While were were living in Germany the last 4 years, of course we visited the US once or twice a year but those visits were always compact, flying from point to point, and fogged with jetlag. Now, that we have moved back to the US, we are looking at life here through the eyes of residents, stakeholders. The first couple weeks in America, it was great to be back except for one jarring thing: It’s noticeably louder here and people seem to live life on a soundtrack. The volume of people’s voices seemed extra-loud and every restaurant and shop had music blasting. But now that I’ve been back for 9 weeks, I don’t even notice anymore. It all seems normal. In fact, this morning at Trader Joe’s the whole place, including me, seemed to be whistling to the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”
My adjustment always has threads of familiarity. However, our children are the real trail-blazers. They don’t remember life with things such as ice and water dispensers in the refrigerator door. The sound of the garbage disposal was a complete shock. But the real heartbreakers happen at unexpected moments such as when in a Philadelphia airport restaurant, they were presented with individual-sized milk cartons. Any American child is familiar with these plastic-coated paper containers, usually from the school cafeteria. As a girl, I recall working hard to perfect my technique of opening these things. It’s practically an art form.
So when the waitress deposited these things in front of Nora and Jack, their faces went blank. Nora had a vague recollection but hadn’t been here long enough to perfect her technique. She started struggling with her carton and her cheeks grew pink with frustration. I quietly offered to help but the whole exercise ended up with tears. Then there was Jack who wanted a bagel and started putting the cream cheese on the outside of the bagel. Then Nora whispered “Mommy, is a dime 10 cents?” Just in that one meal, I thought Holy Crap, my kids must feel like aliens in their own country.
The feeling continues….After we moved into our house, Nora woke me early one morning with a “Mommy! What is this weird noise I keep hearing?” Groggy from a deep sleep, I had no idea what she meant. We searched our whole house to try to locate the strange noise. A few minutes later, she raced back into my room—”Did you hear that?!” I did. It was the whistle of a freight train. Growing up in Indiana, I loved the sound of the freight trains blowing their horns and the clatter of the wheels on the track, in the distance. It’s such a familiar and sedating noise as one fell asleep, safe in bed. I’m not going to feel bad about these uncomfortable moments because my children have had countless enriching experiences because of our journey. But, it does make me pause, slow down, and try to help them understand this world where they are supposed to belong.
Reentry has its moments of bliss as I relish things like grocery stores that have everything you never knew you needed and someone to actually bag your groceries and put them in your car. Oh. wow. And, viewing my cable television from my iPad in any room where I unpack boxes. Sex in the City reruns, Breaking Bad, and The Real Housewives of New Jersey have carried me through this endless task of unpacking a 40 foot container worth of stuff, plus a 500 lb, air shipment, plus our storage unit. Oy.
I love, love our house and new surroundings in an historic neighborhood but, all hasn’t gone smoothly. In fact, don’t read the rest if you are thinking of becoming an expat or just moving to somewhere else. We seemed to attract calamity for a while during our 8 week sojurn in suitcases: Customs set our shipment aside for 2 extra weeks for inspection; we were attacked by bedbugs in a hotel room; then our new house was vandalized and robbed. Not to mention, money flying out the window every day for all the expected and unexpected expenses for a transatlantic move. Yes, your sponsor company pays for many things but you will never recoup the true expense for all it entails. For example, there’s no allowance for having to eat out for nearly every meal for 6 weeks (the other 2 we were on holiday). Add that one up!
Make no mistake though, I’d do it all again. Maybe not tomorrow but, yes, I think of all the faces I miss and the places I’ve seen. I am richer for all of this.