The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

2017 Year End Reflections

Yet another year is drawing to a close.

I remember thinking at the start of this year that big changes were ahead. I thought it would be a year of progress and taking charge of areas that I felt I had lost my grip of in 2016. I was thinking mostly about the work life balance I had going on after a return to full time employment with three young children in a new and very different work culture. A lot of hours in the office and out of it, a lot of energy fretting about work and feeling a disproportionate level of satifisfaction at the end of it. I knew I needed to gain a better perspective this year and get back to doing the things that I enjoyed the most.

I wanted this year to be about the good stuff. More time for people, more running, more baking, more crafts and more attempts at aspiring to an aesthetically pleasing home. These were simple changes that I could make and feel all the better for it. I do believe we have a responsiblity to ourselves to be the change we want to see happen.

I felt ready for change. And so when Husband and I first spoke about leaving Singapore to return back to the UK, it felt both the right move and time but albeit quite a daunting one too. Finally, we were heading back to the UK. It was exciting to think about being with family and friends and getting to know all the new additions and reconnecting in new ways. Going on different kinds of holidays and introducing the children to favourite pastimes and places of our youth.

After living in Singapore for nine years, the life we had over there was our normal. I knew how everything worked. I did not know how everything worked over here. And not knowing how things work can make you feel quite vulnerable. Knowledge is power so they say. Setting up a new home on my own was hard work and running it almost like a single parent has taught me new skills and found reserves of energy I knew I had and most definitely need.

There are days where I miss my old life that I used to get ribbed for. The one where we have live in help who helped with all the household jobs. I appreciated her then and I miss her a little bit now but I do enjoy having the whole home to myself. And there is also something soothing about doing laundry and ironing. In times where you have no control, you at least can make clothes look like new and have a fresh, clean bed to sleep in which is satifyingly pleasing. There is no denying that I miss the freedom though of having someone on hand who can look after the children whilst I just pop out. Though at the moment there is no one to just pop out with!

Some of these changes I expected. I wasn’t completely unnerved by the big move back to the UK. I don’t really think too much. I know! I know you know that too. Such a move is managed through doing. You have to set up a new home, get into the school routine, go out and find new friends, do the household jobs. These are the things you have to do to take care of your family and their basic needs. And if I don’t know the answers right away, I’m also not afraid to ask for help and that is important too.

You also need to explore and connect. Explore your new surroundings, find things to do,  go places. Connect with people, be it family or friends and connect with your new home town. Be present. I find this an ever important aspect right now. I don’t think there’s much to be gained from wishing to be anywhere else but here. Especially when there are young children involved who have no say in what happens and it is up to us to give them as many good memories and experiences as possible.

We would have preferred coming back to the UK as a whole family and not with Husband still working overseas. We are also not unique in this set up. I know plenty of people who are in my position and I know we are all more than up for the challenge. There have been times when I have felt out of my depth but I hope I am managing ok. It is overwhelming at times being the sole, responsible grown up taking the lead and being all things to three young children. We are all in this new adventure together but often you have to appear braver than you feel. I have also had to push myself with going to new places that I’m not familiar with. I know it has been hard on the children and they miss their Daddy terribly, as he does them. So it was good that we were able to share our first family snow day experience together. After years of looking forward to snow, they finally had their day building snowmen and sledging. My heart will always feel some guilt that they’ve had to bear some of my sadness these past few months without Husband around to comfort them too. But they are incredible children and can teach us a thing or two about getting on with things. In time, I hope they will remember and feel incredibly proud of themselves of how brave and strong they are and what a bundle of love and comfort they have to give.

As a couple, I also know how difficult it must be for Husband to watch from afar as we get through this time and not be here to provide the emotional support that we all need. The difference his presence has made over the Christmas holidays has been the tonic we have needed.

The events of this year has certainly put last year into perspective. With hindsight, I allowed some people’s behaviour to get the better of me. I doubt I could have changed it then but I am in a position today to let it wash over me. I do not dwell on the value I gave myself based on their words and actions which by all accounts are worthless and is a reflection of them and not me. It was a valuable lesson and reminder about what our roles as mentors should be.

You all know what the biggest change and challenge this year has been for me and my family. Bereavement is a necessary part of life. I keep telling myself that. Everyday though it’s still there. That well of sadness that may always linger a little even years from now. A few days ago, I made my first visit to Newcastle since my Dad’s funeral and stopped by the cemetery with Husband just to have a look at my Dad’s resting place. Until the 100 days since his passing are over there’s not much to do but I wanted to go and see because how could I possibly make a trip to Newcastle and not see my Dad. As I stood there, I still felt a wave of disbelief that he is really gone. My Dad, Mr Li. I feel his absence acutely but at the same time, I have my Mum and all my other family to see and be with and that in itself is a huge comfort.

I can not imagine being anywhere else but here right now. No matter how short the time I had with my Dad since our return, it is far better than how I could have managed my time with him if we were still living in Singapore. At the moment, we are catching up on family time and doing all the things at Christmas that we have missed out on in previous years. It may have been a busy few days travelling up and down the motorway but what we have gained is invaluable. The children will remember Christmas holidays spent with family more than anything. Yesterday, the children disappeared for hours with their cousins and had a wonderful time, those kind of moments make up for many others.

I end this year feeling quite sad still, a bit blurry around the edges and not quite at full capacity. I have lost not just a parent but one of my biggest supporters, someone who is always looking out for me and champion of my children’s achievements. That will take some getting used to.

At the same time, I feel the multiple sources of love and warmth that have helped me through this. I still find myself at a loss to express just how much this means. Not just in the immediate afterwards but even now, perhaps more so now, when I get asked how am I doing, how are the children doing and expressing your words of condolence when we meet to acknowledge my loss. You may be at risk of seeing my tears fall but that’s all that will happen. This feeling of grief is something I cannot fully control so I guess I will have to be patient and allow the passing of time to heal my heart and bring peace and laughter once more as it surely will.

2017, you have exhausted me. But I have not written you off. It is not a year that I will say good riddance to. To do so would mean I haven’t valued anything that this year has brought or taken away. As sad as the memory of this year will be, I take forward life lessons and experience that can only serve me well. I am far stronger for it and I hope more understanding too.

Tomorrow is the start of a brand new year.

2018.

It sounds like it ought to be a lovely year. I have no plans as to what to do with it just yet. I know there is lots of practical things to do. I need to get on with the sorting out jobs that I didn’t do in November before I got caught up with preparing for Christmas. I hope to learn a new crafting skill, make use of my sewing machine finally, continue to aspire to an aesthetically pleasing home. I may even return to employment too. I’m looking forward to planning a full calendar of visits to people and places. I feel like starting the year at a more gentle pace to recover from this year, though I’m sure it will soon snowball like every year does when you have a family with young, busy children.

