Scaling New Heights

04/02/2016

Maya can now climb out of her travel cot (she’s still in a cot because her room is too small for a bed and a solution to that conundrum has not yet revealed itself to us, and it’s a travel cot purely because I happened already to have one).

The first time it happened, I responded to her call of “Mummy!” at ungodly o’clock, only to have two heart attacks in quick succession – the first upon finding her bed empty, the second on turning round and tripping over a small child standing motionless in the middle of a dark room.

The next time it happened, she actually called through to our adjoining room with a progress report: “Mummy, Maya awake! Maya getting out of bed!” to which I replied (as it was slightly more acceptable o’clock) “Ok, sweetheart, come and get into Mummy’s bed.” Only to be told, “Maya no can come to Mummy’s room. Maya not got slippers on.” Oh yes, my child might be mildly adventurous, but she’s not stupid: chilly tootsies are a fool’s game.

The last few nights, however, she has been wearing pyjamas with feet. And so I am now catapulted from sleep several times a night by a startlingly loud and squeaky voice right next to my ear requesting, “Mummy! Booby please!”.

The politeness of her demands is most endearing, but even more endearing would be being left to slumber peacefully without fear of ambush.

I guess that’s what condoms are for.

 

 

Babel-ing

31/01/2016
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Pondering on Italian vs Romanian syntax, or transfixed by a squeaky-voiced porker…

I was thrilled when a friend recently added me to a Facebook group for parents bringing up children in more than one language. Although I hadn’t noticed any particular feelings of loneliness in my own personal “build a polyglot” project, the moment I was thrust into a cyber world of multilingual families, I realised what invaluable support it was going to provide to our little family over the coming years.

Luckily for me and my (slight) preoccupation with languages, I have a very verbal child. I say luckily, because one side-effect of exposing children to more than one language can be delayed speech, and I would have hated to have spent her first years (patience never having been my strong point) in a haze of furiously impatient foot-tapping whilst I waited to see what sense her little brain had been making of its linguistic baggage. But as we have a child who natters almost continuously from the moment her peepers snap open at whatever ungodly hour of the morning she decides to abandon sleep, we didn’t have to wait long.

And my fascination with being able to witness the real-time language acquisition of a future polyglot is looking unlikely to diminish any time soon.

Bar the four-ish hours a week I am at the office, she is with me all day everyday, so her exposure to English is high. My husband gets home from work at 18:30, and once we have eaten, I make myself scarce and they get the rest of the evening to play in Romanian together until she goes to bed at 20:00. Obviously he spends more time with her at weekends, and I am also starting to encourage him to take her supermarket shopping once a week (two birds, one Rosetta Stone ;-) ). My husband and I speak Italian together, so she hears it when we are en famille, although we both address her in our individual mother tongues. Most people we meet when we are in the village speak to her in Italian. My sister-in-law (who takes her when I am at work, and who we see most days) speaks to her mostly in Italian, with some Romanian, and her cousins use solely Italian. The majority of the television she watches (Peppa effing Pig, for example) is also in Italian.

The result of this linguistic distribution is that English is still very firmly in the lead as her spoken language, although her comprehension of the other two, and especially Romanian, is pretty good. I lost count of how many words she uses in English a long time ago, but she has a surprisingly extensive vocabulary for someone who really only has one constant source of it (me). She also makes a concerted effort to form sentences, often pausing for thought and correcting herself before coming out with such gems as:

“Maya helping Mummy in the kitchen! Tati (Daddy) not helping Mummy. Tati on the sofa watching telly.”

(Observant)

“Mummy not clean the kitchen. Tati clean the kitchen. Mummy come play with Maya.”

(Full of good ideas)

“Mummy! Come sit on the sofa, watch Peppa Pig with Maya.”

(Yes, its Peppa effing Pig again. But so much cheaper than childcare)

“Mummy, Tifoter (Christopher) got no hair on!”

(First experience of the follically-challenged)

“Mummy! Come see Maya’s poo poo!”

(Over-sharing)

“Mummy not got slippers on. Put your slippers on Mummy, very cold brrrrrrr.”

(And turning into an Italian nonna…)

Of course her pronunciation is just as any other two-year old’s: Ks and hard Cs are transformed into Ts, her Fs are still Ps, and her Gs are Ds, to name but a few. Nevertheless, I would be tempted to award a gold star for the amount of effort she puts into trying to make herself clearly understood.

When she first starting talking, she limited herself to using the words she found easiest, regardless of the language and regardless of who she was speaking to. English was always in the lead, but there was a smattering of Romanian and Italian words that she apparently found simpler to get her tongue around than their English counterparts. I’m not sure at what stage she started separating the languages in her mind and then attributing them to their speakers, but we became aware that something was happening at around 18 months, when she turned to me and asked for “more cheese” before turning to show her father “Tati, brânză!”

But she still wasn’t attempting sentences in Romanian, and her use of vocabulary continued to be rather random. She began to use more with her father, but also still threw a fair number of Romanian words at everyone else and an awful lot of English ones at him.

The real breakthrough came not many weeks ago, when he asked her where she was going, and she started to say “to the kitchen” but stopped herself, and changed it to “în bucătărie” (a word that she struggles with, pronunciation-wise). It was around that time that we had also decided that he should perhaps stop showing understanding of the English terms she uses with him (he doesn’t speak English, but hearing it every day has increased his comprehension), to try to encourage her to search for the Romanian ones where possible.

It’s still early days, but given that she shouted “Tati, unde mergi?” at his departing back just the other day, I would say this tactic is starting to give results.

Italian is a funny one. It the the language she appears to speak the least, although it is almost always “grazie”, rarely “thank you” and never “multumesc” and we are frequently asked “cosa fai?” whereas I am only occasionally asked “what are you doing?” and Tati is never asked “ce faci?”. She has also adopted “ecco fatto!” and “ancora!” and doesn’t stint in their usage. It is only when she is with her cousins that I realise just how much she is actually capable of speaking: “Vieni qua!” “Dove vai?” “Maya vuole un biscotto!” ” E uno per Mia (her cousin)!” “Dammi!” “Questo è mio!”

And then once we are home, for a couple of hours her sentences continue to be peppered with Italianisms that she would not usually use with either of us.

I have long known that she understands Italian: when my husband and I are talking at the dinner table, she will often turn to me and make comments (in English) about what we are saying. She has also been known to act as my interpreter on occasion: when her aunt informed us that “Mia si è svegliata” Maya turned to me and said, “Mia’s woken up, Mummy.”

One curious thing is her refusal to say “yes” in any of the three languages. “NO!” she mastered long ago, but affirmation is still merely a slight inclination of the head and a thoughtful “hmmm”. I am tempted to chalk this up as a good thing, especially given that I have the reverse problem.

I am also curious to know whether inflicting three languages on a child is likely to slow them down in any other areas. Not being a follower of developmental milestone predictions – all children seem to be slightly different, and as long as there are no glaring shortcomings in progress or behaviour, it doesn’t seem worth worrying about – I haven’t noticed her being particular behind in anything, but then I don’t know what two-year olds are generally expected to be capable of.

