Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Prospective Son-In-Law, Aged 5 1/2 (Small Talk Update)

I'm sorry if this offends those amongst you who hold "Guess How Much I love You?" as a sacred text, and, call me a stiff upper-lipped Brit, but I find it all a bit precious &...well, icky. Not the sentiments themselves, but it's just a bit OTT. However, my children loved the book. And love making up their own versions, which I admit is very sweet. And I guess that's the idea.

ANYWAY that aside, I'm glad that my 5 1/2 yr old 'prospective son-in-law' has a good sense of humour, a key ingredient in a strong relationship.

He said to my daughter yesterday,

“Guess how much I love you?

& then he said,

"THIS much” and held his thumb & forefinger together with a barely space between.

On getting the laugh he had hoped for from my ‘secure in his affections’ daughter, who obviously knew it MUST be a joke, said,

“Not really. This much” & flung his arms wide.

They have evidently both been reporting back to respective parents how much the other loves them. It’s all very matter of fact & I am glad they get on so well & she has a boy as a best friend to take the edge off the incipient girliness that's always threatening to take over her penchant for tree climbing & Star Wars games. I like the fact she's a mixture. I think it's healthy. As for the kissing though??......

Yesterday when I picked them up from school my daughter announced, unprompted, about her school day.

“I kissed T today mummy, during rest time.”

Then added; “Jon & Jamie did too.” So clearly T is not that discriminating........

"Where did you kiss him?"

"In the classroom."

"No I mean where?"

"Oh, on his head, & so did Jon but Jamie kissed him on his tummy."

"Where the teacher was in all this florid display of affection I have no idea."

My son’s response was “Wow, I WISH I’d been in kindergarten here, they always have such fun!”

I have to say though I still stand by my impression of T as a gallant, young man though, as mentioned in my last post.

The above conversation was whilst I was walking 5 children through the park to the tennis courts there for a lesson. When we arrived, my daughter needed to change her t shirt. She asked me where she was going to get changed. I said, "Just change it here, it doesn’t matter", whereupon she said

“T don’t look!”

T, ever the chivalrous young gentleman said, in amanner which Bertie Wooster would have been proud of,

“I’m blind, I can see nothing” whilst rather histrionically shielding his eyes with his hand. So that's another tick in the right box. (the chilvalry , not the Bertie Wooster impression) Not that I was expecting to be ticking any boxes quite this soon........

And she obviously believes she’s an authority on kissing now. When I went to tuck her in last night she advised me,

“Mummy whatever you do, DON’T kiss Daddy tonight, he is feeling ill & is spreading germs.”

My son, however, is far too busy making money to be genuinely jealous of the fun & frolics of a day in kindergarten.

He has been saving hard to pay me back £7.99 for a game he bought on ebay. It is arriving tomorrow with friends who are visiting, from England.

He has been feverishly polishing my husband’s shoes, cleaning the car, running errands, anything to supplement his pocket money, & consequently 'unjobbing' Albanians trying to make an honest living cleaning cars (Lavazh) & shining shoes.

However, I discovered from one of his friends yesterday that he sold some of his packed lunch in order to make the last 40 lek he needed (25p) He sold one of my chocolate brownies, his favourite. (Have to say I’m a bit peeved he sold it so cheaply, they’re worth a lot more than that I reckon) AND his packet of crisps, which was indeed a sacrifice as he only gets them once a week. (Yes I know stereotypical middle-class angst ridden mother) Wasn't sure whether to applaud or scold him for this. So I ignored it.

So what with entrepreneurism & infant affections, my children are certainly keeping me on my toes. It gives an added level of expectation to the mundane question,

"What did you do at school today?"

Monday, September 21, 2009

Small Talk.

I am always intrigued by the snippets of conversation that get passed on to me back home after a day at school.

My daughter is loving being at 'big school' & is thriving on her new found sense of 'grown up ness' despite the fact that her mean mummy won't let her have a mobile phone. She announced to me in the UK in the summer that she had seen a little girl, 'who was MUCH smaller than me, probably not even 5" who had a mobile phone & that she wanted one.

"What a REAL one?"

"Yes mummy, of course a real one." Sigh.

I said "What would you do with it?"
Silly question but I still felt it needed to be asked. Obviously not.

She said "Phone my friends of course"

I said "No you can't, you're only 5."

She said "Great, so I won't get one till I'm 200." Whilst rolling her eyes at me of course.

Where a pint-sized, thumb-sucking 5 yr old gets such teenaged head-tossing attitude I have no idea.

My husband has fits regularly about my mobile phone bill, & the VAST amounts he says it costs (about $40 a mth) This is average in Albania, I know, I did my own mini survey. AND it is our only phone, no landline. So I don't think he's ready for another mobile wielding female in the family. I haven't told him about his daughter's request, don't want him to lose any more hair...

