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.