Thursday 26 September 2013

I'm having a moment...

It's going too fast.

I look at my boys - now 10 and approaching 8 - and I think this almost every day.  What with the whirlwind calendar of school, music lessons, sports fixtures, after school activities, social engagements and just - well - Life, the weeks whiz past and suddenly what was the chaos of the beginning of term at the end of August is now a well-worn routine.  The alarm bell rings on Monday mornings and before I know it, I'm cooking Sunday lunch, without having had a moment to stop and smell the roses in between.

And all the time, my boys are growing up.

A few days ago, in an uncharacteristic fit of organisation, which may or may not have been prompted by the fact that Husband was working from home and inspiring me to show a sense of industry (of the 'Jesus is coming.  Look busy' variety), I cleared out a set of drawers that have probably had the same stacks of papers in since we arrived in Moscow nearly 4 years ago.

My reward - apart from the sense of achievement that always results in moving annoying piles of paper Out Of The House - was to come across some school photographs taken of the boys when they were 3 and 5 , the autumn before we left London.  They look, quite frankly, adorable.  If I'm honest it was bit of a relief to discover that my memories of them at that age were truer than I had imagined; I can't be the only parent who, when they look back on photos of their babies, is a little disappointed to discover that actually they look pretty much the same as everyone else's babies at that age, with the same rubbed out bald patches from when their birth hair falls out around 2 - 3 months, the same flushed dry cheeks from teething, and the same patches of dribble around their collar, surely?  I mean, Boys #1 and #2 were lovely at that age, of course they were.  Just not the beauties that I imagined them to be at the time, if the photographic evidence is anything to go by...

But here, in the photos I found three days ago, they were practically perfect.  Clear-eyed, healthy, smooth skinned and reach-out-and-touch-me gorgeous.  Their open and trusting smiles for the camera warm my heart.  But time has moved on, and whilst they are still - in my eyes, anyway - heartbreakers in the making, they are growing up.

Boy #1, for example, doesn't need help with his homework anymore, and the fine down of dark hairs on his upper lip is becoming more evident.  He's getting taller, no longer one of the shortest in his class, and is even wearing trousers of the correct size rather than a year younger as he was doing until recently.  He's got a great sense of humour and a strong sense of ethics, is working well in school, and is addicted to reading in all it's forms (but particularly to anything from the 'Percy Jackson' or 'Harry Potter' series, which he will read - and then re-read - in bed, on the sofa, whilst laying the table and walking up and down stairs, given half a chance).  He shows a steely determination to take part in team sports, and has a confidence in his physical abilities that I never did at his age.  He's brave enough to face down bullies and to accept an apology from those who have wronged him, and is generous in his levels of forgiveness.

Boy #2 has a mostly iron-clad personality and a wicked sense of humour.  He's nobody's fool, and will not be forced into doing anything he doesn't want to.  At school he is showing increasing confidence in writing and that maths might be his thing, along with all the signs that in the next few weeks he will become a fully qualified bookworm like his older brother (although admittedly of the Asterix and Obelix variety, for the moment at least).  His love affair with all forms of transport continues, but nowadays instead of reading 'That's Not My Car', we've moved onto books about The Titanic and space travel.  He happily jumps on the trampoline and attends football and taekwondoe sessions with his brother, but when all's said and done he would much rather be upstairs in his room building lego creations.  We recently introduced him to field hockey, and were initially surprised by how much enjoys playing it, until we worked out that the stick provides him with a tool he can master, which fulfills a need in his engineering-inclined mind.

Why am I writing all this down?  Because I write less about the Boys these days - for good, privacy-based reasons - but it occurred to me that before I know it the next 4 years will have passed.  By that time Boy #1 will be 14 and Boy #2 nearly 12, and if the experiences of friends with teenaged boys are anything to go by, our levels of interaction may have changed considerably.  They will certainly need me less, and as much as the prospect of that saddens me, that will be as it should be.

