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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just as things get in to a routine and I (foolishly) think that we’re all solid and stable for a while, something goes and changes and we’re all back to learning again.
Training Wheels Off
This time, it’s training wheels off – in both a literal and figurative sense.
Middlest son was fighting having the stabilisers taken off his bike.
He hated the uncertainty and lack of balance. He hated that he might fall and hurt himself. And so he decided that he hated his bike.
Except… he didn’t really.
He kept eyeing it longingly and then stomping away from it and grabbing his scooter instead (which he used to hate as well.)
And so, after weeks / months of nothing but scowls and shouting matches, I resorted to out-and-out bribery.
Weekend one: If you do 15 minutes practice on your bike then you can have a treat. (Cue tantrums, “stupid bike” shouting matches, and a minute by minute countdown request.)
Weekend two: And now if you do 20 minutes practice you can have a treat. (Cue slightly less tantrums, but a request to know EXACTLY what the treat would be…)
And finally – By Jove, I think he’s got it!
“Mummy, I LOVE cycling. It’s the best thing ever!”
Now that he ‘can’ cycle, I just get the major panics whenever we do go anywhere on the bikes.
Slow down! Be careful! Look out for cars, for scooters, for people, for bumps, for everything!!!!
But he’s doing okay. And the best thing? He now realises that the fear and the challenge was worth it – as it’s opened up a whole new world of possible adventures. (But if you see him coming, I’d still stay clear for a while – he has the poise and sense of direction of his mother!)
Training Wheels Off – Part 2
Now this one is messier…
Littlest one has decided it’s time for her to ditch her nappy…
And this is one lady that won’t be dissuaded without a fight so…
With the vision of a nappy free summer trip on the horizon (joy: less stuff to transport across the globe; fear: we’ve got to get this cracked before we fly) we’re daytime nappy free… and I’m reminded how grateful I am that my kids have all gone to nursery.
For a few hours each day, it’s someone else’s duty to remind her to go to the toilet / to accompany her each time she wants to go and sit.
I’m lucky. She’s taking to it well, but still…
I seem to have blanked the memory of this process with the other two out of my mind. I have a rosy little picture that it took a few days and they had it sussed. I’m pretty sure this was not the reality that I lived with at the time but…
And Gina Ford – I have loved you well over the years, but re-reading your Potty Training book, and getting to your comment of “Most children are clean before they are dry“… Hmmm, not so much is all I can say with decency here.
But we’re going with it. There’s no turning back.
Littlest Miss is proud and excited. Who am I to quash that sense of achievement just because of a few puddles? (I’ll just follow behind with a mop at a safe distance…)
And what about me?
Well, I’m coming to the end of the official training period for my coaching, and so my training wheels are about to come off too…
It’s daunting and exciting – and I’m just so unbelievably happy that I’ve been able to study and train whilst on this Shanghai adventure.
And I’ve decided that I’m going to carry on with the learning and spread my wings a bit further – heading off into Leadership training (both for myself as a person, and also then as a coaching direction.)
And that means more adventures for me. And no doubt some accidents. I’m going to need to get a lot braver again.
And so I’m going to run away for a few days to Lopez Island (thanks to an amazingly well timed conversation with a very good friend) to start answering the question “Who am I becoming as a Leader?”
And then, on the promise that I will return from the paradise that Lopez Island looks to be, I’m going to start in on the 10 month Co-Active Leadership programme come September.
Four trips to Sonoma over the course of the ten months.
Hubby thinks the wine might be the real draw, but… This is a big one for me. This is me standing up and saying “This is what I want to do. This is what I am going to do”
Ten years ago, I was enjoying Spring in Beijing. There was plenty I wasn’t enjoying, but Spring…. Spring I was enjoying – with all the changes it brought to the city and therefore to my life.
The harsh Winter had receded and there was green everywhere.
We spent our weekends in parks and gardens. We explored. We had a magical weekend out at ‘The Wall’ – where I was deafened by the silence. Beijing was never silent.
We ate out most nights (both easier and cheaper than trying to shop and cook as an expat). We sat in beer gardens drinking and laughing with our ever growing and changing network of ex-pat friends.
And we knew, just knew, that this glorious period of Spring would not last. (And it didn’t… on every level)
Ten years ago my best friends got married. We flew back from Beijing to Guernsey for the wedding – and that started what became a deepening of the friendship, even across the miles.
