Reverse Culture Shock

Experts say no matter how long you have been gone or where you went, moving back to your home country is unexpectedly difficult. My British husband, James talked about his reverse culture shock when we moved to England after being in the USA. He never settled back into British life.  People sympathetically ask how he is adjusting to Texas after leaving “home” a second time. James didn’t miss a beat. I think it helps that he has a career that organises his time and schedule for him. It also gives him an instantaneous network of people- even though he home offices- so he has less time to fill, and less decisions to make.

Meanwhile, I feel a bit lost. As a stay at home mom, particularly during the summer, it is up to me to figure out our day, how we spend our time, what we buy,  what we eat, and who we hang out with. I am beginning to see the difficulty of repatriation, although it is hard to put into words what is missing and different. Is it me? Is it America? What specifically is making it challenging to feel ‘at home’ again?

I could mention all the things I do love about America. The list is long. I’m glad to be back, but miss my friends in England, the depth of the culture, the landscape, our routine, and knowing which products to buy, what a good price was for produce, and where to spend weekends. I had a niche in England, too. I was “the Texan.” People always had something to ask me about- and I could get away with things my English friends said they couldn’t- like bartering or asking for upgrades at theatres.

Moving back, I’m now a parent to older children, just far enough away from my old neighbourhood and friends, and just changed enough in myself that I have refigure out almost everything.  I feel like I “should know” how to operate, but feel a bit alien. I feel clueless about how the school system works, even though I’m a product of it. When I saw a police officer with a gun at the elementary school, I made a seriously awkward shocked comment about it.  I only remember seeing an armed guard or police officer in England on very rare occasions.

I find myself sitting at long red lights where I could make a right as long as it’s clear, being shocked by sales clerks who are overly helpful, awestruck at the size of houses, people, cars, and portion sizes. I can’t revert back to using the word “restroom” and automatically request the “loo” or more awkwardly, “the toilet.” I picked up a weird inflection in my accent, but the kids are rapidly losing theirs. We’ve held onto words for Meredith like “dummy” for pacifier and “nappy,” but even she is using the American ‘diaper’ more regularly. My 7 year old drew me a picture and I was surprised that she wrote “Dear Mum” because I think she says “mom” most of the time.  I’ll ask how many pounds something costs and prefer weather updates in degrees Celsius. I’m still on the Facebook pages for my old community, and find myself scanning them looking at things people are selling or people posting about missing pets.

My son ran into our bedroom in tears because of the raining and “yellow banging” and I found myself scared for my life at the thunderstorm just this weekend. I had forgotten how intense the thunder and lightening can be. The poor kids didn’t even know what it was.

My dreams are weird amalgamations of American places with English loved ones and very frequently, I wake up expecting to be in my old house. I despise how readily medication is given out by doctors- even though I felt the UK national health service was slow to intervene when it was necessary.

I am sad that the range of diversity is so much more narrow than England. I can’t even say I miss the English, because most of my friends came from around the world. I used to joke at my friends’ coffee mornings that we basically made up the United Nations. I’m sad my kids (and I) won’t be exposed to as many cultures.

I miss walking to the grocery store and going almost everyday. I miss my daily loaf of fresh bread- buying baguettes even though the packaging was too short and the end of it touched the basket and the conveyor belt. I was accustomed to a slower pace of life and one of less competition and expectation and options. Sometimes I’m paralysed by too much choice. There are 368 restaurants in my city alone. Buying peanut butter is exhausting. I have to shop at Aldi in America. I cannot yet cope with the numerous options at your typical grocery store. Living in such a consumer country- with drive-thru pharmacies, dry cleaners and banks,  pay-at-the pump petrol stations- where every store stays open until 9 pm Monday-Saturday and 7 pm on Sunday is so convenient, but hard to get my head around again.

img_6482

I find it crazy the amount of organised sports for four year olds and how happy and positive Americans are in general. It’s like everybody drank happy juice. I missed that when I lived in England, and now I’m puzzled by it in Texas.

I always said in England that the English don’t notice one another, and I’m constantly thrown by how much Texans notice and respond to you. I’m not invisible anymore. It sometimes takes my breath away. I had forgotten how connected you can feel with strangers everywhere you go- I used to be the one putting forth the effort to make connection happen. I used to play a game to see how many people I could get to make eye contact and smile at me. It was hard work.

