Saturday, August 30, 2014

Charlotte, my millennium baby

I like this photo: Charlotte, a millennial herself (born less than 73 hours into this millennium), as she captures nearly two millennia of history in a way that really represents this decade, and this one alone!

Grammatical slip-ups

They ask you the sweetest questions sometimes:

Léon: Mum, are your earrings venison?
Me: I think you mean Venetian Léon! 
(And yes, they are, well-spotted!)

Isn't it cute trying to form the adjective from Venice and ending up with 'venison'. Though the idea of wandering about with a hunk of meat hanging from my earlobe does not really appeal!

I've got style

I love it when little kids start to experiment with style. Anna is currently going through the 'trying to look like what she imagines a teenager wants to look like stage'. Amaia has sussed that things look good coordinated or contrasted so some days we get a blue t-shirt and skirt, other days we might get a white top with black leggings and today she came down dressed like this, having completely overlooked the colour scheme and announced - 'I chose this because cats (the dress) go with dogs (the leggings)'. It's very cute!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Two videos from this week

Which one can you relate to?

Or maybe?

I may have one kid more and no cats (for now) but I can definitely relate to her as I sit up at 1am working on a translation or some proofreading to pay for their futures. We discuss politics at the table and the teenagers don't even hide in their phones. I don't think the best time of the day is when I get peace - it's when I have a deep conversation with one of my 5 that shows me they are becoming involved and responsible members of society. That beats a cup of tea any day. Even my 8 year old started a playground referendum debate on Tuesday then came home in tears saying his friends' parents wanted to vote no (the downside of living in Newton Mearns) and he couldn't understand why his future in the EU (we're half Danish) and tuition fees etc were not in their minds. I swear he's better informed than them. Even my 4 year old points at every Yes sticker in a window and says that means 'Scotland'. They are never too young to engage.

A Nordic thing

There I was doing gardening when my Finnish friend walked past clutching her bag of goodies from the newly opened 'Home Bargains' store. She called over to me, almost teary-eyed with excitement. 'You have to tell your husband' she said, rifling in her bag. I waited to see what she was going to produce. Out she pulled a bag of salt liquorice and, almost sniffing, announced - 'It's real. It's Finnish! And it's 69p!' The poor woman hasn't been back to Finland much in recent years and it was like she'd discovered a little piece of home in Greenlaw Village shopping precinct. It was a truly moving experience, so I didn't have the heart to tell her my husband is one of only very few Danes I have ever met who doesn't like salt liquorice!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Two child families

My three youngest kids were invited to stay at their cousin's house on Saturday night because it was their cousin's birthday. That meant Thomas and I only had two kids for the first time since the older three stopped visiting their father over two years ago. I know most people only have two so would quite like a night off occasionally, but when you have five, having two is almost a night off - well it is as near to it as you're realistically going to get!

As we drove home from dropping them in town, it already felt weird - the car felt surprisingly spacious for starters. We got in late, 7ish so quickly threw some dinner together. Sitting down at the dining table was odd too, as we only took up half the seats but it was the silence that was most unsettling. Not once did we say 'use your fork', 'sit on your bottom', 'sit down', 'one more potato' 'turn and face the table' etc, etc. Dinner was actually a calm, philosophical discussion rather than a set of commands barked over the general din on dinner. Cooking for four was not something Charlotte was used to either so we ended up with a little too much of everything and when it got to dishes we were surprised to find the dishwasher even had space in it for a second meal! Is this what other people do every day? How very strange! After dinner was back to normal for me unfortunately because of a pressing work deadline but Thomas even got to go out for two hours after dinner instead of reading Danish and giving Léon a violin lesson. Is this what life will be like in ten years once we're down to two?

Finally Marcel remarked. 'This must be what other people live like: kids nearly the same age, quiet adult conversations, no tiny kids around your feet asking silly questions and going on about kiddie nonsense. It just doesn't feel right. It's spookily quiet. It doesn't feel like our family.' He just didn't feel at home without the chaotic lifestyle we call normality!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Did I blink and nearly miss it?

