Sunday, 21 August 2016

"The Amazing Race" Kind of Summer: Budapest

Listen, I'm no TripAdvisor.
Chain Bridge closed for the Air Races (and iPhone photo opportunities)
Please don't expect me to wow here with my review of the veal cutlet served over corn polenta with spicy tomato and roasted red pepper spread, topped with a slice of calf liver done so deliciously to perfection it qualifies as one of the best five dishes my palate has ever experienced. Ever. Or expect me to choose for you the best goulash soup in town, review the intricate layers of the Esterházy torte, recommend the ambiance of Café Pierrot on the Buda side or insist you can't leave without Szeged's Hungarian hot paprika as a souvenir (what's weed for Amsterdam is paprika for Budapest). Nope.

And if I sound a little grumpy to you, there's a reason. Budapest and I - I discovered - have this complicated relationship. You see, this wasn't our first time. It only dawned on me late afternoon on our third day as I was impressing my husband and our boys by navigating like a pro through the city streets on both sides of river Danube, that is not really schönen let alone blauen  showing them the major landmarks, that the previous three visits to this magnificent city had nothing to do with sightseeing. They more resemble a young woman’s shaky journal entries and serve as monuments to my eventful personal history. 

The first visit was in 1990 with my boyfriend - a magical stay in this majestic city that was going through one of its hungry years, just fresh from shedding the communist era and - like a rebellious teenager - having no clue how it all would end. I remember being struck by witnessing old women selling family heirlooms for cash on the pedestrian-only Vaci Utca: art, china, silverware, intricate hand-made lace ornaments. Those forints were food money. We were young and with long-weekend pocket money of about 200 dollars we were beyond wealthy. Caviar for breakfast anyone?

Second visit - 1994 - same boy turned man and husband. My first husband. Atrium Hyatt hotel and a room with the mesmerizing view of the Chain Bridge. After a few days of empty small talk and group sightseeings with his entire family, captured on the photographs I recently happened to have found, there was one evening and a critical conversation with his mighty uncle from America during which we made our first emigration plans that both felt like a breakthrough and a more-than-solid lifeboat out of former Yugoslavia. What a relief! He would re-enrol in university and get a degree. I would license as a pharmacist in Texas. We wouldn’t be sharing a bathroom with all the smokers in his family nor be helplessly waiting in Belgrade for NATO to bomb!

The final visit in 1995 was far less glamorous. Now we were the poor ones, arriving at the TOEFL test with an overnight bus loaded with smugglers. Sausages, toothpaste, laundry detergent and diapers were hot items on Belgrade's black market. When the bus doors closed at midnight at the Central terminal, cigarettes lit, shoes came off and we marinated for 378 point 4 fucken kilometres in odours I can still recall, ears numb from the turbo-folk music that blasted all night through the crackle of worn-out speakers. We took the test at 10:00 a.m. Then we each savoured a Big Mac at the Vaci Street McDonald’s. By then, the city was all done up, facades renovated and posh world brands had moved into Budapest’s prime locations. Everybody had a cellphone. We hung around the river banks and the Chain Bridge for as long as we could then rushed back to board that same bus for the same many-hours-long ordeal back, the experience only enhanced by the mandatory 10 Deutschmarks per person bribe for the customs officer not to open the the trunk to check for possible imported goods.  
     “But we didn’t buy anything, we just went…” we tried to fight the injustice of it all. 
     “You are welcome to walk home" the toothless driver replied with a grin, cigarette dangling off the corner of his mouth. “In my bus we’re all equal: everyone pays the racket!” 

Nevertheless I passed my test of English as a Foreign Language with flying colours (the then-husband did not do as well but still adequately for the mediocre private university in Texas that had accepted his uncle’s tuition cheque) and we were cleared for emigration. 

The jolly never-ending tune playing in between the tourist sights information on channel 2 for English on Budapest’s double decker bus woke me up. Or was it my family alerting me to our final stop - the 5 star Boscolo Hotel. It was day 6 of us gumping* over Europe, I must have dozed off in exhaustion.

