Expat /trailing spouses are everything! Ok, Ok – I swear the next post will be about a scrumptious bakery or intriguing museum- but in the meantime, I have to give a shout out to expats everywhere, especially my fellow trailing spouses*! Why you may ask? Because they are simply amazing. Not only are they the glue for their families, but frequently they are the glue for their community, rallying friends and newcomers to make a new post seem less daunting.
This past weekend, a group of expats invited me on their weekly walk around Djurgården, one of Stockholm’s many, and perhaps most scenic, islands. Walking and talking with these expats – mostly women who, like me, have moved here because of their husbands’ jobs – was a breath of fresh air literally and figuratively. These trailing spouses reminded me of how extraordinary, and difficult, and beautiful it is to lead the life we do. Here was a group of friendly, outgoing, intelligent, accomplished, and caring women who had once or twice or five times picked up and moved their families to a new place. Not only had they settled their family and created a new life and home, they had also formed friendships, made walking buddies, traveling buddies, cooking buddies, everything buddies – and they were doing it in style! I have encountered many women like this over the years whether in Paris or Zimbabwe – and they all have a few things in common – resilience and an ability to connect.
On a recent episode of Girls, Shoshanna, who recently moved to Japan and is enamored with the sights and sounds of a new culture, says, “”I’m great….My life is really perfect.” Only to end up in tears saying, “I’m really sad and I’m really fucking lonely. I’m so homesick and I swear to God if one more person that I bump into bows and says they are sorry, I am going to fucking cut somebody.” This made me cry/ laugh. I have been in her shoes – everything’s going great until it isn’t and then all of a sudden you are crying in your ramen feeling lonely and alone and miserable. But what trailing spouses have figured out is that although not everything will always be perfect, if you start connecting and in turn help others connect, you’ll move through that loneliness – and that is when the good times start!
All of these thoughts were going through my head during the walk, when we passed a wooden pier where a couple was hugging and posing for a photograph. It felt like a perfect metaphor for the trailing spouse phenomenon. Sometimes you get dropped of at the pier, looking at where you have come from, standing on the edge of the island, waiting for a hug and someone to enjoy the view with you until you are brought onto land. Trailing spouses do this for each other time and again, and that is why they are my heroes!
*For those of you who have not heard the expression trailing spouse – it is a phrase commonly used to describe a spouse, typically the wife, who picks up and trails after their spouse, usually the husband, for career moves.
Here’s what I know…I know so very little. Despite being an intelligent being, I overate on Thanksgiving, then did it again the next day with leftovers. I gave thanks, but not nearly enough. I went shopping and bought things, knowing they weren’t essential and they wouldn’t make me happier. I searched for things outside myself to bring happiness: the extra glass of wine, the extra piece of pie, you get the picture. Ahh, the problem of being human, knowing better and doing the opposite anyway. And then dwelling on it! Time to turn off the broken record, or at least change the tune.
I spent time with family from near and far, slept in late, read, played with my cousin’s baby for the first time, met another warm and wonderful family, heard a story about my grandfather, aunt, and uncle that made me laugh and also brought tears to my eyes. I looked out the window -some days sunny, some days windy and rainy- watched life move by across a spectacular field and thought about things.
Now back at home, back to my normal. I watered my little indoor garden talking to and encouraging the little show-offs. I am picking out some recipes and getting ready to bake. I will probably catch up on some episodes of my favorite TV shows . I am settling back into the routine that comforts me, regrouping and recharging before the holiday mayhem. Won’t say I won’t ever make the same “mistakes” but heck, they aren’t the only thing to dwell on.
*Real shoes have been changed to protect the identity of the owner. And beware, if you are my friend, and you do something I find funny, I may tell everyone about it!
