Wednesday, August 31, 2011


For what feels like years, I've been having to remind myself that Oli is 'only two'. He follows his five year old brother around daring to believe he can do everything Max can do, and possibly better. 'And I are? And I are?' he'll say - as both question and declaration - hoping to put a dent in Max's claims to be the best at biking or running or digging in the dirt.  'And I are?'  And now he's 3 and about to get some mornings to himself at school.  Despite my earlier post about the three month eternity of the school holidays, this time of year feels packed with emotion.  The children are getting older, which means I'm getting older, and while I want one, I don't necessarily want the other.  And even as I want what is passing I need to say goodbye to it before it goes. A new daily landscape emerges as we settle in to new routes to new schools, and the inevitable need to get up even earlier in order to get places on time.  New interests seek to be accommodated while I suddenly mourn the loss of all those unstructured days of pajama breakfasts, mega constructions and impromptu walks in search of sticks and puddles. My parenting has to shift around a bit to feel comfortable with the new age groups in the family and the different interactions.  Taking on (even small) responsibilities at the children's schools feels like a weighty commitment.  Was there really a time, five years ago, in the days when I had just one infant to care for, when I would take a lunchtime nap? The very concept feels extraordinary.
So in celebration of things moving on a little, Oli turned three and he had some friends round to acknowledge the fact. We slung bunting up around the garden and he ate large quantities of a cake designed to look like an airport runway.  And once the party was over and three of the four beds upstairs contained slow-breathing boys, I snuck a look at some bad quality recordings of me, taken in the middle of last year, where I am trying to get Oli to say 'dotta bridge'. And I said goodbye to that little boy so that we can welcome what comes with the three year old version.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Back in about 1988, my brother and I owned a word. A word that was meaningless to everyone but us. Nyyrrrr. It described a situation that involved some kind of awakening, a touch of confusion and probably mild embarassment. It was neither an adjective nor a noun and we never used it as a verb. It was just said.  A single word. And it was understood.
So it is both funny and familiar to hear strange new words bubbling up from inside my own children. Bundi. Apu até. Driz Driz. I have absolutely no idea what they mean - and Max isn't even in Kindergarten yet - but he uses them with a cozy familiarity. Even Oli, who has only just learned to say 'carry me' rather than 'kai me', is fluent in the language of Driz Driz.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Summer holidays!

I have found myself reaching for a book I bought a while ago, Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children.  Oh the unbridled joy of a three month summer holiday! Yes, we are somewhere in the middle of that savage territory...and everyone's sanity must be restored.  I can't believe I once entertained the idea of homeschooling.  Stay present, stay present. That seems to be the mantra. I blame my frontal lobe - isn't that the place in my head that refuses to 'stay present' and is always casting back and forth in time - 'Must quickly check in on the future or back on the past, see if I match up.' Well, no hope of that.  I wasn't planning on being called Mrs Poo Poo Diaper by a five year old, especially not one I was related to. So much for the pleasures of several weeks of unstructured play and spectacle parenting - where your best efforts are under close observation by those who, you naturally assume, are busy packing and unpacking their own cerebral suitcases - remembering how it was to parent three decades ago or wondering whether a child who calls his mother Poo Poo Diaper will, in a few short years, be looting in the streets of London.
Not to say we haven't had a lovely summer in parts. Who can argue with a family vacation Stateside? Days at the beach, searching for sea glass and collecting periwinkles. Camp fires on the gravelly shore and suppers of steamed shellfish.  We also headed back to the UK which felt good.  The children and I had our fill of rope swings and tree houses, dog-walking, egg-collecting, lifeboat love, splashing through streams, boat trips and beaches, bellies in the surf and feet in the rock pools.
Damn it, though, if it's not unsettling when you do come home, to your real home, the one you actually live in. I was a dark cloud for weeks.  I thought I had on some pretty tough armour - an exciting house project here in the States, a preschool we love for Oli, a new school full of possibilities for Max. It did feel different, this year, being back in the UK. I didn't have the wistfulness I've had before, the 'what if's or 'maybe's. I wasn't looking in the local paper for derelict stone cottages on windswept clifftops.
But being homesick is such a waste of energy. And being in the midst of young children, for me, tinges my homesickness with a cloying nostalgia.  The word 'nostalgia' was coined back in the fifteenth century when Swiss mercenaries fighting on the lowland French plains would pine for their native mountains. They were so afflicted that doctors considered 'nostalgia' a disease.  I don't need medication but it does feel like a condition I can't shake. Even as I consciously idealise the place of my birth, I long for it.  I know it is an ideal - but I remember my childhood in happy glimpses - making dens in the tall grass before the farmers cut it for hay, cupping newly-hatched chicks in my hand before school, scouring the hedges for wild strawberries, transported to the Swiss alps reading Heidi in the bow of my father's fishing boat.  I realize now I cannot offer my children the same thing. Did I ever think I could replicate a childhood? Somehow I thought that giving them the same geographical backdrop would be the least I could do.  Not so. I offer something else. A different family, a different country. Who is to say it is not equally as valid. We are discovering new things together rather than replicating what has gone before. The arrow of time is the first principle of physics. So I discovered, on our return flight from London when I watched - or snatched, as you do, when flying with children - a documentary about entrophy and the eventual chaos of the solar system. Happy stuff.  Especially at 35,000 ft.  But one thing that becomes hard to deny is that this planet of ours, with it's constant movement forward and the unique way it can support life, is just perfect. Stay present, stay present.
As for the summer holidays? Is entrophy the natural conclusion for this three month break? With yet more weeks to go before kindergarten starts, a friend tells me her five year old is getting up in his school uniform - a sure sign that it is not just parents who are searching for sense in the chaos.