Here are some reflections from our trip to London in March, from The Shard, The Eye and at Greenwich.
“A Letter to my daughters”
I’m grateful that I met your dad
A man from the land down under
A place far away
I’m grateful that we had both of you
That we created our own little family
The joy, the laughs
All your lives, you’ve had family overseas
You’ve grown without grandparents nearby
Visits two years apart
Relatives in photos and letters, occasional visits
Now on email, message, skype and Facebook
The world seems smaller
You are grown now #properadult
Making good choices, creating your lives
Choosing your homes
It’s hard that we are a distance apart
In different countries, different continents
Different time zones
But inevitable, with your background
With your strength and independence
It’s a joy to know you are happy
In your place, with your lives
Love you heaps
September is balloons and streamers
for both our girl’s birthdays.
September is autumn,
golden leaves and conkers.
September is a new school year,
end of summer holidays.
September is birthdays,
presents and cake.
September is parties, going out,
friends and sleepovers.
But this year it’s different
away from our girls.
Posting cards and gifts,
transferring money to accounts.
Messages, emails, phone calls,
Facebook chat and FaceTime.
This year they are celebrating
with boyfriend, husband.
Not with us, their parents.
They are happy,
celebrating their own way.
But no balloons or streamers
in our place.
No caterpillar cake here.
For decades, we’ve had family and friends spread across the globe.
Back in the day, we wrote letters. Occasional phone calls between UK and Australia were a rare treat at one pound per minute. Aerogrammes and special occasion telegrams were treasured.
As we raised our daughters, grandparents were not on the doorstep. “Nan” lived a few hours drive away and came to stay for a weekend, every couple of months. “Gran” lived a twenty four hour flight away and came to stay for several weeks, every couple of years.
Colleagues lived in the same street as their parents and / or adult siblings. Extended family dinner every Sunday was the norm for them, but never for us.
We had strong relationships despite the distance. It is great to have family and friends that you have not seen, face to face, for a few years, but with whom you can pick up the conversation as if it was only yesterday that you last sat down together.
Our girls grew up and spread their own wings. Technology changed and emails took the place of letters.
S~E moved to Sydney and we got into a regular Sunday Skype chat routine. Our UK morning to her Australian evening. We also had real time email and iMessage conversations.
C~M spent six months in Buenos Aires and we chatted on face time each monday. My winter evening to her sunny afternoon. Internet connection was limited in the orphanage where she was working. She had to sit outside one particular house. I loved our conversations with a sheep in the background, with dogs wandering by, with kids calling out and chatting in Spanish.
I admit to stalking my kids on Facebook. It’s a great and easy way to share snippets of life and photos. I now use Facebook more than the girls do. Their lives are busy and they are posting less in their twenties than they did as teens.
Now that we are in Australia, regular phone calls and face time chats with Aus family is easy. Family discussions with phones on speaker, not just private one to one conversations. I’m used to being nine hours ahead of the UK. I now have a regular Monday evening Skype chat with my Mum as she starts her day.
Chats with C~M are still a bit irregular. She has a busy social life so weekend mornings are not always a good time for her. Several friends have been celebrating twenty first birthdays recently, so lots of parties and nights out. We speak most weeks, but not at a set day or time. The last couple of weeks it has been during her lunch, sitting outside the children’s nursery where she works.
Last week, S~E visited us and it was delightful to hear both my girls voices together in the same room. They had a long Skype chat, with lots of giggles. Just random sister stuff but great to overhear. It’s been two years since our family unit of four has been together face to face, but it doesn’t seem that long with today’s technology.
I still like to receive old style post in the mail box. I have the time to hand write letters, to send postcards each week, to have snail mail correspondence with a few friends. Sometimes I hand write the postcard but I also use a lovely app, Touchnote, that allows me to create postcards from my own photos.
There are so many ways to keep in touch now across the miles. But voices still have a special place.
This time next week, we will be landing in Hobart. It’s exciting and a little bit scary, it’s happy and sad.
I’ve been to Australia many times, but this time it’s different.
I first set foot in that amazing country, thirty years ago, single, in my twenties, on a working holiday visa valid for one year. It was the best year of my life to that point and I vowed to return one day. It was more holiday than working, it was fun, relaxed, it was a few short term jobs and a lot of exploring the country.
