Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Wish you were here ? I bet you don't !

I grew up in a family that didn't take holidays. If my mum was able to save up she would book a caravan for a few days in North Wales or Devon. We'd be driving all day with nothing to do in the car and would always arrive late (usually in the dark) and would pretty much all complain the whole time. I consider holidays with my kids now to be my karmic reward for this. When we go away I pack the car, arrange for someone to feed Neo and Hubbie charges up the kids' devices so they are busy during the journey. We always leave early to get to our destination during the day and try to get the boys settled as quickly as possible. Once we've located the nearest play area I can unpack and put on the kettle.

The last time we went way was at Christmas and the boys were a nightmare. They argued and fussed all day every day and it was just horrible. At one point I told Hubbie to just get the train back home as his complaining was almost as bad as they boys' behaviour. He stuck it out and we had a miserable time. So what possessed me to book to go away again ?

Well, I noticed that all the families at my son's school have plans for the summer and they pretty much all involve going abroad. We don't take the kids abroad yet, but we do try and get away for at least a week over the summer. In the last few years we've been going to Cornwall because it's so beautiful and there is so much to see and do. There are places we all love to visit like Lappa Valley and then the Eden Project which I am a massive fan of and I bribe the boys to go to with the promise of a pasty for Hubbie and big slabs of homemade cake for the boys.

We're staying a lovely cottage in a part of Cornwall we've not been to before. Yesterday we went to a beautiful fishing village then spent the scorching afternoon on a beach with they boys paddling in the sea and then playing in the sand. It was pretty much what I had hoped for. There are young children living here who knock on the door to play with the boys and yesterday when we got back from the beach they had a paddling pool out so our boys jumped in with them and had a great time before dinner.

They woke up this morning and were playing and mucking about together - which is great, ast least we don't have to supervise them every moment. I got them to sit for breakfast and put some bacon under the grill for Hubbie. I had managed to cut the bread using the bluntest knife since those kids' knives you get in Ikea and made myself a tea. Hubbie took the bread I'd hacked for my breakfast and I eventually sat down to a stone cold cup of tea, mostly burnt toast and a not quite cooked egg - yummy !

We used to have holidays that involved drinking on the plane and staying in bed until we wanted to get up. Breakfast made by someone else. Lunch with cocktails or wine. Dressing up to go out in the evening. Tours and walks in the local area and not a play park in sight. I rarely visited a supermarket for cereal, plasters or colouring pencils. Everyone keeps telling me, "they're not young for long," or, "enjoy it," and my personal favourite, "It gets worse when they are older." Oh joy.

Well. I've got to pack a coolbag with drinks and snacks so they don't have to go any length of time without consuming something. They will still insist on buying something to eat anyway. Probably ice cream. Oh well we are on holiday I suppose.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Brighton Beach Memoirs

Beautiful Brighton beach huts 
I was lucky enough to get some 'me-time' this weekend. Now I know that previous generations scoff at the idea, but with the long holiday coming up I realised I hadn't had a break away from the children since October last year. I love my boys - of course I do - but being with them every single day is wearing and tiring and frankly you can have too much of a good thing. Assuming your idea of a good thing is bickering, random shouting, screams and boisterousness.

Masts and skyline
Often me and Hubbie struggle to find babysitting so we can't always go to shows together. On the last 4 occasions that I've had tickets for Stewart Lee we've gone together twice and I've been once on my own and Hubbie went without me when Brown Bear was unwell and insisted on me staying home with me. I held out until the last possible opportunity then a kindly friend stepped in. I was gutted to miss it though. So now if we see a gig we want to go to we try and arrange to go together, but sometimes it just isn't possible. This is how I came to be at an Eddie Izzard gig in Brighton and decided to stay over and make a weekend of it by myself.

