Sunday, 22 December 2019

I hope my baby has ADHD

If you'd have told me 5 years ago that I'd be desperate for a diagnosis of ADHD for my baby, I'd have laughed you out of the room. 

Actually, no. I'd probably have kicked you out of the room.

My baby? My perfect little boy, with the "naughty-kid disease"? NO FRIGGING WAY, MATEY! 

We changed nursery when he was 2 (he started at 6 months) and all these new people who hadn't know him forever kept telling me, "Que no para, este !" ("This one never stops!"). Well, yeah. He's 2. Being busy and incessant is his job. Also, he's my first kid. Isn't this just - well - kids?

4 years ago, I still wouldn't have been receptive to it. We started school, and he struggled. I was really surprised, because although he'd been raised with almost 100% English at home,  he'd always communicated well in Spanish and Catalan at nursery. Now he was getting frustrated and hitting, and I thought that maybe the language leap from baby time to school time had been too much for him and things would calm down once he'd got used to it. And for a while, they did.

P4 happened - his second year of school. I got a call in the middle of October (this call has since become an annual tradition), asking if we could have a meeting with the teacher.

We went to the meeting. He was disruptive during classes, unable to sit and engage. He was walloping the shite out of the other kids, but to be fair, they were 4 - so were a few others. We came up with a plan to work on naming his emotions, giving him words for his feelings, creating charts for home and rewards for when things went well; and carried on. His teacher was great - she set up a "Calm Corner" for him with books and cushions and an egg timer for him to watch, bought "emotions" books to help him articulate his feelings, and gave us some wonderful tips on how to manage things between school and home. The year wasn't perfect, but it was OK. His end of year report talked about how bright he was and how, once he'd learned to control himself a bit, they expected him to really do well (I'm paraphrasing).

P5 happened - what I consider "The Lost Year." He had  a teacher who was retiring at the end of the year and I don't know if it was end-of-the-road lethargy or adherence to old-school methods, but we never managed to get a plan in place between us and the school that year. He was not happy while she was his teacher but we've bumped into her since and he's been DELIGHTED to see her, so, while her approach may not have helped, she's still been a positive influence on him and has contributed to him associating education with pleasure, so I can live with it.

1er - X. The first time I thought that maybe someone else was seeing what I was, and the first time I felt even slightly listened to.

He had his usual issues - getting distracted in class, disrupting the class when he was bored, climbing on or disappearing under tables, being aggressive, throwing things around...this was when it became really obvious to me that we weren't dealing with a normal range of behaviour. His peers were starting to settle down and chill out and, in comparison, he clearly was not (and we all know we shouldn't compare our kids, right! Which is DEAD EASY TO AVOID when they're hitting their milestones... try it when they're not and you don't know why!).

X was AMAZING, not only for the commitment she showed to Dom, but for her support of us as a family. She was with us 100%. She was our biggest ally. The first time we needed a meeting with her, I'd just started a new job and taking time off was difficult. She offered to wait until 7pm, when I could get there (bear in mind, she finished at 4:30) to have this meeting. In the end, I managed to leave a bit early and we started the meeting at 6. We didn't walk out of that classroom until just before 9. She emailed us EVERY DAY with a progress report. SHE. WAS. AMAZING. I'm still so grateful to her, for the support that she gave us, for the love that she showed my son, and for the love that she showed ME. She caught me offguard once on a really hard day, put her arms around me, gave me a squeeze and told me, "You're a great mother. It's hard, but you're a great mother." Those words meant and still mean more than I can ever express to her. 

Suffice it to say, we were devastated to hear that X wouldn't be coming back next year. Even though we knew that she wouldn't have been Dom's teacher even if she'd returned, we'd grown to depend on her warmth and innovation. But we'd done this before...


Shit started getting real. The kids in Dom's class were maturing. Dom's spates of lashing out were beginnng to lose him friends amongst the kids who saw him as "babyish" or "stupid" - difficult labels for an intelligent, sensitive kid to deal with. Worse, kids were starting to become afraid of his unpredictability and avoid him, which made him defensive and even more likely to kick off. His aggression became worse, and now that he was bigger and stronger, so did the results of his actions. His dad and I were getting calls from the school every day, and something had to give. Going to pick him up was AWFUL, always (for years, but suddenly a million times worse).

I need to make it clear that the school have been great throughout all of this, to the best of their abilities. We were referred to a psychologist through the school who worked with us last year, but the ten sessions available weren't enough. They helped us get a psychologist through the public health system, but Dom found those sessions more frustrating than anything, partly due to their short duration and the huge gap between each one.

Anyway, the last couple of months have been awful. Dom has been walloping the shite out of everyone who crosses him, and at home he talks about wanting to kill himself because "his brain tells him to do stupid things" and his self esteem is so low because he doesn't understand why he's doing these things that he doesn't want to do. Picking him up from school has become an exercise in damage limitation, as the other parents are understandably getting pissed off that their kids are coming home with injuries from my kid. Dom hates that he does this, but doesn't know why he does and feel powerless to stop it in the long term. He thinks he's just "a bad boy" and it kills me because my God, this kid is loving and hilarious and so frigging clever and WONDERFUL. 

I haven't just been sitting back and watching for the last 5 years as his behaviour spirals out of control. When he was 2, 3, 4, I was told to just wait and see, wait and see. Then we moved house and I split with his dad and was told that he was probably just adjusting. We've been seeing a psychologist on and off for two years and been taught how to deal with him after the fact and give him psychological tools to use when he's angry, but it hasn't made a difference. More and more, I've felt that this isn't something that's in his immediate control - he's DEVASTATED by his actions after the fact (not just upset by the consequences of his actions). He wants so much to be a "good boy," and MY GOD he is - with younger kids, he's the kindest, most caring little soul you'll ever encounter. I'm forever getting stopped outside the school by parents of kids in the lower classes telling me how wonderful my son is, how kind, how caring, how loving. Their kids grab their hands and clamour, "Mama, mama, ahi esta el Dom!", desperate to introduce their parents to my boy because they idolise him and his kind hands and his patience. 