Twelve years ago I walked this little boy to school for the very first time, his two year old sister in tow. We posed for the obligatory first ever 'starting school' photo on the front lawn. It feels like yesterday. I still remember the warmth of the air that day and the anticipation. I remember him waiting in line to go into his class, alone: no parents on the first day. I remember hanging about to pick him up when he came out, proudly having drawn a self portrait entitled 'My first day at school'.

So much time has passed in his life since then, so little in my own. My 'back to school' photos now have a line-up of five, not two and my boy now towers over me by twenty centimetres but it is hard to believe today's was already the last ever full-family 'back to school photo'. They were never all at school at the same time. Amaia could, of course, have started today but partly because she is so small and still too tired for a whole day, and also because I know how quickly this thirteen year period passes, I have deferred her school start till next summer. Marcel won't start uni until around October next year so has promised to come outside next August and stand in the 'back to school' line up wearing his dressing gown and slippers. I hope to convince him by then that wearing his 'Leaver 15' sweatshirt might make for a slightly more presentable picture!

I saw many friends last night on Facebook sharing poems about how hard it is to take them to school that first time and start the process of letting them go. It doesn't get any easier when you know the next step in letting go is watching them leave your house forever, to make their own home, however proud that makes you feel. So I wish him well in his last ever year at school, and await with dread and anticipation when he announces next year, where he is planning to go and study!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A sunny, Mediterranean, Scandinavian place

Thomas and I are slowly coming to the conclusion we had our kids too late... I know I couldn't have had them much earlier, given when we first met and there was the small matter of getting he who shall not be named out of the picture first but in an ideal world it wasn't quite right... It is not that I am one for regrets and I do enjoy our summer trips to the warmth but from a linguistic and cultural point of view, the kids are not getting to know Denmark at all.

Because their farmor retired within months of Anna's birth she lost her big manse and at the same time we lost our base in Denmark and our ties to it. As a family, I am the first to admit we are an overwhelming (if friendly and helpful!) package and therefore can't really impose ourselves on people who are not family, but when Thomas's parents moved to a one bedroom flat, we simply no longer fitted. Of course things were further complicated by their larger, holiday home being in Tuscany. Most kids' school holidays are in the summer and they are always in Italy in summer and that's where there is room for us so Denmark was out. The upshot is that each of the three little ones has only set foot in Denmark one single time since their (respective) 2nd birthdays. So none has a real feel for Denmark as a country and culture. Although they are being brought up speaking Danish, they have almost no contact with Danes and none with Danish children their own age. Of course they are spoken to in Danish in Tuscany (and Scotland) by Thomas and his parents but all around them the conversations in the shops, the parks and the cafés are in Italian. When we are invited to dinner in Tuscany it is either by Italians

or my father-in-law's German relatives

 so instead of sitting for hours at the dinner table taking in at the Danish being spoken, they sit somewhat lost and restless as everyone speaks Italian or German (which  they do not understand). It is a shame because I remember well how much my older two benefited from sitting in the family house(s) in France with everyone inside and out conversing in French and the TV on in the corned of the room also in French.

I can see very little opportunity in the future either to visit Denmark, especially as my in-laws are imminently moving to Italy for more of the year, so Denmark will become a strange, mythical place to them. I've been to Copenhagen a couple of times and think Marcel would love to study there, at least one year, but he hasn't so it is not on his radar despite his fairly decent passive Danish. I also feel my own Danish has hit a wall I will not get over without ever setting foot in Denmark. I was last there over four years ago. I understand almost all of what is said around me but my grammar and my ability to pronounce the strange sounds of that language drown in the Italian that comes much more naturally to me (I have a degree in Italian). It saddens me so must be soul-destroying for Thomas to know the kids will never really know their background fully. I doubt the little ones will consider Denmark as a destination in the future either as it will not evoke warm childhood memories for them, but strangely neither will Italy because the place they hold dear is a strange sunny, Danish-speaking house lost in the Italian mountains. I don't think they fully grasp what Denmark and Italy are - they are condemned forever to be in a strange cultural and linguistic limbo.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Foreign blood

