Last Thursday I boarded a flight to Doha.
5 weeks after we left, feeling a bit sick with anxiety I returned to collect the last piece of our expat jigsaw puzzle. The last member of our family – the dog (aka the Original Thing) – had been patiently waiting at a friend’s house for a place in Singapore quarantine where he will stay for another month now I’ve got him out of Qatar.
I was nervous leaving
I was flying solo and not loving the thought of leaving my little Things in a country we don’t really know.
Don’t get me wrong… I’ve left the Things before. I’ve got on a planes at the last minute for emergencies or with hours left to go for well planned girls’ trips. I trust Mr Wanderlust completely – if I’m completely honest, I think he does a far better job at parenting than I do most of the time. We have great contingency plans in place. I knew they would be fine.
It wasn’t just about leaving them when usually I’m the one holding everything together.
It was also that we were less than a week into our new house. I hadn’t even finished unpacking yet, let alone settled the family into a routine. I mean whatever a routine is supposed to look like when you’re new in town with a constantly travelling husband and lots of (always welcome) visitors.
And maybe part of me that was conscious that this will really be it. The last goodbyes were ok because I knew I would be back soon.
And now I won’t.
It’s been a hard weekend
Fellow expats who are reading this and thinking about adopting a pet in your host country: take note. Moving an animal to another country is one of the most stressful parts of international life, I kid you not. I could handle the idea that my kids might not get places in school until 2 days before it started. We weren’t happy not having a permanent address on arrival but we could make our peace with it.
But the logistics and emotional turmoil of moving the dog has, each time, been incredibly tough of all of us.
Like EVERY time
In Houston he had to travel a day after us when his paperwork didn’t arrive in time to get him on our flight and we were scrambling. In London he almost didn’t get on the flight at all when there we discovered a problem with the airline policy and another with the aircraft when we arrived to check in. I had someone on standby in case I had to put him in a cab on his own so their house until we could sort things out enough to get him to us.
This time he had to be left behind while we waited for space to become available in Singapore quarantine.
Our gorgeous dog, the original Thing, the most docile, friendly, long suffering, loving member of our family and we had to leave him behind.
He’s been ok – hanging out for the summer with his doggie bestie can’t be too bad. BUT he has been confused by our absence, often breaking into our back garden or wanting to stop at our front door instead of walking on to his ‘new home’. I’ve had to rely on photos being sent over from the lady looking after him, all the while hoping that he could somehow understand the telepathic messages I was sending him. That we hadn’t abandoned him and that I’ d be back soon to get him. And, despite the fact that it was probably better for him not to be in temporary accommodation or surrounded by packing boxes, we have missed him terribly.
Last weekend, the whole time. was really just playing the waiting game. And I was over it. I just wanted to get my dog on a plane and leave.
This isn’t a post about my dog
Believe it or not, it really isn’t.
Despite all the stress over getting his paperwork sorted I was hoping that having to leave him behind and having to handle the idea of him being in quarantine would be enough stress for this move.
And despite all the anxiety of leaving the Things in a country we don’t yet know, I was planning to try and enjoy a couple of kid free days and hang out with my favourite Doha peeps.
And I had FUN!
My feet barely hit the ground all weekend.
I saw almost all of those favourite Doha peeps. Some of them twice in 3 days!
I went out for breakfast, drinks and dinner. I worked out with the old crew and chatted with great friends about everything from Singapore to summer plans to kids to parents to utter mundane rubbish.
I drank… more tea than I thought humanly possible. I’m pretty sure I had the caffeine shakes for at least a week after I got back.
And yet there was something not quite right…
Not quite right
As the weekend went on, the euphoria and adrenaline of arriving and seeing everyone wore off and reality set in.
I listened as friends made plans for the coming weeks. I chatted to them about new jobs and business dreams. About staying or leaving. We discussed school issues that I’m well versed in having only left at the end of last term. I watched the Things’ friends playing together just as they always have.
And every time I’d get a sudden jolt of realisation that none of this involved us any more.
A big disruption
Honestly the trip, while fun, was a big disruption to my usual process of settling into a new country.
I think when you’re in settling in mode you just get on with it all and don’t focus on how hard it is. You think about things like how you don’t have any close friends yet and how you get lost every time you get in the car.
You’re so busy house hunting, going to school orientations and shopping in IKEA that you don’t have time to think about it being stressful or lonely. You don’t have time to focus on missing the old life that you left behind.
And by the time you do have time, you’re settled and you have some friends so it doesn’t matter so much.
Returning to Doha in the middle of our settling in period was, well, unsettling. It made me remember how easy it is to be among people you know so well. It made me think about what I’m missing out on.
It was the dreaded FOMO.
Leaving in the summer was easy. No-one was there so we couldnt’ get FOMO – there was literally nothing to be missing out on!
But suddenly everyone was back and after just 5 weeks I could have just been on a long holiday.
FOMO was setting in and setting in hard.
It didn’t help that, as usual, I over scheduled myself to max out on seeing my lovely friends. I woke up early (thanks jet lag) and went to sleep late (thanks friends). I met friends for breakfasts, lunches, coffees (well teas), dinner and drinks. In the off times I was running to the vet and messaging the lady helping to export my little WanderWoof.
It’s safe to say I was busy while I was there.
And I had been busy sorting out our lives in Singapore for 5 weeks. I’ve probably been carrying the mental load for all of us in Singapore so far. I’ve been worrying about Mr Wanderlust and his job with all its travel. Worrying about the Things and school and if they’re missing their old life too. I’ve been unpacking, exploring and trying to make new friends.
And then suddenly I was in familiar territory with some of the best people who have shaped my life for the last four years. I was so happy to see everyone but it was like I belonged and didn’t belong all at the same time. All this stuff we were talking about used to involve me and now it doesn’t. It felt weird and alien.
I was prepared for it but that doesn’t mean I liked it.
It’s not like I was even feeling like we had made a mistake. Singapore is awesome and we are delighted to be here. It’s just hard realising you don’t belong quite so soon after you were right in the thick of things.
I didn’t just want to get my dog on a plane.
Unable to even walk past my old house, I wanted to run away from being a tourist in my old life.
At the airport
I don’t really know what the point of writing this post it except that, as usual, if I’m feeling this, I know that there’s someone out there reading this post and feeling the exact same way.
We need to give ourselves permission to feel like this. It’s ok to be happy to be in one place and so sad not to be in another all at the same time. It was ok for me to be happy to see everyone and feel so welcomed and yet so out of it at the same time.
We need to give ourselves permission to get ourselves through this phase however we can.
I’m back in Singapore now.
The dog, thankfully, got on the plane and through all the checks at both ends.
When I got on the plane on Sunday night, I was literally shaking with the relief from stress of it all.
And when I woke the next morning, it felt like a huge load had been lifted off my shoulders. For the first time in weeks I didn’t wake up with my heart pounding and feeling a bit sick. I thought that feeling was from all the general stress of moving but it turns out most of it was about the dog.
And now it’s done I can get on with the business of being the new girl.
Now I’m back in Singapore I’m going to throw myself right back into settling in mode.
Have you recently moved? How are you feeling about it all? Don’t hesitate to get in touch!