‘Big wheels keep on turning…carry me home to see my kin’
These famous words are running through my ears as I start the tedious task of unpacking our suitcases that are tightly squeezed into my daughter’s closet (because we have no room elsewhere to store our summer clothes than inside these suitcases) and re-packing them for our Christmas visit that starts on Friday.
I have done all the laundry, thought through all the bare essentials I will need on my trip back to the states (because let’s me honest, you know I am needing all the space I can get in these suitcases to bring back some American treats on our return). I hear my husband telling me what a great packer I am and I try desperately to keep my daughter entertained with my bracelet drawer from my jewelry box so she won’t start to un-pack all I’ve managed to squeeze in at this point.
Carry me home to see my kin…
I am going to Alabama on Friday.
I am going home to see my kin.
There is always a rush to make it to the awaited deadline of ‘traveling home’. So many dinner dates, lectures, evensongs, and coffee dates to squeeze in that we almost tire out before we get to the finish line. We sometimes feel like we try to squeeze every ounce out of the last few weeks before leaving. We look forward to the time away…the time at home to rest, re-group with ourselves and our families and to feel refreshed. Although, I know that for some of us, this isn’t always the case.
We live really interesting lives don’t we? We graduate wives. Many of us have moved away from our family and close friends. Almost all of us have started over in a sense. Almost all of us have forged new community around us (or are trying to) and forged new friendships….which have become like ‘family’ in many ways, when we do find ourselves geographically distant from our actual families. We have learned to live with many sacrifices and learned to live with much less than we thought we really needed. We’ve learned how to support, how to give space, how to understand and how to communicate with our husbands in ways we would have never known if not for the graduate journey experience. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves (and are daily doing so). We’ve been stretched, challenged and shaped. And most of all, almost all of us have…..changed.
We’ve changed. We’ve lived some interesting, hard, wonderful, strange and fascinating stories. Try as we might, it is sometimes hard to communicate on skype just how drastic or significant the change in our lives and hearts might have become.
Sometimes there develops a large gap between our past ‘shared’ lives and our current lives as graduate wives. For some of us the journey has been painful and it’s been easier to keep the heartache inside rather than try to share with family or friends back home. For some of us the journey has been more enriching than we had ever imagined and we haven’t know just how to articulate the joys and highs with family or friends back home without making them feel ‘left out’.
With many of us traveling home for Christmas (yeah!) we thought we’d share the below. It’s just a few thoughts that have helped us along the way as we’ve tried to share our graduate wife journey with those back at home. I hope you will chime in with any insights or thoughts of your own as well! Merry travels and enjoy your visits home!!
1) Be as intentional as possible about sharing ‘your world’ before your trip home: This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but I have found it so incredibly helpful to share little bits, even if it is just a quick email or a photograph or a one liner on the phone, about my life here. I then have a seed planted and look forward to the chance to develop it more when I see the family/friend in person. All it takes is a conscious effort to share things so that when you go for a visit it won’t seem a daunting task trying to fill in gaps on your life over the past months/year.
2) Make a ‘thanksgiving list’ listing what makes you thankful for your home and your family/friends there: This is incredibly helpful if you haven’t seen your family in a while and if you have become happily immersed in your current role of a graduate wife in a new environment and setting. It is refreshing and helpful to remember where you come from and what joys you are getting to return to on your visit.
3) Bring pictures, items, and souvenirs from your life now: Pick up some of the traditional ‘local favorites’ of your new home. If in England, bring home some tea to share, or if you moved to a new area of your country, bring home a regional cookbook or some local artwork. Have a slideshow on your computer of pictures of your lives in your new home and point out the faces of new friends, your colleagues and the University. Be creative on how to visually share your graduate adventure with others.
4) Don’t set expectations that are too high: Let your family be your family and let you be yourself! Don’t try to force anything, don’t come with a long list of things you feel like you have to talk about or share. Come prepared with lots to share of course, but don’t push it and don’t expect it all to come out at once. Relax and try to just enjoy the time rather than always having an agenda. When we are far apart it is so easy to want to pack in 1,000 things into the week or two of our visit, but try to limit that…allow for time to just ‘be’. And don’t expect everyone to ‘get’ you and your lifestyle, now. Give them space to see and understand the changes you might have gone through. This can be especially hard for someone who’s family isn’t all that familiar with ‘going back to school’ and lifestyles and research requirements that come with graduate programs. It might take time for them to process your new graduate wife/student lifestyle.
5) Give them time: Similar to what I just stated, step back, relax and give your family and friend’s some space. Just like I shared in my first piece on ‘sharing worlds’, let them share first. As my husband always asks about my day, before sharing about his, do the same with your family. Ask, question, listen and learn from them and then give them space to start the process of digging into your life.
6) Don’t compare your life to others: Beware of this. It is so easy to do and before long you start wishing that you or your husband wasn’t in grad school and start to question why you ever decided to follow your dreams in the first place. It’s tempting to look at friends with big houses, with no student budget and who don’t deal with the stresses of graduate school and get envious. Maybe it is a good idea to even make a ‘thanksgiving list’ of why you are grateful to be a graduate wife and keep it handy as you are home and around friends and family that aren’t ‘in your shoes’.