Thursday, 30 June 2016

Summertime Blues

Did anyone get a memo saying that Summer has been cancelled ?

This guy didn't get it - clearly - as he's still sunbathing on the flat roof most days.

Neo you don't need to tan.

These boys haven't had it as we all went to play football after school earlier this week.

Boys you should have decided which way to shoot first 

I haven't seen it either as I'm still walking through the woods to get home and they can get pretty boggy when it's been raining !

Well, it's July tomorrow and as no one seems to have told the weather that it's offically Summer now I'm keeping these close to hand.

Family welly collection

Just in case.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

"Daddy do we have to move house ?"

I came back from swimming this afternoon in a terrible mood. Not just because Jim was in the water and when he swims it's like being in the Channel with waves and splashing and currents. As I got back I had an utterly pointless go at Hubbie about the washing airer - I said it was pointless didn't I ? Usually I find going for a swim calming and relaxing, but not today.

I haven't talked about this topic for a while. I've been a bit busy with life. Raising a family - adopting a young child, paying taxes, recycling, switching off running taps to save water, working with the community police team to keep residents safe from crime. Taking my elderly neighbour to the theatre for fun and to IKEA for garden chairs and tea lights (of course !) I've been giving blood and enjoying the tea and biscuits afterwards. I've donated to food banks, collected clothes for Syrian children, sent toiletries and essential items for migrants in Calais. I've been meeting my Fitbit target of 12,000 steps most days and taken up Clubbercise. I'm swimming and walking and practising yoga and gardening.

What I haven't been doing is worrying about what other people might hate about me, my kids, my parents, my siblings. I don't ask who gets the blood - or where they're from. When a remark is made in the community meeting that is sexist, or anti-anyone I challenge (forcefully, but politely). I don't let that shit go, but I also don't seek out the fight. Diplomacy doesn't come naturally to me, but I've had to learn it because it's just not the done thing to call a pensioner a homophobe in a public meeting. 

Then last week I took my boys with me to vote. I've always involved them in the process so they know what's involved, that it's not scary or complicated. Just like when I give blood I try to demystify and encourage by taking them with me. As we walked into the polling station an older couple were going in too. I quipped that I was getting the kids started early with democracy. The man looked at my sons and sneered then he said, "I don't need to ask." I'm still unsure if he meant that I would be voting remain or something else. It made me uncomfortable nonetheless. I've never contended with hostility when I've been with my boys and I'm increasingly concerned that it might happen now. That I will have to explain to my boys why some people are unkind about things over which we have no control. 

Since last week there have been a lot of memes on social media depicting openly racist behaviour in the wake of the decision to leave the EU. I scrolled through many of these and just couldn't keep going. They included:

  • Reports of abuse towards girls wearing hijabs 
  • Inflammatory messages posted through doors of Polish families.
  • 'White' people shouting 'you'll be leaving soon' to anyone they consider to be different. 
  • Racist graffiti on buildings and homes 
  • Protesters hurling abuse outside mosques

Some of this was happening even before the vote last week, yet it appears that it's not covert any more. I was at a conference yesterday and the doorman made remarks about the bin lorry driver, "not even speaking English," but it was ok as, "they'll all be leaving soon." I was sickened by his comments and shocked that he made them to me and smiled as if I would agree with him.

My dad worked on the London buses in the early seventies and he was racially abused on a daily basis for wearing a turban. He gave up the job in the end because it became too much. If you ever laughed when someone called out 'bud bud ding ding' you'll have no idea how it feels like a kick to my stomach me to hear that turn of phrase.

We lived in South London during the late seventies and it was perfectly acceptable for fellow pupils and even teachers to discriminate against Asian and black pupils. I wasn't a brave child and it was hurtful, but I accepted that it was part of life to be racially abused. Eventually I challenged a boy who called me a paki by calling him a paddy. (I'm not proud of this). 
"I'm not Irish"
"And I'm not Pakistani"
It was a retort I had carried around with me for weeks in the hope that I would find a way to use it. When I did it was suprising how facing him down took the wind out of his sails a bit. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't suffice any more.

