BOOK REVIEW Knocked Up Abroad: Stories of Pregnancy, Birth, and Raising a Family in a Foreign Country by Lisa Ferland

For those of you who have been “knocked up”, given birth, or are raising kids abroad, you’ll enjoy this collections of real life stories.  I met Lisa at the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference in Amsterdam in 2016.  She is a dynamic expat mom, writer, and public health professional who has found her niche while living abroad in Sweden.

“No fear, no tension, no pain.” That’s how she describes the eventful birth of her daughter in the chapter entitled “Lucy’s Birthplan”.  After reading this chapter, I know Lisa on a whole other level and have a whole new respect for this woman.  In fact, she may be my idol in the world of Labor and Delivery!  I LOVE LOVE LOVE how she demonstrates the power of self-hypnosis and guided imagery!!

This delightfully raw anthology of 23 stories of pregnancy, birth and parenting abroad unexpectedly moved, inspired, horrified, and thoroughly entertained me.  Lisa pieces together snippets of life in 24 countries, including China, Scandinavia, Malaysia, Japan, Dubai, Australia, The Netherlands, and The Seychelles, creating a seamless world of same, but different. “…Birth is not easy” writes Sherah S. Haustein, who birthed her three children in Israel, Germany and the US.  “…No two births are the same.  Each one has its beauty, its difficulties and its memories, even when things don’t go as planned.”  Themes around expectation, communication, cultural custom, internal and external physical challenge, naiveté, courage, control (or lack thereof!) and pure joy weave in and out of these vignettes of early parenthood.

Ferland, along with her contributors (including her own husband), showcases the complexity of crossing cultures when growing a family.  Fin, Katarina Holm-DiDio introduces sisu into our vocabulary which, she says, can only be translated as determination-perseverance-guts-and resilience – a necessary quality and common thread that binds these parents together.

The variety of writing styles is refreshing and many of the writers, including Ferland herself, are natural and gifted storytellers who leave me curious and hungry for more.  The stories are laced with humble authenticity, humor often dancing through the poignant moments. Empathy for these 21 women and two men is unavoidable as we witness their transformation into cross-cultural parents.

If you find yourself wanting more, Lisa Ferland has recently published volume number two in the series entitled Knocked Up Abroad Again: Baby Bumps, Twists, and Turns Around the Globe .  I’m reading that next!  You can find out more by visiting her website. www.knockedupabroad.eu

 

 

 

Let’s Go Home

Let’s Go Home

–Rumi, from Open Secret

Late and starting to rain, it’s time to go home

We’ve wandered long enough in empty buildings

I know it’s tempting to stay and meet those new people.

I know it’s even more sensible

To spend the night here with them,

But I want to be home.

 

We’ve seen enough beautiful places with signs on them

Saying This is God’s House.

That’s seeing the grain like the ants do

Without the work of harvesting.

Let’s leave grazing to cows and go

Where we know what everyone really intends

Where we can walk around without clothes on.

I had an epiphany over the weekend.  It’s been two weeks since I returned from the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) annual conference in The Hague.  I’ve been busy following up and following through, connecting, getting organized, processing my notes, but not taking time to be still, to be quiet.  Sometimes going deep can be disruptive.  If still waters run deep then deep diving swirls the sludge around; and what was lodged and decaying starts surfacing: There you are doing the backstroke, eyes closed, sun on your face, when BAM you run right into that shit!

All this talk of tribe, belonging and home began to rattle like that indefinable sound from the back of the car that makes you check the rear-view mirror over and over and over again.  What IS that noise???

I am a Third Culture Adult (TCA), but I was never a Third Culture Kid (TCK).  And yet… I attended five different elementary schools in two different states, two middle schools, and three universities.  I lived in six different dwellings before 7th grade.  I’ve moved from coast to coast seven times, bouncing back and forth from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast and Northeast of the United States.

1970-1992 (58)
Brevard, North Carolina 1978

Eleven more dwellings before grad school finished.  This was my life BEFORE I left my passport country for love.  Through all this, I found my home in my people.  My tribe.  Wherever I went, there was always one person with whom I felt myself.  That was really all I needed to feel grounded and at home.

