Career of Champions

“Mummy, I want to be a superhero when I’m older.”

“Do you? Which one?”

“Which one is the best?”

“Well, I think it’s probably Superman. Would you like to be Superman?”

(Pause)

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because Superman is Superman. I want to be my own superhero.”

“Well you have to have a magical power to be a superhero.”

“I don’t have one.”

(Thinking there may be a learning opportunity here) “Well maybe you could be an everyday hero instead, like a policeman or a firefighter, or a doctor.”

“Dr. Khan is a hero.”

“Yes, he is.”

“He makes sick children feel better.”

“That’s right.”

“I could be a doctor hero then.”

“That’s a good hero to be.”

“Yes. A doctor. (Long pause). Or a hairdresser.”

Not a hero in the traditional sense, I admit. However, there have been some days I’ve walked out of the salon and would be inclined to agree.

Celebrating the expat brat

Annabel Kantarina, writer and fellow expat, wrote a post this week about the demise of the Expat Brat. Whilst I’m not inclined to believe it’s the last we’ve seen of the spoilt rich kid abroad, I do think it’s probably not as relevant a ‘label’ as it once might have been. Not meaning to start a war here, but let’s face it, there’s plenty of kids who live in their home countries who are spoilt rotten, plenty who have no manners and can’t seem to behave themselves if their life depended on it, and plenty who are lazy and let everyone around them do everything for them. I know, because they come here on holiday. So I agree that it’s grossly unfair to tar all our third culture kids with the same brush, and hats off to Bellakay for championing their cause.

As coincidence would have it, I’d actually been thinking this week, about how totally cool it must be to grow up in Dubai. We’ve just got back from a few days in the desert, and my son hasn’t stopped talking about how much he loved it. And he really did have a blast, discovering new things about his environment and himself and filling every bodily crevice with sand in the process. Despite my continual misgivings that he is ‘missing out’ it occurred to me this week just how much he would have missed by growing up in Surrey instead. Our expat brats might miss the leaves falling, have no idea how to put gloves on, and have an unnerving tendency to ask ‘is it real?’ about every animal they come across, but they have another host of experiences notched up that most ‘stay at home’ children can only ever read about in books. So here are my reasons to celebrate being an ‘expat brat’ in Dubai:

- You get to run up around the dunes or dance in the waves every weekend and picnic on the sand in either place while you watch the sun go down.

- You can eat your lunch and watch the fountains go off next to the tallest building in the world.

- You can have your lunch inside the tallest building in the world.

- You’ve been up the top of the tallest building in the world. Twice. Aged four.

- The sun always shines. Yes, it might get hot (gross understatement) but everyday, for months, you know you can make plans for the park/pool/play date and pretty much rely on the weather being perfect.

- When it does rain, it’s magical: a day off school in case a lethal puddle engulfs the 4×4, and as exciting as snow. And snow – well snow is just THE BEST THING EVER because it is only ever accompanied by grandparents and presents, or it means you’re about to hit the toboggan run in Ski Dubai.

- By aged five you can pack your own suitcase for a six week holiday taking into account travelling to three countries with three different weather patterns, and you are able to negotiate airport security and long haul flights with expertise and finesse usually reserved for fifty year old travelling salesmen.

- Being different is your norm.You have friends from 15 different countries speaking 15 different languages and you will grow up never knowing what it’s like to only know people who come from the same place as you, or who all dress the same as you, or who all look and sound the same as you.

- You have no idea what a sheep looks like in real life but you’ve ridden a camel.

- You’ve been to Sri Lanka, Jordan, Thailand and Oman and seen temples, beaches and ways of life you would normally have to wait until a gap year to experience. Plus you stayed in a nice hotel instead of a dingy hostel (you’re welcome) and the only thing in your backpack was a set of felt tip pens and a Leap pad.

- You accept change as easily as ice cream, and adapt to it faster than a cockroach in a nuclear holocaust.

And finally

- You think all this is normal, which means on trips home when you’re collecting conkers or climbing trees or staying at Nanna’s house it’s special and exciting but at the same time, feels like slipping on an old familiar pair of shoes.

The best of both worlds, our kids live a special life that we can barely imagine having as a child, one that is certainly privileged, but doesn’t have to mean spoilt. And for the most part, I think we all do our best to make sure it’s as kept as down to earth as it can possibly be, when, let’s face it, it’s pretty surreal to us parents a lot of the time. But, in 2014, if this is what it means to be one: all hail the expat brat.

 

 

 

 

Life, death and expatriation

It’s my grandad’s funeral today. I’m thousands of miles away listening to my son having his drum lesson before going home to cook dinner and head out to rehearsal for an improv show. Just another day. And the third time I have not made it home to say goodbye to one of my wonderful grandparents. Words cannot convey how desperately sad I feel.