The kids his own age and older wouldn't recognise that version of my baby.

So, last week, we (his dad and I) went to the Fundació TDAH (ADHD Foundation). And for the first time, someone else saw this as the genuine crisis that it is. They didn't tell us to wait and see, they didn't tell us to "Try more positive reinforcement" or "more consequences" or anything. I laid it out bare for them, and they said, "This kid needs help. NOW." And we're on the path. And I'm so relieved and so happy and sad, yes, because no mother wants to think that her kid's going to need extra support to live a normal life, ever. But it is what it is, and after 4 years of fighting for my baby to be recognised and helped, we have that help. And honestly, if anyone isn't happy about that, keep it to yourselves, because this is a breakthrough for us.

I've never mentioned it to Dom before that appointment because I've never had that professional opinion to "validate" it. The other day, I said to him, "Some people's brains are like a nice, quiet beach where you just lie and watch the sunset. Some people's brains are like a Formula 1 track, where everything is too fast and loud. Some are like a beehive, where things are just coming and going all the time. Some are like a street, where sometimes it's busy and sometimes it's quiet. What does your brain feel like?" Straight away, he was like, "Formula 1, mama. It's too fast all the time."

Jesus, my poor baby has been getting punished all the time for stuff he can't control. I know a diagnosis isn't going to magically fix it, but now we can teach him how to control it. His Formula 1 brain gets to be on the right track.

So yes - I'm delighted that my baby might be diagnosed with ADHD. Because when it has a name, it has a treatment plan and a support network and HOPE. And if you don't like it, you need to examine your own prejudices and consider why you don't want that for us.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

We never went away

We went to the memorials today. As we reached the last one at the top of La Rambla, a taxi procession took place to thank the drivers who took people all over Barcelona and out of the centre for free on Thursday afternoon. Balloons were released and people lined the length of La Rambla to applaud as hundreds and hundreds of taxis drove from one end of La Rambla to the other.

It was a beautiful thing to see and be a part of after a sad and difficult but necessary day. 

Our "city trapped between a crescent of mountains and a sea of light, a city filled with buildings that could exist only in dreams," will overcome this. We will mourn our fallen and will pay eternal tribute to them as we remember how to laugh and sing and dance again. 

We are a city of love and colour. We are a city of hope. We are bright young things, old ladies with shopping bags, children playing, families talking over a meal, foreign, local, gay, straight, every possible permutation of humanity in the teeming streets which form the beating heart and the beautiful face of our city. 

We won't be back, because we never went away.

Friday, 18 August 2017

A Doughnut Saved My Life

July was a lucky month for Barcelona. A train crash at Estació de França resulted in many injuries but no fatalities, and a fire at Tomorrowland festival two days later ended the festivities early for 22,000 revellers, but had no serious consequences.

However, in August, our luck ran out.

I'd arranged to meet friends who live just off La Rambla. As usual, we were running late. As we stepped off the train at Catalunya metro station and headed towards the exit, my eye was caught by the Dunkin' Donuts stand at the end of the platform. I don't like doughnuts much, but I've always thought Boston Cream sounds delicious and they had them right there on the top shelf. Dom picked up a pot of chopped fruit and we waited to pay. There were two people in front of us, one a metro worker whose chat with the women at the till made our wait longer and I considered leaving it, but as Dom had asked for fruit while confronted with an entire stand of sugary, gooey cakes, I decided to stick it out. Eventually, we paid and left.

As we walked towards the stairs to exit the station at the top of La Rambla, a metro security guard came running down, his face a picture of terror, screaming at everyone to get back inside. We ran for the barriers, but I didn't want to let go of Dom's hand to get my metro ticket from my bag. I shouted at them to open the gates and after 5 seconds that felt like an hour, they did. We stumbled back onto the platform and tried to figure out what was going on, my hands trembling so badly that I looked like I was trying to shake water from them. Dom asked why I was shaking so I told him I was a bit cold. Luckily, he didn't notice the incongruity of me saying I was cold while sweating in a boiling hot station.

My friend who I'd been about to meet called me saying that there had been some sort of explosion and that they'd taken refuge in a shop. The call cut off, probably as the networks became overloaded, so we were left standing on the platform with no information for a while longer. I decided to get on a train going back towards home, but as we were waiting a train pulled in over the other side and the metro staff shouted that everybody should get on it. People ran towards the train and the driver announced that it would not stop at Liceu or Drassanes "for security reasons," but would continue to Parallel. 

That was the longest journey of my life. My friends, still trapped in the shop, messaged to say that a van had gone down La Rambla and people were dead. Of course, after Paris / Nice / London, my mind went straight to terrorism, and the last place I wanted to be was on a crowded metro with hundreds of strangers. 

We got off at Parallel and Dom spotted a bus that went right by our house. Once safely aboard, a glance at my phone confirmed that it was a terrorist attack. 

As it stands, the van driver is still free and two other suspects are in custody. Rumours are flying around about police shoot-outs at roadblocks on the way out of the city, helicopters are flying overhead, and the attack has been linked to a blast at a house in Tarragona this morning which was originally thought to be a gas explosion. 13 deaths have been confirmed and scores of people have been injured. Gràcia festival has been cancelled, at least for tonight, and right now my beautiful adopted city of colour and light feels shattered and broken.

Right now, people are scared - I know I am. I feel like I want to hide away, avoid crowded places, stay away from the tourist areas. But, for some unknown reason, today I fancied a doughnut enough that I queued for just long enough to not be in the path of a lunatic in a van killing people. Those few minutes were the difference between life and death, and I'll be damned if I'm going to live my life like they weren't.

This city has been to hell and back before, and still it's full of wonderful people who refuse to be ground down by extremists. I'll proudly stand with them.

Barcelona, t'estimo.

Related image
Image credit:

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

We were so lucky

When we lose someone we love, the last thing we feel is lucky.  Yet, to have known someone whose loss leaves such a big hole in our lives that it can only start to be filled by time spent with others who knew that person, talking about memories of the time spent together, is truly a blessing.  

