January 30, 2014

NatWest First Saver and Growing Up Fast

A few weeks ago I got invited to participate in making a video for the new NatWest First Saver account for under 16s. When I say "I" what I really mean is Ron, since they wanted to interview children to see how much they know about money and savings. To tell you the truth I wasn't really sure if he would go for it. Ron is quite camera-shy, and talking to a stranger on camera about things he doesn't really understand did not sound like a recipe for success to me, so I was as surprised as anyone when he wanted to go for it. Yon of course was not invited because he is too young but still found himself in the middle of it all and participated happily without knowing anything about anything.
I guess it's true that the way we raise our children derives straight from our own childhood, the ways in which we want to be like or the exact opposite of our parents (and the way we perceived them), the scars we carry with us, and the lessons we learned from it. When it comes to money it becomes so much more difficult because it is tied so closely with our upbringing, our parents, our demons and fears. Money and food are the two most difficult things in life to get a handle on, the two things in which we want to be sure we raise our children to be better than us, and the two things in which there is no one right answer.
We have made our decisions about how we want to raise the children before they were born, and we knew for sure and without a doubt that we do not want them to have pocket money, or bank accounts, or knowledge of what things cost or what is "real" or "fake" merchandise. We also decided that they will have no knowledge of "rough times" or feel like they are lacking or missing something.
On the other hand, we never intended to raise lazy, pampered slacks who thinks they are entitled to everything just because they said so.
It is a very fine line to walk on but walk on it we did. We've managed to explain budgeting, and earnings, and donations, and selling things, and volunteering without using quantities of money and (hopefully) without ever letting our boys feel insecure about our financial situation. But you know how it is that you blink and the kids have grown a couple of years? I so often feel that's what happened with Ron, and when we got this NatWest invitation, after I managed to close my mouth from the shock of him actually wanting to participate, I used the opportunity to really discuss the subject of "money" with him. It's surprising what kids see as "a lot of money", and his answer regarding how much he thinks the new xBox he wanted for Christmas really cost was priceless (actually it was priced at less than a 100 pounds).
What Ron took from our conversation was the understanding that things cost more than he thought, and that it takes time and effort to make your budget stretch so you can get everything you want. He loved learning all about savings and loans and stocks. He loved it because it's maths, it makes sense for him, it all relate to what he likes best - numbers and patterns.
What I took from our conversation with Ron, beside the fact that he is growing up so quickly it is sometimes scary, is that it is time to start thinking of a change. I am proud of the young teenager he is so fast becoming, and he announced he doesn't want for anything, and is not ready to have pocket money yet, though he wants to open it to renegotiating when he is 10 years old. Still it is time Hidai and I face the next stage of our parenting and start moving toward the teen years, and what we think a child should be equipped with when you set him loose into the world. Money is a big part of it (knowing how to do the dishes and the laundry, clean your own toilet and cook some basics is another part). He should be able to handle a basic budget, he should be able to learn what it means to save, to invest (if he wants), to spend. He should be able to do all these things safe in the knowledge that he has a safety net and it is not really a life or death situation.
How do I combine all these with my desire for him to keep the belief that money is only a mean and not the end? How do I teach him that it is more important to be able to give, to be a good person, to do what he loves and that money comes and goes? How do I teach him what everyone learn too late - that time and not money is the most valuable thing a person has? How do I teach him all that and still teach him to be, as people like to say, "good with money"?
I guess NatWest gave me a starting point, and a wake up call.
And also a very nice piggy bank which Yon stole and is now a part of his animal collection.

And here are Ron & Yon in the Natwest ad (they have the closing statement so worth waiting for) -
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January 27, 2014

Spread a little happiness (#spreadalittlehappiness)

A few weeks ago the lovely Jocelyn from The Reading Residence contacted me about taking part in a blog flash mob and spread some happiness around. Of course I said yes, because how can you possibly say no to the wish to spread some happiness? Then the not any less lovely Jeanette from Autism Mumma invited me to join her linky "You are my sunshine" that, you know, spread some happiness around. Honestly, I have no idea how they both came to think that I am any good in spreading happiness but of course I said yes, because how can you possibly say no to the wish to spread some happiness? I am sure you can guess what happens next, because life is funny like this - nothing good or happy or funny.
Well, thinking about it now, maybe that isn't completely true, it is January 27 after all. And that means one very big and very happy thing - we have survived yet another January. The longest, saddest most depressing month of the year is nearly finished, and it will be one whole year before it will be January again. We have passed Blue Monday, the end is near (and so is the next payday) and the last few days of January are the perfect time of the year to try and find some cheer I guess. In fact it reminded me that last year I made a January Happy List intended to do just that - reflect on all the things that were good and happy in January, in the hopes that it will lift my spirit enough to forget the fact that February really isn't much better than January. Though it does have something going for it - it is 3 days shorter than January.
New year photo - bring on 2014!
So here it is - January, the good bits:

1. I read two books. You might think that 2 books really isn't all that much, I know some people have joined a 52 books challenge, but compared to last year's 5 books all year (that should really read no books all year), I went for a book a month goal, just because as I saw it, reading means I have free time for myself. I managed two in January, which puts me ahead and also is good because there is no way I can read a book every month, and now I have a month free of reading-pressure. Unfortunately what it also means is that I haven't been sleeping well, because I don't really have time for myself, what I do have is a Kindle and insomnia. But we are focusing on the good things.
2. I discovered I don't have a serious medical problem, as in MS. Only some weird structural things in my neck. And with that I am finished with the NHS and physiotherapy.
3. I got a new MacBook which I absolutely love. And with a nice discount from Apple and selling my old one, it only cost me a quarter of its original price. And the best thing about it - it actually works, and when you want to open the photo editor while still listening to music and keeping the Safari open, because I am irrational like that, it does not hold out a note saying "are you kidding me?!"
Me & my Mac
4. I started volunteering in the boys school. Since the beginning of January I volunteer at school once a week and help prepare children to the Bond 11+ exams. I was under "new staff" in the last Governor's report. It is something I have been thinking about for a while and am very happy I had the courage to set up. It also really made me appreciate teaching and teachers much more. And I only have 5 kids in my club...
My room at school. I have a badge and everything.
5. I was in Good Housekeeping Magazine, in an article they wrote about our visit to Parliament and meeting with the PM.

