Category Archives: Shanghai Baby

How to say goodbye

how to say goodbye

I’m working on learning how to say goodbye.

It’s come round to that time of year again in Shanghai and so on top of goodbyes for the summer, there are the longer term ex-pat life goodbyes as families head off on the next part of their adventure.

I’m trying to get better at making the goodbyes feel less awkward. And it’s hard.

There are the people that I have spent the last two years with, closely connected. The people who made our move out here so much simpler than it ever should have been. Who found houses and school places. Who had BBQ’s and beer and ‘gave’ us their network of friends. What words there can express my deepest thanks and the strange shaped hole that will be left?

And then there are the people who smiled and said hello whenever they saw me and the gang. Who knowingly laughed along as I cajoled three kids on bikes with bags to school in the morning. Who took 3 minutes out of their day whenever I saw them to ask how I was doing. Who had the kids over for play dates or took them to parties to make my day a little easier when it was all a bit chaotic.

These are the unsung players in our adventure out here. We each have our own network of close friends, but these ‘extras’, these friendly faces, these awesome supporters… how can I say goodbye to them appropriately?

Each person I interact with out here shapes my overall experience. And yet the majority of these interactions are just so transient. Adding up to mere minutes of a life well spent… and yet…

I don’t want to ignore or avoid the goodbyes. I want to find a way to honour them. To let them know that their small kindnesses won’t be forgotten. They had an impact on me. They made a positive difference to me and my family.

And it’s been made more awkward for me this year, as I run off early from the school year – to have my own goodbye elsewhere…

I’m on my way to California for the last time – finishing up my Leadership course. How on earth do I say goodbye to those guys? My tribe. Well, maybe with those I’ll stick to Au Revoir or Hasta Luego…

Because what I do know is that these days, goodbye never has to be final. But for me, it does need to be heartfelt.

So maybe that is how to say goodbye.

Simply.

Honestly.

From the heart.

I will miss those that I no longer get to see regularly. And I will look forward to those precious moments when our paths unexpectedly cross again.

Leaning in to leaning out

 

leaning in to leaning out
image courtesy of unsplash

Leaning in to Leaning Out – the beginning

This journey started a long time ago – way before I could ever put words to it.

I spent my twenties working hard.  I got the job of my dreams and threw myself into it – heart, soul, hours, days and months. And I loved it. I stepped up and did things I could hardly believe. I worked with great people. Helped amazing events be realised. Worked for more hours than I would have thought physically possible. And I loved it.  And I was leaning so far in that when I fell over – I didn’t think anything of it. I just got back up & started again.

I got to travel and live abroad. I knew how ‘lucky’ I was and I loved it.

I got to choose to go ‘back home’ and carry on working with an amazing team. And I remember saying to my boss, one appraisal time, that what I really wanted was HIS job.

And what I remember now, more than anything else, is that he said: ‘Be Careful What You Wish For.

That was it though. I had set my stall out and that was what I was going to achieve.

Except when I started to get close, I started to realise that I wasn’t loving it quite as much any more. And this is where time started to slow.

right.

down.

It took years for me to realise that I didn’t want to go to where I was headed anymore.  That my heart was no longer in it. I was too scared and embarrassed to change course. To stop leaning in to what I had ‘wanted’ for so long – because if I stopped leaning in to that, what would support me? What would hold me up?  Who could I possibly be without the title, the pay cheque, the benefits, the ‘status’?

Leaning In to Leaning Out – the middle

Two years ago, I wrote this post... about how I was feeling. About the questions that were starting to form in my head. The options that were (slowly) becoming visible…

And I realised that I could ‘lean out’ from my previous choices. From what I assumed was ‘expected’ of me by others. From ‘the norm’. From the ‘corporate ladder’.  From London and everything I thought I had wanted…

I could lean out and follow my hearts desire – even if friends and family thought I was mad.

I could lean out and risk the loss of personal benefits for the gain of feeling like I was helping others little by little, to make some small corners of the world a little bit better, brighter, and less rigid.

