Thursday, September 14, 2017

EU life and Brexit

Where do we stand today, mum? How close are we to knowing whether we'll need to leave?

That's what I was asked this morning on the school run by my 11 year old. There was neither fear, nor excitement in his voice, just resignation as he spends another day playing the waiting game...

I expect Leave voters today fall into two categories; those who just want TM to get on with things and ignore all the media hype and expert warnings about imminent economic collapse, or those who feel they were lied to and misled and may have voted differently, had they known the truth.

I also imagine Remain voters, for the most part fall into two categories; those who are resigned to EU withdrawal and feel vaguely sad and those who go through periods of rage when they scream at Twitter and Facebook (or at the TV or radio) whenever the utter incompetence of the UK government is mentioned. These are probably still hoping against hope that sense will prevail and potentially bring down TM's government before all the EU doctors and uni professors leg it to the first available job on the continent, but in between times they get on with their daily lives, they go to work, they go shopping, they go see a movie or whatever.

But there is one further category; those who didn't vote at all. It wasn't that this third group were disinterested, or busy washing their hair that day. Ironically, those who didn't vote were the most affected by the whole thing. Those are the EU UK residents. This means my family and all of those millions of families like mine across the UK... over three million families to be precise. I voted of course, but my husband couldn't vote, he was disenfranchised. He's been here nearly two decades, he's the director of a UK company, he's the father of UK citizens, but he wasn't permitted a say on his family's future. This third group, unlike the first two, doesn't think about Brexit once a week, or even once a day. It doesn't even think about it every time TM or Boris or one of the others says something stupid. This third group breathes Brexit every minute of every day and has done since June 2016 and let me tell you, it's getting awfully tiring.

My husband's status will change, though no one knows what to. Currently the date for this is March 2019 - though that may be longer if a transition agreement is agreed, or shorter of course, if this crazy dictatorial clause whereby Brexit Day is decided by a government minister without consulting parliament (that the HoC voted for the other night) is fully accepted. The conundrum is this: the day he potentially loses his right to live in the UK coincides exactly with the day I lose my right to free movement and therefore my ability to leave the UK permanently with him. So suddenly there is potentially nowhere where a family like ours (and those other 3 million) can legally live together.

This means we've been placed in a situation where we must look at the current state of affairs and decide if it will be safe to stay here or not. And let me tell you - the shambles that is the UK negotiating team is not giving us much to work with at all. We somehow have to find out in advance that Thomas's rights won't change, despite the fact that we are now seeing on a daily basis that EU citizens are being turned down for loans, mortgages, rental agreements, jobs and more. This, of course, isn't legal (yet) but EU citizens are a risky client now so they are best avoided. My mortgage fixed rate is up for renewal in the summer of 2019. If EU citizens are deemed too risky, I will not be able to renew my mortgage (we will be 15 years into our mortgage at that point) as I cannot pay it alone. It, like most mortgages, is based on two earners. So I could lose my home.

There is also talk about fining companies who employ EU citizens rather than UK ones in future. This, of course, will make my husband unemployable, which again means I will lose my home.

There are many other more complex issues being mooted but let's just work with these two, given how huge they are. Let's work backwards from the official date of March 2019 with these two points. If we deem there to be a possibility that these two things go ahead, the last date an EU family can escape the UK is the middle of March 2019. By that date the EU member needs preferably to have found a job abroad and also have sold their UK home and found somewhere to live abroad, so you can't start thinking about it with two weeks to go. When you have children, disrupting them during a school year is not ideal, so the best time to take them out of school is the holiday before March 2019, so preferably the summer of 2018, (or Christmas at a pinch). Assuming you go for summer 2018 as that gives the kids longer to acclimatise to a new country before starting a new school, your house sale and new EU job need to be in place by June 2018, so realistically you need to start looking for them around January 2018. That gives us EU families just three months to find out what is going to happen and at the moment it looks extremely unlikely that we'll know anything at all in three months time.

