Advice lists are annoying. I never read them. Or guidebooks, instruction manuals and tags about how to wash clothes. I never read anything about moving a young family across continents because I am the kind of person that doesn’t want to know and then, when I’m in the thick of it, wonder why on earth I did not find out. Why was I only swept up in the idea?
Below is a list for those who are wiser than me and like to be prepared.
1. Everyone loves the first two months. It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s just as exciting as it was getting out of your old life, because it was all going to stop once you boarded that plane. You will be blissfully unaware of what’s next.
2. You will hate it. Sometime around six months. Loneliness, doubt, what-in-tarnation-did-we-do will kick in as your old life seemed so mystical, full of really important things like friends.
3. If you’re the primary caregiver – at home – you will envy your children and partner wallowing around in new friendships. Then you will start saying helpful things like ‘When we’re back home…’ This will annoy your partner no end. And your children will not understand because as far as they’re concerned, they are home.
4. Having an accent gets a lot of attention but it also advertises a transient nature: you came and that means you will leave. People will be hesitant about investing in you so be relentless in the pursuit of getting yourself one friend. They will save your sanity.
5. Always have an out clause. If there is no end date then agree on a time-frame. We had 18 months because we both agreed we could survive anything for 18 months. However don’t mention this to anyone because if you sail through this date without returning home, nobody will believe anything you say anymore.
6. Likewise, assuming your house, school or car is not important because you’ll only be there for 18 months is dangerous. One year can suddenly turn into three because you will want to prove to yourself that your new place has not beaten you, you can hack it, and you will need to stay until you feel like you have. Then, of course, you won’t want to leave.
7. If you move into a fully furnished house then invest in one thing in your own taste. You will love this thing a ridiculous amount and will want to take it home – so don’t buy a couch. Buy a cushion.
8. Go before your children start school – when they still think everything you decide is cool. But ideally, don’t go with a baby. And certainly not when you’re pregnant. Even an 18-month old is tricky. And two-year olds are nightmares on planes. But three is not perfect. And four is too close to school and once they’re five you want to be settled. These are the reasons you will tell yourself not to go. There is no perfect time to turn your life upside down. Just do it.
9. If you do not plan on drinking wine every night then do not change EVERYTHING at once, such as moving from a busy Capital of one country to the middle of a 2000 acre forest in another. Just saying.
10. Even if you despise the national anthem, pretend. Lip sync. It’s very easy to walk around thinking this is not my country. If you have an expressive face try not to think this too often. Especially if you want to make friends. See point 4.
11. Your children will speak funny and say things that make you wince. Like mom. Get over it. You will find yourself saying things you disliked as a child, like dagwood sandwich, because your mother said them and you miss her.
12. Nothing replaces grandparents. Write letters. Send useless bits of art for their fridge. Keep them present, tell stories, Skype, use FaceTime. Apparently children who have a clear foundation of where they come from are more stable later in life. Don’t replace the guilt about taking the grandchildren away by saying you will be home soon. You won’t.
13. Get a pet. Even a hamster. Not getting one because one day we’re leaving will soon tire as an excuse. If you don’t want the hassle of flying the pet home then get one you can eat. Or give away. Or will get eaten.
14. If you’re driving on a different side of the road remember that in a moment of panic you will resort to what you know best – which will be the wrong side. When getting your new driver’s license have your child vomit in their car seat on the way there. It will be the fastest driving test you, or the instructor, has ever taken.
In summary, all the reasons you hated your new place will become things you love. Picturing yourself going back will have this stumpy feeling about going back. Not forwards. But it’s not going back to a physical place or people you love, it’s going back to what you were all like before you left, simply because you have all changed. It’s impossible not to when you halt one life and dive into another. That’s what adventures do. Remember, conflict propels life. Variance, friction, uncomfortable new territory is not always fun but it takes you to a new place of feeling like You Cracked It. Separately and Together. It makes you stronger. Closer. Braver. Bendier. Weirder. And if not, at least you can turn it into a good yarn to explain why the children speak funny.