When Homesickness Strikes

Journal Entry:

November 9, 2011

Three weeks of rainy weather in Agde stormed a legion of wind and water from the heavens. Its temper descended with a fury that filled the river to overflowing. What was once the clear, calm, fishing waters of the Herault, transformed into a torrent of cinnamon toned mud, flowing with an anxiety to fill the empty spaces.

Autumn’s colours were held hostage by shadows of grey, its fiery tones muted in oppressed reds and gloomy golds. Murky water pushed past the rocking boats, bullying its way onto the sidewalks and into our rain-drenched spirits. We watch dejected, as branches of trees and earth swept toward the sea with melancholic velocity.

The sun went on a vacation, and didn’t send a postcard. Yet we waited for its return, peering through our cloudy point of view, pining to see it bounce across the horizon with a shiny souvenir. Meanwhile, homesickness captured us, disorienting our sense of home.

Family Tensions

Elisa Bernick describes homesickness in her book The Family Sabbatical Handbook as a tangible, inexplicable tension, irritability, and grumpiness. She warns families that around the second or third month it would strike. It struck our family while we withdrew indoors, away from the rainy, overcast weather.

All of a sudden, we found ourselves in a foreign land, realizing that we were the foreigners.

Perhaps it was the combination of cabin fever and lack of sun which triggered it for us. We missed our family and friends back home, and the familiar comforts we took for granted. The kids were unusually feisty with one another, reckless (little boys indoors with slingshots don’t mix), and selectively deaf from our pleas to “stop that” or “clean/pick that up”.

Short tempers rose.

Impatience flew.

Irritability struck the last nerve.

We were snarky and whiny and yell-y. The older kids would smirk when we’d reprimand, while the younger ones screamed and cried like we were abusing them when banished to their room or a special toy taken away. Shamefully, there were even times when we couldn’t help but swear, shocking the kids and ourselves with our loss of control.

The shock of our irritable behaviour slapped Brian and I in the face. One night, while the kids were in bed, we spoke in whispered tones about what was happening to our family. We realized that homesickness snuck up on us, and played us all like a set of fighting marionettes.

Brian and I poured our hearts out to each other. We shared our burdens, our fears (Did we do the right thing moving to France for the year?),  and our shame (Are we awful parents?). We cried. We prayed. We asked God to help us be better parents – grow in patience, understanding, gentleness, and wisdom. We made a new resolve, now that we discovered what was happening to us, to take the time and be more present with our children.

The next day we spoke to the kids. We asked for their forgiveness for being cranky, yell-y, bossy parents. We shared that when they fought with each other or argued with us when we asked them to do something (um, like wear their raincoats because it was raining – “Please don’t argue with me, just do what I say! I’m not asking you to cut off your arm, I’m asking you to wear your rain coat so that you could stay dry while you bike to school in the rain!!!”), it drove us CRAZY, and that all we needed from them was their cooperation, their trust, and their respect. We hugged each other and promised to do better.

That night, after reading books out loud to each other, we gathered in one room and prayed as a family. As we lifted our intentions up, the ragged threads of our family tensions transformed, knitting us closer in a warm blanket of love. We wrapped ourselves in God’s peace and comfort.

Sunny days are here again!

November 28th, 2011

A month after the rainy weather began, the sun decided to return. Its brilliant smile brought out the vitality in our hearts. We put away our somber raincoats and boots, leaving the shadows of irritability and loneliness behind as we walked vibrant in the sun. The Herault river is clearer now, and looks magical with its glassy peacefulness in the morning.

Photo by Lisa Tsen

The sun returned, embracing us like old friends. We’ve enjoyed its warmth and company of blue skies for almost a week now. We’re amazed at its charisma on our emotions. We’re hopeful, and happy, and sing-songy. We’re still praying every night together. We’re thankful for the unconditional love in our family.

It’s still magical for us to be living in Southern France. 🙂

A Little List

I wrote up a list a few weeks back on the things we missed and didn’t miss about our life back home.