She already spends large amounts of time speaking into her pink plastic Barbie one, so she is well practised already. Can't think where she gets this habit from.
She also arranges playdates, & invites her friends round without consulting me. I keep explaining it's 'For mummies to arrange playdates' but she still does it. Fortunately no stray 5yr olds have turned up on our door step as yet, demanding to be let in for their play dates. But just imagine if she had a phone, I wouldn't put it past her to call the mothers. She regularly called my son's headmaster in Sri Lanka (mainly because he was the first name on my phone, to be fair.)

I must say I thought living abroad in developing countries would spare us the whole brand obsessed/ipod,iphone,DS, X box, Wii 'keeping up with my friends' thing which I hate. Clearly not, their beady eyes are presumably busy all summer in the UK doing lightning assessments & monitoring trends & researching latest gadgets before embarking on negotiations once back here (where, fortunately, we can't buy most of these things anyway, certainly not at 'normal' prices) It never ceases to amaze me what they manage to know about with no TV, no magazines, few peers at school with the latest gadgets (being mainly comprised of NGO workers, missionaries, & locals). Just HOW do they know??

But back to the snippets of conversation. My daughter is not fortunately at that teenage stage of grunting & being monosyllabic when it comes to discussing her day. She holds forth about all sorts. However, I'm often not always that much the wiser after the chat.

At her last pre-school, the reported conversations became increasingly bizarre, in response to "Anything happen at school today?"

"Tim said he ate a cat's brain for tea." & then proceeded to tell me how his mother had managed to remove the brain without harming the cat.

"Ali said she wants to kill my dad" Ali had never met her dad,
So I've been quite relieved that, so far, conversations at her new school seem very staid & normal

"Anna dropped her bear to yellow today" in hushed tones. (Blue is good, yellow is bad, red is very, very bad, bear should stay on blue all day.)

"Kevin keeps saying he is the winner all the time, but he's so silly because he always plays by himself so of course he wins all his games."

" Arun kept pushing & kicking people" (poor kid speaks no English, & is probably immensely frustrated & confused.)

And so on.

Things have taken a romatic turn recently however. Her best friend, T, is a little boy who she has known now for 18mths. They are thick as thieves, are fiercely competitive with each other, & like a little old married couple, she bosses him around, they bicker, are very comfortable with each other & seem to know what the other is thinking.

Last week, my daughter came home announcing that; "T said he wants to kiss me" I must say I wasn't quite ready for this, (to my mind), teenager behaviour.

"Did he say why I enquire? "

"No, I don't know, but maybe he liked the way I'd done my bunchers (bunches) today"
A 5 yr old boy? Unlikely.
(Ok so maybe she doesn't always know what he's thinking....)

On Friday she said he said this to her again. I asked what she said to him.

"I told him he could kiss me if he gave me a big bar of chocolate."

My daughter has always had good negotiating skills....

However he sounds like an honourable little chap & has told his mum (we have, of course, discussed this, on our mobiles, with each other) that he has decided that if he kisses my daughter, he will definitely marry her as well.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Earth Moved

We had an earthquake last night. My husband & children slept right through it. Perhaps I should say a tremor, sounds less dramatic, but it felt quite dramatic at the time. It was 6 on the Richter scale at the epicentre about 60 miles away, & a 5.4 in Tirana. Houses collapsed even.

I have lived in Albania for the last 21 mths of my 43 years. In that time I have experienced 3 tremors. Never before. And probably others whilst I slept. For some reason it's not what I expect in Europe somehow. Yet the Balkan area is very seismically active, & certainly the most active of Europe.

There hasn't been a really bad one for 30 yrs though. Mostly we just get tremors.

I was struggling to get to sleep last night, my husband had passed out as soon as his head hit the pillow. Suddenly 10minutes before midnight, the whole bed started shaking more & more, & furniture was rattling. I woke my comatose husband (or thought I had) & said,
"Can you feel that? The bed's shaking, it's an earthquake."
My husband's reply was, "You're just moving your legs about, it's nothing" (??)
How could he not feel it? It went on for several minutes with several aftershocks.

It was the worst one I've felt, and I have to say it is one of the weirdest sensations I've ever had. Somehow you take it for granted that terra firma is... just that. My brain was finding it very hard to process the fact that the solid ground in which I had trusted for 43 yrs was moving about & clearly not to be trusted at all.

My cousin who worked in Japan for many years said they were very common there. In her (high rise) office the Japanese immediately made for the door - to stand under it. The door frames are evidently the strongest part of a building so that's where you gather.

