The Theatre of Expat Families

I realise, dear readers, that I haven’t mentioned my father much lately, what with his shady doings at Shady Elms – nor Mummy at all for a v long time, and I would like to tell you for why. Firstly, in re my Wuzgunna Dad (he always wuzgunna do a ton of stuff, but never did), the thing is that it’s all rather annoying and therefore thusly bad for my chi. As expats, we choose to live thousands of miles away from our families, so I find that any contact between myself and his world means that his life encroaches upon mine in a most heinous fashion. So as long as his trophy wifey, now replaced by a nice old dear at the home, doesn’t phone me up and go on about him, I am much happier just getting on with doing my thang.

As to Mummy, she cut short her visit to us last year, leaving under a cloud on Boxing Day. She said some terribly unkind and totes untruesome things to me, which, frankly, ruined my Chrimbo, and we have hardly been in communicando since then. She has not apologised for her attacks on my self, nor has she taken any steps to make amends. Hence therefore thusly, neither have I. She sees Max and Milly on Skype each week, but this is usually facilitated by the helper, with whom Mummy has maintained a spectacularly inappropriate relationship. (As if she doesn’t know any better from her own decades of having staff! Bizarre.)

That said, I am glad that she and the irritants are keeping up their bond as I think it’s v important, particularly if we are repatting in the near future. It occurred to me today that if we do return to the Yukes, I may need Mummy for childcare or other assistance, and as she insists upon keeping up this childishness of not speaking, I suppose that it falls to me to take the first humiliating steps towards reconciliation. I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. One of the many great things about being an expat is not needing to pay too much attention to family members back home, and a vast number of people make the decision to become expats for this very reason. For other reasons, click here to read my previous ground-breaking post on the subject.

So I am currently considering how I might approach this sticky issue, with the least humiliation possible on my part. I suppose that I must accept that all families are indeed psychotic, and whether we like it or not, even with the extreme step of moving far, far away (hmmmm, perhaps we ought to have moved even further away…), we still unfortunately belong to them.

I’m thinking all of these profound thoughts because at the weekend I saw a play about this very topic. I went to do a theatre review for the Singapore International Women and Trailing Spouses’ Association monthly magazine. The editor knows of my great literary prowess, so of course she tasked me with the task. The play is called Tribes, and I thought it was v interesting, and quite refreshingly sweary, but two obstacles unfortunately presented themselves in pursuance of my mission: firstly, I couldn’t remember how to do Pitman’s shorthand, and b) by the end of the play I was crying so much that what I had managed to write was all a big soggy mess in my notebook. I can’t even say for sure what I was crying about – it was just like, kind of really sad in a totes unfathomable way. I’m so mysterious, what with my deep emotions and stuff.


Amazebobs play what I saw

I got the main synopsis, that here was a family in England who liked a shout and had some Issues, and one of their three grown-up kids (all of whom had left home, but then come back – argh I hope that doesn’t happen with my irritants!) was deaf. Beyond that, I was fairly baffed.

Luckily, in the foyer afterwards I ran into my Harvard friend, Marni, who I haven’t seen for yonks. The last time I saw her was at this awesome talk organised by SheSays (there’s another one this Thursday which I totes want to go to if I’m not out partying). I asked Marni what tf the play was really about, hoping that she would offer to ghost-write the review for me. No such offer was forthcoming : (, but she explained that her understandio of the piece was that it was: “An exploration of identity, and fitting in, and the dichotomy between needing to belong – what we give up of ourselves by adapting to a group – and our need to be separate individuals. And separation can become alienation… isolation… which is also painful. So if we look at the family entity as a microcosm for society, the play, from my perspective anyway, is a story about how we negotiate belonging and not belonging, and the inherent losses we experience, but also the gains. A bittersweet piece, I thought. And some great performances. The actors really got under the skin of the characters. There were moments when I felt that I was there, a fly on the wall in a Cambridge living room… Oh, hi!! How are you?”

