A link to my MusicPlay posts on Edspire

Last month I was lucky enough to be asked to write two guest posts on my friend Jennie’s blog ‘Edspire’ as part of her #MusicPlay theme. Jennie has a huge readership and has won many awards for her amazing blog so it was a huge honour for me and nerve-wracking to write for a blog where you know people are actually going to see it…! Continue reading

Mile in Memory of Matilda Mae Walk

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If you read my previous post you’ll know that I managed to overcome my fear of driving in time to make it down to Kent for a very special event, the Mile in Memory of Matilda Mae walk. What a beautiful, beautiful day lay before us, in memory of the best of little girls, Matilda Mae who was found in her cot, lost to SIDS on her nine-month birthday, 2nd February this year. We were there to walk for Matilda Mae, for her amazing blogger mummy Jennie (Edspire – read her heartbreaking but beautiful and inspirational blog here), for her twin big-siblings Esther and William, for her Daddy David, and all of this organised in perfect detail by Jennie, to raise money for the fantastic Lullaby Trust (formerly FSID) to help continue their vital work.

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Beautiful Matilda Mae

(Thank you to Helen from Schryver Photography for letting me download her fantastic photos of the day to use here and on facebook. They do so much better justice to the day than mine, although I’ll post a few of mine at the end just for posterity!)

Of all the things I might have been nervous about that day (driving, playing, controlling two tear-away boys with a violin on my back!) the one thing I wasn’t nervous about was meeting Jennie. I was going to meet a woman I tweeted for the very first time the night she lost her baby, after three months of tweets, emails and blog posts… face to face. I suppose I should have been nervous. But I wasn’t. I was excited. Emotional, but excited. And I worried that that was inappropriate, to be so excited to meet someone I know for such a sad reason…

But then I saw her. In bright purple with a floating silver star balloon above her head, a smile on her face and deep brown, deeply sad eyes. Shockingly brown! So that’s where Tilda got them from, I thought as I gave her a squeezy hug, and I knew I was right to be excited, because the longer I know her the more convinced I am we were meant to meet somehow. Anyway, my detours and extra goes around the roundabouts meant I missed the breakfast where I had been meant to first meet Jennie, so a quick hug was all we had time for but I grabbed a quick bacon buttie and the much appreciated free coffee and headed off to the big marquee. I marvelled at the beautiful set up, with hay-bales, balloons, flowers and starting ribbon. Nothing seemed to have been forgotten and the whole thing was perfectly organised from start to finish, with Jennie’s trademark stamp on it. I was disappointed that Gabs flatly refused to enter into the tent as I’d hoped Lucian could join in with the Funtrain class that was going on inside, with puppets, singing and bubbles. But Gabs, despite being a full-on active, slightly bolshy character can be surprisingly wary of new places and groups of large people so instead we ran around outside and went to see the pigs. (23 mth old Lucian mastered a very convincing new snorting noise.)

Bang on 11am we all gathered at the starting post and Jennie cut the ribbon, with David and the twins looking on and we were off, walking for Matilda Mae and The Lullaby Trust.

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It seemed to me that the mood was lighthearted but poignant. People were having fun and enjoying the beautiful route but there was a quiet air, so I knew we were all thinking of Tilda and wondering if she was around us, in the air, in the bluebells, in the sunlight streaking through the gaps in the trees. Her presence was palpable and at times I felt out of place having to yell at Gabs to stop escaping and ploughing ahead through the crowd. (He’s a fully-fledged Houdini and I really struggle to control him at times. Strong-willed doesn’t cover it!) But the walk was really a happy one. Gabs, a really advanced reader for his age (3 and 3/4) loved reading out the questions stuck to the trees and answering them before I could. I felt a bit sorry for Luci stuck in the buggy but he seemed happy enough gazing at all the nature around him. We don’t have too many bluebells or trees for that matter on the Finchley Road. Every twig, every leaf, every breath of fresh air is a novelty for my kids! I resolved to get out into the country with them more often and hope a few more trips down to Jennie are on the cards. In any case, I was really impressed with all the details of how both the Rarebreeds Centre and the Walk were laid out. I will definitely be back with my boys, despite the long drive. The sweetest surprises of the day were the little packets of ‘forget-me-not’ seeds to plant for Matilda Mae, hidden in the trees and sticking out the tree-stumps and Gabs loved to grab them as we passed. I’ve bought little pots to plant them in.