A few years ago a woman racially abused fellow passengers on a tram and her actions were widely castigated. It was claimed she had mental health issues as if that was a sufficient explanation. I mean when I've skipped a dose of anti-depressants I find it difficult to stop myself from going out and picking a fight with Polish plumbers or shouting random homophobic abuse. 

For the first time since I became a parent I fear what my children may be subjected to. My beautiful boys whose parents were both born in England, but one of whom happens to also be brown. If it's now acceptable to hurl abuse at anyone who doesn't 'look English' then we're all fair game aren't we ? I've *never* described myself as English. It's not something I would be proud of. I've seen someone justifying their Englishness by the fact that their family members served in World War 2. My grandfather was in the army and served for the British army. Does that make me English enough ? Well not if I don't look it apparently.

Right now I find it shameful to be associated with this behaviour. I hope that things calm down and I don't have to explain to my 5 year old and 2 year old why some people are being so hateful and unkind. I did tell Brown Bear on Friday morning about the decision to leave the EU - of course he didn't fully understand. This afternoon he told Hubbie he felt sad that we might have to move house because of the vote. We were both baffled as this isn't something we have discussed at all.

What I will do is share the kind and welcoming things that people are doing and reassure him that plenty of people are wonderful. Like whoever made this lovely gesture in Bristol.* I hope that there are plenty more of the positive stories to tell in the days to come.

*If this is your sign I would love to give you proper credit. Please contact me if you know where this was displayed. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

I'm obviously too cool for my scooter

In a vain attempt to look cool to my kids I chose to scooter to school with Brown Bear last week. It was all fine getting there and I even stopped for a cuppa with the other mums at the school cafe before scootering home for yoga class. However, as I slowed to a stop at the top of the very steep hill that we live on it all went into slow motion as I fell and managed to cause a pretty painful and bloody injury to my knee. As I hobbled back home carrying the scooter I shrugged off how bad it was and carried on with teaching. It was only afterwards that I checked and noticed how badly I had cut and scraped myself. Since then I've been recovering slowly - I think it's an age thing. This evening I fell asleep on the sofa and woke up in time for the final episode of The Good Wife with the cat asleep on top of me.

Enforced slowing down doesn't agree with me really. I prefer to be at full pelt the whole time so it's surprised me that doing so little can be this tiring. On the flip side I've also had time to stop and look around a bit more. Earlier in the week I spotted that a neighbour was having some trees cut down in their garden so I asked the guys doing the work if they could spare some of the logs they had cut. One of them kindly dropped off these for me and I'm looking forward to creating a fun play area in the garden for the boys. I have big plans for the garden which makes the current wet weather all the more frustrating.

My Fitbit doesn't know what is going on as a I'm struggling to reach my daily steps goal before bedtime and I usually hit the magic number by lunchtime. I was considering putting it on Neo this week, as he has four paws I thought I'd get more steps, but his level of activity is second only to a sloth at the moment. I'll be honest the main reason I exercise so much is because I don't want to be fat (that ship has sailed unfortunately), but the second reason is so that I can have treats and not feel too guilty. At the weekend we took Hubbie out for an afternoon tea for Father's Day. It was Brown Bear's first time and he absolutely loved the fresh scones. This bodes well for our holiday in Cornwall in a few weeks.

I'm off to Britmums Live this weekend and am looking forward to seeing blogging friends and enjoying wine, cakes and delicious food. I'm going to walk around a lot to try and get my steps up for the week. If you're going to be at Britmums please do come and say hello. I'm a greeter this year and can't wait. Before then I'll be recording a radio show with a lovely guy who's been on my show before a few times. It's a busy few days.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Swing Batter Batter Batter Swing

A few weeks ago I took Brown Bear to the school uniform shop to buy his sports kit for next year - they were celebrating an anniversary and offering low prices so it seemed worth doing early. While we were there we noticed that sports equipment was included in the offers so I bought some swimming goggles for school and as we were going to pay we spotted a softball bat and ball set. Now Hubbie is a huge baseball fan and in the pre-children days we used to play in a softball league (not well for my part I admit) so I thought he'd love that for Father's Day. I bought a kit each for him and Brown Bear.

We came up with the idea of spending Father's Day playing softball and having a picnic. I swore Brown Bear to secrecy and he found a kiddy baseball set to practise with Daddy in the garden after school on the rare sunny days. I called Uncle Neil - a long time baseball fan and softball team captain  - and we had our players in place.

