Monday, June 25, 2012

A Year and a Day

A year and a day ago we returned to England from 5 1/2 years living abroad.

So how do we feel  a year on? Well, firstly I can't believe it's a year already. I am still at that stage where I feel the need to get 'I lived in Albania' into the first 10 minutes of most conversations I have.  It's so much a part of my identity now. The whole living abroad thing is really.

To sum up I would say my three alliterative words are wobbly, wistful and weird!

I feel quite wobbly still, in terms of adapting to life back here. Both my husband and I would sum it up saying we feel flat, detached, as if we are observing life here but aren't fully involved. Life has been very busy and much fuller, mainly due to school and church stuff, but also because we have so many more friends here than we had living abroad, we just don't feel a part of  'Life in Britain' yet.  We still feel a bit 'The Alien Has Landed. What IS This Place?'

My husband, the introvert, who was rejoicing at no commutes, and working uninterruptedly from home, is finding the reality of it quite isolating, he doesn't feel part of a team, is working alone and could go for days without even leaving the house. In fact he has done. Some days he has been known to not even get dressed, but sit at his computer in his Boden baggies! Actually they're not Boden, but that was just to give you the mental picture, or you might be conjuring images of flannel tartan pyjamas with piping cord. Not good. we're not that middle aged. Not quite yet anyway.

He misses going 'into the field', being at the chalk face, managing people and working with a team, in a cross cultural environment. He has seemed quite unmotivated to get some exercise (very unusual), join things, meet people for coffee etc. In a way I am glad he now knows how I felt at the start of our two postings when I didn't have a ready made social /work sphere and struggled to motivate myself to make a life there and not to get down. He realises that "Snap out of it. Get out there and meet people" just doesn't cut the mustard! I'm glad because it shows it's tough, it's not just me being a wimp. These are known culture shock symptoms. They even happen to him (well reverse culture shock does, he never seemed to get the normal kind!)

We feel wistful because of course we miss the weather, the mountains, the fresh produce, the coffee, my teaching job which I loved (perfect conditions-small classes, part time,delightful kids!) being able to live within our means and eat out, have a cleaner, travel to new places, be out of the rat race etc:  all the things that helped ameliorate the trash, sewage seepage, power cuts, bureaucracy and general craziness.

We feel weird, because we feel different, we have made different choices and feel ambivalent about being back. People have been very welcoming and it has certainly been heaps easier coming back to friends and a community where we are known. But, it also feels quite boring and pedestrian back here. We even miss the craziness and unpredictability!

I had a debrief with a counsellor, who said there seemed to be a lot of stuff to do with our experiences in Sri Lanka, and in particular our daughter's heart condition diagnosis, which I hadn't processed and was still very close to the surface.  She also felt there was a lot of identity loss issues with not only having been a trailing wife and putting my husband and children's needs first, but then also coming back to a new job for him, new schools for the children and nothing for me, coupled with them growing up and being more independent of me at the same time. So at least I have an excuse for being an emotional wreck! A professional vouches for me.....

I have felt out of sync especially amongst my peers, who as I said in the last post are all working, retraining, studying and have all 'moved on' in many ways. I have moved on in myself, but not in my circumstances.  It looks (and feels) like I am right back where I was 7 years ago. I also find because I have not been working I am always the one available to look after other mums' children, fetch them from school, etc. You do rather lose yourself when all you seem to do is meet other people's needs. And now I am faced with the prospect of needing to get a job but really not wanting to go back to teaching in the UK with all its pressures, stresses and demands. But I don't know what else I would do.......

I am very proud of the children though, who, being children, have adjusted to life back here so well. They put me to shame, taking everything in their stride. They have integrated well into their schools and are both doing really well. Between them they have learnt German, French, Latin, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, netball, cricket, rugby, hockey, not to mention picked up on who's who in the pop world. All new subjects to them. I miss the tight knit family life we had, where your family are also your friends much more when in a place with no family, and fewer friends and activities around. They are both desperate to spend every available moment with their new friends. It makes me a little sad, that change. But it's all about seasons and I must learn to enjoy each one.