6. The kids went back to school, and did very very well. Ron got lots of praises for his writing, and got to read a poem in the special assembly they had for students and parents.

7. Ron and Hidai went to see Arsenal win, which is good for everyone - for Arsenal, for them, and for me because I got a few hours of quiet and two happy boys.

8. Yon learned how to play on the xBox. It is so much easier for him than the Wii. He got an animal game and got the hang of the driving game really fast. I know people say you shouldn't be happy and even more than that you shouldn't encourage your kids to play in these electronic games, but with Yon's vision the fact that he can see the courser, and manage to operate the games is nothing short of amazing.
Yon driving
9. I lost 2.5 kilos since I started Weight Watchers again on the second week of January. I know it doesn't read like this from my Friday Diet series, and though it has not all been a smooth ride, but I am starting to feel better and look like myself again.
10. We've started a new "Movie Night" tradition every Saturday evening with the boys, and it's really fun having an excuse to actually take the time to watch movies, and especially ones that can only be classified as guilty pleasures, or more accurately "all the movies you are too ashamed to admit you want to watch". This week for example we watched Pirates Of The Caribbean. Only problem is, there is no popcorn. Or wine. Or chocolate.

And last but by no mean least, in fact it should have been first, because it makes me smile every time they do that - I got the boys to sing. On camera.

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January 24, 2014

Week 3 - defeating the app

Diets make you into a liar. Have you ever noticed this or is it just me? Maybe a lier is too strong a word, but for sure they turn you into a conniving person. I mean, I like to think of myself as a generally honest and law abiding person, and though it is true that I might evade a question or go with "refraining from telling is not the same as lying", or "white lies are to make people feel better, so it's not technically lying" I would never lie to a direct question. And here I was this week trying to lie to an app. An iPhone app has turned me into a lier. The Weight Watchers have bested me. How? With one MilkyWay.
Yes, all it took was one MilkyWay for me to lose any shred of self respect and self esteem I still possessed, and turn me into an obsessed backbone-less creature who only had one thought in its tiny brain - Need chocolate. Now. What's the problem? you are probably wondering, like any sane person would. Well, a fun size MilkyWay weighs 17 grams. I had a full size one, that weighs 22. A fun size one is 2 points, while a full size one is 3 points. And all I was willing to give that MilkyWay were 2 points. This is when I learned the important rule of WeightWatcher -a point is a point, but it has a range of weights. Because apparently while it is true that a fun size one is 2 points, it is still 2 points all the way to 21g. And mine weighed 22g. Yes, I stood there with a knife and a scale, and cut off 1g of MilkyWay, and yes I did feel as stupid as it sounds. Do you know how big 1g of MilkyWay is? it's a crumb. It's like a tiny breadcrumb. And you know what is even sadder than a grown woman cutting off deliberately a breadcrumb size MilkyWay? The fact that I don't even like MilkyWay.
So you know what is the first rule of WeightWatcher? Tricking the app. It's like a game of cat and mouse. Or actually a contest to see who can annoy the other more. One piece of bread is 1 point. 2 pieces are 3 points. The app won. But if you want those two pieces and don't want to "pay" more points for spreading them, use 3g of butter on the first, and 3 of soft cheese on the other - 0 points. You win.
Want more than one biscuit to go with your afternoon coffee? Just eat two different ones. why? Because biscuits (WeightWatchers one) are 2 points each. But, if you eat 2 of the same kind, it's 5 points and not 4. So you just eat 2 different ones, and viola! 4 points. Take that app!
Yes, diets make you into a liar, and also somewhat of a crazy person. It's the embracing the crazy that's important.
Maybe that should be the first rule of any diet - embrace the crazy. Diets, after all are filled with ups and down, lows and highs, good days and bad days. I tell you what it is not filled with - easy days. In no day do you go around saying, hey! I did not notice that I ate meals the size of a pea, or that I just finished my fourth day in a row of exercising, or that I am so filled with fruits I am starting to resemble a pineapple. You would think that week 3 would be easier for me, after all I've finished the "cleanse" stage, I've established the exercise, I have discovered how to beat the app at its own game. But the truth is it has been the toughest week yet.
And not even because of the diet. It's the post. I am not a friend of my mailbox on the best of times, it glares at me every time I leave the house and I feel compelled to check what's inside every time I pass it. Every single time. It means on the way out and on the way back in. I check my mailbox about 8 times a day. In return it has never brought me anything but grief. Actually, that is not completely true, I got one birthday card and one Christmas card last year. This week however it brought me 10 letters about Yon. 10 letters with appointments, groups, benefits, referrals, advice... Every day there were 2 new letters. 2 new disability related problems to deal with. 2 new pieces of paper I have no idea what to do with.  When you have a Special child you get used to the doctors, the appointments, the endless need to keep one eye open. But because Yon's condition is static, because we are doing everything through the school and the hospital and apparently because our case "got lost somewhere" we don't usually get too many letters, and we never get any letters we don't know about in advance and are prepared for. And even then I have to admit I don't react well. 10 letters I wasn't expecting, one phone call and a chat in school amounts to the kind of pressure that usually can only be solved in one way - food. Oh, who am I kidding. Chocolate.
Trying to solve this letter crisis without resorting to food led to no sleep which contributed to general annoyance and bitchiness.
So on Tuesday, after the fifth letter came in the post, telling me to expect a phone call from someone at the council regarding our benefits entitlement (I had no idea we had any benefit entitlement. I still don't think we have any), I felt I can't take it anymore.
I ordered a pizza. A large vegetarian Papa John's pizza. Just for me.
This week I ate 3 MilkyWays, half a jar of Dulce de Leche and a whole pizza.
So I did the only thing possible. I got a haircut, because what does it matter where the weight comes off from? But as it turns out, hair doesn't weigh very much, even after you've neglected it for about 4 months. Not even a hundred grams.
So I employed a personal keeper. You know how people with eating issues never eat in public? Well, that's me. If there is someone around I am the model of good eating habits, but leave me in the house alone? That is where my true colours are revealed. But I have a secret weapon - Ron. He likes numbers, and patterns, and calculations, and feeling like he is in charge. And every day from the moment I pick him up from school, he's been checking me - how many points is that? and this? How many do you have left? why aren't you eating this? why are you eating that?
Darn that need to communicate with my children and looking at everything as a teachable moment for life.
This week's diet lesson - must learn how to lie to kids.

