We didn’t come here for ever.
We didn’t mean to stay much longer than a year. We never intended to make the Bahamas our home; we didn’t mean to fall in love with it, and we could never have predicted that from the first moment we got that white white coral sand in our shoes it would feel like it had always been there.
But that was what happened.
Two years ago next month we arrived on this island with our belongings in 10 boxes and – as with so many leaps of faith in life – found that the risk had been so much more worth it than we could have imagined when we waved goodbye to our happy and very comfortable life in Europe. Quickly we settled in this place so very far from home. The laid-back way of life and the bright, welcoming smiles of the locals reminded us of where we had grown up, under the big African sky where the air has a smell all of its own, rules are flexible and the birds sing wild in the treetops. The sand between our toes was different from that of the hot Cape beaches we knew, but somehow familiar at the same time. The bourganvilea brightening the roadsides was like a postcard from home and the heat rising off the tarmac was a mirage straight from our childhood.
We watched our own two girls thrive as this island life surrounded them like the sea. They grew strong in the sunshine and blossomed with each new experience. For them, this life in paradise is just normality. Yet I’m full to bursting every time I watch our eldest dive down in the water to get a closer look at a fish in the coral reef, or our youngest bend her bleach-blonde head to examine a starfish in its natural habitat. And I have to pinch myself that this is the life we are living – that this is our everyday.
Of course not every day in paradise has been spent on the beach. And I think, for me, “real life” has been even better. The school run on scooters as I watch Annabel race ahead, her sweet yellow gingham dress flying in the breeze, her little black school shoes a blur as she runs to greet her teacher with an enormous hug. The toddler playdates with friends for Ruby, the ballet lessons and swimming lessons and tennis lessons and backpacks packed and unpacked every day and the homework at the kitchen table and all the delicious minutiae that make up this wonderfully ordinary life.
And soon everything is changing.
It was tempting to stay on here for years to come, but in the end we’ve circled back to the goals we set for ourselves when we agreed to come here, and we know that being so very far from home and family will soon become too hard on us all. So in a few short weeks we will be moving again – closer to the people we love and far far away from this turquoise sea forever.
For me, the prospect is gut-wrenching and exciting at the same time. I’m approaching it with my eyes wide open and I know what we’re getting into because we’ve done it time and time again… I know how to do change and I know that come what may we can handle it and it will make us stronger.
But our five-year-old? Nobody can expect a five-year-old to know any of this. And moving a five-year-old from the life that’s her reality to something completely foreign…? This is something I haven’t ever done before and it’s weighing heavy on my heart.
So how have we approached the discussion of change? Well… slowly. We started making suggestions a few months ago that we “might” be moving, and then when we knew for sure it was happening we started slipping it gently into conversation. There has been no grand announcement, no big reveal – it has just been slipped into our daily life like sea sand falling through fingers.
We have talked about all the exciting things about living back in Europe. About the friends we left behind and the grandparents who will be that much closer. We’ve talked about favourite foods and holidays and snow in the winter time, about her new school and new home and the ducks she used to feed when she was a toddler.
But we’ve also allowed her to feel sad. And nervous or anxious or worried. We’ve answered all her questions as honestly as we can and we’ve assured her that we will take along with us all of her toys and all of her artwork and all of her books and the photo frames on the shelves. We have promised her there will still be ice cream and pizza and burger night on the other side of the Atlantic and that although everything will feel strange for a while, it will soon become the new normal.
As we begin to say the first of our many goodbyes at the start of the summer, I know she’s going to see me cry. I don’t know if this is a good thing or not – I feel like I should be as strong for her as I can, making it all okay. But then maybe seeing me cry will mean she’ll know it’s not a bad thing to feel sadness and to give it a voice. Maybe I will tell her that you can cry and then find that all will be well on the other side.
I will tell her that endings are sad. I will tell her that from endings come beginnings and that beginnings are hard too but that hard is where we find what is good and true and wonderful.
Most importantly, I will tell her how lucky I feel to have lived this extraordinary adventure alongside her and her sister and her dad, but that our lives are really just beginning, and the end of one adventure only means the beginning of another.