I think some of your figured out that wasn’t in India the last couple of weeks. Some of you might have even known where I was. Some of you may have even seen me. Fact is, a nagging health issue took me back stateside, and I was in the U.S. for the last month.
Going “back home” when you’re an expat is a complicated thing. Although you have probably travelled over 2,000 miles and have footed the bill yourself, people don’t necessarily understand why you can’t make “that short trip” from DC to say, Illinois. No, it’s not that far. Yes, I get I can use miles. Of course, I understand that I haven’t seen you in 8 years. It’s just not going to work out this time, you say. But what you really want to do is scream, “I just survived a 15-hour flight with two children under the age of twelve who never sleep on planes and who fought the whole damn time, so you have to be on CRACK to think I’m up for another flight anytime soon!” If you’re alone, you’re certainly not going to go do it, because it doesn’t make sense to visit Aunt Millie alone when really it’s the kids she wants to see, and it’s not practical for you to use up all your miles on a solo trip when you need to save them for a family vacation.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my family. I have awesome friends in most of the fifty states. But sometimes I wish that everyone lived in the same apartment building right smack in the middle of a resort area with swimming and hiking on one side of the building and a snow resort on the other. That way, there’s something for everyone to enjoy and I could see everyone all at once and then individually with a minimum amount of fuss, stress, and mileage. But that’s not the way it is, and you have to parcel out your time, never quite managing to do everything you want to do, and only about half of the time managing to do what you need to do.
First, you have to do the “Requireds”. You go see family. With a blended family, or a family where there’s been divorce, this may mean going to two or three states, shuttling back and forth in a short period of time during the holiday season, or having to make painful choices as to who “wins Christmas” this year.
Only then do you get in the “Wants”. You get to go see your friends and go try out a new trendy restaurant, make a playdate for your kids with their “Best Friend”, or just have date night in a place where you can read everything on the menu and skip reading subtitles.
I think I managed it pretty well this time. I stayed with my sister, H, who is pretty much the sister I would have ordered if I’d been able to specify exactly what I wanted. The great thing about staying with H is that her friends, D, T, L & B, have taken me on as one of them. So for a month, I had my girlfriends, and they were invaluable. What’s even better is that while they ask me to do things, there’s never any guilt or pressure.
I took the “New Year, New You” thing very seriously this year, and chose December 31 as my surgery date. D stayed with me while H and her husband rang in the New Year elsewhere. We spent the evening scheming, planning H’s 40th birthday party and ordering way too much in the way of decorations and birthday stuff. Do not go near amazon prime while on Vicodin – you’ve been warned. After a week of recuperation, I set out to try and visit as many people as I possibly could on my very, very long list of friends and family. I studied my time schedule: a little less than three weeks to see approximately 2,458 people. Not counting my parents.
A day later, I ran into J while shopping at Target, in one of those “OMG, I feel like I’m going to meet someone I know in a second” moments. Coffee and a pedicure date later and we had some great catch-up. Sometimes, Fate makes the schedule for you and gives you exactly what you need. Sadly, I had to decline a third meeting for a Burns Night, in order to fit in more family. Maybe next time.
My little sister from my sorority days wound up in town for two days, so she jumped to the top of my “have to see” list. She lives in Michigan, so she’d technically travelled to me. That was a nice bonus; I didn’t count on seeing her at all during this visit.
I got to see my cousin and her son for a day of snow tubing. That was awesome. The DiploBoys have begged for the last three years to go and it never came to pass. Yeah, I kept my lift ticket on my coat. Yeah, I rubbed that in like lotion when I got back. Yeah, I got Mom Points deducted for that.
The DC area is a magnet for FS folks in language training, U.S. assignments, medevacs, and just business trips and visits, which means that I could have spent an evening with someone I wanted to see every single night of my trip, and still not seen everyone. I thought I was SO smart for getting all the girls from Embassy Accra together for one big reunion dinner. Twelve of us descended on a local restaurant and laughed, drank wine, shared stories, and had a great time. Then, I got back home, dialed up Facebook, and realized that I’d left someone off the list. Epic Fail.
Going into the DC area from where I was staying involved about a one and half hour drive, so I’d schedule brunch, coffee, and dinner all in the same day. While it’s great to see so many friends, there’s certain hollowness to having to cut short a visit that is fun and to have to head on to the next visit without having time to savor the experience of the first one.
Although we didn’t have quite the epic snowstorm that the National Weather Center and Facebook predicted, it still messed up a couple of visits. Fear not, J – you are now officially at the Top of the List for the next trip stateside.
Family was the easiest to see this time, believe it or not. Not only did my parents make the 6-hour drive to come visit for a weekend, my father-in-law came up to see me for lunch one day. Honestly, that’s a bit out of the ordinary; normally we are expected to run all over to visit relatives. Maybe I should have surgery every time I come home. I’m pretty sure I could get rid of a spleen or a gallbladder with no problems. Maybe I could even talk DiploDad into taking one for the team.
Even with an entire month to myself, I still didn’t get to see everyone. It’s even worse when you are at the mercy of three other people, naptime, toddler schedules, jet lagged husbands, family reunions, and holidays. I found myself trying to avoid Facebook and email just in case someone else invited me to something or to meet up and I’d have to say no. There’s the guilt involved in not being able to do it all that I’ve never managed to be able to shake.
There are days when I tell myself that there is no way that I’m doing this again, that the next vacation or extended trip we take will involve me sitting on a beach somewhere drinking out of a coconut. And then I start to miss “home”. Or we get an invitation to a wedding. Or a reunion. Or a big, important, milestone birthday. And it just happens to coincide with the DiploBoys’ vacation time and traditional downtime at the Consulate.
I could go into more detail, but I’ve got to research flights now. My parents are celebrating their 50th Anniversary in July, and I’ve got to get on to scheduling everything.