What I learned while travelling home with my kids

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen that we’ve just got back from a month in Trinidad and Tobago, where I’m from. It was our first time back in four years. We’re grateful to have been given the opportunity to have an overseas holiday as a family and to help our kids grow their connection with a country that is a part of who they are. I’ve no idea when next we’ll make it over, five tickets to the Caribbean is a hefty goal but as I readjust being back in Cornwall, here are a few reflections.

Home is where I’m raising them

This is the first time I’ve been back and known that Trinidad and Tobago is no longer my home. The deep ache I felt when we landed  there on a visit four years ago has dulled considerably. It’s a beautiful country. I am grateful for the childhood I spent there and for its ongoing place in my life but I’m also relieved to no longer feel so torn between places. I miss the people I love who live there but home is where I’m raising my children. So much life has happened in the thirteen years I’ve lived in the UK. I have little concept of what life as a parent or even simply as an adult would look like if I lived there. It’s bizarre that simple chance can change the course of your life this way.

Jet lag is worse going West to East

We experienced this two years ago when travelling East for my brother-in-law’s wedding in Thailand and we get hit with it every time we’ve come back from Trinidad. Now that we have three kids who are finding their way through it, it’s quite something in this direction, not least because they are ALL on different schedules right now!

They want to know about my past

I was really surprised by how many questions my seven and four year olds had about my childhood: what I did, where I went, what it was like. My four year old, especially, was in a constant stream of this. I don’t know, I never thought about this trip meaning learning more about me. And actually, I also realised that I don’t talk much about Trinidad and Tobago at all and about my memories. When I was little, I loved hearing about the “old time days” from my parents, peppered with anecdotes from when they were children but I’ve supplied so few of my own. Could this be because I’m not surrounded by cultural and physical markers that would jog old memories for me?

It’s hard meeting people and sightseeing

Gosh, I should know this as I find it exhausting as an adult. Yet, I had such big expectations of the kids and then had to pull back and to give them a break when it was all too much.

I am done travelling with preschoolers

Man oh man, I know from a fair bit of experience that you can do long hauls with little ones but I’m sure glad I’m unlikely to ever have to again. Between the multiple outfit changes for everyone and the overnight journeys where working out sleeping positions is a game of Twister, I think we’ll give it a rest until my youngest is at least four, should we get the chance again.

Every child is different

That said, all our travels have convinced me that how one child travels at a certain age does not dictate how another will. My first two struggled terribly with long haul flights as babies. My youngest was perfectly content to and from Thailand at 5 months old. Travelling with my eldest at any other age has been a dream. She in no way prepared us for things that came up with the younger two.

Mosquitoes are utterly relentless

At this stage I have tried everything that does not contain DEET. I am convinced that the only two things that work in rainy season are covering up and DEET. Please feel free to share magic secrets if you have any.

Kids can connect across cultures pretty easily

It’s been so brilliant seeing my kids play with other children while we were out there and connect with adults who made the effort with them as well. At some points, meeting new people was just too overwhelming but a lot of great memories were made, friendships sparked and even more reasons to keep in touch.

I revisit my own childhood

There is a sense in which I revert to being a child myself when I go back which is such a complex experience  to navigate now that I’m also in parent mode when I visit. It’s little things like this being the first visit on which I’ve driven a car. But it’s also the much bigger things, like having to shelf confronting some painful personal issues because the priority while out there was keeping it together for my kids. And there’s the stuff that come up with straddling cultural expectations. For instance, my children call adults whatever we call them and it no longer comes naturally to me to refer to everyone as “auntie” or “uncle” and that’s certainly not on Laurence’s radar.

It’s possible that they may choose to live somewhere else someday

I always, always leave wishing we didn’t live so far away from my family. This time was no different in that respect. But this time it fully came home to me that my kids might also choose to migrate some day, that I might have to hold the future loosely, with simple trust.

Planning our trip to Trinidad and Tobago

This post was written on behalf of Clickstay

So we are going to Trinidad and Tobago this summer…for a MONTH! Well, Laurence is going for two weeks because of work but the kids and I are making the most of getting over there for the first time in four years by staying that bit longer. Send me all your positive thoughts, prayers and vibrations for the transatlantic flight back on my own with three kids. I’m well intimidated but we’re a tiny team and it’ll be worth it.

When people find out I’m from Trinidad and Tobago they usually ask how often we get to go back. We mainly live on one income and with five tickets to buy, it’s easier for my parents to come visit us, even if we have made that more challenging by moving to remote Cornwall. With their help we’re finally making it out there and it feels like such a big deal, not least because we have no idea when we’d manage it again.

