Friday, 24 July 2015

Greece in Crisis - Boiling a frog

I have often used this phrase when thinking about our life in Greece: it's been like boiling a frog.

A frog sitting on the handle of a saucepan, which is sitting on an electric hob, which is glowing red.
"Frog and saucepan" by James LeeFormerIP at en.wikipedia 
The idea is this: if you put a frog in a saucepan and gradually turn the heat up, the frog fails to notice the change and stays in the pot eventually being boiled alive. Although it seems that the premise is scientifically wrong, it is a very strong image that conveys exactly the issues we are facing in Greece at the moment. 

For the last five years change for the worse has been constant. Schools have slowly been deteriorating, unemployment has been increasing, the roads have been falling apart, hospitals have been closing. It has been happening slowly, but steadily. 

My husband and I often talk about leaving, but obviously have not done so yet. People back in the UK ask us why (if I'm honest sometimes we ask ourselves why) but it is hard to explain. Our quality of life, which is more than hospitals and queues at ATMs, is great here. We live in the countryside, in a wonderful house that we own (and that we certainly couldn't afford anywhere else). We have a large garden and a wonderful view. We wake up to birds singing and go to sleep with the cicadas' sound. We work close to home in jobs that we both love. We have the time to spend with each other and our kids. Our two boys are growing up with some extended family, more than they would have for sure, if we lived somewhere other than here or South Africa. 

We have stayed through the steady decline and we have often argued about when the right time to leave might be. Because the problem is, we could get trapped. Moving countries with two kids (and dogs) is expensive, and we would ideally like to do it not as poor economic migrants, but by making a positive step for our future, by being able to choose, by being employable. 

And so it goes on... The change, so far, has been gradual. Saying that, I cannot help but wonder if we will soon be in hot water... 

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Greece in Crisis - Waiting for Godot

This is what life in Athens feels like at the moment. A long wait.... for something that might never come.

We are in an extended state of limbo, waiting for something, anything to happen. Banks remain closed and every day we are told the ATMs might simply run out of cash. Then, that's it... no more money. In an economy like the Greek one, where people rely heavily in cash transactions things will slow down even further when that happens.

We are spending a lot of time at home, not wanting to spend money on petrol, not wanting to spend money on anything.

We are incredible lucky in many ways. First of all, our fridge is full. We have made sure we have food that will last a while. Most of it is long-life type of stuff, but I am planning on a visit to the local farmers' market to supplement all the dried pulses and pasta (unlike the UK the farmers' market is where you can buy very cheap fruit and veg, no artisan bread or homemade jams to be found anywhere... just very cheap produce, directly from the producers).

We are also lucky that our house has a big garden and that we spend a lot of our day there - playing, in the paddling pool, with bat and ball, J on his bike, O in the shade. It is a nice way to spend the day! It certainly lifts the spirits.

And so we wait... For a deal that might not come, for the banks to open, for normality to return. The other option remains scary... 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Greece in Crisis - A historic day

The sun is still shining. The summer is mercifully cool. There is a soft breeze from the north that breathes life into the leaves of the trees in our garden. We are still here.

The last week has been intense. Much like when a loved one dies, sleep seems to offer relief, only for the shock to hit every time I wake up. And every morning I wake up in a bankrupt country, with long queues at ATMs, with empty shelves in supermarkets. I wake up in a place where I feel ideologically more foreign every day.

I am a woman with a plan - I never let things just happen and we are facing the same decision every day: leave, this time as economic migrants, for better shores or stay and see what happens.

On the one hand if we leave we have less than a month of savings before we have to be earning again. As our Greek savings our locked in inaccessible bank accounts, we will have to somehow start afresh. From zero. A scary prospect. It would be a liberating one, were it not for our two dependants. It would be exciting had we not been leaving like thieves in the night. It would be exhilarating if we did not have to leave an ailing, elderly mother behind. Pain lies on either side of this decision and both of us are reluctant to make it just yet.

We await news, hopefully of a deal, but I am no longer optimistic. We await news so we can make a decision. Let us not be rash, let us be measured. We await...   

Friday, 3 July 2015

Greece in Crisis - Life, but not as we know it

I am realising, as the days go by, how many things we have been taking for granted all these years. 

For example, being able to access our money, either by withdrawing cash from the bank or by paying by card. Think about all of the times in a day that you do that... or that payments are made automatically. Now imagine that didn't happen... That's where we are at the moment. 

Capital controls mean that we are only able to withdraw 60 euro per day, per person. Not a problem, many thought: that is 1800 euro per month - a lot more than most people's salary. However, we can only withdraw from ATMs that have money... these are few and far between, and you can spot them by the long queue and the police presence. You stand in line, with no guarantees of actually getting money out, as by the time it's your turn the well has often dried. 

We are trapped in the country, as our cards have been disabled and do not work abroad, while others, our fellow Greek are trapped out of the country and cannot get home. 

Tempers are running high and on our walk around Athens yesterday (not for fun but trying to get essential travel documents ready, just in case we need to flee) I saw several people having heated discussions. Nobody was hurt, but I can only imagine what will happen in a few weeks - remember this has only been going on for 4 days... 

We saw pensioners, many of them, in groups, outside the few bank branches that opened just to help those pensioners who do not have cards to withdraw cash from ATMs. They stood there, in the heat of the July sun, patiently awaiting their 120 euro allowed to take each. 

We saw NO posters, hundreds of them, almost on every light post all the way into town. How can a government that does not have money for the basics has money to print so many posters? 

We are going into the unknown, each of us with hopes of coming out at the other end unscathed. We are afraid. For us, for our children and for the future that is coming, when the sun rises on Monday morning. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Waking up in a Bankrupt Country

This is not a political blog, but it is a blog about my life, which has suddenly changed overnight! Yes, living in Greece the last 5 years, over this austerity period has meant big changes, a big loss of income and state services, but these last few days have seen a change that we only had nightmares about.

It started on Saturday morning, with the announcement of the referendum fresh and queues in banks at 7 in the morning. Tensions were high, but most people kept their cool: at least the banks were still pumping out cash. My husband went to the supermarket to stock up - we had done our big shop the day before, but decided that a few more cartons and tins won't do us harm. We stocked up on food and basic medicine, and now have enough nappies for about 2 months (with two kids in nappies at the moment, that is a lot)!