Wobbles Wednesday

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January 22, 2014

Losing the Hebrew

My boys are losing their Hebrew. I guess it was only to be expected, after all Ron has been four when we left Israel, and Yon was five months old. They have both passed the "most of their life" point and can now safely say they have lived in English speaking countries far longer than in Israel. To be honest I don't think I really noticed it, after all I sometimes feel Hidai and I are losing our Hebrew too. It is becoming so much easier to talk about work, blog, school in English. More than that, it makes more sense, after all life is being lived in English.
It was never our intention to lose the Hebrew. We really tried to keep it alive. To tell you the truth the first couple of years it felt weird talking out loud in English. You always feel like you are making one mistake after the other, you forget all the lovely words and expressions you know and are left with the same English a ten years old has, and that is on the good days. And the accent, don't get me started on the accent. I still feel my accent is a weird combination of idiotic and Russian. And when you feel like that, why would you want to volunteer putting yourself through it? Add to that the fact that our vocabulary in Hebrew was bigger and more profound (not like a ten years old), the fact that it is part of our identity, what comes out naturally when we open our mouths, and the feeling of utter betrayal.
A language is so much more than just words, and when you move to a new country it is sometimes your last connection to the place you left behind, where you felt you belong, where you felt you are understood. Where you never felt like a ten years old.
But the years go by, the kids get older and your "keeping the Hebrew" resolve begins to crack. The kids go to nursery or school and you find that when you tell them to tidy up in Hebrew they look at you and smirk but when you say it in English they actually do it, because it's like in nursery. You find them talking amongst themselves in English, you feel like an idiot walking around the supermarket with a list written in Hebrew to buy in English, you need to talk about something that happened at work but it's only funny in English, and so you find that the English has breached your defences and is in your house. It happens so slowly, so gradually, that the first time you say "oh, how do you say that in Hebrew?" you don't even notice it. That's when you start mixing and get used to talking in what can only be described as utter Gibberish to anyone listening from the outside. And still you don't really notice it, because how am I supposed to remember what shoes are called in the mornings before I've had my coffee?
Then another year or so goes by and the kids are embarrassed when you talk Hebrew next to their friends, so you start talking to them in English when you pick them up from school, or when you help them with homework because they have to understand it in English and besides they don't know what you mean when you say weird Hebrew words. And when you talk with people in Israel they use slang and references and words you've never heard of because your Hebrew got stuck somewhere around 2009, and one day you find yourself saying something about how much easier it is to write an email in English.
And still you don't notice it, until one day your parents come for a visit and say "Orli, did you notice that the boys answer more in English when we talk to them?" "No. Of course they don't. You are getting senile. And your hearing is bad". But then you start listening and you notice that it is true.
Then comes the day when you have to face the fact that there is no more room in the house, and if you want the boys to have somewhere to put all those Christmas gifts you need to clear some space, and your the corner of your eye catches those hundred books in Hebrew you bought for them over the years and you realise that they are there so you would feel better, that you would feel like there is some chance that someone will read them.
Books for sale
Then. When you take out all those unopened books and put them in bags. Then it hits you, we've lost the fight. A fight we didn't even know we were fighting. Because it is not the fight for the Hebrew we've lost, it's the fight for a shared past. That is the moment you realise how much we take for granted the invisible chord connecting the generations through songs and stories and school and TV. How much we rely on it when we want to create shared history, traditions, a family.
Even when you know it in your head, even when you can rationalise the decisions (It will be enough of a challenge teaching Yon to read English with his eyes, we won't even try with the Hebrew), even when you know that understanding the language is more important than talking, or reading and that writing is last in that sequence, even then it still knock the air out of your lungs. Even then you still feel a little piece of your heart breaking.
We gave away all the books, and DVD's. We tell them to answer in whatever language they want, and find we talk to them more and more in English. Because when you stop and think about it, the thing we want most is a connection with our kids. All the history, traditions, and invisible chords won't be worth it if my kids won't feel they can talk to me. In whatever language they choose.

