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

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First time expat? Read this.

Bet you’re halfway between elated and exhausted, right about now. You’ve probably done your goodbye party weeks ago; the house is packed up, you’ve shipped your stuff. The kids are enrolled into school, your husband’s been gone for weeks and you’re just about to get on the plane and leave absolutely everything behind. You might have even already arrived. You’re nervous, excited, sad and happy all in one go; you’re hoping the kids settle in quickly and that you can still get PG Tips and Marmite from somewhere and you’ve already given everyone your Christmas dates so they know you’re coming back for regular visits, just like you promised you would. You’ve spent the last three weeks feeling like you’re treading water – like you’ve said goodbye about 10,000 times. You know it’s not forever. It feels like forever. You can’t wait to go but you don’t want to.

You’re nearly there. Or you’ve just arrived. Welcome to being an expat. A thousand experiences and challenges await. But something’s already happened: you’ve changed. Life has changed you. You’ve taken a step away from everything familiar and put adventure at the top of the list of things to do. Here’s my list for you to mull over, in the coming days, weeks and months: Ten thoughts on moving and living abroad.

1. No matter what you think life will be like, it will be different. You will be different. You can try and stay the same, try to squeeze the shape of your old life into the new one. But  you will not return the same person, if indeed you return at all.

2. You’ll find yourself high on the experience one moment and crashing down the next, and you won’t be able to predict when or how or what will set you off. It’s not you: it’s culture shock. Even a culture that seems to be familiar, is still different. You’ll experience it a lot for about six months, and then it will ease off. But it won’t ever go away completely, even if your stay stretches into years. Ride the wave, accept that there will be times where you really don’t know what the hell you are doing here, and then move on as quickly as possible.

3. There will come a point when you have to get in a car, or on a train, or a bus and just get lost. Do it the first few days, to get it over with. After you’ve sat crying because you can’t understand anything and you don’t know where you are, know that it will be easier the next time.

4. Talk to people. People in coffee shops, people in the queue at the supermarket, people at school drop off. Everyone is in the same boat as you – bar none. Even seasoned expats need new friends to replace the old ones who left, so don’t be put off by their tenure. The longer you remain alone, the more alone you will be. So put yourself out there, find a club, or a group, or join the PTA. Don’t wait ‘until we’re settled in’ to do this. You won’t settle in until you have friends and in the absence of family, you’ll need them. Go get them. NOW.

5. If you are a trailing spouse, and you even think for a millisecond that you want to continue working while you are abroad, prepare for the fact that it might be a lot harder than it would be at home; because of visa issues, or lack of appropriate childcare, or because the job you do at home doesn’t exist where you are going. If it’s hard to find a job that fits, keep searching, and networking, until you find the solution. Make it work. Don’t be lulled into an expat lifestyle you didn’t want because it’s easier. If work is an important part of your self identity at home, consider the impact not working will have on you, and act on that before everyone gets too comfortable.

6. You will feel very lost, for a while. Not just in the streets, but as a person. Your identity, your life as you knew it, has just been ripped out from under your feet. It takes time to build yourself up again. Don’t feel a pressure to be ‘normal’ on day 1, or day 10 or even day 100. You need time to recalibrate, and you might go off in completely the wrong direction before you figure out who you are in this new world.

7. Don’t forget who you were, either. It’s okay to change but it’s not okay to pretend you’re someone you’re not. You’ll get found out eventually.

8. However easy it seems to get on a plane and go home every couple of months, try to resist the temptation, and commit to the place you have chosen to be in. Commitment will make you happier in your expat life and ironically make you less homesick than if you keep going back all the time.

9. Remember your spouse is new at all of this too, and if you have moved because of their job, the responsibility and pressure on them is IMMENSE, to make it work for everyone. Cut them some slack and make time to talk (not yell) about why life is different/difficult/depressing. Try not to blame them for your feelings (easier said than done, I know) because unless someone held you at gunpoint, it’s pretty safe to assume you had a say in this adventure too.

and finally,

10. It might not feel like it now, when you are lonely, stressed, don’t know how to get anywhere, or where to buy anything, or how to say thank you even – but this is the best adventure of your life. It will take time, oodles of it, to really appreciate this  – perhaps you won’t even realise until you’re back home again, what an amazing thing you did. But you’re doing it, and in between all the hard work, it’s going to be awesome. The very best of luck. Now get out there.

Ruby. x

 

Eight years an expat. (And counting…)

We’ve just celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary. My friend’s baby just turned eight years old. It can only mean one thing: we have been here eight years.

Eight years. Who would have thought it? Not me. Not some of you, either, if you’ve been reading from the start. But it appears that you really never do know what life is going to throw you. So, from the happy place I find myself in lately, what pearls of wisdom do I have to share about my eight years of life in Dubai? There’s many to choose from but here are a few of the more important ones:

1. A trip to the supermarket will only ever yield a maximum of 82% of what you have on your list.

2. The rate at which you anticipate bad driving rises exponentially over time. This is represented by the following equation:

Road Rage + Bad Driving = Anticipation to the power of 100
Time

3. Do not underestimate how painful bare legs on a hot car seat can be.

4. Wearing sunglasses in 80% humidity will result in bodily harm.

5. Lipgloss and sandstorms do not go well together.

6. Shopping is an art form.

7. Boredom is the nemesis of the Trailing spouse. Do not get sucked in. Find something you love, and you will find yourself.

8. People leave and you will feel abandoned. But you will get over it. Get over it.

9. Don’t kid yourself. It is a little bit like being on holiday all the time.

10. To quote the great Bill Bryson, once you’ve left, you’re gone:

‘There are things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again.’