Consequently I want to celebrate who they are now, so that when they need me to be less involved and stand more on the sidelines of their lives rather than to be intricately entangled in them - as they need me to be at the moment - I will be able to look back at what was, and remind myself of how our lives once were.  To remember when Boy #2 was unable to let me say goodbye to him in the school corridor without giving me 3 kisses and a hug, or when Boy #1 would still - just - let me hold his hand when we crossed a busy road.  To listen to echoes of the days when they still wanted me to read them stories at bedtime, or when they would still clamber onto my lap for a cuddle whilst watching Horrible Histories on tv.  To remember when 'Mama's pizza' was still their favourite meal, or when a burgeoning tantrum could be defused with the question 'Do you think your reaction to not being able to find that book/sweater/lego piece might be just a little bit over the top?' And when the sentence, during story time '... and a great big bear bottom sat down on the lid.'* would lead to gales of laughter and hiccups.

There's no doubt about it; it's going too fast.  But oh - what a ride...

*From 'It's the Bear!' by Jez Alborough

Monday 23 September 2013

Dear Weather Gods...

Dear Weather Gods,

on Saturday night when I told a relative newcomer to Moscow that she should wash her kids' snow pants now because from the end of September onwards, you don't know when they might need them, I was joking.


And those light-hearted remarks about how our compound is so pretty in the winter that it looks just like the Wham 'Last Christmas'* video?

Also in jest.  I was not, for one moment, suggesting it would be a good idea to bring on the chill unseasonably early.

So please; stop messing about, bring in the Indian Summer we expect at this time of year, and stop taking the piss.

That is all.

Yours faithfully,


(no kisses.  You don't deserve them).

* I may have watched that particular video whilst 'researching' this post.   And it may have thrown up a couple of questions.  Such as;  Honestly.  How on earth can we NOT have guessed Gorgeous George was gay?  And really; what girl wants a brooch - diamond or not - in her stocking before she's 60?  No wonder she gave it to Andrew...

Friday 20 September 2013

Who needs Bonnie Tyler when you have the Vikings?

Who says education needs to be left to the teachers?  We love Horrible Histories (a BBC-produced series for kids) in this house.  Here's one of the many reasons why...

Soft rock as a means to educate your kids?  Inspired...

(And by the way - if you watch this, apologies for the ear worm that will result.  Don't say you weren't warned).

Thursday 19 September 2013

Look at me...

Look at me.
Here in my lovely Expat Life.
Hot and cold running Help, edgy experiences enriching my outlook.
My children adapting to challenging situations, becoming world citizens, learning new languages.
We holiday in interesting places, and find friends from fascinating lands.
Look at me.
Aren't I lucky?

Look at me.
Here in my lovely Expat Life.
Struggling to make myself understood when buying travel tickets, or when doing the shopping.
Watching, frustrated, whilst workmen make changes to our home that seem unnecessary,
But which I don't have the vocabulary to challenge.
Look at me.
Aren't I lucky?

Look at me.
Here in my lovely Expat Life.
Relegated to the position of observer of what's going on Back Home.
Skyping family or old friends at a get-together I can't reach..
Feeling that my words of comfort to those who suffer are empty without an accompanying embrace.
Look at me.
Aren't I lucky?

Look at me.
Here in my lovely Expat Life.
Blind-sided by the unexpected departure of good friends mid-term..
Hurting for my kids as they say goodbye to a best buddy for the third time in as many years.
Hurting for myself as I do the same.
Look at me.
Aren't I lucky?

Look at me.
Here in my lovely Expat Life.
Picking my child up from the floor when they fall.
Looking worriedly at the corner of the table that their head hit as they came down.
Knowing that the nearest English-speaking ER is an hour and a half away through the traffic.
Look at me.
Aren't I lucky?

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Only when I laugh

And still the Russian classes continue.  I am enjoying them (I am!  I AM!  Can you hear my gritted teeth?), although the contrast between my life and those of my fellow students - mostly in their mid-20's, in Russia temporarily on gap years or looking to extend their skills for their cv - tests the limits of my good humour as I rush off at the end of each session to pick the Boys up from school whilst they merrily head off to a cafe to shoot the breeze and (perhaps) practice their Russian and mug up on their vocabulary for the next day.

