Talking with my children about the Greek debt crisis

With the Greek debt crisis constantly in the news, it should not have come as a surprise when a couple of days ago my daughter asked Mum, why is Greece in the news again and why are the banks closed?

I tend to explain things to my children in a straightforward and direct manner. I prefer to have age-appropriate conversations using facts than sugar-coat the real issues. I have been brave enough to hold conversations with them about growing up, death, domestic violence, terrorism, war and other global issues. Some of them are personal (death) and have triggered lots of questions. Others (such as war and terrorism) are serious and have made us discuss and research relevant topics. But war and terrorism is not really close to home.

With close family in Greece and a six week holiday in Corfu just a few days away, I struggled to find the right words. Indirectly, the Greek crisis is relevant to them as well. It affects some of their family and their friends. It will certainly has an impact on their holiday. As they interact with the locals, they will overhear people talking about their own experience of the crisis. Some people are angry and bitter. Others suffer quietly. A few have heart breaking stories to tell. Hospitals can hardly respond to the demand for healthcare. Living in uncertainty for so long, with little prospect for a brighter future takes its toll to anyone. Inevitably, children have become well aware of the difficulties that their families face.

One thing is for sure. This time around my children are going to finally realise that Greece is in trouble.

So when asked, I felt that it was my responsibility to explain what is going on, without instilling any fear or uncertainty. Surely, a little bit of sugar-coating would not do any harm, would it?

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It turns out that explaining the Greek financial crisis to two children who have been unaware of it for so long and are raised in the UK can be quite a challenge. How could I possibly explain such a complex issue to a 7 and a 10 year old, while I am struggling to make sense of it all for myself?

So I decided that there was no point in getting into any details. The bare facts would do.

I did not discuss the referendum or how Greece got to such a mess nor about the country’s continuously failing and at times corrupt leadership. I certainly did not have to talk about attitudes, failed policies, European politics, chaotic financial networks. Nor the role of banks as an institution in modern economies or the responsibilities of every single citizen.

Greece is currently a poor country and requires help from other countries, I said. It is in the news because leaders of most of the European countries are trying to help. The thing is, that nobody knows what the best way to help Greece is. I think even the Greek leaders do not know how to help their country and the people.  Greeks are confused as they cannot agree on what needs to change to make their country stronger. Understandably, they are a bit worried right now and unfortunately there is no much money left in the banks. So they had to close and the government only allows people to withdraw up to 60 euros a day. This is about 40 pounds.

My son was relieved. Phew, 60 euros is a lot of money. I thought they were only allowed 1 or 2 euros a day.

My daughter though was more concerned. Are granny and grandpa going to be ok?

Yes, I said. They are fit and healthy and are looking forward to spending the summer holidays with you. She remained visibly concerned, but did not ask any further questions.

And so in the midst of yet another financial crisis, I felt that I had to compromise the truth to make sure that I did not cause unnecessary anxiety.

But having followed the never ending saga of this modern Greek drama for the last five years, I am beginning to think that after all my simplistic explanation may not be quite that far from the truth.

What makes a good friend?

A cloudy and dark December morning, I got the train to the north of the country.  I was going to meet a group of good friends for a surprise birthday party celebration. We had been planning this excitedly for a few weeks, plotting all the finer details to make sure that the unsuspected birthday girl would not find out about her very special birthday present – a weekend gathering in a cottage away from our children, husbands and household chores.

It was going to be a relaxing and fun break, chatting and joking and not getting any sleep. And it was just that and even better. A typical ladies’ get-together – old friends living in different parts of the country meeting to have a good time, catch up and connect.

Except I had never met with any of them before.

Our friendship originated and flourished online in a closed facebook group. There are currently a few hundred members and our little group has grown into a lovely space for mums to talk and connect. Inevitably through our posts, comments and attitudes several virtual friendships have been created.

Virtual friendships are not new. They existed well before facebook was even conceived. Chat rooms and computer simulated worlds provided the first spaces to bring people from around the world together. In their initial conceptions, virtual worlds were text based with no or limited visual content. Inevitably, they were not particularly user friendly or engaging. But with technology geared towards making them user friendly and intuitive, they have now become part of the pop culture. Thank goodness for this!