Her counting (only up to ten, nothing fancy) in all three languages is often more hit than miss, she is only marginally more coordinated than her mother, she frequently chomps down on her fingers when posting food into her mouth and she is bafflingly obsessed with Peppa effing Pig; but other than that, she’s a pretty cheerful, outgoing, questioning and independent little girl – which on balance, probably gives me my answer.

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Painting too splodgy for a 2 yr old? Not splodgy enough? Who knows…

24 Months Since Me

24/01/2016

A few weeks have passed since I became the mother of a two-year old.

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Transfixed by pink Smarties.

When discussing this milestone with people, I often hear myself throwing out a “I can’t believe it: two already! Where does the time go?” but in all honesty, the previously dizzying fly-by of days and months hasn’t been lifting the hair from my neck or sending a draught down my spine at all in recent times.

Perhaps because Maya is changing on a daily basis, and my fascination and preoccupation with the minutiae of her development confer a rare sense of life passing at an entirely acceptable speed – neither too fast, nor too slowly, but at the perfect pace for the acquisition of knowledge, skills and character that are currently moulding my little girl into very much her own person.

Or perhaps the sluggishness of my cognitive functions since her birth have conferred a similar lentitude to the passage of time.

Who knows. Who even cares! It simply makes a nice change to be living in the moment as opposed to wishing life away waiting for something more exciting to happen, or panicking because it is all going too quickly and I might not be making the most of things.

Of course, two-year olds come with their own set of issues, not least emotions and convictions far too weighty (and often conflicting) to be contained within such a tiny person. The subsequent noisy overflow can often leave a mummy feeling battered, disheartened and in dire need of a stiff drink. But also secretly rather impressed at her offspring’s demands for recognition of increasing independence and individuality, as well as their surprisingly frequent acceptance of reason and compromise.

Trying to patiently mesh guidance, assistance and a touch of discipline with the respect that even the smallest child rightly deserves must be the most emotionally exhausting part of parenting a toddler, especially when coupled with the need to leave the house on time (or at all), or simply complete a few basic tasks before another day rolls over and out.

Luckily for me, I am finding the joys of this stage of Maya’s life just as consuming as the frustrations.

My fears at being swallowed up by motherhood have turned out to be unfounded. Not because it hasn’t happened, far from it. In fact not only have I been swallowed up – I would go so far as to say that I have been partially digested. But I can’t seem to make myself care: the grumbles provoked by seemingly endless physical and mental exhaustion, or by the dearth of reading, blogging, crossword, and relaxing bubble bath time, are almost always balanced out by my absorption in the riotously entertaining little being who, twenty-four months ago, transformed me from “Me” to Mummeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!.

Happy Birthday, my chatty, cheery, singing and dancing bundle of love.

xxx

Just Don’t Pray

14/11/2015

Charlie Hebdo, the apparently unstoppable rise of ISIS, refugees dying in European waters and now Paris.

Trying to make some sense of it all and attempt an opinion based on head and not heart is the hardest thing. The current trend of relying on the rhetoric of those who (albeit with the best of intentions) insist on turning the grey tones of reality into a feel-good monochrome of good vs evil and right vs wrong, is as harmful to the freedom of thought and expression as everything they believe they are taking a stand against.

Maybe some people sleep more easily at night if they have spent their day championing their chosen unfortunates through social media memes and surprisingly vitriolic attacks on those whose opinions they consider less altruistic – I am sure the certainty of their place on the moral high ground is some comfort to them in an increasingly chaotic world. But I am not convinced that their positions, as loudly as they proclaim them, are thought through with any real honesty.

I previously addressed the apologist “It’s not Islam” argument here, and although I am not going to bore you all with it again, I have to reiterate that although most Muslims are not extremist terrorists, most extremist terrorists are Muslim. And they ARE Muslim. It is dangerously naive to declare otherwise. Islam, like all Abrahamic religions, can be interpreted pretty much any way suits an adherent’s lifestyle. An extremist Muslim is just as much a Muslim as a moderate Muslim, they just take different messages from their holy book. And as long as Allah continues to resist making a personal appearance in order to mediate and clarify, that will remain the case.

It is not ‘racist’, it is not ‘discriminatory’, it is not ‘Islamophobia’. It is simply fact.

A few months after Charlie Hebdo the mass arrival by sea began and after that the heartbreaking images of Aylan Kurdi, sparking a massive response from an aghast European audience who were quick to assure the struggling refugees that they would be welcomed in Europe: an understandable reaction to the sight of a tiny body – victim of his family’s attempts to give him a more stable future, but was it really the solution?

Surely the prospect of a relatively indiscriminate welcome in Europe would (and indeed has) only serve to propel yet more people into the arms of utterly inhumane people smugglers and their unseaworthy vessels?

Surely the prospect of a relatively indiscriminate welcome in Europe would (and indeed has) encourage economic migrants to try to pass as legitimate refugees in order to take advantage of the situation?

Where is this huge influx of migrants going to live?

What are they going to survive on?

Where are they going to work?

How is Europe going to ensure that such large numbers of people are able to fully integrate into European life, and assimilate the European values that have made this the relatively successful group of countries people wish to flee to?

What explanation is there for the fact that there are children of previous Muslim immigrants – young adults born in Europe and brought up surrounded by European life and values – now taking part in murderous attacks on their countries of birth?

Who is going to rebuild countries like Syria if the brightest and best (or at least those with the funds to pay the immoral people smugglers) have been encouraged to attempt new lives for themselves in Europe?

The West has demonstrated time and again its total incomprehension of the cultural and historical mindset of Islamic countries – intervention by Western leaders is partly to blame for the spreading Jihadist mess the world finds itself in today – but is there another way in which the general populations of these countries can be given support other than the minefield (excuse the pun) of military intervention, or mass emigration?

Sadly I don’t have the answers I am only consumed by the questions, and perturbed by the attempts of some to simplify a highly complex situation by whitewashing many of the most pertinent issues, whilst allowing knee-jerk sentiment to drive their social judgements and political demands.

While the voices that appear to be shouting the loudest on the UK platform are those mentioned in the first two paragraphs of this post, the story in Italy is a very different one, partly (amongst a host of other reasons) due to the fact that Italy has long been obeying Europe’s orders to rescue and offer safe haven to boatloads of illegal immigrants, with very little back-up. Most of the memes I have seen circling here depict variations on a theme of happy immigrants living off obscenely generous government hand-outs, whilst Italian grannies hunt through the bins for scraps. No more factual than the mock-up of David Cameron, surfboard under his arm, stepping over Aylan’s corpse, but just as inflammatory – the savaging I got for taking one Italian social media commentator to task still boils my blood whenever I pass the man on the street.

So I was curious to see what would happen when a group of illegal immigrants arrived to be housed in the village. Dad, mum and small son from Ghana, two women in their early twenties from Nigeria, and two sisters of a similar age from Senegal.

The muttering from some quarters can probably be heard in Brussels (the village further up the hill got a large consignment of young African men, and the weight of the villagers’ displeasure led to the Mayor submitting his resignation) but a surprising number have been supportive of this development. And whilst the Ghanaian parents are so reserved I cannot quite see how they are going to begin making their way here, their six-year old son is already the life and soul of the party and as for the two Senegalese sisters, well they have brought with them an almost tangible sense of joie de vivre.