Some of the memories I have of our Steve (or Uncle Steebie, as most of us kids have called him at some time in our lives) are so old that I don't even know for sure whether they're my own memories or whether they've been implanted in my mind through years of hearing them from family members.  I know I remember the nights he'd read me stories before I went to sleep, when I'd force him to start the page again if he coughed or tried to skip bits.  I don't think I was old enough to really remember the night I had an ear infection while staying with him and our Jacky, though I definitely remember my room in their house.  That night, he traipsed around the streets looking for a payphone to call out a doctor (they didn't have a phone at that point, and there were no mobiles for normal people in the eighties).  He went back out later to find an all-night chemist for the antibiotics after the doctor had visited.  He'd get up in the middle of the night to bring me blackcurrant juice.  He took me to my first Liverpool match, and though I can't remember who we played or what the score was, I remember that he was mortified that I'd painted my face red for the occasion.  He bought me umpteen scarves and kits, and was looking forward to doing the same for Dom.  One of our recent WhatsApp conversations was about how he was planning to take Dom to a "real" team's ground, because his dad's an Evertonian so can't be trusted to teach him about proper football.

It's hard to realise that he's not here any more, that our family now has to close around the gap that he's left.  There's nobody else who'll call me just to ask what my cat is doing, or send me photos of his cat watching the telly or snuggling in the bed. Dom will soon grow out of the clothes that Uncle Steebie bought him on our last trip home, but the Lego we all went shopping for together looks set to be a favourite for a long time yet.  

He loved all the kids in our family like we were his own, and we loved him.  To us, he was more than an uncle, fulfilling the role of brother, father, grandad and the world's first Crazy Cat Man. I don't know I'll pay tribute to such a great man, but I'll start small - feeding stray cats, donating to cancer charities, talking and talking and talking about him to my boy, who wasn't lucky enough to have his presence very often or for very long.  I'll raise a man he'd be proud of.

Being a part of his last days was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, but one of the great honours and privileges of my life.  I hope that holding his hand towards the end and occasionally going to find a nurse to check his painkillers or top up the salve for his lips will go some way to repaying everything he did for me in his too-short but overflowing life.  

He was a quiet man, but he died a hero.  But then, to us, he always was. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

My plans went to hell and I couldn't be happier about it.

It's no surprise to the people who know me well that Dom was a complete surprise to me.  Having kids wasn't in the long-term plan and certainly wasn't in the short-term plan, just wasn't on my radar.  I was having fun, having boyfriend trouble, having the occasional meltdown, having to go to work with stinking hangovers, but was definitely NOT HAVING KIDS.  

And then, suddenly, I was.

All that stopped me from being the world's worst pregnant woman were the hormones, the planning and the new world of reading material that had opened up in front of me with this new situation.  I floated around in a mellow ocean for the first eight months or so, reading everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy and birth and occasionally dipping my toes into the waters of "what will happen when the baby actually gets here."  I love having a project, so preparing the baby's room and researching my childcare options proved welcome distractions, preventing me from having to admit that I didn't actually believe the baby was real.

I wasn't losing my mind.  I was just losing my life as I knew it, and I wasn't sure how to deal with it, so I buried myself in paint colours, kellymom articles that seemed useful for those people who might actually need that sort of thing (you know, like people with babies), and cute little outfits for the baby I was half-convinced wasn't going to ever wear them.  My body was way ahead of my brain for the majority of my pregnancy.  

I was possibly the only pregnant woman ever who didn't just want it to be over with by the time the third trimester rolled around.  During the three years that made up my final month of pregnancy in a sweltering Barcelona summer and despite the fact that the 99% humidity arrived at the same time that the hormonal high waved goodbye, people asked me constantly if I was excited to meet the baby, if I couldn't wait, if I was ready.  I said yes to all of these things, because while I may have been delusional, I still knew that the answer they were looking for wasn't, "No, actually, I'd rather suffer the feet in the ribs, head in the bladder and utter discomfort forever than ever get to the end of this torture and have to actually be a real mother," so I smiled and laughed and nodded and cried when I got home, sure that I was going to fail and I was going to hate failure and the baby was going to hate me and that I'd ruined my life and his, plus his father's for good measure.  

Of course, I didn't believe this all of the time.  I didn't HATE the baby, I didn't NOT WANT the baby, I just was not mentally ready for the baby at all.  Thankfully, compared to Mat, I was on the ball and ready for anything - earthquakes, colic, triplets...  Having to pretend to be the grown-up meant that shit got done, regardless of my inner turmoil.  

So, in this maelstrom of emotions, the pregnancy progressed and Dom was eventually born.  It's as much a reflection on my state of mind throughout the pregnancy as evidence of the exhaustion of labour that, when Dom was born and Mat broke down, blubbing, "There he is!", I croaked out, "Who?".  During the birth, I'd become so overwhelmed and out of it that I'd forgotten who all these people were and why they were shouting at me, cutting me and pushing with their full weight on parts of me that would have protested about being tickled with a feather at that point.  Evidently my addled brain had eventually reached the conclusion that there were more of them than there was of me and if I did as they said, eventually they might stop torturing me. 

It worked and they did stop torturing me.  However, now was the moment of truth.  I HAD A BABY.  I hadn't broken him through not fully believing in his existence, though the birth itself had - we later discovered that, in the urgency to get him out, his collarbone had been broken.  Poor little angel, what a welcome to the world.  Someone breaks your tiny bones with giant metal spoons and your own mother is so out of it that she doesn't know who you are.  

I loved him from the start, but I didn't have that OH MY GOD I NEED HIM straight away, so I had to fake it so as not to leave everyone I met appalled at my lack of maternal instinct. On top of the agony and the exhaustion and the terror, I felt like I was faking being a mother and somebody would find me out.  I finally understood the cliché of leaving the hospital and panicking because none of the staff have checked that you know what you're doing.  But, leave the hospital we did, and the next stage of our adventure began.

