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

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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The end of summer

Perhaps not quite the end of summer. Who knows. There may even be an optimistic few days of balmy weather towards the end of September to send us into a frenzy after our summer/holiday/Singapore standard wardrobe has been relegated to the backs of cupboards and wardrobes. 

I have never known The Weather to feature so prominently in daily life. It’s rather exciting how utterly unpredictable it’s going to be. Rather like the temperament of #1, 2 and 3 all at once. One moment it’s cloudy and grey, the wind picks up a bit and you consider putting on another layer. No sooner have you done this then brilliant sunshine breaks through the clouds and your legs feel on fire, protesting indignantly at being covered up.

My Birthday Treat this year was an outing to York Maze complete with pig racing (put it on your bucket list) and an international corn eating competition no less. (To think a couple of years ago I spent it sipping posh BOGOF martinis at the glossy hotel bar in the Hyatt.) You can just tell the out of towners, the rookies to a British summer by the way they react to the whim of the Weather. Both Mrs Cake Pops and I were like this:

Grey clouds overhead.

She: It’s getting a bit chilly now isn’t it. I’ll go get us coffees.

Me: Ok, go get us coffees. I’m going to put my jacket on.

Sun peeps out.

She: It’s getting a bit warm now isn’t it. I’ll go get us ice creams.

Me: Ok, go get us ice creams. I’m going to take my jacket off. 

This activity is not just reserved for the Grown Ups. I have become a walking wardrobe for #1, 2 and 3. I’m expected to produce raincoats, cardigans, scarves, gloves, wooly hats at their request. And at their change of body temperature, I am equally expected to be a walking coat stand. 

If ever you relocate back to the UK, summer is the season to do so, even Spring if you can. Summer fills people full of cheery optimism and this is what you need when starting a brand new life. Winter receives unfair bad press I think. Why waste a quarter of your life complaining. But from a practical perspective, I’m glad we haven’t waited until December because the last few weeks of getting out and seeing all that is glorious about the UK has definitely softened the edges of transition. 

I’m pretty sure there will be days quite soon where the reality of the change of seasons is less romantic than I remembered. This makes it immensely important to store those days in the outdoors, it doesn’t have to even be sunny,  for the days indoors. But of course by then, I will be excellent at creating indoor entertainment.   

This last day of August marks the end of my first month back to the UK. It’s gone by fast hasn’t it. I can hardly believe it myself. I’ve been very busy looking at what’s around me. Exploring new ground, introducing #1, 2 and 3 to amazing new adventures. Mostly play grounds, parks, woodland walks. We’ve travelled several times to our soon to be new stomping ground and looked at houses and cars together. Involving them in the process of putting together their new life. It’s been a month, only a month, and if you ask them what would they like for lunch or dinner, the answer is still chicken rice. 

I have been so impressed with how much the UK outdoors is putting into getting people outdoors. Farms, parks and country houses that offer amazing days out with really fun activities and not everywhere charges an entry fee. This makes me look forward to other events in other seasons.

  

But to be fair, it hasn’t all been green fields and rolling hills. There have been clouds of confusion, blank space in my brain space, a lot of noise from #1, 2 and 3 and juggling a massive to do list in my head. 

You see, I haven’t had to do All The Stuff on my own for a long time. I’ve always had an extra pair of hands which takes the edge off  things in so many ways. Now all of a sudden and even if it’s not going to be like this forever, I am the person getting us from A to B about 90%, maybe a bit more, of the time. I think I’m getting better at it. I have to be but I’ll let you know in another post in a month’s time when we’ve got a new routine on the go. 

Humans, as #3 often likes to refer to us people, are a resilient species. We can draw immense strength when we need it but we also need to soften our hearts and let others in to help us along the way. This process of repatriation is a slow and long one. Quite frankly I am losing patience and I am weary of living out of a suitcase for six weeks with another three weeks to go. I completely understand why #1, 2 and 3 lose their rag and they have done amazingly well. They miss Husband to a heartbreaking degree and I can only provide big hugs and kisses and to wipe away their tears. They have been distracted with amazing outings and lots of fun and they have received warm welcomes from so many close to us who are very happy to see them, as we are them. But it is time they had their own space and familiar things around them. It is time to create and implement a new normal. One that welds both their Singapore and UK sides together before chicken rice is replaced by chicken nuggets forever.

The lazy days of summer are drawing to a close. August has been a wonderful welcome back. I’ve just returned from a week road trip with #1, 2 and 3 visiting family, godparents and friends. I could not say just how fabulous it has been to see the people of England who have helped us recharge for the next few weeks. 

As I turn my thoughts to the start of a new home, new school year, new school and new school system for #1, 2 and 3, here is where the real steps towards ‘settling in’ begin. I’m almost out of the waiting room and I’ve decided to start a new blog about it too documenting whether repatriation is as difficult as I’ve heard others say.