As I look towards a new year, for the first time in many years, I will just see how it goes with no expectations. I shouldn’t forget that I have made a pretty good start with this new adventure in the UK so far. I think just making the most of what we have right now will be more than good enough as we look ahead.

Whatever you do, I wish you a happy and fun filled New Year’s Eve. May good health, happiness and time spent well be yours in 2018.

Cheers to you and here’s to us.

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Finally, we have ourselves a proper cold Christmas

Finally we have ourselves a proper cold Christmas. Though at a ‘mild’ 11 degrees celsius, I’m told it’s warm outside…I don’t think you know the meaning of a warm Christmas!

For how many years whilst living in the Tropics have I longed for a cold Christmas! This will be my first in ten years and the first ever for the children. That in itself is exciting enough. Even after all these years, Christmas only feels much more like Christmas when it’s dark and cold with twinkly lights shining out from people’s homes and on the streets.

Singapore knows how to dazzle at Christmas but our first UK Christmas has brought us back to a more traditional tone. The story of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem, Jesus born in a stable, the Three Wise Men, Shepherds, Angels and a wandering star. My three children have been enchanted by it all and I have to admit that there were key parts of the Nativity story that I simply hadn’t known about. It’s amazing what I am learning at School.

This week we attended the school’s Carol Concert at the local church and today Husband and I took the children to our first Christingle concert. Previously I had only been to church for weddings and funerals but for the children to discover their own path, I’d like them to know and later decide for themselves. Though for my own part, I have found on both occasions a certain calm and opportunity for reflection.

This year for the first time ever I have found myself with no social engagements at all! Not one Christmas lunch! Can you imagine! No rolling home inebriated in the early hours. No fancy cocktails in some exclusive bar. Bah humbug indeed. Until I realised it’s about who you want your Christmas celebrations to be with and so we did have a Christmas do after all and it was exactly just right.

I hope I have managed to create a good enough Christmas experience for my three children this year. There is guilt in my heart that due to my own sadness and even their own that Christmas preparations for my three children has been missing a bit of its usual shine. I have really tried my best but it has been hard to think about presents when this year it is people who matter the most.

We have a lovely tree all lit up brightly, we’ve baked batches of gingerbread people, we’ve sung countless Christmas carols and songs, we been to visit Father Christmas and gone on winter walks. I’ve circled all the tv programmes in the Radio Times and already missed a few shows.

I really don’t know what I imagined this Christmas to look like but I do feel the warmth of goodwill, family and celebration all around me.

And if anything, hearing of how others are celebrating this year has buoyed me along too. I love Christmas. That will never change. And what has been most exciting is sharing with friends the chit chat on what they’re cooking over the festive season. I bought all the cooking magazines and have barely deviated from my usual! But who doesn’t love looking at a good festive feast and oohing at the many variations on a turkey dinner with all the trimmings that you can get!

I really hope the children wake up yelling with excitement that Father Christmas has been! That they come running upstairs with full stockings and have raced downstairs to check he’s left something on their list for them too. If anyone deserves a bit of magic tonight, it is them.

They’ve excitedly and carefully laid out goodies for Father Christmas and the reindeers and placed a ‘Santa Stop Here’ sign on their bedroom window. They’ve sprinkled Santa and Elf magic dust on our doorstep (previously unavailable from the shops in Singapore would you believe.) They handed out good things to eat to our neighbours and strangers on the street. This year, I have asked them to think of not just themselves but others too.

Surprisingly though, I seem to have everything ready and can even enjoy a restful glass of wine. In previous years I am still wrapping gifts until the early hours on this night. I have so little to do I suspect I have forgotten something!

But whatever it is, I’m sure it won’t ruin the day. Tomorrow is a day about family being together. Something my children will value more than anything. They have done amazingly well whilst we have relocated ourselves and their Daddy has remained in Singapore. So whilst there are many gifts under the tree that will be met with great enthusiasm and much joy, the best gift we have is that we have these next nine days of togetherness to share the holidays with.

This year, I have not sent out Christmas cards as is the custom during the first year. Though I wish you more than anything a Happy Christmas to be shared with those who matter the most. May you laugh, love and enjoy each other’s company.

Merry Christmas to all. xx

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The first of many

Dear Mr Li,

I miss you. I miss you every day and all of the day. As if you could ever doubt that.

That’s probably the sum of what I need to say to you.

And oh my goodness, how I miss talking to you. The hardest part of each day is that moment between busy and calm when we would talk and you would have a garbled jumble of voices from your grandchildren before they got ready for bed. You took great delight in figuring out which child was speaking to you until each became more proficient in the art of telephone conversations and announced themselves properly.

The landline doesn’t ring anymore. It was always only you who called me on it. And the really terrible telesales calls. We never transitioned with the times. Our preferred mode of communication was the old fashioned way. Postcards from my travels. Birthday cards you sent with a few handwritten characters. I never told you I used to carry one of those notes in your shaky writing in my wallet whilst I was in Singapore until one too many accidents with a water bottle made me put the notes in a safer place.

It’s been over a month now. So much has taken place even though at times I feel like I’ve stood still. I realised last night that the book on my bedside table hasn’t been picked up in weeks. I’ll be ready for such simple pastimes again soon. It was a surprise to realise that whilst I’m busy all the time, I’ve been going through the motions of the day and some point soon I’d like to get back to the things I used to do and those that I planned on doing.

The other thing I really miss is sending you all these photos I take. Sharing with you our life in pictures. What’s the point in taking all these photos if not to share them with someone who looked forward to receiving them. I came across an old Facebook memory of you showing your youngest grandchild photos of herself on your phone. And I took a photo of you showing her those photos. I haven’t felt able to look up more photos of you, us and you and them together. To do so right now just heightens the loss but the photos I already have in frames smile down on me.

Sometimes I can’t believe you left so soon. I haven’t even had chance to sort out the pictures on my wall or declutter all the stuff I won’t be needing here. I have at times felt so cross by this. Until I remember you saying how tired you were. It’s funny how I look back at photos from the summer and see this more clearly, underneath the smiles. And even if I disagree with this turn of events, what can I do.

I still marvel at the complexities of grief. My logic telling me this is the natural order of things. And with all due balance, we were lucky. You were 80. A lovely rounded figure. A big Birthday. Many people told me not to be sad. You were old. But 85, 90, 95 would have been even better don’t you think. And even though you know this will happen to us all at some point, there is just no telling grief to behave.

I know my sadness would make you upset. But isn’t it just testimony to how much you were loved and valued. So I think it’s ok to allow me this.

Time will heal. I’m sure you know that too from your own experiences. Memories could fade but equally some forgotten ones can resurface to make us smile some more. The things you used to do and say will be recounted with affection.

