Wednesday 10 June 2015

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

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.

Tuesday 2 June 2015

Un-seasonal musings from Boys #1 and #2

At dinner this evening:

Boy #1:  "Do you think the Easter Bunny is real, Boy #2?"

Boy #2 narrows his eyes.  "Well.  I think that he is in certain parts of the world, but I think that here in Russia people put their own eggs out."

I look hard at Boy #1.  If his brother still believes, let the myth continue for a little longer, I think.  But there's no need to worry - Boy #1 agrees with his younger sibling.

Boy #1:  "And the Tooth Fairy?"

Boy #2:  "Oh, the Tooth Fairy is DEFINITELY real.  But I was talking to J (one of his best mates) the other day, and apparently, in Belgium, the Tooth Fairy is not a fairy but a little mouse with wings that wears a tutu and leaves sparkles behind it..."

There is a pause, whilst they both consider this and I puzzle over the fact that up until this conversation started I would have bet good money that there was no way my older son still believed the 50 rubles he gets per tooth comes from a winged sprite.  Then...

Boy #2: " ... but that is clearly ridiculous!  Imagine if the Tooth Fairies had a party, and the Belgian tooth fairy couldn't come, one of them would have to dress up as a mouse and throw glitter around!!"

Both Boys fall about laughing at the thought of a fairy dressed as a mouse.  Because, a group of fairies having a party is one thing, but a mouse with wings dressed in a skirt pushes the limits of credulity even for them.

Boy #1:  "Yes, that is ridiculous!"

Boy #2:  "But - what about Father Christmas?  Does he exist?  I think if you asked a teenager they might believe in him 20%, and my friend L in class says she doesn't; she's almost sure that it's her parents who leave the presents out.  Almost..."

I keep schtum at this point.  Best not say anything; after all, they are 9 and 11 years old - surely they can work out for themselves the likelihood of the Big Man being reality?

Boy #1, with an air of great sincerity:  "No, she's wrong.  Father Christmas definitely exists.  When we were at Gran & Grandad's last Christmas I hunted all over the house on Christmas Eve.  I looked EVERYWHERE, and I couldn't find a single present.  Not ONE!  And yet, on Christmas morning, there they were."

Me (somewhat amazed):  "I didn't know you did that, Boy #1!"

Boy #1:  "Well, I did.  But I was very quiet about it.  And I didn't find anything."

Boy #2 nods thoughtfully: "I thought so.  Yes, that proves it.  Father Christmas does exist.  Good. 100% it is, then."