Thursday, March 10, 2016

On Paper

On paper, this could have been the most difficult transition for us. Ironically, coming back to the United States posed a lot more logistical challenges than moving overseas did. When moving overseas, our housing is assigned to us and utilities are already hooked up. We’re picked up at the airport, our fridge filled with basic staples—coffee, milk, and sometimes, even beer and wine—and shown where the grocery store is. I’m picked up from work and driven home, and the kids know what school they will go to before we even arrive.

When coming back to the United States to live and work, none of those things are a given, and the transition could have easily been overwhelming and immensely more stressful than it was. We didn’t know where we would live, what kind of car we would drive, where the kids would go to school, how to sign up for electric, water, gas, internet in a new city, how I would get to work, etc. etc. But Elise and I came up with a plan and did a lot of homework. We researched the neighborhoods in and around Washington, D.C., to find one with housing we thought might fit our budget, with good public schools for the boys, and a reasonable commute for me to work. We are not from the area, but we do have some experience here, living in Arlington and Falls Church during our two previous stays in language training.

As with moving to Brazil and India, the process seemed like a good one for our family on paper, but the challenge lied in executing the plan, to make the vision of what that future life could be like a reality. The devil is in the details, and it takes a lot of hard work to take what is on paper and in our mind’s-eye and turn it into the house we live in now, the schools the kids go to, the commute I have, and the work environment Elise needs. Maybe I am making too much of it, but I think there is a reason many sources suggest that moving is one of the most stressful things a person does in a lifetime. At no point can you start the day with the thought that you don’t feel like going to the DMV and standing in line for an hour for new license plates or stay on the phone for forty-five minutes on three separate occasions to make sure your gas is hooked up. It is a slippery slope, and if you don’t pop out of bed everyday like a piece of toast flying out of the toaster and immediately start the coffee and pour the bowls of cereal, before you know it, your living in a van down by the river, everyone waddling around in soiled diapers, crying all the time.

We did something Tesla’s new SpaceX rocket has failed to do on four separate occasions, we landed upright. I feel on some level that is one of our greatest accomplishments as a family. Among our peers and colleagues, the dreaded move back and repatriation to the motherland is one of the greatest collective fears for many of the same reasons I mentioned above. I was dreading it. I thought there was no way we would move back to the U.S. this early in my career. I was dead set on staying out of the U.S. as long as I could…if for no other reason than to avoid the astronomical expense of living in the DC/NoVa metro area. We spent $300 just to get our power turned on.

I cut myself shaving. Not once. But twice. In the same spot two days in a row. Yesterday seemed like a fluke. I’d been shaving for about two months and hadn’t cut myself yet. I had made a deal with the devil. It was only a matter of time. So, the first day, I took it in stride, though there were blood spots on the collar of my dress shirt. On the second day, I kind of lost it, yelling, “Shaving is so stupid!” and “I have zero margin of error in my mornings!” I don’t know who I was yelling at. Certainly not Elise or the kids. I had no one to blame by myself…and the institute of shaving. Which I think was the true target of my ire. I swore (again) to regrow the beard as soon as I’m done masquerading as an up-and-coming young DC staffer. I don’t know who I’m kidding…I’m neither young nor up-and-coming.

The days seem longer than ever and doing the same thing over and over day-in and day-out more fruitless. I spend 45 minutes on the train and walking to work and 45 minutes making the same trip home. I shave, make coffee, make lunches, make breakfasts, wash dishes, fold laundry, redoing the same tasks. Now that we’ve landed and are falling into a routine, I’m trying to breathe a sigh of relief but I can’t catch my breath. I’ve had stiff neck and shoulders since we arrived—Elise says it’s where I hold my stress—and I can’t stand up straight. I feel older than ever. I’m always tired. I can’t think of anything I do that is fun. Elise has accused me of treating the children as a burden, and I’d be lying if that wasn’t some days true. It seems like someone is always crying or screaming. Even running seems like a chore. I’m hoping this changes as the weather warms and spring comes. It’s supposed to be almost 80 here today.

Living in America is hard work.

If I seem to have it rough, Elise has it ten times worse. Getting the kids off to school, running Clementine to school and ballet, running Peter to piano lessons, making dinners, keeping the house clean, all while trying to support her career and run a business. It amazes me some nights that we have the capacity at all to even smile at one another.

But we do. We still find time to talk and laugh and hold hands in bed—in between helping Pete to blow his nose or making Clementine’s bed after her pull-up leaks—it can never be enough.

Clementine woke up this morning nauseous and feverish. We’re all fighting something. Two days ago I had a sore throat. Yesterday, I didn’t. Then, this morning, I did again. I attribute the sentiments above to the fact that my body is waging a secret war against a silent assailant. I read an article today about dealing with worry and anxiety. We have had a lot of worry and anxiety in our lives in the past few months, and in order to deal with it, I think I pushed it all down to some unseen place, sealed it away into a little Pandora's box deep within my soul and erected a force field around myself in an attempt to ward off any more worry and anxiety. The only problem with the force field is it kept out all emotion, happiness and joy, too. I think it may be time to drop the shield, pull out the Pandora's box and open it, for better or worse. 

Elise saw someone today with a t-shirt that read “Not Running Sucks”. She said she thought of me. For reals.

At the same time we celebrate our achievements, we retrench to face new challenges. This is what keeps people going, I guess. We recently sold the crib that Sam, Peter, and Clementine were all babies in. We have the bassinet on Craigslist, too. Elise asked me if I was sure we were done having kids. I was sure. But I had to think about it. Ironically, I told her I think I could do it again if we lived overseas, but I’m not so sure I could do it here. We do make cute babies, though. 

Though we slept with the window open last night and woke up to birds singing, I woke up in a bad mood. I was exhausted. More exhausted than ever. All I wanted to do was take a nap. When Elise got up, she hugged me. Then she hugged me again and hugged me again one more time before I left for work. When I came upstairs after getting dressed, she took one look at my shirt and tie combination and burst out laughing. “Is it a boy or a girl?” she asked (I had on a pink shirt and blue tie.) It was the same laugh I remembered when we worked at Kee Grill together and we fell in love and I suddenly felt less tired and that...yes...I could do all those things over again today. 

1 comment:

nomadsbynature said...

"if you don’t pop out of bed everyday like a piece of toast flying out of the toaster and immediately start......" true dat!

Hugs are some of the best therapy. That and bringing the elements of when you fell in love into the midst of chaos. Thinking of your whole family as you transition - it's not easy, but you're doing it. One day it will be our turn. We have been overseas now for 14 years. It scares the crap outta me to go back in some ways; I would only hope we have grace to spare when we do, and kids out of the school system. It sounds like you all are on your way to getting settled and balanced.