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An eerie stillness sits across the house this morning. Often an indication of imminent chaos—there’s no way it can be this quiet without something terrible about to happen—but today is different. The reason it's so quiet? There's space in the house. Physical space, yes. But a mental space that's been absent since last June.
The kids aren't here. They're back at school. Hallelujah.
Summer holidays are a strange beast. If I had to hear my daughter ask "but what should I do NOOWWWWWWW?" one more time I might have gone back to school myself, just to get some peace. But every whine is worth it when there's an unparalleled joy in watching your kids grow, spending 24/7 together, noticing all the little changes whilst being oblivious to the big ones. Not seeing the forest for the trees, indeed.
This summer was about family and friends. Last summer was about survival. You got through it, however you could. It's unsurprising that gardening was the number one hobby people took up last year: it offered a feeling of control in a world where it was severely lacking. You planted hope, and watched it slowly bloom.
I dug in. Can you get into gardening without a garden? For us city dwellers, gardening meant houseplants. I was hooked from the start: binging propagation videos on YouTube, marvelling at monsteras on TikTok (I mean, LOOK AT IT) and conducting extensive field research to find the best plant tracking app (the clear winner, if you’re wondering.)
There are obvious parallels between being a plant parent and actual parent—you shower them with love, you watch them grow strong and independent, you witness their effect on your heart, time and bank balance—but the stakes are much lower. It's almost impossible for them to mess with your sleep schedule, or your social life. You can leave town for the weekend, forget to water them, and they'll be mostly fine. And if you decide a certain one is too much work, you can just leave it out on the street or gift it to a friend. I haven't read all the parenting books out there, but I'm yet to find one that recommends anything like that for your kids.
Another parallel? Gardeners need an increased awareness of the changing of the seasons, and how it'll impact the work they need to do. Parenting follows a similar pattern. An annual cadence: back to school, off for Christmas, back again, break for Easter, maybe some exams, then summer again. There’s a structure there, a repetition that—year upon year—offers us a chance to reflect. To take stock on where things are this year, versus where they were last time, and where they might be next time this season rolls around.
We bumped into neighbours we hadn't seen since the start of summer, and were shocked by how much their daughter had grown. They said the same to us. It turns out—just like with a well-loved plant—summer makes children grow even faster. Who knew?
By the crude metric of centimetres, yes, the kids have grown this summer. But the bigger changes have been less related to height. Bodhi has taken huge leaps forward in his language. He's almost two and a half, and has started speaking in full, coherent sentences—with a clear idea of what he wants and how he’s going to get it. He glides between three languages: the English we speak together, the Spanish he picked up from his playgroup, and the Gujarati loanwords we use around the house. He seamlessly switches between them in a way that makes total sense to his sister and parents, but is incomprehensible to those on the outside. We break down sentences to friends and relatives, like amateur etymologists explaining their origins: “When he says 'mas dudu' he's asking for more milk, because mas is Spanish for more, and dudu is what children in India call milk, because doodh is the Hindi word for milk."
Our eldest was 4 when we moved to Barcelona, so she had some understanding of the concept of a new language to learn. Her brain now chunks things discretely into different languages, deftly navigating the links between the Spanish, Catalan and English parts of it. But Bodhi has no such delineation. He's grown up in a truly bilingual environment, and just thinks water, agua and pani are three words that means the same thing, and using either of them will help him get what he wants.
He shouts "PAPI! LECHE!" as we are filling various bottles, heading to the beach for the last last day of our summer break, desperate to squeeze every last drop of pleasure out of it.
“It’s been a great summer” I say to my wife.
“Well, I mean, you caught Covid. But yes, it has.”
This summer wasn't easy. But it offered time to breathe, to contemplate on where we’ve been, think about where we’re going, and be freshly amazed at these children who never stop growing.
3 things to read this week
The “pots and pans” edition
My trusty Wirecutter-approved non-stick pan is no longer releasing scrambled eggs as it should, so I went on the hunt for a new one. A piece of advice I hadn't heard before was to buy the cheapest non-stick pan you can find as the coating lasts only two years. This piece of advice, and others you might find useful, was from this Sam Bowman's list of "things I recommend you buy and use."
Whilst down the frying pan rabbit hole (as I’m sure you’ve all been, come on now) I happened across Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue's Food Editor, weaning himself off an addiction to kitchenware by attempting to cook everything with a single cast iron skillet. It's the best piece of writing I found this week. "I began to like the idea. I’d be able to cook whatever I wished without worrying about creating genius recipes. I would be guided only by my merest whim, caprice, or appetite. And my trusty black skillet would be like a faithful hunting dog, ever eager to respond to my subtlest gesture."
Wildcard link, but here’s a list of “things you’re allowed to do that you thought you couldn’t, or didn’t even know you could." Something in here for everyone, and a potential jumping off point to oodles of life optimisation tips.
One thing to watch with the kids this week
Keeping things growing this week, here’s a gorgeous compilation of fruit and veg time-lapses from last year.
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