What is home?
It’s a question at the forefront of my thought-life these days. As we prepare to make an unexpected move from India to the US in a matter of weeks, I ponder on the word home and what it’s come to mean not only to me, but to all the members of my immediate family.
There are seven of us. Baby H is too young to know anything about geography beyond mommy and Little S probably is too, though everyday for lunch he asks for “dal and rice” from our house-helper (I’m going to need to take some notes soon). My three oldest have lived here for five years and have varying degrees of connectedness based on age and temperament. Our oldest, J, doesn’t like change. And just yesterday declared he was staying here while the rest of us leave. Our second son broke into tears when we told him we were leaving, but hasn’t mentioned it much since, and our very social Princess is excited to be returning to school in the US (we pulled her out here) and to be near her cousins–no time for tears there.
As for me, well, it’s complicated. India and I have wrestled with each other for these past 5 years. I won’t sugar coat it– it’s been a hard place for me to live for much of the time. The isolation and loneliness and feeling like we are always under a microscope is hard. Cooking from scratch takes forever. And a million other things from mosquitoes to electricity add, um, variety to life. Still, when we return to the US we go from being interesting to many here because we are different to being very uninteresting to most. I know that sounds strange, but we are seen as different people here. Here we run a business and volunteer at the church and walk to our local market. There we are starting from scratch and appear to be like everyone else.
People, sweet, well-meaning people, will say, “Oh you’re in America now!” and what this means is “doesn’t that solve all your problems?!” Well, I suppose it means I can eat a burger and Blue Bell now; I can drive myself, thank you very much, now; and we will be closer to family assuming they want to be closer to us 🙂
But there are other problems that go along with being in America. Our home culture, beautiful and great as it is, has much to be desired in terms of how quickly kids seem to grow up there. We have a future middle-schooler who has a heart of gold and I’d like for him to remain that way. But I know this is going to be a struggle in our celebrity, social media culture. I also want our kids to remember what they’ve seen and experienced here so their hearts will always be champions of justice and of those who suffer greatly. I want their hearts to be tender towards outsiders as they have lived as outsiders and know what that feels like, both positively and negatively.
I could go on and on.
Home is not something I can easily define these days as we begin the “fun” process of packing up 5 years of life. The giveaway/to-be-sold pile keeps growing as we weed out what we really need and what is of no consequence. We’ve moved four times in the past 11 years and lived countless months out of suitcases when visiting family and times of transition, slept a variety of beds and tried to manage the chaos of living in someone else’s house with 3, 4 and now 5 children. We are a big group. We would be weary if there was no home to run to in the future, but thankfully there is an oasis in the desert waiting on the other side and excited family waiting in the wings to welcome us home.
But even though we are going back to the place I called home for the first 23 years of my life, it doesn’t feel like home, really. The great irony is that all growing up all I could think about was leaving my small town where never felt like I quite belonged, and now I’m landing a mere five minutes from the very house I grew up in. My son will go to my middle school. It feels like I’ve entered the Twilight Zone.
And similarly, I struggle to know how I’m going to live there. What is it like for kids to go to school in America? How do kids dress? What will community look like for us? How do I begin to explain the past 11 years of my life to people I meet for the first time? Is there an expat support group in North Georgia to help me make sense of this place? Why do I suddenly want a cat (I’m horribly allergic) so I can name her Indira?
Perhaps because even though India and I have had a love/hate relationship at times, I don’t want to lose her and what she’s taught me. I don’t want us to forget India.
When people say we’re coming “home” I pause. I really don’t know where home is anymore, geographically speaking. Home is simply where my people are and where we can be “us” without care. In all this we do look forward to the journey ahead, but know that losing one home, even though gaining another, means we will grieve. And this is the part I don’t think you can understand unless you’ve lived it. There will be tears and pain and joy and the feeling that something has been lost in the gain. It’s simply the way it is.
So if you see us around later this fall and we still look like we’re trying to catch our breath, the truth is we probably are.