I suppose I should have seen it coming, and perhaps in subconscious ways I did. Still, every time we took stock of the situation, we continued to come down on the side of ‘we’re staying’. That is, until late spring.
A few short months ago I was in the final stages of finishing my book, my husband was well established in his job, and our daughter was looking forward to the last two years of high school. Our son was happily settled into university, and would soon rejoin us for a few months in the Netherlands after semester final exams. Our summer plans focused primarily on spending quality time with my parents as my father entered into the final stage of terminal cancer.
Months earlier, we’d already settled the omnipresent expat question of Where next? as we welcomed the new year.The previous year had brought its shares of lows along with some highs, and ultimately we recognized the need to set aside thoughts of where our next expatriate adventure would take us and focus instead on setting up a home base back in the US.
Our timeframe was another year, possibly two. Plenty of time to do some research, enter into discussions on the merits of potential locations. We looked forward to making lists of attributes and ‘must haves’, weighing alternatives, deciphering pros and cons. In the meantime, we would appreciate the positives – and there were many – of staying put in The Hague. We had plenty of time to tick off those places and things which remained on our ‘While in the Netherlands’ list. We would enjoy our friendships, continue favorite activities, and begin an orderly – dare I even say leisurely – approach to planning our leave-taking.
We were all set. We had time.
Yet as with Pandora’s box, once the lid is opened – once the decision to leave has been broached and not instantly swatted away – you cannot simply put it back under lock and key. It takes on a life of its own, sowing seeds of doubt in the fertile recesses of our minds.
Next thing we knew, things had shifted sufficiently to bring us to a new threshold. Somehow we’d managed to reach an invisible tipping point, and suddenly found ourselves wrangling with a decision which only weeks earlier had been the slightest shadow of a hypothetical.
Is it time? As in now?
Sometimes, despite facing the hideous pressure, jangled nerves, loathsome workload and furious pace of an unexpected, hasty departure, you still find yourself whispering ‘yes’.
Funny how when you look back to the beginning, you recall being all full of intentions and courses of action, convinced you had a firm grasp on the big picture and your game plan was rock solid. And you were, and you did, and it was, until eventually it all falls away like tiny shards of glass and tile tumbling from an attractive mosaic.
No, that’s not entirely accurate. Life is the interventions, the twists and turns, the upset plans. Life is the changing circumstances, the disruptions. It’s the re-shuffled priorities. It’s the spinning of the compass dial, seizing on a new direction, plotting a new course of action.
With the decision taken, there’s nothing left to do but sweep up the shiny debris and begin gluing it into place. In time, a new mosaic takes shape. If we’re fortunate, it will be every bit as lovely, perhaps even lovelier still.
A writer and American 'expatriwait' recently repatriated from the Netherlands with her adult Third Culture Kid husband and children, Linda pens articles on expat/repat life, blogs at Adventures in Expat Land, and plots the next foray overseas. She is also author of The Emotionally Resilient Expat: Engage, Adapt and Thrive Across Cultures (Summertime Publishing) which is available on Amazon.
You may also follow Linda’s adventures on Twitter @in_expatland.
Read Linda's other Expat Focus articles here.