The boxes are the least important

Well. Here we are. Here I am. We’re six months in, and I’m standing at the school gates offering advice to a teacher at my son’s school as she embarks on her maiden expat voyage to New York. ‘The boxes are the least important bit,’ I say, before wishing her good luck. And as I walk towards the car, I think ‘maybe it’s time to blog.’

Some may consider this a tad overdue, but I would disagree. I write when I feel compelled to do so, and quite simply, I haven’t felt compelled in quite a while. There wasn’t much to say. I was getting on with things, it all seemed to be going well, and I didn’t care to dwell on it too much. After that, I had stuff to say but I wasn’t sure how to say it. And then I got too busy and it seemed like I’d be writing out of a sense of duty, in that awkward apologetic mode, like anyone really cares whether I put pen to paper or not. But now, I sort of think that maybe I’m ready.

Six months. It feels like yesterday I dragged my sorry, hungover arse onto the plane and few away from my old home, towards my new one; and yet so much has happened, you could tell me it was light years ago that we left and I wouldn’t argue with you.

The family have, by and large, settled in well. The boy is making friends, and although he desperately misses his best friend from Dubai, he seems to have accepted that they won’t be seeing each other any time soon, and that life must move on. He’s happy in school, seems happy with his life, and mentions Dubai less and less. I don’t think he’ll ever forget it, but I see him making fewer comparisons as the months go by, and as his life fills up I’m sure it will become nothing much more than a distant memory. It’s a relief, that he is so content, but mixed with a large dash of sadness, that a part of his life is gone and consigned to the memory pile before it was really time. But there’s no denying, it’s mainly relief, that his transition has been easy and he’s embraced life in London with such joy. You can’t ask for more than that, and it makes me incredibly happy to watch him flourish and grow in his new world.

So my job in terms of parenting this move, is pretty much done. I can relax a bit now, and turn my attention to all the other things in my life. Not the boxes, obviously; there are still plenty of those, lurking in corners and in the attic where I can’t see them and don’t have to unpack them. Not that there’s much point, because the house we rented is a pile of crap. We love where we live; we just don’t love what we live in. Sigh. There were bound to be problems moving to a house you’d only ever seen on a video, I suppose, but I didn’t quite bank on moving again so soon. The Rightmove and Zoopla apps remain on my phone and the reminders come weekly, advertising potential properties to rent or buy. It’s the one cock up, the fly in the ointment; it’s not bad enough to make us miserable, but it doesn’t make us happy either. Mainly, what doesn’t make me happy is the idea that I’m going to have to box up the sodding house all over again in six months. Still, I mutter on a regular basis, once it’s done, it’s done. It’s only moving house, not countries. A walk in the park, right?!

So, what of me? Well, I finished my book. It’s out there, submitted, and I live in hope that someone will love the idea of 200 pages of expat life and put it into print. I’ve had a short story published here, another one sadly rejected, and I’m tackling the idea of starting a novel in January. I’ve made friends with some of the mums at school and have organised a little festive drink this week to seal our friendship, which was met with great enthusiasm. This means an awful lot to me. It’s been lovely, to meet new people and be so welcomed by them. I value them enormously, even after such a short time, and look forward to the years I will be spending with them a great deal.

I accidentally started two businesses, which has been interesting, challenging and a bit stressful to say the least. The first one, to be fair, wasn’t accidental; I was hoping to build up some copywriting work once the summer was over, and miraculously, September and October went crazy thanks to a single client who suddenly put a lot of work my way. I was ON FIRE. I was psyched. I was king of the friggin’ world. Then November hit, the jobs finished and I realised I had nothing. No pipeline of work, no network, and no idea where to start. As a result I’ve spent much of the past month swinging between wanting to network the crap out of everyone I meet, and shutting myself in a room to avoid having to do anything that might involve putting myself out there. I am terrified I will fail. And so, I have learnt the first harsh lesson of being a new-born freelance writer: not only is it really hard to win clients when no one understands why they need you (‘It’s just writing; everyone can write…right?’) it’s also a lonely, lonely job and no one is just going to roll over and pay you money because you asked them to.