So if I sounded crabby - forgive me. It is from the stark contrast of this before and after for me. The life I willingly signed up for as a young, educated woman and this beautiful life I turned out to be living. The many different dead-ends and near-fatal turns that could have occurred has left me vulnerable in retrospect. I wish my happily-ever right now was more than just happenstance -  that I actually had had a say in it.

Somewhat ignorant or simply unaware, Budapest the beautiful has witnessed all of my personal drama that unfolded over the past quarter of a century, seemingly analyzing my life with equal emotion - oh well: here comes the rain, here comes the sun, take a walk, take a seat, sip a coffee, eat a cake, take a long soothing bath - you will most certainly feel better. This too shall pass. 
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" inspiration?






Dobos torte

I did manage to relax, unaware of the PTSD-like 3-day walk down the memory lane which was lodged somewhere in my subconscious, only to resurface during a short bus ride. Like most European cities there are scars and the monuments of real suffering all around Budapest, once home to a vibrant Jewish community. 
Names of Hungarian Jews killed in Holocaust inscribed on each leaf
But it is what we do with these scars that makes the whole difference. We expose them, we honour them. And we are certain they won’t happen ever again. Never again.
Never again
Just below the Buda Castle there is this 3m tall limestone sculpture called the Zero Kilometre Stone. Erected at the Adam Clark square this stone marks the reference point from which all road distances to Budapest are measured in the country. While kids were busy chasing one another around it and my husband waited in a long line-up for the tickets to the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular, I placed my forehead on the warm, rough stone. The symbolism of how far I've got to go from this true zero point in my life made me sigh in gratitude. There was never a need for a helping hand or a rescue boat. We are all capable of doing it all by ourselves.        
            "Hey guys!" I summoned my crew. "Forget the shortcut! Who's with me to climb the hill on foot?" And so we did.  
Here comes the Sun!
*gumping - the Hasson family trademark name and signature activity. While Forrest Gump was aimlessly running, we aimlessly walk. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

"The Amazing Race" Kind of Summer: Amsterdam

I would love to think I'm cool. 

Not necessarily in the super-confident "I've got swag" kind of way. Just a decent every-day brand of ordinary cool. Three days in Amsterdam, Netherlands showed me I am so hopelessly not.

Amsterdam with an iPhone
This summer my family decided to try something new: invade Europe! The planning part was fun - combining West with East, parts known and unknown, authentic foods, a bit of history and a lot of nostalgia. The result: 2 weeks, 4 cities, 268 821 steps made with kids sans stroller (an equivalent of us walking from Toronto, ON to well past Buffalo, NY). Needless to say - we learned a lot about who we are individually and as a family. Hop on, and I'll try to give you a tour!

Here is what I expected of Amsterdam based on stereotypes and stories told by other travellers: bicycles, tulips, canals, cheese and pastry, Anne Frank house, weed, Red Light District.

All in all - expectations were correct and we got to witness them all.

Mokummers aka Amsterdammers (a nickname derived from Hebrew word 'mokum' which means place) love their bicycles and make space for them pretty much everywhere, which is great news when travelling with kids... apparently ringing a million bicycle bells in a day is very rewarding, hence on this first leg of our travels we got away without having to bribe the boys!

Flag of the city of Amsterdam comes with a triple X and is proudly displayed everywhere, from squares and stations to tall ships and five star hotels. That's why I assumed that the XXX probably doesn't have to do with the 'red light district' and all it's R-rated content has to offer to an unsuspecting visitor. Amsterdam's symbol has to do with the three deaths that almost extinguished all life in this city by the sea: fire, flood and plague.

