What can I tell them?

Roses

In these days of hate, it’s hard to find any ways to describe our responses to terror attacks. Each awful time that the news channels show us an unfolding tragedy, we move through grief, anxiety, fear and confusion. I think a lot of us feel a little numb and unable to really think about or process these events when they hit. We are tired and scared. We are sad. But how do we talk to our children about terrorism?

I’ve been thinking about this so much recently. It’s been impossible not to – because as much as I wish this wasn’t a subject I will have to talk about with my children, that just wont be the case.

I think that as adults we look for answers. We try to apply logic and rational thinking to order the chaos. I know that I keep asking why. There are no neat or satisfying responses though. No tidy explanations. Instead, the world around us today is messy and ugly and very far removed from anywhere that provides something close to a fix.

Children, though, still look to us for answers. We usually have them, or we at least like to pretend we do. As parents, we normally have a ready stream of set responses for questions, we iron out problems with them, we serve up solutions which are simple and non-negotiable. But this isn’t the case when it comes to some of the horror unravelling around us. There aren’t any answers. It doesn’t matter that our children come to us for straightforward replies to their questions. It doesn’t matter that usually those replies offer certainty and grounding and a sense of security. It doesn’t matter that this is what our children need. Because right now – the world has run out of answers.

My children are young. And while I whole-heartedly agree with the practice of avoiding having frightening conversations around them – I also don’t believe this is fully possible. We often have new radio on in the background to life at home, in the car. There are newspapers lying around, the tv news channels are our default ‘sit-down-for-a-moment’ entertainment. I’m a hack by trade, a news journalist who spent years on a national daily – I’ll never stop being an avid consumer of news.

So while I won’t push it under the nose of my children – they will see this, they will hear this, they will know it. And they will have questions.

I guess what I’m grappling with is knowing how to make my responses age-appropriate and comforting. I haven’t faced questions yet – but I know they will come. Sadly, awfully, unbearably: they will come.

And I’m angry – because really there is no appropriate way to talk to a four-year-old and a three-year-old about hate, about prejudice, and about terror. These are not concepts they should have to know or see. These horrors of our days are not ones they should have to witness.

I hope, when the questions come, I can show them images of tributes which bridge difference, pictures of people from every corner of life holding each other, and photographs of communities coming together across barriers which shoudn’t have ever existed. I hope I can explain to my children not only that there is hatred in our world – but more than anything there is love and acceptance. I hope that I can say with enough belief that they don’t doubt it – that more than anything, this world is good.

Children will ask about guns – we will show them flowers. Children will ask about prejudice – we will show them inclusion. Children will ask about hate – we will show them love. How will I talk to my children about terrorism? I don’t know. But I will want to address their fears by comforting them with hope.

What I want my daughter to know about beauty

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She watches me every morning, transfixed. Her eyes follow the strokes of my hand as I layer on mascara. She peers in closer as I run a pencil along the lower outline of my eye. When I’m done, she pulls her very own lip balm out of her jewellery box. It is a prized possession. She watches herself in the mirror – and then she smacks her lips together. A kiss. “Mummy, one day can I have make-up?”

Next week, she will be three.

She asks, sometimes, why I wear it. But I don’t have an answer that I want to give her. I don’t want her to know that this is my war paint, this is my armour, this is my wall – this is my mask. I don’t want her to know why I need this injection of self belief in a few bottles and pencils that fit into my hand. I don’t want her to see that this is a front, painted on with a few strokes of magic which I need to confront most days.

She is too young to know about the years and years that have preceded these mascara strokes, these eyeliner flicks and these layers of foundation. She is two for one more week. She is too young to know that for years and years there is a gradual crumbling of self belief, a gradual wearing down, a gradual fraying at the edges. The concealer helps to make things look like they are being held together.

It hasn’t started for her yet – the slow process that changes you into a woman who can’t always face the world as herself. More than anything for her – I want her to be stronger against it than I was. I want her to know that it’s coming, that it might try and break her, and that she is better than it. But not yet. She is two.

