After 9 years and 3 countries, I’m making the transition from expatriate to repatriate. It’s a brand new chapter with new stories to tell! I now come to you from the home of baseball and birthplace of Frank Sinatra— Hoboken, New Jersey.
For all practical purposes, it’s summer time in Singapore. Maybe from a climatic point of view, this observation doesn’t hold water because when you live only a single degree north of the equator, spring, summer, fall and winter don’t really exist. Nevertheless, it feels like summer. The international schools closed for an extended recess, and throngs of expats took advantage by going on long vacations. It isn’t unusual for families to head “home” for if not the entire break, than at least several weeks and months at a time.
Almost everyone I know has abandoned the island. As Singapore emptied out, my Facebook news feed filled up with their vacation photos and precious moments with family and longtime friends. I love browsing their albums and observing my relatively new pals in their natural habitat. It’s enlightening. I never knew, for example, that Carol likes baseball or how much Sue looks like her mother. Mostly I enjoy seeing the sheer joy on their faces as they celebrate their children’s birthdays with grandparents or share cocktails with old college buddies. Smiles seem bigger; eyes look brighter to me. As I browse the photos and read status updates, I can’t help but share in the glee of being reunited with loved ones and basking in that which is comfortable and familiar.
I know the feeling. Like most of my expatriated counterparts, I, too, left the island and embarked on a three-week trip to visit my family and friends back home in the United States. Since life abroad causes me to miss so much of my loved ones day-to-day experiences, I try to make it home for the important Norman Rockwell-like moments such as graduations, dance recitals, and baby showers. When I think “home,” the images in my mind really do resemble covers from the Saturday Evening Post. I think big family dinners with all the kids gathered round looking joyfully at mother as she presents a stuffed bird on a platter. I don’t picture my brother chasing my nieces around the table with the fish he was cleaning or my dad grossing us out by popping the uneaten eyeballs into his mouth even though this would be the reality.
The truth be told, my family isn’t exactly Rockwellesque. Still, when I look back on my own Facebook photos, I only see the love, happiness, pig tails, and toothless smiles. With this most recent trip, I will remember watching my kid sister get her elementary school diploma and not the ear infection that prevented us from enjoying the cake my mother spent hours decorating for the reception that followed. I will see the moment my niece Rebekah graduated from high school and not the stomach flu that kept her grandmother from attending. In my memories, the hours of dance recitals flew by and the quality of performance was comparable to that of Julliard.
Maybe it is because I live so far away that I tend to over idealize and sentimentalize what the time home will be like even though I know full well the reality will be different. Don’t get me wrong. I love the time spent with my family and wouldn’t change a single fish eyeball moment. As I sit here in Singapore, browsing summer family photos of people I’ve never met, I miss mine even more.