Remember my friend with the Vera Bradley bag at the Dune de Pilat? The very very large Vera Bradley bag I had to help her lug straight up the biggest and steepest sand dune in Europe??? Well, here is chapter two of the Mrs. Misadventures:
The other weekend we both attended a very fun farewell party in honor of a dear friend. A bit of wine consumed. There was lots of dancing. Most ladies liberated themselves of their high heels so there could be more dancing. Me – ever the practical one – had worn my very favorite and very broken-in Keen sandals under a long skirt – because I had to rush from a dinner party to the farewell party. Of course I walked the mile from my house to the dinner party and then another mile to the farewell party- who needs a taxi or metro when you have comfy shoes?
Well – lets just say by the end of the night my friend could not bear to put back on her gorgeous heels and started walking out of our friend’s apartment barefoot. For heavens sake – my dog poops on these streets! I could not let her go barefoot – or heaven forbid call an UBER. So, guess who ended up wearing the sandals? And guess who ended up in the high heels? We were quite a sight – me in her heels two sizes too big, and her in my sandals, two sizes too small. I think the whole neighborhood heard us laughing and clicking and clacking down the road.
In anycase, we made it back safe and sound, ready for the next adventure. And I am holding her heels hostage until she learns how to pack light for out next trip.
This past weekend a friend and I went to the Bordeaux region and it made me realize why my kids don’t want to travel with me any more. I sometimes come up with ambitious ideas that are super fun but can be, let’s say, a bit overwhelming. They think adventure is code word for “crazy.” So – I had to find a friend to join me on my next adventure, La Grande Dune du Pilat and St. Emilion. It started off great: arrived early to the train, settled into our seats, chatting about the weekend ahead – meals to be eaten, wine to drink, wine to buy, more food to eat, etc. The ticket lady comes around – and low and behold, I have forgotten to bring my discount card, so we both have to pay an additional fare on the train – a minor annoyance, but nothing can bring us down.
We roll happily along for another hour or so until I hear a disturbance near the door as new passengers board. I look to see an older gentleman struggling with his old, overweight cocker spaniel trying to drag him up the steep stairs and onto the train before the doors close. I rush to help and make fast friends with a very old and very stinky cocker spaniel who proceeds to stare at me with his rheumy eyes for the rest of the trip. Knowing that this older fellow will have trouble getting the dog off of the train, I volunteer to carry my new best friend off the train. Now I am feeling good about myself – I have done my good deed for the day. Surely this is a good omen.
We descend in the town of Arcachon for our several hour visit to the La Grand Dune du Pilat before proceeding to St. Emilion. There were no cabs to take us to the dune – but luckily there was a bus that went directly there! Hurrah! Well, 30 enormous Dutch men had the same exact idea so my friend and I were stuffed like sausages onto a hot, small bus to make the 30 minute journey to the dunes. That is when her motion sickness really started to kick in – but by gosh, she wasn’t going to let it stop her. Oh- in the rush of all of this, we forgot to leave our luggage in the train lockers and instead are carting it around with us. We’re strong – no problem. Until we see the dune. The tallest dune in Europe – which we will now be climbing with our weekend luggage – 110m meters high, straight up, in sand. Not ones to shy away from a challenge , or take the stairs, we start our slow ascent. This is our Everest – except hot, sandy, and no sherpas. We toy with the idea of paying someone, anyone, to carry our bags. There was just no way we were going to leave that large Vera Bradley bag at the bottom. Small kids cheered us on as they whizzed past. We huffed and puffed our way to the top and I swear we could have happily stayed at the top of the dune overnight – but we had a schedule!
After our major accomplishment – we paused for some photos and a quick rest, then off we went – over the other side of the dune to hopefully find the restaurant were we planned lunch. Again, with our luggage but without a clear idea of where we are actually going, but certain there is no way we are going to walk up another dune. Since there is no obvious (or authorized way) path to exit on the other side of the dune – we hike through some scrub brushes and climb through a broken fence and finally make our way to the road and luckily find the very posh hotel/restaurant. The hotel is a spectacular. We trudge in with our luggage, our outfits and hair slightly worse for the climb, the sweat, and the ocean breezes. We hope to fit in at this lovely Philippe Starck designed terrace and have a refreshing drink and meal before heading back to the train station . We get there too late for lunch service and instead order the only available cold snacks from the bar. We order a pâté and saucisson – and that is exactly what we got. A saucisson on a plate and a CAN of pâté, Served IN the CAN. If only my cocker spaniel friend was still with me – this was his kind of treat. Poor friend, still suffering from motion sickness decides the pâté might help – it didn’t. Please note, do not eat pâté from a can if you have a stomach ache. It doesn’t won’t make you feel less queasy.
