JOURNAL OF A MOM – WEBER FOR TODDLERS

Without mommies in plain view, the shift in the authority figure somewhat changes so that some kids start practicing absolute authority and enforcing obedience. Whereas some abuse their physical strength to ensure superiority in the playground, others rule with absolute power based on their age, i.e. height, which boils to the same thing. Or they simply think they are right and you can’t make unequal things equal, can you? After all, ‘some animals are more equal than others.’

“Achieving a particular form of political order in any democracy depends on prevailing conditions ‘in which different forms of society cohere’ and different ways ‘in which consensus is achieved’ (Jeffry Ocay). Since a consensus is mainly reached by parents (or teachers or nannies), oppression and cruelty take its place when they’re not around and consequently achieving my kinda order is the goal of all goals, whether there’s a consensus or not. This normally implies the rule of law that all (or most) must obey, using all possible means to accomplish the goal, from open animosity to passive aggression, slamming, crying (with or without tears), punching, pinching, rolling, hiding, blackmailing, stealing and so on.

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The sociologist and philosopher Max Weber distinguished ‘three types of authority: traditional, legal-rational and charismatic, each corresponding to a brand of leadership operative in contemporary society.’ He probably didn’t have kids in mind when he coined the terms, but we’ll see that same rules pretty much apply in the playground too.

According to Weber, traditional authority implies ‘the presence of a dominant personality and it is the prevailing order in society that gives him the mandate to rule.’ Parents are dominant because they are parents. On the other hand, children in the play area frequently listen to (obey) other kids who are seen as apt by the majority, and because everyone else already does, so they just follow. I didn’t give my son B. the mandate to rule so it’s only natural that I should bitch when he presides at our home meetings (or elsewhere). A republic/parliamentary democracy is still a form of government that is nearer and dearer to my heart than a monarchy so, despite being my Little Prince, he does not automatically have a hereditary right to the throne. We’re not gonna abolish monarchy altogether, though, since ours is not the absolute, but the constitutional one (thank god). Tradition is tradition, right? Besides, it’s good to be the queen. However, what B. apparently does is copy my behavior and I can tell you he’s damn good at it. Or he just has a domineering streak. Hm…I’ll get back to that…

Second, Weber’s legal-rational authority is grounded in clearly defined laws. ‘The obedience of people is not based on the capacity of any leader but on the legitimacy and competence that procedures and laws bestow upon persons in authority.’ Having this in mind, it seems everybody who wishes to become president might as well do so, however insane, inept and inadequate, because the state institutions and laws say so. And we can’t question them, right? Kids, like adults, often follow not because of what leaders are capable of but because their ‘authority comes from widely accepted impersonal and impartial rules.’ The one who’s pronounced competent by say parents or other kids, not necessarily proving or having to prove their competence, may become the most reliable and trustworthy person to fix, open and close things in the future. As opposed to adults, children are not biased toward one over another. On the contrary, being open-minded, tolerant and anti-discriminatory, they give everyone equal chances to show what they can do and accept suggestions especially when coming from bigger and older guys. Apart from this, they are very practical. I saw you’re more successful and faster; I’ll step back and let you do it/show me. You have to admit it’s time-saving and more efficient in the long run (and intelligent too). After all, it’s all a part of the learning process and more than ok to be second best.

Last but not least, ‘charismatic authority is a trait that makes a leader extraordinary. This type of leader possesses the superior power of charisma to rally diverse and conflict-prone people behind him. His power comes from the massive trust and almost unbreakable faith people put in him.’ In the playground, like in the world of adults, such kids are often likeable, communicative, sociable, confident, charming, and above all popular. However, they might also be or turn into real despots, stingy, antagonistic, controlling, confrontational, intolerant of differing opinions and prone to oppressing their subjects (that is playmates) by for example not allowing them to climb the slide, pushing them down the slide, grabbing their miniature replicas of vehicles and silverware, while not sharing their own, screaming (to the disgust of their parents…or not): ‘It’s mine. I don’t want to share. I’m a miser.’ Weber’s charismatic authority has what he calls Herrschaft or ‘the power to compel people to obey’ so when the leader says loud and clear: ‘I am your voice,’ his supporters cannot but hypnotically nod and enthusiastically and loyally cheer: ‘Build the wall.’ Furthermore, charisma is, in Weber’s opinion, irrational. ‘Like the mystic, the charismatic leader is believed in because his message goes against common knowledge of how the world works.’ Luckily, he concludes, ‘charisma requires perpetual reanimation’ and is ‘temporary because, like magic, its appeal and its efficacy only last as long as it is seen to be successful.’

