Brasil (And The Outdoors)

Hey all. I missed blogging, so I’m back. Enough said about the absence.

I’m looking into stuff I started writing in the past few years, but never finished. Like the one below, about travelling to Brazil and wanting to spend more time outdoors. It’s more than a year old, but thought it was worth saving, if only for memory sake. There will be comments in italics throughout, where I might have changed my mind. Have fun.

If you know me, or have been reading this blog or following me around social networks, you will know I’m Brazilian (born and bred). My partner, O’s dad, is also Brazilian born and bred like me, which makes O Brazilian herself, even though she had never set foot in the country till earlier last year. We hadn’t gone back in 3 years when we decided to go last January and ended up staying almost 4 months. It was quite an intense journey, for all of us. We hadn’t planned much other than the first two weeks in Rio (which was absolute bliss), then pretty much let the wind take us wherever direction it was blowing. We travelled every week or so to a different city, a different town, across states to different places. We’re lucky to have family spread out in 5 different states, so sometimes we stayed with them, but we also took advantage of our lovely friends and their nice homes everywhere  (some had to endure us more than once, poor things, sorry for that!), and we airbnb’d a few times when we felt like we needed a bit of privacy. We learned a lot, specially about travelling with toddlers: in our case, it completely demystified the enormity of such a monumental task. It isn’t that monumental. Kids, as experienced parents will wholeheartedly know, adapt.  And if they don’t, you do. Travelling makes you let go of several things, material and metaphoric ones, and changes your perspective of several others ones. For example, the notion of home. To us now, it’s an elastic concept. It used to mean our parents places, but neither J. nor I ever felt too attached to them as, in my case, my parents divorced and recreated new lives for themselves, and J. just had to flee his nest and find himself. We lived everywhere for years, decades even, till we created our own home in London, which, strangely, only acquired such “status” after we left for Brazil. Until then, London had a sort of impermanent calibre to it, as if we were meant to just pass by (even though we’ve been here 11 years). But while in Brazil, after a while, we missed it. A lot. We felt homesick like we hadn’t felt in years. And at the same time, strangely, we discovered that we could, if we wanted, move anywhere else. If we can create a home here in London, where rents and house prices and now good schools drive you to relocate at an exhausting rate, then we could recreate it somewhere else in the world. We would only need to take our books, our music, our influences, a thirst for exploring, and a good dose of patience, creativity and mindfulness, and we’d be home. (Side note after re-reading this: wow, how detached from material stuff am I on this paragraph? I should confess that these days I would also miss my clothes and furniture, but I’m proud of myself back then.)  

It wasn’t always like this, though. For the longest time, London was a strange, grey and overcrowded metropolis, overwhelmingly unfamiliar and everything about it seemed alienating: the food, the weather, the high cost of rent ands services and low price of product, the jokes, the habits (tea with milk, sunday papers, going home at midnight on a friday night), the politeness and general distance people kept. These were all different things to me, specially in my first years, and while I hated some of them, they all turned out to be the things I loved about London. I’ve absorbed Englishness (London-ness, maybe) so much in a decade than going back to Brazil was (and still is) an inverted culture shock.

For starters, Brazilians are intrusive – in a good and bad way. I used to think of it as sign of friendliness, warmth, the in-built social quality of my own culture. They will approach you to give their opinion on a private conversation you’re having, they will make comments about anything to whoever wants to hear it in a lift, or on the street. We weren’t used to it anymore, as we’re used to Londoners keeping a polite distance, and it made for some surprisingly funny moments  (for a while, at least, till it started getting on our nerves a bit.) If you’ve got kids, they will tell you what they think you should do with them (like the waitress who told us “don’t use this chair, she’s too small”, or the stranger in the mall who said “why is she crying so much? maybe she’s hungry.”) It’s terribly annoying, but it shows how much Brazilian culture is kid-friendly, compared to the UK. People everywhere will want to kiss and cuddle and talk to your child (and believe me, they will), and kids of all ages will be running around restaurants way past 11pm, at least in the summer (I can’t imagine taking O with me to a restaurant in London past 7pm without getting reproachful looks). That’s also because in Brazil you very rarely find freelance babysitters: you either have a nanny full-time or a “folguista”, a weekend/nighttime nanny, very expensive and hard to find. Or you have family, which in our case was difficult, because they were spread out across the country and generally not based in the cities we liked to stay in (Rio, Sao Paulo, the Northeast). It meant that we stayed together, the 3 of us, 24/7 for a long time. I wasn’t used to it anymore either – O goes to nursery 4 days a week, J goes to his office and I work from home, so we have a chance to miss each other. To say we had to adapt, specially as O was full-on into her Terrible Twos, is an understatement, and she ended up spending a considerable amount of time watching films on the iPad (something I’m not proud of and have tackled since we came back. More on that later.)