 

Having been a part of four different blended families up until now, I have had opportunities to adapt, to try to fit in, and to feel like an obstacle rather than a part. Being on the outside has felt normal for as long as I can remember: not comfortable, but normal.  I often feel awkward, introverted, and different though it doesn’t always show.  I have a difficult time being inauthentic, so social niceties, small talk and banter about the weather is an added challenge. For me, the challenge is in staying.  Leaning into the discomfort.  BUT, I do it.

What IS that noise??? I think, as I pull weeds, mow, rake the dead away.  It’s spring and we are preparing our home and land to be rented to an expat family for their spring vacation.  It is my home, but we don’t live here anymore.  The time I spend here now is to create someone else’s perfect retreat.2 Sea of Fog jan11 (10)

My husband can still describe the moment I knew this place was already my home.  A year and a half later, after fighting the disapproval of his parents, we bought it, colored the white walls, put in a dog pen, brought home our two Bassets (a wedding present from his friends), took in an abandoned kitten and settled in.  Our family seemed complete. We were light and hopeful DINKs (double income no kids).  But, after several years, my husband’s work pulled us north, too far to commute.  I was eight months pregnant and we took the first apartment that would accept our crew of pets: Kurtatsch, a town where Italian-speakers made up 2% of the population.  We didn’t know anyone and we didn’t speak German.

We left our house and land, as is, bought a bunch of IKEA furniture and began nesting for the next phase of our family. That was eight years ago.  We drive back and forth on weekends and holidays.  We maintain our friendships there, while we live on the outskirts of this little South Tyrolean village and participate in local activities.  It is beautiful and the people are kind, practical, and solid.  I love it, but I feel fractured.  I feel fatigued living in between these two worlds (not to mention the world I left behind in my passport country).  I want to go deeper, but I’m always leaving.

What IS that noise???  Pull, pull, rake, rake, rake.  Sun, cherry blossoms, overalls.  Tribes, belonging, connecting, identity, fractured, torn, pulled, trailing, following, stuck: swirling from the depths. “Stay on the surface,’ I tell myself.  ‘Backstroke, remember??? Sun on the face?  Sound of your own breath? ”  I think about how I’d found home in the people I loved and how from the moment I met my husband, I knew he was my home.  I uncover this old love poem referencing the time difference we played with during our four years of courting across the Atlantic:

Mosaic Park Barcelona (2)Eye to eye

Heart to heart

If loving truly is an art,

Use my brush, my voice, my ink

To paint me, to sing me, to draw me to sleep.

 

When all the nights become one

When the dawn meets the setting sun

I’ll wake inside you, warm and light,

I’ll make my home in your sweet night.

written in Philadelphia from Waking Dreams  (2000ish)

But, WHAT IS THAT NOISE???   I haven’t been feeling anchored lately.  Little things tip me over.  My relationships feel fragile.  I feel marginalized and left out, but I stuff it.  Is there an equivalent to “compassion fatigue” for expats….is there “outsider fatigue”?  I try to explain to my husband what it is like to live for years in a state of perseverance, how much energy it takes to stay…and leave.  I feel fractured and unsettled.   Let’s leave grazing to the cows and go where we know what everyone really intends, says Rumi. I want to be home.  The land grounds me.  Dig, dig, dig.  Trim the lavender. Even when I am alone, here,  I belong.

My home changes with the seasons, the weather, with the people who live in it, love it and leave their creative marks.  It changes with the death of neighbors and birth of children, with the animals that inhabit it.  And what of people? People change like houses. If we find a home in someone else where will we live when they change?

I put the garden gloves away and the noise stops.  My epifania.  I feel lighter as my energy shifts to a higher frequency.  There are other ways of staying, then not leaving. Belonging doesn’t always have to do with people.  There is always an Earth below our feet and the sun, moon, and stars overhead. Let’s…. go where we can walk around without clothes on, says Rumi.  It’s time to go home.