It took only a few steps down the first couple of streets for my un-cool to start showing up in full light. Here's what you get when you travel to Amsterdam with kids:
"Mama, what's that smell? Is it a skunk?!"
The leisurely stroll then turned into a lengthy explanation how it does smell like a skunk but is not a skunk; instead it's marijuana which is a plant people grow and then dry and then roll into cigarettes and then smoke to get high, which doesn't mean grow taller but happier and funnier and allegedly hungrier (and hornier although I didn't share that) and some of them report feeling less pain and possibly even reduction of convulsions... By the time I finished my extensive yet careful-not-to-judge THC ramblings their mouths were all packed with Nutella filled croissants and all I've got in reply was: "Wha'?" Good. Phew.


Reads funny
Does funny
Yes, Amsterdam is all about weed, fully legalized and available in every single breath one takes. It's sold in places called "coffee shop" as in 😉COFFEE. And for weed-virgins like my hubby and I, that came as a shock and then a scoff and also a temptation. Sharing this one 'space cake' (although we've been advised to eat one whole each - but that was way too many carbs!) we happily decided we were immune to whatever hype there has been since the Woodstock year - the year we were both born. We recalled the many times everyone else smoked and we didn't even get the secondary effect most people claim is enough. Ok, I admit, I laughed one night away with friends this past winter after a THC-laden jelly bean but other than having a brilliant idea for a screenplay occur in my mind with lightening speed, everything else was just the same. Oh yes, and I was also very, very sleepy.

After all we are both super responsible parents, each holding one "subject" firmly by the hand so they would not get lost, run over by a bicycle or God forbid plop into a canal - of course we didn't get high! It took about 5h and utter exhaustion from roaming the city for the crazy street names and illegible street signs to start sounding hilarious when we read them aloud to one another. He called me his "Vettewinkel''. I called him 'Verkoopster'.
Nope not high, just really funny. And hungry. Hence the best Malaysian curry we waited in a long line-up for and gobbled way above our spice level after a full dinner. Weed cakes. They work.

But the effect wore-off quickly - or did I just imagine there was an effect? - because the very next sight completely sobered me up. Right around the corner there was a store that sold accessories. As I was trying to see if this was a shell (a fun project we can make next time we are in Florida!) or clay, my little one read the name of the store to me and started laughing because he had finally found a name written in English he could understand. Thankfully, not fully. The Pussy Pendant store. Nice.
I just started contemplating how grateful I actually am that I mothered three boys and at least while parenting don't have to walk the fine line between feminism and liberation, when screams and giggles made me turn.
One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi on the Amstel river... it took me three seconds to grasp the full view of the scene in front of me. A whole bunch of drunk girls were crowding a boat, shouting and laughing out loud, cheering for the Bride to be. There were balloons and beads and beers and a bachelorette sporting a hairband with dildos on the top of her head.
Again, I wish I was cool. Wish I had a longing of being a younger version of myself on that boat, kicking it up with my bestie. But I just couldn't. I immediately defaulted to their mothers and yet to be born daughters and I somehow - if there had to be a stupid party - preferred the princess theme rather than a slutty one. Then I almost got run over by a BeerBikeBar!
Bicycles+Bar+Beer+Bride2Be
Mansterdam!

As for the guys - they have their fair share of fun in this city; bachelor's parties are overwhelmingly outnumbering the girls. Actually, not just parties - it seemed that men outnumber women on every street, restaurant and bar. No wonder my little one still refers to our first stop as "Mansterdam"! They came in droves, often in the same outfits, jolly and drunk regardless of the time of the day. At night they swarmed the red light district, checking the offerings behind many glass doors as if it was an ordinary shopping day. And again, I thought to my-not-cool-self, thank goodness we live with our boys safely removed by an entire ocean from all this. Although it seems freer than freedom, there is something deeply disturbing and sad in the industry that benefits from the temporary purchase of female bodies.