With the demands of modern life, the internet has probably become the best place for mums to make friends. As our lives become busier and our family commitments are increasing, facebook and other social media platforms are filling in a gap, providing safe places for us to engage and get to know each other with the click of a button.

We are no longer restricted by geography or luck or job or social environment to meet people. Virtual spaces are full of smart, interesting, amazing human beings. And we are simply in charge of getting to know these people, engage and connect with them in safe non-threatening spaces. How wonderful is that? Technology allow us to meet people with similar interests and sense of humour; people who share our concerns; people who may be in a very similar situation or may experience similar hardships so that their words can resonate with us.

Humans may be designed to be able to only maintain a limited number of friends as stated by Dunbar’s number. But we are fortunate enough to live in a point of time where we can truly choose those friends.

It is a concept that the older generation may be struggling with. Especially as it seems like that this kind of connection only makes it to the news in connection with criminal investigations. Puzzled by my facebook friendships my mum asked me the other day, “Can we really develop deep and meaningful connections with people we have never met?” This is just a great question. After all what does it really mean to be “friends” with someone? Is it time for us to reconsider what makes a good friend?

The Internet has certainly provided ample opportunities for me to connect with people either professionally or personally.  Are these connections meaningful?

When I saw the girls at the train station for the first time, I instantly knew that it was them. We did not have to introduce ourselves and there were no awkward moments. We hugged and start talking like we have been known each other for a long time. Which we certainly have.

Do you have virtual friends? I’d love to hear your stories xx

Little pony

My daughter was given a family of little ponies for Christmas. One of the ponies has been adopted by my nearly seven year old son. These last couple of days this pink toy has become his favourite. He appropriately named her Pinx and has learnt to comb her mane, make plaits and use hair clips and bands.

It is a matter of time before poor Pinx ends up at the bottom of his toy box and he shifts all his attention to his legos, superheroes, cars and dinosaurs. But for the time being, he is simply enjoying playing with his little pink pony. Isn’t it sweet?

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It is all Greek to me

Recently, I fear I sound a lot like Mr Portokalos, the eccentric Greek patriarch in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Mr Portokalos, a Greek immigrant in the USA, being very proud of his heritage, does not only believe that Greece provided the foundations of Western culture, but never misses an opportunity to prove the point.

“Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek” is his motto.

Indeed, he has the unique ability to create connections and eventually link any English word to a similarly sounding Greek word.  His line of reasoning occasionally makes for truly hilarious instances.

The last few months, as my children are becoming curious about the new words they encounter, I hear Mr Portokalos in my head, as I say:

“Oh this is a Greek word”

“Did you know that the origin of this word is Greek?” 

“This comes from the Greek word…”

Only this weekend, we came across the following: hypothesis, thesaurus, octopus, airplane, planet, astronomy, telescope, paragraph, apostrophe, synonym. Not to mention all the mathematical terminology or physics vocabulary I use in my work.

So the phrase (another English word originating from Greek) “it is all Greek to me” can have a literal meaning to me.

In English, it means “I can’t understand it at all”. But do you know what the equivalent Greek phrase is? “It is all Chinese to me”.

I wonder what the Chinese say.

Office under the stairs

I love my home office. It is definitely one of my favourite corners in the house. It is a small space under the stairs, but big enough to fit my desk and office furniture.

In the past I have worked:

  • from the spare bedroom but I felt isolated and disconnected – going upstairs and working from a small room next to our bedroom did not feel quite right. Besides working from home can make you feel isolated and a little bit lonely at times. Hiding in a spare room would only add to that feeling. Or it certainly did for me.
  • from a desk in my bedroom but it did not really feel like a home office but more like a teenager’s desk
  • from the kitchen table but I did not have any space to keep my stuff (paper work, files, resources and props), not to mention the inconvenience of having to clear the table before the children came back from school and then lay everything back again in the evening.

So my current work area is most definitely the best office I ever had. If you want to have a look, here it is.