So if we know nothing by Christmas this year, we are left with the question: do we sit it out and assume the government will finally come to its senses, negotiate something in the country's interest or even call the whole thing off or do we give up everything we've worked our whole adult lives for, disrupt our kids' schooling by pulling them out of a school we know is good and moving them potentially to a country where they don't even know the language, shatter our family in two (because at the very least Marcel needs to finish uni here, and Charlotte is due to start uni in Sept 2018) and start our lives again at the same time as we hit our late 40s/early 50s? Does this government instil the confidence in you that they'll sort out all the issues on the table, diplomatically by this Xmas? I have my doubts.

And that is why we breathe it every minute of every day. That is why many have started leaving already. If this doesn't get sorted in a more serious manner soon, it will be too late for my family, and for many of the other three million like us.

A trauma-free life

Léon comes across as a laid-back, happy boy. He can run a little bit on nervous energy, but in general things don't seem to get him down too much, all things considered:

  • his mother decided to leave his father when he was less than a year old
  • he has poor eyesight but we didn't discover the problem till he was four, so he couldn't really see properly till then
  • he used to visit his biological father about once a week from his 2nd birthday till his 6th and then he simply vanished from his life
  • when his father stopped seeing him, his French aunt and German grandmother also disappeared from his life
  • six weeks after his mum went freelance (when he was 3), his stepdad was made redundant, so the family's income plummeted drastically
  • his grandpa was diagnosed as terminally ill four weeks after he started primary school, so his mum's mind was elsewhere for the following twenty months (plus)
  • when he was six, his gran had a stroke and lost her ability to speak for several months
All in all that's quite a load for a child who is still only 11. Of course, those are just the negatives, and there are many, many more positives on the other side of the balance. 

Two weeks into high school, the English and Maths departments are still trying to make sure the kids are streamed according to their ability, (they've been put in sets based on the primary work and standardised test results). To check the quality of the pupils in the top three English classes, the teachers decided to set them the task of writing a 'personal reflective' essay, along the lines of the one they'll need to do for Higher in five years time. (See Charlotte's which I mentioned previously). 

Léon came home talking about having to write an essay about something he had experienced which has marked him in some way... Given what both Marcel and Charlotte chose at Higher, I was apprehensive. Léon is definitely way too young to open that can of worms. I asked tentatively if he'd an idea of what he could write about: I dunno, he said, I don't think anything really bad has ever happened to me in my life... I was about to point out that it didn't necessarily have to be something bad, just something that had moved him in some way when he suddenly looked as if a light bulb had come on. I braced myself... I know! Once when I was six and school had just started letting us eat our packed lunches outside, I took out my sandwich, put it on the picnic bench and turned to open my juice, and at that moment a seagull swooped down and stole my sandwich! Do you think that would count as a traumatic experience? Cos I can't think of anything else that's ever really upset me!
What a sweet, innocent and optimistic child he still is! 

At the end of the day he decided to write about this summer as it had been momentous for him to be left behind in Italy and gain a little independence away from his parents for three weeks and his home for five. The teacher was very happy with it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Thomas has decided to challenge the kids with this month's chores chart. Apparently it's the typeface his German grandparents were taught in school. It should be interesting to get their reaction!

Sunrise over a volcano

Nicaragua World Challenge MCHS

I meant to blog a link to this when she came back at the beginning of July, but we left for Italy then and I never got round to it...

Imagine being 17 years and eight months old and already having climbed to the top of a volcano on the other side of the world in complete darkness at 3am, to sit on the top and wait and watch sunrise over four more volcanoes. Imagine then going down and climbing those other four and volcano-boarding down the biggest one, Cerro negro, which last erupted the year before you were born...

