in my mind is from the Bible. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Again, this is extremely good advice. We are all individuals, and we all have certain ideas about how things should be. However, it is terribly important for me to remember that how I think things should be is not necessarily how someone else might thinks they should be. I’m not perfect, therefore how can I possibly sit in judgement of someone else?

I have to say that anytime I have forgotten these two important things it has caused me great embarrassment. I’ve made some huge gaffs in my time by not thinking things through before I started to speak or by suddenly deciding that I know it all and have the right to decide if someone else’s choices are right or wrong. The trouble is, when I’ve done these things, I’m not the only one who gets hurt.

Yesterday however, someone else who I do not even know forgot to think before she spoke and was very quick to sit in judgement of me, and it absolutely floored me. I still have not got over it. It still hurts.

If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know that my parents have suffered ill health for some years. Yesterday my poor Dad had yet another episode where his blood pressure plummeted. He was having dialysis at the time so it was quite serious. The hospital informed the retirement home where my parents live and they informed me. They also gave me the numbers so I could contact the hospital.

The nurses I spoke to in the dialysis department were wonderful and said I really did need to speak to someone in Emergency (that is Casualty to us Brits) as soon as possible. They put me through. Admittedly I always feel awful calling the Emergency Department. The name says it all – very busy people work there under very stressful conditions. I’ve spent a lot of time in Emergency Departments with my parents and I have to say I have met some of the most wonderful people there. I’ve met staff who go such a long way to make you feel comfortable in a terrible situation, and who go above and beyond the call of duty on a regular basis.

Yesterday I was not so lucky. After having told the story about how I live in England and have done for nearly 20 years to the staff in the dialysis department, I neglected to repeat the story to the nurse in Emergency. In an attempt to save time I simply explained who I was and who I was enquiring after. “Is there anything you can tell me?” The reply was cutting. “I can tell you that you can get down here and find out for yourself.” I was speechless. I have always felt so guilty about being so far away from my parents in their time of need. However my life is (and has been for almost half my life) in England. We have done everything we can to make sure that we are in Canada whenever we can be, and in the last 4 years we have made trips to Canada every four to sixteen weeks. That’s right, we’ve been to Canada almost thirty times in less than four years. I’m exhausted a lot of the time and our personal and professional lives have really suffered. I am so grateful to have been able to do it but it infuriates me when people suggest I am doing less than I could. Frankly we spend more time with my family than most people we know who only live a short distance from their families. My parents are so grateful and always say we do more than they could ever wish for.

Obviously this lady did not know that, but even if I had only lived a few hours away it still would have been so hurtful. Or what if I had been disabled and unable to travel? Even after I explained the situation she refused to say anything other than “He collapsed and he’s fine at the moment” very coldly. The silence on the line was deafening. I thanked her and rang off. In desperation, I phoned the dialysis department back. They explained he had not collapsed, that he had been laying down at the time as he was having dialysis, then bless them, they went through to Emergency and spoke to the lady before I spoke to her again. It was clear by the length of time that elapsed that it was being suggested to her that her behaviour had been less than exemplary. When I was put through she did admit we had spoken before, but she never apologised. She shared more information with me that time, but I could still feel the coldness seeping through the telephone line.

It’s happened to me before, people not understanding how I could have moved to another country. One lady in an elevator in Canada was quite rude and said that it was ridiculous I lived in England, even after I explained my husband was British (and that I was too!) and our life was here. She spent an entire elevator journey going on and on, berating me for what she believed was the error of my ways. People really cannot cope with the fact that I am my parent’s only child either, or that most of our other relatives are too elderly to be of any help. I’d be wealthy indeed if I had a penny for every time someone said, “Are you sure there is not anyone else?” No, there is not anyone else, just me, and I worry about that every day of my life. I’m very blessed to have such a supportive husband and son, or I would never have been able to provide the huge amount of support that we have provided over these last years.

I feel sorry for the lady I spoke to yesterday as she must have a very difficult life to be so short and cold to someone who was obviously upset. I can only imagine what she is going through and I pray that she was just having a bad day and not going through something awful that would make her be so unkind. I’m also grateful that all the other people I spoke to were so helpful and kind.

I have to admit I am having trouble letting go of it though, and that quick retorts keep popping into my mind, things I wish I’d said but that it is probably much better that I didn’t! It has really made me think today about the things I think and do and say, and has made me check in with myself and remind myself to always remember to think before I speak and never to judge others.

Just as a postscript, the nurses on the floor my Dad has been admitted to were lovely when my husband spoke to them early this morning. Frankly I was too afraid to call but I need not have been. Ninety percent of the medical staff I have met and / or spoken to in the last four years have been wonderful. I won’t let the one very unkind apple I came across yesterday affect the very high opinion I hold of medical staff in Ontario. They really are brilliant. I pray that they’ll be able to help my Dad again this time.

Monday, June 18, 2007

One of those unexpectedly wonderful days

I love unexpectedly fabulous days, days when you get up expecting everything to be normal and ordinary and then somehow it all changes and you are reminded how wildly, passionately wonderful it is to be alive. Take the other day. My son A and I had no particular plans, so were delighted to be invited by G to go along with him on a business trip to Harrogate. A had a day off school, so it was all perfectly above board. I’m not a particularly spontaneous person, but I decided to throw caution and a day full of plans for washing, ironing and sorting to the winds. I’m so glad I did.