It is quite versatile and I love that it is easy to keep it tidy. I keep changing the decor and colour scheme, so I never get bored of it. But I cannot do without my hand-cream and my red radio tuned either on Radio 2 or 4.

So what about you? Where in the house is your office? I’d love to hear your thoughts :)

Taking a break from my children

I am sitting idly at my desk. There is an air of tranquillity, a feeling of absence of “something is not quite right” at the house. There is an order everywhere I look, coupled with an unusual serenity.

Everything on today’s to-do-list is ticked off. Dinner is ready, tomorrow’s lunch already prepared. The house is sparkling clean. It is only 2:00 pm and I have nothing else to do.

So I get on my bike and off I go for yet another long ride.

This is how the next four weeks will roll out. Working in the morning and having plenty of free time for the rest of the day. Absolute freedom is the theme of the next few weeks. FREEDOM.

Is this a dream? Can a mother of primary school age children ever have any serious free time not to mention freedom?

The answer is simple – I am currently taking some time off from my children. They are enrolled in a Summer Camp in Corfu apparently having an amazing time, while I am here experiencing some sort of “empty-nest-syndrome”.

Empty-nest syndrome is the name of the transitional period, when children leave the parental home for good to live independent lives – study, marry, travel or just move in to a new home. This change can unsettle the parents and the feelings of loss and sadness or just the process of adjusting to the new circumstance fall into the definition of the syndrome.

I have been looking forward to this time since Easter. But changing overnight from running a busy household and a business to absolute freedom and having to manage tons of free time is quite a shock to me.

Summers are quiet periods work-wise. So by noon the day’s work is done. I then have half a day for myself. It may be every parent’s dream to have a few weeks of peace and quite, but I am struggling.

Indeed having nothing to do troubles me. I hate being bored and am always looking for things to do. Raising two primary school-age children provides ample opportunities for me to keep busy. Take the children out of the equation and my world collapses in more ways that one.

Even though I have been planning my summer time for months in advance – meeting friends, increasing my exercise regime, trying a new sport, learning something new, having weekend breaks with my partner – my free time feels unlimited.

So here I am, child-free for four weeks, restless with the need to fill my day. Normally, housework takes much of my energy and time, so I naturally look around our pristine house and realise that there nothing for me to do. Parenting takes so much of my time, my energy and mental capacity, that now that I am on a break, I have trouble adjusting.

I need to slow down and switch off, but this is a long process and by the time I have managed this the kids are back.

This is the third summer in a row that the children are off for four weeks. Every time brings me face to face with a reality I am occasionally struggling to accept – Every single aspect of my life is structured around the children. I fit my work, leisure, socialising around their needs and schedule. So it should not come as a surprise that settling into a new child-free routine is such hard work.

While I look forward to my annual four week break, however many plans I have made, the transition is always tricky if not unsettling. Frankly, doing whatever I feel like doing without having to think about the logistics of looking after the children is alien to me.

Do not get me wrong. My summer break from the kids means a lot to me. It gives me the space and time to reconnect with myself, take care of myself, refuel, try new activities. Last summer I enrolled in an intensive 3-week long professional training course. Not only did I enjoy the process, but the course gave a huge boost to my career. One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t have done this with the kids around.

This year’s wish list includes among other things a swim in the sea, as well as trying a new sport. It is a much simpler but quite challenging endevour.

After four weeks, I welcome the destruction, unpredictability, mess and exhaustion that the return of my children brings. But soon I will be looking back to my summer break and all the freedom that it affords me and, I dare say, I could not wait for the next one.

How is it for you? Would you take a break from your children?

How do I keep my children off the “summer slide”?

With the Summer holiday break fast approaching, you may already have heard of the “Summer Slide”, a term that is used to describe the loss of learning over the six week school break.

Following the end of a demanding school year, children need a break and will probably resist any attempt to be engaged in traditional academic work. Fortunately, learning for academic success does not neccessarily require textbooks and vigorous study.

So what’s the alternative? How do we make sure that our children are provided with opportunities to boost their brain power, while at the same time take a hard-earned break from conventional academic work?

Here are my five simple but effective strategies published on The Talented Ladies Club website.

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