Until then, there’s still time for a last few glasses of Pimms. 

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Birthday Eve of new beginnings

Well actually new beginnings started 10 days ago. At the same time they haven’t really started at all. 

Since I arrived back in the UK with #1, 2 and 3, it has felt more or less like previous times we’ve been back on holiday but without the frenetic pace of travelling here and there trying to fit in people and places in a few short weeks. We also won’t be packing up and flying out again but we hopefully will be packing up to move into a new house of our own. 

I’ve been asked how does it feel being back in the UK after so long. In short, it feels quite surreal. I’m neither here nor there right now. Whilst I feel like we’re on holiday, I also need to think of the quite big things such as finding somewhere to live. Even getting a monthly mobile phone contract wasn’t as easy as I thought. It seems I’ve been away nine years and you can’t just pick up where you left off. 

So I guess you could say I’m in the waiting room just before starting my new life and the key is not to be impatient. As much as I would like to have a house, a car, a mobile monthly price plan and a routine, I have to wait for these things to happen. In short I want to have the regular ebb and flow of how my life used to run. This transit period feels like it is moving too slowly. And yet it’s only been 10 days since I landed. How long did it take me to get up and running when I first landed in Singapore? A lot longer than my memory cares to acknowledge.

But it is also quite amazing how quickly you adapt to your current surroundings. Perhaps it’s because I have #1, 2 and 3 to entertain that you push yourself to get out there as soon as you can. Or more to the point push them out there to avoid endless hours of bickering indoors. Everywhere we go right now, there is something new to see and who can make you see the ordinary from a different angle than from the viewpoint of small people. From supermarket aisles stacked full of good things to eat to the summer blooms in the neighbours gardens; from stairs in houses to walking past sheep and cows in fields. I get to experience all these things afresh with #1, 2 and 3. 

With more time to explore the neighbourhood where Husband grew up, we have discovered a number of places we had never been to before just a short drive  away. And whilst the first few days were unpredictable with sunshine and rain showers stopping play, when you grab hold of a good day, there is so much to appreciate and how many sights can you behold that could be better than sunshine across fields and watching small people round up the sheep. 

So far, the beginnings of this new life looks promising. I take it as a good sign that upon visiting our soon to be new home town that I feel a good sense of warmth. Yes, it is different to how life was in Singapore but there is also a new groundedness I feel will come about once we have moved there. 

And so tomorrow will be another Birthday. And as if to remind me, a few more grey hairs pinged out from nowhere. How do they do that? Just ping out of nowhere? 
This is my first Birthday celebrated in the UK for nine years. It brings Husband and I full circle to my Birthdays spent in the UK whilst he is in Singapore. (Maybe that’s the pattern for all our future moves.) I would much rather he was here than there and I take that as a good sign too.

So this Birthday Eve marks the beginning of something truly new. I’m interested to see what’s going to come in the next year. Yesterday on my run down country lanes I found a horse shoe and horse shoes they say bring good luck, so I hope it will be sprinkled with a dollop of good luck. And some for you too. 

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Thank you Singapore, you have been amazing!

Did you think I would leave Singapore on a sad note? That is not my style. I am going out with a happy face emoji like this 😊 and perhaps with a few of these thrown in too 🤗😍🤗😍😮.

I woke up from a good nights sleep 😴 at the Shangri La Rasa on Sentosa and no one could wake up unhappy ☹️ there. #1’s favourite part of any holiday is unlimited, help yourself breakfast buffet 😋. All the places we have travelled to around South East Asia have done this really well. But without thinking I went for the full English fry up instead of roti prata and soup noodles. 🙄

I’m on my way with #1, 2 and 3 to the UK🇬🇧 leaving Husband to fend for himself in Singapore 🇸🇬for a while longer. That’s the hardest part of this move😥. It would be totes different if we were all starting off this new chapter at the same time but you know, we’ll be ok. I will miss Husband and so will #1, 2 and 3 but we’ll take each day as it comes. 

Hence there’s this slight panic 😵 over suddenly parenting three on my own. Especially since we’ve had home help for the last seven years but fear not, I do know how to work the washing machine, I’ll do the ironing whilst watching Netflix and suddenly I’m all for dishwashers even though in my green marital days I told Husband we would never need a dishwasher as that’s just lazy 😒 and when we had kids they would do chores around the house like cleaning and stuff. Except I forgot to factor in that they need to weigh more than the vacuum cleaner before they are of much use 😕. Though I can already see that #3 has a clear talent for cleaning which will come in handy 🤗 and #2 is handy with some carpentry and #1 can do laundry sorting.