In spite of that I have somehow made it as far as the middle of week three with only one weekday off for good behaviour. (I desperately needed supplies from a supermarket unreachable through the heavy weekend traffic, and oh yes, there just might have been a birthday lunch for a friend that I couldn't bring myself to say no to.  In my defence, there was champagne, and everything...)

Consequently, it's been a little quiet on the blogging front, and if I'm honest is likely to remain so for the next week or so.

Real Life is getting in the way right now what with being at classes all day, a travelling husband meaning solo parenting is the norm, a house currently being fitted throughout with pipes for a centralised heating system, a dishwasher that has recently become un-usable since it started giving out nasty electric shocks, the replacement of our kitchen floor lino with something that if possible is even uglier than the original (perhaps the shocks are the dishwasher registering it's protest at having to look at the new floor all day?), the start of the school term and the reintroduction of various after-school activities which need to be slotted into the jigsaw of our family life, homework (mine AND the children's), and Boy #1's imminent 10th birthday party (TEN?  When did that happen?).

So my grey matter is feeling a little spongy, to be frank; I'm put in mind of an old dishcloth that needs a good squeeze to get rid of all the dirty water.

But there is still hope.  It appears that my brain is not completely obsolete; today in Russian class I was asked what I do in my spare time, and was still able to come up with the following:

Что это ,свободное время' Вы говорите?

(What is it, this 'spare time' you speak of?)

I think they got the joke...

Wednesday 4 September 2013

The mirror crack'd...

My Russian course continues.  Getting there in time for the 10am start each day is mostly straightforward, but occasionally I find myself too late to catch the mashrutka (local minibus shuttle) that I was aiming for after dropping the boys at school, and so need to wait at the roadside until the next one appears.  This is fine - I usually have plenty of time - and is also a usefully humbling experience as other parents from the school whiz past me in their newly polished, invariably black tinted window'd 4x4's, checking emails or chatting on their iPhones as they sit in the back seat whilst their driver takes the strain of the morning Moscow traffic.

I'm not jealous, surprisingly.  I could be in my own car (slightly more beaten up perhaps, and certainly less polished, but without the added (in)convenience of a driver to pay / deal with / negotiate with / have sitting in the driveway burning petrol to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer) if I chose, but so far in doing this course I have decided it's infinitely preferable to speed along in the bus lane (in the mashrutka) than it is to deal with the stress of the morning jam and finding somewhere to park myself.

That's why, this morning, I was waiting for the minibus when a Russian neighbour pulled up and very kindly offered me a lift.  I hadn't seen her for a while, so was glad to have the chance to catch up, although I must admit I did wonder if I had made the right choice when, after I climbed into the car, she warned me that would be doing her hair and make up on the journey.

All very well - except, she drives herself.

This however is clearly something she does often as she was able to negotiate the jam-packed junction where 6 lanes become two, complete her morning beauty routine (including curling her hair with a pair of heated tongues), and hold a lively conversation with me, all without breaking her metaphorical stride.

I did find myself offering to hold her handbag at one point so that she didn't have to reach onto the floor of the back seat to reach the mascara and lipstick inside it, but I've lived in Moscow with it's hellish traffic and interesting driving habits for nearly 4 years now, so that wasn't what disconcerted me about this journey.

No, what disconcerted me was when she asked me if I had any work done.  On my face.

(My answer was that no, I haven't, and don't plan to right now but as with so many things in life, I would never say 'never'.  Ask me again in 5 years, and who knows?)

This conversation in itself is not unusual here - lots of women have botox, fillers and such like - but rather the subtext.  As I jumped out at the cross roads of a busy junction to walk the last few meters to the school where I'm having Russian lessons, I was left asking myself the following: was she asking because she wanted to know if I had had work done on my own face?  If so, was she she looking for recommendations?

Or, was she asking because she was trying - not so subtly - to suggest that I should think about it for myself?