The Personal Touch - Gifts and Cards
I woke up this morning to a lovely 'Happy Songkran' card from my friend Duang in Bangkok. She is also the esteemed illustrator of two of my children's books 'The Day the Wi-Fi Broke' and 'Just Five More Minutes'. (She draws under the name NokIsMe). The card featured a Happy Songkran message with the star of the book, a little girl called 'Lucy' wearing a protective face mask. It made me smile and once again, I wondered whether I should return to this series and write some more titles. (A thought for another day!) My thought for the current time was how nice it is to get personalised messages, cards, and small gifts. This took me to a podcast I'd been listening to yesterday, which emphasised how completing altruistic acts can reduce anxiety and generally make a person feel better. This is something that we could all benefit from right now!
Kind Things to Do When You're Bored
With this in mind I have come up with a few ideas of things to do that are kind, altruistic (thus anxiety reducing), fairly cheap and easy (I'm not the best crafter) and can fill the time during these strange times of self-isolation.
Right now, I seem to feel quite busy - in fact, overly busy, some of the time - the truth is that I am only busy (fulfilling my personal goals, (as designed by Annie) and being mum, daughter, etc. (sadly not wife so much at the minute, as Mick is stuck in Bangkok.). I'm making my day as full as it can be so as to stay sane. I'm not sure my kids will vouch to the fact that I'm succeeding, but ...
Looking back at my suggestions, for things to do when bored they do seem to be a bit nostalgic, leaning towards getting in touch with people we haven't seen in a while and might not see in a while. It is nice to keep in contact with people though and now is definitely the time to share good feeling and kindness.
I definitely plan to pass the time by completing one or two of these activities today. The focus of doing so will hopefully make me feel a little less stressed with life too. If you are bored and complete any of them, let me know in the comments how you get on.
Missing your Boyfriend or Husband
The Flint and the Flint Smith ladies are all without their men! Dad is in a carehome with a broken leg in pot. This is particularly hard on my mum as she can't even visit him now. Mick is over in Bangkok overseeing online learning at school. He isn't allowed to travel in case the schools suddenly open. This is, in my opinion, utterly rubbish. Betsy's boyfriend is down in Dagenham. As an 'at risk youngster' he wasn't able to travel to spend her birthday with her as planned, so that was a blow for them. Finally, we dragged Annie away from Spain, wanting her to be back here and quarantined with the family, Poor old Annie, what with leaving Bangkok, then London and now Spain she seems to spend most of her life saying, if not goodbye, at least farewell to special people in her life. :(
So, all in all, you would expect us to be rather gloomy. We all do have our down moments, but overall we are doing pretty well at staying positive.
Ways to Deal with Missing your Significant Other
These are our tips for keeping our spirits up:
Communicate Frequently. The Flint and Flint Smith ladies are all doing this as far as we are able. As I mentioned, it is much harder for mum and dad than the rest of us. Dad's sight is too poor for him to easily use a phone and the carers are in the home are very busy, so we don't want to be a nuisance by continually taking the careworkers away from the residents. I am able to ring Mick. I like to chat whilst I am doing my daily 'isolated' walk. This is heading towards Mick's headtime where he is very ready for some interaction after a day of isolation in Bangkok. The girls, communicate late into the night. Their communication techniques are far more advanced than ours and include playing online games, watching shared films and series as well as good old fashioned chatting.
Complete Tasks. This is something that I try to do anyway when feeling anxious and the current situation is certainly anxiety inducing. In our household we have our days divided up into 'tasks' time and 'chilling out' time. (Betsy hates the word 'jobs', but that's what 'tasks' are!) and goals. Our jobs include regular day-t0-day stuff like washing, hoovering, folding laundry etc. (but the iron has NOT been out!). In addition Annie has been keeping busy by painting the fence and garden bench, I've sorted out the garage and Betsy has become a dab-hand at bathroom cleaning! We have all agreed to be mindful that tasks do need doing so as to live harmoniously together!
Remember to be Grateful and Kind. In recent times it has felt, occasionally, that the cards are stacked against the Flints and Flint Smiths. There is, though, a lot to be grateful for. We ladies, at least, can be together; Dad is being well-cared for; the weather is good so we are not completely confined to the house, but can get out in the garden. There's loads more things too. My strategy is to write three different things down every morning which sets the day off positively.
