I got married very young, at the age of 20 and never regretted it. I met my hubby toward the end of my nursing program and we saw no reason to wait, we were both head over heels in love. We both had plans for accelerated careers and doing it together just seemed to make sense. Fast forward several years to a post grad degree for both of us and two small (very active boys) and I was exhausted and yes, even a little disillusioned.
We took the opportunity to move to the States, when hubby was offered a job. It meant so much more of a career opportunity for him and as two highly educated people in the UK, we were not making it. The cost of living was high and salaries were low. I was exhausted just going to work in a busy NICU, taking care of the boys, watching the back of hubby's head as he ran out the door to work, him watching the back of mine as I did the same, very little playtime and trying to make it all work financially.
We were also dealing with 2 sets of very toxic families. I know it's taboo to talk about this but let’s be honest, many of us deal with this and it's exhausting. These "vampires" suck the energy and self-confidence right out of you and can ruin a person’s self-worth and hugely negatively impact a marriage. We were desperate to put some distance between us and our family to get some respite. Why not go to the States I thought? It must be better than this.
Things I wish I had known:
- Wish I had known about yoga and how much it would not just help me but save me.
- Homesickness is real and it can be so debilitating. I cried every day for 2 years. The sense of loss was overwhelming and a huge shock to me because this was a move I wanted and had looked forward to. When I finally figured to treat it like a bereavement and just go there, it started to get better.
- You cannot really feel at home in a place for at least 2 years. This has been my rule every time we have moved; no judgement for the first 2 years. The first-year: experience all the seasons in a new place. The second year: confirm whether you love or hate this place per the season. We arrived in one of the worst winters Wisconsin had experienced in 1994. Temps of 40 below and feet and feet of snow! If I had not pledged to give it time I would have been on the next plane home.
- Just because your new country is English speaking it does not mean they speak the same language as you. I was shocked at how much I did not understand people and how they did not understand me! A mixture of colloquialisms, culture shock and accent made the language transition a surprisingly hard one
- When you go to the grocery story you will not find anything you want, need or know. I remember one of the first days going into a huge warehouse style grocery store to get milk and baked beans (an English supper staple) and was so overwhelmed by the different packaging and types and amounts of food, I walked out with nothing, very bewildered. It took me a while and some smaller grocery stores to feel comfortable getting the basics.
- In a new place with new germs you and your kids will have a health crisis. Within weeks of arriving in the states both boys (aged 4 and 1) got pneumonia and were sick. Hubby had to travel for work, it was still deepest darkest winter and even though I consider myself a smart person I could not navigate this new health care system. What do you mean I must have insurance, fill out forms and pay money? This was so stressful.
- Running 3000 miles away from your baggage just means you bring it with you. Unfortunately, running away to the States still meant our families could get in touch with us via phone and...deep breath...by visiting. Even though it did give us respite from that week in, week out toxicity that we were dealing with, I wish my 20 something self would have known how to be an advocate for myself, my kids and my hubby, to develop a vocabulary and that distance was not going to do that for me, only personal growth would.
- Those who love you will find a way to maintain a relationship with you wherever you are. I had friends and family who I never heard from again after we left for the States. Then I had several very, very special friends (mainly from our stint living in Abingdon Oxfordshire) that never let me go. These relationships sustained me at a time when I felt I was drowning. One dear friend and I made tapes and wrote letters that way. When those tapes arrived, I would do a happy dance, take the boys to the park and listen to my friend’s voice and all her news. Another sweet friend made a huge effort to come and see us that first year. Oh, how I needed her hugs and just to hang and chat and drink wine - things we are still good at.
- When you move internationally it changes you. I remember going home for a visit about 18 months after we had left and shocked at how different England and the people were. Only they were not different...I was. And I liked it, I was stronger, more resourceful and knew my worth better than when I lived there before.
- Americans are really, really nice people. We received such a warm welcome to the States, it was very endearing and certainly made things a whole lot easier. I think as a nation, Americans have a love affair with the Brits. I was constantly (and still am) commended on my lovely accent and people just want to know how your life was in England and why an earth would you want to live in America vs England (believe me I have a long list!). We have made some wonderful friends in our over 20 years of living here, which made the whole homesickness, language, and cultural stuff somewhat easier.
- Even though it was super hard parenting two amazing boys away from our bio families, it meant we could parent them the way we wanted and with complete autonomy. This is what we wanted and although we made huge mistakes and at times it was extremely isolating and lonely (especially around the holidays) I would not have sacrificed this gift for the world.
- And most of all I would tell my 20 something self, you are doing the best that you can right where you are. I would beat myself up all the time at my inability to settle right away, my -grass-is-always-greener view on the move, my family, my everything. That was all a waste of time because the truth was I was doing a pretty dam good job at creating a lovely home, a safe and exciting place for the boys to grow and supporting my hubby’s career. But I did not know it and I wish I had given myself more credit.
We are all just doing the best we can with what we have. Our problems and issues cannot compare to others, they are not greater or minimized by someone else's struggle on their journey, but boy, I wish I had yoga then to figure this stuff out by osmosis rather than by wallowing in the big murky pit of self-pity. I did ok, my boys did ok and heck…. I’m still married to the same man (large amazing fact). Be who you are where you are and know that you are enough.
I have so many more stories but I will save them for another day.