Our first visit “Home”; as an Expat

We’ve been Expats now for close to a year, and the boys and I recently had our first trip “back home”.

Being away from Home for just over 10 months has widened our hearts and minds. We’re part of a different culture; not only the one that we currently live in but also the culture of being an Expat; an outsider.

For months I’ve had friends and family telling me how they miss us and when are we coming to visit. With Bunny’s school holidays approaching towards mid-January, I suggested that I take the kids to visit friends and family, instead of just lounging around in the house while Mr. Bear still had to work. It would be 2 weeks of excitement; constant get together’s and meet-ups where Bunny could play outside in a garden, Monkey could get used to what real grass feels like, I could soak up the typical Highveld summer thunderstorms with the added pleasure of seeing the people I hold dear to my heart.

I had announced our idea to some friends and family and it was very well received. Some even counting the days down with me, some starting to make plans, but then, some not sharing much care or enthusiasm about it.

I was told numerous times by other expats who have gone through this type of visit, that it’s rarely all that you wish it to be and one often will expect way more; that I had to remember that I’m not going through what they are going trough right now; I’m not really part of their lives, even if we still had daily contact; that I would see who were willing to make an effort; and that the easiest would be to organize one event where people can come see us, instead of me dragging the kids all over the place each day to try and try fit everyone in.

My heart sank quite a bit when I heard that it wouldn’t be all sunshine and roses. I mean, these are people I care for and they care about me. I’m making the effort of a 11+ hour trip across the world; why wouldn’t some make a small effort. I’m sure my people won’t be like that!!

Well, wake up and smell the bloody roses!! They were right.

By all means, I had family and great friends who really did make a lot of effort to come and see me. Effort from driving 3-hours to come to where I was staying; extending their own trip to stay longer; to blocking out an entire afternoon to see their “doctor”; and others just making the effort to maneuver through hectic traffic to come say hi. It was absolutely heart-warming to see how some would put their lives on hold for a little bit to come see us.

Don’t get me wrong; I know one can’t always take off work, or take a break for a coffee, especially during the week, or rearrange a whole day with kid’s schedules. I really do get that. Good grief! I had to adapt and rearrange both my kid’s routines for 2 weeks, in a different time zone, miles away from their new home, without their Daddy, in a foreign house with new tastes and smells. I know that I’m not “used to” what’s going on in said Home Country. I know you have your own life now. I know sometimes plans just really don’t go as we intend them to go. Really, I do get that… Just didn’t realize your own life meant I can’t be a part of it in living form, but only through social media…

This is not a post to make anyone feel bad that didn’t make an effort or whom I didn’t get to see. This is just a heads-up to anyone planning a trip “back home”.

Visiting back home after being away for nearly a year, certainly has stirred up a lot of emotions in me. Even when you look past the whole visiting of friends and family.

Currently, we live in a country where it’s relatively safe. Where violent crimes are unheard of. Even petty crimes do not make the news headlines, not even on a monthly basis. It just doesn’t happen… Compared to our Home country, where violence and crime is part of everyone’s lives on an almost daily basis.

So it was quite a reality shock to be petrified to sleep alone in the house without a family member at night; to not allow Bunny to stroll behind me in a shop; to not want to drive around in case we catch a red traffic light and having to wait for it to turn green.

It made me realize how pathetic it is to live in a country where you don’t feel safe; where you have to constantly look over your shoulder and be on permanent guard mode. How did I ever manage to live with it for so long?

Our holiday overall wasn’t so great. It didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. It was lonely during the days while everyone was at work. It was nerve wrecking at night with only me and the kids in one massive house. I missed having my boy’s daddy. They missed him. We were all miserable. One phone call and a good amount of tears later and Mr. Bear went to change our flight ticket to come back home 4-days earlier.

Do I want to go visit again? Yes sure. But this time completely on my T’s & C’s.

The next time another Expat gives me advice on these type of things, I’ll actually follow them and not think that “my trip will be different.” Seems everyone’s trips are all the same.

 

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On our way back home

 

 

Don’t be thát friend!

Remember when you were in high school and/or college and living the life of being in absolute love with a boy/girl. Things were going well. And then suddenly, without any warning, it ended. Sometimes you expected it but a lot of times it came to such an abrupt halt that it left you with an almost whiplash-effect. Remember the hurt, the questions, the not-knowing as to what happened. Those were the worst.

Or so you thought…

The worst is when this happens to a friendship. Everything is going well. You are part of each other’s lives. You share so much. It’s like the sister you never had. Or the brother. And then unbeknownst to you, it stops. No warning. No fight or argument. No drifting apart or giving you time to get used to it. Just STOP! Like an accidental death. END!