This, I think, has the potential to be a successful immigration story: a drip drip drip of people making it through the net in small enough numbers that the local community, rather than feeling overwhelmed, instead is able to welcome the newcomers; help them to find their feet and to integrate, whilst at the same time being able to enjoy the richness that the introduction of other cultures brings to all our lives.

And now Paris.

Disaffected young men whose apparent inability to find a sense of purpose in their everyday lives made them the ideal target for some particularly amoral puppet masters whose task is made even simpler by the ease with which religion can be interpreted to justify even the most heinous actions. It defies the imagination of normal people, as well it should.

But Paris wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last – that much is certain. And whilst we should not play into the Jihadists’ hands with unjustifiable hatred towards all Muslims (another ‘Holy War’ – Islam against the world, is exactly what they are hoping for), we owe it to ourselves and to the innocent lives lost to be brutally honest about the causes, because only then have we any hope at all of tackling them.

So think about Paris, cry for Paris and mourn with Paris, just don’t pray for Paris – more religion is the last thing they need.

(DISCLAIMER: This jumble of thoughts and ideas masquerading as a blog post is the result of my own difficulty in trying to understand what is currently occurring in the world. I am still very far from understanding much at all, but in a way I’m rather glad to be aware of that…)

*Edited with this message to the posters of this morning’s overly dramatic meme: While it would, have course, have been unforgivable on the part of the world’s press to have neglected to report on the terrorist attack in Beirut (they didn’t), claims that the world ‘only cares about white lives’ is another patently over-simplistic response. The Middle East has been in chaos for a long long time – the loss of life there as tragic as it is pointless – and many Westerners struggle even to begin to comprehend how people’s everyday lives play out against such a backdrop. But France was a country at peace, and we know France. We know Paris. Many of us have walked its streets, spoken to its people. They may speak a different language, dress slightly better, eat slightly differently; but their everyday lives are almost as familiar to us as our own, and if it happened to them, it could happen to us. Just as we are all horrified by cancer, by stillbirths, by death in general – the emotional impact is always greater when these things strike the people we know.

That does not in any way mean that we do not care about the Middle East, or about its long-suffering inhabitants, but their struggle is so complicated so apparently lacking in solutions, and so far removed from our own experiences that we no longer know how to react to it.

Childishly dramatic denunciations of a cruel and heartless ‘world’ (I presume the meme posters do not include themselves in this) are not only divisive, they serve no purpose whatsoever.

Across the Forest and Back

14/10/2015
România

România

I didn’t know just how much I was dreading it, until earlier this year my husband brought up the subject of a return visit to Romania. My rational mind (the one I apparently leave at the back of the cupboard to gather dust for the most part) told me that it was highly unlikely the trip would be a repetition of last year’s fiasco. My irrational, anxiety-ridden (and even slightly paranoid) every-day psyche, however, was spinning me an entirely different line.

So from booking the plane tickets (we’ve been put off the idea of road trips for about the next twenty years) in May, until we got up at 4am on the 27th of September to drive to Turin airport, memories of pain, heatwaves, misery, whiffy long-drop toilets and having my child incessantly whisked away from me by in-laws I was unable to communicate with effectively, ensured the panic bubbled never far from the surface.

Ensuring she wouldn't be forgotten.

Ensuring she wouldn’t be forgotten.

The journey to Torino went suspiciously smoothly, as did the flight to Bacau, the car hire pick-up and the drive to Mother-in-law’s village. But there would be no lulling me into a false sense of security. Not a chance: things could still go tits up and the butterflies tanking around my midsection were assuring me they probably would…

But who could ever have imagined? The fatalistic lepidopterans had got themselves in an abdominal flap for no reason at all – our suspiciously smooth journey was followed by some of the most straightforwardly enjoyable seven days I have every spent away from home.

The only way to travel!

Not the hire car, sadly.

The first few were passed reacquainting Maya with her Romanian family (and reacquainting my backside with the whiffy long-drop: a surprisingly liberating experience when not crippled by serious illness), slightly awkward given that she is currently going through a clingy, anti-social phase that involves much wailing of “Muuuuuummy!” and “Muuuuuuuummy Milllllllllllllk!” whenever someone else so much as looks her way, a state of affairs that led to her Romanian family being deprived of longed-for cuddles whilst being repeatedly visually reacquainted with my breasts. Oh well.

Giro giro tondo...

Giro giro tondo…

Bigger cousins can be useful!

Bigger cousins can be useful!

Mamaia and the wheelbarrow queen...

Mamaia and the wheelbarrow queen…

Apples taste better en famille, even if cuddles are off the menu...

Apples taste sweeter en famille, even if cuddles are off the menu…

When released from familial obligations, we even managed a leisurely trip into Bacau, the nearest town. Bacau may be far from the prettiest place in Romania, but I was pleased to discover that it is home to a fantastic bookshop that enabled me to overheat my bank card and quadruple Maya’s Romanian book collection in an unstoppable orgy of literary acquisition.

Bacau is also home to A LOT of pigeons.

Bacau is also home to A LOT of pigeons.

On Day Three of our trip we hopped back in the hire car, waved goodbye to Mamaia (Romanian granny) and tootled off towards Transylvania and the lovely city of Brașov.

Brașov’s Tâmpa mountain

I would love to say that endless cultural exploration was undertaken, but we were there for less than 24 hours, it was damn cold and we are the perma-knackered parents of a small child. So it wasn’t.

But we did manage to visit the famous Biserica Neagră (Black Church), which had long been on my list of things to do.

Biserica Neagră being admired by babywearing father and ignored by his sleeping sprog.

Biserica Neagră being admired by babywearing father and roundly ignored by his sleeping sprog.

And enjoyed a relaxing wander around the genteelly attractive historical centre – so very different from the unloved scruffiness of Bacau.

Piața Sfatului (Council Square)

Piața Sfatului (Council Square)

Biserica Buna Vestire (Orthodox church) with the old fortress on the hill behind.

Biserica Buna Vestire (Orthodox church) with the old fortress on the hill behind.

For Maya, once she had woken from her sightseeing-induced nap, the highlight was without doubt the fun-filled delights to be found in Nicolae Titulescu park.

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Horses vs Ladybirds

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A dolphin slide. As you do.

Springy

And a “proper” playground!

Next stop after Brașov was Bran, and the castle now renowned the world over thanks to the bloodthirsty writings of an Irishman. With this in mind, I was relieved to find it hadn’t been turned into a tacky vampire theme park and we instead enjoyed a mooch around a very pretty (and utterly unscary) castle, whilst reading about its history and that of its inhabitants and the surrounding area. Mentions of Bram Stoker and his twisted count were restricted to one room, and were factually informative about the lives of both the writer and Vlad Țepeș (the real-life prince of Wallachia on whom the character of Dracula was loosely based), as opposed to a titillatory insight into the lives and loves of fictional bloodsuckers.

Roofs

Nowt scary about this…

stairs (a recurring theme)

Stairs (a recurring theme)

Two recurring themes combined Zzzzzz

One snoring ignorer of sights (another recurring theme)

view

A view from the castle

The next leg of the journey was the one I had most been looking forward to: in fact the prospect of two nights in the depths of the beautiful Piatra Craiului national park was almost the only thing that had kept me going during the those final few weeks of dread as the Romanian holiday loomed.

