Way back when, before we moved to Bosnia, I identified the development of a Mummy Network in Bosnia as pretty vital to how we managed to settle in (and even wrote a post about it: All Hail the Mother's Union). Having friends with similarish age children is such a life saver on those days when nothing is quite going to plan. It also allows everyone the opportunity to get out, behave better and have a change of scene. Before we left I was really really worried about how I would cope without one.
I still haven't developed one. I have many friends here (dear friends, wonderful friends) but they don't have children. I have a few friends with children, but they work full time and aren't around at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon. The Bosnians, with their much tighter familial network often are able to have their grandmothers help out with childcare. There isn't really any form of toddler group and although I thought long and hard about setting one up, and even spoke to a few people about it, I just don't think it would take off here. Similarly, there aren't any toddler music classes or any of those other types of activities that can bring together Mummys of similarly aged kids. Once the children get to the age of 6 or so the number of available classes takes off, there is tennis, karate, music, swimming, you name it. But they are more of the turn up and drop your children off variety which doesn't help with the trying to make new Mummy friends.
No, those afternoons, once I have picked the boys up from nursery are all mine. Occasionally one of Adam's friends comes over. He is looked after by his 16 year old sister who also comes too. She is lovely, but she is also 16. I'm 2 years younger than her mother. It took us a while, but we are now friends, we've worked out how to while away the afternoon together whilst the boys destroy the house. We have never been invited to their house and I don't want to push it. She has no phone so I have no idea when they are coming, nor can I contact them to say 'hey, I've a great idea, lets go and do xyz this afternoon.'
But on many, many afternoons, we have no company. There is little specific child orientated activity here in Tuzla (the Bosnians being much more about activities that the whole family can be involved in, which is obviously wonderful, but an occasional child focused activity would also be wonderful). I'm left to my own devices with the boys. Boys who, at nursery have been sitting down and colouring in and doing all those industrious, shall we say peaceful activities. Boys who on leaving nursery are like corks coming out of a bottle. They want to run. They want to shout. They want to climb. They want to wave swords around, make guns out of sticks and wrestle.
It is exhausting. They do not want to sit down and colour or glue or make things with Duplo. When I try to do this type of activity it inevitably ends in things being thrown across the room. I've not quite given up, but I do look for activities that can accommodate a good throw or can be done outside where mess doesn't matter quite so much. We do a lot of kicking balls and running races and dragon hunting. I get them on their scooters (what a god send they are) and we scoot and scoot and scoot as I try to burn off some of their energy.
But it can be lonely. So intensely, frustratingly, tear inducing lonely. They are sweet boys, wonderful little lads. But they are toddlers. They fight and have tantrums. They can't quite reason or think ahead. They don't want to let me listen to the radio for 10 minutes. They, or at least one of them, requires attention all the time. And there is nowhere for me to go when it all gets too much.
There have been some long, long afternoons when all my friends are at work and I've had to call Dave and beg him to come back before I totally lose the plot. Or at least come out for a coffee with us so I can have a conversation with someone about something that makes some form of sense.
But a year on, I'm kind of getting used to it. I miss the Mothers Network at home. My goodness me how I miss it. But I'm much better at developing things to do with the boys here than I used to be. I can stretch an activity to last for hours. The boys are older and are much more able to play together than they used to be. But I'm still sitting here, on a Monday morning, with nothing planned for this week, and feeling slightly panicky about it.
Emily Vest writes the Brits In Bosnia blog detailing life as an expat in Bosnia with 2 small boys now aged 2 1/2 and 4.
Photo Credit: lepiaf.geo