Then last week I found out about National Picnic Week and the lovely folks at Thomas J Fudges offered to send us some treats to jazz up our picnic. You may recognise the packaging if you shop at Waitrose - the illustrations are great and the flavours unusual. Charcoal hearts, melty cheddar wafers and savoury shards are amongst our favourites and I often treat Hubbie to them as a Christmas gift. With a nice cheese selection they make quite a posh and very tasty gift. I had no idea that they do sweet treats too and these Florentines are just too good to share. I've hidden them from the boys and will be troughing them when no one else is around.  The Punchy Jalapeno Wafers will probably be a bit strong for the boys (I think so anyway) so me and Hubbie will enjoy those.

Whenever we have a day out planned I have my go-to picnic kit. It's been with us to Peppa Pig World, days out at the farm, to Ben and Jerry's Big Sundae and days out at the seaside. We have a coolbag rucksack, a hardy picnic rug and some cool packs. Hubbie lugs the bag and I search for the perfect spot to sit and enjoy our outdoor victuals. I had hoped to share our picnic photos today with some action shots of the softball too, but unfortunately rain has stopped play. We will reschedule when the weather is nicer and if the Thomas J Fudges last that long I'll pack them too.

If you are celebrating Father's Day today I hope you have a wonderful time.

Disclosure: We were sent some treats by the lovely bakers at Thomas J Fudges to make our picnic even more special. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Heroes don't wear Fit Flops.

When people hear that Blue Bear is adopted it brings out some strange remarks. I find that it inspires pity, "Oh poor you having to get a second hand baby," or something like awe "I don't know how you do it. You're so good." I am used to both reactions now and try my best to find a way to look as if this is the first time I've heard those comments.

Both reactions baffle me really, but the reason they do is the same. I don't see my son as a good deed. The fact that we tried for years to fall pregnant and were told it might not happen made us determined to adopt. I had been prodded and checked and Hubbie had been tested. The medical professionals didn't sound hopeful and it was increasingly depressing to hear how unlikely it was going to be that we'd ever be parents. So we decided to go ahead and proceed with adoption.

We were questioned and assessed and checked. We had professionals comment on our relationship, our home, our families, our friends, our finances and even our cat. We sat in a room with 13 people who decided if we were fit to be parents and then waited for them to tell us that we would be allowed to adopt. Then we waited. And waited. There were children who we knew we could be parents to and who we asked to be matched with. We waited some more.

After almost a year of waiting and when we least expected it I fell pregnant with Brown Bear. It was amazing and unexpected and exciting. Our families were delighted. I sat in the Sanctuary in Covent Garden with a close friend and told her I was pregnant and she started to cry - to be honest most people did when we told them. Even father in law who is not known for his emotional responses. Our first son was universally adored and everything we had hoped for and dreamed of.

We had always talked about having a few children, but as it had taken so long we were grateful for the one we had and hoped that lightning might strike twice. It did. I fell pregnant again and we rejoiced, but it wasn't quite right. Something wasn't the same and sure enough I miscarried very early on. We made a deal to move on and get on with being the best parents we could to Brown Bear.

Then we made the decision to go back to adoption - we knew the process this time round and it was closer to home. We also had the advantage of being parents already so we thought we knew what we were getting into. Again with the checking and the questions and the visits from professionals. This time it also involved our son and I resolved that if he did not seem to be ok with it at any time we would just stop.

When we were matched with Blue Bear we played it cool. Not because we didn't absolutely adore him and want him to be part of our family, but because we had no idea if this was real or not. If he would be dangled before us only to be taken away and offered to someone else. It was safer for us to just wait and see what happened. Before long it was real. He was in our lives and our home and everything changed again.

In my head the boys would love each other and be great mates. Instead they spent the first 6-9 months fighting, arguing, screaming for my attention and hating each other intensely. I felt torn in two and like a terrible mother for inflicting this pain on my children. Most days I was convinced it would never get better. When people smiled and said, "Oh he really loves you doesn't he ?" I'd nod and smile back all the while thinking, "He doesn't have a choice. No one asked him who he wanted to live with." Even now not everyone knows how Blue Bear came to us. If it's relevant I will mention it, but it's not necessarily an opener for a conversation is it ?