The last tremor (I felt at least) was in May this year, round about the time a friend came to visit us. He was our 1st non family visitor, the only others have been my In-Laws who faithfully visit us wherever we are.

Anyway this friend is a history & politics teacher who just loves 20th century history. So he was very excited to be visiting a post-communist Albania, which being a historian, he knew more about than most.

The1st disappointment was that the one interesting section of the National musem- 'the communist era', was closed (for refurbishment one hopes...) Still that was par for the course of life in Albania, with unexpected closures, power cuts, shortages etc.

I don't know whether anyone else living abroad feels this, but I find we rather want our visitors to have a taste of what your daily life is like, with all its exigencies, frustrations & anomolies. Just to get a small feel of it really & to highlight the differences.

So it was with something not unlike a smirk of satisfaction that I realised our road wouldn't be tarmacced in time for his visit, so mud and/or dust , potholes & bumps would prevail.

On our return from picking up G from the airport, we had another such occurrence. As the whole of one side of the dual carriageway was closed for repairs, & road signs & forewarning are not strong points of the Albanian road network, a car (possibly accidentally,but not very likely) had duly driven on the Off Ramp & proceeded to drive towards us into the oncoming traffic, going the wrong way up our side of the dual carriageway (Maybe he just didn't want to use the bumpy service rd) He wasn't even driving slowly. Fortunately everyone else was (for once) as there were a lot of cones around to slow us down. It was mad, & quite hair raising.

Of course there were also plenty of mad drivers doing their normal thing, driving the wrong way up a one way street, shooting past me on Red as I sat patiently at the lights, cars doing three point turns in the middle of busy streets, vehicles suddenly pulling out of side roads into your path & parking on the pavement, half on, half off etc.

Then there was the 'power cut hassle'. I said I would be popping out to the local supermarket for 10 minutes max to get some bread & salad for lunch. I was gone 45 minutes, because the power went off, then the back up generator wasn't working, so we stood in the shop in the dark, as we do, waiting for it to come on again. I then asked to pay but the tills, of course, weren't working so they told me to go & have a coffee & wait. Eventually I persuaded them to add up my few items on a calculator & tell me what I owed them.

We also took this friend hiking in the mountains. Took 6 hrs to get there even though it's only about 150km away. Dirt roads & mountain passes. We stayed in a farmhouse with local peasant farmers, and we decided to do a recommended walk, with the help of a local. So we all got togged up in walking boots, with camelbak hydration packs on, only to feel rather foolish when our guide turned out to be the granny of the house who proceeded to do the whole walk, in her slippers, including negotiating fallen tree trunks over streams etc. You can imagine who felt the sartorial fool in this situation.....

But the piece de resistance was back in Tirana as we were sitting on our balcony having coffee, Albania kindly threw in a full blown earth tremor. My friend looked up, then looked at the handles of his chair, then around, looking slightly disconcerted. A first for him. Well done Shqiperia.

As nonchalantly as I could muster I said, "Don't worry, just an earth tremor. We get them here you know."

Suffice to say, our friend seems to feel he had a fantastic time here & is coming back for more in the Autumn.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Brave New World.

Our daughter started school this week. Big school. It’s the end of my pre-schoolers era. I feel a bit wobbly. I need someone to hold my hand & say “There there.”

I’m glad, actually, it was my 1st week at school too. I am teaching in the high school part of my son’s school. So at least I won’t be home alone, looking at the ticking clock, thinking ‘only 5 more hours till they come home’, and wondering how to fill the intervening silent space. This year I have ‘things to do’, new challenges. Quite a novel sensation since living abroad.

My daughter was very excited. She wasn’t worried about anything, except whether her teacher would speak Albanian or English. This would be a concern. However, she seemed merely worried about the onset of fatigue rather than the fact that she wouldn’t understand anything that was going on.

“That’s good”, she said, when I reassured her it would be English, “Because I would get very tired speaking Albanian all day”. (As if she is a closet polyglot, who speaks the lingo, rather than a 5 yr old who says MiruPushroom instead of Mirupafshim to anyone she is bidding farewell to, & that’s the limit of it).

She knows the school & many of the teachers; this is a small community. She was a bit shy with her teacher, worrying about remembering her Albanian name, difficult for an English speaker to pronounce (lots of consonants) never mind a 5 yr old. However, as soon as she had hung her bag on her peg, she pleaded to be allowed to go to the playground to hang upside down on the bars (which is how she spends most of her time in any playground) and she was off.

I had to call after her to get her to say goodbye & give me a hug. That didn’t help my wobbles either. It would have helped if she had hesitated just a little bit, had a moment’s reluctance or wobbled a bit herself. But that would have been for me. For her I'm glad.