My next visit was back to Sydney, married, with an eighteen month old daughter. Aussie Mate had come to the UK on a working holiday and never gone back, so this was his return trip and my first introduction to many of my in-laws. Looking back, how did we manage the twenty four hour flight with a toddler who didn’t have her own seat?
Aussie Mate’s parents were divorced when he was young. His Mum and family lived in a large house with a swimming pool in the garden, a few minutes walk from Middle Harbour. His father and family lived one street back from one of the Northern Beaches. I had this big dream that if I moved to Sydney, I wanted the harbour view or the ocean view, not a back street home in one of the inland suburbs. Dream on!
We returned again with our daughters aged seven and four. I can still picture a curious C~M on the flight, wandering off for a walk and returning with several other kids in tow, like the “pied piper”, introducing each of the to us. “This is X, she is going to visit her Grandma in Sydney” and “this is X, he’s been to London on holiday”. We went to Taronga Zoo and “Skippy Park”, the Blue Mountains and the beaches, showing the girls the Aussie side of their heritage.
Our next trip was “the big one” when our girls were aged eleven and eight. A holiday for us as well as catching up with family. My Mum joined us for a trip were I showed Aussie Mate parts of his country that he’d never been to before – Alice Springs, Uluru, Brampton Island on the Great Barrier Reef – as well as the familiar Sydney and Canberra. This was a fantastic trip, long drives in “the Red Centre”, a memorable puncture in the middle of now-where, a helicopter tour over Kings Canyon, cave paintings as we walked around Uluru, playing and buying a didgeridoo, to snorkelling the reef, wallabies on the path between our cabin and the breakfast restaurant, parrots landing on our table to share the breakfast.
As the girls got older, we stopped in Hong Long on route, and S~E stayed longer to travel back on her own. She had another holiday on her own before taking a one way flight when she was nineteen.
Our last trip was to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary. S~E was settled in Sydney by then and our visit coincided with her engagement. C~M joined us for part of the time and travelled back to the UK for her own commitments. We had a wonderful time catching up with family, meeting new nieces and nephews, sampling wines of The Hunter Valley and getting Aussie Mate to visit Melbourne.
He and I spent the final week of our trip in Tasmania, a part of the country that neither of us had been to before. We loved it, the contrasts of Hobart, Port Arthur, the countryside and coastal towns, the emptiness of the centre of the island state, miles of unmade road.
Each of these trips have been holidays for me, as I travelled on a tourist visa.
Now I am returning to Australia on a permanent visa. I can stay and live and work there for as long as I like. I have the excitement of going on holiday but I need to change my view and acknowledge that this is trying a normal working life. We’ll have to get jobs, earn a living, pay bills, budget our finances, settle into the community as we plan to stay for a year or more.
This is a fantastic opportunity for me to experience life in Australia, to live near the sea, but I need to get my current “I’m going on a long holiday” attitude out of my head. This is real life.
This is an adaption of my post from 29th October last year. It feels very relevant now as we finally head off on our “adult gap year”, thinking from the position of both a daughter and a mother.
* * * * *
I read somewhere about motherhood being the least secure job in the world. As soon as you get the hang of something, such as bottle feeding, it becomes obsolete and you move on to the next phase. As soon as you establish a family routine, the kids have newfound independence and opinions. But this, of course, is the point of it all – preparing your children to leave you.
The best thing about being a parent is when you see that your child is going to surpass you, that their curiosity will take them to places and teach them things that you never even thought about.
Being a parent of adult children is another phase. Your family grows through your children, you have new people to love. As couples and new family units, your children make their own decisions. We have to respect their choices, we encouraged them to see the world, to spread their wings, so we have to accept where they choose to settle and live their lives.
Roots and Wings
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.
One is roots and the other is wings.”
If I had two wishes, I know what they would be
I’d wish for Roots to cling to and Wings to set me free;
Roots of inner values, like rings within a tree,
And Wings of independence to seek my destiny.
Roots to hold forever to keep me safe and strong,
To let me know you love me, when I’ve done something wrong;
To show me by example, and help me learn to choose,
To take those actions every day to win instead of lose.
