I am telling Lorenzo a story, and León is paying attention too: it is about one of the ginger cats in the house we’re staying in. Her name is Luna, and in a previous life, several years ago, she was my kitten.
We are in Acassuso, in the greater Buenos Aires province, in the house where I lived in for two and a half years while in Argentina. This is the house where Nacho and I first moved in together after a year and a half of long-distance relationship across South America, covering elections and political upheaval.
This is where we decided to get married, where we had kittens, grew butternut squash and cherry tomatoes, wrote kids stories and did a lot of journalism. This is the house from which we decided to uproot ourselves. And this is where we are staying with our two kids now, years later, where they are experiencing what it feels like to have a big family through uncles and aunties. (Nacho is the youngest of seven… think 15 first cousins for our little ones!)
Lion was Nacho’s cat. He was ginger, and came from the countryside. He loved to sit on my lap when I was typing — I was a very enthusiastic freelance journalist with gigs in different continents. At night, Lion would roam the streets of Acassuso and would always wait for us by the house door when we arrived home at night, loyal, like a dog.
He came from the province of Córdoba, some eight hours north of Buenos Aires, and had decided to sit inside of Nacho’s bag once when Nacho was visiting a friend in the countryside. Nacho decided to keep him and took him in his bag on a long bus ride back to the big city. Lion adapted quickly to life in the city, living in apartments and gaining weight.
When I moved to Argentina, the cat adjusted again to life in a house, in a leafy neighbourhood of one-floor houses with gardens.
One summer, we travelled back to the province of Córdoba in central Argentina, where we discovered that Lion’s brother had had many kittens with several cats from the area. Think of more than a dozen cute ginger kittens that Nacho’s friends’ neighbours were more than ready to give away. It was irresistible. We decided to take two home. We named them Luna and Mitty. They were Lion’s niece and nephew, and we introduced them.
Lion was initially sceptical of the newcomers. But soon he became a less lethargic cat and showed the kitties all his tricks. How to scratch the bedroom door in the morning to ask for food. How to climb up the yucca tree in the back garden in order to get onto the roof and then onto the house front. How to lick the inside of egg shells whenever we were prepping something.
“Where was I, mamma?” Lorenzo interrupts my story.
“You weren’t born yet, Lorenzo.”
“But where was I? Was I in the stars? Did I know you already?”
Lorenzo has recently become a big fan of The Lion King. I have read plenty about why that story is traumatic and I myself am not too much into it either. In the story, the King Mufasa tells his young cub and heir Simba that all of their ancestors are looking at them from the stars. So I know that he associates the stars with dying — he has spoken at great length with Nacho about death.
But I did not realise that Lorenzo also thought that before being born, he was also a star.
This house in Argentina is the closest Lorenzo will be to his star-like state, the time before he was born, the time he was in embryo form in our minds. When he was a remote possibility, a deep wish.
Before Lorenzo, there were our kittens. When Luna and Mitty arrived, all I did was take pictures of them and monitor what they did. Mitty got awfully sick when he was only one year old and died. By the time we decided to leave the house, only Lion and Luna were left. One of my brothers-in-law moved into the house and inherited our cats.
And one day Lion died. It was a dark afternoon in fall, and I was far away when I got the news, in Denmark for work. It was gloomy and cold. I cried.
“Is León named after Lion?” asks a friend I have not seen in years, a friend who had spent some time in our Acassuso house. It had never occurred to me that León and Lion are, in fact, the same name, but in different languages.
“Shall we call León Simba?“ I ask Lorenzo.
“León is not a lion, mamma.”
Yes. He is not a lion, nor a cat. But something about this house confuses all the temporal and physical planes — as if Lorenzo and León were indeed stars at some point and crossed paths with Lion before becoming part of our family, as if Luna were still our kitty, as if Argentina were still our home.
But it is not, and Lorenzo sees it very clearly for a four year old.
“When we leave Argentina, I will miss it. But when I am here, I miss Greece.”
The other day, on the phone to my parents — who are the boys’ only living grandparents and live in Naples, Italy — Lorenzo said that he wanted to get on an aeroplane, and fly to pick them up, and then go on to Argentina, to pick up all his friends and family, and bring them all to Greece, so that we could all be under one roof, all the people he loves.
I have often fantasised about the same idea over the years. My family and friends are spread around the world, and I guess that we are spread around the world too, especially for many of our childhood friends. Buenos Aires is the closest I have to a sense of normality, of family, of stability. But that was in another life. One that we did not stick to.
I am in an Uber, the radio going into the latest economic manoeuvres of this country where the inflation is at 100% this year. I am heading to a work meeting in downtown Buenos Aires, travelling alone with León. It is the first time I am back in Argentina in three years, since before the pandemic, only this time with my second baby in tow. This is the city that I always lusted after as a foreign correspondent in the region, the one that I thought I would never be able to move to, because it was hard to get a position here.
