525,600 minutes. The musical Rent asks the question ‘how do you measure a year in the life?’ Although Rent recommends love, most people use seasons. There are all sorts (depending on where you are from). . . baseball season, netball season, cricket season, football season, deer season, the Christmas season, crawfish season. With each of these seasons, just like the traditional temperate seasons of weather (Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring) there are signs that the season is coming, has started, is ending and that the season is over. When it comes to the weather, there are associations of food, events, activities and celebrations. We have special clothing and accessories for each season. We also have feelings, beliefs and emotions we connect to each one.
The last time I had four seasons in one year was 25 years ago in Beijing. It was what my children call the olden days. Even at the time, it felt like the olden days. The heating was still controlled by the government and if you lived north of the Yangtze river you got heat and if you lived south of it you didn’t. Regardless of the weather, it was turned on on November 13th. The year we lived in Beijing it had snowed before the heat came on. Luckily we were young and resilient so didn’t know any better and just got on with it.
After 25 years in Asia and the Middle East, we are now living in Europe. When you have grown up with seasons in your life you just slip back into it somewhat unaware of what you know but knowing it. But for our children, it is a totally new adventure. Our kids had never experienced autumn and are just moving into their first spring.
Our children have only ever lived in summer. They have experienced winter but that has usually involved flying into some winter climes for a two or three-week break and then returning home back to summer. They hadn’t experienced the changing of the seasons. They only had one wardrobe, a summer wardrobe. They wore shorts to school every day. There was a box of cold weather clothes and ski gear that came out once or twice a year for trips. Our children had never owned a rain jacket or an umbrella. I am used to buying all their clothes on sale and in a size that is slightly too big because sooner or later they will grow into it and it doesn’t matter if it is next month or in 6 months. This strategy doesn’t work as easily when you have seasons.
There are some things like weather apps and merino wool that make it a little easier to navigate. But one of the unexpected challenges was not knowing what our children don’t know, or possibly not knowing what we know, and then, not really being able to explain it when asked. We can’t answer the children’s questions. We don’t recall how long it takes the leaves to change colours and leave the trees. Maybe they are daffodils coming through but it seems a bit early for spring. I don’t think it is normal for it to be snowing in March. Surely it will only be dark in the morning for few more weeks. I have no idea if it is normally this windy in spring.
Its coming to the realization that what I know about seasons comes from 20 years of experience, of creating connections. Knowing the sound of leaves crunching, having the sweatshirt in your backpack for when the sun goes down, going to school in the dark in winter but fighting bedtime in summer because the sun was still hanging around. The warmth of pumpkin soup, the softness of a down jacket, the taste of a blackberry off the vine, the smell of cut grass are all things that are associated with seasons. I can’t make these connections for my children, especially not in one year. They have to experience it for themselves.
Sometimes when I think of all the things that the expat life has made possible for my children, I have to remember some things that I have that they might not have. One of those is obviously their connection to the seasons. I just have to let them gain their own experiences and be a bit more tolerant when they want to wear shorts when its 2 degrees outside. After all it will be 16 degrees for the bike ride home.
Rachel Nelson is a New Zealand expat who has lived and worked in the US, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the UAE, Qatar and Germany.