In Sunday school this past weekend, we were asked to think of a time in the last few days when we had dual conflicting emotions. The class was about Playback Theatre, and the three leaders, after listening to someone share, acted out what they heard.
Right away, I knew what my conflicting emotions were—gratefulness and wanting to hide—but I didn’t dare share. I was too raw. Speaking involved the very high risk of full-on blubbering, so I kept my lips sealed and just watched.
See, I was filled up and overflowing with gratefulness for our friends and family, their hugs, their practical gifts, their warm welcomes, their caring questions, their understanding and compassion. And I wanted to hide from it all. My face hurt from smiling. I couldn’t remember everyone’s names. People looked different. The wave of love and hugs was crushingly overwhelming.
I wouldn’t want it not to be that way, of course. If people didn’t overwhelm us, I would feel abandoned and neglected. They were doing everything right and nothing wrong. So was I. There was no other way but to weather the storm.
(That day, I was half sick, too. On Saturday I developed a sore throat, maybe even a fever. As much as I couldn’t wait to go to church, I dreaded it. Deeply. Which was a really conflicting emotion for this people-loving girl.)
So that was Sunday.
Settling back in is harder than I expected it to be.
When we returned from Nicaragua thirteen years ago, we knew it’d be really hard and we were not disappointed. We had a new baby, no house, no job, my husband got a little thing called Cancer, and I got a little thing called Prego with a Side of Morning Sickness. Fun times, y’all.
In comparison, this time around is super easy. We weren’t gone long enough to lose friends and routines. We have our house, our put-up food from 2012, our pets, our things, our budget (if only I could find those dang papers!), and our job. Slipping back into our old patterns is fairly effortless.
And yet it’s not. We’ve been home for a week and we’re still doing nothing more than the day-to-day existence stuff.
When my husband said that he wanted a couple weeks off from work when we got back, I thought he was crazy. He’d be bored! We’d be sitting around doing nothing! But now I am so glad he has off. We’re not doing anything and yet it feels like we’re doing everything. It confuses me.
Grieving is hard physical work, I’ve been told. The emotional work sucks up energy and brain power and leaves the griever exhausted. We’re not grieving, mind you—we’re not even feeling down, really—but that’s the best way I can describe this blurry, plodding zone we’re in. We get dressed in the morning and feed the animals and ourselves. We send emails and unpack a couple boxes. We do laundry. And then the day is over. There is no mental energy for thinking beyond the present.
Which is another way to look at this disorientation/reorientation stage: we are fully, helplessly, through no choice of our own, In The Moment. I am a huge multi-tasker, thriving on a whirl of activity and stimulation, but right now, no thank you. I don’t have the wherewithal to think of what we’ll do tomorrow, let alone plan our homeschooling year or even make a weekend menu. It’s just one foot in front of the other. Find the kids’ shoes, call the insurance agency, renew the medications, unpack the clothes, scrounge a secondhand bed, scrub the toilet, buy dog food, fill the car’s gas tank, set the mouse traps, make soup, etc.
It’s all good (really! we’re so happy!), but it’s All I Can Handle.
The children are doing fine, adjusting to a more relaxed schedule, independent play, and rural
living—i.e. no friends to run around with for hours on end.
At first, my younger son wanted to visit other people’s houses so badly that he was borderline panicked. My friend reported that when he arrived at their house, he explored the whole thing, top to bottom. Maybe this is how he is reorienting?
(Funny note: he couldn’t figure out how to turn on our shower. Nine months is a long time in the life of a seven-year-old.)
Also, it’s weird hearing my children yelling at each other in Spanish. It’s a bit disorienting because:
my kids + Spanish + my home = NEW.
The Spanish words peppering our conversations and the fact that my husband and I truly do not have a secret language anymore (oh dear), serve as reminders that even though we are home again, there has been a shift.
When my daughter returned home from a year of study abroad, she entered our house and just stood there for a few minutes. I asked what was wrong…it took her a minute or two to respond, but she said simply……."It feels strange being here." Angela Muller
Its funny how we are surprised by these transition things- eh? Our culture doesn't really include these in the handbook, but they are very real. I think this is one thing the Maasai, perhaps the general Kenyan culture and perhaps even the very very generalized African culture does much better: space and grace for life, emotional response, transitions, time for being human and not having it all together is more built in. Course, I don't know this for sure- I don't know much for sure. I'm a visitor- an observer…
I have trouble settling back home after a 2 week trip, I can't imagine the upheaval after being gone 9 months! And what a life changing experience you've all had. I imagine that you're going to find a new kind of reality that merges the old and the new. Isn't that part of what the whole experience was all about? I sure have enjoyed sharing the trip with you virtually. Glad to know you're all home safe and sound.
I love your honesty.
And what is that bag that your oldest is in??!
It's a bag from Mongers (a builders' store). It had sand in it.
I'm not surprised that re-entry into your home world is taking a little time for the kids. As you say, the months you were gone is a long time in their young lives. (Just think how much a child grows and changes in so many ways in [nearly] a year's time.) I am a little surprised that the return seems to be affecting you and hubby as much as it is. I don't mean that's a bad thing . . . or a good thing. I probably don't know what I'm talking about though because I've never had an experience anything like yours. Be kind to yourself.
I'm sure glad you made it back and are finding your footing again. I'm sure you'll start to feel more in the groove soon. Doing the next thing each day will soon result in routine.
How fun to hear your kids calling to each other in Spanish– Have you thought about how you can help them to retain the language? I studied Spanish (seems like a lifetime ago!) and now cannot hold my own in a conversation like I once could. Yesterday, cleaning out some boxes I found an essay I wrote completely in Spanish–it surprised me to see it. Sad that I have not kept myself up in the language.
Of course it's exhausting. You don't have your routines set up yet, you're sick, and you're dealing (consciously or not) with culture shock. It's going to take a bit.
Which reminds me, when I was pregnant with our first baby, my husband and I sat down and seriously considered how much time he might need to take off from work when the baby was born (we had no relatives coming to help out). After long deliberation, we decided that 3 days would be ample time to adjust. 3 days! I love those young innocents we once were.