There’s No Place Like Home

Where’s My Ruby Slippers? is five years old this month, and it’s with huge reluctance that I’ve decided it’s time to say goodbye. I’ve been in London for nearly a year now and my expat life, the full technicolour version that I once lived, is most definitely filed in ‘memories’. I have a full and happy life here, that I love, and it’s not taken anywhere near as much time or effort as I once feared it would. Occasionally it’s tinged with the sadness of it not being where I was, and often it’s saturated with the exhaustion that comes with the territory of building a new life. It’s doesn’t feel like I never left, though, doesn’t feel like I’ve wandered back into my old self; I’m a different person, in a different world, and I never expected it to be anything else. I’m glad it’s not.

As I slowly sink into life here, I become steadily, softly ejected from the old life in Dubai. The messages and skype calls and everyday contact so prevalent just a few months ago, are diminishing. Photos appear, of my friends’ smiling faces, their arms wrapped around strangers I will never know. And of course, there have been more goodbyes. I watch from afar (well, okay, from Facebook) as the people I once cherished in my everyday begin to scatter to the four winds and return home, or continue their journey around the world. It was always inevitable. And I know in those moments when news of the next departure reaches me, that I will most likely never see them again. And each time another one leaves, I am sad, not just because it is another friendship confined to the realms of social media, but because I feel my ties to the city I used to call home being cut, one by one by one.

One day there will be no one left there, and I wonder if, when this happens, I’ll ever go back. Our son was born there; I used to believe that this fact would bind us, even if the near-decade we spent there was slowly erased by time and the absence of familiar faces. But even a year on, I’m not sure it’s enough. I’m not sure, when everyone is gone, what will be left. A holiday destination; a place we once lived; but a home? No, I don’t think so.

Is London home now? Nearly. Not quite, yet; we’re about to move house again and there’s still a hundred things I don’t know about, don’t know how to do, not sure how to get there. But I know that it’s only a matter of time. I am happy, abundant with friends old and new; I have accomplished an enormous amount in a year that I know I couldn’t have dreamt of achieving ten years ago and I have my expat life to thank for that. I’m proud and amazed at myself, that I did it better this time around, without too many tears or fights or slow lonely days and nights – and given my tendency to be glass half empty, that I did it with so much joy. Life is full, life is good, in a thousand different ways. And because it’s good, and because I’m just getting on with things, it feels like it might be time to say goodbye to my Ruby Slippers. To keep writing about this part of my life – to keep one foot in the doorway of my old self – stops me moving forward to something new. And if there’s one thing expat life has taught me above all else, it’s to embrace change. So although it’s with an incredibly heavy heart, I think it’s time to close up shop.

Of course, I am a writer, and so there is always something new to be said. I’ve started another blog that feels like it might be a better fit with my life as it is now, and I hope you’ll take a look. You can find me at www.fortysomethingfeminist.com , where I am not entirely sure what I’ll be writing about yet, but it’s safe to say I’ll be busy embracing the consequences of being a woman hurtling towards middle age. Fun times lol.

So, it’s not ‘goodbye’; it’s ‘au revoir’. I like to think that the pages of this blog will remain relevant to many of you, and I hope that the time isn’t too far away when There’s No Place Like Home makes it into print, as I always intended it would. I’ll be sure to shout it from the rooftops when it does! In the meantime, with all my heart I thank everyone who has supported me in so many ways and taken this enormous journey alongside me – in real time or virtual. It was an honour, and I will miss you and this funny old life of ours enormously.

Ruby Slippers
xxx

home 3

 

 

 

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RAD (Repat Adjustment Disorder)

So, hey, Happy New Year.

Is it too late to say that now it’s nearly February? Well, I am anyway. January, much like December, November, October, September, and most of last summer, seems to have shot by me at the speed of light. I keep wondering why it feels like my feet haven’t touched the ground since the clocks changed, and yet IT’S STILL WINTER.

It’s been winter here for a very long time. I’m not going all British on you and complaining about the weather; far from it – it’s been unusually warm here for the time of year and there’s only been a couple of dark mornings scraping ice off the car windows so I really am not complaining. Also on Saturday I sat in a beer garden, outside, with only a blanket around me, and my fingers didn’t start falling off from frostbite until nearly two hours had passed. So no, that’s not what I mean.

