On making cards and other strange habits

“Mama, I’m going to spend the rest of the day making cards for my friends, aren’t I, mama?”

I heard this sentence the other day, on the way home from school. Two things caught my attention: the fact that she considered making cards – birthday cards, thank you cards, christmas cards, have a good day cards, you name it – an activity important enough to consume the rest of a free afternoon; and the way she phrased it, ending with “aren’t I.”

Then the strangest thing occurred to me: I’ve given birth to an English girl.

I do speak her language – badly, with an accent, and quite a lot of grammar mistakes, even after 12 years of ‘immersion’ – but I don’t sound like her. I can’t replicate her intonation, even if I try. I don’t think I’ve ever finished a sentence with “aren’t I” (I probably say “right?”, in the American way I learned so long ago and can’t never shake off).

She speaks my language too. With an accent, and quite a lot of grammar mistakes, but lately, out of the blue, she started sounding like me. Or like a Brazilian girl, except she’s never spent more than a few months in the country, spread out in short holiday trips.

How’s that possible? How can she become English and Brazilian in such an effortless way, while I’ll never become both, no matter how long I live in London? Will she ever look at her acquired habits and customs, and experience a sense of achievement for having mastered them, like I do? Will she ever need to leave old habits and customs behind because she needs to master new ones, then feel a strange sense of displacement for no longer recognising them as her own – like I do?

For instance, writing cards.

Card-making is a very British habit. Brazilians very rarely send cards out, maybe only if they’re abroad on holiday during Christmas time. Then it’s more of a showing off thing, a proof that you’ve managed to escape the wretched weather. We don’t normally give them to people either, even if the occasion requires a present – the present is generally given on it’s own. There are no cards lining up mantelpieces during the holidays, because no one gets them (and mantelpieces don’t exist either, because tropical countries don’t normally have fireplaces. Although rich Brazilians like to show off and I wouldn’t be surprised to find a fireplace in a 30th floor 1000 sq foot duplex belonging to the son of a soya tycoon.) Thank you notes, well, they’re thoroughly foreign artefacts. Brazilians are not very good at saying thank you in any form, much less written by hand on a piece of illustrated paper. People don’t expect them, and so they don’t get upset or disappointed if cards don’t materialise over the year, as they do in British tradition. Hallmark’s wouldn’t last a season in Brazil.

But Olivia doesn’t know any of that yet. She probably thinks the whole world likes to make and write cards to give to their friends and loved ones (because honestly, it’s such a nice thing to do, why wouldn’t they). She also doesn’t know Brazilians find beans on toast an utterly bizarre idea, as the British do when presented with barbecued chicken hearts. She doesn’t think it’s strange to say sorry hundreds of times a day (Brits), or to start conversations with total strangers in lifts and supermarkets (Bra). She still hasn’t registered the weather as this metaphorical presence in her life, the sun being either an elusive God-like benefactor (Brits) or this all-imposing, at points oppressive, lifestyle despot (Brazilians). And even if she notices I don’t speak English like her or her native speaker friends and teachers, she probably thinks everybody in the world speaks at least two languages, or have family members that were born in different parts of the world.

There are endless little things that will become part of the fabric of her being naturally, while for me culture will be forever an ongoing paradoxical learning process: the more I understand one, the bigger is my (mostly reverse) cultural shock in the other. She won’t ever truly understand that becoming bilingual – acquiring two different, almost opposite cultures from birth as if they’re made from the same material – can be a strange thing for some people, not least her own mother. Unless she chooses another culture, another language, in her adult years, she won’t know what’s like to feel permanently displaced, a product of both cultures but belonging to none.

She’s one lucky little girl.


Every time I think about this blog, I think about all the moments I wanted to write about and never did, and then I write myself a mental note that one day, soon, I am going to sit and write everything down, and create thoroughly detailed posts about all of it, everything we’ve ever been through. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with wanting to document life. Note I said “wanting” – once I was very good at doing it, writing endless journals and diaries, first on paper, then online, so good that I even fooled myself into thinking I could make a living out of words. Then things changed. The things I wanted to document the most were also the things I wanted to keep secret the most, and for years now I live this narrative conundrum, always trying to find an outlet that will present a final solution.

Anyway. I know there is no solution other than actually start writing, is there? No one is going to stick their hands through my ears and physically start picking my brain (I love this expression – there’s no equivalent in Portuguese) then write about all the magnificently mundane bits and bobs of the story I’ve been living since 1982 (I believe there are quite a few occasions far from mundane, but then I tend to think that every day and every encounter could result in at least an interesting short story.) Or, for the purpose of this blog, all the fascinating instants of life as a parent (mine), life as a little girl (hers), life within a family. So this is one more attempt at it, one that I’m almost sure I’ll fail because I, like almost everyone else these days, am easily distracted. For instance, I started writing this after lunch, and now I’ve got only 5 minutes to finish it because it’s already school pick-up time, because Internet.

