Sharing 'Worlds'

‘Carry me home…’ & more thoughts on ‘sharing worlds’

‘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’.

-M.C.

Moving · Sacrifice

Our Little Adventure

written by Emily, a current graduate wife

My journey begins probably much like many others who have, along with their spouses, made the decision to attend graduate school.  John and I were college sweethearts and had the wedding of our dreams soon after we graduated from Samford University.  After our honeymoon, John and I fell into a wonderful rhythm of living and working in Memphis, TN, and enjoyed a season of sweet friends and family there.  We bought a house and spent months renovating and decorating it, planning on staying there until we had a few children of our own.  Well the Lord had different plans for us and a fire was ignited in John’s heart to pursue his dream of going to graduate school to earn his MBA.  We prayed, and prayed, talked and talked, cried and cried (ok, just me), wondering if this was the right decision.  We decided to uproot our comfortable lives and move twelve hours away to North Carolina.  We left great jobs, great friends, our first home, and a wonderful church, not knowing what the future might hold.  We did know however that we were in this together.  Our little adventure, we liked to call it. Something so ‘out of the norm’ and something so challenging, exciting and new.

 

Here we are 1 1/2 years into business school, and we are very much still living in our adventure.  We have gone through the ups and downs that come with moving and going back to school.  Such as: John staying at school until 10pm every night, only to come home and do more work, adjusting to a tiny apartment where we can hear our neighbors sneeze, me finding a new job and having to work for 52 straight weekends in a row, the we’ve suffered through the stress of being apart for an entire summer as John went away for an internship.

 

Spending the summer apart might have been one of the hardest things we have done together as a couple.  Since I wasn’t able to pack up and leave my job here in NC, John had to gather up his things, his side of the sink, his pillow, and drive 10 hours north to Philadelphia…without me.  For eleven full weeks.  I still remember the day he left, not knowing how I was going to make it without him.  We had never been apart over the 7 years together (3 1/2 married).  Could we survive with just phone calls and skype dates, and only 2 visits over 2 1/2 months?  I seriously contemplated hiding in his suitcase and just quitting my job all together.  The first week was definitely the hardest.  Going to bed alone, cooking dinner alone, and seeing his face on skype brought tears to my eyes every time I saw him.  BUT, the first week came and went…and so did the next two.  each day, I felt stronger and my love for him began to grow in a new light. I could DO this! Our conversations were deeper and more meaningful.  Our skype chats were long and mushy.  My trip to visit him in the one of the following weeks was one of the sweetest times we’ve ever had together.  They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I am now a 100% believer in that.  Being apart made us cherish our time together so much more, and although we had to face trials and frustrations, I am so grateful for last summer.  If I had to give any advice to someone who is gearing up for time apart from their spouse (whether it’s an internship, or residency, etc.) I would say these 3 things.

 

1. Start a new “tradition” with each other for that time (whether it’s calling to say goodnight, a “good morning” text, a weekly piece of snail mail, or sharing a daily scripture verse).  Having something to look forward to each day together is fun and exciting and it will bring at least some form of consistency to your life.

 

2. Listen to each other.  Phone and email conversations are probably not what you are most used to in the daily communication with your spouse.  It’s really easy to misunderstand or mis-communicate when you are not sitting right in front of each other.  Sarcasm is sometimes very hard to interpret in a phone call.  Listen well and make it a point to let each person talk about his or her day.  Ask questions.  It’s a new and different way to communicate so treasure learning these new ways to share and grow.

 

3. Enjoy the present.  It’s very easy to just mark off the days on the calendar until you are together again, and constantly look towards the future, but try to enjoy the ‘in between’ phase.  Spend time with your girlfriends and watch “the notebook” 15 times in a row.  Light candles and eat popcorn for dinner.  Take long baths and buy yourself fresh flowers.  Sometimes it’s the little things that make you enjoy the day.  Take time and do that for yourself, trust me you’ll be glad you did.  You will be refreshed and happy when you have your phone call with your spouse later that night, instead of feeling isolated and alone.

 

Through our entire graduate journey, we have learned a lot and have grown in so many ways.  We have learned to never take a single moment together for granted.  We have learned that our cozy little apartment makes us cuddle that much more.  We have been reminded of the importance of encouragement and unconditional love in a marriage.  We have re-learned our love languages and have strived to put them into practice every day.  We have learned how necessary it is make decisions together and for us, to pray together.  We have been through weeks at a time where a quick meal at the dinner table was the only time we had together that day — and have learned to turn off our phones and tv’s during those times.  We have been shown that having friends that are in this same phase of life can make such a difference to your sanity.  And, we have learned what it means to be TOGETHER every step of the way.  Homes may change, friends may come and go, doors may close, and dreams may change, BUT, no matter what — it’s our little adventure. It’s one of support, sacrifice, and unconditional love.  And as long as we are together, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. 

