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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. 

My Dad

Was strong, tall, dark and handsome. He had long wavy hair that curled down past his ears and a tickly beard. 

Laughed a lot, loved being a clown, tickling us, playing tricks on us

Worked away a lot.  I missed him so much my heart hurt. 

Wrote me letters and postcards when he was away ( I still have them all).

Loved music and always had it playing when he was at home. Pink Floyd; wish you were here. 

Took me to the fair and bought me a plastic bow and arrow. Flying around on the small aeroplanes, watching him whizz past. 

Played rough and tumbles, play wrestling and tickling. Climbing on his back, riding around like a horse and bucking us off. 

Played in the water, diving down under the water holding tight to his shoulders. Climbing up his back and standing on his shoulders and jumping off, standing tall in the palms of his hands as he pushed them up up and away I flew. 

Showed me how to dive. Showed me how to dive backwards. Again, again and again. 

Played a trick on my mum and little sister one night when we went out for dinner. Told them it was past midnight and we laughed and laughed as they got practically naked in the elevator on the way back to the apartment in the rush to get to bed.  

Made us sunday morning breakfast almost every week he was home. Pancakes (thin for mum, thick for him), and all the english breakfast essentials.  

Always woke up before everyone else, showered and looking fresh whatever time we stumbled downstairs. 

Took my mum a cup of tea in bed, every day. 

Was loud and American and different from the other Dads. Cooler. Not to me, please! But to my friends. 

Made amazing barbecues, all kinds of meat, salads. 

Loved cooking in all forms, a mean spaghetti bolognaise, a mouth watering curry. Hours in the kitchen chop chopping and leaving it all spotless behind him. 

Taught me how to wiggle my ears, whistle through my teeth, tongue twisters; how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, red lorry yellow lorry. 

Told jokes and teased mercilessly.

Tucked me into bed.  One night, when I was probably too old to be tucked in, they both came clattering up the stairs to my shouts TUCK ME INNNNN and tucked me in so tight I couldn’t move, all of us laughing. 

Arm wrestling, thumb wars, slappy hands, bar tricks passed on from friends and workmates. 

After dinner conversations that lingered for what felt like hours, card games, poker played with toothpicks instead of coins, Risk and Cluedo (sore loser). 

Weekend movie nights, trip to Blockbuster, two movies, popcorn (he loved the aur popped stuff so much he would go to the cinema just to get it and bring it home) and sweets and pizza and Haagen Daz (such luxury!). 

These memories and a million more. Laughter. Happiness. Joy. Fun. Love. 

The way things were, the way things are

My Dad was diagnosed with Leukaemia the year I turned eighteen. He was 43. How young that sounds to me now. I don’t know what boggles me more: that by this age he had a 20 year old daughter (my older sister) or that he was so young when life as he knew it ended.
It was a massive event in my life. All of our lives. My tall, big, strong, goofy, cool, Bear of a Dad became very ill, very fast. It was a really scary time and my family did not cope with it well. We, who had always been ‘just us 5′, seemed to fracture under the strain of staying strong for each other. It happened very slowly, over many years, like a crack slowly zig-zagging down a wall, so slowly we barely saw it happening but looking back now it seems to me that that is when we started closing away our feelings from each other. Putting things that were too hard or scary to deal with away in little boxes we could shut tight and push away to dark corners of our minds. I pushed away my parents’ comfort, I resisted their hugs because I was scared of their grief, and mine too; scared that if I let it out it would grow too big and I wouldn’t be able to cram it back in its box again. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I wanted to be strong. I wanted it to not be real.
I was spared much of the day to day tedium of illness, being away at university, but it still came crashing in on visits home when I returned to see him thinner and thinner, no hair, brown skin and croaky voiced from the radiation. I still remember vividly the feeling of the cold hard wall behind me as I pushed myself against it, away from him, that strange stranger in the bed who didn´t even sound like my Dad, much less look like him, appalled and terrified by the change in him. It is still painful to think about all these years later.  How painful it must have been to see my reaction.  Writing this, now, makes me wonder if not seeing the day to day was a disadvantage after all.

I don’t know whether the way we changed as a family would have happened anyway as a part of us growing older and moving in our own directions. Whether we would have started to look back on and analyze past events through different eyes if our mother hadn’t grown so angry at our father. If he hadn’t become so passive in the face of her resentment. If they hadn’t drawn us into their arguments over and over and over again. We can never know. I can try and pull it all apart and pinpoint the where and how but what remains is two bare facts.  He got sick and I grew up. And slowly, slowly, everything changed.

