Travel

Homage to Australia

What can I say of my love for the country down under? I just had to write a post dedicated to the land that hosts the most dangerous animals in the world, but still holds a dear place in my heart.

My husband got accepted to Bond University, Gold Coast when we were engaged. We were both ecstatic to start our wedded life abroad. And honestly, it was the best decision we ever made. We were half way around the world, just the two of us, away from family and in laws, which brought us closer together. My husband (Tupac fan) used to always say “Me against the world”, which later he changed to “Us against the world”. ❤

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One day, when I was five months pregnant with my eldest, my husband was on a guys night out and I stayed at home lying down on couch watching ‘Criminal Minds’ (how I wish I can lie down on couch and watch TV now without passing out). I then heard a THUMP on our window. Glanced at clock, 12:05 am. Maybe it’s nothing, a bird that got lost.

Another THUMP! Nope, this is definitely something. Called my husband, phone off. Perfect!

THUMP, BUMP! What do I do? What do I do? I can hear sounds of something moving outside and watching Criminal Minds did not help! The only thing I could think of doing was going to the kitchen and grabbing the biggest knife I could find, and stand readily in front of door. Ready for what? No idea, just ready.

Knock on door, and I immediately knew it was my husband from his knock. I opened the door, the look on his face was priceless.

Me: What are you doing?!?! You almost gave me a heart attack!!

DH: Sorry I forgot my key and my phone battery died. What are YOU doing??

Me: I don’t know, I was scared and grabbing a knife seemed like the most logical thing to do.

DH: Wow! Never knew I married a gangster.

 

Eight months pregnant and getting huge. My husband was out working on a project with his class mates. I was on the computer doing, I cant really remember what. Our desk was set in the corner of our living room and I was happily typing away when my phone rang, mom calling. I swear God sent my mom to me at that exact moment because if she didn’t call, the huge black hairy thing with long legs would’ve crawled up my legs and my heart would’ve stopped.

 So the desk was in the corner, wall to my left side and back. Desk in front of me, huge black hairy spider to the right. I could crawl under the table or jump over the spider. Crawl or jump? Crawl or jump? So me and my big belly decided to jump over it. I made it and ran to the garage, called my husband crying hysterically.

My husband, of course, thought I was overreacting. It seemed like ages till my husband came, the entire time I was in the garage looking over my shoulder because of course, it is out to get me! Where is it? Can it smell fear? Oh God where is my husband?!

He finally arrived, laughing at the crazy pregnant lady standing in the middle of the garage wrapped around in a towel. He picked up a broom, went in for a couple of minutes, came out and told me I must be dreaming. There is no spider. Maybe it was hiding in a corner …

NO! This spider can’t hide in a corner! It’s huge! Bigger than your hand! If you don’t get it, I’m staying at a hotel tonight!

He went back in again, a couple of minutes later, he came out and I knew he saw it. He won’t admit it but I could see in his eyes he was scared.

DH: “You’re right. It’s huge! I never saw a spider like that!”

Me: “Be careful. It might be poisonous.”

So my DH picked up a cricket bat, yes a cricket bat because we are the most logical people in the world, and went on an epic battle to kill the spider. He came out, triumphantly with the remnants of the shriveled spider in a tissue.

DH: “I need to show you something.”

Me: “I don’t want to see it again.”

DH: “No not that. Come upstairs to our room.”

And there, smack in the middle of the wall was a huge hole, apparently the remains of a battle field.”

Fast forward to the day we moved.

Property manager (PM): What in the world is that??

We told him the story with all the gross details explaining how huge and mean the spider looked. He looked at us like we were crazy people.

PM: “So you took a cricket bat and busted my wall to kill a spider??”

Yes, yes, that’s exactly what we did.

PM: “Why didn’t you just pick it up and place it in the garden? It’s just a huntsman spider, it’s not harmful.”

Us: “Pick it up?! Are you crazy?!?! It was big! And black! And hairy!!” (Please google huntsman spider so you know we not entirely crazy).

PM: “OK then, why didn’t you call me?”

Us: “Oh.. yeah.. why didn’t we?” That would’ve been the most logical thing to do… obviously.

