Dear Six-Years-Ago Me...

>> Thursday, 20 August 2015

Dear Six-Years-Ago Me,

I've been unpacking this week; unpacking all the stuff that you put into storage when you left for Russia six years ago. It's been an interesting couple of days and I have a couple of questions for you because for the life of me, I'm not sure what you were thinking on a couple of points...

1.  I just un-boxed the china that we were given for our wedding and which we used maybe 3 or 4 times before we left London back in 2010.  Now, dear Six-Years-Ago Me, I know you weren't responsible for this; it was Fourteen-Years-Ago Me who made this screw-up when compiling that wedding gift list, but you're closer to her chronologically speaking and your memory might be in better shape than mine, so I wonder if you can tell me; you don't drink coffee.  I don't drink coffee.  And Fourteen-Years-Ago-Me didn't drink coffee, either.  So why, in god's name, are there not one, not two, but TWELVE coffee cups and saucers in your wedding service?  Only four tea-cups and saucers, but TWELVE coffee cups.  For goodness' sake, Nespresso machines had only just been invented back then!

WTF were you thinking?

2.  Don't take this the wrong way, Six-Years-Ago Me, but I'm not very impressed with your standards of cleanliness. I mean, it's one thing to live with an accumulation of crumbs at the bottom of the toaster and a kettle that hasn't been de-scaled since heaven knows when, but it's quite another to pack them away into deep storage, only to have to clean them when you take them out.  Husband thinks I'm being too hard on you; it was a stressful situation (we were moving to Russia, I suppose), and you did have a 3 year old and a 6 year old to tend to after all.  Still.  Could Do Better, I'm afraid...

3.  And whilst I'm at it, where did you put the cutlery, Six-Ago-Me?  And the day to day china?  Because all the packing boxes are now empty and I have still to come across them.  Don't get me wrong, it's very nice to eat my breakfast cereal from a Royal Doulton bowl but given my butter-finger proclivities it's only a matter of time before it all comes crashing down (quite literally) and I would much prefer that in that case, it's Ikea's finest in smithereens on the kitchen floor.  So please, where on earth did you (or the packers?) put it all?

4.  But I don't want to end on a negative note, Six-Years-Ago Me, so I just wanted to tell you one last thing; I found that series of pieces that you wrote for that estate agent's magazine when you were living in London.  You know, the ones about being a West London mum...  You were pretty funny, Six-Years-Ago Me.  Respect.  How on earth did you find the headspace?  What's that?  The time I spend cleaning and tidying is the time you spent being creative?  

Touché.

PM x

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On living with Boys...

>> Monday, 27 July 2015

At the lunch table today I was not really concentrating on what Boys #1 and #2 were talking about, when suddenly:

Boy #1:  "No, I didn't do that.  I fighted."

Boy #2:  "Fighted?  What are you talking about?  You mean 'fought'.  'Fighted' is something a Boove would say.  Your grammar is as bad a Boove's!"

Boy #1:  "Yes, of course.  I was trying to sound like a Boove."  (He so wasn't). 

Me (not really having paid much attention up until this point):  "Hang on - what did you say, Boy #2?  Did you say Boy #1 sounded like a boob?"

Both Boys fell about laughing.

Boy #2:  "No, mum.  I said Boove.  Like in 'Home'.  Not boooooooob."  He paused for a moment, considering.  "Although, boobs have terrible grammar too.  All they do is sit there and look at you."

Me (what?):  "What?"  (We're not overly modest in our family but, apart from mine from time to time, when had he actually seen that many boobs?  And I didn't really want to think too much about the 'sitting there and looking at you' comment - that's the stuff nightmares are made of and which helps therapists pay their bills...)  "Which boobs are you talking about?"

Boy #1:  "You know, Mum.  The ones we saw in the shopping centre this morning."

I blinked.  Boobs?  In the shopping centre?  Again, what?

Me:  "Where was I when you saw this?"

Boy #2:  "Looking for shower gel, I think."

Suddenly it clicked.  They were talking about a large ad for Agent Provocateur perfume on the front window of a beauty store I was visiting.  But whilst it was a provocative image (the clue's in the brand name, I guess), I didn't remember any actual breasts on display, and I certainly hadn't paid much attention to it.  Then again, I wasn't an 11 or a 9 year old boy...