The same goes for friendship, as it does for entrepreneurship. No one is going to be friends with you unless you make it happen. That goes for new friends and old. It’s hard but necessary work – yes, work – to manufacture a brand new social life, that at times has been just as stressful as running a business. This is where my homesickness kicks in, where I desperately miss my life in Dubai. Where I was out working acting jobs in the day, or on stage by night, with my best friends; where I would nip for breakfast with the girls before wandering home to write in a room bathed in sunlight; where I could head for a glass of wine bathed in a warm evening breeze and laugh, carefree and content. In contrast, after school drop off each day in London, I head back home to, I suppose, what most people in the world who don’t have live-in help probably head back to: laundry, clearing up the breakfast stuff, putting the bins out and cleaning up cat shit. Once that’s done, I debate going to the gym, decided against it, and head to my desk. I sit, lonely and silent, in a room which never gets light. I try not to get distracted by social media, which I stalk in the vain hope of getting some attention, and at my lowest points, live my former life vicariously through the photos and status updates of my Dubai friends. And then I realise I need to get out of the house and do something that actually means I won’t go crazy.

And that’s where business no. 2 comes in. I have inadvertently become the producer of an improv show, launching in February. I didn’t mean to, I just wanted to do my hobby and meet some people…but it sort of turned into a big monster truck of a thing and apparently I’ve ended up behind the wheel. But no matter. THIS is where I will come alive; this is where I feel myself, where I can embrace the crazy and laugh about stuff. I know it will come, and I know it will make me happy…I’m struggling to not wish time away so that I can get there faster. In the meantime, it’s giving me purpose and confidence to carry on, and stay positive, and it’s probably the most vital thing I could be doing for myself. Luckily, both men in my life can see that too, and let me loose each Saturday to indulge myself, so that I come home revitalised and smiling, ready to take on whatever is next.

And boy do I need to be revitalised. It is an understatement to say I’m tired. I’m completely, utterly exhausted. This year, like last year, has been a full 365 days of stress. More people died who we cared about. We’ve left our lives behind, we’ve moved house, and started over. We’ve been on planes, lived out of suitcases, and spent months negotiating the unknown. We’ve worked really hard to get to this point and remain sane, loving people. It feels like we’ve achieved a great deal and for the most part, life is good. I have few complaints and more importantly, no regrets. Repatriation has been kind to us, but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been an awful lot of work. It continues to be. It’s part of the reason I’ve not really blogged and written very little, in a creative sense. I don’t have the energy, or the brain space, or the time to devote to writing swathes of text. I haven’t travelled anywhere to inspire me, haven’t gazed at the stars, or the desert, or the mountains, or even sat by a pool in the heat of the sun. To be honest, more than anything else, I’m gagging for a sunbed and a book and about 48 hours of undisturbed peace and quiet, and I expect I’ll feel that way until I get it.

I’m not sure when I will blog again. It’s been hard to write this, to put into words the myriad of feelings and experiences I’ve had about the past few months. It’s a rollercoaster: some days you’re high, others you’re low, and sometimes you just feel like you might throw up in someone’s coat hood in front of you. But the thrill of it all, the rush of the ride makes it worth while. And I had to write it down for you. Mainly to avoid the rest of the boxes.

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Expat to Repat: Moving forward, not back.

We moved out of our house in Dubai on 11 June. Since then we’ve stayed in seven different beds, living out of our suitcases and trying to hang on to some semblance of sanity despite the incredible strain of leaving, then arriving, and all the in between. Anyone who hasn’t done it – there is just no point in trying to explain to you how completely emotionally and physically draining this period of displacement has been and expect you to appreciate what the hell I’m talking about. It’s beyond stressful – beyond feeling, even, in many ways. And yet, because we’re somewhere we’ve been before, it’s a constant battle not to beat myself up about not being ecstatic, or even comfortable with being here for large portions of time. Although I know this is where we are now, I’ve accepted we have left Dubai and I’m okay about being in London, I’m not really sure what happens now to turn it into my actual life, or how long that might take. There’s no explaining that feeling.