The bottom line is the whole society plays an active role in shaping an individual. Consequently, every child has the potential to become an alpha. Being a benevolent alpha parent is, on the other hand, quite normal. Being dominant in the relationship implies, among other things, being protective and comforting and should not be confused with being domineering. The alpha in a wolf pack is the one who protects the pack, not the one who bullies and intimidates.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what the childhood of notorious world leaders was like and how their parents acted when their needs weren’t met. So, here are a few tips for (future) parents to try changing bratty behavior, if possible, with an additional request not to judge parents by how their kids behave:

  • If your children defend their position by repressive means, tending to control almost everybody at home, rest assured, they’ll, unless you teach them differently, turn into control freaks one day, controlling everything in the state as well, should they show interest in becoming presidents. The question is whether they’ll become absolutists, unjust and cruel rulers, or usurpers, illegitimate ones.
  • If your kids show a tendency to be despotic, make sure you satisfy their need to be in charge every now and then by offering them creative alternatives to the bossiness. It’s all a game to them anyway so play along before it stops being funny. The crucial thing is that they get the attention they crave (your way, not theirs).
  • Mind how you talk in front of the kids. You can initiate a positive change by changing the tone in which you ask each other to do things around the house (yes, Bojana, you too). Instead of ‘Take out the trash already,’ why don’t you try something like ‘Hun, can you please…?’ It won’t hurt (always). Other times, you’ll probably be too mad to even bark an order, just putting the trash forcefully on the floor in hopes that he trips over it. There, I said it. Now, if you could see our trash can, I’m sure you’d be more supportive and understand why I have to nag. Now, shut up and keep listening.
  • Say yes whenever possible. Too many no’s may prove detrimental in the long run. Just as offering alternative sources of healthy foods if they prefer x to y, you should offer game alternatives to choose from. You can’t play with mom and dad’s toys, but why don’t you try this?
  • Use positive reinforcement to promote good behavior. Don’t punish bad behavior and failure. Concentrate on the process rather than the outcome. Good job, honey! How didn’t I think of that?
  • Anticipate problems by observing your kids, not to say spying on them, especially when they start bringing friends home: who, where, when, how. Someone’s always to blame for their disruptive/unusual behavior. You shouldn’t feel guilty. Look at democratic societies eavesdropping on the rest of the world and learn. If you’re caught red-handed, deny everything. If espionage becomes a bit too obvious, resort to transparency as your obligation to share information, tell your kids it’s for their own good and make the spy-bugs smaller.
  • Finally, try being effective democratic parents, whenever possible. Although democracy is not as flawless a system as many western governments present it, do not change it or, even worse, turn to tyranny. It is your duty as a parent to offer protection, love and guidance (discipline too) and promote tolerance and freedom of expression if you want your kid, family and society to thrive. Long-term peace, stability and equality can only be attained when everybody’s rights are respected. Why don’t we start with our children? That being said, we might just stop producing more loonies (than necessary), provided you’re not one, in which case we’re screwed, and electing more tyrants presidents in the future.

JOURNAL OF A MOM – UNBIASED LAWLESSNESS

Outdoor play areas for kids, when large and well designed, are pretty cool places when you think of it because children can jump and hide, shout and make a mess there without being prevented or criticized, because they are unbound and can unrestrictedly learn and flourish. But, there’s more to this than meets the eye.

Watching my son play in the playground made me realize his miniature world is nothing but a society as we know it, with its group of small people though sharing common territory, interacting and identifying with one another. In the world of adults, economic hardship creates feelings of powerlessness that more often than not draw people toward dominant and decisive (however morally questionable) leaders, instead of respected and knowledgeable ones. Although some parents fail to see or hate to admit it, our and their worlds are alike, both populated by a wide variety of individuals: superior and inferior, generous and selfish, shy, modest, undemanding and sharing, creative and original, self-proclaimed gods, populist, egotistic, authoritarian leaders, common people, followers, servants (obeying only those of the upper echelon), those who play by the book or by ear, those who enjoy being in the spotlight, those who like to keep up with the Joneses or tend to keep a low profile.

Furthermore, the family with children is a form of government in which all power is vested in a single ruler, or two sovereigns, depending on whether it consists of two bad cops or a good and a bad one. Be that as it may, their authority is supreme and unquestionable so there’s no point in wondering if we are absolutists (with little patience for shades of grey), always telling our kids what to do and what not to, who to listen to, what and how to eat, when to talk, what to say, where to go and where to poo. I know the answer already.

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On the other hand, it’s hard to be too giving and forgiving for many reasons. I like that my kid is bold, decisive, strong-willed and determined. B. generally likes company and it doesn’t mean that when he shows up, all present better disappear. However, his über-confident, overdramatic behavior and forceful personality can at times be quite embarrassing. He can be pretty assertive and assaultive on the swings or the seesaw or the slide for that matter where (I thought) rules of democracy abide. One thing I’ve learned in the meantime is there’s no government by the people where kids play. Consequently, just as we teach our little ones to take turns in conversation, we also need to show them how to share and how the whole turn-taking thing in the playground works. Sadly, some don’t since they obviously don’t believe in a fairer, more egalitarian society and, as someone has to, it’ll often be you if you want pushing down the slide, pulling hair, biting, and kicking to stop, whether it’s done to or by your kid. It’s not always easy to reach a truce, let alone a genuine one, but let’s say I’m more or less satisfied when it becomes bearable for all concerned or the ceasefire holds at least a few minutes…or seconds, to be more precise.

