Soooooo Hello

What a shitty winter. We adults and the kids have been taking turns at being sick non-stop. All the Danish friends we were suppose to hang out with after years abroad, well, we haven’t because we keep picking up colds. And worse.

Do we still miss San Francisco? Er, duh, ya. Sorry… But how can we not?

What a shitty repatriation we’ve had. Again, sorry, nothing to do with our Danish friends and family. The kids still ask on a daily basis about when we’ll move back. All the “freedom” privileges about being able to walk to and from school by themselves means n.o.t.h.i.n.g to them. They miss the days, when we drove them everywhere. They miss their friends. We adults miss our friends, travels, and weekends. We are always exhausted. We never travel or “experience stuff”. “It was so much better in the U.S. mom”, they tell me. Well, I agree that repatriation overall sucks — but the part where I had to drive them from and to anywhere, well, I don’t miss that part, at all. I’m overridden by guilt by their lack of leasure activities, but at the same time it’s the o.n.e thing I love about repatriation: Me kicking ass at work, while at the same time working part time and picking up kids early.

Am I still blogging? Errr, I don’t know. Life sure doesn’t feel interesting enough to blog about. At the same time I know that we are living through all the feelings repatriates usually live through. They say it takes a year of unhappiness, until life starts making sense, starts being happy. I hope it’s true, or we’ll start making our way back to San Francisco. In a few years. Until then we’re trying, really trying, to make things work.

And why did I suddenly start posting today? Well spring happened today in Copenhagen, yes, it fi.n.a.l.l.y happened.

From Instagram, the happiest version of me in many months.

Three Months in, Who Would’ve Thunk

Yes, who would’ve thought?

  • That so far, despite an overall very succesful repatriation, we would still be consumed with a longing for “home”
  • That we would spend October battling serious and non-serious diseases——which in fairness should amount to a year’s quota
  • That I would once again spend hours googling pictures of rashes (in my attempt to diagnose baby’s different illnesses)
  • That I would passionately experiment with different pho recipes, our favorite dish, because chicken soup according to science cures body and soul (and because Vietnamese restaurants here suck at Pho Ga)
  • That hubby, for the first time in our almost 20 years together, would suddenly get excited about cooking——wait for it——blended veggie soups
  • That both kids would still speak only English with their new friends
  • That our baby would become bilingual in Denmark
  • That I would be able to function on very little sleep for 15 months
  • That the first time, I would feel a sense of belonging, would be on a Saturday night while partying with a group of old female and male colleagues
  • That I would be partying with this group for 20 years (gasp) and feel younger, not older, after our expat years
  • That school would throw an epic Halloween party ——also by American standards —— which I would sadly miss out on because of our sick baby
  • That my daughter’s Halloween costume wouldn’t make it from the UK in time for her party, but that she would—— without drama—— accept to wear last year’s costume (in exchange of adding blue hairspray)
  • That her costume would arrive at 4PM on Halloween, just as I would be unfolding my crisis management skills
  • That I would be able to close my eyes and feel San Francisco’s warm October weather and picture its beautiful Halloween decorations
  • That waking up with three healthy kids tomorrow would be the first time in a month
  • That three months would go by so quickly: I start work tomorrow

Feeling Better

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Almost four months ago, we left our house in San Francisco. Two and a half months ago, we landed in Denmark. Less than two months ago, we moved back into our apartment. Three days ago, I suddenly started feeling better.

I have had this sad feeling, constantly lingering. I would get tears in my eyes, when my husband and I together would recall our beautiful California adventures. I have felt shaken, confused, and forgetful. Suddenly, I’m starting to feel more grounded and in control of life instead of trying to keep up. I think that time helped, but what helped the most are all the little decisions and steps we have taken, which have added up and made me feel more empowered. In our relocation to San Francisco, my husband and I were both struggling, but separately, not together. This time, we are a team and we hold each other up and talk out our feelings, thereby creating a “safe space”, where we can return to and recharge.

