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Category: BoboMama Parenting

You have kids? Welcome to second-class citizenship!

You have kids? Welcome to second-class citizenship!

One of the major downsides of having kids, is that their needs take priority over yours.

They can’t not attend school because I am feeling rough. Because having them around all day would make me feel even more rough. So I have to spend the teeny tiny amount of energy that I have left to cycle our wendy-house-on-wheels-that-cost-as-much-as-a-small-car (being slightly Eurotrash as well as slightly Eco, we ride a Danish-style cargo bike), in the howling wind and driving rain to both drop the little darlings off as well as to pick them up.

Don’t worry about the kids, they’re just fine – they are under cover, in the warmth, having fun singing carols. I however, am on the outside of the cover, (looking like a total geek in my really unattractive waterproofs) using all of my remaining pedal power to get us there. And it’s not that far. But they are big kids. And given that we live on top of the one and only hill in the whole of Cambridge (and for the flat-as-a-pancake-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see Fens where we live, that is quite something), this twice-daily outing pretty much takes me back to feeling as flu-ridden as I did before I cancelled all of my own personal plans in order to lie low and recover.

And repeat ad infinitum.

Which is why I have not been to yoga for a whole two weeks; which is why I have not gone for a run; which is why I’ve cancelled two pretty important social gatherings; which is why I’m ingesting as much turmeric as is humanly possible (even my teeth are going yellow).

Because I’m TRYING to get better. But the school run keeps on knocking me back. And I’ve been battling flu for nearly three weeks now.

And so I’m slowly going a little doolally. Partly because I hate not feeling great physically. And partly because I hate knowing that I am in this predicament DESPITE my multiple attempts to get better.

(Belting out six carols yesterday at the annual school Xmas service at the top of my voice probably didn’t help either. And the fact that my voice gave out half way through the top notes of Hark the Herald probably explains why I’ve been on the cough sweets today).  But since this post is about how annoying it is that kids take over your life I won’t dwell on this nor on the on the fact that I am so fed up with not feeling myself that I keep comfort eating and drinking too much wine – neither of which sets you up well for getting the rest you need to recover at night).

All of which is pretty frustrating. Hence my ‘not amused’ photo face. Because, for those that don’t know me that well, I like to be in control.

But one of the many lessons that having kids offers you is that you are NOT and never will be in control. THEY are. They run the show: their emotions, their after-school activities, their physical needs, their mental welfare – all of it comes before yours.

Which I found very difficult to get my head round at first. But having three kids in three years kind of wears you down. And you have to surrender at some point otherwise you would go mad. But in my case, this is never without a little inner grudge holding. (I may have conceded power but the fact that I begrudge it must surely mean that I retain a little?)

But luckily for me, I’ve got a whole weekend of cargo-bike free time this weekend and I intend to use it well. It won’t be exactly restful – I’m returning to one of the sources of my journey into the sacred feminine for a course on leadership hosted by the incredible Jewels Wingfield.

But even if my mind is active, my body won’t be so that I hope to come back fighting fit AND even more geared up to host my new series of women’s circles starting this January – watch this space for more info. (If you would like to attend and haven’t yet signed up, let me know by replying to this email!)

And in the meantime, I’m sending love and strength to all of those parenting pioneers out there who are battling it out on the flu frontline. We will get through it. Hang on in there. It just might take 6 times as long as if we didn’t have kids…

If you like what you’ve read, why not find out more about life coaching with me? Drop me a line to arrange a 45-minute complimentary discovery session and we can explore taking concrete steps towards making your dreams a reality!
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Feel the fear and make it up!

Feel the fear and make it up!

Part of being a (recovering) perfectionist is a fear of getting things wrong.

Big things (like diving head-first off the tallest board in the pool), but also seemingly little things (like eating alone in a restaurant or inventing a story on the spot).⠀

Embarrassingly, this last example has paralysed me into inaction for the past 6 years. Ever since my eldest child was old enough to ask for a story that wasn’t in a book, that is. ⠀

I get the attraction – we all enjoy a bit of bespoke, it makes us feel special – the problem is, improvisation requires confidence in a logical (and well-received) outcome, as well as spontaneous trust in your own creative abilities. And there are no second chances nor opportunities to revise, hone or improve output – essential pre-requisites for any self-respecting perfectionist. ⠀

So usually when asked to improvise, I call in the support team. Even when it’s an audience of one, aged 6. How bad could it really be? I’m too scared to find out. “That’s what daddy does, let’s ask him. Mummy reads books”, I say sheepishly.

