A special space to fight nightmares

Despite my kids both generally sleep through the night since they were around 7 months old, they have had periods when they had regular really frightening nightmares and have been waking up in the middle of the night, absolutely unable to fall back asleep as terrified to remain alone in their rooms.
Unfortunately we have the smallest double bed size in our room, a queen size, and my husband is quite big. We found in the past that letting them sleep with us was simply another nightmare for us, as not only there was definitively not enough space for 3 of us (let alone 4 when they had a nightmare during the same night at different times) but also because they move a lot in their sleep.
In the past we tried to lie next to their bed to comfort them so they could fall asleep again but they often cannot let go completely as they know that we will go back to our bed as soon as we think they are asleep again: that’s when they open their eyes wide open and they start crying terrified as we were about to leave the room…!

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14 years of loneliness in great company today

I care for my husband. Even on the days I feel miles away from him.

On the days I cannot forgive him for having once again forgotten to take down the compost bin the only time I mentioned I might not have a chance to do it myself, hoping one of us will remember this week as I always do. Or for having forgotten to help with our daughter’s potty training or our son’s homework, for wasting the left overs in the fridge as always even if  we said we will finish the following day, for often missing to tell me about a work engagement that forces me into babysitting duty last minute. Even on the days I feel so disconnected to him, to the point I don’t want him to look at me or touch me because I feel uncomfortable with myself and I might not even know why.

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Lots of ideas for a birthday party…

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When you become a parent one of the tricky things that starts appearing into your life planner once a year is the dilemma of your child’s birthday party.

You want them to have a great time to remember and celebrate something they like a lot as children, growing up (!), but at the same time you may feel overwhelmed to invite and entertain 20 kids in your tiny flat or be concerned they will destroy your house or garden!

Here are a few local ideas I used for my kids. They were born in the spring but weather is always a question mark in the UK so I used lots of indoor options as well 🙂

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When you finally have a real choice

Last Sunday I had the most amazing 5 hours in Camden in a long time! Did I go to the zoo? Did I have a stroll on the canal or in Regent’s Park? Did I shop in the market? I went for a workshop at London Meditation.
The location was the perfect environment for this kind of ‘retreat’: a 3rd floor flat full of light, with big windows on beautiful roof views and 2 big balconies, spotless cosy main room with the perfect temperature, comfortable rug, chairs, pillows and blankets, well studied in every single practical detail (like the kitchen and a second room if in need of privacy for a moment).
The topic I had chosen to attend that day was self compassion mindfulness as too many times I catch myself being extremely judgemental towards my limits and poor choices, totally ignoring all the good things I achieve on a daily basis.

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48 hours on the Amalfi Coast

If you like the seaside, good food and hiking as much as I do, then the Amalfi Coast is definitively the place to visit! The mountains called Monti Lattari which are part of a natural reserve arrive straight on the sea in this beautiful land with spectacular little towns built on the sides of those cliffs. I discovered Amalfi for the first time in September this year. I had planned to go to Salerno to see a gig of my favorite band when I was a teenager. Since it was on my 34th birthday and I find that beautiful places heal my soul and help me to cope with the family routine of washing up / dropping kids at school / going to work / ordering the grocery / ecc, I decided to give myself a mini break of 2 days and visit the area before going to the concert on the Friday night. It turned out that the trip to Amalfi itself was even more worth it than the gig! Here are my suggestions when you visit the area.

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Unusual protest

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For those who have walked for a decade from Brixton Hill into Brixton Water Lane on their way to Hootananny or Brockwell park, the meaning of this graffiti is much deeper than just some vandalism… If you want to understand more about it, read my previous post about Reclaiming Brixton.

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Miracles happen (with a little help from yourself: to believe)

A year has passed since the amazing unplanned home delivery that gave life to my daughter and I struggle to believe that this fearless, brave, hard working woman that gave birth to her that way was actually me. I wish I would remember every day I am capable of showing such strength and determination. I usually feel insecure deep down and wonder if I am a good enough mother, a competent employee, a present wife, a loving friend… I always doubt about myself, I tend to self sabotage my actions. But if I look back at that night of labor completely relaxed on my own, I believe I probably managed for once in my life to finally tune into my body and listen to what was happening, not fighting the pain, not even letting the fear take me to the core, at the bottom of my stomach. That was probably the first time I learned to let go: I knew what was coming and accepted that contractions would get stronger and stronger and by doing so, funny enough, they felt less painful. I also know now that her safe arrival in such an empowering way was actually a miracle of the God of my understanding, one of the many he performs in my daily life, the one and only that looks after me so well. My higher power helped me by raising my determination to make things different in my life in general, and more specifically in my second delivery. In fact, after the birth of my son 3 years beforehand, I was extremely anxious at how things would go with the delivery of my second baby. I remember having panic attacks in the last few weeks that brought to her safe arrival, thinking of all the things that could have gone wrong, as first time around… A nightmare period of my life! Luckily I had booked myself in early April for a whole day workshop at Active Birth Centre with Alice Charlwood, which I strongly believe made the absolute difference, together with my determination not to repeat the past and my Higher power’s plans for me.

