The Definition of Childhood


Growing up, I knew beaches of rock, September storms, picnics with family, sleepy summers, fireworks and village feasts, a doll that was bigger than me called Wendy Jane, Easters that went on all night, mass every weekend without fail, unsupervised playdates that involved shooting paper missiles into neighbours’ gardens, pretty dresses made by my mother.

Sand dunes were something I saw in a volume of an encyclopaedia, other countries were always just out of reach. Buildings were old and full of history, roads small and mostly broken. Families were close by, and weekends belonged to them and to running errands with my dad.

My children have a very different childhood to the one I knew. It’s no better and no worse. It is a childhood. It is their story, just like mine is my story, my path.

They know sand dunes, I knew rocks. They know wadis, I knew fields. They know camels, I knew stray cats (and only much later, cows!). They know road trips, I knew everywhere being a ten minute drive away. They know diversity and acceptance, people from all corners of the earth and of all faiths, I knew fascination with all that was different (and sadly, a lot of close-mindedness to boot). I knew Easter, they know Ramadan and Eid and Diwali and Easter too. I knew family to be a quick call away, they know friends who are just as willing to drop everything and come to help.

Expat children are rich in experience and the ways of the world, they have said goodbyes to family every time they visit, seen close friends leave (repeatedly) and have had their little hearts broken time and again. They have learnt these lessons early and forcefully. They learn to pick themselves up and somehow carry on. They learn to make friends and to keep friends, no matter where in the world they might be. They are mighty little warriors.

And still, no better and no worse. Still a childhood if a two year old doesn’t know what an umbrella is, or when a five year old asks what a field is (both questions I’ve been asked… moral of the story: do not assume that they know!) Still an awesome childhood. Just a childhood with a different definition.