Growing up, I adored both of my parents fairly equally.  My Mum because she loved me, took care of me and gave amazing cuddles.  My Dad because he was strong and funny and my hero. I had the happiest and best family out there, I was a really happy child. Even as a teenager I was quite placid; a people pleaser, just as my oldest is now. And there was no one I wanted more to please in this world than my mother. She had a mercurial temper, though I would never have said that then, after all when we are children our parents and their ways are all we know. She liked things just so and although our house was frequently messy it was always clean and there were always chores to do. My Dad´s work took him away a lot and my mum was the linchpin, she kept it all going, she didn’t work so she was always there for us. Always. I adored her. When I was a teenager we would take really long walks with the dog and talk for hours. Even when I went to university I called her several times a day, just to chat.She had her ways but I accepted her wholeheartedly and without judgement. After Dad got sick, it just all got complicated.
The other night I had this crazy vivid dream about my Dad. It stood out because it felt so real, so significant, and I woke up feeling really happy, thinking ‘wow, what a great dream’. I was back in time (as current me) and came across my dad (as he was just before he got sick). I knew it was my dad, and that I was the one out of place. That he was my ‘then’ dad. And in his life he had a teen me. So I ran into him and I said “dad! dad its me (insert his nickname for me)” and he recognised me and accepted the whole situation, as dream people usually do. And I told him all about our lives as they were now and the whole time I was thinking “should I tell him he is going to get sick? Should I? Is it the right thing to do?”

Sidenote: my Dad survived the leukaemia but the treatments left their mark. By 50 he had had heart attacks, a small stroke. By 55 a valve replacement and a pacemaker. A procedure that found us in the lobby of the hospital mutely watching a surgeon indicate with his hands the large, flabby mass that was apparently my father´s heart, telling us it took them a long, hard 45 minutes to bring him back up after surgery.  That he would be lucky to get another 10 years out of it.  I have had more phone calls than I care to recall where I thought someone was calling to say he’d died. Despite it all, he has lived 20 years since that first diagnosis, he gets knocked down time and again but nothing has quite finished him off yet.  Though every episode leaves a new mark, scoring into those that have gone before to make a deeper wound.   The sad thing is that most of those 20 precious years he has genuinely lived thinking he hasn’t long left. Him and me both.  It really messes with your head.

So in this dream I wanted to tell him; You are going to live. A long time still. You will see us all graduate university, start careers, meet the men we will marry. Walk us down the aisle, meet your grandchildren. You will love and be loved for so long still. So live. LIVE. Don’t be scared. Please don’t be scared. You are going to be okay. But, like in real life, all my feelings and thoughts went unsaid, pushing at my lips but ultimately giving in and staying put, safe inside my own head. I didn’t tell him. I just told him he had grandchildren who adored him. I guess I hoped this information contained all the subtext needed to arm him for the coming battle. That he would grow old enough to have grandchildren. That they would love him like I did.  Like I do.

And then I said, as I went to leave: “Daddy, I have been really really sick, but I am going to be okay”. It felt so important to tell him I had just been through something really serious, really hard.  But that I was okay, I had made it through.  I don´t know if I meant this to prepare him for his own journey or so that in the future when he heard my terrible news he would already be armed with the knowlegde that I got through it.  And with that he hugged me.  And I woke up.  I felt so happy, it felt like I had really been with him, and been comforted by him, by my Dad as he was then. The last time I really knew him as the person who could shield and protect me. The strangest thing is that the dream was a positive one. Yet when I told my friend about it later that morning, I started crying. And then later, telling H, mainly to comment how silly it was to have made me cry – I cried AGAIN! And I am not a big crier as a rule. It caught me totally by surprise, that a dream I thought was happy was actually making me feel so emotional when I brought it outside of my head and gave it shape in this world.

I wanted to tell my Dad about my dream because to me it was about how much I love him. How sad I feel about everything that happened. He was dealt a shit hand. Leukaemia is a bitch of a one to get. And treatments 20 years ago are not what they are now. He had a tough, tough time. A lot of time in hospital, repeated infections, time in isolation, bone marrow transplant. And in amongst it all the realisation that he had been knocked off the career ladder at 43.  43!! He did go back to work eventually, after about 10 years, but it was never the same. He watched friends and former colleagues move up and up, taking plum roles that could have been his. Buying bigger houses and taking their wives on expensive exotic holidays. He felt like he had been knocked down in his prime, and he was right. The sadness of it still jars me.

