Telling my son about the refugee crisis

Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria, near the town of Kobani. This is where the Kurdi family are understood to have come from. UNHCR / I. Prickett
Syrian Kurdish refugees cross into Turkey from Syria, near the town of Kobani. This is where the Kurdi family are understood to have come from.
Photo Credit: UNHCR / I. Prickett

My six year old saw me looking at the heartbreaking image of the three year old boy who drowned during a perilous voyage to Europe. “Is that boy dead?” he asked. For a split second I thought about making up a lie that would be easier for him to process. But I decided that sometimes life’s lessons are better taught reactively. “Yes,” I said.

“What happened to him, did he drown?” he said. I sat him on my knee and took a deep breath. “He did drown. He was trying to get to Europe to find a safe place to live but his boat capsized.”

“Where are his Mum and Dad?” he asked. I told him that I didn’t know. He looked away then. I told him that the boy lived in a place where there was a war, where people were fighting and he and his family were trying to get away. I told my son that he is lucky to live somewhere that is at peace and that the little boy in the photo wanted to come and live somewhere like this. ”Did he have swimming lessons?” asked my six year old. I told him that I didn’t know but that the boy was only three and even if he did have swimming lessons the sea was too cold and the waves too strong for children to be able to stay afloat for very long. The boy wasn’t wearing a life jacket – which tells us so much about the human traffickers that are not only exploiting the tragedy of the displaced people but are multiplying it many, many times over.

Photo Credit: UNHCR Some 186 people from Nigeria, Pakistan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Sudan, Malaysia and Syria are rescued from an over-crowded smugglers’ boat and transferred from the Grecale Navy ship to the San Giusto war ship, as part of the Italian Navy’s Mare Nostrum operation. Among recent and highly visible consequences of conflicts around the world, and the suffering they have caused, has been a dramatic growth in the number of refugees seeking safety by undertaking dangerous sea journeys, including on the Mediterranean. UNHCR / Alfredo D’Amato
Some 186 people from Nigeria, Pakistan, Nepal, Ethiopia, Sudan, Malaysia and Syria are rescued from an over-crowded smugglers’ boat and transferred from the Grecale Navy ship to the San Giusto war ship, as part of the Italian Navy’s Mare Nostrum operation.
Photo credit: UNHCR / Alfredo D’Amato

This was enough sadness for my six year old who got down from my knee and went back outside to play football, which is perhaps what the boy would have done if he had made it across the sea. Media reports later explained that he, his five year old brother, his mother and his father were all heading for Canada. The boy’s aunt lived there and she was waiting for him and his family. But according to The Guardian the government had rejected the asylum application. To get to Canada the family then turned to the ruthless smugglers who took their money and then sent them to their deaths.

I don’t know if I did the right thing in explaining this to my son. But sadly this is the world we live in. I would rather show him the news and teach him compassion than let him watch reality TV and learn that fame means you can launch a perfume and call it a career.

Meanwhile pressure is mounting on the UK government to allow more refugees into the country and on the European Union to create a coordinated approach to the crisis. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 300,000 refugees have tried to cross the Mediterranean so far in 2015 and 2600 of them have died. “The vast majority of those arriving in Greece come from conflict zones like Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan and are simply running for their lives,” said Antonio Guterres, high commissioner for refugees at the UNHCR in a statement today (4th Sept). He called on EU states to come together and create a common response implementing a mass relocation programme with the mandatory participation of all EU member states. This would replace the current piecemeal approach which is exacerbating the situation allowing pressure to mount at crisis points such as Greece and Hungary. “Thousands of refugee parents are risking the lives of their children on unsafe smuggling boats primarily because they have no other choice. European countries – as well as governments in other regions – must make some fundamental changes to allow for larger resettlement and humanitarian admission quotas, expanded visa and sponsorship programmes, scholarships and other ways to enter Europe legally,” said Guterres. “Crucially, family reunification has to become a real, accessible option for many more people than is currently the case. If these mechanisms are expanded and made more efficient, we can reduce the number of those who are forced to risk their lives at sea for lack of alternative options.”

