Monday, August 26

Expat Itch

Many of our friends had their first day of school today. I relished another day to sleep in and not pack lunches just yet. The kids all piled into our bed this morning to snuggle and give kisses. Jake is so darn cute!!! I will miss these kinds of mornings very soon!

My boys don't start school until Wednesday but I'm not going to lie, I'm more than a tad bit ready for everyone to go back to school. As I recall, summer started out very well for us and I had high hopes of doing some home learning throughout the summer to bolster their reading and math skills and to get Easton started on a bit of world history with the Story of the World books. At the international school the boys attend, you can't really expect them to cover history much but I am loving the kids' exposure to and celebration of many different cultures.

The boys got out of school at the end of June, we did some short spur-of-the-moment trips in July and then I went home for my sister Abby's wedding at the end of July. Jake and I were the only ones able to go and it was a beautiful wedding! Abby was stunning and Trevor was adorable and giddy. I soaked up time with my siblings, their spouses and other dear relatives, never feeling like it was enough. I am just so blessed in all of them! So when the trip got cut a day short because I misunderstood my return ticket, you could rightly say I still haven't recovered.

I'm calling this hovering cloud over August my expat itch. I wonder how long it takes others who live abroad to become homesick and what triggers it?

Once back from the wedding, I became very homesick for my Bare family, very hope-less. It unfortunately happened to coincide with some self-evaluations that I was not happy with, some discussions Ryan and I were having about his career's future, his itch to outline future travel, a cramped neglected small apartment in desperate need of deep cleaning and organizing, and four young kids wanting to be fed and entertained. Oh yes, and are we done having children or should we have another? You know, small stuff.

These swirling challenges to my peace of mind had me in dark turmoil. As much as I didn't like it and knew I could change or improve some things with effort, my will was just gone. I began each day with dread, counting down until Ryan could come home and rescue me and the kids from one another.

I miss my family, being a part of their lives and having them as a more integral part of my family's life. Shopping that I had needed to get done while in the US didn't happen and I missed the familiarity of food, stores, restaurants, services . . . everything that is living in the US.

This year has whizzed by, a blur of travel to me and between jet lag and being behind on so much around the house and in my calling, outlining future travel was just too much for me in my state of mind. You would think that after almost five years of traveling once a month, I'd be a travel pro! But packing and planning to travel still gives me high anxiety for at least a week leading up to each trip not to mention the random nights of being overwhelmed in the prior weeks or the aftermath of travel. Our lives don't have the routine and rhythm I crave. And I've recently decided I am done farming out the kids which is it's own blessing and curse as traveling with them is challenging. But travel feeds something in Ryan, and admittedly, in myself too and if we can afford it, why miss the opportunities while we live here!? A conundrum.

Three weeks into this dark state of mind, I just wanted to escape, to hide from life for a couple weeks and get my bearings back. Ryan offered me a weekend, but even that thought filled me with dread because then I'd be slapped upon return with all the work I was already behind on.

I felt like I was being disloyal to Ryan and God for not being happy with our lives.

It was a rather tearful, downer month. I was surprised that I wasn't even reaching out to friends to meet up and let the kids run happy in the fresh air. The kids were pretty good troopers and I got to the point where I'd tell them multiple times in a day that I was just sad and why at that particular moment. This was quickly followed by my plea for them to please just go find a movie or video game and help themselves to some more microwave popcorn and carrots so I can putter around the house in relative peace.

Morgan has been my biggest challenge lately among the kids. She is four. As an example of our struggles, if I attempt to brush or do her hair to get it out of her face she cries the entire time and then rips it out . . . multiple times. "It feels wierd," she wails. I've tried different bribes, casual conversations about working through this at different times of the day, and everything I can think of to no avail. Those encounters on days where we had to leave the house pretty much did me in for the entire day and caused crippling dread of upcoming days out. My Morgan - she lives life out loud and when she is loving life, you hear it and feel her soul light up the world around her. She is so beautiful, I love her bright eyes, big smile, and desire to understand the world around her. But her and I, we are having a hard time liking each other. My daily goal has had to be to have at least one healthy, happy, pure love encounter with her each day. It's hard and simple all at the same time.