Oh, the tears, the fears, the agony.  NOBODY WARNS YOU ABOUT THE POST-BIRTH AGONY.  I hadn't made the connection between the nice nurses dropping in with tablets every few hours and my ability to shuffle to the bathroom.  Once we got home and I was armed with nothing stronger than paracetomol (I'd known you couldn't take ibruprofen during pregnancy and wrongly assumed that meant it was off limits when breastfeeding too), I realised just what a dog's dinner they'd made of my downstairs area.  I made this pleasant discovery around the same time that I realised just how difficult it is to walk, roll over, sit up or do anything except cry without involving your downstairs area in some way.  And Mat couldn't take any time off work.  

I dreaded Mat leaving for work. The days were short but the hours were so, so long. I couldn't walk, could barely move, and spent a lot of time wondering who I could call and how I could explain how much this hurt so that someone could tell me whether it was normal. 

I started to heal physically, which made things better, but then came the self-doubt. I'd been hit full force with the "I need my baby" stick shortly after getting home and way before the healing started, but sometimes I resented him so much because I just wanted to go and grab a pint of milk but that meant getting him dressed me dressed him dressed all over again oh now he's hungry and shit now he needs changing and I JUST WANT A CUP OF FUCKING TEA AND THERE'S NO MILK.  I hated not being able to just pick up my keys and walk out of the door, and I hated myself for feeling that way because, against all the odds, I had this amazing, beautiful, perfect son who I adored and who I didn't deserve and here I was sobbing because I wanted a cup of tea.

And then, slowly and yet suddenly, it got better. I learned how to be a mother. I didn't know we had to learn it like learning to drive or kiss or make lasagne. I thought it just happened and there was something wrong with me because it hadn't.  I remembered a particularly low point in my pregnancy, where I'd cried to Mat that all that lay ahead was stress, drudgery and hard work.  I hadn't realised that it could be enjoyable.  I hadn't realised that I'd feel like my soul had grown wings, never knew it was possible to feel good at something that I'd been so adamant I wouldn't be suited for, was completely blown away by the fact that I was LOVING this.  People told me after the first couple of months to start "getting my life back," and I thought they were mad.  Getting my life back?  This WAS my life, all of it, all I needed, all I'd ever need.  I laughed and cried at the thought that I'd seen only backbreaking toil ahead, like I'd somehow missed the rainbow because I was still complaining about the storm.  

Nowadays, things are a bit more balanced.  Dom is, of course, still my life and my world, but now I do embrace the rare occasion where I get to spread my wings for an evening or even a weekend.  He drives me absolutely crazy sometimes, but he makes me smile like my face is going to break.  He's the funniest person I've ever met, and coming from a Scouser, that takes some doing.  I'm so, so glad that he decided to be born, because I'd have never taken that plunge and if I hadn't, I'd have missed the best thing that ever happened to me.  He made me be a mother, and I'll be forever grateful.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Bilingual Blogging!

Well, not quite.  I recently had a post published at, titled The Joys and Challenges of Raising a Child Abroad, and was asked if I could translate it into Spanish.  I gave it my best shot but it only served to emphasise just how much I need to work on my written Spanish.  Luckily I was saved from embarrassment by my friend Alexandra, whose eloquence in at least three languages puts me to shame.  So, below you can find the translation.  The original English post is at

Me fui de mi país natal hace casi diez años y, después de dar unas cuantas vueltas, me instalé en Barcelona. Sé desde hace mucho tiempo que no voy a volver al Reino Unido de forma permanente, a menos que sea absolutamente necesario, y ahora que he tenido un hijo aquí, las raíces que he echado son aún más fuertes.  Siento una mayor conexión con mi comunidad y he descubierto un lado de la ciudad que no sabía que existía. Me encanta que los niños aquí lleven vidas más activas y al aire libre y que los adolescentes parezcan estar, en general, mejor educados y que sean más respetuosos que los de mi país. Estoy encantada de que mi bebé crezca hablando tres idiomas. Con todo esto, me siento muy afortunada de estar criando mi hijo en esta maravillosa, vibrante ciudad, de mente abierta.
Sin embargo, hay otra cara de la moneda. Ser una inmigrante, al igual que ser madre, comporta retos; y cómo respondemos a estos retos afectará a nuestros hijos por el resto de sus vidas. Con esto en mente, creo que es importante quitarse las gafas de color de rosa y asegurarse de que hay un diálogo sobre el lado menos agradable, más difícil de vivir en el extranjero con los niños.

Culpabilidad por los abuelos:
Crecí en una familia grande, con tías y tíos por todas partes y mis abuelos al frente. Fue caótico a veces, pero fue muy divertido. Yo era la adorada primera nieta  y yo adoraba mis abuelos, en especial a mi abuelo, a su vez. Desearía que cada niño pudiera tener la suerte de tener abuelos tan maravilloso como los míos - y al mismo tiempo estoy manteniendo voluntariamente una situación en la que mi hijo ve a su única abuela, mi madre, sólo dos o tres veces al año. ¿Es eso justo? ¿Estoy haciendo lo correcto?

El estrés del hermano:
A raíz de mi primer punto, no son sólo los abuelos lo que mi hijo se está perdiendo. Sus primos son extraños para él y la mayoría de sus parientes de sangre son voces en el extremo de un teléfono. Hacemos todo lo posible para mantener vivas los lazos, con fotos en casa, llamadas de Skype y conversaciones acerca de lo que es la familia “en casa”, pero es difícil mantener el interés de un niño de 3 años por mucho tiempo. Una de mis mayores preocupaciones es que, si algo le sucede a mí o a su padre, no tendrá a nadie que estuviera presente durante su infancia y que todos esos recuerdos se pierdan. Con esto en mente, siento la presión para hacer crecer nuestra familia para aumentar las probabilidades de que, en algún punto del futuro remoto, cuando yo ya no esté, todavía tenga a alguien para jugar al "Recuerdas cuando…?"

