Saturday, April 16, 2016

And another one on this life that I lead...

For this post I'm riffing on a good friend's random musing...

Said friend was preparing for a short trip with her family to London where she would stay with her friends who last saw her several years ago when she was a young blood whizkid with a freshly minted MBA made in the USA. Now she is a much-lived-and-experienced expat stay at home mom of two.
'My friend is going to ask me 'so what do you do with ALL the time you must have now???" she said wryly to me and that sent me back to a meeting with my uncle (also in London) last year. I was meeting this uncle after about five years -- I am also a stay at home much-lived-and-experienced expat mom of two -- as we crowded into his small but cosy living room with loads of cousins, aunts, new babies, older babies, grand aunts with diabetes and spouses fighting boredom, my uncle jovially shouted out at me "So! what do you do all day?? Go out to lunch?" and he laughed happily at his own wit.

Well yes I guess to the outside world we expat wives lead a glamorous glitzy life with our international school circuit, mini vacations throughout the year, fat cat  contracts with free language lessons thrown in and assignments that seamlessly take us around the world in two-year cycles from Taipei to Amsterdam. Ah so much blissful fun.

It helps that few in that outside world get to see us during one of our 'meltdown moments' that usually occur when you are surrounded by a mountain of brown cardboard packing boxes in an empty house that is in every way an opposite to the last house you called home; in a strange country where everyone speaks a language that sounds like the ripping of the steel gray adhesive tape that is used to close said packing boxes. Your hair looks awful as the new weather has completely changed its texture, you are tired of dealing with kids who want everything from old and familiar friends to old and familiar food 'right now'; husband is out doing mundane but important settling in outside work like getting a vacuum cleaner that works with the new voltage and a large bin for the kitchen. And then the moving company people begin to give you a tough time and then, you, let lose a volley of your best swear words and the men who were a moment before whinging about the weight of your books look as if they wish the floor would open up and swallow them all  (or better still, you) right at this moment.  

It helps also that few in the outside world know how hard you work to settle the kids securely into a new world of school, friendships, after school activities, teachers, playdates, doctors' appointments, dentists' appointments and all those other little things that regular stay-in-the-same-place-forever people take so much for granted but can be so daunting to transplanted families in every new place they move to.

And then you have your supermarket disaster moments -- who hasn't lived in Tokyo and bought a huge plastic bottle of bleach thinking it is fabric softener (who, that is, who doesn't know how to read Japanese fluently and happens to find herself navigating Tokyo's little neighborhood supermarket hunting through bottles and boxes marked with illegible squiggles, lines and dots); or the time when you stared helplessly at the impossible madness of Hong Kong's Park n' Shop on May Road -- what would you ever find inside that chaos? (actually everything as anyone who has lived in Hong Kong for anything over 1 week knows!) or how about the massive dislocation of a Bay Area Target where simply locating the pharmacy section for a home pregnancy test resembles something close to an Easter egg hunt.  

And in the middle of all of this we do manage to lead normal-ish lives -- our kids, who probably know more airport lounges than 'regular' kids of their age, will get through their international school lives and will move on, our homes will hold together across many different countries, our expat borderless friendships and bonds are stronger than people realize and while we do not spend all of our time lunching and brunching, we do manage to get that done as well. And the difference is our lunches and brunches usually have  a minimum quota of three different nationalities around one table, and that is an experience I'm not ready to trade in as yet.