The Expat Holding Pattern

Definition of a holding pattern. 1 : the usually oval course flown (as over an airport) by aircraft awaiting clearance especially to land. 2 : a state of waiting or suspended activity or progress

I was flying into London to meet my husband G who’d been there working all week. As Aussies living in Canada with four young children it had taken german organizational skills to make it all happen. With the help of visiting parents, great friends and neighbours we were set for four days in central London.

High above Heathrow you couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions. It was summer, blue skies, white puffy clouds and a reasonably short flight by Australian standards, maybe nine hours, easy peasy. I was that person you see on the plane within 45 minutes of landing, the person with the grin who is beyond excited about what’s in store. I was busting to see G, we had plans for restaurants, meetups with old friends and four blissful nights in a hotel without the daily grind of kids, work, and life in the burbs.

As I looked out the window I saw something unexpected, another plane, and then another. We were in a holding pattern. I’m not sure how many others were up there that afternooon but each plane was patiently circling Heathrow waiting for their turn to land. I wondered how many others were sitting like me, perched on the edge of their seat.

The adrenaline that comes when you’re waiting to see someone you love – is there anything better? The excitement of a child coming home from camp. The anticipated bride at the altar. The first lock of eyes. The search through the crowd at the arrivals hall – there they are! The awkward drop of suitcases and who to hug first.

It’s our 20 year wedding anniversary today, and because we live the life we live we are of course not together. G is in Qatar with the boys while they finish school. I’m in South Australia with the girls (they finished school last week). We have six more sleeps until we’re all together.

This morning as the delivery woman walked towards the house holding an enormous bunch of flowers one the girls wistfully said “Oh Daaaad”, the card “looking forward to being together with our family on the 18th – Happy Anniversary”.

Our expat marriage involves far more holding patterns than I’d like. It feels like we are perpetually counting the days until we’re all together. It’s not perfect – but it’s also important to recognise the gift that comes with this life. On opposite sides of the world we sit on the edge of our seats grinning while looking out of the window high about the billowing clouds.

“Can Annie sleep in my room when Granny and Gramps come” says 12 year old Henry.

“Shall we go to the Cherry Farm on the first day after they arrive?” I ask the girls who nod enthusiastically.

“Dad ordered the reindeer for the front lawn but their heads don’t go up and down like the one’s in Canada” I tell my second daughter who exclaims “OMG WHAT WAS HE THINKING??” and then giggles hysterically at her own outrage.

We’re in a holding pattern.

Those four nights in London were exceptional. We went on a pub crawl and met people from all over the world – over pints of beer we listened to their stories and shared ours.  While sitting at one of the most London of London restaurants with food to die for we struck up a conversation with a couple at the table next to us, they insisted we join them at a quintessential Soho nightclub. Occasionally photos of that night pop up on my screen and I giggle at G and I with our new besties in the middle of the dance floor. We wandered into our hotel late one night and gate-crashed a plastic surgeons convention where the star of the show had spent his early days as a flying doctor in outback Australia, he had stories that had us in fits of giggles with pangs of nostalgia for the country we love. We talked, G and I talked and talked about his career, my plans, our gorgeous children and how lucky we were. We slept, we walked, we held hands. It was wonderful.

This expat marriage has given me so much more than it’s taken.

Six more sleeps. Happy Anniversary my beautiful G. All of our travels, all of our adventures, and you remain the best discovery I’ve ever made.





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