It was our 2nd year returning back to the US from the work assignment oversees. We were each looking forward to seeing old friends, family and experiencing things that we’ve missed while away.
We each had our own list of must-have experiences we wanted to have. Some of it surrounded food, some of it was about the family & friends we would see, there were certain places that also elicited a certain nostalgic pull.
My list included:
Seeing my parents, siblings and many friends
Hopefully being around for the birth of my new nephew
Getting to spend time in our favorite beach town
Eating REALLY good pizza
Feeling cool or even cold outside
Spending the majority of the day without sweating through my clothes
Buying shoes that don’t cost an arm and a leg
Finding great summer sales
Catching up with the latest trends and rediscovering the flow of life while we were away
Some of our lists were similar but each of us missed different things and I was hoping that we would be able to fulfill at least some of it.
Starting with the beginning of the trip, it did not disappoint from that angle, especially since many people traveled out to see us this time instead of us traveling from state to state trying to bring our little foursome to them. I was grateful to experience how much more enjoyable the entire trip was when we weren’t running around so much, but instead enjoying the moments of friendship and family in more of a natural pace.
It’s in those small moments of play or sharing a simple meal that I look back on with the most fondness.
What we found we’ve missed
A year feels really long when you are away from family and friends. There are so many moments, holidays, celebrations that you simply will not be there for. It’s very hard to accept that, even though you realize that coming back and forth when your new home is an 18 hour flight away, is not realistic.
And if you are like me, someone who never wants to miss a thing, it’s tricky at best and heart wrenching at worst when the answer is “I can’t be there”.
So you start to fill that year with new experiences. Instead of traveling to a new city/state to see a relative, you plan an outing, or a trip to a neighboring country or start a new activity.
You begin to plan your way out of the things that you normally would have just attended either out of tradition, desire, habit or requirement. After a while, you start to realize that much of your free time was spent doing those ritualistic events. And some you probably didn’t need to do quite as much as you did.
The funny thing is that we thought we LOVED attending those events, but it’s funny how they become so much a part of the routine, that you almost forget to also make time to fit in the new, the adventurous or the scary experiences into a year.
And the things I’ve really missed aren’t the big celebrations or the holidays. It’s the quiet moments with an old friend, the ease of catching up with my mom over a cup of tea, the sounds the kids make playing in the yard with neighbors or the peace and quiet of my porch on a Sunday morning with the weekend NY Times in my hands.
Those creature comforts we often just overlooked as “normal” life, but those are in fact the things that brought us joy. Nothing that you’ll find on a Hallmark card. But those things are hard to replicate when home is not home anymore.
Creating new memories with families & friends
On our return back each summer, we’ve made it a point to carve out time to see as many people as we can, but also try to be very intentional with our time.
When you have a limited amount of time anywhere, I think you start to get very targeted in your planning and thinking about how best to sync back up with people. It’s not like everyone has been on pause since you left, so some of the sync ups may not be as seamless as you would like.
Those you’ve kept in touch with:
For those that you’ve spoken to over the last year, things can be deceivingly easy to slip back into, but you quickly realize that the relationships and topics you can easily jump into are either from your last in person interactions with them or very surface level. You are in almost in a time warp from that place where you left off and don’t know how to get back to your natural rhythm,
Then there is the quiet realization that you’re both in a bit of a different place and if you are patient and allow yourselves a bit of grace you can start to readjust to this new person standing in front of you.
Sometimes that new person and you don’t vibe as much as you remember. This is not so easy to accept, as your memory has sealed that person into a mold in your mind and you almost want to rewind the clock.
But I’ve found that there is a point when you let go of who they were in your mind and start to accept the “new” person in front of you. With all of their faults, new ways, different issues, change in perspective and new life. And I’m sure they are looking at us in much the same way.
We were once again the outsiders looking in. Harder to accept that when it’s your home country that leaves you feeling like an outsider.
It just takes time and patience to understand where we left off in the story and how all of the characters have shifted.
Those you haven’t spoken to:
For those who we hadn’t spoken to within the past year it’s actually easier to reconnect, as there isn’t the same expectation that we “know” where the other person is coming from or what they’ve been going through.
I tried to re-enter those relationships much the same as I would with someone that I barely knew. It left me open to have very surprising but deeper conversations than I would have guessed. It was more of two people meeting each other in the present tense of who they are, instead of trying to recreate versions of ourselves from the past.
In those moments, I can see how much I’ve changed as a person and how much more comfortable I am in my own skin in comparison to where I was 2 years ago. And it’s not that I am better or worse person, just more aware and accepting of my own mind, values, fears, faults and ability.