Leaning in to Leaning Out:  The end?  No.

The Fresh Start!

So, two years on – and this week I got to set the new baby live:

Nicki Leaper Coaching

It’s petrifying.  My name, my words, my hopes and dreams are out there for everyone and anyone to comment on – and I’m well aware that it won’t all be kind.

And you know what? I don’t care.

Because this time round, I was a lot more careful what I wished for – and my leaning out has opened up a whole new world of possibilities – and I can’t wait to see where this adventure takes me.

(PostScript: I need to credit the rather wonderful Jessica McClure for the use of the phrase and sentiment behind Leaning Out.  When she told me about the Lean Out groups she runs, something just clicked – and so if you’re in or around the Seattle, WA region, and this has touched a nerve – get in touch with Jessica.  You won’t regret it.)

Leaning in to family adventures

leaning in to family adventures

Leaning in to family adventures… not falling over(board)

It’s amazing how one shift can change everything.

When we were back in London, we planned holidays to be as stress free and simple as possible… for the kids.  Portugal worked well. Short flight. No time difference. Resort life with buffet breakfast and kids club activities. A couple of hours ‘off’ in the afternoon with a book and a sunlounger.  Perfect.

And don’t get me wrong.  They worked. The little people were happy (relatively). We knew what we were buying into. We could pretty much guarantee sunshine. Our best friends were down the road.

And then came Shanghai.

Suddenly, holidays took a different slant… and we needed to find a way to embrace the changes.

Shanghai is a very long way away from most places, it would appear (other than the rest of China, obviously) –  but sometimes, we really want to get away from China… for a few days…

Plus… we’re in Asia.  We have chosen to change our entire world.  So we need to change our outlook on holidays as well…  It’s time for us to really start leaning in to family adventures.  Because adventure was the main reason we made this life change and it’s a huge value for me to honour (read more about that here).

And so this Lunar New Year we headed off to Hoi An, Vietnam – after a busy start to the calendar year.

And there starts the adventure…

Whatever it takes to get everyone to the final destination in one piece is just fine…

We had connecting flights via Hong Kong (which is a very civilised transfer airport, I must say…)

LeapPads while queuing for immigration? Fine.

Fries for breakfast while waiting for the flight? No problem.

Every single adult device known to man running the plane movie selection – with and without headphones involved – yep, that works for us.

The kids hate the travelling.  “It’s a dull and boring day” as the littlest one took to shouting.  Loudly. & Frequently.  So I’ll bribe any moments of non shouting peace I can get.

We made it to our hotel – and we were all still talking. Result.

(The fact that us grown ups had to climb through our wardrobe to get to the bathroom for the first two nights is irrelevant – another story for another time about cultural differences that do not show up on TripAdvisor!)

The little ones are brave

And I am a wussy-wuss.  Official designation, given to me by the eldest.

The swimming pools were not heated, and lets not forget that Vietnam is still northern hemisphere, so this is winter!

Do the kids care? No.

Do they laugh when I care? Yes.

Every single day I ‘ooohhed’ and ‘ahhhed’ my way into the swimming pools to join them on whatever freeze-inducing adventure they were creating.  They just leapt. Time and time again. Until they were blue and their teeth were chattering.  Then they got out. Asked for a snack. And went and did it all again.

The youngest and middlest went in fully clothed because they just couldn’t wait.

I couldn’t drag the eldest one out at the end of every afternoon.

And the littlest spent most of her time wandering around talking to any and every stranger she could find.  She co-opted more people to help her gather her swim toys every day than I thought possible.  She wanted something – she just asked whoever was nearest to help.

The little ones have absolutely no interest in sight-seeing

They are (mostly) happy to ‘see’ whatever happens to be passing them by on route to the swimming pool. Or to more food. Or to the people selling the LED ‘flingy things’ that they want. But if we try to take them ‘sight-seeing’ – no way.

