Back to School

On the eve of the the little travelers first day at their new school, I am awake at midnight with a tightness in my stomach. I’m nervous for them. The first day at a new school is more than tough and as much as number 1 can’t wait to get there I know the bravado will curtail as the reality sinks in. Number 2 doesn’t provide any facade, she has made it clear she’s not happy with the situation. She said tonight “I hate the bit where I have to say my name”.
When we moved from the south side of Australia to the west I was constantly introduced as being from “over east”. Everyone who is not from Perth is from over east. I imagine if you’re from Iceland you’re probably from “over east”. When our first child started to gain a social life we discovered what all parents discover, you become “someone’s Mum or Dad”. We do it to ourselves. I have started many conversations with a stranger that begin with “Hi, are you Billy’s Mum? I’m Annie’s Mum”. Children are a great icebreaker.
Socializing for number 1 began with baby group. My first baby group in Jakarta consisted of about 10 babies who were born within a four month period of each other. Each week we would gather over cake and coffee and commiserate over our lack of sleep or laugh at how unglamorous our lives had become, leaking boobs in the supermarket, cleaning up poo that had exploded out of a nappy (a poonami). We would meet in a villa on a Jakarta backstreet where a saint of a woman who was a British nurse had set up a Baby clinic each Wednesday in her front room. She and her volunteer friends would record the weight of our precious little people and listen to our woes of cracked nipples and nappy/diaper rash. It was at the baby clinic one morning where I first spotted a woman with a baby the same age as mine. She had a beautiful Scottish accent and was telling a story of how she wanted to call her son “Luuuuuuuuuuuuuke” (Luke) but her name was Leah and her husband thought it was just a little too Star Wars for one household. I instantly wanted to be her friend. Nearly 10 years later I am the godmother of her second child, her husband is the godfather of mine and we speak almost daily via email or messenger.
In Kuala Lumpur when I threw up continuously throughout my pregnancy with number 2 it was another group of girlfriends/mothers that came with flowers, coffee and anything they could do to help. When 2 was finally born they were there with gifts for everyone and when I told them we’d just found out we were moving in two weeks to Libya they were all there to help pack.
Six months later I found myself at a table in Libya with a new group of friends from across the globe. I imagine because of the hardship of the location and the similarities of our lives we had bonded quickly and were all very tight. In a terrified and shaky voice I gave the news that I was about 3 months pregnant with number 3. There was a moment of stunned silence at the table. They were right to be stunned, we were stunned ourselves! G and I had no idea where I would give birth or how we were logistically going to travel with three under 3. I was terrified. Somehow though, for the next hour or so my new friends made the situation hysterically funny and manageable. As I drove home later that day with number 1 overtired and on the verge of catatonic and number 2 screaming for a feed my reality set in again and I joined in and cried with them all the way home. When I arrived at my front door there was a simple flower in a pot on the door step with a note from a girlfriend that read “you’re a fantastic mother, not to worry you’ll do this easily”.
I have stood in many a school parking lot discussing anything from politics, working, sex, American girl dolls and where to buy the stuff that makes the hair curls stay curly for your six year olds dance recital this weekend. I have tried (and failed) to keep it together when friends have discussed their cancer, marriage break ups or child’s illness and giggled with others over how and when they will get their “new” nipples, “I hear they’re using labia to make nipples now….I’ve got tons of it maybe I could donate” (that story still makes me laugh). When I think of a book group in Canada or a Wednesday morning coffee in Houston familiar faces come to mind and it’s hard not to get melancholy for times gone by.
So tomorrow when we hit the school yard for the first time I will be once again holding the hands of the little travelers very securely. Not only for them but also for me. We will all be new and we will all be friendless, but not for long. Like number 2 I don’t really like that bit when you have to say your name but I know I will have to approach a bunch of strangers and say “Hi, I’m Annie’s Mum”. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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