The thing is, I could have gone back. I could have put us on a plane and headed back for a week or so. It’s the Easter holidays and we have the time. But my son’s starting a new school and I don’t want to disrupt him before we begin. In a few months we have to undertake seven weeks of travelling across the world (other people know this as ‘summer’) and I really don’t want to ship him overseas before then if I can help it. And it feels like I only just got back from the last batch of trips, dealing with the sudden and devastating loss of my dad. (Yes, 2014 has been an excellent year so far. Not).

So instead, I’ve elected to stay. I will get home from rehearsal tonight and log into the webcast, and watch the recorded version from the comfort of my living room. It’s great in one way, that technology means I don’t miss it entirely. But it’s a bit macabre watching a funeral on an ipad; it’s not the same as saying goodbye in person, and it doesn’t take into account the complete and utter loneliness of being so far away from everyone else, of not being able to hold my sisters’ hands, or hug my mum, or just have time to reflect and raise a toast with everyone afterwards.

Worse still, no-one who hasn’t had to make the decision understands. I’m sure that there are people reading this and thinking ‘well you should have got on the bloody plane then, if you feel so bad’ – or alternatively, ‘well you get to be away from it all, so it’s not as bad for you.’ Well, this year I’ve done both – made one, missed one. Neither is ideal. Attending your dad’s funeral and then heading straight to the airport because, between the emotional toll, two return trips and the ensuing jet lag you haven’t seen your 4 year old son for the best part of two weeks isn’t exactly a choice I enjoyed making. Not being there at all this time around just fills me with untold amounts of guilt and unresolved grief that I will have to store up for a moment in time when I’m not running about like a nutter or completely dog tired and have a moment to myself to think about it all. The third way – being there already so you don’t have to make all these decisions – isn’t really in my control.

It’s the worst, most terrible thing about being an expat – being torn between two lives and knowing that commitment to either at a time like this will always, in some way, be the wrong decision. It’s been a long time since I felt this way about being here: this deep sadness that the choice we have made makes some things harder than they need to be. I know it will pass, that the rawness will fade and be replaced by small, less intense moments of regret. But for today, I think it’s okay to feel sad.

 

The Chicken Song

Cast your minds back….(this one might be for the Brits amongst you, sorry everyone else) Remember it, Spitting Image fans?

‘Its that time of year, now that Spring is in the air
When those two great gits, with their girly curly hair
Make another song for moronic holidays
That nauseate-ate-ate in a million different ways’

Etc. etc.

Why do I still know all the words to this? Because it was played in every bar and club in every holiday town in Europe for the best part of a decade of my – er-hem – ‘formative’ years. And today it’s back, running through my mind with the ease of an olympic sprinter and driving me slowly crazy. ‘Why?’ I hear you cry. Well, it’s that time of year. (‘It’s that time of year….’ see?) Despite the rain (yes, RAIN) this week and the glorious resurrection of jeans and t-shirts just when we all thought bikini season was upon us, the pre-summer buzz has begun. And with it, the inevitable annual friend cull. This year I’m losing a few acquaintances, and, as seems to happen each time I think it’s safe to come out, one very dear friend, who has the audacity to return home just when I’d got used to the idea of her being a permanent fixture.

It’s that time of year. (It’s that time of year…arghhhh) The bit where I am trying not to write off the ones who are going but at the same time knowing I will have to fend for myself when they are gone. A cloud of aloneness wafts over my skyline and although I know I will be fine, and there will be others come (and probably go again), the friends that truly have become part of your life are hard to let go of. It’s difficult to accept starting over again. Again. And when you’re as picky as me, losing a few friends actually creates quite a hole in life.

This year is the first year that my son is losing friends too. He’s sad, that a few people are moving away who he’s got to know and like. He wants to know why they are going home and we are not. He doesn’t understand why they are leaving, and is insistent we will visit them in California/Oklahoma/Switzerland/Australia. He is asking about his other friends, and whether they will leave too, one day, and if we will see them again either. He says we can skype them but I’m not sure he believes we will.

He’s starting to sound an awful lot like me.

So to cheer him and me up, and for the rest of you who weren’t living in the UK in the 80s and therefore have no idea why I’ve called this post ‘The Chicken Song’, here’s a link. Listen at your peril, it’s not one that’s weathered the passage of time particularly well (although unless you’re on your seventh pint in some hell hole in Magaluf, I’m not sure it ever did).

It’s might be a bit soggy in my desert world this week, but I feel it. The heat is on, the crazy is coming and the goodbyes are looming. It’s that time of year.

Master of Expatriation

I found this today, and have proudly declared myself a ‘Master of Expatriation’. One part of me is glad I only just found it, the other half thinks it would have explained a whole lot about life that I’ve spent nearly a decade trying to figure out. Ah well. Here it is for all of you, to save you some time thinking you’ve got everything sussed when in fact you are merely ‘competent’.

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 13.55.35

Where are you on this chart?