Just enjoy where you are now

May 10, 2018


This is the funny story of how we turned down offers in Switzerland and Germany and decided to stay in Spokane for a while.

Back in January, J flew to Denver, rented a car, drove to Fort Collins, interviewed for a Berlin-based job, and flew back all in one day. No one even knew he had gone because it was a designated snow make-up day and there was no school. The kids just thought he was at work until we drove to the airport to pick him up.

We didn't think he would get the job, but he was happy he had been selected to interview so we decided, why not? You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

In the weeks leading up to the interview, a funny thing started to happen. We started asking ourselves why was he going anyway? Not just because we figured he probably wouldn't get the job, but because (much to our surprise) we were starting to feel really comfortable in and attached to our life in Spokane. We realized that compared to one year prior, everything was different, and in a good way.

One evening, I looked around at our cozy, beautiful living room, the bright fire crackling in the fireplace, the snow on the treetops outside the windows. Under our roof were our happy children sleeping in their beds, the quiet swish and hum of the dishwasher in the kitchen, and the tumbling of a load of laundry in the dryer. I said to myself, "This is pretty good." I thought of Coco's wonderful school a ten minute walk away, our darling backyard for playing and relaxing in (it has an actual picket fence, for goodness sake!), J's amazing contract and hours at work. Our easy ten minute commutes and lack of traffic and hassle. Life was good. It was better than good! Our situation had done a complete 180 without our fully realizing it. It made a difference; to think of leaving wasn't so cut and dried as it had been the year before when things were not horrible, but also not so great.

***

Now here's the problem with wanderlust: Wanderlust does not concern itself with picket fences. So despite the happy situation, there was still that undeniable, disorienting, impossible-to-ignore pull to go abroad again. I felt the distinct urge to reclaim our identity as expats, a thirst for adventure, and a longing to be doing something special and unusual with our lives, instead of the same old house and yard routine we had unwittingly bought into. At the same time, I felt an equally undeniable push back in defense of our new house and yard life. What was going on?! The days leading up to the interview were filled with so much back and forth. Excitement at the prospect of being in a new, worldly locale! Followed by dread at the thought of sitting on long-haul flights with antsy children every summer. But, delight at living in an urban setting and walking everywhere again! Followed by an odd and rather surprising remorse at giving up our beloved German automobile. But, anticipation of actually learning German (finally) and having bilingual kids! Followed by pangs of regret at taking Coco away from her darling school and sweet friends. European vacations and travel! But missed birthdays and celebrations and holidays. Oh my. It was exhausting. It kept me awake at night, and before he had even gone to the interview, we decided that we were better off staying anyway.

Staying meant building a better resume than switching jobs after a year, and it meant finally giving our children some stability. It would allow me the time to go back to school if I wanted to. But most of all, it would give us the chance to just coast for a while. We could enjoy our long summer, not fuss around with boxes or moving companies, not sell all of our stuff, not go through the very real struggle of starting over. We could just be for a while. The thought of just being for a while sounded really, really good.

But, because he already had a plane ticket and it was good practice, J went to the interview anyway. And then, of course he got offered the job - more or less on the spot! When he forwarded me the email while boarding the flight in Denver, my first thought was, "How flattering! But he won't take it," followed immediately by, or maybe even interrupted by the next thought, which was, "I kind of hope he wants to take it!" And just like that, all the back and forth started again. I deleted the blog post I was in the middle of writing all about how we had decided to stay put for a while. And it gave J a lot to think about on the flight home. Especially because at that point, he already had a second interview in Switzerland. (I know.)

People always say that when it comes to job hunting, you have to have lots of irons in the fire. And that is completely true, but why do all the irons have to get hot at the same time?! The interviews all came right on top of one another and with timing and time differences and Skype calls going back and forth, what had already been an intense back and forth, push and pull scenario became triangulated and infinitely complicated.

The job in Berlin was better, but of course Zurich was where my heart lived. But going back to Zurich meant taking a step backward professionally. That didn't sit well with my heart. However, Berlin is flat as a pancake and we are mountain people. What about the kids? Wasn't having them walk to school a big priority for us? They could do that here and in Zurich, but definitely not Berlin. Which situation made the most sense financially? Where would we thrive the most? Which adjustment would be easiest? How important were cleanliness and public transport? How had Zurich changed since we left? Why wasn't this decision easier? And when did our parents get so old?! Would our kids continue to know their family here if we left? How realistic was it to think that we would come back every summer? After-school care costs how much in Zurich?! If we left and had another baby, would we ever visit again? How many more years could our parents realistically make the journey to visit us? We're all set up here, why are we leaving anyway?!

Looking back on how difficult our decision was, I can see now that I spent the last few years determined not to put any roots down so that I could be ready to yank them up and go at a moment's notice. But there were two problems with this plan. One, you can't really avoid putting down roots wherever you are. To call them "roots" is a bad analogy anyway. It's more like a web that you weave. As you move through your life in a place, patterns emerge, paths are worn down, and pretty soon, you've spun an invisible web of your existence. It's laid atop wherever you are and it becomes part of that place. You can't take it with you when you go; but inevitably, you miss the daily retracing of it when you've gone. Problem number one was the web. Problem number two was that my children were certainly not in on this no-roots plan. They burrowed right into life in Spokane and got all comfy and cozy and I could see that plucking them from their little burrows was going to be awful, so it had better be worth it. And I honestly couldn't say that it would be.

