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Only the lonely

Moving is a lonely
affair. I don’t know why this came as a surprise. It’s not like nobody ever
told me, because I have heard it from several people; but somehow it had not sunk
in until now.
In the beginning, you are
too busy unpacking and settling into your new place, getting your paperwork in
order, figuring out the fastest way to get the kids to school, getting a new
driver’s license or solving little crises, such as placing that emergency order of
heating oil, when you suddenly ran out and had to shower in freezing cold water
for a week. You learn a lot during those first few weeks. You don’t have time
to miss people; or rather, you don’t have time to realise that you do.
Then you slowly start
getting your routine back. The kids are settling into school. You organise the
first birthday party. You have a family doctor. You relax, occasionally. And that’s
when you realise that there is something missing from your honeymoon – besides
the warm weather. It’s the social life. You know when you don’t have one. If
you threw a housewarming party tomorrow, the guest list would consist of six
people – and you would hope that they would all show up. You are grateful for
and to these six people. They have been welcoming and generous and you owe them
your life and your sanity. This would have been a totally different experience
had it not been for them. But at the same time it is a totally different experience from what you are used to.
You don’t miss the
crazy, action-packed weekends, but the quiet, mellow weekends feel kind of
weird. The weekly soccer league games were not always the highlight of your Saturday
(particularly when your kid had to be at the soccer field at 8am in the pouring
rain), but at least they gave some structure to the weekend. Now that there is
a break until after Christmas, you’re a bit lost and your children are bored
and that is one of the last things you want to have to deal with.
On the other hand, those uneventful weekends also feel kind of good. You can’t remember the last time you spent a Sunday
afternoon reading a book; or cooking dinner in peace rather than sandwiched
between two other social activities. You don’t really mind. Part of you seeks the slowness. Part of you starts to enjoy
the solitude.
And part of you worries
that you will get used to enjoying the solitude. It’s scary, because it’s not
you. Maybe it has been such a long time since the last time you were that
self-sufficient, processing so much by yourself, that you have forgotten that person
can be you. So you try to enjoy the
change, but you can’t help thinking that it is only temporary; that things will
change with time. In fact, you are impatient for things to change. Because self-sufficient
or not, you like being around people.

Images of home

We woke up last Sunday
to scenery that I would have expected to encounter deep in the middle of winter,
but definitely not at the end of October. Everything around us was covered in a
thick layer of snow. In the garden, the trees were bending from their heavy
load. The bushes were hardly distinguishable, buried in white. We realized that we should have put away the deck furniture a long time ago. J Needless to say,
the children were ecstatic. As soon as they woke up and saw what had happened
overnight, they couldn’t believe it. They would dance around the house, going
from window to window, taking in the spectacular view. There was delight all
around, even in their eyes of the tiny little one.
I was scrambling to
assemble our snow gear from last year – between the chaos of the move and the
early occurrence of this winter wonderland, I was found deficient – in order to
get everyone out to the garden. This was one of those days when I really
appreciate living in a house. All three kids were in heaven. There were
ruthless snowball fights and then a giant snowman showed up in the middle of
our lawn. You couldn’t get them to come inside, even when their noses had
turned bright red, their lips purple and their hands and feet positively numb.
I was making sure to
take lots of photos of this special moment in our lives, and that’s when
it came to me – a very similar scene from my childhood. Snow was very rare in
Athens, where I grew up; so rare that when it made its appearance, schools and public
services would close down for the day – or two. Something like hurricane season.
An additional reason for us children to love the snow. I still remember clearly
one of those exceptional winter days, when there was an equally heavy snowfall
in Athens. Our garden was loaded, drowning in white – like our garden was two
days ago. I remember how excited we were to be missing school and to be able to
spend our day outside and invite our friends over to play.
I especially remember my
father taking photographs – exactly like I did – to document this rare occasion.
As I look at the pictures I took last Sunday, I see before me my father’s pictures
– as if it was yesterday. It is one of those moments when I realise the obvious
– that I am to my children what he was to us. I am an actual grownup. I have created
a home for these little people, the same way my parents did for us – and that
feels kind of strange; and hard to believe sometimes. So here I am, thirty or so
years later, following in my father’s footsteps, in a different home, but one
that is also my own.

