Change has been one of the few constants in our lives over this past year. I’ve been reflecting a bit on all of it as we come to the 1 year mark of officially leaving home in Tennessee. So many bittersweet memories populate the pictures in my phone from May and the first days of June 2017, faces of those we love and dearly miss, places that were part of our daily and weekly rhythms of life – school, neighbors, church, friends, parks, our garden, our swing set, our cul-de-sac, our HOME. We still grieve these things deeply, each in our own way, and often at times that catch us by surprise.
Just the other night, Wes got up shortly after having been tucked in for bed and came and found me in my bedroom. I initially thought he was just stalling (not an unusual occurrence), but then I realized he was a little teary as he wrapped his arms around me. “I’m homesick, mama.”
“What does that mean to you, buddy? What are you homesick for?” (I have to ask this, because the poor kid has been thoroughly confused about what places constitute home this year. After 3 weeks in Greece and only one of those at a sweet little air B&B we loved, he was frequently “homesick” for Greece when we got back to Central Asia. Me too, bud, me too!)
“I miss my train set. The one I used to have at home in Tennessee.”
I resist the urge to comfort him by brushing it off and reminding him that he has a new train set now. It’s so hard to just sit in the sadness sometimes, but I’m learning it’s important.
“What about that do you miss?”
He goes on to describe it a bit, but he stops short and his big blue eyes well up again. “I’m starting to forget what it looks like, and I don’t want to forget. I want to remember it, Mama.”
I hug him tight, mostly as a means of concealing my own tears. He is eventually consoled by the promise of me finding a picture of the train set tomorrow so he can look at it and remember, and I carry my growing boy back to bed.
The moment struck me in so many ways, and I have continued to let my thoughts linger here for a time. He expressed something pretty profound for a four-year-old, and I think it’s something I’ve had a hard time putting my finger on at times. While last year we experienced the wrenching sadness of all of the loss that was happening in real time – something sharp and definitive – I’m realizing that this sadness sort of evolves as time moves along into something perhaps less debilitating, but no less real. It’s softer around the edges, but it sneaks up and surprises you in the strangest ways, and perhaps in the hardest way of all…the realization that time marches on without you, and you are left with real and wonderful memories that can sometimes feel a bit slippery to hold on to.
While change often means loss in one sense, it also means that there is something new in its place. After all of the goodbyes, we ultimately got to say a lot of new Hello’s as well. Hello to a new country, new friends, new neighbors, new classmates, a new language, new food, new parks, a new school, a new HOME.
As the kids wrap up their first school year here in CA, I am also overwhelmed with gratitude for the “new”. They have had wonderful teachers that have loved them and guided them so well through all of their crazy transitions, and they have grown by leaps and bounds in this new place. They have grown academically – Caroline has literally read dozens and dozens of chapter books this year, while Ellie learned to read! And Wes has wowed us all as he begins to sound out words, do math problems with his big sisters, and has learned a great deal of Russian!
But perhaps even more importantly, they have grown in the less tangible ways of empathy, kindness, and patience – learning to have grace with those learning English even as they are learning Russian, extending sympathy towards friends who are feeling sad or nervous about starting something new, and even sharing in the excitement of their friends who have family come to visit or receive a fun package from home (especially when there are American goodies involved 🙂 ).
When I look at the nervous faces of our first-day-of-school pictures, and compare them to the confident, happy kiddos I am sending to their last days this week, I am unbelievably grateful for how very far we have come. I have never in my life been more proud of my kids than I am now, to see them wrestle through the hard days of transition and yet finish the school year with awards for excellence (Caroline) and faithfulness (Ellie). I am fully aware that there will still be plenty of hard days in front of us, but for this moment, I pause and recognize that they have come a long way, and I am grateful.
And then there’s this tiny peanut I left Tennessee with last year…
Who is now a full-blown toddler, and I can’t hardly even talk about it!
I’m pretty much a goner with this one.
I guess the end of school always has me feeling a bit nostalgic, but this year of change has raised the bar a bit! Here’s to hoping this next year ahead involves lots more growth and learning…but perhaps with a bit less change along the way.