Going home to visit family brings up such a strange mix of feelings. One part nostalgia, one part panic, I'm not sure which wins out as I drive through the familiar-yet-strange town.
More than two thousand kilometers separate our home from the home I grew up in. I felt every single one of those kilometers during the three-day-two-night drive, just me with two kids in the backseat and a third nestled in my womb.
I think I needed those kilometers once upon a time. I left home and began the unexpected process of discovering who I am, of learning to make decisions for myself, of realizing that I truly am a whole and capable person in my own right. It was good and necessary and empowering.
But now the distance seems too long. I don't miss the town, oh never, but I miss my family. My parents, my children's grandparents. Those four baby sisters of mine, each of them growing up too fast. How is it that one of them is a mother now? That another has just received her driver's learning permit? That a third has become this outspoken young teenager, witty and fun and relatable? That the youngest is reading novels and playing games with the adults now? They just keep growing up. I remember myself at those ages; I hope they make it through these years better than I did. They talk about boys and diets and I worry, wish I could make their choices for them, but they're simply not mine to make.
Then there is the house I spent so many years in, my old bedroom now a nursery for my niece. Another sister gives up her bed while I visit, while still another spends the night snuggling with my toddler. The boy gets the floor and somehow it's so odd to see my children here, walking through this house where I myself was once the child.
Going home. Such a mix of memories, a mess of emotions. Each time feels at once both more strange and more comfortable. I'm more comfortable, me in my own skin, becoming my own person. But where do I fit in this home that is no longer mine?
Even the phrase itself is strange: "going home". Funny how the same two words are used when leaving the grocery store and when leaving the city to visit family. It's not my home anymore - I sleep on a borrowed bed and have to ask where the scissors are kept - and yet home it was for 21 years, and still I say that I am going home. I wonder when that will change, if it will ever change.
And then, last, there is this sleepy little town, where somehow everything and yet nothing stays the same.
I come back and everything is the same. The streets are familiar, comfortable; I drive through them without thought. There is my elementary school, my middle school, my high school. How very many memories those buildings hold: first boyfriends and first kisses, challenges and successes, friends and enemies and everything in between. There is the library where I worked and loved it; there is the bank where I worked and hated it. There, the church I grew up in. There is the path where my husband and I walked so often, once upon a pre-marriage time, sharing bits of our heart but mostly just flirting shamelessly (some things truly never change).
I come back and everything is different. There is the coffee shop where my husband first asked me out, now closed and boarded up. New stores have appeared and old ones have left town. The faces at the library are no longer those of my former co-workers; the church has a new minister now. The little kids I once babysat have left for university, as eager as I once was to escape this place and find freedom in the big city. Only a few stay, settling down to build homes, careers, and families.
Now I'm heading back to my new-home, where I am the wife and mother instead of the daughter and sister. It is harder to leave each time; I linger at those last hugs, trying to pour into them the feelings I can't seem to express any other way. It will feel, as it always does, lonely when I return, but we'll soon slip back into our daily routines and the feeling will fade. We'll make plans for a next visit and the time will pass more quickly than I expect. Once again, I'll be going home.
Once again, I won't know what to make of it.