For now, this is what I will one day tell her: she is stronger and better and wiser than me. She doesn’t need a mask or a wall or a front. She is beautiful – and that has nothing to do with anything she will one day buy to paint on her skin. For this, this is what I want her to know about beauty:

Beauty has nothing to do with what anyone else tells her. Every person who tells her she is beautiful will have their own reasons for their words. She should know them before really listening.

Beauty has nothing to do with the make-up she will wear or the reasons why she wears it. Beauty has nothing to do with the way she looks or wants to look, or the way anyone else wants her to look.

When I watch her turn three next week, I will watch my brave, stubborn, spirited, fun-loving daughter being herself. I will see a little girl who is kind and compassionate, a little girl desperate to learn and grow, a little girl soaking up the world and everything that is new. A little girl who is nothing but good. One day, I want her to know that this is beauty. She already has it, and it doesn’t matter what the world does or tells her. This is what I want her to see, to understand, and to believe.

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Peace will win

Oh, Nice.

The world is heartbroken.

It is hard to make sense, though, of this world at the moment. The anger and hatred and grief is all around us. It’s incomprehensible in its scale, unbearable in its manifestations. And while it shifts the ground beneath us, unsteadies our stance and disrupts our consciousness – it also strengthens our resolve.

We repeat the mantras: peace will win, fear will lose, we stand together, terrorism has no religion. We say them louder and louder as we hold each other. Determined.

And even as we tuck up our children and check on them in the small hours, we whisper the words: peace will win. Because this has to end.

Last night, I held my children close to me, kissed their soft skin, and cried for the families for whom life will never be the same. For the children whose parents won’t come home. This has to end. I held my children for as long and tight as I could before I thought they will wake. I didn’t want to let them go and be alone in the night. It’s silly. But what is this world they will one day make their own way intro. How can we fix it?

There aren’t any answers. There are, just now, only searching questions in the dark and cries into the void. This is not, though, the way it will be now. For we have to be moved to stand together, to talk, to unite.

Words wont change the world. But we have to start somewhere. By holding hands and talking about why, by making people listen, by telling our children, by being angry, by doing, by bringing about change. This has to end.

Sea Life London and Shrek’s Adventure – all in a day out

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With the long summer holidays looming I feel very lucky to be in London – there are so many options for things to do with the children We were invited along to Sea Life London and Shrek’s Adventure recently and it was the perfect summer holiday day out.

I took Milin to Sea Life almost exactly three years ago, when he was just 18 months old. He loved it then and both he and Jasmin had the best day this time round too. I’d forgotten just how much there is inside the attraction – but it really is amazing and provides easily at least a couple of hours’ entertainment.

You walk in over a glass floor and so see sharks and stingrays directly beneath you. It’s phenomenal, and the children thought it was great too right from the start. We admired jellyfish, octopus, seahorses, and so so many fish up close, before coming to the stingray which they both loved. Seeing them in such clear water – I was amazed at how graceful they were.

Enormous tanks holding sharks, more rays, and turtles were incredibly impressive – but Jasmin’s favourite was of course the clownfish. “Look Mummy, there’s Nemo.” She was beyond excited, and I was beyond blown away with her cuteness. There were penguins too – watching them swim around was brilliant, as was seeing one close up on the ice. A little touch tank was great fun and the children loved getting their hands wet and gently touching a starfish.

We could have spent all day at the aquarium – it really was amazing. Watching the kids completely enthralled by the fish was wonderful, and they came home wanting to read more about the creatures they’d seen. I can imagine too that if we went back next year or the year after, they’d still love it and would simply get more and more out of it as they grow up.

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It really was a big day out for us – we managed to fit in Shrek’s Adventure as well. This is just next door to Sea Life – they both have a wonderful spot on the river Thames opposite Big Ben. It is worth doing the two together. I thought it it might be a bit much but the children coped fine. We even ate out together afterwards and had a super, stress-free meal. I think they were so happy about their day that they were on their best behaviour! (Either that or they were too tired to talk or play up.)