On the other hand, they do seem to need me for 'chats' much more than they used to. I chew the cud with them most nights before lights out. Oh and after two weeks back in England, with each having their own bedroom for the first time ever, they both decided it was a bit lonely & they preferred sharing. Not many 8 and 12 year olds would say that I imagine. Now that is a special legacy from the closeness which developed from their years abroad.

So all in all, let's just say life back here is very much a 'work in progress.'

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Town or Country Living?

We're going to see a house today. Together. This is the first house my husband has got really excited about or been to view with me. He has even been doing a few sums to work out if we can afford it. We probably can't, unless they accept a lower (much lower) offer.  And then there's the issue of getting a mortgage when my husband is on annual contracts & I don't have a job.  And we've been overseas for 5 1/2 years. Off the radar.

Before we moved back to the UK we said we would definitely move house. We decided we would move to a village. It was all settled. I started looking on the Internet as soon as we knew we were moving back, so that's been 18 months now. I couldn't help it, it's one of those nesting things. Very little suitable has come up, even less that my husband would consider. Part of it is that I have much more of an eye for what you can do to a property. I still desperately want to move. It's one of the things which has made me feel much less settled and in limbo. It also feels a real step backward, being back in our old house, with the same people round the corner, doing the same things we did 6 years ago. Did those last six years really happen? They feel as though they are being compressed and squeezed into a mere hourglass of time, rather than the tome of experiences it was for us. I know I should be grateful we have a community to move back into, but I have changed & moved on, yet this just feels like I am being squeezed back into who I was & where I was in 2005.

I was hoping that moving would give me a project as well as help me put down roots and settle. My husband has his new job, my children have their new schools, I over exuberant puppy & a mid-life crisis.

I want to be in the house we will be in here, so I can make it a home and get on with life. Doing a place up has always set my creative juices flowing and I would love to put my mark on somewhere rather than make do with what we inherit from the previous owners which is what we have always done before. After all I am 46 now. I've waited 21 years for this opportunity!

We have constant circular discussions about what to do. Mealtimes, late night debates. Town versus country. Which is better? My husband changes his view weekly. One week it's too expensive to move at all (stamp duty), another week it's to move way out into  the countryside to get more for our money. The next week it's to convert our cellar. And then my Country Boy decides our suburb is so convenient we would be fools to move.  It doesn't add to my feelings of security. But I feel equally paralysed by indecision.

Where we live is 5 minutes from the bus stop to school & town, a 10 minute walk to shops, library, tennis courts, six lots of friends are walking distance away. We share lifts to school, to youth group, clubs & can even have dinner & enjoy a nice bottle of wine with friends & then WALK home! BUT there are loads of student lets on our road, it's a rat run so quite a fast, noisy road and busy at rush hour. And just very urban.

Part of it is also that it's just not where I envisaged  bringing my children up, but then life often thwarts our expectations and dreams. Part of it is that I keep hoping & dreaming. Maybe I just need to let go of my dreams.  My husband is much more pragmatic & down to earth (and probably realistic)...

He had an idyllic childhood, living in a huge house, with rope ladder fire-escape from the top floor, an acre of garden, tennis court, zip wire, tree house & rope swing in the garden & what I call 'glorious isolation' - not that I would like it. I would hate to be 2 miles from my nearest neighbour!  He seems to feel if his children can't live somewhere like that, which of course they can't, then he would rather just stay put & live where we are & not try & get something a bit better. A bit more space & a bigger garden.

I did one of those pros and cons lists of 'suburb versus' village and they came out very equal but on different things. So that didn't really help either. Most people think I'm mad to consider moving and are very envious of the community we are in!  But then all my life I have felt out of sync with what everyone else is doing,  so no change there.

A few friends have said that as their kids get older, they quite like the 'limiting' nature of a village. i e their children CAN'T just be out and about all the time. You can maintain some degree of control by ferrying them around even though it is a pain. Our children have both just turned 12 and 8, so maybe we are too late for the country life and we need to be in town for the teen years......

Oh I don't know.......

What do you think? What would you do? Are you a town or country mouse?