Thursday, March 29, 2018

Nine days left

In nine days time, I will be able to say 'I have three kids at school'.

Until you have made the journey, no one can prepare you for how short your child's school years are. As childless people and even as parents of little ones, our point of reference is our own journey through school, and as we all know that took foreeeeeever! I started school in 1972 and left in 1985 and that felt like a lifetime. 1972 seems like the distant past, I can barely remember it, 1985 feels so recent to me, I can still remember how I felt walking out of my high school for the very last time. In those days there was no prom and no graduation, you simply finished that day's classes and walked home. How strange that would seem to today's children!

So how come it is over in a flash when you are the parent? The thing is, the first couple of years at primary school, when they are learning everything from scratch takes a reasonable amount of time, but from about p3 time speeds up. They don't really learn anything new, they just get better at what they've already learnt, so p4-p7 takes a much shorter time than p1-p3. People will tell you that when they go to high school, they are only just through the door when they are suddenly coming out the other end. s1-s6 feels somewhere between two and three years, in real terms. They have only just got there when they are suddenly narrowing down subjects for Nat5, only half way through that course when their Highers are chosen and no sooner do their s5 results come in than they are applying to uni, and if my kids are anything to go by, they are applying without the slightest idea of what they want to be!

Charlotte is currently sitting on four unconditional uni offers (and one still outstanding, but given it is the easiest course to get into, I can safely say she's sitting on five unconditional offers, realistically). So over the next four or five weeks she will need to decide whether her future lies in Glasgow or Edinburgh, in Law, in Economics, or in History (all three with languages). As her mum, I am not sure she is ready to make that decision, but I guess she probably feels more equipped to make it than I would give her credit for. She is no longer this little p1 girl on her first day in Kirkhill, but a young woman at the beginning of an exciting path.

She is planning to spend the summer in Madrid, where she will be working as an au pair to two little girls, the same age as her sisters. The pay is almost non-existent, but in terms of experience, it will open a world of opportunities to her and I can hardly wait to get her home an hear all about what she has done. In a way, it would be better if she could make her uni choice at the end of the summer, as I expect her stay in Spain may completely change her outlook on the future, just as my summer at Perugia uni in Italy did for me when I was 18.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A weekend of Brexit ponderings

It has been another Brexit emotional roller coaster of a weekend.

Thomas and I were invited to a Brexit focus group being run by Birmingham university to share our personal issues with others whose lives are affected in the same or similar ways. The group consisted of a Belgian woman with a Belgian partner and two young kids based in London for the last 20 years, a Swedish grandmother-to-be who came to Scotland in the early 90s and raised her family with her Scottish husband, a middle-aged Hungarian woman who had been here five years with her four kids, a young Spanish man in his early twenties who moved here with his father when he was a young teenager and went through the Scottish high school system, and finally Thomas who has been here since 2002.

It became clear that every case was unique. That might be the reason this one-size-fits all has so many people falling through the gaps... In the world of Theresa May, our situation is black and white, in the real world we are every shade of grey, and families like ours, which she once sneered at for being citizens of nowhere, are actually proud to be citizens of everywhere, part of an intricate web of nations that we call family.

The Belgian had had her kids in Belgium as it was an hour away on the train, but that meant her children had no claim on being British despite having lived all but the first two days of their lives here. They will not be able to make a case for being British for ten and fourteen years respectively. The woman would never have popped home in labour if she'd known the enormity of the consequences for her family, of course.

The Swede's parents are still alive but in their mid-90s. She had assumed that as she herself reached retirement age she could nip over occasionally and help them whenever they became frail, but even six months away would nullify her 30 years in the UK and she would be ineligible to return despite having a British husband and kids, so she is unable to care for her relatives under the new rules. She had already acquired the right to remain before Sweden became a full member but the paperwork has been destroyed so she has no way to prove she can stay.

The Hungarian's youngest child has been here since she was 12, but attends a special school for partially-sighted artists - she has nowhere she can go back to that can accommodate her special needs so she too is in limbo.

