Category Archives: Building a support network

Relocation & Expat Resources -The Moving Process. Buidling a support network. Information, Inspiration, How-To Guides and Tools for Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition and

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

The Secret to Expat Success… And Why.

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

 

 

I knew it. Finally, the insanity that is my expat life – and most of the website – has been vindicated, and it’s all thanks to Ellen Mahoney over at Sea Change Mentoring. She introduced me to the groundbreaking advice given by a tech start-up entrepreneur, as a recipe for global success and world domination…

 

Make your mistakes quickly

 

As a person whose family motto is “Disaster soon follows”, I have long been a proponent of this approach, with no idea that I was such thought leader. I had just assumed I was incompetent and (in a rare moment of self-acceptance) decided not to fight it. It’s a phrase that could be part of every expat mission statement, and should probably replace a lot of the well intentioned advice given in the all-too-brief briefing sessions; “learn the language”, “ get out and make friends” and my personal favorite “ join a gym”… Hmmm. Instead, the secret to expat success is familiar and effortlessly achievable – the global gaffe. And here’s why.

 

1. It reminds us that we will make mistakes.

In the assignment planning stage, it’s important to focus on the positive, but in doing so we often forget that expat life is still life. Mistakes happen, and when you are in an environment with unfamiliar language, culture, rules and expectations, they happen a lot. Making your mistakes quickly reminds us to expect – and even plan – for those mistakes. Whether that means working with a destination service provider or an expat coach, doing your own exhaustive research or simply being patient with yourself while you transition (or all of the above), it’s vital to acknowledge that perfection is impossible, and good enough is, well, good enough.

 

2. We focus on ‘right’ as a victory, rather than ‘wrong’ as a failure.

I once did a stint as a sales consultant and one of the job requirements was calling customers to set appointments. It was (and no doubt, still is) a miserable task –  you knew that your cheerful introduction could be greeted with anything from interest, to polite refusal, to a torrent of abuse and a dial tone. Thankfully, I was armed with a secret weapon; the company set targets for calls made, and let the actual results take care of themselves. So every call made was a relief – one less to do, one step closer to reaching the goal. Acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable (and in the early days, we are more likely to get it wrong than get it right) is incredibly freeing. It gives us permission to focus on the actions and let the outcomes take care of themselves. It prepares us for failure, and when things do go right, we get to stop, acknowledge it for the triumph that it is, and celebrate.

 

 3. It gets you out there.

Having taken away the fear of failure, there’s nothing like the element of competition to spur us on. Experienced expats (i.e. those who have been comprehensive in their cock-ups) can entertain for hours with hilarious stories of endless mishaps, miscommunications or general disasters; just visit the bar at any FIGT conference and listen for the raucous laughter if you don’t believe me. It’s the expat version of the Olympic Decathlon, with extra points for speed, style and variety. All that’s missing is the opening ceremony, the national uniforms and the lycra. But don’t let us stop you…

 

4. It helps you to bond.

If there’s one thing that unites the expat world, it’s our inability to watch people struggle without feeling some serious empathy. It’s one of the unwritten laws of expat life; we’re all in this together, and in my mind, there is a special place in Hell for expats who don’t help each other. Putting yourself out there and making mistakes publicly transports us all back to our early days and disasters, and gives us something in common that transcends language, culture or belief. It reminds us that we are human, and we love you for it.

 

5. It makes you brave.

Fear of failure is crippling, and stops us doing so many things that would take ordinary life and make it extraordinary. By contrast, being forced into situations where mistakes are inevitable and accepting them as a mere part of life’s journey gives us the motivation to be creative, to take risks and to try new things constantly. We dream big, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, we don’t go home. We learn that it hasn’t killed us, and we are really are stronger.

 

So there you have it – official permission to create chaos and have fun doing it. Providing of course, you follow our lead and share all your finer moments. Now we just need merit badges and an awards ceremony…

Expat Parenting – The International Peace Treaty..

expat parenting - how it takes more than one village to raise a CCK / TCK. Defining Moves, information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment transferee..  When I originally wrote this post, I had yet to hit the expat parenting minefield that is the adolescent CCK (Cross Culture Kid). I now know firsthand the dubious pleasure of putting a career on hold to focus on transplanting children, only to be calmly told that I have “ruined” their lives.. 

