The Beginning And The End

The beginning of our adventure in Canada began in the school park. On the top of the “to do” list was find a school. It’s the familiar tale of the travelling family.

I spent hours in that school car park in Canada. When the first little traveller began with half days it was often easier to park there with sleeping toddlers and a book than go home for an hour. I stayed after drop off and chatted with friends. And when I wasn’t outside I was often inside. I helped out at school parties. I took French lessons both day and night, and attended information nights arranged by the Principal. G and I sat watching in wonder at the winter concerts conducted in french, and shed a tear at the national anthem even though it wasn’t technically ours. And almost four years later when it came time to leave after years of moaning about the weather and that car park – it was there that I found myself sobbing, no make that howling, in the ugly face contorting cry while my friends looked on not quite knowing what to do. It wasn’t just my children who had grown there. I had as well.

It’s at school that we see the first signs of our children beginning a life without us. It’s at school that we sit for our first chat in brightly decorated rooms on tiny little chairs ready to be told of our impending genius. It’s at school that concerts are created and artwork is developed and language is nurtured. And if you’re new in town, it’s at school that we take the first step into joining a new community.

It was in Houston that I arrived at drop off with a car full of nervous little travellers in squeaky clean and freshly pressed uniforms. “Are you new?” a woman with an english accent and a kind smile asked. I just about jumped on her with desperation. “Come for coffee on Wednesday, there’s a group of us, if you keep driving down that road and make a left you’ll see a coffee shop – we’ll be there.” And that was that. The beginning of ice-creams on a Friday and trips to the park. I learnt about teachers to avoid and field trips to dodge. We sat behind each other in car pools, and then next to each on bleachers suppressing giggles at our newly Texan boot scoot’n rodeo enthusiasts.

In Qatar in the early days, the school was my happy place. It felt like walking into a wonderland of normality. While I’d battled through traffic I’d never experienced before and found myself lost amongst the rubble, a step through the school gates would find me in a world of trees, grass and order. I’d sit in peace with my laptop in the cafeteria watching children go about a normal school day, we can do this, it’s okay here, they’re happy here.

The first little traveller took fairy bread to the french class party today. I tried to make a quick calculation of how many plates of fairy bread I have walked into the school with. How many class parties? How many concerts? How many art shows? How many parent/teacher interviews? How many basketball finals? Soccer practice?  How many school electives? How many field trips? How many kisses at the school gate?

And this is when it gets tricky, when it’s time to leave.

How many friends have we met and made as we’ve jostled our way into the next rendition of the end of year concert? How many times have we sat on the same chairs with a camera in our hand, smiling at the same faces as they make their way through the door.

How is it that a family you didn’t know at all two years ago, is now the family you can’t bear to say goodbye to.

We were making our way out of the school car park last week when the third little traveller pointed out a family walking towards their car. “It’s their last day, they got their report cards today, they’re leaving early.” As I watched the children clamber over the back seats to get in the car, the mother was distracted by a friend calling her name. They made their way towards each other, hugged and both shook their heads in a can you believe its time to go  kind of way. As she made her way back to the car she tried to inconspicuously wipe a tear from her eye – I will not cry, I will not cry.

“Stop staring Mum” one the little travellers broke me out of my trance.

The beginning and the end of an adventure.

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  1. Fairy bread – its the ants pants for class parties. Its our last day tomorrow….I will not cry…I will not cry….I better take tissues 😉 S x

  2. Leaving must be such a hard part of your wonderful ex-pat experiences. Thank goodness for Facebook, email and Skype to keep in touch!

  3. I always keep it together through my own goodbyes but there’s something about the children saying goodbye to friends and teachers. I have never made it through the last day of school without turning into a blubbering wreck…

  4. Oh, tears again. My 6 year old is at an Infants School here in Sydney, and just the thought of her moving on after year 2 is bad enough. I don’t think I’d make a very strong ex-pat. I’m in the midst of the fairy bread years here too.

  5. Goodbye tears – it’s what we do, cry when we’re sad. Such a shame that such normal expressions of feeling should be seen as embarrassing – rather than a way of celebrating the strength of relationships you are leaving behind.

  6. tears… you always manage to strike a chord. Been there and felt the feelings you so eloquently describe. It is always the beginning and the end of an adventure. I guess that is what it is all about.

  7. We’re leaving a beloved school mid- school year here, and still haven’t settled on a school in Houston. It honestly makes me feel like vomiting when I think of it. Private school tuition is too much of a reach so I’m trying to find that magic rental house in the right school district…

    The goodbyes are so hard. I’ve already cried so much and we have several more weeks to go.

  8. Oh Kohana, I’ve been there. I know exactly what you mean. Good luck with finding the right school for you. Have you heard of Lorna Ramsey’s Wednesday morning Group in Houston? Shoot me an email if you haven’t and I’ll organize an intro. xx

  9. Exactly Evelyn, that’s it exactly.

  10. my last goodbye was from the small french village next to geneva (switzerland) where ive lived last 5 years. i was very happy to move to Warsaw, I needed a big city like oxygen and every single day im so happy of this choice (the funny thing is that before moving to geneva Ive been saying a millions of time NO!!!! to the idea of moving to Warsaw, and now it occurs is the place im the most happy among all those ive already lived as student or as expat) So, when i was busy closing bank account, water and electricity, checking all the steps to do tax declarations and all the expat living administrive stuff, i thought i was not going to feel any pain of goodbye. Only three friends left there, ten times as much already in Warsaw. So i felt safe from heartache
    The last night in the empty apartment, sleeping on the floor with my then 6 month old daughter wrapped into a sleeping bag, after spending all day with the movers to fill 2 trucks with all our things and send them to Poland, my husband in the car heading there too, I couldnt sleep a minute. I felt i had to say good bye to every single floor, window, wall of the empty apartment that until a day before was filled with all our memories. I found unbearable to “leave” in those walls the memories of arriving as a newly wed, those of coming home from hospital with our daughters, those of their first part of life. I had to repeat all night that those memories were coming with me, nothing was going to be left there. But still, whenever i think about it i curse myself that i never use enough our camcorder and i just do shitty videos with the blackberry 🙁

  11. I love your stories about the camaraderie of ex-pat mothers. I wish it were like that here. Instead, where I am, it feels like everyone is competing to be the most “assimilated” and having foreign friends is a sign that you’re not succeeding.

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