Thanks, July, you were a cracker..

I had every intention of regularly updating this blog through the summer, chronicling these long hot days and planning things to keep the boredom away but so far the summer is flying past and I have barely had time to pop on and keep up with blogs I follow, much less post anything of substance.  Work is not incredibly busy but I am full time until the end of October so busy or not I am in the office, putting in the time.  H also works a lot in the summer and when he has a job on he is out from dawn until after the kids go to bed.  We all notice his absence hugely, I am sure I have mentioned this more than once but he really does keep everything going, always.  The three of us alone, we cope for about 5 days and then after that it all slowly starts crumbling.  I find it so hard to keep up with the house and the kids and work on my own and it really stresses me out.  Seeing as more than ever this year one of our main aims is to keep life as stress free as possible he is trying to keep the jobs short but it is not always possible – when you are freelance and working in a seasonal industry you need to grab the work while it is going.  Having said all that, we are having a blast.  I think we are.  The kids are at home when H has no work on but they have had a couple of weeks of summer school (more like day camp than school).  Loads of their friends go, they play games, swim and seem to have a load of fun at the time BUT although they went last year and had a blast this year they have been more reluctant.  Maybe  because it was a bit old hat, maybe it just wasn’t as fun, but they moaned and moaned each morning as if we were sending them off to a 9-5 job rather than splash and play fun.  Actually I think at least partly they have just been really tired and like any sane person were not really feeling like happy clappy jumpy excitement at 0900 in the morning.  I feel you kids, I feel you.  BUT life is real. We need to work, you need to go to childcare, your life could be a million times worse.  I know more than a few kids who spend their summer being looked after in stuffy apartments by elderly grandparents.  In contrast kids, is it really so bad? IS IT?Let’s reflect, and consider:

*quick note:  The fact that it has taken me several hours just to download, rotate, rename and edit the photos from the last month or so should give an idea of how much we have been up to.  And that I evidently take FAR too many photos, obviously.

There was a lot going on in July.  Apart from various excursions around our home island and outings with friends we had several trips away.  One of my sisters lives in Singapore; luckily she gets work trips back at least once a year and we went to visit them the Christmas before last so we haven’t gone too long without seeing each other but when she lived in London we saw each other every few months and I never, EVER, stop missing her. So with 2 weekends free between her work obligations I made a very un-‘me’  decision to go to London to see her, just the two of us, for a couple of nights.

 

Yeah, ok, the pics are fairly unremarkable.  In my defense I was far too busy walking and chatting and hanging out to take too many pictures.  And I already have more pictures of London than anyone really needs.  But you get the idea. I was there.  It’s London, you know what it looks like.  No cute snaps of photogenic kids this time so, moving on…

The following weekend I went back with the kids to see my parents, also in the UK, and to catch my sister again on her last weekend before she went home.  The timing of my sister’s trip landed quite fabulously on my mum’s 60something birthday so we organised it so she could have all 3 of her girls, and 2 of her grandkids, with her to celebrate.  It was so special; the last time we were all together was 2014, so although it was a little extravagant to have 2 trips to London 2 weekends in a row, I TOTALLY justified it to myself.  And anyone who would listen long enough.   Repeatedly.

We got back from the visit to my parents a day or two before one of my very best friends arrived with her family to stay with us for the week.  The weekend after they left was H’s 40th birthday which we celebrated with family and friends on the beach until late.  It was absolutely perfect, he didn’t stop smiling all night..

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and then – I sprang a surprise holiday on H and the boys – we left for the north of spain the wednesday after the party.  He was very surprised, as were the kids.  I was more than a little proud of myself for sorting it all AND sitting on the secret for weeks and weeks.  For years we have talked about travelling around our home country more but usually all of our holiday time and budget is taken up visiting family and friends in the UK.  Yet there is so much we want to see and we really, more than ever, want to start making little spaces in time for the four of us to get out and explore together, just us.  Summer is brutally hot here and a perfect time to visit the much cooler, greener north.  Last year we celebrated 10 years of marriage and we always thought we would do something special to celebrate.  As it turned out I had to do chemo and radiotherapy instead.  Them’s the breaks.  But now I am fine! and H was turning 40! The stars were aligned.  It was absolutely fabulous and worth it a million times over.  I think this will deserve its own post.. watch this space.

And in the little moments in between all the other madness:

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sudsy
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water play for the kids.  our village is amazing.
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foam party..
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hair cuts!