Jasmin was a bit young for Shrek’s adventure. Things started well as we met characters from the movies and looked for a bus to take us to meet Shrek. But once on the bus, she freaked out. It was an amazing 4D experience which Milin loved but Jasmin just couldn’t understand. Milin is four and I’d say he just about coped without being too scared. Jasmin at three next week, was too young.

The adventure is a lovely idea though – after being on the bus driven by Donkey and suffering a mishap, the tour group goes in search of Shrek, meeting various characters along the way. It is so believable and fun for the little ones – Milin was transported to a magical world and totally captivated.

We got to meet Shrek at the end which Milin thought was amazing. There’s also a waxworks section and the kids were thrilled by that – Kung Fu Panda was a highlight! The older children on our tour absolutely loved the whole experience and I’d say that in a couple of years time, my two would as well.

I’m not sure how I’m going to top tis as a day out with the kids. We did so much, and they were so happy at the end of it. I’m looking forward to this summer in London – and doing things like this with Milin and Jasmin more and more. We’re pretty lucky,  I think, to be in this city! Happy summer holidays all…

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*We were given review tickets to both attractions.

Making someplace home

It is a year since we moved into our new home and we’ve all grown up so much in that time. I’ve changed jobs, Jasmin has started nursery, Milin is getting ready to finish nursery, Tony has been back to New Zealand for a month – and as well as all this we’ve just been getting on with things.

The children have moved into a shared bedroom, we have bought some furniture, done little in the garden, and put up some shelves inside but not much more. We have plans to convert the shed at the bottom of the garden into a studio, to convert the loft into two rooms, and a sandpit is half built on the edge of the lawn.

We’ve made new friends in our new street, Milin will go to school with them from September and Jasmin will go the following year. We’re regulars at the park at the end of the road, we’ve got our local hangouts – my favourite yoga studio, the children’s favourite bridge for Pooh sticks. This place is feeling like home.

I’m still searching for the right paintings for the walls, the children could do with shelves in their bedroom, and we need to put in a wall and open up another one to give us more space in the kitchen. But, this place is where we come at the end of the day to gather each other up and talk and hug and sigh and smile. It’s the place that we’re together, as each night falls and new day starts, it is where we can be us.

In this year, we’ve have made this our home. We’ve done it together. The children seem so much older than they did when we moved in. Jasmin now talks all the time and surprises me constantly with her smartness and fierceness. Milin, who found it so hard to settle in, is taking life very much in his stride.

Life has felt busy recently, and as we are on the home stretch to the summer holidays, it is perhaps feeling like more of a race to the finish than usual. But looking back on this year, I realise how much we have done, changed, grown, lived… And it makes me realise that taking a bit of time out just to be together and notice all we’ve done is a lovely way to look back on a year. A year that we made some place home.new house red door

EU Referendum: now it is done, we are bereft

The votes have been counted, the decision made, the argument done. And now, after the weeks and months that have brought us here, there is disbelief, terror, and hurt.

While the politicians made their speeches, while they made their claims and accusations and promises and predictions, while families exchanged cross words, friends fell out and acquaintances were strengthened or nipped in the bud – while all of this, something shifted.

It was a crumbling at first, of usually solid exteriors, and a quiver in the foundations. But it didn’t stop. The cracks grew. And as we got closer to the point, of the votes being counted and the decision made, the fractures zigzagged their way across the country – into offices, social gatherings and our homes. The glue that bound us was forcibly pulled away, leaving a gash we can’t fix.

And this is why I’m hurting. We should never have been asked to choose – because in choosing, we have exposed the worst of ourselves and each other. It was a job too big for us. How could we know the facts, the answers, the future? How could we protect each other from the fear? We couldn’t. And what has been left behind, now that the votes are counted, is a country divided and reeling from being torn apart. We are bereft.

