My friend Jessica was somewhat prophetic during a conversation we had within the past six months. We were discussing expat life, and she turned to me and said “the third year is the hardest.” I wasn’t so sure, but I didn’t discount her comment either.
There are times when the third year seems like the best so far. I know how to get to places I frequent, I’ve found my friends, we have a routine, and while it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, it’s a good life.
Then there are days like today.
In general I try not to be the ugly expat or the ugly american.
Then there are days like today.
In general I try to keep calm and grit my teeth and just get through the day when it’s a rough one.
Then there are days like today.
To be fair, I have to back up a bit. Last night our game plan was to eat dinner at Chili’s Tanglin Malll and then go downstairs and get groceries. The plan was completely derailed when, after shrieking, I picked Rhiannon up and sat her on the table to play with her. Within about 0.3 seconds, she’d reached out, gotten a grip on my cup of ice water, and tipped it over…directly onto my lap. Luckily I was just about done with dinner, so the baby, myself and my soaking wet pants did a walk of shame to the elevator and down to the car where I could look like I’d peed my pants in private. Needless to say, groceries didn’t happen last night.
Last night was one of those nights where just as I was falling asleep the baby needed to nurse. Then she needed to nurse twice more. Then she woke up and would not go back to sleep at too goddamn early this morning. Then, just as we were falling asleep, I got a call to let me know the dishwasher repair guy was 10 minutes away. The dishwasher repair appointment that I’d totally forgotten about, and had not put on the calendar.
The dishwasher isn’t zapping me because it is broken. Its randomly zapping me because the wall socket it’s plugged into isn’t grounded properly, which means I need to schedule a handyman appointment.
In this whole mess, I never got my shower.
This may seem like a small thing to some people, but my morning shower is SACRED. SACRED.
Ellie had an accident.
Food ended up happening late, and I almost didn’t get to eat at all. In fact, the only way I was able to eat was to let Rhiannon cry for the 10 minutes it took for me to make and inhale some food. Which, you know, made me feel like mom of the year.
We were late to school.
Then, instead of relaxing and writing during school, I had to grocery shop. I took Rhi to the Jason’s at Tanglin, where we’d planned to shop the day before. I decided to load up on staples and just get a delivery tonight. I loaded my cart to capacity, and got to the checkout.
The person in front of me had also done a delivery order and half of her order was waiting to be boxed. I was really unhappy that they just started to run my groceries through without finishing boxing up that order, worried that things were going to get mixed up.
Then I clarified twice where my groceries should be divided between taking them home now and please deliver.
I look up from loading the belt and see things getting tossed into delivery boxes without any sort of regard for delivery versus take home now. We’re not even going to mention what was happening to my loaf of bread. Annoyed, I clarify that I’m taking home all of the perishables. The bagger gets snippy with me about it, and is pissed that she has to take things out of a box and put them into a plastic bag. She takes this out on my groceries, overloading bags and putting stuff together that shouldnt’ have been together.
I need to stop and say that improper and careless bagging is one of my biggest pet peeves. One of my first jobs was to work as a grocery store clerk and bagger. Grocery packing 101–cold stuff with cold stuff, veggies with veggies, boxes with boxes, bottles with bottles (but not too many so as not to tear the bag), and so forth. I’m so anal that I actually put things on the belt specifically in the order I’d like them bagged. And it still get fucked up beyond all hope. And seriously? Who puts cans in with BREAD? Just….ugh…MAJOR pet peeve.
Whatever. I get the bill and pay it.
They hand me the slip and do not say when the groceries will be delivered. I have to stop them and ask for clarification.
“Before 6,” they tell me.
“No, it has to be after 7,” I tell them.
“Tomorrow?” they ask.
“Sure. After 7.”
“Maid can take delivery?”
“Not everyone has a maid,” I snap.
This then devolves into a giant mess, with my stress levels (which were already spinning into “I want a one way ticket home” or “hide in my closet for a week” territory) through the roof. When Rhi got hungry and starting screaming the kind of piercing scream that could be heard throughout Tanglin, I began to lose it.