That’s why we’re planning ahead and thinking carefully about what we want to achieve with this trip. Seeing family and friends is a given as it’s my home country but it’s a holiday too so we’re thinking about how best to slow it down somewhere hot, sunny and beautiful. We also hope this will be a chance for the girls to start making longer term connections with a place and culture that’s an important part of their own identity. Certainly, at seven and four, Talitha and Ophelia are likely to remember their time there.

We’ll mainly be based in Trinidad, the bigger, faster paced, more urban sister isle where I grew up and where most of my family lives but we definitely want to make some time to chill out in Tobago which offers more of the classic Caribbean holiday vibe. We may also look at spending some time in the capital city, Port of Spain, just because it’s not something we’ve done in the past as my parents are based in South Trinidad.

I’m thinking of options for combining seeing people with the holiday thing and I think getting a villa could be an ideal solution so I’ve been taking a look through the properties on Clickstay. It allows you to stay somewhere self-catered with a swimming pool, generally in great locations, while splitting the cost of food and accommodation with whomever you’re staying with.

Image from Clickstay website

I really like the look of this Clickstay villa in Mount Irvine in Tobago, for instance. The location would particularly suit Laurence as it’s near the surf. Villa prices compare with hotels and Air BnB’s we’ve researched and we’ve found in the past that set ups like this allow us to enjoy quality vacation time with grandparents, for instance, without getting too much in each other’s space.

I’m keen to really document our time out in Trinidad and Tobago since it’s a big deal for us and it’s a bit of a “different” destination for a lot of people but one I think is worth considering. Perhaps I’ll pop a little bucket list on here before we go and I hope to put together a small guide for families once we’ve been. Let me know what you’d like to see and if you’re living out there, I’d love your suggestions. I haven’t lived there since I was nineteen and haven’t visited since Talitha and Ophelia were three years old and six months old so the proposition’s changed quite a bit this time around. We’re getting properly excited now!

Thanks to Clickstay for working with me on this post.

On leaving a place

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that we finally did it. We moved to Cornwall. Just over a week ago, we packed up our house, put most of our belongings into storage and drove to the holiday let we’re staying in while we wait to move into the house we are buying. The experience has been exciting and draining and about time. No more half the week without Laurence after six months of it being so. No more three-hour motorway epics each way for him, week after week.

It has also been destabilising. I knew it would be.

I moved countries when I was 19, leaving Trinidad and Tobago to come here to the UK, to Brighton specifically. I was leaving behind a familiar climate and culture but the timing also meant I was leaving my mother’s house and my childhood. We left Brighton for Bristol a year after I’d both graduated from university and got married (because wedding planning accompanies writing a Masters’ thesis so well). I was barely warming into doing something with my journalism qualification and I struggled to find work when we moved, which psychologically made settling into a new city unbelievably challenging.

On leaving a place-3

Bristol instead saw me become a mother, and I knew that I wanted to be at home with my baby. We began to talk about home educating her while still expecting. We chose a lifestyle that neither of us could have predicted. I felt the relief of a good fit, of feeling my decisions match my convictions about myself. I also felt a lack of agency from not working full-time for money. I questioned my motivations and abilities. Becoming a mother made me lose and find myself over and over again. It was utterly destabilising. I am familiar with feeling something like what I am now feeling.

There is little balance right now. I feel great highs, exhilarated by the move and where we’ve moved to. I drink in my children playing so happily, so naturally on the beaches. I feel great lows. The loss of community, of familiar markers, of a routine. I delight in this concentrated time with my children, enjoying the kind, hilarious, creative people they are. I despair at my inability to cope with life with them. I worry about my choices. Every alternative looks appealing.

I know this is temporary. I mourn to move on. It is not petty or ungrateful. It is a natural part of leaving a place I loved.

On leaving a place

Diwali with my kids

We’ve had a day at home (Ophelia has chicken pox, though I keep forgetting she does – it’s so mild) and so got up to all sorts but I wanted to focus a few of our activities around Divali, the Hindu festival of lights.

I grew up in Trinidad and Tobago where this is a national holiday and I cherish my own memories of it (going to friends and family for a curry feast, taking home bags of Indian sweets, driving around to look at the lamps set on shaped bamboo). I feel a little sad that they won’t grow up with those experiences. Perhaps we will spend a Divali in Trinidad some day.

Diwali in our home-7

We’d borrowed a couple of books from the library about Divali, so we read those again. We also looked at a couple of CBeebies videos: one about a family celebrating Divali in Britain and the other the story of Ram and Sita, told with Indonesian shadow puppets, especially thrilling to my four-year-old.