Me and my Mum on the West Pier
Like a lot of fellow Londoners I love Brighton. I've been visiting since I was a tiny baby when my parents would drive down - usually on the weekend of a vintage car rally so we'd end up stuck in traffic behind a Genevieve style motor. I went to the Grand for afternoon tea on my 40th birthday and my first husband proposed to me on a weekend staying in a boutique hotel in Regent Square. Me and Hubbie go to a two day festival at the Concorde 2 every August and one of our favourite places to eat is tucked away amongst the trippy hippie shops and chi chi coffee bars.

Sitting down to take in the sea on the prom
I have history with Brighton and any chance I get to go there I take it. My mini-break didn't start so well with me missing the train I was aiming for and then the one I was on sat outside Hayward's Heath due to animals on the track at Wivelsfield - no I am not making this up. So when I finally arrived in Brighton I went to check into my hotel - I booked to stay at the Grand, which is wonderful and luxurious as you'd expect. It is also covered in scaffolding and polythene at the moment so the room rate was heavily discounted to reflect this absence of a view from the windows. It didn't matter though as I had this gorgeous tea making set and movies on the TV !

Such a classy way to take tea 
It was a late night with a very noisy wedding reception downstairs until 1pm. At least I was able to watch the Rocky Horror Picture Show until the music finished and I was able to settle down to sleep. When I was checking in the receptionist had asked if I wanted a wake up call and I smiled at him and said, "No thank you I'll wake up naturally." Which is an odd expectation to have when I haven't woken up in a fashion I'd call 'natural for nearly 7 years. It was with what I can only describe as poetic irony that I found myself wide awake at 6am with no idea what the weather was like outside. I decided to go for a run and it was just beautiful - and already quite warm. Such a lovely start to my day.

Stunning Brighton Beach in the early light 
After a leisurely breakfast I went back to my room (sorry, I mean suite) to listen to the Archers omnibus. I usually listen while cleaning the kitchen or bathroom and I rarely give my full attention to the radio. On this occasion, however, I was able to relax and settled down with a cup of tea that I drank before it went cold. Oh the bliss. I'm not the best at seeing when I need to take a break and will often keep going long after I've run out of energy. This weekend was a chance to recharge and to spend time in a place that I really love. I won't leave it so long in future. 

West Pier - sadly a mere skeleton now 

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Top cat - he's the boss cat.

You know how you don't notice people close to you getting older ? One day the kids are tiny and then seemingly in the blink of an eye all their trousers are too short and their shoes are too tight. I remember going to the funeral of an elderly aunt and as I parked up at the crematoriam I spotted my Mum with an old man sitting in her car. I asked my sister who the old guy was and she said, "That's Dad." I hadn't seen him for a few months since he'd stopped dying his beard hair and with his turban covering his hair I just didn't recognise him. It was a bit of a shock.

Up on the roof

Recently a few people have remarked on Neo's advancing years and have asked what we have planned for when he's no longer with us. Now I know there is no intention to be unkind, but I just don't think of him as an old cat. In my mind he's practically kitten-like in his leaping onto the neighbour's wall to sunbathe all day and his plaintive miaowing for food hits decibels previously only heard at a Metallica gig.

I know people make comments about pets being part of the family, but Neo really is. He sleeps on Brown Bear's bed and is an excellent childminder, giving the boy hard stares if he doesn't settle down to sleep without fuss. He always used to check on the boys when they were small and gave them a wide berth when they were at tail-pulling age. He's no fool that feline.

Relaxing on my beanbag
Then I noticed he's not grooming himself as fastidiously as he used to. His claws are longer and he gets them caught in the carpet sometimes. His fur is looking distinctly yellower and while he was always a champion sleeper he's really snoozy now. The vet told me the other day that he's the cat equivalent of a human 75 year old and considering how inactive my father and father-in-law are at the same age I think he's doing pretty well in comparison.