A few hours later posts started appearing on social media about which cashpoints in Athens still had money - and although the government was denying that it would have to impose capital controls a few hours later those too had been announced, along with a 'bank holiday'. An extended one...

We live away from the centre and away from people, but had to head down into our nearest town to try get some passport paperwork sorted. Monday was eerily quiet. Small shops were largely empty, some didn't even open, while supermarkets were full. The few people walking the streets in our nearby town looked a little aimless and shocked but I am pleased to see that in some places spirits remained high, with a few jokes and banter being exchanged, mostly about the situation.

Our search for a petrol station was lucky, we even found one that accepted cards and had petrol, though we ended up buying super racing car stuff... I joked that if we had to drive to the border quickly this should do the trick... Even so, most petrol stations had run dry, and a lot of the others demanded cash in hand. A difficult feat, as the by now open again ATMs have a daily withdrawal limit of 60 euro per person per day. That is if you can find one that still has money, or if you don't mind queuing up.

Wednesday morning finds us bankrupt, as a country. Greece has skipped its payment to the IMF. The fact that it paid salaries and pensions on Monday in full is quite the joke, as people are unable to access their money.
The referendum looms.
The rhetoric remains heated.
Tempers run high in both camps.
Shortages are not yet felt, but I'm sure are due to come soon.

We are lying low. In fact, I am not even sure what the situation is out there: my priority is to stay calm, spend time with the kids and await more news. We have several plans, we are currently still on plan A, which is to sit tight and see what happens. Wish us luck!


Sunday, 28 June 2015

Mama Bear - The Biggest Change

We are in Greece in one of the most critical times in its history in the last 40 years. The future of our children, the toils of our parents are being jeopardised in the most cowardly way!

This is not a political post, however. This is a post about motherhood. About the force that motherhood is, the 'mama bear instinct'.

I have often wondered about the changes in me since I became a mum. In a few days I will have been a mother for a year and in that year there is no doubt my life has changed. But while my 'everyday' has changed so drastically, I have often thought about the changes in ME. Have I changed since becoming a mum?

I have to say that up until this last week I would have said a resounding no. I feel very much myself, a better, happier me, but myself. I still do the things that define me, I exercise and I write, I spend time with my husband (less) and I (try and) look after myself.

Yet with the current Greek tragedy unfolding, and with us being in the centre of it all, a new me has surfaced. I have become a true mama bear, ready to do anything for my kids. In many ways, the worry that I feel is greatly intensified by the responsibility I feel towards my kids.

Mama Bear is awake in me, and it is an unsettling feeling. It is the feeling that keeps me awake at night, planning for all eventualities. The feeling that has made me stockpile food and medicine, something I would have laughed at before. It is this intense need to keep my babies safe that has made me plead with my husband to leave, before civil unrest sets in, before the borders are closed, before the last flight gets booked.

Still, we stay. We stay and hope that we won't have to flee in the night, that the shortages many talk about will not happen. We stay and we hope...

Thursday, 11 June 2015

No perfect time: The ten places I have written since I became a mum of two.

With the coming of my two kids I have realised something that I wish I'd known before: there is no perfect time to do the things you love (although, I do admit there are better times and less good times... Oh, how I wish we could go hiking and camping again! Maybe soon.)

This is how I used to write: at my desk, cup of coffee at hand.

This is how and where I write now...

1. On my bed 
In fact the bed is my default work station, while J is having his nap in his room, and O naps next to me! 

2. In the car, while my husband is driving

3. In the car, parked at a car part, with the kids sleeping in the back

4. While my son is in the bath - I sit next to him, usually on the toilet, and write, on my phone. He is happy playing and I am there should he get into trouble... 

5. On the bike - ok, not while I'm actually riding, but when I am on the static trainer. Exercising and writing at the same time. Talk about multitasking! 

6. While queueing at the supermarket -occasionally D will let me go for a shop without the kids. Any dead time during the shop is used! 

7. In a dentist's waiting room - three weeks after giving birth I needed a root canal! Those three dentist's visits became my first outings out of the house without the baby, and I took advantage of the waiting time to do some writing. 

8. On the metro - a classic! What else to do while getting from A to B?

9. In the kitchen, while waiting for the food to cook - I cook after the kids are in bed, around seven, every night. It is prime time for writing too. My husband's usually off for a run and the house is quiet. Bliss! 

And the all time favourite, yes, I will admit to also occasionally writing

10. On the loo... 

There's no perfect time! When do you fit in your creative pastimes? 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

My new parenting resolution

I was reading 'The Paradox of Choice' by Barry Schwartz, today and one particular sentence 'hit' me really hard. 

In the US 93 percent of teenage girls stated that their favourite activity was shopping! For some reason I was overwhelmed with sadness. Of all the exciting activities on this earth, 93 percent of young women chose shopping! 

I'm not even thinking about lofty activities like reading literature or playing the violin, but even something than watching movies or hanging out with friends would sound better. Has our consumer culture overtaken all other aspirations? 

Then I got thinking about my sons and what I would like them to state is their favourite activity when they are teens. Actually, I don't care much, as long as it is something social or creative, something vaguely goal driven and not completely inane. 

Of course this got me thinking about the way we influence our kids. Already I can see that J is a sponge: he does what he sees us doing. He loves to saw and dig in the garden, thanks to his dad, he loves pretending to cook, partly thanks to me, and he likes reading. He also loves pretending to shave his legs (!) and talking on the phone... Whatever we say, it is what we do in front of him that really matters. 

And so my new resolution is this: I need to be the adult I want J to be when he grows up. I need to model the adult behaviours I want him to pick up and value. 

A quick conversation with his dad later we have found one of our biggest weaknesses in this regard: our use of technology. And so this is our next goal: limiting our use of technology, at least in front of the kids. What behaviours do you find your kids copy? And what behaviours do you wish to limit your kids' exposure to? 

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Coffee With Kids (or how to ruin a perfectly civilised activity)

Before our kids came along my dear husband and I used to love our weekend coffee date. It would be a long affair, which would include a couple of cups of coffee each, a croissant or a cookie and a lot of talking. It used to be such a special place and such a special time, that we often saved a lot of our 'scheming' for the weekend coffee date.