I’ve had so many people say things like ‘look on the bright side, you’re home now’ or ask me things like ‘how does it feel to be back?’ and the answer is, to these questions and the many like it: I’m not home. I’m not back anywhere. It’s SO foreign. It shouldn’t be – but it is. I’m somewhere that I know, that is familiar, sure; but we’ve been gone so long, changed so much, and become different people in the time away that I can’t possibly say that we are ‘back’. And it isn’t home either. Home can’t just be switched on like a tap. It takes an enormous amount of time, to make the place you are living into the place you call home.

The bright side I can look on, is that the journey is over, and we are living in the most gorgeous part of London that I already love. The weather helps, of course, because it’s been mostly splendid since the container arrived and our stuff was tipped, jimmied and jammed into the new house. We’ve been here for 2 weeks now, and I’m sitting in rather idyllic conditions, up on my roof deck, with a view of the London skyline silhouetted against perfect blue skies. My shoulders are a bit burnt from a morning at the park, and from our picnic on the common yesterday, and I’m wondering when is a good time to have my first glass of rose. I’ve got a baby sitter sorted for the next few weeks so that DH and I can go for dinner, I have a few play dates lined up to get us out of the house and I still can’t quite get over the fact that in a minute I’ll order my shopping online and it will arrive sometime tomorrow. I’ve booked tickets for shows, seen my sister for drinks and in a shock move my mother called me on the phone this week because it wasn’t going to cost her 27p a minute. I spent half the call trying to figure out the time difference before I realised there wasn’t one.

I’m incredibly tired, but I don’t feel as stressed as I was, even though I know I am still very, very stressed – I know that it’s going to take more than a few days to undo the past three months. Little bits of it keep popping out now and then, when I just want to be left alone for five minutes so I don’t ‘go postal’ and I pretend to go to the toilet just to put my head in my hands and scream silently at the mirror (it’s been a VERY long school holiday), or when I can’t get the TV to work properly, or when I look at the rest of the boxes I haven’t unpacked yet and I can’t actually bear the thought of touching them. I’ve only really lost the plot once and broken down in floods of tears wailing that I want to go back to Dubai. And I had a bit of a meltdown about getting the car out of a tight spot earlier. But mainly, I’ve been okay, not too sad, not to glad, just sort of waking up each day waiting to see if I veer one way or the other.

Repatriation is hard – harder in many ways than leaving in the first place. I’m scared to recommit to friendships in case I get rejected, yet I’m desperate to reconnect so I don’t feel lonely. But its hard to fit in where once we didn’t have to. Relationships that have been nurtured on the foundation of twice-yearly visits for nearly a decade can’t turn back into weekly coffees, dinner parties and drinks in town overnight. In fact, that will never happen, because everyone else’s life is already ticking along quite nicely, and we are just a small change to their matrix. We’ve been gone too long to be anything else. Not that people aren’t happy to see us, but after the initial welcome home I know that we have to find our own way, and not imagine that we can go back to the life we had before.

So it’s inevitable, that this relatively peaceful part of re-entry won’t last. I know that the enormity of moving hasn’t hit fully, and that there will still be moments when I feel ten times more lonely than I do now, and I’m going to wish more than once in the next few months that we hadn’t left Dubai. The weather will get shitty, probably way before school starts again, and I’ll be driving around in the rain cursing and trying not to cry because I’m lost and can’t work the sat nav, and then DH will come home and I’ll yell at him for something that isn’t his fault and tell him I hate it here, hate him for moving us back, hate his job, hate my lonely, rotten, wasted life…you get the picture. It will, of course, be code for ‘I’m missing my old life, where I knew everything and everywhere and everyone, and all this is strange and new and I don’t know how to do anything, or where anything is, or who to be anymore.’ When you move abroad, it’s called ‘Culture Shock’. When you return, it’s called ‘sort it out, FFS’. And I will sort it out. Time will make these things fade and disappear, eventually, and I just have to accept that. Experience tells me this, and wraps me in a sort of comforting blanket of expattiness, that I will get through; that we will survive. (Gosh I sound so dramatic. It’s the stress, I’m telling you).

And as long as I remind myself of this once in a while, that life will just take time to form into the thing we want it to be, I think things will be okay. Embrace the old, but explore the new. It’s scary, but we’ll get there. It’s just another step forward, another adventure. It’s fine. I’ve done it before.

