When we were in New Zealand we would often talk to ex-pats about their experiences of visiting home. Due to the distance and expense the whole family would generally need to take four weeks off to make the visit manageable. Even then, they would always come back totally shattered because the four weeks would be a mad rush around various friends and family homes scattered across the country, the whole family staying in one or two rooms, managing the children’s behaviour as they juggle tiredness and not being in their own space along with trying to squeeze in a few landmarks or “must-sees” of the UK, of which there are many!
One person suggested to Gareth, when we had been considering it a couple of years ago, to go over in the UK summer, rent a big holiday house in some beautiful part of the country and book in friends and family to come and visit you. That way, in between the two 32 hour flights your family has had to endure, they can stay still, get familiar with only one new place and spend time with family in a relaxed and neutral place for everyone.
We never did get round to just coming back for a visit but if and when we go back, I’m definitely going to suggest that’s how we do it. Especially after this summer holidays!
The thing with living over the other side of the world for five years, is that when you do return, there is a high expectation that you will catch up with everyone once you are back. We returned in May, and the first two months were taken up finding a place to live, getting the children in school and unpacking furniture. Unpacking the last box almost perfectly timed in with the beginning of the school holidays. An ideal opportunity to catch up with everyone, n’est pas? Indeed.
The UK isn’t a large country, so visiting all our family in one summer wasn’t a crazy proposal. We began with a five day visit to the Lake District to spend time with grand parents and do the obligatory afternoon tramping around Keswick in the rain. We then had two weeks at home and in that time the children and I covered some local ground visiting Cotswolds Wildlife Park , Wellington Country Park and Hampton Court. Can highly recommend them all as family days out. In the fourth week, hubby used up the rest of his holidays on a week in west Wales with his sister and her lovely family. Loads of stunning countryside, Pizza Tipi, Mwgamor Barbecue, body boarding, very long sessions of wood chopping (led by a ridiculously enthusiastic six year old lumberjack), a near nut poisoning incident and late night card games made for a week of joyful family bonding. One day changeover and the children and I embarked on the biggest trip of the summer.
In New Zealand, if you were going to visit your mum in Wellington and you lived in Christchurch, then you are most likely going to fly. Why would anyone want to travel for hundreds of miles in a cramped car and take a ferry over to the North Island, when you can catch a plane and in less than an hour land in your destination? I live in the South East of England and my mum lives on the Isle of Arran (little island off the west coast of Scotland) so it’s a similar situation, a few hundred miles to cover and some water to cross. However, the way to get to mum’s for us was to drive and get a ferry when we reach water. In order to cover the 437 miles between us, with the children in the car with me, I chose to kill a few visitation birds with one return trip, stopping at my dad’s in the North East of England on the way up and catching up with good friends in Liverpool on the way back. 12 days, three houses, two drizzly games of crazy golf, an emergency visit to the Mini service centre in Teeside, 11 motorway stops and too many to count tantrums later we had nailed it.
I’m not going to lie, in the mix of spending some well overdue and very precious time with loved ones, I felt pushed to my limits of patience and calm. The hospitality and generosity of our hosts was exceptional but even with every care taken of you, when you’re one parent with more than one child in another person’s house, the desire to be a blessing when there is so much out of your control, can feel too much to bear.
Like one of my very perceptive friends said when we met on the second to last day of our trip, “It’s hard to get your children to be on their best behaviour all day, every day.” * After years away, you want your children to be liked, for people to see them at their best. Despite the best of intentions, as any parent knows, when your children are in unfamiliar surroundings, they don’t have any of their own toys, you’re not in control of the food supply and you’ve been cramped up together in a car for five hours, they’re unlikely to display their best selves.
*the words aren’t exact but that was the sentiment
Thinking about it now, I probably should have worried about impressions less and given my children more slack than normal, but hindsight is a beautiful thing eh.
Now through the other side, it’s good to feel we’re all caught up. As we’re in the country for a while longer, we can have a more natural approach to time spent with family and friends. And next summer, I’m booking a large villa in Ibiza – who’s with me?