Friday, October 11, 2013

home

When we returned to the States after living in Nicaragua for three years, my mom was uncertain as to whether or not I would want to sleep in a soft bed. When she told me this, I was appalled. “Why ever would I not want to sleep in a bed?”

“Um, because you’re used to hard floors and cold showers and hauling your own water and dirt floors. An actual bed would just be, I don’t know, not something you’d enjoy anymore, maybe.”

I don’t remember my actual response, but I’m pretty sure that it involved a giant eye roll and a You’re nuts, Mom.

I love being cozy and comfortable. I love my morning coffee. I love my bed. I love soft lighting and good food. It is for these reasons that I do not do camping or travel. (Except for the random leave-the-country and live-in-a-converted-storage-shed thing.)

This time around, my mother didn’t ask me if I wanted a pallet on the floor. Instead, she fixed up the beds, ground the coffee, and made three birthday apple pies, yessssssss.

***

We left Guatemala on a 1 pm flight on Tuesday afternoon. Everything went smoothly except for when my older daughter tested positive for explosives. This was the child who was already quite nervous about immigration. She kept asking:

What if we do something wrong?
What if there is something in our bags that we don’t know about?
What if we get in trouble?

And then she went and set off the alarm. Because they couldn’t test a minor, they tested my husband with some hand-swipe-strip thing.

“Probably all those firecrackers the kids were playing with,” he said to the official.

(I didn’t even know it had happened until it was over. Because I was in the middle of getting scolded for sending my laptop through the scanner with the camera bag on top, oops.)



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We arrived in DC at 11 pm, found our friend’s parked van in the lot, stopped by a gas station for non-stale hard pretzels, and drove straight home. Or it would’ve been straight home if my husband hadn’t decided to take a detour and drive into Washington to check on the monument. Because 66 East looks an awful lot like 66 West when you have Stupified Travel Brain.

We got home at 3 am. The kids tore around the house looking in all the corners, drinking directly out of the faucet, discovering the candy bars left on their pillows by our renters, and digging into the plateful of fresh chocolate chip cookies that my sister-in-law had waiting on the table.

My older daughter had missed her puppy something fierce. She was beside herself with excitement to see Charlotte again. About ten minutes after arriving home, I discovered my daughter sitting in the hallway with her dog on her lap, tears of happiness streaming down her cheeks.

***

In my preliminary house run-through, I peeked in my spice cupboard and then promptly shut the door and walked away. After nine months of boasting a spice collection that didn’t even reach the double digits, I couldn’t handle the abundance. Same with the fridge, freezer, pantry shelves, liquor selection, and boxes of pantry staples donated to us by the generous folks in our church. I paced back and forth between pantry and kitchen, shaking my head and saying, “Wow,” and, “I don’t know what to do with this.”

Guys, I have three whisks. THREE. In Guatemala, I splurged on one and when we left, we boxed up that one, very special (but kind of falling-apart whisk) for one of our teammates who lives on the West Coast of Guatemala and specifically requested it. Because whisks are a luxury.

But get this: not only do I have whisks, but I have handheld beaters, a food processor, a blender, and a Kitchen Aid. My options for food mixology are slightly staggering. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

***

Wednesday morning, we finally wound down enough to go to sleep around four o’clock, but I was back up at eight. Mom and Dad came over. I didn’t know where the coffee was. I figured Mom forgot to stock it, but when I told her, she looked at me like I was insane and said, “No, honey. There’s freshly ground coffee in the drawer.”

“The drawer? What drawer?”

“The coffee drawer. You know, where you keep your coffee-making supplies?”

Oh right! I had a coffee drawer! I was so overwhelmed by my enormous kitchen that I had totally forgotten the coffee drawer!

So I made coffee and fixed it up with some real cream and it was marvelous.

***
Last fall when we decided to go to Guatemala, people acted like we were sacrificing something. Like, Oh, you guys are so brave!

All the praise (but not actual praise praise because that’s not what Mennonites do to each other, at least not flagrantly) made me nervous and uncomfortable and slightly irritated. Because sure, we’d be living a simpler life, but this was what we wanted to do. It was an adventure. It was an opportunity. It was a dream come true.

If anything, it was the exact opposite of a sacrifice. To be esteemed for snagging something I wanted so dang bad felt screwball weird.

But now that I’m home and I see how comfortable our house is, and I feel the love of all the many people who care about us, and I have five containers of peanut butter on my shelf in comparison to the little one-cup jar of pb that I hoarded for weeks on end, I am bowled over by how much we did give up.

“Look at all we have!” I marveled to my husband, over and over in the first 24 hours we were home. “Why in the world did we ever want to leave! What was wrong with us!”

But then a few hours later, in a snatched moment of calm, I had the distinct feeling that, No, we weren’t crazy for picking up and moving to Guatemala. If an opportunity to do this sort of thing arose again, I might be willing to say yes. Or at least I would certainly consider it.

And then I realized: childbirth! Ask a woman right after giving birth if she wants more children and she'll bite your head off because ABSOLUTELY NOT. But then, eventually, she signs up for the whole ordeal all over again. To a nonparent, the nausea, pain, sleepless nights, and questionable reward (a snot-nosed poopypants) is rather incomprehensible. But to the initiated, the baby and the personal transformation are so worth it.

In retrospect, yes, we gave something up. A lot, actually. More than we realized at the time. It's funny how it's not till the homecoming that I realized the extent of our decision to leave. 