The "Red Light" district lives up to it's hype. Rows of narrow windows line the streets. During the day the red velvet curtains are down and it seems that regular working people occupy the packed apartments above them. Come 5 o'clock, the women mastering the oldest profession on the planet start showing up to work. They are often very young, in ripped jeans, with a lot of make up and a pimple or two that just couldn't have been covered. I observed them drinking pop, smoking and chatting with their girlfriends as they leisurely strolled down the street and into their workplace. With the first sign of dusk, the neon lights will start flashing promising anything in exchange for Euros. Banana show, S&M show, live sex on stage show. The girls we saw just half an hour earlier will start showing up in the windows, obscurely dressed, puckering their lips, inviting men to come closer.
Dying of curiosity I tried not to look but of course I did, albeit briefly - and I saw images that still haunt me, painfully proving that this is not right - a bruise under the knee; stretch marks over a belly; cellulite on thighs. These are real women, not rubber toys. No one should earn a living on a mattress covered in pleather in a small tiled room just off the street. The rational part of me knows that this is a choice. In Netherlands, they are actually protected, even unionized, have healthcare and all the rights not to do what they don't feel like doing and still - as uncool as I really am it all made me feel sick. Someone's daughter. Someone's sister. Someone's mom.

When you look at virtually any row of houses lining up the canals of Amsterdam, although cute and postcard-like, you might notice that at least one of them is crooked. And no, you are not drunk - they often are. The ancient wooden beams on which they stand have been immersed into the water for centuries and are starting to rot and break, causing this ever so slightly visible lean of one house onto another. Eventually some will collapse and will have to be replaced by new sturdy materials and a more solid foundation. This serves as a somber metaphor for this otherwise delightful city.

And that's what my utterly uncool wish for Amsterdam is: preserve The Night Watch and the Sunflowers, enjoy the beer and the boat ride, grow the tulips, keep the healthy bicycle thing going; yet please replace the rotten, the decadent and the unnecessary. Let's begin:

Yes to growing gardens at the door
No to growing gardens on the head
Yes to Stroopwafel
No to burgers from a vending machine

And so it goes, one predictably safe and uncool choice after another. Oh well, after all I am just a travelling mom.







Monday, 25 July 2016

Forty Seven Candles

Here is the mundane truth about me and my birthday: I never had a thing for it.

July 25, 2016
Given I am a true summer baby we were almost never home on the 25th of July so my friends and candles and a cake always arrived belated on a self-selected day in September, once school resumed and my mom would throw me an at-home party -- Serbia in the '70's was far from Jungle gym's and party places. There was also no Echo Age invites. What a blessing! 

In truth, the long gone yet not forgotten shy version of me (oh yes, there actually was such a thing), always kind of felt embarrassed to be the centre of attention - to use the scientific language I answer my little kids' questions about 'birds and bees' with - just for the sheer fact I plopped out of my mom's woo-woo on this particular day. The mama in question claims she held off the contractions until she witnessed the safe return of the Apollo 11 crew, then rushed to the hospital and well... plopped me.
July 25, 1969

But then the Internet and Facebook and SMS and Viber and What'sApp and Messenger came and this all changed. Since the wee hours of this day, starting as far away as Australia and East as India all the way through Asia and the Middle East (shalom mischpacha!) and Europe - with the strong presence on the Balkans of course - and from top to bottom of the African continent only to be swung from Brazil all the way to Colombia arriving via US back home to Canada, you guys changed my relationship with my date of birth.

So what did the 'Birthday Girl' do on her Birthday and first day back to work after a vacation?

As a gift from me to me, I started the day early, with my friend Amy kick my Birthday ass over at the Harmony fitness. Tabata drill. Plank walks, Russian twists and incline of 15. Thanks Amy, I can barely walk!

Then, in one of the Hospital Diabetes Centres I serve, with the assistance of a translator I started a young mother on CGM. As of tonight she will no longer be afraid of hypoglycaemia. There is nothing more rewarding then being a part of the renewed hope for an easier and healthier life of a Type 1 Diabetes patient. This is my life's work and my biggest gift today and every day.