Thus comes the realization that parenting is a truly thankless task, and it’s only the support of fellow sufferers that keep one from running screaming to the nearest liquor store. It’s why expat parents become experts at nurturing a large group of people who will provide support, comfort, alcohol and surveillance services through our child’s teenage years, people who, regardless of location, language, culture or religion, follow the same, previously unwritten code. For those of you who we rely on for our daily dose of sanity, here it is..

  1. Thou shalt not post pictures of home-made birthday cake excellence on Facebook, so that my children spot them and spend the next ten years bringing up my own birthday cake inadequacies.
  2. Thou shalt not point out that your child is walking and talking while mine has spent the last three hours with his hands down his trousers.
  3. When spying my child indulging in antisocial activities in public, thou shalt utter the words “her mother will be very cross when she finds out about that”; implicitly underlining that a) I am the all seeing, attentive parent, and b) I have high behavioral standards. It is irrelevant whether you believe this or not, and extra credit is given for saying it when other parents are present.
  4. When spying my child inappropriately dressed, thou shalt sing out in a helpful tone “Would you like me to call your mother to drop off your sweater / trousers / anything that doesn’t look like a Britney Spears outfit?”, thus communicating to the child that a) she’s busted; b) you are willing to go there; and c) there are eyes everywhere. Extra credit is given for not telling me about inappropriate attire unless there is a repeat occurrence.
  5. When my teenage child makes an inappropriate remark, thou shalt enter into a lengthy and awkward story about your own teenage angst, preferably with reference to kissing. The mental picture of adults ever indulging in such behavior is enough to silence any outburst, and serves as a cruel and unusual punishment which rarely has to be repeated.
  6. When my child comes looking for sympathy about my latest parenting gaffe, thou shalt listen kindly and then retell the story about how aforementioned child once had diarrhea next to the deli counter in a crowded supermarket, and until life roles are reversed, I still have the moral high ground.
  7. When my child comes looking for support in opposition to the latest parenting policy, thou shalt listen sympathetically, nod furiously, make noises of agreement, and then reiterate policy without the benefit of parent type shrieking. Extra credit is given if child thanks you for being so reasonable and fails to notice that it is the same policy.
  8. When my child leaves home, thou shalt not mention how many times I uttered the words “I can’t wait for them to leave home” and instead hand over tissues and gin to drown my sorrows.
  9. Should my child get married, thou shalt attend the wedding without publicly mentioning the pant fumbling, the diarrhea, the inappropriate clothing or the teenage years. Extra credit is given for having photographic evidence for use in ensuring timely Christmas visits etc.
  10. When my child has children, thou shalt join me in watching them recreate all my worst mistakes, smile and enjoy the show..

Photo courtesy of Clare Kruse, who inspired this post by breaking Rule 1..

FIGT Conference March 22-23 2013

Why You (and every expat) Should Be Going to FIGT 2013

FIGT Conference March 22-23 2013It seems incredible that a year has passed since the last Families in Global Transition conference; forever infamous as the one where I had a complete (and very public ) online meltdown at the eminence and credentials of my fellow presenters, only to have my cover blown by one Judy Rickatson, (aka @wifeinasuitcase) who is the expat online version of Wikipedia. If it’s out there, she knows about it, Tweets, Likes and Pins about it, and, I strongly suspect, has superhuman powers. If she was in charge of the search for the Holy Grail, it would have been found years ago, and it has become my life’s work to try and find an expat blog that she hasn’t yet discovered. She is the Simon Cowell of the expat social media world, discovering talent from the four corners of the globe; only much, much nicer.

Hence my blubbering gaining the attention of various members and supporters of FIGT, who all headed across to the Defining Moves website to offer kind words, support and offers of hospitality. It was the single most generous spirited gesture, and it embodies all that is special about the FIGT organization. People with years of experience, a hugely diverse range of backgrounds and an incredible depth of knowledge, all passionate about making expat life better.

