The face mask. The awful face mask. It has become a staple in our household now, here in Spain, and I am washing more masks than bras these days. No, I can’t say I’m a fan. But hey-ho, nothing is permanent, and this too shall pass. So while we can think of enough negatives around wearing a face mask, such as feeling claustrophobic, getting a skin rash and just looking rather unattractive, we forget about the benefits of wearing one. Number one, of course, you have less chance of catching or spreading a virus. Obviously. Are there any others, you may ask. Oh yes, there are! I found seven. Let’s look at the bright side.
1. You don’t have to speak to people
Yes, I am speaking to you, introvert! I bet you secretly would want to wear that face mask all the time from now on, when going outside. If you have children, you know that feeling at 9am, when you drop off the kids at school and you have dozens of parents greeting you and you feel obliged to make small talk before you have even had a coffee. Just. No. Or that feeling when you are minding your own business doing the grocery shopping and your overly chatty neighbour spots you in the bread aisle. No longer, folks! That face mask makes you incognito. Combine it with a hat and sunglasses and you could rob a bank without anyone even recognising it’s you.
2. No more cold noses
It’ll be winter soon and that means freezing noses! So many times I have wondered why there wasn’t a solution for having a cold nose in winter. I mean, we put on hats, gloves, ear muffs, scarfs. But noses, no, they stay out in the cold. No more! Knit yourself a thick woolly face mask or cut one out of fleece material and your nose will be toasty warm.
3. You save on makeup
I hardly put on makeup these days, wearing a face mask. Especially combined with sunglasses, there is really no point. The only thing I use is a moisturiser in the morning. Saves a lot of time and money!
4. But…you could really go to town on the lashes
I now understand women in some Arabic countries who wear the full hijab. Have you ever noticed how gorgeous their eyes are? If you only see the eyes above a face mask, you may as well make them pop. Saving on lipstick means you have spare cash for a high quality mascara or a set of falsies.
5. You can play ninjas
OK, this is only if you are 6 years old and love being a superhero. I did find myself tapping into my inner child though, when going outside with my two little boys, who immediately pulled up their hoodies and starting doing kicks, shouting ‘Wayaaaa!’. Face masks are instant ninja outfits. Do you know the mobile game Clumsy Ninja? It’s fun.
6. No more stinky breaths
Standing in the metro next to someone whose breath could kill. Been there, done that. Ugh. Face masks have a little perk of taking the edge off smells. Stinky breaths, pissy alleyways, full bins in the heat of summer. Not a bad thing for a happy life. Sure, you’ll also miss the nice smells like fresh flowers or pine trees, but just head into the woods on the weekend without a face mask on and you’ll get your fair share.
7. You don’t have to kiss strangers
No matter how I love the Spanish culture and custom of hugging and kissing each other all the time (hence the high infection rate no doubt), I am not a big fan of kissing a total stranger two times on the cheek when being introduced. Yes, it is air kissing, but still. Wearing a face mask? You’re safe! We’re not kissing now anyway, it’s elbow bumping. I’m OK with elbow bumping.
We all hate wearing face masks right now. They are uncomfortable, make breathing difficult, cause skin rashes and, to be honest, just look silly. In Spain, where I live, face masks are compulsory almost everywhere, unless you are at home, stuffing your face in a café, lying on the beach, hiking in nature or doing sports. My children and their teachers have to wear the masks for up to 8 hours a day: in class, at break time outside AND at P.E. They only take them off at lunchtime, for obvious reasons. Many other countries don’t have the rule of face masks in primary schools, but here in Spain, the numbers of contagion are so high right now, that everyone is petrified.
How long will this go on for?
I was and still am critical and sceptical about the severity of the virus compared to the enormous long term economic impact of the lockdown and ongoing restrictions. There is no doubt the strict lockdown was needed back in March when thousands were getting seriously ill and were dying. Many families lost loved ones and are still grieving. Hospital staff was working around the clock. The problem is, however, that we don’t know how long the virus is going to go on for. The world is eagerly – or less eagerly – waiting for a vaccine, but will this actually work?
And what would we do if there suddenly was a whole new virus? Would we just stop living? Another lockdown? Wear a face mask forever? Create another vaccine? More money to Big Pharma? And what about other diseases, are we not worried about them any more? The news is hysterical, politicians are fighting, people are becoming more polarized on social media. Businesses are going bust. It is exhausting. I noticed myself getting more frustrated and angrier by the day, rolling my eyes at stupidity on social media and hating the face mask with a vengeance. Then this week I happened to stand beside two GPs, or family doctors, outside the school gates, who are among the parents in my son’s class. I decided to ask them about the situation. Most doctors have a certain calm over them and a great skill of putting things into perspective. I needed some of that.
“What do you think about the mask wearing in primary schools?” I asked the mum GP. “Oh, I know, they are horrible. I am wearing one all day too in the clinic. It saves on having to use makeup though!”, she laughed. “I have cousins in the Netherlands”, she continued, “and I am aware of schools in other countries too not having the mask rule for children. Children are not the problem. But right now, in Spain, schools have only just opened, and we all need them to stay open. We have waited so long! They want to prevent anyone from getting sick, so are extra careful. Maybe too careful. I expect, in a few months time, when we start to see that infection hardly takes place in schools among primary aged children, rules will be relaxed a bit.” I hope so.
I asked her husband what he saw in his profession right now in terms of Covid infections and whether it is as bad as the media tell us. He said: “After the first wave in Spring, we had nearly no one getting sick in July, but now we see a rise again, yes. The symptoms are very different though and most newly infected patients have no symptoms at all. They have had a test done for whatever reason, ended up being positive, and they call us up because they don’t know what to do. They don’t feel sick, and they are confused.”
No symptoms, no problems…then why still panic?
So why are we still so worried and hysterical about the virus if symptoms are so mild and almost nobody is dying? I asked him. “Because there is always a small percentage that will end up in hospital and ICU”, he answered. With only a few infections, that small percentage is negligible, but with the big rise we are seeing right now, that percentage naturally means that more people are going to need hospital beds. We need ICU beds for other illnesses too, they haven’t disappeared. And now we are heading towards winter. Traditionally every January hospitals are full of patients suffering from complications from the normal flu virus. We just do not have enough capacity for both COVID patients and flu victims. We have to flatten the curve. That is the reason. There is hope that we may not see such a big spike in normal flu infections among older people due to the use of face masks this year. But we just don’t know.”
And the vaccine? I asked. Will we all have to line up for a compulsory vaccine next year? “No, I don’t think so”, the dad GP replied calmly. “It will take a while before it is here anyway and then I expect it will be offered first to the people who are most vulnerable, like older people, like with the normal flu vaccine.”