But last week something stopped me. I said yes. Feel the fear and do it anyway and all that. ⠀

And, though I say it myself, I rocked! I surprised myself and delighted my daughter. ⠀

Probably just as much because I had made the effort to overcome a secret block that she probably already knew I was avoiding (kids know everything) than because of the content itself. I even went for a trilogy (I was on a roll). ⠀

We encountered a small self-confidence hiccup yesterday when creative proceedings were halted by the audience who asked for more “ excitement” in the story: the fear crept back in, the throat went dry, the shoulders hunched. ⠀

But I wasn’t deterred. I took it like a true BoboMama and got back on the wagon. The story ended on a cliff-hanger and I think this little fear may just have been crossed off the list…⠀

To all the recovering perfectionists out there, what really scares you? And could you conceive of pushing yourself past it? Just for a laugh? To see what would happen? If I can do it, YOU CAN. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! ⠀

If you like what you’ve read, why not find out more about life coaching with me? Drop me a line to arrange a 45-minute complimentary discovery session and we can explore taking concrete steps towards making your dreams a reality!
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I’m off to Narnia. Coming?

I’m off to Narnia. Coming?

Yup. It’s been one of those days. ⠀

Actually it hasn’t. It’s been great: I worked on my new life coaching website, I went to my first networking event (scary AF in theory, fun in practise) and I applied to be on a Mumsnet Facebook live panel (easy to do, will deal with the obvious fear fallout factor later, if selected).

So I was feeling pretty good.

Until I was required to morph into a mama. And the kids annoyed the shit out of me: throwing toys around the kitchen and knocking over glasses of water x 2, refusing to do a very easy homework crossword which really only required an ounce of effort, having a tantrum over missing 3 minutes of a film they’ve already watched and know inside out, topped off by being called in for a ‘chat’ by a teacher over some misplaced frustration. ⠀

Tipped me over the edge. ⠀

So instead of meditating, breathing, going to my scheduled yoga class and doing something generally uplifting and edifying, I poured myself a massive gin and tonic, decided that I no longer like it, poured myself a massive glass of wine, drank it, cancelled yoga and ordered a fattening pizza. ⠀

Parenting is THE hardest thing in the world. Fact. Of which all parents are fully aware. ⠀

However zen, centred, compassionate and tolerant you are feeling, children WILL shake that (already fragile) core to the point until your self-control has crumbled. However much you try to be ‘good’. ⠀

They just KNOW how to fast track you to your worst self. And it’s relentless. ⠀

I know what the ‘lesson’ for me is. Kind of. But sometimes I really can’t be arsed with spirituality. Especially on day 19 (aka watch out!) of my cycle. ⠀

So I’d like to give a big shout out today to all the mamas and papas who know what I’m talking about. Who can’t give up and walk off. Who keep on going. Day after day. After day. After day.

And if YOU are one of those incredible people and need a friendly ear – reach out and let me know. I’m here. And I want to help. Because this is actually my niche. I’m a life coach for ‘mamas who want more’. ⠀

And guess what? I’m good at it. Because I get it. I want more too. ⠀

See you in Narnia. Bring pizza and wine… ⠀

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On trying to ‘connect’ as a family and why hygge doesn’t work…

On trying to ‘connect’ as a family and why hygge doesn’t work…

This Sunday was declared ‘family day’.

It was an attempt to put aside at least one day a week where none of us was distracted by other things: no kids’ sport lessons/parties or homework were scheduled and no parent keep-fit/yoga/work or socialising was allowed.

That might sound a little draconian to you, easy-going folk. But unless we do that, I find that none of us actually connects properly.

When we were exploring as part of our year-long travel adventure, spending time together was natural. Every day was spent discovering the unknown, exploring new things – we shared each and every experience and had the time to discuss and savour them.