All those annoying truisms suddenly smack you in the face: “They grow up so fast”, “They’re only little for such a short time”, “Before you know it they’ll be starting school”, “Don’t wish it away, enjoy it while it lasts.”

Why do we never believe them or think this will be true of us? We say, “Not me, I’m going to relish these moments, enjoy every minute, realise it’s a passing season”.

But somehow in the midst of it all we don’t always, because of course it is, at times, mind numbing, exasperating, time-consuming, head-space-reducing, & exhausting, as well as wonderful.

I am glad of the freedom too, especially as, living abroad I have no support network, no one to baby-sit, to have the children, have play dates with for months until you get to know people. I didn’t find nurseries quickly here or in Sri Lanka, but it still feels odd.

Not sure I am ready for this next ‘stage’, though clearly my daughter is. I am glad really, in fact I’m very proud of her, as she has been very clingy, shy & unwilling to stay happily in groups or nurseries etc when younger & has been seemingly quite insecure. I worry, of course, that it is our lifestyle that has made her thus, but it could equally be her experience of hospitals, her ill health when younger. She often panics with screams & tears if she loses sight of me or loses me even momentarily in a shop, even though she has never been lost, I have never left her without her knowing I was going. What have I done to her I wonder? But then back in the UK, people observe how well-adjusted and secure our children seem…. Ho hum.

I feel guilty, too, that there hasn’t been more for her to do in her toddler years. Our son started in school immediately in Sri Lanka & here in Albania. But my daughter was with me constantly for 2 of her 1st 2 ½ yrs of life. But I put her in nursery in Sri Lanka, aged 2 ½, five (short) mornings a week, quite simply because I just didn’t know what to do with her.

There were few parks in Sri Lanka, & these had metal equipment. Molten, egg-frying, finger blistering hot to the touch, & to little bare legs. No shade. There were no music classes, gym classes; toddler groups (except ones which met when my older son was out of school & he certainly didn't want to 'hang out' with a bunch of 2 yr olds singing "The Wheels on the Bus”) Nothing. All we could do was go swimming. And you can’t do that all day every day. I know, I tried.

And I didn’t know anyone, & I knew she was ill & we would be returning to England for her heart surgery within 8 weeks, so she would just get into a nursery, only to be removed from it again. I didn’t want to do that to her.

So we painted, did puzzles, some craft; but I found it hard to find ways of entertaining her completely, on her own, for 7 hrs a day, till her brother returned. She was also not into reading or craft the way her brother always was, which made it harder. So, feeling a bit of a failure, & guilty that I needed respite from a single, solitary, if very demanding, 2 yr old, I signed her up for some social interaction, singing, storytelling & acting in what turned out to be a wonderful Sri Lankan/International nursery, complete with Tomy plastic play equipment in a shaded cool garden. She loved it. Eventually. Even that took a while.

In Albania, for a year she went to a pre-school till 12 & loved it. We tried an Albanian nursery where she mostly watched Albanian TV, (so maybe she DOES know more Albanian than she is letting on??) So I have been eased gradually into her starting school, and of course I have had an extra year, as they don’t start school till 5 here, so that’s been great. But this feels different, this redefines me, our family, & what stage we are at.

I am so pleased she is so excited. I love that fresh, eager glee that children seem to have when they start school, delighting in their own peg, hoping they will get homework, relishing the uniforms, the routines, the packed lunches, the big newness of it all.

But I will miss, paradoxically, those lazy, listless summer afternoons when I don’t know what to do, when it’s too hot to ride bikes or go to the park, & my daughter, emphasising my failure to entertain her, badgers me “Can I watch a film?” (Always a film as there’s no T.V alternative).

Or on a winter’s afternoon when I have stoked the smoky wood burner & it’s too wet, cold & muddy to go outside, & my daughter says, “Can I watch a film?”

Or when it’s rained constantly for 2 days & the road outside our gate is such a lake that it’s even over our boots, & my daughter says, “Can I watch a film?”

It did finally dawn on me that her penchant for films has nothing to do with meteorological conditions. She would happily watch one whatever the weather.

I will also miss those days returning from nursery through the park when a little hand slips into mine & my daughter says “Shall we skip mummy?” or “Shall we climb trees?” (Her favourite) When we are not in a hurry at all, and we can pick flowers, collect pine cones & explore new paths.

I will miss having a little one around to help me bake cakes, hang out the washing, someone who needs me & would rather do things with me, her dad or her brother, than anyone else. But of course that says more about me than her.

And everyone always tells you that growing children find it much easier to slip their little hand out of yours, than we do to let go our grip of theirs.

It’s just that nothing prepares you for it.

Still, on the plus side, maybe now I’ll get the puppy dog greeting normally reserved for my husband when they haven’t seen him all day & he returns from work.