I wonder whether people in England realise how much I miss them. They should. It’s obvious. After all, why else would I spend eighteen hours navigating the horrors of long haul flights and airports single-handed with my two very young children? Why would anyone do that for anything other than pure and unconditional love?
I won’t dwell on the journey; we all know the drill – sweaty American airports with hostile security, giant bagels, broken fitful sleep, chronic dehydration, capped off by being tipped out into a summer dawn in a London under siege to a rapidly approaching Olympics. But anyway we were here/there, and this time the kids remembered it and Skype (God bless you Skype) had ensured yet again that the people waiting to meet us weren’t strangers – they were grandparents.
This is the only thing that makes us question our decision to live our funny little expat life; this is the main sacrifice we have made. Our children’s relationship with their grandparents and vice versa is no doubt affected by us living so far away. And it’s such an important relationship; there’s so much they can gain from each other. And it’s only really when you see them together that you realise how sad it is that it can’t happen more often.
That’s just part of living in a country that isn’t the one you started out in. And it is pretty much the only thing that calls me back. It’s funny because I remember missing ‘home’ at first and now, more than five years after I left, I guess I don’t. Home is a funny concept. Once you’re married and have your family your home just kind of follows you around, like a snail with a shell. Home is wherever you are. But even if it’s also about friends, and places, and familiarity, I suppose after a few years you’ve set up a broader sense of home in the community you find yourself a part of; and similarly, you’ve kind-of subtracted yourself from the one you left behind.
The last place we lived in the UK was Gateshead, and we left there, as childless newlyweds, in the summer of 2007. Small wonder then that our sense of being at home in the UK has faded over the intervening years. So now, when people ask me if I miss it, or if I feel a desire to go back, I have to say that I don’t. Well, that’s what I would have said, before this summer’s visit.
I can’t tell you what made it different this time. Every time we go back ‘home’ there’s something of a disconnect. When we’re here in Costa Rica we rarely think of the UK, and when we’re there we don’t think about being here. We’ve always missed our family, but we’re incredibly happy where we are so we don’t long to go back. But this time, I don’t know, all the things that drive me a little bit nuts about the UK were also the things that made it hard to leave at the end of the visit – the language, the television, the crazy weather, the way it’s such a small place that everyone ends up getting the same ideas, the comfort of being with family and oldest friends, the outward pessimism and inward optimism, the familiarity of places that you’ve known for many years, the way everybody seems to feel like the place is going to the dogs when the truth is that this courageous island nation will keep on surviving no matter how crazy the world gets.
There is no big international move imminent. Indeed the very thought of leaving Costa Rica is painful. Who even knows what the future will bring? I don’t, and that’s the way I like it. But it was a great trip, and it was wonderful to realise that we have two homes now, and we are welcomed and loved and blessed with good friends and totally happy and contented in both of them.