The other day, Munchkin’s friend Laure knocked on our door. I told her that Munchkin wasn’t home. Laure replied that she wasn’t here to see Munchkin. Rather, she wanted to see Munchkin’s daddy. He wasn’t here either, but I asked Laure if I could help her.
"No," she replied. "I just wanted to know if he has built the machine yet?"
"What machine?" I asked.
"The machine to make us fly."
"A machine to make you FLY?" I ask.
"Yes. We want to be able to fly. Munchkin said her daddy is an engineer and that he can build any kind of machine we want. We want him to build us a machine that will make us fly. Munchkin said she would get him to build one. I came to see if it was ready yet."
"So, you want a machine that will make you go up in the air?"
"Yes, we really want one. All the children want one — Michael and Tommy too."
"Well, he’s been very busy. When he gets home from work, I’ll ask him if he’s had time to work on it yet."
Laure and Munchkin were born on exactly the same day, and they played together all the time. Communication was sometimes a challenge, since English was the third language Laure learned (after French and Chinese), but they somehow always worked through it. It was a sad day when this delightful little girl moved on to her family’s next expat assignment in another country. Bon Voyage, Laure!
A couple of things I find unique about the expat community are (1) some particular personality characteristics that enable one to cope in an alien culture (mental flexibility, curiosity and extroversion, self confidence) are prevalent in expat communities, (2) friendships with people from many different languages, cultures, and points of view really do alter one’s way of thinking, (3) the fluidity of the community, which results in continual reshuffling of relationships, is sometimes painful, and (4) expat kids do not always share their parents’ enthusiasm for their parents’ lifestyle. Most parents work hard to try and smooth things over for their children, to provide as much semblance of stability and normality as they can in an unsettled and sometimes bewildering world. A world that, nevertheless, can be very enriching for the child in terms of life experience.
On the other hand, as this story illustrates, some things remain the same no matter where we are. I certainly didn’t want to dispel that wonderful notion that Munchkin’s dad was a superhero who could do anything! And, after all, how many times in Laure’s life in the future, will she actually meet someone is truly capable of making any type of machine, even one that can make her fly?!! Perhaps when she’s a grandmother, she’ll be remembering Munchkin’s promise and saying to herself, "if only my family had lived in China one more week. . . . "