But the more I think about it, the less I feel able to share my dream with him. Because it says so much more than I feel I can share with him about how things changed. The irony is that, growing up, my parents were all about talking. Talking over dinner, over drinks. Talk it out, don’t hold it in, talk talk talk. And since I became an adult I don’t talk to them, not truly, deeply, honestly. I feel like maybe there was so much talking and sharing that by the time I became an adult I needed to pull forceably away in order to make my own private space just for me. Close parts of myself off to them to enable me to break away and be myself, make my own decisions. There is more to it than that, of course there is.  So many things have happened over the years that have changed our relationship, eroded the channels where once communication flowed so easily.  Where did it start? Certainly with Dad getting sick.  Also with me moving country.  A relationship break up that I didn´t want to discuss with them, a lot of little doors being closed off, on both sides.

It really scares me.  Precisely because I adored my parents so much when I was growing up. I love them now, no doubt about it, but as a child and a teenager I truly adored them in that pure hero-worship way kids do. Of course that never lasts, of course our relationship had to change as I grew up and recognised them for the flawed, perfectly normal human beings they were.  But even so.   I could never in a million years have predicted the twists and turns our relationship would take. And it scares me beyond belief that it could happen to me and my boys. Maybe I won’t even see it coming. They will grow and change. And though I will mostly stay the same the way they see me or interpret my actions may change, and I am not entirely sure I can do anything about it. I can try to not make the same mistakes my parents made. But apart from a glaring few I am not sure that they even made mistakes as such. They were just who they were, making decisions based on that, and love for us… what else could they do? What else can I do?  I don’t know where life will take us. What might be lying in store to tilt-shift the memories that I am trying do hard to lovingly lay down for them now.

There is so much I want to tell my kids about my relationship with my parents, one day. Maybe so they can understand them, maybe so they can understand me, themselves, now and in the future when its my turn to be the mental old person. I hope that they will have children because it is one of the greatest truths that until you have your own you cannot conceive of the love your parents had and have for you.  When I had my oldest, I suddenly understood, for the first time, how very much they love me. Despite arguments or fights, petty squabbles and grudges. Moving away, not calling so much, pushing away, pushing back, closing doors and minds, judging and being judged, misunderstanding and being misunderstood. Through and despite it all they love you just as they did when you were a soft little dumpling of a toddler in their arms.

So I doubt I will share my dream with my Dad.  It was special to me, it is special to me. My parents haven´t given me much comfort through my diagnosis or treatment.  They just haven´t.  I imagine it is because they think I don´t want to make a fuss, or because they don´t want to bother me.  Or because they want to let me come to them, like they have for so long now.  The ball is always in my court.  And for the most part I understand.  I do.  But there have been times it has hurt.  Times when I thought; you could call to see how I am. Ask how it is going.  So that dream hug from my Dad meant the world.  It reminded me that he does love me.  I really did get comfort from it, as strange as that seems.  And I guess that is why talking about it makes me cry.  Because it really meant so much.

Our family lived illness one way.  I want to live it differently.  I am a positive person. I have to see the good in things, the beautiful wonder of the world and how lucky we are to be in it.  It is a rare for me not to see the silver lining in any situation.  My Dad, for his own reasons, has lived 20 years thinking he was dying but I am not as scared of dying as I am of losing a whole lifetime to fear.  I am making an active choice to be positive and happy and believe that good things lie ahead. Because I have seen it done differently and I don’t want that.

VHS, Mix Tapes and Dogs

It’s been something of a nostalgic week. My parents have been for a visit and, of course, having your parents stay with you can tend to cast you back to a certain time and place in a most disconcerting way at the best times.  On this occasion it was especially warranted because they brought with them old home videos, unedited VHS films with plenty of footage of unfocussed floors and ceilings and feet. We may film a lot of rubbish now but you watch 45minutes of a walk through the woods and you quickly realise little has changed, really.  The format, the length, yes, but our overall inability to judge what is worthy of recording? Not so much.

All the same they are precious, ceilings, feet and all. Where I have hours’ worth of two minute clips of my children, in amongst these few videos, for all their length, the passing shots of my sisters and I, my parents, are short and sweet. The camera pans past my Dad, standing tall and strong, with our beloved dog, gone over 10 years now, to focus on something in the distance and I find myself willing it back, wishing it had lingered a bit longer on those I really want to see . Wishing I hadn’t been such a stereotypical camera shy teen, ducking out of view or letting my curtain of hair swing down over my face.  That we had known to just focus on each of US a bit more. Realised that in 10 or 20 years we wouldn’t care about the rest of it.  About scenery or how beautiful the snow looked settled thick and deep on the floor of the woods, and it truly did.  How could I not know, it seems so obvious now, that I would just long to  see how we all were, together. In our family home, also gone too long ago now. The last place we were our family together. Before university and travelling and boyfriends who became husbands and babies who became children and new lives and new families and new homes.

