Are we a dying breed?

I recently read this post, thanks to the many people who are tagging it on social media:“Reasons Today’s Kids Are Bored at School, Feel Entitled, Have Little Patience, & Few Real Friends”.  As I read it, I found myself thinking, “ah ha, absolutely”, “well der, of course”, and “I know that”.  If you haven’t read it, take a moment to read it now.

After reading it, I sat here at my bench, wondering if parents who parent ‘old school’, are a dying breed?  When our kids were little, TV time was once a day, unless I was sick or completely over being at home, and then the time was extended beyond 30 minutes!  Instead, we played music and danced.  We cooked together.  I set up ‘play’ stations all over the house with different activities they could do, moving freely when their minds shifted: puzzles, blocks, drawing, lego, trains, dolls, pasting, dress-ups, etc.  They regularly put on concerts together, dug in the dirt in the backyard, went puddle jumping, collected leaves to make pictures and play make believe.  We had ‘Fun Friday’s’ each week, where we would do something out of the ordinary.  Sometimes it was as simple as covering ourselves with red-dot stickers (that was a big hit when Noah had chicken pox), or more adventurous outings to far-flung food markets, the zoo, or a beach day.  On reflection, I really feel I gave my kids a creative, stimulating, play-based childhood that encouraged them to engage with the world around them and develop their social skills.

Yet now, as parents of slightly older kids, they are constantly telling us we are too strict when it comes to technology.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of technology.  I am an Apple girl, with several devices that I use regularly for different purposes.  I love that I can connect with my family and friends whenever I like, at the touch of a button.  I can keep up with their comings and goings on social media, making it much easier to integrate when we visit.  Yet I grew up too, making billy carts out of scrap wood, making water bombs out of newspaper, and dragging old tractor tires into the backyard to roll around inside of.  My childhood was device-free, and that childhood has shaped who I am now.  I know how to balance my choices, because I have lived with and without technology. I can entertain myself staring out a window, or by closing my eyes and daydreaming, because I had so much time to be bored whilst I was growing up.

For our own children, it feels like it is a constant battle-ground as we fight to ensure all the hard work we put in when they were little in developing their creativity and social skills, isn’t lost to the virtual world.  Their friends (according to our kids!) all seem to be given free reign to decide how and when they want to use their various devices, yet we don’t.  We don’t allow technology at the table, and we don’t allow phones in rooms at night time.  Instead, we have a central docking station, where we can easily see who has ‘checked out’ their device and track it down.  When they have friends over, we ask them to put their phones in the docking station during meal times and overnight.  We haven’t had too many kids who haven’t respected this rule, and those that haven’t, tend not to want to come back anyway.  One friend recently said, “I love that you sit at the table and laugh and talk whenever I eat dinner here.  My house is silent and no-one talks.”

We don’t have a TV running in the background just for the sake of noise.  If we are going to watch TV, it is a discussion we have.  “May I watch TV?”  “Sure.  What would you like to watch?”  It’s not a free for all, do as you please, house.  We don’t have TV’s in bedrooms.  On the odd occasion when we do eat dinner in front of the TV, it is a treat which we all enjoy.  We decide what we’re going to watch together, set up ‘camping style’ and enjoy the moment.

We monitor each kids usage (time wise and content) and take electronic devices away when we think they’re overdosing themselves.  They are only allowed technology in the car if the trip is longer than an hour (under that amount we figure they can look at the window, read, sing songs or play car games) as well as on planes and trains for long journeys.  We like to be entertained whilst traveling long distances too!  When we are having conversation with them, we don’t talk to the top of our kids heads, but expect them to make eye contact.  We regularly play board games together (this past weekend we tried them out on Party Scrabble.  Epic fail.  Our kids are far too competitive with each other to decide on a word to use as a team!).  We never allow technology in a restaurant.  Instead, we have taught the kids several card games, which can go on for hours.  Often, the games get so rowdy that we receive ‘looks’ from other diners.  Oh well.

We are far from perfect in how we are managing all this technology, and regularly throw our hands up in despair.  With four kids, multiple phones, iPods and Tablets, it feels like a constant job.  Technology use is by far the most contentious topic with our teens.  They feel we are too strict, and that we should let them decide how and when they use it.  I always seem to be saying, “I will not raise ill-equipped, unsocial creatures who cannot look people in the eye and have a conversation.”  My other common saying is, “We don’t really know what we are doing with all of this.  It is one huge, social experiment and it won’t be for another 20 years until we have all of the evidence to support our stance as parents.  Now put the bloody phone away!”  (Note: I am aware that more and more studies are being published now, showing that the link between a rise in mental illness and technological usage is strongly connected.  I am of the personal belief however, that we won’t know the full impact of current technology on our children, until they are well into their 30’s and 40’s and in ‘control’ of the wider job market).

On Sunday, our pastor gave a message on a very relevant and linked topic.  Even if you’re not from a background of faith, there is much to be taken from what he shared.  In short, he suggested child can be an acronym for the following:

C – Comparison: How often as parents, in particular Mum’s, do we compare ourselves or our children to others?  This constant comparison leads to an unhealthy mind and body, creating jealousy that rots our soul.  Instead, try thinking the best of others, and being thankful for everything we ourselves have. (See Proverbs 14: 30 for the biblical reference).

H – Help:  Don’t be afraid to ask for help when parenting.  It is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength when we admit we don’t have all the answers.  Humans are not designed to live in isolation, yet so many of us try and do the parenting thing on our own, not wanting to admit we are struggling for fear of comparison and judgement. (Proverbs 3:5-6).

I – Identity: Where you place your heart and energy, is where you find your identity.  This is evident to our children in all that we do, as they seek to model themselves off of our behavior. (Proverbs 4:23)

L – Legacy: What legacy are you leaving your children with?  Is it one that they will hope to emulate one day, or one that they will want to do the opposite of?  Leave your kids an emotional inheritance that will stay with them throughout their entire life. (Proverbs 13:22)

D – Discipline: Never forget that you are in charge.  You’re not your child’s friend, but their parent.  It is your job to correct them, and to teach them, through discipline and love.  Don’t shame your children, or lose confidence that you are the adult, but rather work hard to create a home where ‘I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are regularly spoken.  Friendship will come later! (Proverbs 19: 18).

