Updated: Jul 9, 2020
If he doesn’t show, I have no way of getting in contact with him, I realise, as the boys and I drive to the airport to pick up my husband. It is March 6th, 2020 and he is due back for three weeks from his overseas posting. With all the borders closing due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is a very real chance he could get stuck on his way home.
A year ago, we made the decision to live in separate countries. We always said we would never do it, but circumstances aligned, and it seemed like the best decision for the whole family. Our aging parents needed at least one of us closer by, our eldest was in a pivotal school year, the job offered in Kabul was my husband’s dream job. We agreed with each other that he would come back for every school holiday, and I felt I could handle the school terms… But we hadn’t factored in a pandemic.
The boys and I wait nervously as passengers walk through Arrivals. The only option would be for us to drive an hour and a half back home and check for any messages from him there. Making contingency plans has become a habit, as it goes hand in hand with the international, global life.
Finally, after what seems like an endless wait, there he is. We have not seen him for ten weeks. The relief I feel at the sight of him is indescribable. We hug and kiss and drag him to the car. On the way home everyone talks at the same time, eager to update him up on family news. The conversation then shifts to the coronavirus and what it means for our country, our relatives, and our friends. We have extended family in four countries and friends on every continent. At the end of March, I was due to speak in Bangkok at the Annual Conference of Families in Global Transition on the topic of living as an expat with a travelling partner, but it quickly got canceled. We have been following the virus on the news as it in has wormed its way around the world.
After a few days, the Swiss government put in place social distancing. For us this is good news, as this must surely mean we will live lockdown together.“I am so sorry, my darling”, my husband says however, as he hugs me tight. “I feel so torn. As the leader of the team, I need to go back and take decisions in these difficult times, but I also want to stay with you.”It is gut-wrenching, but I understand; these are not easy times and I know that if he could, he would stay with us.
My main concern is being the only adult in the house. What if I get sick? Who will take care of the children? And if he gets sick, how will he be evacuated back if there are no flights? We make a few calls to close friends, asking them if they would agree to be our back-up adults. They agree. I feel a weight off my shoulders. As to whether we can see each other if one of us gets sick is an uncertainty we are going to have to live with, as is not knowing when we will see each other again.
So we find ourselves, on March 19th, 2020 on our way to the airport again, to drop Papa back off. My stomach is in knots, I am having difficulty swallowing.
The airport is eerily quiet, I do not think we have ever seen one so empty. A handful of flights light up one third of a screen, otherwise completely black, including the two screens beside it. A few people hurry by, heads down, frantically trying to avoid too close a contact with other passengers on their way to Departures. We hug and wave goodbye as Papa walks away. I am grateful we have been able to see him for two weeks.
The last year has been spent researching and interviewing for Holding the Fort Abroad, my book on expat families where one of the partners travels a lot for work so I know that there are more families in similar situations (to be published March 2021 by Summertime Publishing).
A few days later, the private Facebook Group ‘Solo Parenting Expat Mums’ is born. Stories start coming in: an American mum in Kenya, her husband stuck in Sudan, his planned R&R (rest & recuperation) cancelled a few days before he was due to fly home, a husband who stays in China while his wife and kids travel back to the UK, a French mum visiting her adult children, unable to return to be with her husband in Iran, to name just a few. These were not planned separate living arrangements! These were sudden, emotionally violent, tearing-apart of families. Families, on top of managing the challenges of living across cultures and countries, are now dealing with taking decisions about geographically separating, reuniting after times apart, and parenting together across the miles. The parent with the children worries about being the only adult in the home and sees no reprieve from day-to-day parenting. The posts in the group revolve around these themes and coaching guides are available to help members find workable solutions for their circumstances.
If you are a solo parenting expat mum, join us through my website www.amulticulturallife.com You will find a group that understands and has tried and tested methods to keep our families together, even when miles apart.