It’s why I can’t wait to go back this year, and why you should all be joining me too. It’s a two day whirlwind of people, presentations and discussions from every perspective; starting with a keynote presentation from the brilliant Pico Iyer. Whether you are an accompanying partner, a expat service provider or from corporate HR, you will leave with a wealth of information and a host of new friends and real, live expat human resources. The only dilemma is how to fit it all into two days.

As for me, I have very personal reasons to want to go there too. It will be the first time I will actually meet many online friends in person, both those who regularly pop up here in the comments sections, on the Facebook page and on my Twitter feed.

At the top of my list?

Judy, of course.

 

If you need more information about Families in Global Transition and the FIGT 2013 conference, here’s the link to their website, including information on registering, becoming a member (as well as all the other benefits, you qualify for a reduced registration fee), global affiliates, sponsorship,  the New Attendees information webinar and the New Attendees welcome evening. I hope to see you there!

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partner

Keeping in Contact – The Essential Guide to Cheaper International Calling

When we first started gallivanting around the world, keeping in contact meant email and dial-up internet and very, very expensive bills. Thankfully for expats, global nomads, world travelers and their friends and family back home, things are now cheaper, quicker and far, far more convenient – provided you know what to use, where. By popular demand, here’s the Defining Moves guide to cheaper international communication. Complete with a lovingly handmade PDF cheat sheet. You’re spoiled, you really are…

 

If you are a landline lover (landlubber).

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partner

 

While most of us rely heavily on the internet for communicating, there are still plenty of places where the service is too slow / expensive / inconsistent to be reliable or who have loved ones back home who prefer a traditional handset. If so, you should be checking your provider for a reduced rate package that you can add to your plan – rather like the unarranged overdraft at the bank, spontaneous international calls are charged at prohibitive rates, while prepaid or pre-authorized ones are far cheaper.

If you can’t reduced rates, consider asking (and if necessary, paying for) family members to add international calls to their package at home and have pre-arranged call times – most landline calls are free to receive, regardless of whether they are local or international. Over the course of an overseas assignment, the savings will be significant, and you have the added advantage of guilt-free calls.

Combine this with a service from Rebtel, which offers cheap international calls from any phone, whether landline or mobile. It involves setting up an account online, entering the numbers you want to call, and then using the new local numbers that Rebtel gives you for each of your contacts.

It’s far less complicated than it sounds (especially when most phones allow you to store contact details) and Rebtel even offers you a free call to try it out. The even better news? It’s global, so you can use the new numbers anywhere in the world for local rate calls, and their website is incredibly clear and easy to use.

As a last resort, there are hundreds of international calling cards out there that in exchange for a prepaid card and a little inconvenience, offer a much lower rate. Try www.comfi.com for comparisons of rates – and again, don’t forget to check for connection fees…

 

If you have home internet but like to have a traditional phone and number.

 

It has to be Ooma. It’s a square device (about the size of an answering machine) that plugs into your internet router and allows you to connect a regular handset. The unit itself costs around $200, but allows you to make free domestic calls and very low-cost international calls while only paying applicable government taxes. What we like? You pay up front, all call costs, fees and taxes are clearly displayed and user reviews love it too. The bad news? It’s currently only available in the US. Sorry.

Alternatively, Skype offers a Skype To Go number to use with a handset – either buy one with Skype functionality installed, or use a phone adapter. You have to buy Skype credit online to both pay for the number and subscription/pay as you go credit, so if you are setting it up for your less tech savvy family members or friends, you might want to help them set up automated payments at the same time. In the interests of full disclosure, reviews were scathing, both about the call and product quality, and customer service. Eek.

 

If you have home internet and a computer / laptop / tablet with microphone and speakers.expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partner

The current market leader has to be Skype, who offer low cost calling, no set-up, cancellation or contract fees, and a variety of products and services to keep the most demanding amongst us happy. Calls can be made through most devices with a microphone and speakers – computers, laptops, tablets and even cellphones with wifi capability – and for those of us who prefer to use a regular handset, they sell those too.

Calls to other Skype users are free and if you have a webcam, this includes free video calls – fantastic for keeping track of growing children, changing hair colors or home improvement projects.  Not so good if you forget that you have video enabled and make calls in your pajamas.