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I thought one mile would seem like a long way but before I was ready for it to be over we were arriving back at the marquee and were greeted with smiles and bubbles to blow for Matilda Mae. Next year I would like to walk 10 miles for Matilda! It was too short and over too soon, but short little legs probably couldn’t have made it any further. 😉

The marquee was filled with soft play when we arrived back and my boys were only too delighted, especially Lucian who leapt out of the buggy. It was my turn to contribute to the day with a bit of violin playing and I was a bit nervous about taking my eyes off the boys as they’re both prone to making a run for it. But the play area was so absorbing and the lady from Jumping Beans was absolutely fantastic at keeping tabs on the boys while I played and encouraging them on the equipment. And she hadn’t even known they were mine and that I couldn’t watch them while I was playing, she just did it! I was really impressed, and sorry to hear they don’t have classes in London. Lucian was particularly obsessed with the slide.

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I was meant to be performing there representing my Classical Babies concerts (I know Jennie through my @classicalbabyco twitter account, not my personal one, which I hardly use, and I follow lots of mum bloggers on it). But standing next to Jennie with her twins staring up at me, alone with no pianist to accompany me, felt intensely personal and and so, so private. Not a business thing. Not even really a professional music thing. Me, a mum and a friend, whose heart is broken by her heartbreak, needing to do something helpful, anything: the only thing I know how to do, really which is play the violin. It’s quite hard to find pieces that work with just violin alone with no other instruments so I felt a little silly at the beginning but was so proud to be able to do something even if it was small. I wasn’t sure how it would go down though and I was so chuffed to see William hovering nearby gawping at me with a look of fascination on his face! Jennie was worried her voice wouldn’t hold out  from the emotion so she made me announce the bubbles to ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and ‘In the Night Garden’. I took this so seriously it makes me smile in hindsight to see the serious look on my face while I was playing one of the simplest tunes you can play, but it meant so much to me to make it beautiful and I knew from the look on Jennie’s face it was an emotional moment. So happy everyone sang!

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Afterwards, I got my little 1/16th and 1/10th size violins out and let any takers have a go. A gorgeous down’s syndrome girl amazed me by being pretty darn keen and coordinated, having watched me quietly and closely for ages. I wish I could have had longer with her. William had a quick go before several older children dove in, some of them more adept than others. Then teeny, quiet Esther popped up for a go and while I was trying to put her hand in the “baby” easy-hold on the shoulders of the violin, she pulled away from me and quite instinctively, naturally put herself in a perfect left-hand hold on the neck! I was taken by surprise because 2 is really a bit young to play properly. I teach 3 year olds and up and that is younger than most teachers will take on but I’d love to see what I could do with her! I think her grandmother was pretty horrified (“Of all the instruments!” 😉 ) but I’m afraid she might have violinist written all over her… Sorreeeeee!

I had to make a run for it out of the tent a couple of times when I lost the boys, and at one point Gabs got miles away from me down the mile-track and fell and cut his lip quite badly. He had a big cry and I caved in and said, “I told you so!” but it didn’t dent his enthusiasm for long. They ran around the field while people picnicked and David and some of the children blew the biggest bubble-kisses I have ever seen to Tilda in the sky. There is no way she could have missed them! The sky was blue in between the clouds and the light hit the bubbles amazingly as they floated up to their recipient, absent guest-of-honour, the one we were all thinking of all day, little miss Matilda Mae. xx

