Back home

Summer is here, in all its lush green glory. For the first time in years, we spent a bit of time in the U.S. for part of June, and got to enjoy some time at the ocean, too.

And then we all got on a plane and left. We're back in Japan now, for the summer and perhaps a bit longer. We are home….it feels like, and yet home is all the way on the other side of the world, as well. This is the first time that I am starting to feel that the wandering life is wearing on me. To put down small roots in a new home, a new place; to meet with old friends from the past and to cultivate a sense of belonging (or re-belonging); to get a glimpse of what life might have been like had we never ever left…..and then to leave again; it's all very dislocating in a Rip Van Winkle kind of way. I find myself yearning for simple things that I can't have until we are in one place year-round: a garden, a pet to care for, all my books in one place, meeting with old friends and beloved family members without the knowledge that we'll be departing again all too soon.

Jet lag, of course, doesn't help much with my sense of dislocation and of not belonging in either world while longing for both. The older children, unlike me, don't seem to experience jet lag much despite the 13-14 hour time difference, and I think that all the back-and-forth has helped us to hone some strategies which work for them. Things like: 

-Making sure to take a plane which arrives late in the afternoon. The kids then take a brief nap on the way into Tokyo from the airport, and then are awake until nearly midnight so that they sleep throughout the early hours of the morning.  I think jet lag is hardest to overcome when you fall asleep too early in the evening (or even late afternoon) and then wake up at 1 AM!  

-Getting plenty of sunlight during the day – it seems to help reset their circadian rhythms too; jet lag always feels worse if we arrive on a cloudy day. 

-Getting lots of physical exercise – especially important.

-Scheduling something pretty engaging for the first day back – a playdate, fun outing, even school – so they stay energized. Having it be close by is helpful, though, so we can avoid long stretches in the car (which lead to sleep!).

Anyway, if they manage to get through the first day, then they get on a good pattern and their nighttime sleep gets longer and longer with each passing day. 

It's easiest for the older ones, who have more energy and can stay awake during the daytime. The little ones find themselves totally overcome by sleep at odd moments for the first day or so, like M below the day the last time we flew to the US who was, I think, just about to take her outdoor shoes off and put slippers on when she collapsed.

Despite all the hardships, I like the fact that as a family it feels like our ties are strengthened by our being each other's familiar ground, wherever we go, and that the kids are developing a deeper connection based on their unique, shared experience that no one else can really understand.  Even their language – a mix of Japanese and English, scattered with references to their schools and friends and lives in both countries – is uniquely their own when they are together.

Being back in Japan always fills me with inspiration. There is so much that is familiar yet fresh, and living life here throws me off-center just enough to keep me aware of these things. The first thing I did was go to the grocery store and get ingredients for a few of our favorite Japanese meals! Next week I'll be hitting up some local craft stores.

Have you moved much, as an adult or as a child? If so, what was the experience like for you, or for your children? I'd love to hear!


18 thoughts on “Back home

  1. Babette

    I have tired of moving. With the last move, I left my boys behind at college in a different state…not that I expect them to be nearby, and, in fact, they are not MUCH more distant than they were when we lived in the same state…but I def. feel uprooted. Some of it is my husband, some is the economy, some is my move has ever been because of me. But I am considering putting my foot down here. I want roots. I want roots. I WANT roots.

  2. Alexandra

    I can really identify. I lived in France for almost 25 years and brought my kids up there. They always came to Grandma’s in the summer. We went back and forth, back and forth. Then slowly I decided that I really did not want this so-called glamourous life. I divorced my French husband and moved back to the USA. I do not miss the travel at all. Sometimes I went back and forth four times a year. My kids attended international schools and so were able to get into Harvard and Brown, the girls. My son is also here, living, married to a Frenchwoman. We make choices when we are young and never know where they will lead us. Roots do matter.

  3. Christine - Origami Mommy

    Babette, I relate to this so much. I want roots, too! I just want roots in two places, or perhaps even more – we have moved so many times in the last ten years – but I know that for us to really settle in one place, we’ll have to give up the others. That will be hard.

  4. Christine - Origami Mommy

    Alexandra, 25 years is a long time. How fortunate you are to be settled at last.
    My husband and I struggled in our hearts over where we wanted to settle. For us there is nothing glamourous about this – I think it all came down to a simple, strong desire for our children to grow up in another culture – a culture that was important to the two of us, which is one reason we put them in local schools, too. One of our core family values is to help our children develop a genuine global sensibility, and in this, I am feeling like we’ve succeeded. But just as there is much to gain, there is much to give up when you live this way, in the simple, everyday things, and in the sadness of leaving beloved people behind – in both places! The children seem happy, as if there is twice as much for them to experience, but I know my heart feels torn.

