Making the most of a new life

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Boxes, boxes, boxes.

So we arrived at the new house, all freshly painted: a blank canvas for us to make it into a home. We had first seen it ten months previously, and a couple of times since then. But the more we thought about it the smaller it got until we were getting worried about how we were going to fit in all our stuff. When we got inside we were slightly relieved that it was bigger than we remembered it, and certainly bigger than the house we were leaving.

Then the removers arrived and started bringing in box after box after box after box after box. Standing in the kitchen at one point I ask one of the movers whether they’d actually brought us someone else’s stuff as well. To which he replied “everyone thinks that”.

So then the task began, getting the house in a liveable condition before we went to meet Fritz, Frieda and the boys from the airport in just two days time. The task seemed completely daunting, especially as we found out we would have to collect and assemble shelving that should have been in place before we moved in, to the point that is seemed impossible to do in time. It was not just the fact that we wanted to be able to live there within two days, but we wanted the boys to feel comfortable in it as much as possible straight away. We wanted to see the look on their faces when they saw their new play room and their new bedroom (and in Sam’s case a bed rather than a cot).

With this as our main motivation we went from seeing it as an impossible job to being on an absolute mission to get it done. I got up at 4am to open boxes and get stuff on shelves. Karen went off to get the furniture and with the help of friends (you know who you are, thank you) got it put up. Karen got the boys playroom looking fabulous within a very short time and working right until the last minute (we were only ten minutes late at the airport) we managed to get the house into a state that we were happy with.

But now the big test came. What would the boys think? How would they react coming back to seeing all their things in a new house? How would they cope with change?

As it turned out it was a bit of an anti-climax. Jake was so tired from the flight that he fell asleep in the car and was transferred to bed without ever waking up. Sam woke up but was so dozy that he hardly ever noticed at first.

As we showed Fritz and Freida round though, I realised how proud I was, and what a sense of achievement I had that we had achieved so much in such a short period of time.

In the end Sam was so excited about his new playroom that he couldn’t be persuaded to go to bed until 10pm, and the next morning we got that look of wonder from Jake as he first set foot in his new playroom, it was that look he gets when he comes downstairs on Christmas morning.

All in all then it was quite a few days, and I’m not sure I want to unpack another box again in a hurry. But to get the boys reactions in that way it was worth it. 

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Moving memories

So the day of the house move finally came, the packers arrived and we saw all our possessions being boxed up and put in the back of a lorry, and there certainly was a lot of stuff. No wonder we hadn’t been able to move in our own house.

Within a day it went from being our place to a collection of empty rooms, devoid of our things. That’s it I thought, onward and upwards. Then a very strange thing happened (and I can feel the emotion rising just writing this) while I was vacuuming the upstairs landing, which effectively is a corridor. I suddenly got a vision of the boys running up and down it laughing, joking and tumbling. It was such a strong image and, for me, so evocative. I remembered lots of different times when, just after bath time particularly, I have sat at the end of the corridor and caught them as they tried to run past. Suddenly our empty house came to life again.

Thinking about this, and I’m as surprised getting emotional about it now as I was at the time, I realised that while we have a lot of memories invested in our belonging, the place that we live in carries so many memories too. I also realised that I had been so focussed on moving to the new place, that I hadn’t really thought about the old place.

After all this was the house where Karen and I moved into after we were married. The house in which we have got to know each other more and more over the six years we were there. The house that we brought Jake and then Sam home to. The house where we struggled with the early weeks and months of parenthood. The house where we found out that Karen was pregnant with Sam. The house where both boys took their first steps, and did so many other things for the first time.

It’s no wonder then that I got emotional at that sudden memory because it was representative of so many other memories, good and bad, over a six year period; possibly the most changeable period of our lives. It felt a little like a bereavement, because for every change there will be a sense of loss; a certain amount of letting go.

I had been so excited and pre-occupied with the move and all the good things that were to come, I forgot to reflect on the things that had gone before and how special they were; I hadn’t realised how much we had invested emotionally in the place that we were now saying goodbye to. In a sense I think that I probably couldn’t have realised this before the house was empty. By taking out all the paraphernalia the house was stripped down and there was nothing except the house to think about, and this leads me to think about the importance of breaking through the clutter sometimes. Perhaps then we can see what’s important.

