Thursday 26 May 2016

Passive-aggressive washing machines and other nonsense

It has become clear that our LG washing machine hates us.

In fact, it hates us SO much that on Tuesday, when I go down into the basement to empty it, I discover that it's walked it's way to the edge of 6 inch high shelf it's situated on and thrown itself off.    Now, it's lying forlornly face-down on the floor, looking nothing less than pathetic.

"I can't take any more" it says.  "Go on without me" it says.

Well obviously, it doesn't.  But if an inaminate object could speak, that's what I would hear.

I look down at it.  "When did it get this bad? Was it really necessary to end it all, just to avoid another load of the Boys' sports kit?  You should have said something! It's not as if I put a heavy load in this morning..."

It sighs deeply, leaking water over the basement floor.  "You say 'not heavy'.  But when was the last time you tried washing a king-sized duvet cover and base sheet?"

"Honestly? I've got no answer to that."

"Thought not" it harrumphs.

From the other side of the room the tumble dryer watches smugly.

"And you can just shut up," the washing machine mutters.

The tumble dryer looks affronted. "What did I do?"

"Nothing!  That's the whole fxxking point!  Bloody nothing!  She hardly ever uses you, you never pull your weight properly; a few sheets and towels each week and that's it.  Jesus, if I had your workload I wouldn't have to crawl forward to the edge of this precipice (the tumble dryer and I both look at the 6 inch high shelf and forebear to comment) and throw myself off it."

There's silence in the cold, clammy basement.  Because the washing machine is right, of course; I don't use the tumble dryer, not really.  No need to when there's a drying rack and an airing cupboard.  But a washing machine? That's indispensable.  I tell it so.

"But - you're indispensable!"

"Ha!  Should have treated me better then, shouldn't you?  The odd clean-out of my detergent draw, the even rarer wipe-round of the seal, it's not enough.  So I'm off to the great recycling yard in the sky in the hope that whatever poor machine you get to replace me is shown a Little More Respect."  I clear my throat.  "No!  Don't speak to me!  I have nothing more to say.  I'm shutting down now, and there's nothing you can do to stop me.  Farewell, cruel world!"

And with that, it leaks it's final drop of soapy water and expires.

The tumble dryer and I look at each other.

I shrug.  "There's still some wet laundry in there.  A duvet cover and a sheet..."

The tumble dryer creaks ominously.  "I'm in mourning."

"You're WHAT?"

"I'm in mourning.   You might not understand but we were close, that LG and me."

I raise a sceptical eyebrow.  "Really..."

"Oh yes.  So feel free to put that wet un-spun laundry into me, but I just... I don't know how I'll handle it.  I might be forced to blow hot and cold.  And then hot again.  Too hot - if you know what I mean.  So if I were you, I would just trot along to that laundrette at the end of the street and spin the sheets properly, before you even think of opening my door.  If I were you..."

I cram the soaking laundry into a plastic bag and stand to leave.

"Oh - and whilst you're at it?"

I stop and wait.  What now?

"I'd really appreciate a clean out of my filter, and an empty condensing drawer.  When you have a moment..."

I give the tumble dryer a steely look.  "You're not trying to take advantage of this... unpleasantness, are you?"

"Gosh, no!  How could I do that?  I'm just a tumble dryer, after all.  Sitting here.  All alone.  On my lonesome.  Alone, alone, alone.... All alone on a 6 inch high shelf..."  It peers sadly over the edge of what the LG had referred to as the 'precipice'.

I sigh and empty the filter and condenser before taking the wet washing down the road to the laundrette.

Because I know when I'm beaten...

Wednesday 18 May 2016

The Elephant in the Room

I've agonised over writing this post.

When you return to your country of origin after a time living abroad, most people don't want to hear about any problems that you encounter; not the friends and family you've returned to (you've come home, after all!  How hard can that be?), or those that you've left behind you who are still living internationally (because they will be going home at some point, too, and no-one needs yet another worry to add to the list).  Part of me thinks that perhaps it's best to keep any issues to myself, but having discussed them with other friends who've recently moved their families from one country to another and found that we are not alone in our situation, I've decided that perhaps none of us are helping anyone by keeping silent about the elephant in the room.

Which, in this case, is assimilating expat kids into an environment where their new peers don't have similar experiences.  It's about the difficulties of bringing them home - and making them feel like it is Home.

Over the last months since we've returned to the UK I have frequently been reminded of Philip Larkin's famous poem 'This Be The Verse' (first line: 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad.'), and realised that in oh so many ways, it's true.

Because expat kids are different - and we did that to them, with our emphasis on making the most of our opportunities.  I wouldn't change a thing about our six years away, and I know that it was the right thing for our family at the time - but it comes at a price.  We returning parents might not like to dwell on that as we congratulate ourselves on finding the right house, in the right location, close to the right school, and put all the pieces of the jigsaw in place to try and facilitate a smooth re-entry, but it's true.

