Not Normal, Not Even Close

I can safely say that it is not yet normal, however after only two days ‘on the job’, that’s hardly a surprise. I haven’t left the house in 2 days, fortunately not getting cabin fever yet; probably because I basically have my own independent apartment on the top floor of the house (minus a kitchen.) Fortunately, tomorrow I have the afternoon off so I should be able to take some time to cycle into town and explore on my own!

I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to be doing this for 6 months straight. I could hardly keep my hair colour the same for 6 months straight, how am I supposed to do the same thing every day for that long? Here’s hoping that life with small children will be always full of surprises…

It’s a funny thing, when you go away and start afresh, because you could be a completely different person- if you wanted to. I don’t, or at least I don’t think I do right now. Even so, when you’re working hard to make a good first impression you do, to an extent, remake yourself into a model version of yourself; fun fact, model me isn’t a fussy eater! I, personally, do not think I’m a fussy eater. My mother would probably disagree. That said, I dislike fish, spinach, wine – specifically red, dark salad leaves, basically any leaves that aren’t iceberg lettuce, sparkling water, soya, mushrooms, any seafood actually and, well, the list goes on… From my memory since I’ve arrived (in order of consumption) I’ve said I don’t mind; sparkling water, rocket (lol, I hated rocket until Saturday, with a passion, like a lot a lot), red wine, white wine, mixed salad, olive oil, soya, oh and earl grey tea (which I have discovered that I actually do like now, I suppose that’s something to be said for fresh starts.) Anyway, the point is, I’m so busy trying to make the next 6 months easier for me and for mia famiglia that I’m getting over my dodgy eating habits. Admittedly, I’ll probably not be okay with the ‘salad as a meal’ thing for a while though – I have never been that sort of person!

I’ve found myself realising, these last two days, that this isn’t only a settling in, readjustment period, for me. I do not remember being a young child; in fact I’m not sure I remember much at all pre my teenage years (poor memory, not a traumatic childhood,) but I’m certain that if a stranger was brought into my home, forced into my daily routine, then I would need to readjust. It is, still, a readjustment period for me though. I’m sitting writing this on a desk covered with photographs of my friends, listening to someone else’s playlist, thinking about the potential ramifications of 6 months away. I’ve been thinking about celebrating my birthday on my own, which I’m sure I won’t actually be doing, and missing all of my friends birthdays, events and important things. On the other hand, I’ve realised there’s no point wondering on 5 months’ time, when it’s more important to consider the right now.

Right now is adjusting to the adjustment period of a little boy. Yesterday I finished the day mildly frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how I was going to fit into the life of this family of four if the main reason I was there, Fil, wouldn’t let me do what I was there to do – be the big sister. This is where the whole adjustment period thing came from, I’ve realised that it’s a case of testing boundaries, seeing where I’ll say no, if he can get away with more than he’s used to, if I can become family, or just a strict ‘nother person in the house. Honestly, I’m a pushover.  The funny thing is, over the two day period I’ve worked, I’ve seen the spectrum of easy-going and boundary pushing, had so much cute fun playing, and low key wanted to threaten a child. That’s normal right? In all the different times that I’ve worked with children I’ve never not experienced that, and I’m sure that my parents felt the same way about my siblings and I. I’m eternally hopeful that over the next few weeks that this routine will work out to a consistent relationship, because that is what I really want from this; to form a strong familial relationship with these children and the whole family really, or else this whole experience would be worth nought.

Routine is something that I’m routinely grateful for. Routine helped me to be a functioning, productive and healthy human being for the last two months, getting up at stupid o’clock to work, planning my own evenings seeing friends, and now it’s helping me know exactly where I stand in this family, to know exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. Each morning after breakfast I do an hour or more of phonics. I honestly thought that I’d left jolly phonics, blending, etc. behind when I left my job tutoring at explore learning but it’s kind of interesting seeing how the techniques I used there are both so very useful and useless here. Stickers, for example, are an excellent motivator. Telling Mama is absolutely not.  Arts and crafts occupy more of the morning, some painting and some colouring. This morning I had great fun letting out my inner child to play with paper aeroplanes – racing them across the room and taking it in turns to decorate the wings. After a simple pasta lunch (I’m in Italy, can you tell?) we play for the afternoon. I find myself astonished by the mind of children. Hide and seek has already become a fast favourite. Why, when I was given 5 seconds to hide, and he saw the direction I ran, did Fil proceed to search in the opposite direction? Or perhaps someone could explain why, when I shouted boo behind him then hid behind a wall, he turned around, then turned back and searched, once again, in the opposite direction. I don’t know… I don’t care really; the more important thing is that we both had great fun – even if it was cold and snowing. Snowing. SNOWING. I really desperately want snow, proper, snowmanable, snow. It’s certainly cold enough.