At day's end, I got to hang out with my crew: my husband and my boys. Got home made cards and hugs and kisses and flowers to wear on my head! We don't do gifts. We do feelings. The whole month of July this year brought fireworks of love with the trip to Europe and back home home.
My B-day gift of LOVE

Our home is all quiet now and I've just finished listening to and re-reading all your messages.

Your shower of love and attention ringed and pinged and dinged every hour of today making me giggle and bask in the attention. You sent good wishes and cards and hugs and funny faces and also some profoundly beautiful things you had to say about me. You called and texted and e-mailed. You nudged me to enjoy my day and forget about calories. You sang and even made me sing. And you made me love my birthday.
Thank you! THANK YOU!
Hey DaDa - I do LOVE my B-day!










How To Spot A Calling

"Are you 226?" - the piercing bark of a short feisty woman jolted me out of my humdrum wait for the bus. She was so loud that a good portion of the crowded bus stop turned to look.
"N... No" I answered shakily, then continued to introduce myself with a bit more confidence: "I am 227" at which the curious stares became more obvious.
"Well, tell 226 she must come see me first thing in the morning, she left her Erlenmeyer flask at her station. You guys can't be irresponsible with your equipment." Then our fierce analytical chemistry technician disappeared behind the many coats so quickly she missed my timid: "Um... I will."

In an Orwellian kind of way, this episode seemed funny to me the sophomore year of becoming a pharmacist. Little did I know that a quarter of a century would pass before I learned how to handle being assigned and considered a number.

These days floods of articles, TED talks and interviews with new world leaders, business coaches & ultra-successful hipsters point out that the old corporate structure is dead. Truly successful companies have replaced their ivory towers and VP-only perks. Wise executives now share open spaces and open minds with their inspired teams.
The essence of their innovation is that it feels like playing rather than working, all the while achieving remarkable results.

Truth be told, for the last few years of my career I've been immersed in all that stuff.
I dug Simon Sinek. Reread Seth Godin. Adored Shawn Achor. Pondered with Dan Ariely. While driving aimlessly on my tedious Mondays-to-Fridays, Warren Buffet kept me company with his famous address tackling productivity and big life's to-do list published by the Harvard Business Review. I also wholeheartedly "joined the circle" and leaned in as seriously as I knew how. You get the point -- when Netflix already knows I only want the stuff on Musk, Jobs, Gates and even Cuban - I mean business.

The result? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because although the logic is clear, business sense sharp and the stories inspiring, removed by a screen or a print, it failed to sink in. What I realized is that I actually needed someone around me, a warm body I actually would be able to meet and bounce these ideas with - and no, not a bigwig VP on a stage once a year who talks integrity and requests compliance via mandatory signatures on the spread sheet. I wanted a real leader who sticks around but not just at the bar. Who breaths the values herself, then coaches and inspires, unifies teams, solves problems and laughs off obstacles until it does start feeling like play. An intelligent yet fun pastime I'd get to do between 9-5.
Looking at my own professional life these past several months, I'm in awe how things in life work themselves out and not because of meticulous career planning or having a powerful mentor and role model.

So what ended up happening with #227?

Here it is, for the sake of all those currently sporting golden handcuffs afraid or unsure how to make a leap and also those few who have not yet figured out how to troll LinkedIn unnoticed. #hillarious

To start, it's actually enough to know what you don't want - in my case, I could no longer justify to feel like a human equivalent of spam mail. That instead of becoming the prescribed employee of the future, built out of Terminator 2 grade stainless steel, it's OK if you simply keep your own skin albeit at times fragile and sensitive. Anything but thick. In lieu of putting Teflon on to repel the mandatory vermin you put your focus on how you actually want to feel in your professional life. How about empowered and entrepreneurial for a change?
Then you let go. Breathe. Laugh. Train. Travel. All the while keeping focused on your priorities and carefully chosen helpers. Never be afraid to pay for a good advice.