Then I met Nacho, who is from Argentina, and I eventually moved here — to the house with the kittens, the house we left behind and are now staying at for our holidays.
The reason why I am writing this today is to reflect on life across borders as a mother of two, and how priorities change (or should change?!) to take care of your kids.
Lorenzo has just spent several weeks over the Easter break playing with his many cousins, uncles, aunts and friends here. He has been extremely excited and happy, and cooperative all these weeks. No meltdowns, no unreasonable behaviour. Was it because we were happy and he was feeding off that? Was it because he felt contained by a larger net of people?
He even started telling Nacho that he expects to live here in Argentina when he grows up — and that he expects to visit us far away. Did we open the doors to his lack of geographical belonging? Did we infect him with our constant existential doubt about where exactly we should call home?
We have weekly conversations about this with Nacho. We always have, for as far as I can remember in our relationship, come up with schemes to keep travelling and wondered where we would end up long-term. Friends warned us that this high nomadic frequency would come to an abrupt stop when we ended up becoming parents. But it didn’t. Whilst we have been living in Greece for almost three years now, and have enrolled Lorenzo into a school nearby, we still ask ourselves why we are here, instead of Buenos Aires.
I left my home town of Naples when I was 17 to study abroad, and then one thing led to another. I spent a year as an exchange student in Germany, then moved to Chile and became a journalist, went to study in Montreal, Canada, then to London, where I freelanced at the BBC World Service radio. That led to pursuing my career as a foreign correspondent, back in Latin America.
I was based in Ecuador, Venezuela, and finally, the dream posting, as it were: Argentina, and that house with the yucca tree and the ginger cat climbing the roof, waiting for us when we got in from a night out, those hot summer Argentine nights. But during a three-week road trip in Cuba in 2016, when we were mostly offline, disconnected from the world, without internet (which was not easy to get on the island at the time), we decided we should move to Europe and be nomads for a while.
When Covid-19 hit and caught us homeless — it was messy. And this is how we ended up in Greece, having driven east to meet a friend who was spending the summer here and then left.
We decided to stay on. We have finally made new friends, connected to older ones, but we are still a little isolated — albeit of our own choosing. After a life of travel, our friends made their own choices too, and are spread around the world. Buenos Aires is truly our only geographic hub when it comes to love and relationships.
If you have a similar story, I’d love to hear it summed up in a nutshell. Who were you when your children, if you have them, were stars? Or did you move to take care of other family matters? What choices did you make after? Please share below this story.
What I’ve been reading
We’ve all heard the yarn about a mother being asked if she is her child’s nanny, judged on her appearance and not permitted the imagination that we live in a globalised world. It’s one thought which comes to mind when I see some of the photographs from a (now closed) art exhibition about mixed-race children in Hong Kong. South Korean Kim Jee-yun, the photographer behind this series called “m<other>”, was inspired by her own experiences of having mixed-race children. Initially, her work focused on the visible differences between mother and child, such as skin and hair colour, but then she tried to represent issues of identity and self-representation, especially with older children.
What I’ve been listening to
A recent survey of mothers who had given birth in Californian hospitals, and who self-identified as Latina, showed that they were more likely to formally complain about being treated differently because they were Spanish-speaking. This short radio report on NPR looks at how important it is in a birthing woman’s experience to be seen by health care providers who share her primary language. Scott Tong talks with STAT’s Ambar Castillo, who wrote on the topic here — and discusses how this issue affects groups such as Afro-Latinas too.
Who’s been keeping it real this week
This tweet is a quick snappy reaction to Kate Middleton’s chosen royal engagement with children’s causes, which I wrote about here. “Fun fact: That engagement ring she’s wearing would keep this charity going for nearly six years.” Ouch.
What members have been saying
Last week I wrote about fragments and quoted U.S. author Ursula K Le Guin, who wrote: “Babies eat manuscripts. The poem not written because the baby cried, the novel put aside because of a pregnancy, and so on.” Simona, a member of The First 1,000 Days community, sent a sweet message: “This newsletter of yours made me smile (‘Babies eat manuscripts’) and feel less alone (freelance graphic designer with a 10-month-old and a 3-year-old, in France, far from our families). Thank you for what you do, and for helping to give me the strength to hope for a more just society for our children.” Thank you for making me feel less alone too, Simona.
With love and care,
📣 This week, The First 1,000 Days was edited by community member and friend, Nabeelah Shabbir, from Amsterdam.
📸 Photo credits and alt-text: Hester Qiang on Unsplash…