So to come back to the pity and awe that I'm greeted with. I don't need the head tilt and pity. I am blessed to have two wonderful sons who are funny, smart, handsome and kind. They love each other and fight like brothers do. I also don't need the suggestion that we are saintly in any way. For me it's pretty simple. We wanted to have another child in the family. It wasn't going to be in the conventional way and with my history of falling pregnant it certainly wasn't likely to happen 'by accident.'

Adoption was an entirely selfish act on my part. I got to have the baby I wanted without incurring any stretch marks. Brown Bear got to have a brother without having to wait for the boring bit when he was a baby and wasn't at all interesting to play with. At first he was intensely annoying taking toys and things, but now Brown Bear loves having a Blue Bear shadow and is realising the benefits of having a younger sibling who hero worships him. The cat has a new infant to train up and already has Blue Bear bringing him tins of cat food (even if he can't actually open them.) Hubbie has a 'mini me' who adores him - who wouldn't want that ?

Brown Bear is my first born. Blue Bear is my youngest. Neo was my first adoptee. Hubbie has been my constant in all of this. We've shared the pain, the sadness, the joy, the bafflement, the sheer bloody-mindedness and the love.

It's not heroism. It's not charity. This is my family.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Where is he from ?

Did you get him from an orphanage ?

No Blue Bear lived with foster carers before he joined our family.

Which country is he adopted from ? 

This one - we would not adopt internationally.

Was he badly neglected ?

That is a private matter and one that he can talk about if he chooses to when he is older. 

He seems alright - why was he taken into care ? 

I refer you to the above answer.

Did you meet his family ?

No, we didn't.

Does he call you Mummy ? 

Yes he does. I am his Mummy.

I swear he is a cat !!

Why adoption ?

We talked about adoption when we first met and it was something we agreed on. We always wanted adoption to be part of how our family was formed.

You are so brave to do that.

It's not bravery. It's parenting.

It must be so difficult. 

You have no idea. Some days it feels like the hardest thing I've ever done. Then I remember how my ankles felt when I finished the Moonwalk.

Was it worth it ? 

A million times yes.

I admire you.

Thank you. 

We are family

Monday, 6 June 2016

My first, my last, my everything (with apologies to Barry White)

When I was weaning Brown Bear it was important to me to know the provenance and ingredients in all the foods I was giving my baby. I chose organic fruit and vegetables and gave strict instructions about what he was allowed to eat when he was at nursery or with family. Both my boys are huge fans of Petit Filous - we have a steady supply of them in our fridge at all times - and have done since I first weaned Brown Bear. In fact when we visit grandparents they also have them in the fridge for our boys. It has been a staple on our breakfast table for years and I'm delighted that Blue Bear also loves Petit Filous. Now there are specific ones that are suitable for younger children as a 'first Filous' choice. My First Petits Filous is a low sugar, vanilla-flavour weaning fromage frais, designed to introduce children to fromage frais from 6 months. All ingredients are 100% naturally sourced, so parents can rest assured there are no artificial colours, flavours, sweeteners or added preservatives. If these had been around when my boys were small I would have bought these for them as a 'first Filous.'

First Filous - 100% natural.

Since we adopted Blue Bear over a year ago it's been one new thing after another. From meeting him to introducing him to Brown Bear and the transition from our room to his own room and from a cot to a toddler bed. The milestones just keep coming. So when we were asked to look back on some of the firsts we have experienced I was delighted to oblige:

First holiday:

Before he lived with us Blue Bear had not been to the beach and seeing his reaction to walking on sand was hilarious. He looked a bit perturbed by it until he got hold of a bucket and spade and there was no stopping him. Maybe this summer we can tempt him to also paddle in the sea ? I hope so.

First words:

One of the consequences of his early life is that Blue Bear did not have any speech when he came to us. He communicated, but it was mostly signs and pointing at things he wanted. He learned to call dogs 'oof 'oof and all cats are called 'eo after our cat Neo. As time has progressed he's learned so much and being at pre-school has also helped him find his voice. My favourite has to be when I ask him what he wants to eat and he points at the fridge and declares, 'frais.' It might not have been his first word, but it's certainly one of the early ones.