I think it’s time for that glass of rose.

…gone

And then we got on a plane.

It was all a bit surreal in the end. The week leading up to the big day was teeming with horrific goodbyes; I think I stopped wearing make up sometime around Tuesday and by Thursday literally couldn’t speak to anyone without crying. Leaving Dubai was without doubt one of the saddest moments of my life, knowing that everything – the good bits and the bad, the adventure we’d undertaken all those years back – was well and truly over. I tried looking back over my Facebook posts for the past six months to see what I’d done to make the most of it all: BIG mistake. I’ve resolved not to do that again for a while. It hurts too much to see it all now I know it’s really gone.

In a rather inconvenient turn of events, the day before we left, the boy developed a fever. It was no big surprise; firstly, the whole city is rife with kids coughing and sneezing and throwing up at this time of year, and secondly, his school decided the best thing to do three days before the end of term, to make sure absolutely everyone left for the holidays with a virus, was to take them to a soft play area for their end of year school trip – complete with ‘make your own pizza’ activity, which involved about a fifty pairs of germ infested hands lurking about in vats of grated cheese and not much chance of getting your own pizza back at the end. Guaranteed to end in a 39 degree fever, obviously.

So instead of sitting back and sipping my champagne in First class (thanks Air Miles) gazing wistfully out of the window at the city I call home getting smaller and smaller while I sobbed into my smoked salmon canapes, I spent the first half of the flight worrying about the boy’s temperature and hoping his symptoms would ease up before we arrived at Heathrow and got taken into some sort of Ebola quarantine tent. Also, having been awake the entire night before administering various combinations of Nurofen and Calpol, plus nursing my own colossal hangover (physical and emotional) from my final leaving dinner 48 hours earlier, I was exhausted. I fell asleep before the plane even took off and in a reverse biblical moment of sorts, never even had chance to look back.

Arrival in London was, at best, mechanical. We got into the apartment we were borrowing, threw more drugs down the boy’s neck, and discussed what the hell to do with him given we weren’t registered with a doctor. This resulted in a Sunday afternoon outing to A&E, the first thing we did as a family in our new city. We sat for 2 delightful hours in a grim waiting room on what was one of the best days of weather in London for about ten years, only to be told it was flu.

The next few days passed in a haze of more Nurofen, very little sleep, a lot of children’s TV and absolutely no adult company at all from 7.30am to 6.30pm every day. This, by the way, is torture for an extrovert attention seeking horror show like myself. I tried really hard not to let it get to me but the stress and loneliness and emotional exhaustion of the whole debacle meant I knew I was fighting a losing battle. By Day Three I could hear the shrillness in my voice, the resentment, the anger at having to, I don’t know what really – cope with it all. I didn’t have the strength for it, hadn’t prepared for it, and didn’t want to deal with it. In the end, of course, I had to. My little man was a total trouper as we trekked via buses and tube trains to yet another doctor for a second opinion – where – guess what – a chest infection was finally diagnosed. Yay.

It was a miserable week. At the end of it, we got on another plane, and finally we are at a point in the journey where I know I can relax. I’m sitting staring at the Atlantic ocean now from our wonderful second (first? third?) home by the sea somewhere north of Boston. I feel more at home than I have done since our container left, and the relief at feeling like we’re somewhere familiar, somewhere we actually belong, is amazing. The boy is getting better and the sun is shining and I spent the morning wandering around galleries and shops, lunchtime sipping rose and gazing at sailboats in the water and the afternoon at the beach. I am healing. I know I am, because whereas I’ve avoided blogging all week despite ample opportunity while various episodes of ‘Andy’s Dinosaur Adventures’ has been on, today I could actually sit down to write this coherently.

I know this is the bit in between – two weeks of respite from real life, whatever that means.  I don’t know what happens next. But for now I can quietly repair and prepare myself for the coming few months, when everything will be thrown into the air again and life will undoubtedly be tumultuous. We are gone, and we are not there yet. We are somewhere in between, and right now, that feels like the right place to be.