We were all still child free. We could make a Friday flight pretty much anywhere work. We could deal with the time differences, the jetlag, the hangovers. It was exciting to have weekends exploring cities. To make convoluted travel plans to co-ordinate a meet up ‘somewhere’ convenient (aka Vegas – quite possibly the most outrageous and fantastic ‘weekend’ away ever).
It is just under 10 years since we worked out that Beijing was not working out – and was never going to.
And so we made changes. Again.
We moved back (briefly – with great thanks to those best friends for their spare bedroom) and then we left again, shortly after – to the bright lights of NYC – where the only language issue was the confusion over the use of the letter ‘Z’.
10 years ago I was about to turn 30. And I was wondering what that would mean. What changes it would bring about.
Well, slowly, and bit by bit the changes arrived.
I got married. I had the eldest. And then thinking that she had been a genius idea, I had the middlest. And then, when I’d caught my breath and forgotten the chaos of newborns, I had the littlest. And every time a change. A shift. A move from what had been to what was needed ‘now.’
The changes all seemed so small at the time. Can I shift my office hours so I leave a little early to collect from Nursery? Can I shift again, but a bit more, to deal with the fact that we now live in the ‘burbs, rather than the City. Can I shift again – so that I can gain a little time back for me – and my dreams?
And now, nine months and ten years on – and I’m back in China. Full circle on the changes – and yet a whole different world.
And I’m sat watching Spring emerge in Shanghai – and I’m enjoying every moment. Noticing every single ones of the changes that is going on – the leaves on the trees, the warming up of the air, the enjoyment of the outdoors. And I’m not so worried that I know it will all change again soon.
I’m good with the now and excited by the changes, the possibilities.
The children are growing – like weeds! – and I’m facing 40.
The weekend trips just don’t work so much anymore. But the friendships do. The old ones and the new. And who knows what the next season will bring? Whatever happens, I’m ready for it…
I was living in a beautiful, tiny village, with my eldest at the great village school – yet I was managing to feel massively unconnected, because Monday to Friday, I never got to enjoy the village or the school life. I felt like the village outsider. The village fraud.
I was tired of the rushed daily commute. Heading to my long-held, and one-time much-loved, job – that was just making me feel exhausted.
My children were in (superb) organised daycare from 0730 – 1730, and I knew that I should feel lucky that such care was even available to me – but all it actually made me feel was guilty for wanting to work.
And I spent my late afternoons / early evenings with the children rushing through fruit, playtime, bathtime, stories as quickly as possible – so that I could get to the next thing that needed to be done. The inbox to be cleared. The laundry to be sorted. The Ocado to be ordered. (Again, I am fully aware how lucky I was for these to be my concerns…)
I felt like my family were getting the dregs of my spirit. My small group of friends were still my friends because they had known me long enough to ‘forgive me’ for the fact that I had no time to actually see them. And me – what did I do for me? I didn’t get a look in.
My desire to be the ‘best I could possibly be’ was saved for work. But I couldn’t see where I was headed and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go there anyway.
But the worst of it? I felt like I was sleeping my way through my life. Not living. I felt like I had no choice. No options. This was just what life was meant to be as an ‘adult’. This was what being grown up was about.
I was doing well on paper. I had the house, the husband, the kids and the career. Seriously – what more did I think I was entitled to? My job was to be responsible. What right did I have to change anything? Risk anything?
But oh how I wanted to.
One small step
I took what I thought was one small step. I started talking out loud about the desire for more. About the idea of what a difference might look like.
And then I started dreaming about ‘more’. And then I started writing it down.
And it started to grow. To open me up to the idea of change. To what might be possible.
And now I am reminded of that great line “Be careful what you wish for…”
Because along came the mention of Shanghai…
But really, timings for me were terrible – I had commitments at work til the end of the year, minimum…
But were the timings awful, really? Would it not just be amazing to up and leave everything and see what happened? Would it not bring me back closer to who I was when I was young & fearless? Would it not provide the (huge, scary) wake up call that I had been (quietly) screaming for, for ages?
Would it not make me realise exactly what I was capable of?
And would it not be exactly the kind of example that I would want to give to my family?
And so here I am…
It’s month 8 in Shanghai and the differences in my life shout loud & proud.
I live in the most populated city in the world – yet the introvert in me is less scared of people than ever before.
I live as an active party within an amazing community – and feel freer than ever to be as involved or uninvolved as I want to be on a day-to-day basis. I had 6 kids running around the house this afternoon (playdates were like rocking horse sh*t in my old life) and I’m baking cakes for the International Food Festival at the school on Friday.