Apart from the pain, hurt and sometimes even anger, the thing that makes it so hard is that you don’t know why. You replay the last couple of chats you had, reread the last month or so’s messages; trying to find the “where did it go wrong?” and/or “where did I f… up?”. But there is no answer to your questions and you’re left with “It’s me. It’s my fault. I must be…” (insert all self-invalidations you can come up with here.) And all you can come up with is, WTAF!?!?

Don’t be that friend!

It’s happened to all of us at some point or another. And if it hasn’t happened to you, then you might just have left someone else in the dark, feeling like this.

Yes, I don’t sugar coat things and I’ll be damn honest with you if you’ve peed me off or upset/hurt me and I’ll tell you. Why? Because the bond means more to me than just letting it fizzle away. I’ll fight for the relationship cause that’s how I am. And yes, when I’ve had my say and have tried to resolve and mend it; yet see it’s not going anywhere, then I’ll cut my losses and move on, even if it is with a broken heart. But at least you’ll be on the other end knowing exactly what happened.

I get that people grow out of each other’s company or life; or that they move on for whatever reason, which is fine if at least done in a proper way. A proper way so that both parties know where they stand and why they are standing at that threshold of a new beginning. What I don’t get and don’t like hate; is when you don’t know the reasons. It’s like reading a 700-page novel and then the last chapter has been eaten up by the dog and you wonder what happened.

Don’t be that friend!!

Puck up the courage and tell them. Don’t just leave them with a mystery. If you can’t do it by talking, then write a mail. Gawd, send smoke signals if you must. But tell them!

I’ve been through it more than once in my life and all it does to me; is build my wall around me and my heart higher and stronger; add more security to it; insert booby traps; electric fencing; make the vault stronger and un-penetrable; as well as place all of this underground with no sign of where to dig/enter it. You’ll have a better chance of breaking into Fort Knox, that entering my heart again or even allow someone new to enter it.

Don’t be that friend!

I get that people sometimes misunderstand each other. Either due to not expressing yourself in the way that you are feeling or that you “read” a message incorrectly and imagine the way a message was sent (usually in an utter incorrect tone than what was actually meant). And that is why it is so darn important to clarify it. Clarify it until you are both on the same page, even if you still disagree. At least you understand why or what was said.

And if you’re reading this now and it strikes a cord, then well, do something about it.

Don’t be that friend that just moves on, because in reality, you don’t really move on. You just hide it; don’t look at it and make as if it doesn’t exist. But it does, and it ain’t going nowhere. The worst of it is that it will influence your future friendships. And that’s not healthy, not for either parties nor 3rd or 4th parties…

Even if you don’t like confrontation. Even if you’re scared to “hurt” someone with words. Still, clarify it, try to mend it if both parties want to and/or move on.

Just don’t be that friend!

Mommy, she doesn’t want to be my friend anymore

Having a sweet, loving child who is often shy, yet considerate most of the times, with fellow children; makes it almost unfathomable that you’ll hear this phrase from a little mouth. “Mommy, she doesn’t want to be my friend anymore.”

Bunny has always had 1 best friend. In his previous school, he had the same best friend for more than 2 years straight. They were inseparable. If she wasn’t at school, he’d easily play with someone else so I was content in knowing that he had more than just one friend. I even asked the teacher about it, she confirmed that he was well liked by his peers and was often the center of attention.

Now in his new school, it seemed he was doing the same thing again. Attaching himself to one girl. From his description of her, she sounded very similar in looks compared to his old bff. Every day I would ask who he played with and who did what etc. And so far, he’s only mentioned her. If I asked for the names of boys or other girls in his class, he’d just say that he doesn’t know their names. But still, I hoped that over time his little circle of friends would grow.

But then last week, my almost 5-year-old came home after school, acting besides himself. He was rude, whiny, teary eyed and in general a little nightmare; more than usual. Despite various usual questions and activities throughout the afternoon, he spiraled further down into a bag of unpleasantness. Both Mr Bear and I were at breaking point by the time it was his bed routine. We’ve run out of compromises, negotiations, threats, patience and quite frankly enough eff’s were given for the day. The sooner he gets into bed, the better for the sanity of this entire household.

Instead of allowing him to see that I was about to loose it with him; I decided to do the bath routine with him, instead of Mr Bear. I stayed calm and asked random little questions about his day at school since they had an event at school. He told me something trivial regarding his day and quickly asked me why I don’t believe him. This was odd to me, as I did believe him and more surprisingly, it was a phrase he’d had never used before. I then asked him who at school didn’t believe him. And there I found my answer. “Cinderella.”*

And then it happened. My little boy looked down and started crying. “She doesn’t want to be my friend anymore.” I was shocked. My little boy’s heart was shattered. His behavior of the day suddenly made sense. I wasn’t there to protect him. But most importantly, yet, scary, this is something he will have to learn to deal with by himself with only tools that I can offer him to use.

