New countries and children have a fantastic ability to make you feel stupid. Because there’s nought quite like the curiosity of a child or a new language, culture, place to remind you just how much you don’t know. So, for someone whose recurring stress dream is sitting in the exam you haven’t revised for (geek, me?), you might wonder whether I’m made of the right stuff for this expat motherhood malarkey.
I ask myself the same question pretty regularly. And when it comes to questions, the last few months have hurled plenty my way. Some Google-able and some that are too big for that.
Let’s start with the easy stuff. Ask me any of the following and I am now an expert:
- How do you get orange crayon out of a cream carpet (in granny and granda’s new house?)
- Ditto felt tip pen off light grey kitchen tiles (in granny and granda’s new house?)
- Ditto red biro out of a (brand new, gorgeous) velvet chair and white bed sheets?
- Ditto baby poo out of (my favourite) white shorts (whilst trying to make good impression on new neighbours)?
- How do you get through a play date with no shoes?
- How do you get out of a car park when you’ve lost the annoying blue token thingy?
All hail Google, common sense and some gentle flirting.
But then it gets a bit tougher:
- How do you survive a gynae appointment with a screaming baby? True answer. You don’t. Really.
- How do you get nail varnish out of a (lovely @lennieandco) t-shirt? Am genuinely asking this one as I failed. Key learning, however, is not to attempt to disguise toenail painting as a legitimate craft activity with the (graffiti-obsessed) toddler. Lesson learned the hard way.
- How do you survive literally flying solo with two kids? Answer. Hen do balloons from the airport boozer. Snacks. Luck. Ipad. The kindness of strangers.
- Will she like me? In an effort to magic us up a social life and maintain daytime sanity, I’ve been going on mum dates. Pals of pals, via Facebook groups, some accidental park meetings. And having been out of the dating game for light-years it makes me a bit self-conscious. @mushmums – we need you out here. Fancy hooking up?!
And then it gets impossible. In good ways and bad:
- Are magic carpets real?
Uh…no. Except maybe they are. Kinda. You see I saw a rug for sale on a Facebook group this week and managed to nab it. When I arrived at this stranger’s house to pick it up, she explained that she was selling the entire contents of her apartment because she was moving to Hong Kong. That place is seriously close to my heart. I lived there for three years and loved it. And so we got talking. We clicked. And she had a bright yellow TV cabinet she was also trying to shift which I immediately loved (and needed – our TV is currently standing on cardboard removals boxes). We just weren’t sure whether it’d fit in the car so she said she may be able to deliver and where did I live. I told her, and she said she knew it because some close friends lived there. Long story short, those friends are our neighbours (just a few doors up on the same street). This led to a lovely Saturday eve with said neighbours (wine, delicious nibbles, actual adult conversation after 3 nights sitting in on my tod solo parenting – the only exception to a very civilised eve being the above-mentioned poo incident). And to top it all off, their daughter has her Red Cross qualification required for babysitting out here (yes this is an actual thing).
So back to magic carpets, that rug wasn’t just a rug. It also magic-ed up two new pals, a TV cabinet and the return of date night and relative freedom (aka babysitter). And to close the fortuitous loop, I’ve linked rug pal up with a good pal in Hong Kong so the magic can continue.
Why isn’t life fair?
This is one question the toddler and I agree on. But whilst hers is a response to not being allowed to lick the car / stand 2mm away from the TV / only have ice lollies for tea, my reason for asking it is a bit more fundamental.
My mum has a derivative of Parkinson’s disease called MSA (multiple system atrophy) for which there is currently no treatment and no cure. She is deteriorating so quickly and we know we don’t have long with her now (however long ‘not long’ is – another impossible question.) I’ve been back to Cornwall twice in the last month or so and it is so hard to see her – the woman who never walked upstairs, always ran; who never knew what was on TV because she couldn’t sit still for long enough to watch it and who would dust you if you sat still for too long in her presence – grinding to a literal halt. It is so tough to see her in pain. And it makes me want to scream at the same universe that delivered magic carpets to just deliver a miracle for my mum. I’ll never understand why this is happening. It just is. It is just part of life and as difficult as it is to swallow I know we can’t fight it.
Stephen Hawking, who also knew a thing or two about neurological disease, said that “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist” and that without it, none of us would be here.
This thing we call life is imperfect. It’s flawed, messy, beautiful and unfair. We can’t have all the good bits without the really bloody tough stuff too. That’s just not how it works.
I must have yelled the life’s not fair line at my mum a gazillion times as a toddler and a teenager – to which she would have replied ‘That’s just the way it is’. I don’t think either of us realised the lesson she was teaching me at the time. But here we are.
I have no doubt that life, new countries and toddlers will continue to hurl questions at me that I simply can’t answer. I also suspect that my mum could have answered most of the above without resorting to Google or gentle flirting. She has the most common sense of anyone I know.
She is also one of the most perfectly imperfect human beings I know.