I just came home from a trip to the US after more than two years away. It was wonderful to be home and very interesting to see how my family and I have changed during our time away. These were the most salient feelings I experienced during those weeks in the States.
As much as I was looking forward to enjoying American products again, the best part of being back was the people.
I made a list on my fridge of things I wanted to have while visiting the US for months before going home. Items on that list were eating fajitas at Chili’s, eating a chicken sandwich at Chick Fil-A, buying Hanes underwear and other seeming banalities that I have grown to really miss while living in the Germany. As the days went by, the items on my “to eat/to buy list” became increasingly less important and seeing the friends and family I have missed so much was much more fulfilling. Sadly my grandmother died a few days before our trip so we were able to attend her funeral and see many family members we otherwise never would have. One is getting married this summer, another is managing a family with eight children, another is sending her youngest child to med school and one is learning to become a museum curator. So much has changed yet they are still the same wonderful people I remember.
I feel like I didn’t see my children for three weeks because they basically ran wild with their cousins for twenty days in a row, only coming to me when they needed something to eat. They slept in haphazard piles of boys on the living room floor and loved every minute of it. At the end of our trip, I was hoping Maximilian would be able to tell me some interesting observations about the cultural differences between Germany and the US. When pressed, he could only say that he had a great time with his cousins.
While I love how kid-friendly the US is, I realized that since almost everyone reproduces, it doesn’t give you a special status like it does in Europe.
It was wonderful to have so many children for my kids to play with in the US! It was a break for me as a mom since I wasn’t the entertainer. However, being the mom of lots of kids in Europe affords me a special status. All I have to do is mention that I have four children and people quickly say “Respekt”. The huge amount of work that goes with being a mom is recognized here in Europe wheras in the US, it is seen as normal. Flying to the US from Germany, the stewardesses saw that I have small kids and gave me a special roomy seat and there were even special lines for families at the check-in area of the airport for people with kids. A single man tried to sneak into the line and a forthright German quickly put him in his place. “This is ONLY for people with kids. Get in the other line”. Coming home to the US, the American flight attendants were nice, but when I explained that I was flying with a lapchild and three other small kids, she didn’t flinch. “Could we at least all sit together, please? I have four small kids and I am alone!”. “So?” was her response.
For my 5 year old, language is based on situations, not which country you visit.
My mom’s house is next to a preschool and Noah went up to the fence and said to the kids “Was machst du denn?”. No one answered him and he came back to me and reported that the kids next door are rude. “They wouldn’t even answer me!”. For Noah, German is the language of small children since that is the language he speaks at his preschool. English is the language you speak when you are at home. He did not connect the English language with the country of the USA. In fact, I am not sure if he even knew that he was in a place that is far away from his home.
I was overhwhelmed with emotion as I flew over Chicago.
Our flight back home connected in Chicago and we spent some time circling overhead before landing. I saw Evanston, Lake Michigan, Arlington Heights, Park Ridge, Golf Road and Skokie. We spent ten extremely formative years of our life in that city. I got married to my husband, went to grad school, had a professional career, made dear friends, bought a house and gave birth to three children there. As we flew over, I suddenly felt really sad that a place that means so much to me means nothing to my kids other than their place of birth. So much of who I am is connected to that place and my boys do not know it.
Coming back to Germany this week has been like coming to the Europe of my teens and 20s. When Sebastian and I would visit in the summer months when I was on school break, the weather was glorious and warm. I would arrive, eyes burning and nauseous with jet lag but enchanted by the experience. So many senses transported me to that time these last few days: the smell of food being served in open air cafes mixed with the smell of the patrons’ cigarettes, the heat of car exhaust and heat coming off the pavement since we go everywhere on foot, staying out late at night since the time change makes me still wide awake at dusk. This is the Germany of my younger, childless self and yet it feels just the same now that I am in my 30s and feeling these things with four little ducklings trailing behind me. So maybe someday we will be back in Chicago and the boys will know that place that means so much to me, just like they are here in the country their dad grew up in.
Home is where Sebastian is
Getting off the airplane and seeing Sebastian at the baggage claim was the most wonderful sight in the world. Somehow I felt at home even though Germany doesn’t feel like my homeland.