We leave in just days for a few months in the US to have this baby and go to my sister's wedding. Excitement is high at our place! It will be the first time we have come back to the US as adults, and we keep asking each other how we're feeling about it. It's an odd thing to do it as an adult when it was such a significant and formative thing in our childhoods growing up overseas.
Isaac has a better memory for the childhood years than I do, and he remembers trips back to the US as exciting, exotic trips with fun American food, sightseeing, and time with extended family. I remember some of this – the excitement of the layover in the Honolulu airport where my brother and I would buy Doritos at a vending machine and then get actual fresh milk in milk boxes in the first flight on US soil. Those things were super exciting.
My memories are stronger in the middle school and high school years, when going back to the US meant entering a youth culture I was utterly unfamiliar with and not a part of. My memory of “going back” is heavy on the feeling awkward, alone, out of place, and longing for the school community of friends I loved in Papua. I did not look forward to going back to the US. I thought of it as the necessary evil of our lives as expats.
Our kids are still little, so they have little idea what is going on but they are excited. They know we're going to see grandparents and cousins, have a new baby sister, and get on an airplane. They also know that “they speak our words there”, think that there are actually no cats in America, and run around singing their own version of the West Side Story's “I want to be in America.”
For us as adults, knowing this trip was coming really changed our attitude towards the difficulties of cultural adjustment. Instead of it seeming to stretch out endlessly with all the stressors of daily life we were struggling with, we saw that we had only a few months before we would not be here for a while. Here, where our work and lives are, where we WANT to continue to gain fluency in the language and become a part of the local community and adjust to the culture. Yes, it's challenging, but it's what we want, and knowing we would be in the US for months made us take advantage of the time instead of wish for the comforts of the USA.
Isaac is excited to see family and watch Star Wars and eat beef, but he's dreading being out of the language for so long, away from his classroom and all he's working to do here. I'm pretty excited to be back for a bit. I long to sit and talk face to face with my family members. I long to eat food I haven't had to prepare from scratch, food from India or the Mediterranean or Mexico, things with cheese and broccoli and asparagus and whole grains and fully stocked grocery stores! I am SO glad to have my kids spending time with family, so looking forward to going on an actual date sans kid.
But – that's all with the knowledge that it is for a few months, and then we come back here, which is what I want. I want to live here, I want to be here, this is where we feel called and where God has given us meaningful work. Life here is super challenging in some ways, but super beautiful in others. We're glad for this trip... and glad we'll be back again afterward!