Rabbit holes and rubbish blog posts like mine
Our conversation got cut short as we were overrun by excited kids coming out of class, but I am glad I spoke to actual doctors, face to face (mask). In a crazy year like this, it is so easy to get caught up in social media feeds and online discussions, mistrust mainstream media and do your own ‘research’, going down all kinds of rabbit holes, searching for ‘the truth’. It is great to inform yourself, of course, but not everyone is aware of how they are manipulated online in their opinion shaping without even knowing it. With every click.
If you haven’t watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix yet, I recommend it. You suddenly understand how dangerous and misleading the algorithms of platforms like Facebook and Youtube are and how you end up only seeing and finding posts, documents, videos and groups that constantly confirm what you already believe in, and which only strengthens that belief, so you see it as the truth. You are right, they are wrong. But this also happens on the other side of the scale. The result? More extremes, less middle ground. Conflict. In politics, in pandemics, across the world. We all have our own beliefs, and that is OK. You don’t have to agree with me. You may even think this blog post is rubbish. Those GP’s might be wrong. Sometimes however, getting offline and talking to actual people, away from the spell of algorithms, is just what the doctor ordered.
Have you ever dreamed about leaving it all behind and moving into a yurt, in nature, far away from the madding crowd? That is exactly what a group of Dutch-American families did in the province of Valencia. Down a single track road 4km from the nearest small village, we find Kausay, a small eco community tucked away in a green valley in between the rocky hills of Enguera. The sound of crickets in the air; the smell of ripe carob fruit falling from the trees. We had the opportunity to experience first hand what life is like, living off-grid, eating straight off the land and ‘unschooling’ the children. Yurt living in Spain, it wasn’t quite glamping but it sure was a treat.
Freedom away from the covid madness
During the final week of the summer holidays we decided to go camping before the schools were back. After six months of having the children at home because of the pandemic, we were more than ready for school, but we wanted to escape the city one last time. I was searching for natural campsites around Valencia, but was put off by so many Covid restrictions. Then I spotted a post on Facebook by one of the members of Kausay community, offering a yurt as an alternative camping experience, and I booked.
I had no idea what to expect, other than that we were renting this great big Mongolian tent for three nights and would be spending some time in nature, with no Wi-Fi. But we ended up having much more than a random camping trip. We really felt part of the community for a short while, cooking and sharing meals, talking under the shady trees, picking organic food straight off the land and having a peek into a life that is so different from ours and that of many others.
Permaculture as a way of life
Most yurt rentals are advertised as glamping, as it appears a bit more luxurious than crawling around in a pup tent. It certainly felt very comfortable, having a double bed and bunk beds inside this large round living area. It even had a wood burner for the winter. But that is where it ends in terms of luxury. If you expect a jacuzzi and fancy on-site camping facilities, this is not your place. Luxury is the last thing that Kausay community is aiming for on their land: members Ellen, Jeroen, Inge and Brother and their children are working hard at building an eco village based on simplicity, trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, and producing very little waste. On their large plot of land we find one small cottage, five Mongolian yurts, and a couple of bell tents regularly used by visiting volunteers. A shared, fully kitted out kitchen shed and a large picnic table overlooking the vegetable garden, form the heart of the community.
A good part of the land is used as a vegetable garden, developed through permaculture. Permaculture is more than a set of gardening techniques, it is a way of living where you carefully think about the way you use your resources – food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs. Permaculture tackles how to grow food, build houses and create communities, and minimise environmental impact at the same time. The two families don’t tackle this big project all by themselves; a string of international volunteers visits and helps out year-round, adding to the community vibe.
Compost toilets and how to use them
At Kausay community even human waste is recycled into compost. Compost toilets take some getting used to, as you don’t use water to flush, but instead sprinkle wood shavings to cover your deposits down below in the waste bin. Toilet paper goes in it as well, so don’t worry, you don’t have to wipe your behind with a handful of grass. A spray bottle with vinegar keeps the seat clean. Pretty easy, really. You do have to be patient when it comes to composting your own poop; it takes no less than two years before you can spread it out over your veg plot. Slow living and all that.
Upcycling as a way of life
One of the things we loved at Kausay community is the creative use of materials, giving rubbish a new purpose. Large bathroom tiles as table coasters, old metal beds to elevate herbs that are drying in the sun covered by old windows. The women in the group, Inge and Ellen, together designed and built the almost temple-like building that houses two toilet cubicles. They found a pile of old kitchen cupboard bits and doors in a skip one day and made the solid wooden doors into decorative walls around the toilets. The outdoor wash basins and taps are new. The waste collecting bins are built underneath the building, and can be accessed from the back and removed once full.
A fancy outdoor solar-powered shower
The shower cubicles were another design that was very effective and well-thought-out. The rust-free metal sheets give the building a modern look, but are also preventing the cubicles from starting to look mouldy or dirty, like you would quickly by using wood for this purpose. On top of the roof coiled up black tubes are heated up during the day and provide a lovely hot shower. The shower tray, taps and sinks were bought new. A concrete base forms the foundation. The shower heads themselves are made from 5 litre plastic water bottles, placed horizontal, cut open at the top to collect the water from the tubes above and pierced at the bottom to give a rain shower effect. Genious! As the water gets recycled as well, you are only meant to use natural shampoos.
From a corporate life to off-grid living
As we got to know the people who live in Kausay community a little bit over the course of our stay, we heard some fascinating stories. Career paths that many of us can relate to, but few ever leave. A busy corporate life, all about making money, managing people and businesses – making some rich and happy but most of us miserable and depressed. It takes guts, hitting rock bottom or a very strong calling, to escape the rat race in search for something else. Finding the thing you knew you were always going to do in the end. And then doing it.
Most of the residents in the community are now therapists or yoga teachers. Retreat leaders, mindfulness coaches, reflexologists, to name a few. But what they all do best and which binds them together, is just simply being. “Life here has really made me at peace with who I am on this planet. Close to nature, working with the land, appreciating being human.”, said Brother, who himself lives in a yurt with his young family. His presence oozes calm, and I can see how digging the earth, watching things grow and moving with the seasons, can be a real balm for the soul. Away from the fast-paced corporate world, fear-mongering media and consumerism. Our children played together all day with hardly a peep. Most of the time, we had no idea where they were. Educating themselves, I guess.
Family retreats and walking in silence
Except for bringing up their families and growing food, Kausay community also organises retreats on their land to share their way of life with others. Silent walking retreats, where you combine walks to waterfalls with meditation and mindfulness. Or you can go on a family retreat. This basically means you stay in the community for a week with your children. Doesn’t sound very peaceful to you, you say? Well, wait till you hear this: the kids do activities on a nature trail all morning while you can focus on your well-being during yoga and meditation sessions. Wonderful. I’m signing up. A bit of yurt living now and then will do me the world of good.