Have you had to live apart from your spouse for an extended period on your graduate wife journey?  How have you handled the transition?

 

Community · Expectations · Family · Moving · Sacrifice

There’s No Place Like Home

         Written by Amberly – a current graduate wife

Another year of holidays, family celebrations and special events have come and gone; and here I sit 900 miles away participating via Skype. Don’t misunderstand me; I am grateful for Skype every time the computer rings, but it is not quite the same as being in the same room with my family. Isn’t it everyone’s ideal Thanksgiving to stay awake until midnight just so you can see your family as they gather around the table eating foods you can’t even find in your local supermarket? (As a side note – did you know that you can make cornbread dressing with maize meal or that not all turkeys come with their internal organs already in a bag? This southern girl learned both lessons in 2006 when I attempted to make my first solo Thanksgiving dinner!)

This past Christmas was the first Christmas we didn’t go home. We had just returned to the UK in October and it didn’t make sense to fly back to Atlanta so quickly. When we made the decision, we thought it would be a good opportunity to begin our own traditions. We decorated and bought presents. Our families shipped so many gifts that we could barely walk through the living room without tripping. It all seemed to be going well until Christmas Eve….carols played on our computer, and we sat looking at each other realizing that we were alone. No amount of presents or tinsel could change the fact that our families were gathering together and we weren’t there to be with them.

Of course, it is not just holidays that can be hard; I’ve missed weddings, baby showers, funerals, birthdays, beach vacations, and family portraits. My little sister will graduate from college in two weeks, and I won’t be there to give her a hug that only a big sis can give. I don’t want to miss that day or my other sister’s 16th birthday, or when my brother brings his new girlfriend to meet the family. But, we aren’t the only ones missing things. Our families don’t have the daily privilege of seeing their only grandchild grow up.

With all of this in mind, you might be envisioning me writing while curled up in a ball under my duvet with a quart of ice cream. And I would be remiss if I lead you to believe that I don’t have days when that is exactly what I feel like doing. I am happy to say that those days are far and few between, and along the way I have learned a few things that might help someone else trying to come to terms with being separated from family.

Make a plan. With the busyness of life, it is easy to wake up one day and realize that you haven’t spoken with your parents in 2 weeks. Losing touch happens so quickly, even in some of our closest relationships. We make it a point to talk with our parents once a week on a specific day around the same time. While this worked for our parents, I have learned that every relationship is different and communication styles can be different. My siblings are all in school and keep crazy student hours so planning to Skype at a specific time is really impractical. Email, Facebook and our family blog all serve as vehicles to keep us in touch with one another. Find a way to communicate with each other and make it a priority.

Embrace your new home. No, it doesn’t make your family any closer, but when you accept your new life and find things big and small to enjoy, it makes the distance not feel quite as far. Find a church, a library, a coffee shop, a museum, a great restaurant, a bookstore – anything that makes you happy and allows you to begin to be connected to your new home. It can also help your family to know that you are settling in. My mom has said many times that knowing we are happy and content in our home helps her to not worry about us nearly as much.

Surround yourself with memories. I love to have family pictures in our home. We have moved a lot in the last 5 years and no matter where we are living, it doesn’t feel like our home until our pictures are around us.

Be honest. I really struggle with this at times. I want to present the perfect front to our families. I don’t want them to worry about us. Although I don’t think having an emotional breakdown every time we talk is helpful, I have had to learn that it is okay to let them know when I am struggling with being left out.

Develop new relationships. I could never replace my family or friends I have known for years. However, developing relationships in the places we have lived has made a huge difference in dealing with being separated from our old lives. We have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world with different backgrounds. We would never have met them if we had not stepped into our new life. These relationships have shaped who we are today and I am incredibly grateful for every one.

Remember why you are separated from your families. When you are the supporting partner it can be difficult to remember what your spouse is doing, the pressures they are under and what the ultimate goal is. Remember why you made the decision for your spouse to pursue further education and what your long-term family goals are.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list and I am far from an expert. Being separated from family is never easy and it does take time to adjust. Know that if you are willing to make the effort it can be done without sacrificing the relationships that you cherish.

If you have found yourself relocated to a new place on your graduate wife journey, how do you handle being separated from your family and friends?