So far, I have a love/hate relationship with London. Its still early days, I know, but we have yet to find a tempered place of mutual respect and admiration. Maybe we will, maybe we wont…at this point we seem to be pendulum swinging from HIGH highs to LOW lows…ad infinitum. And that’s okay. By now, I understand that this is part of the evolution of a move, international or otherwise. New places are exciting and motivating and inspiring and they go on that way, well…until they’re no longer new. As time moves on and we animate these places with our memories and our milestones, what was once strange becomes intimate; a place you know like the back of your hand…and little by little starts to feel like home.
Like home…but not actually home.
For me, Home is a mystifying concept. It’s right up there with the heavy-hitters Right and Wrong and Heaven and Hell. We all understand Home. We all have a personal version of it. Home connects us to parts of our past and draws us forward into our imagined futures. Most of us know Home when we feel it…but sometimes it can transcend our definitions and defy our little boxes. Every once in a while, we can feel at home the first time we set foot in a new place. Sometimes a person, not a place, makes us feel at home. Even smells can transport us across time and space to a memory of home. Over the course of our lives Home takes many shapes, many forms; all equally as authentic as the one before.
London certainly does not feel like home yet. This city buzzes with infectious energy and poisonous negativity and irresistible possibility and crippling despair. A witches brew of polarities swirls above, somewhere in the lower atmosphere, creating the haze of hope and desperation through which we experience our urban lives. The relentless rain both nourishes and drowns us and as we breathe the city air it stains our insides, scars our lungs… and shapes little parts of our souls. Londoners, like true addicts, smoke their pack-a-day of her…this enigmatic city is a buzz that they crave; a chaos that comforts. But I am not a true Londoner, not even close. I am a transplant. And like a heart that is forcibly hooked to new veins and capillaries and nerves and valves…I still feel wildly out of place.
As a girl, growing up in rural Wisconsin, I never imagined that my life would be like this. Living far from home, miles and miles away from family and friends and raising two little boys in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the world. Its exciting and terrifying and lonely and some days I feel like I am totally in over my head. As a kid, we moved like a million times when I was in primary school. Our family’s staying power in one place usually didn’t surpass the one-year mark and so I was eternally the New Kid. Forever finding new places to sit at lunch tables in unfamiliar cafeterias and navigating the politics of 6-12 year olds as best as the New Kid can. It was never easy but, miraculously, I always made friends. No matter where we went, I found a little group and tucked right in. I was a precocious, social kid and thanks to my mom, had the self-confidence of a peacock.
“Of course, they will like you,” she would reassure me before each first day of school. “You are amazing.”
In all my peacocky displays as a child, some cute and some wildly inappropriate, my grandmother would often suggest that it was time I learn a bit of modesty. But my momma, god bless her all-knowing heart, disagreed:
“The world will teach her modesty when it knocks her down again and again. It’s my job to give her the confidence to keep getting back up.”
If only all little girls had a mother like mine.
And she was right. So so right. Over the years I have been a pinball, bounced from place to place, obstacle to obstacle, sometimes getting stuck, other times disappearing down a deep, dark hole…but so far I have always emerged, though bruised and battered, with my chin up, ready to be sprung back into the game. And the truth is, despite being knocked around a fair bit, especially by motherhood, her words still spur me on.
You are capable of anything.
Even though my experiences in life have not always reaffirmed this belief. In fact, sometimes life has done its best to bury it deeply beneath hurt, despair and pain. Against the odds and because of my mother’s commitment to building my confidence, this heart still has the courage to remain soft and hopeful. Even thousands of miles from Home. And that folks is testament to the power of being a mother. And being a great one. Its the kind of mother, I can only aspire to be for my two little boys. To have them feel about me the way I do about my mom would be the greatest honour life could bestow.
As I collect year after year in places other than my little Wisconsin hometown, I am beginning to think that Home isn’t a place at all. Maybe home is a feeling. A recognition that washes over us when we feel contentment and gratitude for the life that we are living. A knowing that sweeps in and fills our hearts with warmth when we are surrounded by the people and the things that make us feel like the truest version of ourselves. Maybe Home is an evolution that changes and grows and adapts alongside the progression of our lives. If that is the case, then it means that anyone can feel Home, anywhere. And that thought makes my little ex-pat heart smile.
This morning the boys and I had already navigated buses, taxis and trains before the clock had even struck midday. City life can be stressful and complicated and I’m still getting acclimated to it’s breakneck pace. But as we sat on the last leg of our journey and I watched my precious boys devour their bacon sandwiches while the British countryside whizzed by, I felt it.
I felt Home.