I used to love the whole ritual - ordering the coffee, then sinking into the sofa, talking and sharing all our plans, my husband taking notes in his old notebook. It was where the idea of adoption was conceived, it was where we went after our first scan with O. It was what we did the day after my dad passed away, bringing a touch of old normalcy into the new reality. The coffee house was where we went after a long run, or before a trip to the cinema.

And so, with that idealised notion in mind, we decided to venture out for coffee as a family. The four of us! We have been before, as a pit stop during a shop, and I have been with one of the boys, then with the other at different times, but we had never in the past set out to just go for coffee.

What were we thinking? What were we thinking?

For one there was a queue. But it was OK as both boys were fairly quiet and happy to look around. For five seconds! I volunteered to go get the coffee, leaving poor D to entertain the two boys. Suffice to say that half the shop was already looking at us, so, of course, instead of helping I shuffled away heartlessly leaving D on his own...

I watched from afar, as my unflappable husband managed to get J into a child seat and get him interested in a put-the-wooden-stirrer-in-the-straw game. He then took the baby off his seat, where he had been whining and sat him up on his knee. Things were looking up.

After a longer delay than expected I got our drinks (ahhh, the same old drinks we used to have when we had all the time in the world) and a few things to eat. I had, luckily, remembered to pack a juice and a snack for J too. The minute I sat down, of course, O started crying for food.

Before even a sip from my coffee I took him and wondered whether I could breastfeed in the busy coffee shop. I had done it before, but never at such close proximity to a complete stranger... I decided that I would go outside to feed O, instead. As I lifted my shirt I noticed J turning his juice upside down...

To cut a long story short, or in fact a short story even shorter, we didn't last more than twenty minutes. I did not finish my coffee and neither of us had a chance to have a bit of the croissant. We walked to our car, both fairly agitated, and we drove home in relative silence. The kids of course fell asleep. Which meant that they then missed their nap when we got home. Which meant that by 4 o'clock that afternoon we were both looking at our watches and counting down until bedtime...

What were we thinking?

The next day we stayed at home, and had a cup of tea and a chat while the kids had their late morning nap. Bliss!
Here's what my teabag said... 

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Minimalist parenting - losing the toys

Here's something my husband and I have been discussing lately. In a bid to simplify how about should we got rid of all the toys?

Any parent out there knows that living with kids can be messy and, well, just full of stuff! D and I, despite appearances, try to practise minimalism in our lives: conscious buying, frequent decluttering and we make a special effort to avoid plastic. (Here is a post on mindful buying and here and here two posts on how I struggled with getting rid of some of our books.)

Since becoming parents we have found that our house has filled with toys, most of them plastic, most of them hardly being used. Sitting down one evening to discuss the toy situation, which had got quite dire, we realised that the number of toys that we have bought for him is precisely... zero. 

We have accumulated a great number of toys through presents, but mostly through the generous donations of old toys from friends. 

The toys have filled a lot more space than we ever wanted to give them. The question is, however, does J use them? Does he play with them? Or are they just filling up his cupboards (and our living room floor, and the bath...)? 

I've spent the last week watching him. Trying to see what he does use and what he doesn't. And here's the verdict (though, I'm sure any experienced mum could have told me): he hardly ever uses any of them! 

J, like any toddler worth his salt, spends the whole day playing, both out in the garden and inside.
Playing with dirt and old plant pots in the garden
But what does he play with? Real things are overwhelmingly preferred over any kind of toy: pots and pans, his dad's tools (we allow him to use most things under supervision), plants and dirt, real bricks and tiles.
Emptying the washing machine
He loves taking washing out of the machine, putting pegs into their box and playing with old packaging. His toys fail to keep his attention the way my head torch does, or the old egg carton. In fact, the recycling bin is an endless source of inspiration for him. 
Hours of fun trying to work out how the buckles work (I'm sure I will regret this soon...)
Yet still, I hesitate to throw away all of the toys. Much like the painted wall of his nursery and the dinosaurs on his pyjamas they are the trappings of childhood. What do you think? How do you deal with all the toys? Do you have toy-free zones or a regular cull? Or do you simply find clever storage solutions? 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Wedding Season - How we met

We are celebrating this weekend: it is 6 years since we tied the knot, and 8 years to the day since we met. You see what we did here: we kept the date of meeting and getting married the same, hoping that it would aid us in remembering. It does. Sometimes. And when we forget (and start arguing about the dates) we check our wedding rings. Which, by the way, have a whole different date inscribed on the inside... That's a story for a different post.

So, this is us, eight years ago today, having dinner at a restaurant in a village outside of Zurich. 
We had both travelled from London to take part in a triathlon race- I had spent much of my week wondering whether I should go or not, as I had just raced a similar race the weekend before and I had some knee pain. Glad I went: on my first day at the hostel I bumped into D and his team. They were kind enough to take me in for the weekend and invited me to dinner that night. 

I seem to remember that I somehow engineered sitting next to him. When he ordered wine with his meal, the night before a race, I was shocked. Let's just say that D has taught me a lot about moderation since. 

I don't believe in love at first sight, but I was certainly very attracted to him. He was (and still is) handsome, polite and funny, athletic and friendly, shy and yet sociable. In many ways he was the yin to my yang - he still is a major balancing force in my life. 

The next day I made sure I sat next to him at breakfast too! I had to find a way to meet him again, but was too shy to ask for his number. It was clear that he wasn't going to either... 

I decided that the way to go was to borrow something of his and not give it back, so that I would have an excuse to meet again when we got back to Lobdon. So I did - I borrowed his race belt. Let's just say that even after eight years together it still lives in my race drawer. 
Photo from the less fun part of the weekend. Offending race belt can be seen in action. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Super Mum or Super Slob?

Before I became a mum, I wrote this and this about finding and making time in the day for all the things that mattered.

I have now been a mum of two for almost five months. I know, I know, it will get harder, I will soon have two walking toddlers etc etc. I know all this. But I also know that so far, even with a baby who nurses every two hours and a toddler who wants constant attention every waking minute(I guess toddlers are synonymous with constant attention) I have still managed to do most of the things that are important to me.

I have help. I get help, because I ask for it (a huge lesson for me)! It doesn't always work, but most of the time it does. But since becoming a mum of two, I have managed to:

1. Train for a triathlon relay
It wasn't easy, especially in the haze of those first few newborn weeks, where the shock and realisation that I will not be sleeping for more than two hour intervals hit me... But I made it, mostly with the help of my husband and an obliging toddler who slept religiously for two hours every day.