**********

Things you must know about Australia:

1) Australians are the nicest people in the world:

I was shocked and surprised the first time I went in a shop. The lady working there greeted me in such a way, that I actually turned around thinking she must’ve seen her friend behind me or something. Is this hi for me? And it didn’t stop there. The wonderful lady at the post office who has a grandchild same age as DD’s, the lovely hard working family who owns the lakeside restaurant, and most importantly, our amazing neighbors. We have lost touch over the years so if anyone recognizes or knows them, please let them know we always remember them, talk about them, and they are always in our prayers.

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Janelle, Simone, Connor, and Finn in DD’s 1st Birthday
2) Australia is very kid friendly:

Worried that your child will throw a fit in the middle of Target? Or a temper tantrum at the Steak House? It doesn’t really matter because most probably, the guys next to you are dealing with their own temper tantrum fit throwing kid.

I can’t imagine the amount of deathly stares, and how many “Oh mon Dieu” I will get if my baby was the crying baby in “Le Entrecote”, Geneva! In Australia, the waitress offered to walk around with my baby while I finished my food.

3) Follow the rules people!

That goes for everything but mainly: border control, speed, and swimming between the flags. Bringing food into the country? Declare it. Have electronics? State that. In doubt? Just declare everything just in case.

And please, swim between the flags and listen to the lifeguards. Its an ocean out there and it’s better to be safe than sorry. As for me, I only dipped my feet (ok maybe just toes) in the water. Beautiful as it may be, hearing about five shark attacks as soon as I landed coupled with watching ‘Bondi Beach’ made me very very scared. But for everyone else who is not a chicken like me, enjoy the waters, just be safe.

 

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From our second trip to Australia, 2015

Places I recommend in Gold Coast, Australia:

1) Surfers Paradise

It doesn’t get much better than this really. Amazing views, wonderful people, and delicious food (I recommend Hurricane’s Grill). They also have two days a week I think where people set up stalls on the walkway next to the sea. There is this one friendly and very talented lady who sews tablecloths and table runners and other accessories. Got my mom a gift from there and she loves it. Simply divine.

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2) Robina Town Center

Oh my true love! One of the biggest malls I’ve been to. It’s amazing! I would recommend you have breakfast in Shingle Inn (their eggs and chicken caesar sandwich is to die for), lunch in Vida (love their pasta and butterscotch cupcake .. Mmmm), and dinner in Squires Loft or the Groove Train. Shopping? You simply can’t miss David Johns. Oh how I miss this place!

3) Parks

The Gold Coast hosts a number of amusement parks and water parks: Warner Brothers, Sea World, Wet’n’Wild, White Water World, and Dreamworld. If you are pressed for time and would like to go to one park only, I would recommend Dreamworld. It is bigger, has more attractions for all ages (the Wiggles world for kids) and even has a zoo in it.

4) Nature

Australia hosts a number of rainforests. I personally only went to Mt. Tamborine and got a glimpse of the waterfall. But honestly, Australia is a nature’s lovers paradise, everywhere you go is beautiful.

 That’s it! Taa Australia. We love you! Until next time!

Book Reviews by N · Reading

Kids Book Review by Kids: “Franklin goes to School”

Book review by my beautiful 7 year old daughter. Unedited by me 🙂

Title: Franklin goes to School

Author: Paulette Bourgeois
Rating: 5 out of 5
What is this story about?

It’s about a boy called Franklin. One day before his first day of school, he was so excited. The next morning, he woke up early from bed and woke up his parents. He said: Come on let’s go to school it’s my first day. And then he ate some pancakes with ladybugs on them for breakfast. And he said his tummy feels like jumping butterflies. He was very worried about his first day of school. When he reached to school, Ms. Owl said good morning to the class. They had lots and lots of games. Franklin was soo happy. When they went home, Franklin sat in the back of the bus and he felt a bump, bump, bump. When his parents came, he didn’t even realize because he was so busy talking. And he loved school. The end.

Do you like the story? Why?

Yes, because I love my first day of school. I am a bit nervous for grade 3 but I love it.

Would you recommend this book to other kids?

Yes, for kids younger than 10.