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January 20, 2014

The disability program conundrum

"Excuse me, do you perhaps have a disability discount?" Who said that? I look around, until I realise, hey, it was me. I can feel my cheeks beginning to glow bright red (yes, I know who Ron inherited his tendency to glow from). The shame creeping up, and I can't stop the words rushing out of my mouth "it's our youngest, he has a vision problem, he isn't really blind, I am sorry I asked, never mind". Once. I did it once at the apple store, and even though it has been a few weeks since, I still feel ashamed for it. I still feel as if I did something wrong.
Yon got his CVI (certificate of visual impairment) just before Christmas, and he is now officially disabled. The next step is his registration card from our local council, but it's just a formality really, because the CVI is what's important. It's where they state in nice large black letters that Yon is visually impaired, Which is the nice new name they gave to Partially Blind. Because we are always looking for nicer ways to call things so they will sound less severe, less scary. He has 40% vision, so he is only just above the limit of being legally blind. And when I say "just above" what I mean is one line in the eye-test. You know how you go to the eye doctor and you have this poster with all the letters? Yon can see about 3 or 4 lines from the top. Legally blind people can see 2.
And still when we asked our doctor about registering him as partially blind she said "why would you? After all you won't be able to claim any benefits for that" and made us feel like the worst people and parents and immigrants in the world. In the span of a second we fell into all the stereotypes - the middle class people who try and squeeze benefits they are not entitled to, people who use and abuse their child and the system, immigrants who just want to steal money from the UK.
I find I need to justify myself here, to explain how it wasn't for the benefits, how we've never even applied for child benefits. That we didn't even know we had any benefits to claim.
The reason we wanted the registration is because Yon's is an invisible disability. At least until you really look at him and start noticing all the little things, and then the bigger things. You would think he misbehaves, fearful, unfriendly, maybe even stupid and immature, if you know a little about special needs you would think "this child is on the spectrum for sure". You would look at us and think we baby him, or are too strict with him, or just plain bad parents. But unless you know what partially blind or albinism looks like, you will never think he doesn't see. And the saddest part of it is that even after you'll know the truth you won't remember it. Because "he doesn't look blind".
That piece of paper is our only way to prove to people, to teachers, to other parents, to ourselves, that as good as he is in deceiving and hiding it, he really doesn't see. That all those other things stem from that.
It was never intended for benefits, or discounts, or programs.
And there I was a few weeks ago at the Apple store asking about a disability discount.
And there I was today at the Arsenal website checking their disability membership.
Because I want to be able to go to a real football match as a family. Just for once. And I can't. We've been to an Under 21 match twice, but never to a real Premier League match. Because Yon has to sit at the first row, in the middle of the court or he doesn't see the match, and there is no way I can a mange to buy those tickets. Because he is afraid of the noise and the people screaming every time there is a goal, because he is terrified of the guunnosaur, because I can't be sure he won't start crying. Or screaming. Because I have no idea how or if anyone else in our row, and especially Ron, would be able to enjoy it. So I need a disability program.
Because when I take Yon to the movies I have to take him to the ones I know don't shut the lights completely, where he knows the place, where the loo is close, where I can get tickets in the middle row near the exit, where I can sit comfortably with him in my arms whispering "it's ok, it's ok" throughout the movie.
Because when I go with Yon to LegoLand I need to make sure there aren't too many people cramped together, I have to make sure I am allowed with him on all the rides, I have to make sure he doesn't have to wait too long in the queues.
Because wherever I take Yon I have to make sure it's stress free for him.
So I printed out the Arsenal forms. Four forms telling me how I have to prove this and that and provide copies of this and that, and be careful not to abuse his membership and how it's all very complicated and difficult to get to see a match. How much I should be grateful that they will consider me for a disability membership. None of these forms explains what the disability membership really means.
I didm't fill the forms. They are sitting next to me, staring at me, for the last few hours, and still I couldn't. Because these forms, in their language and their questions, make me feel like a fraud. They make me feel like every one of those stereotypes is true. They make me feel like I am using and abusing my son to get a discount that I don't deserve. They make me feel like a terrible person and a terrible mum.
I can't stop thinking how those seats are for "really disabled" people who deserve and need them, not people like us who use them to make their lives easier. I can't stop the questions from running around in my head. How can you do that? How can you trade on your child's disability? How can you fill a form that will get you access you won't have otherwise? How can you justify that to yourself?
I can't.
But I really want to take him to a real football match and have him and us enjoy it, and I can't do that without those forms.
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January 17, 2014

Week 2 in hell

I've made it. For the first time in my whole life I haven't had any chocolate at all for 14 days. It has been my goal so many times in the past and I've never made it past the 10 days mark, but this time I've made it to 14 whole days. I want to celebrate. Somebody has a piece of chocolate cake?
To mark the occasion I have decided to tell you how my week has been, because - why should Hidai be the only one to suffer? I have made it to 14 days of no chocolate, and somewhere around day 9 have lost the will to live. All happiness has deserted me, together with all energy and instead a dark cloud made entirely out of grapes has descended over the whole house.
14 days of Weight Watchers have made me realise that life really is cruel, that the beauty standards in our society are so wrong and unrealistic, that I am old and married and shouldn't have to work so hard at looking young and pretty, and that if I want to fit in my trousers without having to do some extreme acrobatics while the mirror is smirking away at me, I still need 3 more weeks of grapes.