To find out more about upcoming retreats or to rent a yurt for a few days, visit their Facebook page or website.
I am not a coffee expert, but I love drinking it. Frugal as I am, I once bought a secondhand £20 Krups espresso machine on Gumtree in Scotland and it lasted us for a good six years. And that machine saw some heavy traffic in our house. Unfortunately, during the 2020 lock-down this Spring, it gave up the ghost. Great timing, right? I almost lost the will to live. I mean, not being allowed out for a proper cafe con leche, home schooling two small children, not sleeping well AND no working coffee machine at home? You get the picture. The dragon was unleashed.
Rediscovering what you already own
But there was hope. My husband, clearly having had enough of my moaning, but too stubborn to just order a new machine online, did an emergency search through the cupboards looking for an alternative. He dug out an old stove top coffee maker. Not quite producing your creamy machine coffee, but it had to do. I still grumbled. But then my man stumbled upon a Youtube video that made all the difference. If you own a cafetiere or French press, read on.
The basics: selecting the right coffee bean
First up: a crash course in coffee beans. They make all the difference if you start making cappuccinos at home! There are two types of beans, namely the Robusta and the Arabica. The Robusta is also known as the “average supermarket coffee”. The Arabica bean is more highly regarded and has different qualities. It has a more refined smell, a soft, full taste and low caffeine content. Also, the acidity is higher in the Arabica bean, which is a good sign when it comes to coffee. You can make nice coffee with ground coffee from a package, but if you want to go all barista, you can of course grind the beans yourself.
Making great coffee in a machine or a stove top coffee maker
If you have a proper espresso machine at home, spread the ground coffee evenly over the filter holder. This ensures optimal extraction. Then press the coffee firmly and place the filter holder back in the machine. Then immediately brew the coffee, don’t let it sit there, to avoid a bitter, burnt taste. If you are using an Italian espresso pot for on the stove, you basically do the same: spread the coffee grounds evenly, press it down well and put it on the stove until ready.
Make the best cappuccinos at home with a French press
If you want to make the best cappuccinos at home on a budget, read on for the trick that totally improved our morning routine! Frothing milk is quite a job to make a cappuccino that tastes the same as in your favorite coffee bar. There are all kinds of machines and milk frothers for sale, but did you know that you can also use a cafetiere for this? Heat a little milk in a pan, until just short of boiling, and pour it into your cafetiere. Then go up and down with the plunger / whisk of the cafetiere and beat the milk for about a minute until it foams. Carefully pour the milk foam over the coffee, slowly reducing the distance between them. For the last layer, keep the cup straight so that the top layer on the inside is beautifully white and surrounded by a brown edge. Voilà, barista!
How many photos do you have on your mobile camera roll right now? Do you turn your digital snapshots into actual printed photo albums? For many years now I make an annual photo album of our family pics. It takes a bit of time, but I am so glad I kept it up. The books are real keepsakes in our house and often get taken down from the shelf to flick through. It is wonderful to see and remember what we were up to that particular year. I often include text as well; some funny phrases the children said or some things that happened in our lives that year. The children love looking at themselves as babies – and I just sigh and reminiscence at the thought of how time flies. Today I am going to tell you all about Photobox who I have happily used for nearly a decade.
Choosing a company to create a photo album online
There are many different websites for creating a beautiful photo album online and most also offer the easy option to automatically put an album together for you. This is especially handy for those who find it hard to think of a nice layout or simply don’t have the time. I love creating and publishing – as you will know from reading my blog – so I happily fiddle about with photos, backgrounds and embellishments until it’s 100 % right. Within the Photobox editing system you can choose layouts for up to five photos per page, coloured and patterned backgrounds, type fonts, frames and graphic elements such as speech bubbles, lines and even pieces of ‘tape’ or paperclip images to give the impression of a scrap book. Go for minimalist black and white backgrounds or have a different background on each page. Choose a soft or hard cover, A4 or a small square. There are endless possibilities. What about making a professional looking recipe book for yourself, with all your favourite dishes?
How do you create a great photo album?
My top tips for creating the best photo album online?
Play around with different layouts (just one striking photo for example or a group of five), but keep consistency by only using three or four layouts throughout the book.
Choose a style for your book in advance, perhaps go for a minimalist look or make it fun and colourful with lots of embellishments
Use the same type font and colour scheme throughout for a great, professional looking design.
INCLUDE QUOTES, ANECDOTES, PICTURES OF DRAWINGS…ANYTHING THAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU
As for the pictures themselves: if you are making a year book, use every day life, honest photographs and don’t include too many posed ones. Raw images are much more interesting in the long run than the family portraits next to the Christmas tree. Treat your photo album as a journal or a photo documentary. I even include pictures of school projects or drawings by the boys. In the future you will find it hard to remember those very normal things you or your family did it that particular year, so how lovely is it to keep a memory of those moments in pictures? I love our family photo albums mostly because of this approach. Keep it real, people! Leave out perfection. At the time I hated my husband taking that picture at 6am, me being unwashed and exhausted, breast feeding my baby while watching Thomas the Train with my 2-year old in the living room, but now I am so grateful it exists. I also usually include a few nice selfies, just to remind myself when I am old and grey, that really, I did look pretty good back then.
The best pictures? Capture the moment, good or bad
Portraits and posed group photos are fine of course, but don’t omit the random shots. Photos of people who are unaware of the camera often capture the moment much better. A sleeping child, friends laughing, your parents chatting. Exhaustion, boredom, a day in a life. I also take photos of our home: untidy, raw, like a time capsule. Look, this is what the house looked like when we had young children and life was crazy. It doesn’t all have to be Instagram ready. This is your life, your photo album and you will cherish that forever, promise.
Easy uploading, organising and editing a photo album online
As always, I only post about brands I like and Photobox is one of them, because of its user-friendliness and the quality of the products. You can simply upload and organise your photos in albums and come back later to create a product. You can edit your creation, save it and finish it later, no need to do it all on the same day. I mainly order their photo albums online, but have also created calendars a few times, which were great for ourselves and as gifts. Mugs, fridge magnets, canvasses and prints are other examples of products you can create with your photos. If you have created something in the past you can also simply order another copy at a later date, or order the same album for yourself and the grandparents.
Photobox special offer code
The other great thing about Photobox are their big discount offers, which come past fairly regularly. I usually wait until a Photobox offer code lands in my email inbox before ordering my finished product. You can save a lot on the price of a photo album online, which helps when you have a big book with about 30 to 60 full-colour pages. This August there is a 50% Photobox offer on all photo books, no code needed. Not got anything ready yet? Simply buy the credit and you have two months to use it.