View from Măgura Village

View from Măgura Village

I had long been dying to explore the fabulously unspoilt countryside; and with a little help from my mate Google I came across the webpage of Carpathian Nature Tours. Based in a lovely little village by the name of Măgura, a German couple have created a simple but functional guesthouse (Villa Hermani) from which they offer their guests the opportunity to explore the surrounding countryside through walking tours which they run themselves, before filling them full of freshly-prepared Transylvanian cooking back at the pension.

While we didn’t opt for any of the tours on this visit, I have promised myself the luxury of returning for a longer stay when we next go to Romania. I shall definitely be dragging the Mothership along with us – there is nobody else I would rather wildlife spot with. I shall also enjoy another opportunity to brush up my smattering of German – we were the only non-Deutsch speakers in the guesthouse, which soon had me morgen-ing, danke-ing and tschüss-ing as if the nearly-twenty years since I was serving kaffee und kuchen in the restaurants of Mallorca had simply evaporated.

I also love sheep...

I love sheep…

Awake, for once!

Awake, for once!

Cabriolet piggy wagon...

Piggywagon cabriolet…

The winding drive back to Bacau was only slightly marred by my daughter chundering all over us both, necessitating a full strip down by the side of the rather busy hairpin road.

Once the smell of regurgitated stomach acid had subsided, we were able to enjoy the sights as we trundled through villages – seemingly every house selling potatoes and other products from outside their back gates. One village almost exclusively sold Kürtös Kalács (chimney cake), a lovely sweetbread baked in the Hungarian tradition.

Potatoes, anyone?

Potatoes, anyone?

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Or onions, perhaps?

I would certainly recommend some Kürtös Kalács...

I would certainly recommend some Kürtös Kalács…

Gypsy girls selling soft fruit.

Gypsy girls selling soft fruit.

I became rather obsessed by the wonderful wooden gates...

I became rather gate-obsessed…

It is important to add to this, however, that not everything you will see on a drive through Romania is pleasant. For all the ornate wooden gates, home-made delicacies and stunning views there are also disturbing traces of the country’s communist legacy. The abandoned farming collective buildings are harmless, but the starkly hideous and depressingly soulless apartment blocks that visually pollute almost all Romanian cities are a reminder of the life changes people had to submit to in the name of Communism.

And it was not just humans who suffered the change – those forced from self-sufficient individualism into the monotony of cramped identicality were also forced to leave behind their four-legged companions.

The legacy of this widespread and sudden abandonment can be seen almost everywhere you go, especially when close to human habitation. Packs of semi-feral dogs wander in search of food and shelter, lie listlessly at roadsides or cross them to their pitiful deaths.

Life in much of Romania is still hard, and many Romanians have neither the means, nor the culturally-imposed compulsion to concern themselves with the welfare of these hopeless canines: animals that were bred over centuries to be the companion of man, only to be kicked once again to the fringes of human existence.

A group that is trying to help where they can is the Romanian Rescue Appeal. Visit their website or their Facebook page to see what they are doing – perhaps you could even be persuaded to sponsor or adopt a pooch!

Back at the ranch...

Back at the ranch…

Our journey ended where it began; back at in the bosom of my husband’s family where we spent the last few days of our holiday enjoying the sight of Maya tentatively interacting with her cousins, granting her Mamaia the odd cuddle and generally enjoying life in the fresh clean air of the Romanian countryside.

I thoroughly enjoyed hearing my daughter’s Romanian vocabulary and comprehension increase daily, and even got a bit of practise in myself, although my 21-month old understands considerably more than I do.

Perhaps she will teach me one day.

...small concessions were made.

…small concessions were granted.

 

The Adventure Continues…

30/08/2015

I am currently sharing my life with a nineteen-and-a-half-month old (which, ironically, is the very reason I rarely find time to update the blog that in part is supposed to be about her). It some ways it’s hard to believe how quickly time has passed since I first held that creased newborn in my arms, yet at the same time I am completely unable to remember her at any stage other than the one she is at right now.

Mummy and baby photo faces.

Soooo photogenic. Must be the jeans…

Thank heavens for the endless photographs and the over-sharing blog posts – they are my memory.

Well what can I say: toddlers are, quite simply, fabulous.

Babies might be cute and cuddlesome, but toddlers are both cute and cuddlesome, hysterically funny and uninhibitedly joyous, madly inventive and endlessly curious, crossly independent one minute and lovingly affectionate the next.

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Allowed to hold her hand, but not to intervene in any other meaningful way.

Being witness to the enviable elasticity of their mental processes as they slowly (and sometimes not so slowly) begin to make sense of both the physical and the social world that surrounds them is a constant revelation.

A very small poggy (effs are all pees at the moment...)

Observing a small poggy (effs are all pees at the moment…)

Socialising with her favourite cousin, on a lilo.

Socialising with her favourite cousin, on a lilo.

It is also mind-numbingly exhausting, especially once they get into the swing of talking which is where we are at now. My daughter natters incessantly from the moment she summons me to her cot in the (far too early) morning, to the (far too short) lunchtime nap, and then on again until bedtime. About 75% of the chatting is done in English, but for every new word she casually tosses into conversation we have to execute a rapid mental-Rolodex through the three different languages, cross-checking the vagaries of her still-dodgy pronunciation against context until we hit the jackpot and can satisfy her with a vaguely coherent reply.

We spent a lovely 20 minutes watching a baby dolphin behaving with similarly carefree enthusiasm for its brand new environment.

Confused by Mummy’s insistence that dolphins, are in fact, not pishies.

We are now lucky enough to have a narrator for everyone’s daily movements (and oh my, you don’t realise just how tedious those movements are until that happens). In her own sweet, but surprisingly comprehensible way she likes to ensure we know exactly what she is doing at all times, what she has just done, what she is about to do and what she would ideally like to be doing if we would just get our acts together and make it happen (ok, the last bit may be more implied than directly verbalised). We are also informed about what we are doing, what we have just done and what she thinks we should really be doing if we would just etc etc. And what she knows or imagines everyone of her acquaintance is doing, has just done and might conceivably be about to do.

She recites the names of every familiar object, creature, pet and person she spots, and enquires after those she doesn’t.

She listens to the vehicles passing along the road below our apartment, and identifies them: Bus, Mummy. Car. Moto (motorbike). Ape (Piaggio 3-wheeled jobby).

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Spying on the neighbours in her big girl pants.

And the winsome inveigling is constant, as she tugs at my hand: Vin (come), Mummy! Play! Sit! Book! Animals! Song! Toys! Go outside!

A person in her own right. Who’d have thought it?! Admittedly still tiny – tiny little arms with tiny little blond hairs, tiny little legs and their tiny little calf muscles, tiny little feet and dinky little toes, wonderfully plumpsome cheeks on a tiny little face: an 80cm tall, 10.4kg version of the adult she will eventually become. My daughter who grew inside me for nine months, but who is an entirely separate being. It is quite a concept to get ones head around.

And then there is the independence – the frequently grazed knees and bumped forehead that speak of a combination of derring-do and still-uncertain coordination. I am torn between wanting to protect her from all harm, but also wanting her to be bold. I would like her to learn how to pick herself up and dust herself off, and I think that some lessons are actually safer if she learns her limitations/capabilities through trial and error, rather than relying on the panicky assumptions of her overprotective parents. But, oh, how poignant are those scraped plump knees…

Showcasing a recent knee 'bua' on the swings.