One of the most difficult things I find with parenting teenagers is the sheer amount of envy you have to control deep within yourself, when you see their freedom and what's on offer these days. I was thrilled with a week in Switzerland (on a bus) on a geography trip as my high school experience (and I didn't even do geography!), now both my kids have gone to the other side of the world to do charity work and I'm practically glowing green. I don't envy them what awaits them after uni, of course, the world is so much more depressing than it was in my 20s, but as a traveller, I would kill to hide away in their rucksacks at times.

Charlotte came back with wonderful tales of another world. She taught in crowded outdoor classrooms where kids sat at desks combined with chairs but always with one eye on the sky as the daily torrential downpour meant they needed to be ready to run for their lives in the middle of a lesson, though being kids some were tempted simply to dance in the refreshing rain. Kids as young as seven could be under cover in less than thirty seconds with all their belongings when they needed to be. She described them as curious and desperate to learn all she could teach them. She told us of them crowding round her wanting to touch her hair as they were all much darker than her.

She also spent a few nights sleeping on the floor of semi-derelict classrooms, none of which had or needed windows, under mosquito nets and spending the days painting and restoring them. She got quite acquainted with the Nicaraguan flag as all school buildings have to be painted in the country's colours!

She showed us photos of the wildlife; things I've never even seen in a zoo. They simply walked past her in the more dense jungle areas: tiny frogs, coloured birds, monkeys, sloths and snakes. We've had pet hamsters since Charlotte was 13 and she's never picked one of them up yet - for as long as I can remember Charlotte has never liked animals with fur (yes, I know that rules out a few!) but she used to ask for terrapins, tortoises, snakes and the likes when she was little, so I'm surprised this itsy bitsy frog didn't make it home in her luggage!

She told us of the amazing food, proud that she was the only one in her group not to get an upset stomach! But most of all she told me that she'll keep in touch with her school and go back one day to see how they are doing. Then she turned to the three wee ones and said 'One day, I'll take you there', and for now at least, she really means it! Her world is much bigger now.

I'll leave you with this cute conversation I overheard when Charlotte was taking Amaia through her photos:
'Lotsie, see when people go volcano-boarding?'
'Do they shut the volcano while people are doing it? I mean, like, do they turn it off!?'

And here are her photos if anyone wonders what Nicaragua is like.

Higher English Folio

Three years ago Marcel broached this topic, this year it was Charlotte's turn. When asked to write a 'personal reflective' essay on a theme close to them, they both opted for the same one. The Higher English folio is an important part of the university entrance exams in Scotland so both times, I was concerned about their choice of subject, in case they weren't up to analysing their feelings, so young. Both got full marks for what they wrote, so I guess I should learn to worry less... I suspect they were both somewhat constrained by the 1300 word limit, and at a later date, they might find themselves writing more on the topic.

So here it is: Charlotte's Higher essay about her relationship with her biological father. It is terribly sad that things have come to this, as it never needed to be this way. I can't even imagine how I would feel if my child wrote something like this about me. They do say the thing you remember most vividly in life isn't what you did or saw, but how someone made you feel. That definitely seems to be the case for both of them:

An Unimaginable Ultimatum

I am upstairs in my room with my older brother, Marcel. He is six and I am four. Mum is with us, whispering us another story from our favourite book. Dad doesn’t like it when we make too much noise when he is trying to work. I want to jump and dance and play with my toys but that always makes mum look worried so we sit quietly, listening. My brother chooses a story I don’t want to hear. Maybe I’m tired, maybe I’m just tired of sitting patiently so I start to wail. Mum looks panicked: Shhh, please! Her eyes plead with me to be quiet. She cuddles me, she strokes me lovingly, she begs me to quieten down, but when you’re four, it is sometimes beyond your control. I cry louder and she looks like she might cry too. Suddenly the door bangs downstairs and his heavy footsteps start their approach. My brother too looks terrified. The door swings open. They hold their breath as I rage but this time he walks over and picks me up. He carries me gently to the bedroom window. It overlooks a field. Look outside, his voice is sweet and patient today, let’s see if there are any foxes playing in the field. Mum and Marcel breathe again. Tonight, he is kind. 