I wish you could have lived to be here today. The day we would have marked your 81st Birthday, whether it be the true date or not it’s the one we’ve always gone by. When you turned 80 last year, I thought we could have celebrated when I was back in April but your body had other plans. Today, other plans took place too. But Birthdays never bothered you. It was a wonderful sign you were still living and were here with us. I will embrace all my Birthdays.

We had a tea party earlier today. Not to celebrate your Birthday. That would be too weird. No, we had a lovely boisterous Christmas tea party with 11 children in the house. I think we’ll do it again next year. You would have loved it. The sound of children playing and having fun brought you the most laughter. In all my years as a child and with your grandchildren never did you tell us to keep the noise down. The party food definitely wouldn’t have been your thing though. Nor the Prosecco.

Keeping busy helped me through today. Today is the first time I haven’t called you to wish you Happy Birthday. That has been hard. But your grandchildren still insisted on singing Happy Birthday to you all the same. Your granddaughter wrote a note about you in her special book for your Birthday. She writes Gung Gung in Chinese characters now. She also asked me how will you receive our messages. I told her when you have someone in your heart and you think of them then any message you want to send with go straight to them. Your younger granddaughter said ‘I sent my message this morning.’ I’m sure you got them all.

To my Dad, Mr Li, Happy Birthday.

With love always. xxx

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The gift of memories

The children have had a wonderful weekend. They’ve spent it with friends (the parents included) who are not just good friends but who are their best friends and this came from my eldest. If I’m not jumping too far ahead, in years to come I hope these are the friends they’ll be talking about as having known all their lives.

Among the sadness and challenges of this past month, my three children have rolled with it all. In fact they’ve been rolling amazingly well for the past six months with all the changes that have upheaved them from home, school and away from their Daddy. Finding themselves in a new country and starting over again. In my heart, I worried about them. But oh my goodness, haven’t they been bold and brave getting out there and I am so proud of them.

Many people assured me that they would be fine because children are resilient and they adapt so much easier than us grown ups. This is true and as parents we ensure that we do all we can to support them with love, strength and encouragement. We try to protect them as much as we can but there are some realities that we just can’t deny.

As early as the age of four, all three of them went through a phase of questioning the concept that things do not live forever. A curious preschooler’s mind can obsess about the notion of death and talk about it incessantly. Sometimes with fear and upset and seeking reassurances that it wasn’t something that would happen imminently to anyone or anything they knew. The fear and questions subsided over time and death became a semi accepted fact of life.

Not one that is yet fully understood but what they do know now is that death brings great sadness.

Many people also advised that children shouldn’t be shielded from the grief that I am feeling. It’s ok for them to see that I am sad. In an age where there is more encouragement for everyone to express themselves and talk about emotions for better mental health well being. We are actively advised to share with children that we all have a range of emotions and to help them articulate and process the confusing and unknown new feelings. Luckily, the school the children attend have on site counsellors and a drop in room where children can stop by and talk to someone about anything that is bothering them. They are encouraged to say what they are feeling in class with their class friends and most importantly their feelings are valid.

Among all that has happened this past month and longer, I want to acknowledge just how brilliant and surprising they have been. I have lost a parent but they have lost a Grandparent too. Maybe some day they will read this post and I imagine much of what I would like to say to them now, they will have forgotten about by then.

As time goes by, my children’s memory of my Dad, their Gung Gung will fade. But whilst their memories and their stories are still vivid, I just want to capture them as they recall him.

That morning, I had no real plan on how to tell the children that their Gung Gung had passed away. But there was nothing I could do to delay breaking the news to them. As it happened, the opportunity presented itself quite naturally. The older two woke up first and clambered into our bed, one on either side of me. They were chattering about plans for the day before I then made the decision to tell them something that would shatter some part of their hearts too. With my arms around them, I said I had something to tell them. My eldest instantly knew what it was. He had already asked me the week before whether Gung Gung would die and I broke his big heart by saying that if I didn’t tell him the truth then he probably wouldn’t believe me again if I said he wasn’t and then he did quite soon later. He already told me that he loved Gung Gung so much and wished he could live with us forever. I knew exactly how he felt. There was nothing I could say to take away his pain except for how much Gung Gung loved him and loved us all.

So when I said I had something to tell them, he knew and asked me not to say it but I had to. Tears followed from all of us. My eldest Daughter cried and declared how unfair it was that this should happen when she was only seven. Indeed it was my darling. A short while later, my youngest enters into the fray and with all the upset knows something not good has happened. But being still only just five, it’s enough for her to know that we won’t be able to see Gung Gung in person but he will always be with us in our hearts and we will always have the memories of the times we spent together.

It is something to hold onto that, even though it was brief, we have new memories recently created. Like how he just took the girls off into town for ice cream by himself. I imagine he loved that. Just pottering into town with my granddaughters. My eldest was busy playing Pokemon Go with his Aunt J before I called my Dad to see where he was with the girls.

“Where are you Dad?”

“I’ve taken the girls for ice cream”

“But where are you?”

“In the shopping centre. Just past the watch shop.”

I had to ask my eldest Daughter to name the shops she could see to work out where they were. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that ice cream shop now. My eldest and I went after them and they were allowed any flavour ice cream they wanted. Followed by coins for those machines you see around that give out little toys. Small gifts, simple gestures.

And just a month later, we went out for dim sum lunch to celebrate my youngest’s Birthday. My Dad looked so happy to be surrounded by 11 people who all known him as Gung Gung. Some grown up with children of their own. These memories are all the more precious because we have so few of them.

It seems unfair that we only just arrived back to have more of these outings. I think a lot of my sorrow stems from not having enough. Not enough time together. Not enough memories. Not enough for the children to hold onto. I may be wrong on this point. The older two have excellent memories. When they choose. They seem to forget every morning the getting ready for school routine. My youngest was worried over how she was very forgetful. When we talk about remembering my Dad in our hearts, she worried she would forget too soon. When I asked her what does she remember right now, she replied, “Gung Gung always gets my elephant and pretend to hide it from me”. I think that’s a pretty good one because elephant is her most precious belonging of all.

And during this time, what I will remember is how these three children looked after me too. Not just because they keep me busy with the daily stuff. That carries on regardless of everything else. No. Children have huge capacity for love, kindness and empathy. They talk about him and how they wish he was still alive. They give me hugs and tell jokes to make me laugh. They give me a share of their advent chocolate.

There’s no hiding the fact that at times there is a visible air of sadness around me. Just at times an overpowering wave of emotion floors me. Like when the children and I were looking at their school portraits and how smart they looked. I could feel the tears flow from nowhere and suddenly two arms are around me. “It’s ok Mummy.” I explained why this was making me sad. How proud Gung Gung would be to see these photos. I can picture his face. “It’s ok Mummy, we can still give them to our Por Pors.”

