After 17 moves in 16 years, I know a little something about feeling unsettled. About living in the space of not quite being over the last home, mourning for my past, while at the same time excited for the adventure ahead. I’m a pro at letting myself ease into a new environment and allowing myself to breathe it in and take it slow. I learn a lot through observation. Besides, life always picks up its pace.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Virginia for nearly 18 months. I still remember arriving in Old Town Alexandria, July 1, 2017, in what felt like extreme heat compared to the overcast skies of Hamburg, Germany. That summer, me and my kids stayed in the same hotel that I lived in for several months while pregnant and on partial bedrest. Memories flooded my mind as I walked the hallway, stepped in and out of the elevator, and filled my breakfast plate at the buffet.
While my husband remained on the scene of the G7 that summer, the news flashed scenes of riots throughout the streets of Hamburg. The downtown promenade I walked at least once a week was hardly recognizable. The papers showed Europeans going crazy, setting cars on fire, trashing the streets, and busting out storefronts. It made the transition and home I left behind easier, for a time.
Once my husband returned and we found a small house to rent, we were excited beyond words to get life started. To fill our days (and stomachs) will all the things we’d missed while living overseas. It was the first time me and my kids had been in America in three years.
One of the memories I have while I was pregnant with my daughter and living in the hotel involves my son, the elevator, and a stranger. As I waddled my way towards the elevator, a stranger pushed me aside to get on a whole three steps before me. My son, age 4, held the elevator door with his little hand and said, “It’s okay momma, I’ll wait for you.” I remember thinking how rude people in the DC area were and how I felt that moment epitomized everything wrong in our country. Twelve years later, I’m not sure it’s any better.
Although, I can say, my impressions of people in the DC area has changed this time around. Maybe it’s because I’ve found my tribe at work and church and sheltered myself from the toxic ones. Or maybe, hopefully not, I’ve become one of them and think its normal to behave that way. More likely, I think I’ve gained some perspective over the years. Growing up when Owasso, OK was still a small town (you might catch us waving at each other in the car), the first time I moved to DC I was big-eyed, excited and living in la-la land for months. Who knows, maybe I shoved a pregnant woman out of the way trying to get somewhere too.
Each time I returned from an overseas post, my eyes began to open and see things I hadn’t noticed before. I started thinking the NoVa moms were crazy, the people were rude, and I didn’t fit in. My life overseas was so different than the average Northern Virginian. For fourteen years, I’d spent my days looking for ways to pass the time. I planned a lot of parties and vacations!
In Uzbekistan, I baked things from scratch. I’d have long conversations with my nanny, who I paid to come to my house sometimes and ‘watch my son’ just so I wouldn’t feel alone all day. In Ghana, I scrapbooked for hours and hours and hours with other spouses looking for ways to fill their schedule. I also spent an insurmountable amount of time sitting under the air conditioning unit and pretending I was somewhere cold. I like to say Ghana has two seasons, hot and hotter. In Albania, I hosted and attended playdates almost every day, or met friends for espresso at cafes with playgrounds and pizza. I also got a second degree and opened a commissary for the embassy. I never forgot to find time for a spa day or girls’ weekend trip to France. While my husband was in Pakistan, I spent days sitting on the beach thinking about life. What someone like me had to offer the world. In Hamburg, I recovered from past disappointments, regrets and shame. I shopped at the local market and created floral arrangements from my own inspiration. I walked or rode my bike everywhere and I wrote my heart on the pages of this blog.
This time around Northern Virginia doesn’t seem so cruel. A few weeks ago, I had the most ‘normal’ experience since I arrived July 2017. I attended a birthday brunch at a friend’s home. We sat at a roundtable, about 8 of us, talking and sharing over coffee. I was the only American. Although, the Canadian across from me also considered herself American. To my left was the birthday girl, my German friend. To my right was a French woman. Next to her, a Danish woman…and around the table we went.
It was new to be the one at the table that was from the host country, to hear these expat women talk about living away from friends and family and how they spend their time in America. For most of them, this was their one experience to live abroad. They traveled, hosted parties, and attended events at expat clubs and embassies. Each one planned on going to Florida.
While I may not know all my neighbors (yet), I’m learning how to navigate life in a new place once again. It sounded and appeared like the guests in our country really enjoy life here. Me too.
Until next time,