The greatest show on earth. Or in this part of town, anyway...

>> Wednesday, 10 June 2015

It can seem like a bit of a circus here in expat land as the end of the school year approaches.  Every weekend features at least one leaving party, there are weekday lunches where women who have become as close as sisters over the previous 10 months bid each other a tearful farewell in the summer sunshine, and children write their bucket lists of what they want to do for one last time before they leave their current country of residence for another.

Expat wives - usually the main carers at home, whether you like to hear that or not - continue the normal routines that hold their family together, but also spend a lot of time rushing headlong from one engagement to the next, trying to remember which leaving gift they have contributed to and whether the accompanying card has been signed, all the while trying to work out who - now that their best friends are leaving town - they are going to put down as a local emergency contact for the school in the case that they can't be reached if their children are in an accident.

It's one of 'those' years here in our Moscow expat community.  One of those particularly crazy years when it seems that 50% of the expat population are leaving after the school bell rings for the last time in the next week or so.  Leaving, and not coming back.  I'm sure that it isn't the case; there are probably no more people leaving this year than in any other, it's just that being in our 6th year now we know more of those leaving than we ever did before.

And of course this time, we are one of that number ourselves.

I remember that the summer after we arrived in Moscow it felt like one of 'those' years then, too.  Not that it affected me particularly; at that stage I'd only been living here 6 months and the frenzy of leaving parties, gift-giving and tears on the last day of term seemed - if I'm brutally honest - a tad over the top.  (I'm British after all.  We don't like to wear our hearts on our sleeves as a rule.  But expat life might have cured me of that, a bit...)

The second summer after we arrived, however, we went to leaving parties that hurt.  Good friends I'd made in the previous 18 months left Russia, and as I comforted my children as they said goodbye to their besties and then watched as they went on the hunt for new ones at the beginning of the next school year, I understood first-hand how it felt to lose the support structure you'd so carefully created for yourself.  I finally got what the fuss was about.  Then, the year after, I understood it again.  And then the year after that, and the year after that, too.

It wears you down, after a while, all that emotion.  So we're bowing out, for a while at least, and heading back to the UK.  This year we threw our own leaving party and booked our own movers.

I suspect that I will be one of 'those' mothers reaching for the tissues at the school's Closing Ceremony as I seek out my boys in the mass of faces and wonder where the last 6 years have gone.  It's a powder keg, that event, and nothing that I ever experienced in our UK educational system prepared me for it; a more heady cocktail of emotions than the one created in the school gym on that day is hard to find.  60-plus flags - one for every nation with pupils currently in attendance - are carried into the hall by the oldest child of that nationality, with each of them announced to the cheers of over 1400 children aged between 4 and 18.

There are songs, speeches, performances, more speeches, and then the school's director invites 3 or 4 families who have contributed to the school community to ring the final bell of the school year.  Following that the flags are walked out to yet more applause as children embrace each other in the full knowledge that they might not see their friends again for a very long while, if ever, and parents ask themselves for the 100th time what they're doing, putting their kids through this.  Then we all wipe our eyes, pull ourselves together and head home.

And suddenly, that's it; show's over, school's out, and the circus leaves town.

And so do we.


Toni Hargis 10 June 2015 at 21:41  

Wow - that went by fast. Mixed emotions I'm sure. Safe travels.

Peggy Poyser,  11 June 2015 at 02:11  

This is very weird because I came to realize this same thing this week. I suddenly thought that the friends I am creating already some strong bond with are going to leave at some point and some before us if they decide (or can't) renew their visa. That made me feel so emotional... good luck with it all x

Melissa Talago 11 June 2015 at 06:48  

What a great post. I can feel the emotion. Good luck with the move.

Monika,  11 June 2015 at 13:15  

It's the tough reality of being an expat. I grew up with this and am just about to subject my own children to moving on from the place they've known all their lives. Is there a way to numb the pain, besides being a recluse?

All the best to your move!

MsCaroline,  11 June 2015 at 15:11  

I am a pretty tough cookie, having grown up moving all over and also having done it repeatedly as an adult - why this post has me in floods today, I can't be sure. Maybe because I put my mum on a plane back to the US this morning after a lovely 2-week visit; maybe because, right now in Seoul, #2s class of 2015 is graduating and he is not there to take part in it (he finished early, just before we moved to England in January); maybe because a group of my own students and colleagues at the German school are also wrapping up the year with our own special, traditional goodbyes. Or maybe it's because I just did this a few months ago myself and things are still a bit tender. You did describe it perfectly with this post. Ouch.

Mwa 17 June 2015 at 09:39  

That flag thing would set me off immediately. I'm a sucker for ritual and symbols.

Nappyvalleygirl,  18 June 2015 at 15:17  

It seems like yesterday you were moving there...
Best of luck with the move and hope all the goodbyes aren't too painful. You'll be amazed how quickly the boys will adapt (you, it might take longer...)

Muddling Along 18 June 2015 at 19:14  

How can it be 6 years since you left? Seems much less
I hope the transition isn't too hard and you have a smooth return to Blighty - keep the tissues ready (and assume you already have the expat trick of cards with your UK address and all your contact numbers on plus a photo to hand out to everyone?)

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