Sunday, August 19, 2012

There's no place like home...

Unlike many expats, we sold our house, packed up all of our belongings and made the full-fledged moved to Europe. This may not sound unusual, but when the average expat goes abroad for maybe 3-5 years, most do not sever their connection to their home country. Many friends of ours have either their home back in the US/home country, or perhaps a vacation home that they just weren't quite ready or willing (or able, given the economy) to let go. In our case, when we head back to the States, a visit requires lodging with family or friends. This summer we headed to the West Coast - San Diego - to visit my in-laws. Yes, I do get along very well with my in-laws and, yes, it is a wonderful place to visit and hang out for awhile. However, staying with family or friends isn't the same as being in your own space, so there still lingers that edgy feeling that you are a vistor. It's not a bad thing, necessarily, but it does tend to make you feel a little "disengaged." Home slowly starts meaning where your family is, which for us is now Luxembourg.

Our visit to the US started later than most folks. It seemed that as soon as that final school bell rang, folks were on their way "home." I have friends from several countries now, and that word means something different for everyone - a lake home in the Southeast, a vacation home back in Scandinavia, a condo in the South, or perhaps a parents' home somewhere/anywhere. In any case, the definition varies person to person, but everyone was nonetheless anxious to get back! Since Joe could not take much time off this summer, we decided that just the kids and I would head back for a few weeks or so, and that we would take a family vacation somewhere in Europe once we got back. Furthermore, since we had been away from Virginia for a couple of years, my oldest son was eager to visit his friends who would also be starting high school this year. As a birthday present for my son, I agreed to tack on a quick trip to the end of our CA stay. In all honesty, the moms of these friends are close friends of mine as well, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to catch up with them as well. I wanted to make sure we would be able to celebrate Joe's birthday with him, so I scheduled our trip for the day after his big day. We celebrated with a wonderful lobster dinner (his favorite) and quickly packed for the long trip - 2 hours by car to Brussels, 8 hour flight to D.C., 4 hour layover, and a 5 hour flight to the West Coast. Our day started at 5:00 a.m. and ended in San Diego at 8:00 p.m. that same night. We were exhausted, but happy to be "home."

La Jolla, CA
My in-laws have a small house in what is absolutely the best location I can imagine - a two block walk from Pacific Beach, about 4-5 blocks south of La Jolla. By waiting until mid-July for our visit, I was hopeful that we would have a better chance of favorable weather since San Diego can often be cool and cloudy during the summer months. We lucked out. San Diego had been cloudy with days of marine layer... until the day we arrived. It seems we usually bring Lux rain with us, but finally we were greeted with sunny skies. The IL's have a small rental house in the back where Joe and I generally stay, while the kids stay in the front house in the guest room. We kept the same arrangements, which was wonderful for me. I had a place to escape to in the evenings to catch the Olympic highlights and regroup/plan for the next day.

We spent the time as most tourists do - lots of trips to the beach, SeaWorld, Balboa Park, etc. Each day was busy and the kids were loving it. My only frustration - the huge time difference from Luxembourg. Trying to catch a few minutes on the phone with Joe was a constant challenge since catching him before bedtime meant calling some time before 2:00 p.m., often when were heading to the beach or a show at SeaWorld. We missed him a ton, which always reminded me, at least, that we weren't really home. We also spent a lot of time making the multiple, necessary trips to Target, Kohl's, Nordstrom's, CVS, etc. for school clothes, OTC meds, and other random items that are difficult to find or are expensive here in Europe. Not to mention our frequent eating-out ventures in order to feed our long-denied fast food addiction - visits to Chick-fil-a, In-N-Out Burger, Rubio's, Kono's, and (my favorite) Panera. No, it was not the time to worry about diets - that is for when the kids head back to school. But, after a couple of days of the fast food/burger thing, Panera became my preferred choice - as was my morning jaunt to Starbuck's with the oldest son.

Balboa Park
Soon enough we were boarding our flight east to Richmond. It really is amazing to see how much two years can change adolescent boys! All of them, including my own, now tower over me. Okay - maybe a couple of them are "towering" while the others more or less "teeter," but being that I am only 5'4", it doesn't take much). The sound of changing voices could also be quite interesting. The moms were absolutely wonderful hostesses, planning swim parties and outings so that the boys could chat, hang and do whatever it is boys this age do - including the not-surprising choice of video game time. Although Richmond hadn't changed much since our move a couple of years ago, enough time has elapsed that the city no longer has the feeling of "home." I do get homesick once in awhile when I think of how many years we spent in Richmond and how both of our boys essentially grew up there, but those memories are now embedded in the hundreds of pictures that I vow to get off my computer's hard drive some day.

After a long weekend in Richmond, we headed back to Lux. Another long travel day - 2 hour drive to D.C., 2 hour wait for the plane, 8 hour flight back to Brussels, and 2 hour drive to Lux. At least going east you are flying through the night, but since by this point I had no idea what time zone we were in, I spent the majority of the time catching up on the in-flight movies. The next two days were a flurry of sleep deprivation and packing for our week trip to Italy.

Suffice it to say, it has finally settled in that home is Luxembourg and that our trips back to the US will be "vacation" rather than the expat version of "going home." I guess it comes with the territory when you make the decision to move here for an "indefinite" period of time. We will head back again at Christmas time - this time to Colorado where my brother-in-law and his girlfriend will host. As for next summer, we may head south to Texas, or the kids may head to camp. Either way, home will be Lux and we will still spend the bulk of our time here as a family. Someday I hope that we can maybe have a spot to call "home" back in the US, but by the time we settle in here and start looking beyond our rented home in Lux, our spot may be somewhere else here in Europe. We spent a week in Tuscany (next blog post) that is truly one family's "love of the heart." I hope someday to find the same, wherever that may be!

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