I spent a year of my childhood living abroad in a country where my parents didn’t speak the language. At seven years old, it was less critical in so many ways that I didn’t speak it either, though I picked it up much faster than they did. I can only imagine the decision process they went through before we packed up to move to Belgium and how they decided what would go and what would stay, where we would live, what school my sister and I would attend, and the myriad other decisions that have to be made.
I sometimes wish I had to make those decisions myself, though in reality I won’t – the blessing and the curse of being married to a schoolteacher. I dream of one day – when the wee ones are older, but not too old – of getting on a plane the day after school gets out, renting a little apartment in Italy or Spain (more likely since Little Miss is in a Spanish immersion program) and not returning until the day before school begins again.
The food tastes different in Europe. I can use literally the same ingredients here and there, and yet the final outcome is noticeably different. It isn’t just because I’m on vacation and food always tastes better on vacation. The food there is truly different, and I love it. I look forward to heading to the little markets and purchasing my food for the day – because in Europe they do shop much more frequently and for fresher foods than we do in the States. I would love to be challenged with more than figuring out how to buy yeast to make my own bread because apparently Italy doesn’t sell yeast the same way we do, something I figured out during our two week sojourn to Italy a couple summers ago.
It’s more than that though. I remember living there and spending few weekends at home. Whenever we had any sort of a break, we left our little town outside Waterloo and went… anywhere. It’s a continental sport there, to drive or fly or take the train somewhere else. We drove to West Germany and Poland. We visited Luxembourg (where my mom bought the dishes that she still uses almost thirty years later) and Austria. We took the train to Italy and saw the fireworks they lit off for New Year’s Eve as we headed back to our rented farmhouse. We rode trams up the slopes of the Alps – in the summer, sadly, so no skiing – and the Metro in Paris.
I remember some of it, but not enough. What I most remember is my collection of dolls. In every country we visited, my parents purchased me a collectible doll dressed in the traditional costume of that land. I wish I still had them, but I eventually took them all from their plastic oval protection and played with them, mussing their hair and irretrievably damaging them somehow. I don’t remember the places as much as I do sitting in the way back of our station wagon facing the cars following us, hoping I wouldn’t get carsick. There is so much I didn’t appreciate at 7 and 8.
And I know the wee ones aren’t ready for a summer overseas for that reason alone. If we were moving there for three or four years, I wouldn’t hesitate as so much simply becomes ingrained in you without you realizing it, and that sort of osmosis is ideal. Every once in awhile, I realize how much my time in Europe has affected me. I feel like I must have bread at every meal. I feel uncomfortable when I put my hand under the table at a meal. I don’t switch my fork into the other hand when cutting food. And those are just mealtime examples.
When you’re abroad for a shorter time – just a summer – you have to focus on what you will remember and what you want to remember. I don’t want to drag the wee ones from city to city, with them nose deep in a book and wishing they could go home or asking why we don’t go to Disney World instead. That’s not the experience I want to have, and I long for that. It’s a dream that suffuses me with hope and light some days.
Realistically, we may never do that. Sports will become a scheduling nightmare. Summer school may become less of an option and more of a requirement. Finding someone to cat sit for us for a summer is a daunting task. And the cost of living abroad for a summer? Well, it isn’t exactly insignificant. But nonetheless, it’s my dream. It’s my “one day” that I focus on when I need to.
What is your one day?
In the interest of full disclosure, this post was part of the From Left to Write book club. I received a copy of the book for review purposes, though our reviews are not traditional ones but instead posts inspired by the books we write. To see more of my thoughts on “The Expats” by Chris Pavone, see my review on 5 Minutes for Mom. I was not compensated, and all opinions remain my own.