Tag Archives: psychology

Soap Dramas and Domestic Power Struggles

Feeling I needed to rest my knee after some full-on glamping training, I decided to have a bath instead of a shower.

And I needed to warm up. It was a cold morning, and I hadn’t lit the fire because I’m going out to lunch, and the old chap is downstairs in his study. I could have put the heat pump on, but an innate meanness makes me feel I’d rather burn wood that I’ve already paid for, than use electricity that I’ll have to pay for in the future – probably through the nose.

I don’t often have a bath these days, mainly because I can’t trust myself not to go on adding more and more hot water, until I finally drag myself out, weak and exhausted from all the heat and steam, and need half an hour to cool down and recover. This seemed an attractive prospect this cold morning, so I put on the hot tap – hot first, so there isn’t a cold layer of water at the bottom, and sashayed off to make the bed.

I was waylaid by the thought that  I owed a thank you note to a friend for our dinner with them on Sunday night, so went to the computer instead. Thought I’d have a look at stats and notifications while I was there, replied to a few messages – suddenly remembered the bath! The water had reached the top, but at least was not over-flowing. But it had run cold, so I could put my hand in to let out some of the luke-warm water. As I stepped into this disappointing bath, I thought to myself – I may have to give up blogging.

I put my hand behind me into the soap dish and found it empty. Empty! I knew I’d put a fresh bar of Pears soap there only the other day. Why the old chap had to use the soap from the bath, when there were already three bars of soap in soap dishes in the hand basin was a mystery I grimly decided to solve. Three bars, because my son always gives me black Spanish glycerine soap to match my black and white bathroom. But the black soap does tend to stain white flannels, so I put an extra bar of inoffensive Pears glycerine soap there for flannel-using ablutions.

Soap has been on my mind since reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s  ‘Love in the Time of Cholera,’ a few weeks ago. One of many delicious incidents was between an elderly married couple, and how their marriage had nearly broken up thirty years before over a bar of soap. For a few days she kept forgetting to put a new bar of soap in the bathroom, and would remember each time she went in for her shower. On the third day her husband came out of the bathroom in a tantrum and accused her of leaving him without soap for a week.

Neither would back down. The petty argument developed into hostile silence between them, and he then went to stay at his club for three months – finally he had to come back home because they were re-furbishing the club, but he moved into another bedroom. He had to come through hers though, to get to the bathroom, so if she was in there, he lay on the bed, waiting. One day he fell asleep, and when he woke couldn’t be bothered to get up. “It wasn’t a week” he said. She then admitted she had meant to replace the soap each day.

It was the perfect illustration of the petty squabbles that grow into huge rifts, simply because no-one will back down, or admit they were wrong. I have some friends, married now for nearly forty years, and she told me they had had their first row the night they came back from honeymoon and moved into their first home. “Paul said the toilet roll had to have the paper hanging down behind, and I said it had to hang down the front.”

“What happened?” I asked. “I let him have his way,” she said … and she’s been letting him have his way ever since! So they’ve never had any power struggles because she just gives in. It’s when we change, that those sorts of rackets can cause relationship breakdowns. If both change, the relationship may survive, but if one can’t give up their need to control, then the other for their own self-respect has to go, or engage in endless power struggles.

There was no power struggle in this case. I simply asked him rather coldly why he needed a fourth bar of soap. The poor chap had no really convincing answer, unless domestic blindness qualifies, and in the interests of compassion I let him off the hook.

Glamping training? This is beginning to eat up as much time as blogging. Glamping is short for glamour tramping, and means we walk for some hours every day, while our luggage is delivered to our destination. We arrive at a comfy cabin, with a masseur waiting, a glass of wine and a platter of nibbles, before showering and enjoying the gourmet meal provided. We then relax into our freshly made up beds. The next morning we set off across another farm, the sea on one side, rolling hills on the other, to arrive at another destination equipped with masseur, wine, platter etc.

I’m ten years older than the friends I’m going with, and hoping I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew. Twice a day I set myself on the road, trying to get fit after months of sitting in front of the computer. After striding up and down a length of flattish road, I walk round and round the cemetery, figuring that I also need to practise walking on grass and rough terrain. I’m becoming increasingly nervous. The closer it gets I will need your prayers or goodwill, depending on whatever you think is appropriate !

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Reading Honie Brigg’s blog on her Italian holiday has had me in a fever of greedy desire as I scrolled down the pictures of their foodie feasts. Finally last night I could stand it no more, and cancelled the plans for our evening meal. The old chap didn’t fancy mushroom risotto, so he had a steak pie with all the trimmings, and I meditated over the risotto, fortified by a glass of wine.

Gently fry an onion in a little olive oil or butter – I use a bit of both so the butter doesn’t burn. When the onion is soft, add plenty of finely chopped mushrooms – I estimate three to four per person. When they’re soft, stir in three quarters of a cup of Arborio rice, or other risotto rice, and gently fry till the grains are translucent. Add a glass of white wine and let it bubble away. Then keep adding- in small amounts- hot chicken or vegetable stock – I used vegetable bouillon cubes for this emergency risotto. When the rice is cooked and has absorbed as much hot stock as it can take, I stir in a big knob of butter, cover it and leave for about five minutes.