All that said, it was incredibly liberating to be outdoors wearing not much other than swimwear and Havaianas every day, and it made me remember how much the weather in the UK affects us (but hello summer 2015! you’ve been good to us). So many days we have to be indoors, it’s hard to be away from screens – that said, TVs, iPads and smartphones dominate Brazilian culture too, and we had a hard time escaping them, for other reasons than the weather: safety plays a big role. Still, it made me briefly consider moving outside of London, if not Brazil, maybe somewhere with more nature and open spaces. We had our fair share of being nature-soaked over there: horse-riding and waterfall bathing in the Midwest, swimming on top of coral reefs overlooking sand dunes in the Northeast, jumping waves in Rio and Santa Catarina. But we also had our fair share of being house and car-bound in cities like Curitiba and Sao Paulo, where it’s too tiring or too scary to walk on the streets, and where there isn’t much to go other than shopping malls and restaurants (museums and galleries are expensive and not very child-friendly). It made us weary and exhausted and it was then that we got homesick. If I had to stay indoors so much, I’d rather be home where I can work, read and sleep in my own bed and let Olivia go wild with felt tips and snacks without worrying she’s ruining someone’s sofa. That was another of my lessons: travelling successfully with a two-year-old means you must make an effort to have plenty of outdoor activities, specially of the nature kind. We were happier in Rio, with its play parks on the beach at sunset, strolling around Jardim Botanico (their own Kew Gardens) and the sea, and walking around pleasant neighbourhoods like Gavea and Leblon. Or in Campo Grande, where there were farms and waterfalls outside the city where you can escape to. We figured out pretty early that whenever we could, if we had no business in the big cities, we had to escape to the country or the seaside.

It has affected us since we came back: last summer (2014! not this one) was one of the best we’ve ever had in the UK, and we escaped regularly for outdoor stuff. We even went to see the solstice at Stone Henge with the druids, then checked out the beach at Poole and cycled around New Forest (deserves another post too. I’ve got a LOT to catch up.)

I’ve been a very urban, concrete-bound sort of person since my teens – growing up in a small sea-side town made me yearn for the big city where big interesting things happened. And I still do love urban life to this day: I’m lucky to live in an area where there’s a strong community of creative people and friends, with plenty of parks and nature (well, some), and things to do. But I’m also the kind of person that likes to try new things and explore, and as cliche as it sounds, having a child has been the perfect excuse to go and do that. Nature wasn’t much of interest to my younger self, when clubs and bars and fashion had much more appeal. I’ve done that, plenty. Daytime and the outdoors are much more intriguing at the moment.

We’ve travelled a lot in 2014 (we went to California in September, then the Amazon in november – both trips also need separate posts, arrrghh) and we’ve been to the south of France this year so far, where we had a chance to stand up paddle (another post. i don’t know about you, but i’ve stopped counting). Now that O is a bit older, we’ll go on as many nature escapades as possible. Camping, climbing, surfing, it’s all in the cards.

Finito. Now, some pictures. Yay for making it this far. 

Snapshots from Rio

Campo Grande – Mato Grosso do Sul

Flexeiras – Ceará

Curitiba 

Balneário Camboriú – Santa Catarina 

São Paulo

Back

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It’s been a whole year since I last updated this blog. O turned 3 this month, and again, everything’s changed. The first 6 months of 2014 were a bit of a rollercoaster, in fact, and scrolling down through some of these posts I almost don’t recognise some of the entries. So much has changed in so little time,  and other things that seemed out of our reach before are now part of our routine. I’ve always kept records of my life –  now OUR lives – in the form of journals, diaries and blogs (as well as occasionally freelancing as a journalist), and for reasons that I can’t quite explain other than lack of concentration and general mental-blurriness, I’ve stopped writing altogether for about a year. Well, the silence is gone now, I hope. Being a mother has been teaching me along the way that it takes time, patience and a lot of mindfulness to get to where you want to be, or even stay where you are. Three of practice, in fact, and I still think there’s a long, long way to go.

