Every year since I’ve moved to England we’ve made the pilgrimage back to the US to visit my entire family with the kids. And, since the flights are rather expensive, we spend the whole summer, about five or six weeks, in our Wisconsin home in the smallish town of Manitowoc near Lake Michigan.
When the kids were babies, I’d come out even earlier and spend two months living with my mother. It was a great time to hang out with friends and family for BBQ’s and family reunions. We’ve looked forward to it every year and have a fabulous time even though we don’t do anything particularly fancy. We eat sushi as much as we can ever since a New York sushi chef set up shop in town—what a bonanza! Also, we swim in the Lake almost every day. On occasion, we poke around at TJ Maxx looking for bargains. Lastly, the fanciest thing we probably do is to make a trip to Wisconsin Dells to play in the water parks with our cousins. We love going to the County Fair. It’s only $10 to go on all the rides!
In addition, we eat ice cream in Two Rivers, the home of the ice cream sundae. Also, we love to visit Bernstein’s, an old-fashioned chocolate shop where you can order a chocolate soda and an olive nut sandwich (my mom’s favorite). It sounds weird but tastes fine! I can’t resist their dark chocolate turtles and the hot fudge sundae.
Usually, we spend a little time fixing up the house, as it is an old Victorian and always needs some work. However, we never catch up! We spend a lot of time making puzzles together and playing games. Also, we love going to the fabulous library and checking out loads of books to read on the sofa. It feels like going back to the 1950’s, which admittedly was before my time. Everything moves at a slower pace and yet we are always busy doing one fun thing after another. However, the one thing that we don’t have in the house is WiFi. That is what makes it feel so old-fashioned and lovely. My mom doesn’t even own a computer or a cell phone. She has an answering machine and still calls all her bridge club friends one by one when she is planning the next meeting.
My friends in the UK always ask whether the girls still want to spend the summer there hanging out with the extended family. My friends can’t imagine why the girls would want to do so. However, so far, the girls have been even more excited to go each year. We were really bummed when we missed a year due to Covid.
It is only now that my youngest is 15 that she is asking if she can stay in the UK next year so she can go to festivals with her friends. We’ve had a good run of it! She is torn as she would still like to spend some time in the US. At the same time, she doesn’t want to miss out on the fun she knows her friends will have going to music festivals. Life is full of difficult choices when we can’t be in two places at once.
Then I saw this eye-opening blog post “The Tail End” by Tim Urban. It visually shows how much time we have left in life. My mother will celebrate her 80th birthday this year. We held a small celebration in her honor while we were with her to mark the occasion. She wishes we didn’t live so far away in another country. However, I remind her that it is because we live so far away that we come for such a long visit.
How many daughters would spend the entire six weeks of summer holiday with their mother? I probably see her more now that we live overseas than I did when we lived in the US. Urban figures he spends an average of 10 days a year visiting his parents who are in their 60’s. If he gets another 30 years with them, then he has a total of 300 days left to spend with them. Less time than he had in any single year of his childhood.
I’ve long been aware of how precious our family summers are and knew that we would be lucky to get 18 of these summers. Now it looks like it is coming to an end as the girls get older. Soon, they will be off to college and then out in the working world where long summer holidays will be a memory of the past.
As Urban says, “When you look at that reality, you realize that despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life…It turns out that when I graduated from high school, I had already used up 93% of my in-person parent time. I’m now enjoying the last 5% of that time. We’re at the tail end.”
Urban concludes with three key points:
- Living in the same place as the people you love matters.
- Priorities matter.
- Quality time matters.
I’ve managed to eke out a lot more family time than most thanks to having a flexible schedule and portable work as a life coach. I’ve shown that living further away can actually increase the quality and quantity of time I’ve spent with my family. But this is only because I’ve made it a priority. It has been harder on my friendships. I don’t see my girlfriends who live in different states as often as I’d like, but they have all been to visit me in England, which is fun. Sometimes they even come to visit in Wisconsin.
Make the most of the time you have with the ones you love!