Playing games with children has driven home some self-truths. I’m not okay with letting children cheat at games. No Fil, you have to actually roll the binoculars to be able to steal my elephant. No Fil, you cannot just skip tiles just to land on the explorers. No Fil, you can’t take two animals at a time. I’m not about that. I probably should get over it but… I’m too competitive. I blame it on the 5 siblings thing. Another depressing thing is that I don’t actually know how to let children win. I think I might have broken Eli’s heart when I beat her at first Chinese checkers then Chess. Although I think I redeemed myself in dominoes when I kept on taking dominoes from the middle, without him noticing, when I ran out so as to stop myself from beating Fil every game… This is a learning experience for all of us I guess; Eli can learn how to be a tactician and I can learn how to go easy on someone less than half my age J

Oh, I still haven’t unpacked; I’m living out of a suitcase. At least I now have pictures of my friends surrounding me. And watching me sleep… (I have a few on my bedside table.) As soon as I upload this I’m going to hang up my wall calendar, stack up my books on the dressing table and take out my clothes and shoes. Straight away. Definitely. It’s not like I’m going to be hopping on a plane home any time soon, I really have no reason to delay unpacking…

Thinking of Leaving, Leaving and Arriving

The prospect of leaving again has been daunting. I’m now on day 2 of my next big adventure away from home and it’s struggling to feel like a reality. I’ve come to Italy for 6 months to be an au pair with a, so far, lovely family of Mum, Dad and 2 children. When I first started preparing for this adventure, months ago now, I had no idea where I would be going, who I would be with and I was so excited. I had planned to go to France, actually, which would have been logical considering my plan is to study French and Philosophy in Bristol come September. I started planning this even before I’d gone to Zanzibar. At that point, going to Zanzibar was the biggest and most terrifying thing that I could possibly do. To past-me, nothing I would do after that could possibly be as scary. Current-me disagrees.

These last few weeks of anticipation have been… not so fun, insofar as I’ve been putting off thinking about going away because I couldn’t cope with the augmenting fear about leaving everything behind, again. I know, logically, that I’ve done this before- left home, left family, left friends- but I don’t remember last time being so hard. Perhaps it was because I knew I would be with a group of people my own age (or thereabouts,) maybe because I would have to have friendships through necessity, or perhaps it was because I knew I needed that distance from home to allow myself to reset, like factory resetting a phone and starting fresh. Honestly, for all I know, this trip will be the same for me, and that could be a great thing! Except, this time round I no longer feel like I need that. My last two months of being at home have been some of the best ones of my life, especially with the contrast of the previous year, despite getting up at 5.15 to go to work, and functioning on 5 or less hours sleep a night, despite having to be more independent than ever, despite the fact that a lot of my friends were gone, were at university, despite all of that, it’s been great, like really great. And that’s what I’ve been struggling to leave behind. My last two days at home were the ones when I really let myself think about leaving, and started saying goodbye. That was hard. I burst into tears on an evening out as I was about to leave, yay. In fact, it was so hard that I failed to properly say some of the most important goodbyes. To those people, who probably know who they are, I’ll really really miss you, skype me, message me, call me, visit me.

Enough with the depressing stuff about leaving! Nothing so far has given me any reason to doubt my decision to come, and I’m positively hopeful that nothing will. My new family have been truly wonderful, Mama and Babbo have been so welcoming, and the 2 children are absolutely charming! There’s a young boy called Fil and a girl called Eli, and Fil babbles along in English like any other young child would, when I’m around, and Eli may as well be English, that’s how good her English is! She read 50 pages of Pippi Longstocking this morning and has a bookshelf full of Roald Dahl. I was greeted really enthusiastically at the airport by all bar Eli, they knew who I was through a few photos of me, as well as the fact that I had the biggest suitcase out of everyone on my flight, embarrassing but understandable, it’s not like I could have lived for 6 months on hand-luggage! We did a very brief tour of Bologna, where the airport was, stopping at many many churches, my mother would be immensely jealous, I’m sure, and a café where I had the nicest hot chocolate that I have ever had. Starbucks and Costa have been spoiled for me. Never again will I be able to have a hot chocolate that isn’t actually made of chocolate! Mama and I dragged Fil around town by the hand, except for when he ran off to chase pigeons (every 5 minutes), and he would skate down the marble or stone floored porticos.

