|The dawn of the 99th day|
So today marks 99 days since our repatriation to the USA. You'll have to allow me a little license on calling it the first 100 days a day early--today being Halloween and a Friday, it means that I just won't have a spare moment during the weekend with the hyper-sugared kids.
The boys are two weeks away from turning eight years old. They are out of their minds with joy for their first Halloween ever. They have had others--but only one in the USA when they were almost 1 year old and not trick-or-treating. This morning they pushed playfully in their bus line--there are five boys between the ages of 6 and 10 at the bus stop and each has one day of the week that they get on the bus first. It is surprisingly entertaining to them each morning to line up--"today's Friday, I'm second!" or whatever. They are happy.
I am happy. I am in fact still in love with my new home, neighborhood and town. Aw what the heck, also my state and country. The honeymoon period has not yet passed--I expect the first cracks in the facade will come in December with days getting light at 7:15 am and dark at 4:15. That can't be good. I have no fear of the cold (yes, you can remind me of this in February) but I have fear of the dark. Yes, I will be taking the twins trick-or-treating tonight--not that kind of dark. Long dark. Cold dark.
In the meantime, I still stare open-mouthed out my kitchen window at the maples, oaks and birches that shine on with yellows, oranges and sadly now a bit of brown. The New England fall is simply mind-boggling. Showers of leaves float down as I write this--the winds are up for the cold front tomorrow. Most of the leaves are on borrowed time.
Yesterday I took a two-hour walk in the woods with a friend I chanced to find after 25 years. We now live less than a mile apart--we both have two rescued dogs, we both are off-ramped from our Seven Sisters/MBA/business careers to spend time with our kids. The big difference is that she runs ultramarathons (50 miles!!) and I eat large amounts of donuts. Oh yes, and do Kung Fu Fit. I have new friends who I feel like I've known forever, and old friends who are better than ever. Happy. I am deliriously happy.
Of course there are the bad days. The bad days are the ones when I am frustrated with trying to get everything done--chimney cleaning (that's right now--I am tired of the vacuuming already), irrigation system winterized, doctors appointments, books back to the library on time. My kids mostly still want to sleep in my room--they are still scared of this three-story house. They have only ever lived in a one-story house. The dogs need walking, they need an end-of year boarding situation, and I need to see a dentist after two years ignoring that task. Life is busy.
While I was chopping up the 4000000000000 apples that my kids picked during a Cub Scouts outing last weekend and tossing them into the pot for a year's worth of applesauce (I don't bake), I began to think about what makes me so happy here. Besides the fall leaves. Besides the wild outdoors. Besides my awesome kids and dogs. And I found the number one thing. And it has everything to do with ex-patriation and repatriation.
Confidence. It's the overwhelming sense of confidence here. It's knowing who to call when the chimney needs cleaning. It's knowing how to explain what is wrong at the doctor's office, or at Home Depot or at the car dealership. It's knowing that the Mass Pike sucks on Fridays. It's knowing that I will shortly be very tired of apples and pumpkins.
I am fluent in Portuguese. I can confidently say that. But I am not fluent in Brazil and maybe you can never be if you are not born there--Matthew Shirts, a longtime Brazil resident, might argue with me. But it's true. It took me 9 years living there to be able to phrase things in the subjunctive (polite) or in the third person (for older people) so that I didn't insult people. My phrasing, while mellowed, is forever American of Dutch background--I say what I mean and mean what I say. That is not Brazilian.
I am confident chatting with the neighbors -- when they invite me over for dinner, they actually mean it. Not the Brazilian "we should have dinner sometime" which means roughly never. I am confident that when I am told the price of something, that is indeed the price--not the price because I am a gringa, or because I haven't learned to negotiate or whatever it is. I never understood when I could negotiate in Brazil and when I couldn't. I probably have some enemies I am not aware of.
I am confident in who I am and how I can do things. I am taking these months left in 2014 to settle in, but I know that I can work again outside the home if I want to. Probably in a job that is less than full time, allowing me to spend healthy time with my kids and healthy time for myself. I never felt judged badly for staying at home withe the kids in Brazil--but nor were most Brazil jobs and careers made with parents in mind. Taking kids to private school, finding educated help for the kids in the afternoon, working until 9 pm because of bad traffic--São Paulo is tough for the two-career couple. I completely take my hat off to those who could make it work.
More than any other place I have lived since 1986 when I went to college--I feel at home. I am home. I loved living in San Francisco for five years after college--but it never felt like home. I liked Evanston, but it was not home. I never loved New Jersey and Miami where I lived at various moments.
I love São Paulo, I truly do. But it was never comfortable, and never made me confident. So much I didn't and still don't understand about the politics, about the culture, about the people. I don't want to discourage anyone ever from taking an ex-patriate assignment--it was fantastic. It made me a more empathetic person and expanded horizons that a 2-week trip cannot possibly do.
But the truth of the truth is: I am happy to be home.