With this piece, I have arrived at my final post for Expat Life and, to conclude this little series of stories of life abroad, I felt I had to include something about being a mummy expat. Or, more accurately, focus a little on my daughters, catapulted over the Alps during a wet autumn of a few years ago, when they were both still under the age of three.
When you have children and you decide to go and live in another country, your first thoughts are with them. The first thing you tell yourself is that it will be a great opportunity for them. You convince yourself of this all on your own, and everyone you know will confirm it, with absolute conviction.
With hindsight, I can say that this is true; it is indeed an incredible opportunity that goes well beyond just acquiring a new language.
However, the change is so big that you must also take into consideration a few unforeseeable factors. The important thing is to be aware always that there is nothing to worry about. It should be seen as quite normal to find that an imaginary friend appears, who has to come along on outings and requires some space on the sofa. That the food and its relatively new flavours are not appreciated immediately. That the previously abandoned dummy makes a return with a vengeance. That a two year-old girl has a meltdown because the stock of Italian biscuits is finished. That your littlest daughter is flummoxed by the bidet.
A period of adjustment is to be considered absolutely normal but it is equally unhelpful to imagine that you won’t be beset by worries.
Indeed, because of my many doubts and uncertainties, I spent a lot of time observing my daughters, trying to pick up on every possible sign of unease originating from such a radical change. Yet what I always learned was just how naturally children adjust and settle in.
What really struck me was their incredible ability:
to rely on the few constants and allow everything else around them to change, whilst adapting and settling in;
to not let themselves be intimidated by a new language but instead familiarise themselves with the words, expressions and sounds, until they acquire total fluency;
to let other children take them by the hand and help them to understand;
to give free rein to their curiosity about the different habits and ways of doing things;
to point out the differences but accept them without judgement;
to never be in too much of a hurry;
to recognise the magical unifying power of play, irrespective of any mutual comprehension.
I don’t think I will ever forget the first day of school at the Maternelle. I will forever be grateful to the festive curiosity of the children, who literally opened their arms to welcome us in when we felt intimidated and a little lost. Because our children’s world is amazing and enchanting in a way that we adults, unfortunately, often forget.
We’ve now been back in Italy for a few months, but our two years in France bestowed on us a wealth of riches and beautiful things that we will carry with us forever, together with the many photos we took to capture the moments.
My name is Bianca Spina; I’m from Naples but I live in Rome. I have just come back
to Italy after a period living as an Expat in France, an intense
and amazing time. Mother to two little girls, I wear big, red
glasses; I love to walk looking up, to observe, photograph and
tell stories. I try to keep in a good mood and I am always
won over by the inescapable charm of kindness and a smile.