So leaving our house was a moving experience in more ways than one.

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Withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms.

It’s been over two weeks since my last blog post, and I’ve really missed writing it. So why have I passed on this pleasure? Well Karen and I came straight off our Berlin holiday and after only about 12 hours at home the movers arrived. Since then it has been a hectic schedule of getting our new house in order (more of which at a later date) and it feels like normal life has been suspended for the last couple of weeks while we settle down.

The greatest change to our normal life, however, was that we left the boys with their grandparents (Fritz and Frieda) in Germany for four days. This was something that was very hard for us, not because we didn’t think the boys would have a good time (they did), but that it was the longest that we had both been apart from them since they were born. We worried where they’d settle and whether and how Sam in particular would manage without his constants (he did). We worried too about what we would do if “anything happened” (it didn’t). We also fretted over whether we should Skype with them so that they wouldn’t fret about whether or not we were still ‘there’ (we didn’t and they didn’t), or whether Fritz and Frieda could cope with two very boisterous boys (they did).

In the end the boys did lots of very exciting things in Berlin (mainly involving different forms of transport) and also got to know their grandparents and cousins much better. In other words Jake and Sam were pretty oblivious to their parent’s worries and just got on with it and, if anything, thrived. I’m sure (I hope) that if there is a next time we will be much calmer about it.

Worrying comes as part and parcel of being a parent, I worry every day about whether what the boys are doing will bring them to harm, and whether we are leading them down the right road. But, if those few days taught me anything, it was that there is not just one right road: there are many. We can help our children pick the right sort of road, but the journey is ultimately theirs.

This probably won’t completely stop me from wanting to be in control of their lives completely, but it might help me to begin to loosen the virtual reigns once in a while. I’m sure that this will lead to withdrawal symptoms and will often be hard, but they are my withdrawal symptoms. In the end when I do ease off I often find it’s at that moment that the boys do amazing things and if I can find it in myself to do it I’ll have done a pretty amazing thing, too.

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To nursery and beyond

Today marks another of what seems to be many big changes in family life at the moment, because today is Jake and Sam’s last day at their nursery. For Sam this is because we are moving house, so he will start at a new nursery when we move. But for Jake this is his last ever day at nursery before going to ‘big school’ in September.

It was difficult to judge how Jake was feeling about it this morning. He seemed excited about the fact of his last day, and he really enjoyed making a thank you card with Karen yesterday. But he also seemed a bit sad too. We had already noticed a change in him over the last couple of weeks as many of his friends left after their ‘graduation’, so for him things were already changing. On the other hand he is also excited about going to see his Grandparents next week, then moving house, then starting big school. It’s a lot for him to take in.

Jake started at his nursery when he was about nine months old and, apart from a few wobbles, has thoroughly enjoyed his time there. He has made friends, learned lots of new things, and got on very well with his teachers. For me it’s now difficult to imagine what it was like to first take him into the baby room, but when I try to, it fills me with so much amazement as to how much he has grown physically, intellectually and emotionally over that time. How he has, as he moved through the classes, gone from being a baby to become a toddler, and then a boy. That he has taken most of this in his stride, too, is equally amazing.

However, bearing in mind how much more change is coming up in the next couple of months, means that we have to take a lot of care in how we present it, and how we go through it as a family. I think we’ve done o.k. so far because Jake seems to be up for what’s ahead, so we need to make sure that this doesn’t lead to disappointment.

Managing expectations is something that I have long been familiar with in a work setting, but I also find that it is also something that is relevant in a family setting too. It’s easy to create some sort of great future utopia for our children, but it also needs to be realistic: something that we can deliver. I find that one of the worst feelings is when the boys are disappointed, they can’t hide it at that age which is good but hard to deal with.

So as Jake and Sam have their last days in Schoolroom and Toddlers respectively today it will be important to help them make their transition into the next phases of their lives by being positive but truthful about what lies ahead. But if we can offer them the background security and confidence in our home and family life let’s hope they can really fly to the next challenge.

As Buzz Lightyear (might) say: To nursery and beyond!