But now that we are back in the UK and firmly ensconced in the rat race, after-school activities, learning to read and write, homework, keeping fit through sport, remaining sane through yoga, working for a living, household chores, staying in touch with friends and family – suddenly there are a million and one demands on each of us. And only slithers of time to lever them all into.

And what suffers the most is what we took for granted when we were away: quality family time.

It either needs to be scheduled in, or it doesn’t happen. Because in my case at least (Mama Truth Bomb on its way), I often find an excuse not to connect, because doing something away from the family and just for me, comes so much easier and feels so much more beneficial. At least in the short term.

Yup. I said it.

Pretending that the kids don’t exist and escaping to do something ‘more important’ (aka ‘more selfish’) is a lot less difficult than being entertaining-kind-nurturing-fun mama to three kids under 8 at the same time.

(Particularly as the moment you do set aside the headspace to put on your supermama mask, they start fighting for your attention so that ‘connection’ time actually becomes angry mama time spent either reprimanding or mediating).

So what do you do with it once you have scheduled in family time? 

Well, the Danish concept of hygge hasn’t yet worked for us unless there is a movie or colouring in involved (too many bad losers to play a game and too many itchy feet to just sit and ‘talk’), so we decided to go for walk.

I’m a bit of a wild nature fan myself (I find there is nothing better to remind me of the insignificance of my day-to-day anxieties than an untouched landscape), and so we headed for one of our local nature and birdspotting reserves.

Here, surrounded only by plants, trees and animals, suspending the reality of the many to-dos in my life seems relatively effortless and I instantly feel part of something bigger, better and more timeless than myself…

The ‘family connection’ plan went relatively well too: two out of three actually managed to walk the whole distance, no-one was bitten by a horse (unlike last time) and Bobomama didn’t have to remove any dog poo from any wellies on our return. Bonus.

We even caught sight of this quaint, upturned boat: broken and derelict but etched with the message “Life is Beautiful”: a cliche of course but none the less poignant.

I did have to spend the rest of the afternoon laboriously checking for nits and Andrew did selfishly sneak off to play squash during the kids’ supper/bath/bedtime routine but no-one said anything about life being perfect.

Beautiful – for at least just a couple of hours a week – will have to do; family day may well be here to stay…

How do you balance me-time and family time? Does hygge work for you?

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What is keeping you stuck in your box?

What is keeping you stuck in your box?

Isn’t it just SO damn easy to get caught up in the day to day routine of life: work, juggling chores and kids – and then use that as an excuse that you are too exhausted to do anything new? 

At least, that’s what I do…

For me, the thought of going out is usually never a good one – my inner protector tells me I should stick to the familiar go-tos: staying in to rest, catching up with my partner over a glass of wine or practising my yoga.

But when I allow my inner adventurer out – the one that couldn’t care less about waking up tired, the one who is curious and excited to try out new things – I end up having a ball! And feeling tired, yes, but rejuvenated!

Which is what happened on Wednesday at The Honeysuckle Review, run by my beautiful and talented burlesque dancer cum mermaid cum priestess friend, Demi. (Yeah, she’s pretty cool).

It made me realise that I had arrogantly forgotten that a world outside of my own even existed. Because that’s what happens when you never challenge yourself to peek outside of the box you have constructed around yourself.

Boxes are good. They keep us safe and content. But sometimes we need to make the box a little bigger, to make room for something new. Because it is the new – something different, something scary, something adventurous – that brings freedom. A sense of being truly ALIVE! 

And we ALL deserve a bit of that…

  • Which excuses are keeping you in a comfortable (but narrow) box? 
  • What could you say YES to that you would previously not have considered? 
  • How can you include a bit of adventure into your weekend? 

Share with me in the comments below! I’d love to hear!

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Is it time to reboot and recharge?

Is it time to reboot and recharge?

This week marks the rekindling of self-care. Which has lapsed considerably over the school holidays. Indeed pretty much since June. Which not only shows, I can feel it in my body. I feel tired, lacklustre, my skin is a bit rubbish and I’m once again resorting to wine a little too much in order to zone out.

