Aliens adrift in a new world

It’s been nearly two years now. Two years since a home was packed neatly into a shipping container and transported across the world. Two years since lives were packed neatly into suitcases, friendships folded and vacuum sealed, family washed and dried and placed at the back of cupboards. Two years since we’ve woken to the melodic gurgling of magpies, since the heady aroma of eucalyptus warming in the sun has charmed its way into our consciousness.

New sights, new sounds, new smells are now the building blocks of our lives. There has been the eye-opening, jaw-dropping dawning realisation that the birdsong of movies, the vernacular banter between characters, the verdant scenery is not, in fact, fictitious.

The time has alternately dragged heavily and sluggishly, or whizzed with head-spinning alacrity. It has lifted its leaden feet reluctantly, shuffling forward with enormous effort. It has been moored a world away, connected by the fraying threads of internet community, unwilling to metamorphose. Or it has scuttled and clattered, laughing and distracted, hurtling headlong, forgetting all ties. It has trampled and stampeded, never settling in one spot, rushing forward with no regard for those left behind.

And into the mess of all of that, came the heartbreaking, hair-tearing trials of a teenager displaced from family, friends and place in the world. Too long, I wore the withered look of a mother battling the constant will-he-won’t-he possibility of deep and lasting depression, that will raise its villainous tentacles in teenage-hood, and suction itself to his psyche for life.

Those days are behind us now, and still yet to come. As one teenager finds security and a tribe, the other faces the possibility of losing his. Such are the trials of having friends who are in perpetual motion. The friendships are deep and binding, but fleetingly impermanent.

There are moments of my own intense despair, a homesickness so visceral that a weeping retreat to the comfort of a Skype call in bed is all that’s possible. There are equally as many moments of intense joy, wonder, community and sense of place. This business of an expat life leaves us churning and yearning and tossing, from security to uncertainty, from minute to minute.

Our first foray into a life abroad is in the safest, most familiar place we could find, and yet we are constantly adrift, aliens in a new world. The already herculean endeavour of parenting becomes doubly complicated by distance from family, from lack of support systems, from lack of networks, and from sheer loneliness.

We are testament that it is possible to be isolated while in the midst of a crowd.

So many lessons have been learned in this time, so many hearts broken, mended and rebroken. Some friendships have waned, while new ones have been forged, in a constantly repeating loop of relationship birth, death and rebirth. There is no nirvana here, no cessation of the endless cycle. There is only this life, this moment, and the requirement to live it fully.


13 Comments on “Aliens adrift in a new world”

  1. This is a really lovely piece. I like the way your words keep pushing things forward with an urgency that is as properly desperate as the situation you’re describing. I could feel your homesickness (as well as your excitement for your new home) from here.

  2. I have endless admiration for people who pack up and move to another country. I would love to see new places, but I don’t even like being out of town for more than a couple of days.

    • To be honest Vanessa, I don’t much like being out of town for more than a few days either! Moving cities/countries is weird and difficult. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I’ve done this, it’s still hard.

  3. Oh, I feel for you! I struggle with many of the things you so gracefully describe, but at least I don’t have children that I’m dragging around from place to place. I can’t imagine the challenge of that. I battle often with the “distance from family, from lack of support systems, from lack of networks, and from sheer loneliness,” the thought of battling with them while raising children is terrifying. All that aside, this is a lovely piece that describes the tribulations of moving abroad in a stark and truthful way. I often say, there are good days and there are bad days in terms of all of this, but I love how you put it: “There is only this life, this moment, and the requirement to live it fully.”

    • It’s never easy to leave loved ones and familiar things behind, but yes, it’s all much more complex when small humans are involved (especially when they’re not so small teenage humans!).

  4. Your first two paragraphs are so evocative and you perfectly set the juxtaposition of your familiar/your strange vs. my familiar/my strange very well. I could feel your longing and the languor and the Skype comment made me miss my sister who only lives half-the-US-away. Thank you for writing this and sharing it. It was a pleasure to read.

    • Thank you Jennifer! Thank goodness for the relatively easy communication we have these days. When my parents moved countries away from their families, there were very tenuous telephone connections, or telegraphs, or letters. Staying in touch took such effort!

  5. Your writing is beautiful. I can so relate to this. Four years ago, we relocated our 9th and first graders from the San Francisco area to NJ (just outside of Manhattan), and this summer we moved to Boston. Our oldest son is in college now but moving a 14 year old is hard! The East Coast is so different from CA. We left everyone behind too. It’s so hard.

    • Thank you so much! It IS hard making that transition, Stacie. Different city, different state, or different country, there’s still a cultural adjustment that we don’t always account for. Especially when we’re transplanting teens — they don’t transplant easily.

  6. i somehow never quite realized or had it sink in that you’d truly only been in your new home for not-quite two years. your public self seems so adept, at ease, confident, at home…and it is. Yet here you give us a glimpse of what the private self has to negotiate, plus being the mother inside the privacy of family.

    “We are testament that it is possible to be isolated while in the midst of a crowd.”

    I used to reflect that there is no loneliness more profound than the loneliness of being a young mother with a baby all day every day. But this — being that mother to two teens, in a new and strange place. I am so grateful for you and your honesty. This is so beautifully written and will surely, literally, be saving a life or two or more today, among other travelers reading it. Thank you.

  7. Pingback: H is for… home | Parenting In The Wilderness

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