Friday, November 13, 2009

A Good Day

Today has been a GOOD day. Not only because it has been one of those fantastic Mediterranean Autumn days, after 8 days of non-stop rain, with a sky so blue, you could slap a paint label on it saying 'Cerulean', & any artist would reach for it to paint their sky, with the purity of its pigment.

Not only because my husband has finally, finally got his NGO's licence application into the National bank after 6 months of sweating over legal documents, burning the midnight oil, adapting, re-doing, re-meeting, adjusting, re-wording & nearly giving up & resiging on several occasions. (I am used to the latter reaction now & am quite impressed that it doesn't phase me in the slightest. It's all part of working in a still-developing country) I know this now & I'm proud of him for persevering as I know he always will.

And not only because my son and daughter both got an award for the 'value of the month' last month, 'Respect' Each month a child from each grade is chosen to be rewarded. My son was rejoicing because he said "At last I have a rewad for something other than 'orderliness' (not quite sure what that entails in a school anyway, & probably neither is he....)
And I was rejoicing because I thought what a great thing that my children show respect to otehrs.

The Award vouchers could be used at a cafe for a hot chocolate etc, & there we bumped into his teacher & we spent half an hour chatting to him. My son was so animated talking to her & she was singing his praises & saying how she loved teaching him, & clearly the feeling is mutual. Once more I mused, "This is a good day" when I thought back to last year & the struggles we had with his teacher who seemed so uninspiring & was doing more to switch him off than switch him on.

But mostly this is a good day because today a child's future has been decided. Today my brother & his wife were accepted by the adoption panel to adopt a child. And I am so very proud of them. They have 2 children already but for health reasons my sister-in-law has been advised not to have any more. My brother always wanted a son, but also they always wanted to foster or adopt to give at least one child a second chance. They have put themselves through the gruelling year long process during which a social worker examines the minutiae of their family & married life, delving into all the nooks & crannies, looking for the wood lice under the stones of their life, inviting them to nail their colours to the mast, to decide what they believe about parenting, what their values are, how they deal with different situations, how they resolve conflict etc.

Yesterday a friend of mine who works with the Roma, had to get emergency services here to remove a baby from its Roma mother because it was failing to thrive, & she didn't want it & was neglecting it. If it is put in an orphanage its chances of adoption are very slim. No one wants to adopt a Roma child. Today a child in Britain will be adopted because a panel deemed my brother & sister-in-law 'suitable parents'. Can you imagine going through that whole process only to be told "Sorry , you don't make the grade"?

In Britain there are 59,500 children in care awaiting fostering or adoption. In 2007 only 3,500 were placed in adoptive families. I agree there have to be precautions & processes but with so many children needing adoption & relatively few coming forward, why do they make the process SO difficult & reject a significant number? After all who is a perfect parent & who can necessarily answer the questions satisisfactorily? Does that prove you can parent well?

My sister-in- law, who is actually training to be a social worker, says she thinks the process is very good & that it is for this reason that successful adoption rates are so high. They match the child to the family. She thinks this way is infinitely preferable to adopting a baby which is an unknown quantity. I guess a lot of it comes down to what you believe about nature & nurture.

So now their search begins. They have to decide what degree of issue, problem, disability or abuse they feel willing & able to accept. It is a sobering truth that in the U.K today almost every child available for adoption has come from a drug dependent/alcoholic or abusive backround. The majority of children awaiting adoption are also from black or Asian backgrounds whilst the majority of adoptive parents are White.

It is amazing how complex family life becomes once it is picked apart & analysed. I can't imagine going through such an intrusive process & having to accept someone else decreeing whether I am fit to be an adoptive parent. How many of us would embark on it if we had to go through this process before having a child normally?

We have often wondered ourselves whether we should adopt as we always wanted a large family. We also wonder if we could. I never quite get my head round the idea of it. How could I love a biological child as much as my own, what if we ruined our existing family with a problem child? What if I showed favouritism? We still return to this issue & mull over it, not least because living in the places we have, you see so many children in desperate straits & realise what a massive difference you could make to even one life.

But for now, I am proud of my brother & his wife, & their two children who were very much part of the process, for taking this huge & selfless decision. I am looking forward to meeting the lucky little boy, who is out there somewhere, who will in due course become part of their family.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Our children had a sleepover last weekend. It was with the family we do most things with here. It is wonderful to find real friends when you are abroad. It can take a long time. They have made the biggest difference in us feeling settled & at home here. We do have a small group of friends here now, but they are the only family we are close to. The down side is I always feel we should spread ourselves thinner, have more options, than always be relying on the same friends to do things with. Our children, it seems, have no such qualms. Our son, aged 9, & our daughter, aged 5, get on famously with their 2 girls aged 8 & 9 & their son aged 5 (in fact he's our daughter's best friend/'Prospective Son-in-Law & recipient of kisses.)

They car share every day/play tennis once a week, go to football practice & (apart from the 8 yr old) are all in the same classes, yet still they badger us for play dates. I love the fact that on sleepovers my son aged 9 happily shares a room with their 5 yr old, chatting & playing animatedly with him. And the girls get on very well with my 5 yr old daughter. I love the fact that they all mix & match & get on so well, much as it would be in a big family (in between the squabbling of course) where you play with a wide range of ages. 3rd culture kids do this all the time too. You have to make friends with, & play, with whoever is available in places where there aren't always that many options... It's advantages are that it really teaches your children to be adaptable, flexible & to make the best of the situation they're in.