 

 

Life is Better When You Make the Effort

I just got back from my morning walk, high off the pleasure of witnessing the break of dawn on a clear October day.  I stopped at one point near the apex, struck by the surreality of rows of yellowing grape leaves merging into a new blue sky painted with peach puffs of cotton candy.    And again, I am overwhelmed with the power of this practice.  I wonder how I ever lived without this walk.  I can tell you life is better when I make the effort, when I move toward beauty.

fall-in-cortaccia-2012-5I’ve been quiet these past nine months, but it makes sense now; I’ve been creating and incubating, cocooning.  Now it’s time to emerge.

Life is better when I make the effort.

Nine months ago, I was so concerned about whether or not I would want to return to my expat life, but when I did, it just felt like Life.  Sweet.  Mundane.  Beautiful.  Routine.  I returned at the end of January and jumped right back into my small town, work-from-home mom routines: shuttling my son back and forth to preschool, creating order, stealing time for clients, walking the dog, feeding the cat, the daily habits of being part of a couple again, monthly in-law encounters, my Italian class and, ahhhhhhh, my morning walk.

It was almost as if that other life in Washington with family and childhood friends, familiar hangouts and events, the hustle and bustle of American suburban life, it was like it had all happened in another dimension.  It really felt okay to be back.  It felt natural and right. But then, I returned to Italy a different person than when I’d left it.  It was a great effort for every member of my little family.

Life is better when we make the effort.

Unintentionally, I’d been checking things off my American Bucket List.  All the things I’d been missing (or thought I was missing out on), I was able to reality check.  I could no longer wonder what it would be like to live closer to my family and friends, to work in American schools again, to watch my son hit milestones within the cultural context of my hometown.

I realized that we could be both American and Italian.  I could love Mount Rainier, the Puget Sound and the rolling vineyards of the Veneto and Alto Adige’s rugged, looming mountains and apple-filled valleys.  My loyalties and nationalistic tendencies softened and the inner conflict I’ve so often felt throughout the past thirteen years dissipated.  I feel less torn and more whole.

I’ve been quiet through this transformation because it was just happening, little by little.   It still is.  When you slide into the bath water you don’t usually describe how the water feels touching your skin, not unless it’s something dramatic.  These last several months I’ve been observing my life less and living my life more, taking ownership of “this one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver…again).

Sometimes transformation is loud and sudden and unwanted, like when you are hit with an illness or lose your job, or experience heart break.  But, sometimes you can decide to make the effort to change.  In this case, transformation is not as flashy.  She’s not as fancy or dramatic.  She comes into the room silently, moving slowly, she moves forward and then takes a step back.  Sometimes she goes the long way around the room, wandering through the shadowed corners, but in the end, she pushes out into the sunlight.  She slides into the sea with a smile and jumps out with a splash, telling you all about it.

Life is always better when I make the effort.

I remember that other person; the cynical one, the betrayed and resentful one.  I see her sometimes, in the distance, and I try to catch her eye.  I want her to look up.

I want to tell her all about it.

How Do You Name a Journey?