They just take it all in their stride.  Everywhere they look is new and different and they just swallow it all up.  They don’t need to feel like they are ‘doing’ Hoi An.

The little ones amazed me by expressing gratitude

Ok, it was short lived. And did follow a supply of treats one afternoon.  But as I was waxing lyrical about the joys and privilege of travel (& how different it felt all these years on from my big Asia adventure with my father in tow) the middlest one said to us that he was grateful that we were spending the money we worked for on taking the gang to different places… and the other two begrudgingly agreed that it was indeed, quite a nice thing for us to do. All together. As a family adventure.

That made me quite proud of our gang.

And that’s a feeling well worth leaning in to whenever possible.

A Bridge to the New Year

bridge
Photo by Joseph Barrientos on Unsplash

The Bridge

It started out as an end of year review.  My completion ritual (you can read more about that here).

I like finding the time to look back and celebrate the year that has been.  Take stock of the positives – what I’ve done, what I’ve learnt, how I’ve grown – rather than just focus on what ‘next’ I want for the New Year.

This time round, I used a format suggested by Unstuck (which you can find here) and enjoyed thinking about what my achievements had been (personally & professionally), how I had grown and what I had enjoyed most over the year.

What surprised me here was how many physical things were on my ‘most enjoyed’ list: Lake swimming in Finland, my pole climbing escapades in Sonoma, yoga classes that made me cry… I hadn’t realised how alive doing that kind of stuff really made me feel.

A good friend then suggested that we build on the reflection – and create our plans for 2018, based on appreciation for the positives of 2017… So creating a bridge between what has been, and what is yet to come…

For anyone who wants to do the same thing, the questions that got added in, to look forwards, are:

  • Who did I become in 2017, to achieve, learn & enjoy so much?
  • Specifically, how would I like to deepen this learning and forward this action in 2018?
  • Who will I need to become this year to do that?

My bridge

Well, my bridge very clearly stems from ‘challenges’.

Last year I really challenged myself – to step outside of my comfort zone (and not just physically) – to see how I could grow.  I made myself act braver (& then found out that by acting braver, I became braver).

I took one step. And then the next step. And by the end of the year I found myself somewhere quite different to where I had expected – in lots of ways.

I can run 10k (slowly, and with little style, but…).

I do write (and people do respond).

I have a (small and perfectly formed) roster of coaching clients and I LOVE coaching.

I allowed myself to go on big adventures, not knowing quite what they would bring.  I made myself uncomfortable and I kept on trying new things, in new places, with new people – all of which has had a huge impact on how I head forwards.

And so how do I want to deepen this learning and move the action forward this new year?

I want to do more. Try more. Challenge myself more.

I want to move my body more. And more often. In new and different ways. (Hawaii / Paddleboarding here I come…)

I want to keep ‘in action’.  Do / move / fail / recover / repeat.

Who will I need to become this year to do that?

Me.  Just braver.  More passionate. More vulnerable.  More willing to try and fail.

The Golden Gate Bridge

And the best part for me? The bridge at the top of this post, the Golden Gate Bridge, will get to be a powerful reminder, at least twice more, of the choices I’m making and the actions I’m taking as I head back out to Sonoma for the next half of my Leadership studies.

I’m not sure its possible to drive over this bridge without smiling and feeling inspired – as to all that is around us, and all that is waiting for us on the other side.

Here’s to a great 2018.  Where is your bridge going to take you?

Full of Thanks

Thanks
Image courtesy of Jessica Bristow – Unsplash

Thanksgiving

Just the best holiday ever, as far as I’m concerned.  I adopted it wholeheartedly when we lived in NYC and with an American daughter, it’s now a firm favourite in this English / American / Chinese household.

Why do I love Thanksgiving so much?

Because it’s not about presents.

Because it is about people. And gratitude.

For me, it’s about putting words of thanks together into sentences and saying them out loud to the people who really matter in my world.

