The Summer of Children

Summer of Children

School’s out for Summer!

We introduced the kids to the genius that is this Alice Cooper track last weekend and I’m pleased to say that the air guitars came out in force immediately – and we all appear to share the same inherent family lack of musical talent.

That’s it. Term is done. The first year of school in Shanghai has been successfully completed and we have three kids that can now all converse with each other in their own secret language – that most people over here (other than me & hubby) can understand.  This is not going quite as planned.

It seems to have come around so quickly.  I was just getting myself sorted. Just used to how the routines ran and worked.  Just feeling like I was getting to know the amazing community that exists here – and boom – all change (again).

Point to note number one: Ex-pats leave town really quickly. 3pm school finish. 5pm car to the airport.  For those of us who have stayed around a little longer, it becomes a ghost town pretty swiftly.

Point to note number two: Kids aren’t just breaking up for the holidays.  Families are not just heading off on a nice two-week sunny vacation.  Families are leaving – for good – and lots are departing much quicker than anyone expected (themselves included.) Such is the temporary nature of ex-pat life.  Friendships are formed, and then ‘lost’, quicker than in normal life.  The fact that they get formed quicker is a good thing, yet also a little challenging I think – and I’m only on round one of this cycle.

Point to note number three: Time passes very quickly out here.  Our (almost) 11 months out here has gone by in a flash.  We transitioned from ‘newbies’ to feeling like locals before we even realised it – and it will soon be our turn to pay it forwards and welcome the newcomers into town.  To help them adjust, settle, integrate.  I am excited and amused by the fact that people will think of us as ‘experts’ out here.(Ha! How little they know!)

And all of this brought me round to thinking about how odd it is that I have 3 children, one of whom is now 7, and I have never yet spent a whole summer with my kids.

In the UK, I always worked.

The children were all at nursery in their early years – and so I had no childcare issues to worry about.  Nursery was always open.

8 – 6.

51 weeks a year. (Luckily the office closed for Christmas in the same way nursery did.)

When our eldest started at school, we were worried about what we would do to cover the 6 week summer holiday.  We planned summer camps. And split vacation leave. Plus a week together somewhere in the middle.

But in the end, we didn’t need that plan because Number 3 arrived and Hubby scheduled his Paternity Leave to kick in as the school year ended.  I went back to work.  Hubby had some quality time with the 3 of them (or something like that.)  Summer survived. Jobs in tact.

Then there was last summer.

Moving to Shanghai at the end of the school year was an extreme way to deal with the summer childcare issues that would have faced us – but it did the trick.  I honestly don’t know how we would have managed the 6 week break without feeling stressed, full of guilt (about both the kids and work) and without being significantly lighter in the bank balance department.

And now there is this…

My (first) summer of children

So the Shanghai plan has allowed for me to create what is my first summer of children.

Today was my last day in the office for two months.

We fly back to the UK on Saturday – with Hubby in tow for the first week – and then I get three weeks of me and the kids. Before we head off to Helsinki to meet up with the Hubby again and disappear off to a little lake house for a week – to celebrate a big birthday of mine, in a rowboat, on a lake, in the never-ending sun of a Finnish summer!

(Please let it be warm. Please let it be warm. When I’d sold the idea of making use of connecting flights to the hubby, I know he had been thinking of Bali or Thailand – and I appreciate the good humour with which he has accepted Finland!)

I’ve given myself some homework tasks for those quiet evenings when the kids are asleep and I’m on my own. And I have a plan for my return to work come the end of August. And I know how lucky I am. To have been able to design this plan and then put it into action.

Because after this year of upheaval and excitement and adventure, I am so looking forward to my summer of children.

I have (almost) no plans. (Which I will admit, for me – the planner, is a little frightening.)

I have good (no, great) friends helping us out (above and beyond, as always) – sorting meet & greets and places to stay, and tea and wine and the sort of catch ups that never-ending friendships allow for.

And we will play.  We will sit outsides in the fresh air (when the weather allows for it.) We will go to bed late.  We will swim and get messy. (We will argue and shout and have many a tantrum, I am sure – and that’s not even taking the kids into account!)

And I will be forever grateful for the mere fact that I have this time.  (It was not something that had ever crossed my mind as a possibility while I was a working parent in the UK.)

To make some more memories with the family – with people and in places that will stay in our hearts forever.  That we will talk about as we return to the crazy that is Shanghai.

And we will then have completed one full cycle of expat life.  And we will be raring to go for round two.

Bring it on.

