Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On missing Zurich


It's been nearly 20 months since we left Zurich, and I'm still hoping against hope that we will fall in love with life in Spokane. You don't understand; I really want to! Right now, we are essentially living the life I dreamed of when we were in Zurich. I even wrote a post about it, back in 2012, which I remembered last night when I was trying to fall asleep. The photos are all blurry because they were just taken off of a real estate listing, but you get the idea. I thought it sounded like heaven to live in Spokane with pies cooling on windowsills, backyard grill parties with my mom and sisters and walking the kids to school through crunching leaves. Pretty much exactly what we're doing right now.

So what I'm hoping for is that it all pans out something like this: When we grow out of this little rental house in a year and a half, I hope that we will buy a home a little farther up the hill and that Coco will start kindergarten fall of 2017 at either Hutton or Wilson school. But, the truth of the matter is, this does not feel like heaven. I'm not sure it's going to work for us to leave city living behind and embrace the Spokane lifestyle we thought we wanted. I'm more than a little baffled by it all to be honest.


You know that whole saying that life is what happens while you're making other plans? Well, I think something happened to us in Zurich while we were making Spokane plans. It seems ridiculous, but while we were there, distracted by the idea of pies cooling on windowsills in Spokane, we were falling completely and totally in love with Zurich (and cooling pies on our windowsill there, something our American windowsills aren't even big enough for FYI). Looking back, I can see that there were glimmers of recognition. I remember saying to J once that I wished we were from Zurich because then our family would be there and we wouldn't have to choose between the two. But overall, we were largely unaware of what was happening.


Here's the cold hard truth: We are not from Zurich. And it looks like we are going to have to choose.


These photos are from one of the countless walks that J and Coco took during our time there. We took lots of walks all together, of course, particularly on Sundays. But their daddy-daughter walks were my time to take a nap, or go have coffee with a girlfriend, or even listen to a podcast and clean the house if it were particularly disgusting. It was their special thing. They would go hiking, or take sausages into the forest for a weenie roast, or just explore the city. Coco loved life in Zurich. 


Last year, she often cried as we walked to the car, saying "I want to walk! Why can't we walk?" And now, when we're leaving for school, she still says from time to time, "I wish we could walk or take the train instead." If we buy a house up the hill, it will be a priority that they're able to walk to school. But in terms of parenting and day-to-day life, I, too, prefer the lifestyle we had in Zurich. I was under the impression that having a car would make everything easier and more enjoyable. And while I can appreciate the convenience of Costco and driving, that doesn't mean I like it. I would rather not have a car and go everywhere with the tram and buggy instead. I miss it. 


All of these thoughts were swirling around in my mind before I finally succumbed to sleep last night. When I woke up this morning, I was still feeling a bit pensive about it all. Coco, Theo and I went through the motions. We all got dressed and everyone was fed; I packed Coco's lunch and we got her off to school. After we got back home, Theo and I didn't even bother coming inside. We set off on a meandering walk around the neighborhood and I was shaking it all off. It was sunny. I was feeling pretty good. 


Then, I happened to see that my friend Chantal had published a new article in the Washington Post about the rough adjustment back to American life after living in Switzerland. The topic was American birthday parties. (Side note: With Coco's birthday being in September, we made the exact same mistake as Chantal. And we'll do it again next year, too!) But it wasn't the topic itself that was so upsetting, as it was the reminder of the reality we're living in now. We feel out of place and unsettled in our own country. On top of that great thing, we miss everything about our life in Zurich: city living, Swiss Sundays, the trains and trams, mommy group, no car, the lake, wonderful friends, life-work balance, everything! And yet, family is so important. I love being near my mom and my sisters and my dad's brother and my cousins and other aunts and uncles and everyone. It really is so great!


Walking along with Theo this morning, reading Chantal's article, I wanted to scream out loud! But I just cried a little bit instead. So the question is this: Does being near family make up for absolutely everything else

I have no idea. Luckily we've got all the time we need to figure that out.