2. Race a triathlon relay (and come second)!
On top of it all, it was fun. Couldn't have done it without my darling husband looking after the kids, while I cycled round Spetses island.

3. Finished my first book
Yes, this is how I worked. Sometimes while babies slept, sometimes while someone else looked after J, sometimes in the middle of the night after O had woken up and would not go back to sleep. A lot of it, in the early days of motherhood, happened with the baby strapped to me - he seemed to be happiest close to me and enjoyed the typing rhythm.

4. Sent off (what feels like) hundreds of queries for another writing project
This one has been the 'boring' part of writing - the quering tons of agents and publishers. It also looks like it might have paid off... Fingers crossed.

And just so that you don't think this is a brag-fest, here is a list of the things that I have not done:

1. Cleaned my house very well...

2. Ironed any baby clothes

3. Kept in touch with friends (shame on me)

4. Been to any playgroups

What I mean to say is simple: we make time for the things that are important to us. At the moment being with my kids, staying healthy through exercise and writing, for pleasure and professionally, have been top of my list. Other things have naturally slipped. I'm OK with that. I make peace with the fact that I don't iron my kids' clothes (ahem... or anything else for that matter) and that my kitchen occasionally resembles a bomb site. I don't go to playgroups, mainly because they are at inconvenient times that overlap with my kids' naptime and naptimes are sacred. I also work well on the fly - ten minutes here, four minutes there... which is why a lot of my writing happens on my phone (I know...)

At the end of the day my kids are clean, well-rested and happy. They have a mum who is also fulfilled and keeps engaging with the world in roles others than just as a mother, and a dad who is hands-on and involved in all aspects of child rearing. Isn't that all that matters?

Friday, 22 May 2015

Is there such a thing as "adoptive parenting"?

We were out at a fair the other day as a family. It was a school fair and we knew most of the people there and so we had a great time catching up with everyone and showing off the newest member of our family, who spent most of his time asleep.

J was having a lovely time too. He is a very social little guy and he enjoys playing and dancing with older children, and so he was up on stage busting some moves with some of my ex-pupils when I was approached by one of their parents.

This dad urged me to go away, go sit down and rest, or get a drink. I told him I was OK, plus I wanted to keep an eye on J. He insisted that J was fine where he was, dancing with the girls and that they would look after him. I explained to him that he was still little and I wanted to be close where he could see me. What followed caught me a little by surprise...

It was a whole tirade on overprotective Greek mothers, on helicopter parenting and many things besides. He was almsot angry at me for not leaving my son to play on his own. I was very taken aback and to be honest would not have had the courage to reply, even if I'd had the opportunity, but at that point J tripped a little while dancing. He fell onto his knees and his reaction surprised the dad and stopped him in his tracks.

Within seconds J had gone from laughing toddler to a wailing mess. Tears streamed down his face and he struggled to catch his breath. The dad was further surprised by my response, and had he been given the chance, I have no doubt that he would have given me another piece of his mind. I scooped my little boy up and cuddled him close. I dabbed his tears as he wailed 'Mama' and clung onto me. I held him and rocked him and held him some more. 

I know my response was over the top, especially as J had not really hurt himself. But with J, who grew up in an orphanage, a lot of my parenting IS over the top. That's because we are still at the stage where he learns what mum and dad are there for. And sometimes it requires explicit teaching.

For example, I am sure the dad lecturing me on being overprotective didn't have to teach his daughter to call for him in the night when she woke up. In fact, my guess is he had to do the opposite. I'm sure he didn't have to teach his kid, like I had to, to look for him when he gets hurt and that comfort can be found in mummy's hugs, not only by sucking your thumb and rocking all by yourself.

J is a fantastically clever boy who has been learning very quickly all these family skills. He now looks for me when he gets hurt and he calls for me or D when he wakes up at night. He asks for his nappy to be changed and he is finally figuring out that it's ok to not want to eat right now - there will be more food later.

Kids who have not grown up in families exhibit a lot of behaviours that need to be left behind once a loving family is there. But these family skills that take their place need to be practised a lot! And so, in a way, we parent them slightly differently. We play more, we hug more, we encourage dependence before we move towards independence. 

With my biological son my job will be to "cut the umbilical cord" bit by bit. For J we first need to create an umbilical cord- he needs to feel safe, connected and to know that we've got his back, no matter what. Once that happens, we can start moving towards independence.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

The Oxygen Mask - and an offer of help

I know it's a cliche, but it's a cliche because it is true. You cannot be an effective parent (or in fact an effective anything) if you are struggling. And so it is very true what they say: You have to put on your own oxygen mask first, then help others. 
Which is why this post is all about asking for help, one way or another. Here's another truth I'm only starting to realise now: There are no prizes for going it alone. 

I know I am a much better mum when I am well rested. When I have had some time to myself, whether to shower, to write, to exercise or just to chat to a friend on the phone. These things cannot find their time and place with two kids, unless someone actively helps out. Often that someone has to be my husband, who, I'm lucky in that way, is eager and happy to take the kids for an hour.

At the other end of the spectrum are my friends, the ones I call upon when I need to vent, ask for advice, go for a walk. I feel it is one of my successes as an adult that over the years I have got better and better at asking for their help when I need it.

However, sometimes, asking for help from friends is not enough. Sometimes you need a professional, someone with a dedicated skill set to listen without judgement and give targeted advice. Today I have partnered up with Dr Tzotzoli, an HCPC Registered Clinical Psychologist based in London. She is offering a free 20 minute session, through Skype, to anyone who feels they could benefit from a professional's help (subject to availability).

Monday, 18 May 2015

Adoption myths - The Miracle Pregnancy Part 1

Those of you who are fellow adoptive parents must have heard it. Those of you who are not, might have thought it or even said it. The "You are sure to get pregnant after you adopt" comment. It actually comes in many different versions but the essence is always the same: Once you adopt, you will also get pregnant.

Now, I know that it happens. It, sort of, happened to us (but not quite - read on). I don't want to talk about our case specifics so much as I want to tackle some of the thinking behind the phrase. So, if you are one who has uttered it, please think of the implications. If you are one who hears it (don't all adoptive parents - maybe not, maybe it's just Greece) you can thoughtfully direct the person who comments here.