So I broke down. I ate 100 grams of Curiously Cinnamon only to realise one minute later that they amount to half (yes, half) of my daily eating points. The hard boiled egg and salad I ate for dinner that day (because they were worth exactly the last 2 points I had left) taught me something valuable though, so it was all worth it. They taught me something every Weight Watcher group leader will tell you the first time you visit, to stop at 50 grams.
You know how it is, it's the little things like this that help you succeed in a diet. Like writing every little thing you eat. Or putting the scales in the bathroom and weighing yourself every time you go to the loo. Or banishing every baking-related newsletter and blog to the automatic archive. Or delegating food shopping to others. Or throwing away everything chocolate or taste related, and still keep a tiny emergency stash of chocolate-chips (that way, if you are willing to eat them you'll know it's a true emergency). Or playing Candy Crush on your phone while everyone else is eating happily away.
I might have done all of the above this week.
But I have not touched the baking chocolate (or the chocolate chips).
This week was actually about adding the exercise to the menu, because it's not enough to just not eat, you have to take out your frustration and lose what little energy you have left to a sadistic DVD instructor who keep saying things like "keep smiling" or "if it doesn't feel good don't do it" and "remember your body can do more than you think, just let it". So I have invented a mental game, like a drinking game but for exercise - every time Dalia (that is the DVD demon's name) says one of those sentences I wish her something nice and full of love in return. If you can actually say it out loud and not just mentally wish her a room full of cakes and mirrors then it means you are in better shape! This week I have done two Pilates training session, and I am glad and proud to say that I am still alive. Dalia, bless her, is also still alive and the DVD has yet to be thrown out the window even after she advised to do that 4 times a week and keep smiling while we try and bend from the stomach without moving our pelvis and keep one hand stretched behind our ears.
And that is the exercise I like! Because the other one is running. I hate running. Hidai loves it, and is much better at it than me (and here he will tell you how he started running training when he was 16 while I ditched PE lessons since I was 12). Now it's not that I'm competitive much, it's just that I can't stand that someone is better than me at something. And with running, I really am quite bad at it. It doesn't matter how much time I've been doing it, I just don't have good running habits, you know like breathing so you won't fain in the middle.
It doesn't help that since I have been pointedly avoiding my treadmill for a year and a half I have lost every shred of physical ability I have ever had. So I had to start over from "running for beginners", which means intervals of 5 minutes walk 4 minutes run for 30 minutes, which I survive thanks to three things - drinking lots of water (about a litre of water during this time), listening very loudly to my carefully chosen training music which has only angry songs in it while trying to shout them out loud at the TV, and watching football. I know, you weren't expecting that one, but I discovered that if you have other people running and suffering in front of you it makes it so much easier. And footballers, they always run and rarely look happy about it. The perfect companion. I don't really care who is playing as long as it's there, so this week I made Ron play his FIFA on the xBox while I was running. Hey, fake footballers run too.
At this point. after 2 running session, I still have to stand on the treadmill for five minutes so my legs won't buckle from under me.
And then I go to take a shower and realised I gained a kilo.
So the conclusion from this week is that running makes you fat.

Wobbles Wednesday

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January 15, 2014

Letting go and letting grow

I don't remember being a young mum. I blocked that first year with Ron completely because the only thing I do remember is the feeling that it will never end. The only thing I remember is how much I felt that it will never change. That when people told me that when he is three I won't remember, when they looked at me and said that babies grow up, when they promised it will all be ok - I didn't believe them. In my mind then it seemed as if even when he does grow up eventually and is no longer a baby, it will still be the same - that endless cycle of misery. Bit by bit he grew up and I regained some sanity and the ability to leave the house without taking half the house with me, and bit by bit I blocked it all until I was willing to give up everything I gained back in order to have Yon.
Yon was our "easy" baby (though compared to Ron all other babies are easy), and still if you ask me now how I got them to sleep through the night, or how I potty-trained them or how I weaned them, I will have no answers to give you. I don't remember any of it. As far as I'm concerned it just happened and I didn't do anything to facilitate it. It's all the boys by themselves.
Yon is also our last child. Hidai and I reached that decision a while back and never looked back. I am not sorry for that decision (on the contrary) but it does mean Yon can stay in his favourite position in the family - the baby. Ron was always the classic firstborn, and I was eager for him to grow up which worked very well with his wish to grow up, so he always gives you the feeling that you can really talk to him, like you would explain things to an another adult. Yon is a classic second (or last) child - he does not want any responsibility, he lives for attention and laughs, he is a notorious drama-queen, and he wants to stay a baby. He wants his nickname to stay "Baby Yon", he wants to be cuddled and kissed and hugged, he wants to be "tiny".
As it happens he wants all these things but without actually giving up his ability to do everything he wants "by myself!" so his wanting to stay small is more theoretical than anything else. The problem is that I sometimes stop and realise I forgot again. I forgot he isn't a baby anymore, he isn't even a toddler anymore. He is four and a half. But between him saying he is tiny, his being the youngest, my tendency to forget (who knows what 4 years old are supposed to be like?), my unwillingness to compare him to Ron (unfair to any other child anyway) and his Ocular Albinism and special needs - it is easy to forget and "baby" him.
With Yon, it's easy to look at him and not really see who he is or what he can do. Mainly because you don't really believe he can. As easy a baby as he was, he was a very tough to handle toddler. The last couple of years (up until this July when he turned 4), saw us battling behaviours and habits and roadblocks we never imagined we would have to.
To my untrained eyes, it looks as though Yon had some developmental delays, mainly because of side-afffects of his Ocular Albinism. We are still worried about his speech, and eating habits, and his learning abilities. But this past 6 months he made such a big improvement in everything, and really closed the gaps. And still sometimes you forget that he can, that he should, that he needs to be challenged.
It is a constant battle the believing he needs to be challenged and us wanting to teach him he can do anything and everything on the one hand, and not over protecting him on the other. We are over protective anyway, and with Yon it is even stronger, that need to keep him close and away from any harm.
This is how we found ourselves a couple of weeks ago at Winter Wonderland standing in front of the rides intended for younger children looking a bit baffled. Yon wanted to go on the flying airplanes one. Ron wasn't feeling very well and though he wasn't really sick I didn't want to take the chance that all the spinning will cause him to feel worse and throw up in the middle of the fair. The airplanes did not have seats big enough for adults to accompany the kids. Yon was insisting he wants up.
What do you do?
We stood there a while, letting him see the ride in action, trying to gauge if he understands what it means. He doesn't like to be "up" usually. He feels less secure and after a few seconds he always wants to "go down" and feel the ground underneath him. He never went on any ride by himself. He was really insisting by that time that he wants to get on. What do you do?
We let him do it.
We let him grow, and stretch his wings.
And he did.

