When you’ve lived the expat life for a long time and don’t get back to your home country very often it can sometimes feel like landing in a place you visited a long time ago: you know a bit about it, recognize some familiar things, but you aren’t quite on firm ground, because things change and you’ve not been around to see it happen in real time. This can lead to some interesting holiday adventures.I don’t get back home nearly as often as I’d like and the sad result is that my kids don’t know their Yank relatives all that well. In light of that I decided that this year was the year we were going to have a bang up trip across the ocean to spend 15 glorious days reveling in the warmth and laughter of my large, boisterous, and slightly mad family.
Off we went, the first of July, two bags packed to the limit (and beyond – thank you nice airline person for not noticing), with cheerful dispositions and dreams of long days spent on the beach dancing through our heads.
Having recently written an article about the importance of everyone being able to have input on what you do on a vacation I decided to let both kids pick a few things for their bucket list. I won’t say I regret doing this but I will say they’re going to have some compelling material for their ‘What I did on my summer vacation’ essays when they return to school in the autumn.
While I come from a lovely area of the eastern seaboard there are some other areas that don’t quite boast the quintessential charming clapboard houses and manicured greens of your average New England town.
My son is an aspiring filmmaker and his holiday bucket list included a visit to Lowell, Massachusetts, where one of his favourite movies, The Fighter, was filmed. So one day, I, in my infinite wisdom as a mother, roped my nephew in as our guide and headed off to the cradle of the American Industrial Revolution. Our goal? Find the crack house where Dicky Eklund threw away his boxing career, along with the gym where he and his brother, Micky Ward, trained and a few other ‘fascinating’ spots. I am, once again, a front runner for Mother of the Year.
As we started to cruise the four broken down blocks of what was known not all that long ago as Crack Street over and over again I took one look around and it was ‘lock it down’, because as we slowed down to eye every likely three story tenement in hopes of finding the ‘right’ crack house I realized that perhaps this wasn’t the safest area to be driving around, even in full daylight.
We still aren’t sure we found Dicky’s crack house (although we do have a likely candidate) but we did manage to catch an unsavoury scene or two involving multiple cop cars and shouting locals, along with the now-closed gym, replete with aggressively scary signs that told us to KEEP OUT. And, after many wrong turns, there was the requisite visit Jack Kerouac’s grave, which was scattered with pencils and pens, flowers, and, oddly enough, a number of guitar picks, one of which someone (who shall remain nameless) managed to pocket.
In light of the holiday’s slight film theme we also visited Mystic Pizza, where Julia Roberts kicked off her career. Both the pizza and the joint were cheesy as hell. I highly recommend it, although one of my kids, having been exposed to proper pizza only a few times in his life (we do live in Sweden, after all), turned up his nose and proclaimed Pizza Hut better. Obviously I need to get that kid home more often.
But here’s the thing: not getting home as often as I’d like and then visiting with my kids after quite a few years away allowed me to see things through their eyes. They marveled at the diversity, the food, the heat, the ocean, the friendly people and the loud laughter that is always present in my rambunctious family. They also saw a different side of me, one where I was not just mom but also the youngest sibling with a family history that was a bit of a mystery to them. I won’t bore you with details of family time, other than to say I really do need to up my Pictionary game and yes, family dynamics really do remain somewhat constant, no matter how much time has passed.
So when my kids go to write that back to school essay they will surely have the most unique story in their class. Yep, they will be able to write an essay titled, ‘The time my mother took us to a crack house’, along with ‘The time my mother flipped her lid after getting lost for the umpteenth time’ and ‘The time my mother took us to a beach where we were attacked by greenheads’.
The memories we give our children are so very important, don’t you think?
Judi Lembke is a writer and editor based in Europe. Her work spans the spectrum, from light humour to corporate film and pretty much everything in between. Most of her adult life has been spent as an expat, with stints in London, Sydney and, currently. Stockholm, Sweden. She finds expat life stimulating, challenging and always very interesting. Judi blogs at Judi Lembke Ink.