For me personally, the ideas he shared are linked directly to how we manage technology in our homes, and how many parents choose the seemingly easier route of letting technology parent for them.  My hope for the future is that our generation of children and teens, will revolt.  My hope is that they will travel through this current phase of technology over-consumption, and realize how unhealthy it is, therefore choosing to return to ‘old school’ methodology when they raise their own children.  My hope personally is that all of the play they did as young kids, and all of the times we’ve said, “no, go and play outside instead”, will continue to shape and mould who they are, as we seek to have children who do not conform to the current ‘normal’.  I don’t know about you, but I want to continue to fight against ‘hands-off, technology on’ parenting, and be a vocal advocate for what seems to be a dying breed.

 

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Building Resilience in Children

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The current generation of children and teenagers have life pretty darn sweet.  As parents of that generation, most of us work hard to give our kids the best of what we can afford, and to make life as easy and safe as possible for them.  The pressures on them at school and in sports now are often so demanding, that everyday jobs are often left to the parents to do, so that the load on the children is lightened.  We monitor their friends, monitor their social media, shadow them on their bikes and often step in to fight their battles.  We worry about mental illness, the ever-present threat of drugs, and hope that our kids will somehow negotiate the teen and early adult years without making a choice that will negatively impact them for life.  The dangers that exist are real and often hidden so well, it is hard not to became wrapped up in protecting our kids as much as we possibly can.  So how then, do we teach this generation to be resilient young adults who can cope with a constantly changing world?

Resilience is something you can start building in your children right from when they are young.  How you respond to toddler tantrums, and attention-seeking behaviour, as well as how you negotiate and educate your children to share, take turns and interact with new people, all starts the process of building resilience.  You may not even realise that in your years of parenting, however long or short, you’ve been building resilience in how you react to their behaviour.

For me, this has meant that right from when our children were young I encouraged them to try and resolve their own problems.  At my wits end when they were in the early years of primary school, and having tried multiple tactics to get the bickering to stop, I distinctly remember having a revelation:  I’d been teaching them to resolve age-appropriate problems on their own since they were little, so why not let them figure this one out?  I marched the two offending siblings into a bedroom, and announced they weren’t coming out until they figured out an appropriate resolution.  Sure enough, left alone, they figured out a solution they were both happy enough with.  I still use that technique today when their arguing or pettiness gets too much for me to bare!  To negotiate with each other, they have to be resilient to stand their ground.  They have to be able to articulate what is upsetting them, as well as understand what it is they are and are not willing to compromise on.  The prospect of spending hours in a small room is also good incentive for them to hear each other out patiently, taking turns, and working on a resolution to suit both parties quickly.  They work it out far quicker than if I had to referee and be seen to be ‘taking sides’.

  • Teach your kids to negotiate, back it up with evidence and argue their point of view. You may regret it at the time, as they will argue with you constantly, but in future, you will be proud of their ability to negotiate difficult situations on their own.

Each of our kids has had to negotiate and navigate their way around a myriad of different issues at the schools they’ve attended.  I have always made sure that when they need advice on how to handle a situation, they can come to me and ask for guidance.  Noah, at the age of 4, had a girl who was quite taken with him at pre-school.  She was quite forceful in her declarations of love for him, and made sure everyone else knew she was marrying him.  As funny as it is now, he used to come how in tears because she was so bossy and wouldn’t let him play with anyone else.  I knew her Mum, and it would’ve been easy for me to go and speak with her and ask if she could have a chat to her wee cherub, and ask if she could tone it down a notch as Noah’s sensitive soul wasn’t coping so well.  Instead, I encouraged him to deal with it himself.  He said he liked playing with her but he didn’t want to play with her all the time.  I suggested he give her 5 minutes at the beginning of each play time outside, that was just for the two of them, and then he would play with his other friends the rest of the session.  I also suggested if he wasn’t ready to be someone’s husband or boyfriend, he needed to tell her so that she could move on!  As funny as it was as his parents, to him it was very serious business and he wanted strategies to get her to calm down!

He ended up having a conversation with the girl in question, and afterwards he explained to me, “I ended up telling her, it’s not you, it’s me.  I like you, but I’m just not ready for this type of commitment!”  Brilliant!  Her Mum and I had a good laugh about that after all was said and done.

  • Teach your kids that they can only ever be responsible for their own actions. They cannot control other people’s reactions.

Tia had a boy in second grade that liked to show his affections by squeezing her tightly.  Sometimes he would pin her in a tight hug, other times he would hold her arms or hands.  One day she came home from school and said, “Mum, today he put his hands around my throat and squeezed tight.  I couldn’t breathe.”  Horrified, I asked if she spoke with her teacher. Tia had, and her teacher had words with the boy in question.  I praised her for doing the right thing and encouraged her to speak to the boy the next day about how it hurts her when he squeezes her and it has to stop.  The next day, she came home in tears as he’d done it again.  Now I know that teachers are busy, and can’t see everything, all the time.  Some kids too, only respond when the message is driven home in certain ways.  So, I introduced Tia to her future weapons of (occasional) mass destruction: Mr. and Mrs.  She was only to use Mr. and Mrs. in extreme situations where she felt threatened or cornered, but they could go with her all the time.  Mr. was her left elbow, and Mrs. was her right.  I showed her how to drive it into a person’s stomach or solar plexus.  She came home the next day with a big grin on her face, as once again, her friend had shown her some love by choking her.  Tia introduced him to Mr. and Mrs. (apparently she added in ‘Hee-ya, hee-ya, with each jab) and that kid left her alone permanently.

