Tag Archives: expat

Birthday parties – why we bother…


The cake! Dave the Minion with balloons.

I hope that you, unlike my husband, read the title correctly.  When shared it with him, he chuckled and thought it must be composed of one long moan having automatically inserted a ‘do’ in between ‘why’ and ‘we’.  But not so.  I am, in fact, saying hurrah for the children’s party.  For all the work and stress (and not even thinking about the utter annihilation of the house), the excitement and joy that those two hours bring are worth it all in my book.

Last weekend we threw Edward his first proper party for his fourth birthday.  I think up until pre-school the party is more about the parents congratulating themselves on surviving this far isn’t it?  He had his heart set on a minion theme.  It is amazing how many people are unfamiliar with minions, compared to those to us for whom Dave, Tim, Larry, Evil purple et al are like common acquaintances.  Just another minor divide between parents and those who live in the real world and whose acquaintances are not made out of plasticine (mostly).


Even the Source got into the minion swing of things, thanks BJ!

One lovely thing about this party was how excited and involved the big brothers were.  I had literally nothing to do with the invitation; it was designed, printed and written out by William whose PowerPoint skills (honed through weekly presentations on such things as the life cycle of grasshoppers, rugby union and Hereford Cattle – thanks for the help Uncle Robert) already put mine to shame.  It was vital, according to the eight year old to put together a brilliant playlist (What?  To make sure ‘pass the parcel’ goes with a bang?  Liven up musical statues?), resulting in one of the most fun party planning sessions we held (the catering meeting was less amicable once I said no to Happy Meals – with Coke – followed by bubble gum).  I am pleased to say the soundtrack included some songs I actually liked – in between Bruno Mars and Alvin and the Chipmunks singing Party Rock.  Much as the footage of the boys dancing (I feared for life and limb while filming this) to this song will amuse me forever I never thought I would see the day when my music collection would include the soundtrack to ‘Chipwrecked.’

The morning of the party saw William and me answering the door at 7.15am in my pyjamas to the man with the bouncy castle which prompted an outburst from William ‘But his van’s so small.’ (Sorry William)

The extra time on the castle, we had assumed would allow us peace from small people in order to fling everything into our bedroom to impose a phony tidiness on the house (I always worry for people whose bedroom doors are open to the public).  What eventuated was the cancellation of the party roughly 27 times in two hours – once when we patently knew people would be turning into our street.

Anyway, the party was a great success and Edward had an absolute ball with lots of his friends, and lots of our friends all being there for him.  I don’t mean that to sound as though he enjoyed being the centre of attention for the sake of it (but he did!), more that it meant so much to us all to have our house full of the happiness and laughter of people we love.  That is why I say hurrah for the birthday party.  It can encompass all that is well and good and working in a child’s life.  Friends are being made, relationships apart from the family forged and the coming together of this at a party is beautiful to see.  Childhood relationships, based on playing in a mutually fun and engaging way which is, in turn, being nurtured by the establishment responsible for the child while he or she is away from the family are so crucially important I think for a child’s sense of well-being.

In another layer during the party, the child sees the relationships between his siblings and their friends and his parents and their friends.  This gives him confidence to establish bonds that he believes and invests in, knowing many will have long-term value.

Living life as an expat family is full of ups and downs.  There is the constant push and pull of here and there.  I have written before about my thoughts on ‘home’ which I suppose at the very lease means I had a happy childhood.  I can certainly remember many parties; birthdays spent doing treasure hunts and pram races on the front lawn, Easter celebrations amid the daffodils, ‘pit’ parties in Roxburgh, Halloween parties in Sprouston (where older brothers and sisters wreaked their revenge for smaller ones annoyances throughout the year), the village bonfire, the Christmas Eve drinks where Robert and I would revel in being ‘looked after’ by the teenagers (probably a ruse by the parents to stop the older ones sneaking a few Archers and lemonade!).  All of these happened in a close and comforting circle of which our family was a part.

It suddenly struck me last weekend (you’d think I might have got here sooner I know), that it is our turn now to create the same for our children.  The first names on Edward’s list (at the inaugural minion party meeting) were those of the gorgeous family friends we have made, as though no party would be complete without them first and foremost.  Coupled with his closest friends from school, we were a very happy band with a very excited, very lucky boy in our midst.




 The other morning after speaking to my parents on the phone William asked me why I was quiet (I know, it doesn’t happen often).  “I’m homesick” I told him.  “But you’re at home Mummy” was his response.  Quite.  So why, seven years after landing in this Great Southern Land, do I still not call Australia home?

