For all of our bravado setting out on this adventure over a year ago, it sometimes feels a little embarrassing to say that we're heading back to the UK. We're bringing this Chinese chapter of our lives to a close next July and moving back to our beloved Edinburgh.
There are many reasons for this choice and I'm going to try to explore some of them over the next few posts.
Leaving China doesn't mean that this experience has been a failure, it really hasn't. We've had many opportunities for growth and learning and I think we've all become more resilient over the past 13 months. I have two Chinese speaking children who are unfazed by epic journeys and new customs. They're curious, interested and almost always filthy as our green campus has given us lots of space to play outside. I'm really proud of them.
However, it's partly for them that we're ready to leave. At school my eldest has playmates but he has no close friends and this is hard. Plenty of parents want their children to come to our house, but they want English lessons not playtime. When we say there isn't a class but they could come and play and use some English at the same time, we just get a confused look and "when does that start?" The constant study and extra-curricular activities that even four year olds are embarking on are very different to our style of parenting. Almost daily we are asked why our son doesn't go to school in the afternoons. When we explain that we want to spend time with him and to give him the chance to learn and play at home, again the confused look and, "I think it's more convenient for children to be at school all day". They're right, it would be more convenient, I'd have lots of free time then I could be on the Chinese ebay equivalent all day too. It wouldn't be better for my child or my family though and that's what matters to me.
Here, we are part of a community and there are people I'm fond of. But I am, and will always be, an outsider. We assumed that it would be easy to meet other parents because we'd have children the same age in common, we've met some lovely people in the UK this way. This was not to be. We have friends here but none of them are parents. At the school gate there are smiles but never more than that. We parent in very different ways and I think we're just too different, too foreign. Defeatist? Probably, but it's been a year of trying to befriend them with no success.
Dotted around the UK I have an amazing bunch of friends, some are parents too, some are not, but they're all kindred spirits. They understand me and support me as a parent and as a person. I'm thankful that I have such a supportive husband and two boys who love playing together and are very close, but I really miss having friends.
I want friends for my children and friends for me in our daily lives, not just at the end of a phone.
I want to have people I care about laughing and drinking tea in our home again.
A simple wish, but a powerful one.