Book Reviews · Reading

Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird (#99)

Book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

#99 on the Telegraph’s 100 novels everyone should read.

Grade: B

What is it about?

The story follows six year old Jean Louise Finch (a.k.a. Scout; also the narrator of the story) and her family in the 1930’s in Alabama. Her father, Atticus, was appointed to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman. Scout and her older brother Jem had to face being called names and were forced to comprehend the injustices of the world early in life.

Verdict?

I enjoyed reading this book. It has a very powerful message about racism, class, and prejudice in general that still resonates today. Also, being narrated by a kid and seeing the events unfold through the eyes of a 6-7 year old is very refreshing.

That being said, I understand why the book is studied at the middle school / high school level. The characters are all one dimensional. Both the story and characters are very simple and straight forward. Maybe this is deliberate to not take away from the limelight of the heavy issue on hand, but in the end, it gives a very simplistic impression on a reader.

It is also a bit too idealistic for me. Atticus can never realistically exist in real life. His sense of right and wrong is impeccable. Every word he utters is filled with wisdom and is a life lesson. This takes away from the realisticness of the story. I, as a reader, like to live in the novel that I read. I couldn’t really do that with this book. I find it very odd and funny that a fantasy book, The Lord of the Ring, felt more ‘real’ to me than this one.

In conclusion, I think it’s a wonderful book. Great read, and can’t wait for my kids to be in that age group so I can read and discuss it with them.

I also think it will make a great movie (I know there is one, haven’t seen it though and a remake is overdue). Hollywood will do great dramatizing the story and hailing Atticus as the hero that he is. As a movie, it would be amazing! As a novel, it is good, not amazing, but very good.

 Next book, The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore. I am so excited to read about a new culture, written in 1916 all the way from Calcutta India. The henna design on the cover is mesmerizing, hope the book is too.

Parenting · School

I refuse to Force him to Write between the Lines

I don’t get it.

My son is 5 years old. He is an energetic, inquisitive, happy boy in kindergarten.

Why does he have to write exactly between the lines .. I just don’t get.

Do you remember kindergarten back in the days? A time of making friends and learning how to play, a time full of outdoors adventure and laughter, a time to get acquainted with school and start your education journey on the right foot: with a passion full of wonder and fondness of school.

Yeah, these days, not so much.

Kindergarten open house, I got a huge fat packet full of guidelines, assessment criteria, and a long list of sight words. Turns out, they not only need to recognize those words, they also have to know how to write them. As in spell them, in their weekly dictation.

I looked around, are you sure this is the kindergarten open house? Not grade 1? And why aren’t the other moms as shocked as I am?

Before going on, you have to know something about my son, he is the most amazing boy ever (of course I believe that I am his mom). The first time he was assessed, he got a stomach ache and they called me to pick him up. I quickly figured out there is nothing wrong so I asked, “What’s wrong sweetie? Is your tummy ok now?”

DS: “If I tell you the truth will you send me back?”

Me: “No don’t worry, we are already close to home. What’s wrong, is everything ok?”

DS: “My tummy is ok now, but I wasn’t ok in school.”

Me: “Why? Did you want to go to the toilet and didn’t?”

DS: No. Ms. S. was asking us about all the letters and their sounds and I forgot some and I got so scared then my tummy started to hurt.”

What kind of pressure is my baby under that he has a stomach ache because of being stressed out?!!

Me: “It’s ok baby. You shouldn’t be worried or scared. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s how you learn. Even your mom and dad make mistakes. It’ ok.”

DS: “Only you say that mom. But Ms. S. won’t.”

Me: “Of course she will! Do you want me to ask her tomorrow?”

DS: “Yes please! Can you mom?”

Of course I went home and sent Ms. S. a long email expressing, not very shyly, my honest concerns about their ways and how stressful the environment is. I took my son next day and she explained that it was absolutely ok to make mistakes. He was happy, I wasn’t.

I found myself in a very difficult situation, trying to balance the school’s requirement, with what I felt appropriate for my son. I wanted him to love learning and education. I wanted him to love reading and exploring. I didn’t want him to hate school and didn’t want homework to be a daily battle.

