Thursday, March 18, 2010

Back to the Nest

 During my layover in London on my way back to the States!

The night before Thanksgiving in 2004 I landed back on American soil after twenty-six months living in Ukraine.  My brother and sister and I had conspired to surprise our parents with my arrival.  Peace Corps is a twenty-seven month commitment, but volunteers can leave within thirty days on either side of their official date.  Withholding this little tidbit of information from my parents meant that they thought I was getting home right before Christmas rather than Thanksgiving.

It was a pretty spectacular surprise.  My brother and sister concocted some scheme to both get out of the house in the same car to pick me up at the airport.  They greeted me with flowers and took tons of pictures, mostly because they knew our mom would be upset that she missed my official arrival at the airport (incidentally, she was a little distressed that there was no "Welcome Home Margaret" poster, which had been part of her plan).  Our parents saw us come up the front walk, past the family room window and my mom just thought "Oh they brought a friend with long brown hair home."  Then I walked into the family room and said "Hi."  It took a few seconds for everything to sink in and my mom kept saying "Margaret, what are you doing here?"  Later that night she confessed to peeking into my room while I was asleep to make sure that it wasn't all a dream and I really was home.

The first month or so that I was back was great.  It was a whirlwind of holidays, parties, and nights out to see friends I hadn't seen for two years.  I spent some time acclimating myself to American society as well.  One moment really sticks out from the first week I was back.  I was in the car with my dad when he said he had to stop and get some money.  To my surprise we went into the Safeway.  Since when were banks in grocery stores?  One of the things I missed the most when I was in Ukraine was good cereal, which is still my breakfast food of choice.  So I told my dad I was going to go grab some cereal and I would be right back.  Ten minutes later he started to get worried.  He found me in the cereal aisle, completely immobilized,  holding four boxes of cereal and staring at the endless boxes on the shelves.  In Ukraine, you were never guaranteed to find anything stocked in a store again -- particularly a western product like cereal, particular in a small town or village like I lived in.  I just couldn't make a decision about which box was the most important to me at that moment.  Eventually my dad made a decision for me and coaxed me out of the store.

As my reverse culture shock dissipated, the reality that I was unemployed and living with my parents at the age twenty-four started to hit me.  I was applying to grad schools and knew that I wouldn't be moving until I knew where I was going.  Within a few months I'd decided on New York and was substitute teaching, but I still felt somewhat embarrassed and inferior for not having my life more together.  I would meet guys at bars and they would innocently ask, "So where do you live?" and I would respond in one quick breath:


Come again?  One of the hardest things about coming back from Peace Corps is realizing that while you've been having the adventure of a lifetime, everyone else has been going about life as usual.  Firmly ensconced in careers, relationships, apartments and driving cars they hadn't bought used in high school, most of my contemporaries seemed completely put together . . . which probably wasn't all that true, but it felt as if they'd all gained all this ground while I was gone.  Even now, I still feel the twinge of having "lost" two years of my life from time to time.

So, living with my parents again was a bit of an adjustment from being so absolutely alone for so long.  One of the things I found most annoying was my stuff not remaining right where I left it.  In Ukraine I would frequently dump shoes or my school bag right in the front hall and keep stepping over them until I needed them again (an annoying habit that's resurfaced since I've become roommate-less once again).  At my parents I would put something down and never be able to find it again.  When asking my mom about the whereabouts of the item, she would inevitably, irritatingly, reply with a vague and aloof "It's around," and a wave of the hand to indicate where "around" was.  Harumph.    

Also, after four years of college and two years of living at the ends of the earth, I had become pretty independent and self-sufficient.  My parents, however, still had a kid in high school and had some trouble distinguishing between appropriate parenting for my little brother and what might be best for their freeloading, but grown, adult daughter.  I wasn't so interested in describing my plans down to the last detail, no matter how innocent the activity. 

Having a deadline, or due date, for the end of my stay at the Hotel of Mom and Dad made it bearable.  Sometimes it was pretty fun too.  And you can't beat the rent.  Oh how I miss the rent . . .

 With my family in the front yard of my parents' house for brother's high school graduation toward the end of my time living there.
Rebecca, Mom, Peter, Dad, and me

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