The good news is that Skype is widely used, so you will be able to make free calls to most of your global network. The bad news is that you will need a high speed internet connection to avoid distortions and dropped calls and if you have a usage limit, you will quickly burn up a significant amount of data with video calls. It is also prohibitively expensive  to call cellphones, their calling rates are buried in the darkest corner of the website, and their customer service is run entirely via email and video chat. Hmm.

 

If you prefer to use your cellphone, but don’t have a data package.

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partnerEnter Rebtel again, the patron saint of cheap international cellphone to cellphone calls. Sure, you have to sign up online and set up payment plan, but once you have a) saved their Rebtel number in your phone and b) practiced a few times, you can get regular cellphone to cellphone calls for local rates with no data, no hassle and great signal quality.

 

If you have a smartphone, data / wi-fi access, and love to talk.

Here’s where it gets really, really good, especially if your friends have smartphones and data packages  (or wi-fi access) too, because there are some great products and apps out there. My personal favorite is Viber, which offers free cellphone-to-cellphone calls and texts to other Viber users. It integrates with your contact list so you can instantly see which friends and acquaintances have Viber, and offers you the option of free calls (for when you have plenty of data or a wi-fi connection) or a regular call for when you want to use your voice plan. We love its ease of use, the ability to easily invite others to join and the call and text reliability – but be warned; it looks very similar to your regular cellphone call application, so check twice before placing any international calls…

expat international call communication tools - Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, Inspiration and Resources for the Global accompanying partner, trailing souse, expat partnerNext up is the Rebtel app – all the features of Rebtel, with the ease of an app. The calls are free to other Rebtel users and (Rebtel claims) 98% cheaper to non-users. We love the easy-to-use contact list, with clear labels about which calls are ‘free’, and which are ‘cheap’, and has the cost of each call displayed before you press ‘Call’.

Trailing in third place is Skype – the most well known (and widely available), but also the most clunky to use (you have to search for Skype user names or emails) and the least transparent in terms of cost. Like the previous two, calls are free to Skype users, and there is the added advantage of video calling for those of you with camera phones, the ability to using instant messaging and to send photos. The bad news is that video calling eats data, so make sure you either have unlimited data or are using wi-fi when making those calls, and that all of your Skype contacts are notified that your are ‘available’ unless you remember to change your settings. And its SMS feature is a pain to use, and at least in my experience, pretty unreliable.

For free international video calls, iPhone, iTouch, iPad and Mac users can benefit from Apple’s FaceTime application which again uses the internet to connect the call. For those of you using iPhones, be sure to click FaceTime rather than Call, unless, of course, you enjoy three figure phone bills…

 

 If u prfr the writn wrd… International text messaging for free.

Viber is still up there for its free global messaging to other Viber users, but in terms of functionality, WhatsApp has to win the international messaging prize. It uses your existing contacts list to find other WhatsApp users, who can then be bombarded with texts, images, videos and goodness knows what else, for free. For those of you with TCKs, CCKs, global tweens and teens, it’s your passport to peace, family harmony, international communication, financial sanity and probably, Repetitive Strain Injury. Four out of five ain’t bad.

As a final note to those of you who travel frequently – consider getting your phone unlocked. While all of these features will help you save hundreds on communication costs, the savings are quickly overtaken by overseas data charges, and free wi-fi access is not always easy to find. An unlocked phone allows you to buy a Pay As You Go local sim card (cut it down to micro-sim size if necessary – instructions here) and stay in close contact with your network for less.

It’s good to talk. Or, for the more musically inclined…

Cultural Orientation - How to Make Friends and Introduce People. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation

Really Useful Cultural Orientation – How to Make Friends and Introduce People..

Cultural Orientation - How to Make Friends and Introduce People. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful RelocationYou’ve spent the first half of your life learning acceptable social behaviour, the last ten years telling your kids not to care what people think, and then wham! Relocation. Suddenly you’re stuck right back where you were on the first day of high school, having to walk into places you really would rather run screaming from, and make nice with a sea of people who have no idea who you are. Welcome to our world.

