Making your 50's #6

Miss Claire making friends last week in Kribi, Cameroon

When we raise our kids we give them all sorts of advice to get on in the world. When it comes to making friends, it starts early. As soon as a child first grasps the concept of sharing with another...and does it successfully, without tears, we have set the foundation of our building blocks. Playing nicely in a sandbox is a big achievement.  

As the years go by you often feel like the backroom negotiator. One day, your child comes home in tears, "he said", "she said" and "why won't they?" give advice as only mothers can.  

Some days were better than others and in the end, they always made friends. Some friendships were short lived, with girls, it can be a matter of hours..and then finally..they find those few friends, and it only takes a few, to build a solid and lasting friendship. 

As an expat, we had many "friendship" conversations over the years. Each new country, brought on new schools and new opportunities for making friends. Settling in during the primary school years was relatively easy, they just got involved and joined in. Doing the same during the high school years was a different matter. Cliques are formed, social clubs are organised, norms are set and newcomers are not always welcome...unless they quickly get with the program. 

We had our fair share of tears in those first months of a new move, when the kids would rather be anywhere else than where they were. The guilt trip was heavy. My husband, "Dad" eventually had a way of smoothing things over, and "Mom" (me)...well, it is always the mother's fault, isn't it? A concept I could never understand as I was not the reason we moved. I used to say "give it a year".  And a year it was before they all settled in, although it seemed a lifetime to them and me when I said it.

I long ago came to the conclusion that expat mothers, any mother for that matter, really have the hardest job of all. For expats, the "travelling spouse" is often the stay-at-home caregiver, be it mother or father, they get to "manage" the day to day in a new move. They get to set up the house, worry about the happiness of their children and their partner and then..when the waters are smoothed and peace and calm least for a little why, they get to move on and establish a life of their own.

Fortunately, my friends have slotted in with each move. We moved to Sydney in our late 20's, America in our early 30's back to Sydney in our early 40's, to Auckland in our early 50's, to England in our mid-50's and Vietnam where we are into the latter half of my fifth decade.  

Mr. H calls the friends made during these years my "heart friends". The ones who get you and you get them. I treasure them.

Our children were born in between it all...I was 32 years old for my first, 34 for second, 36 for third and 42 for my lucky last. Oops..can't forget Tika, she joined our family as a six week old puppy when I was 44. If you have dogs, you know that it is just like having a child...and then some. 

Making friends through young children is easy, you meet on the playground, you chat in the school pick up line, you meet through school activities. Many of my lifelong friendships were formed in those early years. Even with high school age kids there were still plenty of activities through the school to connect. 

Then one day, you suddenly find yourself the only adult in the sandbox. New country, children moved on, husband happily connected in his job and you think...I can only build so many sand castles by myself. Now what?

You love your friends...but they all live thousands of miles away. You stay in touch and when you travel and meet with them again it is like time never passed. But you still have to go home to that empty sandbox. 

So you go to the gym, you take a class, you write on your blog, you join a local social group, you attend meetings, go on events, travel to new destinations, join the travelling spouse club, build a house in a different country, travel to see your children, relish the days when your children come home and then there are times when you are back in the sandbox and pouting. 

This is when the "pity party" phenomena takes hold and I REALLY do not like pity parties..especially if something can be done about them. 

I find exercise a great cure for the pity party blues. So.....

Two weeks ago, I slid back into my exercise gear (it had been a while), popped in the headphones and went for a walk. Within 15 minutes I tripped on the pavement and went flying. 

Ok..I admit, holding an iPhone and your camera and trying to navigate a curb while taking a photo of a bonsai tree was not one of my better moves. I was more worried about my camera then myself. I broke a camera doing the same exact move a year ago. Clearly, I never learn. 

The camera was relatively OK and still operable. Phew! I got up, pretended like nothing happened and limped home. The pity party blues were singing big time at that point.

Fast forward one week(knee mended)and I was back at it again..without my camera and at the gym. I was merrily cycling away watching Serena Williams hammer her opponent in the Semifinals at the Australian Open when I noticed out of the corner of my eye, a woman tripping over a treadmill. I smiled...I knew what that feeling was like and said so. Long story short, we had a brief chat through the earphones and she introduced herself. I did the same.

Soon after, my workout was over..and I was back in the sandbox. Should I or shouldn't I scribble my phone number on a piece of paper and suggest that if she wanted to walk sometime to call me. So..I did and quickly blurted it all out before running out the door, ending it with "call me...or not". Cringe.

I texted my daughter and said I did the most embarrassing thing. Who was the child now?

But then again, this had worked before, some of my "heart friends" are a result of that "feeling" you get when you know you will get along. We met, chatted and I passed along my details, just to say if they wanted to catch up, give me a call.  And if they didn't, well, I tried. 

Fortunately, my gym partner texted me and we set up a date to walk. We met and were walking along, when she told me she hesitated in contacting me as she was moving back to America with her husband in a week. The life of an expat, always the revolving door. 

I did not mind, I was just happy to step out of the sandbox for a while. Sweet woman that she was and is, she connected me with another walking partner who lives close by. We all met and walked together a few days ago. 

I caught up with her walking partner this morning, both of us talking a mile a minute as we walked. It turns out we live parallel expat lives, her home away form home is in the Cotswolds, mine is in New Hampshire. I got her and she got me. Sandbox, plus one.

So the moral of this story...when it comes to making friends, just go for it, no matter your age, you will never know unless you try. And if it doesn't work, hey, you tried. That's the best you can do.

On that note, I am signing off with post #6 from Vietnam and wishing you a wonderful weekend!

Jeanne :)

Feb 6, 2015
28 Day Writing Challenge, #6
Writing from Chateau Mango
Vietnam time

PS..I wrote a few weeks back that my daughter, Miss Claire, left for a study abroad programme in Cameroon. She sent the photo above to say she is going fine and making friends. Mother (me) is relieved and happy to see that she listened to me all those years ago...

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