Saturday, February 6, 2010

whose house for summer?

When pioneer families headed west, they went knowing that they might never see the family and friends they left behind. Perhaps a sibling or cousin promised to follow the next year or perhaps they planned to meet a neighbor who had already settled new land, but more often, mothers said goodbye to daughters and fathers to sons and families understood that this goodbye embrace was likely their last. Letters and photographs would keep the family ties but Sunday dinners and celebrations were now separated by a thousand miles. Wedding and birth announcements came months after the event; even news of deaths traveled slow.

I thought about these pioneer families when Justin and I moved abroad. I wasn't bold enough to think we were doing anything quite so daring or risky, but I sensed what they must have: this call to explore, to go somewhere new. Our decision was made easier by the fact that we'd have the luxury to remain in immediate contact with family and friends we'd left behind. Email, blog posts, Skype - it all connects. In fact, we can't really escape, can we?

After we began talking about this - living abroad - becoming our life for awhile, Justin and I had to think about our visits home. If we were going to make a new home for ourselves in a new country, did we need to traipse back to the States once a year to spend a month or so visiting the old home? We began thinking about our obligations to parents and siblings and friends. At what point, we asked ourselves, do we say: You need to visit our home? At what point does the visiting responsibilities fall to the family and friends we left behind?

A lot of expats ask these questions. When we had Claire, I began looking at what other families abroad do to keep their children connected with North American relatives. Some visit annually. Some trade off: Grandma comes this year, we go next year. I don't think there is only one way to settle this for your family. But we've been trying to find our way.

When we moved to Colombia, my father-in-law said, "No one will ever visit you there!" He was angry when he spoke, but he was also right. No one came to visit us there. One of my friends was saving money for her wedding, my sister's husband was a little nervous about her visiting Colombia. Plans fell through. We understood. But we watched other expats host their family and friends and thought: how do we get there?

You don't get there by moving to Kuwait. Come to visit and we'll enjoy our time together, probably take a side trip to Jordan or Egypt to see Petra or the pyramids. But we aren't holding our breath. The truth is, we want to share our life abroad with family and friends. We want people to see where we are and to understand our daily life and to enjoy what we enjoy about the places we know now.

So we decided: we're putting our foot down. Let's go home this summer, we said, and then spend next summer in Ireland or Germany. We'll rent a house, we said, and invite our Stateside crew to join us if they want. We get a visit, and they get somewhere more romantic than Kuwait. What a good, reasonable solution we thought: every other year. On the off years we go somewhere fabulous and new to us and likely won't bleed as much money as visiting the States. Family and friends can visit places that they don't have to explain to their coworkers why, exactly, they decided to go to _____.

Wonderful. Settled. All we had to do was tell our parents.

Then I got pregnant. Also wonderful. But this pregnancy means I absolutely will not travel home this summer - no desire to experience jet lag twice and drag my tired third trimester self all over Wisconsin. So we thought, let's go home for Christmas. A week with my parents, a week with his; and then we'll still get a rental in Ireland for the following summer.

Trouble is: I don't think anyone would visit. My parents are still raising five kids at home. Just flights for all of them to Europe would be astronomically expensive. Justin's parents are reluctant to travel, though they did just take a trip to Hawaii. Perhaps we'd snare a few friends with the free place to stay, but most of our friends are also in the middle of raising babies or planning to begin very soon. So very likely we'd enjoy a restful, green vacation by ourselves. Now, I like that idea, I really do, but I'm also keenly aware that Claire and the new little one will miss most family events as it is. And a week at the height of holiday season just doesn't seem to allow for a lot of grandma/grandpa/aunt/uncle/cousin/grandbaby bonding.

I thought about this for a few days before telling Justin. He'd been sending me links about valleys in Germany and travel destinations in Ireland. I rained on his parade. Maybe, I said, we owe it to our family to bring the little ones home for a few more summers. Afterall, if this is our life for awhile, we will hike in Germany and I will run in Ireland. He understood. We still aren't entirely settled on this. Selfishly, we want our month in Ireland whether or not anyone visits. But we also want lazy mornings eating blueberry pancakes at my house; I want to run while my Mom bikes along; Claire needs to chase her aunts and uncles and grandparents; Justin needs to find time to spend with his father. At some point, our family and friends will very likely come to us. But perhaps it's still on us to go to them.


Sergio en Colombia said...

amen. when are we going to ireland? ;)

jessica said...

Wow, what a tough decision.

I live just minutes from my family, but we're still distant. Apparently we need to take a two-day drive, then spend 9 days tent camping on the coast in order for our kids to connect with their grandparents (something we've planned for this summer).

Even if your trips are few and far between, I bet the quality of the time makes up for it :)

Clare said...

i guess it's a huge compromise you might need to make. it's tough, to want it both ways and have to decide!!! but your reasons for everything seem well thought out, good luck.

The Laughing Mouse said...

I am totally game for whatever. In fact, I have been trying to decide how to spend a 2nd vacation this year and coming up with zilcho for where to go or who to go there with! So, now I'm thinking I'll come visit you!!! I would come to Kuwait. I'd meet you in Ireland. I'm easy that way. Now we gotta agree, find a time, and figure out how much it'll cost me so I can get saving! whaddya think???

Billie said...

Wow...I debate the same thing quite often! It isn't so bad right now since we're still in DC and Jackson was under two so that meant only one ticket. But even now, since he's over two, I'm starting to see the difficulties we are going to face. Live was so much easier pre-kids; I didn't feel as guilty about not going home. But yes, now that we have a child, I feel horrible about "taking" a grand child away. And I know it's only going to get worse once we go overseas. Good luck with it all!

Angela and David Kidd said...

I think this is probably the hardest part about your lifestyle because we just live in Chicago, in the middle of the freaking United States, and we have a hard time getting Zach to see his family. David's family is great about traveling to see us but my family is not so great. We have to compromise and make the effort to see them every single time (especially with my mom) and it drives me nuts and we are just a short flight away. I can't imagine how frustrating it is for you given you are in Kuwait. Hopefully as Claire and her future sibling get older and your brothers and sister and your friend's kids get older, exotic vacations in Europe will be easier and more appealing for everyone. It sounds appealing to me!

Joanna Goodman said...

you don't owe it to anybody to feel like you have to come back to the States every summer :) But of course I want you to. Otherwise we wouldn't see you as often! it's hard for us right now, too, actually. We can visit, but it feels like we're in a different country down here. And sometimes it would be nice if the people just came to us! Also, since Ron has limited vacation, we have to be careful what we choose. I would love to spend a few weeks of some summer with you guys in Ireland or wherever, though. Right now we are concentrating on building up the vacation time needed and the funds... It's so hard to get the money together sometimes, which always sounds like a sad excuse when I think about how much I'd like to visit you guys and Nate and Joie. But it's just real and practical, and since we do spend some money traveling home off and on now it's even harder to have a "Europe fund"! But we'll get there, it just may be a few more years :)