Thursday, April 19, 2007

London Girl

More than one friend has teased me over the past few months that moving to London has finally made me a Jersey Girl. I must confess, there's something to that good natured ribbing. After years of being reluctant to admit that I have any connection to a state with such a bad rap (to the point that I begged Paul to let me print "Morristown, Somewhere In The Tri-State Area" on our wedding invitations), absence seems to have made my heart grow fonder where New Jersey is concerned. Since we've been gone, I've finally found myself willing to embrace (or at least high-five from a respectable distance) my adopted state, and it was thus that I returned enthusiastically for a visit a few weeks ago.

I was not disappointed. The comforts of home and the familiarity of old friends embraced me with a warmth that I sorely needed after half a year of finding my way in an unfamiliar country. Our visit was hectic and rushed at times as we scrambled to fit in as many visits with friends and family as time would allow, but the pace was worth maintaining for the pleasure of each reunion. I tried to keep reminding myself that I would not be enjoying any of this nearly as much had we never left the States in the first place. But I couldn't help it. I just enjoyed every minute that was spent reconnecting with our old life. Watching the kids fall in with their old friends as if no time had passed made me smile and sharing some laughs with my own family and friends made me smile even more. Our American community welcomed us wholeheartedly, and I was more than grateful for that much needed show of friendship and support.

As the trip wore on, however, the difference between my kids' perspectives on our dual lives became more and more apparent. Julia was in her element, surrounded by treasured friends who were delighted to see her and repeatedly asked her how much longer until she'd be home for good. But Evan, who remembered only a handful of the people we saw in the States, showed little interest in reconnecting with all but a few of them. By mid-way through the second week, Julia had pretty much completely shed her British accent, vowing not to pick it up again even when we returned to the UK "because I'm really American, you know, even if we're living in London for a while." Meanwhile, Evan's queries about when we would be able to return "home to London" became more and more emphatic. Neither kid was complaining -- not about being in New Jersey or living in London -- but it was clear where each of their preferences laid.

Where, I wondered, would I fall on the spectrum? It was easy to slide back into my old life; to drive on autopilot, to pick up the threads of new local gossip, to curl up on a familiar couch with an old friend and forget any time had passed at all. But as days passed, I also found myself thinking increasingly of the life waiting here for me in London; of baby gifts that needed to be dropped off with friends before their new arrivals outgrew them, of coffee dates I wanted to set up and birthday parties I needed to RSVP to, of a Hampstead Women's Club mailing I needed to coordinate, of a book group selection I needed to pick up if I was going to have time to read it before the discussion. I was enjoying being back in America every bit as much as Julia was. But Evan wasn't the only one who was thinking about life across the pond.

I came back to London this week completely reinvigorated by the company of family and friends. Our New Jersey visit was the touchstone I had hoped it would be, and seeing that I still belonged in that world gave me strength to return to this one. As our black cab carried us through familiar streets which had bloomed into a glorious springtime in our absence, I found myself smiling as I sought out the familiar sights and breathed in the familiar smells of London. It didn't look so strange or foreign to me any more, I realized. It just felt like a place I knew, a place I loved. Before I knew it, the car had pulled up in front of our building. And then damned if I didn't walk into our flat and feel like I'd come home.

The feeling, which I'd waited and hoped for and missed for so long, hit me like a ton of bricks, harder maybe for its unexpectedness than the feeling of being home that I'd anticipated and then found in the States. It was great -- truly great -- to go Home. But ironically, coming home may have been the best part of all.


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