Kids in America
Tomorrow my three months' paternity leave in Houston come to an end and I fly back to London with my son, Felix.
I’d love to say it’s a mix of emotions but let’s face it – I’m completely gutted! I’ve been living in a little bubble of parenthood for the last three months and its been gorgeous. No work, just living life in the Texan sunshine with my little boy and my mum, sister and baby nephews who live out here. Of course I’m not happy to be going back to work, but the truth is that what I’m feeling is a lot deeper than that. This was the best time I’d ever had in the states.
Let me give you a little perspective on my relationship to the US. I’ve actually been coming here for most my life. My mum’s side of the family started moving to the states from Malaysia before I was born and my mum (pictured below) moved to London to be a student in the 70s where she met my dad, and they now live happily ever divorced.
They used to take my sister and me to the states to visit our family every summer. In fact my oldest memory is from here. It was in my uncle John’s apartment in Chicago. He lifted me up and put me on the kitchen counter. I remember looking at the ceiling light – one of those long rectangular ones that flickers on. And that’s all I remember. I couldn’t have been much more than four years old, but for some reason it stuck.
My memories from the following years became more coherent. I remember running with my sister and four cousins down a road in the leafy suburb of Chicago where my cousins, aunty, uncle and grandparents lived. I was about six years old. It was late at night but everything was bright, bathed in the deep blue light of a full moon. The houses were so different to where I’d come from. They were all bungalows and wooden with the occasional neighbour relaxing on the porch with a beer or just breathing in the warm summer air. We ran down the street chasing fireflies, the sound of our laughter matched only by the constant humming of crickets. We came to a group of fireflies floating in the air together. Even then I knew that life would hold so few moments as other-worldly as these tiny specs of light – truly a thing of fairytales for a young boy from England. I cupped one in my hand and brought it up to my wide open eyes with a big grin on my face. My palms glowed as it fluttered around. I let it go.
Around the same time our uncle John was studying for a pilot’s licence. He was always passionate about planes. One late summer afternoon he drove with one of my cousins and me to the airport. We parked in a field by a fence next to the runway. We laid on the bonnet of his car looking up and watched as a jumbo jet took off, filling the sky like a giant just a few feet above us as it passed with a deafening roar. The engines shook the earth around us. I reached out my hand to touch it. It was magic.
A year or so later part of the family moved here to Texas and we’d come to visit. My uncle Bucker used to drive a pickup truck and take my sister, my cousins and me out for drives late at night before bed. We’d all pile into the back, the part that was open with no roof, and enjoy the ride in our pyjamas. The Texan air was always humid at that time of year, even late at night, but I loved every second as we drove past the gas stations, burger joints and country music bars that littered the neon-lit streets of Baytown. It was here that I first saw the oil refineries of Texas, huge fenced-off cities of steel brightly lit with jets of fire spouting out of towers. I always saw them as some sort of post-apocalyptic vision of the future. I daren't ever get close because they were so imposing and nightmarish, yet darkly beautiful and mesmerising – uncannily like the opening scene from Blade Runner. By this time I was old enough to know never to blink for fear of missing something. If I did close my eyes it would be to feel the hot air on my face and remind myself of that one crucial thing - that this was what it meant to really live.
I’ve always been quite good at not letting moments pass me by. The trick is to see your life as a story. Recognise the uniqueness in certain situations and allow yourself to see them with a childlike wonder. I barely knew beauty when a firefly lit up my hands; I knew nothing of fear when a flying metal beast reflected the orange afternoon sun on my face; and I’d only had a few glimpses of darkness before I’d ridden my uncle’s truck and watched oil burn the sky. But these things have shaped me because I was able to separate myself, just for a moment, and see each thing as an adventure.
Well here I am, typing on my laptop in the kitchen while my son sleeps on the sofa with a dummy in his mouth, living the greatest, most breathtaking adventure of them all. Just half an hour ago I sat Felix on the kitchen counter and I saw him look up at the long rectangular light on the ceiling. His legs were moving constantly as they normally do. “You want to walk, don’t you little one?” I said to him, “You will soon.”