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The political illiterate

The reason why I always find time to follow a bit of politics, even local movements and events, is contained in this smartly touching quote by Bertold Brech.

The worst illiterate is the political illiterate.
He doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events.
He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions.
The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics.
The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.

Good parenting: common opinion VS personal experience

What makes us good parents? Some people would easily fall into the cliché that the excellent parent is the one whose kids never have tantrums: they always do as they are told and are polite in public. This would apparently represents the proof that manners and hierarchy were well passed on to the new generation.

Actually, I would deeply suspect of those situations because if children are too compliant, it may not be a sign of good parenting: the risk is to simply erase their personality, asking them not to ever disagree or have uncomfortable feelings so that you as parents are always in a good place and don’t have to fight to get your mission accomplished (getting ready to go home, having a meal sitting down in a quiet restaurant and so on…).

The truth is we actually measure ourselves as good parents in those difficult times, when we manage to teach our children how to deal with their own emotions and why despite they want to do something one way, they will have to accept the frustration of doing it a different way due to the circumstances.

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Returning to work after your maternity leave… or not?

It may seem yesterday that your tiny little baby entered your life changing it forever in all the amazing ways they do (and all the hard working, depressing and exhausting ways too, to be very honest 🙂 ). Therefore, the end of your maternity leave feels so far ahead you have not even considered your options. But as a matter of fact, even when you take the maximum time allowed in the UK (the entire year from when you stopped working, not from when your baby was born), it goes faster than you think and one day all of the sudden you may have 2 or 3 months left to decide what to do and inform your employer as well. It is a very important decision you are taking, that will strongly influence your child’s life and yours as well for the years to come.When you evaluate what is the best solution for your situation, there are a few factors to take into account. Here is a guide of what I personally experienced first and second time around (having a 3 years gap in between my two children).

Financial affordability.

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The end of a good day (E-mail to a CODA fellow)

Dear friend,

Today was my first day alone with the kids and my in laws who are visiting us, whilst my husband had to work all day.

I had a very good day, despite my deepest fears shared with you last week.

I believe everyone had a great time actually, one of those days when you feel that some people’s happiness is not at the expense of others (often mine, as for when I remained silently in hurt and deep pain during my birthday weekend in Bath for everyone else to enjoy their time, you know about that too).

My needs were met: I went to an amazing new Aeriel Yoga class at lunch time on my own for 1 hour and I also took the whole family to Horniman museum and gardens in the afternoon, a place that my husband, the kids and I really enjoy during our spare time.

I also think I met other people’s needs with little compromises, for instance when I invited my young sister in law to stay at mine for dinner with her boyfriend as I had sensed they did not really want to leave us after the afternoon together. I had 6 portions of chicken for my 2 kids, my 2 in laws and the young couple and I cooked myself instead one of my favourite dishes, fried eggs with toasted bread.

Everything that I have done, I have done it wholeheartedly for myself and others and because I wanted to. I have not forced myself nor anyone forced me to do it. I also did not do it to gain more love, more esteem, more gratitude, to be right, to show with superiority how one should host, to expect anything in return when I will be the guest of my in laws or when I will need babysitting from my sister in law.

Despite today went well, I have no expectations of tomorrow to be that good neither, nor for the rest of the holidays: I take the present as a gift and I feel lucky enough that my needs were met today and, as it seemed, everyone else’s needs too.

Tonight I feel so emotional to realise how much I have grown, how strong and mature I behaved and sad at the same time that my husband was not there to live this day with us, after the argument we had with his parents trying to put a boundary they did not appreciate (about their visit here and the fact that they increased from 5 to 9 nights at our flat without asking us if it was OK).