If your cultural orientation training was anything like mine, it revolves around the country currency, demographics and religious practices. What it might not tell you is how to find the people with whom you can laugh, cry, and everything in between with. So here’s my best advice, based on years of social gaffes, awkward situations and offending people.

 It does get easier. Just as the first day of school was the worst for most of us (apart from the boy who had diarrhea in assembly in 9th grade – that’s a tricky one to beat), the first few weeks of any move are the hardest. The quicker you get out there and start circulating, the quicker you will find your first friend.

It’s a numbers game. You didn’t expect to like everyone in high school, and nor will you like everyone you meet, but you have to go through the numbers to get to one who will become lifelong friends. Go to as many gatherings as possible, safe in the knowledge that somewhere out there is someone who is doing the same thing and hating it every bit as much as you do..

Talk to a cherished friend beforehand, so that you are

  1.  more confident about yourself and will present yourself in a more relaxed way
  2. have vented all your relocation angst so that your new acquaintances don’t think you are a moany old whingebag and hereafter avoid you and,
  3. so you have someone impartial waiting to hear all the gory details. Knowing that you have someone far, far away who relish all the post party gossip and can never tell makes putting up with the fifteenth “what does your husband do?” far more palatable.

Go to where people gather to be social. This issue cropped up the other day – in Europe there are higher numbers of dual income families, so there are fewer opportunities to meet socially through school, and so a friend with school age children is struggling to meet new people.  Instead, take a class, or do something that people go to alone. And no, I don’t mean bars.

Be prepared to watch, learn and smile. There will be new social rules (cute does not have the same implicit meaning in the UK and the US), a new dress codes, language differences. You may be an avid taxidermist, but that’s probably not going to be your best icebreaker at the school social. And if you are anything like me, try to avoid sarcastic, flippant or hilarious remarks, such as “Will there be alcohol served?” at the new parent breakfast. My strategy is to seek out the person that sparks the most antipathy, and watch for who else in the crowd is wincing. Instant friend, right there.

Don’t undervalue yourself. Most relocation advice suggests voluntary work as a great way to develop a social network, and while this may be true, I have seen more people than I care to count take on the first volunteer opportunity that comes their way, only to end up in glorious isolation doing the photocopying for the PTA. (Actually, I met one of my favorite people doing exactly that, but I just got very lucky..). Find something that both gives you a sense of fulfillment and attracts like-minded people, and feel free to test drive opportunities before you commit. Tell them I said so.

Talk to anyone. My mother does this, and it drives me nuts, but she can find a friend faster than anyone I know. Her favorite targets are anyone with a British accent, anyone in a book store, anyone wearing Marks and Spencer clothing, and anyone with grey hair. And if you happen to have a baby, your chances of escaping uninterrupted are nil.

At all costs, avoid asking “What does your husband do?”. A little piece of my soul dies every time that question is asked in social circles, as if the person being spoken to is unworthy of interest. Add in the fact that you are assuming that they are a) married, and b) they don’t instead have a wife. My personal answer when asked is “Put a gun to my head and I still couldn’t tell you”; it conveys accurately both my knowledge of what he does, and my interest in finding out. As yet, no-one has taken me up on it, but feel free to find your own, less dramatic response.

In the interest of fulfilling the entire title, when you do finally get out and meet people to talk to, the basic etiquette rules of introduction are as follows:
Self Introduction:
“Hi /Hello / Nice to meet you”, “I am XXX”;  and then a single descriptor (e.g. “friend of the host”, “so and so’s colleague”, etc.)
Introducing Others: Generally, men are introduced to women, younger people to older people, and lower-ranking individuals to more senior – think of it as presenting a subject to the queen. So it would go: “Your majesty, this is my husband, the Other Half.” In a social setting, it is considered good form to give the newly introduced couple something to talk about. And no, that does not include politics, religion or embarrassing facts about each other..
I would like to pretend that I know these facts from early presentation to the Queen and life in elevated circles. Alas not.

Now it’s your turn – any suggestions?

