Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Park day

A home education group met at a park today. The children ran off to play, and we mothers laid out blankets on the grass, propped up flasks, steadied picnic tubs and handbags, and settled down to talk over all the important stuff. Strange food, smelly drains, trains that don't run and kids who won't eat.

We must have looked like any group of ordinary women, sitting and chatting in the park for hours. But a passer-by could never tell that no matter how easily we sit together, we're brought here from many different places.

From the inside of that circle, I thought, is it unusual to come and live in an unfamiliar place, meet very different people, yet find women with whom you immediately feel comfortable and strangely at home? Why is that?

Our common bond is that we're all outsiders. These women know what I know; that travelling around the world to be dropped in new continents, while simultaneously following a husband and towing along kids, is a strange off-balancing experience.

Move from one country to another, and you find that somewhere between the times and cultures, both your feet are lifted off the ground. Maybe that air-lifted displacement is still a honeymoon romance. Maybe not. It could be single-minded determination to keep children with their fathers. It could be resolving to bring families together, or guarding against the months sliding by before the person you married drops back into your world, and you catch yourself wondering, Who on earth is he? And what does he think he's doing here?

There are other things we women in this park group know too: the direction we set our faces sometimes means work we sacrificed, friends we left behind, familiar and safe routines of hours and climates and foods given up. They gave us our sense of home. Now, we have to recreate home comfort from scratch.

It all messes with your who-you-are. Here, I simultaneously have the daily responsibility for the family well being. Yet my significance is taken away. In this world, I'm just another ex-pat foreigner wife. I can be easily defined and looked beyond; tagged like another baggage item moving on the conveyor belt of a man's working world.

And there is the other thing. The children we don't send to school. We women sitting in this circle know what it is to experience all this loss of anchor and change of status, yet we still have that imperative to navigate competing kids between learning everyday in strange places, through new people, books, places to visit, and things to know.

But this off-balanced life, what does it do to us? You're not allowed to say, I've had enough. I'm homesick. I'm fed up of the price of breakfast cereal. I hate the way people shuffle along the pavements in flip flops. Why do they have to crawl along at the speed of a turtle scaling a cliff face?

You're not allowed to say those things. You have to say, Isn't this fantastic? What would you like to eat? Shall we go shopping, but this time let's give it three hours and make a day of it! Not one hour for a quick dash! Sometimes I practice quietly saying these words in my bedroom first. I worry that if I say them without care I'll hit the wrong note for conviction.

I'm glad I can share those doubts and feelings here. This is an open space in the park to talk, miles away from listening ears. We get to confess and best each other in betrayals and crimes and evil ways. Who yelled hardest, loudest, longest. The women who are there, what enormous and profound depths of goodwill they have. I can hear laughter, and that feels best of all.

It's a relief, and all the better for a cool sunny day with clear blue skies, fragrant flowers and children who don't keep running up to listen in and ask, What are you talking about? Those children are always mine. But not today, which makes the afternoon as near as perfect as it gets.

But sad too, because some friendships, you wish you could keep them and nurture them. These women, they're my type of women. They're resourceful, determined, and strong. They're made like that. They don't give in. They stand on their terms. They are unique and individual. You can't pigeonhole them, tell them they're 1950s pinny women, ex-pat wives, women who probably have it all, nor that they're subservient to anyone. They've made the space they're in.

Over time, I'd like to find out which of these friendships would last, which ones would fall away to a distant nod, and which ones I'd suffer for. I probably won't get that far. In this thin slice of world - the expat home ed global wandering world - I know that people will come and go; one day I'll turn up at the park and wonder, Why don't I see so-and-so? Then someone will say maybe they put the kids in school, the contract finished, the kids needed to go back home, grandma is ill, or another country promising a different life took them away.

No comments: