Category Archives: Mindfulness

Latest lessons learnt while travelling

{Hello, anyone out there? I am still alive and kicking despite the radio silence on here. I have a million stories written in my head, most of them half-finished, I will get to putting (some of) them on here. Or not.}

One of the stories lingering in my head is made up of many pieces, collected over the last year or so. As an academic, one of the (few) job perks is travelling to far and near places, scientific tourism as a colleague of my puts it. I have written that before becoming a mother I LOVED this perk. I got to see new places (without paying for it myself), attractive tourist destinations (Mexico – my very first transatlantic adventure, Rhodes – the conference rooms were quite empty, Lago Maggiore – oh, the beauty, Madrid – so full of life and vibe I did not want to come back), places less traveled and less exotic but so worth a visit (Tallinn, Heidelberg, Birmingham) and perhaps best of all, places I get to see old friends again (Montreal, Raleigh, Munich, Novi Sad). With the generous number of vacation days we get, it was never an issue to extend the stay for a couple of days and explore the place. Or even drag the family along and make a holiday out of it (Rhodes, Barcelona, the Baltic).

I have also written about how much this all has changed since becoming a mother. I have mostly written about emotional changes, but there were also behavioural ones. Never before had I asked to see someone’s superior or yelled like a lunatic at an airport official, waving the breast pump ice pack, all in front of my boss. I am still not sorry about that. Actually, I am sorry I did not yell louder.

These days, the travels are less frequent and shorter (by choice), there is less new (by the community inertia it is mostly in same places) and less eventful (I am less hormonal and likely to yell), but there are always aha-moments and new insights, that are probably always around but I oversee them in the “sameness” of my rich everyday life. I thought I would share a few, collected over the last year or so. They are rather random, mostly unrelated and I may or may not be proud of each one.

  • Letting be frees you. It really does. For years I have been fighting the sometimes overwhelming pain of being away from my children when travelling. I have been wishing it away, wishing to be able to compartmentalise better, to be more professional and less dramatic, to be able to, like my friends/colleagues/justaboutanygrownup, enjoy the luxury of travelling alone, sleeping for more than 15min or reading more than a paragraph at the time on the plane. It did not work. I did not get any “better” at any of it. I probably did phone Mark less frequently as time went on, somewhere along the line I must have realised that hey, he is exhausted from solo-parenting two small children and could probably use the time better (read sleep) than listen to my woe is me. So, as fighting it did not work, I thought I’d, wait for it, stop fighting. And instead of looking away from a mother with a small child in a metro and frantically searching for something important to read to take my mind of of, I have started doing the opposite, looking at the mother and child, perhaps smiling at them or even offering small help if appropriate (doing something however small for another person does wonders to our ego obsessed selves). And let the sharp pain in my chest wash over me, make me slow my step down for a second, and let it be.
  • No matter how unknown the place, how much concrete there is and how many red traffic lights and side streets to get lost, just keep running and a beautiful, green, open space will eventually appear. You may find a running path there, maybe even a river, but you’ll certainly find like-minded runners.
  • On one of the travels, I woke up feeling particularly sorry for myself. I grumbled inside that I had to work on a Sunday, I was missing my kids, I fretted how I would fit in since I get (way) too talkative after my second glass of wine (it was one of those posh, by invite only conferences where a bunch of old men discuss the future while wine starts flowing from noon). Then I went for a run, and saw the sun rise behind Lago Maggiore. I could use a ton of hashtags for it (and I think I did in my FB status) but it basically boils down to that that stepping off your soapbox, getting some perspective and realising you are so incredibly privileged and blessed should be done much more often. It is really good for you.
  • The world is still made for men (just in case my stance on this wasn’t clear from the above). Progress and all. Finding an article for a woman (stockings, nothing extravagant) in an airport emergency supplies shop proved impossible. There were emergency  ties, emergency shaving kits, emergency socks, emergency fragrances (male and female, but if we are honest, these are again emergency supplies for men). Schiphol, I am deeply disappointed, you should know better than that. World, so should you.
  • I like to think that I have grown in the past decade(s), from my obnoxious, all-knowing 18 year old self to a more emphatic person, more understanding of human weaknesses and mistakes (probably due to making many myself along the way), looking for good in people if you will. During my last work trip, however, I realised that I still, as much as back then if not more, get so much satisfaction from putting an asshole in his place.