Expat Communication for Friends and Family - What We Really Mean By "Fine". Part of the Defining Moves Expat Essentials Guide

Expat Communication with Friends and Family.. What We Really Mean by “Fine”

Expat Communication for Friends and Family - What We Really Mean By "Fine". Part of the Defining Moves Expat Essentials Guide

Conversations about resilience and coping strategies at FIGT 2012 prompted a great deal of thought about the role of the people who we leave behind when expats relocate. In my ‘7 Habits of Successful Relocation’ seminar, we talked about those who have invested time, energy and emotion into relationships with us, despite knowing that we may not be around for the long haul. Ruth Van Renken, author of “Letters Never Sent”, described it as “all of the grief, with none of the anticipation”. News of an impending transfer creates anxiety, stress and  uncertainty in more than just the immediate family.

It’s a communication no-win situation. When we try to put a brave face on it and focus on the positive, it sounds like we are having a wonderful time and not missing you one bit. When we moan about how miserable we are, we can almost hear the phrase “sure, living a life of leisure in the sun with no work and plenty of help – it must be awful” sarcastically running through your mind. And if you have enough patience and understanding to let us vent for hours without telling us to shut up, at some point we start to hear how whiney and unpleasant we sound and really wish you had.

The good news is that we do get though it, and the support of the people we leave behind is something that we value above all else. We may not speak to you on a daily basis, but I can promise we think about you often  and talk about you to our new friends, wishing you were there in person to join in.

So for those of you who are leaving people you love, or are finding it difficult to explain how conflicted life is as an expat, I’ve put together some pointers that you can share..

 

We are a confused mix of emotions right now, so please bear with us.

Some of us are excited to be going on this adventure, but we are also quietly terrified of what lies ahead, and can’t show it for fear we won’t get on the plane. We feel guilty about leaving you, but it’s like going into school for the first time – we are trying to put a brave face on. It doesn’t mean that we love you any less – the opposite in fact. If we didn’t have you as a safety net, we’d never step out into the unknown.

 

We need you more than ever, but it may not seem like it.

Remember when you started school, and it took all of your energy just to keep track of where you should be going, what the rules were and who and where to avoid? That’s what relocation is like. We hardly know what time of the day it is, let alone our own phone number.We are just barely holding it together, and a text or email make a world of difference, especially if it makes us laugh.

 

If you really love us, forgive us if we don’t answer immediately.

We are overwhelmed, we don’t know anybody here, the paperwork is bewildering and every waking moment is spent trying to keep our heads above water. When we finally get through this transition phase (and we will), we will remember for ever the fact that you stuck with us.

 

Birthdays and celebrations are always the hardest, especially for the first year.

Remember how I moaned about having to cook the Christmas turkey, or that every birthday card reminded me that I was getting older? I was wrong. All those things reminded me that I have friends and family to share my time, my home and my life with, and without them, it can be very lonely. We do find new people to share them with, but if we could have one wish, it would be to have everyone we have ever shared those times with all together in one room..

 

I may say ‘it’s fine’, but I’m being brave.

Please don’t be fooled. But I also don’t want to waste precious time talking to you by sniveling about the woman at the school, and I want to hear what is happening in your life. Just talking to you makes everything seem a whole lot better, and hearing about your day helps to put mine back in perspective. It reminds me that we all have our good and bad moments, and the trick is to have friends to laugh, cry and share them with.

 

You don’t have to write an essay – three words will do.

Or a photo, if that is easier. What we miss most is the day to day interactions with you all – the smiles, the snatched conversations in grocery stores and school yards – the sense of connection and belonging. So don’t think you have to send a three page letter for it to be worthwhile (although we love those too) even the smallest contact lets us know that someone, somewhere is thinking about us, and is missing us too.

Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress

The “No Fair” Rules of Parenting

There is a code of parenting solidarity, that guides our behavior in those early years. It’s there for a reason – to provide a large group of people who will provide support, comfort, alcohol and surveillance services through your child’s teenage years. For those of you who may not be familiar with this unspoken code, here it is…

Thou shalt not post pictures of home-made birthday cake excellence on Facebook, so that my children spot them and spend the next ten years bringing up my own birthday cake inadequacies.

Thou shalt not point out that your child is walking and talking while mine has spent the last three hours with his hands down his trousers.

