Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Deja vu

Several people have commented to me in the past week or two that my blog entires have been overwhelmingly focused on our return to the States lately. They're right, of course, but the irony in this is that the US is not at all where my mind has been of late.

We have always said that we were going to be in London for two years. Paul signed a two year contract and we set up our lives here based on the assumption that this was a temporary 24 month endeavor. We have made it a point to travel as if we are on a timeline, to maintain ties in the US in anticipation of our return there. But we've never known 100% for certain that Paul's company would respect our wishes to return to the US after the completion of his contract. There was always the chance that we would be asked to stay longer, always the chance that we would be faced either with an offer we could not refuse or simply the reality that there was no job waiting for Paul in New York any more.

And so even as I've talked about and planned for and expected a move back to the US this summer, I've also found myself quietly looking at local real estate and job opportunities for me and school situations for my kids here, just in case. Quite honestly, it didn't sound like such a bad possibility when examined in isolation. Every time I would see or talk to American friends and family I would dismiss it, of course; faced with the reality of the people I love, it was hard to contemplate being away from them for a minute longer than I already have been. But here, immersed fully in our London life? Well, I'd be lying if I said the prospect didn't hold a certain appeal.

Yesterday, Paul finally had a conversation with his boss about the coming year. There was an offer to keep him here, as anticipated, but it was one he could easily and fully refuse. It appears that his department is fully on board with his return to New York and he now has a verbal commitment from his boss that he will be transfered back sometime in the next 6-8 months. And so, while the details and the timing and the nitty gritty of it all will still need to be hammered out in the coming months, I can now say with far more certainty than I've ever felt before that our time overseas will be coming to an end this summer and we will be moving home. (You can breathe now, Mom.)

I should be elated. I'm going back to a life that is comfortable, a world that I can negotiate my way through instinctively and a community that I adore. And yet, now that I know that for sure that we won't be staying in London beyond this summer, I'm a bit surprised to discover just how sad this makes me. "Did you really think there was that strong a possibility we would stay?" Paul asked me last night as we talked about all of this. I didn't. Not really. But as long as the possibility was there, however remote, I could close my eyes to the realities of leaving England behind.

I love it here. I love the people we've met and the friends that we've made -- all four of us. I love the fact that I walk nearly everywhere and that I can easily find my way nearly anywhere else using public transportation. I love having Europe on my doorstep and a school calendar which provides ample opportunity to take advantage of its proximity. I love the board that I serve on and the groups that I belong to and the strong, diverse group of women I've met through my involvement with them. I love the fact that my children are so happy, and so clearly established in a school which is 100% appropriate for their interests, abilities and personalities. I love the fact that I have half a dozen wonderful places to purchase groceries within walking distance and the fact that I know automatically which place will have the best stock to meet my needs on any given day. I love one-floor living and the silly little Ikea-flat which has come to feel like such a comfortable home. I love that my phone rings with fabulous opportunities and offers all the time now -- a girls' weekend in Europe, a Bunko group, a business opportunity, coffee after school drop off, a movie on a Saturday night. I love hosting the American friends and family who come to visit us here and showing them the city we've come to call our own. I love the English sense of humor and outlook on life. Most of all, I love the person who I've become here, the one who conquered this city and made a life for myself and my family here.

We came to London 16 months ago for a two year gig, nervous and sad to be leaving behind the people we love, yet incredibly excited about the adventure ahead of us. We thought that we knew what we were getting ourselves into, but in truth, we had no idea. We simply had no idea how much we would grow to love it here. I'm glad we're going back to the US, truly I am. But the way I've felt about America these past 16 months, the yearning for familiar people and places and a life that I know and understand? I realize now that I'm going to feel the same way about England once we're gone. This time, we're not embarking on an adventure and nothing is temporary. We're making a permanent move to a place that's very different than that which we currently call home. And as exciting as that sounds in theory, I suspect that when push comes to shove, I'm going to be every bit as nervous and sad about this move as I was about our last one.

Here we go again.


Blogger Badness Jones said...

Oh honey....your post took me back in time. I was single when I moved to London for a year, but I too grew to love the city....adore it. Camden Market, the King's Road, Battersea Park... I loved the human scale of the city...I was completely overwhelmed by the skyscrapers when I got back to Toronto....and the lousy transit system. Coming home was the hardest move I have ever had to make. It turned out to be a good thing, but it was full of sadness, and loss....more than 10 years later there are still things that I miss....

Hopefully you will be able to maintain a lot of the friendships you have made, and have lots of excuses to go back to visit...but I know it won't be the same. Hubs and I took the Princess to London two summers ago, and we had a fabulous time, but it wasn't home anymore. Too much had changed and I had changed too much.

Big hugs.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Iota said...