As I mentioned, Ryan and I were also in the midst of evaluating his career, trying to forecast our future a bit which is always hard in the contracting world. Ryan is blessed to have found a career he really finds fulfilling (when under good management) but the downside is living with the annual contract evaluation which can mean job loss or changes which could render us unable to continue here financially. We're good here through next July, by the way, when a new contract will have been awarded with compensation packages. It looks good for Ryan having a job still, we're just leery of the compensation package. For instance, Ryan's pay could be decreased; our housing allowance structure changed or taken away and while we do have renters in our VA town home, we're still paying a good chunk toward our mortgage each month; the children's school funding could be taken away, curtailed by number of children, capped by a coverage amount (tuition each year off-post is 15,000euro, on-post is $22,500 and that's per child); health care benefits will change and so forth. A lot of factors to weigh and we simply won't know until next spring.

Through all this, Ryan's done his best with me, for me. It was odd to be crying every day multiple times a day. It isn't me but I didn't know if it would just pass. A few weeks in, I tried to help myself by serving another mom in need one afternoon with something that required low investment from me. It turned a page for me. A bright spot that lifted me an entire weekend. And then I welcomed a distant cousin to stay with us for a week and she's been great, we all love her. Preparing for her arrival helped give me a daily purpose with a deadline. So I am feeling a wee bit better. I can still feel that I'm not out of the woods, but doing better than before.

Today as I wondered what we could fill our day with, I decided we'd do a little last minute shopping for school supplies and then try to track down a friend's favorite park. The fresh air did us all good. We didn't end up finding the park, but the one we found was good enough. There were swings, see-saws, and a climbing structure with a slide. The unforeseen highlight, however, were frogs.

Easton and McKay were walking near the swings when McKay spotted a tiny frog hopping in front of them. I told them to catch it and Easton hesitantly went to work on it. They were nervous to touch it, to grab it. It kept hopping out of Easton's hands. He named him Tommy. We all studied him, he seemed to think Jake was his hop-spot to the ground, maybe because he is shorter than the rest. "Tommy" would jump right at Jake's chest and Jake would jump and holler! It was a lot of fun watching the kids' excitement! Easton and McKay walked off a bit to figure out how to get me to allow them to keep Tommy as a pet. I loved seeing them scheming over on some picnic tables deep in conversation. Meanwhile, Morgan had me bouncing her on the see-saw and Isabell was keeping Jake alive on the slide because he was insisting on going down on his bottom backwards!

After a time, Easton made his pitch for keeping Tommy, but to no avail. We went scouting for more frogs. Easton got sidetracked with a fiesty cricket until he realized he was standing on an ant hill. Ick! The kids then found three more little frogs and Jake was the funniest in his rough, gentle way with his frog. Isabell and I couldn't help but laugh as Jake cajoled and bossed his frog around. Oh how I wish I'd had my camera!!! It reminded me a lot of fun summers with my cousins at Grandma Honey and Grandpa Bob's catching and "training" salamanders from their creek. Our walk back to the van was a good fifteen minutes in which time three of the frogs either got really good at playing dead or were dead. But it was a really great time rounded off with petting a very nice ol' horse.

We headed back on home to bake some cookies, make dinner, and help Ryan assemble a friend's bunk bed while she watched all our kids, finished off the leftovers and did the dishes. Great trade! We got to have a nice buzzing conversation with a bit of gospel discussion because that's what she and I love to share. She'd just heard of the concept of having a "hard heart" in relation to repentance so that was fun to talk about. After she headed home, the kids reminded us of scriptures and prayers and then I read to the kids a little. Isabell might have to stay - having her around reminds me to be on good behavior, keep my house tidier, plan meals and make them! And she's so great with the kids, a beautiful girl inside and out! But I'm sure she'll be happy to head home soon too - we've got to be pretty boring and too loud! Jake makes her read to him for about an hour it seems each night.

As I took some quiet "me" time tonight to label all the boys' school supplies and watch a silly show, I kept being reminded of what a great life I have. I am so blessed. I am so in love with the kind, fun, cute man I married 11 years ago (as of this weekend!). He still makes me laugh and is a wonderful father to our kids. And those kids, they really are adorable! I am so proud of them, their hearts - I'm so in love with them too. I am blessed to be surrounded by good people no matter where I am planted. I have a loving Heavenly Father who keeps reassuring me that all things work together for my good. And I have a Savior who showed me the way to live a selfless, fulfilling life of real value.

This cloud, this expat itch, it'll pass at some point.