There are several assumptions behind the phrase.  

First, that you, as a couple have not been able to get pregnant. When people say "you will get pregnant after you adopt" they automatically assume that you have not been able to. Although that is certainly true of some adopters, not all adoptions come at the end of a long road of infertility (and if/when they do that's also fine).

Second and linked to the above is the assumption that adoption was your plan B. Again, for many people it is (or even plan C or D, and again that's also fine) but for some people it is plan A. Or it is a plan B that comes before plan A has been shelved. Or many other variations on that theme.

When someone utters the phrase "you wait, now you've adopted you'll have one of your own" there are a few implicit messages there too. Maybe people don't mean it that way, maybe they don't even think about it much, but there is a message that an adoptive child is somehow less yours, and that your ultimate aim is "one of your own".  I know many adopters and I can say that that's certainly not the case: our adopted kids are every bit ours, as our biological kids.

A favourite of anyone who's ever struggled with infertility is the phrase: "Just relax and it will happen". Sometimes the "miracle pregnancy" is a substitute for it; in fact, if I had a euro for each time someone has implied that my pregnancy was a result of "relaxation" after our adopted son arrived, I could probably buy that new pair of running shoes I've been lusting after... 
I have to gently remind people that I was 4 months pregnant when J joined our family! In fact, this particular phrase might warrant its very own follow-up post.

There is sometimes also another implicit message (and in fact in my case it has been said explicitly at least half a dozen times): "Now that you have done your good deed, God will reward you with one of your own". Where do I even begin with that one? This  post here is a good start. Just don't say it in front of my kids, or you may get to see this mama get very angry!

Finally and let me say this here once and for all: Our adopted son was not our last-ditch attempt at infertility treatment! 

There, I've said it. Have a good week all!

to be continued (with some numbers, next time)...

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Rookie mum: Tantrums in Paradise

I have really been enjoying my little boys lately. Yet something happened this week that really shocked me. Not just surprised me or caught me unprepared, but really shocked me deep down to my core: J had his first tantrum!

It was afternoon and we had been playing outside. We came in to get ready to go and pick daddy up from school (?!) so I had to clean him, put some clothes on him, some shoes and, of course, do the same with baby too. Make sure everyone had clean nappies on and some kind of reasonably clean clothes - no perfectionism here, just the basics. Then, the tricky part, I had to take J down to the car, strap him in, then come up and get baby and put him in the car too. 

Only J decided otherwise. And for the first time as a mum (but surely not the last) I experienced The Tantrum! At 22 months I got a preview of what the terrible twos might be like: he was screaming so hard his veins were popping on his neck, he was on the floor and was thrashing like a fish out of water. What he wanted was to go to the 'tar'=car and pretend to drive. What I wanted was that he stopped screaming...  

What shocked me most was not J, but my reaction. I froze. My heart was pounding. This rookie mum was so close to tears. And I know I probably should have left him to ride it out, just there in the hallway, but we needed to leave... And so I scooped him up and, somehow took him to the car, though not to "drive" like he wanted, but strapped him into his seat. Somehow. I got the baby strapped in too and started to drive, J still screaming!  

Thankfully he didn't take long to calm down. I, however, took much longer than he did. My heart kept pounding all the way through the drive. I found it so incredibly upsetting - I don't know why. Later, dissecting my son's first tantrum with my husband I realised that it had been a perfect storm: he was hungry, it was hot, I was paying attention to his brother and... bam! 

It has not happened since, but I know it will again. I am practicing my response, in my head. What I'm most scared of is the strength of my reaction... 

So, help me out: non-rookie mums, how do you cope with tantrums? 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Am I still me? Part 2

I've been thinking more and more about this since I first posted about this, mainly between nappy changes (and with two under two there are plenty of those) and breastfeeding sessions. It all hangs on how you define yourself: the more narrowly you define yourself, the more likely that as you "lose" a role and gain another you also lose yourself.

I have been through that, in what now feels like another life time. You see I was once an athlete, not professional (as I was making no money from it) but it was my sole identity. I had finished university and had no obvious career goals ahead, it wa a preolympic year and I fancied my chances getting on the national team. I decided to devote my whole year to rowing and so it started. In that one year my whole identity, mental and physical efforts, eating, sleeping and breathing, social life, family life and intellectual capacity was tied up with that one thing. I became an athlete: nothing more, nothing less. One role that fully defined me, as everything else became secondary. The year came to an end and, after an agonising decision making process so did my rowing career. 

What happened next surprised me and those around me: I felt like a part of me had died. I had to properly grieve for my role as athlete, before I could move on with the rest of my life. In a few short weeks I lost my friends, my routine, my goals. 

In order to survive I enrolled on a new university course, I moved countries, I got in touch with old friends, I started making new ones. I reinvented myself. Can't say it wasn't painful.

Ten years have passed. My roles have changed and they are a lot more balanced. I now seem to define myself not only by what I am (daughter, sister, mother, wife, friend, writer, athlete etc) but by who I am, what I think and feel, what I believe in. These tend to stay a lot more constant in my life, my values and beliefs are an anchor in all te changes of life.

This time last year I was mainly a teacher. That identity in many ways dominated my life, mostly because teaching really is all consuming. Then I became a mother. And a lecturer. And a writer. I was also no longer an athlete and as my belly grew and my new future dawned I stopped being a lecturer too. In late January, a few short weeks after O's early arrival I finished my first book. I became a fully-fledged writer, something I have always dreamt of, ever since I was in primary school.

My roles change, but it is I who chooses. I am lucky to be able to drive myself in all this. And I am still very much me! 

Friday, 8 May 2015

Am I still me? (Mother's Day special)

As I'm preparing myself for my first ever Mother's Day as a mum te question keeps popping into my head. Am I still me? How has motherhood changed me? And, if I've changed, where does the old "me" fit in? 

The answer for me seems to be quite complex. For years I have felt like a mum without babies. For these past five years I have felt like I should have been celebrating Mother's Day, but couldn't. In fact, Mother's Day was another as occasion reminding me what I was missing. 

In many ways I feel the difficulties in becoming a mother have changed me so much more than the actual role ever could. They have scarred me and they have made me stronger. They have also changed the way I look at motherhood. 

Do I feel different? The answer is yes and no. I feel like a more fulfilled me. And nt just in my role as mother, but in everything I do. I have a newly-found confidence in all aspects of my life. My professional life, especially, has received a great boost of creative energy. 

