When you’re an expat you can gain a lot (and not just the ‘bread and wine’ pounds I have found here in Germany) but also miss out on a lot.
I have missed big birthday celebrations, family weekends away, school reunions (phew!), hen weekends, weddings and the arrival of babies.
I don’t like missing out. So I realised early on that the only way around it is to put in the extra effort. Like leaving Bangkok a week early for Christmas to make sure I could attend one of my closest friend’s weddings. We’ll gloss over the cancelled flight, the eight hour coach drive with two small children and the resulting 26 hour journey because the wedding was amazing and it was worth every minute.
But unfortunately this isn’t possible every time. For example, I missed my god daughter’s christening because I just couldn’t get back. But my lovely friend arranged with the vicar that I could do it by proxy so I still have the honour of being godmother even though I wasn’t physically present.
And this brings me on to religious rites of passage. I am Catholic but my husband isn’t. However, we agreed we would raise our children as catholics, and they have both been christened. But then I couldn’t figure out how to get to the next bit. First Holy Communion. In England, this is done through the church or the school. But here…well the school is non-denominational and our German is not good enough to do classes at a local church.
So I started to get mildly worried. Because greater than my fear of missing out is the worry that my kids will miss out on things. While I am not very religious, this rite of passage feels important to me, and it is important to my family. Not only that, it is something that I felt would add to my children’s sense of identity.
And then I found out that there was an English speaking parish around 45 minutes away. And that a Mum from school was doing the classes. So, with relief, I put my eldest daughter’s name down. A couple of weeks later I got a call to say that the class had been cancelled because she was the only one registered! I just didn’t want to give up on it, so I basically hunted down all the Catholic families at school. And lo and behold, I rounded up enough kids to get the class put back on again.
(Re-reading that last paragraph I sound like I bullied them into it. I didn’t, honestly. No Spanish-inquisition style questioning went on here!)
The First Communion took place last week in a lovely church in Frankfurt. I was very happy that my family were able to come over. It was a very international affair, with children from many different countries and a wonderfully diverse congregation. So in the end, it was the perfect celebration.
And so this isn’t just about me putting in the effort to make something happen. It’s about the Mum who gave up her time to teach the class, making the hour and a half round trip to the church each time. As I think have already mentioned, I am not very religious, but it was very interesting to hear from her that the church had been a lifeline when she moved here from the States. That she had put a lot of effort into the classes, but had got a lot out of it too.
And speaking of lifelines…my family coming over was the icing on the cake. Us being expats means they have to put in more effort too, but it also makes our times together more special.
So I could end this with a ‘reap what you sow’ quote, but I have mentioned religion WAY too many times for one post so don’t want to overload by adding in the bible…
So I’ll leave with a cliché. You get out what you put in. It’s clichéd and true. And if you live a long way from home, you sometimes just have to put in a little bit more.