What the kids experienced:
Each kid had a very different experience returning back home. My 9 year old had such clear memories and strong friendships that she built while living in NY. She had a solid community of people that she was waiting to see and who were waiting to see her. She’s the one that struggled the most emotionally with the move, but I think because of that seems to enjoy the trips back the most.
Our 6 year old son went through Covid during a huge developmental time and was only 4 when we left for Singapore. The social network for him just isn’t as strong. He leans on family whom he remembers and stays connected to while living abroad, but the friendships didn’t have the same time to develop to really carry forward. This fact triggers my mom-guilt, but it’s hard to form new relationships at any age, forget about when you are only around for a few weeks each year.
What we haven’t missed…
So this list is actually a lot shorter than I thought it would be. When you are living anywhere long enough you see more of the cracks. It’s impossible not too.
You can be living in the most gorgeous house, but you still see the discoloration in the corners, how that part of the wall is stained or how the door slants just slightly. Some things you can fix but some things just are.
Give any place enough time and all you see is the stuff that’s not quite right. Especially when so many people profit off of complaining or telling you how bad things are.
Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware of the real problems that exist throughout our society, but it’s the way that we’ve been lulled or badgered into believing that there are only 2 sides to any debate that I don’t miss. We all know how much of life lives in the grey, but are still trying to solve problems using simplified choices of this or that.
The “it’s us vs them” rhetoric that has reduced so much of the political and societal discourse into simple talking points. This way of consuming the news has pored into the way that people debate and it’s so clear that it’s not solving the problems at all, just creating more division and separation. It’s jarring how insidious this has become among people who know better and those that don't.
I don’t miss that at all.
Some of the best conversations were with people who see the world with different perspectives back home and abroad.
I didn’t feel any less passionate about the way I think but had so much more empathy and curiosity about my friend’s perspective and the source of their thinking.
I started from a place of wanting to understand instead of wanting to defend my position. That felt very different from how I may have approached some of these conversations in the past.
Travel, of course, is the best way to show you just how many different ways there are to look at a topic and I can feel how much it’s opened me up from more of an isolationist view. How do I bring this back with me and not lose it again? It’s so easy to fall back into that old style of thinking, but how stuck it’s made so many of us…
Where is home?
So now that we’ve spent 2 years abroad, but also spent 2 summers back in the US during this time, the question for us has shifted from where is home to where feels like home. That might sound strange to someone who hasn’t moved around, but it is different.
The US will always be our home country, as that is where our very established roots live. Our families, long time friends, cultural touch points and family history are there.
But we’re a family without our own home in the US.
Some of our “trinkets” live in storage in the US Our other trinkets are in Singapore.
(*After moving, I feel like everything besides our children and our selves feel like just things. They are lovely things but still just things that can be replaced)
The moment that felt so odd was when we were back in our home country, but mentioning at the end of the trip that we were excited to go back home to Asia.
That was a wild thought, but was true.
What we found was home wasn’t really a particular country. It was a feeling of consistency, of comfortability and where our new routines lived.
When we are back in US, we are visitors on vacation. There is no routine and we aren’t really “back”.
When we are in Singapore, we have school, work, activities and communities that we’ve built that we rely on and that rely on us. That slowly becomes home, as strange as that may seem to others and even to us.
The foursome bond
Before we took on this new chapter, we had friends that told us how incredible the experience would be for our family. They were sure to point out how this would create a special bond among the four of us, that very few other people would understand. From start to end, no one else will understand our particular path, experiences & challenges more than the four of us.
I think that is similar to the bond that forms between siblings, since no one will ever know what’s it was like to grow up in your family with such clarity as your siblings.
This added an extra layer to that, since all four of us, parents and children were experiencing this with fresh eyes together. We will each have our particular slant on how the experience was for us as individuals, but we will have this shared family adventure that we alone will know and appreciate as we move forward in life.
That’s something that I can see happening even now, as the kids cling to us as “Team Harris" in way that they may not have had we not moved here. Why is this?
I think there is something about the uncertainty of moving, travel and simply adding a lot of change to an equation that forces the desire to keep some kind of common denominator. The four of us are the consistent element that has been our touchstone.
It’s the one thing that’s remained not only unchanged but has gotten stronger as we’ve moved forward.
I think it would be very hard to continue these adventures without that.
Back in Singapore
Since our summers are only 7 weeks due to our academic calendar, we have been back in Singapore and in school for 1 month now.
All of the regular activities have kicked back into action, the planning for future fun getting booked and the routines have set in.
We are actually entering into the 3rd year of our experience finally understanding the assignment.
We’re focusing on building great relationships, digging further into all that we are able to learn and experience in this country and getting the absolute most out of an experience that we know will not last forever.
I feel like we are finally onto something… 😉