Expat Life normal

Reflections as our world is ‘unlocked’

Stop the world, I want to get off! 

This was a phrase I used regularly in my ‘old life’. Then, 7 weeks ago, it actually happened. The world stopped. ‘You can get off now’, I was told. ‘Just stay home. Don’t go anywhere. Don’t see anyone’ And so I hopped eagerly down from the merry-go-round, and embraced the instruction with gusto.

As such, I am approaching the prospect of the return to ‘normal’ with mixed feelings. Today, I ventured out on the bus for a beauticians appointment (and anyone who thinks that’s not ‘essential’ hasn’t seen my eyebrows after 7 weeks of lockdown..) As the bus idled at traffic lights, my gaze fell upon some graffiti which implored the reader ‘pas de retour à l’anormal.’ I pondered this for the rest of the journey. Our ‘before coronavirus’ wasn’t really ‘normal’, was it? The constant busyness, rushing from place to place, keeping up, chasing our tails, scribbling one item off the ‘to do’ list only to replace it with another….. 

So yes, there is much I am looking forward to, yet also a sense of trepidation and many aspects of the past few weeks that I will miss…

Last week, I explored this question on a Whatsapp chat group, and was overwhelmed with responses ranging from ‘I never want to be locked up again’ to ‘I don’t want to back to where we were’ as well as everything in between. 

So, as we prepare to unlock the world once more, let’s consider what we’re looking forward to, what we’ll miss, and what we’ve learned…..

What we’re looking forward to:

Social interaction.

David, Geneva based Dad, of 4 says quite simply that he is looking forward to being able to socialise again. “Seeing people other than family is so important for our mental health,” he comments. “I not only miss socialising, but also interacting with colleagues and even random strangers. It all adds value.” I can relate: much as I’ve loved the family time, I miss those spontaneous chats with a shop assistant or person on the tram, catching someone’s eye and smiling, the snapshot of other’s people’s lives we glimpse as we go about our days….. 

Not having to feed my kids every 3 seconds.

Oh you wonderful people at my daughter’s school and my son’s creche who fed my children lunch and snacks, I didn’t realise how much I needed you. Until quite without warning, I was expected to provide lunch and snacks… EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. 

To those friends who took my kids for the occasional post school dinners, how I’ve missed you. 

To the coffee shops and bakeries that provided croissants for my children when I couldn’t be bothered with breakfast. How I am looking forward to being reunited with you.

Please NEVER. EVER. ask me to provide 3 meals a day plus snacks for my family for 7 weeks non stop ever. Ever. Again.

Travel.

Outdoor and exercise fanatic, Jules, tells me that she can’t wait to get back into the great outdoors. Running around the block doesn’t quite cut it when you’re used to spending your weekend scaling mountains. While I can’t claim to be missing that precise activity,  I do know what she means. My little patch of the world has been a place of solace these past 7 weeks, yet I have yearned to go beyond it. Even a 20 minute trip to the lakeside last week felt adventurous, just imagine how travelling to a different canton or even…gulp… a different country will feel. Rachael, a U.K based mum of 2 tells me that it’s not even just the actual travelling she misses, it’s the ability to plan and look forward to trips that provides that mental kick you often need when the daily grind is getting you down. 

Culture. 

Now this one, I can relate to even more than the above. Lausanne based mum of 3, Ceri, tells me how she yearns for the connectivity and energy one feels when sharing in the experience of live music with a crowd of other like minded people. With all European music festivals cancelled this summer, who knows when we may get to experience this again, but it will happen…. And when it does, Ceri will be there with bells on, and I suspect many others will be joining her. In the meantime, the live streamed gigs are much appreciated so keep them coming, but nothing beats the real thing….

What will we miss?

Not being controlled by the clock.

You know that feeling between boxing day and New year when no one has any idea what day it is, when it’s appropriate to drink wine and eat chocolate at any time of the day, and not getting dressed is perfectly acceptable? Scary serious virus issue aside, this is a lot what the last 7 weeks has looked like in my household. My sense of ‘time’ has become very skewed… some days feel endless, others whizz by in a flash and I rarely know what day it is.