Did I lose myself? The answer here is not yet. But I know that motherhood is not a sprint but a marathon. Maybe ten years in I will look back and wonder where the "real" A is. But for now I am the happiest I have ever been, and my role as a mother has only enhanced all my other roles. 

So this is for J, who made me a mum, 

And for O, who completed our family.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

On breastfeeding and Choice

I chose to breadtfeed my second son. It was a natural decision for me, after a stressful pregnancy but a (relatively) easy and quick birth. He was placed in my arms and I held him close. A little later he latched on and fed for the first time.

I had an uncomplicated delivery and so the days that followed the birth, while in hospital I could focus all my energies on the two of us learning how to do this whole breastfeeding thing. He was quick to learn and I definitely attribute our success to baby O more than anyone else.

I have since fed him exclusively. Objectively it hasn't been a walk in the park: pain at first, engorgement for more than a week (lovely midwife prescribed cabbage leaves in my bra and it worked!) and still at almost four months feeding every two hours like clockwork. But subjectively it has been lovely! 

I know I will probably be judged for saying this, but part of the attraction of breastfeeding, aside from all the benefits to my little one, has been the ease of it. Going out for a while? No need for bottles, powder and hot water. Just unbutton my shirt and everyone is happy. No need for sterilisers, no need for boiling parts, no running out of powder or having to try different ones to see which one is best. The ease of it is liberating. 

I have also found that Greece is ok with breastfeeding. It's not the political issues that it is in the UK. I have breadtfed pretty much everywhere I have needed to, including the start line of my last race this weekend. 

I have received sideways looks at times, and definitely some double takes. But no one has ever asked me to refrain from feeding my son and I'm pleased with that. Imagine, then my surprise, when a fellow mum came and commented, albeit positively, on my choice to breastfeed my son. 

It continues to amaze me that people make a value judgement on who I am as a mother, on how good a mother I am, based on how I choose to feed my son! It surprised me even more when I caught myself judging another mother on her choice to not breastfeed her baby... 

When I was pregnant people kept asking me whether I would bf or ff. I always answered that I would try to bf but failing that I knew that formula was not rat poison. I got a few laughs, most uncomfortable and many blank stares. 

I know now- 4 months into bf my boy, that I am so extremely lucky to be here. Bf has added a lot to my experience of motherhood and I am grateful to have been able to experience it. However, just like with pregnancy and birth I am acutely aware that it's a fluke, in many ways. No more value judgement, please. Let's just enjoy the fact that we can even have the bf vs ff discussion. Many women, my past self included, would give anything to be here! 

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Random Acts of Romamce

I was sharing with a friend a few days ago how having kids presents wonderful opportunities for a couple to show their love for one another. She was puzzled by my claim but I truly believe that. 
Before kids our life was all our own. We could come and go as we pleased and chose how to spend our time. Since becoming a family of four that is no longer the case: our actions and schedules are largely dictated by the needs of the kids first, then our needs. The 'wants' have definitely taken a backseat. 

In that way small acts of kindness towards each other are amplified. Looking after the kids so the other half can do 30 mins of exercise. Bringing him a cup of coffee. Cooking her favourite dish. Buying his favourite biscuits. Taking over the fort so that she can have a bath. Letting him have a lie in. These things count! They mean a lot more than they ever did before, as long as they are seen for what they are: Random Acts of Romance! 

(I type this as I have been given a few minutes alone from the kids, while D vacuums the living room- big thanks to the husband!) 

Monday, 27 April 2015

Hill training - an analogy for life

I got back on my bike last week.

I have been training at home, indoors, on my turbo trainer while J naps and O is in his bouncer. I find O likes the hum of the flywheel and I can chat to him while I pedal.

But last week, with a bit of coaxing from my husband and an offer of babysitting, I went out on my bike. It had been years and I was nervous. On top of everything this new person that has been me for the last ten months felt unease: would I be able to make it? 

The hills looked bigger than ever before. I questioned my ability to go up them. Something that in my past life never fazed me suddenly became "a thing" in my mind. As I got dressed it made my heart pound. As I mounted my bike it weighed on my thoughts. As I warmed up it almost made me turn back.

The first hill was tough. My legs burned, my breathing was heavy, my hands gripped the handle bars while my heart felt like it wanted to jump out of my chest. But after a while I got into a rhythm and after a little while more, before I knew it, I was at the top. 

The view was stunning. The burning quickly subsided. I took a moment to savour it then I cruised down the hill liberated and at that moment it hit me: climbing hills is like a metaphor for life. It's tough. It's difficult. At times it gets ugly and you question your commitment. But two things struck a chord:

1. Hills sometimes look scarier when they loom on the horizon. Yet when you're on them, doing the hard work, they shrink or don't quite feel like the monster they looked like. I'm proud to say that so far in life, my life, my fear has rarely stopped me climbing that hill. 

2. Hills always have a crest. You can't always see it from the bottom and sometimes you wonder whether it is close or whether there's more uphill round this next corner. But eventually they run out: the difficulties in life soften. Then you can cruise downhill, wind in your hair. 

In the last seven years since D and I moved to Greece we have had our share of hills: unemployment, illness, death, miscarriage, surgeries. It has not been easy. But we kept climbing, often with help from each other, often with help from others. And now the view from the top is simply stunning. And so very worth it! 

Here's to the hills in our lives. Here's to the rolling terrain that is life. Here's to the ups and the downs and the people that help us conquer them. 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

But do you love them the same?

A week after I gave birth a friend who had come over to help me cope with newborn plus toddler on my own finally asked the question. She did so in the most tactful way and in a way she only put a voice to the thoughts I'd had all the way through my pregnancy. Would I love them the same? Mixed in with the thoughts was guilt and fear: would J find it hard, would he feel less our child for being adopted, had I ruined his life? 

After O was born and while I lay in hospital looking at the little baby next to me my main worry was: will I ever love this baby as much as I love J? I felt something for him, I certainly did, but it did not resemble the love I felt for J. I felt protective and like I needed to care for him, but nothing like the deep feelings I had for my eldest. A week later, when my friend asked me things were not very different.

Three months have passed. Our love has grown. I love them both so much. I cannot imagine my life without them. But do I love them the same? 