It has got me thinking about what ‘home’ means and the link between home and identity.  According to the OED home is ‘the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family’.  So on the surface where I am now fits; it’s just that pesky ‘permanently’ I have a problem with.  I don’t have a problem with commitment on the whole, and I am the sort of person who, when I do commit, gives it my all to make it work.  Even in the short term, I hate to be seen as having failed but more that I haven’t tried so I have employed the mantra try, try and try again (heralding the Lions?)

 We have a fabulous life here, as I talked about on May 2nd.  Our needs are more than met, the boys are thriving in their respective school and pre-school, we have some lovely friends, and yet.  And yet.  There is a need in me which I almost cannot name, which defies definition and yet which somehow exemplifies homesickness.  It is an ache I carry for much of the time, a tug that I feel when I see a tall, grey haired grandpa or yearning to be where my soul can rest.  I worry that I cannot be the best version of myself without repairing the roots I yanked from the loamy Scottish ground seven years ago.

 There is a saying which suggests that the most important things we can give our children are ‘roots and wings’.  I suppose the whole point is that they are mutually dependent; we can push push push ourselves as long as we have that starting point to return to if we fail.  But if that starting point is shaky and unconvincing, what kind of support structure is in place?

 I am incredibly lucky; I still have four uncles, four aunts, many cousins who also have children.  At two out of three of my children’s christenings (all taking place in the church in which my brother and I were christened, Andrew and I were married – where we have a family pew, yes really!) my cousin Naomi’s children and my own have gone from a shy hello to a plaintive, ‘When will we see X again?’  The joy I felt being at Cowbog (see header photo on this blog) two years ago was renewed every time I saw my boys with their cousin (now plural) and the children of my close friends.  The strong, binding web of family and shared history is impossible to break entirely and it seems can survive neglect but as a sad version of itself, like a holiday house that would be nice to visit if only you had the time or money to invest in it.

 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 057 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 228 Cahills in Scotland July-August 2011 492

 For many people The UK means London or some other urban centre.  Some friends we have here had a wonderful few years in Oxford, others in Bristol.  All of them enjoyed their UK hiatus but treated it as such, a break in the norm.  They always knew they would return home.  My UK, my Scotland is the glorious, soft, fresh-aired countryside of The Borders.  Rich in history and legend, The Borders is populated by canny, determined souls whose passions run deep (apart from when it comes to the rugby where jersey sleeves are singed by emotion).  For my first 20 years –  probably more if I’m being honest – I was ‘Julia Wilson from Cowbog’; the farm was central to my very identity and like a ripple on a pond, Cowbog at the centre was supported by gradually bigger areas and layers of family.

In this age of international travel and expatriation perhaps it is unusual for place to play such a large part in the formation of identity.  So many people chase the dream, be it corporate or lifestyle that it is easy to identify only with those within the immediate family bubble, wherever that bubble may journey.  While I admire the ‘us against the world’ ethos that such a family habitat naturally demands I’m not sure it’s what I want to give my children.  Perhaps I am not strong enough, perhaps I need my comfort blanket of family, perhaps I don’t want to grow up.

Going beyond myself though, I think about the boys and their identity and sense of belonging.  We joke that the Scottish brainwashing has worked on William but only partially on Sam (Edward I could claim as mine but that is only in a maternal sense, not a patriotic one just now).  In fact, in the car on the way to school recently we were discussing the Lions tour as the boys had just received their shirts from Gran and Grandpa.  William said something like “I’m Scottish, the same as Mummy but you’re not, you’re from here.” This was to Sam and Edward. Obviously there was no malice intended but the division is there (Should we prepare for massive psychological bills?).  I of course told them we all had the same passport and that was that!  Gorgeous Sam though had insisted on wearing his green shorts with his Lions jumper as he ‘supports both’.

boys in lions shirts1

 I recounted this conversation to Sam’s lovely teacher at pre-school whose take on it was typically lovely and caring as she suggested that we are all citizens of the world and all just the same.  If only this were true.  Unfortunately patriotism has a large part to play in our identity and though of course our family loyalty is first and foremost to the people we love, I wonder about the impact of identifying ourselves differently within that unit.

One of my favourite poets, Eavan Boland explores this theme wonderfully in her poem Lost Land.  I considered just putting a link here but, just in case people were too busy to read another page and didn’t click on it I thought I’d make it easy and include it.  I would hate for anyone to miss out.  I first heard this on my post-colonial poetry course at Edinburgh and it still gives me goosebumps.

