Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.
And I know exactly what one of the things I’m going to give extra thanks for today, on what they call here: Dia de Accion de Gracias.
I’m thankful for Chile.
I’m thankful for the fact that the upcoming goodbye will be as difficult as I expect it to be.
Yup, that’s right.
Upcoming goodbye. Less than 2 weeks away. (Tear).
For so long, it seemed as if the end of this journey was hidden at the end of a maze.
A big, magical labyrinth, full of unexpected twists and turns and plenty of adventure.
We were SO excited to enter this maze. To experience this wild, new journey. We were never in a hurry. We didn’t want to find the shortest path, or the route of least resistance. Rather, we wanted to explore each and every route. Open each and every door. Knowing that whether they were easy and fun, or difficult and painful, they all mattered.
But no matter how you do it, at some point, the end is inevitable.
Sadly, and for whatever reason, I also always thought the final stretch would be a long one. We’d see the exit, or entrance, however you look at it, at the end, and would have plenty of time to slow it down. Breath in the last of the Chilean air, stop and smell the flowers, embrace our village, with a little more appreciation.
Part of me wants to say it has been just the opposite. That we turned the corner and were blinded by the light of the opening. Without time to really absorb what we had just traversed, and all that we were leaving behind.
But I’m just not sure. I think no matter how much time we had to prepare, it would never really be enough.
It never really is, is it? When you have to say goodbye to a home.
I have so many mixed emotions.
ON ONE HAND, we are over the moon to return nearer to family and friends. To our nieces and nephew, brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents, friends and country of origin.
Leaving home never meant we stopped loving home. And it’ll feel good, comfortable to be back.
Also, while there will be that sense of familiarity, I also expect there will be a sense of newness. We’ll experience the little things that we had previously taken for granted with more appreciation. More wonder. The glitter that accompanies a new world, like the one that had danced about the Chilean landscape in our early years here, I think will now unveil itself in the U.S.
What fun that will be. And how lucky we are to experience that!
ON THE OTHER HAND, through blood, sweat , tears, countless dead ends, and even more accomplishments and lessons and joys and friendships and love and enlightenment , we have made a home HERE too.
The difference is, with this home, this beautiful land at the opposite end of the world, we don’t have the comfort of knowing we’ll be moving back in a few years. No matter how deeply our roots planted here, how much growth we have experienced, it was always temporary.
SO, I think the phrase that everyone has heard me say repeatedly since we learned the news of our departure/return has been:
“I just don’t want to forget….”
Tom always says, “You won’t, Laura. I promise.”
He can say this, from first-hand experience, having grown up in Mexico.
But I’m still not sure.
We forget things, don’t we? The further things recede in the rear view mirror, the less distinguishable and specific they are. Until eventually they become blurry, then out of sight altogether.
And feelings, in particular, are harder. How can I preserve my FEELINGS here. My perspectives? Who I became? When they are taken out of this vacuum and placed in a different one? Will they be sucked out altogether?
“I don’t want to forget” is a broad term, of course.
Generally speaking, I don’t want to forget the personal growth we have each experienced as a result of living in a different culture and country. The life lessons we have learned. Our shifts in priorities, our discoveries about the world and ourselves, our goals, our fully, immersed understanding of what it’s like to live in a foreign land, and turn it into the familiar.
But more specifically, there are probably about a billion things I don’t want to forget.
And since the entire reason for my incessant photo taking and less-incessant blogging has been to do my best to log and REMEMBER these things, I’m going to focus this near-final, expat post on several of the things that I DON’T WANT TO FORGET.
Bear with me. I get a little detailed.
Precisely because I don’t want to forget….