So we practiced phonics playing I spy. We practiced reading CVC words playing the frog in the pond game. And we practiced recognizing sight words by hanging a word on the fridge and making it the ‘passcode’ for opening the fridge. I tried the best I can to make it fun for him.

The day came to attend the parent-teacher conference. They will discuss his performance so far. I was worried and was ready for a heated conversation. Then she said:

“Your boy is very special. He has a sense of maturity that I don’t see in the grade 2 and grade 3 boys. He is very polite, eager to learn, and gets along with everyone. But… “

I didn’t really care what came after the ‘but’. I almost cried there in front of everyone. I did it! I always knew my son was amazing but lets face it, every mom thinks that of their child. Hearing it from his teacher, even when I knew academically he wasn’t on par with his fellow students, gave me the validation that I needed. My hard work and sacrifice has all been worth it. Even through my many mistakes and self doubt, I didn’t fail him and helped mold him into an amazing boy.

“But … he still doesn’t know a lot of the sight words and can’t spell most of them. He also has trouble spelling phonetically and constructing sentences. And he needs lots of work on his handwriting.”

I don’t really care. My boy is everything I hoped and wished him to be, even when I am not around to watch. That, I am so very proud of, and is harder to teach than any sight word or phonic.

Me: “Does he do the work assigned to him in class and listen properly?”

Ms. S.: Yes.

Me: “Do you believe he is doing his best?”

Ms. S.: Yes.

Me: Do you see any improvements since last month?”

Ms. S.: Yes. But the assessment criteria…

Me: I don’t really care what it says. I don’t compare him with what they say he should be doing or even with his classmates. My benchmark is his work the month before and if I see an improvement and feel he is doing his best, I am happy. I think you should do the same.”

The parent teacher conference was in December. He now knows most of his sight words, knows how to spell some, can construct a sentence though still has a bit of trouble spelling phonetically. He can read CVC words easily, except for the e and u sounds he takes his time with.

Yes I am proud of all his work and what he has done so far. I am also proud of what he will do till the end of the year. But I am mostly proud that together, we created a fun learning experience and I am happy to say he loves school, and he and his sister fight over who will do homework with me first.

DS: “Mom, I’m going to grade one next year.”

Me: “Yes you are! That’s so exciting! New playground, new classes, and maybe even new friends. I’m sure you will have so much fun!”

DS: “Can you please ask my grade 1 teacher if its ok to make mistakes, just like you asked Ms. S?”

This boy … his wife will be the luckiest girl in the world!

Book Reviews by N

Kids Book Review by Kids: “I will not ever never eat a Tomato”

Book review by my 7 year old beautiful daughter.

Title: I will not ever never eat a Tomato

Author: Lauren Child

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

What is the story about?

It’s about a girl called Lola and her brother was tricking her into eating food because she was a very picky eater. So he gave her carrots and said they were orange twiglets but they don’t really exist. He did the same with all the other foods. Then she found the tomatoes. And then she said I want one of those moonsquirters but they were really tomatoes and she ate the tomatoes and liked them.

Why did you like the story?

I liked the story because I do not like tomatoes just like Lola, but I also do like all the other food she ate. I don’t need anybody to trick me to eat food, I will eat it if they dared me to. I tried a tomato and still didn’t like it, but I like all the other good foods.

Would you recommend it to other kids?

Yes, because it will teach them how to eat more food and they will get more energy by eating vegetables.

Book Reviews · Reading

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings (#100)

Book: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

#100 on the Telegraph’s 100 novels everyone should read.

Grade: A

What is it about?

I don’t think The Lord of the Rings needs any introductions. It is an epic tale where nine companions set out to save Middle Earth from falling into complete darkness by destroying the one ring that the Dark Lord needs so he can achieve complete domination. The story follows nine fellows of the ring: Gandalf (wizard), Aragorn (man), Boromir (man), Legolas (elf), Gimli (dwarf), Peregrin a.k.a. Pippin (hobbit), Meriadoc a.k.a. Merry (hobbit), Sam (hobbit), and Frodo (hobbit) on their quest to help the ring bearer annihilate the Lord of the Ring by destroying the ring itself.

Verdict?