Still going…

So, the container left yesterday. There were tears. There’s been a lot of tears this week, and tantrums, mainly in the car to and from places behind the relative safety of my sunglasses so I don’t upset/annoy/embarrass the very people I’m crying over. I’m trying to be mature about the whole thing. Trying not to sulk about leaving. Trying, goddammit, to leave well. (I rue the day I ever heard that phrase). But every time I think I’ve nailed it, something happens, and it’s the last time it will happen, or the last time I will go there, or the last time I will see that person, and my world comes crumbling down again.

I know London is going to be great in so many ways. It’s not going there that I’m sulking about, it’s leaving here. Although, I am sure, as long as it’s not pissing down with rain when we get there, that London will score heavily over Dubai almost instantly, in that it’s pretty much a guarantee I won’t have to stand unloading a container in 45 degree heat. I don’t think I have EVER been as hot as I was yesterday, sitting by the truck ticking off 265 boxes of our stuff on a bingo sheet as they made their way into their metal hulk of a home for the next weeks.No bottle of cold beer has ever been more welcome than the one I popped last night after it was all over. A friend swung by on a mid-morning mercy trip with 24 bottles of water after we ran dry in the house, took one look at the state of me and offered an oscillating fan on an extension cord from the garage, which I refused out of kinship with my packing team. I was okay. I would survive. Of course I regretted the decision around about school pick up when I had a six pack of salt-sweat marks on my vest top and a sunburnt forehead. But I didn’t dare complain, because at least I wasn’t the poor sod lifting my 265 boxes onto the truck. Those guys are amazing to do what they do. Bloody amazing. The bloke that came to pick up some of our furniture at the weekend spouting ‘sorry I’m late, I’m just waiting for my monkeys to turn up’ nearly got knocked out cold by me on the spot. Working in this heat, lifting and carrying someone else’s shit for a pittance of a pay packet…anyone doing it deserves a bloody medal, a hefty tip and a whole lot of respect.

So anyway, now it’s over, and it feels a bit weird because I actually have some time on my hands. As in, I’ve got a stack of things still to do, but I’m not running about like a headless chicken. I’m in purgatory, caught between one world and the next and it all feels very weird. So of course, I’ve spent the day closing bank accounts and shopping for teacher gifts and having a healthy lunch for once and generally trying to ignore thinking about the next bit: getting on the plane.

I don’t want to deal with it. I  keep thinking about it and wigging out. I know it’s just an emotional time and I’ll get over it, but I’m so tired of feeling this way. I don’t feel ready for a new adventure. I like this one, thanks very much. Another one just feels like a lot of work. But, inevitably, I’m slowly coming around to the fact that we just NEED TO GO. I know, deep down, that I’m done. I’ve said my goodbyes, drunk my own bodyweight in beer, made my peace with the fact that the next 6+ months are going to be exultant and arduous in equal terms, and now I just want to get there, get the keys, unpack, stop mourning my old life and get on with the new one. It’s so difficult, letting go, and this bit is the worst, when you know you are nearly on the plane but there’s still time left, which inevitably gets spent with dear friends that you end up even more emotionally vested in than you were before. It’s some kind of torture, then, to finally let go, and walk away.

Even though we aren’t planning a return to live, leaving is not a finite act. We have too many ties not to come here again. I lived half my adult life in Dubai and I can’t act like it never happened. I refuse to act like it never happened. It’s just too much part of who I am. But I know from bitter experience, it takes discipline not to cling on too hard, not to imagine that I can keep my life on ice and pick up where I left off when I pop back here for weekends or holidays. Especially in Dubai, where the expat merry go round spins in continuous motion, I can’t ever come back thinking that it – or I – will be the same as I left it.

Maybe it takes the experience, of leaving, and of being left, to understand and accept that moving on as an expat is bigger than simply changing countries, or going home. I know that when I leave Dubai, I cease to exist. Or at least, cease to exist in the way that I existed before. I will never be the same person again, as I am right now: not even close. That is the loss I am dealing with, that is the pain I feel, the thing that I am mourning.  And no doubt I will spend a large portion of the next few months figuring out where the balance lies: figuring out how to be happy and ‘at home’ in one place and the graceful alumni of the other. Figuring out who I am next.