The Lost Land

By Eavan Boland

I have two daughters.
They are all I ever wanted from the earth.
Or almost all.
I also wanted one piece of ground:
One city trapped by hills. One urban river.
An island in its element.
So I could say mine. My own.
And mean it.
Now they are grown up and far away
and memory itself
has become an emigrant,
wandering in a place
where love dissembles itself as landscape:
Where the hills
are the colours of a child’s eyes,
where my children are distances, horizons:
At night,
on the edge of sleep,
I can see the shore of Dublin Bay.
Its rocky sweep and its granite pier.
Is this, I say
how they must have seen it,
backing out on the mailboat at twilight,
shadows falling
on everything they had to leave?
And would love forever?
And then
I imagine myself
at the landward rail of that boat
searching for the last sight of a hand.
I see myself
on the underworld side of that water,
the darkness coming in fast, saying
all the names I know for a lost land:
Ireland. Absence. Daughter.

The happy other (and mother)


Image    The best coffee in Mosman (and further) found at The Source.                                         Love being a regular!

Arghhhh!  If I have ever craved a glass of wine since the 12th April (and I have, believe me I have) I have never craved one like I do tonight.  Thankfully Andrew has taken the boys to rugby training at which there is a bar and bbq so I don’t have to stand watching the other parents enhance the rugby experience with a drink (oh the times I have done that – Kelso Rugby Club, Murrayfield Car Park, Melrose 7’s, endless pubs in Edinburgh, feel free to add to this list).

The bottle of Prosecco that is in our fridge will be given away tomorrow since it has begun to speak to me, “mmm, , drink me, just imagine the lovely icy fizziness, you know you want to, no-one will know…”  (not terribly imaginative this bottle, and it makes up words) apart from I will and that’s enough.  I am many things including weak when it comes to self-control generally but I feel so accountable doing this, both to all the wonderful people who have supported and sponsored me and of course to Darcy.  Thankfully I definitely got the gift of tenacity from both my parents so when I do something…  Roll on the 12th May however!

I’ve been thinking about community today, and how far I’ve come in terms of feeling settled in just a few months.    A lot of you will know that I have a tendency to over-think things and there is no doubt I have done it with the whole expat situation.  I’ve even been known to bring my post-colonial and anthropological learning into the discussion, applying the idea of ‘the other’ to myself and the boys.  It has really concerned me that they and I will not share a cultural identity should we choose to remain away from the UK.

I am not yet entirely at peace with this however I have decided to put this to one side for now and simply enjoy living in Mosman.  We are truly blessed to live in a place which affords us easy access to every amenity and facility we require or desire (just a pity it’s not more affordable).  The boys are settled into the most wonderful schools, both of which have such strong community values and which we really feel a part of and now have some lovely friends through.  To supplement this I joined the social committee and coerced Andrew into being on the management committee of the Northern Nursery School.  Turns out I chose the wrong committee, we meet in the mornings with children in tow as opposed to the evenings with wine in hand…hmm, I sense a theme to this post.

We met a lovely lady on the ferry last weekend who has lived in Mosman for thirty years and who told me she met most of her close friends when their children were around this age.  I suggested that we all live for the Friday evening wine with children’s supper and she replied ‘And what about the Monday to Thursday wines?’  A kindred spirit and great example that we are not all dreadful old soaks as we feared.

My sense of belonging was shaken a little this morning when I found that a nasty note had been shoved under our front door.  In it, some nutter from the flats which overlook our back garden accused the boys of waking her up (we’re assuming female from the handwriting) every morning at 6am (when it is still dark and the boys are still in bed) and then a line later expresses her pity for said annoying boys since they have a mother who shouts.  Show me the mother of three very lively boys under 6 who never has cause to shout and I’ll promise not to drink for a bloody year.  What a cheek!  Talk about not having enough in your own life to worry about.   Andrew made me report the old bag to the police who said I should have phoned and they would have come round in order that the perp (ha ha!) might have seen them and therefore would know we’d reported her.  What a cowardly thing to do and the last thing I need.

Phew.  Now I need a drink more than ever.

Image      Autumnal Joy!

Running wise my lovely friend Chris, a chiropractor whose son Hugo is Sam’s bestie, re-aligned my ankles (I think that’s what she said) and I now have orthotic insoles in my trainers…fingers, or rather toes, crossed I’ll be able to run a bit more in the last week I have to train.

Darcy is at home recovering from the immunotherapy treatment that was really brutal last week.  Wee soul, it is just so much for anyone to go through, let alone a child.  As a Mum I imagine it must be utterly heart-breaking to watch.  I feel it physically in my gut when I think about the Wilson family and what they are all going through, they show such bravery and determination always with a ready smile.  Simply amazing.

Fan-bloody-tastic effort everyone!  We have made it to the $500 mark which was the initial goal.  I’m upping it to $700 by next Sunday, can we do it?  Yes we can!

Link to Doing it for Darcy http://www.facebook.com/DoingItForDarcyNz?fref=ts

Link to fundraising page https://www.youcaring.com/other/doing-it-for-darcy/54263