The Spanish boy has Scottish qualifications so can't easily return to Spain, but Spain (like several EU nations) doesn't allow dual citizenship, so if he was to apply for naturalisation, he'd lose the right to move back to Spain at any point in the future and that is where the rest of his family lives. He can't even give returning to Spain a trial run of more than six months as that would nullify his right to remain here with his father and friends, where his qualifications are valid. So he is realistically neither eligible to stay, nor able to leave.

Our own case was the most complex of all, and the most complex the woman in charge of the study had encountered to date... I am a UK citizen, only. Thomas is a Danish citizen, only, but it is more complicated than that...

Despite being born in Denmark to a Danish mother and having lived there till his 30th birthday, Thomas is not a Dane by birth, but a naturalised Dane. In the 70s, when he was born, a child was assigned the nationality of its father and his father was a German expat in Denmark when he was born. When his father naturalised Danish when Thomas was around ten, Thomas and his sister were forced to lose their German citizenship and gain Danish. This makes Thomas's Danish citizenship more precarious than anyone else born on the same day in the same hospital to fully Danish parents. On paper, he is an immigrant who naturalised as a Dane. Crazy, or what? When Denmark recently changed its rules to allow dual nationality, he tried to apply to get his original nationality back, but the consulate in Copenhagen has destroyed the paperwork so that is going to be long and cumbersome but necessary... Thomas wants his original nationality back to pass on to the girls. Although they currently hold Danish passports, those will be revoked if they do not move to Denmark before they turn 22. If the UK is still playing silly buggers, they will lose their EU citizenship and freedom of movement at that moment. Germany, like France in the case of my older kids, doesn't revoke nationality once it is acquired, so that is Thomas's reason for pursuing his original nationality. So, those are his complex nationality issues.

His UK issues are numerous too. He originally moved here with a full-time job so worked for seven years for a UK employer. At that point the UK entered a downturn and he was made redundant. He then started up his own company which took a number of years to be anywhere near comparable with his original job. In the meantime he has moved house twice. Paperwork has been lost, pay slips and P60s are gone. Approximately 30% of EU citizens who apply for the right to remain are rejected because of missing paperwork. Ironically, the longer you have been here, the more likely you are to be rejected as the longer the period you have had to lose your paperwork. Although you only need to provide evidence of five years here to be issued with the right to remain (which incidentally costs money and is not valid after Brexit), you actually need to provide full paperwork for the complete duration to be eligible to apply for UK citizenship (that is if you have a spare £1200, and your original country allows dual citizenship and you have all your paperwork and money and time to shell out for language tests and tests to prove you understand life in the UK - where you've been paying taxes since you arrived). And to put it bluntly, who wants to do all that to acquire the right to continue living the way you did freely till two years ago (only with diminished rights)? Until this happened Thomas had the right to bring his parents to live with us if they became frail at some point in the future, now he will lose that right. Many EU citizens would never have moved here and many UK citizens would have never moved abroad, had they known this reciprocal agreement would be withdrawn. We all like to know our parents can be cared for in their old age. Now, we are very stressed at knowing we may have to watch for afar, unable to assist. So, those are his main issues. They are by no means all of our complications, but they give you a feel for how we are living at the moment.

Then there are mine... I have three kids who aren't his. Two are over eighteen, so technically adults. They were registered as French citizens at the Edinburgh consulate at birth, though they no longer have anything other than a scan of that document. To apply for French citizenship documentation, they need to fly to London and prove they are eligible. This is costly but doable if they want to retain their right to freedom of movement. But one of those kids is twelve. At twelve he needs his biological father to countersign the documents in his name in order to be given a French passport. He has not seen his father since he was six years old, so this would mean tracking him down, which we have recently managed to do, flying him from his home in South East France (at our expense) and us from here to London and meeting up. This would have a huge emotional impact on the child, forcing him to confront a past that he may want to leave till he is older and more emotionally equipped to deal with the fall-out. As if Brexit itself isn't stressful enough for families like ours. As if potentially losing your home, extended family, friends, school, country and siblings wasn't already enough...

