Once you know what’s going on behind the tired, hollow eyes of new arrivals, it’s really no surprise if some seemingly minor event triggers a wildly disproportionate emotional response. And so it was with Amnesiac last week.
Take your typical recently-relocated expat.
Picked up like Dorothy and Toto; whisked away from everyone and everything they know, understand and love; deposited somewhere with a different language, and a hundred new customs, rules and habits waiting to trip you up; a blizzard of wobbly-lipped relatives and uncompleted admin trailing in their tear-stained wake…and that’s just day one of expat life.
The kids are wide-eyed with excitement, but also full of questions like “Do they have Halloween where we’re going?” They’ll surprise you by assimilating quicker than the adults, but still: a new school, new classmates, new neighbourhood, new everything – it’s a lot to take in all at once.
If you have more than one kid, watch as they take out their unspoken frustrations on each other. And then, when even that gets boring, on you.
Then there’s the expectation on the working parent, or both working parents, that you’ll just turn up somewhere else and carry on, as if nothing has changed. But of course it has; otherwise, why would you move?
And it’s never tougher than right at the start. Yes, even if you’ve done it before.
Second time for everything
Having done this once before, at least this time I can tell myself to Hang in there, it really does get better, and know it’s based on experience as opposed to expectation.
But this is a hugely vulnerable time for all concerned. The thrill of living out of suitcases for months on end in between homes wears off surprisingly quickly. As does the novelty of sharing rooms for two kids who normally don’t.
The minor frustrations of life – can take on mountain-like dimensions, usually around the time of your tenth consecutive daily call to the internet company who apparently can’t find your compound, or come when they’re booked, or bring the right equipment when they do finally turn up, or connect you to the service you’re already paying for…
(Had I not been marooned in offline purgatory, this post would have been up about a week ago. For the sake of my blood pressure, I will say no more.)
Relocation is mostly dead amaze, but is also, suddenly, randomly, wearily, totes emosh, too.
So with all that going on, you can understand why the little things matter, even – perhaps especially to – the youngest member of the family.
The Boy Who Cried Owl
For four months since he left Doha, Amnesiac has been counting down the days until he was reunited with all his other toys that, for reasons of space, he had been forced to leave in the crate.
Well, that reunion finally happened last week and, needless to say, it was very emotional.
I got a call at work, much like the one Chuck Berry received from his cousin Marvin when Marty McFly invents rock n’ roll, only this time it was Mrs LC saying “Listen to this!” – and the sound was my inconsolable eight-year-old son.
Well, that’s what it turned out to be. To be honest, I couldn’t even tell which of my children it was coming from at first, if it was actually coming from either of them at all, it was that primal.
It was the most painful sound I’ve heard since I last fired up a 56k modem. Mrs LC had to keep checking with him that these were actually happy tears, so gut-wrenching were the sobs.
The specific cause was him being reunited with Cuddles, his toy owl puppet.
Mrs LC reports that he had opened the drawer in his bedroom, found her there waiting for him, and sank to his knees clutching this little owl who means so much to him; his face working overtime as he tried to process all of the overwhelming feelings of relief and comfort, and the knowledge that a slender thread of a promise, a sliver of hope that that they would be reunited one day, had actually come true.
Talk about the straw that broke the owl’s back: months of snotty, howling, pent-up emotion was pouring out of his eyes and nose.
If Cuddles looks familiar, it’s because she is from Ikea, typically found in one of those child-placating bins that are cunningly located in otherwise dull grown up-only parts of the shop, like bathrooms.
You may even have a Cuddles of your own. She was only 35 Riyals (about £6/US$9 – and Qatar prices meant we that was still a rip off) but the reason Amnesiac was so attached to this toy in particular is because she was the first thing he ever bought with his own money that he’d saved up himself.
No wonder he collapsed into soggy puddle of liquid DNA and man-made fibres. The bond is strong with that one.
Whilst the reunion was a little one-sided in terms of joyful sobbing, it marks yet another tiny piece of the puzzle slotting into place of the new lives we’re building.
It’s all downhill from here…