But for now, I just have to remember to pack my sunglasses for the plane.

…get set…

And suddenly, we’re four weeks away from leaving. My days and nights are crammed with coffees, lunches, dinners, drinks and shows with the best of my friends, in a frantic attempt to make up for the fact that after June 27th, the door will slowly close on all the wonderful times we’ve shared together and things will never be the same again.

My last show at The Courtyard Playhouse was on Saturday. It was a 12-hour Improvathon to raise money for the Children of the Mountain Nepal Earthquake disaster fund. We managed to raise over Dhs 10,000 on the day through sponsorship and donations on the door. If you want to donate, you can contribute here.

The day(and night) was magical. We had a lot of fun, and the audience did too – as you can see here from this rather amusing video taken from one of the shows, there were several silly moments – and a whole lot of laughs. And then there were the tears. At the end of a three year adventure that began in a living room with a bunch of random socially challenged egomaniacs making stuff up, it was a true privilege to perform together one final time to a packed out audience in our wonderful theatre that for me has become synonymous with home.

It’s heartbreaking to know it’s all over. Four of us are leaving, and it was the last performance for all of us. An incredibly emotional day – and given the hole left in our original cast of nine after the massacre is over, not just for the ones of us who are going. While the show must – and will – go on (even I am not big headed enough to think I am irreplaceable), it will never be the same. I feel terrible that I’ve played a part in that – guilty, that I’ve betrayed them in that way. Sorry, my friends, so sorry.

I stood, for a while after the show was over, and watched as audience and performers mingled, and chatted and laughed together. I hugged a few people. I cried quite a lot. I said some goodbyes – to people I’ve taught, people who taught me, people I’ve worked alongside, people who I don’t even know but who’ve been to see the shows and know me, if not by name then by sight. I sat in the front row for a bit, taking it all in. Then I knew what had to be done – the moment I’d been dreading. It was a terribly quiet moment; a contrast to the raucous but comforting noise all around me. I found my friend and stage partner, Erik, who’s also repatriating. I could see he was as lost as me. ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘it’s time to go.’ I knew he felt the same; he didn’t want to leave either; it was just too final. But in true improv style, without saying anything else, we held hands, quietly walked the few paces to the back,stepped through the curtain, and with a deep breath, left the stage.

And just like that, the adventure was over. There were drinks, and more tears, and speeches, and more giggles, for hours after, and I know life here, with them, will continue for a few weeks yet. But leaving the stage – saying that goodbye – was the end of something truly wonderful. My time here is something I will remember and cherish forever.

It’s pretty much how I’m thinking leaving Dubai itself will be. A glance back at my lovely friends, the knowledge that I have to leave them to their lives, their conversations, to each other – that I have to let go – and step over some invisible threshold (let’s call it the doors of an A380)  quietly, without any fuss, into the next chapter. It all feels so wrong at the moment, like I’m not ready; I keep feeling that there must be some way of making it last.

But there isn’t. I realise, now, what people mean about leaving well vs. leaving happy. I’m not going to leave happy. Oh no. I’m going to be devastated – I already am devastated – and no doubt my poor husband will cop the worst of it for a while to come. But I believe I am leaving well. I’ve jacked in the idea that anything – work, writing, packing, planning – is more important than just spending time with people until I go. Not just any old people, but the ones that I want to say ‘I love you’, ‘I’ll miss you’, ‘I think you’re an amazing friend/mother/person’ to; friends I want to keep, even though we are miles apart; friends I will treasure in the future as much as the ones I am returning to in the UK after so many years.

And as much as I am clinging on to life here right now, when the time comes, I know I have to go without regret. And I will. I have no regrets. What a phenomenal and special journey this has been. And continues to be. I am so glad I had it – so thrilled to have experienced all of it, even the bad bits, but especially the good. I feel strong even though I am sad; I know things will be okay even though I am scared; I know I want to go as much as I want to stay. I’m older and wiser than I was when I left home and I know that great things lie ahead and this isn’t the end of life by far. It doesn’t stop me feeling sad, but it helps to know I’ll get over it (eventually). I think this is what is meant by ‘leaving well’.

