Writing the first sentence of a blog post after a long absence is such an awkward task. Do I address the fact that I haven’t published anything here in over four months? Or do I just pick right back up like I was never gone at all?
Even more awkward – did anyone even notice I was gone?
The past four months have been busy, which I get it, everyone has a full plate these days, but my mind has felt exceedingly busy as well. So much so that stringing words together in any sort of coherent fashion proved impossible. Instead, I turned my focus to other things – namely, everything you’re about to read below.
But first, I want to talk a little bit about what repatriation (i.e., returning to one’s own country after living abroad) has been like.
The #1 thing no one tells you about becoming an expat – you do not stop being an expat after you return home. At least not for a while.
It’s a phenomenon known as reverse culture shock, which can present itself in any number of ways. For me, it was marked by an extreme high shortly after returning as we eagerly indulged in all of the things we’d missed so much the past five years. (I won’t lie, I’m pretty sure I ate at Taco Bell at least fifteen times that first month.)
However, shortly after our first month back, the tides began to turn and I suddenly felt like I was trying to stay afloat in the middle of the ocean, in the dark, in nothing more than an inflatable dinghy. It was disorienting and I felt discouraged, particularly in myself, nearly every single day.
I’d like to tell you I put my big girl britches on and pulled myself out of this self-doubting funk straight away, but I didn’t. I let myself wallow in it for a while. Longer than I should have.
After a great deal of self-reflection, I believe I’ve gotten so good at the practice of starting anew and enjoy the excitement of it so much that I now prefer it to returning to what I know. I find it far easier to keep moving forward than to try to reconcile the person I am now with who I once was, which is precisely the uncharted waters this move forced me into.
It’s not so much that we reinvent ourselves every time we move as it is we take the ways in which the places we’ve lived before have changed us onto the next place. That’s what makes going back home so difficult for some people, myself included. Sometimes the ways in which we’ve changed make it so that we simply can’t go back, figuratively speaking anyway.
Anyway, I’m past the worst of it now and most days I seem to have myself sorted out, thank goodness. (To keep my pitiful ocean analogy going, my little dinghy is miraculously still intact and I’m close to land. Some days I can even feel it brush the bottom of the boat.) I hope to be able to write more clearly and helpfully about this in the future, but for now, let’s move on to what’s been going on lately, which is actually quite a lot!
It feels a little ridiculous to even mention this four months after it happened, but seeing as we were still living in our temporary apartment the last time I wrote an expat update, I’ll say it anyway – we’ve moved into our permanent apartment! And we LOVE it.
There is floor space for days. Closets galore. Cabinets in the bathrooms. A hot water heater that doesn’t have to be turned on half an hour before we shower. It’s an older apartment, but it still feels like we’ve hit the housing jackpot. If we could just pick this place up and move it everywhere we go next, that would be excellent. (Particularly because then there’d be no need to pack up!)
Our long-awaited shipment from Singapore arrived the last week of August and it was like Christmas morning in the summer unwrapping all of the much-missed items I’d forgotten to pack in our suitcases when leaving Singapore.
In addition to our Singapore shipment, we also had a 10×10 storage unit full of all sorts of things I deemed worthy of keeping five years ago that needed to be cleared out. Let’s just say, my 29-year-old self had a completely different idea in mind of what she would need after repatriating than my current self does.
That being said, I opened the last box last weekend and discovered a collection of mix tapes I made back in 1998. I’m talking real cassette tapes. The kind you’d pop into the stereo and wait patiently next to until your favorite song came on the radio, then quickly push record as soon as you heard the opening notes. Ah, the days before iTunes and Pandora.
I was disappointed I had no way to find out what was on them until…wait…yep, I found a cassette player, too. It was fate at that point. We were meant to listen to those tapes. And so we spent the evening jamming out to scratchy tunes by K-Ci and JoJo, Third Eye Blind, Savage Garden, and all of the other bands that made the late 90’s so awesome.