Scenes from a previous life

I was fretting about
that trip to Vienna. Not all the time, but occasionally, the worried Greek mom
at the back of my mind would show up. As the kids’ excitement was building up,
in anticipation of going back and seeing the friends that they had missed so
much, I was wondering whether it was not too soon to visit and whether this
trip would set them back in their adjustment to their new home. How would
they feel coming back to Zurich? What if they did not want to come back at all?
Vienna turned out to be
a whirlwind tour (more like a race) between breakfasts, lunches and dinners,
play-dates, sleepovers, and birthday parties – but a successful one. I wonder why I had not seen this coming. It is hard
enough to try to fit a life of eleven years into one week, but it is almost
impossible when you have three kids with distinct, hyper-busy social schedules,
who need to be shuttled back and forth among different appointments and events.
I think we (parents) managed to see a couple of friends of our own, too J.
What struck me as soon
as I got to Vienna is that I felt a strange lack of connection with the physical
environment: I was slightly out of place in what used to be my daily
surroundings. I have not lived in Zurich that long, but obviously the place has grown on me. Seeing my friends was the
exact opposite experience: I felt like I had not left at all. I was having
breakfast with a girlfriend – same place, same time like the old days – and we
both could not believe that the last time we saw each other was over three
months ago. Stunning, but I guess that’s what a good friendship feels like.
I think the children had
a similar experience. They loved going to school and meeting with their “old” classmates, exchanging stories and treating them to Swiss chocolates. It was
just like old times. Anyone who saw the glow in their eyes could tell that they
were in heaven. Again, I almost felt guilty for uprooting them and pulling them
away from all that. Almost.
Saying goodbye was, once
again, a sad business. Somehow, it was even sadder than when we left, because this
time the children did not have the excitement of the new and unknown. Landing
in Zurich was anti-climactic, but we survived it, mostly thanks to the routine of our daily lives, which took over instantly and helped soften the blow. Now comes the difficult part of keeping in touch. I have a hard enough time connecting with the people I
love and miss as much as I would like to; I also need to help these little people do the same. Any good tips out there?

Friends forever?

I have often written
that one of the most challenging parts of our move away from Vienna was having
to leave behind so many dear friends. I miss them – the everyday interaction,
the ability to meet spontaneously, the sharing of life’s events and experiences,
the joys and pains, as they happen.
After spending a long
weekend with good friends who were visiting from abroad, I have come to the
conclusion that, even though moving has been depriving me, over time, of the physical
proximity to many of my friends, it has also made the way I experience my
friendships deeper and more intense.
I may not be able to see my friends
whenever I feel like it, but when I do see them, our time together is almost
exclusively quality time. Knowing that this time is limited and therefore precious, we are determined to make the most of it. “Determined” may not be the
right word here, as it is not necessarily a conscious decision; it just comes
out this way. We make the extra effort. We concentrate more on each other: we listen
more, we share more, we block distractions. Our friendship becomes more “pure”
– perhaps like friendships used to be, before we were taken over by our busy
I never thought much of
the argument that one of the positive aspects of moving around is that one ends
up with friends all over the world. For me, the depth of my friendships is more
important than their extent. More than having friends all over the world, I want
to have really good friends all over
the world. Which I do. I have friends that go the extra mile to stay in touch,
to make sure we see each other regularly and share the highlights of our lives.
Even when we don’t, when we have “low” periods, these friends understand; and
when we see each other again it is as if no time has passed.
Distance is effective at
“weeding out” friendships. The ones that are not meant to last don’t make it. Thinking
that way may sound a bit harsh, but it also allows me to appreciate even more
the friendships that do survive. I still can’t say that I am content not to
have my friends around on a daily basis – I never will – but having the right mind-set
helps J.

You can’t go home again

The idea of returning to
live in my home country has always been at the back of my mind, as I suspect is
the case for many of us who have some notion of home. The two should go
together. The longing to go back has been powerful and overwhelming sometimes
and fainter at others; but it has always been there. Faced with the occasional
reality check, it has gone through ups and downs, grand plans and
disappointments; but there has always been the distant hope that someday, under the
right circumstances, I could take the family there – not forever, but at least
for a short while. Just enough time for my soul’s batteries to recharge and for
my kids to get to know and understand where I come from and to finally feel half-Greek, rather than just hear about it.
That hope is now a
melancholic afterthought – and that feels both strange and painful. Every time
I go back to visit, it becomes even more obvious why I cannot go back – not now,
not in the near future and probably not in the long-term future either. It is a
silent transformation, but one that is happening at an uncomfortable pace.
because it is in the little things: the empty shops, abandoned, their dirty
windows sporting “For Rent” signs; my neighbourhood toy store, its shelves once
packed all the way up to the ceiling, now half-empty, a few stray toys here and
there, the selection depressing even for a child; or the playground where I usually
take my children, more and more neglected and unkempt with every visit. Change is
also in the mood of the people I talk to, mostly the young ones, now desperately
looking for ways to “get out;” but also the older generation, hardly seeing any
light – or hope – at the end of the tunnel. There is an unmistakeable air of
sadness everywhere you go. Frustration. Insecurity. Exhaustion. Resignation.
I was flying out of
Athens at dawn yesterday morning. I was half-asleep, but struggling to keep my eyes
open because the view was just too amazing: a flawless full moon on one side, a
budding sunrise on the other, the colours from each side spreading across the
sky, blending into each other, the evening sky blue with red, pink and orange;
and below, the eternal blue of the sea – my sea – untouched.
I thought of all this
beauty I am leaving behind, every time; the unattainable beauty that I cannot
go back to. It does not matter who had it coming; whose fault it is and who
ends up paying; what’s deserved and what’s not. My home is gone.