Showcasing a recent knee ‘bua’ on the swings.

I am hugely relieved to report that we have managed to ditch the pesky nappies, at least in the day time (bar the odd “Mummy, pee pee sofa” moment). Most of my feelings of relief stem from the fact that some months previously I had finally given up on the cloth nappies, bulk bought with such smug glee before her birth – the budget option never managing to fit her nether regions snugly enough to stop major piddle leakage. We went on to “eco” disposables, but even they didn’t manage to assuage the feelings of guilt that accompanied every dirty nappy on the first leg of its journey to the landfill.

Quite a few people have expressed surprise that we managed to crack it so early, but the entire transition was surprisingly smooth. I bought a potty when she was about 8 months old, just to see how she would react. She was unfazed at the first seating and even left a small offering, so we continued – when she woke up and after meals, usually. Sometimes she did, sometimes she didn’t; but it didn’t really matter either way. Then when the weather began to hot up, I decided to intensify things – she was mostly bare when we were at home anyway – so I put the potty out in clear view, and pounced every time she looked thoughtful and at least every hour to ninety minutes thoughtful or not. When we went out we took a little loo seat with us, and the same applied.

Post nap Pooh

Post nap Pooh

During the first few weeks there were a fair few spills – most memorably the turd my husband leapt forward and caught in the palm of his hand (whilst I dithered helplessly), as well as the one he tramped around the house on the bottom of his slipper.

But after about a month she seemed to have got it, and we haven’t looked back although I do have to be vigilant enough to pop her on regularly when she gets distracted by events and forgets to ask.

Multitasking...

Multitasking…

Discipline is another new, if slightly less welcome, component of our everyday lives. Trying to stop a toddler doing things they shouldn’t do and making a toddler do things they don’t wish to do is turning out to be a tricky business indeed. I have chosen not to indulge in any literature on the subject – the conflicting views that exist regarding almost every aspect of parenting just confuse me even further, instead I am plodding on pretty much as I have done since day one in my like-to-think-of-it-as-instinctive-but-am-mostly-winging-it, way of mothering.

Having observed other families in action, I drew the conclusion very early on that consistency is one of the keys.

Consistency is very very tedious and very very time-consuming, but I have a feeling it might pay dividends and have therefore decided it is worth all the mind-numbing repetition. We shall see. I have also opted for the explanatory route: Maya does or doesn’t do something, I explain why in fact she shouldn’t or should do it. She does or doesn’t do it a second time, so I then have to come up with some sort of undesirable outcome should she do or neglect to do it again. And then follow through.

Technology affording a few moments of tranquillity.

Technology affording a few moments of tranquillity.

Sometimes it’s easy: we don’t put crayons in our mouths because they might make us poorly. If you put the crayon in your mouth again we will stop colouring.

Sometimes not so easy: we don’t pick the flowers because the bees and butterflies like to eat them. If you pick another flower…ummmm… Mummy’ll bin all her balcony plants? You’ll never set foot in a garden again? No, not good. Ummmmm.

And often I just have to resort to distraction with a new and less destructive activity.

What I am trying my hardest to avoid, however, is losing the plot completely to screech variations of the following: “If I’ve told you once, I must have told you a million times – STOP PLAYING WITH THE BLOODY TOILET BRUSH!” or “BECAUSE I SAY SO!” or “If you do that again, the gentleman over there (yes, the one minding his own damn business) will get VERY cross with you!” plus the usual threats of punishments never to be carried out, and wheedling promises never to be fulfilled.

And once all you parents out there have stopped rolling on the floor laughing at my naivety, I would like to add that these are very early days. Revisit this blog in a year or two and you could well find a mother who swings between screaming like an incoherent harpy, bribing her child with an endless supply of calorific treats and turning innocent strangers into bogeymen at the slightest provocation.

Enjoying a very rare 'weety in her partay frock.

Enjoying a very rare ‘weety in her partay frock.

So my little girl is getting bigger, and braver, and funnier, more opinionated and more recalcitrant, but also more loving. Arms are flung around my neck endless times a day, accompanied by a sighed Mummy into my ear. She scrambles across the bed in the morning, and before I know it, little hands are cupping my cheeks whilst she covers my face in kisses that make my knees weaker with adoration than any man has every achieved.

I did not know there was love like this – keep bringing it, Little One <3

And there's that family photo face again!

And there’s the family photo face again!

And the word of the week is, BOOBS!

26/06/2015
Newbies.

Newbies.

This week being World Breastfeeding Week, I’ve decided to leap onto the lactatory bandwagon with my own experiences.

Now before I tripped and fell pregnant, I hadn’t really given much thought to breastfeeding beyond assuming that it is what the majority of mothers do unless they have medical reasons that make it impossible. Given that nourishing their young is what the mammary glands in mammals evolved for, and excepting those occasions when nature stuffs up, why on earth wouldn’t a mother use workable boobs for their given purpose? Thought I.

Naive?

Apparently so.

In the run up to Maya’s arrival, I began to hear all sorts of accounts of just how extremely difficult breastfeeding was: impossible, according to many. But, thought I, would it not be a massive evolutionary design fault if such an apparently large percentage of human mothers were unable to feed their young? Some, I can certainly believe (I grew up in a farming community, and have seen for myself that nature does stuff up) but surely they are the exception, and not the rule?

Sometimes these evolution-based thought processes serve me well: in this case they led me to assume reports on the blanket difficulties of breastfeeding had been rather exaggerated, and so I didn’t enter the process paralysed by anxiety which I’m sure played a part in easing me into the boobing journey.

Getting into the swing.

Getting into the swing.

(On other occasions they do let me down a bit: “What evolutionary purpose could possibly be served by a baby crying in its crib until 3 in the morning??” my sleep-deprived self wailed most nights for the first month of my daughter’s life. But of course I was looking at it all wrong. How would our species have even survived to evolve if its newborn young were left all alone in the opposite corner of the cave? Human babies are programmed to want to stay in close proximity to their mothers. Evolutionarily-speaking, it would have been their best chance of survival.)

Another rather startling opinion of breastfeeding that reached my ears, was that it was too intimate. Too intimate? Really?? So how would you define pushing a whole other person out of your lady bits? Coldly formal?

But when put hand in hand with the ‘boobs are for your man’ and the ‘breastfeeding ruins your figure’ school of thought, though, it does indicate just how far we have moved away from our natural state. Personally the fact that my breasts can make food for the baby my womb has grown makes me rather chuffed with my body. It is certainly a huge improvement on its ability to convert one small cream cake into three extra chins, and transform a modest helping of lentils into a biological weapon.

Anytime, anywhere.

Anytime, anywhere.

An additional and oft mentioned factoid was that ‘bottle feeding the baby would allow other family members to help out’, and ‘provide a bonding opportunity for the baby’s father’.