We really need some education

One thing that Karen and I didn’t think we were going to be stressed about with our house move was finding a school for Jake. After all the school local to where we are going to live has had good reports, but has also had places every year. This confidence has turned out to be misplaced and with less than two months to go until the start of term, he still does not have a confirmed place. I shan’t bore you with the ins and outs of why this is except to say a mixture of council mistakes and a baby boom have left us in this situation, which I’m sure will ultimately be fine but doesn’t feel like that at the moment.

Until taking redundancy at the end of 2011 I had worked in education for fifteen years, and so know the utter dedication of the majority of people who work in it. I also know how hugely transformative it can be. I went to University as a mature student after having worked for some years straight after school, and the experience really did change my life giving me confidence, skills and knowledge that I have put to good use over the intervening years. I am now enrolled again at a different University and am finding this experience to be equally transformative, but in different ways. And I am reminded of this today because I begin a three day workshop which I am looking forward to hugely because, on the basis of the previous ones, is going to be an amazing experience.

This is why I so desperately want the boys to have the best education that they can so that they can have the lives that they want to have. So that they have options, and the confidence to grab opportunities when they come up.

We have been lucky so far in as much that the nursery that they have been going to has been excellent. They have been so happy and well looked after there, and after this good start we are really keen for them to carry on thriving. This has been brought home to us recently when doing ‘Jake’s day’: something we do every night with him when taking him to bed. Until recently we used to take him through the day, but now he’s started to tell us everything that happened as nursery that day. It is so great to hear him recounting in quite specific detail the things that he has done.

It shows he’s happy, he’s changing, he’s learning and he’s having fun. Surely these are the ingredients of a great education. It’s what Jake experiences at nursery, and it’s exactly what I am experiencing with my course too. It goes to show that you are never too young or too old to learn, and I for one hope that I never stop learning both formally and informally.

Here’s to great, transformative, education.


My Cardboard Wardrobe

Our family life seems to be dominated by moving house at the moment. Even though the event itself doesn’t happen for another six weeks we’re already in full swing: sending stuff to charity shops, having furniture collections and piling items on eBay. And even though we are getting rid of this stuff on a daily basis, our house doesn’t really seem to be any emptier.

We moved into our current house about six years ago and, because we moved two houses worth of stuff into one, it has never been empty. In fact our car has never seen the inside of the garage because the garage has always been packed with furniture and unopened boxes.

So, over the last couple of months, we have made a really effort to identify and pass on things that can hopefully be used by other people. This often hasn’t been an easy thing to do because we seem to get so attached to our belongings, or hoard them just in case we might need them in the future. And yet the fact that we have boxes unopened from when we moved in speaks volumes about how much we actually need.

So we have said goodbye to many boxes of books, bags of clothes, cases of kitchenware and at least a van load of furniture; much of which we’ve had for years. I’ve even said goodbye to the wardrobe that was my parents when I was growing up, and has subsequently accompanied me on every one of my house moves (the new house has built in wardrobes). It has been replaced, in the short term, by a cardboard wardrobe supplied by our removal company. Sure it’s nothing special to look at but it does the job.

I notice this too with the boys. They become extremely attached to items very quickly, and usually quite unpredictably; Jake has currently forsaken all his soft toys in favour of a stuffed caterpillar (who he has now named ‘Mr Bendybus’) that has sat untouched in his room for at least two years; and Sam often takes DVD cases to bed with him, and places them in a crenelated fashion around the edge of his cot. As with most children, what they most desire at any one particular time is what the other one has and so Karen and I are always having to act as referee as another conflict breaks out over a Lightning McQueen Lego car, or a Thomas train. Like the rest of us children rely on things to make them feel comfortable, to attach memories to, and help them to find their own identities.

We all put values on items then, often something that has no bearing to what they actually cost in monetary terms and, like with shares, the sentimental value of them can go up as well as down; which is why I was able to finally get rid of so much of the stuff that I’d been hanging on to since my student days, including most of my academic books.

So for me part of moving house is also about moving on in other ways too, I can let go of many things, and grow attached to new things too. Although I don’t think I’ll be hanging on to my cardboard wardrobe.