We’ve been home for a couple of weeks now, and the questions on everyone’s minds seem to be: Is it surreal being back in Canada? How are you all adjusting?
I’ve also been asked at least a dozen times whether or not we’re experiencing culture shock. I have to say the answer is not really—I’m still too busy reveling in hot showers, clean bathrooms and all of this space—although I was momentarily gobsmacked the day we arrived when I tried to buy two packs of gum at a gas station and was told the total would be a whopping $4.03. (What?! You could buy a couple of meals for that price in most of Asia…)
For the most part, there were no re-entry problems. Chloe was so happy to be home that she welled up with tears of joy as our plane approached the Ottawa airport, where she could see patches of snow-covered farmland on the outskirts of the city below. When we walked into our house again, Ciaran managed to haul out nearly every toy he has ever owned and spread them everywhere in one giant play session. Both kids are already well-entrenched on the birthday party and playdate circuit again, and are fitting in quite well in their respective classes at school.
But even if there was no culture shock, what we are experiencing is schedule shock. In Asia there were no hockey practices, soccer tryouts, music lessons, birthday parties, dinner parties, field trips, dinners to cook or chores to do. There were no phone calls, meetings, work projects or deadlines. Our two main responsibilities anywhere we went were simply to make sure the kids ate safe food and didn’t get run over. (Easier said than done, in both cases).
We had many discussions during our six months about how we could make our lives less hectic upon our return. But as the months ticked by, we found it amazingly difficult to come up with realistic solutions. Reducing our overall activity level would require unplugging the kids from many of the sports and other extracurricular activities they so love. After just two short weeks back in Ottawa, it’s abundantly clear that it’s going to be nearly impossible for us to change the pace of our normal lives dramatically.
What we’ve concluded is that we’ll need to ‘embrace the pace’ while reminding ourselves not to over-commit to social activities. We’ll confine the kids to a maximum of two sports at a time, each season. We’re making more time for our own fitness as well—both of us have taken up running. We’re watching less TV and spending less time on mindless Internet surfing.
But the big epiphany really concerns family vacations: we figure we have maybe five summers left before our oldest will no longer be interested in leaving her friends behind and joining us on holidays, and we know that holidays are where the best, most lasting memories happen. So we’ve made a list of the places we’d still like to take the kids—everything from epic sailing adventures in Greece to one-week ski vacations at nearby hills—and the goal is to make sure they happen. The years are flying by, after all, and there will be plenty of time to relax when the nest is empty.
For now, there are still boxes to unpack, medical and dental check-ups to be done, souvenirs to be distributed and scrapbooks to be created. I guess we’ll get all of that done gradually as we juggle all the usual commitments of a busy family. I just hope the scrapbooks will be finished before we set off on our next grand adventure—wherever that may be.
No more land border crossings. No more visa applications. No more cold showers, grotty bathrooms, scams to dodge, hotels to research or train tickets to book, and not very many more blog entries.
Finally, we’ve worn out two out of three of our iPods and used up nearly all of the memory on our laptop. Our whites are all grays, our ends are all bleached, our backpacks are weathered and the soles of our shoes are worn flat. We’ve taken all our malaria pills (just about), used up all our Band-Aids, flown our last flight and spent all our money.
We’ve arrived home scruffy, seasoned and rejuvenated, sad that the trip is over but happy to lay eyes on the familiar modern world again and stay in one place for a while. The kids, in particular, are thrilled to see their toys and friends again.
The trip will live on as a family legend, not just a vacation but something more on the scale of an epic accomplishment. It was at turns exhilarating, exhausting, fascinating, trying, thrilling, entertaining, frustrating, surprising and, very occasionally, death-defying. It was a wild ride, a fabulous adventure and often a grand test of our patience, fortitude and immune systems.
When it was good, it was the best decision we’d ever made, and when it was not, we thought ourselves mad for taking it on. When the kids were managing beautifully and the travelling was easy, we thought about what excellent parents we were for showing them the world and spending so much time in their company: 24/7 for six and a half months. It was harder to be smug when they fought non-stop, resisted home-schooling, threw up on their shoes and missed their friends. And when occasionally we found ourselves in physically dangerous situations with them, we were appalled at the poor judgment that had caused us to drag them halfway around the world just to increase their odds of dying in a fiery bus crash.
It was a crazy, unforgettable experience that we’re amazed and pleased to have shared and survived, and so lucky to have enjoyed.
In the end, we visited eight countries, including more than 45 cities or towns. Between us we read more than 150 books in the 180 days we were gone. We had six months to learn what we could about each place we visited, but that time also gave us the luxury to learn about anything else that interested us, including each other. It also gave us the benefit of perspective on the lives we had left behind and would be returning to. It was half a year of new experiences, new languages, new foods, new friends and family bonding.
We’re all a bit wistful about the end of the trip, but maybe it’s best to end on a positive note. Ciaran, never the sentimental type, is looking at it this way. “I’m really looking forward to going home,” he said the other day with great enthusiasm. “Want to know why? It’s because of our three-storey house! We won’t all have to share a small hotel room anymore! And I won’t have to use bottled water to brush my teeth! And it’s been way too long since I ate some of Grandpa Kip’s barbecue chicken.”
Well, there you have it.