I suppose my 29-year-old self knew what she was doing after all.
This was also our first time in a couple of years to get to experience a season other than rains-all-day-every-day and less-rainy-but-still-rains-a-lot.
Historically, fall hasn’t been my favorite season (that award rests firmly with spring), but I loved it this year. Our apartment backs up to woods and it seemed like every morning I opened the blinds, the trees only got more colorful. I’m sure if we live here long enough, I’ll start under-appreciating this season again at some point, but it was a beautiful thing to witness this year.
Not to mention, celebrating holidays that typically occur in the fall are a lot more fun when it actually feels like fall outside. Our anticipation for the end-of-year holiday trifecta (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) was strong this year!
As for travel, we’ve slowed down quite a bit and I’ve only managed to visit two other states in the past four months. (Well, I guess we wouldn’t call D.C. a state, but whatever, Virginia then.)
We had a heck of a time deciding where we wanted our first trip after moving back to the U.S. to be, and even considered going to Canada, but in the end, we decided there was really only ever one correct choice. After visiting over a dozen other countries’ capitals, it was time to see our own.
Cory and Lex had never been before. I’d been to D.C. several years ago for a wedding, but I saw so little of the city that it hardly counted. This time, we saw it properly.
We traveled to D.C. during the worst of my – I don’t know what to call it exactly, gloomy period? – and for the first time in several months I felt like myself again. Speeding around on the metro, walking all day every day, losing myself in the history of a new place – I really do credit that trip with helping me, at least initially, connect to the U.S. again.
If I can get my blogging act together, I’ll try to share more about that one soon because it’s a trip I wish every American had the opportunity to take. (Well, everyone else, too, but especially those of us who call this country home.)
The other state I made it to was a new one for me – Washington! And the state itself wasn’t the only new thing waiting for me there.
For the second year running, I have a new nephew! Simon was born in December and I made it over to see him in time for his one-week birthday. Just when you think your heart can’t possibly get any more full, someone shows up to prove you wrong.
For a whole weekend, I got as many baby snuggles as my metaphorical heart could handle, and all the running around the house in circles a hundred times over with my oldest nephew as my physical heart could handle.
I sure do love these nephews of mine. I may be partial, but I do believe my family makes the cutest tiny humans.
Speaking of that, I’m not sure I ever properly explained why we decided to cut our four years in Singapore down to two, but one of the major reasons was so we could spend more time with family for a while, both the young ones and the old ones.
All of our grandparents are in their 90’s now, and only getting to see them once a year (and even less in the case of Cory’s grandmother) just wasn’t getting any easier. We found ourselves wishing the distance weren’t quite so great more in our first year in Singapore than we had in all three years we spent in London combined. It just felt like the right time to come back. I mean, how else was I going to show my grandfather how hard I’d been working on my ASL skills? Or play enough games of Chinese checkers with my grandmother that I might finally win one? :)
In all seriousness, though, I feel incredibly grateful that we were able to spend the entire holiday season this year from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day with family. That hasn’t happened in a long time.
It’s now been nearly a month since Christmas. I do finally have the decorations put away, except for a small wooden reindeer I accidentally skipped over and which will now be staying up all year long.
I decided not to make any resolutions this year. Not because I don’t have any goals, but because I’d like to take the pressure off myself this year to tick things off lists. I’m a very methodical person by nature and enjoy making long to-do lists just to have something to cross off, but I think what I need more than schedules and lists right now is flexibility.
Will I accomplish as much in 2019 as I was hoping to? Probably not. Will I spend this year happier and more carefree than I did the last? Man, I’m really hoping so.
2018 wasn’t a bad year, not at all. I learned a great deal, mostly about myself and where my strengths and weaknesses lie, but also about where I ought to be placing my priorities. And I could never call a year like that a failure.
Here’s to a happy, healthy, and balanced new year for all of us! As always, thanks for reading. xx