We have been home now for one month as of this past week. I originally wanted to give myself a few days to observe our transition and take note, and post in that first week, but then distraction and brain fog took over and, well, I’m finally taking some time to get out my thoughts.
The boys have started school back in Charleston, and when I watched the bus drive away the first day, it felt the most real that we were indeed “back”. Sometimes it feels as if we never left. Other times I find myself yearning for a long walk around the city with Melissa, a spontaneous cafe play date with school friends, a casual bbq with our sweet neighbors, or a bike ride with Josh on rural Dutch roads. I’ve even missed the funky, farm smells. It is an odd feeling to return after a year and more or less pickup where we left off. Same home, same school, similar routines, photos hung back in their former spots, and fridge stocked with the same foods. I mentioned to a friend recently that I sort of expected to feel different, like I’d changed more while being gone and this familiarity with daily life hides that. Also I didn’t have some sort of self revolution while I was gone. But our family did experience quite a bit, and every now and then those perspectives show up in conversations and debates back home.
We left Maastricht the night before our flight to the US. We’d seen all the travel delays and long lines in the news and on social media, so we wanted to be prepared. There’s a Sheraton (Marriott) located at the Brussels airport that is super convenient, so we booked a night there to save us some time (and gift us some sleep). We spent our last day in Maastricht seeing friends, cleaning our rental, sending Yoda off on his own flight home, and giving away belongings. When it was finally time to say goodbye, our neighbors Tina, Georg, and Natalie, along with Melissa helped put all our 13 or so suitcases into the van driving us to Brussels and stood on the sidewalk waving to us until we were gone. It was so bittersweet. Caleb and I both had tears in our eyes.
It all felt surreal to know we were truly leaving and we were pretty quiet the rest of the evening at the hotel. The next morning, travel drama took over our thoughts. We arrived to the airport 4 hours before our flight, only to find out that it had been delayed 4 hours. Luckily we had a “long layover” in NYC but if we were delayed any longer, we would not make that flight.
One good thing about spending almost all day at an airport? Some American friends of ours, Tracey and Kimberly, came through the same airport and we were able to see them! Tracey had been gravel cycling at a race with some other friends in Iceland. She and Kimberly arrived in Brussels airport for an extended Euro vacation in Belgium and they worked some magic at the airport to come up and see us in the lounge! It was a truly great, albeit brief reunion with them.
After 8 hours at Belgium’s airport, we finally peeled ourselves off the lounge seats and made our way onto our uneventful flight back to USA. We landed at JFK airport less than two hours from when our next flight would take off and still had to go through immigration, baggage claim, customs, baggage recheck, security, etc, resulting in us literally sprinting through the airport and arriving just in time to our plane. The best part, other than making the flight, was that more good friends, Anne and Chris Moore, were also on the plane, seated right behind us! They’d just been racing bikes in Iceland too and we knew we were supposed to be on the same flights to CHS, but after the delay we weren’t sure we’d make it. That was also a happy reunion. Both times seeing these groups of friends, there were lots of laughs, hugs, and just general screams of excitement.
We landed about 10pm in CHS and, even with the dozen or so checked bags, we made it home before 11, greeted by my Mom who’d come to help get the house ready for us and, finally, by midnight, we were all in bed. It was really a blessing to have my mom (“Mimi” to my boys) home when we arrived. For the next few days, before any other family arrived to town, the boys would climb in bed with her when they woke up and then she’d help me slowly unpack all the luggage and then all the boxes we brought back from our storage unit. We made sure to make those first days not too hectic so that we could spend actual time together…and get over jet lag. We played cards, Monopoly, stayed in pjs, went to the beach one morning, and watched movies in our extra down time. It was a nice reprieve from the hectic packing, unpacking, and traveling.
After a week home, Josh’s parents and my dad also arrived to town, the local family came over, and we celebrated my mom’s much anticipated “Christmas in July (August)” to make up for the missed holidays. We ate off Christmas china, put up an artificial tree, played Christmas music, and even exchanged a few gifts (mostly between the grandmothers and the boys). It was a cute way to reunite with everyone.
Since we’ve been home we get so many questions about our experience abroad. Many of the common ones are below along with some answers 🙂
Are you glad to be back?
Charleston is always good to come home to. We have family here, our home, great friends, good food, and usually good weather. And we are glad for those things and the time with our family. But we do miss Maastricht and our life there as well. We are lucky that we now love two cities (and their people). We are very much enjoying the air conditioning on hot days, our swimming pool, not sharing a bathroom, an ice maker, and being back in a fun neighborhood with playmates for the boys right on the street and their cousins just a few miles away. I’m also glad to be no longer only behind the scenes with She Tris – it was tough to feel as connected with our triathlon community while overseas.
Do you miss the Netherlands?
We miss many things about Maastricht. First, our friends. Close second, the ability to cycle/walk everywhere. I have spent so much time since I’ve been back in Charleston just sitting in traffic. It feels worse than when we left, but maybe a year of not having to sit in traffic and drive to every darn destination I’d like to go to made me more sensitive to it. I also miss the abundance of parks and playgrounds, usually with a terrace or cafe on site, where we could take the kids to play and meet up with other families.
What was your favorite trip?
It is hard to choose a favorite trip because all had pros and cons and were so different. Greece and Switzerland were bucket list family trips for us and I will never forget those. The one trip Josh and I took by ourselves to Champagne was glorious. The cozy weekend in a windmill with our family and Melissa and Flo was so picturesque and laid back. The last minute trip to Paris with the boys made us fall in love with France and the boys still rave about those croissants. Seeing family in Italy, a fun trip with another family to Austria (sans the moms), a girls trip to Lanzarote, an incredible time with friends in Scotland, seeing more friends in Spain and Sweden…we traveled to 13 countries with varied itineraries, weather, and duration…and I still think about them all.
What food do you miss?
I miss Dutch fries and bread (though my clothes tell me that it is good we do not have easy access to them now). Maastricht had a great international cuisine, but so does Charleston. So while I miss our fav spots there, I don’t feel like we miss out too much on the culinary side here. Except the fries and bread, and for some reason the tap water tastes much better in Maastricht too.
Where’s your next trip?
Between jet lag and jumping right into putting on a triathlon event for She Tris this month, it has been hard to wrap our heads around more travel. We want to be sure we make time for family, but also keep feeding our travel bug. One trip we will definitely make is a ski trip to Colorado, hopefully meeting up with some of our Maastricht friends who will be in the US at that time. A more local trip to my brother’s vacation home in the “upstate” of SC is also on the books in the coming weeks. We have a short list of other places to visit…we just need to figure out when to take the trips.
Are you home for good?
We are home for the foreseeable future. But we are always open to possibilities and I will “never say never” to either staying here or leaving again.
How was Yoda during travel?
Yoda was a champ. He’s very happy to be home!
In the mean time we are getting used to school and cross country schedules, we’ve done alllll the doctor appointment follow-ups (or will be soon), we’ve celebrated Caleb’s birthday, watched as much of the Little League World Series as we could, and reconnected with some neighbor friends. It is a good busy and we’ll be back soon with some updates.