I had been so intent on writing down everything Marni was saying that I didn’t notice Mrs Doom and Gloom expat wifey sidling up to us. [Why am I constantly running into this woman?? It’s like the universe is trying to tell me something but what?? Or maybe the universe is trying to tell her something. Yes that’s much more likely. It’s trying to tell her to kick back, chillax and enjoy the fabulousness with which we expat wives – we lucky few – have been blessed.]

“Hi EJ, hi Marni”, D & G said, while incorrectly doing the expat wife protocol greeting. The woman can’t even air-kiss right. She does this awful face bashing thing and because I have v pronounced model-like cheekbones, I am in agony for days after an encounter with her. It’s so not worth it.

“Marni, I’m really interested in what you were saying about the play because I found it very moving, and it made me think about my own children, and what it means for them to grow up in this transient expat community. Because it’s like we, as parents, have chosen this lifestyle for them, and they adapt, don’t they? That’s what the TCK literature says, that they become experts at adapting. And the play made me wonder about how not only are they adapting to fit in with their changing environments, but actually, all the time they’re also adapting to us, to their own family. The people who are the constants during the changes. But we’re adapting too! Or trying to, anyway!! So as an anthropologist, what’s your take on this… on how it relates to us as expats?”

She finally stopped talking and I looked at Marni, ready to roll my eyes when she met my gaze, but she didn’t meet my gaze. Instead, she turned towards D & G, as if I was invisible or deaf or something, and started chatting away with mahusiv enthusiasm.

“I think you’re absolutely spot on with that comparison. I was turning it over myself, though I don’t have children yet, and I think you’re right that expat kids – or anyone from mobile populations – have another layer to negotiate around adapting to be part of a group, while choosing also to stand alone, or to “find their own voice”, like the play refers to. From what I’ve read, it’s particularly relevant to expat kids returning to their passport culture when they fly the nest, as in the play. A lot of them do go back to their parents sooner or later, and it’s like they need to go back, so as to differentiate parts of their identity that they couldn’t explore in the course of their acrobatic adaptations. I mean, like Darwin said, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor even the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change’. So adapting isn’t something these young people do lightly or that just happens. It’s about survival. It’s tribal. It’s about meeting ancient human needs.”

“Oh, that’s so fascinating!”, replied D & G, as if she had understood a damn word of it, when I’m sure she was as utterly baffed as I was.

“I completely agree”, D & G went on, “And I’m going to have a think about what I can do to understand my family better, and how our kids are adapting… How I can help in that process so that they find their own voices. Thank you, Marni, thanks so much!”, she kissed Marni (ouch, poor lovely smartsville Marni’s cheeks).

“Don’t thank me! The play obviously brought up a lot for you, as it did for me. Thank goodness for theatre, huh?”

D & G said she had to go, and I didn’t swerve in time to avoid the next cheekbone assault. I needed to run too because I had to pick up the irritants from a stupid kiddie party. So I didn’t manage to get more deets for the review out of Marni*. Those children. They’re the bain of my otherwise glorious existence.

*But I did manage to get this from a post Marni later put on her Facebook page, so I borrowed it, along with some of the other stuff she’d said:

FB Friends, I want to recommend a play to you. Tribes is another wonderful production from Pangdemonium, lovingly and poignantly performed by an amazing cast. We’re lucky to have them, given the current local and global funding crisis in the arts, so please go and support them in their vital work. Whether correctly attributed or not, I am reminded of this quote: “When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied, “then what are we fighting for?'”

I didn’t use that last bit for the review because, like everything Churchill supposedly said, it has zero to do with our lives today. Obviously what we’re fighting for is the ability to buy more stuff, eat at fabulous restaurants, go on beautiful holidays, and generally have an amazebobs time. That is, quite clearly, our birthright or we’d have been born as other, more lowly creatures.

Tribes, babeses

Tribes, babeses

5 thoughts on “The Theatre of Expat Families

  1. This was such a good article and I laughed my head off. You gave me a great idea about some thing I want to write about. Thanks and keep it coming!

  2. Pingback: Like I Never Left… | Diary of a Highgate Somebody

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