Take a Challenge. I like nothing better than ticking things off a list and tracking my achievements, however small they might be. (I've been doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge for several years now and it still gives me a thrill when I complete it.) Annie has a similar mindset to me regarding challenges. She has made a 'goal calendar for April where we tick off daily the things we accomplish. My own goals are to improve on the piano, do some exercise and either read or blog daily. Betsy has also 'allowed' her name to be added to the April challenge, but I'm not so sure that it is quite her thing. 'Lists' are another one of her taboo words along with 'jobs' and this particular challenge does include an element of ticking off and recording what we've done.
Try to Avoid Over-Worrying. When apart from a loved one it is very easy to focus on them all of the time. This, of course, makes sense and is fine to a point, but it can be anxiety inducing. I am quite a fan (in principle at least, though it doesn't always work in practice) of using Cognitive Therapy Techniques to manage worry. It helps to phrase events as positively as possible. Instead of thinking "we will never be together again," it is, perhaps, more helpful to rephrase to something like "there will be an end to this situation and we can look forward to being back together."
Accept your Sadness. Whislt there is lots that we can do to distract ourselves, fill the time and channel our negative feelings as positively as possible we are still sad to be apart from our loved ones. I'm a believer in transparency in all parts of life, "better out than in" is something I often say. I think being mindful that it is fine to feel sad and to express sadness is a good thing to be. A good cry is cathartic and 'getting the sadness out' will make it easier to stay positive for the majority of the time.
Do Something Romantic. Being apart doesn't mean that you can't still indulge in a bit of romance. My mum, for example wrote my dad a letter for one of the careworkers to read to him in the home last week. I thought this was a very speical thing to do. There's something lovely about receiving n old-fashioned card or letter. Being romantic doesn't mean you have to 'splash the cash' but if you're feeling extravagent then why not. Judging by the review Mick wrote here, I can tell that he was very happy to have a special anniversary gift last week!
Stand by your Man and Tell the World you Love Him
I once heard Tammy Wynette saying she has spend a lifetime of defending the song 'Stand by her Man' to feminists. I am a feminist and to be honest her defence of the song doesn't help her case! I do like the song though, and choose to interpret it along the lines of if you've got a 'good guy' in your life then what's wrong with shouting out that fact of the rooftops. (Perhaps that's because I'm always talking about Saint Mick of Thana). Absence, it has been said, makes the heart grow fonder. There is no doubt that our hearts are full of fondness right now. Perhaps you are also missing a partner. What strategies do you have for managing time apart from a loved one?
A Reprieve from Empty Nest Syndrome
As my friends and family know Mick and I really struggled when both girls left home to go to University. I've talked a lot about the girls finishing school and posted about managing Empty Nest Syndrome several times. It is strange then to be posting about how to manage having grown up children back at home...
Annie is in her third year at UCL, but was abroad in Spain as an Erasmus student at the University of Salamanca, and Betsy was studying at York, when the Coronavirus brought them both back home to me in Broughton. (I should probably say me back to them, as thery had both returned back before I left Bangkok to return to them and my parents).
I guess to show that I had really managed my Empty Nesting Anxiety successfully I ought to be saying that it is now a hard adjustment to have two fully-fledged grown up women back living in our small bungalow. That would be a complete fib though - whilst the circumstances leading to their return are rubbbish, I am DELIGHTED to have them back with me. It is hard on the girls though; it feels like Betsy has had uni life interrupted before it had hardly begun, and Annie has had to leave an independent and full life behind (one that she might not return to) and instead hang out with her old mum. In addition, both girls have to get used to being around each other again.
Tips for Living With Grown Up Children
We are only two weeks in, but so far are doing ok. These are my tips and blunders so far:
Empty Nesting No More
I've always been a firm believer that I am the girls' "mum" not their "friend'. I think though, the final thing that can help for a harmonious return to grown up kids living at home is to change this mindset just a little bit. Of course, I am still their mum with all that comes with that, but in terms of actually sharing the same living space, treating the whole experience as equal friends (well nearly equal) living together will ('m telling myself) create harmony. I have a feeling if I tell my girls that's what we are doing though, they might just laugh at me and ask who I am kidding. Perhaps I am trying to return to my lost youth!