My children hands down love this more relaxed attitude to routine, and I must confess we’re all more relaxed for it. So I agree with Julie, Geneva based mum of 2, when she tells me that she’s really not looking forward to being controlled by the clock again. “It’s nice not to rush. It’s nice that I can’t even remember what alarm tune I had programmed my phone to.”, she tells me. 

Family meals together.

Pre lockdown, family meals were sadly, a rarity thanks to the long hours my husband works.  During lockdown, his 40 minute commute in rush hour traffic has been replaced by a 10 second walk from the spare room to the living space which as you can imagine considerably cuts his commuting time. Our meal times finally look like the parenting books say they should look like…. All 4 of us sitting down together, and as we inevitably shift back into our old routine. This is something I shall definitely miss. 

The headspace. 

The running commentary in my brain about where I need to go, what I need to do, who I need to arrange stuff with…. It’s …. vanished over the last 7 weeks. Geneva based mum of 4, Zoe, tells me that she feels life has been so much more simple these past weeks and she’s apprehensive about returning to complicated routines and timetables. I agree with her: the lockdown has provided me with some much needed headspace that no amount of mindfulness or yoga was able to help me achieve before. I sincerely hope I can carry some of this forward as we take the first tentative steps back to the new ‘normal’…. 

Shopping local.

 I know I can still do this even when the lockdown ends, I know I’ll try … but I also know I won’t. My local farmers market is a treat, I feel ever so wholesome cycling there with my basket every Tuesday morning, but I also know that as my normal routine takes me from A to B to C and back again, I’ll have less time and will opt for the more convenient option of whatever supermarket is closest. I’ll miss it and as with the headspace, I hope to carry some of my new found love of shopping local forward with me …. I know it won’t happen every week, but certainly once in a while.

What we have learnt. 

I have an inner ‘crafty mum.’

Pre lockdown, the prospect of a whole day at home with only my children for company was not my idea of fun. Much as I love them more than I ever thought was humanely possible to love, I didn’t always enjoy spending time with them. I wasn’t ‘crafty mum’, I wasn’t ‘let’s make a den mum’. I was more ‘who can we find to play with today so mummy can mainline coffee with her friends?’ kind of mum. Turns out…. I’d wrongly labelled myself. 

 I’m not saying I’ve loved every moment of this enforced confinement with my kids,  – far from it….but I have been surprised at certain small realisations. I can sit with my kids and do a craft and enjoy it. Who knew?! I can bake with my children and take a deep breath while the flour flies everywhere and the sugar scatters on the floor and see the funny side of it. I can come up with ideas to entertain my family that I previously assumed only many years of teacher training could qualify one for …

Not only did a day at home with my children used to provoke a rising sense of dread pre lockdown, a day at home with myself would usually have the same effect. I always needed to be going somewhere, doing something, filling my time. I hope I have learnt from this lockdown that I can be still and not only does the world not end. The world becomes more real. France based mum, Sophie, tells me she has learnt to appreciate the beauty of the simplicity that surrounds us. 

People are kind.

Overwhelmingly so. Our news streams are filled with stories of kindness from clapping for carers. The out of work pilot who now spends his days shopping for the vulnerable, the war veteran walking laps of his garden to raise money for the NHS, the community groups pulling together to sew masks, police knocking on the door of an elderly man to sing him Happy Birthday, the landlord of a frontline worker who has been cooking meals for his frontline worker tenant …

I have also learnt:

That there is an expat shop that delivers Yorkshire Gold and Cadburys,

 That local Geneva television channel is actually a pretty interesting watch,

 The names of various Swiss politicians, 

How a virus mutates, 

I can be scared, happy, angry, chilled, grateful, and scared again all in the space of 10 minutes, 

That my children are truly fascinating, 

That my children are truly annoying, 

Unfortunately, that my favourite BBC newsreader has awful taste in home décor, 

My husband’s work voice sounds like Sean Connery, 

I have grey hair. 

Author Bio

Liz is originally from the U.K and has been living in Geneva for the past 10 years. She enjoys combining her work as a Client Manager at TutorsPlus with writing on Education, Parenting and Expat Life.

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