The Honeymoon Stage

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The first stage of both living abroad and returning home is called “the honeymoon stage“. Supposedly in this stage, everything about your life and surroundings feels new and exciting, even walking down the street is an adventure. Writing this blog post about the honeymoon stage, we have unfortunately already moved to the “confusion stage” and the “sad stage” in our repatriation. But boy, we really enjoyed our first three weeks!

I actually didn’t really believe in the honeymoon stage, because my first year in San Francisco was tough. When I walked down the street of our then new neighborhood, I was shocked and saddened by San Francisco’s massive homelessness problem (I moved us away within a month from that neighborhood!). Settling into our daily life and establishing routines such as learning to drive and navigating San Francisco was overwhelming and sometimes scary, fueling my body with a constant rush of adrenaline. My husband was busy at work, and I was in charge of creating routines and settling our family into a completely different everyday life, where I constantly had to decode the cultural different expectations to me and my children. Except for our travels and weekend adventures, our first year abroad was pretty awful.

My initial transition during our first eight days into Denmark felt weird. I felt like a foreigner, curiously studying Danes from afar, while feeling extremely American. Danes look so alike, and I kept thinking I ought to know the people smiling at me on the street. Our neighborhood looked different from what I remembered, and I couldn’t find my way around. I felt loud with my kids, Danes are so quiet, especially in the grocery store! We were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of people, who took time to make small talk with us on the streets or in stores.

After eight days, I suddenly felt very Danish and our life in San Francisco seemed distant. I was flooded by memories. I felt a change in the way that I acted, for instance I noticed that I started talking to my baby with a more Danish tone of voice (less excited and high-pitched). I remembered clearly the time from when my two older kids were babies, and I started singing Danish songs to my youngest that I hadn’t thought about in years. I remembered incidents from my own Danish childhood, and I found myself wondering how people from my Elementary school years were doing, people I haven’t thought about in years. Weird, right? Overall, I thought Denmark was pretty terrific.

Two weeks in and I felt more American again, more American than Danish, and our home and routines in San Francisco stood out crystal clear in my mind. Kids started school, and despite a reverse culture shock and confusion, we were still in the blissful honeymoon stage. Copenhagen seemed so exotic and exciting, and we loved walking the kids to school. The school seemed so promising and perfect. We were giddy about our neighborhood, and Danish food and candy. We enjoyed summerly weather, which definitely beats the wintery and foggy summer in San Francisco.

Three weeks in and we had reached the following great milestones:

  • Hubby and I both signed employment contracts (we both had many offers and interest, which we hadn’t expected!)
  • Despite some hiccups, things were going well with the kids’ school start; we experienced a reverse culture shock in regards to how independent the kids’ peers were, on the other hand our American school probably taught a curriculum two years ahead
  • We re-enrolled officially in Denmark, which you apparently are required to in order to get access to insurance, daycare, school, doctors ect. You re-enroll  by showing up at “Borgerservice” — both parents (one parent wasn’t enough) and all kids — with passports and documentation for your living situation
  • I got a “Nem-Id”, which you need for e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g such as getting a cell number, enrolling the kids into bookends, daycare ect. Sigh
  • Our baby got accepted at a daycare from October, located two minutes away from our apartment, yay

Close to four weeks in and the honeymoon stage has been replaced by “the confusion stage” and “the sad stage”. Bullocks. We’re physically exhausted; moving back into our apartment was hard! All boxes are now unpacked, but our apartment is still a mess. We love our apartment, but we need to get some projects done, and it doesn’t feel  like home, not yet. I have no idea, when we’ll get the energy to settle into our new summer cottage. Well, not anytime soon anyway, because we don’t have a car yet. Both kids are starting having heavy reactions to school, they are working hard on fitting in and decoding expectations from school and peers. My husband just started work this week, so we are so thankful that my workplace accepted to wait until November 1st, because a full time parent is needed with no daycare and the two older kids’ transition into Danish school.

E.X.H.A.U.S.T.E.D.