Expat Life in Bangkok
What a week it has been! Another long haul flight, another set of tough goodbyes and another lovely re-union with my Saint Mick of Thana. For the next ten days I will be back to living life as an expat!
Dad and mum constantly make me proud to be their daughter. They manage what seems to be one thing after another, digging deep and always encouraging me to focus on my life and not to worry about them. “Your place is in Bangkok with your husband” is a phrase I’ve heard more than a few times in recent months! As such, I’m having a quick visit (longer than the two days I managed in January before dad’s accident!) to my Bangkok home.
I’ve mentioned before how living with one foot in the ‘expat world’ and one foot in (Miranda alert), what I call the ‘real world’ has alerted my senses to reflecting on the pros and cons of both lifestyles. Luckily for me I feel immense gratitude, that in both worlds, are family I love being with. That’s not to say that I don’t wish the flying time between Bangkok and Broughton was a little bit shorter!
Benefits of Expat Life
Disadvantages of being an Expat
Summing Up Advantages and Disadvantages of Expat Life
Overall, I think the advantages of expat living outweigh the disadvantages. This particularly applies in professions such as teaching where, during the holidays, there is time to explore exciting travel opportunities and seek adventure, or alternatively spend time with family back in home number one.
I continue to be torn between ‘expat life’ and ‘real life’. I do miss my Saint Mick a lot and not having my strong female friends close by is pretty hard when I’m back in the UK, but on the other hand, being away from my parents is hard when I’m back here! I love the lifestyle expat living affords and coming back to Bangkok feels like coming home. However, I also love being back in my other home - the same village I grew up in where I have a shared history with family, friends and neighbours, that an expat can never really have. (I’ve even heard myself being gossiped about in the post office!) Weirdly, although I enjoy all the perks and benefits of expat life, which I’ve highlighted above when I’m here, I don’t really miss these perks when I’m not. A large portion of fish and chips from the local fish and chip shop makes up for a lot!
Are you a Christmas Scrooge or Bob Cratchit?
Our family love Christmas. Saint Mick of Thana turns into Bob Crachit, full of Christmas spirit and good will. He is generous to a fault and surpasses even Tiny Tim in his kindness. The girls are full of Christmas cheer. They don their Christmas pudding earrings and Santa hats with aplomb. In accordance with family tradition we all play Christmas songs loudly in the car from November onwards.
My personal Christmas highlight has always been the school carol concert. This year I’m back in the UK so missed it, but now both girls have graduated from school it would have probably been too bitter sweet to attend anyway.
To be truthful Christmas does feel a little bit strange this year. I think it is because although we only have a week to go we are still not all together as a family. In fact, I had a full on row with the staff in Morrison’s the other day. I was definitely in the ‘right’ but uncharacteristically (I hope) I did react as a bit of a Christmas Scrooge. I have needed to remind myself it is more important to be kind than to be right? Anyway … what about you …
Where are you on the Scrooge Scale?
I’ll pass no comment on the responses, but feel relieved that perhaps I’m not too much of a Scrooge after all. Actually, as I write this I have Coronation Street on the TV. Playing in the background of the soap opera is the song ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ which is juxtaposed against Barbara Knox, playing Rita Fairclough, crying into her photo album, bereft with loneliness. It is a pertinent reminder to add ‘Do you check on your elderly neighbours?’ to the above list. I guess that is the key way to demonstrate the kindness of Tiny Tim.
Reflecting back, over the years our Christmases have been very different. From safari trips and hot air ballooning in the Serengeti when we lived in Tanzania, to scrumptious all you can eat and drink lunches at our favourite Sheraton Grande restaurant in Bangkok to wonderful lunches with the most delicious food you can imagine at my brother’s and his wife’s house we have always been very lucky at Christmas time. This year Annie comes home tomorrow so then Christmas can really begin. I am sure that any lingering Scrooge will dissipate completely with the joy of her arrival. (For a day or two at least anyway!)