Where is home? That should be an easy question. At least it is for most people. Home could be where you were born, or where you spent your childhood years. As greeting cards and throw pillows say, ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is’. But, what if your heart is in more than one place? Being an expat means having a heart in pieces. Not that our hearts are broken, necessarily. Rather, we feel pulled in more than one direction – all of the time. When I am here, I feel like I should be there, and vice-versa. This feeling of restlessness is just par for the course, I’m afraid.
As expats living in Africa, my husband and I are here without our children, who are grown and establishing their own homes back in the states. Of course, we miss them terribly and hate missing big moments in their lives, or missing events for dear friends and extended family. Luckily, since we became expats three and a half years ago, we have managed to be there for most major holidays and events, but certainly not all of them. We knew going into this new lifestyle that missing things would be part of the deal, and we tried to prepare for that eventuality. But even with all of our preparation, there have been tears and temper-tantrums – and my kids have had their moments too! That is the downside to expat life. More accurately, that is the rip-your-heart-out-and-stomp-on-it side to expat life. None of us wants to disappoint those we love, and being absent for big moments is a painful thing. No way around it. But, where there are clouds, there are silver linings, and expat life has some that truly shine.
The biggest upside for our family has been the opportunity to travel with our kids to places they never would have gone otherwise. During the three years we lived in London, they were able to join us on ten European vacations. Chevy Chase, eat your heart out! I certainly hope they appreciate how unusual that is. Only Brad & Angie’s kids can claim more overseas vacations that that!
Another upside to our living overseas, has been to “allow” our kids to figure things out for themselves. I have always been a “helicopter” parent. Yes, I admit it. When my kids were younger, they climbed on the school bus every morning and I followed right behind. I was the PTA Queen/Homeroom Mom/Volunteer Lady and spent almost as much time at their school as they did. This continued for most of their growing-up years. I’m sure they wondered if they would ever get away from me! Because I was always there, it was easy for them to rely on me to solve their problems. I’m a fixer. It’s what we helicopter moms do. Even as they got older, I was still always there if keys were locked in a car, etc, etc, etc. But something wonderful happened when we moved away. My kids began to fix their own problems! Imagine that. Seeing them become capable and resourceful adults has been a beautiful thing. I always knew they had it in them. I just needed to get out of their way.
Yes, there are pros and cons to being an expat, and then there are some aspects that are neither positive nor negative. They are simply facts of life for many of us. As my kids have become adults and moved to different cities for both colleges and careers, we have become a scattered family. We all have to go where we can earn a living. Since my husband also travels for work, it is not unusual for the four of us to be in four different cities – and even four different countries, at times! Thank goodness for internet and social media. In these technology-filled times, many would say that home is wherever their WiFi connects automatically!
So, what is home to me now that I am living in Africa? My answer is: no matter where I am, it does not feel like home until all four of us are sleeping under the same roof. That roof may be in Paris, or London, or Munich, or even Houston, Texas. As long as we are together, it feels like home.
© 2014 Cheryl – All Rights Reserved