Tag Archives: expatbookshop.com

Two book launches… an Indian chai cafe and a tall, Dutch gabled home

Standard

IMG_4562

I write from The Hague on a chilly March morning, just before I travel back to India. The Netherlands is one of the places in the world I most consider home. It is not surprising as I’m half Dutch – our first son was born here and I have visited often with my mother – keeping strong connections with our Dutch family.

And now, another of life’s milestones has unfolded amongst these cobbled streets and gabled homes that I so adore – my first book has been launched!

IMG_4557

The setting was my co-author’s lovely, gezellig home. That Dutch word for cozy, typified the evening of March 7th. With a crackling fire, candles lit and tulips artfully arranged, and gifted, Jo Parfitt and I welcomed our guests. Many were dear friends who we see but once a year at the Families in Global Transition Conference; many having just arrived from the US, from Switzerland, Hong Kong or perhaps Dubai. Others were local friends or some involved in Jo’s mentoring and publishing life. All of them were congratulatory and pleased for us that Monday Morning Emails was ‘hot off the press’… stacks of boxes tucked away in a corner to prove it!

With Jo and I seated before the warmth of the fireplace, I peered out to the crowd of thirty or so people and soaked in the moment. A book launch is the gilded prize, reward for many hours of silent endeavour – the culmination of a dream. For me, it is my first published book and needless to say, I was a little ‘over the moon’.

“Your first book is always the most poignant,” Jo had admitted the day before as she handed the book to me for the first time.” Its silky cover was more lovely than I had hoped. When I thumbed to the back, to my author’s page, I was euphoric.

The evening of the book launch progressed with readings and discussions. Also with my penning many heartfelt messages as I signed copies of the book. And curiously, after all of this, I found myself back at my hotel, sitting cozily and reading a little of our book. Through it all, I was enveloped in sheer contentment and joy. Yet Monday Morning Emails is not always an easy, calm read. It is thought-provoking and truthful, a vulnerable exchange between global mothers. Between the two of us, Jo and I have raised five sons around the world in twelve different countries. We have supported our husbands careers and found our passion in writing, mentoring and publishing. But with that has come myriad issues as the backdrop of our life has changed every three, four, six years, perhaps after only three months!

In May of last year, Jo and I decided to write to each other every Monday. We well knew the power of writing and initially thought our book would be about the empty nest stage and raising global children, especially as each of us had a son who was having a difficult time with depression and anxiety. As we wrote of this, our dialogue also turned towards the loss of identify of children, building homes for ourselves against an ever-changing backdrop, ageing parents, health and wellness, traumatic childhood experiences – the topics tumbled forth. We found that over the six months we migrated organically from subject to subject exploring not only trying times, but also of great joy. We have experienced so much that makes a global life worth living – unique cultural experiences and privileged insights that we forever treasure.

Our accounts are truthful and personal, and we thank our family for understanding our ‘mission’ – to enlighten, to offer solace, to let people know that they are not the only family going through issues. “Mom, I don’t mind if you write my story,” my youngest son said with support. “If it can help someone not go through what I did, or help parents, then I’m happy to do that.”

IMG_4323

That evening of the book launch not only did I think of my family, who happened as is often the case to be scattered to the four winds – in Canada, in India, in Nepal. But I thought of a group of wonderful people that had already helped launch Monday Morning Emails. A few days before I had travelled to The Hague, I had given a two-day writer’s workshop in Mysore, India. Two hours by train southwest of Bangalore, Mysore is a charming small city that I have visited often and it has always felt like home.

As always, I was welcomed with open arms, arms which extended to an invitation to speak at the launch of a ‘Chai Patthe’ book club event. I had mentioned to my husband that indeed it was an honour to be doing this, but thank goodness I hadn’t been asked to be the ‘chief guest’ as I noticed the title on the announcement. Yet as the book club launch unfolded, that is indeed what seemed to happen.

The setting was an older bungalow that had been transformed into a charming Chai cafe. Older repurposed doors dotted the long narrow room, by coincidence coloured in the same hues as our book theme. I felt immediately at home.

The room was full, prompting some guests to listen and peer through the old barred windows of the once cozy bungalow. Seated up front as one of the ‘dignitaries,’ I gave a short speech. I mentioned how book clubs had always played an important role in my overseas life and how I had journeyed from avid reader to now, a published author. Without an actual copy of Monday Morning Emails, I had wrapped a copy of the book cover around a random book – yes pretending it was really the published version! The crowd chuckled when I admitted the truth, that in fact the launch was going to be held the following week in The Hague.