These tiny arms and gentle voices that coax you back to the present. Their grand ideas of where they think their Gung Gung has gone. My eldest is convinced he’s living it up in a 5 star hotel. No make that a 7 star hotel Mummy! In other words, he’s in a good place having fun.

My eldest daughter put pen to paper and crafted a book of memories that she worked on for over a week to send him off with. She took the book to school, stood in front of the whole class and shared her memories out loud. My youngest made Christmas decorations to give him and my eldest chose socks that said ‘The greatest Dad in the galaxy”, I thought you’d like these for Gung Gung, Mummy. A bundle of notes from the children were given to my Dad.

“I loved you and I still do.”

“You will be in my heart every day and all the time.”

“I will miss you.”

“I will always remember you.”

I couldn’t have worded it better myself.

The other day we were talking about the state of the world. How did they feel about living in the UK? What did they miss about Singapore? Are they enjoying themselves at school?

They all answered they were happy to live in the UK as there is so much more to do. Though they missed some friends in Singapore but were glad their best family were living close by. They were excited to see more of their family. I can see that they are happy.

Then we talked about their Gung Gung for a while. Here’s where they surprised me again. My Dad and I would speak on a weekly basis. He would insist on calling me back as he had an international phone card that practically made the calls free so he would say. As well as the usual parenting advice, the not to worry about hims, he would ask about the children and have a brief chat with them. Not at all the time did the children feel up to chatting but most of the time they were. He would ask them about what they’d been doing and they would ask him if he’d been out or had a cup of tea. But there were also times he would call and I wouldn’t be home from work yet. The children told me he would call any day he felt like and not just on a weekend.

“We spoke to Gung Gung a lot Mummy. You weren’t always there.”

It turns out they had their own shared moments too.

I haven’t quite been able to look at my huge library of photos yet. To seek out the ones of my Dad with the children. But I have looked back at the photos I sent to my Dad. My nephew getting my Dad a smartphone brought my Dad up to speed on his grandchildren. All the photos I would send him of them celebrating special occasions to the everyday normal. I know he would look at them often. I know this because he wasn’t that tech savvy and would accidentally call in the middle of the night!

I have felt a lot of sadness over the children being so young and my Dad passing away before they got to know him. But my children think the opposite. “We did know him Mummy.” All the conversations they had. The times I spoke about him. They knew the things he liked to eat. Photos of the children with my Dad. They’ve all helped to build a picture in their mind of him. I’m sure over time I’ll add to this picture.

But most of all, it was something my Dad did all by himself. The feeling he gave them that he loved them, he was interested in them and that he was kind.

I can’t think of any better reasons to be remembered for than these.

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Thank you for being here

This morning I spent a lovely two hours getting to know a new friend. It seems hard to imagine that I am only three months into being a new resident to the area. The one still introduced at the school gates as having just moved this summer from Singapore with three children and whose Husband is working abroad.

I was wondering whether it would be difficult breaking into established circles. Whether people would feel they already had enough in their networks and not need any more. The advice given is always just to get out there. And getting out there is something I’m plenty experienced in.

At first, getting out there was about helping the children feel settled. It has been a huge change for them. Lining up play dates with new friends in the park and at home has really helped them and it’s reassuring to see them make new friends so you know they’re not alone at school.

Who my new friends were going to be remained to be seen. It’s not as tragic as it sounds, trust me. But I have to say, I’ve been very lucky many times over at key stages in my life where I’ve been starting over. I think back to meeting E on the steps outside Maxwell Building during my first week at Uni. To meeting G at Harry’s, Dempsey Hill, Singapore just before becoming a new parent. To K reaching out over Facebook and inviting me to coffee on the first day of this new school year.

One simple Hello that defines a pivotal moment and shifts you towards a positive direction.

I’ve spent the mornings this week on my own. Again, not as tragic as it sounds. I just felt like it and because I figured I better tackle the clothing mountain blocking my way around the house. One is still functioning and feeding and keeping the children in clean clothing. This morning though, I enjoyed a really good laugh as we shared stories of our families and what brought us both to living in this town. We talked about her new business venture and I enjoyed the energy she gave off from the sheer enthusiasm she had for it. I left feeling lighter of heart following her warm and easy company.

Then I went on an impromptu two hour walk around The Stray. I’ve not been out running for over a month now, I don’t quite feel ready for that level of activity. Walking feels a more gentle way to move around for some fresh air and arrange my thoughts. And my thoughts invariably come back to the same point.

This morning I thought about all the many helping hands that have eased me through the past three weeks. And who will no doubt help me through many more weeks to come. I probably won’t even be able to articulate fully just how grateful I am for you. A simple Thank you doesn’t seem to do it justice. But it feels important to me that I try to say Thank you as best I can.

After I got home from my walk, I reread the bundle of cards I’d received. When the first one arrived I was almost surprised that it found its way to me at all. I’d just moved in not that long ago. Who knew my address? At the time reading the words inside were painful as it took me another step towards feeling the truth. But reading them all again today gave me a different perspective. Each message a gentle attempt to soothe some of the pain the sender knew I would be feeling. And physically taking the steps to send a card is so meaningful in an age when we all tend to text each other. Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

And thank you also for the kind gifts. Completely unexpected. Tissues to dry my tears whilst I feed the children the chocolate for dinner. Lotions and potions to beautify my swollen eyed, aged self. Flowers to mask the smell in case I don’t feel up to washing or cleaning the house. A lovely new recipe book to inspire me to cook properly for the children to override the guilt for feeding them chocolate for dinner. Whisky because my Dad would be horrified at my consumption of hard liquor. It’s a difficult time Dad!

What I really want to acknowledge is that you are helping and you have helped. And I know you feel my position and desperately want to make it better. When I have been the one offering my own condolences, all I wanted to try and do is to help the person who is hurting as much as possible. But how. Much of what I need to do can only be done by me, that part is true. However, every message, every call, every touch point, every time you listen, it all helps.

I cried when my good friend V said, ‘It’s to remind you that you are not alone in your grief, that I am thinking of you and your family’ and that is very comforting to know. Sometimes you do feel alone and suddenly someone pops up and says ‘I’ve been thinking of you’ and it’s like a speck of blue sky breaking through on a cold day.

And what would I have done without the offer of practical help. Coming from people I had known less than two months. Less than a month even. When we lived in Singapore with home help, there was always someone there to support the home. Not just so that I could go back to work easily or have lunch with the ladies. When my Dad was in hospital in April, I stayed on in the UK for a while longer. It was still hard, especially for my Husband but it was do able. Moving back to the UK to a new town made us wonder ‘how do people do it?’ How do you arrange everything whilst trying to work as well. It seemed so other worldly and complex. And they would say, it’s different when you don’t have home help. You build your networks, you pull together and you support each other. But how? I’ve just moved here. And this is where I realise people are inherently good and kind. And they will help whenever they can because I think that’s what people do. It has been a very humbling experience.