Just be there when I need you, to tell me it’s all right,
To face my fear of falling when I test my wing in flight;
Don’t make my life too easy, it’s better if I try,
And fall and get back up myself, so I can learn to fly.
If I had two wishes and two were all I had,
And they could just be granted.
I wouldn’t ask for money or any store-bought things,
The greatest gifts I’d ask for are simple Roots and Wings
Everyone has their dream of the perfect wedding. For some, it is the big white dress, vows in a church, in front of all their family and friends.
For others, it is a small, intimate affair. For our daughter, it was to elope.
S~E had been settled in Sydney for a few years. We knew of the plans that she and G~J were making to elope to New Zealand. A friend of mine knew a wedding celebrant, helped chose the outdoor location, was their witness, while her son was the photographer.
So, at this precise time, one year ago, Aussie Mate and I sat at home, wearing our wedding outfits (new pyjamas) and celebrated with a bottle of champagne.
We had a copy of the marriage ceremony. When I shared that with a few relatives here, my aunt commented “That was lovely. I didn’t expect to go to a wedding today. I feel I should have dressed up in something nice before reading this.”
We felt part of their marriage celebration even though we were on the other side of the world, our evening to their morning, our spring to their autumn. Photos were sent through to us as they had their wedding breakfast. We saw the beautiful park overlooking the ocean, we heard about the orca whales that were in the bay below, that they stopped to watch.
It was the perfect wedding for them.
We were happy to have been at their engagement the previous year, when we were visiting Sydney. We understood their choices.
Aussie Mate and I had made a similar choice ourselves. We were living in London and we eloped to Wales. That was our perfect day and twenty six years on, we are still glad that we chose that specific way to get married.
Happy anniversary kids.
In our fast paced lives, we are often so caught up in now, what we have to get done today, tomorrow, that we to forget to look back, to remember the good times, to reminisce. We should take the time to recollect. Even in the tough years there are always some things that made us smile, things to be grateful for, happy memories to share.
There are various ways to think back on the past twelve months.
Facebook has collated a summary of our posts and photos.
I’ve seen blog ideas such as “2014 in 100 words”.
Here is another way that our family have enjoyed.
Each person selects a few pictures, images, a word, that relates to others in the family / group, or to themselves, during the past year ….. places visited …. achievements …. concert attended …. a new hair style …. new friendships. The list is endless.
Everyone, cuts out their pictures, rolls them up tight, covers them in tissue paper – all in secret. All are placed in a bag or hat.
When everyone is together, each person takes turns to pull one item out of the bag, all guess who and what it relates to (some pictures are quite obscure). It is fascinating to see what others remember, the different memories, personal highlights of the year.
The girls got older, more independent. At times, the girls seemed close in age, interested in similar things, played nicely together. At other times they were miles apart, on totally different wavelengths. As parents, generally we stayed one step ahead of them, prepared for the next age and stage. Occasionally they raced ahead and we had to figuratively catch up.
The girls had swimming lessons on Saturday mornings. I aimed for lessons as late as possible and for S~E and C~M who where in separate groups, to have classes at the same time. Just as I got this organised, one girl would be promoted to the next level and it would all get out of sync again. My nightmare was when S~E reached the top class that started at 7.50 am. For a working Mum who had to get the family up and out five days a week, this was an unwanted commitment for a Saturday morning. The girls often told me off for chatting with the other Mum’s and missing their achievements in the pool. C~M wanted to go ice skating but lessons were on Sunday mornings and I needed one day a week to relax, not have to be anywhere at a fixed time. So no ice skating. Sorry kid.
Secondary school was a whole new experience but S~E soon settled. She made new friends and got involved in school activities.
Our girls went to the local infant school, depending on the catchment area where we lived at the time. We were very lucky with the school and the principles it instilled. General good manners, respect for others, walking inside, no running, sitting quietly for assembly. Each class took assembly, even from reception class, so the kids were used to standing up in front of the whole school. It gave them all such confidence.
Their secondary school was also very good with the life skills, and social awareness, the school did not just concentrate on academic achievements. There were the usual sports, music, art and drama but also recognition for being “ good citizens”, there were prefects but also “big brother / big sister” mentoring programmes.
It is great now that our girls are adults, to see these values are an unconscious part of their character, to see them live these principles in their daily lives.