When spying my child indulging in antisocial activities in public, thou shalt utter the words “her mother will be very cross when she finds out about that”; implicitly underlining that a) I am the all seeing, attentive parent, and b) I have high behavioral standards. It is irrelevant whether you believe this or not, and extra credit is given for saying it when other parents are present.

When spying my child inappropriately dressed, thou shalt sing out in a helpful tone “Would you like me to call your mother to drop off your sweater / trousers / anything that doesn’t look like a Britney Spears outfit?”, thus communicating to the child that a) she’s busted; b) you are willing to go there; and c) there are eyes everywhere. Extra credit is given for not telling me about inappropriate attire unless there is a repeat occurrence.

When my teenage child makes an inappropriate remark, thou shalt enter into a lengthy and awkward story about your own teenage angst, preferably with reference to kissing. The mental picture of adults ever indulging in such behavior is enough to silence any outburst, and serves as a cruel and unusual punishment which rarely has to be repeated.

When my child comes looking for sympathy about my latest parenting gaffe, thou shalt listen kindly and then retell the story about how said child once had diarrhea next to the deli counter in a crowded supermarket, and until roles are reversed, the balance was still tipped in my favor.

When my child comes looking for support in opposition to the latest parenting policy, thou shalt listen sympathetically, nod furiously, make noises of agreement, and then reiterate policy without the benefit of parent type shrieking. Extra credit is given if child thanks you for being so reasonable and fails to notice that it is the same policy.

When my child leaves home, thou shalt not mention how many times I uttered the words “I can’t wait for them to leave home” and instead hand over tissues and gin to drown my sorrows.

Should my child get married, thou shalt attend the wedding without publicly mentioning the pant fumbling, the diarrhea, the inappropriate clothing or the teenage years. Extra credit is given for having photographic evidence for use in ensuring timely Christmas visits etc.

When my child has children, thou shalt smile and enjoy the show..

 

Double Life

We’ve just arrived back in the US, after spending Thanksgiving in the UK. And it’s very very strange. For one thing, the word ‘home’ is forever used in inverted commas, because it’s never really clear where home is. The old adage “Home is where the heart is” is absolutely no help whatsoever, because there are people I love and memories I treasure everywhere we have lived, with the small exception of a two bedroom apartment in Playa Del Ray.

This one was a tough visit. It seems we will be transferred to the US on a more permanent basis, and so our home in Wales is now on the market and our whistlestop visit there was eaten up with the practicalities of what to take and what to leave, and trying to capture all the happy memories on camera before we leave for good. The Less Wiggy One pointed out that everywhere we go, we just “get rid of everything”, which in material terms, is startlingly accurate. And while I don’t miss many of the ‘things’, we are in danger of losing the memories that come with them.

Yet again, our family and friends saved the day. A chance Facebook message from a cousin who my children don’t even remember meeting morphed in to a mammoth tea and tale telling afternoon, full of laughter and stories from three generations of people who are an integral, if no longer immediate, part of our lives, but who between them can paint hilarious pictures of our family foibles for seventy years. My sister pulled out all the old, out-of-focus photos from our childhood, inciting two days worth of retelling of adventures in early parenting, while my mother had the black and white proof that yes, indeed, being un-photogenic was a family trait. And an evening with my brother and his family, where we picked up our stories exactly where we left off a year ago, without so much as a pause for thought, was a timely reminder to the children that it’s the people that are the custodians of our memories, not the bricks and mortar. Unless you count Julian and Gill, who have the children’s handprints immortalized in cement on the floor or their greenhouse, another discovery that the rest of us had forgotten.

Relocating is a double edged sword. You experience new places, and meet people that you now can’t imagine not being part of your life, but you also leave behind those very people with every move. We are really lucky that we have friends and family who are incredibly tolerant of our nomadic ways, who regardless of how long or how many visits it has been since we have seen them, still stay in touch. We didn’t get to see most of people that we wanted to see this time, but there is something incredibly humbling about having messages left on a phone that is used for one week a year, or Facebook messages or emails, that offer a welcome, a bed, a meal, or most importantly, security of knowing that we may be gone, but not forgotten.