Several times I was late back from Newcastle whilst discussing arrangements for my Dad, the children were already in After School Club but when it looked likely I wasn’t going to make it back for the end of that, I was able to call upon two new friends K and K to help pick them up for me. I am amazed by this.

And then there were the times when I didn’t have to do any planning at all. When A tells me to just drop the children with them and come back again tomorrow. Who spends the day before the funeral with me and allows me to just be. And who will continue to plan regular touch points like that because she’s itching to declutter my house.

When E, thinking ahead for me before I could think for myself, arranging to take care of the children so I could go ahead and do whatever it is that I needed to do on the day for my Dad. How can I ever say an adequate Thank You to her too. E’s modest reply was ‘you’d do the same for me.’ No, I don’t think I would. She laughed. But I bet she’s now not so sure.

And on the day itself. A difficult day. But made bearable because of family standing by your side. I definitely wasn’t on my own that day. Not in grief, not in company. Each step, whilst painful, was taken in exactly the way we wanted it. The day is not yet a blur, perhaps some day it will be. But I won’t forget that I couldn’t have managed it without the support of all my family. Those who drove me there and back. Those whose grief mirrored my own. For propping me up with love and giving me the time to let go of the physical only when I was ready. For my Uncle, my Dad’s younger brother, who gives my phone two rings so I’ll call him back to check that I’m doing ok and is promising to cook all sorts of good things to eat.

In the days since, I’m thankful for the company of B who I emotionally blackmailed into making me a batch of caramel squares and who walked miles in the frost and stamped through frozen puddles just because I needed it. For entertaining my Brother so he thought you were trustworthy enough for us to go out for one small cup of gin whilst he and my Nephew unsuccessfully put the children to bed. But most of all, for saying it’s ok to stop doing stuff. To stop keeping busy and feel the grief even if it means watching Elf and crying until it’s time for school pick up. I haven’t done it yet but it’s good to know I could.

During this time, described as my time of need, I have been left overwhelmed by the kindness of you. I thought about this a lot as I walked around this morning. Reflecting on the words you’ve written or spoken. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and that can be confusing as your emotions battle with your rational mind. But it’s good to be told that everything you feel is valid and is not to be dismissed.

I also value the messages wishing strength and peace. Both vital at this time. I’m already strong but wishing me a bit more power from the ceiling just gives that little extra oomph to the day.

My Dad knew some of you from our younger years, referring to E, B and F as the girl from Wales/Guildford/Middlesbrough even though that may not be accurate twenty years on but a minor detail to him. And some of you who may have only met him on occasion have shared some really lovely memories. Some that I had forgotten about. They will no doubt come back in time when I think of my Dad with only good memories and not just wanting to cry. And I laughed hearing you repeat back some of my Dad’s wise teachings that I’ve talked about in the past. One bag of crisps a day only.

It’s still tough of course. I’m kept busy with Christmas upon us and with three young children to take care of. They help keep you moving forward. They too have been so amazing and kind and surprising. So surprising in their perception of things. They still fight and bicker like usual which sends me over the edge into parent meltdown mode but we’re doing ok.

As I reached home at the end of my walk. Thinking through all these thoughts. I thought about what my Dad would make of it all. I wonder what he’d make of all you lovely people he’s not met before. You’d be on your best behaviour of course. Addressing Mr Li, a minute elderly Chinese gentleman that you’d tower over. Talking at him about all sorts that he may or may not understand whilst he would nod politely, give a little laugh and say Thank You. And after you’d turn away, he’d say something completely unrelated about what you’d spoken about and you would be forever identified as the tall one from York. Or the running one from Singapore. Then he’d probably tell me to tell you not to run with headphones on. It’s too dangerous. Someone could come up behind you without you knowing.

I find it a relief when my children come home from school pleading for play dates with a whole host of names. Every parent worries about whether their child has friends. (Then they worry some more about whether they are the right sort of friends.)

I suppose I’m wanting to reassure you Mr Li, that through this difficult time, although I am without you I am not alone. I have my Husband, my children, my family, my humongous family whose daily antics crack me up and make me despair in equal measure.

Then there’s you. (That also includes the you who can be found in the friends/family intersection of a Venn diagram.) A global network of love, friendship and support. Thank you for making me feel many a touch better and just letting me know that you are there in so many different ways.

Mr Li would be very proud to know this, if he doesn’t already.

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In one week…

Since I started writing my blog to embrace turning forty it has become something I enjoy doing very much. Just for myself. Sometimes it can be a struggle finding time to write and what to write about but it is always there, gently ticking along. 

And I have given this much thought. If I want to continue writing then I need to talk about this too. Right now. As I journey through this time that I can’t stop happening, yet which feels like it’s not happening. Or like it’s happening someplace over there in my periphery vision. 

So forgive me that I talk about this. Feel free to come back another time, I do understand. 

So here goes.

Grief, whilst intensely private, is also widely public too. There is no keeping it to yourself. It is news that has to be shared, even if you don’t want to share it. Even if you don’t share it yourself. Each new person that knows, only compounds what you don’t want to believe has happened. It is quite true that people know what you have to say before the words have even been spoken. The very first person I had to break the news to, spared me the pain of having to say it out loud. I only had to answer ‘yes’. The second person, unable to digest fast enough the look on my face, before realisation hit them. 

And then, like how people describe ripping off a bandaid, you want to get the news out there quickly to your people. Before you lose the nerve to talk about it again. Can I whisper to you my most painful secret. Will you listen to me as I tell you how my whole world has changed forever. Placing upon you the burden of my tears, my sorrow, your heart breaking for me too. 

I’m still not ready for this. I still don’t feel it is real. I’ve been saying this for a week now. All of a sudden a week has passed us by. I’m shaking my head as I write this. Weird I know.  

And yet, I’ve known this day would come. But somehow I also forgot too. That’s what I remember thinking in the hospital. Since I got that voicemail from the nurse looking after my Dad. Could I call them directly on the ward. They were concerned. So I did. Can you come into the hospital as soon as possible. So I did. Asking for a huge favour from someone I barely knew but remain forever grateful to. Going into school and having to tell my children that Mummy has to go and see Gung Gung and they will be staying with school friends overnight and what an exciting and unexpected adventure that was going to be. 

Driving up to the hospital in disbelief. Shock even. Messages from my cousin to hurry but also drive carefully. Seeing my Dad. How was this change even possible. I just spoke to you the evening before. You were you. Telling me not to worry. You were on antibiotics and felt fine. You sounded fine. Like normal. Giving me parenting advice. Like normal. Everything was like normal. Except for the hospital part. And that was far from normal. 

