Sunday, 14 January 2018

Thank you for the music, the laughter and the love

Yesterday was a tough day. I had intended to write a post while the boys were at football, but just before they left I got a text message. A friend I love dearly is seriously ill and has days to live. She is the same age as me and we have been through a lot together. I knew she was ill - of course I did - but I had no idea this would happen. So soon. I spent some time walking round a bit lost. Then I cried. A lot. When I thought I was done it started again and eventually I had to ask Hubbie to not rush home as I didn't want the boys to see Mummy so upset. 

Things aren't so easy at the moment. I have a lot I want to say, but it is all too soon. When in doubt I turn to music so I'm doing that now. For my beautiful, wonderful, talented friend.  The last time we saw each other we chatted, made jokes and played music. All the things we love.  

So for now I can only think in terms of the music we shared and loved. Forgive me if the words don't make much sense. 

Prince - Starfish and Coffee:

Once we were at a conference in Islington and we went for brunch afterwards. Soraya ordered pancakes with maple syrup, banana and bacon. She declared them, "not that bad," and I surmised that it was her pregnancy hormones talking. 

Norah Jones - Thinking aboout you: 

Soraya phoned me one day to tell me she had some news. She had breast cancer and had wanted to tell me in person, but she wanted me to know. I saw her soon after and throughout the treatment we spoke regularly. Even if we didn't meet up, she was in my thoughts. We joked about going shopping for wigs together. She always gave time to talking about my stuff, however mundane it was in comparison. Having said that she did not forgive me for going to see Norah at Ronnie Scotts without her last Autumn. 

Shakespeare's Sister - Stay: 

Whatever happened we were there for each other. When she was given the all clear 5 years after a breast cancer diagnosis we walked the Moonwalk together. At the beginning when they said 'think about who you are doing this for' we held each other and cried. She was my reason - she was there with me. We talked non-stop for around ten hours and still had plenty to say to each other. I don't know anyone else I could do that with. 

David Bowie - Lazarus: 

I remember how devastated I felt when a man I didn't know and had never met died two years ago. His music has been with me my whole life and the idea that he was gone just filled me with sadness. When I spoke to Soraya she expressed exactly the same emotions. As 2016 progressed we shared our angst at how terrible a year it was turning into. 2017 had to be better surely ? It wasn't. When we last spoke she told me she just wanted to get the year over so that we could start a new one and look to the future. I had no idea she would not be part of it. 

Corinne Bailey Rae - Put Your Records On:

This is how I want to think of Soraya - in the studio playing tunes she loved. That and being the DJ for Cheeky in the Chapel, the fundraiser she hosted for Radio Lewes and the Oyster Project. The excitement as she introduced songs by artists she had just discovered and I shared music with her that I had fallen in love with.

In the end I will remember her through music. That and her sign off when we spoke on the phone - lots of love.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Book review: We are Family

When we first adopted Blue Bear he was very young and didn't talk much. He did, however have a love of books and enjoyed listening to stories. We had always read to Brown Bear and he loved books, so I was keen to share a love of reading with Blue Bear too. I found that there are a lot of special books about adoption, but didn't necessarily want to focus on just one experience. 

I am keen that books are inclusive of all kinds of people so when I received this book to review I was delighted. We are Family tells the story of 24 hours in the life of eight different families. Each of them has their own routines, but the overarching theme is that families love and care for each other. It's great to see characters of different ethnicities depicted in a picture book and to get a sneaky glimpse of how other people live. It's like peeking behind the curtains of your neighbours, only for children. 

This is a beautifully illustrated book with the story told in gentle rhymes that encourage restful sleep and happy dreams. Ryan Wheatcroft is the illustrator and Patricail Hagarty is the writer. There is so much detail in the pictures that I think you would see new things on each re-reading. It would make a lovely gift and I can see this becoming a firm favourite in our house. 