But I’m gonna post this anyway, because not caring is very 2016 right now. Hopefully see you soon.


Books are a funny thing.

When you spread the word about your undying love for those little volumes of happiness – and your daughter’s reluctance to worship them as much as you do – people somehow come and find you. When you think you’re a lonely voice in an ocean of Peppa Pig merchandising and Elsa dresses, someone will reach out a loving hand, shouting “HELP IS COMING.” You’d expect that eager librarians and devoted parents would get in touch to ask you to join their respective book clubs (which I’d gladly do! Please get in touch!), but you’d never expect a place like, uhm, McDonald’s, to come and say “You’re not alone”. Not unless we’re talking about, uhm, being hungry?

But I was talking about books, and they’ve found me. But before I had a chance to say “you must be gobblefunking around”, they told me they had a plan crazier than flying to New York City in a giant peach: they had partnered with none other than Penguin Random House Children’s UK, the National Literacy Trust, and hold your breath, the Roald Dahl Literary Estate to distribute 14 MILLION Road Dahl books in 6 weeks! Gloriumptious!

I’m a HUGE Road Dahl fan. I’ve tried to become Matilda before I found out she already existed. I’ve wanted to speak like the Big Friendly Giant since before I learned English in my 20s (not being very successful at it, as you’ve probably noticed). I’ve even acted as an extra in Tim Burton’s version of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory (I dare you to find me in Veruca Salt’s Dad’s factory, unwrapping millions of chocolate bars!)

So I took O to their launching event where she turned into a phizz-whizzing little miss fox and listened to whoopsy-splunkers actors reading some of the books to be distributed. It worked wonders – O is already planning her Ms Spider outfit for the Road Dahl extravaganza at school.

They’re also launching an accompanying app with a voice-activated feature that responds with noises and graphics when you read aloud – I’ve yet to test it, but it sounds like a whoopsy wiffling tool, as I’m a terrible actor.

Now, for disclosure purposes – after all, if you’re a parent reading this, you want to trust me, don’t you? So there is: O is not really allowed to eat McDonald’s (unless we’re talking about the bag of fruits and bottles of water – ok, maybe the gloriumptious fries, if I’m hard pressed for alternatives). She is only 4, after all, and I’m adamant she should eat home-cooked meals, fruit and veg as much as she can. The world of fast food will eventually entice her for good and I won’t have much to say, but until then I want her to understand that well, treats should be treats – meaning, “rare”.

That said, other than Coca-Cola and Apple (I was going to say the evangelical church, but only Brazilians would understand that), I don’t know anyone who’s got a bigger scope across the country – and the world! – to reach out as many people with that jumpsquiffling message: that reading is GAZZUMPTIOUSLY GREAT, reading Road Dahl is even phizzwizzingly better.

“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray
Go throw your TV set away
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall…”



Letter to O (Now That She’s 4)

My dear O,

You’ve just turned 4. Yesterday, actually. You had a joint birthday party with 3 other friends a couple of days ago, and although you never asked for a birthday present (even after I enquired about it a few times) you got many of them. So many we could fill a chest with them, but so far you’ve only opened one or two. One of them was a “Make Your Own Tiara Kit”, and during breakfast you asked me to help you make a few so you could give them to your nursery friends. That’s what I’ve come to realise about you, as I watch you grow into your own person: you’re generous, and kind, and more patient than I give you credit for. I myself wouldn’t be able to willingly ignore my presents, let alone share or give them away to my friends. But you do.

And you’re still not particularly attached to “your things,” which is almost odd in this age of materialistic childhoods. You rarely ask me to buy things for you, and whenever I say no, you’re mostly okay with it. Even when sweets are concerned. Remember how many you got for Halloween, and Easter, and for your birthday? A whole piñata full of them. I took most of them away from you, and you didn’t even ask for them back the following days. In fact, I’m totally sorry to say that Daddy and I ate them all afterwards during the weeks (okay, days) that followed each event, but hey, we sorely regret doing that. I’m still paying the price in dance classes and dentist appointments, so be happy you’re not in my position.

You see, there will be many things in life you’ll want, but they’re not entirely good for you. And there will be times when things you like will be taken away from you, and you won’t be okay with it because it won’t be fair (not the sweets, though. They’re bad for you, you will understand one day). But I’m sure now that you will be able to tell the difference, and challenge unfairness when it comes to it. You do that now. Last week I saw you worried about a little boy getting beat up at the park, and you went over to the bigger boy and told him to stop. I’ve seen that happen many times, and sometimes there was nothing you could do because you were too small or too far away, so you just asked me why someone was being “naughty” to someone else. I don’t have the explanation all the time, and sometimes, from the top of my adult pedestal, there’s nothing I can do either. But I’m happy that you feel it’s your duty, OUR duty, to help someone in need.