 

There’s something remarkably charming about young children, it might be their innocence and joy at the simple things, or perhaps it is the complete lack of understanding of what a secret is! By the time we’d reached Bologna town centre I already knew that there was a Kinder stocking waiting for me back in Cesena, from La Befana and that we were having pizza for dinner as a treat! La Befana is an Italian tradition that happens to coincide with La Epifania, the Epiphany. Whilst not really celebrated in England, many other countries do actual celebrate the arrival of the 3 kings. Anyhow, somehow those two traditions have merged, and from what I’ve gathered, La Befana is a witch that flies over the houses and has broken shoes with no soles, although no one sees her feet (that titbit was from Fil, not sure if it’s important) and she is loved by all children as she delivers a stocking of presents to all children! Really good children get sweets and presents and all things nice, and bad children get coal, I think children in between get fruit and nuts, or that’s just what these kids got because it was so soon after Christmas! Does this sound familiar? Now, is Befana the same as our jolly Saint Nick, Santa? No, because he comes too! These lucky little ones get two stockings; one on Christmas morning and one 12 days later! When we walked around Bologna, we could see street stalls filled with little ornaments of the Befana, and lots of decorations! It’s a really sweet tradition, I can’t actually think of anything that is celebrated so strongly in England that wouldn’t be celebrated elsewhere… Apparently Carnavale is also a really big thing too, England, unlike the rest of the world (once again) doesn’t really celebrate Shrove Tuesday, or, as most people know it, Pancake Day. You’d be expected to eat some pancakes somewhere along the way, but I was shown some costumes and things here where shops are already preparing for the celebrations!

We did have pizza for dinner last night, and it was great, no one can say that Italians don’t know how to do pizza, no one ever would though, let’s be honest here. That being said, I happened to mention at dinner that I can make pizza and, in fact, regularly do with my dad and they were really very impressed! They were especially impressed because they’d never made pizza before and imagined that it must be fairly difficult. I told this to my dad last night via skype and received a kind of ‘you must be joking’ look in return. I know, that’s how I felt too. It was just perplexing, not because I was living in the stereotype that all Italians make and eat Italian food, I’m certain that a large proportion of people in England can’t make fish and chips, but Babbo makes his own bread, it’s not a great leap from bread to a pizza base!

Anyway, on the traditional food front, we went out for breakfast today before exploring my new hometown, Cesena, and I had a lovely chocolate and hazelnut pastry at a family favourite café just off the main market square! We also had lunch with the grandparents, who live in an independent apartment on the 2nd floor of my new home, I’m in the loft floor and the family are on the ground. We had a gorgeous home-made lasagne, yes Italy, with red wine, in Italy?! I know, shocking, and salad, bread, lemon chicken and crisps, followed by panetonne, ?!, and dessert wine… You get the gist; I was treated to a lovely traditional meal, including two of the locally made wines, one of which is possibly in the top 5 most famous Italian wines… Shame I can’t remember the name. I’m sure I’ll know all the wines well enough in 6 months’ time!

Cesena itself is beautiful, there are a few more stunning churches, one of which I attended this morning with the family. It’s a lot easier to translate Italian, considering I know no Italian, when you know what the Italian is supposed to say – this was discovered whilst reading the mass sheet and easily translating simple responsorial prayers which are the same in English… Other bits are more difficult, but that’s largely because I don’t have the entire mass-book committed to memory! Anyway, Cesena is a very beautiful town, filled with old cobbled roman roads, and the occasional more modern marble tiled streets. It’s also home to the oldest public library in Europe, La Biblioteca Malatestiana. I haven’t had a chance to visit it yet, but Mama is going to take me on my first afternoon off (Wednesday.)

Anyhow, I still haven’t unpacked, bar a dreamcatcher hanging above my bed, and my laptop on my desk, I’ve not done very much, really, so I’ve not very much to share. There are some photos, but they’re on Mama’s camera, so I haven’t had a chance to upload them yet, and I haven’t really taken any of my own. I look forward to the time when I can write a blog post about the new normal, how waking up here every morning feels like waking up at home.