After moving to Spain I wasn’t sure whether I could continue my annual photo albums with them, being a UK company. Luckily they ship internationally and I am happy to pay for the additional cost.
Click on the image below for the current discount link:
Remember the first week of quarantine? It was all still new and you’d receive at least twenty Whatsapp messages each day with funny memes, homeschooling tips and hilarious or heart warming videos of life in lockdown. We were feeling OK, positive and were just going along with it all. Life was different, but OK. We could see the humour in it too. We are eight weeks at home now. And there is very little left of that optimism. The memes have dried up. We are all done with it.
Last night I cried and emptied half a bottle of wine by myself. We thought after this weekend we would go into ‘phase 1’ of post-quarantine life, but last night the government changed its mind. Only certain areas of Spain are given that ‘freedom’ of going out a bit more than just one hour a day. We were beaten with a stick, back into our corner, at least that is how some people described it. Valencia and a number of other Spanish cities and districts were going to stay where they were, probably for another 15 days. Why? Reasons.
An empty cup
I sound like a spoiled child. I know it won’t last, I know this is not about me and I can put it into perspective. I have food on the table and a roof over my head, my family is healthy. I know this is nothing compared to what other people go through. Exhausted nurses. People who lost their income. People stuck at home in abusive relationships. People in poor countries, starving. People fleeing from war. I know.
But I feel what I feel and I am not alone. It is Covid-19 depression. And I don’t normally get depressed. But as someone who likes her own company and loves her freedom…this is really hard. I am feeling anxious just knowing that I am not allowed out to do some exercise by myself until 8pm at night. That come September I will have had my beloved but very noisy children at home for nearly seven months. There is no escape. I am an empty cup and there is nowhere to get a refill. The homeschooling is draining, family life 24/7 is too much, not being able to be as active as normal is making me sluggish and fat and I miss seeing my friends. I miss my band, I miss walking around the city, I miss walking in nature. I miss putting my toes in the sand at the beach. It’s the little things that are becoming vital for mental health.
Beside feeling depressed and drained, there is another thing that bugs me. This crisis started out as something we thought we would tackle together as a worldwide community with good common sense and a few weeks at home, but it is developing into something more sinister. It is dividing the population. Suddenly everyone has an opinion about Covid, masks, health and what is going on and it is NOT helping the situation. The rebels and the compliant people. The freedom fighters and the rule-followers. The anti-vaxxers and the Trump fans. The conspiracy theorists, the whistle blowers and the scientists. Left and right. The ‘awakened’ people and the blind sheep. They are all disagreeing – online mainly, as keybord warriors. People are starting to spread fear. They become afraid. Distance is created between us, literally. Masks have replaced freedom and joy. Mistrust and anger have arrived.
The aliens are coming to get us. Or something.
Social Media is plastered in opinions and heated discussions. The longer this lockdown lasts, and with too much time to think, the more people are starting to share stuff. Crazy theories, conspiracy theories, reasonable theories, all kinds of stories, published on Youtube or obscure blogs and alternative websites. Some make sense, most are ridiculous. With so many ideas and possibilities, people start to doubt everything. They want an answer. They want something to hold onto and follow. This surreal situation is too much to grasp. Who is speaking the truth? Is the government lying? Is the corona-virus a hoax? Is Bill Gates trying to kill us? Is 5G to blame? Are we all going to get a digital chip rammed into us through a compulsory vaccine next winter? Are the Chinese taking over the world? Or are the powerful people secretly aliens? It is wild out there. Links with the past are being made. Fingers are pointed.
Even well educated friends and family are sending videos and articles which they want you to watch because they “are really interesting”. You watch and read and wonder whether they have lost their marbles. Or have you? What if they are right? We are bombarded and are drowning in information. We start to worry. Are we missing a trick? So we read a bit more. Do we need to speak up? To whom? We mistrust the news, we start mistrusting each other. We don’t know who to believe anymore. We share stuff on Facebook without checking the facts. But what are the facts?
We need to stop this shit. right now. We are making ourselves sick.
I don’t know what is true and I am not trying to convince anyone. Believe whatever you want to believe in. But I tend to keep both feet firmly on the ground and not be swept away by all sorts of theories and stories coming out of the woodwork. Fear, uncertainty and an economic crisis are a breeding ground for unrest, hate and uproar. Politicians, especially the ones we don’t want to see in power, will take advantage of this tasty cocktail at the next elections. They need us to be divided. That is a thing we can learn from the past, whatever wacky conspiracy theory you choose to follow.
The planet is healing…but for how long?
Back in March, when this lockdown started, none of this felt so heavy. It just looked like the rat race had stopped and we were all slowing down. Many of us felt more creative, calmer and even saw the Covid quarantine as a positive change for the world. Planet earth was healing. And yes, it has in some ways had good things coming out of it. The seas are quieter, which encourages dolphins to come closer to the beach and even into the waters of Venice. The Himalayas are visible again from India, for the first time in many years because of less pollution. It was lovely to live in silence for a while here at home too, without the noise of traffic and instead hearing birdsong. Eight weeks later I am not so sure anymore how much of this change will stick. Big business is dying to get back to normal, as much as we are all dying to escape the house. Flights are on the horizon come June. I am an optimist by nature, but I don’t expect that pure capitalism will make place for a different, more balanced way of life any time soon. Here’s hoping.
Stories in our head
My mother once taught me a lesson, to keep things close to home when the world feels too much to bear. “Keep it small and go from there.” Look after yourself, your loved ones and your immediate community. You can’t carry the whole world on your shoulders, but you can make a difference at home. We can allow ourselves to be suffocated by the endless stream of news and information, becoming fearful and worried. We can allow ourselves to become angry. We can shout at the world and people on social media, we can point fingers, we can keep scanning all the articles on the net and searching the millions of videos on Youtube, looking for ‘the truth’. Or we can choose not to. Instead, we can choose to hold what we have, look at what is reality around us and live in the now. We can lie awake worrying about what could happen, what the future could look like, who or what could be behind it all. But these thoughts are only stories in our head and are not real.
This lockdown and any other abnormal situation, play tricks on the mind, that’s for sure. Because so much is unknown, unfamiliar and just plain weird, people panic and look for answers. Call me naive, blind or someone who keeps her rose tinted glasses firmly in place, but I don’t think it makes any difference to the world whether I spend all day scanning the web – or not. It does however make a huge difference to my health and well-being. Anxiety lowers the immune system. That doesn’t mean that I am not critical, or don’t make informed decisions in life. But right now I just need to look after my sanity.
Smiling at strangers
In times like these I believe it is better to turn off the TV and the internet and all the distractions in the media and go back to basics. Hard I know, for me as well, when we are stuck at home with too much time to kill. Let’s go outdoors and smell the flowers. Exercise. Work. Sing. Meditate. Focus on things we do have control over. Smile at strangers, even with a mask on. Life is precious. Breathe and feel the sun on your face.