I feel like I’ve had adrenaline coursing through my body for weeks on end. And even though I’ve known that I need to take time out to stop and just BE rather than rushing on with my to-do list, I’ve found this nearly impossible to implement.

If I lived by the beach and had access to this glorious, Ikarian view, it might come easier. But I no longer do, so it’s about putting an end to the excuses and making the effort to get out from behind my desk and scheduling in some non-negotiable, me-time down-time. 

Because if we don’t, we end up running on empty. Which is what I discovered is happening to me, yesterday during my Chi Nei Tsang treatment (an incredible Chinese medicine abdominal massage that detoxifies the internal organs and removes energetic blocks). Not good.

So today, I set aside 10 minutes to meditate before getting down to work and I’ve reset my AIRIN app to 25 times a day (it sounds a gong to remind you to take a mindful breath). It bongs so often that even the kids are now trained in it : )

As autumn sets in and the wind and rain start to ramp up, the seasons are telling us to SLOW DOWN.

What would help YOU to reset your hard drive?

What do you need to give yourself PERMISSION to pause?

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A new chapter…

A new chapter…

It’s on days like this that I feel super grateful for the place I live in. A city that is architecturally beautiful in its own right but also dotted with meadows (containing actual, live cows) and crossed by a beautiful river (populated by houseboats, punts and rowers).

This was our first ever family bike ride – 5 people, 5 bikes – and not a cargo bike or stabiliser in site.

It felt amazing!

I might be mourning the loss of my babies (all three of my muskateers are now at school), but little trips like this show me that there is a whole new world of adventure that is out there, just waiting for us now that they are older.

And that is exciting.

A new chapter is always a double-edged sword: loss of the old and apprehension for what lies ahead sit alongside excitement for the new and growth as we adjust to a different comfort zone.

I often forget to acknowledge transitions, allowing my focus to zoom immediately into the next stage. So I’m practising noticing this one and almost savouring it. Because when I do that, I become more present. Alive in the now rather than distracted by the past or daydreaming about the future.

And what does that bring? Freedom! And a release of energy (just think how much is wasted by dipping into stories about the past or future)…

Which is lucky, because I had to carry one of these bikes back perched ontop of my own. The new chapter has started. We’re just not quite there yet 😁.

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Women’s Empowerment starts young!

Women’s Empowerment starts young!

There is no doubting whose daughter this is…

Not only did she ask to get her hair cut short aged 5 (I did the same aged 7), but for her birthday manicure/pedicure treat she went for blue toes and neon hands (non-matching obvs)…

I can’t think where she gets her independent streak from…And I couldn’t feel prouder.

Because despite the fact that it has often been a MAJOR source of irritation to me – let’s face it, independent thought and obedience don’t fit that well together – I couldn’t wish more for a young girl growing up in this day and age.

For the world out there is tough. Social media is pervasive. Opinions on what a woman should do, look like, feel, eat, wear and how they should behave have never been stronger.

So women’s empowerment needs to start young. And it is our duty as parents to model this at home. Which doesn’t mean allowing our daughters to disregard all of the house “rules” and run amok (no, no, no – I’m a Gina-Ford-parenting-control-freak, remember?) but it does mean allowing them to express themselves in whichever way feels real to them. Because THIS is (time for my buzz word here) AUTHENTICITY.

Because children do have their own, unique voices and opinions, even at a young age. And if we stifle those by overruling them with OUR needs and desires, all the time, just because we have been put “in charge” as parents, then they quickly learn that theirs are not valued and therefore that there is no point in articulating them.

And in a society that doesn’t value women as highly as it does men as a whole, this damage lasts well into adulthood. Until we take the momentous leap of faith required to trust in ourselves again. To listen to our intuition. To our excitement (that’s a yes!) and to our hesitation (that’s probably a no!). Sound familiar?

If we weren’t allowed to speak our minds when we were little, we quickly fall out of practise. Because it is a muscle that needs constant stimulation.

So whilst it may seem like a small thing to have acted upon her desire to cut her hair short, and an even smaller thing to let her choose her own nail varnish colour, it isn’t. It is huge. And there are so many parents our there vetoing similar choices. Which is such a shame. Because I saw with my own eyes how her behaviour changed from one day to the next: I have a voice! It counts! I can use it to express myself!

