It’s only nine hours….

March 26, 2011 — Leave a comment

I’ve just booked a flight to England in the summer. I don’t enjoy flying but who does these days? It is an abject lesson in cattle herding. You are bullied into line, prodded into position with a cursory flick of the hand, stripped of your footwear and that’s even before you walk through a machine that shows your lumps and bumps to a person hiding in a little room. Though in fairness I’d rather that than the pat down. And you’re not even on the plane, where further indignities await.

So no, I’m not looking forward to the flight. But I will endure it, and I do appreciate it is only nine hours long because I am practicing what I preach.

Last week at the Families in Global Transition Conference Laura Stephens and I gave a session on Death from a Distance, which dealt not only with the grieving process but also presented some thoughts on how to manage the last years of our parents and other loved ones from overseas. One of the suggestions we made was, and this sounds obvious but is something we often don’t always do, was to spend time with them. Quality time.

In our expatriate lives the visits to our parent country can sometimes be fraught with time constraints, fitting people into squares like chessmen, trying to keep everybody happy and often failing. The hardest thing for me was dealing with the mundane issue of laundry when travelling with young children. It always seemed rather rude appearing on someone’s doorstep with an armful of dirty knickers, t-shirts, jeans and socks saying hello, lovely to see you can I use the washing machine? My mum understood and would offer but would then insist on doing it herself because I couldn’t possibly be trusted with her washing machine. Then I’d feel guilty she was doing laundry and not enjoying her grandchildren, which lead to me lying, no, no Mum it’s okay – I did it on the last stop. I am sometimes my own worst enemy. The plane ride back to wherever we currently lived was almost a relief, whew we did it, I’m exhausted sort of feeling and then that momentary pang that I didn’t really spend time, real time, with anyone.

In our haste to fit in all those chessmen it is sometimes hard to slow down enough to enjoy our parents company even if their speech is a bit slower, a bit more convoluted than we remember, their hearing a little less acute.

I don’t have parents or in-laws left and there are empty squares whenever I go back these days but I am very lucky because I have two other people who have known and loved me all my life, and who I have loved ever since I can remember. Jack turned 90 earlier this year and true to form, rather like royalty, he is choosing to celebrate on another date, Waterloo Day. It is serendipitous that his son, who hasn’t loved me but is an old playing-in-the-monsoon-drains-of-Kuala-Lumpur pal, is turning 50 this year and will co-chair the celebrations.

Flying back for a party is an extravagant gesture. I appreciate I am very lucky to able to do it, and I thank my husband for all his travelling back and forth across the globe for the sake of work, for all the jetlag he gloops his way through just so I can steal his air miles.

It is a sad fact though that often as the sandwich generation of expatriates, our visits to base camp are mired in the practicalities of university-age children and aging parents. Technically the top layer of my sandwich might have gone but I’m lucky to have an extra slice so I’m going to make the most of it. A summer party in Dorset on Waterloo Day sounds perfect, and flying be damned, because those precious people just might not be there the next time I want to land on their square.

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