Luckily for small kids, they don’t know yet that language barriers can separate societies. By contrast, this microcosm of society is not restricted by them, among other things, because of how understanding, perceptive and compassionate children may be. They communicate on a whole different level than adults, verbalizing their displeasure both when it comes to them and their playmates, regardless of whether they know each other or have just met. Not only do they express deep awareness of the suffering of another but they also wish to relieve it, wiping their tears, hugging them or asking them or their parents what’s wrong.

Another good thing I’ve noticed spending plenty of time in the sandpit with toddles is the presence and acceptance of all the colors of the rainbow, that is an utter and complete absence of racism and xenophobia in their world. While there’s possessiveness and envy of another kid’s bigger and shinier toy, there’s no discrimination based on ethnicity, nationality, religion, appearance or disability. The society has yet to teach them hatred and prejudice, giving rise to inequality and aggression. Once they know how to properly inflict harm on each other, social integration, oftentimes achieved without a dialogue or the will to maintain peaceful social relations, will be complete. As opposed to sport and play areas, foul play is not always sanctioned in real life. Not that I blame the players. When the referee doesn’t send you off with a red card (preferably in the first half), you go on playing, with or without rules.

JOURNAL OF A MOM – RESTLESS HEARTED

In my previous post about my son B, I talked about our bad sides: having a short fuse, chronic impatience, stubbornness and ways of dealing with frustration. Now comes the good part. Maybe. You be the judge.

There are things the two of us absolutely adore and habitually put into practice, whenever.

We love puppies and often play with them. Though we don’t have one of our own, we’ll always find a victim in the street or parks we go to. Dogs over cats, of course! (Sorry cat lovers), whether they lick us, bark, howl, snarl or wag their fluffy tails.

We find Chopin soothing. There’s no better music to lull you to sleep, except in the evening when ‘Goodnight to you, goodnight to me’ will just do.

We are crazy about sand, and water. Leave us there and get lost. Don’t come back.

Our favorite pastime in the playground, besides playing in the sandpit, is the slide, and the swing (swinging at least 40 min till we fall asleep). While there, we might steal other kids’ toys (especially dumping cars, balls or sand toys) and flee the scene of a crime without being noticed and/or getting caught.

We have a soft spot for clocks and every time we see one, we’ll make sure everyone sees it by pointing it out and saying ‘clo…’ (k’s are so outdated anyway). Yes, we love pointing. Sue us! This includes planes and choppers, screaming aka aka, as well as trains. We’re completely nuts about trains (and elevators, riding up and down and pressing call buttons,…and cranes…and buses…and trucks, especially garbage ones. We’ve even been offered a position in solid waste management). FTR, we know all subway stations in the neighborhood and can unmistakably go to the nearest one from home (willingly) and back (reluctantly).

Our favorite places in the apartment are kitchen (foodies is right) and bathroom (loooove bubble baths, both alone or with mom or dad).

We love the sound of the rain on our bedroom window and could watch and listen to it for hours on end while mom sings: ‘Rain rain, go away.’

We enjoy brushing teeth together, swaying and singing: ‘Brush your teeth up and down,’ as well as toy theater with mom as the only/best actress.

 

When it comes to more abstract things, we’d say we value independence and unconventionality.

We go with the flow of life and are comfortable with ourselves.

We don’t profess to be free-spirited. We ARE free-spirited (and fun-loving, however impulsive).

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We like things our way and are fiercely unapologetic, as people often describe us.

We are not restricted by other people’s opinions and always have one of our own.

We’re allergic to bullshit. We have to speak our mind, one way or the other. It’s not that we don’t want to, we are simply not able to hold our tongue if we find something unappealing, untrue, stupid or boring (read: not in accordance with our standards). So we say directly what we think, that is, mommy does, while I (until I begin to say it loud and clear) will slap your face, pull your hair, take your toys, slam the doors, cry, scream at the top of my lungs, run around, run away, roll on the floor/ground, make a scene, stomp my feet, throw things around or break them down.

We don’t (can’t) pretend and are not trying to be mysterious. You see how we feel on our faces. Remember Meg Ryan in French Kiss? Happy, smile! Sad, frown! Use the corresponding face with the corresponding emotion!

When we don’t feel like doing something, however much we like it, we don’t do it. It’s ok not to be in the mood. Did we say we’re moody?

When we have nothing smart to say, we don’t say anything. We’ll start talking…one day. Don’t push us. We love doing things at our own pace.

Don’t underestimate us. We can do it and we will. In case we don’t or can’t, you will. Don’t overestimate us. This is stupid anyway. Besides, it’s your job. No objections, please.

OK, OK, we’ll say it. We are dominant and oftentimes order people around. That is, most of the time….OK, all the time. Jesus, didn’t we say not to push us?!

Don’t try to contradict us. We’re right. All. The. Time.

Last but not least, NO means NO. We won’t change our mind. If we ever do, it’ll be on a full stomach. Our demands are nonnegotiable. Period.

JOURNAL OF A MOM – SHORT FUSE

My son B. may be the spitting image of his dad but he definitely takes after me with his short-temperateness, determination, perseverance (or stubbornness?) and reluctance to make concessions. 2.5 seconds he needs to go from ‘What a beautiful world’ to ‘I want to smash everything, especially your head’ has been a sign that couldn’t be denied by anyone, his mom in particular. However, whereas we tend to get upset pretty quickly, it may take us ages to cool down. Everybody knows that and over the time they have learned the tricks to cool off, unlike us.

