World Trip Family

What is it like to come home after a family sabbatical?

I wrote this one month after returning from our one-year family sabbatical around the world. In our first weeks home we were asked often, “What is it like to be back home?” It is a difficult question. What do you do after you have just completed the best year of your life?

The first two weeks were my “grumpy weeks”. I had no reason to be depressed after a year traveling the world, a unique opportunity for which I’m grateful. Still, I had frequent headaches and a total lack of energy. I gave myself two weeks to “mope around” and then declared myself “happy”.

Here are some of the things that put me down, and some that made me smile:

Five things that put me down after returning from a family sabbatical

1. Stuff

If you have lived out of a small carry-on suitcase for a year, it is intimidating to have a 10×20 foot container dropped on your front lawn. They say moving can stress people out as much as a new job, or a divorce. When WorldTripGirl opened her boxes she gasped, “I don’t need any of this.” and asked me to donate much of her toys, dolls and books. As for us, we deliberately leave most of our boxes closed for now. We need some more time.

2. Calendar

We lived without a calendar for a year, which was such blessing, up until and including the flight we missed as a result. Back home, the kids were all clamoring to see their friends and I was rushing from one play-date to the next. Fortunately, things calmed down after the initial pent up demand for play-dates and I was grateful we returned during the summer break, giving us a respite before the frenzy of school of after school activities.

3. (Lack of) Change

“Nothing has changed!”, our friend Julie exclaimed as she entered our home. Her statement was comforting and terrifying. As we unpacked, I put initially put our cutlery in a different drawer, but the change drew protest from the family. So now, even the knives are back in the exact same spot. To my chagrin, the road of least resistance seems to be to have things revert to normal and stabilize first, before making changes, to our interior or otherwise.

4. Fleas

We were all very excited to have our cat back. However, it turned out he had caught fleas somewhere and getting rid of the buggers turned into quite a project. After the cat re-entered the house my middle son started to develop a severe allergic reaction to his eyes. We don’t know yet if it’s from the pollen in the California air or from the cat, or both, but it left the cat confined to a corner of the house and all of us bummed to be separated from him yet again.

5. Healthcare

My daughter broke her wrist during our first week home. Unlike in Thailand and the Czech Republic, where we saw nurses for $5, her initial urgent care evaluation cost us $600 and ended with the request to spend another $600 with another doc to get her a cast. Our travel insurance had expired and our US plan had a deductible of $5,000. It didn’t matter, because it turned out no doctor actually accepts Covered California’s version of Blue Cross. Something is very broken with healthcare in the US.

Miniature one-handedly made by WorldTripGirl (after breaking her wrist)

Miniature one-handedly made by WorldTripGirl (after breaking her wrist)

WorldTripGirl with Madam President election gear

WorldTripGirl with Madam President election gear

On the other hand, there were very uplifting moments as well:

1. Family

My cousin and his wife live two blocks down the street and they organized a welcome-home BBQ for us on July 4, two days after returning. It was so great to have somewhere to go, and to meet them, as well as my husband’s cousin. Having family nearby has definitely been one of the joys of coming home.

2. Playborhood

Since we are back, we’ve chatted more with our direct neighbors and we attended a “silly in the street” kids’ playdate. One of my neighbors gave me the book Playborhood, which might have more ideas to make up for the fact that we don’t have a local park for kids to meet. We’ve started using the app “Nextdoor” to become more neighborly. We found a used basketball hoop via the app, and a neighbor willing to help my daughter learn to sew.

3. Outdoor life

The boys have been spending a lot more time outside, not only with the basketball hoop, but also rollerblading and skateboarding in our driveway. Ironically enforcing screen time rules has proven to be much less of an issue back home than it was while we were on the road.

Nine on his skateboard

Nine on his skateboard

Seven (who's turned eight) with our hoop

Seven (who’s turned eight) with our hoop

4. Free range parents

During our travels we were able to give our children more freedom than they had previously. In many countries, they were able to roam freely and to take on new adventures independently. I want to believe my kids have become wiser as a result of the experience, but certainly we have become more relaxed. Our twelve year old enjoys exploring town with her friends. Let’s hope we are not arrested for letting her do so.

5. Finding my calling

We both quit our jobs before leaving on our sabbatical. For me, it was another opportunity to try find my calling. My conclusion this time around was no different, and no more clear, than my conclusion after my last sabbatical, seven years ago: “Be your own boss.” Vague as it may be, I am committed to give it another go. What else was the purpose of my wanderings?

A lot has happened since I wrote this reflection, and in some ways the story of our family sabbatical only began now that we are back home.

My husband summarized it with a quote from Steinbeck:

Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.

John Steinbeck

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