Women’s empowerment starts at home. It starts with our girls. Whatever their age. I DARE YOU…

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Home Sweet Home?

Home Sweet Home?

Days abroad: 306     Miles covered: 22,448     Countries lived in: 6     Favourite thing about being back: feeling safe and settled in our own home     Worst thing about being back: traffic jams; the weather     What I am loving: no longer feeling ill at ease in a female body; fast, reliable internet     What I am grateful for: having had the courage to go away and the courage to return; my beautiful friends    What I miss most: Asian food     Items travelled with that were never used: mosquito nets, travel hairdryer

3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD

POST 17: 23rd July 2017, Cambridge, UK 

So it’s been nearly three weeks since our return and I still don’t feel like we ever left. I kept putting off this final round-up blog in case things should suddenly change, but they haven’t! It’s really quite odd. We seem to have just slipped back into the life that was waiting for us patiently during our absence.

And it’s a perfect fit. At least physically if not mentally. In that it is actually relatively easy to resume a ‘home routine’ that you’ve had for years, even if it was disrupted by a spontaneous adventure lasting 10 months. Perhaps it really helped that we eased our way back into English culture via the European stepping stones of Greece and Spain. (Which was the plan.) And it definitely helps that I have been very mindful of our potential decompression period: social situations have been measured (family first) as well as staggered (only two visits to school). We only left the house once during our first week. We are taking things very slowly.

Or maybe being back is still exciting enough to hold my attention and the shock has merely been delayed? Because it does feel exciting! I am still finding great pleasure in how sheltered I feel by living within four walls that actually belong to me. There is still joy in wearing clothes that I haven’t worn for ages, in eating foods that I have been craving, in listening to Radio 4, in the constantly changing weather. And there is joy too behind the relief in not having to think or be constantly alert (albeit unconsciously) to new experiences. Because these take up so much mental bandwidth and whilst they are no doubt exhilarating they are also quietly exhausting.

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Photo caption: the glorious coastline of Catalunia, my grandfather’s birthplace…

Maybe this excitement will pass and I will get restless again and crave the sense of freedom and adventure that has sustained us throughout the past year. But I’m not feeling that yet. Right now I feel safe and secure, comfortable and loved. And welcome! So many hugs; so many warm smiles! It’s been awesome to feel as though we’ve come home to our nest, that we belong, that we are no longer The Other (even if the sense of one’s own ‘culture’ encompasses such a wide range of differences).

Mentally however there have been changes. Big ones. But none that have provoked a sense of ‘readjustment’. Indeed, the changes we have witnessed in ourselves have almost made the term redundant. Because the biggest development has been in our ability to adapt. To go with the flow. To be at ease wherever we are.

The driving factor behind our year away was “a desire to break free of the matrix and our orderly, domestic life; to be spontaneous and step into the unknown; to see what else life had in store for us”. It was all about subtraction: about removing the redundant cultural, social and ancestral chaff to reveal our true authentic selves; to be free of outside influence.

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Photo caption: ‘our’ beach with its medieval castle (top left); fisherman’s huts (top right); pine forests galore (bottom left); Mediterranean doorway (bottom right) 

So did we succeed? Yes! It is so much easier to reflect upon who you really are and what is truly important to you when you have the time to do it and the distance from your own ‘stuff’ to be able to put it into perspective. It is far less scary to get used to not wearing a certain mask when you are surrounded by total strangers. Each new day, city and country is an opportunity to re-create your reality.

And did we come back different? Definitely. How different and in which ways? Well, in a nutshell, we are so much more ourselves than we were. Speaking for myself, I am far less needy of validation from external factors and I am far less influenced by them. I am more accepting of my imperfections rather than ashamed of them and I am more open to doing things differently. I am definitely more chilled, a lot less reliant on alcohol to ‘relax’ and I finally feel ‘enough’. I am less judgmental, more tolerant, more patient and generally happier. I live much more in now – less concerned with what could have happened in the past as well as with what might happen in future – and I am far less a victim of worthless mind chatter. Not bad, eh?

I am also much more at ease with the idea of receiving, with the notion of enjoying comfort and feeling pleasure. Which has resulted in a ruthless culling of what I now see as clutter. Because my definition of what is ‘necessary’ has also changed in line with this new attitude. Is it chipped, scuffed or cracked? It goes. Not because I am being extravagant, but because holding onto things that are ‘broken’ means energetically attracting more of the same. Moreover, I want only to be surrounded by usefulness, wholeness and beauty. So if it gives me pleasure, it stays. If not, however sentimental my attachment to it, however misplaced my loyalty, however much we may have paid to store it during our absence (a lot), or however many times it may have survived former house move culls, it goes. Which means that 5 estate car-load trips to the tip (with the back seats down no less) and 4 to Oxfam later, we are living in a much leaner household than before.

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Photo caption: spending 10 months together slightly made us morph into one – here we each spontaneously wore the same colour scheme (top left); another birthday celebrated on the road complete with cake (top right), a home-made crown (bottom left) and a dinner in town (bottom right) 

The kids have changed too. Especially 4 year-old Raphael who has had to make the biggest adjustment because he can’t actually remember having ever lived in only one place. After all, we were on the move for a quarter of his entire life! So stability is still a foreign concept for him: he describes himself as someone “that changes country a lot” and he keeps asking when we are next going to the airport. Which provokes a weird, dual state in me of both pitying as well as being proud of him.

And all three have matured in intangible ways, often more noticeable to others than to ourselves. One of our new neighbours asked us if we were foreign a couple of days after we had moved in, despite the kids speaking to each other in English. He said it was something about the way they were acting – their confidence, their ease in amongst their surroundings. Another commented that they looked as though they knew how to look after themselves. And despite feeling slightly triggered by this (was there a bad mother implication in there at all?) I chose to see both observations as compliments.

The after effects of spending 10 months abroad may definitely seem a little out of place at times, and certain new habits have had to be swiftly curtailed (eating rice with hands instead of cutlery for example, as well as going out onto the street in pyjamas/underwear at 6am) but I am actively encouraging others: such as the kids’ natural curiosity and chattiness with strangers, their openness, trust and easy affection. These are a joy to witness.

 

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Photo caption: our return coincided with a street party just outside our front door! (top left); a long overdue family reunion with all my cousins and their new babies (top right); the river Cam a few minutes walk from where we live (bottom left); happy to have landed on British soil – a family portrait fresh off the plane at Stansted airport (bottom right)

So, is there anything that I missing from our time away? Yes! The heat, zipping about on a moped, Biryani rice, fertile jungles, unfamiliar bird song, local markets, having a private pool, swimming in the sea and open air yoga salas to name but a few. But not so much that I can’t wait until the Xmas holidays. When I hope to dust off the backpacks and unused mosquito nets and get back onto a plane for a new but slightly shorter adventure.

Because I’ve learnt that adventures don’t have to be mammoth undertakings. They don’t necessarily need to involve long-haul flights nor taking your kids out of school. Because spending just a couple of weeks surrounded by the unknown means that even the basics of daily life take on the allure of the exotic. And that is the key to creating an adventure: to immerse yourself in the new, in the unexpected, to stretch your sense of self, your boundaries and your values. For the benefits are immeasurably awesome.

But for now I am going to indulge in the lack of readjustment, in the surprising ease of our reintegration. I will slowly continue to appease my inner bourgeois – blueberries from Waitrose (even if they are out of season), diamond earrings and high heels, delicious European wine, riding my cargo bike – until the itch in my feet and the whisper from my inner bohemian can, once again, no longer be ignored.

And then, I shall be ready…

To see our entire, 10 month travel adventure route, click here!