If we’re tired or stressed, we tend to get irritable pretty fast, whining about and to the world so better get used to it.

When somebody pisses us off…what do you want us to say?! Run and hide.

We are drama queens. (OK, I am. Mom can’t beat me.) So what?!

Being impatient is second nature to us and it’s incurable, mom says. Long (or short) lines at the supermarket, closed ice-cream shops, and hunger lasting more than 5 seconds are not our thing. The ‘if my fruit smoothie doesn’t wait for me as soon as I open my eyes, I’ll scream’ type of reaction is quite common. Trust us, everything’s negotiable (sort of), except an empty tummy. When we’re hungry, we bite and you’re the guilty one. So don’t come near us. That is, you may approach the bench provided you have that smoothie or milk shake. Make it quick and warm.

We’re cranky long after we wake up. Just shut your mouth and stop breathing. It’ll pass…in a couple of hours. (Who’s impatient now?!)

We like to tease just for fun (not to make you angry) so don’t freak out every time and don’t you dare raise your voice. We’re highly sensitive to high-pitched sounds.

Try not to make us laugh or, even worse, make fun of us when we’re annoyed and busy throwing a tantrum. You’ll make it worse and then you’ll be sorry. Very sorry. I’m better at ruining the world around me, meaning pens, pencils, phones, books, mom and dad’s stuff, toys, nothing is safe when something doesn’t go my way. Mom, on the other hand, is not prone to smashing objects around the house (though she could definitely use an anger room), but is much better at holding a grudge than me.

The bad thing about us is that we never actually know when exactly our trigger might go off, nor can we remember at all times what/who hurt us in the first place. Be that as it may, hardly anybody can beat us at being mad for hours. Mom says we’re just uncompromising.

Though we are generally sociable and talkative, we appreciate our alone time and silence. If we don’t feel like talking, don’t ask us questions. If we need your company, entertain us. Our refusal to be cooperative or cheerful is temporary. It could however turn into a long-lasting (not to say permanent) thing unless you (learn to) read the instructions clearly written on our faces.

We are terribly stubborn and might see things differently sometimes, which means we’ll eventually do whatever makes us happy (though often others miserable).

We rarely feel guilty for losing our temper ‘for no reason,’ as you call it. You see, we strongly believe that every ‘why’ has its ‘because.’

Many have given us anger management tips, suggesting yoga, meditation and counting to 10 but we think that kick boxing is more in line with our character.

When we’re in distress, you better steer clear of us. It’ll pass (maybe soon, maybe never). Go on pampering us, playing us Peppa Pig and feeding us. What are you waiting for? A thank you card?

We love our mom and have strong separation anxiety, crying every time she leaves. Show some understanding when we can’t come down.

If you don’t do anything when we’re not behaving sensibly, things may (will) go from bad to worse. Talk to us. Be there.

Though we are no strangers to sudden bouts of sullenness, we are generally enthusiastically fond of smiling and being happy.

Finally, we’re cuddly. When you see something’s not right, make sure you give us a comfort hug. The bottom line is all we need is love.

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PUTTING OUT THE FIRE WITH GASOLINE (OR DID YOU CALL MOI A DIPSHIT?)

The Balkans is often referred to as a barrel of gunpowder because of its constant tensions and turbulence, which is something you inherit from your parents, like high cholesterol, and something you leave behind when you kick the bucket. Unless you learn to swim in its tempestuous waters, you stand a higher chance of drowning. If you are from down there, rest assured you’ll live in times of disorder, commotion and unrest, no matter what generation you belong to.

We were sitting in a jet, cruising at some 30,000 ft (9,145 m) somewhere above the coastal mountains of a better tomorrow when we began to shake, rattle and roll again. For a brief moment, it smelled of hope. It seemed as if someone had turned off the engine and let us glide down gently onto the runway. However, a short period of peace and quiet after the 1996-1997 protests was the calm before the storm since the whole place would soon turn into a mad house again.

Simmering tensions between Serbs and Albanians in Serbia’s (ex-) southern province of Kosovo kept getting worse, occasionally erupting into major violence. By Feb 1998, the attacks of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) against Serbian police stations triggered massive Serbian retaliation against the local population. 1998 cease-fire enabled the deployment of 2,000 European monitors. Nonetheless, the ‘breakdown of U.S.-Milošević negotiations led to renewed fighting which increased with the threat of NATO bombing and the withdrawal of the monitors’ (source: Yugoslavia – Peace, War, and Dissolution, Noam Chomsky). Voices of reason ‘warned that bombing would endanger the lives of tens of thousands of refugees believed to be hiding in the woods,’ predicting tragic consequences if NATO made it impossible for monitors to be present (source: Crisis in the Balkans, Chomsky). The crisis culminated in the Kosovo War of 1998 and 1999, during and after which Yugoslavia was once again sanctioned by the UN, EU and United States.

