Is not sleeping on planes genetic?

Will we sleep, as we fly through this night? Thousands of miles above our planet, crossing time zone after time zone, chasing the future while it gets impossibly late both in the land where we took off and the land where we’ll land.

Oh, we tried. We even had an extra seat. But fresh ten year olds take up a lot of space. Young enough to need sleep, old enough to cope for just a little longer.

So they both lay their heads on my lap; I wonder if I’ll be trapped and need to pee. Just as sleep steals in, turbulence hits, a baby cries. The sound of a hundred metallic clicks of people fastening seatbelts surrounds us.

We sit up. We lean heads on tray tables. I listen to music, you both watch movies. I think about the likelihood of there being tears and despair as we wait in the immigration queue.

It’s been two years since we’ve flown this far – well, only a month, technically, but two years since we overnighted on the way home. Dim glows of screens. Me wondering if I need to pee for the eighth time in five hours, if people around me assume I’ve got a bladder infection or am pregnant.

Darkness gets deeper around us as we are poised, perfectly balanced between the sunset we left behind and the sunrise we are heading for.

Do we sleep? 1522 miles remain, two hours and fifty six minutes. Memories of another flight where you stayed up all night, until the last fifteen minutes where you both passed out and I couldn’t wake you up again. The stewardess demanded we leave the plane, you were screaming, you fought each other at baggage claim while tears filled my eyes and a pair of older women – probably the age I am now – swooped in and hugged me and got our bags.

I watch a mother five rows up with her screaming baby and think I may offer to swoop in. Seeing as you’re ten, and you’re awake, and I’m thinking middle of the night movies are better than middle of the night misery.

Will we sleep?

I’ll say no. And hope it’s okay, anyway.

What if the future is even better than the past?

There’s something bittersweet about watching my children have these fleeting moments that are echoes of my childhood. I spent virtually every summer on the water, in the water, listening and smelling and loving the water. My grandparents had a boat, and I loved to sit on the front of it while the boat sped along the waves (and looking back, my life was probably at risk! But how wonderful it was.).

We are in America now. My children are on their grandparents’ boat, on the water, in the water. It smells like sunshine and water weeds. They are joyfully piloting the boat, asking to swim in the centre of a lake bigger than they ever knew existed.

It makes me happy; it makes me sad. What sort of life would they have if we lived in America? Specifically, this bit of America with water and huge lakes everywhere, lakes so big they look like the ocean.

I think nostalgia overwhelms me when I get on a boat. I could sit here all day. But I’m wary of letting that nostalgia put this life on a pedestal. Maybe one day my children will be watching their children live the life my kids had when they were little. No regular boats, no jumping off pontoons.

But maybe my future grandchildren will splash along rivers, play deep in the dappled woods, feel the magic of dancing around a campfire as the sun sets. And my kids will look, and sigh, and feel nostalgic and wonder what if, even as my grandchildren create their own childhood memories.

And so the cycle goes.

Sometimes I feel like I know what life is, but I’m still not certain I’m right.

This time forty years ago, my mother would have been nearing her due date, a tiny me inside her and waiting to come out. This time ten years ago, my belly was stretched and full, my children both waiting to come out.

I came out late, they came out early, but all three of us had the same due date.

My great grandparents also waited, on a sea rather in it, as they sailed to a new life in America. Almost exactly one hundred years later, I stepped on a plane and spent eight hours wondering what my new life in England would look like.

It feels like there are a lot of connections in life, a lot of circles. A lot of meaning.

Sometimes I feel like I need to find more meaning, or I long to create more meaning; sometimes it feels like it’s been a long time since there’s been a Big Moment, or a Big Adventure, or a Big (hopefully positive) Change.

But really, life is a series of small moments. A few are ‘big,’ but most are ‘small.’

Life is a friend threading some string through a hagstone for me, so I can hang it from my neck as we watch our children climb up sandy dunes and jump down again.

Life is laughing as another friend educates a five year old about the band on her t shirt, blasting music and us singing together while the five year old looks on with a curious combination of polite bemusement and joy.

Life is trying to stay awake as I drive across the city late at night, listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton and rapping along with the lyrics I’ve memorised.

It’s staying up talking till 4:30 am with my wife for the first time in years. It’s how tired my body feels the next day, but how energised my heart feels.

It’s walking up a river in flimsy sandals with friends, as the sky darkens faster than expected and we laugh about crazy river monsters and howling monkeys watching from the trees. It’s a text from my mother reminding me that it was my grandmother’s birthday this week, even as I think about how her death impacts me still.

Life is remembering and creating and trying and being unable to move. It’s pain and obsessing and loving and messy. It’s figuring out how to honour and express your own truth while still trying to be kind and thoughtful.

It’s a lot of big figurings out, but it’s also small noticings. The way I feel when my kid is finding things rough. The way her hands look as she holds a trophy that is so much more than just a bit of gold plating, the way his words tumble out faster and faster as he tells me the plot of the latest book he wants to write. It’s observing how hard I thought it would be to stay calm when we’re running late, but how surprised I feel when I just let it go.

Life is my fingers on this keyboard. The yellow string I’ve tied around my wrist to remind me. The choice to drink Dr Pepper Zero this late at night even when I know caffeine screws me up and I might have to wake up early to go to a circus (of flipping and soaring humans, not animals).

It’s the texts I’ve just gotten from a friend we saw today, saying her children are vomiting like small explosive volcanos. It’s me, trying to not stress about an upcoming transatlantic flight with my children who may consequently be vomiting 38,000 miles above Earth, whilst hoping my friend doesn’t have a hellish, puke covered evening of no sleep.

Life is being the immigrant granddaughter of immigrant ancestors. Criss-crossing the globe, or running the palms of my hands over my belly, as my mother did before me.

It’s all the experience. It’s all growth, even when it’s so boring and I’m so exhausted I almost fall asleep as soon as I sit still. I’m learning what it means to really be human, and slowly understanding that it’s as simple as noticing, breathing, participating, and being.

I’ll probably forget this tomorrow. I’ll be rushed and I’ll be hot, we’ll be stressed and I’ll wonder why I can’t just have a few hours alone in a dark room watching Netflix. Then maybe I’ll get a few hours tomorrow night, and I’ll beat myself up for ‘wasting’ it doing ‘nothing.’

That’s hard. But sometimes, it’s hard being a human. I’m still learning. I’m still here.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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