I went out shopping with my parents today, and I was watching the GPS as we drove. There's a part of the trip where the software isn't up to date with the road work that has been done, and the little screen shows the car driving in the middle of a field. Occasionally the GPS voice calmly suggests turning left or right to get back on the road, and sometimes it even recommends, "Turn around as soon as possible."
Often these days I feel like that car, driving across a bumpy field, narrowly missing cows and horses, while calm, rational voices tell me what I should be doing. This is all new to me. I never fled a natural disaster in a private jet before. I never passed overnight from being constantly busy six days a week to having next to nothing to do. I never tried to parent my traumatized kids on my own and with contact with my husband reduced to only the briefest, most unsatisfactory phone conversations.
And yet some things are familiar. Like when my daughter told me she had been daydreaming about her bedroom. And when my son yells every time there's something he doesn't want to do, "I hate it here!"
Homesickness. I'm something of an expert on it. It's an occupational hazard for TCKs like my kids and me because we are from more than one place, so there's always somewhere to miss. (TCK Jean Fritz even called her memoir Homesick: My Own Story.) Besides, I spent seven years in boarding school as a child. I understand how my daughter can conjure up every detail of a beloved place in her mind. I understand how my son can be perfectly fine, and then a setback or difficult moment can plunge him into that reservoir of sadness that is always just below the surface.
What to do about it is another matter. I remember trying to focus on something else, and I've encouraged my kids to do that, too; this evening we talked about the good things about being in the US right now. I remember crying, and that's happened too, to all of us. To a certain extent I toughened up, and I remember sneering (not visibly, I hope) when I went to college and my fellow freshmen lined up, sobbing, in droves to use the one payphone in the hall (yes, my children, this was before cell phones) to call their parents who lived within a few hours of the campus. My parents were three thousand miles away and I was certainly not putting on such a display.
As my husband and I have continued to live an expat lifestyle as adults (he is also a TCK), we haven't spent our time just sitting around bemoaning places we have left, although both of us go through times where our homesickness is strong. We make a home quickly. When we are staying in a motel, we unpack and put our clothes in the drawers. (I have left pyjamas under pillows in hotel rooms around the world.) We try to be fully wherever we are. Where our family is together, we are home.
Right now, though, we aren't together, and home isn't clearly defined. I know it will never be as it was before; everyone keeps using the phrase "new normal," and I believe that will come some day. Meanwhile perhaps the best thing I can do for my homesick children is hug them and say, "I know. I know. It's really hard."
This article from the New York Times tells of other kids who are dealing with being in a new place. I love this line: "Dozens of households are vibrating with relief, worry and claustrophobia as Haitians take refuge with relatives in the United States."
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