The Missing Three Years
We have officially been repatriated for two years. It seems the longer it has been, the more I hold the experience close to my heart.
When meeting a friend from high school for a drink the other day, she said to me “Why are we always talking about our kids, you lived in CHINA, let’s talk about that.” I sat up a bit straighter and smiled. Talking about our time abroad is one of my favorite topics but one that I hardly speak of.
Living overseas changed so much of me; the way I look at the world, my definition of family, the way I parent, the way we choose to spend money, our plans for the future, what we value for our kids, etc. etc. I changed so much in three years. I want to be very clear; I didn’t become better than anyone, I became a better version of myself.
We visited ten countries in three years, taught students from over 60 different countries, made amazing friends, established a community, added a baby to our family, were immersed completely in a different language and culture for three years.
Honestly, I didn’t love every minute. In fact, there were days and weeks that I absolutely hated. But it stretched me, challenged me, to find joy in the middle of winter when we hadn’t seen the sun for weeks. It was a tortured relationship that I cherish.
People in my former life expect me to be the same person that they knew and loved before China and in many ways I am, but when something emerges that no longer resembles my old-self it becomes an awkwardness and time and again I find myself swallowing what I really want to say for the sake of not making myself seem pretentious.
I grew up in rural Colorado and I am very proud of these roots and it is where we happily returned to, but let’s just say there isn’t a huge population of people that can relate to our experiences abroad. The home cooked values of this country life are a thing to respect and I cannot ignore them even if I wanted to. One of these is a true disgust of pretension. This translates into a problem because I don’t know how to talk about China, travel and adventure without sounding like I am being boastful. I long to seem humble when speaking about the experience that transformed me but I am constantly at a loss for words.
I see the look on people’s faces when I mention the scooters topped with families of five careening through the back roads in Vietnam. Or how the chinese shave their babies heads so that their hair comes in thicker. I feel obligated to defend these foreigners we encountered from the judgements of the people I am sharing my story with and because of this, the point that I am usually trying to make is lost.
The same thing happens when I mention how much I miss our Chinese nanny who had become part of the family. It is so difficult for so many to relate to, it is a real conversation stopper, so I just don’t bring it up. What I have learned is just because something is different doesn’t mean that it is wrong and I feel exhausted trying to explain that.
My mom likes to remind me that I am not practicing what I preach. These people have chosen not to live overseas or to move away from home and “just because they are different, doesn’t mean that they are wrong” I get that. I need to be doing a better job of getting to know people that I think I know. At the same time I just want someone sitting in my living room say to me “I know exactly how you feel.” and mean it.
Motherhood is often lonesome. From day to day it can feel like I am at it all alone and feeling like I am ignoring a hugely important part of my life makes it even more isolating. My husband and I talk about Shanghai with increasing sentiment. Approaching the second anniversary of our departure makes me miss our friends, the city and the culture intensely. I have been having many dreams of visiting the city and the first thing I do in EVERY dream is go eat peanut noodles at my favorite place.
It is hard to answer the question “what was China like?” but I appreciate it being asked.
Missing Shanghai and all that was, is a silent mourning and I will keep it to myself.