This led on to a couple of short videos of people making rangoli patterns on the floor with coloured rice powder, which both girls were completely taken with. Talitha loved predicting what she thought they were going to do next in the pattern and was thrilled in equal measure when proven right or surprised. We also looked at photographs of diya displays in Trinidad.

Diwali in our home

Diwali in our home-5

We made some pholourie for a savoury snack while listening to traditional Indian music. While cooking, we talked about Divali, India and Trinidad and Tobago, taking a moment to go look at the map and talk about the boat ride our ancestors took from India to Trinidad.

Diwali in our home-2

We made diya lamps from air drying clay and the girls picked flowers from the garden to decorate and order them on a tray. Ideally we would have done this beforehand as we’re probably going to end up painting them tomorrow but never mind.

We also planned to make coconut barfi but ran out of time so that’s gone into tomorrow’s plans too. In a way, it also fits with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – which we’re currently reading – as they’re sweets.

Diwali in our home-4

Diwali in our home-3

Ophelia needed a nap so I gave Talitha a bowl each of green and red lentils and millet flakes and she grabbed some chalk to make a rangoli pattern on the floor while I settled her sister upstairs.

The twenty-one-month-old is really fighting naps at the moment so it wasn’t long before she was downstairs again, supercharged from the shortest time asleep! Never mind, they both got stuck in with water colours on rangoli patterns I printed from Twinkl, which I’ve just renewed my subscription for.

Diwali in our home-6

Of course, we also had to have a curry dinner but we’re low on supplies so only had dhaal and rice, perfect for my kids as they love it but not that special as it’s my standard go-to last minute meal!

Follow Adele’s board Diwali for kids on Pinterest.

Despite having curated this Divali Pinterest board, I still ended up slightly pulling it all out of a hat. Maybe I’ll be more organised next year. I imagine that, at five-and-a-half, Talitha will have so many more questions about it all.

Shubh Divali!

Air drying clay diyas for Diwali

6 ideas for introducing kids to Caribbean Carnival

Yesterday I did a little Caribbean Carnival intro as a theme for our home education co-op. It was a bit of a random time as Nottinghill Carnival had already been and St Paul’s Carnival was downsized to a celebration this year (and had already been). But hey ho.

Also, I’m not sure I really nailed it as a theme though we did have fun. Perhaps we could have done with a circle time or videos. Certainly, I’d have liked to have included some tropical fruit or Caribbean snacks. In future, a field trip to see a steel band or mas camp (where costumes are made) or working together on junk modeling a large costume could be effective.

At any rate, I thought I’d record what we got up to here as a reminder for next year and as a useful starting point for anyone introducing kids to a topic on the Caribbean or Carnival. Here are six ideas for introducing kids to Caribbean Carnival.

1. Play music from the region. We had calypso going in the background.

Caribbean Carnival for kids-5

2. Put up a display wall with facts about the West Indies, maps and pictures of Carnival costumes.

Caribbean Carnival for kids

3. Use blank masks for the kids to decorate

Caribbean Carnival for kids-2

4. Kids can give lolly stick people costumes

3. Facepainting

Caribbean Carnival for kids-3

4. Read and look at Caribbean picture books (take a look at our list of Caribbean picture books for young children), travel books & a kids’ atlas

I do think West Indian Carnival is worth exploring with kids regardless of background. The history of colonialism and slavery is bound up in it (something to explore with older ones, especially) and it’s a great visual way learning about the region. Kids of all ages can benefit from the play opportunities involved in looking at, creating, trying on and dancing in different identities.

Back from a holiday at home

It’s been pretty quiet around here. We’ve just got back from a month away in Trinidad and Tobago. So much has happened in that time I can scarcely believe it’s only been four weeks.

It was just enough time to make me feel disoriented and a bit sad upon returning to Bristol. The distance from my parents hurts more now that we have Talitha to share. I always leave wondering whether I’ll ever live there again. Not knowing the answer puts a lump in my throat.

Our arrival has been eased by two things: the sunny weather here in England and the last days of the 2012 Paralympics. These games drew me in and captured my imagination in a way that the Olympics hadn’t.

Channel 4 has done a commendable job in covering it. The steam punk flair and drama of the Paralympics closing ceremony made the Olympics closing ceremony look a mess. All in all, the buzz around these games has been so inspiring, it hopefully redefines “disability” for Britain and beyond. Certainly, all of London 2012 seems to have got everyone fired up about sports. Even I’m tempted.

I’m sitting here watching the closing ceremony while Talitha dances to Coldplay with pen and paper in hand. This moment feels like it marks all the month’s changes.

We got through the worst illness she’s had yet. We think it was tonsillitis. It was hard. She stopped breastfeeding. She lived in my arms. She got better. She started breastfeeding again. Our bond is stronger.
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