Among all the advice I’ve been given about parenting the regular way like the rest of the world, these are my new best friends first and foremost…. 🍷🍷🍷🍺🍺🍺🍻🍻🍻🍻🥂🥂🥂🍸🍸🍸🍹🍹🍹🥃🥃🥃. And in the UK these new friends cost way less than Singapore. Bonus. 🤗.

But that aside, I’m packed up 🎒 and ready to start this next new adventure of our own. Thank you for all your kind words of friendship and support these past few weeks. I’m so grateful for friends who have had #1, 2 and 3 over for all day, and I do mean all day, play dates, when the packers were around. Thank you for making the time to fit in last minute catch ups and dinners. Even at the very last hour for one more glass of bubbles.

Of course there’s a part of me that’s still sad 😫. Like not being in the same time zone as Brilliant New Adventure and having to wait hours for a reply to my photo and ‘what do you think of these?’ messages. But I’m so very glad that nine years ago, fate would put us both together again. ❤️.

Besides some of the more obvious life changing experiences involving travel, parenthood and Gainful Employment in a new country, the biggest and most significant experience I’ve encountered is the network of inspiring women I’ve met. 💪. Having reached that 40 PLUS milestone and starting afresh in your 40s, it could seem a bit daunting. Note I say could. But I’m totally nonplussed about that. I’ve been surrounded by strong, independent women all these years who do nothing but support each other in everyday things, sporting achievements and Gainful Employment advancement to have learnt a thing or two about communication and camaraderie. 👏.
For the past nine years I have had the support of many amazing women to get through all these new challenges. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it without you. I will miss your sound advice and good shoes 👠. But I know you’re just one whatsapp away.

Even though I have mentioned on other social media platforms that Twin One has a certain knack of encouraging my running 🏃🏼‍♀️prowess, I would not push myself as far without her watchful eye 👀. I’m pretty sure she’ll continue doing so when I’m over there too. And so she should. 👍. But covering four running routes in this last week whilst residing at Windsor Castle has taken a toll on my knees but filled my heart. 


  
There’s still a lot I’ve not done in Singapore and I keeping hearing of new hidden gems all the time like Mrs Imperturbable’s love of torch ginger and foraging for fresh herbs at Fort Canning.  As I sat there on a sun lounger watching #1, 2 and 3 charge around the poolside, I couldn’t help but feel thankful for all the amazing experiences I’ve had. The opportunity to travel to places I would never imagine I’d make it to and still more that I didn’t get to but feel I must some day.

At this juncture, I have new opportunities ahead and I have additional experiences, expectations and understanding to add to it. That’s quite something to keep in mind. 
Yes, I’ll miss Singapore and Asia. I’ll miss being in a culture that is also partly my own but now I know far better how to integrate that part into the lives of #1, 2 and 3. Lion dancing around the living room. Lantern walking in the garden. Earl grey chiffon cake for afternoon tea 🎂☕️.

This Singapore sojourn has been an amazing experience for Husband and I but it’s time for a new chapter. And almost like fate is guiding us towards it, just as I’m walking into the breakfast room this morning I happen to bump into an old friend who made the move to the UK just two and a half years ago. Hearing first hand of how it has been for their family has been so good to hear and we are already looking forward to catching up in the UK.

And don’t think I’m not thinking about all you people in the UK who I can’t wait to see! I just need to find a car 🚙 and house🏘 to live in before I’ll be making our first British summer road trip. 

And you know what? I can’t wait to see what this next chapter brings. 🤗😊

Thank you Singapore. I’ll miss all that is good about you. I’ll miss all these faces and so many more. Let me hug you all again right now. 🤗😘

But for now it is time to say Hello again UK! See you tomorrow 😍.

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Out with a bang

It’s my last sleep as a resident of Singapore. 

That is unless I get in an afternoon nap tomorrow which I hope is highly likely. I have no doubt we will be back to visit every now and then and marvel at what has changed and what remains the same.  There is much to love about Singapore. The weather is one where most people rave about what seems like an endless summer. Most days I’ve just felt hot and sweaty or even more hot and sweaty but I am definitely sure on a long, dark winter day I will look at photos of blues skies over Marina Bay Sands and wonder whether I will ever feel so hot and sweaty again. Perhaps I will even kid myself that I actually liked the hot and sweatiness and never lived in a semi permanent state of heat rage. 

Like most things you’re about to let go of, you suddenly feel reluctant to do so. A feeling that kept arising as I was trying to clear stuff out last weekend. On one hand, I never wore that blue top. But on the other hand, it’s a perfectly good top and I definitely could wear it again at some point maybes. Luckily Brilliant New Adventure happened to be right next to me, no doubt itching to grab a bin bag and declutter in a more efficient manner, she immediately picked up said offending garment and placed it in the see-no-more-forever pile. Which I then may or may not have retrieved from the bin bag. I honestly can’t remember.