33 comments:

  1. I ask myself that same question constantly. We moved back to the town I grew up in three years ago. And my family is all here which is great! But I've disliked living here for most of the three years. It doesn't feel like home, it feels constricting and too small, and I would love to go somewhere else.

    So I have no answers. Just wanted to say I know how you feel, on a smaller level (not wanting to move to a foreign country exactly, just somewhere bigger).

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    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I hope you find solace and answers soon! You're not alone. xoxoxo

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  2. Ah. This is so good. I started reading your blog after I saw you featured on Design Mom, and I've been meaning to comment ever since. I am so drawn to your musings on being in two places at once, living abroad, and moving back to the US. (Have you seen the new movie Brooklyn?? It's a beautiful and heart wrenching portrait of having your heart in two places at once.) I lived in Rome for a year as a student and miss it a ton. But lately I've strangely been missing Amsterdam, even though I only lived there for a few months, post-college. There's something about that city, or maybe where I was in my life at that time, that calls to me. I'm always thinking that it would be a great city to raise a family in. It's been too long since I've been out of the country and I'm feeling that ache. Sidenote- while studying in Rome, I visited Zurich for a long weekend and loved it. I stayed with an old college friend of my mom's who has lived there for several decades now. I remember loving it. We made fondue, explored the city, and went to a indoor/outdoor bathhouse-spa... can't remember the German name for that, but it was so great!

    Right now we live near my wife's whole family, which is great, it really is. We love being near our nieces and nephews, and I know we'll miss it when we eventually leave. But we still long to live somewhere else. Florida just doesn't hold a strong enough sense of place for us... or the right one, maybe. Thanks for letting me ramble... like I said, I've been meaning to comment for a while :)

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    1. Jillian, your comment makes my day! Thank you so much for that. I'm so happy that what I'm saying here resonates with you. Amsterdam is incredible. I can totally see why you'd want to live there. Good luck with your wanderlust and appetite for adventure! I wish I could give some tips for that, but obviously I can't. HA! I will check out the movie Brooklyn. Did you read the book? xoxo

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    2. Aw, I'm so glad. I know we'll make living abroad again happen one way or another, eventually. My wife Hannah is applying to dental schools and hoping to get into a branch of the military to pay for schooling, so we're optimistic about what that could mean for living abroad down the line :)
      Haven't read Brooklyn yet but it's on my list!

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  3. I am in exactly the same boat. Only we are not close to my family. They are in Nebraska, an 8 hour drive from Chicago. We've been trying to get back to Switzerland but unfortunately, they are not hiring in my husband's industry right now! I kick myself everyday for leaving Switzerland. We're now going to explore other options across the pond.

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  4. I am in exactly the same boat. Only we are not close to my family. They are in Nebraska, an 8 hour drive from Chicago. We've been trying to get back to Switzerland but unfortunately, they are not hiring in my husband's industry right now! I kick myself everyday for leaving Switzerland. We're now going to explore other options across the pond.

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    1. We were kicking ourselves for a long time, but now we're glad to have answers to the "what-ifs" that always bothered us in Switzerland. There's nothing like knowing for sure! Good luck getting back there. xoxoxo

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  5. I totally understand how you feel. I had similar moments of sadness when we were 20 months post-departure. I tried to focus on special local experiences like watching my (then) almost 2 year old run down a beach with my childhood best friend's (then) 2 year old daughter, something that never would have happened if we had still been abroad. I still missed our old life, but I didn't want to miss out on moments like these either. The recovering expat dilemma. Sigh.

    Also, FWIW, on the birthday party front, we've been invited to a few event birthday parties, but we've also been to several parties held at homes.Our daughter's fourth birthday party (a pirate treasure hunt held inside our house since it was raining) was such a success that one of her little friends asked if he could have his next birthday party at our house.

    .

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  6. Oh, man. Repatriation is so hard and it brings up so many gut wrenching feelings. We have family on both sides so it adds another component not to mention more emotions because we are always leaving one side.

