Sorry it’s been ages. Part of me meant for that to happen and part of me got carried away with Christmas at home and refused to acknowledge that I was, in fact, an expat on granted leave for a very limited period of time. R&R if you like. You see, those first four months in Singapore were something of a rollercoaster (you may have grasped that if you’ve read any of my blog), and by the later weeks of that initial four month foray into expat-dom I was actually FINALLY A-ok about it all. Singapore was starting to feel, dare I say it, like home. Not HOME home. But a home. Our home for as long as we’re here for at the very least. And getting to that point took some major fucking work- mentally, physically and emotionally. Not wishing to sound like a total drama queen, but seriously, the battles I fought with my own crazy, homesick, bored mind were intense. So going home for Christmas was a teeny bit like opening Pandora’s box. On the one hand I was delirious with excitement- finally I was getting to see my family, and at Christmas! Only my favourite time of year!!! But at the same time, what if I got home and refused to get back on a plane to Singapore? What if I had some jet-lagged revelation that Singapore is a shithole and Southport is where my heart lies? Anyone who has ever been to Southport will confirm that the possibility of that happening is approximately zero. But still, I was in expat limbo. Another first. And to be honest, it was almost as terrifying as that first flight out to Singapore.
It turns out that going home is a lot less like the movies than one imagines. There is absolutely no fanfare whatsoever. None of that soppy crap you have to endure at the start of Love Actually. No, no. Just a taxi driver holding up a sheet of white paper with your name on it, spelled incorrectly, and a few texts from the family to a) check you’ve landed and b) tell you where they’ve hidden a house key. Reassuringly normal I have to say. And the normality continues. The dog still chases his own tail like he’s in some sort of canine trance. My Mum is still the reigning queen of coffee shops in the Merseyside/West Lancs area (personal best achieved in 2016: a Christmas card from the cafe staff in Booth’s Burscough…she says loyal custom pays, Dad raises his eyebrows). My Dad still has a list longer than his piece of “jobs to do” paper, and still manages to add more to it. The house in France – another project and test of Dad’s DIY skills – is still the favourite topic of conversation, as are the goings on of the tiny French village it’s in. Random topics of conversation and discussion can last for days, like exactly which kettle is it that blows the electrics? Or is it the dishwasher? And then there are my siblings. One’s position in the family hierarchy never changes. For I’m still not as clever as one sister (never have been, never will be, I’d struggle to think of anything I can do that she can’t, maybe make a non lumpy cheese sauce?!). I’m still not as cool as the other sister (again, never will be but if I stand close to her there is a small chance her leftover cool will be recycled via me, possibly). I’m still not as funny as one brother (that one I’ll have a bash at, but it’s just a try really, and since most of my pee your pants funniness is thanks to alcohol and/or birth stories I’m somewhat limited). And I’m still not as pub quiz ready and all round knowledgeable as the other brother (I just don’t know as much stuff about stuff and probably never will because I fill voids in my brain with vacuous crap like KUWTK and Mean Girls quotes). But normality is so wonderful. It’s a reminder that four months is nothing. We haven’t been on some epic adventure into the unknown that’s lasted years, only to return and find another family living in the place we called home and children borne who have only heard our names in late night tales of family mystery. No, no. Just as there was no Richard Curtis-esque grand celebration for the returning wanderers, there was no plot twist either. Everything was perfectly as it was when we left.
So now I know, more than ever, that life absolutely carries on without me. Not WITHOUT without me. Obviously. But without any last minute phonecalls to my mum to announce that I’ve had enough of wherever I’m living and I’m coming to stay for a weekend. And I’m bringing the children with me because Karl’s away. Again. And by “bringing the children with me” what I clearly mean is that her and Dad are on babysitting duty because I need to get pissed with my school friends.
But normality does mean that should I ever decide one gloomy Thursday afternoon that I need a weekend at my folks – ignoring the small matter of the fuck off journey required – my bedroom and the children’s bedroom are ready for us. Home is home. And the new normal, this expat existence, may very well mean that for now at least we have several homes. We have our home with our new friends, new adventures and all it’s new tales to tell over the tea table at our old homes. Those ones with our families and childhood friends and more memories than our icloud accounts will ever have space for. And all these homes, the places, the people and the lives made are what are making us who we are. So yes, my god I was/am/will always be homesick. But homesick for different homes.
Pandora’s box wasn’t so much as opened this Christmas, as it was opened, the contents recategorised, and then closed again. This time though with a metaphorical ribbon around it, because next time I’m going home – whichever home that is – I’ll be opening that box with sheer delight at what I’m going back to. Physically what I’m going back to, but also mentally and emotionally. And then, just as I was delighted to open the box and revel in it’s contents, I’ll allow myself to look forward to going to our other home without any feelings of guilt or fear of what is being left behind.
Four months away may have taught me that I can hack this expat life, but three weeks at home have taught me that I can also enjoy it. And THAT is quite a turning point, mentally and emotionally. I can enjoy it, and I will. I am.
Welcome back to Singapore!