Is it possible to forget something as monumentally important as being told your Dad may not have long to live. This was back in April this year. My Dad was critically ill in hospital then. I had already sat in the same small Nurses office before. Being told exactly the same news. It wasn’t any easier the second time. Twice I did not tell my Dad what I knew. And he didn’t need to know. But I knew and carried it in my heart, devastated back then with this knowledge. Clearly remembering asking myself whether I would feel truly happy again. I thought I had started feeling my loss then but as the Dr told us again and again, when the time comes it will hit you afresh and to go easy on yourself.  

So how did I forget? Well, after five weeks in hospital he gradually got better. With the help from many others, my Uncle who cooked daily for him and my cousin who was there to look after him when I wasn’t. You could also hear it in his voice day by day in our phone calls. Then the phone calls were no longer daily as normal life resumed. It was at this time that our plans to relocate back to the UK were underway. And whilst of course it was sad to leave Singapore and all that was held there, and hard work to set up a new home over here in a new town knowing no one, I knew what else was there to be gained. 

I’ve only heard my Dad cry twice. Once at my Grandma’s funeral. The second time at the end of April when I called him from Heathrow Airport before my flight to Singapore. I said to him I would be back in three months. His voice broke at that point.

Even if it has only been for a few months. I would have preferred more. Just one more day I kept asking for. More time to see each other. More things to say. More photos to show you of what we have been up to. More of everything. And the terrible thing of knowing there will be no more, is that you start silently playing a warped game of ‘Have you ever…’ Which changes to ‘I will never…’

I will never be able to talk to you again. I will never be able to share this moment of your grandchildren’s day with you. I will never be making plans to see you. 

I will just never.

And understanding that is the hardest part of this journey. Because I am not ready for this. But who is. 

My Dad though, surprised the medical and nursing team. Several times they thought it wouldn’t be long. Including that day over two weeks ago. The Dr predicted just hours. So all the family came to see him. And just as they were about to leave, my Dad decides no one tells him when it is time. He came back to full consciousness. We had good conversations that night. With him asking me who had come to see him that day. So I listed everyone who came. He asked again several times that night. Almost incredulous that he missed it all. Just recalling this makes me smile. 

My Dad smiled a lot. He liked his photo taken. He smiled a lot for photos. 

That next day when his Consultant came to do the rounds, they told me that they were surprised to see the change in him because of his blood test results. They were not good. That part was not reversible. They made it very clear. I think back and wonder if I accepted this information too easily. But what else could I do. My whole focus was my Dad being comfortable. Making him aware that he was not alone. That he was loved. That he was safe and I would help him as much as I could. But on the ward he did feel safe and he did trust his Consultant. It was evident in the exchange they had that morning. And it was good to see this between them.

Doctors and Nurses must care for so many people day in and day out. But when they say they remember my Dad from his stay back in April, I believe them. And it comes as no surprise that they remember how polite he always was and how he liked to drink warm water and tea, no sugar. And he in turn appreciated the fact the staff looked after him so well. That the support staff remembered to fill his flask with hot water and cleaned his false teeth for him. 

My Dad always said thank you to everything with a smile. He is one of those rare types of gentlemen. 

We all underestimated him. Mistaking his small frame for a frail man. I mean he was physically quite frail from illness. Weak lungs and a few other things. Hence another chest infection could go either way. But the way he hung on for all those extra days. Showed a man of great strength. To the point where the Dr said they were giving up on predicting when, as he played to his own rules. Quite right. And he did. Choosing his moment exactly so. 

And even though I wasn’t there, I would like to believe that my Dad knew I was where he wanted me to be. With my own Husband and children. I had told my Dad all week that I had to go home and look after the children because my Husband had to return to Singapore for work. We were already lucky enough with how generous his work had been allowing me this time to spend with my Dad. So I left the hospital that afternoon, said Goodbye to my Dad and I’d see him tomorrow as I was coming  back up with the children so they could see their Uncle. But I knew any visit thereafter would be brief. Perhaps he knew it too. 

That Friday I got home and we took the children to our first proper Christmas market. Fairground rides. Mulled wine. Hot chocolate. I called my brother to say I was back safe.

In April and a few times before, my Dad had said if it was his time to go, it would be ok because my Brother and I were grown up with lives and families of our own. He worried most about leaving us too soon when we were children. Probably because that’s what happened to him and his siblings, but that’s another story. He was content. His job fulfilled. 

Even so Dad. I’m still not ready. A week on, I feel so sad but a little less like I can’t breath without crying. I still cry of course. I easily cry. Even before this. Let alone after this. But this is different. 

Right now I feel like the world and the way I move around in it has changed forever. I asked others if they felt that way too. 

Someone suggested I write through this. I can now see why it would be cathartic. By writing this down, it allows room to remember other parts that are not altogether sad. Some parts are even funny. Other parts poignant. Some parts belonged to the memories of others who have generously shared them with me so that I can collect double memories.

My Dad, my beloved Dad, Mr Li passed away peacefully a week ago Friday with my brother by his side. 

Saying it out loud here doesn’t make it feel any more real but it has helped. In the coming days and weeks perhaps there’s more I would like to say. But for now it’s enough. 

To my much loved Dad. I know you were tired. I could see it. And in that moment when I said to you it was ok to go because my heart knows one day I will see you again. Not just yet though but I definitely will. 

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made through this justgiving page to Ward 29, Freeman Hospital Newcastle. 

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mrscli

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With a fizz, pop and a whizz bang

I can hear the last few crackle and pops fading away. It’s been a decade since those familiar sounds signalled the start of shorter days and colder nights. Since the clocks went back an hour last weekend, there has been an unfamiliar drop in temperature outside. Oh my gosh! So much for acclimatasing gradually into a traditional northern English winter. 

I’ve gone from embracing this cooler weather to sporadically yelling ‘I’m bloody freezing!’ We’ve been going to the local park every day after school. In the early autumn days that was lovely. Sitting in the late afternoon sunshine, chatting to other parents over a coffee, only calling out home time when it was time for dinner. 

Now, now you’ll be lucky if I can manage 20 minutes of non body movement on a cold wooden bench whilst my ability to chat to other parents diminishes by the second as my face freezes up. I mean it’s possibly just me. I have seen some people still in shorts. And it is no use saying to me ‘But you’re from Newcastle!’ Do you know how many years, nay decades it has been since my proper north east of England days? I’ve just moved back from the tropics for goodness sake!

I AM FREEZING! 

And I am not the only one in this household who thinks the same. #2 was in tears last night after just two hours outdoors. Trussed up in multiple layers and a big thick winter coat, hat, scarf and gloves. I don’t know what else she can wear for when winter sets in proper. We had all been admiring the fireworks when suddenly, painful yelps could be heard from #2. Baffled as to what could have happened #2 woefully declares her fingers are not working and her toes have disappeared. 