Upon questioning what happened, I learned that they had a disagreement about a simple thing. She believed in the one thing. And he believed in the opposite. Something so trivial yet in the life of a young child, it was something absolutely major and enough to break up a friendship.

I calmly explained to him that it was okay to differ in opinions. It was okay to not agree with each other the whole time. It was okay to see things differently or experience something differently. But I also ensured he understood that it was not okay to force someone to agree with you on everything. We used some examples of daily life things as well as of different relationships and he seemed to understand. I asked him what he is going to do when he sees Cinderella again and he said he’ll tell her that she can believe in what she wants and then they can play again. He then asked me whether I still love him and like him even though we disagree on things. Upon which I promptly told him that I will always love him, especially when we have different opinions.

My little boy had calmed down and was the loving child again.

After tucking him into bed, I went to Mr Bear and told him what I had found out. A sigh of understanding was sighed. And yet, I was only half way to helping my child regarding friends and relationships.

After some consultation with my mommy-groups and some reading up on articles and blogs, I was ready to bring up this subject the next day.

The following morning, I brought it up as calmly as possible. I told Bunny that I had different friends. I had friend A and friend B that I spoke to about any and everything almost daily. And I had friend C and D who I go with for coffee. And friend E and F who I share some vino with. And then I had my bff who was his daddy. I told him that even with my bff, Mr Bear, we don’t always agree on everything and sometimes we might argue about it. But most importantly, we respect each other’s viewpoints and often come to a compromise on an issue or we agree to disagree and that was fine too. With this he understood that it was ok to have more than one friend and that you didn’t have to do everything with just one person, all the time.

I continued by giving him examples of how to use this at school. He could have 1 or 2 friends to color in with. Another to kick the ball with. Another to sit with during lunch or to walk to a certain class.

He at first said he only wants Cinderella to be his friend, but I then asked him who he will play with if she is sick and not at school for the day or what would he do if she didn’t want to do the same activity that he wants to do at the time. He thought about it and then mentioned another name of a child he can play with. And with that, I knew he’d understood the message.

It’s hard to bring up a child who doesn’t have all the tools in life. It’s hard to not break your own heart when theirs are breaking or feel sad when they’re sad. In this day and age, one can only teach respect and understanding and hope that they understand it and will use it.

 

Have you been in a similar situation with your little one? How did you handle it?

* Name changed, obviously to ensure anonymity 🙂

** After his next day of school, I asked him how Cinderella was and he said they’re friends again. So all is well again 🙂

Why I don’t feel guilty being on my phone 

For the past couple of years, “studies” have told us more and more about the dangers of constantly having screen time. Research telling us we have some mental illness when we are so active on social media. Blogs have told parents to put our phones down and be with our kids. People sometimes even close their different social media accounts due to all this guilt that the reports are putting us through.

But I refuse to feel guilty.

Don’t get me wrong. I put my phone down when either of my kids are calling me or if they need me to do/get them something. I leave the phone while I’m playing with them. I leave the phone when Mr. Bear is talking to me. I leave the phone while driving. Heck, I even leave it while cooking and doing the house chorus. For all other times, I am on my phone.

Whether I’m on social media, chatting to a friend or family member via whatsapp or playing a game to pass the time; I do it all in moderation and I refuse to feel guilty about it.

As a relatively new member of the expat community as well as a stay at home mom, my social circle has drastically decreased. I remember when Monkey was younger; he hated going out of the house. Even going for a quick coffee just a few meters away from our apartment, was too stressful for him. He wouldn’t feed nicely, he wouldn’t sleep. His whole body was tense right up to us stepping back into the house. You could see the stress leaving him when he noticed we were back home.

To be stuck in the house with only a 4-year old’s conversation, baby babbles and only having proper adult conversation for a few hours before bedtime, was just not enough for me. My only outlet and balance for this, was my phone.

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It is my outlet to stay in touch with the reality and with the world. You all know that phones these days are like a 100-in-1-gadget with so many functionalities and purposes. I can stay in touch with my friends, know what my family are up to, keep up with emails, read a book, pass the time by playing a game while Monkey nurses off to sleep, stay in touch with the news of the world and so many other things.