I've been many numbers in my life: The 227 in Analytical Chemistry. The matching 354 around my wrist and my baby's ankle at birth. My immigration file number, I can no longer remember even though it felt seared in my brain at the time. World Wide ID 769 885 007. For some reason I thought that getting the number was a sign of safety. That things would be managed and taken care of because of it, not despite of it.

In truth, there is only one formula to get what you want:
1- Find the cause for which you would gladly volunteer
2 - Form real bonds with real people, including former customers and honorable competitors - these could turn out to be essential 
3 - Never stop learning - stay the course in the chosen field and get to really, really know it. Not for the worthless check mark on the performance review. But to be invited to the big kids' table because of what you know, not who you know.

Then go to work and play. You'll never even think of glancing at the clock. Or loathing when your manager calls. Counting days till your vacation. Or mouth to yourself ever again: "TGIF. TFGIF."

You do deserve better. Much better. When to start? How about right now! 
Or answer Godin's opening question in "The Icarus Deception": How long are you going to wait?


Thursday, 16 June 2016

"I Don't Want To Be Good"

The most epic meltdown as a child that I can remember was when I was about four. Funnily enough I don't remember much about it myself -  it was more the numerous recounts of the event as told by my parents, describing the one monumental tantrum they chose to preserve in our family's collective memory.
Blogger @4: Not so innocent
The story goes that I had gotten some money for my birthday; my aunt living far away in Canada always diligently sent her nieces and nephews in Serbia a generous monetary gift each year of our childhood, nestled in a beautiful Hallmark card. The three-figure number (a lot of money for Serbia) precisely outlined by little perforated dots that felt like Braille on the back, the intricate design on the thick stock of the Toronto Dominion bank cheque. 
So my parents asked me - likely as a joke - where would I want to invest my money?
     "JIK bank - a bank in your home!" - I answered right away and they all burst into laughter.
There was a radio commercial for Jugoslav Investment Credit bank that aired constantly. Having stayed home with a nanny while all the other family members were in school or at work caused me to hear the marketing message so many times a day that I even said it with the intonation of the voice actor.  This had brought on an flurry of giggles. 


JIK bank pin
However, my own parents didn't bank with the JIK bank and no one was seriously committed to honouring storing my Canadian dollars the way I had personally elected to as a young investor. When I realized there was no call being made on my behalf (JIK bank's pitch promised they would even send a representative to one's home to open an account!) I immediately opted for that meltdown that everyone remembers till today. The story was that I cried for hours, voice hoarse and eyes red and swollen. My mother made an executive decision to send me to bed without dinner - likely a difficult and heart-wrenching move for her given at age four I was skinny as a toothpick - a hopelessly poor eater. 

All these years later, it turns out that as an adult I am equally unprepared to deal with authority that offers me a freedom of choice within well-established rules, only to neglect honouring it when decision time comes. In minor cases I am talking about offers which 'expired' and can't be honoured even though the fine-print is clear and the date is right. That's when I become a relentless warrior of the customer service line until the issue is resolved to my utmost satisfaction. In major cases -- well, I am not going to be talking about major cases. You get the point. 

I'm not sure if this childhood incident ignited my moderate yet unfaltering type of righteous-rebelliousness to see each "because I say so" type of injustice through until its very end, but this just might be the case. Don't circumstances usually forge the behaviours? Adamantly forbid something and sure as hell it will be done behind your back: Not staying off the grass. Underage smoking. Experimenting with drugs. Not asking your doctor. Driving over the speed limit. Drinking while at work. Using business hours to browse the internet, write a book, sell shakes, jewelry and even real-estate? 
Pretty much every time a parent, a boss or a politician tries to go hard-ass with some safety or productivity or political rule, it backfires. And in case the parent, the boss or the politician showed a smidgen of incongruence with their own rule - the very core of that structure starts to rot, perhaps not visibly at first, but surely leading to an individual if not collective collapse down the road. 

Bottom line - those making up the rules or making accusations better make them and enforce them carefully - perhaps highlighting guidelines that honour integrity, core values and the big picture; ensuring they themselves first adhere to the very last letter of it. You can't take a 'green day' then expect your teenager to stay off weed. It just doesn't work that way!