I had not been to Harrogate since my first visit to England in 1985. This was the visit during which I decided that actually, I was probably living in the wrong country and really ought to consider emigrating, the visit during which I fell in love with England. I stayed with my parents in a rented terraced house somewhere off St Mary’s Street, with three floors and many very different accoutrements that my Canadian eyes were simply not used to. I loved every inch of the place. Even the grill fascinated me. It was gas, and was mounted above the cooker. Watching the flames leap into life when I pressed the starter got me every time. There was a toilet in a room separate from the rest of a bathroom, and my room had a sink in it. The roof slanted from the corner of the room towards the window, so my ceiling was on a tilt. I had never seen anything like this before. The wardrobe was a freestanding piece of furniture. I was used to wardrobes that were built in. It was different, somehow exotic. Harrogate itself was a brilliant place to explore, with gorgeous gardens, greens and shops I had never visited before. Not to mention the delights of Betty’s Tea Rooms! We spent a lovely week there. Yet for some silly reason, despite the fact I have lived in England for nearly twenty years now, I had never revisted Harrogate.

So I felt quite excited when we set off. The two hour drive passed quickly with lots of good conversation, and the joy of a day unexpectedly spent together instead of apart. When we arrived on the outskirts of Harrogate we stopped at a Sainsbury’s store. To our delight and amazement there was a Starbuck’s kiosk in it. I know Starbuck’s is kind of a love it or hate it thing, but I definitely love it. It is probably because I do not go very often, so a visit to Starbuck’s still has a modicum of excitement about it. I indulged in a hot chocolate instead of my customary latte. I suddenly realised I had not had proper hot chocolate in possibly years. I’m always thinking about calories. This was ambrosia, absolutely delicious, made with seventy percent cocoa solids and topped with real whipped cream. It caressed my tongue with the most amazing flavours. I immediately resolved to order hot chocolate more often!

Aside from the Sainsbury’s on the outskirts and a few yellow signs pointing to new housing estates, it didn’t seem like Harrogate had changed very much. It was still lovely, green and hilly, with gorgeous gardens and trees and lots of fascinating little shops. A and I had one of those days where we really were in sync, and had the most fabulous time just wandering round the shops together. There is something so special about a day spent with A where we really get along and appreciate one another. Fourteen is a difficult age to be and invariably stress, hormones and goodness knows what else cause lots of problems and sometimes conflict. But not that day, we got along beautifully and even walked arm in arm. I am very aware of the passage of time and how quickly A is growing up. I treasure every day that is like our day in Harrogate was.

Miraculously, G finished his meeting just in time for lunch. We went straight to Betty’s Tea Rooms, the most wonderful place to have lunch in Harrogate. There was a queue, but only a little one, and our timing was perfect as within seconds of us joining it, the queue began to stretch out the door, into the street and round the corner!! We just had sandwiches for lunch, but they were exquisite. As for dessert, well, it was a delight for the senses. I have never tasted anything so delicious as Betty’s Swiss Engadine Torte. Layers of beautiful cake, cream and goodness knows what made this the best cake I have ever had. Eating it was a sensual experience and one I am terribly keen to repeat as soon as possible.

After selecting some treats from Betty’s shop to take home, we made our way to the car for the journey home. It really had been a totally unexpectedly wonderful day. Here’s to spontaneity!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Perfect Housewife

I was interested to notice Anthea Turner’s Perfect Housewife series is now back on television. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Anthea Turner. She’s bubbly and a great presenter, and sometimes I even enjoy the show, but the perfect housewife concept really does get on my nerves. I appreciate that some of the housewives she finds really are in dire straits and some are incredibly cringe-worthy, but I’m afraid this sort of programme just makes most 21st Century Housewives even more insecure than they already are.

When I watch the women she is trying to help, I must admit I do wonder where she has found them. Has Britain turned into a nation of slobs? Somehow I don’t think so. Many of these ladies are probably rare exceptions. Having said that, if Anthea Turner came into my house with her white gloves, would I be able to stand there without quaking in my Choo’s? I know my house is clean, but I am sure there are bits I have missed, and if she went into the garage I think she might faint. Our garage has sadly become a catch-all, the first thing on my to do list, and the main battlefield in my war against clutter. On the whole, however, my house is very presentable and certainly very clean. It sure isn’t perfect though.

Most 21st Century Housewives are insecure enough as it is. We are struggling to find our niche in a society that is not quite sure where to place us, struggling to redefine housewifery in the post modern era. We are doing the very important job of making a home for ourselves and our families, as well as working to grow and develop into the best possible people we can be. The idea that our houses have to be absolutely spotless, tidy and organised as well is completely overwhelming.

After watching Perfect Housewife, I generally feel a little depressed. My house is never going to be as perfect as Anthea’s, my napkins will never be as perfectly folded and my cupboards will certainly never be as organised. But still, I consider myself a Professional Housewife. I can say this with my head held high because I am convinced that, and indeed the whole premise of my writing, is that there is a lot more to housewifery than just house cleaning. I would even dare to say that house cleaning is far from the most important part of being a 21st Century Housewife. There is so much more to life than just having a perfectly clean and organised house.

The sad thing about Anthea’s house is that we almost always see it virtually empty of people, with just her and the hapless housewives in it. If my house just had me in it, it would be tidy too. But I would be incredibly unhappy. The organised chaos that is our lives is a real joy to me. I love to entertain friends and family, but the most important thing for me is that they feel truly welcome, not that my house is absolutely perfect. I don’t want people to feel my house is untouchable, or that they have to be careful lest they put a foot wrong. I am sure Anthea’s house is the location for many happy gatherings, but unless she truly is superhuman, I bet it sure doesn’t look as fantastic after a really good party. To date though, I’ve never managed to catch an episode where it looks as though anyone is truly living in her lovely home.

By all means, watch Anthea Turner’s Perfect Housewife for its entertainment value, but do not let it for even a moment make you feel in any way inadequate as a housewife. There is a lot more to Professional Housewifery than a perfectly labelled larder and precisely folded towels. In the 21st Century Housewife’s World, a happy family and a happy, fulfilled housewife are far more important than anything else.