Well, that was unrelentingly hideous.
Yesterday, our relocation proper began with Mrs LC finally taking off for Doha to start her new job. And if we had tried to make what was already going to be a horrible experience for all as bad as humanly possible, we still would have struggled to come up with something as raw and bruising as what actually happened.
Looming over this whole project has been the threat of a difficult start for all concerned. Two months of enforced separation would be bad enough, without the added complications for Mrs LC of being apart from her family, billeted in a spartan apartment, while she starts a new job, adjusts to a new country and culture, and tries to acclimatise to life in the desert – any one of which would be more than enough to cope with on its own, let alone all at once.
Meanwhile back here, there’s a house to sort, pack and sell. A full-time day job to accompany my new role as househusband. And two kids missing their mum to shepherd through some difficult, confusing weeks ahead. My head physically aches just thinking about all the decisions that need to be made over the coming weeks.
Obviously we’d love to get everyone back together sooner, but with no house to live in yet, and the summer heat reaching its insane peaks, there’s no point in moving the kids now. They haven’t been to Qatar before, so it seems sensible to try and make their first impression as favourable as possible – and arriving in July when it’s pushing 50 is not the answer to that particular question. The balmy cool of a 40-degree September makes much more sense, it says here.
The added twist is that our experience will be the opposite of the majority of fellow relocators. With us, its mum who’s got the job that’s triggered the move, and is heading out in advance to start work and get sorted. I’m aware this makes us objects of curiosity, not just in the ex-pat community, but in wider Qatari society, too. Much more on this to come once I get out there, I suspect.
Incredibly, it’s only been two weeks since we returned from the out-of-body experience that was our child-free holiday in Vietnam. We used the time there to think and plan and prepare, but even despite that preparation the past fortnight has been a whirlwind of decisions – many of them difficult, all of them tedious – to do lists, and frantic, scrambled ‘are-we-doing-this-right-I-don’t-know-I-was-copying-you’ preparations. I could use many words to describe them; ‘fun’ and its variants would not be in that number.
The bedtimes have been getting later as the end of the finite amount of time available to get stuff done drew ever closer. A busy week at work didn’t help matters, either. The candle wasn’t so much being burnt at both ends as flame-throwered into a waxy pyre. An underlying tension simmered gently on the back burner of almost every innocuous conversation. In short: grim.
And then, just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, came departure. The dam holding back the torrent of emotion broke about seven seconds into our hour-long journey to the airport.
Kid A meant well, but cheerfully blurting out ‘say goodbye to our road, mummy!’ before we’d even reversed out of the driveway didn’t help matters one iota.
Then at the airport we played out a scene of such unrelenting foulness that it would be rejected by most screenwriters for being overly dramatic and not ‘true to the character’s arc’. The Qatar Airways check-in staff were brilliantly flexible in finding a way to get all of Mrs LC’s allowance on the plane in one way or another. Turns out that obvious signs of weeping + two shell-shocked looking kids = an end to excess baggage misery. We thought things were looking up.
I left the kids alone with their mum for a final goodbye while I bought them something to eat. The plan was to whisk them off nice and quick, like ripping off a plaster. Which I did, only for the penny to finally drop with Amnesiac, our live-in-the-moment five-year old, that he really, really wasn’t going to see his mummy again for a very long time.
So as we headed for the exit and she made for security, Amnesiac, who was already in full-on floods of tears, suddenly broke free from my hand and turned and ran back. His screams of “Mummy!” were so guttural, so primal. I’ve never heard him make a sound like it in all his time on earth, and I never want to hear it again.
As he sprinted for his mum, Kid A sensed an opportunity for one last cuddle too, and took off after her little brother. By the time I’d caught up with them all, they were still crying and screaming, but now they were attached to their mum like tattoos, or limpets. Or tattooed limpets.
A mother, two children, tears, scream, stunned onlookers… It was like a flashmob re-enactment of Sophie’s Choice, only without the jokes.
I’d thought that when this time came, it would be bad, but as I dragged my screaming children away from their weeping mother, I’d never imagined it would be this horrible.
The stupid part was that, in all the rush to get out of the house, I’d left my phone at home. In the scheme of things, no drama. But what it meant was that I couldn’t text Mrs LC to let her know that everything had calmed down in less than 10 minutes, like it used to after a bad nursery drop off.
Kid A read pirate stories all the way home and things temporarily returned to some semblance of calm. But I didn’t get home in time to tell her that, which twisted the knife a little further: she would have spent the seven hours on the flight feeling worse than she needed to…
I tried to write something to capture the mood of all this yesterday, but I was so drained by the whole experience that I had to shut down and walk away from it, to hope that the morning would shine some metaphorical daylight on the situation.
Time will tell.