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Archive for the ‘Maya’ Category

Adventures in Mummying

16/08/2016

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I am now two years and seven months into this mothering lark.

There are moments when I really cannot recall what my life was like without my daughter, and moments I am so exhausted and Mummyyyyyyyyyyyyyyed! out that I feel like she has been here forever (which I am aware is not quite the same thing…).

Then there are those other moments I whip round in surprise at the sound of a squeaky little voice summoning her Mumma, and wonder how it is she seems so confident of who I am and all I am apparently able to deliver when most of the time I still feel as clueless as if the stork dropped her off the day before – although, given that young children are in a state of constant change, I cannot be alone in feeling that I never quite manage to get my mothering shit together or that bringing up a child is substantially more blindfolded white-rapid ride than it is guided amble round a park.

20160430_105953Of course the internet offers a myriad of foolproof parenting methods, playgrounds always contain at least one mother fortunate enough to know everything and bookshops bulge with tomes by parenting experts; all of which give the impression that it really could be a guided amble round a park, if we would just follow their 5-point plan to: Getting the child sleeping through from conception! Getting the child feeding on a schedule from the moment he crowns! Don’t put the child down for the first six months! Wash the birth gunk off, and don’t pick the child up ever again in case she gets used to it! Pretend you can’t hear him crying, he only wants attention! Anticipate your child’s needs the day before so she never has to cry!

It’s a confusing minefield with no possible winners (other than that know-it-all-mother’s ego and the royalties enjoyed by the aforementioned parenting “experts”): no two children are exactly the same, no parents are exactly the same, no families are exactly the same and no lifestyles are exactly the same. Parenting is an ongoing exercise in intuition, compromise, guesswork, consistency, patience and bluff.

One lesson I have learnt is that people who do not have children should not form an opinion on child-rearing, much less voice it. That intense emotional bond with the child you are raising colours every situation you are likely to face from the first moment you hold him in your arms. And your intuitive understanding of that child dictates how you decide to deal with those situations. There are very few OSFA solutions to parenting quandaries, and those on the outside looking in only ever have part of the story.

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Before Maya was even born, I wrote a condescending piece referencing Attachment Parenting (or at least what I assumed it to be). I feel particularly silly about it now because without even really being aware of it, I seem to have ended up practising many of the AP principles. I read somewhere that a child who has all emotional (as well as physical) needs met, is more likely to grow into a well-rounded and confident adult. And not only does that make perfect sense to me; it also fits very nicely thank you with the way I have always instinctively wanted to respond to my daughter.

But in my pre-motherhood ignorance, I confused nurturing with controlling – something I have witnessed quite a bit here in Italy, where meaningful communication with children often seems to be eschewed in favour of endless commands to: Get up of that floor, you’ll get dirty! Get down off there, you’ll fall! Don’t go up there, you’ll hurt yourself! Get your finger out of your mouth, it’s dirty! Do your coat up, there’s a draft! Don’t run, you’ll fall over! Do that again and I’ll smack you!

20160713_175919 (2)In the playgrounds and piazze of my Italian existence, the gentlest of tumbles frequently results in a flurry of panic, surfaces are treated as terrifying germ-coated threats to fallen snacks (and toys and fingers), potential death-traps are seen everywhere, children are bundled up against dangerous breezes about nine months of the year and empty threats of corporal punishment appear to be considered an acceptable parenting tool more often than I care to notice.

It has an uncomfortable edge of negativity to it. I suspect children who are not offered rational explanations for things might have a harder time making good judgement calls, and children not permitted to play freely may struggle to safely discover their own physical limitations. Admittedly the inculcation of a fear of dirt, weather and theoretical parental slaps is not much worse than pointless, but what of the loud proof that these parents have absolutely no faith in their offspring’s fledgling abilities to get themselves safely from A to B? I can’t envisage that being an ingredient for either confidence or independence.

The bizarre bedfellow of the above is the Italian child-worship phenomenon (perhaps partially a result of ever-decreasing family size?) that grandparents, waiters and random passers-by indulge in. This mainly involves a Willy Wonkaesque deluge of sugar in all its most tooth-rotting forms, and a willingness to humour every cappriccio thrown up by the object of their worship.

IMG-20160704-WA0001So is there an absolute right way? I doubt it – there are simply too many variables, but who really knows. All I know is that I have no desire to shout all day, I don’t care about dirt or weather, I think Maya is more likely to learn respect if she is shown it, I encourage her to climb and jump and run as much as she wants and if she falls I comfort her then release her back into play, and although I did slap my child’s bottom once – she slapped me right back AND I WAS PLEASED!

The result so far is a joyous little girl, with a wonderful sense of humour but also a very strong sense of self: woe betide anyone, family or not, who tries to pet her or assist her without being expressly invited. She has strong opinions about what she wants, but gives in reasonably gracefully when told why she can’t have it. She is independent and adventurous, as long as she knows one of us is close by if required. She doesn’t try to dominate other children, but is slowly getting the hang of standing up for herself. She’s endlessly communicative and she’s kind.

On the other hand: she doesn’t sleep well, she has been known to deface the occasional wall with her wax crayons, she’s a bit Mummy and Mummy Milk-obsessed, she cries every single time she wakes up from a nap for no apparent reason, she’s stubborn, she pees in the bidet, farts like her father, is frequently reluctant to do whatever she has been kindly requested to do, and she is far too fond of the television (Blaze and the Monster Machines in particular).

20160522_105702But as a blindly obedient paragon of “virtue” is the last thing I want to unleash on the world, I am extremely content with progress so far as well as being increasingly more besotted with every passing day.