I feel knackered just thinking we did all of that! It has been such a busy month but so full of family and friends and laughter and joy and love.  We spent a lot of money doing it all, not particularly money we have to spare.  Usually I am very sensible and cautious and all those other adjectives that can also be translated as BORING but which help us to stay on the straight and narrow and (mortgage aside) largely debt free.   It can be stressful juggling our accounts especially with the very unpredictable nature of H’s work and the total lack of work for at least 3 months of the year.  So I don’t spend money on big things very lightly.  But one of the things my experience of the last year (tl;dr: cancer) has taught me.. (and YES personally I feel it has taught me a shitload; not a universally popular opinion but it is mine and is genuinely how I feel) is the impermanence of things.  Not like I didn’t know it before.  But now that concept is really REAL to me.   I am hyper aware of the uncertainty of tomorrow.  Maybe that fades over time, but in a way I kind of hope not.  Because I truly think it is a blessing to actually really feel like all we have is the here and now.  Of course I plan and hope and dream for a long future.  But I want to live NOW.  The old me probably would have decided to do only one of those trips to the UK.  But my sister lives so far away, I see her so little, in the scheme of things what is a few hundred quid to spend a weekend alone together?   My parents won’t be here forever, what cost is it really to let them have all three of their daughters together for a day or two?  I don’t think we can remotely understand how nice it is for my parents to have us three all in the same place.  Even being a parent I can only imagine the silence and emptiness when my kids eventually leave home and the joy to see them when they return.  And even then it is only something I can imagine in relation to my own kids, I find it hard to actually connect that with how my parents feel about me.  But they do.  My mum cries for days after we leave, and this birthday, as it turned out, she needed the lift more than ever because our darling sweet cat, Sonny, died, only a few days before we arrived.  He was originally our cat but for various reasons totally irrelevant to this story he moved in with them about 2.5 years ago.  And they loved and adored that cat like a little prodigal son.  It was, is, really sad.  And I am so so glad we were there to scatter his ashes and hug her tight.

So now we are in August and the summer is halfway through.  In another 5 weeks the kids are back at school.  I am not sure we have ever had a summer go so fast.  So far it is everything I hoped for.  At some point there will probably be a post about this dammed heat and how hideous it is and how LONG the summer is and WHEN WILL IT END WILL THESE KIDS EVER GO BACK TO SCHOOL?! But for now I am flying high on the bliss that was July.  It truly rocked.

to sign off,a harpist’s song from 1400bc that I saw when we were in the British Museum in London. So apt.

“Follow your heart as long as you live!

Put myrrh on your head.

Dress in fine linen,

Anoint yourself with oils fit for a god,

Heap up your joys,

Let your heart not sink!

Follow your heart and your happiness,

Do your things on earth as your heart commands!

When there comes to you that day of mourning,

the weary hearted (Osiris) hearts not their mourning.

Wailing saves no man from the pit!

Make holiday, Do not weary of it!

And finally.  To my darling Sonny.  You were an absolute legend and a total weirdo.  We all adored you and you will have a place in our heart forever, you should have grown very much older, we all feel cheated that you went so soon.

(no he didn’t die from being massively overweight, he slimmed down rather a lot after his ‘troubled time’ – ssh lets not talk of it)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kodak Moments

As long as I can remember I have loved photos.   Leafing through photo albums, touching the pictures, lingering over the memories.  As soon as you could start playing that game “what would you save in a fire” I have thought; my photos.  There was nothing else as important to me (I am talking THINGS, of course my family and any pets, and maybe my stuffed panda came first) – my photos ARE my memories.  Growing up as a Third Culture Kid  I couldn’t rely on walking the streets of my childhood to prompt memories of friendships, parties, houses.  My childhood lay amongst those pages, a neat chronography of relationships and hairstyles.   Therein lay my roots, who I was, where I came from.

Better even than the albums, however, was The Photo Trunk.  This belonged to my mother and this is important because the fact that the trunk existed and that it was my mother’s are inextricably linked.   In this trunk were all the photos that hadn’t made the cut into the albums, duplicates, or photos that hadn’t yet been sorted.  Just loose photos, all mixed up in a jumble.  You could shove your hand in and bring out a handful and could find pictures spanning decades.  It was a treasure trove and never failed to prompt questions that prompted stories and memories.  As I got older and older and moved away and grew up the trunk became a bit of a joke at my mum’s expense, a constant reminder of an ongoing project she could never quite get around to tackling.  And who could blame her? It was a massive undertaking.