Anyone’s journey is as unique and valuable as anyone else’s journey.
iPEC coaching principle #21
I thought about this a lot while attending the Families in Global Transition conference in Amsterdam last March. The expat “sectors” represented included missions, education, corporate, diplomatic, Non-Government Organizations, arts, entrepreneurs, and a few members military families.  I was among Third Culture Kids (TCK), Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCK), Cross-Cultural Kids (CCK), Romantic Expats (Lovepats), Missionary Kids (MK), Third Culture Adults, Third Culture Parents, Accompanying Partners, and service providers.
I thought about how I’ve lived all these years as an “expat”, but never identified that way. I moved to England to be with the man I loved.  It was our “third culture”.  A place where we both could be professionally successful.  Later, when we were moved to Italy, my husband’s home country, I became a “civilian employee” and then a “contractor working overseas”. For some reason “expat” had never been part of my story; I hadn’t thought of myself as leaving my country, but of moving toward life and love.
Not until I found myself among this dynamic, talented, intelligent, organized, creative group of “expats”, did I feel like I needed a label.  I played around with expat and lovepat, bi-lingual household, mother of a TCK (wrong), and expat transition coach. What am I anyway??
At first, I really felt like I’d found my long-lost tribe:  stories of brief romantic encounters, long distance relationships, and then the struggle of raising kids outside a home country with an unfamiliar, overbearing extended family and a language barrier. Stories MUCH more challenging than mine, some heartbreaking and still fresh and unfolding, some totally triumphant: language fluency, financial independence, thriving husbands and wives.
Later in the weekend, there were discussions about how women must preserve their fiscal independence, identify and use their assets, and then the disgust and disdain around the term”trailing spouse”.  I’ve never been called that, but I did do that; I left my career, my assets, my financial independence, language-dependent hobbies, and social network to follow my husband’s career opportunities in a places where I didn’t speak the language.  I’d followed him three times for his career advancements, each place with a different dominant language.
No one called me a trailing spouse OR an accompanying partner, so I didn’t feel the stigma nor the indignation.  Instead, I was la moglie americana–the American wife. Somehow, that doesn’t seem much better.  There was no recognition that I’d arrived, one way or the other. No welcome center, no coach or mentor helping me through the transition, no women’s club.  But, at the time, I wasn’t expecting that.  I dove in, an optimist, proud of my husband’s accomplishments and new job, excited for the next chapter of our lives as parents.
Was my face red, when at the conference, I confidently introduced myself as the “mother of a TCK”, thinking I’d gotten a handle on the lingo, but was told by a distinguished participant that she didn’t think of my child as a TCK.  Turns out, according to the program glossary, I’m a mother of a CCK–a Cross-Cultural Kid–because he has two passports and has lived most of his short life in one place.  I’d thought a 3rd culture kid was someone whose parents came from two different cultures and were raising their family in yet a 3rd culture.  It made sense to me, but I should have studied up a bit. I went from feeling like I’d found my tribe to feeling like maybe I’d missed the memo.
One person told me she didn’t think of someone like me as an expat because I was “settled” in one country, implying that staying in one place is somehow easier.  I certainly hadn’t felt settled.  I’d never planned on staying in Italy.  It wasn’t what I’d agreed to when I left it all for love.  I thought we’d move back to England after his “five years” in Italy, where at least I wouldn’t have to struggle with the language or credential conversion.  In fact, I spent those years in Verona, waiting and imagining.  It was the thought of moving again, that allowed me to stay.   At the time, living in limbo was much more desirable than the thought of staying in Italy for the rest of my life.
When preschool started (8 years an expat), I felt the urge to “go back to work”, but the opportunities in my career field were zilch. My language skills hadn’t progressed. I was not able to earn a comparable wage and my credentials were not valid in Italy.  Even if I could have returned to work, in the traditional sense, there was no childcare in my town that would have supported this agenda.  Most women with children in my town spend their days cooking, cleaning, and shuttling their kids to and from school.  School gets out at 12:30 most days.  The system does not support the idea of a financially independent wife and mother.
About four years ago, it all caved in one morning after watching the Oscars on SKY TV.  I woke up and realized this could be it.  We might never return to England, or the US.  This life could be for the rest of my life, not a cultural experience,  a global adventure, or even a romance at this point.  So, yes, technically, on paper, I have settled, an accidental immigrant who followed her heart.
It brought to mind this question:  What is the difference between “settled” and “settling” for something?
Words and labels are important sociologically, for research and academic purposes, but in our every day lives I sometimes wonder if by focusing our energy there, we lose sight of the essence of the issue. After all, when it comes to terms like “trailing spouse”, we know it’s not the label, but the story behind it that’s really where the pain is.  It’s about feeling degraded, undervalued, disrespected, unseen, and sacrificed.  It’s about feeling a lack of control, acknowledgement, and competence.   It’s about wanting more, and being more than we appear to be on paper.  Fascinating, how important words become. They tell whether or not you belong. They package assumption and make us think we understand each other.
The FIGT conference was wonderful, mind-expanding, friendly, rich, inspiring; I will go back to learn and share more….AND this experience with labels piqued my curiosity. This Accidental Immigrant-Lovepat-Accompanying Spouse-3rd Culture Parent/Adult-Mom of a CCK-Child Life Specialist-Expat Health Care Creativity Coach wonders…When we are struggling to feel at home, do we become more sensitive to differences rather than our commonalities?  Of course each sector has its unique advantages and challenges, but the CORE of our issues are absolutely the same.  Where do I belong?  Who are my people?  Where is home?  Are my core values in alignment with my lifestyle or the culture around me?  What will happen when it all changes?  How can I stay/When should I go?  How can I live up to my own expectations of what it means to be a “good” spouse, child, parent?  What do I need and want? How will I be able to do the work I came into the world to do?  
We are all traveling, “settled” or not.   The journey to belonging doesn’t have a name.
Anyone’s journey is as unique and as valuable as anyone else’s journey.