That said, I am also exhausted, wrung-out and in dire need of some time alone with my thoughts: time to write, time to read, time to walk, time to complete work calmly without the stress of trying to squeeze translations in her all-too-brief nap times. So from the 14th of September a new chapter begins for both of us – nursery school! And I don’t know who is more excited…

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Conversations with a 2.5 year old

27/07/2016
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Saturday night fever. No, not the Calpol sort.

Her: Mummy! The airplane has come back to the airplane station!

Me: Excuse me?

Her: The airplane is at the airplane station now. We can go to Mim’s house, flying!

Me: The aeroplane has come back to the airport.

Her: What’s a nairport?

Me: It’s where the aeroplanes live.

Her: Like a nairplane station?

Me: An aeroplane station is actually called an airport.

Her. Why?

Me: Because that is the name it was given.

Her: Why?

Me: Ummm… maybe because it is shorter than aeroplane station, I’m not sure. So anyway, where did you say you wanted to go?

Her: To the airplane station and fly to Mim’s house!

Me: …

Me: Maya, would you like an ice-cream or an ice lolly?

Her: Ummm… a lolly, please Mummy.

Me: Ok, let’s go to the…

Her: And when I finished my lolly, I want a ice-cream.

Me: No, Sweety. The choice is ice-cream OR an ice lolly, not both.

Her: Ok, Mummy. I have a lolly.

Me: Right…

Her: And a ice-cream.

Me: …

Me: Who switched on all the lights?

Her: I.

Me: Me.

Her: No, not you, me!

Me: …

Her: Ow!

Me: What’s wrong? Why did you say ow?

Her: I say ow why I hurt myself.

Me: Because.

Her: What’s because?

Me: When you ask, you use why, and when you answer, you use because.

Her: Why?

Me: Because they are two different words.

Her: Ok, Mummy.

Me: So why did you say ow?

Her: I say ow because why I hurt myself.

Me: …

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Insouciance toddlerfied.

Linguisting it up a little

13/06/2016

The twelve-month (possibly even less for Hubby) countdown to Blighty has begun, so we have at last had to get down to the task we’d been putting off for so long: turning him into a speaker of English.

Now this might sound like a doddle, especially given that English happens to be my mother tongue. “Just speak to him in English all the time” is the advice most people offer, “he’ll soon pick it up!” Which is great in theory, although a little less great if you have important domestic information (and occasional snippet of gossip or declaration of spousal affection) to communicate to one another in the paltry hour or two we get to spend together most days.

Plus English is currently Maya’s strongest language, and we worry that if she hears her father addressing me in it, however stiltedly, she might well be tempted to abandon using Romanian with him altogether.

And then there is the fact that Hubby and I have always spoken Italian together, even though it is neither my nor his mother tongue. Attempting to change the common language after five years not only feels stiff and unnatural, but it also carries the risk of us losing our hard-won Italian once we are back in the UK.

Luckily I am a qualified (in so much as very short TESOL course qualifies one for being qualified) teacher of English as a foreign language, so for a bleary-eyed hour every evening, we now sit at the dining table and work our way through a chapter of Essential Grammar in Use -the first in what is quite simply my favourite series of EFL books (heaven would be finding similar guides for all those languages I still hanker after).

Thus I am doing my bit; and if Hubby takes on board my implorations to listen to UK radio on the way to and from work, make the most of the original language button on the Sky box and actually pay attention when our daughter (or indeed any English speaker) and I are nattering, I am hopeful he will not die of starvation should I be forced to send him into the wilds of Northamptonshire a month or two before we are able to follow.

But that is not the only attempt at linguistic advancement currently taking place in our house, for I am contemporaneously trying to up my game in Romanian.

Admittedly I do have one advantage over Hubby in this, as learning new languages is one of my most favourite things to do as opposed to a reluctant necessity. So I do pay attention when he is nattering to our daughter (or indeed any Romanian speaker), and I am keen to watch Romanian television or listen to Romanian radio when I have the occasion, even though vast swathes of it go over my head.

Other than finally being able to indulge in a decent chit chat with those of my in-laws not conversant in Italian, another motive for increasing my level of Romanian is to help Maya get more exposure.

Because whilst her Tati spends as much time as he can interacting with her, and we try to ensure at least some Romanian cartoon time, she hears precious little of it elsewhere. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Hubby and his adult relatives use a Romanian/Hungarian dialect, although they speak Romanian to their children; apart from the sister-in-law in our village, who speaks to her two in Italian. So if I am able to hold even simple conversations with my husband in Maya’s presence, it will hopefully add a little something to her currently rather one-dimensional Romanian-language experience.

Of course if any of us end up communicating coherently in any of the three languages after all this, it will be nothing short of a bloody miracle 😉

An English Fandango update

26/02/2016

Just a quickie to show off the new book cover:

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The first one looked like a badly executed primary school project, so I am very chuffed with the improvements. I’m still not sure it would work for a “proper” book, but for Kindle it will do just nicely thank you.

The book, like so many other things, has been sorely neglected for the last two years and then some. It had been a horribly long time since I checked sales, or even reviews, and so I was delighted (and embarrassed) to find a lovely review on the Amazon.co.uk site from November 2014 that had completely escaped my attention. Nicer still, it was written by neither acquaintance, friend or relative. Anyway, it gave me the push to give An English Fandango a little bit of pampering, and has even got me thinking in more serious terms about the French sequel.

Now it’s “just” a question of persuading the toddler to give me a bit more time off…

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

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 ❤

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?


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