So, to get things going, I’m gonna post below a little short story I found while backing up my computer. I wrote it last year and submitted to a mainstream fashion mag writing contest, before forgetting all about it (I’m guessing it didn’t win anything, as I never heard from anybody). It’s supposed to be about how fashion manifests itself in someone’s life and shapes their view of the world. I chose to write about my confusion at founding out I was having a girl (I thought I wanted a boy because I’m quite tomboy-ish and had mostly male friends till I became a mum), and how we navigated a bafflingly divided world of pink and blue.

 

Pink and Blue

It started with the little cross sign. It was a faded blue, its intentions not uncertain as its colour seemed to be. An unwelcome accident (aren’t they all?) it meant life could not go on as it was. “I’m way too young for this”, cried my jobless, 28-year-old reflection in the bathroom mirror, all ripped denim and shattered dreams.

The image on the screen of the technician was also blue, electric and fierce. “It’s a little princess”, he says, and my vision blurs. A girl? But I don’t know how to deal with them. Never had many of them around for long. What was I supposed to do with a princess?

“Now we know the sex, we should go shopping!” exclaimed my thrilled mother-in-law. Sensing my bewilderment, she takes me into the girls’ section of a department store, all pink bowls and frills. My eyes blur again. I sneak into the boys section and suddenly blue surrounds me, reassuringly. There, I find it: a tiny denim shirt, the kind I desperately wanted for myself. “I think I’ve found something”, I say. “But that’s a boy’s shirt”, she exclaims while I pay for it. “I know,” I say.

The gifts start arriving, every one of them drops in a sea of pink. I put them away and clear a rack in my overworked bookshelf. Instead of baby manuals, I fill it with feminist authors. My partner raises an eyebrow: “Getting acquainted with the business of being a woman?” he asks, and then says to himself, “better late than never.” I’m suddenly grateful for having chosen him.

Her first outfit is white, a plain cotton onesie, a blank canvas like I thought she would be herself. But she’s far from it. When she arrives, it’s not in the way I wanted her to. It’s my first lesson: “You think you’re a riot? Wait till you get to know me,” she seems to tell me, opening her big brown eyes. My heart pounds in surprise, and my eyes are full and foggy yet again. I’m head over heels with pride and love.

Then time flies out the window, and with it, everything I’ve ever learned, everything I’ve ever thought I wanted. The pink fluffy dresses go, and with them the tiny blue denim shirt. At two, she won’t comply with my rules, or anyone else’s, unless it’s tinged in bright yellow. Hair long and scruffy, Converses dirty with the remains of play dough and paint, she then runs in my direction, arms and smile wide open, and asks me to read her the story of Dorothy and the ruby slippers. “There’s my princess,” says my now exasperated mother-in-law, a glimmer of hope in her tone, aware of this sudden manifestation of girliness.

“There’s no place like home,” ends the story, and then suddenly I get it. A ball of contradictions lying next to me, she’s the embodiment of my most cherished lesson of all: to be nothing but one’s own colourful self.

 

Gone, Baby, Gone

 

My baby is gone. And I only realised this after watching this little film of O in her Tiny Trike  (which was kindly sent by the toy wizards of Galt Toys), and realising she’s slightly too big for it already.  It leads me to the rhetorical question of the day: How can she outgrow things? SHE SHOULDN’T. SHE CAN’T. I haven’t had time to have enough of her as a baby. She loves the little bike so much that when she wakes up, she jumps on it and cycles to the living room for her milk. At least that, she still has some of her baby habits: milk, dummies, nappies (yes, not potty training yet. SUE ME.) I can’t help by being nostalgic. I wonder if it’s always gonna be like this? Constantly pining for the fleeting moments that make up a childhood. There was a time in my life when I used to miss my own childhood. Now I’ll be missing hers too.

I know what you’re thinking. And NO, I’m not having another one. Not now anyway. Thanks for asking.

2 Years Old

And she’s two.

TWO.

A little girl, who speaks two languages (okay, sort of), who’s got her own friends, favourite books, films, shoes and toys.

SO WEIRD.

What happened to my baby?