He helps Brown Bear with homework:

He's still able to supervise train track building:

And his skills at hide and seek are legendary:

So, yes my cat is a senior now. He is showing signs of old age and does need some help to keep him comfortable. He is still, however, my first boy. I have never lost a pet by conventional means. My first dog - Tiger - was given away with the shop when my parents sold it. Yes it was a corner shop - let's not dwell on that for too long shall we ? We were assured the new owners were animal lovers, but I would have rather he came with us. My first cat Tibby was run over on the main road and my Mum told me when I got home from school. My parents aren't emotional about pets so they just don't get why I am so attached to Neo. I don't want to consider a life without him in it. I hope I don't have to for a while yet.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Urban gardening with Honest Tea

When the weather is hot and sunny my favourite way to spend time is being outdoors. We are so lucky that we have a great garden with space for the boys to enjoy and lots of room to grow plants and fruit. In fact I have rarely lived anywhere without an outdoor space so when I was invited to the mobile garden city in Stratford East I was really keen to go. The eyewatering early start was mitigated by the sunshine and some refreshing organic drinks to try.

The drinks company Honest has partnered with Groundwork to champion green spaces and urban gardening and to encourage everyone to connect with nature. I've lived in London for most of my life and I can see why new research has revealed that Londoners believe their daily life would be improved if they had easier access to green space, could spend more time outdoors and were able to grow their own herbs, fruit and vegetables.

We heard from Groundwork volunteers and staff about local school groups and families who come to the site to garden and grow food and local restuarants are also using produce grown here - we even harvested some rhubarb that was to be included in a menu later. TV presenter Julia Bradbury talked to us about the benefits of outdoor spaces and growing food and has created a new 'must have' item for my wish list - an outdoor shower. Who knew it was so easy to bring my favourite holiday feature to a suburban garden ?

Having taken a break for some fresh fruit and to try the organic fruit tea drinks we took part in a craft activity to upcycle the empty honest bottles into hanging planters. I'm not the best crafter, but even I managed to follow the instructions for this and I'm quite pleased with the finished item. With help I think my boys could make these and it is an excellent way to reuse a bottle.

I've heard about urban gardens, but to see a project for real was a wonderful insight into how invaluable green spaces are. This garden will be moving to Hackney Wick so the families who use it currently can still get there. I am delighted that HONEST® has partnered with Groundwork to champion green spaces and urban gardening and to encourage everyone to connect with nature.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post in conjunction with HONEST®

Saturday, 1 July 2017

The week in photos: Summer edition

I was sitting on the sofa and when I got up to make a cup of tea I put a big cushion down to stop Neo from stealing my seat. When I got back he was doing this. Touche fluffy face. Touche. 

My lovely friend Yasmin had the official launch of her new beauty room this week - there was cake, sunshine and some mini treatments. I went and had my nails painted in this bright summer shade. I love it. 

It was National Cream Tea Day on Friday so to celebrate we visited the fantastic Parklife Cafe in Croydon and enjoyed the most enormous scones I think I've ever seen. That is pretty much a meal on a plate right there !

Today was the annual adoption fun day that my boys love to go to. It's always a sunny day, there's an ice cream van, a burger stall, face painting, bouncy castle and lots of friends to play with.

Brown Bear loved playing football with some other boys his age:

Blue Bear got to practise being a firefighter:

And I got to sit down on the grass for a little while:

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Are you kidding me ?

I am furious. Not just a little bit upset, but full on angry.

The BBC broke a story today about a Sikh couple who had been advised against seeking to adopt in their area as only white children were being placed for adoption. A few years ago Martin Narey (previously head of Barnardos who assessed us for adoption the first time) wrote about how white couples were being unfairly excluded from adopting non white children who were waiting for families. This is an old story with a new twist on it as this time it's an asian couple saying that they are not being treated fairly. Underlying this story though is one of the most basic injustices faced by children in care. The assumption that only a 'perfect match' will do and until that can be found they must wait.

Excluding families from consideration for adoption on the grounds of race is completely out of order. The Government guidelines are very clear that the needs of children must be prioritised and a long term plan for a child has to be better than the insecurity of remaining in care. Of course I don't know the details of the case that the Manders are bringing against Adopt Berkshire, but it sounds very similar to what me and Hubbie faced when we were first trying to adopt - way before Brown Bear was born. We were told that there were not children of our specific ethnic mix and it was unlikely that we would find an exact match. It was not an issue for us when they asked us to consider two girls who were different ethnicities, but half sisters. One was white and the other dual heritage. You see it's not as simple as it seems. Children can have half siblings or full siblings who are also being considered for adoption. They may not be the same ethnicity as the child you have adopted so what do you do ? Are you supposed to say, "no thanks this one doesn't look like us."