  • Teach your kids that everyone receives information and responds to it differently. It is important to understand the language your counter-part speaks, in order to be heard loud and clear.

Throughout the years of having four kids in schools/sporting clubs, etc., we have stepped in on occasion when the issues were beyond what we felt a child should have to deal with.  Some that spring to mind are: unfair, harsh punishments that were outside school policy; a sexual threat from another child to one of ours; teaching methodology that excluded one of our kids from learning effectively; accusations from another family regarding one of our children that were false.  Your kids need to know that you are in their corner, and you will fight for them when they really need it.  Most of the time, though, right from when they are as young as 3, you can teach them to stand up for themselves, be resilient and learn how to negotiate situations through coaching them in the background.

  • No matter what, our kids need to be able to come us for advice, without recrimination, and if need be, we will step in on their behalf. We are always in their corner.

This skill of negotiating, speaking out for themselves and learning tolerance, is something that has paid off each time we have moved.  Our kids have had so many first days, it’s hard to keep track of them all.  They’ve each learned their own ways of assimilating into new cultures and new environments: one of our kids holds back completely and lets people come to them over time; one of our kids introduces themselves and shares small snippets of information that lead to questions; one of our kids observes others, then asks to join in with whom they observe are like-minded people; and one of our kids just doesn’t think too much about the whole process and just tries to avoid being lumped in with the naughtiest kid in the room!

  •  Observing and listening is generally the best way to learn new information quickly, including who will make a great friend!

If you think hard enough, you may be able to remember your own childhood and teenage years!  I remember that feeling of life seeming to be too much to cope with, problems being insurmountable and situations that I just didn’t have a solution for.  Now, more than ever, we need our kids to be able to resolve difficult situations in a myriad of circumstances.  We need to build into our kids from a young age that they can cope.  We need to build into them from a young age that they are enough, just as they are.  We need to build into them from a young age that they have so much to enjoy about today and tomorrow.  We need to build into them from a young age that it is their responsibility to make the most out of whatever they have been given. I was in the kitchen one day when Paul yelled at me, “Keren, have you been looking at porn on the computer?”  “What?”  He was doing a random check on our computer and came across a search on YouTube that had brought up links to sexual scenarios that I didn’t even know existed.  As I looked at when the search was done, and the images the little eyes had seen, I cried.  I cried tears of frustration and anger that the little eyes who had seen these images now had them forever in their brain.  I also cried knowing a difficult conversation would have to ensue with a parent of the friend who also saw the images.  I gently questioned the set of little eyes (“We google search for all sorts of information so we were doing a search about sex because we had questions”), and had a chat about where it was best to get information about sex from at their age.  We also talked about internet safety (our bad totally as we didn’t have good enough safety nets in place at the time).  The most important part of our conversation though was perhaps the part when I explained the consequences of another person being involved.  I explained how we couldn’t control how the friend’s parents might react.  I explained how the friend may not be able to come to our house anymore, and they may be banned from playing together at school by the parent.  This was devastating news on top of everything else.  Yet I also explained how our child had a responsibility to do the right thing.  The solution to this problem for our child, although the outcome we couldn’t control, was owning up to the incident, and apologising to the parties concerned.

  • Teach your children that every problem in life has a real-life solution. Every problem. 

The last thing I have learned in helping to grow resilient children, is that they have to be allowed to make mistakes.  As a young teenager, I skipped school and went into the city with a  friend.  At the tender age of 13, we weren’t allowed to catch the train into the city on our own.  Approximately 3 months after ‘the day we caught the train into the city on our own’, we were outed.  My friend rang me in tears, having been caught out by a family friend that had glimpsed us that day in town, warning me that her parents may be about to ring my parents.  I confessed to my Dad straight away.  No point in holding back right?  As I sat on my bed crying, he asked me why I did it, knowing it was against their rules and knowing it was a fairly dangerous undertaking.  I replied, “You know how you have all those funny stories of mistakes you made growing up, like jumping off the garage roof with a parachute and breaking your leg?  Or riding your mattress off your bed down the local creek?  Or filling your Dad’s petrol tank with sand and water?  I wanted to have a few stories of my own.”  My Dad laughed at that, told me that was a good response, confined me to my room until further notice, and walked out.  He didn’t make a big deal of it.  He knew I knew I shouldn’t have done it, and that was that.

I still make mistakes all the time.  I make bad decisions.  I say inappropriate things.  I speak out of turn.  I sometimes act in ways that do not reflect the true essence of who I am.  I get angry with my kids and the anger is unjustified.  I make mistakes, yet my children love me anyway.  We need to let our children know that the same unconditional love they have for us, we have for them.  Unconditional means we don’t place conditions on loving them.  We love them regardless of their actions.  Let them make mistakes, and be there to help them figure out how to move forward afterwards.

  • Children must be able to make their own mistakes, and know that you forgive and love them regardless.

It is so important we teach our children skills that foster resilience.  Each of the points I have highlighted above, our kids will need as they grow into adulthood.  They need to be able to negotiate, and to argue their point of view.  They need to take responsibility for their own actions, as well as recognise we cannot control anyone else’s reactions.  They need to be able to understand there is more than one way to speak and be heard.  They need to know that asking for advice from a trusted adult, is showing maturity and intelligence.  They need to know that sometimes being silent and listening to others is more powerful than talking.  They need to be able to make mistakes, so they can learn how to move forward afterwards.  More than ever, our children and teenagers need to know that every problem has a solution.

A 10 minute snapshot…

This morning as I stepped out of the shower I was greeted with:

“Mum, the iron’s not working!”

And so began the following 10 minutes of my responses to the family…

“It helps if you turn it on at the power socket.”

“If you want clean bed sheets, change them.”

“Thank you for cleaning the shower, but turn the spray away from your face.  It’s a chemical.”

“You can’t walk away from the iron and leave it on your shirt.  It will burn.”

“The clean sheets are in the cupboard.”

“Yes, you can clean the bathroom in the nude if you wish.”