I am linking this with Jane's Small Steps Amazing Achievements linky, which is meant to celebrate our children's achievements, though I really am not sure weather the achievement here was ours or Yon's.
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January 13, 2014


There is a new linky going around the blogosphere, and it's all about siblings. It's all about taking a photo of your kids together at the 10th of every month. I looked around on Friday, and everyone were joining in, mostly saying how hard it was for them to find photos of their children together. I have the opposite problem, I have too few photos of each of them alone. Anyway, obviously I didn't join the linky (otherwise you would have seen this post earlier), but later that night my friend Steph joined it and invited me to join as well. I told her I have never done a photo post on my blog, as I prefer my photos to accompany my words. It is true, but it wasn't the real reason.
The real reason I didn't join the linky is that it touched a sore point with me. Siblings is somewhat of a touchy subject for me, and I just couldn't find the words or the will to write about it. Both Hidai and I don't have a good relationship with our siblings. It's for different reasons, and regardless of the "why" or the "blame game" the end result is the same - an almost non-existent relationship. It is a sad turn of events for sure, and one that is hard to live with at times, and at the same time not one that will change at the moment.
The reason I am telling you this, is that it started raising questions I have no answer to, and I am starting to be concerned about the future. Ron and Yon have a four year gap, a very different personality and interests, and have eased into the stage of jealousy and bickering lately. I know it's a phase, and that everyone goes through it and I shouldn't be worried about it, and that they are boys so half their interaction with the world is through fighting and grunting and bickering anyway. But I am worried, because I like to teach by example, and I don't have a good example to teach by in this case. How can I raise them to be good brothers, the way I think good brothers are supposed to be, when I don't have an example to give them? How do I make sure the differences in their personality - that I am sure will evolve into differences in lifestyle, careers, spouses, and location - won't hinder their relationship? How do I make sure they will be there for each other? How do I make sure my vision of a good sibling relationship is carried out, when I myself am such a bad example of it?
I would like Ron to help Yon and protect him. But he is 8 and a half and is heading straight into the stage where everything "embarrasses" him. Last week there was a fire alarm at school and Yon got scared and started crying (it was a combination of the cold, his regular teacher wasn't there and they had to stand in a different place). His teacher arrived after a few minutes and thought seeing Ron would help, so she took Yon to where Ron's class was. And Yon wanted a hug. I heard all this from Ron later, when he told me in horror how embarrassing it was to hug your little brother in front of the Whole School. I know it's more funny and touching and that the important thing was that he did hug his little brother even if it was in front of the whole school and extremely embarrassing. And I know I can't put too much pressure on Ron to protect Yon, but I would like him to want to do it. I know it's crazy and unrealistic and a fantasy...
I would like Yon to stop being jealous of Ron. To stop interrupting every time Ron speaks, and stop wanting so much attention every time Ron gets some. But he is 4 and a half and at this point in life it's just not going to happen.
I want them both to like each other and love each other and feel secure in their relationship and in our love for them.
I would have liked all this for Hidai and for myself.
”dearAnd maybe that's just it, maybe I can't make sure of it, because maybe there is no good sibling relationship and it's all a fantasy I concocted in my head? I don't have any real-life example to give them, all I can do is point at them and say "do as I say and not as I do", which is never a good thing is it?