I have to admit, we didn’t stay to see all the animals after, as I was just absolutely shattered and keen to get back through London before rush-hour hit, but we grabbed the ice-creams Gabs had been begging for since breakfast! I felt a pang of guilt as we climbed into the car when Gabs said, “You forgot to take me to the playground!” We had to walk past the most fun looking climbing/swinging/abseiling equipment on the mile and I’d promised to take him back. But really, I think we were all a bit pooped and sure enough two minutes after setting off both boys were snoring like miniature versions of their Daddy, in the back. What a wonderful day we had for a wonderful family and the most worthwhile cause. I drove home (somewhat badly!) feeling contented that I had finally met someone I feel such a promising bond with and that we had honoured Matilda Mae well and she would be smiling her cheeky, beautiful smile down on us from her place in the Universe. At 4:30pm I parallel parked like a pro’ outside my flat and smiled back at my sleeping boys, feeling a little emotionally and physically exhausted… and so, so lucky.

Baby no. 2 is nearly two! The Cycle of Life.

Yesterday, Lucian was playing in between the bookcases and something in my memory jolted and I rushed for the camera. I didn’t even realise until I went back to check but life has a funny way of repeating itself!

This is Spring 2013, Lucian aged 22 months.ImageAnd this one is Spring 2011, Gabriel aged 19 months.

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You can see why I leapt for the camera! I didn’t set it up at all, but they both happened to play in the same place (Lucian had never gone between the bookcases before) at roughly the same age, both in March wearing the same jumper! 

Gabriel was only 19 months here but had trainers on, whereas Lucian is 22 months but no trainers. Who will be the tallest? It’s anyone’s guess! This cheered me up after a few days of non-stop migraines and a humiliating episode in a café in Central London where both boys shrieked, cried and generally showed me up as a useless mother who can’t control her children at all and ended in me calling my husband in tears to come and pick us up!

It started well enough:

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We had been out for the day, following the same routine as we always do: A walk from our flat at Finchley Rd to Regent’s Park with them in the buggy, let them out to play in the playground and then walk to BASE bistro on Baker St. for milkshakes. I did everything the same as usual, I just didn’t see it coming! Although I had some sense that the boys were bigger and more demanding and active and I had planned for a change to grab a sandwich and juice from Pret A Manger next door and take it to the park but it being Easter Weekend, the place was jam-packed so we ended up in our usual restaurant, unusually crowded with hushed adults having a grown-up lunch. At least they were: then along came the Azoitei boys! It started with Lucian shrieking for food and knocking everything on the table onto the floor, the fish and chips taking ages to arrive, Gabs crying about God knows what and then getting his leg stuck in the buggy and crying as loudly as he could while Lucian escaped and ran off towards the steep staircase while I freed his brother. They had food, drinks, clean bums, crayons and paper and still they made such a fuss! I left in tears, vowing NEVER to go anywhere with the two of them ever again.

Why did this happen?? We live in London, I’ve been a mum of two for nearly two years, Gabs is usually fantastic in public places, so grown up. What the hell went wrong?! I realised on the way home in the car: We’re starting a new phase.

Gabs is turning four this summer and already very excited to learn what school he will be going to. All his mental energy is gearing up for it, he talks about it all the time. And for some reason, this transition has made him really disobedient lately, he’s really testing my boundaries.

Lucian is very nearly two and has just started morphing from an easy-peasy second baby into a strong-willed, noisy, head-strong toddler who is starting to challenge his brother’s place as the “Biggest Personality In The Room”!!