And she was right. I couldn’t feel my toes on the walk home either. Nor was my mouth formulating the shapes to speak. But #2’s distress was too funny as you see unfurl before you the idealistic notions of playing in the snow to the reality of living in conditions for snow to happen. I’m sure in time, they will all acclimatise. Maybe I will too but until then it’s tempting to see sense in #2’s declaration that she was catching the next flight back to Singapore.

Bonfire Night. Guy Fawkes Night. Fireworks Night. It’s a brand new occasion for #1, 2 and 3. Who is this Guy Fawkes? Why do we burn him on a fire? Why was he naughty? These are quite terrifying concepts for young children. As we gloss over the story on our way to said Bonfire Night the local church are handing out free sugared doughnuts as a timely distraction. This will mark all that is good about Bonfire Night forever for #1, 2 and 3. 

Fireworks are one of my all time favourite things. The explosion of sound and colour against a clear night sky just makes me happy. In Singapore we were truly spoilt for magnificent fireworks displays. But I feel there is something more authentic just standing watching a frenzy of fizzing, popping, crackling fireworks going off in the freezing cold.  

There’s a proper massive bonfire, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was a teenager on a beach in Sunderland. And actually a house just down the road and around the corner from ours had their own mini bonfire going on in their front garden which concerned #1 no end. He was pleased to see just the embers were smouldering when we passed it again on our way home.

The other thing I did today was boil a lot of sugar. A lot of sugar. And syrup. For cinder toffee and toffee apples. I honestly don’t know why I felt the need to make my own. I mean when cooking for small people, homecooked from scratch is usually the better, healthier option. But sugar is just sugar. I could have just bought them from the shops. 

But then again, there is something soothing to be indoors on a FREEZING cold afternoon measuring sugar and syrup with #1. And I have to say, it is not so easy to make your own toffee apples. I’m not even sure the cinder toffee is right either but #1, 2 and 3 were more than happy.

And that is enough for me. For these occasions will come to mean something to #1, 2 and 3 as we add it to the other calendar of events. Creating new traditions as we embrace this new life and add some warmth in our hearts to defrost those fingers and toes so we will brave the cold outdoors again. 

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A proper cold Halloween

“I can’t wait for Halloween”, says #1.

“It’s today!”, replies #2.

“I know”, answers back #1.

I wasn’t sure whether we’d be out Trick or Treating tonight. Not just because I’m scared of all things spooky. I even couldn’t cope with #3 randomly “woo oohing” around the house this past week in a Casper the friendly ghost fashion. 

No, it’s more to do with being without a ready made condo community on our doorstep. It’s a bit tricky figuring out what’s the norm when you’re trying to create a whole new normal for yourself. This time last year, #1, 2 and 3 had wrapped up three Halloween events already. Which looking back now seems a bit excessive for Halloween but a lot of fun. So much fun for #1, 2 and 3. 

Without the security of a ready made condo community, Trick or Treating seems to hold many people in conflict about going knocking on the doors of (mostly) strangers to basically ask them for sweets. Of course we all get where the concern comes from. So what do you do in these different times to that of our childhood. Though I’m not sure it was considered that acceptable even back then when sweets were actually a proper treat. 

So I’m of sort giving up on the idea when a very kindly teacher sends a note home with every child, inviting them to come Trick or Treating at her house. Well at least there’s one house to visit and perhaps there’ll be a few more on the way. 

As it happens, there were whole streets festooned with cobwebs and pumpkins. The scary and the sweet were out in dedicated sugar harvesting mode. Cries of all 200 bags of sweets have gone could be heard from several doorways but by then #1, 2 and 3 plus their three friends have reached sugar saturation point. It’s so dark at 6pm that you can’t see the amount of sweets that have bypassed the Halloween bag! 

And it’s funny how when Trick or Treating there are no cries of “How much further do we have to walk?”, “I’m coooold!”, “Can we go home now?”. In fact I’m the one yelling how cold it is and I’ve got three layers on! With a long cloak not just for Halloween effect but in a bid to keep extra warm! I found myself admiring and nodding in approval at those wearing full on fleecy onesies as my next year’s Halloween outfit of choice. Makes a change from sweating it out in the tropics wearing 100% polyester.

As much as #1, 2 and 3 were keen on the haul, they were equally excited about giving out the treats too but we were out ourselves during prime time. Would we get any Trick or Treaters ourselves? They enthusiatically looked up and down the street. Practically wanting to open the front door and shout out to passersby to come knock on our door. And their yells of excitement when they heard the doorbell ring and proudly held out their cauldron of treats made me very happy for them. 

So that’s our first Halloween in our new town done. All that’s left is to remind myself I still have my Halloween face on before I head off to get ready for bed and scream at myself in the bathroom mirror. 

Happy Halloween!

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Lets stay together

Ten years of marriage. It seems like such a milestone to reach and then all of a sudden it’s here. Over the years, Husband and I had talked about how we would celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. Particularly when not much celebration had gone into seemingly less significant anniversary years. When that happened, we vowed we’d make this one something special. 

Would we be able to take a few days away somewhere on our own now that #1, 2 and 3 are older. Would we be able to have a dinner with our Bridesmaids and Best Men. Would we be able to take #1, 2 and 3 back to where we got wed.

Well it turns out that none of these things are happening. I’m not even in the same time zone as Husband. I’m sat on our sofa with Strictly Come Dancing on in the background. Something I can do without Husband sat here silently rolling his eyes. Especially after I’ve had The Undateables and First Dates on earlier in the week too. Whaaat!? I’m catching up on nine years of missing out on British culture and what is shaping the great minds of tomorrow.

 I don’t want to paint a tragic figure here but last night I was listening to Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ all on my own some. It was our first wedding dance song you see. A beautiful song but very hard to shuffle to. As I was listening to the lyrics in the quiet of the night, I thought about our wedding day and how…fresh, I guess is the word I would use to describe how we were then. Perhaps like all young newlyweds. 

‘Let’s stay together, whether times are good or bad, happy or sad’

Ten years later, what have I learnt? Well that times can be good and bad, happy and sad. Mostly exhausting. A buzzing hive of activity that never stops when young children are involved. Their needs are our priority. Their calls of ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy’ reaching up from waist height often the only sounds we hear. The number of times I’ve heard from other couples celebrating a night out/weekend away as an occurrence as rare as sparkling unicorns. We love our family. We love each other too. 

Ten years have passed and we have experienced so much, far beyond what we could have imagined that day. The upheaval of moving to another country, starting a family on our own, taking on new challenges as a unit of two, figuring out the answers and finding our own way without knowing what the outcome would look like. It has certainly been an adventure. Not always plain sailing. But strong in the belief that every decision made, every action taken, is for the good of us. 