Before I go to sleep early to end my lovely long day, my thoughts goes to you my friend, as I truly think a lot of what happened today was a result of the chat we had last Saturday morning in my out reach call, and could not have really happened especially without your questions ‘What do you want from this time together? How can you turn this weekend alone with them into a win-win situation?’, the rephrasing ‘It’s probably not true that you don’t count anything for your in laws, could it be that you tell yourself instead you don’t count much for your in laws’ and your advice ‘to drag myself back at the centre of the picture’.

I am so grateful for your friendship my CODA fellow, and the kind wisdom you showed me on both occasions lately when I phoned you in great despair. I hope you will have as a peaceful and inspiring Sunday as my day was today,

good night for now,

Trilingual

World schools for little humans

I am in shock tonight. From my Facebook feed I just realised that for many of my childhood friends who I have met through the years in my country of origin before moving to the UK, it’s their kids first day at primary school this September… Because I chose to come to live my life in England before starting our family, my son who is their children same age (6), has instead just started year 2 a few days ago: he reads 4 books at a time, write stories, sometimes teaches me some physic or geographic notions and solves long rod equations…

I know what emotions my friends are talking about these days, I lived them 2 years ago when I left my son in his brand new reception class, aged 4 and wearing his very first uniform instead of our grembiulino (typical Italian school wear)… And in a few years time he will be anxious about his GCSEs and his A Levels instead of fearing the scary Baccalauréat (very strict French equivalent of A Levels)…

I wonder tonight what it would be of our lives if my husband and I had not started this adventure 12 years ago? What would it be of our little man today if we had not made of him a little Brit whose favourite food is home made pizza and favourite movie character is Monsieur Hulot? His prospectives and habits would be very different and our experience as parents would be very different too…

And now that Brexit is happening, when he will grow up what will he feel he is deep down in his heart, Italian, French or British?

I hope that with his unique experience of an Italian father, a half French mother and being raised in London, within such an open and multiethnic environment, one day he will simply reply ‘just a human being, as we all have the same needs despite cultural and social diversities…’

Raising boys – A mothering course

Four years ago I attended an amazing free course held at Rosendale Children Centre in Herne Hill, called ‘Raising boys’. Despite at first glance it may seem based on the homonym famous book, the course is instead more specifically inspired by some sad statistics in the UK. In the past decade it was noticed how in Great Britain, taken the whole number of young people who commit crimes, suicide or drug abuse, the percentage of male components was much higher than female ones. Getting a closer look at UK society patterns, compared to some countries such as Sweden for instance (where the percentage between females and males in those categories was nearly the same), anthropoligists realized that it may be influenced by the fact that boys are mainly raised by their mothers, since British fathers often work much longer hours and/or delegate all educational responsibilities to their females counterparts. Instead in northern European countries, children are generally raised in a more tribal way: each kid is actually everyone’s child, so they have many female and male role models around them to get guidance from. So the course is basically designed to give tools to female parents to approach the emotional world of their male child in a more effective and connected way, since they may not have the same way of communicating simply for being of opposite sexes.

 

Among the hundreds of amazing tips I learned from this 8 hours course spread in 4 weeks with free creche provided (if booked well in advance as they had limited spaces), one concept that stood out for me (first time I had heard of it, of many more in future) was how it is much more beneficial to encourage positive behavior rather than punish negative behavior (also promoted by another great parenting workshop, the Triple P course, still held at Rosendale). By repeatedly outlining when the child has done right, you increase their self esteem and feed their memory with the message that they can do very good most of the times, and not bad all the time.

 

The ‘Raising boys’ course purpose though, was also distinguishing between internal and external motivators. Unfortunately external motivators such as money, fame, food, prison, may not last long within the ethical development of a child as they can soon become the wrong boosters: once those are not achievable anymore (or if they become avoidable, such as not being caught by the police), one young man can feel completely lost and discourage by life struggles such as finding a new job or healing from a sentimental break up. It is therefore important to try and link positive behaviors to internal motivators such as pride, love, connection, happiness (the course gives of course lots of ideas to achieve this).

 

Another little important note was to help the child visualize progress such as with reward charts and another essential point was to never go back due to a bad behavior, in the sense that, to give an idea, a negative act could never erase the award of a sticker for a good one (crucial concept to develop the child’s emotional intelligence in a positive way). We were explained how a child moral is formed in their brain: how they finally follow the rules word by word when they are about 3 years old, only to start questioning them around 6! We were given important tactics to react to our boys misbehavior such as checking if they really had heard or understood our command in the first place, or reminding them rules before going to specific places (we are going to the supermarket: do you remember the rules? We don’t run in the aisles, we only put things in the trolley after having checked with mummy, we speak using our soft voice…).