Children who have lived in a culture not their own have had a wealth of experiences that - for all their richness and diversity - set them apart from their new classmates who have attended the same school all their lives.  The passing references that our kids make to trips to this place or that, to this winter activity or that summer camp, to the parties in the sun with live tigers and bears as entertainment (no, really), or climbing walls in friends' back gardens, none of that resonates with the children that we - their parents - are hoping they will make friends with now they are Back Home.

Some kids pick up on this quickly and learn to keep their past history to themselves.  They drop the accent, get with the programme, only ever refer to their previous lives when they are with people who will 'understand'.  I hate to see it happen, but that's how it works - if you want to make friends.  They can share their stories later, once the foundations of these new relationships are established and the pressure's off.

Other children?  They find the whole thing more complicated.  Why should they not talk about that sailing trip on blue seas, or the overnight train journey across frozen wastes?  Why can they not share their tales of flying to the other side of the world to catch up with best friends, and the volcanoes and natural wonders they encountered there?  They can't understand it - these are fascinating stories, don't their new friends want to hear about them?

No.  Actually, they don't.  The child who doesn't toe the party line on accepting oft-parroted truisms about other countries, or who professes too much knowledge of business class seating (even if it's only gleaned from walking past it on their way to the back of the plane, as in our case), or the child who excitedly chips in that yes, they have been to that once-in-lifetime holiday destination - twice - and isn't it amazing, did you swim on the reef whilst you were there, and how about the horrible porridge that they served for breakfast... they are labelled as show-offs.  Different.  Weird.  They don't fit.

So as a parent, when you hear your child starting to regale their new friends with another of the 'Greatest Hits of My Expat Life' you find yourself desperately signalling to them with your eyebrows to keep that story for another time, or butting in and changing the subject, or serving dinner earlier than you planned, or - heaven forbid - switching on the X-box to provide a distraction.  You're trying to throw them a life-belt, even if they don't see that.

And then there are times you find yourself pulling your child out from underneath their bed in the morning because they don't want to go into school (at least at home, they reason, they won't have to think before they speak).  Or sitting outside the loo that your child has locked themselves in because they can't face whatever activity it is that you've lined up for them to help them meet new friends and which you just know they're going to enjoy, if they would only undo that bolt and come outside...

Not all returning expat kids go through this, of course.  And for those that do, I'm told that it gets better, with time. But whilst they're in the thick of it, it can be - well, difficult.  For them, and everyone else in the family.

Yes, these are problems grounded in what I know are First World issues.  And unfortunately, other than being there to provide support and a listening ear - and all the other coping strategies the literature on this recommends - I don't have an easy answer on how to handle it.  But when your child is hurting, sometimes it helps to know that other families have been through it too. Which is why, against my better instincts (of course we're fine!  Everything's going swimmingly!), I'm sharing this here.

We're not all fine.  But we're managing.  And we're getting there.

Friday 13 May 2016

Today's Task: Write a Blog Post in 10 minutes...

I'm putting together my writing cv.  It is, shall we say, a little 'thin'.  It's not that I don't have any experience in writing, you understand - over a thousand posts written on here alone are testament to that - it's just that I don't have so much experience in writing for publications that actually pay.

As I reached the end of this still-as-yet unfinished cv I realised that perhaps, if I'm going to refer to this blog, I probably should write something.  You know, like, a post.  It's been another month, after all...

So here I am.  With the ten minutes before I have to leave to collect the Boys from school the only time I'm likely to find in the near future.  What to tell you?

Well, Boys #1 and #2 are now ten and twelve years old.  How did that happen?  I was reminded of how far we've come today when I took them both to our local - excellent - hospital for their first allergy test in seven years.  It went smoothly, no problems (and yes, they are still allergic to nuts, dammit).  Now, the last time we did this was in London and it was something of a seminal experience for the three of us.  Boy #2 - three years old at the time, still chubby and toddling around - handled the whole experience with aplomb and dignity, whimpering a little as they scratched his arm, but generally behaving well.

His older brother?  Not so much.  There was a visit to the paediatric ward 'Quiet Room' involved, I remember, to allow him to calm down.  There were chocolate buttons (well - I can't remember the chocolate buttons, but since there were usually chocolate buttons or smarties involved in times of stress, I'm thinking I'm pretty safe in assuming they made an appearance here).  There would also have been wailing and gnashing of teeth, no doubt - obviously, since we were banished to the Quiet Room, I suppose.

But the thing is, I actually don't remember that many of the details.  I guess that may be due to having blanked it out as not having been our finest hour, who can say?  But whatever the reason, it's interesting to realise that however awful a parenting experience might be at the time (and I do remember that at least; it was awful), you actually are unlikely to remember the details in the future.

Which is a comfort, I suppose.  Especially as I look the teenage years squarely in the face.

And of course the other comfort is that whatever happens, and whatever the years ahead hold, there will, of course, still be this blog to refer to, to remind me that there were some difficult times before, and that we made it through those.  And there will still be smarties and chocolate buttons.  Or Green &; Blacks.  Whatever comes to hand, really...

There you go - a blog post in 10 (no, 12, actually) minutes.