America is a whole different place. People hold doors, compliment your parenting, engage your children, offer you their unused coupons, recommend a product to make your life easier– all without asking or wanting something in return. England is such a culture of fear and suspicion. I have been surprised by how much that penetrated into my psyche. The niceness catches me off guard a bit. My daughter asked me, “How do we know ALL these people mom?!” When I told her they were polite strangers, she glared, “It’s very creepy, don’t you think?” We just aren’t used to it yet.

I adjusted well in England. My husband always said it was a 3 year move for our family, but I kept meeting expat after expat, who intended to be in England for a brief period of time, but as life goes, settled and didn’t leave- 10, 20, and 30 years later. I didn’t want to half live in England. I insisted we sell our house, our cars, everything in America to commit to living in one place. As it turns out, my husband was right- we moved back to Texas after 2.5 years, and with less than 2 months of real notice.

Having to sort out the logistics of downsizing to 7 suitcases while pregnant and still parenting 3 young children and organising all of our new life from abroad- I haven’t had much time still to process the change in my head. I am having trouble buying things “for real” because it all still feels so temporary. Seven houses in 9 years will do that for you, I guess. I still feel like I’m in this transient space. Not really here nor there.

I didn’t want to half live in England, and I don’t want to half live in Frisco. I think I’m a bit emotionally and physically drained from the transition- and making friends, making a home and making breakfast, lunch, and dinner takes a lot of energy– and I suppose, making a baby. I’m going to have to put the same level of energy into making this home as I did England- accepting everything for what is and not for what it isn’t, and establishing the culture of our family regardless of our location or surroundings.

I’m still working on how and when is best to connect to old friends and family, constantly wishing the time zones weren’t so different. I’m thankful for FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Facebook. I guess, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have lived in two great places. I need to give myself permission to miss the old and welcome the new- to give myself time to find my groove again and be patient as things settle.

It’s 30 days until baby #4 comes. That feels almost too big to think about right now. On top of it all, I’m going to be nursing a newborn and lacking sleep. And yet, in the next breath, we have had so much transition and so many kids, what is one more?

We are slowly getting furniture in the house. Most of the downstairs is empty, but the kids rooms are getting there. Baby’s room is missing some details, like curtains and a crib skirt. There are a few blank spaces for shelves and photos, but I’m happy he has a place to sleep. The giraffe picture makes me ridiculously happy and set the inspiration for the whole room. I just love him.

McCarthyphoto-3McCarthyphoto-5McCarthyphoto-4McCarthyphoto-2McCarthyphoto

 

 

 

 

SUMMER!! / (bummer)

We have had an exciting last few weeks of school- Field Day, end of school parties, awards assemblies, and less homework. I’ve been counting down the days, and today we made it!  We got a bit excited and didn’t set an alarm last night. Thankfully, it was pyjama day, and luckily, Scarlett woke up 12 minutes before we needed to be out the door, so we still made it on time.  Zero tardies for this year. Celebrate!

Year 1 Field Day-3

Year 1 Field Day-4

Field Day, 2017

Today was perfect. I was so happy all day that Scarlett gets to be home during her good hours. I hate how school gets her best. I get the sluggish mornings and the tired evenings.  So when I picked her up today, I felt like Olaf in the carpool line. I rolled down the windows and started shouting excitedly,

“We are driving to SUMMER! SUMMER here we come!”

Remember that feeling of the last day of school? I felt it rush back to me just like when I was 10. I’m footloose and fancy free.  I can stop the treadmill of packing lunches, homework, and carpool lines. I congratulated myself on transitioning Scarlett from English to American schools, moving houses, and making it to the finish line of first grade.

Wahoo, Summer! More lazy days by the pool.

Year 1 Field Day-10Year 1 Field Day-12

We got home, and all three kids played absolutely beautifully together upstairs while I cooked for our first dinner guests at our new house. My kids made blanket castles upstairs, breaking out in roars of laughter. I felt the warm glow of nostalgia remembering my three brothers as a child.  I smiled. THIS is what being a kid is all about. But reality came crashing down. It sounded like glass shattering.

Because it was.

Meredith dropped my cup of ice water all over the floor. Meanwhile Evan and Scarlett started having an altercation over Evan smelling her smelly marker. After sorting that out, Evan tripped down the stairs, landing head first saved by his wrists. Please don’t let that be distal radius fracture, I prayed. But first, I have to shush him up as quickly as I can so my husband’s conference call stays professional.  Keeping the home office a good working environment is a juggling act I’m pretty good at with two kids. Next month, I’m going to have FOUR  kids at home arguing, playing, getting hurt and breaking things. I just picture myself as homegirl from the BBC. Oh my.