To my eldest, the American: to say thanks for the spirit with which she shows up to everything in her life.  She is like a tornado – moving at speed, causing untold chaos around her, very focused on the current ‘thing’ and then very fast to switch attention to the next ‘thing’.  She is strong willed, independent and fiery – and she challenges me every single day to be a better person.  So I can set the best possible example to her of a life well lived.

To my middle one, the Brit: to say thanks for the emotion that he brings to all that he does.  He is full of hugs and laughter and tears and rage and he lets it all run through him openly and then, exhausted, lets it pass and moves on swiftly.  He is the performer and the kind hearted caregiver.  This is the boy who is not afraid to love.  He reminds me to apply ‘equality’ in his direction as well as his sisters.

To my littlest, my ever-more Chinese bundle of joy: to say thanks for the joy and the cheek with which she embraces her world.  She takes her chances, she embraces risk.  There’s nothing her older siblings can do that she wouldn’t try (if I would let her!)  She uses her charm to her own advantage… and melts the heart of whoever is trying to tell her to do differently.  She reminds me to have fun – every day, in the smallest of ways.

And to my hubby.  My globe-trotting partner in crime.  Thanks for the continued adventure of a lifetime.  It may not always be easy, but it is never dull.

Falling gently into fall

Fall
Image courtesy of Jakob Owens – Unsplash

Fall vs. Autumn

Autumn is finally here in Shanghai.  I am loving it.  The skies are blue. The air is (currently) fresh and the temperature is wonderful.  Back in Britain, these days wold have felt like the heady days of Summer. Here though, it is wonderfully Autumn.  But it makes me struggle with the Fall vs. Autumn thing.

The leaves here are very reluctant to fall.  They change colour (a bit… my soul belongs in New England in the Fall) but they hang on to the trees, they linger.  They do not ‘fall’.  It seems they wait until Spring when new leaves literally have to push them off the branches.  So I am missing the piles of dry leaves to kick around it, and I therefore am struggling with the concept that this is Fall.  It’s not.

So I get to remain British and claim the word Autumn instead.

The air in the morning, as I cycle the eldest down to the school gate, is fresh and crisp.  It wakes me up and makes me smile.  Plus it means that I need a ‘pointless top‘ to just keep the chill off – so, I am in heaven.  I was built for Autumn.

And still the golden sunlight in the mid to late morning is warm – and so I can happily sit on the football field and wait for however long, as whichever of the kids finishes off playing.  These days are rare.  I’ll be less keen on the early Sunday football starts when I need to bundle everyone up and keep jogging on the spot to keep warm while watching…

Fall away

Now is also one of my favourite times to start afresh.  The ‘other‘ Spring clean time.

We have had a habit of moving house (country, continent) around this time. So with that, and the new school year, it is always a time of clearing. Decluttering. Letting things ‘fall away‘ to create some space for growth, for change.

The storage cupboard was finally tackled at the weekend. As was ‘the study‘. It was a room that we really didn’t use.  It had sofas and bookshelves and tables and… and… boxes of paperwork that had never been sorted through.

It’s still (very much) a work in progress. But it is less cluttered.  We can see the wood for the trees.  I can sit on the (one) sofa now and look out of the window, towards the trees and the sky and I can see how I can create a room of my own here.

My space. For my work. (It’s a L’Oréal moment – because I’m worth it…)

It’s just one of those things that a woman should have…(OK, a dubious link to this, but – a good friend shared this with me yesterday and it was too good to not pass on…This is the woman I hope I can grow into)

Fall. Let it Unfold

Another wise friend shared this post with a gang of us – about letting life unfold – and it seemed to sit well with the slowing down of Fall. Of Autumn.

What would happen if I stopped trying to rush. Stopped trying to ‘achieve‘ and instead just ‘experienced‘ all that life was sending my way?

What if I could stop trying to fast-forward through the awkward bits – to get to the so-called good bits – and instead trust that it was all moving along just as was intended?

What if, like the Shanghai trees, I could just let it unfold – knowing full well that everything would happen just in time for the next thing?Even if it didn’t fit into my pre-ordained schedule.

