We are not long back from another visit home to the motherland, and I’m starting to realise that the expat home visit has its own peculiar rules and conventions.
First, there’s the question of whom you visit. Family is inevitably first on the list, but then: which family? In which order? And for how long? How many people are you obliged to see if you are only making it over once a year? And if you miss someone out, are you sending out the message that you don’t care if you never see them again?
There’s a Platonic ideal visit out there that goes as follows. You see everyone you care about. You take things at a leisurely pace. You don’t stay long enough with anyone to feel that a) you’re treating them like a hotel or b) your homicide conviction is imminent. I am starting to realise that I cannot manage more than 24 hours in the company of my father before I swear NEVER EVER to stay with him again, and yet a year later I find myself claiming that I can’t wait to do it.
So anyway, once our various parents, siblings, cousins and aunts have been ticked off, there is barely any time to see our scattered friends. We used to resort to the hold-court-in-a-pub model, where you just invite everyone you know for an afternoon or evening and be damned if they don’t all get along or the time or venue doesn’t suit them. But it always feels rude, and with a baby (and, often, their babies) it’s much less practical.
Then there should be the opportunity to do all the things we miss. Eat sausages and custard: tick. Replenish the Ribena and hobnob supplies: tick. Go shopping for baby clothes in British baby shops: tick. Read the Guardian in paper form. Have a cream tea. Drink proper beer and cider in proper pubs. Baa at some sheep. Watch the Great British Bake Off. We made it to the seaside and a medieval church, briefly. I had plans to shop for clothes for myself and go to Tate Britain, but they fell victim to baby exhaustion.
But the funniest thing was our last Sunday, when baby A was surrounded by four adoring adults (in addition to her parents) all lining up to push her at the swings, give her rides on their shoulders, show her the ducks and admire her stumbling near-walking. The intensity of cramming so much affection into such a short time was palpable. It was raining, and we were the only people in the playground.