My babies are gone!! I have big boys now. And if I thought I knew what the hell I was doing with two children… well, I was wrong. All these memories of Gabs going through this toddler-twos are coming flooding back: The backbreaking physicality of wrestling clothes on and off them, the stress, the fear of judgement in public, the hard stares and tuts in cafés from people who are under the illusion that it’s at ALL possible to make a frustrated two year old who can’t communicate in many words or any sentences at all, stop shrieking.. people who’ve never had children, people who are yet to have them, people who have forgotten what it’s like to have children and people who should just plain know better… People who are blissfully ignorant that one can’t negotiate with a toddler terrorist and that mum is doing her goddam best and just can’t stay in the flat all day for another day this cold, cold, snowy Spring. I suddenly remembered all the times I left bookshops, supermarkets and coffee shops in tears, wondering when the impossibe-to-predict or plan for, shrieking-in-public-when-you’ve-just-paid-for-food-you-really-need-to-eat-but-can’t-enjoy episodes will end, with Gabs.

And that was just ONE child!

Now there are two of them and just when I thought Gabs was maturing beautifully and such a great little man in public, he gets riled by his brother’s attempts to upstage him and back we go… Regression time! It’s like having twins, with Luci trying to throw his weight around and be the bigger boy and Gabs wailing like a baby. Aaaaaaaarggggh!!!!

But you know what? I accept your challenge, you little monkeys. A New Phase is coming and Mummy will up her game. It took me a weekend, but I finally got with the programme. I don’t have a toddler and a baby any more. I have two big, gorgeous, funny but physically demanding boys and I WILL keep up with you!

This summer, Remus and I are having our large but very worn and shabby flat completely repainted and recarpeted. After six years and two children I can’t explain to you how badly this is needed. We will have a huge declutter. The cot will go down, the pram will be sold, the ball-pool under the bed given away and the boys’ room completely redesigned. I’m going to give them a fantastic place to sleep, read and play. The double bed that takes up the whole floor, which Gabs shares with Daddy, and the cot which Luci has never really slept in (but has fallen out of many times) will go and be replaced by two matching, wooden single beds. They slept in these in a Cornish cottage we rented at Christmas and both loved them. I hope to find something similar:ImageImage

They’ll have much more floor space to play then and I want to get rid of all their baby toys and rubbish bits and bobs and get them some more advanced toys, and this IKEA system to organise all their cars and trains and toys:

ImageSo, once the flat is done, and Gabs is off to school, my next plan is to take Classical Babies to the next level, with more staff and more venues and more little baby string instruments!  I’m not sure how that will work with a demanding toddler around but that’s a plan for another day.

And so begins a new life cycle for Coco and Co.!

Classical Babies turns 3!

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So this Friday 15th March was the 3rd anniversary of the very first Classical Babies concert for mums, dads and babies!!

3 years since the very first concert, at the same venue, also by a string quartet, also with me playing, on Friday 19th March 2010, when Gabs was just 8 months old and I dragged him along with my mum and dad!

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3 years and one month since THIS very, very first Classical Babies free tester concert in my living room for five of my NCT friends and their babies! 23422_10150096825175457_8182611_n

So much has changed since then, not least the fact that I no longer run Classical Babies with Estela, my friend whose fabulous idea these concerts were – that’s a (rather complicated) topic for another blog post. We started doing monthly concerts at the O2 Centre, with audiences climbing quickly to 50, 60+ mums and babies a month, moved to weekly in Belsize Park (something I later slightly regretted, and now I’m back at the O2 Centre it’s still my favourite venue!).

In 2011, Estela and I welcomed the wonderful pianist, chamber-musician, music-blogger and teacher Nadine André  as a franchisee, running a new monthly venue down in Teddington and later Kingswood too. Now we have venues all over and soon to be far more widespread… Essex and Kent coming soon, amongst others. Watch this space!!

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In 2011, my second little boy Lucian was born, two weeks early (again, a future blog-post!) and I really struggled with running the concerts and the sheer amount of work needed to keep my end of the partnership. After a horrible, horrible Christmas, Estela struggling with a divorce and me with a small baby and toddler, I discovered a copy-cat (literally, Facebook-page likes in the same order and all!) had sprung up and was beating us to the punch at our precious, precious business-baby! I came to the almost impossible impasse of deciding whether to jack the whole thing in, or bite the bullet, take the business on on my own at whatever personal cost and really try to build something that could compete. I will cover this topic more fully another time, and it feels like a huge risk even to mention it here. Estela meant the world to me as a friend, I risk upsetting her if she ever reads this as I know she saw the whole situation differently, and for me to affect another person’s life in such a big way was majorly traumatic for me. It also cost me my health, lost time with my little boys, especially Lucian when he was very small, and a fair amount of money!