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Filed under Mindfulness, not such a zen mama, Reluctant academic life, work-life (im)balance

The year I let go of letting go

I don’t let go very well, we know that by now. Probably in general, but in particular when it comes to motherhood. I am acutely aware that the days I have with my children under the same roof are numbered. Una is turning 9 this year, half way one might say. More than welcoming and celebrating the changes and milestones, I hold on to what went too fast, painfully fast, as though I can stretch the time, live it and feel it a little bit longer. And for a long time I have been subconsciously beating myself up for it, and fighting it, saying things that make it sound like I am embracing what is coming and letting go of what has been. Fake it till you make it sort of thing.

Somewhere over the holidays, while reflecting on the year that past with the full heart and full belly, it dawned on me that somewhere along the line I must have realised how ridiculous this fight against my very core has been. I do not want to let go, and how should I? They are my babies, my heart. Every moment that has passed is one moment less I have to love them.  This is a simple life truth, that no self-improvement book, no New Age fad can ever change*. And somewhere along the line I seem to have let myself feel that, be at peace with that, what a relief.

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before? 

Ran a half marathon!

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don’t think I made any last year? For 2016, not really a resolution but I want a little more patience and a bit less internet time.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No. I was talking to a friend a couple of months ago how no one around us is having babies any more.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully no one really close to me.

5. What countries did you visit?

New: Canada. It made a nice dent on my travel scratch map. Loved it, from the moment I got of the plane, joined a really loooong passport control queue, an officer came and took a family with two very small very cranky children to the front of the queue and than another officer came and took all the foreign passport holders to the front of the queue. So that is the Canadian hospitality people talk about. I was there for a conference and only visited Montreal but it had such a nice vibe, friendly locals and great autumn weather. I also got to hang out there with Maja and her family there one evening and when Milos and the kids went back home the two of us had a nice dinner together, lots of talking, laughter and tears.

Other: Italy (Laggo Maggiore), England, Germany, the Balkans (Croatia/Bosnia/Serbia), France. We spent the summer holiday Croatian island hopping, filled our vitamine D reserves, swam and dove in Vis, crashed for a few days with Jasmina, Zoki and the kids in their holiday house in Zlarin. For Christmas we went to Paris with Louise and Kevin. It was really neat sharing the best of it with the kids. We went to Euro Disney, was fun enough for the kids, but really disappointing with super.long.waiting.times.for.everything, from coffee to bathrooms and let’s not talk about the rides. But we went there in good spirits and I (or was it Louise :)) may have thrown in something in the line of “this is costing a freaking fortune, so fun will be had or else…” so it all worked out in the end. Una had a hard time seeing all the homeless people on the streets of Paris and had questions like “going to Disneyland was so expensive, why didn’t we give that money to these people who have no home?”. Indeed, why don’t we?

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

Patience, more of it, please. Let’s make that the resolution for 2015?

7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Have you not seen #1? I ran a half-marathon!

I followed and completed the training for a mindfulness instructor.

9. What was your biggest failure? 

Hmmmm, I can’t think of anything I would really classify as a failure… I’ve worked a lot on the whole mildness thing, perhaps it’s working?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Thankfully not.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

New running watch?

14. Where did most of your money go?

Mostly the normal stuff, bills, mortgage, holidays.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Doing the mindfulness instructor training.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

“Take me to church”, Hozier. Nestor says “mama, this is OUR song”.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?

a. happier

b. the same?

c. the same?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Keeping in touch more often with a few dear friends.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Internet time.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

#1 25.12 – Louise and Kevin came over from sunny SA hoping to see some snow.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?

I did. With my family and my imperfect life.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

We caved in and got the Netflix subscription. What a mistake to make.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?N


24. What was the best book you read?

I have read quite a few books on the topic of mindfulness, loved Rob Brandsma’s essays.

And have I mentioned that I read “Ontdekking van Hemel” by Harry Mulisch? In Dutch. Schouderklopje for me.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?


26. What did you want and get?

Some clarity about the whole “where we are going to live next year thing”. Well, we still don’t know where we are going to live, but we made some decisions and took some actions and it feels good, whichever way things turn out.

27. What did you want and not get?

Teleportation superpowers. Flying is so expensive.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 38. Low key – cake, friends, the best kind.

29. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

I probably wore dresses more this year than in my whole life. And I discovered that I love stripes (to Louise’s horror :)).

30. What kept you sane?

Running, mindfulness, more sleep than in the years before.

31. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Rob Brandsma  – “the” mindfulness person in NL. Loved his books, his tweets and got to do the training with him.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

The refugees issue. It made me question my conviction that I live in a country based on tolerance, equality and compassion. But I also met some incredibly caring, generous and energetic people who put so much of their time and energy in helping others. So it all balances out, thank goodness (as long as you stay away from comments in online news portals).