Angustia idiomática:
Hablo muy bien el español, pero soy más divertida y más elocuente en inglés. Nunca voy a formar parte de un club de comedia, pero me gusta pensar que tengo un sentido de humor decente. Desafortunadamente, las diferencias culturales en el humor y mi falta de fluidez nativa implican que, mientras que provocar una risita en español no es un problema para mí, a menudo me encuentro limitada a explicar las cosas en términos de bebé ("... y luego el caballo saltó fuera de la ... casa donde viven los caballos!"). Desde que soy madre y mi vida social ha caído en picado, mi español se ha resentido: hay días en que estoy tan agotada o agobiada que apenas puedo construir una frase en inglés, por lo que navegar alrededor de los campos de minas de mi segunda lengua me parece casi imposible. Existe, además, un segundo idioma oficial en la región en que estoy, una lengua en la que me desespero por nunca ser capaz de comunicarme de manera efectiva, y es en esta lengua en la que mi hijo se educará en el colegio, y así se puede entender por qué todo el asunto a veces puede parecerse a escalar el Everest en chanclas. Aunque yo puedo hablar de infecciones de oído en tres idiomas, por lo que algo tengo.

La pérdida cultural:
La crianza de los niños entre dos culturas es un acto de equilibrio. Por un lado, la integración es esencial y si tu hijo va a ser criado en una cultura que no es la tuya propia, es tu deber como padre facilitárselo. Por otro lado, como padres, puede ser difícil cuando hay partes de nuestra propia cultura que se pierden porque que nuestros hijos abrazan el país que es su hogar de una manera que nunca puede ser para nosotros.
Ahora mismo, con mi hijo siendo tan pequeño, es en el habla en lo que más lo noto. Su padre y yo somos de Liverpool, una ciudad con un acento muy fuerte y distintivo, y la idea de tener un hijo que no suene como yo nunca se me había ocurrido. Sin embargo, parece que, a pesar de que la mayor parte de su conversación en inglés tiene lugar en su casa con sus padres, su acento lo debe más a Peppa Pig que a ninguno de nosotros.
Por otra parte, la tarea de enseñarle cosas de nuestra cultura puede ser una carga. Si hubiera nacido en el Reino Unido, su cultura como niño británico probablemente no me habría pasado por la cabeza. Sin embargo nosotros, como padres, constituimos la gran mayoría de su exposición a nuestra propia cultura y con ella los recuerdos y las tradiciones que han ayudado a formarnos como personas. Eso es mucha presión. Mi hijo nunca sabrá lo que es el Pancake Tuesday (Martes de tortitas) a menos que me acuerde específicamente de decírselo, de explicárselo. Cuando le caigan los dientes, tendremos que decidir si se los llevó - el Hada de los Dientes o el Ratoncito Pérez. Y eso sólo son cosas pequeñas. ¿Qué pasa si se me olvida algo importante?! Él nunca va a compartir mi bagaje cultural totalmente, y siempre habrá aspectos de su cultura que serán sólo SUYOS. No puedo entrar en su paisaje cultural, sólo puedo observar a través de una ventana.

No hay opciones en la vida que son solo negro y blanco. Nunca sabemos qué nos está esperando a la vuelta de la esquina, y a veces los desafíos de la vida pueden hacernos sentir sofocados. Pero con todo dicho, con todas las preocupaciones, el estrés, la soledad, y la nostalgia que viene con criar sus hijos lejos de casa, aún así, es una opción que volvería a hacer.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

I just got back from a trip to Liverpool with Dom.  I was apprehensive about flying with an energetic two-year-old, especially as it's the first time I've:  a) flown alone with him and b) flown with him since I stopped breastfeeding.  The ability to provide food, comfort, entertainment and a knock-out sleep potion all in one simple movement is not to be sniffed at, and the thought of boarding a plane without my not-so-secret weapon was intimidating, to say the least.  

Also intimidating was the thought of who would be the unlucky third people in our row.  We've all heard stories of passengers who tut, roll their eyes, or (if they're not British and passive-aggressive), go so far as to complain to staff or the harassed parent of a screaming baby.  I've read blog posts and articles from people who feel that kids should be banned from planes; people who think that the best way to deal with an obviously stressed parent as s/he wrestles a furious toddler is to ask if they could "shut that baby up" (because we're CHOOSING to suffer and enjoy making everyone around us suffer too); people who've forgotten that at some point in their lives they were probably less than perfect too and that nobody particularly welcomed their presence on a flight, on a bus or in a restaurant.  I was hoping and praying that if one of my fellow passengers were so inclined, they'd be seated far from me.  I was expecting the worst while hoping for the best.

The gods of travel, however, appeared to be smiling on me.  Dom was fairly well behaved for most of the outward trip and a demon in human form on the return journey, but with the help of several wonderful people, we both survived.  These angels in human form deserve more than the effusive thanks I showered them with, and as most of my words were probably lost as I bolted after a child who can move faster than the speed of light (or maybe it just seemed that way thanks to the many heavy, bulky, awkward bags that slowed my pursuit), it's only fair to make their kind-hearted deeds known.

First up are the two young Catalan guys who helped me out at the bottom of the aircraft stairs as I simultaneously collapsed the buggy, juggled three bags and tried not to let Dom run into the path of an oncoming plane.  One held Greased Lightning's hand firmly as I made a packhorse of myself with the aforementioned bags, while the other, noticing that I had more luggage than hands, took the bulkiest, heaviest bag up the stairs for me and dropped it off right at my seat before settling himself and his friend in, meaning that I could safely get Dom up the stairs and into his seat with the minimum of fuss.

The journey itself was fairly uneventful, for which I'm sure the man in the aisle seat next to us was extremely grateful.  Only in the last 15 minutes, as we began to make our descent and I began to feel that it was safe to breathe again, did Dom realise that he'd been trapped in a tin can for two and a half hours and begin to express his displeasure.  In his defence, I think he'd have lasted the entire flight had he been allowed to keep the window shades down as we came in to land, but aircraft rules forbid this and meltdown was imminent.  (Just out of curiosity, why can't the window shades be down?  Are we as passengers expected to be on the lookout for air traffic control towers or surprise mountains and act accordingly, warning the hatchet-faced Ryanair staff of our demise seconds before it occurs?  And why only on take-off and landing is our role so important?  If we run into an enemy fighter jet bent on taking us down mid-flight, wouldn't they want some warning, or doesn't it matter above 35,000 feet?)  Anyway, for whatever reason Meladdo had to put his window shades up and all hell was about to break loose, when the older lady behind us distracted him by chatting about what they could see out of the windows while I was pinned to my seat by the weight of the toys and snacks he'd rejected throughout the flight.  She saved the entire plane from 15 minutes of ear-shattering shrieks and I am incredibly grateful, as would be the rest of the passengers had they been aware of the alternative that they narrowly avoided having to endure.