It has become the thing, to shout and fight and accuse. It has become the thing to voice prejudice and act on hatred. In this land where I was born, I see battle lines and divisions where they’d not been before. Had they been hidden from view, or have they grown from this sorry mess that has left us bereft? For now here we are, in a Britain that has woken up after harsh words uttered in haste, in the heat of the moment. Like a nightmare that comes back to you through the day, the hangover of how we acted, what we did and said, isn’t going away.

A family member was racially abused on the street this week. I have never before felt so detached from the country I have grown up in. This isn’t home. This place where the language tells stories of us and them, where the people are filled with resentment. Where dissatisfaction has bred fear and hate.

The voting is over and we can’t undo what’s been said, the words that have been shouted, the hurt that’s been felt, the seeds of hate that have been planted. I’m angry that we were made to vote. It was never going to be the answer. It has made our problems much, much worse. The vote became a vehicle for people’s anger and resentment and it ran away with it. It became a symbol of dissatisfaction over a changing world, it became an outlet for expressing disappointment, it became a beacon of possibility where people couldn’t understand how to change the lives they weren’t happy with.

I am distraught, but I am also terrified because none of us know what this will mean.

And now it is done, I look around this country, and I know I can’t forget. The scars of our referendum tell the story of a place divided, where there is bitterness instead of humanity, where prejudice is rife and where simple kindness is lacking while fear and mistrust have won. What this will do to us fills me with horror.

This morning, my children are waking up in a country which doesn’t feel like home. With my brown skin and Indian name, I’m not sure this land wants me anymore.

 

 

 

Work in progress

When do we reach a stage where we really know who we are? I used to think that by the time I was somewhere in my mid-30s I would know me and I would get me. More and more though, I’m realising I was wrong. Perhaps we’re always destined to be works in progress – shifting, changing, moving, going back and forth and around depending on that day, that year, that memory.

There’s something that happens as you get to that point where it looks like you might finally have your shit together. There’s the house, the job, the children, the husband, the realisation finally that hair oil tames the frizz and life’s too short for shoes that rub. Yes, there’s all that. There’s the seeming certainty over what you’re doing and where you’re going – at least on the surface of it all. But, the more of that settled-ness and decisiveness that there is – the more introspection there is too.

And this is when you realise, you’ll always be changing, becoming, falling apart, trying to be fixed, and adapting and learning all over again. As life happens around us, as we navigate it all and look back as well as forwards, we are of course going to change what we see, how it makes us feel, what it makes us do. How we might be or respond or hope or feel might be completely different from one week to the next.

Because, after all, we’re growing, learning, changing and still finding our way. I wouldn’t want it to be different really. There’s still so much to get my head round, there’s still so much to happen and make happen. I hope life as it goes does make me do things differently next time, see things differently, teach my children differently, be differently.

This process, at the moment, hurts a bit. But I’m taking comfort in knowing that there won’t be a goal or an end point or a resolution I either succeed at reaching or fail at attaining. There’s nowhere I need to get to. It’s not just me that’s the work in progress, it’s all that’s around me too. I’m going to take my time.

Excited for all that is ahead

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When the letter landed on our doorstep, I knew it was something that mattered. The handwritten address had my married name on it, which I’ve only recently started using. It wasn’t junk mail or a circular. Someone had purposefully posted this.

It was a letter from Milin’s new school. The little primary up the road which had been our first choice and where he will start reception in September. Come for a meeting, the letter told us. Tuesday, 7pm.

And so we rushed home from work, got the kids bathed, scoffed a supermarket pizza, got Jasmin to sleep and Milin ready for books – and left them with my parents and made it up the hill and into the building with two minutes to spare.

I’d changed my trousers, touched up my make-up from the day’s smudges, and put on perfume. It felt like our first day. I wanted to look right, but I wasn’t sure what that was. I wanted people to like me, but I was too scared to talk to them.