We are Family is published by Little Tiger on January 11th. 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Sunday is family day - whatever kind of family you are

We had a family day today. A late lie in then Hubbie and Brown Bear went out for a bike ride while Blue Bear and I moved furniture and listened to the Archers omnibus. Ok that was mostly me, but he was keeping me company. We sat down for lunch together and then watched a family movie together. I thought we could watch Babe as it has animals in it and it's been years since I last watched it. Brown Bear lost interest pretty quickly, but Blue Bear loves animals so he was enraptured. At one point Fly the sheepdog watches as all her pups are sold on. We see how sad she looks even though she knew her pups would leave her one day. Later that night Babe asks if he can call her Mum. I swear Blue Bear snuggled a bit closer to that point and it brought a tear to my eye.

Brown Bear has been talking about how he grew in Mummy's tummy and Blue Bear was born in another mummy's tummy. He says it in front of his brother and at times I wonder if it makes sense to Blue Bear. He is now 4 years old, but I don't know it he truly understands what it means to be adopted. Why would he ? We weren't in his life for the first year. So much happened in that time. He lived with birth mum, then with foster family then finally he came to live with us. We keep in touch wtih his foster family and it's really important that they are in his life as they hold the memories of that time before we knew him. They met birth mum and they took care of him when she couldn't any more.

We had a birthday party for Blue Bear - his first one - and invited his foster family and the children they currently care for. It was a chance for them to see him in a social setting and they saw how he has made friends and is confident and fun to be around. It was also really touching when I saw my Mum talking to his foster 'mum' and getting on so well with her. It wasn't easy for them to let him go and trust us. So many times they took Blue Bear for contact visits with birth mum and she just didn't turn up. He would get distressed and they would have to take him home until the next time. When we were matched as his family the foster carers were very protective of him and wanted to be assured that this little boy in their care was going to the best home. I like to think that when they see of how happy he is they believe that.

Brown Bear knows what a foster family is, but Blue Bear isn't entirely sure. As time goes on we will be more explicit about how important they have been in his life. He already knows they love him very much. Explaining the journey that brought Blue Bear into our family is not a one time thing. It's ongoing and sometimes unexpected things will bring it into focus. Watching a movie about how a pig was adopted by a sheepdog gave me pause for thought today. Did Blue Bear really understand ? It doesn't matter.

I watched Blue Bear lying against Hubbie on the floor this afternoon. People often comment on how alike they look and it is uncanny. Then later the boys were playing a bowling game on the wii and they were laughing and wrestling on the floor between rounds. For all the fighting and the noise this is what we hoped for.

A family.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

David Bowie didn't worry about being 'normal'

For the first blog post of 2018 I had intended to do one of those looking back on the year just gone and reflecting posts. You know where I would figuratively tip my head to one side and go misty eyed while remembering how Blue Bear started at 'big school' and Brown Bear was chosen for the swim squad. My decision to step down from some community commitments to give myself some more time in my life. Then my return to radio which has been good for my soul and my mental health. How I got back into running and trashed two pairs of trainers in 6 months through hardcore training (well, not quite). The triumph of my completing the full moonwalk almost 8 years since I last did it. Achieving a long held ambition to go skiing at Christmas and finding out that Brown Bear is a natural and I haven't forgotten nearly as much as I had expected.

Then the inevitable forward planning for this year. How I'm going to make a triumphant return to the workplace now my boys are settled and happy at school. My continuing pursuit of fitness and health through running, swimming and making better food choices. The aim to be a calmer and kinder parent than I have been. Some other stuff about world peace, yada, yada, yada.

That was what I had intended to write. Then this evening it was all subsumed by a comment by my father-in-law that got under my skin so much that I did something I haven't done in years. I've developed that capacity to smile and tolerate most of his idiocyncracies. I have even been known to laugh or tease him about his assertions that illegal immigrants swim across to Lymington in their droves. So what did he say this time that led me to bite and then to walk away in silence ? 

It was the word 'normal.' I use it myself. I will plead with my sons to 'act normal' when I've had enough of their constant bickering or demands from me. It's shorthand for 'be nicer' as if that is what is normal for everyone. He wasn't using it in that context though. He was saying that my boys have something wrong with them and by association that I am incapable as a mother. He pointed out that how they behave is 'not normal.' Well I don't really know what that means. I think children aged 7 and 4 can be pretty boisterous and having seen lots of other children on holiday I know mine are full of energy, but they are far from unusual. I know my kids are tiring. Of course I do. I know that better than anyone else, because I'm the one who spends most time with them. I also know that when they are tired or hungry they are unreasonable and demanding and if I'm tired too that's not the best combination. 