Things we miss

  • Family: My big Filipino Family. Holding the littles. Celebrating birthdays and holidays with them.
  • Old Friends: Enjoying a meal with our good friends. Sushi nights with girlfriends, restaurant haunts with old high school friends.
  • I miss knowing exactly where to go to find our favourite foods and affordable shops.
  • Hearing English spoken everywhere.
  • Understanding and being understood completely without miming words.
  • Canadians
  • Coffee dates at Tim Hortons or Starbucks with friends and family.
  • Costumes and Trick or Treating for Halloween
  • Our van
  • Movie nights and games nights with loved ones
  • Our Marriage Encounter Community
  • Our furniture and home decorations (family photos on the walls), especially our Christmas decorations.
  • My large capacity washer and dryer (during the time we had the lice attack).
  • Our local library filled with great English books.
  • Our automatic grinding coffee maker.
  • The Running Room and my fellow runners

Things we don’t miss

  • The compulsion to shop recreationally to fill an emotional need.
  • Edmonton Traffic
  • Canadian winters
  • Shovelling 2-3 feet of snow
  • The need to dress up in a thick jacket, mitts, toque, scarf to get the mail
  • Icy roads
  • The feeling of always having too much on our plates with dizzying commitments of extracurricular activities for the kids.
  • Having children ask for things they don’t need because they see their friends have them.
  • Continually getting sick with the flu. We’re feeling healthier now (perhaps it is from being more active and eating healthier).
  • Cravings for fast foods like McDonald’s, Burger King.
  • Mountain of laundry: Laundry at our house here is very manageable! I enjoy hanging the clothes to dry, and I love the smell of clean laundry in the air.
  • Having too much stuff we had to store and maintain.
  • A house too big that we got lost in it. I certainly do NOT miss tidying and cleaning our house.
  • School 5 days a week.
  • Short lunch breaks and less holidays. We prefer the French noon breaks and longer vacation time.

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Written by Jenn

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4 Responses to When Homesickness Strikes

  1. Oh boy, Jenn, I’m glad to read this. You are certainly not alone (and most definitely not a bad parent, a laughable idea.) Mark, Scout and I all got burned out after the third month as well, right around the time we had to get out of the Schengen Zone. Short tempers, lack of interest in our surroundings, overreacting to everything, edgy parent-child relations. I’ve been meaning to write about this myself.

    Sounds like the bad weather was getting to you as much as anything. I used to feel that way in Vancouver (frequently). Vancouver may be warmer than Edmonton, but it’s gray and drizzly all the time. So freaking depressing! Sunny days were always happier ones for us, but there were too few of them

    Big hugs from the ramblecrunch gang!

    • Thanks Renee. Funny, we were considering moving to Vancouver in the future…Will have to weigh the lack of sun into that one. The locals say that this has been a particularly unusual fall to have so much rain for weeks at a time. Last year, we didn’t really get the homesickness as badly as this year. Perhaps it was the constant moving and change of surroundings which made us continually enthralled with what to see next. Although, we did go through burn out, with lack of interest with our surroundings, which told us big time to slow down.
      Hugs right back!
      Jenn

  2. Our family went through a VERY similar phase. Everyone was grouchy, the kids were at each other like never before. My husband and I felt like we were losing our grip on things, and I guess we were. But it was also the rainy season. 15 days straight of rain, minus maybe 4 hours total. Something about so little sunshine makes me miserable (part of the reason we moved to Florida before we left the US), but I’m glad we’ve realized how important a little sun is for our mental health!

    Glad the sun (figuratively and literally) came out again for you! What a powerful lesson you taught your children through this…that prayer and forgiveness are SO important when dealing with situations you can’t control and just aren’t happy about.

    And I’m also REALLY missing our Christmas decorations. I always loved decorating for Christmas.

    • It’s amazing how much the lack of sun can play on one’s emotions and spirits!
      I’m missing our Christmas decorations too, and all the things that made our home cozy. Perhaps that is telling us something, that travelling for 2 years full time is enough. I don’t know. Although, I’m afraid that when we do settle down, we’ll want to pick right up again and travel. Perhaps striking that balance of digging roots and travelling for more than a couple of weeks is the key. I’m grateful though that we’re experiencing living in France. I don’t regret it at all. I just need to keep in mind that the challenges that come from living as an expat are opportunities to grow. :=)

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