During the 14-month war, we were watching an old black-and-white film in which atrocities on a massive scale were perpetuated solely by THEM. The reality is impartial though, with massacres of civilians by both the separatist KLA and Serbian military, paramilitary and police forces: 34 individuals of Serb, Roma and Albanian ethnicity discovered by a Serbian forensic team near a lake, 45 Albanian farmers massacred, 80 Serbs found in mass graves, 48 Albanian civilians found dead, over 100 Serbian and Roma civilians kidnapped and placed in concentration camps, 47 of whom were killed, 19 Albanian civilians killed (including women, children and the elderly), 14 Serbian farmers murdered, 93 Albanians murdered, 22 Serb civilians murdered, their bodies cremated, 29 identified corpses of Albanian civilians discovered in a mass grave, 15 Serbs murdered, 18 corpses of Albanian civilians found, 20 Serbs murdered, their corpses thrown down wells, 25 male Serb civilians killed, 300 Albanian people killed, over 300 Serb civilians taken across the border into Albania and killed in a so-called ‘Yellow House,’ their organs removed and sold on the black market. Missing, presumed to have been killed, missing… Estimates ranging from 50 to more than 200 ethnic Albanians killed, more than 70 Albanian prisoners killed by prison guards, 100 Kosovo refugees murdered. Missing, murdered…missing… 5 Albanian leaders killed for collaboration by their own people, 23 Serbs and moderate Albanians tortured and killed in a concentration camp, 62 known fatalities , 47 people forced into a room and gunned down. Missing. Missing.…What did we miss?! Endless violations of international humanitarian and human rights law: use of excessive force, resulting in terror, rapes, arsons and severe maltreatments, looting of and forced expulsions from homes, destruction of villages, schools, healthcare facilities, monuments and religious sites (both churches and mosques), detention, persecution, kidnappings, deportations, well-poisoning, executions, killings by gunmen and grenade attacks on cafés and shops, concentration camps, mass graves, and cover-ups.

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Then came the Račak massacre, the mass killing of 45 Kosovo Albanians, taking place in the Albanian-inhabited village of Račak in central Kosovo in Jan 1999, which made a world of difference, or so it seemed. William Walker, the head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, condemned what he labeled ‘an unspeakable atrocity’ and ‘a crime very much against humanity.’

Our flight had been shaking vigorously for quite some time. Repeated bomb threats to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) led to the so-called elevator effect, with the stomach drop feeling during turbulence. All passengers were having heart-in-mouth experience, and although quite a few were complaining of an upset tummy, rarely taking their head out of a sick bag, Médecins Sans Frontières never showed up. Once again, we were left to our own devices. The world thought we hadn’t learned from our past mistakes and needed to study harder if we wanted to pass our human rights exam that semester, blabbing: Repetitio est mater studiorum. Repetitio est mater studiorum. Repetitio.

Our Pilot in command racked his brain all afternoon but couldn’t remember where he had put the book. He could have asked, of course, or borrowed it from the library. ‘How will I ever get a passing grade without the book and time to revise?’ he thought to himself. I could always resort to cheating. I’m bloody brilliant at it. However, the rules made by the Air Traffic Controller were clear: knuckle down and bow to the King of the world. Not like that. Lower your head. He knew he’d feel dizzy while bending over, so he decided to pass…People often turn to one another at times of crisis and we were no exception. We were not prone to despair when going through a hard patch. Despair comes later, when there’s peace and apparently nothing and nobody to fight. So, even though we were slammed against the cabin ceiling during turbulence, you’d rarely hear people screaming. Our Pilot and the cabin crew knew there would be casualties, they knew lots of passengers would suffer horrific injuries if they suddenly hurtled out of their seats, as they knew we’d be tossed across the plane no matter what we did or failed to do. Still, they were reassuring us everything would be alright provided we listened to the instructions in case of emergency and went on to play a movie, a new release. The Cinema of Europe isn’t particularly good at making bloody blockbusters or films with happy endings. Frankly, who needs Natural Born Killers, Martyrs and Rambos with so many violent thrillers, actions and horrors in real life, so gory, they’ll make your eyes water.

Some passengers acknowledged and praised our Boss’s will, if not means, to fight back, especially upon seeing he was held in scorn by his rival pilots who wanted him out of the game, which helped him win additional points with his fellow travelers. To be honest, he did check everyone for seat belts before turbulence (unexpectedly) hit but then went about his business shooting at NATO with his toy guns, thinking we were capable of standing up to the big shots. Despite the panic of flight attendants being thrown around, our Pilot decided to remain composed and not tell a soul he was regularly shitting his pants. Alas, ‘a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’ It turned out the Pilot was indisposed. I don’t have it all together today, he said to the Tower. I have no intention of landing the plane yet. Try me again later when I have it all together. Little did he know that Big Daddy didn’t get a kick out of being called a fool before the whole world besides being ‘hypomanic’ who desperately needed another fuck so that everyone could forget about his petite interne once and for all. One thing you don’t do to Buddy, the Real Estate King, is ignore him. ‘He’s the sun; he’s the center of the universe. He needs to shine’ (source: Putting Bill Clinton On the Couch). What the King didn’t know (that is, pretended not to) was that this Pilot wouldn’t give up easily and would take immediate revenge by redoubling his attacks in Kosovo, which NATO, busy setting fire to yet another detached house, had no intention of stopping. Our Pilot didn’t however have the magnetic compass for navigation, nor was he planning to touch base with the world. He simply switched on the no smoking sign and the autopilot while we waited for the inevitable.