Two years later mum finally became tired of his moods and moved out. Fast forward… I am now about nine and it is a horrible winter weekend. Freezing rain bites my face as I walk with him to the shops. Let’s have a movie night, kids! he announces happily. I’m excited. The poster in the window of Blockbusters proclaims this week’s special is ‘3 films for £10’. Dad picks an action movie, and it’s an action movie for Marcel too. I proudly hand over ‘Just dance 2’. I’ve been desperate to see it for months. What’s that nonsense? he asks scathingly, We’re not watching that! Put it back! I walk back to the shelf trying to stop my eyes from betraying the hurt and rage I feel as he laughs and adds a third Bruce Willis film to his basket. Don’t I exist? 

Another lonely weekend is over and I am relieved to be returning home. We pile into the car and I try to hide my overwhelming anticipation of the return to normality. I make sure not to show it because I’m not allowed to mention my step dad or my sisters. Dad likes to call them the people we hate and I know the reaction any contradiction of this statement would cause. I try to focus on nothing, anything but his words as I feel the anger build inside me. I might explode, if I don’t tell him to stop putting his words into my mouth, but it is only a few more minutes till we arrive, so I concentrate on not answering him. The girls are playing in our garden. They toddle unsteadily towards the gate, grins on their pudgy faces, their arms outstretched, as he pulls up. Would you look at those ugly brats! he laughs, and turns around looking for our agreement. Does it not occur to him that those are my sisters? I adore everything about them. Has he ever tried to see anything from anyone else’s perspective? Inside I am screaming at him, I am even swearing at him. I can see the scene in my head, but I step silently away from his car, seething. 

Dad’s bitterness about the divorce is something he takes out on us. Every weekend, as if on replay, he rants about my mum stealing all his money. Ask your mother to get you it, he hisses, when we say we’ve outgrown our clothes. He goes as far as to show us receipts for bank transfers of large sums of money to my mum’s name. I feel confused and upset. At home everything seems so warm and loving but is my mum lying to us? She struggles to make ends meet. I mull it over silently at night as I lie in this alien bed miles from home. Who is telling me the truth? Are mum’s caring smiles just a façade? It was only years later I learned that the one who keeps the house in a divorce has to buy the other out and those bank transfers were only her half of their house. 

Over the years, I tried to stand up to him but every weekend started with a blazing battle and ended with me banished to my bedroom. I was finding it increasingly difficult not to contradict his twisted view of reality. And then came 2012. My grandpa had cancer. He passed away six weeks before I finished primary school. Dad showed no sympathy: I would have gone to his funeral but he took your mother’s side in the divorce, so I really don’t care! This was my grandpa who I adored. He was warm and cuddly, and he made me laugh. He read me books, he gave me a camera and took me out on photo shoots, just me and him. He made me feel special. Could dad not put me first just once? Could he not see my pain? I rang him up, after hours of gathering my courage and announced: I’m not coming with you to France. I want to spend the summer here with mum and gran. I want to get to know the other kids who are going to my high school after the summer holiday! A holiday of fights with dad while becoming the only kid no one knew on their first day at high school was the last thing I needed that summer. Of course he would be mad at me, but he would understand. 

I’d just got my first phone for going to high school. It buzzed. My mind raced as I wondered which of my new friends wanted to meet up in the park. You have until tonight. If you do not get on the plane, you are no longer my child! My blood turned to ice. Surely he didn’t mean that? Of course, he didn’t. He liked to bully and intimidate but he never carried out his threats. The plane left and I went to the park with my two little sisters. We sat by the waterfall and relief swept through me. Three whole conflict-free weeks stretched before me. I finally felt free. I felt calm for the first time since my grandpa had died. No one would say anything hurtful to me for three whole weeks! 

