It’s milestones all round as our kids leave Qatar for good – and fly on their own for the first time. No prizes for guessing who was more nervous
“I’m excited because we’re flying Unaccompanied Minor (UM) for the first time,” Kid A told Mrs LC earlier this week. “But I’m also nervous in case the plane crashes.”
Welcome to 11-year-old logic, and the mindset we’ve been dealing with all week.
Yes, we have reached a proper milestone as the kids’ first experience of living abroad comes to an end in the most expat of ways: flying sans parents back to Europe.
The kids’ debut as UMs came at the end of an exhausting week for us all. In that time we have said a collective goodbye to just about everyone we know here in Qatar – despite the fact that Mrs LC and I aren’t actually leaving for another month.
There are two reasons for this, both common phenomena of life here.
The first is the annual summer expat exodus. By the time school’s out for the summer, the mercury is way past the point where it becomes front page news back in the UK. That’s the cue for planeloads of non-working partners and their kids to exit stage left.
So we wanted to have a send-off before that crowd jetted off, because we won’t be here when they get back for the start of school in September.
We had planned to be not that far behind them ourselves, but that was reckoning without the second factor. Because if our time in Qatar has taught us nothing else, it is that the wheels of bureaucracy often move slower than you’d ideally like (and even more so during Ramadan, when much of the workforce is working reduced hours).
Our planned departure date, and when Mrs LC finishes work, have both been put back by about three weeks in order to allow enough time to get all our paperwork processed.
Goodbye to all that
So in the course of a week, the kids have said goodbye to their school, their friends, their home, Qatar and, for at least a month, us.
The end of term was always going to be hard, particularly for Kid A. She’s made some great friends here, but the move from primary to secondary school, combined with the transience of expat life, means that her group of tweenage besties will soon be split across three continents.
For a supposedly dry country, I’ve never seen so many waterworks as on that final afternoon at school. My friend C, a child psychologist, cast an approving eye at the emotional outpourings right across the playground. “Boys crying in public!” she observed triumphantly. “This is progress!”
Everyone between the ages of six and 16 was weeping, or so it seemed. That includes Amnesiac, to whom realisations come late. His guttural sobs ran so deep that not even the prospect of an after-school ice cream could calm him down.
Under starter’s orders
There was a fair amount of acting up and attitude from the kids this week, but frankly, I’m amazed they held it together as well as they did. We hear time and again about how resilient kids are in general, but ours have had a lot of farewells to deal with in a very short space of time.
On the flipside, however, the slow-moving paperwork of both Mrs LC’s departure and my new job means that they’ve had a long time to get used to the changes this summer will bring.
But first, the UM adventure.
The omens weren’t good. As the weight of expectation of being The Responsible One finally dawned on her, Kid A stropped out in the airport car park.
Amnesiac, meanwhile, was very down, repeatedly telling me how much he was going to miss me as we walked to the terminal.
But we pointed out that they should be proud of the fact we trusted them enough to let them fly UM at all and so it was with a mix of excitement, trepidation and a head full of instructions that we left the kids in the care of Qatar Airways until they were met by my dad back in the UK.
A welcoming staff member appeared and told them about the lounge for UMs, with its PlayStations and iPads. Suddenly, things didn’t seem quite so bad.
Seven hours of uninterrupted movies / video games is exciting enough for any child whose screen time is parentally-limited. I’d be amazed if Amnesiac even noticed we weren’t there with him for the flight.
Lessons for parents of UMs
It was also our first time as parents of UMs, which meant we had things to learn, too. For example, I imagined a tear-stained farewell followed by a slow shuffle back to the car park (Mrs LC came out of her post-operative bandages this week, but is still walking with a crutch).
What I hadn’t realised is that, in case if any problems with immigration or technical faults with the plane etc, someone needs to remain at the airport until the plane has taken off.
And so we sat and waited until they had taken off. We then we held our breath and waited till it had landed.
Very late that night – suddenly, eventually – Skype burst into life and there they were, mucking around at my parents’ house like nothing had happened.
“I wasn’t sure if you’d still be up,” said a beaming Kid A, proving that whilst she might be a very responsible child, she still has a lot to learn about parenting.
PS – the next day we received another phone call, again from Kid A, but this time to say that she’d opened her suitcase and looked everywhere, but couldn’t find many of her clothes?
Turns out, having overseen an exhaustive session last week where she’d tried on all her clothes in order to sort them into donate / pass on / summer / packing crate, that I had then left most of her summer stuff hanging up in her closet.
So, that’s my other UM parenting tip: check the cupboards before you leave… What tips would you share from your experiences?