Sixty-seven years young now!
Happy Birthday, Mom.
When I was very young, on the occasion that our family of eight would go to a restaurant to eat, I would sit and stare at the menu, overwhelmed by the offerings. I declared on more than one occasion “there are too many choices”, my brain unable to take in and compute all the options and render a reasonable decision. It’s still that way to this day. Restaurants that offer a 10 page menu tend to make me want to throw up in my mouth a little and my general M.O. is to fold it over politely, set it down on the table and ask my mates “what are you going to get” and make my decision based on the 2 or 3 choices narrowed down by their interests and taste. This self -limiting selection thing has spilled into my parenting. I am a big fan of the “choices” technique in offering autonomy to my children. As in:
“You could choose this or that”
“You may eat this or that”
“You can watch that or this”
Which has served us all well over the years. Here, I must admit that six-year old Andrew’s recent boisterous declaration that “THERE SHOULD BE SIX CHOICES BECAUSE I AM SIX” has thrown me for a loop. Honestly, who can cope with that many choices, man?
Which brings me to this point. One of the recurring questions people pose to me as a repatriating citizen of the USA is something along the lines of “what do you find most difficult about returning to the states?” And while I cannot claim this next bit to be MOST difficult in a list of difficult things, I can boldly declare it to be my personal most OVERWHELMING adjustment to stateside living.
In a word: CHOICES.
There are just too damn many.
In the early days and weeks of our return I managed to avoid any stops at shops bigger than the convenience mart at a gas station. But ultimately, I knew that for the good of me and the good of everyone I am supposed to feed in this family, I would have to break down and enter a supermarket. I started with the local Trader Joe’s which is actually a breeze in shopping for me. I love the sights, sounds, smells and SIZE of TJ’s. As Goldilocks quips, this store is “just right”. But not too long into our stay here there was need (now I cannot even remember what) for me to venture to the neighboring SUPERMARKET to get supplies. It was late at night, I was alone (seriously, I made Don come with me for the original adventures in US shopping) and I was armed with my list. My approach through the produce section was thwarted by the slightly prodigious selection of pre-cut fruits–do you like your watermelon in wedges, spears or cubes?–and as my heart rate rocketed upward I cast my eyes at the empty cart and pushed ahead. I really did okay, looking up occasionally to slide something into the trolley, and it wasn’t until rounding the corner on the salad dressing aisle that I felt I might altogether lose it. Rapid pulse, shallow breath, clammy palms, I literally sat and stared at the WALL of bottled dressings for maybe 15 minutes trying to take it all in. Were it possible to broadcast inner thought, the sound over the muzak would have been “woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, wah, wah, wha, wha, wha, WAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!” which couldn’t have possibly made me any more of a spectacle than I already was standing stock still, eyes wide open, in front of Paul Newman and his cohorts on the shelf. In a lifetime of sampling, I wonder, can you actually taste all the varieties on offer?
At this point, all I can offer is gratitude for oil and vinegar. And no, I still haven’t looked at the cereal selection.
I have a confession to make.
It’s not a bad, terrible, skeletons in the closet kind of confession. After all, this is not that kind of blog. But if you’re going to be reading here, this is something you should know about me.
I am directionally challenged.
This is not a well known or well established mental disorder. In fact, I may be the only human to suffer from such a thing but suffer I do. As does anyone who is along for the ride.
Let me elaborate.
I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, where thanks to the resolute planning of the founders of that little town, everything streetwise is laid out in a very predictable, very organized grid. The originating coordinates in the downtown streets start at ‘0’ and count upwards and outwards from there. So, when you have a street address of 4646 South 3500 East, well, you can pinpoint on the grid exactly where that is and make logical sense of which way to drive to get there. Add to that the fact that surrounding the SLC valley there are mountain ranges, and any Salt Laker worth her salt knows that Mt. Olympus sits at the East of the valley offering a constant reference and resource for which way is what way.
This is not to say that I cannot get lost in Salt Lake City, because as I have previously divulged, I have a little directional problem. It’s a bit like dyslexia of roads. I have no sense of where I am going or where I have been when it comes to navigating streets. Seriously. There is no internal compass in my brain. I am always and forever lost whilst driving.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I can be taught and as we’ve traveled from city to city over the years, I have managed to ultimately triumph over the maze of streets and figure out how to get around. Not always well, mind you, but I can get it done.
The last 4 years of living in The Netherlands has helped me kind of forget this embarrassment. Relying chiefly on public transport or my bicycle (which means ALWAYS taking the scenic route) I haven’t had to opportunity to befuddle or confound myself in all that time.
But no more.
I am now doing my darnedest in the Midwest, where the town is NOT laid out in a predictable grid and there is no orienting mountain range to ground my equilibrium. And by doing my darnedest I mean to say I am constantly lost.
To illustrate this point I give you a sampling of Andrewisms from the backseat as we drive.
“Oh, Mom! What are you doing?”
“You goofed! You goofed! Oh, mom, you goofed”
“Are we turning around AGAIN?”
“Oh, man… this always happens”
At this point you are likely thinking, “why doesn’t the girl just get a GPS system for her navigational needs?”. And I answer your internal query and tell you: “I have one”.