Easy Rider on his first bike

First Transport:

Another word he uses often is 'bike' - which is what he calls the Scuttlebug that he loves to ride all the time. It's the first self propelled vehicle he's has and he is incredibly fast on it. When we are in the park he races around on it and tries so hard to be the first in the play park. Brown Bear has the advantage right now as he is much faster, but I'm sure he'll catch up soon enough.

First to blow out the candles:

We didn't get to celebrate his first birthday as he came to us a few months after he turned one, but we did make a big deal of it when was two. It was a revelation to discover that despite having almost no language he would 'sing' along to 'Happy Birthday' and is always the first to try and blow out the candles on the cake. It caused much hilarity on my birthday when he sat on my lap and we were barely through the first line of the song when he blew out my candles - Brown Bear was enraged !

Wax on wax off

First job:

This weekend Brown Bear had been staying with my parents so Hubbie decided to enlist the help of Blue Bear with the chores. It seems he's a natural when it comes to washing the car. He did tip the water bucket over a few times which caused some rows with his co-worker, but I was impressed with the finish and would certainly recommend their service to others.

It's been such a pleasure getting to know our boy and seeing how he's changing all the time is just magical. The first I'm looking forward to is taking them both to Legoland in the Summer - I'll keep you posted.

This post is an entry for BritMums #PetitsFilousFirsts Linky Challenge, sponsored by Petits Filous

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Praise Be

I was struck by a few things watching Graham Norton last night. I had always thought highly of Salma Hayek and in quizzes I regularly reply that if I was lucky she would play me in a movie of my life (I wish !) However, my opinion of her has dimmed since she blanked the adorable Tamsin Grieg -  a mortal sin - then every story she told was about how kind or beautiful she is. Kelsey Grammer was marginally less vainglorious, but it's just not the done thing is it ? I know if you are a big movie star you are allowed some vanity, we've all seen Tom Cruise do the whole 'let me phone your Mum' schtick so many times now at movie premieres haven't we ? The last time we saw a similar sofa snub was when Emily Blunt was on the same show as Charlize Theron who just ignored her completely. Typically english Em carried on as normal - as did Tamsin - and I love them both all the more for it. I find self deprecating is so much more palatable than that self important, "don't you know who I am ?"

I realise that all this comes hard on the heels of the passing of Mohammed Ali who has been described in many obituaries as 'confident,' 'brash' and 'a character.' What he did was refuse to be deferential in the face of institutional racism. He was born and raised in a country still coping with collective guilt about slavery and his delivery was poetry crossed with preaching. While he boasted he also made the case for every other black person in America who was not given the platform he had. Mohammed Ali did not wait to be complimented he made bold, arrogant statements about himself knowing that it would cause consternation. He never gave the impression he was seeking approval.

In real life if someone pays you a compliment you're not supposed to say, "Oh my hair ? Well, I'm just glad it doesn't make my face look chubby." Instead of, "Thanks, yes it does suit me doesn't it ?" Similarly when I was asked recently what I do I said, "Oh nothing really, I'm taking care of the boys at the moment." At which my friend interjected with the things I actually do and I still dismissed it as nothing really. 

I've been taking a course about behaviour management and recently we have been covering how to receive and give praise. I'm phenomenally embarrassed by praise. I find it cringeworthy, yet I love to compliment others on their appearance or skills or kindness. Is it a failing that I won't believe a compliment directed at me ? My self doubts seem based on pretty secure evidence to me. I mean I'm the one who is there when I shout at my kids, or refuse to give in despite tears, stamping feet, clenched fists and red faces. I swear in front of them, I close doors to shut out their noise and I pinch their chocolate when they're in bed. So if someone who's only just met me says I'm a great mum who clearly loves my kids I'm hardly going to believe them am I ? What do they know ? 

I know I look like a lumpy bag of old clothes with bingo wings and dark circles under my eyes. It would challenge Gok Wan to coax out the inner goddess from under all that. Not that my appearance is really my main concern at this point. Keeping the peace between the boys and keeping myself sane is my priority. If I can do those two things then maybe I'll boast about my brilliance.

Nah, I don't think so. Oh well, I'd better think of someone else to play me in a movie of my life.