There’s No Place Like Home

So now the question is:  where is home?  Before this trip, I thought I knew the answer.  Colorado and the USA of course!  Our flight over was pretty tough with two rambunctious boys, and when we arrived in LA, a place I have always abhorred, tears actually welled in  my eyes at hearing people who talk like me and seeing all the familiar US government signs in the airport  and then road signs right out in plain sight, for anybody to find.  Suddenly, I love LA! 

However, we started realizing pretty quickly that many of the things that had bothered me since the move to Australia can happen to newcomers anywhere.  We left to catch a tourist bus down to Manhattan Beach that evening and the guy at the hotel told us the bus stop was just out in their covered parking area, very well signed.  Well, it was out on the street past the parking area, with a small sign about 20 feet up in the air that we could hardly see.  Steve compared it to when I was trying to find the infamous Ekka, and all the directions I was given.  When people are local, they can see things much more easily than those who are not.

When we got down to the tourist strip, I discovered another comfort I had been missing—ice cream!  Every time we have been near the beach, I have craved yummy, homemade ice cream; we always have the hardest time finding it, and it seems so odd to me that ice cream near the beach should be so scarce.  We found a typical, old-fashioned ice cream shop and I could practically hear angels singing as I bit into my ice cream sandwich of chocolate ice cream in between two homemade chocolate chip cookies and half dipped in dark chocolate.  Holy calories!  But I did NOT care.  I’ll take those calories anytime over dense, dry mud cake drowned in cream on a hot day.  Here’s my new theory:  Americans do with ice cream shops what Australians do with bakeries.  Except, every ice cream shop is a bit different in what they can offer—I had never seen those types of ice cream sandwiches anywhere before—while most bakeries here seem pretty similar. 

Our trip to Utah which began the next day was a lot of fun.  We saw some gorgeous places and enjoyed our first real American family vacation (i.e. driving around, seeing amazing wide open spaces and natural wonders, staying in local motels).  I thought we kept our schedule pretty low key but it was hectic enough to do a number on our sweet boys.  All that exploring and changing places after that big flight and time zone change really threw them for a loop.  But we all enjoyed it just the same.

Then came the day we arrived in Denver!   The scene we made in that airport with my Mom, all of us crying and hanging onto each other, had several nearby people watching and smiling.  Now I was home!  We started catching up with family and friends and it all just felt so good, being with people who know us, who know my past, who I can say anything to and know I won’t offend them or jeopardize a relationship.  I think that is what I miss the most—the sense of comfort and security that comes from being around family and friends who really know me.  I believe that as a generalization, Americans are confident, friendly, generous, loving, empathetic and helpful and I enjoyed every minute of being around such amazing people, even noticing those attributes in strangers I bumped into.

I got to gorge on cheesy, greasy, artery-clogging American pizza—oh yeah, I had missed that!  I drank unique, handcrafted microbrews instead of the disgusting liquid here that passes for beer.  The boys got to play with their cousin and they all clicked instantly and felt comfortable with each other.

But then it hit me that this isn’t home anymore.  I was a visitor.  I was in someone else’s space, always worried about being a polite and appreciative houseguest, needing to borrow a car to go anywhere, worried about the effects of  my boys’ behaviour resulting from being out of their element and exhausted.  I have never lived in Lakewood, Colorado.  I don’t know where almost anything is in that area.

Plus, driving felt weird.  Come on!  Why?!  I’ve driven on the right side of the road for 20 years; why after nine months of driving on the left side, is it suddenly weird?!  But it was.  It was much harder than I’d expected. 

We got to spend Monday up in Boulder, one of the highlights of the trip.  Now we were home!  We spent the day revisiting old hangouts, and eating and drinking what we had been missing, as well as blessedly catching up with wonderful friends.  The weather was beautiful and it was near enough to a perfect day as I could find.  But again, unfortunately, we were not even staying in that area.  One day was all we had to get our fill of what had truly been familiar and formerly ‘routine’ to us.

The week Steve was in Colorado with us, thanks to my parents, we enjoyed several breaks to spend time together.  We were able to sneak away to shop, see a movie, jog, walk, and…..get margaritas.  I have REALLY missed those babies—it is difficult to find a good margarita, my favourite drink, and I drank as many as I possibly could during the visit.  But I digress—it was great to finally have decent chunks of quality time to spend with my husband.  We really got to slow down and reconnect in a way we just had not had the opportunity to do since we left Colorado.  I am grateful that that time put our relationship in a really good place. 