My mum looked after the boys overnight a while back. She's had Brown Bear overnight a lot, but never both of them. The next day when I sent a message asking how they were my sister replied, "they're not listening." I looked at Hubbie and sighed. Well, what did we expect ? A miracle ? Since that overnight visit I have had inspirational messages from my mother and whenever I visit she makes me food and tea and insists I rest. I think she has some handle on how hard it is with these boys. Mother in law has two sons, so she has more of an understanding about it. Her husband, however, does not. When he insisted that his children weren't like that I snapped. "How would you know, you weren't around." He carried on telling me how he knew they weren't like that so I ended with, "Well they are children, and they're not the same and you never had an adopted son." I walked out of the kitchen and went upstairs where I'm typing this now. 

I don't like to use adoption as a punctuation mark. I really don't want to draw attention to it as a 'special circumstance,' but our boys are not like his boys in any way. I've seen how far we've come and how much they love each other. The bickering and play fighting (which often ends up not so playful) is testament to how much they have grown together. On holiday when we went to check on them one night Hubbie pointed out that they were holding hands across the twin beds. It was precious. 

It's ok if we're not normal. We don't have to be like anyone else. It's not about how we compare with anyone. I'm not always proud of myself. I shout too loud and I tell them off too much. I give in to them and spoil them. I laugh and play with them. I am blown away by how much they have grown up and how funny they are. When they laugh and smile my heart feels like it is going to burst. They are my gorgeous, loving, hilarious, energetic, unpredictable, infuriating, exhausting, challenging, brilliant boys. 

This is our 'normal.'

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Practically perfect - skiing at Christmas with Mark Warner

The fabulous view from our balcony 

I learned to ski about 15 years ago on a holiday with friends who had been skiing since they were very young. It was while having lessons in Meribel that I made the decision that if I was to have children I'd introduce them to skiing at an early age. I haven't actually been since Brown Bear was born and as Hubbie isn't a skiier I thought it would be unfair to book a holiday that only I would be interested in. Then the lovely chaps at Mark Warner suggested we might like to go away to ski for Christmas. Well, I was very keen to go and looked into how to make it happen for all of us. I wanted it to be a holiday that would be special for everyone and where we would all get to do what we enjoy. 

Is that our plane Mummy ? 

Advance booking: 

You can book pretty much everything before you leave for your holiday so you have nothing to worry about when you arrive. Our holiday included flights, transfers and half board. The flight was mercifully short and at a sensible time of day so we didn't have to get up in the middle of the night to get to the airport. It was also important to me that we have a short transfer time from the airport so we chose Les Deux Alpes which takes around 1 and a half hours from Grenoble. The Hotel Berangere offers interconnecting rooms so we are close to the boys, but not in the same room as them. We have a bathroom in each room too, so they have their own space and have loved sharing with each other. Half board is also a blessing for me as I don't have to prepare any meals and there is plenty to eat for everyone from hearty breakfasts to tempting afternoon tea and delicious dinners. The hotel has a swimming pool, sauna, steam room and a beauty salon. This meant that Hubbie could relax and do nothing if he wanted to or have a soothing massage. Mostly he chose to do nothing, which was the whole point of the holiday really. 

Freshly pisted snow - bliss 

The additional costs were for activities that we chose to do, so we pre-booked kids club for the bears, skiing lessons and ski equipment. This meant that it was all ready for us so we didn't have to leave the hotel for anything on arrival. It was just as well really as the boys were tired and hungry and I wanted to unpack. 

Family friendly: 

Mark Warner are renowned for the family friendly nature of their holidays so I have been keen to travel with them for a long time. It has been all I could have asked for and more. There are plenty of families staying here so the bears have made friends. As we were here on Christmas Day there was a visit from someone special and he brought gifts for all the children. There is provision for children to eat early so Blue Bear has been having high tea at 5pm so we can then put him to bed at close to his usual bedtime at home. There is also a kidz tea around 7pm for children over 6 and Brown Bear has enjoyed eating dinner with his new friends. We can then eat our meal later in the evening with other adults or the children can join us if we prefer. 

