On my way Day 116
I am on a plane on my way home for the first time. A whirlwind 10-day trip to watch my only daughter and her husband graduate from college. It is a big deal which is why I am leaving my two youngest behind with their busy, overworked father and heading back to the land of the free.
As is usually the case, I have a swirl of emotions running through my mind. What will it be like to walk off the plane in Michigan for the first time in almost four months? Will I still have the same things in common with people as I did before I left? Will the jet lag keep me from being able to enjoy my quick trip home? Will the boys back in Shanghai survive their forced independence? And finally, will this long plane ride ever end?
When we were faced with the reality of moving to Shanghai, I went silently kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to leave the comfortable life I had come to appreciate in Michigan. I enjoy quiet, green and open spaces, and having the ability to communicate with people in English. I knew however that moving to Shanghai was God’s plan for this phase in our lives. It would also provide a wonderful opportunity for Brett’s career advancement. So we left not knowing what was in store, but I was pretty convinced I wouldn’t like it. I wondered if a city as big as Shanghai could ever feel like home. Surprisingly, it has become home. We have all adapted well and I have come to not only like it but really like it. The friendships I have begun to form are very special. The boys are growing more confident. Our family, although it is divided, has grown closer.
So, while I am excited to go home, I also didn’t want to leave the new routine and comfortable life we have made in Shanghai. Life as an expat always involves give and take. The good with the bad, the exciting with the terrifying. Our lives have become ones in a constant state of fluctuation. Emotions run the gamut in almost every situation. So, I am happy to go home and hug my kids, and my mom, and to see family and friends. I am so excited to sleep in my bed! But, I am already missing home in Shanghai. The hum of the air conditioner that lulls me to sleep. The sound of the birds outside our window. Walking the boys to school. And I am nervous. Although four months is a short amount of time, I have changed. What will the reality of home in Michigan look like now? Will I still feel comfortable, like I belong? Some people tell me after living abroad, they feel overwhelmed in grocery stores in the States. Others say they miss not being able to understand people’s conversations while standing in a checkout line. They like the solitude, so to speak, of not speaking the language. Still, I do look forward to stepping outside the airport and taking a deep breath of clean air. I will also delight in getting a drink of water right from the sink. See? Emotions running all over the place.
I hope to write this blog in three stages. Beginning, middle, and end. The first you have just read. The second will most likely be written from my kitchen table at home in Michigan. The third, on my way back home. Home-that’s a laugh. Who would have thought one word could be so complicated? Where is our real home? Can it truly be in two places? Perhaps this trip will provide the answer. I hope you will enjoy taking this journey with me. Once again, I know I will come out a little different once this experience is over. I hope it will prove to be settling, but I suppose we will see.
Coffee in the kitchen Day 123
First impressions are things I try to hold onto since you only have the opportunity to experience them once. Shortly after, comfort or resignation sets in and first impressions fade away. As time goes by, they become harder and harder to recount.
My first impression of arriving back in Michigan was experienced before I even landed on the ground. Looking out the window of the plane, I could see open land for miles. Private backyards, pools, and space. It struck me this is part of the reason so many want to come to the U.S. Just having land and your own private space is something we take for granted. Most people in the world are not afforded such luxury. Life abroad has quickly taught me this fact.
Seeing my Mom again was a wonderful experience. We hugged for a long time. In some ways, it felt like forever since I saw her last. In others, it felt like just yesterday. I was struck by the fact that technology makes it so much easier to keep in touch. So, although I hadn’t had the opportunity to physically touch my Mom, I had seen her on multiple occasions through video calls. Still, nothing replaces a long hug with those you love.
As we drove back to Canton, we quickly made a few stops. The post office was the first. I was delighted to show my driver’s license in order to pick up a package and found it interesting all the familiar clerks I used to see all the time were on duty as if I had never left. My next stop was Hobby Lobby (you know, critical shopping). As soon as I walked in the door, I recognized employees who were there before I left. It was as if time stood still. The store even had some of the same inventory I saw before moving to Shanghai.
Finally, we arrived home. Again, it looked just like we had left yesterday. It was very interesting to experience the reality of feeling like I was just there, yet knowing so much had changed in my life since I last walked through that door. Certain things came back to me automatically; like where I kept my socks. Others did not. Where in the world do I keep the cups in the kitchen? As expected, the aspect of my home I missed most was my bed. I certainly forgot what sleeping on a heavenly cloud felt like. I didn’t even care that my eyes popped open at 4:00 in the morning the first few nights due to jet lag because I was so comfortable.
Ever so quickly, the feelings of stress and going at a million miles an hour returned. 10 days for a trip back home is a whirlwind, to begin with, but you throw in moving your son out of his college dorm, and an extra trip for your daughter’s graduation on top of going through four months worth of mail, shopping, phone calls, and catching up with friends, and the old harried feeling you used to have living here return in an instant. Once again, there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. I love my life in Michigan. Being close to family is top on my list. However, the stress that comes with it is something I have not missed!