What I mean is the dark. And I don’t mean the dark nights. Living in Dubai, it gets dark pretty early all year round. We don’t have those blissful European summer nights spent sipping rose in the half light at 10pm. But even on the shortest days of winter, it actually gets light. And this is what I’m struggling with: the lack of light. Anyone that knows me will know I loathe the house we moved into in London specifically due to the lack of light. It’s north facing, or wrong facing or whatever; basically I have to have the lights on in my kitchen, living room and office 24/7/365 in order to see anything at all. This has produced many days of procrastination over sitting in the house writing, because dark rooms doth not a creative make. Not this creative, anyway.

So in order to live a more fulfilling life in a hundred different ways, I’ve focused on getting out of the house, out of the dark and into the light I sometimes see lurking outside the windows in the grey distance. Meetings, breakfasts, brunches, lunches; nights out, days out, weekends away; working and writing and dragging my laptop around with a general sense that if only I am not sitting in the dark, I will not procrastinate, and I will get on with things.

Which made me a very busy person. In between laundry loads and grocery store trips, parenting and house keeping, I tried to fit in running a business, producing and directing an improv show, editing my old book, writing a new one, plus a million other projects and social functions, all with as little contact as possible with my desk. And to balance it all, to be efficient and charming and creative and funny and logical and entrepreneaurial and a good parent, IT’S NOT POSSIBLE. I’ve written a thousand times about ‘having it all’ and I think we’ve all come a long way since 2012 or so and know that not only is it not possible, it’s totally undesirable. And so, as the year came to a close, I took my foot off the accelerator and realised that I’ve been doing way, way too much in order to stop remembering I left another life behind. In doing so, I’d created a life that was super busy, but didn’t leave me time to find meaning in any of it. I’d created Repat Adjustment Disorder: The bit where you forget to be you.

So it’s a new year and I’m in (slightly) better control of things. I’ve stopped running around networking for jobs; the work will come to me and I will do that work, but I’m not going to hunt it down – not for the time being, anyway. The improv show is nearly up and running – first performance 10th February (eek!) – so the time that has taken in planning, casting, rehearsing and administrating is diminishing at a rapid rate. The first book is done and submitted. The new one is waiting in the wings. Instead of escaping my hell hole of an office I’ve resolved to tidy it up (it’s a total shit tip which hasn’t been helping) and on sunny days – or days where it’s not raining – take a walk to get some fresh air, and take time off from the rest of life to enjoy the limited daylight on offer.

So far, it seems to be working. I feel far calmer. I have whole days where I come home from school drop off, turn off my social media and email, and sit down to write. It all feels far less lonely than I was scared it would, and I think that’s in large part due to the fact that I don’t need as many people in my life as I thought I did. Repatriation is part planning, part panic – just the same as expatriation, I suppose. You cast the net wide and say yes to everything in fear of being left alone crying in the car about having nothing and no one, and it leaves you with no quality time, no time to figure out how you want to spend your life or who you want to be. Putting the breaks on everything, taking time to be alone, and realise that I’m not lonely, has been the best thing I could have done.

I suppose this post isn’t really about much in particular. I don’t have a point, in the strictest sense; I just felt like sitting down and writing and sharing with you where I’m at. I’m sure lots of people who haven’t just moved countries feel like this too. But so many people have voiced how in awe they are of how much I’ve done, of what I’ve achieved since we returned. And that’s been nice, to have people say that. But also, it made me realise it’s not normal. And sometimes it pays to be a bit more normal. There’s hitting the ground running, and there’s doing it at a speed that won’t just graze your knees, it will obliterate you entirely if you don’t stop in time. There are benefits I’m reaping from fast tracking myself these past six months, but it’s time to put on the brakes a little and start to enjoy the moment.

And with that, it’s time to go for a walk.

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.

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.

…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.

 

Gone, girl (nearly).

So. Here’s the thing. We’re leaving Dubai.

Oh yes. It’s quite true. The flights are bought, the packers are booked, the school is secured, and we’re gone, as of June, off to the grey skies of London town, after nine years and two months away.

NINE YEARS. This city, this expat life, has changed me so much, and been such a pivotal part of my life. I can hardly bear to think it is over. I will have plenty more to say, but I’m a little stressed, a little sleep deprived, and a lot emotional. Having spent the week breaking the news to people and trying not to get upset on too many occasions, I admit I’ve cried in coffee shops, teared up in living rooms and sobbed in the car (For sale: RAV4, one lady driver, 82,000 kms, black, 2009, new tyres, PM me if you’re interested) on numerous occasions. I’m a tad drained; I move from excited to devastated and back again on an hourly basis.

Suffice to say there are upsides and downsides. Expect more on both of these subjects just as soon as I have garnered enough energy to blog about it. But I just thought you should know. I’m going home. Or not. I haven’t quite figured it out yet…

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