You still also like to tease your friends endlessly, a personality trait you might have got from your Daddy (he’s got a very peculiar sense of humour). But sometimes things get out of control and you make them cry. I know you don’t mean harm, but there are times when people don’t know that, so I’m hoping your awareness of people’s limits will grow with you. It’s important to understand that, because you’ll soon find out another important lesson: someone, somewhere, will always take offence. The reasons are as diverse as there are jokes in the world, but I’m absolutely sure you will learn them, one way or another. And when you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask why, like you always do. It’s important to be silly and have fun, but it’s also important to be respectful.

But don’t ever let that stop you from being yourself. There will be many, many times in you life where people will try and prevent you from doing the things you want to do while also being exactly who you are. You should always strive to stand up for yourself, as much as you like to do for other people. I know you’re absolutely capable of it, even when they’re bigger and louder than you. Like yesterday, when three little boys screamed at you to get out and not touch their toys. You came to me in tears, but I told you to go back and tell them not to be rude – after all, you asked nicely. You went back, and they still screamed, and you stood there, firmly, until their mums took the toys away.

That’s one of the things I’m proud of you most: you’re naturally fearless, even when sometimes you forget that your are and I have to remind you. You’re not afraid of the new, the different (a quality we share) and you’re definitely not afraid to be put on the spot, to have all eyes on you (something we definitely don’t share). I’m terribly self-conscious, scared to death of speaking in public and approaching new people, but I’m so utterly relieved and grateful you’re not. Because there will be also lots of moments in your life where you will need to be fearless, specially when I’m not there with you. Don’t worry, though. Until then, I will be there, every day, reminding you of your strength. The same way you do to me, unknowingly. By being yourself, your little generous, kind, funny, fearless self, you remind me everyday that I should also strive to be all those things. That’s how, together, we’ll hopefully make this world a better place.

I love you, forever.


“Books Are Boring”

Olivia last night said she didn’t want a story before bed. “Why?” I asked, with a mix of relief for having the extra time to myself, and apprehension, because I actually love story time. I’m a bit of a bibliophile, and reading together is one of my most treasures moments. I do it every single night since she was a baby, no matter how busy I am or where we are in the world. I probably verge on the point of paranoia, so imagine my affliction when she replied with the following.

“Books are boring,” she said, without hesitation. My heart broke in a million pieces.

“Why?!” I asked, trying not to sound too crazy. She was teasing me, of course she was. She’s got that kind of personality, the kind that pesters her friends endlessly just to get a reaction – and most of the time, there’ll be tears.

But she wasn’t teasing me. She just said “well, because they are.”

To be fair, I was holding a copy of Peter Pan, which is a long story for a 4-year-old. Specially if it’s not animated and it doesn’t come with an embedded Disney musical. I know because that’s sort of what she said, shutting the book in my hands.

“I don’t like Peter Pan, it’s too long and boring.”

“But it’s a POP-UP edition, and it’s got all these beautiful illustrations!”, I defended myself, helplessly. It didn’t work, obviously.

“I don’t like it. I want to go to bed.”

I gave her the benefit of the doubt – after all, it’s ok not to like a book. There are others. But she wasn’t having any of it.

“Why don’t you go and pick a different book? Anything you want.”

“No, thank you. I don’t want a story tonight.”

“BUT WHY.” I know I was sounding crazy already. But you know, when you’re faced with one of your biggest nightmares – own child not liking books –  you tend to react a bit crazy. (“one of your biggest nightmares? PFFF, #firstworldproblems” i hear you say. Yeah, alright, now go away.)

“Because books ARE boring,” she says again, a dead look in her eyes. She looks strangely grown-up saying that.


“I do!” She pulls her blanket over her face, trying to end this conversation. But I refused to be defeated.

“You’re making me sad.”

Blank face.

“Seriously. You are.”


Closes her eyes. Falls asleep.

I go online and google “what have I done wrong my kid thinks books are boring.”

Everyone says “read to her. Let her choose her books. Make sure she has a shelf and a reading nook. Take her to the library and bookshops.”

I’ve ticked all the boxes already. I’ve ticked those boxes from the moment she was conceived! I was born to tick those boxes!!!

Then there’s one more: “don’t be pushy.”


Well, when it comes to books, I’m not sure I can make that compromise. I’ll let her wear PJs to school, and eat cereal for dinner, and stay up past 9pm, but I won’t give up on story time. NEVER. So I order some new books, and make peace with the fact that that box will have to remain un-ticked.