 

MORALITY PARK

The Balkans is often referred to as a barrel of gunpowder because of its constant tensions and turbulence, which is something you inherit from your parents, like high cholesterol, and something you leave behind when you kick the bucket. Unless you learn to swim in its tempestuous waters, you stand a higher chance of drowning. If you are from down there, rest assured you’ll live in times of disorder, commotion and unrest, no matter what generation you belong to.

We were sitting in a jet, cruising at some 30,000 ft (9,145 m) somewhere above the coastal mountains of a better tomorrow when we began to shake, rattle and roll again. For a brief moment, it smelled of hope. It seemed as if someone had turned off the engine and let us glide down gently onto the runway. However, a short period of peace and quiet after the 1996-1997 protests was…

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SLEEPWALKING THE MINEFIELD

I bet you liked the seesaw when you were a kid. Remember the pleasure of riding up and down, up and down, but only enjoying it if your friend on the other side was of similar size and weight? Well, the seesaw in relationships between Albanian and Serb communities has never been much fun because one party always had the upper hand at one time or another. Pent-up emotions and inter-ethnic tensions have been a reality in Serbia’s (ex-) southern province of Kosovo for as long as I can remember.

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Fast backward. The late 1960s witnessed first protests by the Albanians who felt downtrodden as Islam had been repressed and the government, security forces, and industrial employment largely dominated by Serbs and Montenegrins. After a demand that Kosovo be made a republic, it gained major autonomy by the mid 70s, that is ‘its own administration, assembly, and judiciary, along with the membership in the collective presidency and the Yugoslav parliament’ and recognition of a Muslim Yugoslav nationality in Yugoslavia. As a result, ‘there was a massive overhaul of Kosovo’s nomenclature and police that shifted from being Serb-dominated to ethnic Albanian-dominated,’ which now meant harassing and firing Serbs big time. Our parents slept tight, sleepwalking without waking up.

The turning point in the relationship between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo occurred in March 1981 when Albanian students organized protests seeking that Kosovo become a republic within Yugoslavia. The University of Priština, in Kosovo’s capital of Priština, was the starting point of the protests. Kosovo’s cultural isolation within Yugoslavia and its endemic poverty resulted in the province having the highest ratio of illiterates in the country. What’s more, university education was no guarantee of getting a job and the prospects of a promising future remained bleak. Unemployment grew and so did nationalist sentiment. The demands of the Albanian students were both nationalist and egalitarianist. They wanted a different kind of socialism than the Yugoslav one, marked by semi-confederalism and workers’ self-management. However, the unrest was brutally suppressed by the police and army, with many protesters arrested and killed, which was followed by a period of political repression. As many as 226 people were put on trial, including students, convicted of ‘separatism’ and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Many Albanians, including deans, were fired, our parents stuck between illusion and denial. Politically speaking, the demand that Kosovo become the seventh republic of Yugoslavia was unacceptable to Serbia and Macedonia that saw a ‘Greater Albania’ in the making, encompassing parts of Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo itself.

Repression was present on both sides in 1981. Some 4,000 Serbs were reported to have moved from the province to central Serbia after the riots that resulted in several Serb deaths and the desecration of Serbian Orthodox architecture and graveyards. In short, the demonstrations in Kosovo were the beginning of a deep crisis in Yugoslavia that led to its dissolution a decade later. The government’s response to the protests sure changed the political discourse in the country in a way that significantly impaired its ability to sustain itself in the future. By the 1980s, the Kosovo Albanians constituted a majority in Kosovo and ethnic tensions continued with frequent violent outbreaks against Yugoslav state authorities. During the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of Serbs and Montenegrins left Kosovo, largely due to unfavorable economic conditions, and ethnic discrimination by the Kosovo Albanian government and population. ’57,000 Serbs have left Kosovo in the last decade,’ wrote the New York Times in 1982. According to Noam Chomsky (source: A Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo), “after the death of Tito, nationalist forces undertook to create an ‘ethnically clean Albanian republic,’ taking over Serb lands, attacking churches, and engaging in ‘protracted violence’ to attain the goal of an ‘ethnically pure’ Albanian region, with ‘almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs out of the province.” At the same time, an atmosphere that Serbs were the only jeopardized ones was being created in the rest of Serbia. We were panned out, snoring.

My generation was growing up and didn’t know or understand much of what was going on there in the 80s. We were sleepwalking through the Kosovo crisis, at least those who didn’t know anybody affected by it. We were busy putting out fires at home, looking for four-leaf clovers, and chasing the rainbow, busy blowing out candles on birthday cakes, busy being footloose, busy jumping rope, playing with marbles, building a house of cards and sandcastles, throwing snowballs at each other and eggs and sticky coal tar pitch on passers-by from the terrace, busy flying kites, riding bikes, roller skating, discovering and exploring caves, busy climbing cherry trees, writing to pen pals, sledding, organizing tennis tournaments, putting stars on top of Christmas trees, collecting napkins, badges, shells and memories. The whole country was busy leading its life, sleeping like a baby and dreaming. Nobody heard or wanted to hear the nightmares of those deprived of sleep.

