Being such a pro, I know now that there is a natural process your mind needs to embark on. Feeling nostalgic for what you left behind is part of it, despite being annoying to everyone around you in the new place. When we moved to Gotou, we missed Nara. When we moved to Nagoya, we missed Gotou. When we moved here, we missed Nagoya. It is natural to long for the place you so recently called home, for your old neighbors and students. We know that no place is a utopia. It is all about what you do while you are there.
Here in Florida we are trying our best. We are job-hunting (still) and homeschooling and gardening and raising chickens and canoeing and swimming and drawing and having an all-around good experience.
The thing is, in the past decade, seven of those years were spent in Japan. We began to be shaped by Japan, in our tastes, in our outlook. Our language learning was halting but solid and ever-evolving and this too affected our minds and hearts.
I was a professional language teacher in Japan. I was qualified and connected. I knew about my students' strengths and weaknesses and talked for hours with other teachers about these things, things that would bore anyone who is not a teacher, things that bored Jason before he became a teacher. Here I teach part time at best. This last semester I felt grateful just to have a classroom, even if the registered students exceeded the capacity of the room by fifteen. I am on sabbatical from that position now, home with my kids like any working mother ever dreams about, though being fantastically broke as a trade-off.
To be broke with four kids at the age of 34 really makes you think about things. Like how up until recently we all had good health insurance. Health insurance that allowed us to walk into any doctor's office and receive treatment. Health insurance that didn't make me worried or frustrated, just grateful because I rarely ever thought about health insurance except for making sure my card was in my wallet when I went to the doctors'.
I think about how up until recently the kids went to neighborhood schools where I did not have to worry about them being bullied or eating junk food in the cafeteria. Or shot, or stabbed, or kidnapped. Where they were supported not just academically but mentally and physically as well through plenty of recess, PE, art, and music classes. Not to mention the healthy school lunches and sense of cooperation they gained by cleaning the school and serving those healthy lunches to each other.
Up until recently we had bicycles and trains and buses. We had large parks and playgrounds within minutes of our house. We had a castle with golden orcas on the roof. We had a Pokemon center and an organic farmers' market where Jason's student's grandfather sold us rice he had grown and harvested. We had a tiny bright apartment teeming with children, our children, our neighbors' children, random school mates and their siblings. We had fireworks and barbecues in the summer on the street below, we had dance festivals in the school yard behind our house with red lanterns that swayed in the evening breeze. We had our life.
We still do, of course. I am very grateful to be where we are now. To be working on our own projects instead of having to put them off until the weekend or holidays that would go by too quickly. I am able to spend my days with my kids while they are young, while they want to hang out with us still. While they believe in kobito (little people) and explain to us how to trap them (meat and whiskey works well, according to Sebastian). We get to grow an entire vegetable garden that we have to fence in, instead of a little balcony container garden tucked away from the clothes line. We get to watch our chickens devour watermelon then take the remaining rinds to the compost pile. The beach is ten minutes away and the sand is just like white sugar. We are grateful that when the grandparents were in the hospital, we were about to worry about them from the waiting room instead of the other side of the world. When we want to teach the kids about astronomy, we simply walk outside after sunset and the stars are all there.
The thing is, this life we have right now, it is meant to be just a temporary reprieve while we get back on our feet. Yet doing the latter is proving to be harder than anyone ever thought. I have a degree in a field that is very specific and considered to be basically volunteer work in the States. My resume is full of experience that makes me overqualified and under-qualified for even the most menial positions.
I try not to be disheartened by this employment drought. Instead we head out to the garden or take the dog for a walk and hunt for blackberries and fireflies.
Ten years ago we were preparing to move to Japan for the first time. We had no idea what was waiting for us there. Last year we were selling off our worldly possessions. We had no idea what was waiting for us here.
We've been told by well-meaning souls that we need to get over Japan. That that chapter in our lives in over. That our life is here now. That is easily said (and kindly meant) but there is another possibility. There is the possibility that it is not that we are not meant to get over Japan. That it wasn't just about living abroad but about living. About finding a place where two dreamers were able to take care of their kids without being completely broke. And without having to stop dreaming. Where those kids could thrive because even though their biological family was a day away by airplane, they had family in the neighbors and teachers and friends that surrounded them. Where we adults could thrive because we had resources and constant inspiration. Some people are lucky to find that in their hometowns or in a city a few states away. We just happened to find it on the other side of the planet.
So when I say I am homesick, it is not said lightly or with any disrespect for the place where we are or the people who helped get us here. We are not giving up in anyway on our life here in America but all the same, we cannot just get over Japan. It does not work like that.