Another impression of living here is being thrown back into the ridiculousness of politics and political correctness. I will just say that is something I will never miss living in China! Autumn and Jackson’s commencement address was all about lecturing the graduates on going out into the world and striving to include everyone in the workplace. What ever happened to telling them to go take on the world and do great things for mankind? It is disgusting to me to see some of the directions our country is headed and it makes me thankful to live in my little communist bubble away from all of it.
So far, I have seen that although I anticipated coming home would feel different, it hasn’t. In many ways, it is as if I never left. I do realize however how much I appreciate certain things that only the U.S. can offer, and already see that I have grown. Becoming more confident is a trait which I really appreciate. A few more days and I will be back on a plane (a fact I am dreading due to the length of time I will be sitting) and will recap my experience back home in Michigan. Although it has been a whirlwind of events, and emotions, I’m sure it will be difficult to leave.
Homeward bound Day 126
I turned around and met her eyes in a direct gaze. “Hey, you don’t have to stick around. You can go”. With that, I saw her eyes well up with tears. Mine instantly began to do the same. Fighting the urge to break down right there at the check-in counter, I watched my Mom nod and hastily turn towards her car. Struggling to fight back the tears, I turned around and continued the check-in process for our flight to Shanghai. I think this display of grief worked in our favor since I knew most of our bags were questionable on weight. Who in their right mind would tell an obviously emotional woman their bag is overweight by one pound? Goodbyes are the hardest. I can say what I want about China verses the U.S., but there is no denying goodbyes are the worst part.
I woke up yesterday to a crystal clear blue sky. The birds were chirping and the air was crisp and cool. That was the first time I felt a small twinge of sadness knowing I would be leaving soon. Little things like the creak in the top stair of the house, and the way the play set out back leans precariously to the left began to aid in a mourning that was building by my looming departure. I was struck by the fact that my current life is one of constant transition. Where is home? Is it in Shanghai? Is it in Michigan? Can I find balance in both? Is that ok? I have come to truly appreciate both places. Shanghai I love because of our carefree lifestyle. I am beginning to like the culture and the way the people live their lives without question of authority. They are simply content to go through their daily routine, performing their duty as Chinese citizens. The U.S. provides an entirely different feel. We are free. We live life as we want, making ourselves into the individual people we desire. We have land, we can say what we want, and we can do what we want. Freedom is comforting. Our customs are comforting. I like having the ability to cross the street without fear of being run over, and I love it when men hold a door open for me.
I knew moving to Shanghai would put us in a constant state of transition. A trip here, going home there. I worried about this way of life. In general, I am a very structured person. I like to know what to expect. I like routine. To say the least in that respect, my life has been turned upside down. I know God takes us and molds us throughout our life. I truly believe He saw I was becoming too comfortable living life in Canton, Michigan. Little things like taking Jack on a field trip, were beginning to make me nervous. My world was becoming so small. Sometimes when your world becomes small, so does your God. My faith has grown exponentially since moving abroad. I am reminded on a daily basis, the only constant thing in my life is God. My location may change, who I am with may change, but He never does. He travels with me over the sea and lands wherever I do. I suppose that thought is what I need to keep me grounded. Not in which house I lay my head, not what family I may see, not who is in the lead for which political race. Only God.
On the plane ride to Michigan, I feared I would have changed so much the U.S. would seem foreign to me. To the contrary, although we as a family have gone thorough an enormous amount of change in the past four months, home felt relatively the same. I walked into the bank yesterday and the teller greeted me by name and asked, “How’s China?” I exercised with my dear friend just as we did before I left, same time and all. So, I have been gone but not forgotten. Nothing feels dramatically different. I still remember how to drive and recognize the same people working at the same stores. However, I did find myself constantly comparing the U.S. to China. I was so grateful to have so much at my disposal. We were making a salad and I realized I forgot to buy cilantro. No big deal. I just hopped in my Mom’s car and went to the grocery store to buy some. My biggest dilemma was whether to choose organic or regular. However, at the same time, I longed to return to Shanghai. I miss walking my boys to the bus stop. The amount of stress and responsibility in Michigan is instantly overwhelming. Phone calls, doctor appointments, mail, house repairs. They made me want to return all the more.
All in all, My first trip home went surprisingly well. I enjoyed every moment but was ready to return to Shanghai. I suppose the next few years will be that of physical and emotional transition. We will all continue to grow and gain confidence. I am grateful for this journey and for the eye-opening perspective on the world. Not just for me, but for us all. Hunter is sitting on this plane with me. Traveling to a foreign land to experience a new way of life. I am excited to share it with him and with Autumn and Jackson who will be joining us at the end of the month. Together again. The Burin Bunch. In China. Who would have ever imagined? Only God. He is good. He takes us to places we would have never dreamed.