There’s always someone newer than you

Sunday was a day of new beginnings.

For Mrs LC, it’s a new working week. For the kids, Sunday now equals back to school. But not just any school:

A new school.

If your schooldays are now behind you, just stop and recall the memories and feelings that phrase calls to mind, unbidden, even now. The excitement, the questions, the feeling of knotted dread in the pit of your stomach… whatever your experience, it’s not quickly forgotten.

I never enjoyed changing schools, so I’m under no illusions how big a deal it is.

But then, for Kid A and Amnesiac, this is merely the latest Big Deal in a seemingly neverending series of Big Deals. Two Sundays ago, they were roaming around the French countryside walking the fluffy white ball of saliva and jumping that masquerades as their grandparents’ dog.

Since then they’ve been hustled back to the UK, unpacked, repacked, scooped up again and summarily deposited in the middle of the desert like a UN food drop. And taken it all in their stride like it’s the kind of thing that happens every week.

Amnesiac was always going to be fine; that goldfish memory of his is a great asset when it comes in fitting in.

He’s almost as good at assimilating as Kid A

But Kid A’s effortless re-entry into school life was something else entirely. Every parent is constantly amazed by their children, but I find it incredible that she can just…assimilate like that.

She’d had a summer of separation, angst, tears, worries, of wondering what fresh surprise lies around the next corner…

So where – as we came to a halt in a cloud of dust in the middle of a rubble-strewn track which doubles as the road to school – were the fits of rage and rejection? The cries of you-can’t-make-me-go? Surely all that angst had been for something?

But it seems that last week’s induction day for new pupils had ironed out the pressing issues of where the classroom and the bathroom were, where bags went, and was ample  time to declare that new friends had been made. They emerged saying that they couldn’t wait for the start of term. This was better than anything we could have hoped for.

(I asked Amnesiac what his really good new friends, that he was so delighted to have made, were called. True to form, he replied: “I can’t remember.”)

Of course it’s hard. Of course you can’t help compare the passing of time with such neon-lit markers as the start of a new school year.

But that’s for private reflection, for later. Show an inch of that sentiment to the kids and they’ll feed off it like wolves.

So come the first morning of term proper, it was time to skip in breezily and drop off quickly. As with a plaster, it’s much better done with speed, rather than lingering, pain-filled trepidation.

And just like that…they were gone.

A short while later, having negotiated my way through the morning commuters, I was back at the flat, alone. It wasn’t even 8am on a Sunday. I can’t pretend it felt anything other than unusual.

I fired up my email.

There was a crate update from Mrs LC, at work in her office. Already the subject of fevered daily speculation and an intra-family sweepstake, it may have arrived safely in Doha port, but there was another ‘unspecified’ delay in customs clearance.

I investigated how, where and from whom to buy a car. Seems it’s a buyer’s market: the churn from exiting expats means there’s a deluge of newish vehicles looking for a quick sale coming on to the market every day.

I found out which hand gestures are acceptable over here (none, basically).

And I spent some time planning our visa upgrade trip. The kids and I entered on a Visitor’s visa that lasts a month. But now we’re physically here, our sponsor (yes: my wife) can convert those into a Family visa. All we need do is leave the country and re-enter to be upgraded.

So, you can drive to the Saudi border and do a u-ey. Or you can take advantage of Qatar Airways’ sale and book a weekend away in Dubai…

And it was while I was comparing hotels that an email popped up from my mum, asking: had I heard the news?

Thankfully, it turned out to be good news: my sister-in-law had given birth to a daughter overnight – at 3.33am on 9/9. Nifty.

(A quick note: anyone who read my last post will know that I flung a lot of flak in Basingstoke’s general direction. One noble exception to all that is the North Hampshire Hospital, scene of the arrival of a trio of my nieces, including the latest, not to mention Amnesiac as well. They are brilliant people doing brilliant work in a hostile environment. Basically, like Army medics in Helmand without the body armour.)

I’m not sure who was more excited when I picked up the kids later, but as soon I told them the news, they lost all interest in their first day at their new school. All they wanted to talk about was the baby.

Kid A was grateful for the scoop. “We did News today,” she said. “But I didn’t have any to share. I will tomorrow though.” So thanks, Auntie, for aligning your gestation period with Kid A’s new school timetable; she’s thrilled.

And Amnesiac, although initially disappointed not to have another boy cousin to play with, brightened up considerably when he realised he’s no longer the youngest grandchild on my side of the family. He seemed to grow an inch taller on the ride home.

Later that day, I had a flick through Mrs LC’s Facebook to see some pictures of the newest member of the family.

Because although we knew this day was coming, and although we may not have left our families behind very long ago, we always knew that – whenever it came – this was going to be the first of those moments where we really feel the physical distance of our own new beginning, one that even Skype cannot bridge.

Sure, we can see and hear…but we can’t touch, can’t hold, can’t cuddle, can’t tickle.

We might think we’re the ones making a bold new beginning here in Qatar, but there are others with even bigger, even more amazing journeys ahead of them.


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