To donate to UNHCR click here.

To write to your local MP and give your views on the UK’s response to this crisis click here.

Things I’ve learned from raising a puppy

Looking after a puppy is not easy. From eating anything within reach, destroying my son’s favourite things and getting a horse to charge at me, here are the most important things I’ve have learned in the past 2 years of Labrador raising.

Drum Roll please……

  1. Don’t leave ANYTHING edible within his reach
Cut cake and hand out party bags - check. Go back to cake for massive Mummy reward slice. Hang on a minute....
Cut cake and hand out party bags – check.
Go back to cake for massive Mummy reward slice.
Hang on a minute….

Not one but two advent calendars were infiltrated and emptied this year, along with all of the chocolates from the Christmas tree. The pirate cake I made my son for his 5th birthday was snaffled along with a whole block of butter and several balloons. The bright side? We never need to sweep under the dining table after meal times.

  1. For the first 18 months keep EVERYTHING you care about away from puppy.

Imagine that after a decade of searching you find the holy grail of work shoes. They are just fabulous. They match all of your clothes, they lengthen your legs, they are stylish and high enough to be impractical yet still enable effortless walking. Even better they appear to be imbued with some sort of magic that both eliminates cankles and creates comfort. They are your best friends. Now imagine them punctuated with puppy teeth marks, and only have one heel. Sigh.

  1. Give puppies their own toys

Or they will play with your son’s teenage mutant ninja turtles and chew on splinter. He might also have a go on one or two of his power rangers. As he gets older male puppies may start humping some of the soft toys. We called this dancing. “Daaaaaad, Mikey is dancing with Iggle Piggle again.”

  1. Get a dog guard for the back of the car

You may not expect the puppy to leap from the back of the car, over the kids, and into the street but if you don’t have a dog guard then the chances are that he will. Like the time Mikey did this on the school run and refused to come back. I didn’t know whether to chase the dog and leave the kids in the car or leave the dog and take the kids to school first. Then the eldest child got out and started to chase Mikey who then darted out in front of some poor woman’s car. He then ran into several gardens, dashing through flower beds and barking. Eventually a builder caught him and I had to drag him back to the car as he still refused to come with me. The whole thing still makes me feel a bit sick. I’m not sure if this is shame over the public mayhem, fear of what might have happened or guilt for the small evil part of me that for a second wished the car had hit him so that I could relinquish the significant responsibility of being a puppy owner.

I love him really
I love him really
  1. Secure your garden

We thought that ours was secure, until he found a spot where a mound of earth lifted the ground level high enough for him to jump the fence and visit the neighbours. And then on the other side he found a gap large enough for him to contort himself through. There was also the time that he threw caution to the wind and jumped over two 4ft fences at the back so that he could visit the cows on the other side. Leaping the second fence saw him drag his belly over barbed wire leaving a nasty cut. And then a cow kicked him. Yet still he would not come home – despite me rattling his food bowl and showing him his ball and shouting fetch. In the end the cows got bored of him and ignored him and he wandered back where he stood by our fence wimpering. He was too heavy and awkward for me to lift over so I put his lead on and tied him up with some water knowing that the husband would be back shortly. My son still refers to it as “The day you tied the dog to the fence because he was naughty.”

  1. Don’t let dogs off the lead around grazing animals
One minute he was right in front of me, the next he was in front of 30 sheep.
One minute he was right in front of me, the next he was in front of 30 sheep.

One day the dog made a run for it while walking through the fields behind our house. I couldn’t see where he had gone but after about 10 minutes I started to hear him barking. I climbed over fence after fence feeling like Bear Grylls on a tracking expedition, until I eventually found him terrorising 30 sheep in the corner of a field. As I went in to grab him the sheep began scraping their hooves. Do sheep have hooves? Was I about to be crushed by a herd of Hampshire Downs? I yelled at them. I yelled at him and dragged him away. This time I had to force myself through a hedge. I had more cuts than the dog.