They suggest leaving stuff outside the door….which would be fine if I hadn’t just watched them make each box easily over 50 lbs (and one box of baby food is so carelessly packed I want to open up a betting pool on how many jars will be broken…not if they’ll be broken, but how many). I have a herniated disk in my back that I’m desperately trying to not need surgery for. I didn’t want to get in trouble for leaving groceries outside in my hall until whenever Ravi manages to get home.
At some point I suggest they just refund my order altogether. This is met with even more “cannots”.
Rhi is screaming these loud piercing screams at this point. This is attracting a lot of attention, as I’m sure my visible stress level is. Great, now I’m a spectacle, which makes me even more stressed and upset.
“Whatever. Leave it outside the door, I don’t care.” I snap and walk out.
I was the ugly expat/ugly american. I lost control. I was not at my best. I was not polite. I was not understanding. I just hit the end of my rope. In short, I was an asshole.
I could try to justify or explain myself. Yes, it’s probably been about a year now since I’ve had an uninterrupted night of sleep. Yes, I am going through adjusting my mood stabilizer dosage. Yes, I do have a very bad back and picking up one of those boxes could be the straw that literally breaks my back (it was a box of books the last time I needed surgery). Yes, I was already having a bad day. Yes, it was horrible customer service, but after three years, if I actually expect more than that, I haven’t been paying attention.
For me, the problem is that when I get really anxious and stressed, I get very rigid. I have trouble thinking of different solutions (leaving the boxes in the hall and slowly unpacking them by walking repeatedly from the hallway to the kitchen, calling a friend and asking them to pick up Ellie, rushing home from school as fast as we could–which got me home by 6:15 over loud protests from Ellie instead of doing our usual routine and lucking out on traffic, or anything). I had calculated that 7 was the most realistic time, given that deliveries tend to happen VERY early or VERY late. If I said 6:15 was okay, they’d be there at 5:45–this is overwhelmingly my experience. If anytime were fine, they’d call and ask if it was okay to stop for dinner and drop the groceries off at ten. So after 7 was the ONLY acceptable option.
First, I got angry and called Ravi and just unloaded about how frustrated I was.
But by the time the elevator had reached B4, I was past angry and onto sad and frustrated. I got to my car and burst into tears. I cried the entire drive home. I cried in my car in my building’s parking lot because my cleaner was still upstairs.
I pulled it together, got upstairs, waved hi on the way to my bedroom and fed Rhi.
Then I took a shower, which was the turning point. I felt physically better, which made me more capable to deal with the rest of the day.
Did things get better? Yes and no.
Ellie managed to have several bathroom accidents, Rhi screamed the entire time I was cooking dinner, Rhiannon would not go to sleep even though she was exhausted and it took several hours to get her down.
But…I managed to beat the grocery delivery home by about five minutes, thanks to the fastest pick up in pre-k history. Miraculously nothing was broken. My dry cleaning guy showed up and took my stuff. I got everyone fed. Both girls are finally asleep. I got a couple of good emails in.
Overall, today was one of those days.
I’m often reluctant to share stories like this. I know that my parents and in-laws read the blog and I don’t want to worry them about what are effectively minor bumps in the road. But if I’m going to be honest about my experiences, this is the kind of story I have to share as well. Yes, there are craptastic days back home. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that there was a component of today’s implosion that wasn’t expat related. I felt like just as I finally had the rules down (delivery times, for example), the rules change and I missed out. I was frustrated by the complexity of getting groceries to my home when back home I would’ve just ordered online (yes I know there are online options here–they don’t carry enough American products to make it worth my while–I’d still need to go to a grocery store or three) and scheduled a delivery within a 2 hour block that worked for me. I was frustrated by the lack of communication (I could live the rest of my life without hearing cannot again), which at the grocery store was in part a language thing. I was frustrated that I have to call my handyman and deal with the electrical issue in an apartment I don’t own as opposed to just calling building maintenance. Little things about life in Singapore that irritate me individually, but all coalesced together and mixed with other life drama (aka no sleep, meds adjustment, Rhi’s clingy phase coupled with my feeling touched out) to result in a situation where, hours later, I am ashamed of my behavior.
There are sometimes days like this.