Home. As usual our time in London has flown past in a blur of rainy days, sunny days, drinking, late nights, laughter and love, this year with a bit of Olympic excitement thrown in for good measure. We are physically exhausted but emotionally refreshed, and for a brief shining moment our Camelot-on-Thames has been the centre of my world once more.
With each passing year I get more used to the hellos and goodbyes, but this year as the faint whiff of hope surrounds me that one day we may come back, I have started to really think about what it would mean to return to London for more than just a holiday. There will be many good things about coming back that would have been lost on me had I never left. Staying in London as a comparitive tourist rather than living and working here has opened my eyes once more to what an incredible city we have at our feet. Walking the streets (walking! An unimaginable pastime for the average citizen of Dubai) and enjoying the weather, the people watching, the architecture, the noise – it is something of a musical dance whose moving parts make up the sum that is this city, full with life in a way that Dubai cannot possibly hope to master. The wonderful parks, museums, galleries and theatres that we have enjoyed the past ten days would never again be taken for granted or left unvisited by the repatriated version of me. Neither would the myriad of bars and restaurants and coffee shops that decorate the streets, or the boutiques and nick nack shops that nest amongst them. But have I been gone so long that I can’t see my city through anything but my sunglasses? And rose tinted ones at that?
With all the thoughts of registering with schools and so on, to plan for this hopeful but currently unsecured comeback, it occurred to me that I may have left a Londoner, but I will return as one third of an international family, a repatriated trailing spouse with an american husband and a third culture kid in tow. It is not going to be as easy as I think to become ‘English’ again, if ever.
My son will be homesick for a place neither me nor my husband call home. And yet, Dubai is our home, and by the time we return it will have most likely been so for nearly a decade. We are long time expats now, and even for me, the only true brit in the family, calling London home again will take time. I struggle with the basics of contemporary London life already, like how to charge my oyster card, and what can I recycle in those orange bags, and do I turn right at the lights if there is no oncoming traffic? And that’s just the start. I have no idea about tv (there were 5 channels or sky when we left), I’m a nervous wreck getting on the tube with my son in case we both magically leap off the platform or get split up by a closing door, and pretty much everything I have in my wardrobe is too white/shiny/expensive to be trotting round cobbled streets in the rain. To repatriate will be a difficult journey, I see now. I will not just simply slot back in, and pick up where I left off. I think it is good to be aware of this now, to start accepting that things will feel different, and that we may not always like it.
We are lucky to have a relatively international set of friends, full of expats and repats and hailing from around the world. They all call London their home and the city is such a melting pot that it hardly matters we’ve been away in that sense. But as I pack our bags and leave behind my beloved city to travel across the pond, I realise I am, these days, just as excited about returning to the US – I get that same familiar, easy feeling from the cities of Boston and New York as I do from London, and with the other 66.6% of the family unit holding a US passport, I am finding it increasingly important to promote American culture in the house and feel as comfortable with it as I do my own.
I wonder had we not lived abroad if I would have found it as easy to bring two cultures under one roof. I wonder if it would not have seemed so important, that my son who belongs to two countries and was born and raised in a third, should have the best experiences of them all and be truly international in his identity, rather than coming ‘from somewhere’. I wonder if coming ‘from somewhere’ has actually ceased to be as important to me. I certainly feel distinctly foreign when people talk about the jubilee, or the Olympics, or David Cameron. Well not foreign, just remote. I can’t relate to these things that people feel so passionately about, and yet I feel like a I should because I am ‘from here’.
But I fear I am not, anymore. Part of me is sad about that, that I have accepted a slightly nomadic existence that will no doubt continue to affect the way I live for a long time to come. That other part of me embraces the fact that I am living this incredible life that spans continents and oceans, that I have learnt and adopted new and different ways of doing things because of who I married and where we live and all the things we have seen along the way. I am daunted and yet excited by the prospect of raising my TCK to appreciate his place in this world. To belong ‘everywhere’ instead of ‘somewhere’, which must surely mean there are more places in this world to call home. To feel connected in these huge cities but undaunted by change. I hope this for him, but for myself as well, that the lessons I have learnt through moving away will stand me in good stead for moving back. To say ‘home’ to me now it means so many different places and I love each one for different reasons. So, from one home to another, we fly off on the next part of our summer journey. Tell you what, if Dorothy lived my life she would have been hard pushed to end up in the right place even with those ruby slippers…