There are a lot of empty spaces in my life at the moment with two children away at school. My diary is clearer and the house is full of blank spaces. Empty bedrooms, empty sofas, empty kitchen table with only 3 places laid occasionally instead of 5. My mum says that I should be happy that I still have one at home but I can’t ignore the sound of that deafening ticking clock. She too will be gone in 2 years time (funds permitting).
The family dynamic has changed and it’s hard to get used to. For a lot of expats faced with the exodus of children (perhaps a little earlier than would happen if you were living back home) there’s a necessary re-calibration required and boy, it’s a tough one. Some friends decided not to make the crazy choice to send their kids off to a distant continent for school, they’ve kept their kids at home. Others have moved the whole family, lock stock and barrel, back to their home country. They might now be experiencing a re-entry culture shock, perhaps mourning for their old life in Kenya and some of them left here with no jobs to go to – so it was a risk. A calculated one but a risk nonetheless. At least they are still together.
Others, like me, have chosen to stay and send our kids overseas for secondary school. Fortunately (thank goodness) I have friends who are in the same boat. It’s not only my eyes welling up with tears as we recount difficult phone calls with homesick teenagers. And the phones! While our parents lived in blissful ignorance saying to their friends, “it’s a tough choice but the darlings are simply so happy!” – Our generation have the benefit of real-time updates on how our kids are faring – first hand. It’s early days (school only opened on 4th September) but literally the texts and tearful calls do not stop coming. And I don’t want them to stop coming – but I do – but for now, it’s sad.
“I couldn’t sleep last night because the girls in my dorm were being so noisy; Why am I not bothered about the disco with the boys school this weekend, am I weird? I am totally lost in town doing community service, Help! I don’t like my tutor or my maths set. I have so much work to do but no time. I haven’t managed to get any washing done. I hardly have time to shower. The other girls keep forgetting my name. My drum lesson clashes with sports. I feel so different from everyone else. Should I try out for the county hockey team and miss out on a fun school trip? I’ve lost my ink pen.”
My friend says her son’s plaintive messages are on a par. “I don’t know what to wear today, I don’t have a clean top. When I asked matron what to do she said that I must sort this problem out myself.”
Literally, the kids are in shock – transplanted as they have been from an idyllic East Africa to a far chillier school hundreds, no thousands, of miles away.
“I tried to tell this girl that she shouldn’t be feeling homesick because she’ll see her parents this weekend and I’ll have to wait 6 weeks until half term – but she just got angry with me.”
They ask us, “so, what are you doing? What are you having for supper? What are you watching on TV? How’s the dog?” Trying to envisage being at home NOW, wondering why they spent all that time up until the age of 13 taking life at home for granted? Why now are they living through this dreadful suspended reality with a bunch of strangers – the majority of whom they don’t know and can barely dream of ever liking?
It’s heartbreaking stuff and the irony is that I’ve been through it all before, so knew exactly what was in store. Every Monday morning at my editorial meeting 3 years ago, my eldest would call. “My friends went to town with out me, I don’t want to go on the trip at the weekend, my art teacher shouted at me… I miss you.” I think that she had anticipated boarding school would be a cross between Hogwarts and St Trinians but it wasn’t. The next one down hadn’t imagined life at boarding school at all. I’m not sure which is worse.
We do question whether we have done the right thing. We miss our kids and worse, we are forking out a fortune for the privilege of not having them at home any more. I can’t help feeling angry that I am missing out on a huge chunk of their growing up but the decisions we made as a family landed us here, so now we take on the consequences. I have no grounds to complain. I know that my eldest daughter is very happy and hardly has time to call. She’s independent. While my middle daughter must have sent me over 100 heart emojis over the past few weeks. We tell ourselves that we are making the right decision…Doesn’t make it any easier though. I honestly hadn’t anticipated it coming to this. Hadn’t anticipated me being away from home for so long, nor the house being so full of empty spaces.
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