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Our big, fat, Greek kiss…

Our big, fat, Greek kiss…

Ikarian highlights: beautiful sunsets, continuous ocean vistas, the islanders     What I am loving: swimming in a crystal-clear, turquoise sea     What I am struggling with: neither over-ordering nor over-eating Greek food      What I am missing: me time (school is out)     Most impressive thing about Ikaria: its energy     Most disappointing thing about Ikaria: its wine (an acquired taste)     New skill acquired: treating head lice (thank you, Goa)     Family broken/lost sunglasses tally: 13     Items packed that have still not been used: mosquito nets, hairdryer

3 SMALL KIDS, 2 CRAZY ADULTS, 1 YEAR TO TRAVEL THE WORLD

POST 16: 13th June 2017, Ikaria, Greece 

Well, we started in Greece, so we thought we’d (almost) finish in Greece. After all, with a month to kill before re-entering the rat race (our house is tenanted until the end of June), it seemed silly not to.

We hadn’t always planned a revisit. When we first found out about Goa in monsoon, we had toyed with the idea of moving elsewhere in India. The favoured option was Dharamshala – it is the hilly home of the Dalai Lama, many Goans spend the rainy season there, and I have never been to the Himalaya. But that was before I remembered that we only have one set of cold weather clothes each, that I really couldn’t face any more Indian food and that after 8 months in Asia, I was a bit tired of it (and in particular, of not feeling fully relaxed about what I could wear, when I could wear it and what was deemed ‘culturally appropriate’ behaviour for a woman).

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Photo caption: How parents deal with 23 hour’s non-stop travelling from Goa (top left); how children deal with 23 hour’s non-stop travelling from Goa (top right); the view from our room (bottom left), the view up to our room (bottom right)

So we looked further afield. Costa Rica seemed enticing, Vietnam and Ibiza too, and whilst all of them boasted what looked like awesome drop-in schools for the kids to attend until the end of the summer term, plus a beach-based lifestyle and a cool, hippy-yoga vibe, none of them offered nearby golf (which is a non-negotiable component of Bobopapa’s chosen career).

And so the itinerary for our final European leg was formalised: a second (golfless) stint on the wild and beautiful island of Ikaria, followed by nearly a month on the coast of Catalonia, Spain. Greece thus became our omega as well as our alpha. For what neater way to tie up the loose ends of our trip? And how better to test how we’d changed, if at all?

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Photo caption: beaches, mountains, river gorges and turquoise sea – Ikaria has it all…

It is said that Ikaria either kicks you or kisses you. Indeed, visitors have been known to head back to the airport shortly after their arrival. Similar to other energetic hubs, such as Bali and India, Ikaria holds a mirror up to your disowned emotional baggage. It lifts up the carpet and hides the broom. And when you’re not ready to acknowledge what is hidden underneath, it can feel a little harsh. In September we certainly felt its power. But this time, after 9 months of rummaging into our darkest recesses, we experienced a softer landing. Perhaps Ikaria decided that we had transformed enough, that we needed a rest. And so it bestowed upon us a big, fat, Greek kiss.

And here’s how it felt: my star sign of Virgo is related to the element of earth. And I am indeed extremely dependable and productive – a mistress of assessing and organizing. Unlike the dictates of this element however, I would not describe myself as orientated purely to what is real, and I frequently find it hard to feel ‘grounded’. When yoga teachers prompt their pupils to picture their roots digging deep into the centre of the earth – to feel heavy and supported by it – I often can’t. Instead, I usually feel as though I am hovering a little above the ground. In Ikaria however, it was the opposite: I literally felt as though I was being pulled downwards – solid, embodied, real!

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Photo caption: Play time! Jumping the waves (top left); sampling organic, Ikarian, goat’s milk, ice cream (top right); feeding the turtles (bottom left); exploring nature (bottom right)

The locals must sense it too. Because you just couldn’t meet more grounded people. In fact, they are absolute models of authenticity. On Ikaria, the western malaise of ‘not feeling enough’ does not exist; you are simply presented with what is and there is no effort made to embellish it. You get what you see and you either take it or leave it.

The first time round, we found this a little awkward. As is the norm back home, we were expecting to be rewarded for being who we were with a constant torrent of perhaps fake but polite niceties and gushing reassurances. And so the islander’s lack of vacant chit-chat automatically led us to think that we must be rubbing people up the wrong way. But we weren’t. We just hadn’t got it. This time, we understood that small talk simply doesn’t exist here: words are neither spoken to fill spaces nor to make people feel better about themselves. There is no need for frills because everyone is loved for who they are. Everyone and everything is enough. And we soon followed suit.