Ooh who's been the visit the chalet in the night ?

Child Care: 

This has been the one area I've been most impressed with. All the 'nannies' are brilliant with the children and both bears have been allocated a key worker. Blue Bear has loved playing in the snow with Aimee and made friends in the mini club. Brown Bear has been taking skiing lessons so Izzy takes him down to the ESF meeting point in the mornings and brings him back at lunchtime. The children eat lunch together under adult supervision and spend the afternoon at their respective clubs until we pick them up for tea. 

Blue Bear in the snow

The evening listening service wasn't what I had expected. The children watch a movie from 7.30pm in the childcare area and they are put to bed in sleeping bags by Danni and Danielle ready to be picked up before 10.30pm. We renamed it 'movie club' and Brown Bear loved it so much he went every evening. On the staff night off we also dropped Blue Bear off for a 'sleepover' with his friends. We have never had a holiday where we could eat dinner without the children before and it was so relaxing. You do have to stay in the hotel - except on the staff night off - but it is reassuring knowing the children are happy and being looked after while we eat our three course dinner and converse with other adults. In fact I've even enjoyed the cocktail of the day most evenings knowing that the children are safe and sound in the same building and that we don't have to drive to pick them up. 

Hubbie and me enjoying a much deserved night out


Well, it's fair to say that I love to ski. I had no idea if I would be any good or if years away from the slopes would render me a hazard to everyone on the pistes. As we had pre-booked lessons for Brown Bear I also decided to book some for myself. Mark Warner work with preferred suppliers for ski equipment and lessons and the latter are with ESF (Ecole Ski Francais). I have had lessons with them before and would recommend them. The distinctive red suits can be seen all over the French alps and the instructors are encouraging and knowledgable. Most speak more than one language so you might find yourself in a group with people of other nationalities. I find that my french improves only marginally, but I expect their english fares far better. The skiing conditions have varied enormously this week. From a sunny and bright first day to a rain soaked last day with blizzards and white outs in between. Still I skied every day and enjoyed pretty much all of it. I befriended the drag lift operators who I saw every day and became well acquainted with the contours of the piste outside the window. I've honed my turns and realised that I'm actually not a bad skier at all. Every previous time I've been  skiing with friends who are very skilled. All this week I've remembered the voice of Harriet imploring "bend zee knees," and Adrian patiently demonstrating pole plant turns. They always pushed me to do more than I thought I could and as a result I had a pretty good grounding despite the long break. 

Brown Bear and me on the slopes 

The staff:

I can honestly say that the staff at Mark Warner have worked exceptionally hard to keep guests happy and made the time to get to know us by name. Paul the customer service manager and Amy the hotel manager have been incredible. At one point Hubbie came in and said, "I've just seen Amy outside digging a minibus out of the snow - whatever they pay her it's not enough." If you want to know what customer service is you have to meet a man who doesn't even ski, but works as a manager in a hotel at a ski resort. That man is Paul. For many of the staff this is their first ski season, although you wouldn't know it as they handle whatever happens with patience and speed. When my ski boots were missing from the boot room Ally kindly helped me locate them without any fuss. Bearing in mind that we were here over Christmas every effort was made to give us all the elements of a festive stay. When I booked I asked, "what about the staff do they not get to celebrate Christmas ?" and I was told that they do, but they also want us to have a special holiday. 

Jabba the snowman 
This was our first family holiday abroad and so much was new for us. We haven't put the children into holiday childcare before, it was Blue Bear's first time on a plane, I usually do all the cooking on holiday or we eat out and generally we spend all of the time together. This holiday we've all done our own things and spent time doing things we love. Hubbie has relaxed and rested, Brown Bear has taken to skiing like a natural, Blue Bear has made new friends and loved making snowballs and snow angels. As for me, I've seen my children in a whole new light, from brave and daring to sociable and fun. Their smiles and laughter have warmed my heart and spending time with Hubbie and enjoying each other's company has been wonderful. As I sat on a chair lift on Christmas Day I felt the sun on my face and closed my eyes to appreciate the serenity and fresh air of the mountains. That feeling will stay with me for a long time. 