- Our dear sweet Rosa. I don’t want to forget ANYTHING about her, nor can I bear to think that we have no idea when we’ll see her again. I don’t want to forget her coming through the door every morning with a “Dulce” for the kids, as they are running up to her, wrapping their little arms around her legs and giggling, “Hola Rosa, Donde esta mi dulce?” And she replies, “Pero primero, un beso,” as she bends her cheek towards them. How she then asks, EVERY TIME, “Como amenecieron?” (How did everyone wake up this morning?”) And how she leaves every day, “Nos vemos manana, si Dios lo permite.” (We’ll see each other tomorrow if God allows it). How she looks at the kids with fierce love, and so much pride. How the tears have overwhelmed her eyes so many times these last few weeks, and how she prays for us. And a whole lot more, but that’s why I am also writing a separate post about our 6th family member.
- My sweet, slow mornings with the kids any one or all of the kids. Without rush, without commitments other than the ones we make for ourselves. Going for walks, making art, reading stories. To be able to have that time with them without having to worry about any housework has been probably THE greatest blessing for me down here. I cannot express my gratitude enough, for being able to cuddle them at this stage of their lives. I will forever be thankful.
- School pick-ups. Windsor School. Our Chilean home away from our Chilean home. The seemingly hundreds of cars lined up out front and congesting their small lot, the infinite sea of children wearing the yellow shirted-school uniform. Maddie outside playing either futbol (soccer) or cartwheeling through the courtyard. She and her friends performing their latest cheerleading routine. Greyson, chasing his preschool friends around in the rotunda inside, and running at me with usually one of two sentences: “I was sooooo good today!”— or the always fun one to hear, “Ummmmmm, I was a little inquieto today.” (Restless (-;). I watch the kids kiss their teachers and friends goodbye on the cheeks and we head home for lunch. And their friends. Often times one of whom is coming home with us too. Or I’m a child short because Maddie is heading to someone else’s house for lunch. The parents of those friends. Both Maddie and Greyson’s classes stayed together all 2/3 years, which meant they weren’t just a part of our community. They were family. A family that welcomed us in with open arms from the get-go, and I know will continue to remain a part of our Chilean family for years to come. We adore you all, and are so thankful for you.
- The warmth. That is not just at school, but EVERYWHERE we go. When someone arrives to a gathering, they go around and greet EVERY SINGLE PERSON with a hug and a kiss on each cheek. And goodbyes are the exact same way. Each and every person is acknowledged in this way. Whether you know them or not. Even between children. Maddie was at her friend Vicente’s just a couple of weeks ago to work on a project and play, and when I picked her up, she and this sweet, little boy kissed each other on each cheek and hugged goodbye. I think my heart might have skipped a beat. This affection is indescribable and perfectly beautiful. I hope the kids never forget that either. And I really would love it if the US was more this way. A little bit of warmth goes a long way.
- Speaking Spanish, and all the beautiful words, and the new ways it allows me to expand my vocabulary and look at the world. I don’t want to forget the kids singing in Spanish every day, or talking in Spanish more than English now, as of this point. I don’t want to forget the expression on people’s faces when they hear Maddie speak. Their refusal to believe she’s anything but Chilean. We know we have to make EVERY EFFORT to make sure the children don’t lose this.
- And on that note, Latin pop music. It’s the best. More Zumba classes, I suppose (-:
- The smell of the ocean breeze and flowering trees. And the thick smell of wood burning during the rainy, winter months.
- The hustle and bustle in our house. Kids chasing our car as we pull into the driveway. Magda, Gaby, Cami, Diego, Martina, Josefa, Nico….all of them in our kitchen, making food for a picnic, drawing pictures with Ellie or Greyson, practicing their English with us or proudly using new phrases, jumping on the trampoline out back, or running through the sprinkler, or chasing each other with the water hose while I’m trying to make dinner. Having them eat over, especially on taco night. Or making pizzas with LOTS of pepperoni! Catching butterflies and building fairy houses, practicing gymnastics, swimming , playing cholo (a form of tag), making slip and slides out of garbage bags and dish soap, covering the entire front street in chalk art, taking turns for beautiful, late afternoon adventures in the kayak, joining the Cuello Negros (black-necked swans) and their new babies in afternoon trips down the river, stopping at the sand bars and playing, the girls dangling their toes in the cold water, taking Ellie down to the park or Greyson over to the soccer field and playing 5 on 5. Maddie, being the amazing big sister she is, telling the kids to pass the ball to Greyson more. The constant ding, dong ditching and mad dashes to figure out who did it. Their FRIENDS HERE in the neighborhood. We don’t want to forget the fun they have had with their sweet, sweet friends here. Even when they couldn’t speak the same language. It’s been such a joy to witness.
