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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Repatriation Act III

The one year anniversary of our return to the United States is upon us.

This summer my teen has committed to 6 weeks of summer school to catch up to her peers in math.  It seems the 'spiral' teaching in math(s) is the method chosen by the world, but here in the States we build our math skills by teaching them in 'blocks'.  To avoid her having to take both Geometry and Algebra II  in her sophomore year, we lobbied the math department to allow her to attend summer school in another district, so she could fill in the empty gaps in her geometry education after being abroad for two years. Yes, we asked for it. A summer stuck at home agreeing to 4 hours of daily instruction and a 30 minute drive each way to get there. Luckily both our house and the high school are in walking distance of train stations, so she is able to commute on her own.  Not so lucky is that she leaves the house at the same time she used to leave for the school bus, 6:45 to catch the train. No lazy summer morning sleep ins for us.

I travelled with her the first couple days so she could figure out the routine, but on the third day, certain of her ability to commute alone, I stayed in my pajamas and prepared to push my first born from the comfort of the nest for her solo flight to school (stateside).  Here's how it went.

On the other side of the kitchen island she sits on a stool, picking at her breakfast.  She looks up her eyes full of intention.  I look back.
"Can you please ride with me again?"
"No.  You can do this."
"But I would rather do it with you."
"Yes," I say in an upbeat tone,  "but I have things I need to do, and Daddy can't watch KC while I'm gone.  Besides, this is nothing compared to the commute you did in Sweden everyday."
"Yeah, but people are so different here."
A list of possible differences run through my mind...she continues,
"They're like all angry"
"Yes.  People around here are very angry, it's not like it was in Sweden. But you're still going alone today." I finish with a grin.
The fledgling heaves a heavy sigh.

When breakfast is finished, I escort the teen to the front door.  Face to face with no island separating us, she implores me once again.
"Pleeeaaase.  Can you just walk me to the station?"
Ah the first born.  In almost 16 years have I ever really been able to resist when she asks in earnest? I prevent a total cave with a compromise.
"I'm not walking to town, but I will escort you to the corner." I know from her happy squeak, and my pleasure from not having to say good-bye quite yet, we have attained a win-win.

In my night shirt, with my sleep hair pulled up and yoga pants I pulled on, I slip on my clogs and push open the storm door to meet the new day.  The morning air feels fresh and friendly. Most of the human inhabitants of our neighborhood are still inside with shades drawn as we walk out to the quiet suburban solitude of early morning on our street.  It is a refreshing change from the usual buzz and allows us to stay satisfied in silence  as our walk begins. A playful breeze rustles the oak trees that shade us, tickling them to release the tiny bombs of water that pelt us gently with rain from the previous night's storms.  The edges of the blacktop are still darkened with moisture.  It won't be long till the summer transforms the pleasant morning moisture into oppressive mid-day humidity, but for now I breath deep and enjoy the levity in its lightness.

Tunneling up from her thoughts the teen speaks.
"I was really angry too, when we first came back.  I hated everything about here."
I chuckle. "Yeah, I was pretty much the same.  Those were some fun times" Sarcasm.
"I don't feel angry anymore." She continues to share,  "I'm ok with being here, I've made friends and have a boyfriend.  I like it here again." she continues to share.
"That's good, I'm starting to feel better too." I reply.
She shoots me a doubtful sideways glance.  Sensing her dissent I respond.
"What?"
"You're still angry.'
"No…really? I thought I was doing much better.  Especially since I don't have to go to the bus stop daily and be reminded of the red-headed stepchild I've become." I pause to smile then ask, "Do I still seem angry?" She responds without hesitation.
"Well, maybe not as angry as you were.  I guess it's more like, generalized sadness."
"OK," I concede, "I can see that.  But I don't feel as angry as before."  We walk a few feet contemplating in silence.
"You know Mom, I figured out what the key is to being happy here."
"Really?" I ask, "what's that?"
"You have to focus on the good things, the things that make you happy, and ignore all the rest. You should just NOT go to the bus stop anymore."
I laugh not at her wisdom, but at her solution. "Yeah, you're absolutely right, but I can't exactly ditch your little sister because of other people...she's only going into first grade!"  I laugh, "That wouldn't be fair to her."
Not giving up she says, "I'll go to the bus stop for you in the afternoons."
I slip my arm around her shoulder and she slips her's around my waist. "That is very generous offer of you," I squeeze her closer,  "but it will get better."

We reach the corner, say our good-byes and she continues on her way. Watching her go, I marvel at the person she has become. Anxious and childlike in one moment. Centered and sage in the next.

I turn to walk back to our house and reflect on her words.  I have, in the last year, tried to ignore the parts of my old life that have turned negative after living abroad.  I avoid the places that overstimulate me to the point of overload.  Like Target, where the sheer size and multitude of products I don't need and have never wanted, overwhelms me.  I do most of my grocery shopping on-line and have it delivered to our house, which insulates me from both crowds of somewhat ill-tempered individuals, and the need to make eye contact and engage in small talk with strangers.  After growing accustomed to my uncluttered, private, stoic, Swedish existence, these aspects of American culture still leave me unsettled.

The bus stop hasn't been so easy to remedy.  Our return to the old neighborhood was steeped with unease related to a conflict.  We had shared very few details of the situation with our neighbors, but most had formed opinions based on what little they knew.  Some took sides before we even set foot back in our home. Much of this has passed and I have mended many of the relationships that I value, and even built some new ones.  However there is a handful that are beyond salvage and the bus stop is a daily reminder that the once harmonious neighbor relations I enjoyed before going abroad are likely gone for good.  And that's ok. I'm a big girl.  I don't need everybody to like me.  I've become more thick skinned, and had lots of practice letting go of useless anger over situations I don't have the power to change. I'm ready to move on, but it remains to be seen whether that's possible without moving to a new location.  The Teen, offering to go to the bus stop reminds me that she, has a lot riding on my happiness.  She dreads the idea of moving again.

I continue my walk home through the quiet.  She's spot on in her observation.  Even with my tactical ignoring and avoidance, happy has eluded me.  I already knew this, but hearing it from her gives the words more weight.  I feel them now like an obligation to my family, to not just settle back into my old life but to find a way to rebuild genuine happiness.  I've been called out by a teenager.  It's time for action.

August marks one year since our return to Surely Manor.  Until then I plan to work on adjusting my perspective by concentrating on the little happies I find in my neighborhood, community and post expat life.  I will bring them into focus with my camera and define them more clearly with words, in an effort to blur the emphasis on the less uplifting aspects of my repatriated life.  I will post the images on Instagram (@humblemumblings) and the stories/vignettes here at humblemumblings.com.

I was thinking it might be fun to invite all of you too!  If you would like to join, on Instagram, and post a photo of something that makes you happy, just tag it #humblehappies @humblemumblings so we can all find it.  If you are on Facebook tag 'Humble Mumblings' in your comment and it should show up on my feed.  Choose your social network and let's document our little happies together.  If you are reading this thinking, 'I can't think of any happies to capture', or 'my happies aren't that great' then I need you!  Because I have felt that same way more times than I care to admit during the last year and I think we could benefit from each others' company for a while.

As I finish my stroll home and reached my driveway deep in the conceptualizing of this #humblehappies exercise I begin laughing.   The darn first born inadvertently did it again.  She voiced an earnest concern and I am already moving to mollify it.  It seems like we are both being schooled this summer.  I guess if we are lucky it will result in another win-win.

Let the #humblehappies begin! Capture, tag, and release those happies for all to enjoy.


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