So the children were wildly excited, they love these sleepovers so much they don't even miss us, or have the slightest wobble. We, too, have often gone away together for a few days even when the children were very small so it was nothing new. We were looking forward to a night out & a Sunday morning lie in.

Except on the following morning I remembered; I hated sleepovers. It's worse than a trip away because we are in our own home, but without the children. It always feels like a foretaste of the empty nest & I'm not ready for that, not even for a little premonition of what it will be like, even though it suddenly dawned on me that our son is, at 9 1/2, slightly more than half way through his childhood at home now.

You wake to the sound of silence. The flat suddenly seems to have expanded & developed echoes. No-one comes bouncing into bed, no clattering of plates as our son lays breakfast (a self appointed task); there's no murmuring & discussion, audible from the next door room, as the children play with a mish mash of lego, 'My Little Pony' & playmobil. Light sabers meet hair accessories, miniature lego ogres battle glittery baby ponies.

I love those sounds, so familiar I hardly register them anymore (like the constantly barking dogs) Until they stop.

To be fair the 'coming into our bed' routine has recently all but stopped. With our son it went on till he was 7, but now he has a sister to play with, who is much less interested in stories, so they play instead. He still comes in for a story occasionally & they always come in to tell us to get up or to ask us to help with something.

Our daughter is much more independent than our son though. So last Sunday, having felt the lack of them on Saturday, my husband called out to our daughter in her bedrooom "Would you like a story?"
"No thank you Daddy."
So I tried:
"Would you like to join us in our nice warm bed?"
Politely, but more firmly, "No thank you mummy, I'm busy playing."

I can see I'm going to be useless at this 'letting go' lark, whereas my daughter has it sussed already.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Prima Ballerina

My daughter did ballet for the 1st time on Friday. She has reached that 'stage' of being very into 'all things ballerina'. I confess myself a little perplexed how these things happen in a little girl who has lived in Asia since she was 20 months old, followed by Albania, so she has not had Angelina Ballerina, Cbeebies, pink-toy-aisles-in-Toysarus indoctrination. Yet I can tick off these stages like a handbook check list of Girl Toddlers. (Admittedly she also features in the extra chapters on "Tree climbing" "Playing Star Wars", "Having Ninja Turtle Sword Fights" & "Spying" for those 'Girl Toddlers Who Have Brothers'. But honestly, with my very unscientific survey, it seems it's nature, though very odd to have 'pink', 'ballet' & 'princess' genes, don't you think?

In Sri Lanka people didn't wear pink, not an Asian colour, doesn't go really with Asian skin. You never saw little girls wearing it. Her friends were from myriad different cultures, we didn't have tv, there weren't toy shops geared to little girls; yet she went through the "Everything Must Be Pink" stage, the "I'm a princess & want to live in a high tower phase", the "I want to dress up as a fairy at a every opportunity" phase, "I'm a mummy & this is my baby" phase (this, at least a logical one) & now here we are safely arrived at the "Ballerina" stage.

I don't remember this stage myself. I do have very vague early memories of doing ballet & not enjoying it much. I have afriend who never grew out of wanting to be a ballerina, she even now, in her 40s, adores ballet, goes regulalry & even queued up, to bid for, & buy one of Darcy Bussells' ballet costumes (it IS absolutely beautiful, & tiny, in all the places you'd like to be tiny).

My daughter had her ballet shoes, but otherwise no 'outfit' She wanted to wear one of her fairy outfits. I persuaded her to put her track suit bottoms (greeted by a look of horror) & her 'twirliest skirt' in her bag, to cover all bases, & promised we would look on eBay for a ballet leotard. She was v keen to have a frothy skirt, wrap over cardi etc. She even put clip on earrings on for school that morning.

She does love dancing but you can see it's more about the outfits & shoes (which she wore ALL weekend afterwards) than the ballet itself. Her 1st comment after the lesson was,

"Mummy they have this changing room which is so lovely. It's full of pretty dresses & costumes for different ballets. It was all she wanted to talk about!

My children get a lift on Fridays so both my son & daughter were dropped off at the ballet school, & I drove to meet them there from the other side of town. However I didn't reckon with the lunch time trafic & got there half an hr after it started. Other mums told me this is ballet Albanian style, it is1 1/2 hrs long (for 5-7 yr olds??) & even that is a concession, when normally Albanians expect you to have lessons three times a week. She also locks the door so parents can't watch once she has started.

So I couldn't get in & rescue my poor son. I was armed with books to read, Nintendo, conversation, as it's too far to go away & come back; but he was trapped in there for the full 1 1/2 hours. I felt terrible. I went & did some shopping & chatted to the other mums. Finally it was time to collect them. We were greeted by the instructor(? What do you call these people, Madame?)

I was 1st in, to get my 9 yr old & apologise profusely for having made him wait so long with 10 little girls,& lots of pink froth & prancing as they did their butterfly impressions.

The ballet teacher greeted me with, "Your son's very gifted."

And around the corner popped my son grinning from ear to ear. He had decided he might as well join in as he was getting bored waiting, & loved it, & now wants to join the class himself. ....

"I can't wait to tell my classmates I'm doing ballet" he said, & added;

"Can you look on ebay for a leotard for me too, mum?"

I love the fact that my son is such a mixture & is very much his own person. He doesnt worry remotely what anyone thinks of him, but sometimes I think he has no sense of self preservation...

My husband took it surprisingly well, all things considered, & who knows, it may improve his footballing skills....

Meanwhile what's the boy's equivalent of a ballet tutu? Just wondering what to put in the ebay search engine....