Ode to Cat Stevens

January 2016

Remember that movie Gremlins?  Those creepy little annoying and destructive demons that caused chaos and confusion?  I live with a few of those.  You know about Perfectionism already, but what about Woulda Coulda Shoulda (WCS)?  Did I tell you about him?  He’s the one that used to make me second-guess every single action, decision, interaction, and communication I made. Obviously, he’s in bed with Perfectionism (see On Perfectionism and Discomfort).  Sluts.

Blanco y Tinto May Rehearsal  (105)I have this voice. It’s pretty big. You either love it or you hate it, but between Perfectionism and WCS, it has its tinny moments.  I wouldn’t say it’s been silenced, though being a talker living in a non-English speaking country has left it much quieter and more melancholy than it used to be.  Admittedly, there  are occasions when it becomes wimpy, unsure of itself, afraid of being judged, of saying the wrong thing, singing the wrong note, being misunderstood.

On the best of days, it shines through me, light saber blinding (yes, I do have a six year old), and it is clear and loud, bluesy and hot.  It doesn’t care who hears and yet it wants you all to hear.

It says YES!!!  Sing it, Sister.  Let that joy, that dream, that truth, that story, that pain, that hope, that song….let. it. OUT.

Light it up.

You know why I love to watch karaoke (oh how I miss the karaoke pub nights in the village) so much?  Because the heart and voice (and maybe a little booze) become one on those little one-step stages.   People stand up there with all their dreams bundled up in their voices, the mic in their hands, their eyes closed or to the heavens and they let it out.  I seriously have cried at karaoke (and not out of embarrassment).

Voice is the power behind what you have to say.  It can speak without words. We don’t HAVE voices.  We ARE our voices.  The chords are where our bodies, minds, hearts, and our lives’ very breath meet.

When we bind them, quiet them, use them inappropriately, abuse them, they begin to disappear, sometimes abruptly and sometimes little by little, over time.  Get that diaphragm in shape.  Quit smoking.  Hydrate.  Take a day off, let it rest.  Don’t yell.  Keep it warm and then…Sing it.  Say what you need to say.boy singing

I’m not ashamed.  I’m not hiding that away.  It’s not perfect and I’m not showing off.  And yes, I DO like the sound of my own voice.  It reminds me of who I am.  It saved me.

Home Again, Home Again Revisited

20151006_070116Fall Sunrise 2015I asked you to ask me in three to five months, how I was feeling about my time being “home” in the US after 12 years in Western Europe.

Yes, I have  gained a few pounds and yes there is a lot more TV and sugar in our lives.  The wine gives me headaches and I miss the days when Prosecco was affordable enough to drink whenever I felt like it and not just for a special occasion. I am spending more money than usual and my son has experienced the pleasures of head lice, early vaccinations (and all at once), soccer in the pouring rain, the true American experience of a “lockdown” drill and, since this is Washington, an earthquake drill, too.

But…

The livin’ is easy.

The salmon are jumping

and the rivers are high.

