Well, I am back. Back to Doha, back to what these days is my normal life, my reality. Even if it feels far from normal. Because, that is what my holiday in the UK felt like, more than anything. It felt normal. And, this feeling of getting back to everything normal felt wonderful. Normal shops, with normal stuff, normal food, normal way to dress, (shoulders and knees shamelessly exposed for everyone to see), being able to walk to places, being able to buy a drink in any pub or shop...being able to watch the English TV...and, most importantly, eat an obscene amount of pork-related products.
I had an opportunity to catch up with some good friends, and spent a long time with in-laws in Wales. Which was all pretty good fun, really.
There were some things that happened that made me realise what it actually means to be in a family with siblings. You see, as the only child, I always heard that we (the kids with no siblings) are spoilt or dysfunctional. Or probably, both. That we are terribly selfish, blah blah. I, of course, never considered myself any of the above. But, as I was watching family relationships and little dramas happen around me to friends and relatives, I thought, that, the reason I often don't get something or unintentionally offend people, is possibly due to me being the only child. Because, in a way, I am, indeed, spoilt.
Take this one unfortunate episode that occurred during our visit to the village we used to live in. A friend of mine and I agreed to get our kids, who were best buddies since baby times, one last time together for a play, since we only were there for a week. She mentioned briefly that it would have to happen in the afternoon, as in the evening, her brother's family (with this girl's cousins) were coming for the weekend to stay over. I went shopping in the morning, since it was the only day i could fit it in. Unfortunately, due to a few reasons, we got delayed. It was more like a late afternoon by the time we got back. And this is where my judgement, being the only child, failed me. I assumed that seeing her cousins would not be as important as seeing the friend she only has one last chance to see in maybe another whole year. Especially since they would stay overnight and be there the next day. I assumed that the girl would stay for a picnic in the garden and have some pizza for dinner. However, my friend got very upset. To her, her family and the cousins and having a family dinner together was extremely important. And now, in hindsight, after having spent a few weeks with my in laws and sister in law, where family priorities often had to replace my own...I was able to see the events in a different light.
I realised that bigger families, with brothers, sisters, parents and other relatives, live in this constant state of compromise and commitments, and special times together that can not be amended, and arrangements that have to be kept. And I felt like calling my good friend back, and apologising all over again. And explaining that, being the only child, I failed to see. For me, my friends are my extended family. Because I don't have siblings, I never had to worry about their feelings. And, I never had to choose family over friends.
Also, I never had to share my parents' love. Because I had no siblings, my children now do not have to share my mother's devotion.
And this is another interesting lesson that I have learnt during the extended stay with my husband's family this summer. My mother only has my children to love. However, my in laws have two more! The ones they feel closer to, the ones they raised, babysat and saw grow up years before mine were even born! And that is not always easy to accept.
Having spoken to my Doha friends about their family relationships, and their summer breaks, a very similar picture was painted. We all felt that perhaps, because we live so far away, our children will never be as close to their grandparents as the other grandchildren who live next door. And that is just one more reality of the expat life. We are terribly missed and loved-of course!- but we all feel like we still miss out. We, and our kids miss out on family celebrations, times with grandparents, regularity and normality of family life; hugs and kisses, and simply being a big part of our parents', aunties' and cousins' every day lives. We can Skype and Facetime, yet...we will never be as close as we wish we could be. And, coming back for a few weeks in summer will never make up for the lost minutes, days and months of all the grandparents' love and family stuff we are naturally entitled to.