    I miss many things about Basel just like you do Zurich. We have my family now but those two years coming back were the worst ever. There are many things I don't miss about CH, though. I hage to admit I quite like the personal space over here and having a back yard. I also like the fact that people are not nosing in trying to correct all the time. I constantly felt like I was going to be on the receiving end of a good finger wagging over there. Ha. I do think its important to remember all the things you really did not like. Unfortunately, I am very good at convincing myself of the merits of another place while I am not there...grass being greener and what not. Xoxo as you guys sort it all out. Its not easy!

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    1. Oh, yes! So much finger-wagging. I do not miss that. In fact, when Theo and I went to visit in October, I made sure not to run into our finger-wagging neighbor when I went to cry and hold onto and hug our old apartment building. (For real!) That lack of humanity was always super depressing. But I've also been surprised that Americans aren't as friendly and accepting as I remember. The customer service is also not as I remember it. Sigh. You're right. The grass is always greener. But when it comes to earnings, healthcare, retirement and so on, we fare better there on all fronts. We don't want to make a choice based solely on finances, but rather where we'll be happiest. But those things do matter of course. Even with the cost of living differences, we are still better off there. Another sigh!

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    2. Yes---CH wins on all accounts. As a single income family its been insane to notice the difference. We did well in Basel even with cost of living while we just scrape by here. Then there is vacation time, ability to really travel, the real health care you get for what you pay, on and on and on. We love Asheville where we currently are but I can totally see a return once the kids are less hands on (maybe in 5 years). Philipp is eligible now for his US passport so that will definitely take the fear of no return off my back.

      I could also see doing the expat experience somewere totally new to us, like Norway ot Sweden.

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  7. Lindsey your blog is so enjoyable, entertaining, informative and personal. All of which I really like, thank you! I have been back in the US (east coast) for nearly 5 years after 10 years in London. I've also moved to be back near my family and it has been amazing for my 3 and 1.5 year old to be near their extended family. But even after 5 years, I'm undecided too. There's so much to miss yet so much to give up by moving back too. You will always miss the other wherever you are. I used to think it was easy to move back; I acquired dual citizenship so the children have it too. But with school fast approaching I also realize it's not so easy to just do it. Your posts going through your range of emotions and thoughts are ones I enjoy reading most and can identify with. Keep them coming and it looks like from the comments, you have a host of readers who can empathize! And when it comes to chocolate, there is clearly no contest....I hope you are still importing the good stuff regularly!

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    1. Oh, Monica! Your comment brought a little tear to my eye. You have no idea how wonderful it is to feel understood right now. Thank you so much for that! And for the encouragement to keep voicing these thoughts and feelings here on the blog. I actually texted J a link to this post immediately after I published it and asked, "Too whiney?" I was almost tempted to take it down until he'd given it the okay. Thankfully, I didn't! (And he wrote back to say it was perfect;)
      It's easy to feel like if we had dual citizenship it would be easier to accept one choice or the other because it wouldn't seem as permanent, but you make good points. My new mantra is, "We're neither here nor there. And it will always be that way wherever we are!" Eeeeeks.
      Thanks again for reading - and for taking the time to write your lovely, thoughtful comment. xoxoxo

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  8. This is so fascinating for me to read these posts as I am still in the expat part of the experience, but part of me ia wishing to be closer to family in Canada. At the same time I love our life here in Amsterdam and like you, wish we didn't have to choose.

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    1. I think if we had known how hard it would be, it might have made it a bit easier? Take note, Allison! And good luck with whatever you choose. It may be for you, like us, that you actually have to try it in order to know what you want. Or, maybe, that nagging will still be there for us anyway if we decide to go back. Sheesh! I'm lots of help. ;) xx

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  9. Oh this resonates so much ...I have a sneaky feeling that once your heart belongs to two places you will never be totally present in one place (although there is also so much to be gained), as for family, I'm not sure it's enough to make up for everything else, I'm still figuring that out too :)

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    1. Definitely. I put Spokane and Zurich on my business cards because I realize I'll never be fully in one place or the other. Sigh.

