In the back of my mind is a little room. It has a swinging door, much the same as you would find in a restaurant leading into a kitchen. Don't be deceived by its size, its a busy little room, the phone is constantly ringing and it's full of overflowing boxes that have been stacked on top of each other. On a daily basis the door swings open, usually because of a thought, sometimes a question, other times it's a discussion.
The room is about the "when", it's about the "if". It's about "where" and "how". When we go home. If a job was to suddenly end. Where will we live and how will it work?
In the boxes are locations that never happened. Places we were certain we were moving to that changed on a whim. Boxes labelled "Nova Scotia" full of notes about living in minus degree temperatures and shoveling snow. There's another box labeled "London", another with "Singapore". These are all places that I may have never physically picked up the house keys, but in my mind I was there. The school, the house, the life. Emails were sent to real estate agents, websites of schools were visited.
Go to any expat function and listen to an introduction and I promise these two questions will be heard in the first five minutes. "Where are you from?" and "How long are you here for?" We are constantly reminded of how we came to be here. We talk in time frames. We discuss our children's future, how we see it. What do they gain? What do they lose? What if we can't get a job when it's time to go home? More notes are made and stuffed into boxes.
Five years ago in Sydney, I sat on a wooden bench next to my father outside of a busy cafe. We were enjoying the vibe of Darling street, the children had ducked in to a toy shop with Granny Max and G. We sipped on our lattes and enjoyed sitting under the same blue sky together. G and I were home for two weeks that year but we weren't really HOME home. Sure we were in Sydney, but we hadn't made it back to my parents house in South Australia. It didn't feel the same. No roast dinner at Mums, no drinking red wine in their kitchen late at night. I hadn't seen my sister. I spoke to friends on the phone, I could have been anywhere.
My Dad and I have the same eyes, almond shaped and brown. Our distant chinese heritage shines through in our thick dark hair. A girlfriend of mine said my father and I look like a couple of black labradors when we're together. Our tails wag, we're usually pretty happy to see each other. It was one of those ordinary moments, we were making observations about people and shops and living in Sydney. Dad was making me laugh. My Dad's a country bloke, he was trying to imagine what it's like to live a Sydney life. I'm not sure if it was because G wasn't there or because we were finally getting two minutes alone, but my Dad asked me something that he'd never asked before and has never asked since "when are you going to come home love?" His voice wavered just slightly midway through the sentence.
My answer was longwinded when it didn't need to be. I talked about G and his job. I talked about housing prices and saving money. I talked about possible opportunities and the children. About the plans in the back of my mind. If it should be Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Brisbane. The real answer was much simpler. The real answer was "I don't know".
I still don't know - but I've changed a few things that have quietened down the noise in that little room in the back of my mind. For three months of every year we have a home in Australia. There are no more quick twenty minutes coffees, there are now sleep overs and weekends and walks to the beach. There are heights measured in door frames, toys left to return to and new friends in neighborhoods we plan to keep forever. If we decide we want to see Granny and Gramps we hop in the car and go.
The doors of the room continue to swing back and forth with more ideas, more notes and thoughts of how and if and when. It is quieter though, home isn't as far away as it used to be.
For those of you who are away from family. When is it time to go home?