Keeping positive

A recent horoscope advised “Rid yourself of toxic people…”

It made me laugh, but it also made me think a lot. Maybe my horoscope was right? Like a festering sore, negative people get under your skin, eating away at your self-confidence, leaving you insecure and unsettled – exactly the emotions you don’t need after relocating.

But for every negative person you meet, there are about five positive ones out there, all happy to have a chat.

A recent family reunion bore testament to that. Although we arrived late due to karate lessons because of an imminent grading, we got there in the end and I’m so glad we did. We’ve normally missed these sort of gatherings and my kids barely know anyone on Mum’s side of the family.

 

I find people fascinating and everyone has a story to tell. One cousin had run a pub, another runs her own business. One found romance after a chance meeting with an old acquaintance at a party a few years ago and yet another owns a bob-cat and a tip truck!

Cousin J rounded up the troops along with paper and pens and before long, they’d drafted up a family tree. It was a brilliant idea, generating much discussion and laughter as they tried to figure out who went where. But I think the most interesting…or rather, disturbing…stories came from the cousin with the voodoo doll and its uses.

I managed to persuade another cousin to stay for a drink and a chat after most people had gone for the evening. We’d gone to school together and it was really nice to reconnect after such a long time. She’d lived in the west for a time and knew exactly what it was like to relocate.

We had a lovely afternoon and I hope that there’ll be another gathering in the not-too-distant future.

A BBQ back at home with close friends capped off weekend – and my new resolution. Listen,  empathise – but be positive! I want my glass to stay half-full (well, full, actually, but that’s another story.)

Life’s too short. Be true to yourself.

 

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Something had to give…

And sadly, it’s been my blog. Juggling work, the kids, the activities and trying to ‘fit in’ again is taking its toll. Work is crazy busy, and like the majority of the world’s population, I wish there were a few more hours in the day to get things done.

The kids aren’t particularly happy with the current arrangement, particularly S. Despite settling nicely into kindy, he’s taken to barricading the door again when I leave the house in the morning. And if that doesn’t tug at the heartstrings, he greets me at the door in the evenings saying “I’ve been crying for you, Mummy.”

I think he’s feeling a bit insecure; he won’t go into rooms on his own anymore, he’s frequently checking to see where we are and when once he would go to bed and fall asleep in an instant, he now constantly comes out to check what we’re doing. I’m not sure what he’s feeling but he’s definitely worrying about something and can’t articulate it, the poor little love.

He still talks about “yesterday, when we were in Singapore…” Maybe he’s worried we’ll move again? Or perhaps he just wants his mum? Who knows what’s troubling a four-year-old?

The other two are fantastic with him. They play with him, they make him laugh and hugs are plentiful when he’s sad. They understand – they’ve lived through what he’s going through numerous times themselves. It seems that even if their memories of life overseas start to fade as they settle down here,  one thing has been ingrained into their being – a whacking great dose of empathy. They fight, they bicker, they tell tales on each other but despite all that, they still look out for each other.

It’s been a mad few months for us all and for the most part, I think we feel pretty settled, except for those times when we don’t… Sometimes, some days, there’s a little niggle of “what if we’d stayed..?” But it’s not so much for the country we’ve left, it’s the people you leave behind. And I think that’s how S feels. He still rattles off the names of the kids he was in pre-school over there with.

Anyway, the end is in sight; the project I’m working on will settle down (hopefully) in a few weeks, and life won’t be so hectic. We just need more time.

 

 

Random conversations

Today I had to have some tests done. As the radiologist flicked through the pile of previous scans from various countries, she finally asked me where the most recent one was.

Good question – I have no idea. I’m sure it was packed but where it is now is anyone’s guess. I explained we’d been out of the country for quite a while and she became quite excited when I told her where.

“Me too!” she whispered, like it was a dirty little secret. And it struck me again how difficult it can be to talk about your former life lest you sound like you’re bragging. But what else have I got to say?

Sometimes, I must admit, I feel lost in conversations because I can’t relate to what people are talking about. Half the time I’ve got no idea what area, what group or which child they mean. The only experiences I can contribute see me starting a sentence with “in Singapore…” and each time I do that, I inwardly cringe.

I know it’s probably just my paranoia making me self-conscious and most likely people don’t notice, but in the early stages of friendship, I don’t want to come across as brash or overbearing by scattering snippets of our overseas existence into conversations.

So it was quite nice to have a chat with someone who had, as it turned out, a surprisingly similar experience to me. Same length of time away, we’d lived in the same country and her feelings of displacement when they first repatriated were exactly what I am experiencing now.

Basically, her husband had had enough after 10 years and wanted to return home. By that stage, they were living in Singapore and she was happy there but home they came. She said it took her approximately two years to assimilate and that she still missed the expat life. Despite enjoying her life in Australia now, she’s holding out hope that one day they’ll relocate again.

I wonder if the wanderlust ever leaves you?

And then the bubble burst

It was just a matter of time, really. Everything had been ticking along really well, so it was a bit of a shock when the kids fell to pieces within days of each other.

We’ve been talking openly about the move, about leaving Singapore, about how they were coping and everything seemed rosy, but all it takes is a playground incident, a photo, and what they’ve left behind comes flooding right back.

For H, it was the school camp. She was really excited about going to Phillip Island…until the night before.

“Why are you making me go? No-one ever goes on camp after being at school for only one week!” She burst into tears and no amount of reassurance could calm her down. And we understood – it was completely reasonable for her to feel nervous about a trip away with complete strangers so soon after starting a new school in what is mostly for a her, a foreign country.

We chose not to point out it had been her choice to go on the camp but instead tackled the task of finding out what had caused the emotional outburst. Eventually we figured out that she was worried about no-one wanting to sit next to her on the bus. That – and the memory of the camp she’d been on earlier this year with her Singapore buddies – was weighing heavily on her mind.

