I suppose it’s all par for the course when you’re catapulted out of your comfort zone into a foreign land where no one speaks your language and everything from the climate to the culture is about as alien as eating a fish ball on a stick.
The initiation into expat life is not all that different to those frenzied days as a new mum. To say everything feels unfamiliar is probably a gross understatement right? Babies definitely don’t speak your language and working out their culinary desires can be a far cry from your usual dinner date.
I copped a double whammy. From television news reader living the (sort of) glamorous life in the harbour city of Sydney, to the unknown fragrant harbour of Hong Kong, unemployed and up the duff!
I’d been with Sky News for ten years and I’d worked hard for my dream job. I always assumed when, or if, I was lucky enough to have a family, I’d simply do what I’d seen the other mums do before me – come back to work after a year or so of blissful baby-dom, and slot into a few shifts a week on the tele. Perfect!
That was until I threw a spanner in my own destiny.
After a decade on the clock, I was acutely aware another ten years could roll on by and I’d still be hanging out in the same car park, wielding the same brand of high octane hairspray. With a husband in hotels being offered exotic (and not so exotic) destinations, the universe was telling me it was time to do something akin to ‘Carpe Diem’.
This meant agreeing to move to Hong Kong for my husband’s job. Uprooting our lives was not a decision we took lightly, and one with ramifications you can never quite be prepared for. But almost three years into our Asian adventure I can confidently say I’m ‘expatified’.
The transition though has not been without its teething problems.
Let’s face it, no matter where I lived in the world, having a child was always going to be a shock to the system. A 39 year old plunged into a world of breast pads, nappies and 24/7 responsibility for a small person, is enough to frighten the daylights out of the hardiest of women.
Then comes that age-old problem us mama bears seem to grudgingly burden ourselves with – loss of identity, self worth, confidence. It all feels like it’s being discarded piece by piece, with each toss of a dirty nappy bag.
But I discovered something through the tears and sleep-deprived tantrums which had me longing to transport myself back home to do it the easy way (easy only in the sense of doing what I know). After years of ladder-climbing, maybe I was ready for a break from the treadmill of ambition?
That said, I struggled. When you’ve been on the career roundabout for most of your adult life, it’s hard to get off. At 40 I found myself in a position I hadn’t expected – in an unfamiliar place at a loss as to how to reinvent the wheel. Mine was squeaky and a little tired, but still rolling.
Working as a freelancer from home has emerged as my floatie in the choppy sea that is expat motherhood. As an added bonus, I’ve rediscovered a passion for writing I thought was merely a figment of my childhood diary-writing imagination.
Before you ask though, I do miss reading the news. But I’ve realized that it’s about my ego taking a battering and not the actual nuts and bolts of having a regular day job.
In truth, I miss the camaraderie. Oh how there are days I’d kill to put on the heels, strut into an office and hang out at the coffee machine talking about J-Lo’s latest red carpet look.
Instead, my day involves snatching moments behind the laptop (often with toddler on my lap). Moments of creative clarity are far too often interrupted by the demands of a two year old wanting more food, the toilet (yet AGAIN) or just one more round of The Wheels on the Bus.
Multi-tasking has never been so critical. My laptop is readily cast aside to make a tall building or have a pretend picnic on the floor (can mummy have some wine with those biscuits puhleeeze!). I enjoy the challenge. When I actually achieve something like, hello, a fully published article, I’m brimming with smugness.
Of course, my progress is far slower than I’d like. I’m not winning any Pulitzers, but for the most part I’m grateful for this double whammy: Intellectual stimulation coupled with sneaky cuddles from my girl.
It’s a journey of realisation accepting that nothing stays the same. The old stiletto-wearing, wine-swilling career girl is still in there, she’s just had a bit of tweaking to suit the current climate.
It’s not about pitting working mums against stay at home mums.It’s not saying you can’t have it all, or that you can. As a wise friend said, “As a mum, getting the balance right is different for everyone. What may be balance to me is not necessarily balance to you.”
With motherhood invariably comes change, but with that comes opportunity and new beginnings. Some you just can’t predict. Carpe Diem!