Another highlight of the trip was a day at the Denver Zoo with my two closest friends, my sister in law and all our kids; my brother even was able to come by during his lunch break.  It was so pleasant and fun being with those women and watching how well the cousins and old friends played together.  Again, beautiful weather.   My friend who has been through this experience in reverse, moving from Australia to the U.S., hit the nail on the head and gave words to my feelings when she said “You feel like you don’t belong anywhere right now, do you?

I even noticed Drew was really struggling during the visit, and finally starting to connect the dots, realizing that people in Colorado are in Colorado and people in Australia are in Australia and there is very little mixing.  From what I could get him to verbalize, I could gather that he felt torn because there are so many people he loves in each place.  He also told me he was thrown by seeing people he did not seem to know, but who knew him and were happy to see him and who Steve and I were happy to see.  He has always been quite a thinker and I could tell he was processing a lot over these weeks.  It affected his behaviour, making things really difficult for all of the rest of us, and, as per his ‘usual’, it affected his bowel control (or bowel behaviour), making it really frustrating for me. 

I found myself for the first time not able to buy enough Colorado souvenirs.  I wanted t-shirts, books, mugs, and everything in between—-from my home state, which seemed odd, but I just wanted to have it and be able to show it off, to be able to share with new friends a piece of my identity, my past. 

I thoroughly savoured watching the boys and their grandparents, aunt, uncles and cousin all interact, reconnect and enjoy each other.  Those connections cannot be replaced and it is sad that we now have so little of that.  I was also able to spend time with my treasured aunt, finally time where we could really just talk about all that she’s been through in the past year and how she’s trying to move forward now.  She has kept in touch with me and kept me informed almost more than anyone else, but it still was better to finally be physically near each other to talk and share and hug.

Reasons why I am glad I moved and am glad I live in Australia also came at me on this trip.  While we were there the Supreme Court upheld Obama’s changes to the healthcare system and seeing people I love and know well so upset about that was quite unnerving, even more so after living here.  I just cannot understand why people, good, decent, loving people get so upset at the idea of making healthcare accessible to everyone, no matter what has to change to make that come about.  I have been thinking a lot about the founding principles of our nation (in the wake of the horrible massacre the day after we left, which I will get to—-yes, this is a long blog entry today—lots going on in my little head), and it seems strange that the right to good healthcare was not and has never been one of them. 

Also the consumerism and materialism in the U.S. has always bothered me some and made me feel like I just didn’t quite belong and now those feelings have increased.  Being in the ‘ideal’ temperature with all doors and windows closed felt very strange, as did seeing people’s big cars, big houses, numerous ‘screens’ (TV, iPad, laptop, etc.) all in one house, the best of everything, just all seemed more wasteful and more irresponsible to me than it used to.  If other countries can not only thrive but have a higher quality of life that we do, we should be able to contribute a bit to the quality of life of the world by hanging laundry out to dry, buying smaller cars, etc.  Americans use a LOT and I feel better about myself and what I am teaching my kids by using less, even less than I used when I lived there, which by American standards was already quite a bit less. 

I also missed the sounds of the birds in Australia, these beautiful, loud exotic birds.

For those reasons and to get my family back in our own space and to some semblance of a routine, I looked forward to coming back, although I was sad leaving.  No one has any plans to visit us, nor is making any.  We don’t know when we will go back, although we hope it’s not longer than a year and a half, but who knows what can happen.  That made it harder to leave.

The trip back was much smoother than I had anticipated.  I had worked out a super kind, helpful volunteer at the LA airport who helped us all claim our bags, change terminals and check in again.  He stayed with us until we went through security, and he was wonderful.  It is so nice that the airport provides that service.  I could not have done it without him and it didn’t cost me one dime.  The LA airport was the worst part of the trip, only because it is so busy and chaotic and it was very late at night and the boys were exhausted.  It’s hard for those ages to hold it together and behave well when they’re in a crowded, crazy airport instead of being in bed at midnight!  It’s hard for their mommy, too!  But all in all it went so well that I felt immensely proud of myself and also silly for worrying so much.  I realized:  I do everything else with these boys on my own, why was I worried about travel with them on my own?

