Since our relocation to Singapore 10 months ago, I'm learning that despite the thousands of miles that separate us from our Lafayette home, there are things that are amazingly the same. Take now, for instance. High school seniors are graduating and mothers are weeping, here as well as those with whom I Skype back home.
And I'm a little surprised at the reactions of my fellow expats. You'd think that with the constant moving from country to country for most of these families, they'd be well acquainted with goodbyes. But for some, it's their eldest child graduating. They have yet to experience the drive down Hwy 5 with tears running down their cheeks, wondering if they've told their daughter everything she needs to know about life.
For these expats, it's the first child to leave Singapore and go oh so far away. Most of the Singapore American School graduates are heading to school in the States, many to schools on the East Coast, interestingly enough. Perhaps they miss seasons.
For those like me with the youngest child graduating, the prospect of an empty, silent house looms.
I try to not think about it. But come autumn, it'll hit me that I'm in Singapore with a daughter in a Los Angeles university, and a son at Boston University. A continent divides my kids from each other. Huge oceans and a 20 hour flight divides me from both of them.
Much of this angst is in my head. Frankly, our son Peter was so busy this year we barely saw him. I sometimes reflect on the letter I got from a reader last June after I announced my impending move to Singapore in my farewell newspaper column. The man was a stranger to me, but he was appalled at the thought of us wrenching our kid to another country for his senior year of high school. He said senior year was the most important year of a student's life. My son would be leaving friends. He'd be leaving his home. Then this man offered to let Peter live with his family for a year.
He meant well, but it didn't help me at the time, because I already felt guilty enough. I was panicked at the prospect of a miserable Peter for nine months. I should have had more faith in my son.
SAS is about the same size as Campolindo, with about 280 in the senior class. Aside from being enthusiastic about his classes and teachers, he didn't say much when school first started. He became angry when we kept inquiring as to his well-being. "Yeah, the kids are mostly all expats. But lots have been here together for years and already have their own groups," he said that first week, adding "and those who are new still know people from when they were in third grade together in Jakarta or Bangkok." We tried to not worry, but a few days later we tentatively inquired as to who he had lunch with. "Stop asking. I'll be fine," he snapped finally.
Peter doggedly went out for baseball practice every day (it's year-round here). He was cast in the musical. He played basketball, baseball and softball, traveling with the teams to tournaments in Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta. He threw himself into school life so thoroughly, he was given a Boosters award last week.
And Peter discovered that because SAS is an American school, there are still similarities to his old life. For instance, inviting a girl to the prom is as elaborate as those in Lamorinda (flash mob, anyone?). There's a sanctioned senior ditch day just like at Campo, but the SAS kids went to a nearby island instead of Boomers (which Peter would have preferred). The mortarboard he'll wear this week at the SAS graduation is exactly the same one worn by Campo students.
Graduation is June 2. No football field ceremony for SAS seniors: fear of extreme heat or monsoon rains means an indoor ceremony at a university auditorium. No shirtless boys in flip-flops here: the boys must wear shirts and ties under their gowns. And it's almost guaranteed there won't be any naked blow-up dolls being bounced around. I'm sure it's illegal.
After graduation here, Peter flies home to Lafayette. Thanks to Campolindo principal Carol Kitchens and choir director Stacey Kikkawa, he'll participate in the Campo graduation and sing with the Chamber Choir seniors. Thanks to the Class of 2011 advisors, he's attending Grad Night. Thanks to Carolyn Ockles, he'll have a Campo Yearbook. Peter is having his cake and eating it too.
Some day Peter might say this was the best year of his life. Being an expat is all about reinvention, and when you go away, you no longer have to be the kid everyone remembers from T-ball who used a bad word that time. You get to be who you really are. And Mike and I like who Peter really is.
For selfish reasons, I'm glad we wrenched Peter from his home for his senior year. Because of school, I've met some of my best friends, other mothers. I met remarkable teenagers. I traveled to tournaments in Hong Kong, Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta. They say you really get to know a person when you travel with them. I say you really get to know people by sharing bleachers with them. For the SAS athletes' families, it's a twofer.
So, when we return in September after dropping Peter off in Boston, it will be quiet and lonely. Our son is a big presence, even when he isn't home. But, thanks to Peter, I have friends in the same boat and we've promised to support each other. There are plenty of cheap flights, so maybe we'll travel together. New Delhi and Kuala Lumpur have been mentioned; so has a Readers and Writers festival in Bali.
It will help fill the gap, but not enough.