Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the places you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving. – Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
In some ways it seems like only yesterday we left home. In other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago.
Will leaving be hard? It’s a question we posed to ourselves at the onset of this epic adventure. Are you ready to come home? Is the question many are asking us as we prepare for journey’s end.
We first asked ourselves these questions about two weeks into our trip, back in Arcos de la Frontera, Spain. Our answers were as follows (Will going home be hard?):Mr. N – Yes – especially because of the food. Miss A – Yes, in general, yes. Mike and I – On all levels, yes. Our answers with two weeks remaining while sitting in Umbria are now:
Mr. N – I’m ready, but yeah it’s going to be really hard.Miss A – I’m ready too, but I’m going to miss this a lot. Mike and I feel the same. What’s perhaps the most surprising to us is that the kids are having a harder time leaving than they expected, and Mike and I are more ready than we expected. It’s certainly a position of two minds as my good friend Celi pointed out.
We’ve spent the last five weeks in Italy touring, relaxing, tasting wine, eating, hiking, and generally enjoying the hell out of this beautiful country. It is a dream. Views in every direction, sunshine nine out of 10 days, boisterous, friendly people, decent wine and amazing food.
The quaint hill towns continue to inspire us. The fact that they still exist and that there are so many of them is astounding. We have visited Lake Como, Verona, Florence, Venice, Pisa and have Rome yet to come, but generally we’ve stayed off the main tourist track (at least the US tourist track – there are Dutch everywhere we go!) and we’ve spent our days in the countryside and small towns we’ve never heard of both in Tuscany and Umbria. Italy is perhaps the one place that has lived up to our high expectations. Other places either exceeded them, were drastically different, and there were a few that were slightly disappointing. Italy though – to coin another good friend – you win.We’ll certainly blog about our Italian adventures after we return home. We have a ton of stories and pictures, but for now, I wanted to share a little emotional insight as our sabbatical comes to a close; mostly for sake of posterity. Mr. N and Miss A will hopefully look back on these posts someday. And while the history, culture, adventures and sensory experience are a huge part of what they will take away; there is an emotional side to this type of experience as well. A sabbatical while at times is like an extended vacation, it’s also drastically different. As I’ve posted before, this was our life, even if it was brief. We worked, made friends, and experienced everyday life in a place very foreign to us. We haven’t seen home for months and with the exception of a few friends and family that we were fortunate to see, our communications have been limited to texts. (The kids sometimes FaceTime their grandparents, but I hate video phones, so I generally hide when the camera is on. There’s something too invasive about it for me I guess.) We’ve had intense amounts of family time, a gift for which I can never be grateful enough. We’ve each delved into our own inner worlds and experienced some serious soul searching. It’s interesting to look back on everything. While it has all gone extremely fast, looking back the magnitude of everything is evident. The bond between Mr. N and Miss A is incredible. As a parent it’s a joy to watch. They were always close, but to see them now…Sure they fight, throw insults, scream at and occasionally hit or kick each other; but they would also go to the end of the earth and back for the other as well. The hours they have spent playing together has made a lasting impact. That I’m certain of. And for Mike and I, we have gotten to observe our children in new ways. We’ve learned from them, about them and with them. We’ve seen Mr. N grow and mature this year. He’s certainly more young man than boy these days. And Miss A, we’ve seen her observe the world around her and absorb the lessons. For as young as she is, her appreciation for things is beyond her years. We knew it would be challenging for both being taken from home, routines, schools, friends and family, and it was. They had their hard days and emotional struggles, but we watched them fight their way through and we see the change.
Czestochowa, Poland – May 2016.
The impact also extends to our marriage. Mike and I have learned more about one another in the past months than ever before. Without the pressures and distractions of home-life, we’ve been able to experience each other in surprisingly honest, raw and vulnerable ways. We’ve been able to step back and talk about things we want, things we don’t want and how we can help each other. We’ve also annoyed each other, had moments of intense loneliness and had our share of difficult conversations, but we’ve had both the time and inclination to dig deep, take a good hard look at ourselves and our relationship as friends, spouses, parents and individuals and create a place and path unique to us. It’s clearly a new chapter, and it’s well-grounded with a deep foundation.There is no question this sabbatical has changed us. We all knew it would, but none of us knew how. I doubt any of us can really describe in totality how the changes will play out, but they are evident. We have all gone through such intense emotions from personal struggles to absolute joys. We are certainly not the same people that stepped on that plane back in January. The impact is difficult to describe or explain; and thus, our two minds. Or perhaps 50 minds. Are we ready to go home? Absolutely. We crave the feeling of “home.” We look forward to the routine of a work/school day and coming home to our kitchen, our dinner table, our couch, our shower and bed. We look forward to familiarity and the ease of communication from the simple things, like running to the store for something and knowing which one to go to; and to the relative ease of dealing with more complicated things like calling a doctor for advice. (Miss A recently fell down a small hill and skidded across gravel on her face. Not a pretty sight – or sound – and one of those should we or shouldn’t we see a doctor type of falls. Fortunately she is okay and in the end stitches were not required.) While home won’t keep our children safe from illness or injury, familiarity at least removes some complication and stress. So we look forward to that.