Snack finished – we forge ahead to get back on the bus for the train station – now everything is going like clock-work. No more large Dutch men, no dogs to carry, refreshing snack eaten. Until the bus is 20 minutes late. Now we are cutting it close -but there is still a chance we can make our next train. We are thrilled when the bus arrives and we get the last two places. Hurray again! We are quickly making our way towards the station, when and old lady waves down the bus and proceeds to yell at the driver about being late and full. The nice young driver promises to come back for her in five minutes. Of course we think this is an expression (pardon our poor understanding of French) and he really means another bus will pass by in a five minutes. Well, it was not an expression. At the next stop, he drops off a couple of passengers, then proceeds to turn around and go back for the lady – all the while my friend was pointing to her watch and gesturing loudly about missed trains. The driver is oblivious to her concerns. He will not be deterred. Well, I guess he was doing his good deed of the day. We picked up old lady – she was happy – we continue to train station – and have missed our train by a good 10 minutes. There is a later train – so we jump on it and have a small layover in the town of Bordeaux.
While in Bordeaux, the wine capital, we decide to stop at the “Terminus” – an aptly named bar just outside the station- to have a nerve calming glass of wine. No wine menu needed here – white, red,or rose. I order the rose, which I am sure was a mix of leftover red and white from last night’s service. So much for the wine capital. Finally, finally, we make our connection and get to the hotel in St. Emilion- tired, sick, and maybe a touch cranky. The hotel is lovely, but apparently, when we reserved bikes a month ago, they forgot to write it down and have since given our bikes away to other guests. We throw a slight fit and they kindly promise us a complimentary taxi for our Chateau visit the next day. A look of relief washes over their faces when we go to our room.
A look of horror crosses their faces when I showed up at the desk at 7am the next morning. They thought the were rid of us demanding Americans but I was determined to get sick friend some medicine, so I needed to find a pharmacy on a Sunday, in a small town in France. We still had chateaus to visit and more wine to drink. They did get rid of us for the day – but we called them numerous times with restaurant changes, shifting plans, and general questions. I like to think we helped them improve their English skills. Needless to say, it was a trip we will never forget! For your next adventure, call me and I will give you some tips for seamless trouble free travel.
After returning from a peaceful week in Southern France, where the sun drenches everything including your soul, it is time to regroup back in Paris. Not too many words today, just quiet reflection on spending time with family and feeling blessed.
Funny how things look different from another person’s perspective. At any given time, I feel like a mess. I have a million things constantly going through my mind. Some things are minor, like who is going to take out the trash. And some are major: what am I doing with my life; I put my foot in my mouth (again); why didn’t I do A instead of B and then everything would have been perfect; what am I going to do in the next 10 years to make my mark in this world; and are my kids going to be okay?? I usually have no answers, but I keep plodding ahead putting one foot in front of the other and hoping it will all come together. At least the trash always gets taken out. And yet, I think from the outside, I look relatively put together. I was thinking about this today after someone complimented me and my first reaction was to dismiss the kind words, and secondly to beat myself up and say it wasn’t anything special. Then it reminded me of something I heard while back “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” I find it is so true for me, and perhaps for others too: judging ourselves too harshly and failing to give ourselves credit where due. It seems so easy to be generous with others and look at their positives, and so easy to focus on our own negatives. Anyway – just a thought for today if you find yourself turning down a compliment or looking harshly at one of your bloopers – just remember – everyone else is looking at your highlight reel – and you should too!