“When is the launch in India?” one of the guests asked eagerly.

“There isn’t one planned,” I admitted, not anticipating what was to come.

“Well,” someone chimed in, “this can be your launch in India. Now, here in Mysore.”

“Yes, in India before anywhere else!” another attendee added proudly.

“Can we? How wonderful,” I think I exclaimed and then proceeded to read the back of the book blurb, just to make it ‘official.” A round of applause erupted. I was asked questions and a lively discussion followed. Yes, just like you might with a true author… it was starting to feel more and more real. It was a magical evening with people who have become friends and wonderfully, many with whom I’ve shared the joy of writing. And so that evening in The Hague was of course our official launch, but how fortunate am I to have had two such poignant events.

IMG_4512Monday Morning Emails is part memoir, part diary, part self-help. The latter part of the book gives way to advice from eight different experts – including counselling, psychology, retirement, career advice and wellness.

The support that we’ve received since the publication of Monday Morning Emails has been heartwarming. It appears to resonate with readers, offering an unvarnished glimpse of a life that often seems so glamorous, yet is played out in the same ordinary tones as life ‘at home’. For this reason, it is also a book for those who don’t live a peripatetic life but live in one place, yet also face many of the same issues.

It is also starting conversations between parents and children, even those who are older and lived an expat life before any dialogue about this unique life was the norm. Many have also shared that it would be a good read for book clubs to discuss, and with that in mind, we are formulating book club questions and a Monday Morning Emails website.

It turns out that writing of the present and reflections of the past, was not only therapeutic, it was a joy to claim our stories. For indeed, our collected stories are narrations of life’s journey, whether they be global or otherwise. And after all, mothers are mothers wherever we may call home.

IMG_4532

My first touch of Monday Morning Emails

 

 

 

 

 

The emptying of a nest…

Standard

I have three sons and in precisely five days, my eldest will fly away with a backpack and an itinerary with destination points such as Bangkok, Phnom Penn, Hanoi and Luang Prabang. He and his girlfriend have earned their degrees, worked and saved for a year, now they’re off!

How can I not be thrilled for them, I did the same when I was just a few years older than they are now. At the time, I promised I’d be back in six months, yet didn’t return to live until last summer. Some twenty-four years later and that’s what I am afraid of, and yet not.

IMG_6866I’ve just had the pleasure of living with the ‘vagabond to be’ these past nine months. After four years of separation while he was at university on one continent and I on another, it was a joy to have shared this time with him. The fact that he worked at a wine boutique was an unexpected bonus. I’d often be preparing dinner and receive a text asking what was on the menu so the wine could be paired. I shall miss that, and him as we would chat about life over a glass of Grenache or Merlot until well past bedtime. Yet, I’m faced with the realization that once this young man steps on that airplane, he will have officially flown the nest. Grad school in Sweden awaits after the trip and I stoically write… it is how it is meant to be.

Almost five years ago, our nest dramatically emptied by two. It was arguably the worst months of being a parent that I’ve known. I ‘lost’ two kids in the space of a week and moved to a new country just to top it off. With my husband and youngest son already relocated to Norway from Houston, it was I who had the daunting task of settling the other two in Canada. It was their home country and yet they had never lived here which concerned us greatly. Our middle son went to a boarding school in the West and the eldest to university on the other side of the country. Those of you that have experienced this know how utterly difficult it is to walk away and leave your ‘babies’ to fend for themselves. It definitely is not how it’s portrayed in the movies with smiles and a quick hug goodbye. No, it’s wrenching and traumatic. After the second ‘delivery’, I drove through tears to the Toronto airport to catch a flight to my new life in Stavanger. All the while, vowing under no circumstance would I take the third son alone to university when the time came.

My view that cheered me

My view that cheered me

After collapsing in my husband’s arms once I arrived across the ocean, I spent many days of those first months curled up in a ball. With the rain pouring and the wind howling around me, I struggled to cope. Not only was I dealing with transition, I was in the throws of empty nest syndrome. I remember feeling as if part of me had been amputated.

