Not much in today's world is more universally reviled or at least complained about. Almost everyone who has one usually agrees that they are a pain. It's the one topic Bashar al-Assad and President Obama would likely find much in common about. Even though Assad doesn't quite have one yet. I'm talking about teenagers of course.
Teenagers are possibly the biggest catastrophe wrought upon us parents by nature. They are disagreeable, have mood swings defying any logic, and their rooms – well, we don’t know for sure, because we've stopped entering them for fear of alien forms of life attacking us from the morass of stuff littered around them. But you have to give credit where credit is due.
As I've told you before, girls and boys are made of entirely different stuff. I know my sons will be sure to distinguish themselves in another way some day. Like, for instance, if they ever install a wireless router that actually works in my house. I shall be forever grateful. Because I sure as hell can't figure stuff like that out. But card making prowess, and the required stamina, is not one of the boys' strong suits.
Do you know the scariest thing about repatriation? And no, I’m not even talking about the hassle of moving an entire household. Of re-registering any bit of data that needs registering in a new place. Of learning that not all toilets flush equally. Not even of finding a new hairdresser, and, almost worst of all, a new orthodontist yet again. No. It's the prospect of losing your domestic help, of course.
A lot of research has been done about expats and their children adapting to a new country. One advice scientists give is easy to follow: have fun in your new host city! Johannesburg has a lot to offer, so make sure you take advantage of the culture, the wildlife, the great food on offer, the leisure activities and last but not least the friendliness of the South Africans.
The good news about relocating lies in the way some long-lost possessions of yours have a habit of resurfacing. An unlabeled DVD emerged from our container a few months ago. We slid it into the DVD player to see what it was and immediately we were transfixed, our entire family, plopping down wherever we stood to look at this version of us circa ten years ago.
For all the great stuff expat life can bring you - the honeymoon-like feeling of everything being new and beautiful when first arriving in a new place, exotic travel opportunities, new foods to add to your palate, paid annual home leave, great weather, domestic help, multilingual kids, friends all over the world - it also comes with a risk: nothing will ever feel the same.
South Africans seem less obsessive about their kids than Americans. They're involved in their kids' lives, but not pushy or ultra-competitive. A sideline brawl in the country where there is tea break in the midst of a cricket match is simply unimaginable. You will hear polite clapping and shouts of "well done" when things go well or "unlucky" when they don't, if the parents attend at all.
A friend of mine recently confided in me the following: Her daughter, when seeking information about some school event, and not happy with the answers she (my friend) was supplying, simply turned around and said: "You know what, I'll just call Impatience's mom. She'll know what's happening at school. She is a mom who knows things."
Electronic devices must have done more for the safety of family vehicles than seat belts and speed limits combined. I'm sure of it. Oh the bliss when everyone is playing a game on their very own iPod. With earphones plugged in. Who cares whether they've seen the Grand Canyon on the way past? They were silent! And not touching each other! These are might thoughts about family road trips.