So with four weeks to go, I embrace it all, taking in every moment, loving every part, before disappearing quietly from this, my wonderful stage.

 

On your marks…

Hang on a minute while this relocation thing turns into a full time job. God, if I thought moving house last year was an effort, it pales into insignificance in comparison to moving countries. With eight weeks to go I thought I had everything in the bag, but the horrible realisation that I’ve only scratched the surface is beginning to dawn. I did the entire ‘leaving Dubai’ bit in about two days. I forgot that the ‘arrive in London’ bit would be slightly more daunting.

Let’s take the house hunting to begin with. I thought I was organised. I’ve been looked online for months, since the whole ‘we might be going to London’ thing reared it’s ugly head. I know the market inside out. So you’d think it would be a quick job to put together a list of places to view when I go to London next week for my recce.

How mistaken you would be. I’ve just spent the best part of two hours tonight emailing and conversing with estate agents about viewings next week. Prior to that I spent a full week researching the houses I wanted to view, and another afternoon over the weekend printing out the particulars, seeing where they were on a map, and figuring out how far each one was to the school and the station, to make sure the men in my life are fully catered for. It doesn’t matter to me where the house is; at the moment I can’t envisage when I might leave it.

For starters I have no friends. I mean, I do, but not the sort that pick your son up from school if you need to, I dunno, work or something. Not the kind that live just around the corner, who will take your little cherub for the afternoon so you can get some unpacking done, do the housework, or sit rocking gently in a corner lamenting the state of your unmanicured nails. I leave all those friends behind in Dubai. And to get new versions I need to wait for school to start. And probably join the PTA, dammit. (Sobs. Stamps feet.) So I have to accept that I will be doing most of this on my own. Which means I need to be in control of the entire move. Which means I have to organise it. Everything, from the container packing to the paperwork we take on the plane; from the cat boarding to new uniform shopping; from dawn ’til dusk everyday this task will be mine, to sort, order, plan and plot, all while I entertain my lovely little boy.

Because before any of that making friends stuff happens we have the summer holidays. Which, due to an early finish in Dubai and a late start in London, are approximately ten and a half weeks long. TEN AND A HALF WEEKS. WTF am I going to do with a five year old for TEN AND A HALF WEEKS?? With no toys until the container arrives? Whenever the hell that is. So I have the summer to plan as well, on top of the move. Where shall we go, what shall we do? How do we get there? Do we need tickets? I comfort myself with the idea that it might be nearly three months before I have any time to myself again, but at least I can order wine online to be delivered to the house on a regular basis. That’s always assuming my new sim card arrives for my phone and I can get on the internet in the first place.

Maybe we can get in the car and drive somewhere exciting each week, to keep things interesting. Drive? Oh hang on, that would require a car. Back we go to the internet for more research. And a couple more mornings spent test driving various models of small SUVs and MPVs and what the hell is the difference anyway and will any of them will fit in the parking space outside the house that I haven’t found yet? If it doesn’t have a garage or off street parking. (Heads back to check each house on the list for parking – another hour).

Anything else? Leaving dos. Must organise dinner/drinks/coffee/brunch/lunch with everyone. Not too soon though, or they’ll want to do it all over again before we go. I didn’t want a big do with everyone but I’m starting to see the attraction. One do, one date, one time. Hey, does anyone want to organise a leaving do?

What about a cleaner? And a babysitter? When does the container arrive again? Shit, the insurance forms. Don’t forget to fill those in. And the cats. A trip to see the cattery and pay the deposit is another nice little trip to eat up half a morning.

FOR SALE: Yeah, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the woman who wanted to buy my guest bed and came to the house and used the bathroom and came out after five full minutes saying ‘I’ve opened the window’. EWWWW. And left water all over the floor from the bum hose thing. And then didn’t buy the bed. Let’s talk about the toys, the furniture, the bits and bobs, the Dubai wardrobe of shoes and dresses, all too good to throw away but such a friggin’ hassle to sell. Let’s talk about how I’m driving the books to one charity, the toys to another, the boy’s clothes to a third. Another day or two just for distribution. Does anyone want to buy a bed?

