Woman in Progress: Katie Scott, journalist and ex-expat
Our latest Woman in Progress is Katie Scott, journalist and soon-to-be mum of four children under the age of seven. Katie has just returned to the UK after a four year stint in Hong Kong, and takes on change and upheaval which would leave us completely overwhelmed but she makes it look easy. Soon to give birth to her fourth baby, she talks to us about life back in Blighty and what it's like to feel like almost an ex-pat in your own country.
I cracked over eggs.
It was a dark and dank January evening. After a chorused demand for pancakes, I had togged up my three babies and herded them to the shop to get the necessaries. As I wrangled wellies off a soggy six year old, my youngest had decided to help me unpack. I stood over the resultant yolky mess, put my face into my hands and sobbed.
A month earlier, our four year adventure in Asia had come to a close. Weeks and weeks of tummy turning dread, manic sorting, boozy goodbyes and tears culminated in a tragically cinematic moment as I, red-eyed and clutching a crying child, pressed my hand against the window of the airport bus window whilst one of my closest friends, similarly red-eyed, waved from the pavement.
An amazing but surreal month in Australia followed, which I floated through. In December, as we queued to board our plane to the UK, reality hit. I remember wondering that if perhaps we got on the wrong plane - one heading to Hong Kong - and my husband just casually strolled into his office in Wan Chai, we could pretend it had all been a huge ruse. This was followed by a massive dose of guilt towards my family who were over the moon at our impending return; and all of the friends who had promised cuddles back in Blighty.
Our party of five arrived in time for the chaos of Christmas.
I bought eleven jumpers, swapped flip-flops for wellies and set about making my husband’s family house, which had been rented out for decades, feel like home. I flipped between tile picking and temper tantrums – aggravated by the awareness that everyone else in my little family was coping better than me. My two eldest children instantly adored their little village school; my youngest had swanned into pre-school without a glance back; and my husband was relishing the Britishness of it all – mulled wine; building hearty fires each evening and visiting farm shops where you could buy a chicken that didn’t look radio-active.
"All is well"
I responded to messages from friends both in Hong Kong and at home with feigned positivity – “All is well! Isn’t it cold! Here – have a picture of my ruddy-cheeked, muddy urchins”. The truth was, however, despite living in a household where someone was calling my name at least every two minutes, I was incredibly lonely; more so than I had ever been in Hong Kong where we had arrived knowing practically no-one. It made no sense to me and it made me angry. My life was now completely rammed - school runs, household chores and writing the odd article made days fly by. Now, faced with no time to think, I was constantly over-thinking; and with no time alone, I was lonely.
Eight months later
Eight months later; and a whole baby fatter (courtesy of those boozy final nights in Hong Kong!); I realise that I had been torn. In letting myself enjoy the UK and actively try to seek out new friends and reconnect with old ones, I felt that I was being disloyal to all of those pals in Hong Kong who had been my family for four years and had cried with me as our departure approached. It felt like I was drawing a line under my life there; and acknowledging that I was starting a life here without them. I was scared to do it. But it was ridiculous, and the messages of encouragement from the friends left behind made me realise that.
I stopped hibernating.
I smiled in the playground and was quickly overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. Hellos turned into invites for a cuppa; playdates where I could have a big person chat in between toilet runs; and the fortuitous finding of another mum who also happened to be an ex expat (and incredibly lovely). I have friends nearby now – old and new – including a neighbour who brings over home-made gin. I soak in the dappled light from the trees as I negotiate the school run; I spend time planning visits to National Trust gardens; and I get to cuddle my niece and nephew more than once a year. And now it’s Mr Tesco who delivers my eggs when pancakes are demanded and is a little more successful at unpacking them than my two year old.