“If you leave your sheets there on the floor, they will not get washed.  Take them to the washing machine, put them in it, and turn it on.  It’s quite miraculous”

“You haven’t laid the shirt out properly, that’s why you are ironing more creases into it.”

“If you want to go to our neighbours and look after their kids this afternoon that’s fine with me.”

“Yes, I’ll take you to the station in 15 minutes.”

“No, I’m not packing your bag for camp.  I reminded you last night I have to drop it off this morning.  Check the list.  I’m leaving in 15 minutes.”

“That’s lovely singing in the shower, but your brother is still asleep.”

“Oh for goodness sake, let me finish the shirt.  And yes, I do know that you wanted me to do it in the first place.”

“No, I’m not driving you to our neighbours.  Ride your bike.”

“Yes, you have to wear shoes if you’re going to mow the lawn.”

“If your friends are here by 11am, I can drive you all to Red Kangaroo.”

“Yes I booked your lunch reservations for 1.30pm.”

“No, I don’t know where your wallet is.”

“I told you to wear shoes.  No shoes.  No mowing.”

“There is change for 20 in my wallet, but I am not exchanging 20 US directly for 20GP!  Nice try.   Check the exchange rate for today.  Or go to the bank.  They’ll take a fee too. ”

“I don’t know if it’s going to rain.  Check the weather app for today’s forecast.  I haven’t looked yet.  It’s the U.K though…”

“No, I still don’t know where your wallet is.”

“Stop shouting!  Your brother is still sleeping!”

“Yes, you and Mikolaj can leave your change of clothes in the car.”

“No, you can’t go to the river at 11.30am for a picnic.  You have the orthodontist at 11.50am.”

“Don’t use window cleaner on the toilet.  Use the disinfectant.”

“Oh, you have your wallet in your hand.  I’ve been looking for it.”

“I’m taking your bag to drop it off, like I told you 5 minutes ago, with or without your stuff in.”

“Yes, I know you need to go to the station in 5 minutes.”

“Leave me alone so I can put some clothes on!”

 

It’s been a while…

An update on the past 4 months, I hear you ask?  Here we go!  As I write those last three  words, I am floored that it has only been 4 months since I last wrote anything.  It feels like eons, yet it truly has been only 4 months.

Since then we have left our quirky little apartment in Rome, and adventured through Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and the U.K.  None of us miss the apartment, although we do miss the area: our local piazza, fabulous pizza, fresh pasta, mercato with every type of vegetable available, and all the sights of Rome within walking distance, it is hard not to miss.  We had some crazy adventures whilst we travelled through Europe: the hills were alive in Austria (yes, I sang my heart out in Salzburg!); drove for the first time whilst it was snowing; we ate amazing food in Czech in small village towns (organic vegan dishes anyone?) and fabulous Asian in Prague; we accidentally parked atop Hitler’s bunker where he is said to have committed suicide in Berlin, before embracing all the wonders of the city; we joined a free walking tour in Amsterdam which taught our kids more than they were perhaps ready to know (the importance of having a drug dealer on speed dial when your bike gets stolen, for example, or that the red light district got it’s name, because being bathed in a red light smooths out the skins imperfections and women of all ages can sell their trade more easily if they appear ageless… yes, all 4 kids suggested I get a red light); and we enjoyed Belgium beers straight from the local breweries.

After having these adventures, we jumped on a ferry in Calais, France, after receiving visas for our stay in the UK inside a week.  If you’ve never had to apply for a visa anywhere, the normal wait is 3-6 months.  It was crazy insane, receiving visas that quickly, but we did, and we were extremely thankful.

Our arrival into the UK was overcast as we approached the white cliffs of Dover.  We tried to muster enthusiasm in the kids, explaining the significance of the cliffs, but to be honest, they were pretty over the whole adventuring thing!  Having had no other kids to talk to for 5 months, they were ready for some space from each other.  We made our way to Wallingford, Oxfordshire, a town south west of London, where Paul’s aunt and uncle have lived for over 20 years.  We are eternally grateful for their hospitality, generosity, listening ears and wisdom in those first four weeks as we began the mammoth task of another new beginning.  We did strongly consider refusing to move out, becoming squatters and beginning life in their home as one big mad, crazy commune, but  we eventually did the hard yards and fulfilled the moving criteria.

It’s hard to believe it has been exactly 3 months today since we set foot on UK soil.  So much has happened in that time and we truly have moved metaphorical mountains to re-establish ourselves here.  After driving north, south, east and west, we decided on a practical area to live, rather than an ‘experience’.  We had been looking for a village or small town so we could have a quintessential UK experience, but we decided to let the practicalities win out in the end.  We live in a town that borders a larger, busy city.  The city is full of colourful characters who we regularly encounter as we head off to swimming training at 4.50am, and they make their way home from the pubs!  At first we were a little dubious about the location, but we are quickly coming to love the area.  We border Oxfordshire, so we are near our family and the beautiful countryside.  Head up the road 10 minutes walk and we are in fields with cows and sheep galore.  Walk 5 minutes the other way and we are running along the River Thames, being chased by the male geese protecting their newly hatched goslings!  Paul is only 30 minutes on the train to Paddington, the older kids can walk to their high school, we are minutes to the main swimming pool, we’ve joined a gym to try and work off the European winter indulgences, become part of a church that has welcomed us readily, and the younger boys are both doing sports nearby also.  Once again we are blessed to have landed on our feet and are adjusting to our new life fairly quickly.  Our landlady is a rockstar, and has gone above and beyond to make our move a smooth one.  We are very thankful for her generous heart and welcoming soul.  I am loving the new space we are in, largely because it has so much space!

