Eighteen summers of childhood are all we have apparently. Eighteen years of childhood sounds so long. But eighteen summers? It’s nothing. It’ll go by in a flash, and before we know it we’ll be spending that precious eighteenth summer packing boxes ready to send our babies off to College. All being well anyway.
So eighteen is all we’ve got. And really, when you think about it, there aren’t eighteen summers of childhood at all. The first few years are less about making memories for the kids as they are about survival / taking embarrassing photo’s of weird things babies and toddlers do. On the flipside the last few years are spent trying to keeps tabs on teenagers without cramping their hormone-addled style. Checking how quickly the fridge empties itself for example. And also restocking it without question. So taking those first and last years out of the equation, there’s only a little bit of childhood left in the middle.
I’m quite aware now that at ages four and five, Finn and Clara are starting to consciously remember their childhood. I can’t blag motherhood anymore. Not quite as much anyway. So the fun starts now. And it is fun, or at least what I recall from my own childhood, these are the fun years. The best years of my life according to my Mum.
As a kid, summers were the best of times, no doubt about it. We had what felt like endless days in the sunshine, holidays where we’d all pile into the Landy and hit the continent, and for the most part enjoy complete freedom. No school meant no strict routine, and when August hit we’d be up all night watching the lights of the combine harvesters hard at work in the field behind our house. The day time would be spent lounging around on hay bales and scoffing Mum’s homemade ice cream. I’m sure it wasn’t as ideallic as I remember, but I really can only remember the lovely parts. The parts that I can’t recreate for my own kids anyway, and the parts I wish I could.
I’m already a third of my way through Finn’s childhood summers, assuming we count all eighteen of them. The pressure is on.
But there are two problems. Two problems oh so familiar to other families living the glamorous expat life in summier climes.
The first one being obvious, we live in a permanent state of summer. Weather-wise anyway. So when my kids look back on their childhood summers in years to come they won’t be looking back like I do, reminiscing on those long hot days and lazy evening sunshine. Because, not to brag or anything, but that’s pretty much an everyday occurence.
The second problem being that summer getaways for us involve heading north. Back to family and friends, and a significant drop in temperature. They’re not exactly what comes to mind when you think summer holidays. And yet we still have the hassle of long haul flights (with kids!!!!), days of jet lag and that period of getting used to sleeping in a different bed. It’s a bit like being on a “holiday” but at the same time, not at all.
There is, actually, a third problem. One that I’ve mentioned on Instagram before, and one that seems to be part of the expat package. My memories of summer holidays are of family time. Summer marked the couple of weeks a year when we – my, my siblings, and my parents – would all be together. There would be no work, no school or lingering summer projects, no friends coming and going, absolutely nothing. Our summer holiday was our time. It was sacred family time and over the years has created some of our favourite (and most often quoted) family in-jokes and ever-embellished stories. But it doesn’t exactly work like that when you’re an expat. Even though you jet half way around the world, are exhausted and full of sniffles from hours sat on a plane, the summer holiday isn’t a summer holiday.
Prior to our recent trip back to the UK I had read about this peculiar expectation put on expat families extensively. So guess what? I didn’t succumb to the pressure of the “are we going to see you?” messages. All sent with a subtext of “are you going to come and see us?”. And it meant there were lots of people we didn’t see during our month at home. And yes, I could have just accepted that it was us who decided to move away and so we have to obey the unwritten rule to journey to see everyone. But I didn’t. Because I don’t want my kids to resent going home. I don’t want them to remember having to go home, to the cold (because frankly it IS a lot colder at home, even in Summer), and then being forced to be paraded around family and friends.
It’s bad enough that summers for them aren’t the normal childhood summers. I’m not going to deliberately make it worse. Not when I only have eighteen summers in which to give them a childhood to remember….
Are you an expat family trying to find the summer holiday balance? How do you do it?