When we were first assessed and approved to adopt we waited for a long time and were being told over and over that we were not the right racial mix to adopt the children waiting to be adopted. I met other couples who had been told the same thing. If you are not the same ethnicity as the child you will not be able to provide an authentic family scenario for them (my words). This completely disregards the real life families where children are raised by step parents, single parents, grandparents or other family members who might not look like them at all. It is not just about how people look though. We were told that the children we were being considered for were from 'a muslim background.' Now I have two problems with this:

1. a child does not have a religious background - they are not old enough to make an informed choice about this

2. A birth parent can ask for their religion to be taken into consideration when placing a child, but it is not set in stone. Frankly if you are not raising your child then you do not get a say in how they will be raised.

Harsh ? Maybe. In some cases the child's parentage is not even known so how on earth can a local authority insist that they must be placed with a family that is an exact match ? We lost faith in the system at the point that a local authority changed it's rules to actively stop us from being considered as adopters for a child in their care. It seemed that they really didn't want to find a family for that little boy and I don't know if they ever did find a family with the specific mix of ethnicities that he had. We were told that the majority of asian children in care were likely to be from a muslim background so I asked how many muslim adopters they had and was told pretty much none. So the children were being kept in care waiting such time as their 'perfect parents' decided to come forward to become adopters. No other adopters would be considered for them in the meantime and these children would get older and eventually be too old to adopt. The chances of a child being adopted after the age of 5 drastically decrease so the longer they wait the less chance there is for them to be placed long term.

The foster carers who looked after Blue Bear before he joined our family are practising muslims. They have been caring for children of chinese origin for over a year. Often children do remain in foster care for extended periods of time and the ethnicity of the foster carers is not taken into consideration. Children can live with a foster family for years while waiting for the 'perfect match' of adoptive parents. This is an extreme reaction to the policy in the past of placing children of all ethnicities with white families - who were in the majority as adopters. I have met many adopters who have raised black and asian children as their own. The children do not see this as a poor substitute as in most cases they were raised with love and kindness.

I'm not going to say something trite like, 'all children just want to be loved' because for one thing it's blindingly obvious. For another when a child has experienced neglect, abuse, trauma and separation it can take a lot more than the power of love to help that child to accept that they are worthy of being loved and cared for. Even the youngest of babies can have issues around separation from birth mother and finding parents who are the same ethnicity / religion might be a short cut, but it certainly won't make it any easier for the child to accept this new family. One of the reasons that we were first on the list to adopt Blue Bear was because he looks like Hubbie and he also looks like Brown Bear. It makes it much easier for him to 'pass' because of that physical resemblance, but had it been the overriding reason for choosing us I think I would have had an issue with that.

For me the saddest thing that may result from this case is that the couple involved are considering overseas adoption as a solution. Slough has the largest population of Sikhs in the entire UK and has just elected the first turban wearing Sikh into parliament. The decision to not even give consideration to this couple suggests that the situation will not change. That only white children will require permanent placement for the forseeable future. It takes months to undergo the assessment process to be an adopter. Even with a fast track it takes at least 6 months. When we were assessed there were around 10 babies waiting to be placed with adopters and by the time we were approved there were not children under 5 waiting at all. This is a system that is forever changing and it is not predictable. I won't share the particular circumstances that led to Blue Bear being in care and the eventual decision to place him for adoption. They are specific to him and private. What I can tell you is that when we started the process he wasn't even in foster care. He was not, 'in the system.'