I am so incredibly proud of our kids.  Paul and my choices have meant that they haven’t had the easiest of upbringings, nor much that resembles society’s version of normal.  Having said that, they have two parents that love them beyond measure, and wherever we go, we go together.  I can already see in them the most amazing traits I had only dreamed of seeing in my children:  resilience that defies their age; adaptability; perseverance; determination; strength of character and belief in themselves; communication skills that I find lacking in many young adults nowadays; flexibility; an ability to see beyond the surface of people; and the ability to make life choices for themselves that are wise for the immediate and their futures.  Even Ty, at the age of 9, understands the importance of waiting to make friends, rather than jumping at the first kid who learns his name.  He knows it takes time to see people’s true selves, and that waiting to make a lifelong friend, is well worth it.

Having said that, it isn’t all smooth sailing.  There are so many hard moments whenever you move and start over again.  Practicality wise, there are all the usual frustrations: red tape everywhere you go to try and establish the necessities to function in a different society (only 2 months to open a bank account this time – we’re not even going to bother with a credit card!); learning the local rules about how systems function (you can’t just turn up and enroll in schools here, you have to go through the local council, and each council is separated by their shire boundaries); re-purchasing all the items you can’t take in a shipping container (the cry of ‘where’s the converter?’ rings throughout our house, and blowing fuses is our speciality!); establishing how and who to use for utilities (in the UK you have to have a TV license – that’s a new one!); registering with a doctors clinic and dentist; phone plans – oh my word, drama – phone plans!; internet connectivity; registering with the council so you can pay their local land taxes and have your trash collected; getting an orthodontist to take over Tia’s care… that was a big one!; the list seems to go on and on an on, but eventually, we’ve worked our way through it and everything seems to be working well.

Emotions wise, the loneliness can be overwhelming when you move.  Some days it took everything I could muster just to step foot outside.  Some days I didn’t.  Exhaustion, loneliness and wondering if once again we’ve made the right decisions can be crippling if you let them.  Being transient and adventuring here there and everywhere is fabulous, and it’s the choice we’ve made, but it definitely has its downsides.  Mental, physical and emotional exhaustion are common for each of us in the early months.  Some days you just don’t want to.

The kids do it pretty tough too.  They have to re-establish friendships, putting themselves out there over and over until they meet similar minded people who are interested in getting to know them.  I have kept reminding them of the floods of tears we had in those first few months when we moved to the US.  The rigidity there was a huge shock, and we all struggled with the hyper-competiveness.  Here, we are finding people strive to do well, but there is more emphasis on work to live, rather than live to work.  There is a more relaxed environment and each of the kids are visibly less anxious and worried.

After finding the US tough to break through the cliques in the US, Tia has thrown herself into life here.  Swimming has opened up one friendship group, school another, church another, and she is volunteering every Saturday at a horse stables with a number of girls of different ages.  She is working really hard to adapt to a new school system, studying constantly pre-exam week for content she largely hasn’t seen before.  Her muscles are aching from shoveling horse poo and hay, as well as all the swimming training, but she sleeps well each night!  She is enjoying the independence of walking to school with friends, down the street for ‘coffee’ or to the park to hang out as teenagers do.

Out of respect for Noah, I won’t go into his transition publicly, but I will say being 15 and moving mid-year is really hard.  He is hanging in there and will rise above the current challenges, we have no doubt.

Indi has also embraced our new life here with gusto.  Although he has skipped a whole year of school to be in the correct UK year level, he isn’t too phased by his gaps in his learning.  Instead, he loves that it isn’t hot here, he loves that at school they are allowed to go outside and run around regularly, and that learning often takes place outside.  He will start high school in September, and after the initial shock wore off, he is looking forward to the new challenge and environment.  He is in his school play (Macbeth), and taking a swimming and biking course as part of the school curriculum at the moment.  He decided to try out Taekwon-do as a sport, after considering a return to swimming and deciding against it.  He has thrown himself into learning the patterns and techniques, so much so that his Grand Master invited him to try for his first grading after only a few weeks of training.  Indi has been hobbling around the house everyday as his muscles adjust to the new stretching and movements, but he keeps going back each sessions for more!

Ty is oscillating between loving life here, and not wanting to leave the house.  He has found the formal learning component really difficult.  He is approximately 2 years behind the UK curriculum, and often feels embarrassed at not being at the same level as the other kids.  2 years is a big gap to close, and we are still figuring out how best to help him.  He resists extra learning at home, after trying hard all day at school, so it makes extra tuition tricky.  Having said that, he also loves the freedom they have at their school.  Running every morning as a whole school body is one of his favorite things to do, along with learning many of their lessons outside where it can connect with reality.  He loves his teacher and she has embraced him warmly.  He is enjoying starting to learn the basics of tennis, and attended a tennis program over half-term break.  He has also begun Taekwon-do, and attends 2 sessions per week.  He is enjoying the sparring night more than the patterns, and I can see him moving into kickboxing.  He likes using his whole body!  He has slimmed down and grown taller before our eyes as he moves from being a young boy to an older child.  His behavior is still very child-like, and we are frequently reminding him he isn’t a toddler anymore!

Paul alternates between working from home, working in the London office, and traveling.  So far his travel has been short trips within Europe, much like when he worked in the LACRO region.  He is working hard on strategies to achieve the SDG2 (Sustainable Development Goal 2), together with a team of people, and others all around the world.  He continues to believe a world where no hunger exists is possible, and strives towards that goal daily.

So life rolls on as we continue to create life here.  We are getting to know our neighbours, and learning about the fabric of their lives until now.  We are exploring the immediate vicinty, and visiting some of the major sites of London and surrounds.  We are enjoying visiting with good friends in nearby Bath, whenever we can schedule catch ups.  Paul is out on his bike whenever the weather is sunny, visiting the local gastropubs and loving the freedom of riding through fields of wheat and sheep.  For all of these things and much more, we are blessed beyond words.

