“…and what do you do?”
It’s just about the most common small talk introductory question, ever. And if you’re about to meet a skipful of new people – say, I don’t know, you’re about to move to a new country – it’s a question you’re going to get asked a lot.
So you’d better get your answer ready, because like it or not, what we do or don’t “do” defines who we are more than almost any other facet of our character.
Which makes the latest chapter in our pre-move preparations all the stranger, because as of a couple of days ago, I no longer do anything. (Anyone who’s ever met, worked, lived with or married me: feel free to insert your own punchline here.)
Yep, Wisteria Lane here I come, complete with a cucumber smoothie and Pilates at 11.
It’s only supposed to be temporary, of course. A useful opportunity for me to assemble the Ikea Order of Doom, help the kids get settled into school and work out what’s what in town.
But it’ll be fun figuring out answer to the ‘what do you do?’ question in the meantime, though, because I’m moving to a country* where the overwhelming majority of western expat couples comprise a working husband and a non-working wife.
(*The same country, incidentally, whose government recently distributed public service announcements about the dangers of domestic fires under the headline “Advice for housewives”.)
Mrs LC’s departure before the end of the school year, and my temporary elevation to jack of all trades, has at least prepared me for the looks of pity from the mums in the school playground. It was fun to watch them visibly struggle to work out who they felt sorrier for: me, or the kids.
(Bonus: turns out being a stay-at-home blogging dad is trendy!)
Mrs LC and I have factored a hiatus in my employment into our relo budget. That’s partly down to geography – it’s going to be easier to look for work once I’m actually in Doha itself – but also because the priority in the short term remains the 101-item to do list that never seems to shrink, diminish or recede, no matter how much time and effort you throw at it. (“It” being a list where ‘find job’ is just a single line item, with no more significance or impact than, say, ‘cancel car insurance’. Sigh)
So all those things that I did do (communications of one flavour or another) are on hold for now. But despite the fact that having no day job actually frees up acres of time to tackle that to do list, the actual leaving of my job this week hit me harder than I thought it would.
On the drive in that final morning, I put on Amerie’s Gotta Work and it’s not an exaggeration to say that I had hit repeat on it a dozen times before I finally arrived at the office.
Normally, lyrics of the ‘right-here’s-where-you-start-paying-in-sweat’ stripe do nothing for me, but this one gets me every time, probably because it’s bolted on to a massive, brassy, in your face tune that should have been a planet-straddling hit in the same order as Crazy in Love. There’s no justice…
Anyway, I was enjoying the gentle irony of having its melody running through my head all day, even as I counted down to the moment when ‘Gotta Work’ became ‘Got No Work’.
On that final day, a colleague shared with me her view that it would take me a long time to get our employer out of my system. Turns out, when you’re up against the ticking clock of an imminent relocation, not to mention that ever-present list, you can put most of it behind you before you’ve even left the car park.
It may sound harsh, but it’s not meant to; it’s just that there’s just too much else to think about.
But just as the memories of the projects, deadlines and corporate politics that exist in every job vanish quicker than a pickpocket in a crowd, it always ends up being the people you miss the most: the coffee and gossip with a confidante; the trusted colleague who helps you unpick a problem you’re struggling with; the friend whose emails brighten your day the second they appear in your inbox.
All gone, in the surrender of a badge.
Kid A was getting upset at the start of the summer, about having to say goodbye to all her schoolfriends all at once. One day they’re there, the next…gone. I tried to explain to her that this was a recurring theme in life, and as much a part of being human as breathing in after breathing out.
But whilst I have the advantage of context, having done this many times before, she trumps me in the end because she’s got a ready-made set of replacements, waiting to make their entrance into her life in a couple of weeks’ time.
Me..? I’ve got a lot on my to do list.
Better get working.