We landed and I got to go through the Australian line at customs and had no hassles, and saw familiar sights on the way back. I felt comfortable here and heaved a giant sigh of relief.  The boys went through this house from top to bottom with a fine tooth comb, relishing every familiar thing they saw.  They were dumbfounded to be back in a place they recognized.  That’s when another realization hit me—we left our house in August of last year, stayed with friends for 3 weeks, in-laws for five months, our new house for three months and grandparents again for another 3 weeks.  In that period, they have never returned to a place they left.  I felt so happy for them that they were finally able to return to a ‘home’. 

Therefore, my current answer to “Where is home?” is: wherever Steve and the boys and I are together, in a space that is our own.  I don’t care what city, state or country, but I need those three boys and we need our space.  The rest we can figure out.

And, figure it out, I still must, because once I got back out of the house after a couple days rest, I felt just as foreign and out of place as I did before.  I was so excited to go to work, mainly to get away from the boys, who had been joined to me at the hip from about Thursday the 12th until Friday evening the 20th when Steve got home from work and I fell asleep on the couch as they made dinner.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t slept enough at that point to function well at work, so I felt pretty guilty about that.   In addition, being out among other Australians made me realize I still can’t understand a large portion of what people are saying; I still don’t get most of the jokes they make and I am still different, and foreign. 

So I’m a bit lost right now, just like my friend said, not really feeling like I belong anywhere.  But it is not a huge deal, because we have made a lot of headway since I stepped off that flight last September and more and more progress will come as time goes by.  We have friends here who looked forward to our return and we were even invited to a friend’s house for lunch the first weekend back in town—thank you!  The boys have schools that missed them and are thrilled they are back.  I have a job to go back to and a little income I can contribute toward our bills and our dreams.  Most importantly, I know am secure in the fact that this is where I want to be, not this house, but this country at least.  I know this move is the best thing for me at this time in my life—it is helping me grow and improve immensely as a person and it is an experience I would not want to give up.  I don’t know how long I want to be here, maybe 5 years, maybe 20, maybe forever, but for now, I am where it is best for me to be and I can figure the rest out.  All I need to do is keep putting myself out there and being unafraid to ask questions and to ask for help.

Sadly, the night after we left, beautiful Colorado experienced one of the worst massacres in history.  I woke up Saturday morning planning to be lazy while Steve and the boys reconnected and instead spent half the morning crying and reading and listening in disbelief.  It is just unfathomable that people cannot go out to watch a movie without being killed by some sick freak. 

But I can’t end this entry without addressing gun laws in the U.S.  Australians and Americans completely do not understand each other on this issue.  To Australians it is a no brainer—don’t allow guns like that and less people die.  Well, Americans, I hate to say it, but they’re right.  It is a no brainer.  We have no brains for being so tied to this freedom.  Now what Australians don’t understand is that the right to ‘bear arms’ or own guns is the 2nd amendment of our Constitution.  So, for whatever reason, whatever people were leaving England for, this right was a central tenet of the founding of the country, a right superseding nearly all other rights.  Steve compared it to asking Australians to give up meat pies because they are not healthy.  To any other country it seems obvious—don’t eat meat pies (they’re disgusting, Aussies.  Really.).  But to an Australian, that’s like saying don’t live; don’t be an Australian.  Well, that’s how the right to own guns is in the eyes of many Americans.

But what Americans don’t seem to get is that I highly doubt that our founding fathers could have pictured weapons like we have today even existing, much less being in the hands of everyday citizens.  It is just not right and that’s not what the law meant when it was created.  Americans, being so inwardly focused, do not pay much attention to what happens in other countries.  That is not to speak less of Americans.  It is a huge country with a population totalling that of about 10 other countries combined, so to keep up with our own news is project enough without adding in other countries.  However, hard as it is, Americans do need to start looking out a little more.  Other countries just don’t have this type of violent crime!  Yeah, I know there was a massacre in Norway, and even Canada in recent years, but as a rule, when a crime of this type happens, most of the world knows that it must have happened in the U.S.

 I know our population is bigger, but the number of violent crimes is disproportionately bigger.  It’s not just that we have more people and therefore more sick freaks in the U.S.; it’s that our sick freaks can buy guns and ammunition whereas the sick freaks in other countries can’t!  Just think about it……

It so saddens me that now when we tell people we just got back from Colorado, no one asks us about the gorgeous mountains, friendly, loving people, or fantastic weather—they want to know if that was where the massacre was.    

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