 

We were made aware that it’s how little boys face changes from a very young age (if they can ‘survive’ in a positive way), that will determine how they accept every difficult moment in their life, even retirement… Another powerful tool which I heard for the first of many more times since then, is to always acknowledge their feelings and give a name to them. It’s OK to feel the way they do, it’s what they do about it that may need change (instead of having a tantrum in the middle of the library basically!).

 

Since Feb 2013 I have been going back to my notes from that workshop every now and then, but always regularly, at least twice a year, both for my son or my daughter. And I started understanding parenting much better for the first time since I had become a mum: it was the first time that I realized I did not need to make it alone, without tools and professional tips from parental advisors… I wanted to do a good job as a mother and instead I felt I was really struggling at times! I would not say anything wrong if I stated that it was thanks to this very first course that I have become and I am trying to become every day little by little the parent I want to be: it gave me clarity on what mother I wanted for my kids but also how to get there, without denying my own needs and struggles at the same time. That course was substantially the start of the end of the shock that becoming parents can bring, no matter how maternal you have been or how much you have wanted children.

Last letter to the elders

Tonight, whilst walking in the streets of Salamanca, discovering this beautiful Spanish town for the first time, beginning this way our summer holidays whilst we are headed to Portugal, I receive an unexpected phone call on my mobile.

The number is saved on my phone list as Mr and Mrs Blueman. I have just sent them recent pictures of the kids before leaving London, as I do twice a year to keep them posted since they don’t use internet (they are both over 80), so I assume they are calling to thank me and congratulate us on how our children have beautifully grown once again since our last letter.

When I pick up it is in fact Mrs Blueman who has just received my envelope and comments on the snaps I sent them with joy and enthusiasm as usual. Unfortunately she has no good news for me: she is the only one on the phone as Mr Blueman passed away a few months ago. He was very ill so I knew I could get this phone call at any point in the last couple of years, yet my heart is filled with sadness.

Who was Mr Blueman to me?

Many years before I could even imagine to move to the UK, John Blueman was the English man who bought in 1998 from my French grandfather Roz Al Len, my dearest grandparents country house that my grandfather had commissioned in the sixties on a land he had purchased next to the sea, and where all my best summer holidays of my childhood memories lies.

I was devastated when my grandparents, who felt too old to continue looking after this big countryside residence properly, decided to put ‘her’ on the market. Every time I travelled to Brittany since I was parted from ‘her’, my parents first and then myself (when I got my licence) would drive in the area and would stop on the opposite side of the road to look at it from outside ‘her’ gate, to see if ‘she’ was loved and well kept as we would have, with a pinch of jealousy that it was not our family’s anymore.

Crazy as I am, after living a few years in London and gaining confidence in the language and the British culture, I found the courage to write a letter to ‘her’ new owner of whom I knew the last name, I obviously knew his address in France and I was starting to understand the culture so it made me feel a bit closer to him.

I sent him a collection of photocopied picture of the house through my childhood years, starting from a picture of my mother in the garden being pregnant with me. I explained how much the house they were now living in had meant to me. And I asked to forgive me if I had bother them, but if they could let me know the day they would sell it, I might be interested in buying it back.

I could not be more surprised of their reaction. A few days later I received a letter back from Mr Blueman sending pictures of Roz Al Len in the past decade, how it had changed under their care, what plants and parts of the garden they had improved or needed to alter and how they had modernised and furnished it internally.

They were very happy I wrote to them that letter as they loved Roz Al Len as much as I did. I found out from them only then that some other cousins of mine had got in contact with them in the past in quite rude ways by stopping by and demanding to visit the property with dramatic tears in their eyes. But my approach had been completely different and a new friendship stroke up from that fearless letter I decided to send them in 2010.

Since then we started writing each other twice a year, at Christmas and at the beginning of the summer for the kids’ birthdays. Lately I felt life was so busy that I was usually just posting pictures with only a couple of words included with them. Below is probably the last proper old style hand written letter that John Blueman have read from me, could he rest in peace.

Dear Sarah and John,
Thank you for your lovely Christmas card, we received it just in time to know at which address (in France or the U.K.) to post our pictures this year!

We hope this finds you at best as you can be. So many things happened since our last letter…
Our son has started primary school and our daughter, always so active, is already riding child scooters despite being only 18 months old!

We spent a few days in Brittany this summer, at my mother’s flat: both my parents were there and thoroughly enjoined the kids company as you can imagine. When we drove passed Roz Al Len we noticed it was in not too bad conditions, have you had a chance to be back there since, despite the illness?