So if I can get Léon's paperwork in order and the two biggies can do that for themselves, then the only (ha!) remaining issue is that I lose my freedom of movement on 29 March 2019 so if we decide it is going to become impossible for a family like ours to continue living in this country, ironically I need to escape by that date, even if the others can allow themselves to stay longer to see what is happening.

If I need to flee first, I will become landlocked where I touch down as I will lose my freedom of movement for approximately five years until I can apply for the nationality where I have moved to. This means I need to preempt where Thomas is most likely to find a decent job, and the kids will be able to adapt to a new school system and even potentially a new language. Obviously, I'll need to polish up my crystal ball.

We've already heard of banks refusing to renew mortgages of EU citizens as their status is unclear; our current package runs out next summer, so if we become ineligible for a new package, we could be forced out of the home we have been paying for since before Anna was born and all through no fault of our own.

So we risk having to lose our home, being forced to close down a company we've spent nine years building up, look for two new jobs in the same country(!), move our kids school and change their primary language, split our family for a minimum of four years as Charlotte will already be at university here when we need to go. And realistically, it could mean splitting our family forever... will they really follow us after four years study here?

Those of you who are not directly affected by the Brexit vote can go weeks without it being top of your agenda, those of us in mixed families have lived it and breathed it every day since June 23 2016. That makes 642 days where it has been the only or at least main topic of conversation and take it from me, that makes it bloody tiring. It is the first thing I think about when I waken up and the last thing I think about when I go to bed. I dream about losing my home and my kids, about not being to help my mum who lives alone, three streets from me. We spend a minimum of two hours a day talking it through - that is 1284 hours and counting! Everything is on hold; I can't buy a new blind for my dining room - what's the point if we might have moved within the year? I won't even plant new bulbs in my garden. Everything seems temporary and fluid. When you are as directly affected us, you know every detail and every twist and turn. You know every company that has left and every drop in the pound.

Everything in my life is beyond my control and some days I just want to gain back that power. Some days I think, today, I'm going to leave because you've broken me and I can't face this level of uncertainty any more. Other days, I think, they must surely come to their senses and stop this madness. Companies are leaving, students are no longer applying, doctors and professors are leaving the UK behind, house prices are falling, inflation in the supermarkets is hitting crazy figures. Butter has jumped from 85p to £1-45 in Aldi in just 16 months. Medicine prices are set to spiral. Ireland... I don't even need to explain that one. We hear of foreign interference, of illegal vote rigging and all sorts and still both May and Corbyn bungle on towards the abyss.

If I sell my house, rip my family in two and drag my kids out of their school only to see it all cancelled I will be devastated, if I stay and this goes ahead, I will be devastated. I go round and round on this merry-go-round till I can hardly breathe.

It felt good on Friday to talk to others in our situation. No one really understands and as I rant daily on Facebook and Twitter, I am, at best, ignored. But speaking to people who could relate to it also meant allowing myself to be affected by them and that is emotionally draining.

Saturday saw the March for Europe all over the UK (not that you'd know from watching the BBC, which now openly blanks everything that does not suit its agenda). The speakers were wonderful and very articulately explained the catastrophic effect this will have on the younger generation, my children.

Patrick Harvie really summed up the anger I feel at losing my freedom of movement. For me, it is personal. For me it is saying that the way I have lived my adult life is no longer acceptable and will not be tolerated in my children's generation. I cannot accept that and hope I never have to, but unlike Patrick, I am willing to move and change nationality, if that is the only way.

Professor Tanja Bueltmann spoke to me like a family member - a foreigner who has made her home here, as my husband (and the one before him) did. I was very taken by her summing up that Brexit means a future built on the foundation of hate and lies (and Cambridge analytica by the looks of it). Brexit means a future that relies on chlorinated chicken and holding hands with a Putin puppet. Brexit means a future that seeks to recreate a past that never existed in the first place. Brexit means a future that will rob Britons and young Britons in particular of a world of opportunities and of rights. Brexit means a future for the few and not the many. Make no mistake and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Mike Galsworthy from Scientists for the EU spoke passionately of why this is madness and the effects already hitting the scientist and medicine community.