Last week I was using said system to drive to a neighboring city to do a bit of shopping. I had an address and a general notion of how to follow the map on the screen. What I didn’t have was the ability to read the map, drive the roads and watch for speed traps. So, for all my effort to get to my destination without turning around a bazillion times, I got a ticket. When the officer handed me my citation I thanked him graciously (that IS what you do, right?) and then told him “I’m not from here, you know… I’m just trying to find my way…”
He replied “It’s all good. Just slow down”.
Sage advice, really, for the girl who just doesn’t know where she’s going.
She didn’t give herself away, the genuine smile on her face remained and there was no real visible rise of excitement in her cheek as I answered her “How can I help you today?” question with my matter of fact statement.
“Hi, I’ve just moved to town from The Netherlands with my family and I need to furnish a house.” Which certainly can’t happen everyday to a furniture salesperson. Especially so in the economic climate, or cloud, the USA is under.
“Okay, then. Tell me what you’re looking for”.
“Let’s start with dining rooms”. I said.
Then I shopped. Shopped until Andrew dropped (there is only so much couch jumping a six year old can do in an afternoon) and even as she totalled it all up and made arrangements for delivery later in the month, she appeared gathered and calm as if selling a full house of furniture to an eager buyer might be a run of the mill experience. I signed the receipts and sealed the deal. She just kept smiling. I had to giggle at her calm, really, and wonder at what her internal dialouge might have been. I am sure the words “ka-ching” had to be be intermingled with her thoughts as she reflected on her work day.
So, all for all, it’s right that I got a handwritten thank you note in the post the next day.
What a difference a day makes.
The original plan for re-patriating included a stop in Arizona (the children’s home state), a visit to Utah (my home state) and then the arrival to Missouri (the new home state). We departed The Netherlands on 15 June and scheduled the travel to land us at our new place 15 July. As it is with all best laid plans, that’s just not how it happened.
Instead we scrapped plan A in lieu of plan B and after a week in Arizona, recovering from jet lag, getting acquainted with the sun and spending time with old friends, we boarded a plane for St. Louis. That’s where you’ll find me now. St. Louis, MO.
It all feels rather surreal still.
So, as a cat lands on her feet, I have been on mine for the better part of this month taking on and making up projects to make this new house our home.
I’ll share some pictures if you like:
I’ve had help. Lots of it. Some of it willing and able in the form of my Dad who drove up from Texas to act as foreman to all projects. (My dad is an absolute star!). My darling husband and his unsuspecting brother lay a new kitchen floor over the 4th of July weekend. And the kids, of course, have had their hands in plaster, their fingers in paint, and their toes doused in grout.
As for me, I couldn’t be more pleased. Not just with the outcome but with the complex project as a whole. I am reminded of essays I’ve read and studies I have seen on the power of color. As a reflection or an indication of who we are and what we are made of, color has a tremendous impact on our psyche. The palette of calm and zest we are applying here to the places and spaces in our house makes me aware that this is where we will rest. This is where we will play. This is where we will work, where we will relax, where we will live and where we will love.
It may well be impossible to accurately describe what it is to make a trans-atlantic move with a family of five. I have been sitting at this keyboard for long moments trying desperately to grasp the image so as to share it here. It’s elusive at best.
Still, I shall try.
A rollercoaster may be apt if we are talking about one of the new gyrating, rocket powered, swiftly twisting, loopy things that require one to sign a waiver thick as a phone book before boarding. But it’s not all that, because there is a steady pace to the preparation of culling a house and packing the important items for shipping.
What it also is not is a carousel ride. There is no predictability to it and there is certainly no circular path in such a thing. It’s possible to liken it to a bumper car attraction but that’s really not it either.
I am not a runner, not even by a long shot. Apparently, I forgot to pass through the long leg line when signing up for body parts for this go at life. But here’s the thing. Getting here was nothing short of the longest endurance run I could imagine.
The journey started for our family with an email exchange in October of 2008. An exchange which ultimately led to a stateside trip for my husband to to a meet and greet of the potential employers. Employment which would change it up all over again for us and bring us across the ocean, this time returning to a home port (if not our home state) of the USA after 4 years in The Netherlands. November also brought an official job offer. November changed our lives.
In January, we announced the move to the children. As predicted there was some weeping and wailing and then ultimately some build of excitement and enthusiasm as the prospect of stateside life returned to the mindset of the family. Ultimately, I have exceptionally resilient children and as part of the international world we had all grown accustomed to (but not comfortable with) the comings and goings of international families such as ourselves. Meaning, we’d said goodbye before, we could prepare to do it all again.
That left us with simply the logistics of getting it all done. And overwhelming as you might expect such a task to be, there is system and order to such a monumental undertaking.
I like making lists anyway.
Without harping too much on the point, I want to make only this point with the first official post of this blog.
We made it.
We packed it all up (at least what we didn’t sell, toss, or give away) and we made it across the ocean.
We are stateside dwellers now, strange in our misfitedness, but oddly recognizing ourselves returning home.
We are indeed finding our way. You’re welcome to join us for the journey.