Unfortunately my beloved aunt passed away the day we were returning to the UK when we were boarding the ferry at St Malo, as if she wanted to make sure we would enjoy our time before leaving us and don’t let us feel sorrow for her whilst we were all together…

It is a very sad Xmas as every year I would post her the same pictures I was posting to you but this time there will be only one letter leaving from London…

On another note G and I went to New York for the first time in October, whilst G’s brother and sister in law looked after the kids, we enclose a picture of us there to show it was an amazing holiday!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from our quartet with love

The end of an era

When your youngest child stops going to the nursery which the older siblings attended too before them, because he/she starts to move on to the next school level, it feels like the end of an era. You know the whole staff names by heart, you remember how each Xmas show went every year, you recall when that class room was painted in green and now those walls are orange… You are so used to the journey from home to the nursery, you cannot imagine you will never do it again (unless you have another baby in the meanwhile!).

It was a difficult choice for us to make, we absolutely loved our kids first nursery and will never stop recommending it. However we feel that our youngest is ready to move to bigger spaces in a preschool nursery for kids from 3 to 5 years old as her older brother did at the same age. And the fact that we are now offered 30 hours a week for free (9am-3pm Monday to Friday) with only lunches and after school clubs to pay the days we are working until 6pm, is also another main reasons that lead us to give our notice to our previous nursery. Not only she will have teaching staff who is more specialized in her age group, with amazing indoor and outdoor spaces and activities; for us it will also feel like we had an increase of salary without actually having to ask for one… When you combine budgeting factor with thriving conditions, the answer becomes quickly quite clear.

 

Dear nursery manager,

It is with great regret that I am giving our 8 weeks notice to remove my daughter from your nursery.

My husband and I want her to follow her brother’s step and have a year at a preschool nursery before she will start reception in Sept 2018.
It was a very difficult decision to take, our children had the best years of their toddlerhood at your safe, loving and stimulating nursery.
Their little personality will have been shaped for ever by the input of the Montessori method and the great care of your staff as a whole.

We wish all the best to the school, the teachers and the kids and we never know, you may have a third little infant of ours attending in the future or maybe not, we will see!

Kind regards,
C.

Remembrance day

You are in every single tear, in every single breath of mine, you are the wind in my hair, the rain on my face, a leaf on a stream, a butterfly on a flower…

You will have never known newspapers headlines with pictures of Syrian kids' little bodies on a beach, the Bataclan massacre, Brexit and Trump USA president, gay people mass murdered in Orlando or tortured in Cecenia…

I hold the phone where your number is still saved, from which I won't be able to call you anymore; my mother sits in the evenings at the same caffe where you won't join her anymore.

Are you really gone forever? Or are you just hiding in a Tibetan monastery meditating and contemplating nature's beauty, far away from the pettiness of the human beings that you despised so much?

Wherever you are, we terribly miss you and we hope you may rest in peace

Emilian mountains for every season

My husband and I were raised in Tuscany, Italy. Many Italians actually don’t live the country for their holidays as there is so much to see all around Italy and every region is so different from one another that you feel a tourist in your own country even just after a few hours drive. That is probably why, when coming to visit our family in Tuscany, we often chose to spend a few days in another beautiful region next door, Emilia Romagna, to have a break and leave the kids with their grandparents without being too far, ideal destination both in winter and summer.

 

The first time we went it was August 2013; we stayed in a town called Porretta Terme where you can relax and have amazing spa treatments at Hotel Helvetia.

There is a beautiful natural park in the area called Corno alle Scale where, with the use of a chair lift, you can do some amazing hiking with breathtaking views on the Appenines mountains or simply walk in silently enchanted woods.

Even just wondering around and discovering nature, little castles and waterfalls is worth your relaxing holidays.

 

Lakes of this region are charming under any weather conditions (first line Lago Santo and Lago Baccio in January, below Lago Scaffaiolo and Lago di Suviana in August – just google them).

 

During our stay for new years eve this year we rented a flat in a lovely little village called Fiumalbo.

 

Val di Luce, which by car is not far from there (surrounded by free parking spaces), is excellent for skiing, even for beginners as it has a very small ski run for lessons, together with the higher and longer ski runs for experts, so even if you are a mixed level group of friends, everyone can ski 🙂

 

 

So if you love mountain in the winter or the summer, Emilia Romagna is one great region to go to in Italy!

PS All pictures in this post were taken by myself between August 2013 and January 2017.