Each of them, and the other speakers explained clearly why we must stay angry and fight this until we run out of time and then we should continue to fight it still.

By the end of the weekend, I was emotionally exhausted, deeply depressed, exhilarated, full of hope, full of fear and I had aged about a year. I will keep muddling on for now and may still jump ship before it is too late, but I will never be guilty of apathy, at least.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Blast from the past

I came across this yesterday when we took an hour out to actually enjoy probably the first almost spring-like day of the year.

It immediately made me think back to this photo!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Multilingual turtles

I was about eight before I became fully aware there were other languages. This is quite ironic given I was being brought up in a house where I was expected to speak standard English despite the fact that my parents spoke a mix of English and Scots and my grandparents spoke fully in Scots. It never occurred to me that a standard English speaker could conceivably have an issue fully understanding a conversation such as the one referenced on Twitter today by David Leask:

My children are, of course, living a different life. They have heard a minimum of two distinct languages every day since they were born - English first alternated with French, then by the time Léon came on the scene Danish had been added in. All the while Scots was still in the mix, of course. When Thomas's parents visit, German is added in around the dining table, and sometimes Schwäbisch too. When we visit them at their home in Tuscany, Italian is dropped into the mix and at school Spanish is on the agenda too. The TV intermittently gives us Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and even the odd movie in Georgian. 

With this backdrop, I found the three youngest this morning on my bed playing with the turtles Marcel had brought them back from a lads' holiday to Greece when he was 18. (Or rather the girls were playing and Léon was humouring them with his presence...)

Do your turtles have names? I asked, nonchalantly. 
Of course, replied Amaia: The baby is called Feeki... 
Feeki? I enquired, Like F-E-E-K-I? 
NO! It's pronounced FEEKI but it's spelt with the funny letters in your Greek dictionary! He's Greek you know, so you can't use our letters for his name. I looked it up - his name means 'Seaweed'.
What about the other two?
I looked up 'Coral' for the mummy and 'Zesty' for the daddy, so their names are this: 
and she proceeds to write and slowly read:

Baby φύκι,  
Mummy κοράλλι and 
Daddy ζωηρός

I'm not sure many eight-year-olds look up an English-Greek dictionary before naming their soft toys! I do think growing up bi-/multilingually gives you a very different outlook on life!

It's all Greek to him

Thomas and I are working on a Greek project at the moment. This means we have Greek dictionaries lying around in the living room which in turn means nosy little children happen upon them. Léon took a real interest in his first encounter with a non-Latin alphabet language, and his initial reaction to it all definitely lightened the work atmosphere on Friday afternoon.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Gourmet food

I'm sitting reading my book:
Léon: Come on, mum ! I need you to be my sous chef. 
Me (ooooh, this sounds promising): What are you making?
Léon: a bramble jelly from the Polish shop, I can't read the instructions!
What a let down!

So here we have them - a fairly successful 'kiwi' moomin, and a not so aesthetically perfect 'bramble' lump!

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Whiteout madness

I'm getting dressed in my bedroom (with the blackout blinds down) listening to the kids happily eating breakfast in the dining room next door. Suddenly Anna comes out with '...if we even get there', which I think is an odd comment given school has been back since yesterday, now all the snow has gone. I dive through topless, wearing just one sock and stare in horror - it's back, and it looks a damn sight worse than last week, or to be more precise, it's probably the same as last week (though it is still actually snowing heavily which it wasn't on Thursday and Friday), the difference is the council has opted not to shut the schools so the gridlock is starting. 