You can tell my kids aren't fully Scottish when you are in a big city at over 30 degrees and running around madly after pigeons seems far more important than sitting in the shade complaining that it is too hot in the sun! :-)

Robin Williams

It's funny - today so many people are devastated that the comic genius is gone but am I the only one who couldn't watch his comedy? I tried often enough but I always felt like a voyeur watching the most tragic clown on the planet almost self destruct. I found his comedy too painful to watch because it seemed profoundly sad to me - as if he was desperately trying (and for me, failing) to hide his sadness from the world. All his manic movements, his noises and silly faces made me want to scream at the screen - "stop that, calm down, get help."

But I am sad, because for me his drama succeeded where his comedy failed - it seemed real, and so poignant you could watch him, transfixed. He moved me to tears in Dead Poet's Society and Good Will Hunting. I no longer needed to squirm uncomfortably because in drama he was deeply believable.

The clown is finally at peace but the world has lost a dramatist.

Friday, August 08, 2014

More from Amaia

Another quote from our shared bath this evening. Pointing at my boobs:
"Mummy, do you remember when I was little and you used to give me milk from your knuckles?!"

(Tee hee)

Through the eyes of a child

I just had the sweetest conversation with Amaia...

Although it's been months since she last saw Monsters Inc, she suddenly decided to talk about it in the bath. If you haven't seen it, the monster above (Celia) becomes contaminated while out on a date, hence the veterinary cone. When she first meets Mike afterwards (who she'd been on the date with), she is somewhat irate and shouts at him. Amaia had totally misunderstood the cone, given we have no large pets, so she'd taken it to be a megaphone!

"Remember that bit mummy, when Celia is so mad at Mike she puts on that shouty cone so she can shout louder at him?"

How adorable is that?!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Marcel at 17

I was trying to think about what to write about Marcel today. But I think this (doctored to remove candidate numbers) speaks for itself:

Despite having to cope with a fair amount of upheaval in his 17 years - my divorce, the death of his beloved Pumpa over two of the most important years of his schooling, his abandonment by three members of his French family, the complete breakdown of his relationship to his father, who he hasn't seen in over 2 years, our own financial difficulties since the start of the economic downturn and their effect on him - he was one of very few kids in his school who had to work every morning before school since the age of 13 and who now works weekends and evenings in a shop to support himself, he has managed to achieve school results, the likes of which I have never seen. The brightest Scottish kids take 5 Highers in their 5th year and uni entrance is based on these results. Very, very few get 5 As - so few they make the front pages of local newspapers. Marcel decided, completely of his own choosing and determination, that he didn't want to take 5 Highers, but instead to take 6 and also schedule in one Advanced Higher (something you don't sit till a year later). Of course the school timetable only allowed time for classes in five, so he took it upon himself to teach himself both Spanish and Chemistry from a book, with no tutor and no teacher. A few times we asked if he hadn't bitten off more than he could chew, especially given his work commitments and because he's a popular and sociable kid too, who enjoys a great social life but he stuck with it and got not 5 As, which was the best possible result in the country but 5 As including an A in the Spanish he taught himself and a further C in Chemistry (how you can teach yourself that without a science lab is beyond me!) and an A in his Advanced Higher too. Seven exams in one sitting, six at grade A is not something I have ever read about any pupil in Scotland achieving, so what can I say? Proud doesn't come close. 

I love my little boy, even though he's now my big boy. I imagine this transcript will open many doors to him at the end of school next year. I hope that whatever he chooses to do with these results will bring him peace and happiness in his life. Well done!