Me:  "Oh, ok.  But it was no big deal - she was wearing underwear."

Boy #1:  "Yes, but you could see the edges of - them..."

Me:  "Well, fair enough.  But it didn't really show her Booves.  I mean boobs.  Did it?"

Boys #1 and #2:  "Hahahahahahahaha!  You called them Booves! You meant boobs! Booves, not boobs!  Hahahahahaha!"

Reader, it definitely was not my slightly hysterical laughter that echoed theirs as I considered the imminent onset of my sons' adolescence and all the joy that it will bring...

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Pre-move prep

>> Wednesday, 22 July 2015

We are now 5 weeks into the Boys' summer holidays.  Yes.  You read that right. Five weeks.  And bearing in mind that we are moving from the US school year to the UK school year, we still have six weeks more to go before they re-enter the bosom of educational establishments.

So, that's 11 weeks.  Eleven weeks.

You know, until I just checked the details for this post, for some reason I had myself convinced that their summer holiday was only 9 weeks.  Self-delusion is a wonderful thing.

Anyhow, the Boys and I have been keeping ourselves busy, not least going through cupboards of crap and getting rid of as much as we can before we leave Russia (it's one thing to ask yourself why you keep all this stuff you don't need, quite another to pay to transport from Moscow to the UK).  Now, I thought I had done this job already, a couple of months back.  "Do it before the kids break up from school,"  I thought to myself.  "Get it done whilst you have the time."  So I did.

But we've been away for a week and on our return I thought I would double check there was no more chaff to be sorted from the wheat before the movers arrive to pack it up and ship it to the UK.

Guess what?  Turns out that our house elves - like Nature - abhor a vacuum.  Cupboards that I could have sworn I had sorted out last time around now need sorting out again.

*looks hard at her husband*.

*runs out to buy more bin liners*.


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Market tips from a nine year old.

>> Tuesday, 7 July 2015

It was raining for much of today, so in an attempt to delay the dreadful moment when I had to give in to Boy#2's demands that I sit down and play Monopoly with him (he loves it, I hate it - mostly because my children show no mercy and bankrupt me every time), I took the boys to a local shopping mall this afternoon.

Officially we were there to visit the supermarket for a light top-up shop before we head off for a week's holiday in a few days.  Unofficially we were - in my children's minds, anyway - there to put a dent in their ruble-based savings as they took the chance to visit the local Lego and Detsky Mir (Children's World) outlets.

The boys had visited both stores before - but rarely to spend their own hard cash.  It was interesting to watch them walk around the Lego store and realise the cost of the toys that they normally take for granted.  I didn't get involved in their choices, just stood back and let them get on with it under the eagle eye of a shop attendant who was clearly having too quiet an afternoon.

They wandered around for about ten minutes, Boy #2 becoming increasingly disconsolate as he realised that most of the Lego kits he wanted were at least twice the amount of money that he had to spend.  His mutterings became gradually louder until Boy #1, older, wiser, and less surprised by the negative difference between his disposable income and his toy-based aspirations, asked his younger brother what the problem was.

"It's all so expensive!" Boy #2 protested.  "When did it all get so expensive?"

"I know" answered Boy #1 resignedly.  "You're right.  There's not really anything worth having that we can afford here."

Boy #2 sighed heavily.  "Yep.  That's what happens in a Bull Market, I suppose."

I blinked.  What?

We left the Lego store shortly afterwards for Detsky Mir, where both boys found something that they wanted and could afford, and after they had made their purchases I asked Boy #2 if he knew what a Bull Market actually was.

"Yes, of course.  A Bull Market is when stock prices are rising.  And when stock prices are falling, it's a Bear Market.  So, it's a Bear Market for flat peaches at the moment, because they're not very expensive (even though they are very yummy and will probably get more expensive when people realise that), but it's a Bull Market for Lego."

"And where did you find out about this, Boy #2?"

"My 'Ask Me Anything' book, Mum.  Obviously."

So there you have it; buy flat peaches, sell Lego.  And read 'Ask Me Anything' when you have a spare moment.

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Remembering why I blog - the moving diary

>> Wednesday, 1 July 2015

It's been quiet on this blog for a couple of weeks now.