Every morning

I see The Sound and a lone gray heron

So, hush, little baby, no need to cry

I can’t lie to you.   I am relishing my time here.   The mountain, the salmon, the sunrises, the funky, socially responsible and concerned people, the grass-fed bison, oh and the libraries!  YUM.  I love them so.  I’m stuffing myself with inspiring text, cookbooks, audio books, and DVDs.  We’re watching Eloise, The Muppet Show, and Free to Be You and Me on the big screen from bed on Saturday mornings. So much inspiration, information and entertainment at my fingertips!  And free! What?  Online holds and renewal??  Are you kidding me??  I will miss the libraries the most.  Cheap movie day is also pretty tasty. How I miss seeing movies on the big screen in English.  Not to mention, the theater: Charlie Brown’s Christmas on the stage and The Nutcracker, of course.  I am…stuffing myself.

But, it’s not just the superficial stuff; how I have missed connecting with people the way I have these few months.  Granted, I am making an effort, but people are REALLY interesting and so beautiful.  I see so much more vulnerability than I used to see and that translates to humanness.  It is refreshing that some people are so willing to show me who they are.

I’ve been working, subbing in the schools and feeling Confidence pulling itself to it’s feet.  It says, in a low, slow, satisfied tone, “I’ve still got it.  They want me.  They really want me.” I feel restored and “better than before”.  I’ve even  gone to church and its in English, of course!  What a difference that makes, but moreover, what a difference it makes to be able to choose between spiritual communities, to find one that actually fits.  In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, I had a place to go where I could be reminded of the good in the world.  I have felt deeply moved by the words spoken, the authenticity of the congregation, the familiar music sung, the kindness and love of humanity, the feeling that I belong just because I am there.

It’s like I’ve got an American bucket list, things I’ve been longing to do before the person-I-used-to-be died, before kids grow up, before people I love die, before things change so much that I will no longer have a place to come “home” to.

I feel lighter now.  Like something was stuck, clogging me up, and now I’m free.  So, will I go back??  Absolutely.  It was me, Italy, not you.  Home is in me.

I will greet her openly, lovingly, tenderly.  I will put my feet on her ground and light it up.   I am home. I am home.  I am home.

 

On Fear, Courage, and Living Out Loud

It’s Veteran’s Day and my son has been drawing pictures of soldiers and military vehicles all morning.  He says he wants to be an American soldier when he grows up.  He’s only five, but he’s been saying that for awhile now.  I am struck because he was born and raised in Italy with an Italian father and grandparents who don’t speak a word of English, but he identifies as an American.  He’s visited the US six times and one of those he can’t possibly remember.

Last summer, he found a little American flag that a neighbor had given us on the 4th of July.  He started taking it everywhere he went.  One day, as we drove through town, he rolled down the window and hung the flag out the window, waving it and singing “I love America!”.   16.5 Months 4th of July Celebration.jpg (12)I panicked.  We were driving through a small Northern Italian town.  Tiny cars and people all over the streets.  As I try to navigate the street and convince him to pull in the flag, I struggle to find the right words to explain why I was asking him to pull in the flag and why it would be okay in the US, but not in other countries.   He was being so open-hearted and true to himself.  Part of me was sad and ashamed that I felt like I had to tell him to pull in the flag and keep his pride to himself, but the other part of me knew it was necessary.  Yesterday, as we drove home on American roads, he asked out of the blue, “It would be okay to put the flag out the window now, right?”

What I realize now is that living in Italy, and my own limiting beliefs, have caused me to live “smaller” than I want for myself.  Over the years, I was careful not to draw attention to myself in public places or in community.  There were times when it was legitimately the safest choice, but living safely became a habit.  The fear of miscommunication, judgement, rejection and harm often prevented me  from connecting at a deeper level with people.   So, by living in avoidance of what I did not want, I got the opposite of what I DID want: isolation and disconnect.  Though, I say I don’t want to squash my son’s desire to “live out loud” (and he does loud pretty well), I know I am guilty of allowing my own fears to infiltrate my parenting.