- Walking Costanera, the riverside boardwalk in Valdivia. Sitting and watching the sea lions fight each other, reminding the kids to STAY BACK as we see other people get too close, walking through the market and having people offer us their fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, seafood, and cheap toys. The hum of life and fun, especially during the sunny, warmer months.
- I don’t want to forget what it all LOOKS LIKE. The beautiful drive through the rolling, eucalyptus covered hills, over the river, past the Kunstmann Brewery. Windows down, breeze blowing, Maddie’s singing us her most recent, favorite Latin Pop song, knowing every single word of course. Greyson and Ellie joining in. Maybe a quick stop at the small tienda for helado en route. Driving through Valdivia, a mixture of beautiful color and frequent street art and the more humble pueblitos. Flowering trees, towering palms, prickly Araucarias, incessant honking, the limited visibility and thick smell of damp, smoke during the winter months, the row teams and stand up paddlers practicing up and down the river during the summer. Kids messing around with soccer balls everywhere you look. Even the protests, that lately seem to be happening more and more frequently. Students protesting for better access to education. Fisherman (Pescadores) protesting for better pay. Government workers protesting for better benefits. And always the riot police, with their armored trucks and shields, standing by in the event things get crazy. Sometimes tear gas. Sometimes water is sprayed. Sometimes burning tires and trash. But let me be clear, THIS HAS NEVER BEEN SCARY. It’s LIFE. And a terrific lesson for us, and for the kids to witness. The kids have seen all of this, and NOT ONCE has it scared them. They know that it’s the only way these people feel like they are heard. And I hope they never forget that, the politics of another country.
- Sweet Chico. It kills me. It kills all of us that we can’t bring him. Our sweet puppy that we took in at 5 weeks old, the runt of the litter, morphed into an actual lion. Daily I admire him proudly sitting in the sun out back, watching the birds, tongue hanging out of his mouth, thick skin glowing like a halo around his neck. Fitting really. He was a guardian angel for us here. Chasing the kids around the yard. Jumping with them on the trampoline. Laying down on his back as they rub his belly. Cozying up under the grill. Breaking off branches from every single tree and bush in the yard and doing a yard lap with it in his mouth in pride. Later bringing these “premios” to us, and to Rosa every single morning…a welcoming gift. He will be missed immensely.
- How liberating it has been to free oneself of STUFF. And unnecessary obligation. And other things that at the end of the day, don’t really matter. The peace that comes with that. And with slowing down. That has been an incredible experience for my normally anxious self. I really hope we are able to hang on to it.
- People opening up their homes and their hearts to us. “Come over for an asado Saturday! Bring the whole family!” And a Chilean grill out is EVERYTHING. A large parilla (grill), with the most mouth-watering smell floating away from it. Chorizo, Pork, Beef, Chicken….served with a glass of wine, or an artensal beer as is so popular in Valdivia, or a glass of homemade Pisco Sour. A futbol game erupting. No one worrying about anything accept enjoying each other’s company.
- What it’s like to be a foreigner trying to live in a new country. To need help. To feel inferior. To learn humility at a new level. And the kindness of the people here. Their acceptance of us, when many times I am sure my ineptness was frustrating. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. To be put in a position where I had to raise my children in a country where I didn’t speak the language was the most humbling, transformative experience. And made me appreciate our village, the doctors, friends, teachers, cashiers, contractors, parents, EVERYONE, so much more. What a life experience and lesson, to actually be able to put myself in the shoes of others that have made similar journeys.
- The need and poverty that I both see, experience and hear about from others. There will ALWAYS be people that need GREATLY. And I suffer for them. And I will never stop trying to help in the ways that I am able, because I have seen first-hand what a difference small acts of kindness can make. And I will always be thankful for the life we have been given. My gratitude to God runs deep.
