Q: How long does it take an expat to fully acclimatise to a new country?
A: A year is plenty, if my daughter’s recent histrionics are anything to go by…
Like all the best discoveries, the one I made last week was by accident.
I sat the kids down to give them advance warning that I might, possibly, perhaps be doing some travelling in the coming weeks and months, and that’s when Kid A started catastrophising again.
[I have no idea if that’s even a real word or not, but when a friend used it recently to describe her son’s overreaction to certain situations, my first thought was: great word, I’ll have that.]
Kid A has a maddening habit of panicking at the drop of a hat. Pop out to a neighbour’s and she’ll follow you outside, just in case you’ve decided to drive off to the airport without telling her. Tears explode from nowhere; talking to her is like playing tennis with water balloons.
With no obvious childhood trauma to blame, I think it’s just her age. She’ll be 10 in a couple of months and is busy working out her place in the world – veering wildly between learning about modern art one minute and bursting into tears over nothing at all the next.
The trigger for her latest round of tweenage angst was a trip I took back to the UK at short notice last week – for a job interview, of all things.
The state of modern working life is now such that it sounds perfectly normal to pop over from Qatar to the UK for a couple of days, to be interviewed for an interim job based in a third country, and with a key component to be delivered in a fourth.
And whereas once upon a time, I might have passed up the opportunity out of sheer logistical terror, the expat version of me hardly blinked.
(Before you ask: I was offered the role, but politely declined; the travel requirements changed during the process to the point where I would basically have had to move abroad for four months.)
My first reaction when I was approached about the role was: “That sounds great; I think the kids and I could really do with a break from each other.”
Because ever since Mrs LC headed out to Doha ahead of us last summer, the kids and I have spent very little time apart. At all.
Same day visa runs to Dubai don’t count, I’m talking an actual, proper, haven’t-you-grown break.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ungrateful for the time we’ve all spent together. Far from it – it’s one of the reasons we chose to change our lives and move abroad.
But my role as primary carer for the past year also means I’ve done the lion’s share of nagging them about schoolbags and PE kit and spellings and homework and have-you-remembered-your-lunch?
I’m supervising reading, telling them to tidy up their toys, or turn down the TV. Basically, I’m the bad cop.
Mrs LC’s reward for slogging her way through another day at work is a primal outpouring of joy from the kids when she gets home (even if a fair chunk of their how-was-your-day-Mummy? schtick is just a shameless attempt to flatter her into letting them use her iPad).
Missing you already
So when I sat them down to prepare them for possibly seeing a lot less of me for a couple of months, I thought they’d be delighted.
I was expecting responses like “Yay, Mummy can watch me play football for a change,” or, at the very least, some wildly ambitious present demands.
Because I was sure they need a break from me as much as I need one from them.
Instead, from Kid A, there were tears. Not just faux dramatic ones, either; real proper I-don’t-want-you-to-go sobs.
Amnesiac wasn’t bothered at the time, he just wanted to know what kind of planes I’d be flying on (I had no idea; Doha might be knee-deep in aviation geeks, but I’m not one of them). Instead he saved his tears for an hour before my taxi arrived; the penny drops late with that boy.
But Kid A’s response was a new one on me.
Initially, I thought it was just a cynical ploy. But that when I had my lightbulb moment: maybe a year is all the kids need to become fully acclimatised to somewhere new and Kid A’s reaction was triggered by the fear that my interview might be the first step on the path to us moving somewhere else?
Or maybe it’s just that she’s made a new set of friends here in Qatar, she’s got a school play to rehearse, and sleepovers and birthday parties on her mind, and is wondering who’s going to do all the pick ups and drop offs if I’m off gallivanting round Europe.
Yeah, that’s probably it.