Why didn’t you do that for us, Mama?

We were watching tv, and a commercial came on for pull up diapers/nappies. It was literal explosions of confetti, a disco ball spinning webs of light around the room, and two parents dancing and applauding.

S asked, ‘Why didn’t you do that for us?’

I replied, ‘Do what? Teach you how to use the potty?’

‘Yeah. Me and M figured it out by ourselves. Why didn’t you do it for us?’

‘Well, S, some people believe that children can’t learn stuff without a grown up teaching them or telling them how to do it. I don’t think that way. I believe children, even very small children, can figure out a lot of stuff by themselves.  And if they need help, then grown ups can help. But I do believe kids are capable of figuring out lots of stuff on their own.’

She nodded. ‘Yeah, I believe that, too.’

Good.

Away with the waves.

Sorry for the radio silence! We’ve been out of reach of the internet for a week. We spent it in a pleasant escape from real life – straddling the border between cool, dark woods and one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world.

The first few days were cloudy and windy – the water had waves almost as tall as the kids! Both jumped right in. I forced myself to hang back a little, though I was very ready to grab a child should a wave smash them down and start to pull them out. Ah, but much like my own young self, they took to ‘wild’ swimming with aplomb. M was knocked down a few times (he went so deep, so quickly! Six hours of wave battling the first day!), and the first felt like an eternity until he found his feet and stood up, quick to check behind him to see if another wave was coming.

We had eleven pm dancing on the deck, only glow sticks and Christmas style outdoor lights to illuminate us. It was our family and my parents, and it was glorious.

We’re back at my old home today, my mother’s current home, the place I grew up that looks oh so different these days. Suzy was dropped off at the airport yesterday. As I type, she is probably fast asleep in Bristol, jetlag ruining all her plans to clean and organize and just be alone.

Me and the kids have six days left here, and I believe this week will hit temperatures high enough to make all my prophecies about how hot America is come true. We have no set plans, but I am going to try to force myself to relax about not ‘wasting’ any time. I feel like I should visit every place, suck all the marrow out of all the Michigan bones, live wild and free and crazy. Rich and dripping.

In reality, Grandma’s House is probably as exciting to the kids as many other things we could (and some, which we will) do. Yesterday after the airport, we visited my grandmother’s youngest sister. She and the kids hit it off straight away, which made me only mostly happy, with a hint of sadness for the relationship they may have had with the woman I tell them stories about. My aunt pressed three dollars into each of their hands – and it was like watching a little me, getting cold hard currency from her, from my grandparents, from other relatives no longer with us. She told them to spend it, to buy whatever they wanted, to not save it.

So my mom took them to a dollar store. For those not in America, it is just as it sounds. A store where everything is a dollar. And it’s not ALL cheap shit. I swear.

S was careful. She knew she could only get three things. Then my mom said, no, it’s okay, you should each get five. Then ten. Then the phrase that will long live in their young minds – get whatever you want!

You can see why S declares each day that we have here ‘the most awesome day of my life.’ It just keeps getting better.

Giant American play structures in good old fashioned English rain.

20140708-101004.jpg

Being a family from Britain, we were well placed to be the only people at the playground this morning…before 8:30. Jetlag meant we’d already been up for hours, the ‘cool’ temperature of 68F, the complete cloud cover, the rain.

No, we felt right at home.

From sea to shining sea.

Last September, my children were ‘due’ to start full time school, mere days after turning four years old. Instead of going to school, we went to Italy.

20140707-054637.jpg

We ate a lot of gelato, learned a bit of Italian, and explored the always wonderful Boboli Gardens. I’d been there years before, alone with Suzy, and it was a curious experience going back with our children. So much the same – things unchanged that had been so for hundreds of years, but interacting with them in new ways.

20140707-054854.jpg

We wandered small alleyways, rode tall busses, ate even more gelato. We stayed in a big old amazing, secret wonder of a place with twisting hallways and low ceilings. It was lovely.

20140707-055155.jpg

That first week of official school time was spent immersed in another country, melodic words flowing around us, chatting to people and touching old statues.

We are now approaching what would have have been their last week of the school year. We’ll be spending that time in America. We’re here now, awake since 3 am, in that curious black space of nighttime jetlag. Lightening strobes the sky, thunder has been rumbling for six hours. I don’t know what this trip will bring, but I know it will add to our lives more than any other thing we could have been doing with this time.

What an amazing blessing. Starting this ‘school’ year in Italy, exploring England and Wales throughout the months between then and now, and ending things here, sitting at my mother’s kitchen table.

20140707-055849.jpg

Straddling the borders (of acceptable pronunciation)

I grew up on the border of America and Canada. So a lot of my cool childhood memories involve being in Quebec, Ontario, etc.

My kids are growing up on the border of England and Wales. So a lot of their cool childhood experiences involve being in Wales.

I grew up seeing signs in French and English, they are growing up seeing signs in Welsh and English.

There’s no real point to this except to say that I noted the parallel the other day and thought it was sort of cool. And that the accent of my children leaves no doubt they are not Welsh, but my accent means that every British person I meet asks if I’m Canadian.

(In other semi related areas, I’ve never met a British person who couldn’t pronounce ‘Chicago’ correctly, yet I’ve never met one who said ‘Michigan’ the right way. It’s Michigan with a Chicago shhh sound people. The way people say MITCHigan sets my teeth on edge.)

When past and present collide.

20140626-150651.jpg

Even when we go back to places we’ve been many times before, it always feels new.

Last October we were here, barefoot with woollen hats on our heads, feet buried in mud. Today we were here and, yes, played in a stream, but we also went out into the river. People were puppies, people were putting on performances, people were getting splashed by exuberant dogs.

I look at my children and think about the wonder of their childhood. It’s all the best parts of my childhood…except, and this is the important bit, it’s just best bits. Not only what I consider the best, but what each child chooses to be the best. With no time constraints or pressures to achieve certain targets by certain dates, we are free to be flexible and explore.

Explore ourselves, explore friendships, explore our passions. These things might happen under a bridge, naked, in the woods. Or they might happen snuggled on a beanbag watching a bit of Stampy.

I don’t want to live vicariously through my children. I want them to have their own lives, discover and pursue their own joys. But while they are still little (though they’d not agree they were little!), I’m lucky enough to journey with them much of the time.

And happy when their laughter and games remind me of my own childhood. So much of it was spent wading up streams, or alone deep in the woods, or creating crazily dangerous games with my sister. These are the golden joys of my past, and I’m so lucky my memories are prompted by watching my children jump and splash in the present.