We are making plans for upcoming travel around Europe and the UK, using our time here however long that may be.  The kids each have destinations they would like to visit, so we are looking at how we can weave those into our adventures.  We are also looking forward to several visitors throughout the coming year.  If you are passing through London, give us a shout.  We love seeing friends and family from all over, and will happily offer you an airbed in our crazy house.  We are ‘out’ of central London, but 30 minutes on the train will have you at Paddington Station.  We’re walking distance to our local station too which makes getting around super easy.  Hope to see some of you in the not to distant future xx

All things Italian

February has been a month of all things Italian.  With the kids hard at work getting used to distance education, and Paul working Monday to Friday in Rome, we decided to stay within Italy and spend the weekends exploring as much as possible.  With Paul’s contract quickly coming to an end too, we also felt the need to explore as much as possible in case we were leaving (good hindsight there!).  The kids and I are also visiting on a tourist visa, and we are conscious that our 90 days ends in the not to distant future.  3 months has flown by!

Naples and Pompeii were high on our list of places to explore.  We had heard mixed reviews about Naples, with most people either loving the eclectic, gritty streets or hating the city entirely.  Within easy driving distance of Rome, we headed down, sighing Mt.Vesuvius on the way.  A slight side trip took us to the Palace of Caserta, the largest palace constructed in the 18th century for the Bourbon Kings of Naples.  Of most interest to the boys were the cars parked inside the palace walls!  They had been driven down from Milan for an exhibition.  We were there pretty early so no barriers had been erected yet, allowing for a good look around!  The palace too was fairly empty of tourists, once again a major bonus of traveling in winter.  This also has downsides though, as the kids are very visible.  Staff followed us from room to room, tittering and grunting the Italian equivalent of “hands off” each time one of the kids came within breathing distance of an artifact, wall or window.  Swinging child-limbs were particularly frowned upon with disdain!  It made the experience slightly stressful, however we turned it into a walking joke and that shook off some of the pressure as we all wandered from room to room gawking at palace life.

The gardens were also meant to be spectacular.  In bad moods and freezing cold, we followed Paul the 2 miles to the back of the palace grounds to find the blessed gardens.  Not caring in the least, 5 of us walked through the garden gates, looked at the winter debris, and walked straight back out.  Poor Paul was very sad as we refused to walk any further in the cold, and he missed out on seeing what is meant to be remarkable English gardens.  He now starts the weekends by saying, “Anyone want to walk to see this garden I’ve heard about?!”

Naples is known for being pretty dodgy, so our next challenge was finding safe parking.  We had an idea to pay to park in an underground hotel carpark for the day as they are about as secure as you can get, which was great in theory, but proved mighty difficult trying to navigate the one way itty bitty streets, traffic and pedestrians.  We decided to chance a random underground carpark where they park it for you.  Given my parking disaster in Monaco, having someone park the car was far preferable than having to navigate it ourselves.  These carparks are beasts, going multi levels underground with poles that I am sure are positioned just to be hit.  We’d already packed all our valuables into one bag, and covered the rest of our luggage in the boot, so we headed off on foot to explore the city.  Good thing we took all our valuables too… when we got back to the car all our stuff had been gone through and shifted.  Nothing was taken this time thankfully (I guess they didn’t like our choice of undies and socks) but it shows you can never be too careful.

Naples is a great place to walk around and people watch.  Our favorite activity by far though was touring the underground bunkers and passageways.  We paid for a tour with Napoli Sotterranea, an entertaining and engaging tour group that have huge amounts of knowledge about the underworld in Naples.  The kids were enthralled immediately, as we navigated tight passageways and vast caverns.  All of us really enjoyed the part where we had to side-step through tiny gaps in the wall, with only candles for light.  We learnt a lot about life in Naples during WW2 and the bombings that shattered the city.

Rather than stay in Naples where decent accommodation is expensive, and cheap accommodation is super sketchy for a big family, we headed to Pompeii.  Our hotel was right opposite the entrance to the old city, so we knew we could explore bright an early the next morning very easily.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner at a family run trattoria in town, followed by a wander through the new Pompeii streets.

Once again, being winter, there was no queueing for entrance into Pompeii.  We decided to join up with two girls from China and pay a guy to take us around.  Staring at huge ruins is one thing, but having a knowledge guide being able to bring it to life makes the experience so much more enriching.  He engaged the kids the whole time, and taught us things we would never have otherwise known.  We thought the carved penises you see frequently on street corner walls was a sign that a brothel must have been there.  We were dead wrong!  They were symbols of vitality and fertility, blessing the people who lived in the surrounding streets!  Pompeii was and is, a once in life time opportunity that we are all blessed to have experienced.  We had hoped to climb Mount Vesuvius in the afternoon, but heavy cloud made it pointless.  So we headed north to Roma and began planning our next adventure!

Friends arrived the following day, so we geared up for a week of food, fun and frivolity.  We had a fabulous week with them, rounded out by a weekend in Florence that is one we will never forget.  Compared to Rome, Florence is impeccably clean.  There is an air of sophistication in Florence that isn’t present in Rome (probably because it’s masked by all the dog poo!).  We ate our way through salumeria’s, had the most phenomenal steak meal I’ve ever experienced, and danced like lids on the Ponte Vecchio.  Together with our friends, we made memories that we shall treasure forever.  Check out their amazing work at Dennistheprescott for a visual treat that will leave your tummy hungering for amazing food!

Following their departure, we planned for another weekend get away, this time to Amalfi.  It was another bucket list destination for me, so I was geared up and ready bright and early!  For weekend trips, we each pack a small daypack, making transportation very easy.  I’ve dreamed about driving the Amalfi Coast in a small convertible for many years.  Not quite a small convertible, but with a substantial sunroof, I fulfilled my dream in our Renault Espace.  For a people mover, it’s a lovely ride!

We booked a place through airbnb in Praiano, half way between Positano and Amalfi.  We had a stunning view across the water, and we were at the beginning of the Path of the Gods walk.  Our time in Amalfi was largely spent relaxing by the water whilst the kids clambered over rocks.  We walked the Path of the Gods, experiencing breath taking views in each direction, and enjoyed lunch in Positano.  We took it easy after a few big weekends away, and all came away better for it.  Amalfi is another ‘let’s go back’ destination, and Indi has decided it would be a great place to buy a house on one of the cliff’s, sit in his rocking chair drinking a glass of red with his cat on his knee, whilst writing a novel!