With his visits to Kosovo, Serbian President Milošević will ‘upset the delicate balance that Tito so carefully sought.’ The incapacity to control Albanian separatist unrest in the province will prove detrimental in the long run, ending in a massacre on both sides, and the mass desertion of Kosovo. Under Tito, Kosovars had had a considerable measure of self-rule until 1989 when Milošević, who gained political power by pledging to discontinue the repression, responded brutally by abolishing Kosovo’s autonomy and establishing direct Serbian rule. ‘With his rise to power, the Albanians started boycotting state institutions and ignoring the laws of the Republic of Serbia, culminating in the creation of the Republic of Kosova, a self-declared proto-state in 1992, which received diplomatic recognition from neighboring Albania. Kosovo Albanians organized a separatist movement, creating what Chomsky calls ‘a parallel civil society,’ that is a number of parallel structures in education, medical care, and taxation (source: Crisis in the Balkans). Needless to say, they had all the encouragement from Western governments they needed. The ultimate goal of such civil disobedience was achieving the independence of Kosovo. It’s as if we had been sleeping all along and suddenly woken to find ourselves among a jaw-dropping horror film.

Like Serbia, I had always been a sound sleeper and used to fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Sleepless nights and restlessness set in when I moved away from my parents and swallowing sleeping pills became customary when reality knocked on the door. I used to be a sleepwalker and the memories of this phase, which lasted throughout my childhood and ended at some point in high school, are pretty vivid. When it comes to sleep talking, my recollections are mostly non-existent. Those who had a chance to peek at the workings of my brain in the middle of the night reacted differently. My mom had an awful time with me sleepwalking, often glancing into my sister’s and my room to check everything was alright. She used to picture me falling down the stairs, unknowingly hurting myself or leaving the house, though not always through the front door. Although I had the habit of saying I was going for a walk, luckily for everybody, I didn’t hallucinate of being Batman and kicking ass. I never did anything terribly wrong while walking in my sleep, but, now that I think of it, it might have been a solid defense if I had. Anyway, my mom was worried shitless, my dad mostly slept through the night and sis got a kick out of chatting with me and asking me questions. Interestingly, when I mumbled something nonsensically, I wouldn’t remember anything the following day. When you talk gibberish like that, rarely anyone in your proximity is able to make out what you’re saying so there’s no worry about accidentally revealing any dark secret while you snooze. But then, on and off, I’d talk in coherent sentences, answering questions, and actually having a dialogue. Most of the time, I’d just sit up, babble for a few seconds and then go back to sleep when told to. Sometimes, I’d wander around the house for a bit, open and close doors and closets or rearrange things before being walked back to bed. I recall waking everyone up in a hotel room in Slovenia, after colliding with the closet. I was scared, confused and disoriented as I couldn’t find the door, thinking we were at home. No wonder everything seemed uncomfortably unfamiliar.

Serbia, in union with Montenegro as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as of 1992, was groping in the dark, trying to maintain its political control over the province. With the formation of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), ‘an ethnic Albanian paramilitary organization,’ receiving large funds from Albanian Diaspora, and including many foreign volunteers from West Europe and ethnic Albanians from the U.S., a great number of the Kosovo Albanians became radicalized. Needless to say, the States informally backed the guerrilla KLA in order to destabilize Milošević. In 1997, the organization acquired a large amount of arms through weapons smuggling from Albania, following a rebellion which saw large numbers of weapons looted from the country’s police and army posts.’ The Serbian police and Yugoslav army response was brutal. In ‘97, international sanctions were once again imposed on FR Yugoslavia, this time because of the persecution of Kosovo’s Albanians by Yugoslav security forces. The whole nation had been sleepless and restless after years of crisis.

I was 20, and my sleep had been broken by my ‘night shifts,’ that is burning the midnight oil before exams. My favorite sleep talking story occurred around this time. My sister namely woke me up in the middle of the night during one of my monologues and I began to scream since I thought she was a wolf. Go figure. When I realized she wasn’t, I flopped back down and returned to sleep as if nothing had happened. I must have dreamed of being chased by wolves. In case you’re wondering, I sleep-pissed in bed once only while at university (you heard me right!) apparently while dreaming of taking a leak. They said my eyes were commonly open, or half open, whether I was sleepwalking or sleep talking, and my glassy ‘look right through you’ appearance must have seemed as if I had been haunted by a spooky ghost. Had my family made a video with a shaky cam (with me as the actress in a leading role) and added some special effects, post-production modifications and creepy music to it, we might have had a decent trailer for a genuinely disturbing horror film. No advancement in technology and quality though could have helped make a scarier movie than the one we were about to watch.

MORALITY PARK

I bet you liked the seesaw when you were a kid. Remember the pleasure of riding up and down, up and down, but only enjoying it if your friend on the other side was of similar size and weight? Well, the seesaw in relationships between Albanian and Serb communities has never been much fun because one party always had the upper hand at one time or another. Pent-up emotions and inter-ethnic tensions have been a reality in Serbia’s (ex-) southern province of Kosovo for as long as I can remember.