I won't go into details about the holiday itself except to say that I went to a Levellers concert on the Friday night and left Dom with my mum.  He paid me back for abandoning him to more chocolate and Peppa Pig than he'd be allowed from me in a year at home by whining incessantly, sleeping badly, getting up at the crack of dawn and refusing to let go of my leg for all of Saturday and Sunday.  By the time Monday rolled around, I was frazzled and more than ready to hand him over to his father.  But first, the flight home had to be endured.  

It would be remiss of me to not give a special mention to the Ryanir check-in lady who pretended not to notice that my suitcase was a little overweight, thus avoiding tantrums (mine, not Dom's) at the check-in desk.  Of course, the fact that said suitcase had weighed 14.9 kilos at my mum's house and 15.5 at the airport, while Dom's little Trunki had weighed 4.9 kilos on the same scales at my mum's and 3.7 at the airport, leads me to believe that they make it up as they go along and maybe I just wasn't the intended victim that day, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.  For those who aren't familiar with the joy that is travelling with Ryanair, I won't bother explaining it.  These ladies do so in a much more hilarious way than I ever could.  

In Liverpool, you leave the airport building to reach your plane by way of 7,562 stairs, meaning I had to drop the pram at the boarding gate and wing it (har har) across the tarmac.  A third guardian angel relieved me of my bags and inched painfully forwards with me at Dom-pace down the stairs, across to the plane and to our seats, where he beat a relieved retreat to a seat far enough away from us that I'm sure it was a cosmic reward for being nice enough to offer assistance.

The third person in our row was a man travelling on business who had quickly given Dom the window seat, probably due less to altruism and more to a desire to survive the journey with eardrums and sanity intact.  Whatever his motives, it afforded us a whole 10 minutes of tense peace before Dom got antsy.  

Having learned the hard way that Dom is a creature of habit in need of much stimulation and should never be allowed to become hangry or bored on an aircraft, I travelled in both directions laden down with food and entertainment.  Story books, colouring books, blank paper, crayons, Teddy, enough Peppa Pig on the tablet to see us to Australia, dinosaurs, berries, pasta, cherry tomatoes and biscuits were deemed sufficient fuel to last a 2.5 hour flight.  How wrong I was.  Dom wolfed his way through the pasta before we took off, ate half of the berries and tipped the rest on the floor, and violently and vocally eschewed everything else in favour of hitting, biting, butting and pinching me.  I feel that I should say in his defence, I've since found out that he's got a virus so probably wasn't feeling great, and had been up since 6 that morning (his own choice).  Of course, toddler logic advises against sleeping when you're ill and knackered, so beating the living crap out of me was his only way to express his frustration.  Let's just say he's lucky we weren't travelling by sea.

Mr Businessman, who'd been engrossed in a film on his tablet, noticed that Dom was pausing between bouts of cage-fighting practice to stare at the screen.  He turned off his film and switched to an app for kids that kept Dom happy for a few minutes.  However, in our brief chat before he'd put in his earphones and tuned out the world (lucky sod), he'd told me that he had a three year old and a nine month old, so I was loath to interrupt his blissfully offspring-free flight too much and returned to wrestling with Dom, whose interest in tablets did not extend to the one I'd bought specially for the trip and loaded with kid-friendly distractions.

Several hundred years later, we landed.  Mr Businessman offered to help me off the plane, but I told him to go on ahead as I was going to wait until the rush had subsided before disembarking.  As I dragged my battered body and my fiendish child off the plane and through the SkyBridge towards the airport, I saw Mr Businessman heading back towards the aircraft.  He'd been a good five minutes in front of me so I assumed he'd forgotten something, but this knight in shining Armani had suffered pangs of conscience and traipsed back through the airport to come to my aid.  He saw us through almost to baggage collection and left us with words of encouragement and a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart at his kindness.

Our ordeal journey almost at an end, we had only to wait for the cases and the pram at belt 23.  The cases came off pretty quickly, but the pram was nowhere to be seen and images of me having to cart Dom home under my arm flashed through my weary, almost broken mind.  Now working on my last nerve, I was just about to burst into tears when I saw a family I'd briefly spoken to in the departure lounge.  They were travelling with a baby a little younger than Dom and were also pram-less.  It seemed unlikely that the airline would lose two prams, so their presence gave me hope.  Shortly after, we found out that the airline or baggage handlers or somebody who will, I hope, suffer greatly for the decision had put all baby equipment on carousel number 29, for reasons unknown.  The joy of discovering we had transport outweighed the rage at this unnecessary act of evil that played on the weaknesses of those most stressed and vulnerable of passengers - those travelling with Satanic imps small children - and I began to gather my paraphernalia to head off in search off my errant wheels.

But the universe had one more random act of kindness to offer my tired and shredded self.  The other family who'd been waiting for their pram told me to run down and grab mine, leaving my luggage with them.  By this point I didn't care if they filled my bags with drugs and black-market organs as long as I didn't have to take them with me, so I thanked them profusely and, dragging Dom on his Trunki (highly recommended buy), I headed to pick up my pram.

So there you have it.  I have no tips on travelling with toddlers because nothing I tried worked in the face of Toddler Tantrums, which intensify the higher in the sky you are.  All I can say is, hope and pray that your fellow passengers are decent human beings and I wish you well.

And to everyone mentioned in this long-ass post, I hope your journeys are speedy, your delays are non-existent and your transfers are tranquil.  You were all wonderful. I could have done it without you, but I'm glad I didn't have to.  Thank you.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Moments that melt me

I've been struggling a little bit with patience lately - nothing major, I just haven't been as calm and relaxed as I'd like to be.  So when Dom had trouble nodding off tonight (he's just gone to sleep, a few minutes before 10 pm, when he's usually snoring by 8:30), I resolved to get some practice in at being patient instead of making it clear that I was annoyed by the change.