I drop the small people off each morning, and collect them at 3pm every afternoon – and I love being able to do that, even when their only interest in me is what snacks I can provide.
I’m retraining professionally. I’m actively studying to support my new career (thank you Udemy) and trying all sorts of new things (writing, running!) just because I want to. And if it doesn’t work out? It doesn’t matter.
I’m working part time – and I love it! I read, listen to podcasts, (& stare at brightly coloured laundry hanging from the 30th floor of apartments) on my commute. And I am enjoying my time in the office – quite possibly more than ever before.
If you had told me any of this a year ago, the idea of it would have petrified me.
I know that the differences have made me. I am wide awake. I am not sleeping my days away.
I can’t remember who at work first told me to “JFDI“- but it hit home and I’ve loved it ever since, as a simple, clear motivator – when enough talking has happened, enough arguments been given, enough alternative viewpoints discussed. Just get on and ****ing do it.
So I’ve been using this term of endearment to myself since the beginning of the year, and over the past couple of weeks here in Shanghai, it has really come into it’s own.
JFDI – running
About 10 years ago I signed me and my boyfriend up for the Nike 10K Run London. (He’s the hubby now, so he forgave me in the end)
I’m not really sure why I did – as I was the least inspired runner I had ever met. But I did. And I hated it. Mostly everything about it. But certainly the need to train (which around the streets of Caledonian Rd – red light district, sandwiched nicely between Holloway & Pentonville Prisons – was less than inspiring.)
I puffed my way round the course, kept the RFID tag on the trainers – and promptly never ran again.
I had a million excuses.
I was a crap runner. Running just wasn’t for me. It’s bad for the joints. I did a lot of walking anyway. I didn’t need to run to prove anything to myself. Or anyone else. And so the conversations went – for the past decade or so.
Only now… I’m nearing 40.
And I feel the need to just move more.
I like the outdoors and I want to be able to find some quiet time to spend out there, with myself. To clear my head at the end of a day. Or to start the day feeling energised (and a little bit proud).
I’m looking to challenge myself – to see what I can actually do. And to try new things.
And so, after making some vague comment to no one in particular that ‘I might think about running again one day’, I was given a timely wake up call from The Guardian (I do love a ‘how to’ guide) and am currently in week 3 of the training plan. And I’m loving it!
Rain or shine, freezing or really quite balmy for this time of year (the temperature has fluctuated from 3 – 21 degrees across the past few weeks) I have been making sure that I run three times a week with my aim being to be able to run (non-stop) for 30 minutes in the not too distant future.
And the thing that really got me going? It was stupidly mentioning it to a friend at work (who is training for an Iron Man in Taiwan in about 2 weeks time – so a slightly different level of commitment) – who basically told me to JFDI.
What crap excuses could I really give to him about not being able to find 30 minutes, 3 times a week, to just go outside and put one foot in front of the other, again and again?
Whenever there is a slight waver in my commitment (which, I can proudly say has not been often), I just think of Sam and JFDI… and I go lace up my bright, shiny new trainers…
JFDI – writing
Another challenge set a while ago. A (stated) dream to write a book one day. Well, it’s not going to write itself, is it?
And so, I have started to clear space and time in my days to JFDI.
I scribble most evenings. I have a running list of article ideas to write up. I use previously dead ‘Facebook’ time, while the little people are swimming or playing football, to put pen to paper and write something – anything – and send it out there into the world.
Sitting. Writing. It makes me so happy.
Much like the running, writing helps to clear my mind. It both clarifies my thoughts and helps create more space for interesting nuggets to pop up and inspire me.
It allows me to process all that is happening to me, around me, within me – and put some shape to it.
And the best part? By being brave, and JFDI’ing it, I’ve had positive responses. Articles submitted have been accepted and published. People have read my words. And commented. A growing sense of belonging has emerged.
Seems that after all this time, I quite like a community.
JFDI – coaching
So I spent 3 days last week at the first session of my intermediate coach training course, here in Shanghai – and it was emotional!
It was everything I had hoped it would be, and was nervous that it wouldn’t be – somehow wondering whether the fact that it was here in Shanghai would make it less valuable.
I met a great bunch of new people – all full of questions, all looking for answers, all desperate to learn. I remembered how much fun it was to learn new things. To stretch yourself. To take yourself out of your comfort zone of knowledge and expertise.
