Six weeks ago…
We are standing in the Santiago airport–a new, glitzy first-world-looking airport (not exactly a mirror of the country) –when an announcement comes over the intercom, first in Spanish and then in perfectly articulate English. Carter & Quinlen are scrambling around on the ground, playing, ignoring everything around them. Or so it seems. When the announcement comes across in English, Carter and Quinlen freeze. They drop their toys. They rush to each other and hug, jump up and down and shout, “it’s in English. We can understand it!”
We may have underestimated the level of culture shock that we’ve submitted our sweet children to all these weeks.
And it only gets better from there. After 9 weeks in Santiago, Chile, coming home to Yakima, Washington was undeniably lovely.
The first twenty-four hours were foolishly easy. Our bodies were exhausted but our minds were seemingly on tranquilizers because we slid around understanding everything without actually using our brains. It felt like pudding. It felt like magic. Nothing took any effort. We saw-read-knew in an instant everything around us. We were comforted by friends at the airport, friends who brought us dinner, friends who just gave us deep, sincere hugs and told us how glad they were that we were now home.
Our first morning home I found Josh standing in the kitchen staring, mesmerized, into the kitchen sink as he ran the garbage disposal.
Our kids were transfixed with their old toys.
And yet. We find ourselves hiding out in our home. Avoiding going out. We don’t want to run into people. We don’t want to answer their questions. We don’t want to acknowledge their inquisitive glances. Even their benign questions feel like an examination and we don’t quite feel like we’ll pass the test. Because how can we possibly describe this experience? We don’t want to let you down, see your excited eyes lower and fade when we respond with less than perfect enthusiasm.
“WAS IT AMAZING”
One of our neighbors recently asked us, “how was your outrageous adventure?”
YES. That’s it. Our outrageous adventure was just that–
it was outrageous
it was an adventure
When we were living in Santiago I was constantly searching for the right words to express how we were feeling there. It may be surprising to you to know we both felt disappointed. Not all of the time. But certainly lots of the time. In what precisely, I’m not sure. Santiago? Learning Spanish? Ourselves? For certain we had a rough start. And for sure we had high expectations that learning Spanish would be easy and fun and fulfilling. That living in a city of almost 7 million people would be exhilarating. And fun for a family of five. Imagine how much more there is to do with kids in a big city?
We had hoped that we would fall in love with the culture, the people, the city and, that after building a good base, we could return to it every year for a short period of time. To practice Spanish, to reconnect. But we just didn’t fall in love. It was a gamble, this experience. It was a wildly optimistic blind date. There was just no chemistry, friends.
I keep in mind that I have evidence from my past that this experience, too, will be richer later. That is not to say that we did not live in the now. Just that the “now” was seriously hard. I hope that with time we will lose sight of all the hard work–or turn those moments into hilarious jokes–and we will hold steadfastly onto the good memories and the resulting personal growth we experienced.
For example, after college I lived in Paris teaching English at a public high school. I lived in Paris from August 1999-October 2000. When I look back on that time of my life it almost takes my breath away. What deliciousness. What adventure. What a life! Oh, the stories I could tell you. It feels today, all these years later, like it was a vast and deep time of my life. I learned so much. About everything. And yet I remember very clearly how extraordinarily difficult it was. Lie-on-the-floor-and-cry-daily-difficult. I slept on people’s floors and couches for 2 1/2 months. Now, in 2015, that’s a funny, quirky part of my time in Paris. THEN? Then, it was hell. Because I didn’t know how the story ended.
In Santiago, of course, we were living with our own stressful expectations to enjoy every moment which was impossible. This self-induced pressure to have a BLAST, make the MOST of our time, ENJOY this sabbatical, was quite irritating. It reminds me of my favorite blog Momastery and the post on parenting and carpe diem. I especially love the analogy between parenting and climbing Mt. Everest and that if you told the climbers during the climb to enjoy every minute they’d throw you off of the mountain. Santiago felt–feels–like that for us. Yes, we had a good time. And yet. This was hard. I know in my heart that later, sometime in the (farther afield) future, we will sit back and love the memories, and what this work did for our lives.
We got more than we bargained for, more than we paid for, of course. Like college, when you pay tuition to study specific things, take certain courses, and the accumulation leads to a degree in your chosen field. But the experience of college is so much more than that degree. We paid to learn Spanish and live in a different country and soak up a unique cultural experience. We learned a lot of Spanish. AND. We learned we do not like living in a big city with three small children (kudos to my mommy friends in NYC). We learned that retirement will be difficult for Josh someday because he really likes to work. A lot. We learned that our children can make friends with anyone, anywhere and that they have innate confidence that takes our breath away. I remembered that I love writing and I learned that other people like my writing. I learned how valuable it is to be transparent and vulnerable.
And so much more.
Six weeks after re-entry we are still re-entering our lives. We are still trying to answer your earnest questions and piece together our experience. My earliest blogs are enormously helpful to me now. They remind me that we were seeking a steep learning curve, something extraordinary, that we knew it would be hard, but that we can do hard things. Yes. All of that.
Our next adventure? Something outrageous, I’m sure.