Of course we always go bravely into the unknown when we make any decision, even when we decide to stay put. That wasn't what was holding me back. I came to see that for me, going back had become not so much about going as it was about fixing, or correcting the past. A sort of undoing of grand mistakes, if you will. I wanted to recapture the past and right the wrong I had committed in leaving Zurich and reclaim control of everything! And if that could have worked, that would have been a beautiful plan. But we all know that that's impossible. We can never change the past. I still felt very attached to that plan, but I knew I had to let it go. J and I talked it out on a long walk and agreed that we weren't going for the right reasons. We turned down the offers, one right after the other. First Germany, and then Switzerland. It felt great at first, but then the doubt crept in. It felt like quitting, abandoning my values, or giving up on my dream. I worried we had made a huge mistake, and yet I couldn't deny that going just felt wrong and I had to listen to my gut.*

For a couple of weeks, the worry persisted, but then something shifted. A few days ago, I woke up and was feeling really despondent. My mind started to spiral and I asked myself why I hadn't made better plans. Why hadn't I charted out exactly what I wanted my life to look like at different points? Like right after college? Or after we got married? What would my life look like now if I had done that?! I wondered, rather impatiently. And then I realized that I did do those things. I did plan out exactly what I wanted my life to look like. And you know what? It all worked out pretty closely to plan!

When I finished college, I made it my goal to move abroad and live and work in French and I moved to Neuchatel in 2006 and did exactly that. Then, after we got married, I decided that we should have a few years in Portland to adjust to life as newlyweds (and enjoy all of our beautiful wedding presents:) and then I figured we would move abroad for a while, start a family and eventually wind up in Spokane in a cute little house on the South Hill with our kids going to Wilson.

Check, check, check! All completed. So why have I felt such sadness and regret? Because things weren't 100% perfect along the way? It's true that they weren't. We experienced a horrible betrayal from people we thought we could trust. And trusting them meant we gave up our sweet life in Zurich and wound up on a confusing and difficult detour for a while there, but we all came through relatively unscathed. When I start to feel badly about that, I just have to remember that we made the best decision we could have with the information we had at the time.

Thinking it all through, perhaps seeing it all through a new lens, a sense of peace washed over me. Instead of trying to fix, or correct, or recapture the past, I felt free to embrace a new chapter.

So here we are. I have no idea how long this chapter will last, or where it will take us, but I am wise enough to remember the time when I wanted what I currently have. That is something worth remembering, indeed. I have no idea what comes next in so many ways, but I do know a few things. I will always be an expat. I will always feel the pull to live abroad. But there's plenty of time for that. The secret, I've discovered, is: Just enjoy where you are now. That is exactly what I'm doing.

I have missed all of you and the wonderful virtual discourse we have here. THANK YOU to all of you who emailed me during the past couple of months. Your emails meant so much to me and always seemed to come at just the right moment. Thank you a million times for that!

Onward.

(*I would like to add that there were some other factors that played into our decision making, but I make every effort to respect the privacy of others and only share my own story here on Swiss Lark. Just putting that out there for what it's worth!;)

Join the conversation!

  1. This is the stuff of life isn't it? The back and forth, ups and downs...the unknown. Maybe this phase will only last two weeks or maybe it will last two years and either way, thats okay. For me, i've just learnt to accept that some days, I feel as though I really am able to enjoy where I am right now and then other days I feel terribly homesick. Such is life, I guess?

    I don't think we often feel 100% certain about the choices we make...sometimes we just have to jump in feet first and see what happens.

    I can't tell you how many blogs I've read but still, few pull me in as much as yours does, Lindsey. Thank you for sharing parts of your experience with us!

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    1. Oh, Rhiannon! You're so kind. If you ever stop reading my blog, I will cry. xx

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  2. Thanks for being so honest. I have to admit I was disappointed when I learned you could have ended up in Germany! But it sounds like you are following your gut which is always good

    (btw of course your kids could/would walk to school in Berlin.!actually it's basically required by law ..) ��

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    1. Ah, but it would have been a private school...not the only deal breaker, but one of them! ;) Schade.

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    2. Oh ok. Interesting. Our oldest is about to start public German school in September and we are so excited! Do they make such a big deal out of Einschulung in Switzerland too ?

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  3. Thanks for this post! I like "wanderlust". Just bought this a few weeks ago ;)

    https://www.etsy.com/listing/567096227/wanderlust-wall-decor-large-print-gold?ref=shop_home_active_34

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    1. You speak my language, Anileys. Thank you for sharing that - and for reading, always! xx

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  4. "...but I am wise enough to remember the time when I wanted what I currently have." I love this, and I remember when you wrote about leaving Zurich hoping for exactly what you currently have. Like you, I tend to want something and do what it takes to make it happen. I am confident that when you really want to move abroad again/the time is right, you will make it happen. I also understand the doubt, especially because it can seem like -- wait, was this our big chance? What if another chance never comes along? and on and on... It seems like you are in a really good place and that is wonderful! Also, congrats to J on two job offers in Europe! What a confidence boost and a luxury to turn them down!

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    1. This is exactly what I was trying to say! It's SO scary. What if this was the VERY LAST CHANCE and we blew it?! But, damn. Sometimes you just have to slow down and trust. Checking Theo in for surgery today, someone had written on the white board: "Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience." It bowled me over. Thank you for getting it, Amanda! xoxox

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  5. Beautiful post. You capture the experience exactly. I am reading The Element by Ken Robinson and love his line that life is “organic, not linear.”

    For what its worth, I think your dream of writing being your mainstay is entirely possible with your talent. Hugs. You’ve got this!

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  6. My heart ached and burst with joy all at once for you, reading this. All the roads we cannot possibly travel, in one short life - how fortunate we are to have so many wonderful choices that our bittersweet dilemma involves deciding which is best?

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  7. So well written and true! We have struggled with all the same thoughts. We have ended up in England (going on two years now already!) and never thought we would settle here...our end goal was always Switzerland. We just recently realized that we are happy in the web that we have weaved the past couple of years, though we miss having family close by, it feels good to finally make a real home somewhere (without always planning on leaving). xoxoxo

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