Just because, you know, there’s one or two misconceptions about the expat wife life…
What people think I do:
I have a glorious lie in every morning because that’s what people who don’t have an office job do. In my defence, I did wake up at an entirely unsociable time already this morning to kiss my darling husband goodbye and wish him a good day at work, and to ensure that our children leave the building hand in hand with our helper ready for school. She’s a godsend and completely understands how exhausting I find this humidity and heat, and how precious my me-time is. But when I do eventually rise from my sleeping beauty slumber, I’ll have a cup of freshly brewed coffee in bed. Not instant, no need to rush anything after all. Whilst sipping from my favourite coffee cup I might think about what to do next in my day. So many hours, so little pressure to do anything. Some days I like to head to the gym, other days I’ll give my other expat wife gals a call and we’ll all go for brunch. We call it networking or strategising or something equally business like and official sounding. Really, we’re just eating smashed avocado and poached eggs whilst discussing the latest sales picks in Zara, and moaning about the steep cost of shipping our favourite online picks overseas. But what the bank of husband doesn’t know won’t hurt him. In fact, we love that logic so much we might go for a post-brunch mooch around town. Someone needs some specific gold vase or something, and we all have to wander around the various high end boutiques expats exclusively shop at on the hunt. Whether we find what we’re looking for or not is entirely irrelevant, we can pick this shopping trip up another day, any day, any time. Life is good to us like that… #blessed.
Don’t get me wrong, we deserve this lifestyle though, we worked hard for it. We gave up our friends and family in our home countries and moved for our darling beloveds. It’s so amazing though that in a matter of moments after arriving in my new home I found a whole new gaggle of girlfriends who initiated me into the group with a full afternoons gin drinking session on the beautifully lush lawns of their favourite clubhouse. This initiation is de rigeur for any expat wives aspiring to be part of the special group I now call my friends. Truly, it’s like we’ve always known each other and reminds how lucky I am to be such a magnet for other strong, attractive wife types. Not all women are this dedicated to their husbands, but I am, and I reward myself regularly for it. But reward requires work, and it is a full time job maintaining myself, my children and my home.
My husband is very particular and I will do anything to ensure his absolute happiness and calm at home. It is our sanctuary away from the wilds of this foreign country, and he needs to know he is number one when he steps through the front door. It would be impossible to keep such an air of calm and control without my dear, dear helper, who does everything for me without me even needing to ask her. If behind every great man there is a greater woman, behind that woman is another woman, and she knows just how important she is to us. The children adore her almost as much as I do and will regularly go to her when they’re upset. Parenting is so much easier when there is a second mother in the house. I simply cannot fathom how she manages to get everything done and find it exhausting just watching her work. My husband also appreciates the effort I put in to ensure our home and family, and of course myself, are all looking tip top. I have a strict regime of mani’s, pedi’s, waxes, tints, trims, and facials so I’m bikini ready or cocktail prepped at all times. You just never quite know when the next social invite will come, and it would be disastrous to have to turn it down due to a secret unruly fuzz situation. This is, after all, my job and duty and I take it all very, VERY, seriously.
What I actually do:
In my better moments I call myself the CEO of the house managing a small but growing family business. In my more desperate moments I call myself a fucking mug and promise myself I’ll look at flights home later. The days always start the same though, regardless of my mood. Whilst shovelling toast and milk down the offspring I might slurp some dodgy tasting instant coffee and double check what’s happening in the day ahead. I realise I’m not exactly commanding a boardroom of high flying execs, and sometimes that makes me feel a little less of a person than I was 12 months ago, but breakfast meetings in this business can be equally unruly and full of demanding characters. At some point the husband slips out, kissing the kids bye en route to the door, and I’m left with pre-schoolers in a country I don’t really know that well with what feels like a verrrrrry long day ahead. The CEO in me gets onto google straight away and tracks down where our closest park/playground/softplay is, the desperate mother in me flicks the through the same handful of foreign TV channels for kids whilst playing with the same cup of naff coffee I’ve been sipping since 7am, very aware that it tastes different to at home. I don’t have a helper so this is also my key time to swap loads of washing around and faff around the house, but if I did have a helper I’d be going through with her all the chores for today and trying to manage another person in the boardroom. But one who is on absolute minimal pay and doesn’t necessarily speak the same first language. So you know, not all it’s cracked up to be perhaps.
Assuming the kids are settled into some sort of activity I might take a moment to look at my to-do list. It’s still really long, and I still have several important phone calls I need to make but time zones restrict me hugely, and sending emails is getting me nowhere. How hard is it, in this day and age, to cancel contracts in your home country or explain to an actual person and not a robotic voice that this call doesn’t really match any of options 1-5 on the keypad? The hours wasted chasing emails and making calls forms a rather depressing portion of the expat wife workload. I’m not my family’s PA I’m the CEO goddammit! Who am I kidding? I’m the PA. Next up on the list is to make arrangements for the kids to trial several different “enrichment” activities (ballet, mini rugby etc), try and coordinate kindergarten viewings with my husbands work diary via whatsapp, source the children’s favourite foods online for a not entirely extortionate amount, arrange for the aircon to be serviced, and check who has birthdays coming up in two weeks to be sure cards and presents are sent with plenty of travel time. Please note this all has to take place prior to 9am as at 9.30am Mummy School starts.
“Mummy School” as we rather grandly call it, is just me going into teacher mode and trying to ensure my kids aren’t going to be illiterate due to lack of formal schooling during our initial toe dip into expat life. Education is an expensive and confusing minefield for expats. How many ways are there to school a kid? Several it turns out, and each more expensive than the other. I’m stuck in a vicious cycle of not being able to afford a good British education (or any for that matter) until I get a job, but I can’t go to work unless the kids are in full time childcare aka school and nursery, the childcare I can’t afford to pay for because I don’t have a job…so I home school. I’ll be honest I’ve never had dreams of being a teacher and I’ve always scoffed slightly at home schoolers, but this is the payoff to living in a country with great weather and low taxes. So Mummy School is as good as it gets for now. What they miss out on in terms of social exposure I’m hoping a crammed enrichment schedule will make up for. Maybe. But that’s not the teacher in me’s problem to work out, that’s for social secretary Mummy to arrange and oversee. So many pulls in so many directions.
The rest of the time I’m keeping kids alive, fed, watered and entertained. All day. Every day. All in completely unfamiliar territory with borderline zero social life. Fucks knows what I’d do if there was a significant language barrier in the way too. I do a great job in making it sound completely miserable, I know, but it’s really not. We have plenty to do and explore in a city we’ve never been to, and we’ve even been making friends (see blogpost Dating In The Motherhood for proof of this). And if all else fails there’s always the resort worthy pools to splash about in right downstairs from our apartment. That’s an experience and luxury offered to us because we’ve embarked on this expat adventure, the UK looks very grey in comparison.
At some point during the day, usually the evening, I might try and hold together an adult conversation with my husband. I’ll listen to him talk about his day at work, but really I just want to check that we’re not moving again anytime soon. I’ve only just unpacked from the last move, the children have already lived in four different homes, and I’ve made friends and a life every time. We’re expats though, this is what we do. We’re professional packers, unpackers, flight takers and village makers. We can make a home anywhere, and we’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves and do it.