Cesky Krumlov & Prague, Czech Republic – June 2016.
And of course, and certainly not least of all, we are excited to see our family, friends and little kitties. We’ve missed them all and I would say have an even greater appreciation for their love, support, friendship and even proximity! It will be wonderful to see everyone again, to know that help is a phone call away, or that we can walk to friends and have an impromptu bbq, that the kids can play with their peers, and yes, that we can have babysitters on occasion! We have missed everyone dearly.
Lake Como, Italy – June 2016.
But with all of our excitement to return home, we also know it will be hard. Very hard. First, there’s a long list of things to be done including reorganizing the house, going through months of mail, unpacking, registering for school, school shopping, doctor visits, purchasing of cars, arranging after school activities, driving Mr. N to play rehearsal (he’s already got his next show lined up!), and then of course getting ready to return to work. The kids go back to school within 10 days of returning home and Mike to work within 14 days. Fortunately, I don’t return full-time until October, so I’ll be able to delve into the house and helping the kids. That said, this alone will not be easy, but it is the easiest part.
The challenge will be the emotional transition. Not only will Mike and I have to manage our own feelings of excitement, sadness, exhaustion, stress, and motivation, but our priority will have to be Mr. N and Miss A. Kids are resilient and the familiarity of home and routines will certainly go a long way to easing the process, but these are big and complicated emotions for children.
While Mr. N can put a name to feelings, it’s still difficult to master them (particularly at his age – even at our ages!), and Miss A, though intelligent and observant, is young enough that putting a name to things is challenging. In her own words and through her tears one night she said, “I just don’t understand. I’m so confused. I don’t like this. I want to go home because I miss my friends, but I really don’t want to leave. I don’t like being mixed up.” It’s how we all feel.
It’s hard. It’s real. And it will take time. So while we are ready for normal, and can’t wait to see family and friends, for the sake of Mr. N and Miss A, the four of us, and to preserve everything that we have learned and gone through, we’ll need to take it slow. We’re going to walk into our house – the four of us – and we’re going to experience all that comes with that moment. We’re going to take it one day at a time. We’re going to give the kids time to see their rooms, their toys, find their comfort levels and establish home routines. We’ll ease back into things slowly and above all differently. We all know we were too busy before, and our priorities have shifted. We’re going to share in the kids’ joy and excitement of returning home; and we’re going to hug them when they cry at night or have a meltdown over nothing, because we get it. We’ll likely cry and have our meltdowns too.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that this will be entirely depressing and awful. It certainly won’t be as it will also bring happiness and relief. It’s all part of a process that has already begun. We are enjoying our last days, having a blast and appreciating every minute, but there’s also melancholy, tension, confusion and sadness mixed with anticipation and excitement.
Umbria’s Countryside, Italy – July 2016.
Quite simply, but also not simply, it’s a transition. It’s not all roses and it’s not all tears. It’s just real, honest and part of what will be our family, and personal stories. We wouldn’t have it any other way. So are we ready to come home? Yes. Will it be hard? Yes. But given all that we’ve learned, shared and experienced, I know we’ll come through it – together. In time. And like the transition of first arriving here, I have a feeling this too will change us in ways yet to be seen.
The path will not last forever. It is a blessing to travel it for a while, but one day, it will end. So always be ready to say goodbye to it at some point. However dazzled you may be by certain landscapes or frightened by other difficult sections where it took an enormous effort simply to carry on, do not become attached to any part of it. Not to the moments of euphoria nor to the seemingly endless days when everything is difficult and progress is slow. Don’t forget, sooner or later, an angel will arrive, and your journey will come to an end. – Paulo Coelho, The Book of Manuals