How many times have you moved your family? Did you live at the same address until you moved out to Uni or college? Have you lived in the family home for years, and are thinking about downsizing cos the kids are moving on with their lives, or are they still at home saving to be able to move out?
G and I have been together nearly 13 years, and we’ve shared 8 addresses, plus 3 short-term addresses in between expat moves.
MissM is nearly 9 and she’s had 6 of those addresses with goodness knows how many more to come before she makes her own way in the world.
When we left Sydney for Ireland in 2007, it was for a signed 2-year contract. We had no idea what would happen after that. Gosh, we’ve still half a house of furniture in storage!
Guess a lot of expats are in the same situation – you just keep moving at the conclusion of each contract until you decide you want to ‘go home’ – job pending. Some people know they are only going to expat until their eldest child starts high school then the family repatriate. Others just keep roaming. Some return home to look after elderly parents while others make a new permanent home in a city they have enjoyed living.
The thing that complicates moves are the kids. Their friendships, hormones and loves will always come before a required move. High school aged kids need continuity of friends and subjects to get them thru the key exam years. Having one child should make this relatively easy, and I admire friends with 2+ kids who have to juggle multiple educational environments. And for those with kids with special needs - well, that is a whole chat of its own!
Moving from Ireland to Japan was relatively easy as MissM was only four and a half. Moving from Japan to the UK was also easy (well, easy enough). We’d had a few friends leave before us, and MissM knew that Skyping and emails were a brilliant way to keep in touch, and that despite not being able to hug someone, you could certainly share news and remain friends. If you were really fortunate, visits during school holidays can happen!
The concept of a long distance friendship at 7 and 8years of age is a rather mature one to understand. Usually kids of this age are still into the here and now, outta-sight-outta-mind mentality. However, expat kids learn and accept this as the norm. You make the absolute most of the time you have with friends while you can.
One often wonders what it was like living this life without Skype, Emails and Facebook! Very difficult for sure, yet people survived. Not sure I could have.
G told MissM on Saturday that we had decided to move to Dublin because K needed him there every week, it made more sense to move all of us permanently than for him to travel Monday – Friday and only be home with us on weekends.
(Luckily) she agreed.
They came to the patio where I was sitting, looking like they were sharing the worlds best secret, and MissM smiled and said 'it's ok, I know we're moving to Dublin and it'll be fine. We've lots of friends there', and that was that.
Do you have any questions? Yes.
· Can I have a dog in our new house? No.
· Can we please find a smaller house? We'll see what's on the market.
· Will I go back to Kidzbiz? No, Kidzbiz was your Montessori and you're in school now but we could always visit.
· What school will I go to?Not sure yet, there's two to choose from. You’ll come with us to see the schools and meet the teachers and we’ll make the decision together.
· Who knows we are moving? (I mentioned a few people)
· How did you tell them? (I shared with her how)
· That's all. Moving to Dublin will be fun but I wish it were Sydney. (Now I wasn’t expecting that comment)
And off she went to look for her grandparents to continue playing.
An hour or so later, she comes to me and asks 'how will I tell my friends? They all think I'm leaving in year 5, and we haven't even started year 4. They might be upset, or angry with me'. She started to stress, not about leaving, but how her friends will react.
At this point I thought 'thank goodness I re read Third Culture Kids' by David C Pollack and Ruth E Van Reken only recently so I knew the right response. Also, with 3 Adventures behind us, I'm feeling confident that we know what we're doing when it comes to relocating.
Chapter 13 of TCK says 'there are five stages in any transition experience: involvement, leaving, transition, entering and reinvolvement" The rest of the chapter deals with things like:
There's grief in leaving a place, or being left behind. So accept it, allow it to happen, understand it, and let go.
Leaving a place well, helps to arrive somewhere else properly. No one needs negative emotional baggage at the best of times, so take care in HOW you leave.
Build a RAFT - Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewells, Think Destination.
There are 4 key areas which we need to farewell; People, Places, Pets and Possessions.
Acknowledge the grief and feeling of loss when moving on.
The light at the end of the tunnel is reinvolvement; new friends, new community, new memories.
In all transitions, we gain as well as lose. It’s the ying/yang life thing all over again. Accepting that there is the good and not so good everywhere helps one keep balanced. Nowhere is perfect, but some places are better than others.
Keeping all this and more in mind, I suggested to MissM that she might like to do what I've done, which is to tell close friends, in person. Remind them how important they are to you and make sure they know you will do everything you can to ensure the friendship grows, despite not being around the corner. Accept their response as they give it – they might be sad, or nonchalant about it. Give them time to process what you’ve said.
She asked, ‘Just like with MissN and MrM left Japan and I had to work out what to do without them?’
Yes, just like that. Any my heart cracked a little bit more.
She beamed agreement, then panic again. It was Sunday night, and school started the next day (yesterday), she didn't have much time to get to them.
We popped around to the twin’s house at 6.30pm and MissM took them into their lounge room and closed the door. When the three of them emerged, they were holding hands and looking sheepish. MissM reminded them of all the weeks left to hang out together, and that when we’ve gone, they can Skype often, email regularly and swap postcards. She told them that Dublin was only an hour or so by plane, and that friends had even come to visit with their car on the ferry so spending holidays together would be easy.
'Yes, but will you still come to our birthday party in September?" they asked.
Sorry, no cos we’ll be settling into our new home and school, but we can celebrate before we leave!
Hugs all round.
Friendship in tact.
MissH got home around 8pm on Sunday, too late to pop over; the earliest MissM is going to get to tell her is Wednesday afternoon, before ballet. MissM is determined that her BF's need to be told by her, in person so she can help the understand cos 'we're not in an expat place, are we mama? People here won't understand like they did at YIS'
(As I hadn’t finished this chat, MissM told MissH and MissE quietly at recess, and then her whole class, as she couldn’t hold the secret any longer. She hoped that was OK with us)
When did our little girl become so wise?
Has she heard us talking at night, and is she merely repeating what she’s heard, or does she really get what we are and the life we lead? I’ve realized living here that being an expat is different, didn’t stop and think for a minute that MissM knew too. Mind you, she’s handled it so much better than me!
We left Sydney for Ireland Adventure No1 when she was two and half; Yokohama was 3 years of her short life, the UK a mere 20 months ....... SHE IS A TCK, or maybe the newer term being used, Cross Cultural Kids (CCK)
Her friendships, like ours are made quickly and firmly. They last in terms of being able to hang out in person between 2-5 years (at this rate, 3 years has been our longest home), and we all work hard at keeping in touch despite the distances between us.
If she continues to be mindful of her friend’s feelings the way she is demonstrating now, she'll be a damn fine friend to have.
G and I are so proud of MissM. She has taken the news well, and has shown great care towards her friends in telling them.
I pray that the next few weeks will be as easy, but somehow I know they won’t be.