He was sitting on my knee, mid-cry because I wouldn't let him get up, when I started crooning "Hush, Little Baby" - the only gentle song I'd been able to remember on coming home from the hospital and a song which had consequently become "ours," but which I hadn't had occasion to sing for a while.  He quietened within half a verse and snuggled in to listen, making me think that some part of his brain remembers the baby days and can still be soothed by the old lullaby.  When I finished, he took my face in his hands, kissed me and said, "I happy now.  Mama, sing it again."  Then he proceeded to gently stroke my face until I started singing again, punctuating the verses with kisses and laying his head on my chest between giant baby-cuddles.  Soon, he was snoring on my chest - the first time in I can't say how long that he's fallen asleep on me.  He stirred as I laid him in his bed, but a caress on the cheek sent him back to dreamland and there he stays.  

Saturday, 6 December 2014

I'm so tired of this conversation

I've steered clear of wading in on the whole breastfeeding discussion in this blog because - well, frankly, it's been done to death. In the same way that every love story is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, the thousands of newspaper articles, blog posts and heated Facebook discussions don't seem to be adding anything new to the debate. On one side, we have the "offended". The "uncomfortable". The "I can't handle seeing a titty" committee. On the other, women feeding babies. How does this become a global discussion? WOMEN FEEDING BABIES. What?

But sadly, it is, and Nigel Farage's most recent foray into misogyny in defence of diners at Claridge's whose eyeballs don't work the same way as everybody else's has pushed me over the edge. Yet again, I'm having conversations - sadly, often with people I respect and care for - about why their refusal to turn the other cheek should not infringe upon my physical comfort OR my reproductive rights, never mind the ability of my child to eat in the most nutritious and natural way around.

So let's break down these arguments.  Just why are people so upset about breastfeeding?  

They say:  Having sex is natural and we don't want to see that in public either.

I say:  The moment breastfeeding my baby brings me to orgasm, I promise I will get a room.  And possibly therapy.  And if you think that the desire for sex and the need for food are of the same importance, I wonder if you might not benefit from some time with a shrink too.

They say:  Our bodies were also made to defecate and urinate.  Shall I do that at the table?

I say:  By all means, in your own home.  However, given that you seem unable to differentiate between a bio-hazard and a meal, you'll understand if I turn down your invitation to Christmas dinner.

They say:  But now we have an easier way - formula!

I say:  Perhaps my definition of "easier" differs from yours.  Planning ahead to ensure the correct amount of powder is in a sterile container; finding somewhere clean to prepare a bottle; giving said bottle to a reluctant, squirming infant who isn't fond of a mouth full of plastic; washing and sterilising said bottle and ensuring that all of this is possible at the exact moment a baby demands it is not, in my eyes, quite as easy as lifting up a piece of fabric.  But if you would like to test my theory, you're more than welcome to pay for the formula.  I'll stick with the free stuff, thanks.

They say:  A child that can ask for it is too old.

I say:  Maybe communication isn't your strong point, but you know when my 2 hour old baby cried?  He was asking for something.  If what you mean is "a child that can verbalise their needs is too old", I would love to see the evidence of this.  Last time I checked, punishing babies and children for developing and learning wasn't on the curriculum at Parent School, and taking away something they they love, that is good for them, because their vocal cords have reached a certain point of maturity seems not only unfair, but faintly ridiculous.

They say:  But there are CHILDREN around!

I say:  I know.  One of them is mine.  Should I let mine go hungry so you don't have to have a conversation with yours?  Then we can both be in the Shitty Parent Gang!  Hey, we can build a clubhouse!  No kids allowed, though!

They say:  Just use a cover!

I say:  I agree.  Every breastfeeding mother should carry a cover for those moments when her baby needs to eat in public.  If anybody expresses offence at the horrific spectacle unfolding in front of their (apparently paralysed) eyeballs, she can then put it over their head.  I'm not going to make myself and my baby hot, awkward and uncomfortable to satisfy the arbitrary demands of a random stranger.  If I were to ask that you wear a green sticker on your left knee just because I like it, would you feel obliged to do so?  Even though you'd probably forget it was there after a minute, unlike a breastfeeding cover?  Didn't think so.  

They say:  Can't you just go over there in the corner?

I say:  Unless you're Stephen Hawking, you're going to find it easier to swivel your eyeballs than I am to take myself, a child and all of our paraphernalia off to social isolation for the duration of this feed.  Just pretend I'm a market researcher or a pushy, slightly mad religious zealot on the street and look past me as if I'm not even here.  I promise I won't be offended.

They say:  The toilets are over there.

I say:  I plan to teach my children that we don't shit where we eat.  It didn't work for Clinton and it won't work for my baby.  Plus, metaphor aside, I tend to shy away from small rooms filled with the floating poo particles of strangers when attending to a dietary need.

They say:  But why do you need to post pictures?

I say:  Because you're still asking.  Because it's still seen as something odd, or private, or something to be kept to one side.  It'll never become the norm if it's not treated as something normal.  And you know what?  If I cook a beautiful meal, or run a race, or graduate, or get a really high word score on Scrabble, or have a wonderful time with my son, I take pictures of that.  I'm so happy to live in a digital age where I'm be able to access a visual recollection of my beautiful memories at any time. I document my achievements, my celebrations and my happiness.  Breastfeeding is all of those things.  And in case you're of a nervous disposition, I should warn you that I've documented some of those beautiful moments with my son at the bottom of this post.  If breasts offend you, look away now.

