Growing Up

She won’t remember any of it, but my daughter had a summer just like the ones her Mum did, year after year, growing up in Australia. We stayed at a beach my family have been returning to for as long as I can remember, a place synonymous with a very free, very vital kind of happiness. It was brilliantly hot some days, rainy others; December in New South Wales is an indecisive season, indecisive enough that blue sky days are celebrated for the simple reason they may not return the next day. That sort of luxurious certainty belongs to January and February. We went to the beach every day and in the same little pool, carved from the ocean by stone walls covered in soft brown sea slugs, the same one I swam in as a tiny, chubby thing, she kicked her little legs like mad. We had big, messy surf-club burgers, and she lay under a chair covered in a towel, away from the harsh Aussie sun. Sand everywhere, hot car trips to the local shops, a Santa photo, bare feet, cricket permanently on the TV, the Christmas ham lasting for what felt like weeks. It was just how I always remember it.

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I think, on some level, we see our children as extensions of our own selves, something I suspect fades with time, or as a baby becomes a more willful, decisive, self-guided being. Consequently – and heightened by raising her in a different culture to the one I grew up in – I think a lot about her childhood and mine. I see them side by side because, I suppose, I want for her what I had and I know fundamentally, she won’t. She won’t have anything less, but by virtue of not growing up where I did, she won’t have the same. That isn’t a bad thing, but it is a simple truth that spins through my consciousness almost daily. I think many parents see their childhoods side by side with their own children’s – it is an inescapable, necessary comparison. We want to draw the best from how we were raised and apply it to how we will raise them. Our own childhoods, the way we were parented, is often the only template we have.

I always spent the kind of summer we just had, as a kid, or a teenager, unwittingly following traditions laid down by my parents. This time I spent it as a parent. I was acutely aware her little feet were walking in my own footsteps, unwittingly following us as we laid down the first of our own traditions as a little family. These traditions she will come to know are ones that will both encompass and diverge from those known by both her parents, and that isn’t unique to our situation of bringing up baby across two different cultures. No two parents have identical childhoods, within the same culture or across many. There are some traditions we all grow up with that we are unable to pass down to our children, some parts of our template we cannot match to theirs. And while I often think – nostalgically – about what I had growing up that she won’t, quite like my husband looks at what she will have growing up, that he didn’t, and cannot help but feel this twinge of something like sadness, this is simply part of growing up.

My growing up, not hers.

22 Replies to “Growing Up”

  1. Beautiful writing, as ever. Also timely, as my family & I prepare to make the move back home in time for the children’s schooling. A very difficult, painful decision – perhaps my endless summer template is too overpowering.. fortunately my husband agrees. Hopefully the past few years have instilled a love & affection for their paternal heritage, cementing Germany as a second home that looms large in their imaginations always, one which will always be waiting for them. Tears again now, thanks Lil!

  2. Well more tears from me but simply because you really stuck a cord with me, that was my story in August taking my little English kids back to NSW to see the grandparents and carefree days at the beach. I always miss Austraia the most at Christmas, nothing beats the long sunny days and the beautiful beaches and family but after 13 years in London I still have those moments where it really saddens me that my children aren’t having anywhere near the same experiences that I did growing up. We are always here and there in London or going to other European countries for weekends away whereas mine were at a beach somewhere and the one annual holiday. 90% of the time I’m happy here but there some days especially if I see Facebook photos of people at the beach that really make me question what the hell am I doing here but thanks Liv, you really have a way with words!

    1. I know exactly what you mean – as with so many things, it is what you are used to, what you grew up with. It is so hard to let that go.

  3. At least the beach is still there. So many lakes, even pools that used to be in North Jersey and the greater NY area simply aren’t anymore what with shopping malls & suburban sprawl. Where I go to now on the beach with the dog has been disfigured by “Sandy” – what houses I got used to were washed away. My “kid” the dog still likes it though.

  4. So lovely and poignant. My parents are always asking me if I remember this trip or that place and when I ask them when I was there, they’ll think and realize I was just a baby. I realize I am making the same kind of memories for my daughter now.

  5. I appreciate you sharing your reflections, Liv. Thank you.

    I can very much identify with your thinking about the differing experiences our children have from us. I have rarely had summer in Australia since I married (in Sydney, almost 29 years ago!), which meant that my three older children experienced a summer Christmas just once in their childhood, and my youngest never. Even then, they were largely too young to remember. Indeed, though I often feel those tinges of regret, it is what it is. Travelling with four children half way around the world (from the US and Canada) was just not financially practical when they were young. I still crave summer and heat, lol.

    My children have grown up with many experiences similar to those of my Canadian-American husband, yet somehow they have also adopted some degree of Australian-ness, perhaps due to my Heimweh, my stories, and also to the very welcome and appreciated visits of their Perth grandparents every couple of years. Skype and Facebook have really helped also 🙂 The older three were able to go back to Oz for one more trip in their early teens.

    Nevertheless, they live in a world that seems to them much smaller, and easier to move in, than it does to many of their friends. Travel in the future has always been a possibility for them, and now all six of us are actually living those possibilities.

    Perhaps, your precious daughter will grow up as ours have. Her own experiences will certainly still be shared by you both while she is younger, and, it seems, she has the advantage of future travel opportunities and keeping in touch with loving extended family around the world also.

    My children seem to have discovered their Fernweh. One year ago, as all our children were no longer at home, my husband and I left Canada for Germany – he has a work contract here for an indeterminate period. Living in Europe has been a long term dream for me, and this has, so far, been a great experience. Also over the past few years, our children have explored more of their world – our oldest moved to Sydney to finish his university studies and has now graduated and is working happily there still, our second is living and working in South Korea and has Europe in her sights down the road, our third is on a uni work term in the US, and our youngest, though still in Canada, is hoping for his first visit, finally, to Perth this coming April/May, perhaps to stay there for several months. My husband and I will also, finally, be able to go back to Oz together too.

    It is fun to be part of a wider world, and to share it with others.
    May God bless you as you walk each day together.

    1. Thank you for such a thoughtful response. You are so right – children discover things on their own, including their Fernweh and Heimat. All we can do is give them all the opportunities we can, through both cultures and languages and countries. Your kids seem to have hugged the world – good on them.

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