Hmmmmmm. Thought I. Given that breastfeeding is literally the only act that only the mother is capable of, surely there is an entire spectrum of ‘helping-out’ that can be done without needing to resort to rubber nipples. Housework. Cooking. Changing dirty nappies. Rocking the screaming infant. Cleaning up regurgitated milk… What? None of that up your street, Aunty Edna? You’d rather sit with a happily sucking baby in your lap feeling serene and helpful whilst its frazzled mother brings you a cuppa? Right.

And as for Daddy time, surely there is an entire spectrum of possible bonding activities there, as well. Cuddles. Bath time. Skin-to-skin. Wearing your sprog in a sling. Singing it silly songs and showing it that you are the other most dependable person in its little world.

Luckily for us though, (and yes, I am very aware of just how lucky we have been so far) no sooner was Maya laid on my chest, she started snuffling around like a truffle pig and found her target in a matter of minutes. The cluster feeding to get my milk supply up was admittedly not fun, the pain as my boobs got used to the repeated assaults on them was a little grim, the nipple thrush caused by antibiotics for an infected caesarean scar was even grimmer, my one dose of mastitis grimmer still, and the time she ripped a hole with her first tooth (it only happened once) absolutely indescribable.

But I am no martyr – the joy the breastfeeding bond has brought to my personal mothering experience completely and utterly outweighs the discomforts.

And now Maya is a toddler, I can see even more just how important her ‘Mummy Milk’ is to her. Far from just being additional nourishment or a thirst quencher, it offers her relief when she is poorly or in pain, soothes her when she’s upset, relaxes her into sleep or helps her come round from a nap, reassures her when we have been separated, and so much more. She often uses the time to explore my face – breaking off from sucking to poke at and name features “nos, Mummy, ais, teef, air, eeeass.” She strokes my arm, winds my hair round her fingers and stares beguilingly into my eyes. (On other less Madonna and Child-like occasions, she uses my body like a piece of gym equipment – climbing, bouncing, and cartwheeling her way to a full stomach. Without releasing my nipple. Ouch.) They are moments for me to relax and study her too – I have no option, there’s no rushing a boobing baby. The housework can wait. That translation can wait. This is so much more important, and this precious time so short.

Dozing on the job.

Dozing on the job.

Sadly there does not seems to be enough support for facilitating breastfeeding: I only had to look around the ward in the UK hospital where Maya was born to see that there were at least as many brand-new mothers holding bottles (ready made-up formula supplied by the hospital) as there were mothers holding their newborns to their breast. Saddest of all was the unavoidable observation that most of the mothers who had opted for bottle were fairly obviously those for whom the cost of formula would be burdensome. Then in Italy many of the mothers I have spoken to were told they “didn’t have enough milk” and were instructed to supplement with formula or give up breastfeeding altogether. Given how unlikely it is that such a large number of mothers are unable to feed or not producing milk, could it simply be that there is not enough knowledge on the science and mechanics of breastfeeding amongst the professionals?

(In the absence of fresh fruit and vegetables, tinned fruit and vegetables are better than nothing. Most definitely not as good as, but better than nothing. In the absence of breastmilk, formula is better than nothing. Most definitely not as good as, but better than nothing. And even then, only when used by mothers who can afford not to resort to watering it down to make it go further, and who have access to clean water and a means of sterilising all the equipment that goes with it. What a shame the formula companies lack the morals to take any of this into account when marketing their product. Profit is King, and the most vulnerable are expendable.)

Of course there are women that simply don’t want to, and women that simply can’t, but how sad to think that mothers who actually longed to feed their babies naturally might be being deprived of the experience and the related health benefits simply through a lack of information. Or worse, being actively misinformed by the very people they should be able to trust on the subject.

Mummy Milk apparently has a high alcohol content.

Mummy Milk appears to have a high alcohol content.

And then you have the tut-tut merchants that make life just that little bit more difficult and unpleasant. Showing less cleavage than most women do at the beach, or even out on the piss on a Saturday night, is unacceptable to some people if there is a baby involved. Tits for suntanning or attracting sex: fine and dandy. Tits for tots: just like urinating in public, apparently. So a poor mum, already stressed though lack of sleep and the fact that her child is now wailing in public (another tut-tuttable offence), has to try and winkle a boob out of clothing and bra and attempt to drape her and the thrashing child in a scarf, whilst the tut-tut brigade glare at her, just daring her to flash them a bit of side breast so they can stone her for a shameless exhibitionist.

She should just stay at home until she weans the brat.

But honestly, if it offends you, why look? I avert my eyes from builders’ hairy bums and women who persist in bending over whilst wearing skinny hipster jeans and a g-string, for example. I find both a little stomach churning, so I visually opt out, whilst all the while mentally acknowledging their prerogative to dress as they please. You would have thought that trying to do your best by the next generation would merit a little of the same leeway, but sadly some people are so keen to declare themselves mortally offended that they are actually capable of comparing nourishing a baby with urinating, or even masturbating, in public.

I suppose it says an awful lot more about them than it does about the lactating object of their disgust, but still.

And.... she's gone again.

And…. she’s gone again.

And now I’m breastfeeding a toddler (with no intention of stopping until my daughter is ready) I have no doubt that I shall soon be the cause of some loud tut-tutting (and hopefully a heart attack or two). I have already been treated to numerous eye-rolls, suggestions that the cause of any parenting problem I might have is this boobing lark, and an interesting lecture from my local pharmacist about the fact that I am “no longer producing milk, just a plasma-like substance similar to water”. But to anyone who might actually be interested, I shall simply explain that this is not “extended breastfeeding” but natural term breastfeeding. And yes, even I might have found it weird before I had Maya, but now I realise that it is the most instinctive thing in the world and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So VIVE les BOOBS and all the tots who benefit from their milky goodness the world over, not just during World Breastfeeding Week, but now and for always…

Is there no keeping this child awake?

Is there no keeping this child awake?

Being A (guilt-ridden) SAHM

21/06/2015

(Not the same as being a sham, but sometimes feels like it…)

Taming the beast...

Taming the beast…

The joy of spending every waking moment with my toddler is sometimes a little blighted by feelings of guilt – an essentially useless emotion that seems to be hard-wired into the psyche of the majority of women.

I suspect I secretly feel that being a Stay At Home Mother is the “easy” option, which is why I look at friends and acquaintances who have chosen the route of juggling motherhood with a full time job, and I ask myself where in the hell I get off feeling so damn exhausted.

And why, given that my time is not taken up with commutes or meetings or salary-earning whatnot, our apartment isn’t all sparkly and immaculate like something from House & Home.

And why my husband frequently comes home from an unforgiving day at the coal face, only to be handed a frozen pizza and told to deal with it.

And why I rarely have time to write a blog post, and why, when I do have time to write a blog post, I am capable of little more than staring blankly at the screen before giving up on attempts of active creativity and sinking into the entirely more passive distractions of social media, before eventually collapsing into bed.

Admittedly, being a SAHM to a baby is not quite the same as being a SAHM to a toddler. Babies are time-consuming, certainly – they expect frequent doses of milk, cuddles, and clean nappies. But babies are also pretty content to stare at shadows on the ceiling, curtains blowing in the breeze, their hands waving about in front of their faces, and the inside of their eyelids for a respectable part of the day. Occasions for Mummy to get on with daydreaming, telly goggling, biscuit devouring, blog posts and the odd spot of housework – without feeling too guilty about the first three because baby (as opposed to toddler) is unlikely to pick up on the lack of constructive nose to grindstone activity and decide to ape Mummy’s bad, bad habits.