- The taste of a warm crispy Sopapailla, a fresh glass of Mote con Huesillo, a refreshing, lemon Pisco Sour, or a cheesy empanada while sitting outside on a warm, summer day. For this reason-I’m trying to learn!
- The majestic masterpiece that is the Andes. Volcano Villarrica, Volcano Osorno. Smoke puffing out of their crests. No photograph ever could do justice to what you feel when you see them. The rocky, cliffs falling into the wide, blue South Pacific. The vibrant green, mossy Valdivian rainforests. We are but tiny human beings surrounded by immense glory created by the universe’s greatest artist. The Chilean landscape is a treasure of this world, and I pray that they are able to continue to maintain it in its natural state.
- The twinkle in the kids’ eyes when they explore their surroundings, the forests, the beaches, and run freely outdoors. Their tireless desire to learn new things about the animals and plants and birds and world that surrounds them.
- That there is nothing to stress about when it comes to travel with children. That introducing them to new places in the world is not scary, or difficult. It satisfies their thirsty curiosity, opens their hearts more than anything I’ve ever witnessed.
- The street buskers. Adults down to elementary aged children, performing shows at the red traffic lights. And the kids fighting over who can pass them the pesos for their performance afterwards. And whoever wins, the busker rubbing their head and saying “Gracias, amiguito!” (Thanks, little friend!)
- The kindness and pride of the people. In example, there is an older man at the grocery store I frequent that collects carts. All day long, he walks through the parking lot, gathers carts, and puts them back in the store. Not a job that probably pays a lot. But he’s there every, single day. And his shirt is always a crisp white and perfectly ironed, and he wears the largest smile I have ever seen across a face. And he’s always been incredibly kind to me. Or the many others I have seen walk out of their colorful, corrugated tin shacks to go to work, dressed in their Sunday best, and smiling because they ARE proud. That pride is such a beautiful gift. Just as beautiful as the color and mountains and flowers and rainforests that surround them.
- The wonderful work Tom has done down here. The good, the respect he has earned, the gratitude people have, the pride in his eyes when he tells me about it. Sometimes I think American companies that venture abroad get a bad rap. I’ve now seen firsthand the other side. The wonderful things that can be done for a pueblito. The differences in lives that can be made. And Tom did that, his light burned brightly here. I hope HE never forgets that.
- I don’t want to forget people rubbing the kids blond heads, smilng and singing, “Que lindo! Que preciosos! Que una muneca!” And smiling even more broadly when they hear the kids speak Castellano (Chilean Spanish). Then telling me, “They speak better Spanish then English!” And me thinking, when it comes to Maddie, even though you don’t speak English, you might just be 100% right. That one thing I hadn’t prepared for (well, there were a lot of things, but one I REALLY didn’t prepare for), was the attachment Maddie would feel. I hope SHE never forgets that, either. I hope she never forgets that at one point recently she said to me, “Mom, I feel like I’m a little more Chilena than Estadounidense.” (The Spanish word for people from the US). I hope she stays a little bit Chilena forever.
I hope we all do.
I don’t want to forget that we learned something very important.
It was only by chance we were born in the United States. That we have grown with those customs, and privileges. But it’s by design that we were born in the world. We, as world citizens, share this big, beautiful place with so many wonderful people from all over the globe. And the closer we are, the more we realize that we are all a whole lot more alike than we are different.
And that we have so much to learn from each other.
My best advice after having to say goodbye to what has become our second home?
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation. A situation where you know you’ll have to uproot eventually, DO NOT let that prevent you from firmly digging in your roots, and growing while there.
Don’t hover over the surface for fear that it will be too difficult to pull away.
It’ll only stunt your growth.
Because every bit of earth, every place, offers paths for evolution you will never find anywhere else in the world.
As for me, I’m remaining planted until here until the VERY. LAST. SECOND.
TE AMAMOS, CHILE.
But I refuse to say goodbye. Only:
PS-Check out the Video Below!