I got given tasks, homework, that I had to do. To challenge myself. To put into practice what I had been trying so hard to ‘learn’ all day.
I had to do a real coaching session as homework. I had to be brave, and take a ‘radical action’ to significantly move me forward on one of my personal challenges.
And as I approached these tasks, both of which I wanted to do so ‘perfectly‘, I could feel the fear setting in. Was I really ready? Did I know enough to come anywhere close to ‘perfect’ on either of them?
Well, that inner voice of strength and wisdom was having none of it – and bellowed out a resounding JFDI!
I am a Coach (in training) and it’s about time I started actively practising what I preach.
Enough weighing up the options and considering things from all angles. Enough trying to protect myself from failure.
The little people are all safely back at school & nursery after what feels like a VERY long holiday – so it feels like time to own up to my parenting failure (s) – if only to let them out and let them go.
We have had some good adventures and some big success stories – but most are tempered by some kind of parenting failure on my part, and from these I will learn! (Honest, I will…)
Parenting Failure No. 1: Arts & Crafts
I got over my fear of arts and craft projects and got the kids all involved in a great painting activity. We did a painting together. They each did a version of the same painting themselves. Everyone was happy and proud and IKEA frames have been purchased to proudly display said artwork.
Lesson learnt: just because they enjoyed it once, does not mean that they will ever enjoy such an activity again. Painting session number two was met with fights and disdain and somehow the warm rosy glow of part one has been knocked down a notch or two…
Parenting Failure No. 2: Let’s go visit Daddy
An M&S Cafe dinner and visit to Daddio in the office was hugely anticipated. We stocked up on treats from the M&S Food Hall (more just a couple of aisles really, but…) Some (clearly insane) woman gave the eldest some chocolate penguins because she was being such a good big sister. (Really? She was trying to bundle the littlest one into an M&S shopping basket while I begged them all to STOP TOUCHING EVERYTHING) But it felt like we were doing okay here… The kids ran happily into the office bearing gifts of mini chocolate cornflake cakes. And the middlest was promptly bitten by one of the little dogs that had come into the office for the day. Cue (unsurprisingly) much wailing and a desire to get out of the office as soon as possible. The middlest one up until that point had quite liked dogs. Not so much now… (Pet plan put back by another unlimited amount of years)
Lesson learnt: call ahead and ask about the state of the office and its guests first. No-one likes a wailing child. And no one likes to have caused said wailing. Even if M&S treats are on offer.
Parenting Failure No. 3: Training Wheels Off
We decided that it was about time that the middlest one had the stabilisers taken off his bike. I think he would have happily carried on using stabilisers forever. But Mummy & Daddy decided. I had forgotten the pain, the strops and the all out war that was caused when we did the same thing with the eldest. He was pretty brave. He even got straight back on the thing after flying over the handle bars. (Main concern here was that I might have caused the loss tooth number three. He really needs to keep some until they actually start falling out on their own accord…)
Lesson learnt: Patience. Patience. Patience. Mine. Not his. I’m sure he’ll have learnt to ride by the time he goes to college.
Parenting Failure No. 4: A lot of things close over Chinese New Year
I had a plan to go and visit lots of places in Shanghai during the holidays. To make the most of the time off with the hubby. Partly so I could feel less out numbered by the little people. Partly just to explore. M50 was one of those places I wanted to go visit: an Art area of town that I was sure would just be a wonderful, cultural wander… And it will be, I’m sure. When the galleries are open. (I have a history of planning trips to closed locations – just ask the hubby about some of our NYC date nights…)
Lesson learnt: When the kids are involved, double / triple / quadruple check opening times. They are not a forgiving crowd of daytrippers. (The visit was salvaged by one gallery being open. It also served coffee. And had just baked brownies and croissants. Not quite what was planned, but… Healthy treats and energy drinks are always well received!)
Parenting Failure No. 5: Learn your lessons quicker!
You would have thought that the above might have had an immediate impact on my double checking of things. It appears things take a little longer to filter through around these parts. (I blame the noise of the three little people.) I had seen something mentionning a Lion Dance to celebrate the New Year, at a hotel / shopping complex near us. This seemed ideal. There would be food options. Limited, but perfectly functional, shopping opportunities. And a Lion Dance. The little people were very excited about seeing a Lion Dance. VERY excited. So we duly went to Kerry on Saturday. Only to find out that said Lion Dance had taken place three days earlier. It had been a bad day anyway. The little people had all had enough of each other. Hubby & I had definitely had enough of being stuck in the house with the little people for quite such an extended time. And I had failed again. I believe one of the little people nailed it with a very vocal ‘EPIC FAIL MUMMY’. Yes. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led me to hysteria. The kind that can only be solved with copious amounts of chocolate and a glass of good wine (or two…)
So after these, and multiple other, parenting failures, what have I actually, really learnt?
