So now I have a name for what we are as a family – ‘expat light’. Thanks to Expatica, Passport Career and other such websites, I know now that our current situation is right on trend: one of the spouses (in this case, my husband) is on a short-term assignment without the family, rather than the full-blown 3-4 year stint with everyone but the kitchen sink moving over.
OK, we have the added twist that I am also an expat in this country (although by now I don’t feel like one). That implies that I do not have family or even very old and close friends here. My parents have been blowing hot then cold about coming to stay and help out for couple of months (and at their age, I am not sure who is helping whom anymore). I do not have an au pair and cannot afford a nanny or babysitter more than one evening a week when I have those all-important talks or networking or committee meetings. So how does it work?
In theory, and on some sunny days with a view of Mont Blanc, it’s lovely. My husband tries to come over every 2 weeks for the weekend, while the kids and I get to spend all the holidays in gorgeous Geneva. We have already hired skis for the season and our skiing trip bill for the whole of 2011 will be decidedly lower than our one week of skiing from England during the February half-term 2010. We get to bring back cheese, wine and chocolate home with us. I am supposed to be taking it a bit more easy with my business this year and only get involved in those projects that I truly love.
In practice, it looks like this:
Friday night: Finish off project for Apex Corp. only one hour past deadline, after the children are in bed. Acute neck and shoulder pain from being hunched up over laptop all day.
Saturday: Husband cannot come this weekend because flights are too expensive. Search desperately for a cheaper Christmas flight for us three to Geneva, end up spending a fortune, including airport parking. Spend ages cooking a nice meal and children cry for half an hour that they do not like beef. Calm down an anxious child who is having nightmares because of this term’s topic on World War Two.
Sunday: Have to take children to 2 different parties at 2 different times, plus do 2 lots of homework with tears and pleas and lots of rubbing out. Look at instructions for building a rocket out of a fizzy drink bottle and decide I really can’t handle it. Tap decides to come off and spray water all over bathroom floor. Neck and shoulder still hurting, so I try to massage it with an electric machine and manage to move the pain further down my back. Try to phone husband to ask about location of spare tap but he is not at home. Discover next day he had gone out for coffee and then for drinks and supper, so actually has a social life in Geneva! Can’t remember last time I had a social life. First really cold night, have to go up in the loft at night to find the winter duvet.
Monday: Children’s lack of sleep is making them irritable and lazy in the morning. In the thick fog and damp, the car won’t start and none of the neighbours are around to jump start me. Discover our insurance does not cover home start. Fork out a small fortune to be professionally jumpstarted and drive around for an hour instead of working. Garage tells me battery needs to be replaced, have to wait around for that. About to send invoice for the project I completed on Friday, when I get an urgent request for some additional work they want me to do (which also involves other people, so I need to go back to them to check their schedules). While I am on one phone, my mobile rings and I am told I need to come and pick up my youngest from school, as he is being violently sick. Recovers enough on the way home to really annoy his brother. Spend rest of day trying to think what I can feed a dodgy tummy and how to keep two sons separated so that they don’t contaminate each other.
Tuesday: Car starts beautifully but now has a flat tyre. Alloy wheel corrosion means tyre is not well sealed, I discover. People at the garage are beginning to call me by my first name. At home, heating timer and thermostat decide to go on holiday. Outside is the coldest day of the year so far. Painful to be sitting at desk, but I manage to work for an hour on my project, before I am called to urgently replace the speaker I had organised for a charity event. Can’t find any other speaker at short notice, so I go and present myself. First call two different babysitters and three mums from school to see if they can look after children for me. Pick up children from two different locations and discover they have left their shoes, gloves and water bottles at school. Only a few tears over homework and a minor tussle over supper. Younger son can’t sleep because his knee hurts. Older one can’t sleep because younger one is crying. I cannot do one of my projects because the files haven’t come through yet and my neck aches too much when I sit in front of the computer.
Today is Wednesday, what more can the week throw at me?
Of course, if you were to ask me and my husband who’s got the harder life, we would both think it was ourselves. OK, OK, I admit, he has to work long hours and he is frequently on call, and he is abroad. But he is not in a place of hardship (Swiss houserules aside), he is doing what he loves, he is getting paid even when things go wrong and he has to take a few hours or days off, he does not have to juggle and be grateful for every 15 minutes he can eke from here and there.
I’ve been an expat, I’ve been an expat spouse and I am now an expat light. Which is best? The first, by far!