It took quite a few years for me to realise that I had my own photo trunk.  Only mine was virtual.  Not a solid hunk of metal sat in the corner for the kids to crawl around on and poke inside, mine was this hovering cloud of doom, threatening to grow and swell fat with faces from the past until one day it might burst raining memories around me like so many raindrops.   Maybe you are super organised and edit and sort your photos as you go but I bet most of you aren’t.  I definitely wasn’t.  I can go a week without taking too many photos and then take 100 in a day.   My photos went from phone and camera  onto a hard drive, never editing or sorting as I went and this quickly lead to folders of 2000 or more photos EVERY YEAR.  And don’t even start me on accidental duplicates on back up hard drives from old computers.    I had organised myself enough to have baby books from each boy’s first year (ok, one, one baby book, my older sister gifted me the first one) but I started to realise we had all these photos yet we never looked at them the way I used to love looking through my  childhood albums.  It became really important to me to get the rest sorted so we could enjoy all the photos of the memories we had, and those we didn’t.  So I started.  Year by year.  Rotating, deleting, renaming, ordering and finally weeding out the ones that would make the cut.  A very long, slow, process of whittling thousands of photos down to, ideally, 800 or less per year.  And still.  800 photos! In a year! So many memories!  And from these, the 100-200 that would finally make it into an album.  It took forever.

When I got sick last year I was still a few years behind.  And almost immediately I got those years caught up; the panic of dying and leaving a virtual trunk for my kids a horror that spurred me on to Get It Done.  How would they remember their childhood if I left all these loose photos lying around?!  I know their father would absolutely never even attempt to make head nor tails of them.  Was I going to leave a photo trunk legacy of my own?!

So now I have a neat row of slim albums of the professionally printed kind starting with the year of my oldest’s birth right up to date.  No, they don’t really compare to the thick heavy tomes my parents had, with the photos you could slip out and hold close, all faded and a million tones of 70s brown.  But it isn’t a bad alternative, and my kids now also have their childhood neatly printed and presented for them to leaf through and remember.  And they do, and they love it, just as I did, it is really one of the best things I could have taken time to do.  I have a few of those shadowy pre-kid years still needing to be tackled.  But the lesser resolution of the early digital cameras and lack of delectably photogenic munchkins makes it a much less enticing task.

Recently I visited my parents and dragged the old trunk out.  It is still there, little changed, though my mum would argue she has made a lot of progress.  She still plans to sort them all, scan them, print them out.  I said I would help and took a selection to work on.  One of my sisters did the same.   It was just as fun as it always was to go through them all, though now there are hardly any I have never seen before, it is still something of a thrill to see my parents so young, so happy and full of life, hear their stories behind the pictures.   A while ago I was talking to O, I think, and he asked something about my parents, from when they were young, before kids.  And I wrote to them asking them to tell me about how they met.  Although I had probably heard it a thousand times I realised that I didn’t really know details.  My Dad sent a vague reply, my Mum said nothing and as the weeks went past I thought that was that.  And then the other day an email landed, with a long document attached, with blurb and pictures talking all about that first year or so when they met, before they got married and started a family.  It meant the world to me.

God knows family relationships can be tough.  There is just SO MUCH of everything.  Memories, emotions, love, anger, resentment, joy, what you did and what they said and why did you, why DIDN’T you? But you look through photos, in a trunk, on a pc, in a book and all of it comes rushing in.  The years and years, the houses, the friends, the pets, the toys, the holidays, the meals out, the days out, all of it gone gone gone.  But not us.  Never us.  Like a stop motion movie with the 5 central characters holding still as the world flashes and changes around them.  The million versions of you that came before the you you are now. The one that held your parents on a pedestal so high it was impossible for them not to fall, the one that looked up sulkily through your fringe, fighting to pull away from them and become your own person.  But in the middle, at the core, it is always them and always you. Always.  That is what the photos mean to me and it is what I hope my kids see when in years to come they look at our photos, even if they don’t realise it until they themselves have kids and get to see through that strange new lens it gives you on life and your parents.  They are seeing us and them.  The 4 of us. Together.  Through places and times and humdrum and adventures.  Concrete proof of this time when we were all together, that we were.