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Fast backward. The late 1960s witnessed first protests by the Albanians who felt downtrodden as Islam had been repressed and the government, security forces, and industrial employment largely dominated by Serbs and Montenegrins. After a demand that Kosovo be made a republic, it gained major autonomy by the mid 70s, that is ‘its own administration, assembly, and judiciary, along with…

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JOURNAL OF A MOM – LEARNING TO FLY

It’s 7 AM and my son B. is wide awake. Without further ado, he’ll run to the door, press the door handle down, and dash down the hall and into the kitchen, impatiently hopping from one foot to the other saying yum yum. I’m still in bed; the boys can do without me…Obviously not today. Remember the time when I was waking B. up when he felt like sleeping in? Well, it’s the other way round now. My boy’s almost grown up and a good learner, his methods being not so subtle, though. He’s starving for my attention as I am for some extra sleep and will do everything in his power to drag me out of bed: jump all over me, sit on my face, kick and slap me, pull the sheets off the corner of the mattress, take my blanket, and sound as miserable as can be. I’ve been ignoring him for too long. You’re going to pay for this, little weasel! I put his hands over his head and hold them so he can’t move. I bite, pinch, kiss and hug him violently, which he hates when he’s not in the mood. He starts yelping and whimpering. It’s time to hug some. And hide under the blanket, shouting laaaaa, lu, lu, lu, qu-e, d-g, d-g, du da and aya, aya. And tickle. And giggle…and do butt jumps.

We’re up and heading to the kitchen. ‘Breakfast’s almost ready. B, can you pass daddy the bottle? …Thank you. Way to go, honey! Now the nipple…’ B. sees his fruit smoothie is not there yet and kicks the sink in frustration. ‘No! No!’ He hurls himself to the ground, screaming and rolling furiously on the floor. ‘B, take it easy. You’ll have it shortly.’ ‘No, no, no!!!!’ The collar is screwed onto the bottle, securing the nipple in place. ‘Here you are.’ He’ll grab the bottle hastily, open his mouth real wide, and, holding it with both hands, gulp his morning drink down in the blink of an eye. The tummy’s full and he’s smiling again.

My advice to people when meeting my almost two and a half year old son is to be careful what they do or say to him since he can go from wow’s and yay’s to ‘heated arguments’ (no no, no, no, no!) quicker than you can count from 1 to 3, let alone 4. To say that he becomes sad or upset if he can’t get something done right away would be an understatement of epic proportions. Desperation, more like it. Can’t open something? Despair. Can’t close something? Despair. Any other difficulty? Despair. However, kids are spot-on so eating or staring at TV or going into silent mode to avoid confrontation is not their way of dealing with a problem. Regardless of their reactions, they learn from their mistakes, unlike adults, and rarely give up. You have to appreciate their roll-up-your-sleeves attitude, whatever the outcome. Rest assured they’ll go back to what made them angry in the first place sooner or later. You may end up with a few gray hairs along the way, but hey…whatever makes them happy.

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It has been a challenge to keep B. busy and get him interested. Luckily, he has recently started playing with his toys (it was about time!) and, most importantly, alone so I don’t have to follow his every step like before. Despite this, once he gets bored, which is pretty much every 2 minutes, he wants to be in the spotlight again. He’s a natural showman and is never nervous or timid when on stage. Give him a thumbs up, and an approving smile, and he’ll be more than thrilled he did great.

B. enjoys going for a walk. Even if it means strolling around the apartment, he’d grab your hand so as to go places at least 1000 times per day. If I’m busy doing something, he’ll pull on my pants. If I dare to ignore him or not pick him up when he wants me to, he’ll resort to pushing my buttons, playing with a sugar/coffee jar and throwing things around.

He likes to empty crayon containers and toy boxes onto the carpet, and get on top of the desk, throwing down everything he finds there. Lately, I’ve been on a quest to find new ways to keep him busy. Straws and an empty water bottle is one of them. I give him a cup full of colorful straws and a bottle and he knows what to do. His little fingers take the straws and drop them through the mouth of the bottle, his tongue sticking out. Every now and then, he’ll stop doing what he’s doing to suck the bottle or put the straws in his mouth and chew. The bottle is full, but how on earth are we supposed to empty it now?! Concentrating…frowning…moaning…counting to 10. 1, 1.5…Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!! Frustration sets it again. I help him pour the straws out so that we can load them in again. It’s fun. In spite of losing it a few times, this may keep him happily engaged for a near record-breaking 5 minutes.

Playing with real cooking spoons, pots and plastic bowls is priceless. Just give him the real thing and he’ll keep quiet for as long as you want him to. Lastly, scooping and pouring small items, preferably beads or buttons, is yet another game he takes great pleasure in. But, since mom is worried he might put them in his mouth, she’d set out a bowl or tray of macaroni, and show him how to scoop, transfer, and pour them into another bowl. He’ll eventually pick up the container and turn out the contents on the floor so I’ll be the one to count to 10. Smiling and counting.