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  10. You know, I'm not sure that being near family makes up for it. My husband is a dual citizen - Danish-American - but grew up in Denmark. He moved to the States for work 13 years ago, and now, he can't imagine living in Denmark. He's adjusted to life here and to culture here, and his (our) kids are being raised here. His family lives in Denmark, and sometimes he misses them, but not enough for him to want to move back. All families are different, of course, but you may find that living in Zurich is more important than being close to your family (and there's nothing wrong with admitting that, either! Sometimes I think we feel guilty in thinking that we *should* place family over that, but we have to do what's right for our immediate families before our extended families, you know?)

    I ramble ;)

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    1. I love the rambling! Thank you so much for chiming in. It really does make my day to read your comments. :) I love love LOVE what you say about choosing what's right for our immediate families over our extended families. That is a very gradual transition once we have our own families, but are used to thinking of our former immediate, now extended family. Thanks for pointing that out. xx

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    2. Jessica's comment about prioritizing your new immediate family over your old immediate family (now extended family) really resonated with me. When we moved back to San Diego from Switzerland 5.5 years ago, I was so excited to be close to my mom, dad, and sister again, plus all my aunts, uncles, and cousins. But almost immediately, my mom and stepdad retired and moved over an hour away to a town with a lower cost of living. Then my beloved father passed away. Now my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew are moving away this summer. All the people that kept me here all these years are basically gone, so that reassures us what we have known all along, that San Diego is not our forever home. As much as it pains my mom to have her daughters living far away, she always tells us to do what's best for our little families. And as much as it pains me to be away from my sister (our sons adore each other, and we really make an effort to see each other a few times per month), she and I also talk about how we need to put the needs of our immediate families before our desire to be sisters living in the same town. So, we while we are emotionally done with San Diego, now we are just waiting for the right opportunity to leave. I am still hoping against all hope (yes, stealing your line) that our future plans include Switzerland. Looking forward to seeing where life takes your little family. Best wishes!

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    3. Oh my goodness! What an interesting path you've followed. Life is so weird. Things are never quite what they seem or what we expect. I am happy that you feel freer to make the choices you want right now! It would be so fun if we were all in Switzerland at the same time!!! :) xoxo

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  11. So true: "once your heart belongs to two places you will never be totally present in one place". Back in 1964 my father moved us all from the west coat (Canada) to Kuwait. In those days no one in our social circle had the foggiest idea where that country even was! We moved back in 1966, just before the infamous "6-day war" and the reverse culture shock was so unexpected. After 24 months, my family moved to a new assignment (Saudi Arabia) but I stayed in Canada to attend university. It took about 4 years for me to find my Canadian identity again and not feel so 'home sick' (which was silly, because nothing in any country is static).
    Now, (yes, some 590 years later!), I still have a sense of 2-cultures in my psyche. I am so sad at what has happened in Lebanon and Syria, for example, places we enjoyed so much. I love hearing Arabic around me as our city has more immigrants and I feel a small sense of loss when I look at our old photograph albums. So Lindsey -- 20 months is a very short time for you yet. And your children gain by getting to know their family in a way they couldn't if they were still in Zurich. They get to see their cousins while they're children so as adults they have a sense of 'family'. And before you know it!! they'll be moved out lading their own lives. Your life will change again but you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you (as have all expats) raised global citizens.

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    1. I am so happy to have our kids near family right now. My mom got to see Theo's first steps out on our patio last fall and it's amazing to see their bond. It will be so interesting to see how we feel over the coming months. I really do hope that we'll fall in love with life here and manage to put Zurich behind us. But one thing is for sure, we are going to follow our hearts on this one. Then we can't go wrong! :) Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, Susan! xoxoxo

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    1. Haha! I thought you were just joking. ;) xx

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  13. My longer post didn't send. I can so relate!!! I love this. I'm longing for another way of life and questioning Saint Paul. Wish I could have seen u guys in Duluth. This is Emily from Portland by the way.

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    1. I sometimes wonder if it's possible to feel settled if you're a wanderlust personality in a world with pretty much unlimited options. We have so much choice it's almost too much!!! ;) I wish we'd met up in Minnesota, too. Shucks!

