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We’re visiting my 93-year-old grandmother for the first time since leaving the United States 13 months ago. In that amount of time she’s had a bad fall related to a series of mini strokes, and everyone who loves her is grateful for any extra moment together. I’m thrilled to have spent a full afternoon with her, and snap a pic as Whit leans in for a hug. As she pulls him near I hear her whisper something into his ear. He comes away confused and says, “I couldn’t understand her.” I encourage him to ask her to repeat her words, and grab my camera to capture what I was sure was one of the last sweet moments between great-grandmother and great-grandson. As my shutter clicks I hear her frail voice say, “Tell your mom to get you a haircut.”
Yep. We’re back in Utah.
Coming back to the United States was much easier this time around. When we came back for our fist visit after moving abroad the trip was impulsive and sudden, and my heart and mind weren’t prepared. Coming back to a familiar place, driving on familiar roads, seeing familiar people and eating familiar foods all felt like a step backwards. My body fell back into a rhythm and thought we were there to stay, but my heart knew our worldwide journey was far from over. I spent those three weeks last December and January in a daze, trying to convince myself that the things I was doing, seeing, and eating were all temporary. That I’d be back in my preferred familiarity of the unfamiliar soon. We were back to the unfamiliar soon, but with a renewed appreciation for the adventure and beauty we have the pleasure of being around.
Seven months later we found ourselves in the United States again. This time, however, we’d been considering the trip for months. We bought our plane tickets 2 months in advance and only chose to stay for 2 weeks. What makes this visit hard isn’t the fear of our trip being over, it’s knowing that we’re transitioning from one region of the world to another.
Coming back to the United States made sense for a lot of reasons, one of which is that we’re “done” living in Asia and ready to move on to Central and South America. It’s a move I’m not all that excited for, to be honest. Ben and I have spent a lot of time in Central America (we’ve spent extensive time in 6 of the 8 countries, both together and apart), and every time I go back I vow that I’m over it. I can’t explain why, since there are so many wonderful things there, but it just isn’t where my heart is (although I could see myself settling down in Mexico. I love that place!). No trip around the world would be complete without a visit to Macchu Picchu, the Amazon, Galapagos Island, or many other South American landmarks, though, so we knew a journey here had to be on our agenda. Additionally, my sister, Brett, and her family have decided to join us abroad for Christmas this year, and traveling to South or Central America from Utah will be much easier for them.
The other reasons to come to America was that Ben could join a conference for other Amazon sellers in Las Vegas the week before his entire family meets in their original hometown of Petoskey, Michigan, for a reunion, and that my side of the family was having a reunion of sorts in Utah for my cousin getting sealed during the week between Ben’s conference and his reunion in Petoskey. When the stars align so perfectly there really is no choice but to follow them!
So we arrived from Taiwan to LAX, one of my most hated airports in America, as a family and then separated for a few days. Ben caught a connecting flight to Las Vegas to spend time with his sister’s family before and during the conference, and Whit and I headed straight to Utah, where we’d meet up with Ben for a week together after his conference.
To be honest, spending some time apart was kind of awesome. The three of us are together nearly 24/7, unless Whit is enrolled in a local school program. This level of closeness has been an incredible blessing for our little family. We’ve had to learn how to put each other’s needs first, because some hurt pride or not getting our own way is preferable to traveling with someone whose mad at you. We’ve gotten used to sharing almost every thought that pops in our heads and doing everything together, which has led to a host of shared memories and experiences. That level of togetherness doesn’t leave any room for privacy, mystery, or personal focus, though, and having some time to do things alone gave us something new and interesting to talk about and the often underappreciated opportunity to miss one another.
While Ben was in Las Vegas Whit and I stayed busy with my sister’s family. She has four kids who all adore Whit, and they played together so beautifully. He fits seamlessly between her youngest two kids, and she’s become a second mom to him. I took advantage of their hospitality by sleeping in and having more alone time than I’m used to, which I desperately needed. It felt so great to step away from the mindset of committing as many new experiences to memory each day as possible! While traveling we take making the most of every moment to an extreme level, and I didn’t realize how much my heart needed a break from that mentality until I was surrounded by the beautifully mundane.
Don’t get me wrong, we were still plenty busy, but focusing on people instead of events was a welcome holiday. We spent an afternoon at a wild public pool, made lots and lots of freshly baked foods I’d been craving (my pink recipe book), worked on crafts (Brett’s necklace), had movie nights (Romeo + Juliet), played games (reverse charades), went shopping (Target), and saw a ski jump show (and met olympians). This time around I met the familiar with a welcome hug.
When Ben came to town it was time for my slow days to end and our frenzied week to begin.
My other sister, Megan, flew in for a 48-hour visit, my Mom arrived by car for her annual summer trip, my brother, Andy, drove his family down for a couple of days, we saw friends from our past, Ben went mountain biking, we attended the rehearsal dinner, sealing, and reception for my cousin, and we made lots of trips to south Salt Lake to visit my Oma. Phew.
But, boy, was it amazing. Having all of my siblings in and out for a few days gave me an idea of how nice it would be if we all lived in the same area. We have never been in the same state, so when our side of the family gets together it’s always for a big occassion: spending the week at DisneyWorld, sharing a beachfront condo, or some other grand adventure which includes planned activities and the inevitable drama surrounding extended families suddenly sharing small spaces. This time, however, we all simply came and went as we pleased while going out to eat, going to movies, playing games at home, and just relaxing. Orem, Utah, isn’t an adventure destination and my sister’s house isn’t a grand resort, which made our time together more special than I could have imagined. I loved the casualness with which we were hanging out. Just family.
My favorite things from the past week and a half:
- Walking around the pool’s lazy river with my nieces and nephews
- Picking Megan up from the airport (“You have teeth now!”)
- How excited my nephew, Sawyer, was to see Whit
- Eating a double patty, protein-style burger from In-n-Out
- Crying at my cousin’s beautiful rehearsal dinner
- Helping my mom and Oma with hair and makeup before the sealing
- Watching people fawn over Sen. Hatch at the sealing
- Watching Chinese TV with my niece late at night
- Seeing Yesterday with Brett, Megan, Cat, and Mom and CRYING and hugging like our lives would never be the same
- Ben M. trying to play reverse charades with a group of boys who don’t understand what’s going on
- Ben arriving at Brett’s house after flying in
- Touring Ben M.’s office building
- Shopping for new traveling clothes and only getting one dress
- Seeing so many extended family members
- Dancing together at the reception, Amy’s bump dancing to “Billy Jean”
- Sawyer, Whit, and Luke hugging and laughing until they fell down
Leaving Utah was hard this time, but having such a meaningful visit was just what I needed to transition into this new phase of traveling. We’re moving on to a week in Michigan next, and I’m looking forward to making the same sort of fun, everyday memories with Ben’s side of the family!