A New Year

 There is a 'Before Switzerland' and an 'After Switzerland'.  Two very different periods in my life.

When you write a story, sometimes it's helpful to think about doorways as transitions.  Once a character walks through that doorway, there is no going back.  The doorway represents change. Sometimes, it seems quite clear and obvious to all that a character has passed through a doorway but other times, it may take some reflection to understand.   Did the threshold you just crossed change something so fundamental to your being that there is now a 'before' and an 'after'? I've crossed a few thresholds.  A car accident (that's obvious), a regrettable conversation (not so obvious), a kiss. Those make sense,  It's the sneaky ones you have to watch out for.

Repatriation is a sneaky one.   It was July 2015 and three years had gone by since our move to Switzerland. Three years gone was both a blink of an eye and an eternity. I wondered what it would be like once we moved back to the US. I'd read the articles.  I talked to other expats that had done it. I thought I was ready. However, it turns out three years can also be a big problem.

Three years was long enough for the kids to completely outgrow, both physically and emotionally, most everything they'd left behind in the US house.  Three years was long enough for neighbors to have formed new friendships and the new paint on the back porch to peel.  It was long enough for the weeds to grow and the dog we'd left in the care of friends to become arthritic and his fur to turn gray on his sweet face.

Three years is also a blink.  The girl across the street was learning to drive now.  The boys down the street drove over to visit my son. The kids who weren't so long ago playing with legos in my living room now had jobs,

Three years without working went by in a blink but not without consequences, My job wasn't my job anymore and the high school I had worked at was in the throes of a complete renovation leaving me slightly disoriented.

Three years meant my daughter was entering high school.  I took her to freshman orientation hoping to leave her to do her thing while I got to visit with former colleagues. We walked in and someone (else) was giving out the schedules and welcoming parents.  That used to be my job.

Colleagues I'd spent my days with (days that'd turned into years that turned into a decade and then halfway through another decade) were busy doing what we'd always done. Except three years had passed and I was on the outside looking in. Three years went from a blink to an eternity.  Overwhelmed, I left. I made it about 100 feet, sat on the curb outside the school and dissolved in a puddle of tears.

I started a new job and struggled to make new friends and enjoy what I was once pretty good at. I couldn't sleep through the night. I was exhausted and blamed seasonal affective disorder, a vitamin D deficiency, going back to work too soon and then finally sat up and thought, "I'm depressed."

I missed the friends I'd left behind. I missed feeling relaxed.  I missed my routine I'd fought so hard to establish there.  I missed the freedom and joy of finding self-expression through writing.  I had no time to write now. I couldn't even read a book. Those that I started reading in Switzerland sat halfway read, frozen in Swiss time. Who cared if French children didn't throw food or if Julia Child loved living in Paris or not. Who cared about the pilgrimage of Harold Frye.  I haven't picked up any of those books again.

I tried to join a book club here but maybe it was too soon or just not a good fit for me because I went once and never went back.  I joined a gym eight months ago. I haven't gone in yet but I write a check once a month and keep the door key on my key chain.  I called a counselor I had worked with once before but couldn't make an actual appointment. I missed all the doctors' appointments I'd scheduled.

The days rolled on- relentless as only a US schedule can be.  I worked. I didn't eat lunch and I stayed late.  My kids never said they missed me but I would start to get calls close to dinner time, "Where are you?" , "Are you ready to come home yet?"  Guilty hands would shut my laptop and I'd leave. I'd ready myself to walk into what felt like a hospital waiting room except the patients were my children in various states of neediness.  Make dinner. Print this.  Sign this note.  I need 450 cupcakes for tomorrow. Accusations were the nightly greeting;  You forgot to put more money on my lunch account or You bought the wrong book covers or worse, I waited at so and so's house for three hours- how come you didn't come get me? You were supposed to come get me.

I talked about Switzerland less. People aren't especially interested beyond the initial 'Welcome Home' conversation and I understand that.  But internally I struggled to make those experiences make sense.  I knew there was a better way for me to raise kids, eat, shop, and work.  I knew a work/life balance was worth fighting for.

The days rolled on.  Fall became winter. Winter became spring and then,  at last, summer. I did what I needed to do at work to buy myself a few weeks of respite to be home.  I entertained kids and unpacked the last few boxes that'd sat neglected, kicked to the perimeters of various rooms. I went through the kids' rooms purging and refreshing.  I organized and organized and organized- desperate to steal back what a disorganized house takes from your 'free' time.   But I kept pushing aside the box full of Swiss memorabilia.

I didn't know how to unpack that. I didn't know where to put these things.  So, I didn't.  I bought a plastic storage bin and repacked that box and then hauled it to the basement where I left it like a Swiss time capsule.

Then something interesting happened in early July. The anniversary of our move back to the US. And it felt like a new year.  The straight black line that demarked life 'Before Switzerland' and 'After Switzerland' grew fainter.  The 'After Switzerland' part became less painful.  Less chaotic. I became more determined to fit the puzzle pieces of me back together again.   Find a way to be me here. Because that was the biggest problem.

I felt like I'd found a bunch of puzzle pieces to me there and they just wouldn't fit again once I got back here. But that wasn't because I was here it was because I tried to pick up right back where I'd left off.  And that, I've discovered is impossible.  Remember, that door thing?  That door is closed now.  And I have a suspicion that I might be in the middle of doorway now.  I'll let you know.

Life is full of transitions; births and deaths, marriages and divorces.  Big ones and little ones too; like a lost tooth, riding a bike, or a new boss at work.  Transitions are hard.  Change is hard.

Repatriation is very hard. Repatriation is a process, not an event.  It may take a long while.  A long, long while.  But one day, I'm confident you'll wake up and feel better.  And somewhere down the road, you'll look back and you'll see.  You'll see the past and hopefully, a present that reminds you, in the best possible ways, of the past.  And if you look very closely, you might even see a doorway.


  1. Jen .....you REALLY need to write a book!!!!!! A collection of all your short writings to start should be a best seller in no time!!!! You were an incredible Swiss Mom, Swiss wife, Swiss hostess, Swiss guide, Swiss friend, and everything else Swiss... AND you are just as incredible at all those things in American!! <3

  2. Pearl is right. You *are* a good writer. Have you ever tried to write fiction?

  3. Hi Jen, what a wonderful adventure I know you had in Switzerland and appreciate the challenges that 'coming back home' can bring. But what wonderful resiliency your family surely developed...both coming and going. Glad to meet you through the Blogging 50 group!

    Hugs, Lynn

  4. I started this post expecting to be bored...no photos...just text, but I wasn't bored! I got caught up in your feelings and experiences. You write very well, and it makes me want to hear more about your journey, and what it was like to live in Switzerland!

  5. Talk about co-incidence. I just moved back after being away for 21 years. Your post is very timely indeed. So far I've been too busy to notice how I feel. But I truly feel as if I'm home.

  6. I did the repatriation from the US back to Northern Ireland after 3 years then many years later another repatriation from Belgium back to the UK after a stay of 6 years. It really is hard for people to understand what we feel when they haven't experienced it.


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