The fresh air, the greenness, the parks, the ducks to feed, the puddles to jump in. These things are so alien to us now, living in the desert for the past 6 years. My boys lap it up – and being around their family and friends means a smile is plastered on their face for the entire time we are here.
It’s wonderful and we need a dose of it every year, but I find it hard too.
Why? Because as my responsibilities have grown as quickly as my brood, I just can’t see all the people and do all the things I have been missing. The things that ‘summer’ has always meant to me.
Long summer evenings in a pub garden, nursing a glass of Pimms and laughing with my oldest friends until my cheeks ache. Days in London visiting school friends and old work colleagues on their lunch breaks, treading the streets of the West End with shopping bags in my grip, watching the sun set over the Thames as we tuck into plates of food in our favourite restaurants. Long train journeys to visit friends flung further away, with a coffee in my hand, stack on magazines in front of me, and weekend bag at my feet.
None of these things work when you are the mother of two, nearly three, little people.
Messages pop up on my phone on a near hourly basis and I try and fit in seeing everyone. I even have a spreadsheet this year to make it fit like a puzzle. Morning slots and afternoon slots (as Wilfred sleeps at lunch). Every day has a plan and I’m already exhausted with over a fortnight left to fill. Stanley asks me ‘what are we doing today?!’ and I know he’s so very excited to hear the answer every single morning – and that fills me with so much joy, but I feel the pressure for it to be ‘a summer to remember’ too.
When we say goodbye to friends after each meet-up, they ask ‘when will I see you again?’ and I don’t have the heart to tell them that there is only room for one visit per trip. How can I only have time to see these people that I love so much only once in a whole summer? In a whole year? I can’t ask the grandparents to do any more than they already do to help me with the boys – and I want to be with my children anyway; after all, they are the highlight of my summers too.
Then there are the people who I don’t have time to see – not through lack of interest, but absolutely through lack of time, as their free time just slot into the jigsaw of our free time. I type back ‘I’m so sorry, I’ll see you at Christmas?’ but I know that it’ll probably be the same story (with even less time) when December arrives and we fly back in.
Being an expat returning home is something you can’t understand unless you’ve been there – but all mothers understand the pull of their old life, their old hobbies, and their old friends. We all know how hard it is to fit things in when we have small people in tow – and even if our friends have small people too, it’s still not easy to find convenient dates and places that suit the various ages of all our children.
The difficulty in scheduling friends in may be all too obvious in my short summers back in the UK – but I feel like it’s a mirror, an exaggeration, and the perfect example of what every mother feels as their responsibilities grow. Plans made and then cancelled. Months, often years, between visits. Messages pinged back and forth before a suitable date, time and location is found. Snatched dreams of pub gardens, weekends away, and day trips to cities are just that; only dreams. Until their children grow up, at least.
But friends, please believe that I will be more present again one day. Once my small people get older and my time frees up once again. Maybe when we’ve relocated back to the UK, which has always been the plan one day. One day in the future. I will be back in that pub garden, I will be back visiting with my weekend bag slung over my shoulder and excitement for the days ahead bubbling in the pit of my (flat, not remotely pregnant) tummy. I don’t want to wish away this time in my life, but I know that one day it will pass.
As it will for most of you too.
And most importantly, I know you understand. You are either mothers yourself with equally difficult schedules to keep – or you are my friend, who has stuck by me for the past 4 years when so many others didn’t.
One day I will be back. And I’ll buy you a Pimms (or a jug, in fact). That’s a promise (I think…)