And somehow, in all of that, I’m trying to find time to make the most of my last few weeks. But time is leaking away and so are the people. They have their own thing going on, they don’t want to hear about me leaving. I know, because I’ve been there too.

I feel like I’m in between worlds – neither here nor there. I am terrified and sad but I don’t have time to be terrified or sad and no one is interested in me being terrified or sad anyway. I’m excited but I don’t have time for that either, and I keep thinking that being excited is a bit of a fool’s errand, given I’ve got all of the above to get through. I’m not alone, I know; I’ve read several articles doing the rounds at the moment that are kindly being sent to me at every opportunity with titles like ‘The Dark Side of Repatriation’ or telling me things like ‘make sure you leave well, rather than leave happy’. I’m not ungrateful. But just trying to figure out what that means took me the whole of yesterday morning. Personally I think I’ll just be leaving knackered.

Having it all – Part IV

Many moons ago, I sat musing on this blog about what to do with my life. I was bored, frustrated, lonely, quite possibly depressed and was desperate to break out of the stay at home mum mould that I’d put myself into only a year or so before. I thought about it. I wrote about it. I thought about it some more. Then wrote about it again. Lots of people asked me to keep thinking, and keep writing. And then it occurred to me, that thinking and writing for a living probably wasn’t such a bad idea. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d discovered the holy grail of the trailing spouse: a portable career.

I’ve just finished the MA degree that idea, and this blog, led me to. It’s why I’ve not been around a lot, because apparently they don’t give masters degrees out like sweets and you actually have to work pretty hard to get one. No one in real life understands this, of course, and the general assumption is the past two years I’ve been doing quite a lot of what is generally expected of me as a trailing spouse, i.e. drank coffee, got my nails done, hit the mall….and yes, I’ve done all this, but in between it all I’ve also carved out the time to research, draft, edit and market my way into a new episode of my life.

I don’t doubt there will be those who scoff, and mutter I’m just doing it to ‘keep myself busy.’ I’m sure there’ll be talk of ‘it’s just something to do; it’s not like she needs the money.’ (Although any writer worth their salt should know they aren’t in it for the money). It’s assumptions like this that make me get all feministic (is that a word? I should probably know that) and wave my burning bra above my head and say I want to work; in fact I need to work; it’s important to my sanity and self worth – yes, to earn my own money – but more importantly to  achieve something lasting. I want to show my son I’m more than the ‘mommy’ some irritating woman at school keeps referring to me as rather than using my actual name. I want to prove to myself and the rest of the world, that I’m still an actual person with skills that extend further than negotiating school run traffic and baking. I want to keep hold of the idea that I’m my own person, rather than an appendage to my husband or my five year old.

It’s all too easy to lose your identity when you’re a parent, doubly so if you’re a trailing spouse (I know some of you hate that term, by the way, but it is what it is). It’s hard work to have it all. To be the hands-on parent while the other gets on a plane to wherever. To juggle work with pick up time, get the groceries in, remember the cat vaccinations, do the Christmas shopping, wait for the inevitable repairman to come and fix something in the house again, cook dinner, make packed lunches, call relatives several time zones away, shoehorn in a bit of study, or work, and then get up at the crack of dawn and start it all over again; I don’t really care what it looks like from the outside, it’s a lot to manage and still retain some sense of self, no matter how glittery the backdrop might be.

I thought for a long time that you couldn’t have it all. Then I thought you could. Then I realised it really depends on your version of ‘all’. I think in my ideal world, I’d like to rename it ‘having it some’. Some of this, some of that, and a little bit of something else for good measure. I know now, that it’s okay to say no to helping on the PTA, or turn down a job, or blow out a dinner when you just want the time for yourself. I know now that if I don’t fit it in before pick up, it can probably wait until the next day. I know to offer my help and my time to people when it matters – when I know it will be valued, rather than because it’s assumed I’m not doing anything else.

I think the word I’m searching for might be ‘balance’. There’s so much pressure on women to have it all when really it’s just about finding the balance that makes you happy. And I think – I hope – that right now, as I hang up my student hat and start back out on the rocky road to writerly success, I’m lucky enough to have found it.

 www.fayebrann.com