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?

Now what?

The packers have gone, the apartment is no longer a millstone around our necks and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck sideways, so stressful the last few weeks have been. So now what?

Well, life still goes on. There’s never a dull moment, particularly with the end of the school term looming. Swimming carnival, athletics carnival, basketball round-robin – it was great for the kids to have so many activities on the go because they didn’t have time to dwell on leaving. They still viewed our stay at the serviced apartment as a glorified holiday; there were play dates and sleepovers galore, and they were really, really busy. Periodically they’d become sad about leaving their friends, but generally they took it in their stride – much better than me.

Since we’ve had the kids, I wear my heart on my sleeve a lot and I find situations like this incredibly hard to deal with. Anything that I know will cause the kids pain resonates deeply, so when H’s teacher had a chat to me about the party they were planning for her last day, I had to dash from the room before I turned to mush. The thought of their last day and both of them being old enough now to really understand what that meant really tugged at the heartstrings.

But don’t you just love the honesty of kids? From that point onwards, if they were ever within earshot of me saying goodbye to someone, they’d quickly look to see whether I’d turned into a blubbering mess.

“Why is your face red?”

“Are you crying again?”

Such sympathetic little souls we’re raising! But was that how they were coping? By making light of the situation? Their laughter – at my expense – seemed to help us all and it’s been amazing to see them so stoic.

It’s such a strange time, just waiting to leave and I know they feel as emotional as I do. Some days you can’t wait to get on the plane and go, yet other times, a chunk of you wishes you were staying. Sometimes, however, I think the kids just get on with things without over-thinking the situation. As H said one day, very matter-of-factly: “No point worrying about the move, it’s happening.” I asked her if she really meant that and she did. “I can’t change anything,” she said. “No point worrying about it.”

And she was right. But we still had to get through the last day of school.

The day after the packers

You walk in and the house looks like a tip. Your heart sinks at the sight of the cardboard fragments and tiny strips of packing tape stuck to the floors, knowing you’ll soon be kneeling on the marble tiles, scrubbing them off. The walls hold shadows of your furniture and the house is eerily silent. Mechanically you attack the walls, the floors, cleaning away until every trace of you has gone. But you can’t erase the memories. And this is the day that I usually come undone.

When we moved from The Hague, I went from room to room, mop in hand, blubbering like a small child who’d lost their favourite toy. I was bereft, as this was one place I did not want to leave. All my kids were born here – we had a real connection to the country.

This time though, I wasn’t particularly emotional and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because we’re moving home for good? Maybe I’d become inured to our temporary existence? Or perhaps I was so cranky with our grasping, greedy landlord that I didn’t have time to be sad? Despite the house being in a much better state than when we moved in, I was still worried about the handover because despite our best efforts, she’d still find something to moan about.

Anyway, I thought once the kids were here and saw the empty house, the full impact of the move would hit them and we’d have a good old cry together about leaving. Wrong again.

Them: “Cool, I can do cartwheels in the lounge room!” “No, let’s play tag, there’s more room now…”

Me, screaming: “Don’t touch the walls, we’ve just spent the day cleaning them!”

I watched carefully for a reaction, which was pretty hard as they were bounding from room-to-room, their laughter echoing loudly off the empty walls. The only tears occurred when one of them ran into a doorframe.

Perhaps it’s just time to go home?