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The Pain of Reentry


It is always hard to come home after a vacation… There are the piles of clothes which need sorting and washing (and honestly, I never get more than half way through the sorting before I just give up and wash it all); that odd dreamy feeling that we somehow fell into a time warp and never actually went on vacation (thank goodness for the piles of dirty laundry we can look to as proof); in some cases the jet lag which requires our body to readjust (and to shoo the kids back to bed when they wake up at 2 am bright-eyed and ready to start the day); other times there’s the sickness that the guy who coughed in our direction every time he looped around in the Customs line passed on (thank you, Sir); and that difficult dive back into a daily routine involving a schedule… It can feel exhausting and effectively eliminate the relaxing benefits of the actual vacation.

That said, I feel there is something especially difficult (even painful) about coming home after a vacation spent visiting a previous life. As we traveled, I happily pointed things out to the kids from our/my past and jotted down experiences and funny moments to remember: my favorite new term for something ordinary (thank you, London)…the travelator, which from that moment and forever more will make me feel like a total badass any time I step onto the moving walkway at an airport; Little Man’s total and complete obsession with the most minute creatures we encountered on our journey (I know someone across the ocean who now has a whole new appreciation for the insects living in her backyard); my Moon and my Sun feeling tall and so at home among the numerous dark-haired, dark-eyed inhabitants of Italia (they have lived most of their lives in the midwest where blond hair and blue eyes abound); I dutifully wrote it all down in a little notebook I carried around with me.

And there they sit in front of me, the notes I so lovingly took… ready to be molded into tales of our adventures…but we have been home for over a week now, and all I feel when I look them over is the pain of reentry. I have jumped right back into our (mostly the kids’) routine and am most definitely in the here and now of it all, but keep feeling the sensation that an open wound gives. Maybe it was the fact that with the kids older this time back, I had more time to concentrate on the little things…as opposed to constantly worrying about spit-up and diapers, trying my best to head off temper tantrums and spats (ok..the spat thing was still an occasional issue), and figuring out which restaurants would be the best bets for our two picky eaters (they have gotten a lot better with time, thankfully). This time, for the most part, the kids entertained themselves between destinations, leaving me time to let my mind wander, to reconnect with a past life that I did not realize I missed so much and to imagine how things would be if I had stayed…

I know what it feels like to live as an expat…and now I feel it even more as an ex-expat. One would think that a reentry would result in the simple removal of the “ex” and a return to the state of “pat”, but as it turns out…that is not how it seems to work. Apparently, the “ex”s just continue to accumulate until the mind and body simply accept the fact that home is everywhere… yet nowhere. And those in-country moves to different regions can be just as life-changing even though they do not involve different languages (or do they? Try ordering a grinder in New England then in the  Midwest and tell me what you end up with).

In my experience, the best way to discover your love and appreciation for a place you call home…is to leave it. The problem is, once you return the phenomenon can repeat itself and you can simultaneously love and appreciate the place you left to return to the place you were missing. You go back and things have changed…they have evolved without you and you without them, yet somehow you jump right back in and once again feel the connection that held you there in the first place. You see your children fall right into step, laughing and playing with family and friends they rarely get to see, the teenagers bonding and finding that angst and chronic boredom with one’s surroundings know no borders.  Then you leave again… It is hard to explain the feelings that go along with this and there are times when I wish that I had a stronger tie with one place or another. I imagine that it would feel safer, less like floating in limbo, and less painful.

Maybe it is not that I don’t feel a strong tie to one place or another. Maybe the problem is that I feel a strong tie to all of them…but mostly to the people that I have met along the way, who have influenced every single inch of who I have become. I know that I cannot physically live in the same place as all of them, and I realize that I cannot stop time and people from slipping away in one place when I am in another… I suppose it feels a bit like trying to juggle dimensions.

Whatever it is, the fact remains: this reentry was a painful one. The laundry is washed and put away and the suitcases are empty and stored in the basement. Now it’s time to hug the kids and set my mind as best I can to where we are today and where we will be going from here…

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