You see, new mums out there: when people tell you not to worry too much about it – whatever your concern is – because soon it’ll be over, and you’ll be fighting other battles like brushing hair and teeth and picking film options because you bloody memorised all the lines from Finding Nemo, it’s true. People told me about the infamous terrible twos, and now I totally get it: it’s like having a very small teenager at home. The fights and tantrums are all about her trying to establish her independency while suffering from severe bouts of PMT – or in her case, growth HORMONES or something – and me trying to get us to do stuff on time while looking mildly presentable and healthy. No biggie. To be honest, I think it’s great that she WANTS to do stuff by herself. That I just have to put a bowl of (decent) food on the table and she’ll feed herself with considerable skill (and mess, but whatever), that I can pick a spot on the grass and just watch her sing to herself from afar, that she can navigate the kids section on Netflix and pick her favourite episodes of Barney, that she wants to wear the same beat-up pair of shoes everyday (and by that I mean CROCS. YES, I GAVE IN. SUE ME) so I don’t have to worry about what outfits to choose.

So what that her hair is all over the place most of the time and her clothes are constantly dirty from playing outside and eating cherry tomatoes with her hands? So what that I’m lazy when it comes to buying toys and I never seem to remember to take them anywhere, so she’s got no option but her own resources? So what that she’s not in bed before 8pm sometimes, if it means she’ll wake-up 8am and get everyone late?

I think on the whole we’ve been doing alright. O (they call her Mowgli at nursery when she’s in her nappies. I think that’s hilarious) is becoming an extremely happy, loving and bright little girl, with a temperament alright, but then fierceness and assertiveness are extremely valuable personality traits in today’s world. I wish I was more like that.

I’ve started writing this post exactly a month ago, and as regular visitors to this blog must have noticed, I’m not very good at updating things quickly… So at the time I started, her favourite things were the following:

– Singing. All day long. I remember going to a few baby classes when she was a couple of months old, and being embarrassed at not knowing the words to ANY nursery rhymes (I’m Brazilian, remember. Wasn’t brought up in this country.). Believe me, I know them now. Learned them all through OSMOSIS.

– EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM, the book. Memorised all the words, and can point all the hidden characters, even though she doesn’t know the background story of any of them (Tom Thumb? Bo-Peep? Mother Hubbarb? Who ARE THESE PEOPLE? I LOVE them.)

– Nemo. The one from “Finding”. Watched it 849 times, and still gets apprehensive during shark scenes. Also: BARNEY, the Dinosaur, which initially annoyed me tremendously, now I think it’s cool. Bit of an old-school, 90s vibe in the house.

-“Parkie.” The playground at the end bit of London Fields. Lately, quite good for celebrity spotting, I must say. AND next door to E5, the best Bakery in the whole of the UK. Win-win situation.

– A doll version of Jesse, a stuffed Cookie Monster and Charlie The Bear

Now, a MONTH later, which is the equivalent of 10 light-years in toddlerhood, I can safely report that her current obsessions are:

– The Wizard of Oz: which she refers to as “Dorothy” or “Tin-Man”. I’m quite glad she got into it through a book that our cleaner gave to her (bless her), and it made me finally watch the DVD that’s been sitting in our shelves for the past decade. It’s really sweet, isn’t it? I can even skip like Dorothy on the yellow brick road while walking to Dalston Junction. There’s no place like home indeed.

– Blueberries: will eat a bowlful like popcorn. Convenient, as they’re in season and don’t yet cost £4 a box.

– Trains: will say “Choo-choo” at least 25 times a day, because of Dora the Explorer, not freaking Thomas The Tank Engine, thank god.

– Crocs: Did I mention I gave in? Yes. I’m trying to claw my way back in her shoe closet by pushing the Vans and Jordans, quite unsuccessfully. She will partake of Converses once in a while though, which brings me great relief.

– Pushing Toy buggies (not hers though – other children’s, a cause for endless tantrums from everyone), Cookie Monster and Charlie the Bear (Jesse has fallen on the train tracks at Marylebone station, my fault. I had to tell her she “escaped” to go home earlier. She hasn’t questioned me about it yet.)

#WOWSERS: Top London Mummy Blogger Nominee

 

 

What a pleasant surprise, dear friends. This humble blog, which gets updated once in a full moon, has been nominated Top London Mum Blogger by the readers of West London Mum.co.uk . Thank you so much for the 5 of you who come here to read my questionable babbling about motherhood and still felt compelled enough to vote for us – I’m just terribly sorry for being so inefficient at posting on a regular basis. If it’s any consolation, this inefficiency is applied with extreme determination at all other areas of my life. Motherhood, specially.

But I’ll be back soon with more tales, specially now that we’re out of babyhood and just entering the much anticipated (cue drums, TAM TA RAN TAAAAM) Terrible Twos. OH, THE JOY. SCREAMING, TANTRUMING JOY.

 

lotta love xx