In week one of lockdown due to the coronavirus we were having a lot of fun at home with the kids. My boys are just 6 and 8 years old and generally have heaps of energy but not an equal amount of patience to sit down and do school work. So we were dancing, baking, drawing, singing, playing, dressing up and cuddling. A LOT. It was lovely. At bedtime we’d read a book and the next morning we would again come up with brand new ideas. I felt I was catching up on lost time. In Spain they are normally at school five days a week from 9 till 5. You hardly see your children during the week.
Then came week two. First an email from the teacher of infantil for the 5/6 year olds, then swiftly followed by another one from the teacher of Primaria 2. Five, six, seven or even eight attachments for several subjects, accompanied with a plan for the week and I’m sure well meant suggestions for how to focus your day around your children’s education. Your DAY yes, not hours, or a morning, but DAY. Because, sure, us parents in lockdown are suddenly all jobless and twiddling our thumbs and dying to get retrained as our children’s dedicated primary school teacher.
I knew it should not make me feel stressed, after all we are all in a very unusual situation, worrying to say the least, and the main objective surely is to stay calm and love our family. I admired my friend Marie who bravely emailed school administration to tell them they wouldn’t be doing any home education whatsoever (read her very funny blog post here). Good, I thought, let’s all jump on the barricades! But another friend pointed out to me that “Nina, you are rebellious, but you also want to please the teacher”… Damnit, I’m caught out, I admit it, I suffer from a split personality and it’s bugging me.
You cannot get a bunch of high wired children to do a week’s worth of maths, when they haven’t been out running outdoors for over a fortnight. Anybody who is a parent of young children and boys especially knows that these monkeys need to be ‘walked’ in the fresh air regularly just like dogs, to regulate their energy and emotions. Now in other countries with less restrictions around lockdown you can still escape to a nearby field or forest as long as you are pretty much on your own, but not in Spain. Unfortunately dogs currently have more rights to public space here than children, so the poor puppets are stuck between four walls for the next foreseeable future. Imagine living in a tiny apartment on the fourth floor and not having a balcony. Seven Spanish million children are not allowed out. It’s like a high pressure cooker.
So yes. Homeschooling dilemmas. We try to find a compromise. Our children normally have week plans at school with their various assignments they have to finish by Friday, so I decided to copy this concept and make up my own simplified plan per child. In week one I got them to make up their own plans, which included anything from cuddling mummy, joining an online dance class to eating an apple in ten seconds. I mean, essential life skills right there! Last week I incorporated a few more ‘educational’ tasks from the teacher’s email. But I also happily skipped others, such as ‘sing these traditional Spanish songs with your children while dancing together’ and “do page four full of problem sums” (key: meltdown – I’ll leave that for the classroom, thank you very much). But it turned out that my children were actually OK with an hour of doing a few sums and/or spelling exercises, followed by an hour or longer of drawing (Art for Kids Hub is now a firm favourite here) and of course investigating weird and wonderful stuff on Youtube. I mean, who doesn’t want to know everything about megalodons or how cars are made? And why do animals not have belly buttons?
Week three has commenced and suddenly the teachers are ramping it up. Four separate emails with attachments (our printer is broken, but “if you don’t have a printer, just let your child copy the text by hand in their notebook”. Yeah right.), and basically the same amount of tasks they normally get in class. Just as I felt I had cracked it during the very laid back and enjoyable second week of semi-homeschooling, the knot in my stomach was back. Nina, please, I told myself, just ignore them, these people are crazy. But what if, I kept on thinking, what if all the other children are neatly keeping up with their tasks in their notebooks and so when school opens again, my children have nothing to show to the teacher? If you’re like me, you will have surely had a similar non-stop stream of Whatsapp messages from anxious parents about the various assignments, showing off their kids in photos sitting at the kitchen table working and seemingly being a much better home-schooler than you’ll ever be.
Bullocks of course. First of all, for all we know, we may have our kids home until September. Yes, let that sink in. It doesn’t matter if they do the homework that is being sent. They’ll start afresh once they are back. They are not going to fail in life because of this. Secondly, while any curriculum school work is put on hold, or lessened, suddenly an opportunity is created for children to discover a wide range of other things and have control over their own learning. Indulge in their current crafts obsession, learn how to cook, find fascinating facts about nature and science on Youtube, enjoy baking cakes, help out with daily chores, read lots of comics, have a disco in the living room each night and have heaps of snuggles with their favourite people in the world: YOU. And just chill. The modern world asks a lot of our children. This morning I read this awful article in the Washington Post about how ‘homeschooling during the coronavirus will set back a generation of children‘ and how long breaks end up in ‘learning losses’ and a ‘mess’. Ugh. How about adding some extra pressure to us parents while we are already stuck indoors and worried about our health. Because, oh wait, why are we all indoors again? Yes, a deadly virus.
Of course I can see what the article was also saying: theoretically there is a risk that those children who live in homes where parents have no time for, or even interest in spending time playing with their children or do any kind of reading or revising with them while in lockdown, may be worse off than their peers in a more stimulating environment. Children are always learning, in their own way, every day, but if one child keeps working hard on their maths, with a private online tutor if one can afford it, and another sits in their bedroom only playing Fortnite for two months… You know who will likely pass their maths exam. But that would mainly be an issue for children in secondary school. Also, more importantly, this kind of inequality will always exist, with or without a pandemic. I don’t think in any case my 6 and 8-year old will ‘academically fall behind’ by keeping on reading daily, doing the odd sums and spelling words after breakfast and for the rest just playing and bonding with their family. You might just end up with happy and resilient children.
So what are we doing as a family at home every day? I made up a bit of a day plan, which we all religiously try and stick to or else we’d still be in our pyjamas by 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Normally it’s 8 o’clock wake up time here and straight away getting dressed, 8.30am breakfast, 9am school! We work on sums or spelling for an hour, then do another hour or more of art or science if the kids are not moaning too much yet. Around 12 we’ll take the school papers off the kitchen table, make lunch and let the kids play. We stick to this schedule as much as we can. But we are only human and sometimes we change our plans. This morning we all felt tired and grumpy and the boys just really wanted to go and build a city out of Kapla. Who then am I to drag them to the kitchen table to do sums? I may as well open the gin bottle straight away. One rule we do try and stick to is no computer games before 4 o’clock. These things are fabulous babysitters, I know all too well, but enough is enough and 2 or 3 hours a day of square eyes is plenty!
