Monday, 2 February 2015

Expat Life: Loving and Leaving Where You Live

I have just finished reading Global Mama by Melissa Dalton-Bradford (you can find a review here) and all the way through the book I was struck by the sense of 'home'; her family's ability to set down roots wherever they ended up living. They didn't just live physically in new countries, new places, new houses; they lived with their heart and soul and I had the feeling that every place they left meant leaving a little part of themselves there. Truly global living.

Reading Dalton-Bradford's account of living in Norway and the cultural differences they experienced when the family made a move to Paris made me think about my own sense of home.

I take for granted now that I live in the Netherlands, that I live in a Dutch house, in a Dutch street surrounded by locals. But what does that actually mean? It's the little things around us that make somewhere unique to live. It's the secret corners, the special items of furniture or memorabilia that travel with us, it's the normality of our days in a place. It's the waves from neighbours, the familiar faces scraping ice from the cars parked in the street in winter.

As each day passes in a house, in a town, in a country we take everything around us more and more for granted. Nothing seems particularly special anymore because we see, touch or pass it every day. Only by leaving a place do we see it's true place in our heart. Only by moving on do we appreciate all the little things that make a place special, make a place our home. And when you are not constantly on the move it is easy to forget all that.

Reading Global Mom reminded me that I was busy with a Love Where We Live journal at one point but never finished capturing the place I call home. A journal about where you live is never really finished of course - things change, you redecorate, you renew, you refresh rooms - and more importantly every day you live in a home you make new memories. But I was busy capturing the essence of the place I call home. I was busy with photos of the room we gather to eat, where we scrub our teeth, where the children play.

What makes a home a real home though is not the wallpaper, the curtains you've meticulously chosen to match the sofa, nor the well thought out shade of the woodwork's paint, but the people you share your home with.

Home is made special by the things you do together - the Friday night rituals, the lazy Sunday morning breakfasts, the ordinariness of the morning rush out of the front door. What do festive holidays look like in your home? How would all that change if you lived somewhere else? Expat life is certainly about change - from the minor to the major, from the little day to day things to life changing events. And in all that our home is the foundation, it holds things that are familiar and dear to us. It holds things that capture our memories, whether we realise it or not.

There are things scattered around my Dutch home that I brought with me from England and every time they catch my eye I am cast back to a previous life, even if for only a brief moment.

There are even special memories in the choosing of a house - the memories of picking the house that we currently live in have emotions intrinsically entwined around them. We bought a home for our future. We bought a place we could make our own, put our stamp on. Then, back in 2002, there were two of us. Now there are five of us. We have grown our family in this house. As my Love Where We Live journal reminds me the house I live in, the place I call home is special because:

"We are growing into beautiful people here."
Each day we are growing as a family, and this home is the place where my three sons have grown from babies into toddlers and are growing into school-going boys. It's their base, the place they feel safe and secure. And whilst I was reading Global Mom, it became clear to me that this house we live in is a shell for our family, for our lives, but what goes on inside will be the same wherever we should lay down roots, whichever house, street, town or country we should live in. We will take something of this place with us when we eventually move, not the physical stuff, but the emotional and cultural parts of life here in the Netherlands.

Moving away from this Dutch street, this town, or even this country wouldn't take away the memories, the love that has encased us in our home over the last twelve years, the people we have become living our Dutch life.

Imagine tomorrow having to leave the place you currently call home -  what little part of you would you leave behind? What would you take with you from the life you have lead there to your new home?

It strikes me that the furniture would all be replaceable, there'd be no tears shed about leaving the carpets we spent time deliberating over behind, but the moments we have spent getting on with life in our home would be irreplaceable, unique. These moments are currently the daily occurrences that seem so average, so ordinary and uninteresting -  the day to day that hardly seems worth noting in a beautiful journal. But I am off to do just that - because I know one day I will realise the value of all these family moments that make up day to day life in our average Dutch home in a Dutch street, in the middle of the Netherlands. I will come to realise that we have lived in this house with our hearts and our souls. And I will also realise that we will leave a little of ourselves in this home when we leave it.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more! I grew up in west Wales - a beautiful place, with the countryside and coastline on our doorstep but it wasn't until I moved away that I realise it's beauty and magic. I know live outside London with my family, our house is lovely, it's comfortable but as you say, it's our little ways and rituals that make our house, our home.

    Thanks for linking up to #SundayStars xxxx