Monday 29 June 2015

End of the school year by numbers

Another year over, and what have you done? That's a Christmas song of course, but I always think of it at this time of year, because for parents of school age kids, the "year" begins in September and ends in July.

It seems to have flown by. So I thought I'd just list a few things, data-wise, to remind myself that actually, quite a lot has happened since September 2014.

1. Casualties of Lost Property: 4 (two different kinds of sock, 1 track suit bottoms, 1 pair of pyjamas taken in for a swimming test).

Not bad really and sometimes you just have to "let it go" as the song goes. I remember once really losing it over a lost towel at summer camp, and having to remind myself that there are bigger things in life.  Mind you, I find banging on about how the lost items will come out of pocket money is quite helpful these days. It would have been 5, but a lost shoe was miraculously recovered today.

2. Music exams taken, 3. 

All passed, two with merits. All that practising, nagging and banging on about scales wasn't totally wasted then. And Littleboy 1 seems to have taught himself to play "Dumb Ways to Die" on the violin. Result! 

3. Detentions, 0.

We are doing well here and I hope it continues this way. One of my sons even got invited to a "Good boys' tea," which in my day would have sounded like a recipe for being teased, but these days appears to be a badge of honour, even among boys.

4. Sports Days/swimming galas I missed: 1 (out of 8)

One of the advantages of working from home means I can be flexible about these things.  Mind you, judging from the numbers of Dads there, most of whom I am sure don't work from home, sports days are a 3 line whip these days.

5. Prizes won: 1

Proud parent disclaimer *Littleboy 2 has had a fantastic year at school, and came away with a prize for academic achievement. I couldn't be happier for him.* But actually just as important to me is the fact that he's made some really lovely friends in this first year at the school.

6. Things forgotten in the mornings: Not too many!

Much better on this score than last year, thanks to my trusty chalk board in the kitchen that reminds us what we have to take every day. I only once had to race back in the car to deliver something this year. Although Littleboy 1 went to school with a sopping wet PE kit last week that I had failed to put in the dryer overnight.

7. Inter-school Sports matches kids played in: 1

Not a great score this year -- Littleboy 2 has no interest in competitive team sports, and Littleboy 1, while athletic and fit, doesn't seem to make it into any school teams either (although he's doing very well at tennis lessons, done out of school, and has been selected for a local squad). Still, it means that weekends have been free of ferrying boys to sports matches, which more than makes up for anyone's disappointment.

8. Number of times I have been to the school for events since half term: too many to count.

See no 4. Again possible because I work at home. What on earth you do if you work in an office I have no clue.

9. Number of times we walked to school: 5

This is pretty disgraceful. We did mean to do it more. The walk is about half an hour. The problem is partly all the stuff they have to carry - musical instruments, cricket bats, heavy PE bags, homework, projects. Maybe next year we'll try to rationalise it somehow. 

10. Funny conversations with boys on the way home: countless

This is my favorite quote from Littleboy 2. We were driving home when we saw a boy who looked to me about 15 walking down the road. "Oh that's Mr. X." he said. "He's one of the teachers." When quizzed more closely it turned out he was one of the Gap year boys they have helping at the school. Then he added: "Yeah, we used to have another Gap teacher but he went skiing and never came back. I think he retired."


Tuesday 23 June 2015

Expat friendships, two years on

Littleboy 2 shortly before we left New York
It's almost two years since we left the U.S.

It doesn't seem like that kind of time at all, of course - it seems like yesterday that I was packing up our house and and saying goodbye to my American friend, bidding farewell to the boys' school and doing everything we enjoyed in Long Island for the "last" time.

I was thinking the other day about expat friendships and whether or not they last a lifetime. My parents met many of their lifelong friends as expats in Hong Kong, some of whom I still keep in touch with today. But things are different now - social media has replaced the long letter and Christmas cards, long a method of keeping in touch, now seem to have fallen out of fashion with more and more people.

So what are my thoughts now that I can put my expat friendships in perspective?

Firstly, that it's interesting who you stay in touch with. Facebook of course makes it very easy to stay in touch with a lot of people but in a fairly superficial way. I have a bit of email contact with those people to whom I was closer but in the main, I do rely on social media.

One experience has been having a dear friend in America go through a terrible time, with her eight year old daughter diagnosed with leukaemia last autumn. Thankfully she is now in remission but it has been the most horribly tough year for her and for her whole family. This friend was lovely to me when I was having my own health issues, and I really felt it that I couldn't be there for her in person. I have been emailing her and sending cards, but it does make you realise that whatever the power of social media, being physically there is a whole different matter.

Then there are the people who are not on social media. In the case of my very good German friend, we've made a real effort to email, Skype and have even managed to see each other twice in the past year. I have a feeling this friendship will now be for life.

But others haven't been so easy.  There was one neighbour whom I got to know very well in the U.S. - we were always chatting at the school bus stop or in each other's houses. She's not on Facebook and I would love to know what's happening with her and her family.  But since being back, whenever I've tried to email her (apart from the very first time, when she replied warmly) I've been met with a wall of silence. I'm fairly certain nothing awful has happened to her, having asked other people, so I'm wondering if she just can't deal with long distance friendships, or (paranoia setting in) whether she never really liked me that much.

Others neighbours have made a real effort to look us up on trips to London - in fact we're due to see one family next week. And, later this year, we'll be heading back to Long Island as part of a U.S. holiday, so we'll get to see everybody again. I'm still debating whether to knock on Mrs. Email Silence's door, but I'm hoping others will be pleased to see us.

More interesting will be seeing whether the boys still gel with their old best friends, now that they've lost their American accents and think and act more like little English boys. I'm guessing yes, because kids seem to re-bond easily, and as long as they're all on the latest version of Minecraft they'll have something in common. But who knows?

Friday 5 June 2015

Floral delights

I can't believe it's June already and the end of the school year is once again looming. The boys have three and a half more weeks, and then we are into the holidays -- that long cycle of me frantically trying to work while entertaining the boys and ferrying them around to different camps.

I've been neglecting the blog a little of late, so thought I'd write a quick update on what I've been up to.

I went to the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time ever. This was a fabulous experience -- a riot of colour, scent and sensation. What struck me most wasn't the show gardens, which is what everyone writes about and shows on TV. Those are indeed very impressive, but what I hadn't expected was the amazing floral displays from the growers inside the gigantic marquee. Huge walls of hyacinths, hydrangeas, roses, foxgloves -- you name it, it's there.

Selfie in floral garb

Hydrangea heaven

Purple paradise

Rose bower


The visit inspired me in a fit of impulsiveness to become a Royal Horticultural Society member, and start frantically buying seeds to plant in my back garden. Whether this newfound passion for gardening lasts remains to be seen, but it did reinforce my love of flowers, and a realisation that I need to teach my children the names of plants, flowers and shrubs on every walk we go on - because how else do you learn?

Then we went to the Lake District for half term. This was again a floral treat, as the rhodedendron, azalea and blubells were all in bloom up there. It's the first time I've ever visited in May, and it's a great time of year to be there -- everything shining with that bright, light green of early leaf, and newborn lambs everywhere.

Lakeland colours

Rhodedendrons in full bloom

A gorgeous view of Derwentwater

Now we're back and heading into the madness that is end of term, with swimming galas, school balls, concerts and parental drinks gatherings dominating the calendar for the next few weeks .

Wish me luck and see you on the other side.