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January 10, 2014

Flying Cakes

Diets are a cruel, cruel thing. I had a different post planned for today but the thing is, I can't seem to think about anything else beside chocolate. Or cakes. Or chocolate cakes. I can see them in front of my eyes, like Frodo on the last leg of his quest, I can see nothing but the cake. I sit here typing this and all I can see instead of letters on my keyboard are tiny pieces of chocolate. My computer screen is a sea of vanilla and chocolate flakes, and the iPhone next to it is in fact a giant cookie. I am loosing my mind, and there is nothing I can do about it because, like I tell Ron - you did the crime, you do the time. And boy did I do the crime...
Today is day 7 of "establishing healthier eating habits" or as I like to call it "living in hell", so it means it's been 7 days since I last ate anything not resembling a vegetable, and just so you know, fruits are not a substitute for cake. Not all sugar was born equal.
7 days ago I have reached the point of no return. I finished Christmas and stepped on the scales, to discover what I already knew from looking in the mirror (and trying to put my trousers on) - there is nowhere to run (except on the treadmill), I can't close my eyes and pretend the mirror is fattening, and no matter how many times I step on and off the scales it will still be there - my shame.
Yes, it's my shame. Because this is what I swore will not happen to me - I will not be one of those people who lost a lot of weight and looked great and then gained it all back plus some. And here I am well on my way to be the biggest cliche in town.
And so, though I told Hidai I refuse to call it a new year resolution, I emptied the fridge and all the cupboards of anything that falls under the category of "tasty" and filled it instead with enough fruits, vegetables and Weight Watchers products to open a tiny pick-your-own farm. I have chosen to go down the safe route of Weight Watchers again, because I know it works and because I already have the app (ok. More because I already have the app). Being an antisocial prima donna that never does anything the way it should be done, I of course don't do the whole meetings thing, I don't belong to any local or online group. It's just me and the app, and occasionally when I feel extremely miserable (about once every couple of hours) - Hidai, who has to suffer also, because why should I be the only one? and can eat no chocolate or sweets or Muller corners.
The first time I went on a real "changing your lifestyle" diet I was worried about the boys. No, I wasn't worried I would think they are cakes - I am a vegetarian after all, I was worried about how to explain dieting without ruining the fact that they are oblivious to body image, have good eating habits and get enough exercise and without needing to resort to using the great answer to everything - "it's a girl thing". I ended selling the whole "changing to a healthier lifestyle" that includes eating everything in moderation, reaching a good BMI, and exercising. This time around all they cared about was the salad. Ron, because for some reason he decided that the making of the salad is fun, and Yon because it's his mortal enemy and he would rather eat rocks than salad.
The thing is, Weight Watchers is all about the salad. At the end of the day it's not a bad system, it's just that it has one BIG problem - portion size. You know how when you have a baby and you start weaning it, they tell you that you should take an ice-cube tray and fill it with baby food and each cube is a portion? Weight Watchers portions are exactly the same size. I mean what sane person can feel satisfied after eating 100 grams of pasta for lunch? It doesn't matter if you are hungry or not. It's that if you are sitting to eat with other people, by the time everyone else finished piling their plates you're already clearing yours off the table. It's unsatisfying. That is why they have vegetables - because you can eat as many of those as you like (well not including potatoes and chocolate of course. But a big yes for cucumbers and lettuce), and here is where that salad comes in. It takes a long time to eat a gigantic bowl of salad (no dressing. No olive oil. No croutons.) and you get to feel like you ate a real meal and you are actually a grown person. After all, in order to make 100 grams of pasta look presentable you have to put it in the kids plates.
And that isn't the worst part of it. It's the snacking that really gets to me. My problem (with food. Not my only one) is that I have the worse eating habits in the world (and as my physiotherapist added, also not good with the whole using my muscles correctly. So worst at using a body apparently). I am what you can fondly call a snacker, or less fondly - a person who never stops eating. Unless I'm in public. I don't eat in public. At home, and especially when I'm alone, I eat all day long. Every two hours I have to have something to eat. Now I don't eat a lot, but I only eat unhealthy things. That is unless they changed the rules and made biscuits the new fruits. It's not like Weight Watchers say you can't snack, I hear you whispering in the corner. Of course not, they have a "anytime" category after all. But when you only get 26 points for a whole day, and that 100 grams of pasta was 5 (before sauce. Did I mention that?), it doesn't leave a lot for snacking. Again, this is were fruits come in. And I can't stress this enough - it sucks. A banana is not a substitute for a biscuit. Lets put it this way - a lemon is not a substitute to lemon curd spread on a lotus biscuit. And don't judge until you've tried it.
And even that is not the worst part. Oh no, the worst part starts today, because today I start the  exercise part of it all. Now I know what you are going to say, everyone loves exercise, it releases endorphins, and once you get into it you get addicted to it. I know, I heard all these lies people who work at the gym say too. The truth is you get addicted to things that are enjoyable, like booze or chocolate or white sugar. Or trashy TV. But how in the name of.... How can you get addicted to wearing those uncomfortable clothes that emphasise every little thing you hate about your body, sweating like a pig no matter how low the thermostat is set, and looking like a complete and utter idiot while you are doing something so wrong it should be illegal? Yes, yes, you don't have to tell me, I know it's the results. You get addicted to the results, and to not having back pain and to not grunting every time you sit down. The thing is, you don't really. I mean I like the results, who doesn't? But is it really worth me having to suffer through the whole 4 times a week of running and Pilates to get them while I continuously scream profanities and death threats at the TV (I am not crazy enough to actually let other people see me exercise)? I have been doing Pilates for 11 years now, and walking or running for 8. I can honestly say without a moment hesitation - I still hate it with the same passion. And I keep the hate alive, because that hatred is the only thing getting me through it. I really can't understand people whose panting while they run isn't "I hate you, you f*&^ng treadmill. I wish you would break down right here and right now you son of a...." you get my point I'm sure.
And yet, here I am, on my way to go and start this torture again. Because deep down I know the truth - Those who bitch while on the torture device also known as treadmill are better off than those who bitch while standing on the sideline, after all they are closer to reaching their ultimate goal.
Being able to eat cake again.

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January 7, 2014

First days of January

I find that the first days of January are always miserable ones. I am not talking about January first (well, that depends on drinking quantities the night before) but about the days around January 6th. It's where you realise that life is indeed going to go on, and reality is waiting just around the corner, and that somehow everyone seemed to embrace it and are already talking Easter plans when you are still not sure how to set the alarm clock again. I found myself last night standing in front of the boy's wardrobe trying desperately to remember what Ron needs for football club. I was unsuccessful. Than again as it turns out, clubs starts next week.
The funny thing is, I actually waited for these days. As fun as Christmas was (and it was plenty fun) there is something comforting about the routine. I missed my quiet time when the boys are at school, I missed being able to walk freely around the house without fear of knocking down yet another Christmas ornament, I even missed eating reasonable quantities of normal food instead of what felt like an unending chocolate feast for the last two weeks.
Orli, Just Breathe - First Days of January
Just one of the million meals over the past month (or two)
The Christmas holiday is so different to the rest of the year it's easy to forget what life really looks like. It is the only time a year that all of us are really "commitment free". I don't give the boys any school / extra work, there is no set schedule, they don't "have" to do anything, there is no electronics limit, Hidai isn't working and there are no emails or phone calls or meetings, my parents come over, and I am completely cut off from anything blog or social media related. This, by no means, resembles any other holiday or term-time in our house. And though by the end of it you really want to go back to real life, actually remembering what those life looks like has been somewhat difficult for everyone. It started on Saturday, after my parents left. We organised the house back to "no visitors" mode (only 6 loads of washing and 4 hours of work) and closed down Christmas. Taking down the tree, lights and various decorations took about 5 hours, and after wondering about a hundred times how we are going to fit all of it into 2 boxes (because every year there are a few new things to fit in with the old things), we looked around the house and suddenly it looked too big, too white, too exposed. I couldn't sleep that night because our living-room window was suddenly way too big and of course a burglar could easily open it and come in. So what if the only difference is the strip of lights we hung on it for Christmas?
Orli, Just Breathe - First Days of January
Christmas all closed down
It continued with stepping on the scales. I am weight obsessive, like most people who lost a lot of weight I am living in fear I will one day wake up and realise I gained it back over night. Well, it took more than a night, but on Sunday when I stepped back on the scale after giving myself December off, I realised that you can't really eat all that I've eaten this past month (or two, let's be honest here) and do no exercise at all and not gain some (a lot of) weight. To make you understand the amounts of food I've managed to consume, it took me about three days of not eating anything but salads to even start feeling hungry. Sunday was the day I threw away all the chocolate from the house. It was adjoined by the last of the biscuits, cakes, and minced pies. There is nothing more depressing than looking ahead and seeing an endless desert of bare salads and treadmill runs. No deserts though.
It ended with rain. I don't really mind the cold, I manage the grey better than I ever expected, the wind don't bother me (Yon and I love to "fly") and I love snow. But rain? Rain I hate. As Yon put it yesterday, while we battled the rain and tried not to be late to school on the first day - "I don't like this rain-time". It has not stopped raining. Or at least it seems like it, because it's been pouring down every time I've had to leave the house. Might have been some grey in between (as if that helps. It's just the universe's way of laughing at me).
Orli, Just Breathe - First Days of January
Managed to find one nano-second of no rain to take a photo on the way back from school
Today is the second day of normality. I still don't feel normal. The boys have gone back to routine happily and quickly - bedtime, eating habits (no, you can't have four chocolates as desert and a piece of cake as snack time), school, reading time - all restored within 24 hours as if they've never been on holiday. Ron was disappointed there was no homework yesterday. Hidai went back to work yesterday also, and seems to have dived right in. It just leaves me, not knowing where to start from. Everywhere I look there are people whose year has started with confidence and a smooth ride. I see people who did not discover they are still yet to order the 2012 (!) photo albums and completely forgot about making 2013 ones, people who did not lose all their readers over the holiday period, people who remember if they already done their taxes for this year.
Everywhere I turn there are people who did not lose their English over the holiday, who have so much to write about, who seems to have it all organised and their road is laid down in front of them to step on firmly and securely.
Orli, Just Breathe - First Days of January
Trying to switch computers
Not so for me. I find the first days of January are not the easiest days for me. They are the days in which reality comes back with a bang, where you discover that taking time off doesn't really solve anything and everything you left behind to go on holiday didn't really go anywhere. If I felt lost before the holidays, why should I expect it to be any different after?
Then again, Hidai did surprise me with a new mac on Friday and the rain has finally stopped and the sun is actually really marvelously shining outside for the first time in days.