For T, it was Monday at school. His little mate was away and although he’d played with some of the other kids too, they decided he was ‘too tall’ to play and excluded him from their games. Luckily H saw how upset he was in the playground and looked after him, but his confidence had taken a massive hit.

When he came home that afternoon, he was really sad. “I just want my friends back…” he sobbed. “They don’t care that I’m tall.” OK, swallow that lump, blink rapidly and try not to think of how you’ve emotionally scarred your children by moving – again – while explaining that things will get better in time…

But the one that really threw me was S. When they’re so young, you think that they’ll just roll with the move and it won’t affect them too much, but once again I was proven wrong.

Out of the blue one morning, S became quite distraught and he came over for a hug.

“I miss school,” he cried. “I want Miss M and Miss K.” And then he rattled off the list of kids in his class. “I want to go there now!”

S had rarely mentioned Singapore in the whole time we’ve been back, and quite simply, appeared happy just to have the backyard and a few catchups with his little friend E. But obviously he’s thinking a lot but probably doesn’t have the vocabulary to verbalise what’s he’s feeling. And it was harder to explain to him why we couldn’t just ‘go back’ and see everyone – he clearly has no concept of time and distance!

Anyway, fast-forward a few days – H had a great time at camp and  she made a few new friends; T’s mate was back on Tuesday and all was well in his world again; and S had a playdate with E and was happy.

I know there’ll be more rough patches ahead as they try to fit in, but as we keep telling them, each day will get a little easier. And like all our other relocations, it’s just going to take a bit of time.

The day before the packers arrive

You wake early. You’ve barely slept and already you feel like the weight of the world is pressing down on your chest. Your breathing’s shallow and a million thoughts race through your head faster than the kids running inside for dessert.

Quickly you throw breakfast at the family, gulping down bites of your own while shoving items in boxes before you forget why you’ve got them in your hand in the first place.

You turn off the freezer, start emptying a cupboard and then rush to the bedroom to chuck things in a suitcase. In your haste to get back to the kitchen, you thump painfully into the doorframe right before you slip on the water that’s leaked from the slowly defrosting freezer. And then you realise you’ve just packed the towels that were meant to sop up the mess.

What a crazy day this always is! Emotionally-charged, frantically busy and no matter how much you’ve planned for it, there is always a ridiculous amount of work to be done before the packers arrive. The kitchen is the worst – any plastic containers need to be washed and dried, appliances need to be squeaky-clean else you’ll be in for a nasty surprise after six weeks of shipping, wet towels need to be dried lest they go mouldy in the container. And try explaining all that to the kids!

Finally, exhausted, you realise that no matter what – everything will get packed, including the flip flops that H forgot to put in her suitcase. She just won’t see them for five-to-eight weeks which is not a problem, given it’s winter in Melbourne.

And the serviced apartment? Well, you can eat at the hawker market and if that doesn’t work, cheese-on-toast is a good alternative.

After many moves, I’ve finally come to the realisation that you can’t think of everything. What you thought you would need – you don’t. What you really do need – you never thought of. But we’re lucky that we’re moving to a country where you can buy it.

So after a week of over-planning, I’ve called it quits. We’ll deal with the consequences in Melbourne and that’s not a bad place to be.

Life goes on…and H will just have to wear school shoes for a while!

The ones left behind

We’re rapidly approaching our leaving date and the thought of sneaking out a day or two earlier to avoid the farewells is appealing – I’m such a coward when it comes to goodbyes and I’m dreading it. I even got a bit teary yesterday when I told my favourite coffee shop lady I was leaving. It didn’t help that she cried too…

But as I’ve been brooding over our impending exit, I’ve realised that I’m not alone. A lot of my friends will be gone by the end of the year too. What’s happening, Singapore? Why are so many moving on?

Moving countries is hard work: emotional, tiring and a huge strain on you and everyone else within shouting distance. However, once you get over the initial shock, it’s an exciting prospect. A new country, new people, friends you haven’t met yet – it’s all out there waiting for you. And the opportunities that the kids will experience while immersed in another culture is the gift of a lifetime.

But what if you’re the one left behind? Constantly?

I guess when you’ve been in a place for long enough, you see a pattern forming. Some people really do come here for two or three years, and then leave on their appointed date. On the other hand, a lot of people come over for a stint in the sun on a short-term contract and find themselves still here many years later.

These long-termers do it tough as they see their support networks dwindle with alarming regularity. Although electronic media is great for staying in touch, it’s no substitute for a coffee and a chat when the chips are down. Every now and then you need someone to lean on – literally, not virtually.

The kids feel it keenly and despite dealing with your own sense of loss, you have to keep it together to sort them out. Sometimes they take it on the chin. They’ll breeze in from school and announce that “such and such is leaving on Friday…” – shrug – and wander off to play. Other times, you’re sharing the tissue box and wondering how we’ll all cope on Monday with the absence of those smiling faces in the playground.

So you start over. As it happens, when a group of your besties leave, another influx of newcomers arrives, but finding people you “click” with takes time. And no matter how hard you try, when you’re in a conversation with a newbie that niggling little question always fights its way forward – how long are they going to be here for?  This feeling certainly doesn’t stop you making friends but you go into that relationship knowing there’ll be sadness down the track when they, too, announce that they’re leaving.

The people you meet have a profound effect on your lives and we’re enriched with every meeting, long or short-term. Whether you’re staying, going or stuck in limbo-land while the powers-that-be decide your fate, know that you’ve touched our lives and we’re all the better for it.

And somewhere down the track, those people who blew out of your lives all those years ago, may just blow back in again. That’s the crazy nature of the expat life – you just never know exactly what – or who – is around the corner.

Stay strong.