… In my next blog posts, I’ll share more about “the confusion stage” and “the sad stage”. Even more important and directed to all fellow trailing spouses out there, I’ll share my thoughts about  returning to work after nearly five years as an expat trailing spouse. Whenever I get the energy to write :-)

It’s Just a Phase; This Too Shall pass

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Tomorrow I will be in Oceanside with baby, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. Deciding that baby and I should fly instead of driving an eleven-hour drive from Santa Cruz to Oceanside was a no-brainer, despite the extra costs. Baby and I will swap a car ride for a plane ride to San Diego followed by bus, then train (the beautiful “Coaster Ride”), and finally a twenty-minute walk from the train station to our apartment. Pretty complicated, but totally worth it: We could never have endured that car ride because “no, baby doesn’t stop crying after a while”, and “no, baby doesn’t fall asleep after a while”.

Our eleven-month-old is the happiest, cuddliest, and most mellow baby, except for when he’s strapped in a car seat. Having had two babies who hated driving (it’s probably genetic!), we got him the best, most comfortable car seat on the market that even has a large shade to protect him from annoying sunrays, and we have toys ready to distract him. But nothing works. It’s gotten better, these days we have a twenty-minute window before he starts crying, and sometimes I can distract him for up to an hour by singing. It ain’t a pretty picture in the backseat on longer rides, where you will find me singing with a raspy voice, exhausted, and baby crying loudly, not understanding why I don’t take him up in my arms. As soon as I take him out of the chair, he stops crying. Often we would take breaks every ten minutes, I especially remember our trips across the Golden Gate Bridge, where we desperately would try to find a parking spot, always taken by photographing tourists. We only drive with baby, when it’s absolutely necessary. Whenever possible, I always opted for walking or taking Bart (which is the most un-American thing you can do!). When we had no choice but to drive, it was a team effort singing and keeping sane and calm (not), while baby was wailing in the car seat, all sweaty from screaming. Poor baby, poor us. Come to think of it, one of the best things about moving back will be that we can walk and bike to nearly everything.

These days I also apply our mantra “this is just a phase” to my feelings about our repatriation. When people ask us, if we are starting to feel excited about moving back, my honest answer would be: “No, I actually try really hard not to think about our repatriation at all”. Instead I often answer: “I haven’t thought that much about it, yet, but ya, a little bit”, and I start naming all the things that I know, I’m supposed to feel excited about. But the truth is that right now my sadness about leaving outweighs all the good stuff about moving back that I used to feel excited about. Luckily, I have so far succeeded in ignoring our repatriation and focused on our vacation instead. Overall, this past week has been amazing; we all have had a blast in Santa Cruz, what a perfect vacation! We haven’t had time to wallow in sad feelings because we have been too busy entertaining our guests or enjoying Santa Cruz. The few times that it hit me, that this is our last week in the Bay Area, I felt a tightness in my chest and stomach: I’m not ready to leave, not yet.

In terms of weather and nature, California has it all, and we love our outdoor weekends year round. Having to move back to dark and cold winter months feels depressing. Our return to Denmark feels devastating –as opposed to exciting– because we know that we will (probably) never move back to California and its amazing outdoor lifestyle for all the reasons that I have mentioned several times on my blog (living costs and education mostly). All these negative aspects of living in California still outweigh our reasons to stay, but that doesn’t make our sadness about giving up our Californian lifestyle go away. We believe that Denmark is a better place for the kids to grow up, we miss family and friends, but it’s been four and a half years since we left Copenhagen, and we are 100 pct. Californian. This is our home. Having to face a fresh start and new routines in a different country, even in our home country, feels overwhelming and even a little scary because we like it so much here.

My mantras for such dark thoughts are: “This too shall pass”, “Our agonizing transition is just a phase”; We’ll be all right; We’ll find our footing.

I’m thankful that we are too busy having a blast for me to wallow in sadness. I’m thankful that we had such a great last year. Had we moved back after two years, I would never had adopted the many great American qualities that make life so much more fun, such as “going all in” when having fun. From tomorrow there’s Oceanside including a trip to Disney, I can’t wait!