I don't think I do. I love them differently and I don't think it has anything to do with birth vs adoption but with who they are and what their needs are. I love them with the same intensity, fiercely and with a kind of love I'd never felt before I became a mother. But it's not exactly the same love.

I know now that love grows. Mummy love grows too, deeper and different in all its stages. What stays the same? My heart sings when they smile. My heart aches when I think about something bad happening to them. I have fears and hopes and wishes for them both. That I am sure stays the same for as long as I'll live. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The days are long...

...but the years are short. Well, the months in this case. 

My husband just walked in to find me crying over a onesie.
I remember like it was yesterday (wasn't it yesterday?) that he had to do an emergency trip to the shops the day after O and I came home from the hospital to see if he could find something, anything that would fit our little boy. O was born a little early and was small, not tiny tiny, but at 2.3 kgs he was on the small side. The few things that I had bought (being very cautious with the pregnancy I had not bought much) were way too big for him. D took J and went off to the shops. When he came back with the zebra outfit (complete with stripy legging and hat) I remember laughing. When I put it on O it was still big!!

Three months on and I'm clearing out the drawers for the second time! He has grown and grown and grown and he is now, at only 3 months, in 6 month old clothes. Weighing in at a hefty 6.3 kgs. 

I love that he is growing, thriving really. But holding onto that onesie this afternoon I realise just how quickly it happens. Next thing I know they'll be off to school and then a few, short years later they'll be leaving home. 

I fed him a little later. And for those few moments I held him close, looking at his rhythmical sucking, feeling him so close to my heart, smelling his perfect baby smell. Oh little O how quickly you are growing! 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Default Parent and parenting roles - Part 1

I have been considering (and writing about) parental leave lately. When talking about it with others, both mums and dads, as well as some who are also employers, I have come to understand that one of the central arguments within this whole debate, especially in Europe and Canada, where maternity leave has come to be taken for granted is equality in parenting. Equal parental leave surely equates to more equal roles when it comes to active parenting. 

While contemplating all this (an activity that usually happens between the hours of 3 and 4 in the morning, when baby O will not go back to sleep after his middle-of-the-night feed) I came across This article on the Huffington Post. It is all about "the Default Parent". It also got me thinking long and hard about mine, and my husband's role in parenting our two sons. 

D is a very involved dad. He chooses to be, having chosen a profession that gives him time to be with me and our two boys. I think that is the biggest investement we have both made in their future. That might mean that professionally he has had to make sacrifices and made choices that make us time-rich, but money-poor. For now and while the kids are small that is exactly how we want it to be!

Because of the different way that J joined our family, through adoption and not birth, I got to experience something that most mothers don't: I became the "other parent" while D was the "default parent". J was adopted from Ethiopia and I was not able to fly out there, due to pregnancy complications. It was not planned that way, for sure, but I think it made a huge and very positive difference to the way D and J bonded. 

D became dad in a hotel room. He was handed our boy with only the clothes he was wearing and very little understanding of his routines and needs (the carers at the orphanage spoke no English and D's Amharic was basic at best). He writes a little about his experience here

The result of two weeks of exclusive parenting (also known as being thrown into the deep end and having to swim) was that when D and J came back to Greece they had already done a fair bit of bonding. D was the default parent. I found myself the "other parent", outside looking in. 

For ages J would only go to sleep when cuddled by D. He would calm down only when carried in a sling by his dad. He would seek his dad when hungry or needing a change. I found myself in a supporting role and had to sit down with D and make a plan. We had to actively discuss our roles, and what we wanted out of parenting. 

We decided that it would be good for J (and also what we wanted, as parents) if we both became "default parents". We wanted to have equal roles in the upbringing of our son and we wanted J to be equally happy with either of us (or both of us together). That couldn't just happen. It took a lot of work from both. It took D being aware enough and willing to step back. It took me volunteering to get up in the night. It was an intimate dance of the three of us, taking turns, balancing and reassessing the whole time. 

In a nutshell: becoming an equal parent takes two! It takes willingness from the dominant parent (usually the mother in most families) to step back a bit and the will from the otehr parent to step up. 

Quite often when mothers "complain" about being the default parent it is in a way a "failure" of both parents. It is a failure of the one to give up and the lack of will of the other to take over. In most societies (definitely in Greece!) the mother is very happy to be the default parent and dad's get pushed out of their roles. A friend recently wrote to me saying: "It would be great if my husband could take a little more of the childcare duties but his parenting style is too permissive". My feeling on this is that dads are too permissive when they are "second in command". Then they become the fun parent, the weekend dad who gives treats and plays, not the one who disciplines, washes behing the ears and feeds the kids vegetables. 

One final thought: I am in no way saying that parenting should be equally split between mums and dads. That is for each and every family to decide for themselves. For us, it was a decision that we consciously made long before our kids joined us and it is a decision that I value each and every day. Especially when I have time to have a shower undisturbed! 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Seasoned parent question

Baby shoes...

I'm hoping this is going to be one of many posts in a series where I ask for advice from more seasoned parents: those who have been there and done that and have lived to tell the tales. More importantly whose kids have lived to tell the tale...

So, here's my question this week. What are baby shoes for? Does my child really need them or are they simply a ploy to make me spend more money? 

Also, why do people care to point out that my tiny baby, who is probably a good few months from walking, is not wearing any shoes? And finally, when one does succumb (read: remembers) to put on said baby shoes on, how do you keep them on? How on earth do you keep shoes on feet for longer than a few minutes? 

I know: it was meant to be one question and we've ended up with lots. But really, seasoned parents: what are baby shoes for? 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Adoption is not charity

Here's something I want you to know: when I'm out with my 21 month old please don't stop me to congratulate me, it really bothers me. 

In case you've missed it my eldest, J, is adopted. It is fairly obvious even if you've only just laid eyes on us, especially when we are out as a family. 

People stare. I don't mind that and I hope neither will J when he grows up, it's part of being different in quite a homogeneous society like the Greek one (his dad also gets stared at for being taller than normal and ginger...).

I also don't mind people asking questions, provided they are being tactful and genuinely interested. And if I nod and smile politely that means you overstepped the mark... 

But I do object to people congratulating me for my choice to adopt. Especially when this is done in front of my son. I don't deserve congratulations any more than you do for deciding to have a child. We did not adopt to save anyone, we adopted because we wanted to be parents; that's all adoption is: an alternative way to have a family. 

