Where Is Home?

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The expat family shuffle

When we flew back into Beijing last week, it struck me like a gong on the chest that we were flying Home.

Of course, when we arrived in our barren apartment with its echoing gaps between ceiling, floor and walls, it felt decidedly not like Home any more. In fact, right now, it feels like Lodging Limbo.

Last week, whilst still snug in the bed of a lovely serviced apartment in Hanoi, my daughter Ella began a sob story about not wanting to return to our cavernous BJ apartment, and just stay in Hanoi forever. This is when I received another gong in the chest, wondering how a little girl of only eight could take up new residence pretty much anywhere, without a moment’s thought to the heft of the past four years.

Is it because she’s over Beijing? Is it because many of her friends have also gone? Is it because she’s already lived in seven different houses in her short life? Perhaps she got the house-hopping bug from her mother, who, at last count, has moved house around sixty times, through four countries. Believe it or not, our apartment in Beijing is the third-longest place I’ve ever lived in, and it’s the longest for both our kids, by far.

I guess I’m not alone here.

So. Where is Home for our family? Honestly? Wo bu zhidao. I think it may be Melbourne. We owned a special house there and we have family there, but our Melbourne days are over for now. It could be our new place in Canberra. It could be here. It could be there. It really could be anywhere.

Who knows?

Surprisingly, this doesn’t bother me. I’m not sure if it bothers the kids yet. Doesn’t seem to. They’re so resilient and happily transient. Nonetheless, it will be good to show them a solid, stable family life for a while. But for how long? Wo bu zhidao. Perhaps we’ll be on the move again sooner than we expect.

But is this such a bad thing?

For all their occasional shortcomings, our kids aren’t psychotic nutbugs (well not yet, anyway). They’re decent kids with good hearts and a great sense of humour. They make friends easily and do well at school. They’re loving and happy. What more could we want? Has pulling them from pillar to post, from apartment to house to cabin really caused them enormous harm?

I enjoy moving around, but I must say I’m looking forward to stopping for a while. Pausing in the beautiful garden of our new house. Sitting with my back to a tree and having a rest. Feeling part of a community that doesn’t shift and change with the speed of light. Connecting again.

Whatever the case, wherever we go and however the future shapes our family, Beijing has felt like Home to us. And the next place will also feel like Home. And the place after that.

Perhaps this shows us that Home is not a building, windows and echoing floorboards. Home is the people, and the things we collect and treasure, woven into special times and precious memories - creating a big, elaborate tapestry of what Home is meant to be.

Home is transient, changing, shifting, growing, accommodating, welcoming. Yes, it’s where the heart is, but it’s also where we stand still. Even for a short while.

Where is Home for you?

First published on the City Weekend Beijing website.

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