We have been fully in countdown mode at this house this week, counting last sleeps for Sammy as a seven-year-old, and texting every night back and forth with my brother who is going to be the best surprise present of all.
A few months ago Sammy became completely overwhelmed with emotion - one of those wobbly lip moments that descended into a full-blown stream of tears running down his cheeks, and fighting for breath as struggled to get out his words.
And it was all over his love for his Uncle Pat and his family in America. How much he misses them both and his baby cousin and how, in typical dramatic fashion, he's "only seen them twice in his whole life!", which I had to remind him wasn't quite true.
But I know how it must feel, that the handful of times he has had with them doesn't seem enough. The thing we forget when we are all grown up is that a few months feels like forever to their young minds. Those weeks and months waiting for your birthday and Christmas to arrive are just endless!
Well, the wait is almost over my darling and when you run out of school on Friday, swinging your book bag in one arm and your school jumper in another, you'll be running into the arms of your uncle! Even just typing about it makes my fingers tingle and I can feel a lump building from my tummy right up into my throat. There will be tears and probably this time they will all be from me!
It's quite an incredible thing really, when your holiday allowance from work is so precious, to give up so much of it to fly home. We give my brother a hero's welcome, just like we did when we waved him goodbye, knowing he'd truly lost his heart to a girl in New Jersey. Just like before there's balloons and bunting flapping above the front door, I will stock up our fridge with all his favourites - things he misses from US supermarkets like traditional pork sausages and bakery sausage rolls! You'd think we would want to pack as much in as possible when we have such a limited time together, but in fact the way we make those 36, or 48 or, if we are really lucky, 72 hours last the longest is by keeping him at home. Games in the garden, pottering around the house. I love it, he loves. But so often I think he's really got the bad end of the deal.
He has a home-from-home back here at our house and, likewise, we are so lucky to be able to go and visit him and my sister-in-law in New Jersey, have a US postal address for internet purchases and a base for us to bounce off from too. Rich and I have been over almost more times than I can count on two hands which is good going in seven years. We've stayed in all their apartments and houses as they've climbed the housing ladder, ending up in a beautiful house with a white picket fence and neighbours with basketball hoops on the drive. And we get to visit New York, even if just for a flying visit.
Before my niece was born we were so lucky to scoot across the pond and have a magical summer night in the city as part of our visit around the time of our ten-year wedding anniversary. I was sorting through a whole heap of albums on the computer the other night and I realised I have never shared the story!
I adore having the boys and going on holiday with the boys, but there's something so wonderful about a trip away just the two of us. We took the train and crossed the state border into Manhattan and in just 50 minutes we had swapped the Garden State for skyscrapers but this time there was no steam rising from the sidewalks. It was roasting. I've never really understood the concept of summering out of a city. My early working life never really allowed me to decamp to escape the heat of a sticky office, but it's absolutely true in New York. The streets feel different. There's a calmness amongst the chaos and the traffic and after dropping our bags at the hotel, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the incredible view from our floor to ceiling window, we headed off to find a bike station and we cycled off towards Greenwich Village.
Now I'm not a hugely confident cyclist, I tootle through the village after the boys with a picnic in my bicycle basket and ding my bell, but I felt so safe. Rich is all about making the most of an experience, seeing as much as you can and I followed his tracks, across junctions, through heaving traffic and smiled up at the drivers of what felt like the most enormous trucks I have ever seen, as we stopped at a red light. There were several points at which one of us or at times both of us let out a "wooooooo hoooo" like we were 7 years old and blasting down a hill. The sun came out from behind each tower block like lighting bolts as we made our way up the grid of roads and we decided to eat our way around Chelsea down to Soho and across to the East Village.
We stopped for a coffee, (and a cup of tea for me. You can take the girl out of Somerset but you still can't get her off a nice cup of builders) browsed in a few little boutiques, picking up some souvenirs (doesn't everyone bring home a set of intriguing bitters you have no idea how to use for their mini bar?!) and dived into a few picture-perfect bars, with rows of metal bistro chairs squeezed onto the pavement around a table just big enough for your cocktail in a mason jar.
It was bliss.
And looking through the photos made me smile. Tomorrow is tortoise party day for Sammy!
The funny thing is we had always imagined we would celebrate our 10-year anniversary in Italy, in a lakeside hotel full of history, and disappear for a few days to do nothing. I'm so glad that didn't come about because that can wait for year 13, 14 or 15. Something to plan for, something to look forward to, to research, to countdown to.
That and the big plans of a mass family meet up somewhere in America for my fortieth ... which may be a few years away yet, but in our family it's never too early to start day dreaming!Suggest a correction