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

 

Can I have some help please?

Help
Image courtesy of Nikko Macaspac – Unsplash

Help anyone?

So, the Leadership course that I’m (super enthusiastically) working my way through sets us tasks and inquiries – to support the learnings we had while we were all together. And this weeks inquiry is to do with our relationship with asking for help.

Any in all honesty, my relationship here sucks.

So, the task to undertake was to try and find at least five opportunities to ask for help where you might not normally, and see what happens.

So… this is where the challenge starts… but I’m going to claim an early win here, from the return leg of our vacation.

Help me to fly

Ok, so that’s a bit of a stretch but…

We had a great Golden Week holiday in Bali.  And I’m a fan of direct flights where possible… but the reality of 01:30 kicked in loud and clear at about 20:00 on the night of the flight, and suddenly our allocated seats at the busy front end of economy (to hit the Immigration Hall as swiftly as possible) were not looking so charming – with three tired, grouchy and borderline unwell kids.

I have a tendency to assume there is little point trying to sweet talk airline staff, and so normally would have just ‘made do’ with what we had allocated… but… why not? Why not just ask…? Is the back of the plane quieter? Could you move us so that we could hopefully be able to spread out a bit and find a way for the kids to lay out and sleep a bit on the way home?

One cute toddler smile (littlest is still super useful being cute at this point in her life)… and yes… moved to the back of the plane where our 5 seats managed to spread into 7, and then 9, during the flight.  One tiddler sleeping on a blanket in the floor in front of me (well, she’s still pretty small), middlest and eldest bundled out across 2 seats each… and hubby managed to see off a Chinese contender for three middle seats and a couple of hours kip in between some email clearing.

Yet again, it appears that if you’re able to ask (politely, and without assuming you are owed anything) sometimes the universe comes through for you…

So, what else do I need help with?

My course taught me (very clearly!) not to be overly specific in my demands for help, rather to simply ask and see what might happen when people have the opportunity to help in the way they want – rather than the way I would typically prescribe so…

I’ve decided to lay out my current wishlist – to see what the universe comes back with.

Parenting 101 Help

I’m trying to raise 3 small children, whilst living abroad in a wonderfully amusing yet challenging city, a long way from my small but well honed support network – and I’m finding it hard.  Eldest is a ‘spirited, independent, strong-willed’ chip off the old block (b*gger – it’s sometimes like looking in a damned mirror!), eldest and middlest fight like cat and dogs, and littlest, whilst still super cute, has decided it’s time for her to find her voice in the family… But I don’t need any more voices to try and listen to. I can barely hear my own… Can I have some help here please?

Add to this a desire to still keep a marriage / partnership in tact – rather than just feeling like co-minders of a small zoo.  I think you can sense the personal struggles here…

Friendship 3.0 / 4.0 / 5.0 Help

I keep moving. I keep heading off around the world, and my nearest and dearest have done so well at holding the fort for so long for me that the scorecard is weighted heavily in their favour. How can I keep my longest and most important friendships alive across the miles and years (3.0), whilst truly allowing myself to open up enough to make some real friendships out here (4.0) – without the fear that everyone is essentially just at some part of the ‘moving on’ phase of ex-pat life?

And then how do I successfully manage the amazing new global network of friends (5.0) that I have made through my studies and adventures? I struggle with enough hours in a day, let alone managing the time zone game…

Portfolio Career Help

I’m a solid Gen X, not Millenial.

I’m not a digital native and yet I want to find a way to utilise the new ‘social’ networks to showcase myself as a brand – with multiple, linked, well developed and seriously studied strands of talent and interest.

How can I best serve a company that I still love, whilst also developing myself to be the best leader and coach that I possibly can be? So that my wider aim of inciting positive change, and inspiring real action to support true working ‘equality’ can be met?

And does this one not really boil down to – how can I show up as the best leader I can be?

Answers on a postcard please… Oops sorry, showing my age there.  Add a comment. Email me. Facebook me a thought…

I’ve decided that all offers of help will be welcome – however they show up.