I feel so deeply for this couple and the unfairness of not even being considered. All the local authorities I contacted told us that they did not have children of the same ethnicity as us. I remember telephoning agencies in areas with high populations of asians to increase our chances of being considered as adopters and being told that it was unlikely. On top of the pain of infertility it was just too much. It felt like everything was against us. However, I am made of sterner stuff and did not take no for an answer and went to a different agency who were prepared to assess us as potential adopters. I thought that would be the most difficult part of the process, but oh how little I knew.

Fast forward to now and we have a wonderful family of two boys who came to us in very different ways. No one sees what we went through to get here - or what we are still going through. To anyone who doesn't know we just look like any other family. A brown British Sikh woman, a white British agnostic man, a football mad 6 year old and a cheeky 3 year old.

Just like any other loud, boisterous, hilarious, argumentative and loving family.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

At least we have Glastonbury on the telly.

I cry a lot - I mean all the time. It doesn't take much to set me off. Yesterday I was watching TV and an advert came on - you know those food stories ones with a person sharing a meal they make for a special reason. Well this time it was an amazing woman called Bridie and her Jerk Chicken recipe that she feeds to all the foster children who have lived in her home. Over 800 children and counting. She describes how children always arrive hungry and she feeds them with love. Sets me off every time. What a wonderful woman. Tear Jerk Chicken more like.

The other day I took the boys to Waitrose with me when I popped in to get a brew and my copy of Waitrose weekend. The foodbank volunteers were outside and we took a leaflet listing what items they need urgently. Blue Bear pushed the trolley and Brown Bear read out the items and we took it in turns to put them into the trolley. After we paid and put some green tokens into the charity boxes we pushed the trolley outside and emptied the contents into the volunteer's trolley. He watched in disbelief as my boys gleefully kept putting food and toiletries into the donation trolley. When we finished I gave both boys some change for the tins too. They were thanked for their generosity and they both beamed with pride. In the car on the way home Brown Bear asked why we had given all our shopping to the man and I said, "Our fridge at home is full of food. There are people who aren't so lucky. The people at the foodbank will help them by giving them what we bought." If you haven't seen I Am Daniel Blake the scene in the foodbank is heartwrenching and the very thought of it makes me cry. This is why I always donate sanitary items and as much food as I can.


A few weeks ago Brown Bear told me that a boy in his class told him that he's not 'a real Indian.' Apparently he isn't brown enough and his name isn't Patel. The boy who made the comment has asian parents and it did make me wonder what they say about people at home. I find it hard to believe a 6 year old would say something like that without context, but I could be wrong. To be frank I don't much like the kid or his family so their opinion means absolutely nothing to me. What does matter is how it makes my son feel and what it does to his sense of identity. I want to protect my children from negativity and unkindness, but I can't always be there. What I can do is ensure we raise our children not to be like that. In our family we don't remark on skin colour and certainly not in a pejorative way like that. All four of us look different and it's not something we make a big deal out of. When Blue Bear came to live with us a few people mentioned that he looked white. I smiled and told them both my boys have mixed parentage - well frankly all children do up to a point. Our boys are a beautiful mix of asian and white british. Now I consider it rude and intrusive for anyone to comment on the colour of my children's skin so I don't engage with it.

We talk about equal marriage in our home. We talk about adoption. We talk about fostering. We talk about poverty. We talk about politics. We talk about being kind and being fair. We don't necessarily use those terms, but we are role models for our children and if they see us being kind we hope they will do the same. I explained to Brown Bear on our walk to school the other morning that I hope he will be a kind and caring adult. I joke that being an indian mother I should want him to be an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer, but actually if he wants to play football (his latest thing) or to be Superman - for which he has to move to America naturally - then we will support his dreams. Of course he did also state in complete seriousness to Hubbie that he wanted a skateboard, because, "it's always been my dream."

I started off by saying that I cry a lot. Recently there has been plenty to cry about in the news. We're also going through our own stuff as a family and that is pretty difficult. This afternoon my lovely sister took the boys out for a treat and after spending over an hour tidying the garage and cleaning the car me and Hubbie sat down on the sofa and watched Glastonbury. We just sat together and enjoyed the music, like we used to before we had kids. Just for an hour.

Sometimes simplicity is everything.