My guilt-ridden mother tells me she entered my bedroom shortly after she sent me to bed on that day. My breathing was still heavy from all that drama and she wanted to kiss and make nice, thinking I wouldn't be able to fall asleep until we said 'sorry'.

    "Hey darling, I came to say goodnight. I'm sorry you were disappointed. We will talk about the bank tomorrow." She sat near me and tenderly stroked my hair. "Is there anything you want to say to mama?" 
    "Yes." My quiet voice answered and my mom smiled. I shakily drew a deep breath:     
    "Mama, actually, I don't want to be good!" Then allegedly relieved, I fell asleep. 

The way I try to parent my boys is by being fluid. Have the core rules we are proud to honour in our family each and every time no matter our relative rank by age: being kind, honest, hard-working and light-hearted. Light hearted. It is extremely important not to take ourselves too seriously, let alone make comparisons to others. That goes under 'kind': kind to ourselves. Compete today only with who we were yesterday and no one else. And then there are those rules which are welcome to be 'broken' especially when folks with born-into-it status or those with default authority are in question. By example, I often teach my kids "not to be good"-- coaching them to sense and question inauthentic behaviours and one-sided rules, challenging the unfair, exposing the fake and the ridiculous. Like an everyday version of a PG-rated bad-ass, steadfast in being the proverbial 'troublemaker'.
It's my pleasure to be one!
Proudly raising the next generation of troublemakers! 

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Whistle While You Work

One thing that people living in the country where their native language is spoken can't possibly appreciate is the ease of understanding the song lyrics. To you it just comes with ease and zero effort. To me - it's a labour intensive experience and unless it's a karaoke night I am reluctant to sing out loud for over a decade now because of - Brian Johnson.

My biggest blooper with language and lyrics happened when my oldest son was 8 or 9 and got introduced to none-other than AC/DC by his "dad" - a wonderful man and a lifelong friend I rarely mention in my writing although he helped a great deal in raising my son. But I feel that the story of love and respect for the man who's on paper my "second ex-husband" deserves way more than just a blog post. No need to worry M, you can keep your anonymity a while longer, the memoir's not quite done yet!

Long story short, the kid got a boom box from his dad and a few CD's and the next thing I know the door to his room is starting to be more and more often shut. The music blaring behind it is angry; bass and drums are fierce seemingly shaking the very foundation of our East York home. I approach the door in order to intervene about the decibels when I hear my otherwise gentle boy's voice growl the most disturbing lyrics. Shocked, stunned and mortified, I run to the backyard where M is fixing their bikes so they can go for some equally savage ride and mistakenly I repeat what I heard, but first - of course - questioning his sanity as a co-parent to provide such disturbing musical content to my child.

AC/DC fan club 
   "Dirty deeds un-der sheets? DIRTY DEEDS UN-DER SHEETS!?"

What ensued was one of those moments that I only remember in slow-motion. M lifting his face towards me, dropping the greased bike chain on the driveway, whole face squinting into a grimace before his 6'5" frame rolled over to the grass patch where he laughed uncontrollably until the kid heard him, paused the music, got told how I understood "Dirty deeds done dirt cheap" , after which they both continued laughing and rolling on the ground - likely until supper time. Which I probably didn't even want to cook for them!

Understandably so, I stayed away from loud singing until this past winter, when my new set of kids (Oops 1 & Oops 2) fell very much in love with the Disney soundtrack. No, not Frozen, thank goodness but an old CD they inherited from their big brother, the AC/DC fan himself: Villain Songs! #boyswillbeboys

And since the best way to motivate the boys to get ready for school in a flash is to make it a competition (the kid that gets his snowsuit, boots, hat, gloves & backpack on first gets 2 songs on our drive to school while the runner up gets only one) I got to hear a lot of that villain music this past winter. Before  e v e r y  drop-off and after  e v e r y  pick-up!