So much has happened. So much has changed. It almost hurts my heart.  Everyone always says how they might be 30,40,50 but they still feel the same inside. I don’t know that I do. In many ways I haven’t changed at all.  My voice and manner of speaking are identical. I don’t look so different though my face lost that roundness a long time ago and gained fine lines in its place and I finally ditched the fringe. But it doesn’t feel like yesterday. It feels like a very long time ago and the girl I see on the screen looks at once like me and also like someone else, someone I used to know really well but haven’t seen in a really long time.

***

I miss my dog. I don’t think of him so often anymore but seeing him on the video brought it all back.  God I loved him. I had moved abroad a year before he died then my parents sold the house and moved away so I never went back, never saw the lack of him in our home.  The empty space on the floor where he used to sprawl or the space on the sofa next to my mum that he claimed as his own. I don’t think I could really conceive he was gone.  A couple of years ago, many years since he died, I saw a dog of the same breed. He was an Irish Setter, and a beautiful one too. I don’t think this is entirely biased; his father was a prize winning show-dog and he had inherited the gorgeous gene for sure.  I had occasionally seen others about but they never looked quite the same. Too small, coat not shiny enough, too curly, too straight.  Then this particular day I was out with H walking around, doing nothing much, and I saw this dog sat by his owners.  I went up to them and asked if I could stroke him. Explained I had lost my dog and he reminded me of him. I crouched down to stroke him, he looked up at me, and I burst into very uncharacteristic public tears. In the middle of this busy shopping street all over this random couple having a quiet coffee.  They must have thought I was nuts, but when he looked up at me he looked just like mine and it broke my heart in such an unexpected way.

Many memories of home involve walking the dog. In the woods where he used to leap and jump, a flash of deep red coat flying through the trees. Up at the bmx track near the school with my friend where we were once flashed by a creep in a shellsuit (hilarious until we had to give a detailed account to police later. Teenage me NEARLY. DIED.), over the fields next to the house, down the rocky road, along the abandoned railway embankment.  Hours and hours of walking, with friends, with my mum, and very often alone, listening to my mix tape of 90s hits on my walkman. One of those NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC compilations that my mum gave me every Christmas.

Then yesterday I was making dinner, and listening to the radio. And I swear they were just playing a copy of the same mixtape.  Living where I live, with local radio as it is I would not be surprised if that is exactly what they were doing.  Sleeping Satellite, Walking in Memphis.  THE SCORPIONS (Winds of Change).  Don’t judge me. Teenage me was not cool.  Especially when it came to music. I liked The Beatles and Elvis, Elton John, David Bowie and Simon and Garfunkel, The Lemonheads, Nirvana and miscellaneous Pop Hits that any self respecting teenager during grunge era would have rejected outright. I liked what I liked.  The POINT IS it was weird, coming right at the time it did.  They played these songs one after the other and I was transported back to that house, that time, those walks with my dog.  A nostalgic week for sure.

***

I miss home. I wish it was there still. I think part of me thinks if it was things would be different now, we could have preserved more of the family we were.  But mainly I just miss having that place where all the memories are, I still remember how the hallway carpet felt as I lay on my stomach playing/ rewinding/ playing tapes trying to write the lyrics down.  How we all clattered down the stairs and used the pommel to swing around the turn at the end. And how our Dad used to HATE that we did that.  How we trailed our free hand up the wall as we went up and down the stairs, leaving grubby marks, something my kids now do and which drives me as crazy as it did my Dad way back when. The truth is my parents haven’t had a steady stable home base since they left and we all three grew up and away, scattered to the winds as they say.  So we are all rarely together, and whenever we are it is as often as not in a new, different place that means nothing to us beyond being where my parents live.  As grown up as I get I still find that hard.  I miss that house so much.

***

All of this prompted by this visit, those tapes. I compare the nature of the snippets I choose to record; usually H with the kids, and I guess in their turn maybe they will wish there was more of me. In that respect I haven’t changed at all. I am still the teenager ducking out of frame, looking down and mumbling self consciously. H laughs you would think the world was watching for how nervous I look.   No, the me you see on camera isn’t the real me. I am the person who records the moments,  takes the photos and videos and is now trying to edit and compile to make it all easily accessible to look back on.  It is one of the greatest tangible things I can gift them, these  records of our life together. Before they get big and leave home and go wherever life takes them and things change forever.  I hope that when they watch our videos or look at our photos that, although I may not make frequent appearances, i am there. I hope they understand they are seeing themselves as I see them. That the way the camera follows them, lingers on their face, captures their every move; that is me.  That is me seeing them and loving them and trying to capture a million moments I want to hold onto.  I am very much there, they are looking through my eyes.

