I have been living in France permanently for just over three years. You could say I have not lost any time in settling down, having gotten married and had a baby within that time span. A lot has changed but one thing remains steady, the weirdness of living abroad. While the stages of weird have evolved, the mixed emotions, confusing encounters, and the ups and downs of expat life have remained constant. Nothing reminds me of that more than when I travel back to the U.S.
Early on in my adventure here the struggle of moving abroad centered around your basic bureaucratic frustrations (France is the champion of this), bilingual miscommunications, and the occasional craving for Pizza Luce’s sausage and pepperoni pizza. As time goes on, the manifestation of my expat worries have evolved. I’ve grown accustomed to long waits and paperwork delays at the immigration office. My French has improved and I find myself struggling for English words more often than French. While I haven’t found that perfect Pizza Luce replacement pie I have discovered new dishes I could not live without. For at least the last year my living abroad concerns have transitioned into worries that go a little deeper beneath the surface.
I first experienced these new feelings with the wedding. Here was a big life event that I wanted to share with as many people as possible. I knew that would not be possible as a nine-hour flight separated me and the majority of my loved ones. This was the first time I felt this mixture of homesickness and an inability to express it. I felt that because I had made the choice to leave Minnesota behind, it would be inappropriate for me to then complain about homesickness and not being able to see my loved ones when I liked and or needed to.
These feelings increased ten-fold after the birth of our son Lewis. All of a sudden I was full of emotions, both negative and positive. I was exhausted, and despite having my new constant companion, I felt lonelier than ever. In the mornings I would sit nursing him, half-awake, and imagine my mom walking through the door to work her magic on the towering pile of dishes. I could picture my sisters bursting through the door and each taking turns to hold my son while I took a quick (or not so quick) snooze. Or showered. Or went for a walk. After a long day my biggest wish was for my dad to arrive and to cook a delicious dinner instead of me quick scraping together whichever vegetables were about to go bad.
At the time I did not tell anyone about these feelings or express them, for the same reason as before. Here I was building my life thousands of miles away. It was I who made that choice and as such I felt uncomfortable complaining about even the smallest of things. I could just hear people thinking to themselves “well what did she expect?”
Plus there was the fact that having a new grandson/nephew/great-grandson, etc. so far from home was and is really difficult for everyone back home. I did not want to compound those feelings by calling home and saying how badly I wished to see everyone when I know they wish they could be here as well.
And then we actually did go home to Minnesota. And it was beautiful. And emotional. And overwhelmingly full of love. And then we had to leave and I experienced the hardest goodbyes yet. For two weeks my wishes became reality. Lewis passed from arm to arm while I finally had moments to myself. My dad baked not one but two amazing cheesecakes and cooked delicious meals. My mom folded laundry, ran to pick up baby food, and took care of basically everything while I sat on the couch watching New Girl. And it was glorious.
When it came time to leave I saw how difficult it was for my family to send us off back across the Atlantic. Feelings of guilt and sadness contorted themselves into a cement brick that sat in my stomach, weighing me down and causing me to drag my feet. How was it possible to be so happy and fulfilled in France while still craving so much that I was leaving behind in the Midwest? I looked forward to returning to our normal routine and the beauty of farm life but I wanted to check an extra bag and sneak all of my loved ones in to it. Simply stated, how can happiness and sadness coexist like this in one person? Living abroad is weird.
I have been turning this blogpost around in my head since our return to France and despite that I still have not succeeded in attaining much clarity. I guess it comes down to motherhood is incredible but terrifying. Living abroad is an adventure full of confusing and at times, frustrating emotions. Our visit home was the best one yet. And our family and friends stateside are the best parts of me and have already become integral parts in the life of Lewis. Sending you all love from Fern Island Farm, we miss you already!