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January 1, 2014

What did 2013 bring?

The last day of the year is a good timing to reflect, to look back on your year and plan the year ahead. Naturally we spent the whole day in front of the TV, watching all Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies (had to force my parents to watch the first one. After that they refused to stop). I am not good with sums, of the maths kind or of the soul ones, and yet here I am trying. After all it's what one does for the new year when one is the kind of person who is in touch with one's feelings and all that. I can't say that I'm not, and I actually really like taking "life inventories" every once in a while (say monthly or so), it's the having to do that on command, while the house is full of people who keep talking to me, and nicer things to do that makes this task seems impossible. 
So as a first step I went back to last year, because last year I wrote a 2012 recap that wasn't easy for me to read even now. At the start of the year I've had such high hopes for London and my 2013 - What will 2013 bring? I really can't say. At the moment we are here, building back the foundations of our lives. Getting the kids settled in and feeling secure again, Hidai progressing with work, as a family we are trying to enjoy everything London has to offer us, making memories. And for me? I know it might sound silly or stupid, but for me this year is that - to see that everyone's settled down. This year is about the ability to just breathe easy.
My next move was to sit everyone down and ask them to summarise 2013 for me, to tell me about their year so I could think more clearly of my own.
2013 has not been an easy year around here, and as I listened to everyone else summarising the year the good and bad mixing together, the laughter and the tears, the two side of the coin, it seemed harder than ever summing up this year. If I have to choose one thing to say about 2013, it is that it brought us fights and battles in every aspect of our lives.
2013 made us look at the way we react to what life throws at us and change it.
2013 was a year of change.
Changes are a funny thing. While we crave stability and predictability, most things in life change all the time, in ways we don't even realise until one day we stop and look back. We change all the time, in ways we don't realise, in places we don't imagine we could or would or want to. It hit me last night, after we've finished a bottle of wine and watched John Bishop on BBC1 until 2am how much I have changed in the course of one year. Silly enough this year is the year we learned to drink, and the year we discovered British comedians, it's also the year I've discovered I have white hairs and got a fringe, it's the year Yon went to school full time and for the first time in almost a decade I had free time to discover who I am and what I want to do, it's the year I went out to have fun with friends and without Hidai for the first time in more than a decade. 
2012 taught me to not plan anymore, to live in the moment and never have certainties and fantasies about how things "should" be. 2013 taught me to be fearless. It's the year I decided to stop being afraid and never say "no" to opportunities.
2013 will forever be Yon's year. It was the year in which we discovered Yon's Ocular Albinism and learned how you live with being a parent to a child with disability. We've opened the year with an EDD test to get a diagnosis to something we didn't even understand and ended it with getting Yon's Partially Blind registration recommendation. 
2013 will forever be the year in which we've had to deal with the Home Offices's ability to make life near impossible for people just because they can, and learned how it feels to really be an immigrant.
2013 is the year in which Hidai's product hit the market (and people in Portsmouth can now use Nectar Local).
2013 will forever be the year in which we discovered how our control and ability to help our children is slipping away more and more every day.
2013 will forever be the year in which we discovered we no longer have babies, or toddlers or young children. We have left that party never to come back.
2013 will forever be the year I started my blog, and have build my own place. I want to write a separate post about what my blog gave me, but I will say here it gave me friends, and memories, and confidence, and a voice of my own. I started 2014 with 600 Facebook likes, 100,000 pageviews and a place near enough to the top 500. All of these are things I couldn't have imagined are possible. All of which things I still don't believe are real. 
2013 was a year with less photos than usual, we didn't buy anything new (ok, except for my new Nespresso machine), we stayed in the same house, in the same city, in the same country, in the same job, in the same school. 
We haven't changed any of the big things in life and yet I can't help but feel it changed so much. 
As for 2014? What will it bring? For the past 5 years, every time I am asked this question I give the same answer. What I wish for next year is a new iPhone and some peace. I replaced three iPhones in this time, and have yet to have one year of peace. 
Will 2014 be any different? Probably. 
After all I want a new Mac this year. 
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