Balance, it’s all about balance. And while some children love having homework, doing sums and writing stories, others would be better off using this lockdown time to indulge in things they have a keen interest in, whether that is cooking, crafting, building or dancing. While the numbers of infected people with the coronavirus are still on the rise, and many people are dying from it, we surely need to have our priorities right. We need to stay stay strong and healthy, all of us. Not just physically, but mentally too. No child benefits from parents at home who are losing the plot, getting frustrated by the amount of school work while also trying to hold down a job and working from home, who are turning into alcoholics in the process (right!) and literally missing the opportunity to just ‘be’ with their children. If you can, relax. (Yes, I am also taking note!). We are not teachers, we are parents. We are doing enough, we are doing our best, we are not expected to copy a normal school day. Let’s guide ourselves and our families through this storm on a calm ship and let our children remember this time as special, despite the crisis going on outside.
This title sounds like some science fiction movie and I can’t deny it feels very much like it. COVID-19. The zombies are coming! We’ve been in quarantine in Spain since Friday the 13th. The streets are dead. Shops are closed, apart from the supermarket. The hospital emergency waiting rooms are empty. People are all inside their homes. Waiting. Here you currently risk a fine of up to 3000 euro if the police catch you out on the streets without a valid reason (you can go grocery shopping, take a trip to the pharmacy or go to work if you really have to – and only travel solo). They have lost track of the correct number of infected people and nobody gets tested anymore, but here in Spain the official number jumps up with 1000 cases per day, 11,000 and around 500 deaths at the time of writing, most of them in Madrid. Just a week ago I was still being very flippant about the whole thing, as we only had about 400 cases and hey, what are the chances, right? And here we are.
The good thing is that most people will only have mild symptoms and won’t need to be hospitalised. It’s not the bubonic plague, you know (see this graph to compare different viruses throughout history). The whole quarantine thing however is not for you to not catch it, but to prevent the corona virus from spreading to those who will end up in hospital. People who are old, frail, sick already or have a lessened immune system for whatever reason – even though there are also cases of young, healthy people becoming critically ill. There just are not enough beds for all of them in intensive care, nor ventilation machines if the previously mild symptoms turn into serious pneumonia. So we all stay indoors for the sake of the country and beyond. We need to stop the virus so we can get back to normal. I know my UK readers will be in a different situation (at this time of writing), with their government not opting for the same approach.
What is normal?
But…what is ‘normal’ and do we actually want to go back to it after this is all over? Interesting question. It is a worrying time but I can’t help feeling a little excited too – weird I know and quite inappropriate. Excited because maybe this will be the thing that will change the world for the better, in the long run. Could it? It is definitely a time for reflection and a big obligatory pause for people no matter what race, gender, salary and political views. The virus hits us all – especially in the western world. We’re all sitting at home, forced to look at ourselves in the mirror. See our life for what it is, our partners, our children, our jobs, our crazy busy lifestyle. Who are we and why did we think we were leading a ‘normal’ life in the first place? Stocks are plummeting. Airlines are going bust. You would almost think planet earth is hitting back. You still think you can treat me like shit, after all environmental disasters, hurricanes, floods and famines? Here, catch this you fuckers.
Ask me again in two weeks time, but right now it makes me happy to see all the good things that come out of people because of this unusual situation of being stuck indoors. The solidarity, the creativity, the resourcefulness you see on social media is incredible. I still believe in the good in people and apart from the initial greedy panic buying of truck loads of toilet paper, liters of hand sanitizer and 25 packs of spaghetti, I am optimistic. We are so used to the rat race, the consumerism, the individualism and the loss of connection to others, that this sudden lockdown is a breath of fresh air. Excuse the pun.
This too shall pass
People are reaching out to each other and strangers are becoming comrades. My heart filled with love and my eyes with tears last night at 8pm when I suddenly heard applauding, shouting and whistling outside from all the houses and balconies, by people around the city thanking hospital staff, police and other vital workers doing their best to stop the virus and care for the sick. This Thursday at 12 noon we’ll be treated, like they did in Italy last week, to live music from the communal orchestras, again from balconies. I saw a video of neighbours playing bingo from their open windows in an apartment block down in Andalucia. Valencia’s biggest annual festival Las Fallas was cancelled this week. A major decision that nobody expected, even a few weeks ago. The artists who had already created a Fallas statue of a meditating lady, with the title ‘This too shall pass’ (how apt), was given a face mask after the news. We all mourn about the loss of normality, but accept and adjust. We simply have no choice. We have to flatten the curve.
Reinventing our existence
It is an alien situation and we are all trying to navigate through this sudden unwanted gift of time. We should make good use of it. History tells us that in 1665 Cambridge University was temporarily closed because of the plague and it was then that Isaac Newton thought of his law of gravity. Boredom and idleness lead to great inventions. The school Whatsapp groups however are in overdrive with mums and dads fearing this sudden standstill and the fact that they have the children at home, which obviously is not ideal when you still have work to do. They are sharing links to educational resources, online museum collections and libraries, just to offer some sort of quality entertainment while stuck in the house. The iPads are a godsend to entertain the kids, I am not denying that, but this compulsory indoor-holiday requires more effort than just the easy babysitter called screen-time.
So far we have baked a cake, built Lego towers, are learning to play instruments (we are working on getting a family band up and running), are reading books, watch films, look up science experiments on Youtube and just spend a lot of time together as a family. How well do you know your child really and have oceans of time to cuddle and sit with them, look at their beautiful faces and listen with attention to what they are interested in? I bet I am not the only one to admit that modern life, work stress, long school hours and occupied minds are detrimental to real human connection. No doubt many children will remember this 2020 quarantine period as something quite special.
People are becoming very opportunistic and creative when stuck indoors. The dance teacher is uploading his classes onto Youtube so we can start the morning with a fun workout. Yoga and pilates classes and meditation sessions are all made accessible online. Music venues and concert halls upload concerts to enjoy for free. Artists offer tutorials online. It is incredible how many people are sharing quality content with each other worldwide. Not just for fun, but also because income has disappeared overnight and we’re all trying to figure out what to do next. We still have bills to pay. How do you earn money when you cannot meet face to face?
The sacrifices and losses in the corona battlefield
Small businesses are suffering greatly. No doubt many will go under during two or three weeks quarantine plus months of recovery and little trade. I am a self-employed content writer who lost a big client overnight because of COVID-19. An estate agent on the Costa Blanca I write and translate for suddenly has no one from northern Europe making plans to view and buy holiday homes anymore. My other job as bicycle tour guide has also suddenly been put on hold, because first of all of less tourism and currently because nobody is allowed outside. With no invoices to send there is no income. A self employed worker in Spain pays 283 euro a month to the social security system (compulsory, no matter what your earn), so go figure. A petition has been going around to ask the state for a payment break due to corona, but I am not very hopeful. Unfortunately we all know who gets hit the hardest in times like these.