I jump onto Whatsapp: 35 new messages - not a good sign! Reports come in from parents who have been stuck for 50 minutes and have moved one kilometre. Buses are stuck, cars are abandoned. As people get out to push cars that are stuck in front of them, others try overtaking on blind corners tooting in disgust. I stand on my dining room chair to watch over the hedge. In less than five minutes I see three cars get stuck, two overtake dangerously, one lose its back end and skid onto the pavement and not a single bus (on a normal busy bus route). I decide I am not taking my car. After 33 years behind the wheel, I know I can drive this, but I can also see that not everyone else can and I sure as hell am not going to risk it, besides, I'm at the bottom of a cul de sac that doesn't get gritted except in emergencies so I have half an hour of digging just to be allowed to join that queue on the photo. 

Next I consider walking and, to be honest, would have had it not been snowing heavily. It takes me exactly 45 minute on foot to get to school on a sunny day and I do do that, but in this, I'd add at least ten extra minutes for weather and ten more for the length of Amaia's legs. 

Over an hour walking in this means taking a complete change of uniform with me as the girls will both be soaked. It is a 2 hour round trip for me to drop them and another 2 hour trip to pick them up and that's assuming school doesn't close in the meantime and call me to pick them up early. So I decide, it isn't worth the hassle. It's only four days since Amaia got over a cough and cold and half the class has already told me on Whatsapp that they've thrown in the towel, so they won't miss anything vital that they won't need to repeat. I'm not walking it till the snow stops.

That leaves the biggies. They can probably get to school in about an hour if they start walking. Again, they'll get soaked, but at least I don't need to accompany them. The school uniform (inc blazer and black leather dress shoes) is compulsory so they need to wear something else and change when they get there but that necessitates carrying a bag of clothes on top of carrying their bags and fighting through the snow for an hour. On arrival, they have nowhere to store their wet clothes - s6s are not eligible for lockers so Lots doesn't have one. Friends on Whatsapp are telling me school is a ghost town. I then get a text from high school telling me the buses are unable to run so the (approx) third of the pupils who come from Eaglesham have not made it in. It's at times like these that I wish Scottish schools looked more towards Scandinavia for school attire rather than basing compulsory uniforms on the London climate...

The M77 is at a standstill, friends are tweeting they haven't moved in 90 minutes. Everyone who is already on the road is saying not to add to the chaos. But parents who were off last week are so scared of phoning in to work to say they are stuck, that they are attempting the impossible. Some are getting there, but more by luck than by sensible decision-making.

A friend who was up much earlier than me has seen the gritters do their rounds around 5am, followed by extreme rain that has washed it all away, then heavy snow - poor council workers will be getting the usual abuse for that, no doubt.

I decide to reassess at later in the morning. Next, I see our station on the BBC page, I decide I should maybe consider throwing in the towel for the day.

In the meantime, I see an absolutely terrifying message on Whatsapp (complete with photos). A friend (the mother of one of Amaia's best friends) has tried walking her kids to school as she is much closer than us. A school(?) bus has missed a corner, skidded onto the pavement hitting a pole, and missing her daughter by less than a metre. A bus!!! Take that in - kids walking the school route narrowly missed by a bus skidding on the pavement. I am beside myself at the thought of what could have happened this morning. It takes my breath away, then I get angry. Sorry, guys, you are now not walking to school if it's this dangerous, decision taken. I am so glad Amaia still has all her friends in one piece and am sending e-hugs.

I then see a further message from another mum who has actually managed as far as her work approximately 13km from here and has been told off for being late(!) and asked for photographic proof that it is actually snowing as it isn't there!!! The words fuck and off spring to mind. Sorry, shaming people into driving in such dangerous conditions is insane. This needs sorting out.

Around lunchtime I decide they can build a snowman instead - call it a science or art lesson - I don't really care.

It has stopped snowing now and started to melt and odds are that I will get them to school tomorrow but when did the world go so mad? What most of us do (I don't mean doctors and the likes) is not crucial. We can do it from home or we can do it tomorrow. It is not worth risking life and limb for. Today was utter madness because when people are told it isn't a snow day they are so terrified of not turning up at their office or shop that they feel compelled to endanger themselves and others. We need to build some more pragmatism into life and start analysing what's actually important!