I Have All The Time In The world

all the time in the world
Photo courtesy of Crew – Unsplash

It’s been a busy week.

Everyone had a full week at school. I was in the office 4 days.  Hubby was off travelling. And all the kids after school activities kicked in. Plus we had a little Parent Teacher Conference tucked in there as well. And a trip to IKEA for some salmon.  (Yep, really, people round here go to IKEA to buy their salmon steaks…)

Now, I’m no Tiger Mom (largely because I’m British – and so I like the right vowel in the right place – thank you – what do Americans have against the letter ‘U”?) but if my kids wants to get physical after school and there is some way to do that without it just meaning a large scale fight in our house, I’m all up for it!  So, Kung Fu, Football, Swimming – I’m with you.

Add in a little technology club, ‘film studio’ and science lab time – and what you have is me wondering how on earth I’ll ever keep up this level of entertainment for my kids as the years go on.  The kids are 7 & 5. (School hasn’t yet started providing these such delights for the littlest pickle – she feels aggrieved!)  They are officially spoilt for choice at this wonderful school.  And I am thankful for the fact that we live 2 minutes away from the place.  Otherwise this schedule would not work.

A combination of these things got me thinking this week.

It felt a bit like when I was working full time.  It felt a little bit like I was rushing from here to there, and back again… always trying to beat the clock. LIke there wasn’t enough time.

I could feel it tightening across my shoulders and my chest. Rush, rush, rush. Don’t be late…

But actually there was.  There was exactly enough time for all of these brilliant things that the little ones wanted to do.  And enough time for the food and the water that needed to happen in between.

There was enough time for me to slow down just a bit.  To say hi to the new mum I didn’t know outside Film Club.  To wait for the queue on the swings so that the middlest could show me quite how high up in the air he can get himself these days. To watch and be proud as the biggest one finally masters doing her own shoelaces on her much loved football boots.

And I made a decision.  I decided that I was going to choose to think that I had enough time. I was going to give up on this continual notion of scarcity of time.  I was just going to do the thing that was happening right then, and then move on to the next one.

It’s hard. And it’s not my natural state, by a long shot.  But I am beginning to really understand, that the days may indeed feel long – but the years. They are really short.

Back to work joy

The summer has flown and it’s back to work time. And do you know what? I am just full of joy to be back at it.  For lots of reasons.

Two months off has been a long break. I’ve been able to slow down, operate at a snail’s pace, see friends, miss the worst of the heat, settle the kids back into school with no additional pressure to get out the door, or get to bed.

I’ve had time to think – about what I’m doing, about what I want to do – and I am genuinely excited about what the next (school based) year can bring about.

The kids schedules are (almost) sorted and now I get to put some order back into my days and hours.

And I am more conscious than ever of how lucky I am to have been able to create this random world.

I was so excited this morning about heading back to work that I put on a smart dress and some ‘special’ jewellery – when my usual office casual attire would have done just fine.

And 5 hours later I am heading home – to start the kiddie pick up. It looks like it’s about to tank down on me, and still I am full of the joys…

It’s not as hot as it was. I had a good morning of both meetings and ‘productive’ work… I have a good selection of things on my to do list. And most importantly, I’m looking forward to heading back to work tomorrow again.

My Summer of Friends

 

Friends
Photo by Hannah Rodrigo on Unsplash

And so I am slowly returning to ‘normality’ after my first expat summer. My first summer of children.  My ever grateful summer of friends.

I still have a little while until full normality returns. The eldest and middlest are (very happily – both for them and for me) back in school – loving new things and new people and the fact that they have a lot less time with each other (to wind each other up).  The littlest has started in on her every other day ‘settling in’ routine to the new Toddler House at school – and she took all of 2 minutes to leave me this morning – calmly heading off to find something and someone more interesting than me to hang around with. But this on / off routine for the next couple of weeks leaves me in an odd state of limbo. Neither here nor there, as such. But as with everything else this summer, I’m learning to go with it.