Cheap flights and plastic from China
Earlier this week I shared a very interesting article published in Dezeen on my Facebook page about how Coronavirus offers “a blank page for a new beginning”. In it trend watcher Lidewij Edelkoort says “it seems we are massively entering a quarantine of consumption where we will learn how to be happy just with a simple dress, rediscovering old favourites we own, reading a forgotten book and cooking up a storm to make life beautiful.” She is hoping for a better system, a better balance for the environment and humans worldwide. I hope so too.
Can we indeed go back to a simpler life? Buying less plastic crap from China? Being more conscious about the amount we consume? And then not just the people who already do this anyway…but could it become mainstream again? Growing our own food, and repairing stuff instead of our throwing away culture. A more honest, calmer way of life. Can we stop wanting to go on four holidays a year, on cheap flights to everywhere, burning the planet and ruining unspoiled territory around the world? Can we please stop? Get away from this ‘economic growth’ obsession? Wishful thinking perhaps, because money makes the world go round and no doubt the big guys at the top are already planning a recovery strategy to get back to ‘normal’. Still, as consumers, we have the power to right now start with a clean slate and make some significant changes to our lifestyle as a result of living through these strange weeks of lockdown, quarantine and self isolation. The virus has thrown us a brilliant opportunity to rethink and redesign our common future, for the next generations. Let’s not waste it.
Why do we want to record and publish every moment, minute, event of our lives? We photograph ourselves holding a coffee cup in the morning sun and put things in the caption like ‘Blissful moment. #lovemylife. #coffeeaddict. We hit ‘share’ on Instagram and wait for the hearts and likes. We can’t have an evening out anymore without creating evidence and letting everyone at home know that we have such a fabulous social life. If it’s not snapped on your smart phone, it hasn’t happened. Why? For who? When have we become so self obsessed? And is it arrogance, narcissism or insecurity that drives this strange modern day behaviour? Why do we think people want to see what we’re up to in our private life?
No skeletons here
Gosh, I am no saint. I am guilty of it myself, posting photos on Instagram of my happy children on the beautiful Valencia beach, a selfie because I think my hair looks pretty, a picture of a fun afternoon with friends. I have always liked creating written and visual content, stories, photographs, putting it all together, long before Instagram was a thing. So these kind of platforms obviously offer an easy and very addictive outlet for me. But I can’t ignore the fact that I am also hooked to the dopamine hit received from every ‘like’ by my online friends, and to get as much dopamine as possible I am trying to make everything in my life look just a little bit more beautiful than it perhaps is. Nice lighting, good angle, a pretty filter, a bit of cropping, choosing the perfect shot out of ten others. Shoving that pile of laundry out of the frame. And obviously I’ll be leaving out the skeletons hiding in the closets. Hands up, who’s with me? I am sure I am not alone.
Sex, drugs and…social media
Neuroscientists are studying the effects of social media on the brain and research has shown that positive interactions (such as someone liking your post) trigger the same kind of chemical reaction that is caused by gambling and recreational drugs. An article by Harvard University researcher Trevor Haynes tells us that when you get a social media notification, your brain sends dopamine, a chemical messenger, along a reward pathway, which makes you feel good. Dopamine is associated with food, exercise, love, sex, gambling, drugs … and now, social media. To make things worse, the reward centers in our brains are most active when we’re talking about ourselves. As a normal functioning human you probably talk about yourselves 30 to 40 percent of the time. On social media it is all about showing off your life. That means you are talking about yourself a whopping 80 percent of the time. (source: Now. The intersection of technology, innovation and creativity).
Then there are the Instagrammers with their 100k+ followers. They look like they have their lives way better sorted than us, don’t they? Their daily pictures show perfect homes, dirt-free children, sunny days out, loving marriages and gorgeous bodies fueled by green smoothies. And we lap it up like they are the next Messiah. It’s all lies and don’t we know it. Why do we still swoon over them? These people are marketeers, trying to make money. It is their job to make you believe their life and the products they are wearing, showing, sharing are worth coveting. Whether it is ethical to sell us a dream world, that is another question, but it gives them their income. And just like with any other advert, we can choose to either fall for it or not. If we remind ourselves that it is just futile entertainment, we stay in control and put it into perspective. If however we feel shitty about our own life as a result of scrolling their feed, then it is perhaps time to switch off the wifi and go for a walk.
Now as adults and middle aged cynics like myself most of us can see through this. We scroll through Instagram or Facebook, click ‘ like’ on something we find inspiring or funny and then move on with our lives. We probably have other stuff to do. Adolescents however are not yet able to see the bigger picture and the futility of it all, and risk a number of things. First of all, there is the risk of crushing their self esteem when the dopamine doesn’t hit and their post doesn’t get liked. Big deal, we think, but for a child? Secondly, there is the pressure of social media posts by their friends, seemingly all having a better life than them, making them feel isolated and depressed. Then there is the trolling and online bullying and last but certainly not least, the danger of creepy grownups privately messaging (without you knowing) your underaged child and abusing them, virtually or – god forbid – in real life. Want to know how real this danger is? Just go and type #12yearoldgirl into the Instagram search box to see how much inappropriate comments are made by older guys who clearly know these girls are children. Time to have a closer look at your kids’ devices, their apps and the privacy settings.
Pouting in the pool
What makes someone want to be on Instagram though, other than the dopamine hits? So many accounts and they are all trying to grow their followers. Fitness freaks, yogis, foodies, new mums with stylish interiors, and yes, the millions of pre-teens and adolescents trying to look like the next top model. You see that last category in bucket loads out in the wild these days. Just go to the beach, the park or hang around at pittoresk city spots and you’ll find them. They usually drag a mate along to do a shoot or they take turns pouting lips and standing in awkward positions. (Cue: girl seen from the back in bikini coming out of the swimming pool, looking seductively over her shoulder). I have even spotted mums photographing their daughters like this, obviously hoping they will be discovered as the next Kim Kardashian. That is the thing with social media: creating an account is free, making content can be creative and a lot of fun, and yes, it is possible to make a career out of it in some cases.
Multi-billion dollar business
Ask any 15-year old what they want to be when they grow up and ‘paid influencer’ or ‘youtuber’ will be in the top 3. And who doesn’t like to dream of a job as someone traveling the world, posting pictures on Instagram and getting paid for it? Nearly three quarters of Gen Z and millennials in the U.S. follow influencers on social media, 86% of them would post sponsored content for money, and 54% would become an influencer given the opportunity. (source: cnbc.com). For people over 40 like me, it is astonishing to think kids idealise this online world so much, but the fact is that online marketing is a career and influencers play a huge part in it. Influencer marketing is still projected to become a $15 billion business by the year 2022, even though the market is now becoming saturated and pay can be low for many people trying to make a living out of it.
