I just left the States after two weeks visiting with my mother and step-father, with a surprise visit from my Grandmother. I took Freddy for a sunny break where we decided not to worry about schedules, baby classes, or impending Health Visitor check-ups. And most importantly, to get some quality time with his American family. It was hot as hades so we spent most of the time inside or in the pool. We got ice cream a couple times, went to Target several times, hung out in the kitchen, and got lost among Ponte Vedra Beach’s strip malls. Maybe boring, but it was just what we needed.
It’s hard not to think, as an expat, about what I’ve left behind. Family first and foremost, but also that feeling of just belonging somewhere, knowing how it all works, sounding like everyone else, being among ones own people.
Detest of US news networks aside, it was kind of nice to half watch ‘Morning Joe’ while Freddy played after breakfast. Or to have a sales person at a store strike up a conversation with me, and there be no follow up about where I’m from and what brought me there. Driving an automatic car on the right side of the road, with a full tank of gas costing only $20. One-stop shopping. Drive thru coffee and prescriptions. Blending in.
These things sound banal and maybe reflect some of the more grotesque stereotypes of America, but they’re familiar and that’s why it matters to someone far away having to start everything all over. When I lived in the U.S., I spurned so much of this, which is partly why I left. I wanted public transport, culture, afternoon tea, and socialised medicine. But having had a bit of a rocky landing in the U.K. – leaving my career a bit prematurely, leaving my closest support network, and quickly becoming a new mother – seeing these things again make me feel a bit of peace.
During my visit, I wondered what life would have been like if I didn’t leave. If I stayed with the State Department, maybe not in the Foreign Service, but stayed in Washington, DC, planted roots in America, had a baby there, and was able to see my family and friends when I wanted. It wasn’t what was right for our family, I know this, but it’s hard sometimes not to look back and wonder. Especially when surrounded by familiar comforts.
But as I sit here on the plane back to London, with Freddy peacefully asleep next to me, I realise that part of making this expat thing work is not looking back. Not quantifying all the things left behind. It’s about relishing those moments when you do go home and get that first blast of icy cold Air Conditioning when you walk into your mom’s house; when people call you ma’am; when the pickles taste just how you like. Not fetishising what reminds you of home, but enjoying it in the moment and appreciating the incredible life you get to have because you carry the title of Expat.
All that said, you can still miss your family all the time, no questions asked!