Serve with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan, followed by salad, and eaten with a glass of wine, of course – in this case I had a bottle of Gewurztraminer already open, so it was that. And the whole thing- served in a big white Victorian soup dish with a broad blue rim – was delectable … and the nearest I could get to Italy.

Food for Thought

The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.                                                                         The last lines of the novel Middlemarch by George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Anne Evans. Great Victorian novelist, 1819 – 1880

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Happiness is Our Birthright

I was sitting in my favourite coffee place perversely enjoying a cup of hot chocolate when a young man walked in, carrying his year old baby girl.

As he waited in the queue I saw him drop a kiss on the baby’s head, and I thought to myself, she’s going to be alright. I’d just finished writing a story for a parenting magazine, about bringing up emotionally stable children. I’d turned it round to write a headline, happy children become stable and intelligent people.

Because it’s easy for parents to think they have to be perfect, I made the point that it’s loving parents who take the time to listen and to remember the golden rule about doing to others as you wish to be done to you, who make the difference…

We all want to be comforted when we’re miserable, to be heard when we say something, to enjoy the company of those we love, to have enough to eat and drink and get enough sleep – which is exactly what babies need – they are people too!

But the really important thing for people to know is that cuddling is the answer to all the ills of mankind! Modern research has shown that when babies are happy, talked, too, sung too, cuddled, included, have lots of eye contact, what are known in neuropsychology as the “ the hormones of loving connection” nourish the brain and stimulate the growth of connections in the regions of the brain concerned with regulating emotions. The simple things that loving parents do with their babies, help them to become a considerate, loving and confident people from the very beginning.

This nourishment for the emotional centres of the growing brains makes children feel secure and happy, and means they tend to be more independent, confident, more resilient, empathetic and caring. Children who are comforted when they’re upset, grow up knowing that nothing is really a disaster, so they are the ones who don’t panic or go into despair when things go wrong. Because they learned when they were little that everything passes, they can cope. Adults who didn’t get this sort of  supportive parenting tend to re-act to stress with in-appropriate behaviours like flying off the handle, losing their temper, blaming other people, or going into despair and depression -because they grew up with a lot of fear and no faith that life would support them.

This is other side of the coin – the research which has shown what most mothers instinctively know, that it’s bad for babies to be left to cry. Imagine being tiny and helpless, unable to move or speak, with crying our only way to get attention when we’re hungry, frightened, lonely or whatever, and we can begin to imagine the panic and powerlessness of a baby left to cry. And if we knew that the person we relied on was there, but ignoring us, we’d feel even more abandoned and hopeless. We’d learn that we can’t trust the people we love and need.

Researchers now know that when a baby is left to cry, cortisol levels rise in the brain. If the baby is lovingly comforted after a stressful incident, the body absorbs the excess cortisol. But if the stress happens regularly the cortisol levels remain high and become toxic to the brain cells. Cortisol can cause damage to the emotional centres of the brain, and if this happens regularly children grow up prone to anxiety, anger and depression. The old advice to leave a baby to cry has meant many insecure and sad children.

Psychologists now feel that this deprivation of loving attention, comfort and understanding of a baby is responsible for many problems in older children – problems ranging from ADHD, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, anxiety and substance abuse. So children and young adults with these problems are not innately troublesome or born with a pre-disposition to these problems. They simply didn’t get enough emotional food for the brain- those hormones of loving connection.

All of which means: cuddling is good for babes, crying is bad for them – and the same applies to us all. If you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep from misery, and felt that awful depression when you wake up un-refreshed, you’ll know how it is for far too many babies – simply because their mothers don’t know.

If we saw a ten year old sitting and crying while we were chatting and having coffee, we’d ask her what the matter was. But if it’s a baby crying, too often we simply ignore him. So I make it my life’s work to admire people’s babies in the supermarket or elsewhere, and then say, you know the more you cuddle him, the happier and the cleverer he’ll be, and if they’re interested, explain. Often young mothers react with huge relief, as though they’ve been given permission to cuddle as much as they want. (They may also say what a boring old bat, when I’ve gone!)

Maybe we could change the world if we all cuddled our babies, and rushed to comfort a crying one. No more sad and miserable children getting punished for behaviour they don’t understand and then growing into depressed or angry adults, taking it out on the world which felt so harsh to them when they were babies. And we could probably all do with lots more hormones of loving connection ourselves, too.

And then maybe when we all have enough of them, Love will at last prevail.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Out for lunch today, so we just needed a light supper. Leeks are still cheap and plentiful, so leeks it was tonight. Take enough leeks for two – they vary in size so much, that it’s easier to estimate your own. Butter an ovenproof dish, split the leeks lengthways and lay them in the dish. Stir 300 grammes of freshly grated Parmesan cheese into 400 mls of thick cream. Pour this over the leeks and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for twenty minutes until the leeks are cooked and the cream is bubbling.

Meanwhile hard- boil an egg per person and chop them up. Scatter the eggs over the leeks, and cover with more grated parmesan. Put the dish back in the oven for about five  minutes until the cheese has melted, and then give it a quick grill to brown the top.

Serve with crusty bread and some salad.

 

Food for Thought

I am as young as the most beautiful wish in my heart, and as old as the unfulfilled longings in my life.                   Saying of the pygmy Kalahari Desert Bushmen

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