Where to start? Clearly I have no idea as it has been nearly four months since we set foot back stateside. I’ve started this post numerous times and each time, it’s proved challenging. As we anticipated the first few weeks were emotionally exhausting with balancing the excitement of seeing friends and family with the realization that our sabbatical adventure had come to an end.
The thought of sitting down to blog again, well, it’s hard. It’s not lost on us that when we set out cooking around the world our goal was to introduce Mr. N and Miss A to cultures and histories around the world. We did that – and then some. The lessons, experiences, friendships and memories that have resulted from our little space on the internet are immeasurable. But the trip is past, our lives are busy, the kids are growing…So now what? Where do we go from here?
Well, I suppose we should first start with where we’ve been….
We returned home in August after a long, but thankfully smooth, 11-hour flight. No one slept. No one really talked. We were all sort of lost in our own heads. I’ll just say, it’s a good thing thoughts can’t weigh down an aircraft.
We arrived at O’Hare and made our way to customs – a strange feeling to wait in line to return to our home country after traveling so freely around Europe. It was while in line at customs we were astonished to hear an American woman exasperatedly correcting a non-native English speaking airport employee on her grammar. (After being the non-native speakers ourselves for the past seven months we were mortified by this.) This was then followed by a traffic director yelling profanities at a car blocking the taxi lane. Welcome home.
Fortunately our disheartening airport experiences were quickly brushed aside when we saw family. We cried with joy and hugged as though we’d never let go. It was more powerful than we anticipated seeing these familiar faces. The same can be said upon our first greetings with friends, many of whom popped by for quick hugs and hellos upon our return. The reassurance of love and familiarity cannot be underestimated. It quickly eliminated a level of stress we had been carrying; and although we weren’t always aware of it, its alleviation was noticeable.
The next few weeks are a bit of a blur. As we expected, our emotions were all over the place, up and down, up and down. As if in a sort of survival mode, we became highly focused on our to-do lists, which were extensive: unpack, laundry, school supply shop, sign the kids up for activities, run Mr. N to rehearsal for his next play, tackle projects around the house, prepare to return to work, organize our wine arriving in shipments from Europe, etc., etc. As overwhelming as this could have been, the distraction was welcomed.
We also made sure to incorporate some of the little things from our European lifestyle into our every day routines. Mike and I sat outside for coffee every morning for weeks (until the weather turned too cold). I journaled and read every day. We made time each evening to play games as a family and have “snuggle time.” We walked to the movies, grocery store, mall, etc. to keep up with our European daily steps. This was probably the hardest thing to incorporate. It was a very foreign feeling crossing the four-lane road to the strip mall. No one walks here. And we also grocery shopped as we did in Europe – more frequently, less processed foods and we even found some familiar Italian, Spanish and Polish ingredients at our market.
To do lists and blending our old and new lifestyles helped us to make a more seamless transition home. And it worked…initially.
Surprisingly, at least to us, Miss A who was the most ready to come home, had the hardest time readjusting. We had quite a few meltdowns, tantrums and a whole lot of general irritability after school began. Early bedtimes, routines and a lot of one-on-one attention helped, but it was a rocky road for the first couple of months. Alternatively, Mr. N thrived. He jumped right back into school and relished in his post-sabbatical skin. The difference between 6th grade Mr. N and 7th grade Mr. N is palpable.
They also differ in how they are handling memories. At first Mr. N said it was hard for him to look at pictures, but that he also wanted to at the same time. He progressed from there to loving to reminisce about our travels, talking about all the places he wants to go back to, or visit for the first time, and having his own photos roll on a screen saver while he’s at school all day. The memories make him happy and the possibilities of future travel excite him. We are already beginning to see how this adventure is shaping his world views. It’s infused him with a new kind of energy.
Miss A, while initially excited to show off our photos and her souvenirs, soon became reticent. She said she didn’t want to hear the “E-word” (Europe) and started to cry at night missing our Polish house, her room in particular. She was still her happy, silly and non-stop self most of the time, but every now and then you can sense her melancholy. Fortunately, we learned from her teacher that she talks and writes about our sabbatical a lot at school, so we know she’s processing things in her own creative way. That’s our Miss A – while she appears an extrovert and certainly has no trouble making friends, being assertive and taking a leadership role, she’s also intensely private and vastly creative.
As for school, Mike and I were a little terrified that our homeschooling efforts wouldn’t measure up. Although we didn’t admit it to the kids, we were nervous for their first tests and report cards. Fortunately our lessons and their hard work paid off. They both rose on their growth projectiles with their testing and their report cards and teacher reports didn’t indicate any backwards slide from having missed a semester of school. This was a relief because while we all enjoyed our time together, homeschooling was not what any of us would call fun. That said, sending them off to school that first long, full day was hard. I hadn’t been alone, not to mention alone in my own home, for months. It was a very surreal experience that found me shedding tears randomly throughout the day.
Mike was the first to return to work. He seemed to slip right back into a groove and was happy to be teaching again. I started back full-time in October. While I did work some while away, once we left Poland, I went radio silent. I shut myself off from work entirely for three solid months. I’d like to say that I’m refreshed and thrilled to be back at it, but that’s not the case. I’ve changed. I’m ready for more challenges, new experiences and I’m not afraid of trying new things. Fortunately given the flexibility of my job, I have the time to do just that; and so far, I’m having a blast discovering new opportunities.
And then there’s the rest of life. It’s been quite the blur. In fact, this is the first weekend since we’ve returned (no joke) that we have nothing on the calendar; except basketball and broomball, but that’s about as nothing as we get. We actually have the day to laze about and be together.
So where have we been? Starting back up at school…
Spending lots of time in the city for Mr. N’s play…which was a resounding success. Best production of Macbeth I’ve ever seen.
Cheering on our World Series champions.
Mike and I got away for a long weekend to one of our favorite places, Traverse City, Michigan (it had been a long while since it was just the two of us).
Miss A and I had fun reliving our flamenco lessons at Halloween.
We watched a disturbing presidential campaign, shuttled around to many activities, got together with friends, had two Thanksgivings, held our annual neighborhood Christmas caroling and party, are getting ready to visit Nana & Papa in Florida, and are preparing for Christmas. We’ve been on the go – non-stop – since we’ve returned. It’s been an adventure, just of a different kind than we had earlier this year, and certainly of a much different pace.
At times the feeling of how “back to normal” we have become is unsettling. We miss our time away. We miss our uninterrupted days together and we have a hard time reconciling feeling at home, but also homesick. The intensity of how much we miss our other home is surprising – and a testament to the power this sabbatical had and continues to have on us. We have an ache for what we miss, but also an excitement for what lies ahead.
And that leaves us with what’s next. We’re not sure. We still need to recount our time throughout Italy (and we will – so many beautiful places!) and we’ll get back to cooking some too. In the meantime, you can find our recipes monthly in this space. (Below is the German Stollen we whipped up. Delicious!)
But it may be some time yet before we’re back at it, or maybe not. I don’t really know. It doesn’t feel right though. Our direction isn’t yet clear. That said, we believe now more than ever that learning about different cultures and histories through travel, food and sometimes wine, is vitally important. So until our next post…
Happy holidays! We wish you health, joy, love and laughter this season and throughout the coming year.