It was 10am on a Tuesday in the depths of November, and as the rain poured down for what felt like the 27th day in a row (but was probably only the fifth), I found myself in my GP’s office, in floods of tears.
I’d gone in for a follow-up on a chest infection, but as I sat across her desk and she asked kindly, “So, how are you?”, the floodgates I didn’t even know had been carefully shored up burst open and all the overwhelm of the previous months erupted – unstoppable. I cried and cried.
Of course – as unexpected tears always are – it was mortifying. But as she sympathetically pushed a box of tissues towards me I knew it was also one of those necessary moments. Looking back on that day now, I can see it for what it was – I was in the valley.
Until that day I’d been keeping it all together but it was really only a matter of time until things fell apart, and as they did, (mortification aside) it was a relief.
They say that moving countries is right up there with life’s most stressful events. I had pooh-pooh’ed that because we’d done it multiple times before and it had always worked out well. I insisted that the same would be the case this time – especially as, for the first time, we were returning to a place we had already lived once before. With this assurance I propelled us all forward, and felt, frankly, rather annoyed with myself for my lack of positivity as the months passed by and life didn’t look and feel the way I thought it would.
After all, surely our life was wherever we were – no matter where that was, there were school runs, ballet lessons, endless meals, nightly bath times… Life goes on and as a parent you get on with it.
Until you find yourself on a Tuesday in November, sobbing in your GP’s office and you don’t even know why.
Except that I did know why. My little girl was hurting and I had been the cause.
I can now see, with the beauty of hindsight, my total and utter naivety in the face of our latest move. There was an X factor I had failed to take into account this time which had never existed before: my children’s emotions.
Of course we knew that taking them from a place they loved to a place where they didn’t even speak the language would be hard. We calculated all the pros and cons and we made the decision with our eyes wide open.
But that doesn’t mean we knew how the day-in, day-out reality of it would make us feel.
The morning I found myself sobbing at my doctor’s desk, I’d dropped my daughter off at her new – completely French speaking – school and as always she’d clung to my hand as the other kids played in groups around us, chatting and laughing until the bell rang. Chatting and laughing as she had once done – with her old friends, at her old school. The ones who spoke her own language and shared her in-jokes.
Every day since the end of the summer had been the same – at drop-off she held tightly to my hand until the very last moment, and as she filed into her classroom after the bell rang I stood on the playground fighting back tears – a battle I usually won but occasionally lost in spectacular fashion, leading to total mortification and the practical but kind reassurances of other parents – for which I’ll always be grateful. When I’d pick her up later and ask her what the best part of her day had been she’d tell me, “You fetching me. Nobody played with me again today.” Day after day this continued, week after week.
At first I tried the sunny approach – “You’ll learn French VERY soon, just you wait.” I’d say, “When you’re able to communicate the kids in your class will know how lovely you are.” And even though my words were bound to be true, they rang hollow in the depths of her sorrow and my own – I was convincing nobody.
The stark contrast between her new and her old lives loomed over us like a shadow, the elephant in the room we couldn’t ignore. The be all and end all that had me sitting sobbing at my doctor’s desk.
I see now that no amount of “getting on with it” was going to plaster over the sadness and worry I felt in those early days and months. No amount of “knowing” it would all be okay eventually would make up for the feeling that it wasn’t okay right now.
I remember a show Oprah did back in the late 90s, about the heartbreak of children and young people being the most acute of all because they have no point of reference to demonstrate to them that they would be able to come through it – they have no experience of it. I think it must be the same for us as parents when our children encounter heartbreak or angst for the first time. Watching my daughter – my strong, sweet, sunny, funny girl – going through her first encounter with Hard Things was agony. I wasn’t really able to put it into perspective because I’d never been though it with her before – and she certainly wasn’t able to put it into perspective. And so it was that, in those early months after we moved, I felt every moment, every disappointment, every confusion, every bit of loneliness. And it was excruciating.
As I said, I was in the valley.
All of these feelings tumbled out of my mouth in the doctor’s office that morning as the rain fell so perfectly metaphorically down the windows, and though I didn’t know it at the time, that moment was a turning point. Crucially, by admitting that things were not, in fact, just fine, I was able to surrender. As she walked me out after our appointment she said to me, “These things take time.”
Wise words indeed.
Here I am, four months later, and I wouldn’t have been able to write these words if life didn’t look very different from how it did on that dull November day. As the trees start to shoot their new leaves, my little girl is coming to life again. During the months of silence, her mind has been absorbing, preparing, and suddenly French sentences come tumbling out of her mouth effortlessly, naturally, miraculously. She runs and she plays with the children in her class and when I ask her about the best part of her day she says, “Playing un, deux, trois, soleil with my friends,” and my mama heart soars because I know how much it cost in tears and in worry to get her here.
I know that in those dark days when doubt filled my mind, all I needed to do was to hang on. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t bully my daughter – or myself – into contentment. I had to accept it would take time. And that was okay.