It's not that there's nothing happening; there's plenty going on in our lives.  We're preparing for an international move, the Boys have just finished at the only school either of them can remember, and we're ticking off items on our 'Say Goodbye To Moscow' bucket list.  We need to find a base in our new home-town, set everything up for a smooth arrival there, and re-establish some dormant relationships in the UK.

Having said all that, it feels like the calm before the storm.

Practically, I know that isn't the case.  We've had an emotional few weeks - months, really, if I think about it - as we've gone through the mill of taking the decision to leave Russia, identifying where where we want to live back in the UK, applied for school places for the kids, been accepted (thank heavens), and dealt with the slowly dawning reality of what it will actually mean to leave the supportive community in a challenging environment that we've been living in for the last six years.  More recently there have been tears as my children have said farewell to good friends and I've held my nerve to assure them that yes, they WILL make new ones, it may just take a little time.  And of course Husband and I have attended a host of leaving parties, both for ourselves and for other people we know who are leaving Moscow.

Since the the school bell rang for the last time two weeks ago I've continued to sell / recycle / donate or just plain throw out the stuff we've acquired during our stay here and don't plan to move back with us.  In addition, there's been the small matter of housing, buying new uniforms for the children, and making a flying visit back to Blighty for them to attend New Starter events at their new schools to deal with.

We're back in Moscow now for a couple of week's hiatus before the we move out of our house here.  I feel as if I should be tidying - I KNOW I should be tidying - but actually there doesn't seem to be much left to tidy.  I've been through the kitchen cupboards, I've given away the clothes the kids and I no longer wear, I've got rid of a load of paperwork.  The only 'big' job now outstanding is to go through the Boys toys, but that can wait a couple of weeks longer.

And it's quiet - oh, so quiet.  The communities we normally socialise with - Russian and expat - have mostly packed their bags and flown, either to their dacha, home country, or somewhere else for a few weeks or for good, depending on their plans.  The Boys are in day camp, and Husband is travelling for business.  I feel as if I should be making the most of my time, doing, I don't know, something, but instead feel as if I'm stuck, dealing with the small tasks of running our day-to-day lives but unable to settle down and get my teeth into the big ones, like starting to actually write the next book that I've tentatively planned out, for example.  Or to  make initial approaches to a host of agents that I've never met, no doubt waiting with bated breath to hear about my last one.

Apologies for what may seem like nothing post, but it helps, to sit here and blog; it reminds me why I started doing this back in 2007.  What can seem at the time like a total lack of progress, whether it's the frustration of potty training a small child, dealing with the 'hurry up and wait' timetable of looking after two young children, or the ups and downs and sometimes what seemed like the interminable 'on and on-ness'* of being the main carer at home, my blog helps me take stock and realise that yes, I am moving forward.

And I can see that actually, this is not the calm before the storm.  Having written all this down, I've realised that actually, I'm right in the centre of it.  The eye of the hurricane.


* an expression borrowed from my good friend Jennifer, who blogs here and here.

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The greatest show on earth. Or in this part of town, anyway...

>> Wednesday, 10 June 2015

It can seem like a bit of a circus here in expat land as the end of the school year approaches.  Every weekend features at least one leaving party, there are weekday lunches where women who have become as close as sisters over the previous 10 months bid each other a tearful farewell in the summer sunshine, and children write their bucket lists of what they want to do for one last time before they leave their current country of residence for another.

Expat wives - usually the main carers at home, whether you like to hear that or not - continue the normal routines that hold their family together, but also spend a lot of time rushing headlong from one engagement to the next, trying to remember which leaving gift they have contributed to and whether the accompanying card has been signed, all the while trying to work out who - now that their best friends are leaving town - they are going to put down as a local emergency contact for the school in the case that they can't be reached if their children are in an accident.

It's one of 'those' years here in our Moscow expat community.  One of those particularly crazy years when it seems that 50% of the expat population are leaving after the school bell rings for the last time in the next week or so.  Leaving, and not coming back.  I'm sure that it isn't the case; there are probably no more people leaving this year than in any other, it's just that being in our 6th year now we know more of those leaving than we ever did before.

And of course this time, we are one of that number ourselves.