The decisions and steps that help us feel better:

  • Going back to California this summer. It turned some of my homesickness into anticipation. It was a huge relief.
  • Moving back to the Bay Area, one day. Our decision to return to the Bay Area in a few years makes me appreciate our life in Copenhagen more.
  • Making our apartment cozy. Finally, I feel at home in our apartment. After some building projects in our living room and having found “the right place” for all our belongings, our apartment feels like our home.
  • The kids’ school. The bilingual school program is awesome, kids love it and the fact that they are getting both an English and a Danish education is a gift for them for their future. We love the international environment and the fact that all communication happens in English. We love that despite a vigorous curriculum, the kids are thriving.
  • Our tween’s newfound independency. Our son loves his freedom to walk home from school and bring friends along. And so do we!
  • Our baby’s preschoolStarting our baby at preschool is hard for him! So far, he’s only had short visits there. In our expat life, we never had him babysat. But if there’s anyplace I would leave him, it’s there: I love the teachers, the cozy environment, and the atmosphere. I just hope he and we will stop catching all the viruses going around there: being and getting sick is the worst part about returning to Denmark.
  • Starting to work. I am beyond excited that they put me in charge of one of their biggest projects. It’s going to be challenging to learn a new legal field and to be in charge of making people implement whatever recommendations I’m going to end up making. I’m so grateful for the new skills, I will acquire! Workwise, doors keep opening. If I want to, I will probably have good opportunities in the U.S. to use my new legal skills. Or I’ll get back to freelancing within the communication field, time will tell :-)
  • Our everyday life routines. Routines are finally starting to get into place: my husband walks the kids to school, which is a cozy 20 min. walk; I take the baby to preschool, which is a 2 min. walk; our tween walks home by himself; we pick up our daughter from SFO (bookend); kids will do their homework before reaching for electronical devices on weekdays; we have all the shopping stores we need within a five min. radius.
  • Getting used to the weather. We have been away for only nearly five years, and fall was a shock to me! I’m adjusting. Since I started covering myself in a wool sweater under my jacket, when I go outside, I’m good. In our apartment, we put in light bulbs with “daylight lightening” to help us deal with the darker months, and it helps!

The only thing missing is that I should start studying for work. Today, baby’s preschool is trying to put him down for a nap, and if they succeed, I’ll start to get time to study — which makes me excited and happy!

Danish Toddlers And Their Parents Don’t Get Sick That Much —— Said no Dane Ever

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I knew it the second my precious and I entered the room on baby’s first day at preschool. I knew that there was going to be trouble. In the little cozy preschool room, 80 pct. of baby’s future little friends had runny noses that needed to be wiped off. I even wiped off a few, while I was thinking that these kids needed to stay home and not pass over their germs to others. On day two of our short 30 minute visit, the kids with the runny noses were still there, happily trolling around, and I felt a pang of positivity. Maybe they weren’t sick, maybe they were the kind of kids that have runny noses throughout their childhood, not entailing any contagious diseases? Or maybe Danish kids just have runny noses through fall and winter, not entailing any need for sick days? I was optimistic. On day four of another short visit to baby’s preschool, I suddenly felt extremely cold on the way home. So cold that I bought wool socks for the whole family and wool pants and slippers for baby. I was shivering outside, I was shivering inside our apartment. I was almost panicking: If this was how the cold felt in early October, how would December feel? The cold that I felt was a warning. On the night of day four, baby had a fever and a runny nose, whereas I started throwing up, which continued all night even when I didn’t have anything left in my body to throw up. I felt I time travelled back to the nights where baby’s siblings were the same age, as I alternated nursing with handing my feverish baby over to his dad, while I ran outside the bedroom to throw up in a plastic bag.

When I called the preschool the next day to let them know, we weren’t going to make it that day, they let us know that those two viruses were indeed going around the house. Is this how fall and winter time are going to play out for us, again? Well, if that’s the case, I guess I’m going to have to look for daycare programs with only one or two other kids to minimize our exposure to germs instead of the otherwise perfect preschool we managed to find. Sigh.

To All The Trailing Spouses Out There

Let’s talk about a sensitive issue. I have encountered so many trailing expat spouses that either couldn’t work or chose not to. Their reasons are diverse, such as not being able to get a work permit, having to help their kids transition, not being able to work within their special field, not wanting to use a nanny, or simply choosing not to work. What we all have in common is that we’re used to having to explain, sometimes defend, that we have exchanged our careers for being a SAHM (a stay-at-home-mom). Some of us struggle with an identity loss, others struggle with self worth, and most of us worry about returning to work after our expat years. In my repatriation, I’m returning to work after nearly five years abroad.

Repatriation in terms of returning to work for a trailing spouse can be a damn intimidating thing. Not for me! Which is why I want to share my thoughts to all the trailing spouses out there, who might need support and encouragement from a fellow expat.