We just finished watching the NYC Veteran’s Day Parade and I am reminded of what real courage is.   It’s moving straight through the fear.  It’s leaning in, being afraid, and doing it anyway because you have faith in your own incredible power, your purpose, and in the strength and humanity of others.  It’s doing it because you must.

When I return to Italy, I will see with the same eyes, but a different heart.  I still don’t think I’ll wave an American flag out of my window when I drive through town, but my fear of being seen is dwindling and my desire to connect is growing.  When someone says, “So you’re American? [Sei americana?]” That’s when I lean in.  “Yes, I am.”

Home Again, Home Again

Vacation with Dad and Carol 2013 moon and mountain (73)
Mount Rainier with her moon friend

I have returned…in so many ways.  Back “home” where I no longer live.  You might wonder if it still feels like home after living abroad for 12  years.  I did go through an awkward phase a few years back, but that was more due to the fact that I’d returned home as a new mom with a baby and no longer fit into the places and relationships that I left there.  But now, after a month of salt water, seafood, barnacles, seagulls, and salmon, I’m feeling pretty at home and so is my five year old.  He told me the other day that we “belonged” here because we speak English.  He’s enjoying the bubblegum ice cream, grilled cheese sandwiches, and French fries.   I’m cringing at the fast and convenience foods, 24 hour everything, giant food portions, and the abundance of televisions and computer screens.

This is his fifth trip to the US and yet he feels just as much as home here as I.  A month has already passed and we have five more to go.  I am curious how he’ll feel as time goes on.  He says he misses his toys and his dad.  My sweet, supportive husband holds down the fort and awaits our return.  He says he’s happy we’re doing this, but he must be nervous even if he won’t admit it.  Part of me is a little nervous, too.  What if I don’t want to go back?  What if it gets too comfortable here?  Ice coffees, everything open all day, friends and family, thrift shops, creative people selling their wares everywhere you look, the waterfront, the diverse and delicious menu choices, the children’s museums in every city, the array of activities and opportunities for young children, not to mention the employment opportunities and the ease with which I can communicate and connect with others.  What if I don’t want to go back?  What if love isn’t all you need?

My husband and I are GOOD at long distance.  We did it for four years.  Four years of poetry, passion, and pain. It wasn’t easy to be separated then.  What if it’s too easy now?  I’m not alone here.  I have my people.  My son.  My compatriots.  It’s so much easier just to be.  I don’t have to try, I just am.  The possibilities here seem abundant and endless. Just like they did when we were engaged, before we moved to Italy.

So, this is my honeymoon phase.  I know. Talk to me in three months and again in five.  Talk to me when we are on month three of nonstop rain and gray and damp and I’ve gained 15 pounds, my kid is addicted to TV and sugar, and I’m afraid to walk down the street at night (I’m only half kidding.).  Ask me, then, if I feel at home here.

On Homesickness and Denial

IMG_2478I’m from the Pacific Northwest.  I love that place.  The salmon, the mountains, the ocean, the inlets and bays, the trees…it really is all that.  Do I miss it?  Of course.  But, I missed it long before I moved across the ocean.  I’m used to missing it, so it’s not so bad.  I pushed myself to the East Coast more than once, but never felt like I’d found my place.  I don’t know why I wanted to go so far away.   I wasn’t from a bad place or a hard life.  I had friends and family.  I hadn’t burnt down any bridges.  I had a good paying job and an advanced degree. It just seemed like the possibilities were narrow and I wanted something exciting to happen.  You know, people always say, “Be careful what you wish for.”

People always ask me if I miss “home”. There are things I miss. Places.  Ways of doing business. There are people I miss.  I worry that one day it will all be gone.  I’ll go back and everyone I loved will be gone or so changed that we won’t know each other.   Maybe that will be okay with me at some point, but it doesn’t seem okay now.