I remember that the summer after we arrived in Moscow it felt like one of 'those' years then, too.  Not that it affected me particularly; at that stage I'd only been living here 6 months and the frenzy of leaving parties, gift-giving and tears on the last day of term seemed - if I'm brutally honest - a tad over the top.  (I'm British after all.  We don't like to wear our hearts on our sleeves as a rule.  But expat life might have cured me of that, a bit...)

The second summer after we arrived, however, we went to leaving parties that hurt.  Good friends I'd made in the previous 18 months left Russia, and as I comforted my children as they said goodbye to their besties and then watched as they went on the hunt for new ones at the beginning of the next school year, I understood first-hand how it felt to lose the support structure you'd so carefully created for yourself.  I finally got what the fuss was about.  Then, the year after, I understood it again.  And then the year after that, and the year after that, too.

It wears you down, after a while, all that emotion.  So we're bowing out, for a while at least, and heading back to the UK.  This year we threw our own leaving party and booked our own movers.

I suspect that I will be one of 'those' mothers reaching for the tissues at the school's Closing Ceremony as I seek out my boys in the mass of faces and wonder where the last 6 years have gone.  It's a powder keg, that event, and nothing that I ever experienced in our UK educational system prepared me for it; a more heady cocktail of emotions than the one created in the school gym on that day is hard to find.  60-plus flags - one for every nation with pupils currently in attendance - are carried into the hall by the oldest child of that nationality, with each of them announced to the cheers of over 1400 children aged between 4 and 18.

There are songs, speeches, performances, more speeches, and then the school's director invites 3 or 4 families who have contributed to the school community to ring the final bell of the school year.  Following that the flags are walked out to yet more applause as children embrace each other in the full knowledge that they might not see their friends again for a very long while, if ever, and parents ask themselves for the 100th time what they're doing, putting their kids through this.  Then we all wipe our eyes, pull ourselves together and head home.

And suddenly, that's it; show's over, school's out, and the circus leaves town.

And so do we.


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Un-seasonal musings from Boys #1 and #2

>> Tuesday, 2 June 2015

At dinner this evening:

Boy #1:  "Do you think the Easter Bunny is real, Boy #2?"

Boy #2 narrows his eyes.  "Well.  I think that he is in certain parts of the world, but I think that here in Russia people put their own eggs out."

I look hard at Boy #1.  If his brother still believes, let the myth continue for a little longer, I think.  But there's no need to worry - Boy #1 agrees with his younger sibling.

Boy #1:  "And the Tooth Fairy?"

Boy #2:  "Oh, the Tooth Fairy is DEFINITELY real.  But I was talking to J (one of his best mates) the other day, and apparently, in Belgium, the Tooth Fairy is not a fairy but a little mouse with wings that wears a tutu and leaves sparkles behind it..."

There is a pause, whilst they both consider this and I puzzle over the fact that up until this conversation started I would have bet good money that there was no way my older son still believed the 50 rubles he gets per tooth comes from a winged sprite.  Then...

Boy #2: " ... but that is clearly ridiculous!  Imagine if the Tooth Fairies had a party, and the Belgian tooth fairy couldn't come, one of them would have to dress up as a mouse and throw glitter around!!"

Both Boys fall about laughing at the thought of a fairy dressed as a mouse.  Because, a group of fairies having a party is one thing, but a mouse with wings dressed in a skirt pushes the limits of credulity even for them.

Boy #1:  "Yes, that is ridiculous!"

Boy #2:  "But - what about Father Christmas?  Does he exist?  I think if you asked a teenager they might believe in him 20%, and my friend L in class says she doesn't; she's almost sure that it's her parents who leave the presents out.  Almost..."

I keep schtum at this point.  Best not say anything; after all, they are 9 and 11 years old - surely they can work out for themselves the likelihood of the Big Man being reality?

Boy #1, with an air of great sincerity:  "No, she's wrong.  Father Christmas definitely exists.  When we were at Gran & Grandad's last Christmas I hunted all over the house on Christmas Eve.  I looked EVERYWHERE, and I couldn't find a single present.  Not ONE!  And yet, on Christmas morning, there they were."

Me (somewhat amazed):  "I didn't know you did that, Boy #1!"

Boy #1:  "Well, I did.  But I was very quiet about it.  And I didn't find anything."

Boy #2 nods thoughtfully: "I thought so.  Yes, that proves it.  Father Christmas does exist.  Good. 100% it is, then."





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