This is how I feel about coming back to work after nearly five years abroad:

“Boy am I glad that I didn’t waste one single second worrying about my career and about how others perceived me”.

In my years abroad, I exchanged my career in the legal field for being a SAHM with extension classes and eventually some freelancing on the side. When we decided to move abroad, our main purpose was to exchange two busy careers with more time with the kids and as much traveling as possible. I chose to perceive this choice as empowering and to see our expat years as a gift to do something completely different.

People (some more, others less) look down on SAHMs. It’s a fact. I never thought of or labelled myself as a SAHM, most of my friends were working moms, and I mingled and fitted in both “groups”. Countless times, I have overheard or been told demeaning comments about the SAHMs at school by working moms.The SAHMs were no kinder towards the working moms. No sisterhood there! I remember an expat SAHM, who told me that the working moms should be grateful for the SAHMs, who assumed a lot of responsibility at school. Something about a higher balance. Such bullshit, nobody owes anybody anything. On the other hand that same expat SAHM told me that her biggest hurdle to getting back to work in her field was her old female colleagues, who had taken very short maternity leaves and were “doing it all” and looking down on her choice of becoming a SAHM. No sisterhood there. I have personally experienced a negative attitude, when Danish guests visited San Francisco. After having listened intensively and excitedly to my husband’s stories about his work life, they then looked at me and asked in a “I feel sorry for you voice” “so, how do you spend your time, Julie?” sometimes even followed by a joke about SAHMs. I would laugh with them (or at them :), I don’t take it personally. I know that friends and acquaintances never intended to hurt me with their comments, they probably felt sorry for me. Maybe. Or maybe it relates to people’s poor perception of SAHMs. Most likely people’s negative attitude relates to their own issues, which has nothing to do with me/ you/SAHMs. Most times I actually felt sorry for the people who had a negative attitude towards my situation, because I felt that we were experiencing so much in our expat life, while they were stuck in the same home, the same job, and the same routines and on top of that they were sharing how stressed they were about their work-life balance situation. But I never said anything because that would in my world be judgmental and rude, right? The fact is that I don’t and didn’t care (enough) about how people perceived me, and neither should you: Put your energy into something that will make you happy instead.

Nobody’s life is perfect, including lives of expat SAHMs, and while I was annoyed with the mom-duties in the U.S., I cherished the freedom it gave us in terms of family life and traveling. I chose to feel empowered based on my “master plan” for our expat years. My “master plan” was to acquire new skills through a degree, while getting as many American experiences and traveling adventures as possible. I achieved both goals and have no regrets. Quite the opposite! I was lucky that my degree actually opened doors in the U.S. too to some exciting freelance assignments as well.

In my repatriation, not one single head hunter or employer so far perceive my nearly five years abroad as disqualifying. Yes, really. Job opportunities are plentiful and interesting. Yes, really. In my resume, I explain why I’m hot shit, and they agree. Really! I have been approached regarding positions much higher and better paying than I would ever have expected. I’m flattered. But the question I ask myself is still the same: “What would make me happy”? Right now it’s family-friendly work hours and challenging work that will put a smile on my face.

I’m returning to my old workplace and will work within new legal areas, with more responsibility (for a higher salary than five years ago, of course :). They agreed to wait for me a few months and let me start part-time, while we get settled. Win, win! I’m gonna spend the next six months figuring out, if I want to change field and step up my game in 2017. I’m gonna ask myself again: “What will make me happy”?

My message is: I don’t feel I have missed out on anything workwise during our time abroad, quite the opposite. I’m where I want to be with even broader possibilities based on the degree I acquired in the U.S. I cherish every single memory about our California adventure. Workwise, I never anticipated the interest and possibilities, and I had prepared myself for the opposite situation because I had decided that our expat years were worth my time off including consequences for my carrier. Are yours?

One thing I’m sure of in terms of returning to work after being a trailing spouse:

“If you don’t believe in yourself and value your own competences, nobody else will”.

So to all the expat trailing spouses out there, I want to say:

Enjoy your expat years, figure out what you want to focus on during your time abroad, and don’t let other people’s view on expat trailing spouses get to you. Figure out what makes you happy, create a “master plan”. You are acquiring new skills and will return as a much better employee and happier person, because life abroad will teach you so much about life and yourself. If your years abroad disqualify you professionally or make you feel unhappy about yourself, then revise your plan: set a new list of priorities such as getting a job or an education, finding a nanny, or move back home. Revise your “master plan”it, when your situation changes.