S~E’s first concert at secondary school – She played saxophone and a girl friend played clarinet. They wanted to perform a duet in the Christmas concert. Fine, we had heard them practice and knew what to expect. We weren’t prepared for the sixth form boys who were the backing band. I turned to Aussie Mate and asked if he was ready for our 12 year old daughter to be friends with these 17 year old lads. He hadn’t thought of that!
The girls were untidy, their rooms were a mess. Constant nagging to clean up resulted in a clean room, until you opened a wardrobe door, then an avalanche fell out. Both girls enjoyed rearranging their rooms. They both tried having the bed out across the room, half way along the wall. Until I realised that it all looked tidy from the door, but stuff was hidden on the other side of the bed. We’d always had “no food upstairs” rule, so it was always a clean mess, no dirty plates, or food packets or mould experiments. As older teens, we accepted that they had “floordrobes” and generally looked crumpled. They certainly didn’t iron any clothes.
At one point, Aussie Mate stated that as owner of the property we had rights to enter all rooms, without notice, to inspect or search for contraband, illegal substances! But we chose our battles and eventually accepted the untidy bedrooms as long as it didn’t encroach on the rest of the house. We did nag when clutter spread out on to the landing. “Clear this mess, you do not have a porch to your room!”
We all need rules and boundaries. “A river without banks is a large puddle.”
S~E asked for a lock for her bedroom. We said no. As she was fed up with her little sister “borrowing” things from her room and never returning them, one day she pushed her bed up to the door so that only she could get in. She was the skinny one in the family. This lasted for a few days until I stated it was as fire hazard and she moved the bed.
We needed new strategies and disciplines for teenagers. We docked pocket money, we insisted on additional chores, the worst being to clean the toilet. We grounded them on occasion. The girls called us “the meanest parents in the whole wide world.”
At one point we removed a bedroom door for a few days. That was very effective and got her attention. Teenagers certainly value their privacy. It wasn’t an original idea, we had seen it in a film.
She wrote to an agony aunt in a teen magazine, with the usual “It’s not fair” complaints. And she asked me for a stamp in order to post it. I gave her the stamp. “Sometimes being a good parent is knowing when not to parent, to let life takes its course.”
The Will of a thirteen year old…
“Dad – nothing
Mum – half of my savings – don’t share with Dad
Sister – half of my savings – don’t share with Dad
Friends – my toys and stuff.”
S~E was studying music, played sax, keyboard and didgeridoo. She wanted to learn the drums. Oh joy! She began constantly drumming, tapping, beating out a rhythm, with anything, pens, cutlery, toothbrush, my knitting needles. We gave in and bought her an electronic drum kit for her sixteenth birthday. It had headphones but we still swapped the girls bedrooms so drums were over the garage, not above the lounge. She was a happy girl though.
We had many conversations / discussions / rows (?) with a girl sat on the stairs, me standing on the downstairs hallway. Talking through the bannisters as if one of us is in jail. We had the silent treatment, stomping, doors slammed. But they knew the rules in our house. Just as when they were little, they pushed the limits with us, at home, and were generally well behaved when out. That is the way it should be.
They changed, developed, did well with school work (most of the time). They lolled about the house and had phases when everything (and I mean everything) was an effort. They had pyjama days during the school holidays when they didn’t get up until the afternoon.
After S~E had sex education class at school and had seen the teacher put a condom on a banana, I gave her a packet of condoms so she could open them in her own time, know what they felt like. I didn’t realise that she carried them around in her school bag and her friends all knew about them and that “S~E’s Mum gave them to her”. Oh.
Then…. Gradually…. You realise that life is quieter, there are fewer moans and groans, normal family conversations resume. You realise that tensions have eased, that the girls offer to do chores without being asked, that perhaps you are coming to the end of the teenage phase.
I knew I was winning, when I returned to studying, and a seventeen year old S~E told me that I wouldn’t concentrate on my homework properly in the lounge, reading an astronomy book with the tv on. Also when C~M was minding a friends children in her late teens and told the little kids that they couldn’t play with bouncy balls on the bus as they’d bounce away. To hear some of my own words and warnings come from their mouths proved that all my nagging had obviously been worthwhile.
We successfully completed “the parents of teenagers” challenge. Thanks girls for making it relatively easy!