Before I say anything about the book, I have to say this: I don’t like fantasy. I steer away from anything too whimsical, be it novel or movie. I can’t really understand anything that is too out there. That being said, I loved loved loved this book.

I don’t know where to start. Tolkien is a genius. He created an entire world that is so believable, even a fantasy-hater believed it. Each race and each individual has their own different dimensions and are beautifully crafted. The different languages, wonderfully named cities so intricately described that the reader feels they are walking there with them.

Let me add some more praise to Tolkien. He achieved with just letters on white paper, what Hollywood could not achieve with all its sound effects, visual effects, and handsomely paid actors. I hated the movie (only saw part one and two, as no one can persuade me to watch the third). I remember vividly in part 2 saying: Oh now they brought in walking talking trees? Come on! Reading the book I said: how I would love to meet an Ent! And maybe drink from their draught so my post baby hair could stop falling.

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I was scared when the Hobbits went to the Prancing Pony, I got goose bumps when Aragorn came on the black ships, and I couldn’t put the book down filled with suspense when Frodo and Sam were on Mount Doom. Now, watching the movies again with my husband, I keep on saying: no no noo! It shouldn’t be this way! Please stop messing with the plot Mr. Producer. Tolkien is considered a genius for a reason. And that is exactly why the book is much better than the movie.

I can’t really fault this book with anything. So I went to Google to see what other people saw that I couldn’t. I found two main schools of thought: racism and feminism. Now I am no Tolkien expert, I just read one book of his and know nothing of the fantasy genre or its history, but here are my thoughts regarding these two criticisms.

  1. Racism:I didn’t find the Lord of the Rings to be racist. Good and evil have forever been cast as black vs. white and darkness vs. light. This depiction was not about ‘race’ at all but about symbolism in the fight between good and evil. In my opinion, the Lord of the Rings is as racist as the yin yang.Yin_and_Yang.svg.png

     

    The only relationship in the book that I was a bit bothered with was Frodo and Sam’s relationship, as Frodo was his Master. But, as they are both from the same race and color, this can be called “master – ism” if that’s a word or superiorism, not racism.

  2. Feminism:

    Feminist critics point out the lack of female characters in the Lord of the Rings. And if they were present, they had feminine roles. Now I am a female and don’t feel at all insulted by Tolkien. I was actually insulted by George Elliot’s Middlemarch as the females there all had no brains what so ever and were only worried about how frilly their collars were. (Don’t get me started with that book! You can read its review here). Eowyn killed the head of the nazguls, the wring wraiths, whom all were afraid of, what ‘feminine role’ is that? True, there are much fewer females than males in this story, but I will take that over mindless, frill-seeking, immature ones any day.

 

And there you have it. My thoughts on an epic fantasy tale which to my great surprise, I loved! Next book: To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee, you have one hard act to follow.

Parenting

Why I don’t Read Parenting Books

My eldest was born in 2009. I was terrified. But I was determined to not fail my baby. I prepared myself mentally for the sleep deprivation, constant crying, and even lack of outings.

 What I wasn’t prepared for though was the constant judgement and what I like to call “bullying using fear.”

After going through a scary emergency C-section (my baby’s heartrate went dangerously down), trying to work through the guilt of that, and having hormones all over the place, I wasn’t ready at all to face these constant criticisms. And they started straight away.

  • Why isn’t she latching properly? Are you sure you are holding her right?
  • She lost a lot of weight, are you sure she is getting enough?
  • She is choking! The milk is coming out of her nose! You are not burping her correctly. You should hold her upright after a feed.
  • Don’t leave her in her crib by herself, you won’t know when it will happen again, and she won’t be able to breathe.
  • Don’t hold her long while she sleeps, her bones will grow out crooked.
  • Don’t pick her up every time she cries, she is just manipulating you and you’ll give her the wrong message.
  • She is one year old and still not walking?
  • OMG, you taught her how to suck her thumb?
  • Are you sure you want to keep breastfeeding your daughter while pregnant? You do realize that all the nutrients will go to your milk, and none will be left for your unborn child?
  • Don’t you think it’s gross that your breastfeeding your daughter and she can walk and talk? Will you do that to your son also? Don’t you think he will remember? And forever have an unhealthy relationship with breasts, or women in general?