What hurts me and worries me more is the message that is implicitly passed onto my son. The message that he is a charity case, that we adopted him to save him and that he should somehow be grateful to us. That can't be further from the truth. If nothing else, and this is something that we should all keep in mind when talking about adoption, there are waiting times for both domestic and international adoption. Contrary to urban mythology, especially here in Greece, those waiting times are not because the state is making us wait, or keeping available kids from being adopted. The truth really is much simpler: there are more parents waiting to adopt than available children. That means that if we hadn't adopted J, someone else would have! 

I can't imagine my life without him- he has brought so much to our lives and being a mum to him is simultaneously my biggest challenge and my biggest joy. Celebrate us, our multicultural family, but please don't congratulate us. All we wanted was a child to love! 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Mummy tummy and getting back into shape

This is me the day before I gave birth:

Not small and neat by any standards, but also not the biggest pregnant lady I have ever seen. Keep in mind O came almost a month early- another three weeks would have quite possible pushed me into "huge". 

After a relatively quick and very straightforward delivery I looked down at myself and realised that... I still had a big belly. In fact when I went down to the cafeteria to get an orange juice the next day people gave me their turn in the queue: I still looked about 6 months pregnant! 

It was quite a shock to me. I knew that the belly would not totally disappear overnight, but I didn't quite expect to be quite that big. 

I got the go-ahead to start gentle exercise 3 days later: my doctor was happy with everything. He told me not to push myself, but he also knew that I had endured a good 6 months of no exercise (walking aside) and that I was itching to get going. 

Three days post-partum I started isometric contractions and kegels. A few days later I got down on my mat for a modified Pilates workout (basically nothing that engaged my rectus abdominal) and at ten days I took the double buggy and started walking on the hills around my house. 

As soon as I was fully healed I jumped onto the turbo trainer for some cycling too.

 I honestly thought the weight would drop off. Coupled with breastfeeding I thought I would spring back to "normal" in a few weeks or so. 

Here's what normal was, for reference: 

And here's what I looked like at 14 weeks pregnant: 

So when at two weeks post partum the lady at the local supermarket asked me when the baby was due, I felt cheated. I felt like I was failing... When, after I told her I'd already had the baby, she suggested I put on one of these belts that holds everything in, I got cross! 

New mums face a lot of challenges. Sleepless nights, establishing breastfeeding, getting to grips with baby care and keeping any siblings and themselves fed, clean and in some sort of routine. The expectation I had of myself was clearly an unreal one, based on my images of new mothers out there: namely celebrity mums. And guess what: it was a truly unrealistic one. Not only were my expectations completely unreasonable, but so were those of others around me (I should mention here, NOT my husband) who also expected me to spring back into my previous shape within weeks.

Guess what? It is now close to three months since I have birth. I have been cycling, run/walking and swimming regularly. I have been doing strength work with my boys at least once a week. Do I look like I did before? No, I'm still way off what was normal for me.

Can my body do what it could before? Apart from the running, which really feels like hard work due to breasts three sizes bigger than before (!) and some remaining laxity in my pelvis, I am extremely proud that my body can still cycle, swim and lift weights. On top of that it can make milk, lift a toddler and a baby approximately 40 times a day, grow a baby and give birth quickly and without drugs or complications. Am I proud of my body? More than I have ever been!! Yes, I still have the mummy tummy, but my body has never been such a hardcore machine before! 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

On leave

I am writing after a sleepless night (here I was thinking that once we hit three months baby O would sleep in longer than two hour intervals...) and with the help of a sling. Baby O is blissfully asleep against my chest, probably lulled by the rhythmic movement and sound of my fingers on the keyboard. 

As a new parent I have been reading a lot of articles on parenting. This week this one made quite an impression on me: 

I am definitely a newbie at this parenting thing, yet I have already done quite a few of the things that I had vowed never to do: I have given sugar to my 20 month old, have bribed him with bananas and breadsticks if he would sit on his buggy so we could leave the playground, have more than once violated the sacred 7 pm bedtime and have more than once dressed him in yesterday's clothes (more on a post to come). It's ok, I can live with myself. 

However, there is one thing, an idea more like it, that I am adamant about keeping. And that is the idea that D and I are both equal parents. I might be at home more, I am still on maternity leave after all, but we still try to keep a balance for our sake and the sake of our two boys. 

Maternity leave in Greece for most mothers (but not all, some have more, some have a lot less) is around 9 months and I am hoping to take most of it. I was shocked to find out that paternity leave is only 2 days! I guess what a lot of dads do is take some of their annual holiday at the time of their partner's birth, yet that's not possIible for many, including teachers. And so two days it was.

I know that in the UK they are keen to get you out of matenrity hospital as soon as possible (and I can see why) and I realise that a lot of women don't even go into hospital to give birth - homebirths are certainly on the increase, but for my first birth I wanted the reassurance of a big hospital and intervention, should it be needed, close at hand. I also enjoyed staying in hospital for three days after the birth, food and care being provided while all I did was cared for my little one and rested. I did miss J and D, and J could not visit due to rules saying that children are not allowed on the maternity ward, but he didn't seem to unsettled and very importantly I got some time to establish breastfeeding with my little one. 

I was upset by the two day provision, however. O was born right at the end of the Christmas holidays and D was not allowed to take any further leave. That meant that less than a week from the birth of his second son (and if it hadn't been for a snow day, before I had come out of hospital) he had to return to work, leaving the exhausted new mother with a tiny baby and a toddler. 

I was lucky - a quick and natural birth had not left me exhausted or hurting and O, although premature, started gaining quickly and took to breasfteeding with gusto! Also J seemed to like his new brother and jealousy was limited to feeding times, which after about a week I managed to coordinate around naps and activities so as not too upset him. 

But the two days paternity leave has still been on my mind. All the more when I read articles like the one above... How is a man to bond with his baby? What is the role of the modern father? Is he just default breadwinner, while mum still does the bulk of the childcare? And how might that affect the children? Not to mention how it affects women's employment possibilities... 

We are unlikely to have any more children (at least not for a long while!) so maternity and paternity leave rights are no longer relevant to me. I do, however, think about just how lucky families are in Sweden, with all that quality time to gel, to get to know each other and to cement themselves in their new roles in the family. 


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