Rounding out February with a visit from some very dear friends, a trip to the Vatican Museums, and last meals at our favorite trattoria’s, February has been another stellar month.  Friends, food and fun seemed to be the February theme!

Today we say “Vediamo dopo Roma”.  We’ll be back someday to walk your endless cobblestone streets, argue with old men in the piazza about insignificant things (but what is this ‘home scholaring’ you talk about? I don’t understand?!), practice our Italian and eat more pasta.

January’s adventures

From Corvara, Ostia Antica, Tivoli, Assisi, Spello, Rome, and Peru… it’s been an adventurous start to the year!

Corvara, Alta Badia is located in the Italian Alps in the Dolomites. The Dolomites are UNESCO world heritage listed and are a stunning part of the world Paul stumbled across online. Surprising the kids with their first ever snow experience, we spent Christmas through to the 30th December learning how to ski (or snow plough!). Discovering the ski culture ensured a fabulous week for us.  We headed to the slopes each morning around 830am, had lessons from 10-1, stopped for an hour for lunch, then attempted to ski from 2-4.30pm when the lifts closed as it became dark.  Dinners we usually cooked in our apartment, everyone being too tired to get re-dressed and head out to a restaurant.  By 8pm we were all asleep most evenings anyway!  Everyone loved the experience, the kids especially loved spending the afternoons chasing Paul down the runs.  It was awesome to see them bonding over something they could all share.  I don’t think skiing is naturally my thing. I am very good at getting on and off the ski lifts, excellent at eating lunch and simply wonderful at drinking wine of an evening. The co-ordination however of left, right, lean forward, was definitely not my forfeit. I gave it a solid try, but the bruises I am still sporting suggest much more practice is needed!

We spent Christmas Day playing games at our apartment, followed by lunch at a great local restaurant that had a mixture of Italian, Austrian and German cuisine.  Our lunch consisted of barley soup, a selection of meats and cheeses, wurstel, pork shank, lamb, local vegetables, and several desserts.  Christmas night we wandered down to the square, where Santa came and visited on a horse.  Sitting on hay bale seats, with tables attached to large drums filled with fire to keep warm, we were entertained by other tourists desperate to have their photo taken with Santa.  It was like watching a rugby scrum as parents shoved their kids to the front of the pack!

Aside from some sibling squabbles, and the occasional tantrum due to tiredness, we had a fabulous week away and I know that each of the kids would jump at the chance to ski again.

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An overnight stop in Bologna enroute to Rome.

Ostia Antica, an Ancient Roman city once the port of Ostia, it was also used as a fortress during its existence. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the city was largely abandoned, allowing silt from the river Tiber to build up and eventually cover the existing infrastructure. The silt has ensured that most of the ruins are impeccably preserved, making the site comparable to a visit to Pompeii.  Visiting Ostia, only a 30 minute train ride from Porta San Paulo in Rome (3 euro for a return ticket), gave all of us a sense of what Ancient Roman life would have entailed. The ruins were almost completely whole in many places, therefore eclipsing the Roman Forum in our opinions, by enabling us to visualize daily life. We were able to enter the local pub, walk the commercial square, wander through the mill/bakery, and climb atop an apartment complex.

Tivoli, much like Ostia Antica, has a large set of ruins that once housed Emperor Hadrian’s country estate. Adriana Estate is over a hundred hectares of sweeping grounds, that once housed palaces, bath houses, a hospital, apartments, a commercial centre, and multiple buildings for entertaining. There is a huge olive grove which the kids loved running through, as well as pegging acorns at each other howling with pain, yet going straight back for more.

Tivoli is also home to Villa D’Este, which we enjoyed more than Adriana (probably because we’d just been to Ostia Antica and the ruins there really are pretty phenomenal). Villa D’Este has a very unassuming entrance, to the side of a quiet street in Tivoli. Inside, the buildings open up to reveal stunningly landscaped grounds with fountains everywhere you turn. The most impressive is perhaps the wall of fountains, stretching over a 100m long. We all loved visiting Villa D’Este, and imagining what life would have been like living there. The tranquility of the place was quite remarkable (though Ty and tranquil don’t usually go in the same sentence!).   The location is beautiful on its own, set into the side of a cliff looking back down the valley. Inside the estate has been restored to it’s original glory after being damaged during the war. Wandering through the home, each of the kids chose a ‘bedroom’… there was even one called Noah’s room which naturally he claimed!

The streets of Tivoli were lovely and quiet being winter, so we were able to freely wander around, poking our heads in the boutique stores and enjoying a delicious ‘pot luck’ Panini lunch (we had no idea what most of the ingredients were on the menu!

Entry to all of the above places were 8 euro per adult, and kids under 18 entered free. We have learnt we need to carry Noah’s passport everywhere now as we get questioned about his age constantly. He is loving it of course!

A day trip to the Umbria region on a weekend enabled Paul to join in our adventures. He is being very gracious allowing the kids and I to explore all week long, and he is loving his new job, but I know he would rather be with us than working! The Umbria region is famous for olive oil, local wine and truffles, so we thoroughly indulged in it all. Stopping in Spello, we walked briskly to the top of the town where we had a fabulous view back down the valley. It was bloody freezing though, and the cobblestones had largely iced over making walking a tad hazardous! After an hour or so of visiting Spello’s sites, we headed for Assisi, the main purpose for our day trip.

Rick Steves does a great free audio tour around Europe. We have each downloaded his app onto our various devices, and before we head out anywhere, we download the specific location we are going to so we can listen to his commentaries. Armed with earbuds and phones/ipods, we wander around various locations listening as he informs us about the history behind each place. He gives you a specific location to start at, enabling you to see all of the place in a specific order. This has been a fabulous find for all of us, allowing us to learn so much more than we would have on our own, as well as saving us mega $$$ hiring audio guides wherever we go. The kids enjoy being able to move at their own pace too, and each place comes with an interactive map, making it hard to get lost.