BUT… this is where I’m at as I look back on the last year and the last three. I wouldn’t change any of it! I haven’t come as far on my own in one year as I thought I would or should, I haven’t failed on my own like I feared I would. And I’m really, really proud of what I’ve done in making Classical Babies my own. There’s LOADS of room for growth and improvement and change and learning. But the boys are bigger and need less of my every waking hour now, I’m coming out of the tunnel of shock of being swamped by running a business – which has enough work for three people at least – alone, with two small kids on my head and I can see a bright, bright future ahead!

I’m so sorry for the casualties along the way – Lucian, my little Lucian, I’m so, so sorry I was such a poor Mummy to you in your first six months or more, I wish I had enjoyed you more and I’m so sorry for how much I shouted at Gabs when I was overwhelmed; Estela and a friendship if not lost, altered forever; my husband’s bank balance! But I’m not sorry I took it on. At the start of Classical Babies’ fourth year, I’m more passionate than ever about creating access to classical music for mums and babies, and mums and babies who don’t even know they like it, or that they are allowed to like it, and all those little ones who don’t know how musical they can be given a chance!!! And I can’t wait to see what comes….

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Welcome to my blog!

I’m a blogger! I haven’t quite honed the design of my blog yet, got lots of playing with colours to do, but I’m here!

I’m Coco, wife of Remus Azoitei (Romanian concert violinist, violin professor at Royal Academy of Music, Renault 12 enthusiast and generally awesome husband and Daddy) – mummy of two small boys, Gabriel (3) and Lucian (1), violinist & teacher, entreprenuer, and acting student. I love my family more than the Earth, I love music, I’m passionate about bringing classical music to babies and normalising classical music in general. I love Italy, champagne, flowers, babies & children, all things lovely and I’ll be writing about all these things at some point no doubt… plus life, death and the universe.

There’s a sad but beautiful story behind my new blog. A month ago, the mum-blogger community on twitter (of which I was a part as a mumprenuer @classicalbabyco) was rocked by the sudden shock of baby loss. The beautiful 9 month old daughter of Jennie Henley (@Edspire) died suddenly in her cot one night from SIDS. We were all stunned by her loss and became more and more involved as she turned to twitter for company and support the night after Matilda Mae was found sleeping, pouring out her grief in searingly honest detail. A few of us stayed up long into the night that first 24 hours after, as she tweeted from a dark, quiet house with husband and twins sleeping. I remember holding myself awake until gone 2am, long after her twitter feed fell silent, unable to bear the thought of her tweeting something and finding herself alone. Over the following days and weeks something strange happened. A new #Matilda Mae community sprung-up on social media, rallying around a grieving mother in her darkest time, sending love, answering her cries with our own esoteric answers, responding to Jennie’s tweets and blog posts with comforting words, ideas for the funeral service, music, ways of remembering Tilda and over the month we all came to be in awe of this woman. Even in the darkest times she managed to make everything around her beautiful. The beauty of her memorials for her daughter, the things she wrote, her thoughts for others, her ideas for the twins to honour Matilda’s memory: everything sparkled around her. She really is the most beautiful person! And we all came to love her and think of her as a real friend.

I’ve spent so much time online this month, talking to her, writing to her and to other bloggers about her. I want to write more and need a place to do that. So here it is. So, I have Jennie to thank for this blog. She even came up with the name: Coco&Co! This blog will be my own place to make beautiful. (Just another small part of Matilda Mae Henley’s immense, ongoing legacy). I hope you like it…. xx