When the lyrics finally managed to sink with my comprehension what stroke me as incredible were the lessons and social queues I totally missed when I used to hear these songs with Filip many years back! Disney Villains offer some seriously good teachings that can turn to be very useful for navigating both personal and professional relationships.

Here are some Disney song gems:

You can sleep safe and sound knowing I am around!
Have you ever been encouraged to trust, to trust so much so that once this convincing someone hears and "takes over" your worries you can actually 'sleep safe and sound' only to find out you've been conned? Well, if you saw the Disney cartoon version of the Jungle Book you have been taught a valuable lesson early on! Be careful who you trust and share your burden with - if you have to be convinced you are safe, it's likely a deception! Trust in me, Kaa is way more than just a pretty name!

Please be careful and say NO!


"I'm not asking much, just a token really, a trifle..."
Along the same lines is the lesson brought by Ursula the Witch. She nonchalantly tells the Little Mermaid it is actually her job to assist her.

"My dear, sweet child, that's what I do
It's what I live for
To help unfortunate merfolk like yourself
Poor souls with no one else to turn to."

The price will become visible only in the end, when it's too late - when the "favour" has already been completed. And when Ursula coldly says: "We haven't discussed the subject of payment" followed by "It won't cost much. Just your VOICE!" I actually had chills! Sometimes in life one is offered a deal at the expense of basic human rights, their voice included. Given my life's experience, I am dying to yell to Ariel each time "Don't do it!" as I listen to her singing naively thinking she made a wise choice by trusting a witch. This is when my sons go in unison, while strapped into their car seats in the back: 
   "Don't worry mama, she'll get her voice back!" 
Thank you boys. True. She WILL get her voice back. Of course she will. Silly me!

The lyrics state: "Whistle loud and long". Please DO!
Good news, it doesn't always take a villain to give sound advice. For all of us locked-up in a Monday to Friday routine sometimes referred to as a rat-race, the Snow White has an easy to follow advice: 
What is more surprising, these exact words are echoed by grown-ass councillors that are trained to career-coach!
"Frozen", just not by fear!
It might sound simple but it is actually quite profound. Whistling can make the time pass quicker. In case the work is dull & done only for the sake of a paycheque, it will remind you there is much more to life than just work. It is also contagious - the more you whistle the more people will join in making for a jolly company that weathers the daily obstacles together. We are never alone in our problems. Taking things lightly is a great strategy!

Ask any little girl and they'll tell you, no they won't tell you, they will sing you one of the most important life lessons we all - me first - need to get better at: Let it go!
The 2013 animated blockbuster "Frozen" offers the best ear-worm ever created and I am sure to be humming it until I fully and totally get it. Life-coaching taught me to never to allow things to be rushed, but rather acknowledged and processed - usually with a group of trustworthy peeps - in order for everything to be understood and closed. It's only then one can fully and completely "Let it go!"

I'll end my Disney-inspired silver screen adventure with an unusual learning. Can an ultimate villain offer a useful advice that actually rings truer than true? Absolutely!

When Daniel wins our little pre-school winter-dressing contest, being a jazzy kind of kid that plays a
Couldn't have said it better myself!
piano, he always chooses: "Cruella de Vil". When Joshua wins - him being a hearty little rascal - it's "Are you in or out" from Aladdin and the Prince of Thieves. When it's my turn, perhaps because of my fondness for choir music - I always pick Lion King's - "Be Prepared". And amazingly enough it is the worst of them all that precisely pinpoints how I feel these days as I enjoy my life, my family and my work while mapping our amazingly fun summer:
"Just listen to teacher:
I know it sounds sordid but you'll be rewarded
When at last I am given my dues!
And injustice deliciously squared.
Be prepared!"

Injustices can be deliciously squared indeed. It just takes a tiny little bit of patience and preparation: know who to trust, whistle while the work is getting done, then simply claim one's voice back. Then it becomes super easy to let it all go!