And it goes on and on and on. It’s like every decision I made was not only second guessed, but I was told, unintentionally (I hope), that I am doomed to mess up my kids forever.

So here is my story.

My dear daughter (DD) did not latch for the first three weeks. I was devastated! I had a lot of milk but I can’t even give it to my own baby. I must be a terrible mom! I pumped and gave it to her in a bottle. Before every bottle, I would try unsuccessfully to latch her onto my breast. I HATED pumping (still do and cringe every time I see a pump). After three very long weeks, and no sleep at all, I gave up. I sent my dear husband (DH) to buy formula. He quickly came back with the wrong one. DH, it clearly says stage 2 on the front how can you not see that?! But before he went to return it, by the grace of God, DD finally latched. And we didn’t stop until she was 2 ½ years old.

The reason I love breastfeeding (you’d think I will say because of its nutrients and all these things) is that it is easy for me. Personal preference as I am a germ freak when it comes to my newborns and always scared things are not clean enough. No washing bottles, no sterilizing, no heating water, no waiting for the right temperature, no fumbling with measuring spoons and cups in the middle of the night. It was always there, always sterile, always the right temperature.

Now if a mom chose not to breastfeed, if she chose bottle instead, who am I to judge?

 I hate crying. I can’t stand to listen to it (funny coming from a mom of 3). Do you know how people cringe when someone runs their nails on a blackboard? Yeah that’s exactly how I feel about crying. Maybe that’s why I snap at my older kids and ask them as nice as I can to use their words and not their tears. That is the exact reason why I could not and did not use the cry it out method. The economist in me will say there is always an opportunity cost to every decision. You have to decide: sleep deprivation vs. baby crying. I choose sleep deprivation.

 But if a mom chooses to use the cry it out method or any baby sleeping methods for many a reason, who am I to judge?

never judge

I like routine, a flexible one. I can’t follow a rigid schedule or timeframe for the life of me. The other day I had to attend a function at my DS’ school at 10 a.m. sharp, I was already in full panic mode at 8 a.m. so I can’t really follow a strict hourly routine with my kids. We do have a normal flow to our day, though we mostly go with the flow.

But if a mom chooses to have a neat schedule for herself and her kids, who am I to judge?

I never gave my kids pacifiers, mainly because of my germ phobia. I don’t know if its clean enough or how many times I have to sterilize it. But if a mom uses pacifiers, even at an “unacceptable pacifier age”, who am I to judge?

Who are you to judge? Or Mr. Fancy Doctor? Or Ms. Parenting Expert? Or Mr. Parenting Author? Who are you all to judge?

 Moms, I can only say this now because I have three kids and heard it all.

Breastfeeding? Congratulations! Here is a study that proves breastfeeding increases intelligence. Both breast and bottle? Congratulations! Here is a study that shows breastfed babies need a bottle of formula for the vitamin D. Formula? Congratulations! Here is a study showing that the benefits of breastfeeding are exaggerated.

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 Co-sleeping? Congratulations! Here is a study that shows co-sleeping reduces stress and anxiety, and increases quiet sleep. Choose not to co sleep? Congratulations! Here is a study that suggests the dangers of co-sleeping.

 Sleep training? Congratulations! Here is a study that proves it is safe and effective, improves baby’s sleep, and reduces maternal depression. Not sleep training? Congratulations! Any book on attachment parenting will show you are on the right track.

And just like the list of mommy criticisms can go on and on, so can the list of scientific studies that prove one point is correct, or the other.

So moms, it doesn’t matter what the parenting book you read is saying. It doesn’t matter what the “put together mom” on social media is doing. It doesn’t matter what your best friend or sister are doing. What really matters is you, your baby, and your family.

You are the only one who knows your mental state and your needs. You are the only one who knows your husband/partner’s needs and schedule. You are the only one who knows your baby and your other kid’s needs if you have any. And YOU are the only one who can best balance all these needs. No one else knows the entire picture.

 Even if it feels like a juggling act, even if a ball or two slips from time to time, trust your judgement, trust your heart, and confidently move forward.

 And always remember to “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” We are all trying our best. And at the end of the day, who are we to judge?