And about the whole sacrifice thing: if we didn’t feel like we were sacrificing anything, was it a sacrifice? Don’t we have to be fully aware of how much we're suffering in order for it to count as a sacrifice? I think yes, we do. What we made was a choice, not a sacrifice. There wasn't much nobleness involved. (But if we now feel like we did indeed sacrifice something because hello soft bed, are there some bonus points that we can redeem retroactively?) (KIDDING.)

***

The children are still throwing their toilet paper in the trash can.

***

Remember how I wrote about the lack of buffer in Guatemala? How life there was so raw? I guess I kind of got used to it. I got used to getting rained on in my house and the coarse white sugar with bits of dirt in it and the trash on the ground and the taxis tied together with twine.

And then I come back to my world in Virginia and it is the exact opposite of “lack of buffer.” Here when it rains, you don’t feel like the skies are attacking you. Instead of machine-gun-fire-on-tin-roof, the falling rain is faint and whispery. It has an inside-the-womb feel to it.

The toilet seats are sturdy, the fridge is mammoth, the house is cozy. And the people, oh the people! Even though we haven’t actually seen hardly anyone yet (and I’m a little—scratch that—a whole lot anxious about going to church because I don’t know if my raw nerves can stand so much glorious familiarity and belongingness), we feel completely surrounded by kindred spirits and people who know and love us so deeply.

sister cousins, reunited



Walking into our house in the dead of night, we were greeted with colorful signs, balloons, bowls of fruit, baskets of vegetables, boxes of non perishables, garden tomatoes on the window sill, a stocked fridge, birthday cards, candy on the kids’ pillows, gift cards, and on and on and on. No one but us was there, but the air was thick with human warmth. So much caring, so much love. My daughter wasn’t the only one with tears.


You know that suspended-in-clouds feeling that you get when surfacing from a long afternoon nap, completely relaxed and all wonky disoriented? That’s what coming home feels like. Walking into our beloved house, hugging all the dear people who know us, driving for the first time, drinking coffee with cream—it’s all like sinking into a well-loved easy chair. Bit by bit, the stress of living with the unfamiliar is slipping off our shoulders. Our days feel like one giant, extended exhale: we're hooooome.



Now, the excited tickle in the pit of my stomach—that giddy feeling that makes me pop wide awake even when I’m still exhausted—is fading. It’s being replaced by a new feeling. I’m not sure what, exactly, but “Deer In Headlights” comes to mind...

21 comments:

  1. I don't know what to say except . . . WELCOME HOME! (I had tears dripping off my chin all through this post.)

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  2. Welcome back! We're so glad you're home.

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  3. Welcome back to the land of plenty! I have so enjoyed reading about your adventure in Guatemala - but glad you are back in the loving embrace of family, friends, and home. ~Sherry

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  4. Welcome home!!!! Thank you for sharing your adventure with us so candidly. I looked forward to each and every post (and still do). What will you cook/bake first with all that you have at your disposal now?? :)

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  5. What an adventure! So glad you took us along! Welcome home!

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  6. We have people staying in our suite from Sweden for 6 months right now. We had dinner down in their suite after many impromptu dinners where we insisted they eat with us because I was barbequeing in the backyard or because we had lots ...

    As we sat in their suite, she was marvelling at the joy of being somewhere without all her stuff, at the way they could easily tidy up (unlike our place upstairs! a tip!) and about how little they actually needed to feel good in their home.

    I have no doubt that she, like you, like me, will rejoice at some of her favourite utensils (mine is the rolling pin I bought when I moved out at 18 -- it has ball bearings!) but will also know that otherness of not having so much stuff in the lands of plenty.

    Beautiful post. What a contrast, and yet at the core of both places you were and are surrounded in lovely human beings. That's really something.

    (sorry. I am incapable of short comments. I hope it is not too rude.)

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  7. Welcome back to not having to figure everything out from scratch, as it were! I swear, don't you think that feeling you have is a little like what heaven will feel like? HOME.

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    1. I LOVE what you wrote here...about the feeling of being HOME when we get to Heaven. YES!! :)

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    2. This comment - "don't you think that feeling you have is a little what heaven will feel like?" A-men and A-men.
      Beautiful post & welcome home!
      A.R.

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  8. Welcome Home! And a sincere thank you for sharing your adventure with me! Although I only read about it, it was something I would never have experienced vicariously without your generosity. It has enriched my life.

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  9. Welcome Home! And, thank you for the posts I never delete because I learn so much from them. Thanks for sharing this journey and being so honest! Angela Muller

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  10. Welcome home!
    Happy Birthday!
    (Your mother is an absolute marvel!!!)

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  11. So so so so happy for you! And your childbirth metaphor is dead on!.

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  12. Glad to hear you made it home safe...thank you for sharing this experience.

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  13. Glad to you see you all made it home. Thanks for sharing your homecoming, I had tears reading it all. Guatemala already feels a little emptier with the 6 of you gone. Blessings and peace as you settle into life there. PS-So jealous of the KitchenAId. :)

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  14. What a GREAT post Jennifer! Thank you for sharing your heart here in this space. Your words are perfect. I can almost feel what you feel. I know I don't REALLY understand since I've never done what you've done...BUT...you describe it so well that you've got me thinking I GET it! :) Happy Homecoming! Welcome HOME!! Camille xo

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  15. I'm just so PLEASED. But I feel the emotional roller coaster you are on, too. Thank you for being so frank.

    I'm so glad you have peanut butter and cream and butter and everything again. But I feel a little guilty, too. That is weird.

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  16. Welcome home! Enjoy your soft bed and whisks and coffee drawer.

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