Nearly five years have passed since that text and still I wait. I have neither seen him nor heard from him. I no longer need to worry about his unpredictable moods. I have a very close and strong relationship with my sisters despite them being so much younger than me. It’s mystifying to think how little he knows of his own daughter’s life. He doesn't know my school subjects, or my exam results. He has no clue of my interests or future career paths. Looking forward, there are so many things he will not get to do and see that a normal father would. He won’t get to see me grow up. He won’t get to walk me down the aisle. He will never know my children, his future grandchildren. When I think back all those years ago, snuggling into him as we looked for the foxes, I know he is warm somewhere deep inside so it is hard to contemplate everything he chose to give up that day. It is strange to think I lost my father just six weeks after losing my grandpa. Maybe he still thinks about me but the terrible truth is I don't miss him.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Beware of sepsis

It's only Wednesday today. It feels like three weeks on Friday...

It started at the beginning of last week. Charlotte casually asked me about 10 days ago if she should be worried if her pee was darker and smellier than usual. I asked if it hurt to pee, thinking she possibly had a urinary tract infection. She said no and had no other symptoms so we thought nothing more about it. Eight days ago I asked her in the passing if that had cleared up and she said she felt it had improved a little but not altogether disappeared so I phoned the GP while she was at school and arranged a phone consultation for 4pm. I fully expected they'd tell us to bring up a sample and that they'd check that. Unfortunately Léon managed to forget his PE kit in his Maths class that day and when got home at 4:03, we'd missed the call and last GP consultation of the day. Charlotte said it wasn't a problem as it was more or less back to normal anyway.

On Wednesday she was fine. On Thursday she was complaining of a backache and searching her memory for when she could have pulled a muscle. There were no longer any signs of problems with her pee so we didn't instantly connect the two. She also had a slight cold. I asked on Thursday if it could be a pain in her kidney rather than her back as I often get kidney pain when I'm under the weather. She considered it a possibility and decided to see the GP if it got worse.

Friday, she wasn't overly sore but Saturday she complained her back pain was worse and coming through to the front. I phoned the Out-of-hours GP service on NHS24 and was told to give her paracetamol and see our own GP first thing on Monday when it reopened. She wasn't in any way distressed, had no temperature, was eating normally and showing no other symptoms so we weren't overly worried.

On Sunday at lunchtime I shouted her to come and eat. It is completely normal not to see Lots before Sunday lunch! She didn't come down. I went up. She was burning hot and soaked in sweat. I phoned the Out-of hours again and told them I needed an appointment. I bundled her into the car and drove to the Victoria Infirmary. I then discovered that the second Sunday after schools go back is a bad day to go to Out of Hours... every 5-7 year old in Glasgow seemed to be in there, all accompanied by their younger siblings. I even knew two other people in the queue! After two hours we were seen by a woman GP (whose name I wish I had noted down, so I could thank her now). I fully expected a 5 minute consultation and a prescription for amoxicillin. She discovered Charlotte's temperature was 40 degrees, her heart rate was up at 160, her blood pressure was at 90/60, her pee was full of blood and she was retaining fluid. She said she needed to be hospitalized as a sepsis risk and advised me to drive her straight to A&E at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. She told me to wait outside while she rang ahead and prepared a letter for them of her findings. She then had second thoughts and told me as Charlotte could be as close as five hours from developing sepsis, she didn't want us waiting in A&E so called an ambulance to drive her between the two hospitals, telling me to abandon my car. She was dragged out, hooked up to a heart monitor and driven across Glasgow. The QEUH had her hooked up to intravenous antibiotics and fluids within the hour.

Charlotte is 17, nearly 18. In Scotland that makes her a legal adult, so it also means she was transferred to the adult hospital, not the sick kids' hospital next door to the QEUH. That meant I was only allowed to stay for visiting hours rather than overnight as you would be with a child. I couldn't go with her for kidney scans or blood tests, etc. Leaving your child hooked up to intravenous antibiotics and fluids while they shiver and shake uncontrollably is extremely difficult. Sleeping with your phone on and beside your pillow, so as not to miss any emergency calls is also hard. By Tuesday morning, I was convinced it was about Friday. I had driven in and out to Govan a dozen times in just three days, taking various worried siblings to see her.