If you have an Instagram account yourself, trying to promote your work as an artist or perhaps your small business, you know yourself that it requires commitment to frequently post something interesting in order to grow your brand and not lose followers. For those who have been able to make an actual career out of being an Instagrammer, some even grow tired of it. In the article The fatigue hitting influencers as Instagram evolvesBrianna Madia, 29, tells about the fatigue of keeping a successful social media account alive. Madia currently lives the #vanlife, documenting her travels through the desert with her husband and two dogs. While her traveling lifestyle might seem like a dream to followers, Madia says she’s “grown tired of catering to an audience of 285,000 bosses”. She says deleting her Instagram is something that she dreams about frequently.
It is not all doom and gloom in the world of Social Media though. For me personally it’s a quick and easy way to stay in touch with friends and family all over the world (especially important for me because I’m an expat). It is a great tool to find and meet like-minded people online or in local groups. Without it I wouldn’t have made all the friends and connections in my new city as quickly as I did. I also use it a lot to find out what’s on locally in terms of concerts, art exhibitions, festivals etc. and to check out the reviews on a restaurant before making a booking. It is not only a place of rampant consumerism either – some ‘influencers’ use their presence online to promote greener ways of living. Positive News lists a number of follow-worthy young people who are trying to make the world a better place. I have learnt and read about a lot of things because someone shared it on social media. Climate change, political activism, mental health, feminist and LGBT issues and equal rights, zero waste campaigns, you name it, if it wasn’t for social media we would all know a lot less about these things. And I guess that is worth a few measured dopamine shots.
Last year we decided our eldest son would repeat his school year. It was after much headaches, tears (me) and consideration, and of course after talking with his teacher. Repeating the year? Shock horror. I always associated this concept with the kids who were really at the bottom of the class, somehow had developmental problems or otherwise behind. My kid? How? I felt I had failed him. I had mother’s guilt in ten fold.
Children are sponges
Maybe it was the guilt of having moved to Spain, pulling him out of his comfort zone and plunging him into a whole new and foreign environment. Did we gamble with his future by emigrating? Enrolled in a school at first in which he literally drowned, then since September a different school which he really likes, but obviously everything still is all in Spanish. “It is such a gift to a child moving to a different country, what an experience!” I keep hearing from people who have never done it. “Children are sponges, they pick up the language so fast.” Sure, both my boys speak quite a bit of Spanish after 18 months, children’s language of course. That doesn’t mean they also miraculously catch up in all school subjects in Spanish – and Valenciano. And when even maths becomes a struggle, you start to wonder if perhaps life is going a little too fast for a small boy.
My 7-year old has a vivid imagination, is very creative and loves art. He is easily distracted and has a sensitive soul. He is also terribly stubborn and has never liked people telling him what to do, from potty training to learning to read. But then he is also very social, caring and makes friends easily. He loves to play. Last but not least, he is a December baby. In Scotland that meant he was the youngest in class and in Spain this is no different. For some children no problem. For others it is.
I remember when my son was 4 years old I asked his school back in Scotland if he could have an extra year in nursery. The boy could not sit still and was in my eyes far from ready to do any form of academic learning. Normal right, for a 4-year old child? “No” was the clear answer I got, “His birthday is in December, so he will be going to Primary 1. He has no clear developmental reasons to be kept behind.” Behind. An interesting word.
Sitting still age 4
So off he went to Primary 1, this tiny active playful boy age 4.5. Two months later we received a letter from his teacher. “We are informing you that we are having to give your son additional support, because he has difficulty focusing on forming and recognising letters. “Well yes, I know”, I thought. “I told you so. He is 4.” But hey, the train had left and we were on it. The system required he should do a certain trick by a certain date and he was falling ‘behind’. He continued to refuse any form of homework for the rest of Primary 1. Still he now reads chapter books like the rest of them.
Seeing a child for who he is
Fast forward three years and we are in Spain. Was it the added anxiety of moving that made him struggle so much? Maybe. Is my child less intelligent than the others? Well, no. His teacher said two things: “It is the language, yes,…but it is also his maturity. He is very young. And he wants to play.” When she said those things, it all fell into place. Although hearing that your child is not doing well in school is hard on a mother, somebody finally just seeing your child for who he is, feels like a relief. Somebody recognised that our son was perhaps in the wrong year all along. Pushed ahead because of a silly birth date. “He could go to the next year, yes, he could do it with extra support”, she said, “But why? It will be much better for him to stay where he is, be a little bit older, feel more confident and have more time to adapt.” The train had stopped. Thank you, teacher.
La vida no es una carrera
My son is happy with the idea of repeating thankfully, which is one headache less. When I told the news to the parents in his class however, I received mixed reactions. There were the high achieving parents:”Really? Por que? It is not needed. You should get a second opinion! With extra support he can do it!”. Then there was the majority:”That sounds like a very wise idea, he will be totally OK. And his friends will still be here in the playground.” And then there were quite a few mothers who actually admitted to me that they too felt stressed about school, how their children were hurried along and how they felt the peer pressure.”La vida no es una carrera” (life is not a race), I had written in my message to the class mums, and it obviously made them stop, think and breathe.
Resilience and memories
Life is not a race. Why do we get upset when our child gets the advice to repeat the year? Because we take it personally. Our own ego is playing up. We judge ourself as a parent. We should have done more, we have failed. Our child is lost. Not as good as the rest. What will become of him? Nonsense, of course. But that’s how it feels.
Would he have had the same advice in Scotland? Probably not. Repeating is seen as a bit old fashioned and not usually done nowadays. Still, if it works, it works, time will tell. And what if our children have their own path in life? Something we as parents cannot micro manage? Perhaps it was needed to have this tricky first year in Spain. Maybe it has made my son more resilient, teaching him valuable life skills already, way beyond any academic learning. And maybe it was meant for someone to step in and slow down my son’s childhood. To give him that extra year of being small. To stop the anxiety and feel calmer. Him and me. After all, childhood is precious and memories last. We just have to love them and walk beside them.
Learning happens all the time
How often do you still recall something from your childhood? Those short years have such a big influence on the rest of our lives. What are the best memories you have? I bet a lot of those memories are to do with freedom. Being with other children, running outside, going swimming, camping in the woods, making up stories, building dens, playing hide and seek, just simply having fun and being a kid. Very little adult intervention. School yes, it was there, but for me it certainly wasn’t something I now see as the most important aspect of my early childhood or how it shaped me. And this is how it should be. Learning happens all the time, everywhere. School has its place, but childhood is so much more. Let’s not let that precious time rush by. It goes quick enough anyway. We shall see what September brings. Summer first.