(To any farmers reading this I now know that sheep worrying is very serious and I am very sorry. It won’t happen again – he is staying on his bloody lead forever)

  1. Don’t slip over and drop the lead while walking past horses

Or the puppy might relish his sudden freedom and start chasing them. Until they get pissed off and turn on him. He is then likely to come running back to Mummy WITH A MASSIVE HORSE CHASING HIM. I backed into the hedge and closed my eyes praying that the horse would do the sensible thing and turn at the last minute. It did. I think I cried a bit afterwards. Husband laughed hysterically.

  1. Worm the puppy regularly, but be prepared because it is VILE

When my husband emotionally blackmailed me into getting a puppy I did not picture collecting his worm infested pooh in a bag whilst heaving. I also did not realise that my husband has a Machiavellian streak that saw him give the dog the first lot of worming tablets a few hours before he left the country. Sneaky bastard.

  1. Know that the dog will decide who is the boss and ignore everyone else
Who needs cushions?
Who needs cushions?

There is nothing more frustrating than the fact that the dog does every single thing that my husband “Norman the dog conqueror” says and nothing that I tell him. This is despite the fact that I took him to training classes, I took up running to give him better exercise, I feed him and I have treats in my pocket permanently. Norman only has to turn his gaze on Mikey and he will do a cartwheel before lying submissively at his feet. It drives me mad.

  1. He loves you more than anything in the world
Not just man's best friend
Not just man’s best friend

In the first year there were definitely more cons than pros to having a puppy. But now that he is two and he has stopped eating furniture and running away the pros have taken over. He is our protector (sleeping on the stairs when my husband is away). He is my son’s best friend and my daughter’s slave. She has nearly as much control over the dog as her Dad.  At two she was telling him to “dit” which he obeyed, and the kids regularly use him as a pillow for watching TV.

We are all healthier thanks to the walks and runs and he is a lesson to all of us in unconditional love. No matter how often we ignore him he is always waiting and grateful for our attention. But if you are planning on getting a puppy be prepared because puppies need a lot of it.

Working parent problems: 10 things that nearly stopped me getting to work today…..

Although I work from home I regularly travel for work. But despite meticulous planning and a lot of (expensive) childcare it doesn’t always go smoothly. Here are just 10 things that nearly stopped me getting to work today:

1) Smallest child refusing to get dressed and screaming “I AM NOT GOING TO NURSERY” approximately 17,000 times then weeing on the floor.

2) Said nursery only being able to have her for part of the day starting at the time I need to be on a train, and the fact that I forgot to book eldest into after school club, means that I must rely on a multi-person drop off and collection schedule with Dad on standby in case of emergency* that requires an excel spreadsheet to track

*this is fine unless he is in another country, which he is, quite a lot.

3) “Safety checks being carried out on the train line near Watford” resulting in lots of cancellations and rendering my careful planning of which train to catch to make my 9am meeting utterly pointless.

4) Dog sitter declining to have dog due to his escape attempt during last visit which saw him chasing her chickens around a field and terrorising baby lambs.

5)  Eldest child trying to negotiate “tablet time” in return for brushing teeth, doing spellings and breathing.

6) Realisation that my work clothes and slumming clothes are one and the same.

7) Kids fighting in the back of the car over who has the freaky pink Magno toy, so violently that youngest almost makes it out of her car seat. I have to stop at the side of the road much to the consternation of the other traffic, and put her back in to her harness. At which point she starts to sob “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO NURSERY” and I feel a small lump form in my throat.

8) New shoes creating crippling blisters after being deceptively comfortable for the first 30 minutes. Pair of liars. I purchased these not-so-attractive-yet-perfectly-adequate work shoes because they looked comfortable. I should have just bought the fabulous ones that looked amazing because they probably would not have hurt any more than the pair of liars.

9) Getting on Underground in wrong direction (effing Circle Line branching off at Paddington…..).

10) Needing a wee desperately but refusing to pay 30p for the privilege which means a frantic search for a toilet near the train station but not in it.

I made it to work in the end, here’s hoping things will go much more smoothly tomorrow……