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  14. We have been back in Seattle, after a four year stint in Switzerland (Morges!), for nearly 6 years and still I wonder if we made the right choice in moving back. Maybe there wasn't even a right choice. It was one of those awful decisions where you both lose and win either way. I think the anonymous person above who said "once your heart belongs to two places you will never be totally present in one place" is probably spot on. So much of what you wrote resonates with me. The walking! YES! During our first year back in the States we actually lived in the suburbs in Colorado, where we were in the same boat of driving everywhere, after not even owning a car in CH. It took my kids a long time not to ask if we were walking or driving. I remember once, my then four-year-old suggested she could just scooter along behind the van. Seattle is much more in line with our life in CH-we own one car, and live in a neighborhood where we can walk (or bus) nearly everywhere we need to go, so do not need to drive very often. And the cost of living is just about what it was in CH, haha (she says with a sob). Anyway. I am starting to ramble. I'm just so glad to have come across your blog this week!
    Good luck with your decision in the months/years to come!

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  15. Oh Lindsey, you're making me miss Zurich even more now! Especially with all of those pretty pictures.

    I've definitely been there, done that with the whole "living in one place and dreaming about another" thing. We lived in Sydney for 5 years when we moved back to Australia after Switzerland. The whole time we were there we treated is as temporary until the job situation in our home city of Adelaide improved and we could move back to be near family and friends. Little did we know that we were actually living the lifestyle we wanted while completely ignoring it as we waited for something "better" in another city. We never appreciated Sydney because we treated it like a layover on a flight to someplace else. We moved back home twice and each time it was a massive mistake (especially financially and career-wise, but that's a different story). We were happy to be near friends and family but we had completely moved on from the lifestyle. We hated that we had to live in the suburbs and drive everywhere. We hated that everyone else lived in the suburbs and had to drive everywhere! Our time in Europe had given us an appreciation for city living. In Sydney our lifestyle hadn't been too different to Zurich in that we lived close to everything and either walked or caught the train/bus. But moving back home meant living a suburban life. City living just wasn't really an option there as many employers are based far out in the suburbs. We made the mistake of moving back twice and each time we thought it would be different. It wasn't. When my husband's employer went bankrupt and we were left without an income and no other prospects, our home city no longer felt like home. We took a giant leap and ended up in the San Francisco Bay Area. We've definitely got that wanderlust thing happening! Despite being in America, our lifestyle here is much more European and more to our liking. We don't own a car and apart from weekend trips away when we use Zipcar, we've never felt the need for one. Anywhere we can't reach by walking we can get to fairly easily by train or bus. The streets are vibrant and filled with people walking everywhere. Everything is so convenient. We even live on top of a supermarket!

    We've been thinking about going back to Zurich a lot lately. We're pretty happy here in the Bay Area much of the time (apart from the high housing costs and the high crime) but my wanderlust heart is always thinking about the next place to live. Ha! At the same time though, I'm making sure that we enjoy our life here in California and don't miss out because we're feeling like we should be someplace else. Ah, it's tricky when there are so many wonderful places that feel like home :)

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  16. I really love this post. It's so relatable! I miss Zurich so much!! Do you think now, a year on, that you will ever move back? :)

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    1. I still would like to. But it's tricky. Part of me would hop on a plane tomorrow. The other part of me thinks it's time to accept and move on without it. Sigh. Thanks for reading and relating!!

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  17. Well, there is actually another layer: if you have lived in more than two places, your heart belongs everywhere and nowhere :) it is liberating and unsettling at the same time. I have lived more than half my life in 7 different countries away from the country I grew up in, which we moved to when I was 6. So while I do feel like it is home, it never properly felt like home to begin with, and every place I go to feels like home quickly but is also easy to leave for the next adventure. I have a saying wherever we are that I will 'forever miss' an aspect, like city life in London or living right by the beach, but I remember the things I always struggled with (wagging fingers sounds familiar ;)
    I do want to give my children what my parents gave us though: some consistency in our schooling, as I think moving to a new school culture and language and making new friends every few years is tough on many kids. So our wandering days might be over soon, we will see!
    However hard it is, I know for certain though that never living abroad was never an option for me, so the struggle is definitely worth it, which keeps me going through tough times.
    I hope you can find peace wherever you are!

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