I think I would have gone mad long ago if I had felt guilty and left all my groups, whether on Facebook or Whatsapp. The idea of having someone on the other side and just a message away is just too comforting. Especially when different things are needed from different groups. I have my family group, my friends with similar ages than my children group, my weird mommy group, my expat mommy group, my vino-drinking mommy group; hell I’m sure I’d even be able to make or find a group for the ladies who don’t feel guilty for using their phones.

Like so many other mommies, my phone is 99% of the time on silent. Not only is this because I don’t want to startle the baby while he is dozing off, but also because it gives me the freedom to decide when to look at it and not have to rush to pick up the call or reply to a message. Thus free from guilt regarding being on my phone.

So when my family are all happy, lunch/supper has been made, house is clean, then you can get hold of me on my phone, I’ll be available on the other end…

 

 

Making friends as an expat

We all need that special person, or for some, more than one, other than the dearest hubster after work. Someone who you can have a proper adult conversation with. A person you can ring up for a quick coffee catch up or someone who will just be there willing to lend you an ear during those difficult days or have silly conversations and jokes with. A person who can come over and bring you a much needed hug or look after the kids for a few minutes just so you can get something done; you know; like a shower… We all want someone to call “My Person.”

 

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Image: Grey’s Anatomy

At the best of times I struggle to make girl-friends. I’ve always been around the boys and some of my closest friends during school years, were all boys. Not because I fancied them or anything like that, but just because they’re less of a mission, less dramatic and less to fuss about petty things. And as an expat, it seems to be quite the trick to get right. And even more so being completely new to a very different country.

There’s only so many Facebook groups you can join. Only so many you can follow. And only so many posts you can comment on and extend an invitation to meet up. Not all invitations get accepted and that’s ok too. Good grief, I’d never be home or able to do my own thing if all were accepted.

And then the awkward moment arrives and you meet up with a stranger. So much for your parents’ advice while being a child of “Don’t talk to strangers”. And the conversation usually goes as follows:
“So, where are you from?”
“How long have you been here?” (Shock and horror that we’ve only been here for 4 months)
“What does your husband do?”
“How long are you staying in Qatar?” (See, that right there is where some are already planning on whether this friendship can go anywhere or not)
Then it varies between “Are you settled in?” and questions about the kids.

While the kids play or do their own thing, small talk gets made, which I don’t mind as that’s how you get to know someone more. And then you have the awkward goodbye’s and “thank you’s” and “we should do this again”. Sometimes there is a next time and sometimes not and that’s okay too. The search just continues.

I know and I understand that when you struck up a friendship as an expat, you always are aware at the back of your mind that this could most likely just be a seasonal friendship. I’ve seen it too often that friendships sink like a ship when one party travels to another country. And I’ve realized, with myself that it takes a hell of a lot to get passed my wall. Once in, I won’t let you out.

I’ve also come to the realization that not only are you coming from a very different country and its culture, than myself, but you also have your own way of doing things which you think are right. And even though I don’t judge them or frown upon them as it is your decision; people with the same way of doing and thinking tend to stick longer together. You know, “Birds of a feather” kinda thing.

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So what are your options? Sit for the duration of being in a new country all locked up with your kids and house work and your only adult conversations are on the internet with people miles away from you, who also have to get on with their own lives as well as happenings of their own country? OR puck up the courage and put yourself out there?

Well, I choose the latter. I hate having cabin fever and I know I can be a great friend for someone too.

Here is something that I learned a long time ago and I know it can help anyone, in any relationship; even marriage and/or work:
To be able to understand someone, you need to be able to communicate to them about something you both have reality on (something in common) and then only your liking for each other will expand.

For example: I find it very easy to talk to someone who has the same parenting styles as myself and who doesn’t judge or make me wrong for something. We have something in common and can easily share ideas. We understand each other and like to be in each other’s company.
But turn the table around and try have not only a friendship, but even just a conversation with someone who completely disagrees with you on how to bring up your kids or disagrees with everything you do; constant clashes and there will be very little chance that you’d want to be around that person again.

So in a new country, being surrounded by people with different backgrounds and from all walks of like is obstacle number 1. Then there’s the fact that you are at some point the “newbie” who has to try get into a group. And just like at school for a new scholar, you are faced with the groupies and cliques; they exist here too. Then from that pool of “potential friends”, you now have to suss out someone who thinks and acts similar to you or at the very least allows you to stay who you are. And once you’ve gone through those stages, then only you can have someone to have coffee with more regularly, bar you can talk about more than just one topic and don’t forget about the constant struggle to get together due to the kids’ schedules and bad nights/days.

It’s not easy, but it is do-able. You have to go out of your comfort zone and that in itself is a growing point, even if just for yourself. As for me, I’m getting there slowly.

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