We walked into the school hall and sat in the second row so I could see the overhead projector. I’d forgotten my glasses. I searched the faces of the parents while we sat in rows, waiting for the head teacher to begin her talk and hopefully reassure us: your children will be fine. Would these be the parents we made friends with over the years, who we helped out with drop-offs, who we organised summer fairs with, who we kept in contact with via text because we worked to different schedules and only did the school run on opposite days.

We were given an envelope each. It had details of our child’s class, the uniform, stay and play sessions, start times for breakfast clubs, information about school lunches. I wanted to cry.

I found out I was pregnant with Milin almost exactly five years ago. Tony and I had just got married and I was a successful and serious New Zealand newspaper journalist, life was fun – work hard, play hard, shop hard. Weekends were spent running in the bush, swimming in the sea and then drinking coffee while pouring over the papers and choosing what to cook or where to eat. I hadn’t thought I’d find myself sitting in a school hall in England so soon, raising my hand and asking how best to prepare my child for reception. But that’s where we are, because in that five years, we have been lucky enough to have Milin.

He’s changed us beyond recognition. And while in my daydreams he is still a tiny newborn with goggly eyes who seems feather-light and barely makes a sound – when I look at him really I see my child is on the verge of becoming a school boy. He runs fast, he speaks with confidence, he makes his own decisions. He doesn’t need me for everything. He can go most of the day without me. He still asks for me when he falls or is tired or feeling sad for some reason. But, really, he is quite content playing Lego, building dens, chasing friends, and playing out action adventures involving superheroes.

Teach them to dress themselves, to recognise their own shoes, to help themselves to water when they need it – it is time for them to become independent. That’s what we were told in our meeting. I wanted to cry, selfishly, because I don’t want Milin to need me, or want me, any less.

But then we talked about how, in reception, the children grow. They get quicker at putting their socks on after PE. They write their names, they read. They choose what they want for lunch. They run around the playground, they meet their friends at the gate after having to wait all weekend to see them, they discover writing and stories and wrap their heads around totally new concepts. Slowly, my sadness and worry (how would he cope? would he be scared? would he be able to dress himself after PE?) – that sadness and worry turned to excitement.

I hope that school is full of laughter and fun as well as learning. I hope reception is pretty much all about fun in fact – he will have plenty of time to learn. And actually, now I see it. Reception is going to be amazing. There will be days when he is sad or frightened or worried or scared or out of his depth or lonely. But there will also be so much, much more than his days hold now. Lessons, games, adventures, friends. Life.

My little four-year-old is going to school. He’s starting something new and he’s about to have his mind opened to a big wide world that he currently has so little idea of. I’m excited for him.Milin Paddington edit

“So never stop fighting”

The pain and trauma in the 12-page victim impact statement written by Brock Turner’s victim is harrowing. I implore you: read it all. Then read every word again and share it.

I hope you are moved to tears too. Not because you are triggered – although more than one in ten of us will be. But because you are angry and sad. And then because you are hopeful.

It is brave, and strong, and – almost inconceivably – cause for belief that our culture could change. Because every time we read it and share it and talk about it and amplify this courageous woman’s voice – we become braver and stronger.

Read it and you will be repulsed not only by what happened on what should have been just another Saturday night, but also by what followed. If you ever want a demonstration of the old boys’ club looking after its own, this is it. It is a disgusting example of what happens when you’re a wealthy, white middle class male who did something horrific. This is rape culture.

In America and the UK, much has been made of the rape crisis on campus. But this is more than a crisis. When a young man is given a six-month sentence for rape because it might otherwise have ‘a severe impact’ on him, when that man cannot acknowledge that what he did was wrong; when he tries to blame a woman, when he sees his mistake as having drunk too much, when he cannot see that he was never given consent, when he can still be portrayed as a man who shouldn’t have his ‘promise’ impeded, when his actions are excused by his father – this is rape culture.

In news reports following the attack, his sporting achievements were listed. He continues to be talked about as a promising athlete. Our media perpetuates a notion of disbelief. The promising college student. The rapist. Actually, they are the same thing. And for as long as society continues to separate them when talking or thinking of the Brock Turners, there is an enormous problem. For as long as the myth stands, that boys will be boys, but nice boys don’t rape – the problem is compounded and the culture continues to breed.