That when all else fails, Paw Patrol (and as of yesterday, CBeebies – woohoo! Thank you hubby tech lord) really is the answer. Sometimes a time out for Mummy is in order. And nothing delivers peace and quiet for 20 minutes more than some repetitive children’s TV.
That, no matter what (as I was told when the oldest was a tiny baby, and it’s stuck with me…) “This too shall pass” These 20 minutes, this fight, these tears, this tantrum… It will pass and we will all move on to the next thing – be it good or bad.
And that when I look back over the holidays, I can choose to see the failures. Or I can choose to see the fun that we did all have – even if that requires accepting that my eldest chooses to identify with the Dark Side.
And in the greater scheme of things, will any of these parenting failures really matter? (I have to hope not… but you never know…)
We’re almost 6 months in to the adventure / life leap, and we’re all still smiling. That feels like a pretty great achievement.
We’re a few days in to the Chinese New Year holiday and I just keep on learning stuff in this amazing city.
Firstly, I had assumed (& hadn’t really bothered to ask around in any detail) that EVERYTHING would be shut for the 2 – 3 main days of the holidays. Now that feels like a very long time with three small people to feed and entertain, so I had somewhat gone into disaster planning mode in advance.
Did we have enough supplies in the cupboards and freezer? (Supplies meaning mainly M&S food stuffs – teabags and breaded fish products being key…) Emergency M&S trip completed, and things felt a little better.
Muffins and bread were bought in bulk and the ever disappearing Australian Semi-Skimmed UHT milk that we like (see our hardships here!) had been stock piled.
Craft activities (of which I am no fan – OCD issue – too much mess) and DVD’s had been prepped.
Well, it appears I needn’t have worried.
Starbucks – open. Carrefour – open (& still filled with FAR too many people with handheld mic’s shouting at me to do god only knows what.) Pizza Hut – open, and surprisingly busy! Though with less pizza options to eat that you might have thought.
Yes, it would appear that shopping options remain open here in just the same way as they do everywhere else I’ve ever called home. And so far, we haven’t eaten a single one of the M&S fish options. (But it’s good to know they are there…)
Secondly, everyone loves a child who can say Happy New Year in Chinese. And if you have three of them, you might well stop pedestrian traffic should they break it out – which they do like to do, in song. The amount of times I have heard people counting our kids (yi, er, san… 1,2,3…) as we walk anywhere – means that at least I can now count to three reliably. Small blessings.
Thirdly, the official holiday days were rearranged round these parts a while ago – giving everyone an official 7 day holiday (a Golden Week), but making them work weekends either side of this as normal working days. It was done to encourage tourism, to get local people to travel around China (& spend money). It works.
The queues for the (much less space age) Aquarium next door were 4 lines deep and then snaked around the corner of the building. (When we had gone last week, we had just strolled in. And it had still felt pretty chocker inside.)
I have no idea where the lines started or ended for the Pearl Tower, but I know that the surrounding pavements were filled with more Tour Guides waving flags than I had even seen before. They were mostly China flags. I’m not sure how helpful they really were to any individual groups, but hey ho…
So, instead, we took the Hubby on the under river Sightseeing Tunnel, and the little people managed to convince him to allow them to go into the neighbouring Submarine Exhibition. There was no queue here. None.
And the kids loved it. As they did the ferry ride back over from the Bund that we did.
So what did I learn here?
That life in Shanghai, just in itself, is enough for the kids.
In the same way that life back ‘at home‘ was. We don’t need to constantly play tourist with them. They’ll come and do what we take them to do, but if the plan changes, they’ll cope. They’ll moan the same amount. They’ll be fine as long as they get fed. And should you find a shopping centre that happens to have a pirate themed soft play, well you’ve hit the jackpot.
I’ve learnt that however big and odd the move out here might have seemed, it’s mostly just a case of same-same but different.
And that’s a good thing.
Notes from Shanghai – after a fairly large scale Life Leap, just to keep things interesting…