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 22.51.49

Fifteen minutes later, Evan’s recovered,  the kitchen floor was swept and mopped, the marker is returned safely to it’s secret location. They are back happily playing. Ahh- summer bliss again. Evan’s scream interrupts my solitutde.

“SHE DRANK THE SOAP! MEREDITH DRANK THE SOAP!”

I look at the packaging: If swallowed, seek medical attention immediately. Pulling out my phone to call poison control, I seek council from my most reliable, trusted advisor first. Trying to remain calm, I ask nervously, “How many days until August 21st?”

Siri answered back, “It is eighty days until August 21st.”

80 days until school starts again.

Oh Summer.

Wish me luck, friends.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s No Place Like Home.

It feels great to be home. We closed on the house and move-in went spectacularly. We are pretty well unpacked and set up with the essentials- meaning kitchen stuff, toilet paper and beds. Thankfully, the only boxes lying around are the ones repurposed by the kids as pretend cat crates and royal castles- covered in chalk, crayons, and stickers. I think I’m going to order large items online so the kids have a steady supply of fresh cardboard. It’s a hot commodity around here.

img_6352

A special shout out to our realtor Kathryn Taylor at Halliday Realtors. She is truly remarkable, classy, and professional. We had a blast working with her.

In other news . . .

We found a couch. Holy smokes Batman, I thought we would never find one. James & I previewed 200+ couches trying to decide on the perfect seat. Too firm, too soft, too deep, too modern, too grandma, too pricey, poor quality, wrong texture, bad colour, arms too square, arms too short- you name it, we had a reason to nix it.

James looked at me hopelessly, “We are never going to agree on a couch.”

We looked into custom order sofas. Ethan Allen tried to convince us that waiting 60-90 days for a couch was nothing compared to the years of enjoyment it would bring us. I showed the designer this picture of my living room:

IMG_6486 2.JPG

I’m really sure I don’t want to be nine months pregnant or nursing a newborn and still be sitting on the floor-  even for the perfectly upholstered piece. Right?

(65 days until baby #4 is due. I have a feeling time is going to go by really fast.)

We found the sofa at Ashley’s furniture store, but we initially walked into Ashley’s furniture for one reason only. I had been there the week before, but nothing sparked joy expect the complimentary cookies. Delicious. But our eyes immediately sparkled when we saw this couch.  James and I saw it, looked at each other, and knew. We found the one. But first, I informed him, “I want that cookie.” Excited to have this bad boy in our living room within a fortnight. And we ordered a bed that comes this week, too!

Progress!!Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 22.08.31.png

One reason, we are a bit behind on the furniture shopping (other than free coffee and cookies) is the massage chairs we keep finding ourselves sitting in at the stores. Wow. Those puppies are incredible. The pictures are terrible because neither of us wanted to get out of the chair to take a decent shot.

Oh my soul, I love these things.

We found a desk, but of course, it wasn’t on the store floor, and James didn’t want to buy it sight unseen. So James’ home office is functional, but not pretty. The previous owner left us that chair. You see how it has some light wood showing? I wish we would have noticed it sooner.  About an hour later, it broke. The yelp James made as he crashed to the floor was loud and dramatic. So we are back to one camping chair and the folding chairs. But we are happy.

img_6396

We keep ourselves busy in the evenings constructing outlines of furniture. We do this for two reasons. #1 We don’t own a tape measure and keep forgetting to purchase one, and #2 I have absolutely no spatial skills- so we paperclip strips of paper together and move them around the room to figure out where stuff should go and how it will fit together.

img_6410

It’s very helpful, but you should hear me fuss at the kids, “DON’T STEP ON THE COUCH!” They just look at me like I’ve lost my mind. Partially, that’s true.

There is so much to figure out; so many decisions to make. To add to the list, we started seriously shopping for the second vehicle. But mostly, I’m glad to be here-

There’s no place like home.

be-love

Moving Day

Two years ago, I overheard my husband James & 2.5 year old son talking:

James: Tomorrow we are going to move house. Will you help me?
Evan: Yes, daddy. I will push really hard!

Today I will be unlocking the door to our new house- our seventh home in eight years.  I imagined myself as an old lady with grandchildren in the last two houses we bought. I remember why now.  After you move, you swear you will never do it again.

I also said that about pregnancy and childbirth.

Oops.

Love People, Use Stuff.