I wouldn’t call myself homesick, though.  I’ve never expected to return to the US to live.  But, lately, I’ve been feeling a sense of panic welling in my chest. By the time I return to my hometown for a visit, two years will have passed since the last time.  I begin to feel disconnected and a bit lost.  It makes me think of the feeling I have when I’m on a boat and realize I can no longer see land.  There’s this feeling of being so tiny, fragile, and vulnerable when you realize there’s no chance of swimming ashore should something go wrong.  This is the feeling I get when I haven’t been “home” in a long time.

It’s strange because I have a home here, a family, friends.  But every once in a while, I remember, really remember, where I’m from and that it is all still going on there without me, while I’m over here spinning my wheels in pre-intermediate Italian and coming up with plan after plan to “reinvent” myself. And I think to myself, why am doing this???  I wasn’t forced to leave my country.  I’m not in exile.  I’m just married.

Dear Italy, I like you, but not like THAT

This is my 11th year living in Italy, though several years I was fully immersed in an expat American community which insulated me from feeling most of the discomfort that comes from being a fish out of water.  When I arrived in Italy with my husband, I’d not been part of
the decision-making process to move here. We’d met in the US and been living in England where I was hoping to settle down. I will not bore you with the torrid details of how we got from point A to point B, but rather get to the main event. This may be hard to believe, but when he told me he wanted to finish his professional training Italy, I was angry.  I loved Italy and had been to visit many times.

I loooooved Italy….For vacationing.  For losing myself.  For relaxing. For slowing down.  For indulging.  For disconnecting.  But to live my life there? Day-in, day-out?  Would I be able to learn the language? What kind of work would I be able to do?  How would we live on my husband’s 800 Euro a month stipend? (All very good questions, I would later find out.)

Yes, some of the baggage from that move, I still carry around, especially when it comes to finding (or creating) meaningful work.  I hope you don’t mind if I take a moment to unload this day pack from my back.

10th Anniversary New Year's in Venice (50)


Dear Italy,

Yes, I LIKE you, but not like that.  Not Like-LIKE.  I mean, we’ve been friends for a long time and all, and you were really there for me back in the day.

No…of course I think you’
re sexy.  You smell great. You taste amazing.  You’re bewitching and complicated. You’re passionate and rustic.  You’re totally seductive.  Don’t get me wrong…I’ve been attracted to you since I was fifteen and, I know we’ve crossed the line from time to time, but I never meant for it to go this far.

Yes, yes…I remember that time I me
t you after grad school.  I couldn’t stop thinking about you.  I flew across the ocean to see you.  I arrived on an overnight train from Amsterdam to the sun rising over Venice.  Remember that?  My heart filled up to see you like that…naked and fresh.  I wanted to get lost in you and never leave. God, you were so hot that summer… Remember when 
I nursed my hangover on your hidden beach in Cinqueterre,  your salty sea holding my browned, naked body close to the surface of the Ligurian? I remember how it felt to be suspended, light as a feather, gently rocking, wDSCF5737ith the sun on my face, breathing in your briny warmth.  This will always be a perfect, never-to-be-forgotten, moment in my life.   When I go to my happy place, it’s you, like that, I imagine. The same you I live in day-in and day-out.  

You’re still super hot of course, but it’s different now.  I resent you. You limit me.  (Although, YOU say I limit myself.) Instead of relaxed, I feel increasingly anxious.  I feel small.  Sometimes worthless.  Sometimes unseen. I feel trapped here by you, by the way you are (though you say, it’s the way I am).  We still have our moments, I admit, but I wish we could go back to the way it used to be.

When we were lovers, we never talked about language.  You accepted me just the way I was: monolingual and satisfied.  But now…it seems like that’s ALL we talk about.  My English, your Italian.  Every. Single. Day. We talk about language. English, Italian, German….Bohr-ring (insert sing-songy tone). And though it is necessary and even fascinating at times, there are other things on my mind, other things I want to explore and skills I want to develop. I’m tired.  Stop asking me. There is green vespamore to me than my ability to speak Italian or teach English.  And I know you’re more than good wine, creamy ice cream, pasta and pizza, Vespas, and beaches . You’re more than a vacation.  Can’t we just be friends again?

Sincerely,

Madrelingua Inglese

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