Toddlers, however, seem to be a different species altogether. Obsessively busy little creatures; they are rarely content unless doing something – playing, exploring, dancing, reading, scaling the furniture, wreaking havoc… Many of these activities they claim not to be able to fully enjoy without Mummy’s participation, and a refusal to participate can often result in the last two activities becoming the most prevalent. Toddlers also offer the added disadvantage of being unescapable-from. Small babies tend to stay put, and, if able to successfully block out any sounds of discontent at not being pandered to, you can often snatch a moment to get on with whatever it was you need to get on with. Toddlers, however, quickly develop the ability to track you down most anywhere, whereupon they hang off your trouser leg creating merry hell until, hobbled by descended knicker elastic and worn down by ear-splitting persistence, you have little choice but to hunker, tummy down, on the sitting room floor for a lively round of trains, throw yourself enthusiastically into a squillionth rendition of Each Peach Pear Plum or pull on your shoes for a walk to the piazza that is punctuated by a sit-down on every doorstep, a peep into every doorway, a pat of every passing hound, and endless queries about everybody whose name said toddler has ever learnt.

But whilst there is no doubt I feel permanently guilty for not being a good housewife, I would also feel guilty about leaving my daughter to shed daily tears of boredom so I could obsessively keep the house to the standard I presume most other people’s are (eternally clean, tidy and visitor-ready – a girl can dream…) and wheel out cordon bleu num nums three times a day. Life is short, toddlerhood is short, and although a little bit of learning to amuse herself while Mummy gets things done is undoubtedly good for her; playing, exploring, dancing and reading together are the very reasons I have chosen not to be a working mum.

But does that mean I’m not being a good role model for my girl child? Because sometimes I also feel guilty that the main female in Maya’s life is perfectly happy to play, explore, dance, read, very occasionally clean the house and most days churn out non-cordon bleu but reasonably edible num nums. Will she grow up believing that the sole role of a woman is childcare, sporadic housework, and food preparation?

I am, after all, a twenty-first century woman: not only should I be able to have it all, I should actively WANT to have it all. Society hints heavily that if I am not cross-eyed with exhaustion at the number of plates I have to keep spinning (rather than just because I am kept permanently on my toes by a busy toddler with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to sleep) and weighed-down by the hats I chop and change between, then I am in some way letting down all womanhood and its sacrifices past and present.

Childcare, occasional housework, mediocre cooking, and a few hours a week translating and secretarialising for the local estate agent should not be enough: I should be climbing the walls with the desire to be out there, enjoying the cut and thrust of salary-earning activities and the stimulation of adult company.

But I most certainly am not. Not even remotely.

So is it actually better for Maya to have a Mummy who is low-achieving but true to herself? Would she be better prepared for the big wide world if she was thrust into the toddler-eat-toddler jungle of daycare? Or is playing, exploring, dancing, reading and going for walks with Mummy (with forays into the piazza and to her cousins’ house in order to learn how to play nicely with the other bambini) all that she currently needs at the grand old age of seventeen months?

Who the hell knows.

So I might as well just continue doing what feels right to us, and try to enjoy the guilt as much as I enjoy menstruation – after all, they are just a small part of what it means to be born with two kisses for chromosomes.

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Girl Power is simply incomplete without wonky pigtails and an engine-less motorbike.

Building a Polyglot from Scratch

30/03/2015
Library corner.

Library corner. Just because.

Building a polyglot from scratch is proving to be a fascinating process.

Up until a few months ago it all felt purely theoretical – I’m not sure I ever really believed that Maya was going to be anything but confused by having three different languages spoken to her on a daily basis – but her communication skills have enjoyed enormous leaps since the beginning of the year, and it is suddenly becoming astonishingly apparent that this still-tiny person really does have a linguistic trio circling around her left hemisphere.

As I spend by far the most time with her, and speak English to her 90% of the time (occasionally lapsing into Italian when we are in the company of Italians so as not to exclude them from our interactions, plus throwing in the odd badly pronounced Romanian word or phrase when the occasion calls for it) at least three-quarters of her current vocabulary is in English.

But that doesn’t change the fact that she has an obvious understanding of the other two languages. More so Romanian than Italian – probably due to the fact that her father dedicates much of their communication to activities that stimulate wider comprehension and usage of his mother tongue (as I do in English), whereas her Italian interactions are briefer and more simplistic – but given that a good 85% of those that speak to her outside the house use Italian, I imagine the gap will narrow fairly fast.

And once she starts pre-school, probably in September 2016, I think it is highly likely that Italian will eventually gain a slight lead on both other languages.

(One current and interesting advantage to this linguistic soup seems to be the availability of different options for each item of vocabulary; enabling her to choose the easiest to wrap her toddler tongue around and thus facilitating communication just that little bit more.)

I’ve recently cast my eye over several articles on the subject of bilingualism. One was debunking claims that speaking two or more languages increases the speaker’s intelligence – something I would find hard to believe anyway given the number of unenlightened multilingual souls I have met over the years, as well as my own intellectual shortcomings, but I can’t help feeling speaking more than one language still has more advantages than disadvantages:

– It widens the network of people with whom one can effectively communicate.

– It helps dispel insular tendencies by increasing awareness and understanding of other cultures and mindsets.

– It can create employment opportunities; invaluable when (like me) you have no other real qualifications to speak of.

– It offers the speaker the potential to read loads more books (although it sadly doesn’t guarantee he/she will have the time to indulge that possibility).

– It apparently also wards off dementia (I would give you an update on that over the next few decades, but the way my memory is going I will probably have forgotten where I left the blog…).

– And of course, for those who are fruit of a union between different nationalities, it allows them to communicate fully with both sides of the family.

Given all of the above, I am always surprised when I come across parents who choose to deprive their offspring of the maternal or paternal mother-tongue.

When I was growing up as the bog-standard English child of two resolutely English (with a small smidgen of Scots on each side, wow) parents in England, I used to fantasize about the vastly more exotic existence that could have been mine if my progenitors had been of furrin’ extraction. Spanish, for example. Or Italian. Or one of each. Gasp. But it was not to be. Sigh.

So whenever I met anyone who did boast a furrin’ parent, I would be all over them like a rash trying to discover just how much more fascinating their life was. And shockety shock, many of them transpired to have been cruelly deprived of the second language, thus rendering (to my mind anyway) the possession of an exotic furrin’ parent utterly pointless.

In some cases I imagine it is a result of a desire to integrate, especially if the foreignness is of a sort frowned upon by a close-minded general public.

In others the education authorities are to blame: a Argentinian friend and her Italian husband living in France were told (twenty-odd years ago) that they should only speak to their daughter in French so as not to put her at a disadvantage when she started school. Another Argentinian friend who moved to Italy with her Italo-Argentine husband and their four children (twenty-odd years ago), was told to stop speaking Spanish to the children immediately so that they would better fit in. Even now I am told on a daily basis (mostly by Italian pensioners who I roundly ignore) that I should be speaking Italian to Maya or she will never ever pick it up – one English mother versus a thousand Italian villagers is apparently enough to tip the linguistic balance in my favour.