But look, all joking aside, this is a ridiculous argument and I have something to say to those who are against breastfeeding in public (those who are against breastfeeding full stop, I have a lot more to say to you but my mum might read this, so I'll have to bite my tongue).  You're not owed a world without slight discomfort or occasional offence.  My breastfeeding my child demands nothing of you, yet you feel that it is appropriate for you to ask me to put myself out for your benefit.  I don't understand how this came about - should we force all strangers to adhere to our moral code?  How would that work in a world of 7 billion people, all with varying ideas of what is acceptable?  Should I ask you to refrain from ordering steak in a restaurant if a vegetarian sits at the next table?  Perhaps I have asthma - should the rest of the world put away their perfume bottles in case they trigger an attack?  I cannot stand chewing gum - how people look and sound when they chew it, how it gets stuck to my shoe when they don't dispose of it properly - but I'm not starting a movement to deny people the right to minty-fresh breath.  Live and let live, people.  Move on.  Nothing to see here.

My child has a right to eat, and I have a responsibility to provide the healthiest, most nourishing food source I can.  The day you see my 3 month old brandishing a McDonald's french fry, you will be welcome to step in.  Otherwise, understand that I have chosen one of the two options available as a food source for infants, and afford me the same respect you would a woman who chose formula.  

For God's sake, people - even the Pope can handle a bit of side-boob.  Let's worry about the children who are starving, not the children who are eating.

If this is wrong, I don't want to be right.  And I ALWAYS want to be right.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Living the dream

I read something the other day about how we complain in lieu of conversing.  It struck a chord with me as it's something I know I'm guilty of, mainly because I like to make people laugh and there's little humour, though much happiness, in a dialogue about how wonderful life is.  A good rant, on the other hand, can be very enjoyable if done well and in the right company.

That being said, sometimes it's nice to just stop, take stock and appreciate how lucky we really are; and as today marks nine whole years since I landed in Spain ready to start a new life, it seems only fitting to do so now.  

I suppose the thing about being happy is that it never looks how you expect it to.  If I'd been asked back then where I wanted to be nine years down the line, I don't think any of my current life would have featured.  I don't spend my days writing a best-selling novel while sipping wine in my very own beach bar; I'm in bed by 11 most nights and I never did marry a dashing Spaniard (for which I'm sure Mat is eternally grateful).  Instead, my happiness comes from places I'd have found equally boring and terrifying in my early twenties.  

I didn't plan to stay in the first country I got sent to as a holiday rep back in 2005, so falling completely in love with the first town I worked in came as a shock.  Being moved from there after only 6 months to a place I did not like in the slightest took the shine off my job for me, yet losing that same job 12 months later felt like a disaster.  My heart broke when I left Andalucía to move north with Mat, and it was breaking again when I packed up my things and left the home we had made in a little Costa Brava town to strike out on my own in Barcelona.  

Yet these setbacks, difficult and sometimes painful as they were to overcome, set me on a path to the life I have now.  It was in Barcelona that I finally began to settle, that I became part of a wonderful group of friends, that I gained in confidence and started liking myself.  It was this city, "trapped between a crescent of mountains and a sea of light, a city filled with buildings that could exist only in dreams," where a life built itself around me and I finally felt like I'd come home.

Things are very different now to they were when I first got here - people have moved on, nights out have become something I plan weeks in advance and seeing my lovely friends is now an occasional luxury rather than a daily pleasure, but the rarity of this only serves to make me appreciate it more. 

I'm very lucky and very grateful that my dreams were flexible enough to adapt, that there have been setbacks along the way but nothing I'd term a failure, and that I get to wake up every day in a life I love. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, there are problem areas and parts that need work, but it's a project I'm delighted to commit to. Not everyone gets to live their dreams, and even fewer people know it when they're living the version of their dream that's exactly how they should be living. I still have moments where I'm awestruck that THIS IS MY LIFE, and that, to me, is what living the dream is all about. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

I won at parenting today

Perhaps if your experience with toddlers is limited to having been stuck in front of one on a plane as it screams, tantrums and caterwauls its way through an eight hour flight, you might be inclined to believe that a quiet toddler is a desirable thing.  Having heard the apologetic mumbling of a woman with a tiny human, purple and apoplectic with fury at being denied permission to slake its thirst in the cleaning products aisle, shoved under her arm as she tries to manoeuvre a shopping trolley through a busy supermarket, it would seem logical that sweet silence is preferable to the brain-drilling shrieks bursting forth from that little bag of rage and irrationality.  

Of course, a quiet toddler is usually a happy toddler - they're not known for their ability to let their feelings stagnate into ulcers, so it's unlikely that you'd ever have an uncomfortable "Are you OK?"  "I'm FINE" conversation with anyone under 3.  Generally, when they're pissed off, you know about it.  However, those in the know - you'll know them by their eye bags and general demeanour of not quite concentrating - will be more than happy to inform you that contrary to all laws of sense and decency, a quiet toddler is very often NOT A GOOD THING AT ALL.  Because when a toddler is quiet, things like this happen:
Yes, this happened today.

Though I can think of one or two things I'd rather do than see my treasured, expensive, very necessary laptop injured (things like remove my kneecaps with a spoon; bath the cat; relive the clingy phase), the experience wasn't all negative.  I think I handled it pretty well - staying calm, explaining why I wasn't happy about what he'd done and teaching him that his actions have consequences (he couldn't watch Peppa Pig on the laptop as planned as I had to fix the laptop and it was too late once that was done).  I managed not to cry, shout or shame him, and I believe that he's understood me, though I don't think that necessarily means he'd resist the temptation a second time.  He's still two.

I'm pretty impressed that I managed to put into practice all that I've been working on, in the face of a situation which I could easily have handled very badly indeed.  It's not often we give ourselves credit where it's due - most of my posts about this approach have focused on how difficult I find it and how bad I am at sticking to it - so I'm going to be proud of myself for learning enough to override my instinctive reaction to get louder in times of stress.  And I'm going to sing that pride from the rooftops, because let's face it - if we're not good to ourselves, nobody else will be good to us, right?

Plus, publicly outing myself as a Zen master of parenting means I now have to keep it up, kind of like when you tell people you're on a diet so they tear you away from the chips at dinner time or recruit half the office to help you stop smoking by screaming at you every time you leave your desk (makes leaving for a toilet break so much fun).  

So, while I'm in Superwoman mode and feeling like I could conquer the world, I need to tackle the next thing on my to-do list - making a very high, toddler-proof shelf for my laptop to live on.