  5. Sharon Waldrop

    My husband and I and three of our four kids moved from California to Georgia almost five years ago. Our oldest daughter, in college, chose to stay in California and we fly her out here twice a year to visit. Our life in the country is very different than our life was in the big city and although I don’t feel rooted yet, I feel comfortable. When I visit southern California, I have mixed feelings. I miss the excitement of the state vs. the slow lifestyle here. And of course there are many people, places, and foods that I miss. I feel homesick, but after a day of sitting in a car on the freeway going nowhere and having to wait in a long line for absolutely everything, I don’t miss southern California so much after all. However, in some ways it will always be “home” to me.

  6. MarthaAndMe

    I am terrible with jet lag. When we went to Hawaii, I couldn’t stay awake past 9 and then was up at 5 in the morning. It’s easier for me going east – when we went to England I was ok there, but adjusting when we got back home was really hard. These are really good tips I will keep in mind for my kids!

  7. MyKidsEatSquid

    I’m about to move and I read your post with interest–I think you’re right that physical exercise is key. We go on constant bike rides. But I have noticed that since friends have been taking my kids out and I’ve been more diligent coming up with things for them to do, they now have sort of come to expect some dramatic activity each day.

  8. Jennifer Margulis

    There’s something so bittersweet about this post, Christine. I am glad you are “home” safely but selfishly wishing your home was in America. Which it also is. So complicated. My oldest daughter was born in Atlanta, we moved to Massachusetts when she was about 10 months old, then lived in three different houses in three towns in Massachusetts, then we moved to Ashland, and then we moved again from B Street to Harrison, where we live now. Then we moved to West Africa for a year and lived in two different places there. So she has lived in eight houses in ten years, if I’m counting correctly. Though I love to travel and love to visit people all over the world, I really hate moving. I like that we live in Ashland and are grounded here, and we use this as a springboard to go lots of other places. But I don’t think I could make a transcontinental move several times in one year. You are amazing not to be MORE exhausted…

  9. Meredith

    I moved from NY to CA as an 8th grader. It was a huge change (and I didn’t want to go) but I know it was actually best for me in the long and the short run. Our daughters came from Russia at 10 and 13, and it was a huge change for them, with added facets of adjustment than I went through.

  10. Frugal Kiwi

    My best guess is that I’m on address #25 of my life. Moving has its good points, but I have to admit, I could use a few years off now. We just moved into our current home a less than a month ago, so I should have at least a little time off before I move again.

  11. Katherine

    Yes, we moved a lot growing up. My husband and I have moved a lot since graduating, but it hardly counts, since we haven’t moved more than 10 miles. When I was growing up I appreciated the chance to start over in a new school, it allowed me to be a different person. When you stay around the people you’ve known your whole life, to a certain extent you aren’t allowed to change, you are always a little bit who everyone expects you to be. But roots are def good too.

  12. sheryl

    This is an amazing post, Christine…I can’t even begin to imagine doing what you do, especially with 4 children! But I do agree it absolutely strengthens your ties as a family, as you are all in it together. Enjoy your time in Japan.

  13. Francesca

    Look at your poor daughter, that’s an amazing photo (and place to “fall” asleep!). I have the hardest time with jet lag, and I know how difficult it is dealing with little jet lagged children on top of your own jet lag. It used to take us two full weeks to be back on schedule (9 hours difference), but nowadays my older kids take only a few days to adjust.
    I still have to find a place that I really feel it’s “home” to me.

  14. sarah henry

    Um, 7 moves in 10 years, two across continents, like you. Born in Britain, raised in Australia, adult life in America. So I can so relate. After 25 years of trying to figure out where I “belong” (not quite “at home” now in either place) I’ve come to think of this as a blessing not a curse. I actually envy your seemingly easy shifting between two cultures — especially with a gaggle of kids in tow. My ideal, once my boy is raised, is to split my time between the U.S. and Oz, thus enjoying the best of both worlds. How about you?

  15. Susan

    Wow, I’m so impressed how gracefully you handle all of this! (Sorry we didn’t get to connect when you were in Cambridge last mont.) We moved a cross country twice when I was a kid and people thought that was crazy, but it’s nothing compared to moving across an ocean. But I’m sure your kids will grow up a greater cultural awareness and curiosity about the world!


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