It is without doubt disappointing to be apart from Husband on our 10 year wedding anniversary. Not because I feel like I’m missing out on the spoils such celebrations bring, but because I am missing that other person, the only person, who has shared exactly the same days that I have. Except of course for these past few months since I have moved back to the UK with #1, 2 and 3. We are in the midst of good and bad, happy and sad. For how could we be truly happy without being together. One of my biggest fears about starting back on my own was ‘can I really do this?’ Can I do this on my own? 

As a trailing spouse in Singapore, dependent on Husband’s employment visa, one can become fairly invisible. Even when in Gainful Employment in my own right, I was still tied to Husband’s  status. That’s just how the bureaucracy worked out. So to suddenly do a 360 degree turn and be the driving force behind setting up a new home is daunting. When it comes down to it, we are all stronger than we believe. Especially if we have a supportive network to cheer us along the way. But the greatest pillar that I could possibly have is to know that Husband is there everyday. To listen, comfort and reassure that all is well and who is encouraging me to plan ahead for what I want to do next. 

It is quite odd to be conducting a long distance relationship at this point but we’ve done it before and having to rely on more traditional modes of communication. None of this videocalling malarky. Perhaps it comes as a timely reminder not to take anything for granted. Though we inevitably always do. Like being blase about celebrating your wedding anniversary because you think there’s one every year.  Whether you celebrate quietly or go all out, do something on your Anniversary to acknowledge to one another just how far you’ve come and what you’ve overcome, for the good of you.

Happy 10th Wedding Anniversary to us.

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And just like that

As bright as three shiny new pound coins, #1, 2 and 3 left the house, bounced down the road and around the corner, off to explore new places and be amazed by great things. 

It has been a long summer holiday for these three. A lot of change. A lot of moving around. A lot of waiting. But finally, a step towards normality. 

Filled with a good mix of nerves and excitement, #1 and 2 started their new Big School just a couple of days ago. Thrown right in at the deep end having never seen the inside of their new school before. What an adventure. And such bravery from them. For what else can be more nervewracking at that age than being the New Kid. The one that doesn’t know what is expected of them. 

  • What do I wear.
  • What’s my teacher called.
  • What do I put in my bag. (Actually this is more for me)
  • Where are the toilets.
  • What if I get scared.

Two years ago I was sending #1 and 2 off to Big School for the first time. They were fine. Two years later, I was sending them off again. They were fine. As I knew they would be. I took them to meet their new teachers, who were waiting to welcome them in class with big friendly smiles. I could feel their hesitation. A few more moments of delay. A few quiet words of nerves. ‘Mummy, I’m scared.’ I know sweetheart but you will have a brilliant day. And I will be waiting at the gates for you.

And of course they did. Brimming full of excitement and hardly believing their good fortune that for school lunch there was ice cream! Ice cream inside some kind of cake. Wow, that sounds exotic. Artic roll? 

The relief is palpable as I hear them excitedly chatter about their day. And the hug. That hug you get when they see you immediately after school. I’m so glad for the chance to get these hugs again. Those arms wrapped around you, filling you with warmth. Then it dissipates like steam and normality resumes. “I’m hungry Mummy.” “Can we go to the park? Whhhhy noooot!”

So you see, I’ve been through this before. I’ve done the whole starting school thing several times. I should be a Pro at this. I should be writing my Get Up and Go List with all three in Big School. Six hours a day of quiet time. Isn’t this what all parents have been waiting for? The countdown to the end of summer holidays and back to school. 

Yes that is quite true. When I was in Gainful   Employment, school marked a sigh of relief that their time was going to be properly occupied and I no longer had to wonder what to do with them outside of the annual leave Husband and I could take.

Equally, since giving up Gainful Employment I have enjoyed seeing their faces everyday. And not just for the last hour, half hour of the day. Some days have been looooong. Some moments of some days could be better but overall, I wouldn’t be without these days. Especially when I think about how fleeting every stage of their childhood can be.

Perhaps it’s because I know how fleeting it is, preparing #3 for Big School has been the hardest. Apparently it always is for the youngest one. Your last baby all grown up. The one you don’t mind crawling into your bed space in the middle of the night, long after the older ones slept all night in their bed. You don’t mind because you know one day it will stop, this little squidgey person snuggling up to you. And one day you want it to stop because they are taking up too much bed space. 

I always enjoyed shopping for school uniform. I think it’s because it was the only time you got so many new things at once! New clothes, new shoes, new bag and new stationery. It seems it’s just as much fun for #1, 2 and 3. (Less so on our pockets though. Three lots of uniform, school bags, PE kit, welly boots.) #2 and 3 have been wearing their new school shoes indoors for days! They are so proud to be wearing their new uniforms and they look so smart in them too.

It’s funny this whole Big School thing. Now that it’s the end of the day, I can laugh about it to myself. How this morning I could barely hug #3 closely and wish her a brilliant day before I could feel the tears threatening to fall. She had no doubt it was going to be ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT. Yesterday we talked about how she felt about starting Big School, she was ready. Then she said “you’re going to cry Mummy.” Really? Why! “Because you’ll miss me.”

Ah. She got me there. 

The walk was barely long enough. The Goodbyes in the school yard all too brief. I help her place her bag on her peg and walk her into her new little world. It’s colourful, warm, fun and exciting. This is where #3 belongs. She’s waited patiently for today. For the uniform, the shoes, the friends, the learning. The learning. Constantly telling me that she doesn’t know how to read the words yet. I’m sure it won’t be long. 

I watch her through the window. Overhearing other parents talking about the Parent Syndrome. I have Parent Syndrome too. I wonder if #3 will look up and see me for one more wave. But of course she doesn’t. She’s looking around with a curious happy smile on her face in her smart new uniform and shiny shoes. Full of confidence. She’s looking happy. And then she moves out of sight and it’s time for me to move on. 

But before I do, the Teaching Assistant has already clocked another one with Parent Syndrome. She comes over and asks if  I’m ok, offering words of comfort and encouragement.  I feel even more ridiculous admitting #3 is #3 but she reassures me it’s all quite regular. 

There are days you cry out for ‘ME’ time. A quiet moment to sit down and have a hot cuppa tea uninterrupted. None of the multiple echoes of “Mummy, Mummy”, being able to get jobs done within half the time it takes with three in tow. Sort out boring admin jobs. Clean and tidy. Go out running. Have coffee. Find new cohorts. Regain Gainful Employment. Read a book. Do something new! 

Six hours seemed to pass by quite quickly before I’m back in the school yard. There’s #1 and #2. We go and collect #3 together. She’s all smiles and dishevelled curls. A sign of a brilliant day. 

Later on, we all ask her how she felt. She thinks about it. 

“I almost cried but then I was having too much fun.”
And that is why she’s ready to join in with the big kids.

 

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