Coming Home from Lopez

Coming Home

Coming Home

I travelled about 13,500 miles – from Shanghai, to Seoul, to Seattle, to Lopez Island, back to Seattle, to Taipei, To Fukuoka, to Tokyo… and then home. To Shanghai.

I took one maglev train, six flights, one seaplane, one ferry, one road trip style car journey – and plenty of connecting shuttle buses.

coming home

It still seems slightly odd to claim I’m ‘coming home’ to Shanghai – but I did.  I do.

And this time, I was coming home from Lopez Island.

My big, brave, grand, solo adventure. (The first in a very long time…)

It took 6 days in total – and almost 3 of them were travelling.

I had two Thursdays.  But not much of a Monday. (Hard to manage for a compulsive, daily diary writer.)

coming home

I had sunshine, rain, a double rainbow, a full moon, visiting seals, more eagles (Golden & Bald) than I could count (they were everywhere – lined up like seagulls on the beach),  and just to top it off a passing Orca or two.

I finally met a friend from Seattle, who I had only ever connected with over the airwaves – yet who comes from about 5 miles away, back in the previous life.  (And the good news was, we got along in person… it could have been rather uncomfortable otherwise…)

And why did I do this?

I hear somebody (not sure who) ask.

Because an amazing, intelligent, inspiring bunch of women (a branding expert, a Google exec, an Olympian – just to highlight a few) were invited together there (by a magical Coach) to talk about Leadership.

And what ‘Women’s Leadership’ might look like as we move forwards.  As we deliberately try to steer ourselves away from the current line of masculine lead history.  And that topic fascinates me. It is what I am working to build and grow, both for myself, and for the people around me.

It was an amazing weekend.

Coming from Shanghai, there was more fresh air, more big sky, more water, more nature, more SPACE (to be, to think, to dream) than I have experienced in a very long time.

And it was exactly what I needed. To lift me up. To propel me forwards.

And homewards.

We were left with a poem – from one of the wonderful women (from a rather marvellous & beautiful poetry book called ‘salt’ – by nayyirah waheed)

This really sums up how I feel about the whole experience.

It felt like coming home.

coming home


Enjoy the silence – you can find it in the most surprising of places

Enjoy the silence

Enjoy the silence

It’s funny, but the more silence I find, the more I hunt it out – and it might be a cliché, or it might just make you think of an old Depeche Mode song – but I truly do enjoy the silence.

I meditate each morning – first thing, before anyone else is up & about. And even though my mind still wanders all over the place (and this is after years of start / stop mindfulness, plus a cracking 130 day run of just doing it, no matter what) I love my few minutes of silence.  The peace and calm it brings me is huge – my early morning conscious pause before the chaos begins.

And still I search for more quiet.

It’s heading towards the end of the school year here and everyone is tired, and getting grumpier (though the sweltering heat may have something to do with that as well.)

But us parents got a day of respite on Monday – when the International Schools were open, but offices closed for the Dragon Boat Festival weekend.

Hubby and I headed out on a Wheely Bike Tour of the Former French Concession district of Shanghai – and in amongst the chaos of the city, with the huge roads and the millions of people, we were taken to what were referred to by our guide as Shanghai’s villages.  Lilongs – old alley communities – and beautiful Shikumen houses,  with potted gardens and decorated front doorways.

enjoy the silence

enjoy the silence

And it was silent within those alleyways.  Just peace and quiet and calm – and even a small breeze, which was very welcome.

It felt so different to Beijing 10 years ago – where I only realised how much I missed the silence when we left the city for a weekend – and my whole being was so shocked by the quiet that my ears started to ring – like at the end of a concert when you leave the stadium.

It was wonderful – a really great day out exploring this place that we now call home.

And more adventures…

And so the quest for quiet (& adventure) continues… and is leading me towards Lopez Island.

A catch up with a friend, talk of a Women’s Leadership retreat, a joking conversation about wouldn’t it be lovely if I could make it out there from Shanghai…

An insanely supportive, travel-obsessed hubby, with a love of route maps and flight info, happily accompanied by a selection of airmiles and upgrade vouchers…

And I’m off…

Next Thursday I get on a plane and head to Seattle, via Seoul.

Where I then get on a seaplane (hubby has never done this – travel trump card time!!) and fly up & out to Lopez Island, where I’m spending 3 days in a beach-house next to a Nature Reserve, with a wonderful bunch of 9 women (mainly from the surrounding areas, it must be said!) and I cannot wait.

This is a treat beyond treats. An extravagance gifted by the sheer magic of believing that anything is in fact possible if you ask.

A long haul flight, on my own.

The beauty and expanse of the Pacific North West coastline.

My soul is singing already.

I will enjoy the silence.