Once we made the decision to move abroad reality kicked into high gear. My husband had to start work before we were ready to move, thus, he moved ahead of us and left me behind to take care of the logistics. And let me tell you, the logistics of an international move are horrendous.
First, we had to tell the kids. When we started discussing the possibility of moving internationally the kids were 7 and 11. My son thought it sounded great because Europeans ride bicycles everywhere. As an 11 year old boy that was one of his favorite activities and the idea that he could literally ride his bike all over town sounded ideal. My daughter at age 7 asked if we could visit castles. “Of course!” we assured her. After we told them we were moving, Aleksander stared straight ahead, frozen like a statue and said nothing. Lena burst into tears. “Uh oh.” This was not the reaction we had envisioned. Unfortunately, by the time the move actually happened our son was 13 and happily ensconced in middle school with his friends, teen social life and first girlfriend. Our daughter was 9 and while she liked castles, she was no longer willing to move for them.
Then, my husband began the process of commuting from Parma, Italy to Pleasanton, California. He was trying to adjust to a new job, learn the ropes, find us a place to live, learn the language, understand the road signs and the ways of life in Italy. He was stressed out and lonely.
I was in Pleasanton dealing with: a very sad daughter and a sad, angry son; acquiring copies of all of our records – dental, orthodontic, medical, insurance; arranging the shipping and trying to figure out how to ship personal items; and, the prepping and selling of the house. We were selling right after the housing market crashed so selling the house entailed basically redoing the entire house – painting the interior and exterior, fixing the pergola, patching walls, packing up, sorting, selling, donating and removing any trace of us ever having lived there. Essentially, it needed to look like a model home, not like a real home. I was exhausted every single evening. I live with an autoimmune disease which leaves me tired on a good day, but this left me utterly depleted physically and emotionally.
Now factor in the time difference (9 hours ahead in Italy) and a lonely husband who was missing us and wanting to talk and discuss things. I simply couldn’t do it at times. I was too tired. So Joe was alone in Europe, missing his family, feeling neglected. And I was in the US feeling exhausted, and guilty because I had the kids with me and witnessed their sadness every day. The experience was not boding well for our adventure. We lived apart like this for 5 months. It was stressful on all of us. My son’s normally good grades began to drop and my sweet, mellow son got angrier and angrier. My daughter broke into tears on a regular basis.
Much to our surprise, the house sold much more quickly than we had anticipated, however, the kids had activities scheduled through the end of July and they needed time to say goodbye to their friends, their home, their life as they knew it. We found ourselves with no place to live in our own town. The fates conspired in our favor, however. Let me just say that we happened to have the best group of neighbors that anyone could ever ask for. I miss the comradery that we all shared. In our hour of need, our friends across the street offered up their home to us because they were going away. It was surreal as I watched the new family move into our home of 12 years from the neighbor’s house across the street. I had the good sense to make sure the kids were gone for the day with friends so they didn’t have to watch.
GOODBYES ARE NEVER EASY
Our final day in Pleasanton arrived. We stayed the last night with our dear, dear friends. The shuttle picked us up to take us to the airport. I was teary saying goodbye to our friends, but then both kids began to cry. Then they began to sob. And I mean sob. Whole body racking sobs. Then I began to sob with them. We sobbed the entire 45 minutes drive to the airport. We sobbed at check-in, through the security gate and waiting for the plane. It was horrible. I felt like crap. Their hearts were breaking. My heart was breaking witnessing their pain. We chose this.
On our way to Italy, we made a stop in Illinois and Wisconsin to say goodbye to family. Joe returned as well and we were reunited for a time. We went from Illinois to Washington, D.C. with my in-laws for a vacation. Joe returned to Italy for work but the kids and I went on to New York City for our last bit of the USA. The idea was that this mini vacation would help ease the pain. It would be a slower transition. We had a grand time that summer and on our final voyage from New York to Italy, Joe surprised us and upgraded us to 1st class. The month long vacation and the 1st class lounge almost fooled us into forgetting what we were doing. Almost. On the long flight the tears started again.
Poor Joe was excited to get us all back together and had positioned himself right at the exit gate with a video camera to record our first steps in Italy. The kids were crying, I was crying for them. We were all exhausted, afraid, and less than enthusiastic about being filmed. Joe may even tell you that I was rude.
When we got to the car, Joe handed our son a package from his girlfriend at home. I will never forget the look of pain on Aleksander’s face when he got that package. I swear the sadness crept out of that package and enveloped us all. It was a quiet ride to our temporary housing. Tears were silently falling down our cheeks.
We chose this.