It is overwhelming (in a good way) to see the material things I released come back to me once again.  It’s that puddle and splash park thing. I have been reminded over and over through this process that it is the immaterial that has value- and that reward is wrapped in risk, and fulfilment cloaked in faith.  I’ve also learned that you do, on a very practical level, need stuff.

My friend Dani has a note posted in her kitchen that comes to mind as my head is full of housewares and furniture shopping. It reads-

Don’t love stuff or use people.

Love people and use stuff.

Relationships trump possessions. It isn’t the stuff I left in England that I miss. It’s the people. The houses might be gone, but the friendships I found in those neighbourhoods have come with me. That being said, you need stuff to take care of the people you love.

Stuff Blessings

After a rough week with her, I prayed and asked God for extra grace to give my seven year old daughter.  The move has been draining on her. When we got rid of all of her toys apart from a few stuffed animals, she compiled a list of the things she wanted most after we repatriated.

One hour after my prayer, I had a van full of her toy requests: model ponies and animals, Barbie accessories and a house, and build-a-bear clothes I picked up at a garage sale. Everything EXACTLY as she had requested- and for less than $50. Driving home that day with tears in my eyes, God gave me the tools to bless her. If you want to show love to a mother, love her kids.  That day, God loved me by loving my daughter well. He heard my prayer- and before he gave me the stuff, he extended grace and compassion to me so I could pass it to her.  That redemptive side of faith often gets missed when churchy people talk about God. He sends little (and big) messages that whisper “PS. I love you-” now love the person next to you.

My first friend in our new neighbourhood is actually selling her house right now. She called today and said she has a van load of things for Meredith and the new baby. She named items I need that I hadn’t thought of yet- and many things, I don’t need, but are really nice to have like bath toys. The timing is so perfect for both of us.

I showed up for the walk-through of the new house today expecting to be there for ten minutes. Two hours later, the real estate agent and I had sorted through endless amounts of dishes and housewares and furniture that the previous owner can’t move with her. When I sold my wedding china, I didn’t picture getting to replace different pieces with a pensioner’s tableware for free.  I still haven’t picked out a toilet brush cleaner and I don’t own a trash can, but I am the proud owner of a crystal toothpick holder- lol! The coolest part was there wasn’t a single item this lady had in her donate pile that I had already bought.

When we paired down our stuff to 7 suitcases, there were a few odd items that really bothered me to part with. It’s a weird list- the safe, the filing cabinet, flower vases, a grocery bag holder, assorted wrapping paper and gift wrap materials- I know it’s a weird list, but who wants to buy that stuff again? Today, they were left at my new house for me from the previous owner. And her safe is much better than my old one. She can’t move it because it is bolted to the floor. That makes me chuckle. I guess someone could have just carried off my old safe. I hadn’t thought of that.

Now, if the baby bump would stop giving me gas pain and heartburn, I could get some shut eye. I actually have things to unpack. Wahoo!

Kids say . . .

At the paediatrician this week, my four year old Evan was anxious about getting his ears checked.  Trying to escape the otoscope, he put his head on my chest, and grabbed my shirt, pulling it down.

His eyes widened. He gasped and pointed, “Mom, why do you have a butt on your front?!” 

Thanks to baby #4, I actually have cleavage. I’m giggling to myself, and I’m also embarrassed. The nurse practitioner watches my reaction. She’s smirking.

“Evan, please don’t pull my shirt down,” I advise. “It’s private.”

He scrunches his nose, “Is that because it is your butt?”

He’s genuinely inquiring.

wedding

On the way home, he tells me about his Walmart trip. He’s laughing, “Mom there was a totally naked lady at Walmart last night. It was so weird.” He continues, “Dad thought it was so funny.”

I mean it is Walmart. There is a whole website devoted to strange and unusual people who shop there. Turns out, according to dad, she was just barefoot.

He also scolded the waiter at lunch the other day when he replied to my question with the standard southern, “Yes Mam.”

Evan told him off. “She is a lady, not a boy.”

MAM, kiddo. Not man.

We also had an expat moment trying to get lunch. I ordered french fries, but Evan kept whining saying he wanted chips with his cheeseburger. I promised him they were on the way. The waiter kept repeating my order and implying they don’t have chips on the menu.  England and America: two countries divided by a common language. And then we confuse the matter by calling it French fries, lol.

So if you see my kid, and he tells you about naked people at the grocery store or my front bum cheeks, or anything else unusual– things are a bit in transit, but we aren’t quite as weird as Evan makes us out to be.

Surprisingly, his ears checked out fine.  Next stop? The eye doctor.