I have just recently packed up my worldly possessions for the fourth time. My family and I are holed up in temporary accommodation while we wait for visas to come through allowing us to move on to a new country and a new life… There have been a couple of nasty surprises over the last few months – our visas were delayed, our home was let out before we could request to stay on longer, and our new (one bedroom!) apartment has no bath tub and no microwave – two items I would previously have considered relatively indispensable with two kids under 3… And yet here I am; while my current mood couldn’t exactly be described as “relaxed” (“laid-back” I have never been accused of being…), I find myself taking it surprisingly in my stride. You see, this isn’t my first time…
For the “trailing spouse” who has lived in several locations around the globe for the career of the person they love, there was always a “first time”. A first move. A first new place – removed from the people we know and love, plunging us into unfamiliar territory and threatening to strip us of our identity… Mine was a small, windy land mass in the middle of the Irish Sea. It was July, I was 29, and while my friends back in London Town were sipping on Pimms in the Wimbledon sunshine, I had been unpacking boxes in a wet and blustery Isle of Man, shuddering at the ever-growing damp spot making it’s way down the bedroom wall and wondering, “what now?”. My fiancé was out at work and, now jobless having left the lovely City marketing job that kept me in shoes, I found myself suffering from a classic case of the sulky what-ifs. What if I had stopped him pursuing the new career that had brought us here before that very first interview? What if I couldn’t find a job I liked? What if it never stopped raining? What if, what if, what if? The carat-sized reminder on my left hand blinked up at me: your life is no longer just about you.
This was truly the first time I realised the actual meaning of commitment. Saying I Do to the love of my life and keeper of my heart was going to be about more than lace samples and the overflowing scrapbook of wedding ideas lying on the desk. I was tying my fate to that of another. His risks were my risks. Our future together was going to be unpredictable and possibly a bit messy. There would be worse as well as better. I felt my sense of identity waver and tilt on its side and useless tears of frustration prick at my eyes. This moment was going to require my big-girl pants and a strong cup of tea.
Three years later to the day, we moved on from the Isle of Man. As we packed up the home that had been the first of our married life, where we had become first-time parents to our baby girl, I wept far more than I had on that first rainy afternoon. I look back on the whole year I spent in our new home feeling like a stranger, and with the perfect vision of hindsight I think only one thing: why couldn’t I just have been happy? It had taken so much time for me to adjust and in the end I loved living there. It did stop raining (and OH! how beautiful it was when it did), and when we said goodbye to the Isle of Man it was utterly obvious that our experience there had given me so very much more than it had taken away: we had a circle of wonderful new friends, had been embraced by the most welcoming community I have ever encountered, had become stronger as a couple, and had experienced a whole different chapter of our lives which we would never have otherwise known.
And one more thing it gave us – the confidence that we can always start again. Something we all need to learn how to do, whether we’re moving country or just across town. Whether we’re starting a new job or settling our little ones into a new play school. Whether we’re ditching an old idea and going back to the drawing board, taking our lives down a completely different path, or living temporarily in limbo with no bathtub and no microwave… New starts are life’s way of throwing us unexpected and beautiful surprises that we will miss if we aren’t open to them.
I’m grateful to my little island in the middle of the Irish Sea for teaching me that.