Assisi is a beautiful Italian town, built high upon a hill. We loved exploring the cathedral that is a monument to St.Francis, and the final resting place of his remains, as well as the castle and surrounding streets. Assisi is stunningly beautiful, with world-renowned artwork available to view, as well as a rich history. We really enjoyed being able to share with the kids the history of St. Francis. It was fascinating to them that he gave up living the life of a rich, businessman’s son, to live as Jesus lived. His desire was to love the unlovable, and care for those whom others had cast aside, as well as shun any form of materialism. It was a freezing cold day that we visited, with snow on the ground and icy roads, and they kept saying how cold St. Francis must have been in winter, given that he wore a simple sack robe and sandal-esque shoes, and most often slept in the fields. We were wrapped in multiple layers and still felt cold!

Arriving back in Rome we learned of the need for Paul to head to Lima, Peru for a couple of weeks. This year, our goal is to stay together as much as possible as a family unit. We haven’t had a year where Paul hasn’t travelled for long periods since the kids were born. They haven’t had their Dad come home to them every evening, for a year, ever.  So although it wasn’t planned for, we all booked last minute tickets to Lima!

Flying via the UK, then onto Lima, we arrived after 16 odd hours to a much warmer climate than Rome. Paul had flown ahead of us, so we jumped in a van and made our way to Miraflores, a suburb on the ocean in Lima. Unbeknownst to myself previously, Peru is home to some of the most fabulous cuisine in the world. With one of the top ten restaurants in the world in Miraflores, I quickly discovered that eating out in Lima is a treat for the taste buds!  We made sure to sample as much Peruvian cuisine as we could, especially loving the fresh ceviche.

Whilst in Lima we followed Trip Advisors advice and hit up many of the top 30 places to visit. We took in the zoo, the boardwalk, and many of the parks. We visited ruins, the Barranco district, surfed and swam with sea lions!

Heading further afield we visited Lunahuana in the desert and went white water rafting.  We all loved the rafting experience, although the water was pretty chilly.  Indi and Tia sat up the front of the raft, having no clue they would cop most of the rapids.  We have some fabulous footage of Indi getting unexpectedly wiped out, with his mouth gaping open in shock and the rest of us laughing like hyenas!

Our trip to Lunahuana was especially funny due to our accommodation.  Hailed as an ecolodge, we booked a place that looked and sounded great on paper.  Stating it could accommodate 6 people, we arrived to discover we had been assigned two rooms – one with a double bed and one with 3 single beds.  The bathroom was a communal bathroom down the hallway that we shared with other guests.  When we asked the owner about the possibility of an extra bed to accommodate all 6 of us, he shrugged and said, “No, we don’t have one!”.  Having left our bed rolls in Rome, Indi and Ty topped and tailed.  Ty woke in the morning with his teeth chattering, having lost his battle for the blanket in the middle of the night.

Paul and I woke around 1230am to a strange sound.  It was raining quite heavily outside, and the roof was leaking inside.  Paul jumped out of bed once he realized the strange sound was the water running through the ceiling and landing on him in bed!  Shoving the bed as far across the room as we could, and soaking the wet spots with a towel, we went back to sleep.  In the morning, Paul chatted with the owner about the rains and our leaking roof.  The owner shrugged and said, “It only rains here once a year.  What can you do?”  The whole experience was very ‘rustic’ and ‘earthy’!

Having booked our trip to Peru so last minute, we decided not to try and rush a trip to Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Mancora or the Nazca Lines this time around. We weren’t prepared with our gear, nor did we have the time to do it proper justice.  It is definitely added to our bucket list though of places we’d like to explore further!

Never having had the opportunity to visit before, Lima and surrounds was an unexpected treat for all of us. Rich in culture, history and with an amazing gastronomy scene, as well as having a lot of familiar shops and products, we all really enjoyed our time in Lima and felt quite at home there.

As January draws to an end, we’re enjoying visiting with some friends from the USA, Paul’s birthday is upon us this Sunday, and school officially begins next week.  We can’t wait to see what February brings!

Ty’s Skiing Adventure

Over Christmas we went skiing in the Dolomites.  The Dolomites are in the Italian Alps.  Before I went skiing I felt confident and happy.  I felt confident because I thought I was going to learn how to ski really quickly.  I felt happy because I was so excited to get out on the snow!

On the first day we had to get our ski’s, snow boots and helmets.  We rented them from underneath the ski school.  We got a locker.  The locker was cool because it had heaters for our gloves and boots!  On the first day it was really strange getting all our gear on.  Once we got all our gear on, we went upstairs and met Simone, our ski instructor.  

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Simone taught me how to get my ski’s and my boots connected, so I would be safe whilst I skiied.  We went down to ski-land, where there is a training hill, and an obstacle course to teach us how to lean, duck and turn.  We spent the whole first morning practising there.  Practicing there made me so happy.  I thought I would want to ski for the rest of my life!

That afternoon, Dad took us back to the Corvara ski slope, and I had my first go on a bigger hill.  I loved it and I felt so free!  I went really fast going down the hill in s’s!

After the second day of lessons, I was ready to go to another slope.  We went on a bigger ski lift, and Dad took me on an even bigger slope!  I felt so confident now, I kept going off on my own!

By the end of our week of skiing, I was doing jumps, and going really fast down huge slopes.  I loved everything about skiing.  I was even better than Noah!  On the last day, we entered an obstacle course race.  It was to see how fast we could go down a really fast slope, whilst skiing in s’s.  I came first and won a trophy!

I liked the white snow because it was cold. I really liked to throw snowballs at Mama!  I fell over a few times on the snow but it didn’t hurt.  I went on some of the most fun ski slopes and I did some jumps like a pro!

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At the end of the week we had to go back home to Rome.  I loved trying skiing for the first time ever.  I think I will come back again!