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

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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

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

My kids and potty training….

This could be one of my posts of which I am so proud of, full of tips for a quick and successful potty training and overflowing enthusiasm for my new accomplishments with the kids I want to share with everyone… If only I had found the grip of how to deal with this all lol! Still up to nowadays, I don’t know why but this is certainly my kids’ phase I struggled the most with so far. Not the sleeping through the night, not the tantrums, nor the healthy eating or the socializing: the potty training. Which means that if it was not very easy to achieve for me, you can expect horrifying details of smelly explosions and disgusting stories of ‘human body products’ spread everywhere in the house! Don’t worry, I will spare you 😉

I have always been fascinated by a theory of mine (based on exchange of experiences with several of my friends): mothers that succeed quickly in sleep training tend to encounter more difficulties with potty training, whilst the ones who don’t mind if their child still wakes them up several times in the night or sleep in the same bed with them, usually start potty training at ‘ridiculously’ early ages such as 18 months and they often crack it quickly and without many bumps along the road… I guess it’s a matter of priorities and maybe our children can feel it: in fact I cannot live without a good night but compared to lack of sleep, I don’t mind cleaning a bit of poo now and then from clothes, sofa covers, floor and so on. My friends with kids, who can survive with little sleep but absolutely could not stand the whole changing nappies that came with motherhood, made it very quickly through this phase of their child.

I cannot really say that it has been a total disaster in our family, however there are common behaviors in both my kids to note and try to understand once put together. They both were absolutely not interested in potty training at all and never really gave us those famous signs they were ready for it (books legends in our case lol). They got to start it totally under our initiative as it felt it was time to put a limit to procrastination: around the age of 3 years old, my daughters 3 months before her birthday, my son 3 months after. They both had constant wee accidents for over 6 months so we had to keep on asking them to sit on the potty every hour or so to avoid those (you may be happy to do it only in the initial 4 weeks every book promises you will need, but after month 3 you are so sick of it!). The main remarkable fact is that they both kept on pooing in their pants absolutely uncaring: rather than just going to the loo and get done with it quickly, even if they knew by now how to do so as it had happened in so many past occasions, they preferred doing this way despite they had to then interrupt their game afterwards to be cleaned and changed.

My daughter who is in month 7 of her training still does this, she does not like to tell us she feels she needs a poo, so she closes the door of the room she is in to remain alone or she would hide behind a curtain whilst she feels the stimulus: if we catch her in time we have to promise her several stickers and some chocolate to convince her to sit on potty or loo… And my son who is now 6 still suffers from nocturne incontinence. I hear some children do, even girls, without being too worrying, however it may be a bit embarrassing to have to wear a night pull-up at a sleep over, no matter how nice is your best friend… I have to say I should not be surprised: I wet myself when I laughed wholeheartedly until the age of 15 (my kids do the same if they have not been to the loo for a while when they start laughing hysterically at something funny!).

Maybe I started too late? Though I was waiting for those signs and did not want to force things through too quickly… Maybe it’s their way of getting my attention, as an amazing child advisor pointed out so well with my son (‘Do not get angry when it happens, it still means attention to him, even if negative… Instead praise only when he does well and make all accidents very boring with the changing clothes procedure and no reaction on your side’ – Great advise as it sped up the training with him after a moment of despair!). Maybe my expectations are too high and everyone on average takes a few months to assess in their whole new condition of autonomy. Maybe it’s just genetic since they act in the same way and I had some issues too… Well if you had a better experience please free to send me some tips in the comments! Or comment to relief me if you had worst situations than mine 😉

 

 

How to encourage your child’s positive behavior and gratitude at the same time

I often think back to the ‘Raising Boys’ course which I attended 4 years ago as a guidance to understand what could be my next step to help me and my children in a difficult period…. So when I noticed my 6 years old son (who is usually naturally well behaved and gets amazing reports from his teachers about both his learning and his social skills) struggling to respect some simple rules for a few weeks in a row, I came up with a reward chart of my own, since its use was suggested in one of this course sessions. We had some purchased ones in the past when he was only 3 or 4 but this time I wanted it to serve several purposes so I needed more flexibility in its diagram and he loves new family projects such as home made boards and so on!

The above works as follow.

  • My son gets 1, 2 or 3 points depending on the behavior I want to encourage (he hates getting dressed or playing on his own and he has quite frequent fights with his sister lately).
  • The points are represents by stickers (who does not love some good stickers when they are under 10?!) which he can allocate to the different prizes as he wishes (apart from the piano lessons ones, see below).
  • He can get several points in a day (on average 5 which is good if I want him to have 2 play dates a week!) if you count clothes in the morning and pajama in the evening; moments when I need him to occupy himself without a screen whilst I am doing something important for half an hour or so; and all the times I ask him to stop screaming in the car, hitting his sister during an argument or responding to her or us (when he enters the ‘no I am not, yes you are, no I am not, yes you are’ kind of endless useless conversation lol).
  • Prizes relates to activities more than material objects, so that he can appreciates for instance that organizing and hosting (or going with him to) a play date takes up quite some of my time, so he has to earn it by behaving well and helping the family routine instead of giving it for granted.
  • He expressed a strong desire to have some Lego boxes as prizes and I had 2 big ones that I had bought on massive discount a few months ago, so rather than giving those away to him straight away, he is ‘earning’ them little by little, whilst I have not spent any money recently to buy any new.
  • We are spending quite some money on his piano, swimming and football lessons during the year and lately he has shown no gratitude for our budgeting towards those activities, refusing to practicing or attending them regularly, nevertheless he does not want us to stop paying for them: so now he needs to practice 3 times a week his piano during the summer break in order to get more lessons paid in September, and that is the only prize that he can get by earning a specific type of sticker (1 practice, 1 sticker towards piano lessons only).

With this chart I am trying to achieve the best of both worlds: his good behavior in our day to day family routine but also appreciation of the things we do for him every day, his social life and diary, his extra scholastic activities, little chocolate treats now and then, and his passions such as Lego building or books! I hope to have passed on you some ideas out there 😉

 

Update a few weeks later – What I have noticed since using this chart is that an added benefit is also my increased sense of gratitude towards my child good behavior, so now instead of using it as a reward (‘if you do what I need you to do you will get a sticker’ command) at the end of the day I reflect on what positive behaviors my child had in a spontaneous way, so we remark them together before bedtime and notice what a kind and smart boy he is still outlining his positive acts which did not come from my requests or bribes but more out of his personal choice to do the right thing. Maybe that is the best key for the use of this kind of chart, to promote his internal price more than any external motivator (as mentioned in the Raising boys course).