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Photo caption: our local haunts – Christos Raches (or the village that never sleeps) for home-made cakes from the women’s co-operative (top left); Anna’s Taverna (top right); Thea’s Inn (bottom left) and trying to make the most of a dodgy internet connection in order to work from home at Artemis Studios (bottom right)

Other ‘wounds’ that had been stirred up in us the first time, revealed themselves as healed. The need to be ‘in control’ for example. A formerly big manifestation of this in me, was to always favour giving over receiving. (Because the latter often felt slightly awkward and embarrassing. So far so repressed English.) Not an issue this time though! Instead, I was able to revel in the incredible generosity of Ikarians: accepting a free gift in the supermarket (without questioning how the cashier could even make a gift of something that surely wasn’t his to give?); gorging on almost daily, fresh cake deliveries from the restaurant below our room “for the children”; taking advantage, as encouraged, of the endless bounty of fresh apricots from the tree outside our room – and all this without worrying about paying for it or doing something in return. Indeed, I happily left my coffee bill unpaid for a whole 24 hours because they didn’t have the right change for me at the time, and received with a smile both the complimentary donuts at Raphael’s birthday dinner and the last minute rounding down of my room bill.

And on reflection, it is really not surprising that the Ikarians are generous. For this is just another by-product of being grounded: if you know that you are enough, just by being you, it follows that there is enough. Once you see everything through the lens of abundance, generosity flows naturally!

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Photo caption: when you’ve treated the whole family for nits and can’t get the greasy stuff out of your hair, there is nothing left but to tie it up and channel Erykah Badu (left); our second birthday on the road (right)

And so as each day passed, we were shown how much we had grown in our absence. On our first visit, we had filled our days with exploring and excursions. Caves, mountains, forests, beaches, monasteries, castles and medieval towers – all of them we had enthusiastically ticked off the list. This time, there was no list. Not just because we had seen everything there was to see, but also because we were content just being rather than doing.

I also amazed myself by witnessing how what had really bothered me last time, didn’t seem quite so important now: the derelict cars by the sides of the road, the seriously sketchy internet connection. But instead of getting riled by these things all over again, I quietly accepted the status quo and got on with things as best I could. (And those that know me well will realise just how monumental this is; before our trip, drama was pretty much my middle name.)

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Photo caption: nature’s slideshow – every sunset was slightly different but equally captivating…

And so our second leg on this quietly powerful island showed us both how we have changed, as well as how we are continuing to slow down. Not just in ourselves but also in the energetic winding up the trip. Because just as Ikaria served as a stepping stone between an easeful life in Europe and adventure backpacking in Asia, it acted as the opposite on our return. Which was deeply comforting. But also a quite odd. Because it made us feel as though we’d been in a bit of a time warp. Despite having spent two thirds of a year away, filling it with action-packed, assumption-challenging, culturally-awakening globe-trotting, the steadiness of Ikaria and its inhabitants almost made us question if we’d ever left. It seemed to make the intervening 8 months shrink into an almost imperceptible slice of time, when in fact they had felt quite the opposite.

Which is all down to the fact that Ikaria and its inhabitants don’t really ever change. Indeed, they are defined by their slow predictability. Which is precisely why we love them. Unfortunately though, this made leaving quite a challenge. And it made me realise just how much this half of the trip has felt dominated by good-byes. For as we inexorably edge nearer to our return date, our departures become more and more emotionally charged: leaving Bali was an effort, departing from India was emotional and in Ikaria, I even shed a tear.

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Ikaria Part 1 (112)

Photo caption: spot the difference – same sign (Xanthi), same girl (Xanthe), same rabbit. Who said we ever left? 

Fortunately for us, life on Ikaria will always be the same. Or at least I hope it will. Slow. Unaffected by the outside world. Untamed and natural. What changes is the way we fit in with it or not. It acts as a barometer for our internal landscape. We may always find it unchanged on our return, but each time it will present us with something different: exactly what it is that we most need to look at.

And luckily, it is still relatively unknown. For now. But shhh! Let’s keep it a secret. I’d like it to stay that way…

To see where we are on a map, click here!

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