 

This beautiful life

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Look at that sunset. I am so in love with the place I live in.  It is beautiful and peaceful and feels like home.  I grew up moving countries every couple of years.  Staying somewhere for a few years was almost unheard of.  By the time we settled in Scotland when I was 11 I had lived in 6 different countries. I left England when I was only a couple of months old, and we left Country #2 when I was about 2 or 3 so, although most people wouldn´t believe I remember anything, I do, but the memories are like wisps of smoke that float away the second I reach out to try and grab them.  The strongest memory I have from then is watching fish in a fountain in a walled garden, with my big sister next to me.  It is just a fleeting moment, a snapshot, and to be honest by now it is more a memory of a memory that was stronger when I was a child.  How on earth is THAT one of my first memories?  Was it my first moment of real consciousness? was I happy? It doesn´t feel like a memory associated with emotion at all, except maybe contentment?

My childhood memories properly start in Country #3 where we lived from about the ages of 3 to 7.  Although we then left it is the only place we subsequently returned to as a family, on various occasions. It became this touchstone for me.  I loved moving countries and schools. I remember sometimes being briefly upset at the news of an impending change but on the whole I enjoyed the excitement and discovery of such radically different places.  I became used to being the odd one out, the stranger, the new girl.  It was part of my identity.  But I was also a child and as I got older I recognised the comfort and stability my friends had, living in the same house, the same room even! (imagine!) their whole lives.  I didn´t miss extended family, not then, it was an alien concept to me.  When our lives were occasionally punctuated with visits to Aunts or Uncles I saw them, for the most part, as people with only the vaguest connection to me.  Oftentimes an inconvenience; adults who seemed to feel a familiarity with me I did not reciprocate. To me, my parents were the only adults that had dominion over me, who were these other grownups telling me what to do? Who did they think they were?  We were 5 and it was all we needed.  Us against the world.  It really felt like that.

We settled in Scotland when I was 11 and I stayed there until I was 25.  It is the longest I had ever lived anywhere and if people here ask where I am from I say Scotland because what else should I say?  I am unarguably British but I have lived in England for less than a year my entire life.  My mother is also English but born there as a matter of circumstance.  Her family lived in Africa, her sisters all born there.  Only she was born in England due to medical circumstance.  My father is American.  Scotland is the only place I have spent so much time, where I finally put down roots, where I became a teenager and then an independent adult.  Yet I could never say I am Scottish to anyone from Scotland.  My accent is as English as the Queen.  They dismantle my arguments immediately and declare me English, without a doubt.  So I never really, truly, felt I was from there either, not deep down in my soul. It is just the best I have, the closest I have felt to being from somewhere.  I love the country.  We try to visit every couple of years and I still dream of maybe moving back one day.  When I visit it feels familiar and comfortable and good and I feel a deep sense of home.

But this place I live now.  My touchstone. During all these years of mad experiences and cultural exploration it has been a constant.  I never felt I was from here, I still don´t and I never will.  But I do feel like I belong.  I live in a village I spent a lot of time in as a child and for the first time in my life I walk streets that I remember as a kid.  Pass schools that I went to and places I visited.  If you have lived in the same place all of your life I doubt you can truly appreciate the significance of that feeling.  You probably don´t even think about it.  Think it boring or unremarkable even.  For me it gives me a feeling of security, a feeling of having roots and history.  Not the roots that held my family tight together, almost like Groot encircling the Guardians of the Galaxy as they plummet towards the earth.  But roots that go strong and deep into the ground, securing me there and keeping me steady.

I still have to resist the urge to move frequently, changing houses even as we stay in the same place.  In 13 years with my husband we have lived in about 7 houses.  We have experimented with moving abroad and it was a moment of epiphany.  I finally realised I, no, WE needed to be HERE.  We needed to stop moving, give our roots a rest and a chance to dig deeper.  Give our kids that security that one day they will take for granted, even complain about.  Maybe they will wish we had travelled more, or seen more countries.  Maybe they will feel like small village mice and wish they had been city mice.  But even if they don´t realise it they will have strong, deep, roots and a knowledge of where they come from that will serve them forever, no matter where they eventually decide to go.  They may never realise what a gift it is but it doesn´t matter.  That is the way parenting goes.