(Too late for those now monolingual children, but I am hopeful that received wisdom on the subject in professional circles has advanced since then, as well it should have given the incredible capacities of the young mind.)

But parents who are not facing serious integration issues, and who have not been told to withhold their mother tongue? Those parents I really struggle to understand, especially in Italy – a country with an undeniably lovely language, but one which is next to useless outside its borders. I know a couple who are currently depriving their children of Romanian and Spanish in order to bring them up as monolingual Italian speakers. Another couple who could be using the mother’s heritage to raise Russian speakers (an increasingly sought-after language, especially in this area), but are instead sticking to solo italiano. Another Romanian mother who has chosen to speak only Italian to her half-Romanian offspring.

And they are far from being alone.

Aside from being denied the opportunity of being able to communicate fully with immediate family members, I can’t help feeling that these children are going to be extremely cheesed-off adults at the realisation that they have been deprived of their linguistic heritage – often potentially very useful languages that they now have to laboriously learn from scratch with their decidedly less-elastic adult brains.

But who knows: we are, after all, only fourteen and a half months into our Polyglot build job, with a very long path to tread before we discover whether we have contributed to the production of a linguistically fulfilled adult, or one who still calls every single thing her backside comes into contact with “chair” because we fried her brain early on with too many words.

Searching for enlightenment, be it linguist or otherwise.

Seeking enlightenment, be it linguist or otherwise.

Invisible, but There

23/03/2015

For someone who is happy to shine the spotlight on some of the most intimate corners of her life, I find it surprisingly hard to write about depression.

Perhaps because there are still so many people who don’t believe it exists (our pharmacist, for example, who just the other day expounded at length to the person in front of me that depression was nothing but a luxury for those who could afford to waste their spare time feeling feel sorry for themselves – awkward when my turn came and he looked down at my prescription…).

And even those who think they do, often still find it impossible to really comprehend – but why are you down? What’s happened? Have you tried positive thinking? Cheer up!

Lastly, I am the girl who, when she is eventually persuaded to visit the GP yet again with her newborn-kitten-immune-system, usually ends up replying to his/her “How are you?” with an overly cheery “I’m absolutely fine, thanks! You?” before downplaying whatever physical ailment is rendering my life miserable, and walking out with weighty feelings of guilt at having wasted such a busy person’s time with inconsequential things.

But if I’m going to write honestly about motherhood, there will be times when I have to write honestly about related topics regardless how squirmy that might make me feel, because there is always the chance that someone out there will read what I’ve written, say “Phew, I’m not alone” and feel just a little bit better.

I’m sure many British readers will remember the heartbreaking news story that ran in December of last year: Charlotte Bevan, whilst in the grip of post-natal psychosis, walked out of the maternity hospital in which she had given birth to her first child, before ending both their lives at the bottom of the Avon Gorge.

The tragically raw sadness of it all still haunts me today, in part because that might well have been me.

Before even starting to try to conceive, I visited a doctor and posed the question that had most been bothering me: if I fall pregnant, can I continue with my antidepressants? His unequivocal answer was that extensive studies have shown that any potential physical effect on the baby was far outweighed by the benefits of having a (relatively – pills don’t cure everything, you know) emotionally stable mother.

And thank goodness I took that step in the UK, because the line taken by Italian doctors proved to be vastly different as I discovered at my first obstetrical appointment. When asked if I was on any medication, I obediently listed my asthma drugs (all fine) before also mentioning the antidepressants; and was immediately told to come off them.

So a woman suffering from long-term depression is forbidden to take the drugs permitting her to keep her head above water precisely when she is facing the most vulnerable, anxiety-inducing, hormonally charged period of her life?

What a terrifying prospect.

I quoted England and stood firm, but it made me realise that I was unlikely to have an ally in the Italian medical system if any issues arose. Although the only issue that might possibly arise would be post-natal depression, wouldn’t it?

In fact it would be as early as week eight of my pregnancy that the elation would abruptly wear off.

I vaguely remembered that I had been excited at the prospect of becoming pregnant. I had a distant recollection of the giddy joy of producing two blue lines on my piddle stick. I dimly recalled looking dreamily at my partner and hoping that our child would be just like him…

I remembered feeling all those things, I just couldn’t recall how they actually felt; if that makes any sense.

Instead what I suddenly felt was incredibly angry, anxious, uncomfortable, panicky, and most un-elated to be pregnant. I wanted to thump people who gushed about my new status, I felt numb at all my scans, I couldn’t bear to be near my partner (although I remembered being very in love with him only a short time before), I no longer wanted to marry him and I most definitely did not want to become a mother.

I toyed at length with the idea of abortion – what if I never came to terms with my impending motherhood? How unfair would it be to bring an unloved child into the world and saddle it with a disconnected mother?

(Luckily the memories of those vanished feelings were there to assure me that, despite what my brain was telling me, this was actually a very much desired pregnancy.)

It was a shockingly lonely, frightening and sad time – thank goodness I had my mother and her infinitely sympathetic GP on the end of the phone or I might not have made it through here in Italy where a brief mention that things were not as they should be to my obstetrician elicited a curt “not my department, I’m afraid” with zero eye contact and not a life line in sight.

Although it felt like an endless spiral of awfulness, the worst of the fog finally lifted at my sixteen week scan when I was told I was having a girl – initially I had been keener on the idea of a boy, but when the blackness hit, the prospect of bringing up a member of the opposite sex suddenly seemed insurmountably terrifying.

But the bumplet cradled a daughter, and that seemed to be the catalyst I needed to take a good look at the screen, fall madly in love with the squirmy little foetus displayed there, and slowly begin to come to terms with the implications of her existence.

It transpired that for those two months I had been in the grip of pre-natal depression: a condition I had previously never heard of and was completely unprepared for. And, despite being released from its suffocating shackles in time to “enjoy” the remainder of my pregnancy, the niggling worry of what might be in store for me after the birth was never far away.

With my history of depression and this episode of pre-natal depression, the English GP felt she had to warn me that rather than post-natal depression, what I and those closest to me had to diligently look out for in the days and weeks following the birth would be post-natal psychosis. If it did strike, she said, it could strike quickly and have frightening ramifications.

But I was apparently to be one of the lucky ones: I got to have a healthy baby, fall instantly in love with my healthy baby, bond with her with delicious ease and generally suffer from very few side effects to her arrival – major sleep deprivation and a carved-up tummy notwithstanding.

And although there have been periods over the last fourteen months when that old familiar black cloud has hovered, I have to deal with it slightly differently now I have a daughter to protect from its negativity. So I push away the fact that I can’t bear to look at myself in the mirror, and instead look into that beaming little face. I ignore the numbness of limbs and thoughts, and instead plunder the limited resources of my sluggish mind to slap on a big smile, grab her a book or dive into the colourful depths of the toy box. I sing her her favourite Beach Boys song and make a determined effort to lose that black cloud in the carefree playfulness of babyhood.

During these moments my thoughts often return to Charlotte Bevan, and the infinitely sad realisation that she will never be able to enjoy these most blissful parts of motherhood (or suffer through the frustrations), all because her brain betrayed her at the most vulnerable moment in her life.

And nobody noticed until it was too late.

I am so very lucky.


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