Saturday, 21 May 2016

ms-havachat ponders village life, wives and friendships when someone's unwell

My friends foot post-surgery

General statement alert:

If expat dad was to break his ankle it would be tough but the kids would still get to school, the house would still be well maintained, shopping and meals would still happen and dad would probably work from home.

If expat mum breaks her ankle to avoid things coming to a halt, the cavalry is brought in.

We all know that it takes a village to raise a child. Well, let me tell you, the expat village is alive and well too and takes care of everyone, regardless of age.

Two Fat Expats maintain if you put the word expat before anything - marriage, kids, divorce, illness, travel etc it's automatically different. And they are right.

Expat simply complicates things simply because you are not in an environment you understand, even when in the same language surroundings. Navigating the UK medical system for example, when not brought up on NHS is frustrating, as would be working out Australia's Medicare system, or the French one if it's not in your DNA. (An American friend living in Paris reeled when she spent time in the French medical system. We bolted back to Sydney from Japan when the specialist there wanted to 'wait and see' about a lump I had).

But getting sick or hurt throws you into another stratosphere of angst. Expat mums simply can't afford to be unwell. Poorly (love that British expression) is acceptable as you can still kinda cope, but sick, unwell no way.

How will the kids get to school?
Who'll do the shopping? (Believe it or not, online shopping does not exist everywhere)
Can hubby or older kids cook meals?
Is hubby able to cancel meetings or business trips and be around to help out taxiing kids after school?

Depending on how long you've been an expat for, you might have romantic ideas about what everyone else back home would do in the same situation. If you've just arrived in your new country  (or even if you've simply moved interstate) you might not yet have made that connection with people where you have established rapport, trust etc.

Getting sick, or discovering your child needs support at school, or you are depressed, or your marriage is going thru a rough patch and not having the support of people around you who absolutely know you and love you is really tough. There are some things brand new friends are happy to chat about while other topics stay unspoken.

There's so much to be done, and when you can't do it there's no choice but to ask for help and accept offers of help. When you're an expat, and your partner is working they aren't always able to be around to help, and that sux but it's a fact of life that you simply work around. Without a small army of loved ones close by to help out, you sometimes don't have a choice but to just get on with it OR open up to someone you barely know.

Those of you reading this who don't have immediate family to call upon for all sorts of reasons know what I'm talking about. The social isolation can be devastating. In expat life, one partner is working/away on business so the day to day running of the house and kids is yours and yours alone (unless you have home help), so it falls to your friends to be your support while you are recuperating.

That's what friends do. They support and help one another.

Even if the friendship is relatively new, people know what it's like to be far away from loved ones and reach out to help. They also quietly sign with relief that it's not them in the predicament (c'mon, admit it!)

We had just arrived in Japan and a young mum at school broke her leg. I didn't know her but I'd heard over coffee one morning what had happened and people were putting together a meal schedule, a visiting schedule (her husband travelled a LOT for work and could only reschedule so much), and a roster to help ferry the kids to/from school and playdates. As I didn't know her, it wasn't appropriate to visit or ferry the kids, but cook a meal, count me in.

When we first arrived back in the UK, I hurt my hip. We were still living in the hotel waiting for the lease to be signed; G was in Sydney sorting out visa's and working UK hours; we'd been at school less than 3 weeks. MrsD took over. We had no GP, no chiro, no home. You can only imagine how alone and isolated I felt, in addition to a burden on my new 'friends' and a tad foolish with my bunged up hip.

MrsD organised for MissM to go home with the mum of girls in her class. I'd met the mum a couple of times but nothing long lasting. I had no idea where they lived but MrsD assured me all would be fine. Heck, I'd only known MrsD for less than a month! She drove me to A&E to get me checked out. She rang her hubby who just happened to be in town and sorted out the kids so she could stay. We were so long in A&E, that she organised for MissM to sleep over where she was (again, I had no idea exactly where my daughter was). She drove me back to the hotel and organised for MissM to be brought back to the hotel the next afternoon and sorted pick up and drop offs for the next few days.

I felt so sorry for myself. I missed my mum and brother and SIL. I yearned for best friends of 20+ years to be able to help ..... and then thought while Mum would drop everything, she's not really able to run around and 'do' stuff these days (we're all getting older, right?), friends work. Who'd be around during the day to help like MrsD and the other expat mums?

Do you think you could rely on someone that much that you'd known less than a month?

But that's what you do.

MrsW has broken her ankle. That's her foot in the pic.

Friends have rallied around and have cooked meals (fresh and frozen), done a bit of shopping for her, pop in for a chat and to keep her company while kids and hubby are at work/school. She's more foruntate than most of us as her in-laws live a couple of hours away and have stayed a few nights to help with the kids and cook a few meals and keep her company during the day. Naturally, they needed to go home and get on with their lives and commitments, and are back'n'forth over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile a group of us have cooked meals, pop in for to make lunch and have a chat during the week, and two mums offered to host her daughters birthday party so it didn't have to be cancelled.

I'm not sure being an expat makes our actions unique, but what does make us unique is that her network not even one year old. Yet our actions and concerns are those of a comfortable old friendship.

Expat life does make you hit the ground running. Who has time to fluff around when your contract is 2-3 years?

This morning on FB, a friend shared that her husband has hurt himself very badly, so badly that it's a 6-8 week recovery period before physio! Naturally the comments of OMG, and what happened followed, as did the 'let me know if I can do anything' ones.

She and her family will be looked after, but as she's still well able to do the things she always does, work, run after and with the kids, manage the home etc, not much changes other than being there for him. I wonder if people will cook meals, or offer to do a few school runs, or pop by for a chat to break the day for him while he convalesces.

So I'm wondering - is it an expat thing or a gender thing?

Is it when the female head of house is out of commission people rally around OR is it a bit of both?

When both adults in the house are working and one is ill, under what circumstances are friends needed to help out?

When my back goes, G can do the school runs, and he can cook. We shop online and have groceries delivered. The washing might not be done as efficiently, and the ironing might be outsourced, but we can and do manage. However, in this community I know that he doesn't have to do those things because there's a small army of friends waiting and wanting to help.

I've flipped back and forth while chatting to you about this ..... it started being about the village expats live in and how we all help each other, regardless of how long we've known each other, then I realised that it's not that unique cos my friends back home drop things to help out when needed ....... so is it a gender thing? Is it when 'mum' falls ill or hurts herself that 'we' are needed to rally around, cos if it's 'dad' mum still functions.

As Annabell Crabb wrote in her book The Wife Drought, maybe women do need to get themselves a wife. Has the word become an adjective?

This chat started as one thing and ended up another. I've spent too long writing and rewriting to delete it, so here goes ........................

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