It was a good summer. In fact, it was a great summer.

7 weeks of people and places (& a large scale avoidance of the worst of the Shanghai heat).  And whilst I billed it as my first summer of children, it also very quickly became the first, true summer of friends.

The Summer of Friends

Now I know I have good friends. Not lots and lots of them, but the ones I have are solid and they have seen me through some stuff!  But this summer, I truly began to understand their greatness. I owe them. Big time.

I’m the friend that keeps disappearing. And everytime I come back, I need more of their help and support to keep it all together.

Life as an expat is great fun.  But returning ‘home’ is hard. Harder than I ever really understood.

We no longer have a car, or a house back at ‘home’. So we needed to get a car, and a place (or two) to stay.  With 3 small, loud, untidy, unruly kids and a pile of suitcases, a small car doesn’t quite crack it and we are less than an ideal houseguest.

But, as they say (& as I have begun to preach…) “Ask, and you shall receive…”

A big enough car was available to us, miraculously.  One of the wonderful friends was able to get the car somewhere useful for us (their house!) – and so we could just descend on them once we were off our flight. Let the kids run wild for a while. Enjoy a cup of tea. Get some help loading the car. And then just disappear off into the night – leaving the chaos behind us.

I got to be cheeky and suggest a proper barbecue catch up with them the next day… which they got to host. With more food than would feed an army and more good humour than ever thought possible – for having been so wonderfully ‘dropped in it’.

My oldest friends had moved house. Had two spare bedrooms and enough mattresses for all the kids to be catered for.  We took over their house for 3 weeks.  If I’m being generous to myself I could say we were ‘house-sitting’ while they went on holidays for a while.  But if I were being honest, I’d say I was chancing my arm and banking on two decades of friendship to see us through the noise and the mess and the sheer chutzpah of my request.

Then there’s the friend with the seaside cottage – who greeted us with smiles and laughter – and then dealt with the littlest one’s over excitement of peeing herself the moment she walked into the house (just after I had left to go collect Daddio from the station.)  Buckets, spades, body boards, flip-flops, ice creams – plus the repatriating of all the things we ‘left behind’.  The kids toys, the forgotten about laundry, my watch!

The list goes on and on – ending with a last night bedroom provision, a beautiful roast dinner, a bottle of Bollinger (well, I was turning 40) and a 430am wake up call – that quite clearly is not quiet when it involves a 7, 5 & 2yr old.

I cried when I left their house in the taxi, airport bound.   Not for leaving the place, lovely as it is, as such.  But for leaving such friendship. Such kindness. Time, effort, care, food, wine, space – all given without a comment about the personal cost to them, of which I’m sure there was plenty.

With family, there is more of an ‘obligation’ to provide this level of support.  (And believe me, it is still appreciated. I know the chaos we cause whatever we arrange, and wherever we turn up!)

With friends – it’s done, and received, out of love.

What else I learnt about Friends

I also learnt that its much easier than I thought to ‘claim’ friends.

I’ve never been the most sociable of people. A little anxious and nervous around people I don’t really know.

But by coming back for a short period of time, and wanting to fill it (for me, and for the kids) with as much fun as possible, I had to reach out to people I vaguely knew. That I used to know – but not that well – and make plans. Claim their attention and their time – so that the kids could see their old friends and create their own world and memories.

So we saw old school friends, Old nursery friends. Old friends of friends. Old old friends who have moved away and it would have been easy to not see really but…

And I got to see my little ones stepping straight back into old friendships. Not fazed by the weeks / months / years apart.  Just picking up the conversation where they left on and moving forward.  Making plans for what other greatness they could create together. (There is a sideline Star Wars movie in the making as we speak… it should be complete within the next 4 years or so I’ve been told.)

And it made me realise that friendship can be easier than I sometimes make it out to be.

And so that is what I bring back with me to Shanghai – after my summer of friends.  A plan to be that little bit braver with my offering and claiming of friendship here.