I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy a blissful, stress-free American summer, without at least the briefest pains that come with repatriation.
Next week I’ll write about culture shock overseas but today my mind is more consumed with the funk of culture shock’s fraternal twin, the oh-so-creatively-named “reverse culture shock.”
It’s not so bad. It comes and goes, in between the euphoric bouts of joy I feel for an early morning run across Key Bridge and measuring the visibility of the fantastic views in miles rather than feet, eating fresh salads, and enjoying friendly conversations with the cashiers at the nearby Safeway.
But its still there:
I visit the temple of my crunchy, hippie yuppie religion: Whole Foods and I worship at the alter of fresh, organic produce. I rejoice in the ability to feed Will foods that I feel really good about him eating. And then I get my receipt and realize just how unrealistic it would be shop here regularly, in the long-term, on Chris’ salary alone.
I walk through Georgetown pushing my wonderful little second-hand umbrella stroller because it really is easier to use, and I realize what a tourist I look like in a sea of expensive designer strollers with big wheels and cup holders and what else, GPS navigation? I don’t know, but I’m surprised to find that I actually care, just a little bit, about not fitting in.
A friend of Chris’ mother invites us to lunch at her house and we gladly accept her invitation to pick us up at the metro station near her house. Then, she calls back, ‘what about the car seat?’
I had completely forgotten about it. My MIL has been in China even longer than I was and asks me if a car seat is really necessary. Yes, I tell her. In America it is. So together we wrangle Will’s giant convertible car seat through the metro and install it in her friend’s car for the ten minute journey to the house. In doing so, I realize that there is no way I could have managed such a trip by myself. Car seats in America are necessary, but so too it seems, is having one’s own car, at least once kids are involved.
In the morning, as I walk around Rosslyn with Will strapped to my chest or sitting in his apparently uncool but comfortable stroller, I look at all of my peers around me, dressed in dry-clean-only trousers and compulsively checking their smart phones as they make their way into gleaming (and well-built!) office buildings. I don’t wish to be one of them, but I realize that-had we not left for China and embarked on a lifestyle in which having kids couldn’t conflict with my career because I no longer had one-I might still be one of them. And that’s weird to think about. Not bad, just weird.
I go for a quick run at twilight, passing more of my peers also out on a quick post-work, pre-dinner jog. Except instead of cursing the after-affects of pregnancy on one’s knees, ankles and bladder, the other girls are probably mulling over a situation at work, or thinking about what to do with the upcoming weekend.
Then I pass a man and a woman holding a little girl just a few months older than Will and I smile and pick up the pace, eager to get back to my boys at home.
I love America. I love the sales at the grocery stores, I love the crazy, weird, new flavors of Cheerios (Peanut Butter!) and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Greek Yogurt!) meant to entice us to buy more food than we really need. I love the restaurants, I love the fresh air. I love the farmer’s markets and the smooth, wide sidewalks. I love the newspapers and the free press.
I even love our totally boring and beige temporary apartment because-oh my gosh-everything works in it. I love the green grass and the beautiful parks. I love drinking tap water straight from the faucet and I love that I don’t worry about Will doing the same. I love the patently American blend of awkwardness and friendliness that pervades our public spaces. One minute my fellow metro riders and I are studiously ignoring each other, and in the next a conversation somehow erupts out of the silence. Suddenly strangers are talking like old friends.
I love America, and if I had the choice between never coming home, or spending a few months in this wonderful country every few years, pshh it’s not a question, I’m thrilled to be here. It takes a little getting used to again, but I think with enough pints of Ben & Jerry’s and boxes of pre-washed salad greens in my arsenal, I’ll make it through somehow.