While Brock Turner was written about as having promise, the woman he raped was referred to as an ‘unconscious intoxicated woman’. The court wanted to know all about her past. Not her promise. Which Brock Turner treated with complete disdain at a time when she could not say yes.

I am in complete awe of her bravery. To stand in court and read her 35-minute statement to the face of her attacker, to fight for a year, to do this not just for herself but for the girls everywhere that she says she now stands with: this is courage. And it is by us reading her statement, sharing it, pressing it into the hands of our girlfriends and reading it aloud to our sons – it is in this way that we will perhaps find an inkling of hope. Because by being with her as she is with us, it is in this way that we could see change. We could reach a place where our daughters are never blamed for not being able to say yes or no.

 

 

Just one night

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There’s something lovely about getting away for a mini break. I’m not sure if it’s the utter luxury of not having to make your own bed or cook dinner, or perhaps it’s something simpler – like watching a very large tv screen in a hotel room – but whatever it is, a short change of scene can sometimes go a long way to helping you reset and feel refreshed.

Tony and I have always been big fans of mini breaks. Before we had Milin and Jasmin we loved to head out of town at the weekend and book a rental home by the sea, indulge in a little luxury break, or even spend a night under the stars in our teeny tent. Getting away from home makes you switch off somehow, and whether we were exploring or relaxing, alone or away with friends, we always enjoyed having that time together away from the stresses of daily life.

Since having Milin and Jasmin, we’ve tended either to do full, long weekends away or short breaks further afield. This weekend though, the four of us spent a night at Novotel Paddington in London and Tony and I realised that we must be through the hardest baby years because we can suddenly go away again for just one night and it doesn’t feel like too much work. (This is very, very exciting for us!)

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We were treated to our amazing stay at Novotel and while it wasn’t a long way away from home (just a tube ride, in fact), it felt like we really were on holiday. Milin asked me this gem on the Picadilly line on the way there:

“Mummy, what language do they speak in Paddington?”

Which I guess summed up the trip for the children. To them, it was a holiday. It was an adventure. It didn’t matter that we were only an hour away from home. We packed a bag, got on the tube, and went somewhere new.

We arrived to a luxurious suite where treats awaited (the macarons were divine). Tony and I had coffees, the children ate chocolates, and we then had a dip in the pool. We had it all to ourselves, and Tony even found time for a sauna and steam. I felt so relaxed suddenly that it was hard to believe I’d only been rushing around the house sweeping up the kitchen floor only hours ago. When we went down for dinner, I turned off my phone and left it behind. Instant holiday.

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I don’t think I’ve stayed in a Novotel before, but the little details were lovely. There were gifts for the children on arrival, the huge bath was amazing, the food in the restaurant was superb (prawn tacos were the highlight), and the view from our room on the eleventh floor was enough to keep the kids happy because they could simply watch the trains go in and out of Paddington for hours.

It’s funny how being in a part of town you wouldn’t normally be in can turn you into a tourist. We spent a morning walking along the canals of Little Venice, holding hands, being silly, and generally feeling happy.

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Back at the hotel, the children joined in with Novotel’s Superheroes day and loved every second. It was the perfect end to the weekend – cake-making, mask-making, general hero-stuff – they were very happy.

When we got home, Tony and I realised we’d not said a stern word over the whole duration of the break. We’d not taken Jasmin’s buggy and the children had done a fair amount of walking, but they’d been superstars. We’d not heard a grumble, they’d not played up – life certainly is getting easier as they’re getting older.

We came back rested. (Black out blinds are amazing – the kids slept in, in their own beds!) And we came back relaxed and refreshed. Life has been busy and stressful recently. It’s amazing how just one night away can help you recharge.

Novotel Paddington superheroes

 *Thank you to Novotel Paddington where we were treated to our stay.

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