Evening dinners were the worst. Three places set instead of five. Three of us struggling not to pine for that busy household of five. It was too quiet, too lonesome and many nights I would burst into tears, not able to contain my emotions. The beautiful surroundings and our view to the fjord helped somewhat. However, our youngest was also in turmoil and yet it was his humour that got me through the worst of it. He was suddenly an ‘only’ child with no bros to hang out with or kick a ball around with on a whim. No, now he got all the attention; just him alone which isn’t exactly what a sixteen year old finds ideal.  It is well known that the effects of an empty nest also impacts siblings and they also can deal with a sense of loss and bewilderment. They require attention and understanding as they cope with new family dynamics.  I remember many chats and hugs as the three of us did our best to adjust.

The reality is that nothing can truly ready us for this new phase in life and the advice I can give is thus; prepare yourself. With the relative ease of having only one teenager at home instead of three, I made the conscious decision to take on new challenges; it was essential to the process of moving forward. I wandered off to a writing retreat, studied art in Florence* and started a book club. I also took on a job that I adored. The silver lining is that it gives you the green light to do something different once that role of motherhood is more ‘part-time’. It may be trying something new such as a class, volunteering or finally finding time to complete projects that you’ve put off. I have friends that have taken up quilting, produced photo books and learned a new language now that they have more time on their hands. Some of us also started power walking which helped me cope as we walked, while we talked and talked. A number of dear friends helped me get through the worst of it. They know who they are and I will always be thankful for those long walks along the fjords and through the mossy woods.

A break from  studying in Florence; enjoying some new found freedom.

A break from studying in Florence; enjoying some new found freedom.

At the recent #FIGT conference*, empty nest syndrome was mentioned a number of times as women cope with the realities of their changing role. However, some of us agreed that it was also liberating. It was allowing us to explore new experiences and even job opportunities. I whole heartedly agree with Robin Pascoe in her excellent book, Homeward Bound.*  She writes, “Your life is your career. Women would better serve themselves by defining the word career as a path through life.”

How true, being a mother is a ‘job’ that we have for life and the skills that we gain are endless. Yet as the saying goes, there are two things we must give our children; roots and then wings with which to fly away. As mothers we have to be prepared to pat ourselves on the back for the good job we’ve done, yet try to move forward. Opportunities lie ahead for us, just as they do for our young adults. I know my parents gave me their blessing to move away and as painful as the separation was at times, they’ve seen places in the world they wouldn’t have had the privilege of doing so. They’ve scoured beaches in Oman with us, rode camels in Qatar and happily sweltered at baseball fields in Texas, watching their grandchildren play ball. All part of where that road may lead when we leave home for a path unknown. It’s brave to recognize that leaving the nest that we’ve been raised in and comfortable with is part of life’s rich tapestry, if that is what is chosen.

The three that will soon have flown the nest

The three that will soon have flown the nest

At the end of this summer, we’ll be empty nesters. Will we miss these three guys of ours, yes most assuredly. However, I’m excited about their next chapter, as I am my own. A few years ago my sons gave me a mother’s day card that I cherish. It’s elongated and folds out to the shape of Cleopatra. Listed on her dress from A to Z, is what my role has been these past years. What we’ve all achieved by being ‘just’ a mother.  And it reads;

Accountant    Babysitter    Chauffeur    Decorator    Educator    Fashion Guru    Guidance Counselor   Head Chef     Interior Designer    Janitor     Kitchen Supervisor     Landscaper      Mechanic    Nurse    Officer  Psychiatrist   Quality Control Director    Referee    Storyteller    Travel Agent     Underwater  Swim Instructor    Valet    Warden    X-pert Caretaker     Yard Technician       Zookeeper 

Yes, just a few skills for that well honed resume we acquire through the years of raising children.  A priceless and noble job, but also one that we can use as a stepping stone to a continued, fulfilled life. Also, we can be consoled by the fact that we are always home, meaning we parents endeavour to provide a nest for those kids to come back to, whatever the age. And that’s a wonderful thing.

And, so as I write this I’m thinking of those two young university grads setting out on their adventure of a lifetime. They’re elated and I know we all wish them, simply…the time of their lives!

 

 

P.S.  Hubby was indeed with me to take the youngest to University of Victoria last summer.  How could he refuse as we dallied in Canada’s wine region on the return, the beautiful Okanagan Valley. Thankfully, it was all just a little easier the third time round!

 

*Renaissance Art at the British Institute of Florence

*FIGT as mentioned in my first blog

*Robin Pascoe is the author of numerous books on the subject of global living.  They can be found at expatbookshop.com