In fact, this whole process has gone by in a sleepless blur. I haven’t slept more than 6 hours for quite a number of days. Some days I’ve been down to just three. I could close my eyes and fall fast asleep right now but sleep can wait a few days more. It seems having put into motion such a life changing big decision, I have the lost the ability to make simple everyday ones. Like what to eat when meeting friends for lunch and dinner. Often resorting on the goodwill of others to take pity and decide for me. Things must be pretty dire because when it comes to food, that never happens. I will eat what I want to eat and have some of yours too. When I’ve been asked what will I miss most about Singapore, one of the top three has to be the food. From $4 hawker centre fayre to amazing fine dining experiences at Michelin starred restaurants. Singapore – you have spoilt my tastebuds forever. Though I have to say that kidney beans and sweet corn should not be classified dessert components. Yet I was looking at #1, 2 and 3 tuck into an ice kachang this afternoon and they seem to find the combination very much a regular thing. 

And that’s the thing as #2 clearly demonstrated earlier this week. She identifies herself as being Singaporean, she knows Husband and I are not and therefore are the reasons why we have to move away from Singapore. The logic is quite simple in her mind. Singapore is our home. It’s been home for as long as #1, 2 and 3 have been around. So where are we moving to? It certainly can’t be home as home is here. It was an interesting observation made to me some six or seven years ago when I was still fairly new to the whole living away from home thing. I naturally missed the UK very much and spending time with valued friends always made it difficult to leave. But like with most things, something changes over time very subtly that you don’t even notice you think less about being over there and much more about being here.

So now it’s time to head back over there. Be positive for me and don’t tell me you’d rather be here instead of over there. That’s not very helpful when one is trying to imagine a whole new life someplace else. But actually I can’t even imagine what that whole new life will look like. I don’t have feelings of great euphoria but I’m also not being dragged out of Singapore against my will. I know that if we had decided to stay, a whole host of things would pop up that would make me feel less than content. But as with any occasion of letting go of something, there’s that slight panic of wanting to stick with something familiar, predictable even if it’s just not quite right it seems better than the unknown. But we are more brave souls than that aren’t we.

I know a new life is exciting and I am more than equipped to put into motion building a new life for ourselves. The possibilities of creating new memories for everyone makes me want to get on with it right now. Or tomorrow even. I can see small bubbles of new memories just ready and waiting to be collected. Things like Christmas in cold weather. The change of seasons. Walks up mountains and down valleys. These are the good things that will counterbalance the not so good things. The important lesson to remember is to keep moving forward and whilst you may mourn the loss of your old life, you should make the most of the present. 

In saying that, I’ve found myself organising gatherings and outings that has focussed on visiting familiar faces and places. The nostalgia is clearly all my own. For when #1, 2 and 3 have had play dates with old friends we haven’t seen so much of lately, they get right back into things without missing a heartbeat. And you wonder why you didn’t make more effort to see each more often especially when the children get on so well together. Easy to say outside of all school or Gainful Employment related activities. But it is still good to know and I wonder whether #1 and 2 will remember any of this time together. And I wonder how will we keep these many relationships going. This network of international buddies all over the globe. These kids are really lucky to be aware of the wider world at such a young age and to have friends in many interesting and wonderful countries to visit. I do intend on visiting many people when we’re back in the UK and hope that we will be just as comfortable with each other.  

Even though I have been on the farewell trail for some time, it still doesn’t quite feel real. I think I’m actually too tired to let the emotions hit me properly. It will probably happen some time next week when I’ve had more sleep. Or perhaps you and I over here are pretty good friends as it is and whilst things may be different, we will always be friends. I hope so. As I think back over the last five weeks of the farewell trail, I have seen so many of you for BBQs, coffee, lunch, dinner and running. The people who have been a part of our lives these past nine years at different stages. People who have provided good company, wise counsel and booze. People who #1, 2 and 3 adore. Whose children I have watched grow up. I know I will remain in contact with many of you and I know there are some people I may never see again. Two people said that to me as we hugged Farewell and that really unsettled me. There are of course, hundreds of people I’ve met and never seen again from days gone by. But when it’s said out loud, it can make you feel quite odd and sad to realise the high chances of it happening.

I had a list of Things To Do Before Leaving Singapore. The usual tourist hotspots but what #1 and 2 cared most about was seeing friends. Isn’t that lovely? And every spare moment has been spent catching up with old friends and yet still I didn’t get around to seeing all of you. So you’ll just have to stay on in Singapore until my next visit. And I wonder who will still be here in a year or two posting photos and check ins at places I once went to. 

Repatriation they say is harder than moving to a new country. But I guess it’s all about perspective. I have many new things to learn before I’ll even get our new family life going. It will definitely be different and hard but it is also different and hard over here too.  What makes it all worth while are the people you meet and I have met some wonderful people.

 

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