Disclosure: Mark Warner Holidays offered us a special deal to ski at Christmas. All opinions are honest and my own. 

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

So that was Christmas

And what have you done ? To misquote John Lennon. I only ask because not everyone is all singing and all dancing about Christmas.

It's taken me most of my life to work out how to do Christmas in a way that doesn't make me stressed or upset. Mostly it involves a lot of organisation. It's also about getting myself prepared mentally. Ok, so the present buying and food shopping is pretty arduous, but it's still a fortunate situation to find yourself in. To have the means, the reason and the people to buy for can be wonderful. It can create a mass of expectation though. The need to buy the perfect gifts, to cook the perfect meal, to have the perfect family get together. All the while being aware that this is a privileged position to be in.

The pursuit of perfection is my worst enemy. The desire to do everything just right causes the most anxiety of all. It's why so many people get into debt to fund Christmas. This need to make it special. I didn't even grow up with the traditional notion of Christmas in my family. We weren't encouraged to believe in Father Christmas so that wasn't a thing and apart from having crackers with our meal it was no different to any day that we all ate together. We did have gifts, but it was not the huge deal that I became aware of later on. When people talked about how special Christmas was I just didn't get it at all.

At uni I met a tutor who told me that she and her husband would go on holiday every Christmas to avoid all celebrations. They would lie on the beach and ignore everything to do with the season. That idea appealed to me. Choosing to step away from the whole idea in favour of something relaxing instead. Yes please. Then the guilt kicks in. What will parents think ? Isn't that a bit selfish ?

It's this awareness of unrealistic expectations that means I start to prepare a long time in advance. Getting myself fit and mentally well has been hugely important. In the past I have negelected my wellbeing and it's led to a miserable time. Now I know that I have to manage myself. Whether that is taking some time for myself or sharing the load with others. No one else can know what I'm struggling with if I'm not open about it. Fortunately Hubbie knows me better than I know myself sometimes.

It's not an easy time of year for a lot of people. It's ok if you're not feeling festive. If you do and you need some help these links might be of some help: uk

Sunday, 24 December 2017

I'm out of Whamageddon... no it's ok I'm fine.

I was doing so well until this last week when I took the boys to the barbers for their seasonal haircuts. It was all going swimmingly then the festive music started up on the radio and it happened. The one tune I had managed to avoid all December finally caught up with me. Yes it's true I am out of Whamageddon ! In case this meme has passed you by it's the phenomenon where you try to get through as much of December as possible without hearing Last Christmas by Wham. Cover versions don't count, but I think the cheery and loud rendition by my drunken fellow passengers on the train home on Friday night would have rendered every passenger on the carriage well and truly out of the game too. It's not even like it's my favourite song about Christmas, it's far too schmaltzy and sentimental. However, it does hold a special place in my heart because Hubbie deliberately sings it out of tune which amuses me no end. No it's the video that makes this for me - in hindsight a bizarre scenario, but the hair is just amazing !

I asked my fellow radio presenters to select their favourite songs for Christmas and have discovered some beautiful new songs to add to my playlist. One I've only just remembered recently is by Bruce Springsteen and it just makes me smile. I defy you to listen to this and not enjoy it.

An altogether smoother number is by She and Him featuring the delightful vocals of Zooey Deschanel - a truly renaissance woman - and brings an elegant touch to a familar tune.

For years I favoured a post punk band and their Christmas anthem because it felt a bit more rebellious. Until it occured to me that it was on every compilation album and is hardly alternative. I still love the Waitresses and Christmas Wrapping.

This one isn't strictly speaking a Christmas song, but it's always featured in the seasonal offering and I just love Chrissie Hynde's voice. Also the video that was shown on Top of the Pops featured her dressed as in a Salvation Army uniform so that pretty much settled its place as an annual favourite.

At heart, however, I am an softie and the song that brings most meaning to me at this time of year is this John Lennon number.

However you are spending this day I hope it goes well. At least you've got these great tunes to keep you company.