Friday, July 24, 2015

Things Are Seldom What They Seem - Weston, MA

So, it's been a year. A year since I began this repatriation journey. A year since leaving my home of six years in São Paulo, Brazil. The changes have been immense--stresses that I didn't know I had have melted away. Stresses I didn't know I would have have reared their sleepless-night-inducing heads. It has not been easy in so many ways; it has been so easy in other ways.

When we announced our move, most people said that repatriation would be much more difficult than expatriation. I don't believe that to be true. There are challenges both ways, but here "at home", I don't feel like I am facing it alone. Perhaps I am lucky for having found people with whom I can laugh or cry here, but all in all, things have been okay. More than okay. Slightly less than awesome.

New friends have helped immeasurably, yet I had forgotten how  long it takes to make friends in a new town, especially a New England one. Old friends have been invaluable--from unpacking to inviting us to their homes, to lending a sympathetic ear when I started sentences for the two-thousandth time "well, when I was in Brazil..."

So, I'd like to sum up my year--the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful... I don't know if it will help the repatriators who follow but it helps me realize what I have gone through.

The good

People. New Englanders take a while to know, but they are in fact wonderfully helpful, funny and genuine folks. If you do get invited for dinner, they actually want you to come over rather than just a "hey, we should do dinner sometime."  They are also used to be independent and self-reliant (yes, I had to give up a housekeeper) and will stand in for you as babysitter or driver if you are stuck. We've all been there. 

New skiers (mine) and new friends.

The ease of life. Case in point: our grocery store has everything here. Batteries, stationery, milk, vegetables, beer. It's all in one place. It's easy. Of course it's easier for me because I know brands and I know where to find them. I am from here. I get it. But in the grand scheme, what I mean here is that having your kids running down the street to friends' houses without a thought to safety is ease of life, not just groceries. They bicycle down streets with little risk to life and limb. Also yellow school buses. I love them.

The closeness of family. My brother lives 12 miles from me. My parents live a two hour flight from me. I am not saying we see them all the time, but it's a bit better than the distance we've lived at for the last 15 years (Brazil then Miami then Brazil again).

The comfort of my own language and culture. Not much I need to say here. The comfort of my own language means that I don't have to worry that I accidentally insulted someone by not calling them "Senhora" instead of the more casual "voce" in Portuguese. Or that "louco" or crazy in Portuguese is actually pretty strong and not a light-hearted American "You're crazy!" And yes, I get references to Dukes of Hazzard and the Brady Bunch--not so much the Pica-Pau Amarelo in Brazil. It's nice to be comfortable in my language and my bad 70s TV shows.

Being allowed to complain. I am not a Brazil citizen or passport holder. I cannot vote there. I was always pretty careful not to complain (much) about the politics because frankly I can't do much about it. I am a voter here. I vote every time I'm allowed. I complain and I try to change what I'm complaining about. It is nice to be able to vote in local elections again. And state. As well as federal. Beyond voting, if you are a "visitor" or "permanent resident" of a country, your criticism about it often chafes a native. I get it. 

New England. It's God's Country. It's the most beautiful place in the world in every season. It is. Don't try to fight it.

Coal. My rescue dog has filled a hole that a 14-year old labrador's death on June 14, 2014 carved in my heart. He is funny, he is bad, he is comic relief. We also have two fish and of course Haifa, the world's happiest and laziest labrador, who makes me smile just by existing.

Coal and Lalo

The bad

Little bads: Nico breaks an arm two hours after arrival last year.
Life goes on for some friends you had expected to see. Case in point is one friend who lives exactly one hour and a half from here. I haven't seen her since last August. Not for lack of trying--her kid plays competitive lacrosse apparently every waking moment, she and her husband work full-time and she is trying to sell her business.  For other friends, I mistakenly thought that New York (where I'm from) is closer than it is. I don't mean miles. I mean life.

BH working more in Brazil and less here. When we moved, I thought BH would be more here and less there. That he would be six months in Brazil then join us here with trips back and forth twice a month. In reality, he is more there than here--he's a consultant and he has a great client. We all do what we can but being more alone that I thought I would be has been pretty tough.

The realization that the market went on without me. For the last six months, I have dabbled in trying to go back to work. On-ramping, as it seems is the catch phrase right now. I need to for my mind and to pay for lawn care, which it turns out is really expensive ;). While I have a great educational and work background, I've been out for a long time. It is really hard, for my ego and in general, to get back in.

Even though you can afford it, you need to watch out. When you live in a city as expensive as São Paulo and imported goods are outrageously priced, you may find yourself going a little crazy when you get back in the US. Yes, a lot of stuff is very cheap but it adds up. Case in point: my Honda CRV cost the equivalent of $60,000 (before bullet-proofing) in Brazil. For that money, I could buy a nice Acura MDX (actually for $20K less) brand-new. Should we have bought a brand-new car with all the other expenses of new house coming through? Not sure. We made up for it with our second car: a 2002 Acura TL hooptie which my kids prefer to the big car!

Snowmaggedon. Yeah, it wasn't that bad but just think about 110 inches of snow and no snowblower. I love winter, but let's get real, Boston.

Missing friends and family. Perhaps the biggest "bad". The joy of being a bi-country couple is that someone is always missing. I miss my stepkids Carol and Pedro (ages 20 and 23) who are moving along life's path at an accelerated pace. I miss my friend Pri who was always up for a coffee or a glass of wine and laughing about life. I miss my expat friends who could make me laugh about the craziness of our adopted city--especially Erica, Birgit and Virginia, but many others too. I miss the fazenda where we rented a house--a place so filled with beauty that it apparently stole it from other places. I miss carefree and friendly Brazilians--the ones I struck up casual conversations with about nothing and about everything. Taxi drivers, bakery helpers, cashiers. And finally, but not meant that way, I miss my crazy Brazilian in-laws: Marisa, Marco, Zoraide, Leo, Isabela, Julia...all of you. Please no one tell them I said so.

All in all, we love our new house and new life in the USA. I am not promising to stay here forever, but it is home now.  I am now on the local PTO board. I have been appointed to a town committee. I manage my kid's club soccer team. I am doing my best to participate and live here as fully as I did in Brazil. Because I think that is the trick to expatriation AND repatriation. Throw yourself fully in, participate and BE where you are. Yes, you can miss certain things about your life in the other place but in the end, it doesn't help your happiness.

I'm not happy every day here. Not even close. But I try.

Happy Anniversary, Weston! 

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