33. Who did you miss?

My dad. The past three years have soften the sharp edges of the pain but I miss him so very much.

34. Who was the best new person you met?

I met a really nice woman at the training, she lives in the same town and we will try to get a group together and practice what we learned. I met a couple of cool parents on the school ground (I really do not enjoy small talk while waiting for the kids and it is great having a couple of people you actually do like talking to), had a really nice group of students I gave lectures to last semester….

I discovered a couple of new blogs I love, does that count too?

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

Let it be.

36. Give a quote that sums up your year. 

“No matter how long your journey appears to be, there is never more than this: one step, one breath, one moment – now.” Eckhart Tolle



*Until Una gets that time machine actually going, that is.

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Taken by the hand

One summer day, many years ago, I was in my early and my sister in her late teens, my mum called the two of us to the attic of our holiday house to have a “serious talk”. My mum was a loving but rather strict parent, so a serious talk would imply you were in some sort of trouble. She told us that she wasn’t feeling well and while it was probably nothing serious, she wanted to tell us a few things, you know, just in case. For whenever it happens. Now, this sounds quite morbid, especially for my mum who is an eternal optimist if there ever was one, but put into perspective it makes more sense. My mum lost both of her parents in her twenties, within a couple of years of each other, and a lot of things had been left unsaid which made her loss even harder to bear. So she went over a few practical things, on the level that was appropriate for us, drilled some more of “you have no one closer than each other” as though the previous 13+ years weren’t enough (it worked though, my sister and I are very close) and to our huge surprise totally skipped the studying hard/making sure we could provide for ourselves thing she made sure we grew up with and instead dropped the unexpected “and my biggest wish for you both is to, one day, take {a child*} by the hand”.

Fast forward more than a decade, I brought my firstborn baby to the same house for the first time. I was in a bit of a delirious state from the exhaustion accumulated over the sleepless months, sudden weight of responsibility and conflict of my own identity. That first night, my mum told me how thankful she was that both her and my dad have lived long enough to see me with a child (my dad had suffered a massive heart attack when I was 8 months pregnant and the doctors thought he wouldn’t make it; her own health was declining and other than the fact that it was a neurological condition we didn’t even have a diagnosis yet).  And then she added that she doesn’t need to worry about me any longer. I wanted to tell her that she should actually start worrying now because I don’t have a clue what I am doing with that child of mine and that I am probably doing it all wrong, and that I find it so very hard at times and at the same time so exhilarating and that the depth and rawness of emotions I feel sometimes scare me and… I can’t remember how much of it I actually said, most likely I fell asleep mid-sentence.

Fast forward almost seven years,  on a Thursaday afternoon, my second-born and I are walking along Oude Delft to fetch my firstborn from school (that baby is now in fourth grade). Or better, he is running and I am trying to keep up with him; these days he says so seriously: “Mama, now I HAVE TO run” and runs off to burn all that energy of a three year old. I walk behind him, wanting to take it all in, maybe snap a photo, it is all so beautiful, the canal on the left side, Oude Kerk in the front, Uit de Kunst to the right and my running boy amongst all of it. But my mind is heavy with the events of the work morning and choices and decisions to be made, and deadlines and timelines and uncertainties and it all feels too much. I try to shake it off and come back to this moment but it won’t go away. Oude Delft is a long street, and my boy’s legs, however long for his age, are still small, so he gets tired and starts walking next to me. I praise him for running so long and so fast, he says that he is just taking a break and will run some more. He walks a few more meters, turns to me with a sparkle in his big brown eyes and says: “Mama, give me your hand, let’s run together!” He takes me by the hand, pulls me and we start running. He holds my hand tightly and laughs with the full heart of a three year old and I feel the weight of my self-inflicted worries lifting off, I can’t even remember why they were so heavy after all. He laughs louder and louder and I join him, and we eventually stop running, exhausted, still laughing. And while catching my breath I finally catch the true meaning of my mum’s words. She doesn’t need to worry about me, I am taken by the hand.



*(in Serbian the phrase take by the hand implies taking your own child by the hand)

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Day 93

Today I am grateful for experiencing my first mindfulness “stilte dag”.

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Day 86

Today I am grateful that a book I really want to read is on its way.

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Day 68

Today I am grateful for trying out a quick mindfulness exercise before a stressful work meeting. I need to practice more, but it does make a difference.

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Day 62

Today I am grateful for yet another great mindfulness training session.

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