You perfectly capture the dilemma that you have been mulling over for months and months. The more you make the effort to settle and carve out a home, the harder it will be to leave. Bittersweet indeed, but so so much better than the alternative, which would be to live for two years as a deliberate outsider, never to jump in, never truly to leave your US home, and to miss out hugely.

You are so wise to anticipate the difficulty of returning. I think lots of people imagine that going home is going to be easy, and get a shock.

I loved this post - you write superbly on these issues. I have tears in my eyes.

1:01 AM  
Anonymous Mom said...

I have, indeed, breathed a sigh of relief. Actually, I have been smiling all day. :-)
Your London adventure has been wonderful for all of you...but I sure am glad that you are coming home!

1:29 AM  
Blogger Dayna said...

Hello, I'm de-lurking, one Jersey Girl to another.

I lived in Wales for a while over ten years ago and there are still things I miss. Have some Galaxy Caramel for me.

2:27 AM  
Blogger Mobile Em said...

This makes me grateful for the stage I'm in now: only once we got past our 2-year question mark and decided to stick around longer have I felt like a legitimate part of London. In the first couple of years, knowing it all might be temporary, I never really felt like I could put down roots, likely as some form of protection against the possibility that I'd lose it all--whatever "it" was--before I was ready. Maybe your having kids here has forced a level of integration you might not otherwise have had. So while I do envy your going back, I don't envy the separation you're about to go through. Best of luck!

6:42 PM  
Blogger pinksundrops said...

Iota said it perfectly... it's good you're anticipating this now. I came back to Texas thinking it would be so easy and I got quite a shock. It is a difficult adjustment, but if you throw yourself into it as passionately as you did there in London I think it will be easier. Not easy, but easier.

3:40 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I remember a post of yours from your early days in London where you didn't want to/declined to go do...something...? because you weren't sure how to navigate public transportation with your kids in tow. And look at you now, baby!

To the topic at hand though: transitions and change are always tough for me and I completely understand your mixed emotions.

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I moved from nyc to london and stayed four years. Every day I encountered new 'London' challenges that I am sure you can relate to. In the begining I was fustrated by the differences and difficulites but I grew to love my new city and felt like it was home. Like you, I loved hosting my american guests and taking public transportation everywhere. I never missed my car but now that I am back I miss those buses!!!! Recently, I dreamt I was on the Eurostar to Paris for the weekend and then I woke up and realized now my train options are Boston or D.C. -- not quite the same!!!!!

I miss Selfridges (despite the poor dollar!!!), Boots, take away meals from Marks and Spencers, used book stores, weekend markets, Bounty Bars, Regents Park, long walks along the canals, drinking beer outside the pub on spring nights, the length of summertime days, the Tate, the British Museum, and the Southbank!!!! I miss my British words: Bin, Rubish, Brilliant, Fruit and Veg, Plasters, Chips, Crisps, Petrol, Mobile.....

The hardest thing for me has been getting used to New York City again.... so much has changed in such a short while but it doesn't take much time to catch up!!! The good news is I've found it very easy to keep up with my British friends. Some have already come over for a visit. With email and text messaging we all keep up with each other in all different countries and the world doesn't seem so big.

I will miss your blog reports from London. I discovered you after I moved back to the states and I've enjoyed reading your comments and being remined about life over there. Use every moment to enjoy your last six+ months. Time goes by so fast and once you return you will miss that crazy city!!! Good luck and thanks for all your great anecdotes.

4:38 AM  
Blogger Family Adventure said...

Hi Rebecca,

I was just pointed in your direction from Chichi (although I think I've been here before...a long time ago...your blog seems familiar to me).

I just wrote a similar post about our experiences in Norway. Although our experiences are completely different (and our situations), there's many things I can relate to in your post. I'm glad you've had such a great time in the UK. It's a time you will never forget. Your kids will also take this with them forever.

Good luck these next few months. There's bound to be ups and downs, but you'll get through them, and eventually you'll be settled back home again!

Heidi :)

5:37 PM  
Blogger E said...

Permanent is a funny word. I don't think I believe in it. It implies a level of control that I am unsure we posses. Do it in colored pencil...extravagant color, and an ability to erase.
Welcome home.
But who knows you may decide to live in Greece next..?!..

3:44 AM  
Blogger Chris in Oxford said...

I know how you feel. We've been living in Oxford for just over three years. Things are now falling in line for us to move on (not back to the U.S. but further on to Australia). Since we made that decision I'm really aware of all the things about Oxford that I just adore. Things that I often considered little annoying idiosyncracies even! For the first time in three years I can say that I will really miss Britain.

What a very nice site. I'm wandering through expat blogs and am glad that I stumbled on yours. All the best, Chris.

8:07 PM  

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