On Monday morning she was taken for a kidney scan and that night she was deemed out of danger and moved upstairs, to a room with the best view in the whole hospital of the helipad! By then her fever had disappeared enough that she was getting seriously bored with the lack of things to do and with the food!

Last night they agreed she could move onto oral antibiotics and go home, on condition she came in for blood tests as an outpatient till her infection levels dropped to a nil. They had dropped considerably but not to the level they had been hoping for. So we'll be back again tomorrow. Here's hoping she's well by then.

I think the biggest shock for me in the whole thing was that she went from not having a fever to being considered an imminent sepsis risk in less than 12 hours. It really is terrifying.

This, by the way, is my second encounter with the QEUH in as many months. I am very impressed with the speed, friendliness and competence in there, (though not the food, lol!). I know everyone jokes about the 'death star' but sorry, anyone who saves my child's life is all right in my books.

Sheer joy

I think this is my favourite photo from this year's holiday. Amaia had been given a rather old photo so she could take photos and she was very impressed with the sunflower field outside Poppi. I love the looks on both her sisters' faces as she lines it up. I like it best, not because it captures a nice view, but because it captures the love, happiness and patience of two big sisters pleasing the youngest one.

Monday, August 28, 2017


It's been a long time since any of our kids crawled into our bed during the night, probably 5 years or more. Friday night, something upset Amaia (I suspect Roald Dahl is to blame as we're reading Witches together at the moment and it seems to be scaring her witless!) So around 2am she crawled in between Thomas and me. I didn't wake up so hadn't noticed. I got quite a fright when I felt fleece under the duvet (Thomas doesn't tend to wear a fleece onesie to bed!)

At that point she also started to stir, she reached one hand out and touched Thomas's head, then started to feel in my direction. As she realized she was between us, she nearly jumped out her skin and exclaimed - 'Woah, what are you two doing in my bed?' Hahaha

Here's Amaia in her bed - did she really, genuinely think all three of use could fit in there?!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Qualifying for the absurd

As I mentioned in the passing last week when I was discussing Lots's exam result, there has been a change in our financial circumstances. At the time, we had not been informed of any change by the child maintenance department, we simply had noticed that our bank account was rather on the light side and had telephoned them to see if they had any inkling why. Their unofficial reply then resulted in the cancellation of my planned trip to buy the kids their new school uniforms a few days before school went back. They told me that as soon as they had the official paperwork, I would be sent an explanation. So here's an excerpt from this morning's letter. 

It just struck me as a bizarre concept altogether...

Let's analyse it. A child's father 'qualifies for the nil rate of child maintenance'. It goes on to list what can qualify a person for this rate - having no job, being a child themselves, living in a care home, working abroad for a non-UK-based employer (and various other options for 16 and 17 year olds). So although an absent parent earns a living and has a job they no longer need to give any financial contribution towards their children. They basically earn the right to be absolved of all financial responsibility for them by moving abroad. I'm not sure I understand how that is possible. If I lose my job tomorrow and find myself homeless, I am still financially responsible for them, the person with custody never gets that opt out. If I decide to move abroad tomorrow, I still have to feed and clothe them. How can any parent ever qualify for the nil rate of child maintenance? Children are your responsibility from the day you have them till the day you die, not even simply until they turn 18 (or 25, or whatever arbitrary cut off point is put on it.) 

I presume they are assuming parents who move to good jobs abroad will feel morally obliged to not let their kids go hungry or without clothes and I hope that is generally the case but the wording that a parent can ever qualify for a nil rate of maintenance towards their child blows my mind. If I was homeless and hungry, I would still see to it that my kids were fed before me. I would never ever feel I qualified for a nil rate of responsibility towards them, no matter how old they are.

This notion is simply absurd to me.