‘I just want to be NORMAL!’ Alula yells at me as I’m driving her to school.
‘What’s so good about normal?’ I ask. ‘And anyway, what do you mean by ‘normal’? What is normal?’
‘I don’t want to be the kid who has lived in London and then Bali and then here and then somewhere else. I just want to be NORMAL.’
I almost swerve into oncoming traffic. ‘But you’ve had an amazing life. You’re so lucky! Who wants to live an ordinary life when you can live an extraordinary one?’
Alula glowers at me in the rear view mirror.
‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all,’ I quote at her. ‘That’s Helen Keller.’
She pauses. She read all about Helen Keller last year at Green School and I know she ranks her up there with Taylor Swift and Jacqueline Wilson in the pantheon of people she most admires.
‘I don’t want an adventure. I just want to stay put.’
Hmmmmm. We are at an impasse. I’ve pulled the Helen Keller card – my ace in the hand – and had it thrown in my face. I’m all out of platitudes. I think about singing ‘Shake it off’ but whenever I open my mouth these days Alula yells at me that I’m embarrassing her (If everyone in the universe was wiped out tomorrow by Smallpox except for Alula and I, she would still cringe at everything I say or do and scream that I’m embarrassing her. I can’t draw breath these days without her wincing in humiliation.)
‘Are you anxious about moving again?’ I ask her because I am guessing it probably boils down to this. We are asking an enormous amount from her: to pack up and leave another place and start all over again.
Guilt comes in waves but at the moment the waves are Tsunami sized.
We still have no clear plan for moving yet, it’s all up in the air, but we are hoping to be gone before Christmas. It’s a lot of change for a lifetime, let alone one year.
We moved back to London for some brilliant work opportunities and work has been fantastic… but now we have no life. There is no balance. We have no time for anything except working, school runs and trips to Tesco. John works 12 hour days, sometimes more. We feel as if we are treading water, struggling to keep our heads above the waves. We are stressed, unhappy and I wonder most days why on earth we ever left Bali. Was it worth it?
Yes and No. I’m not sure. I miss my friends so much even to think of them is like being kicked in the gut.
‘I don’t want to go anywhere else,’ Alula says.
I sigh deeply. ‘I know,’ I tell her. ‘It’s really hard on you. But this morning you told me you hated school.’
She scowls at me.
‘And listen, there is no such thing as normal. Everyone has a different experience. Some kids move every year if say, their parents are in the army. And other children are forced to become refugees if they live in a war zone. Imagine if that was your life. You are really very lucky. We are so privileged.’
We park and I walk her grumpily up the hill to school. After I call John and agonise with him over our choices and what it means for Alula. Should we just stay put?
But the next morning, as I’m helping Alula get dressed for school, she flops onto the bed. ‘When are we leaving?’ she asks. ‘I can’t wait.’