As is often the case at the end of a school year, many families find themselves in transition: jobs change, companies relocate, kids transfer to new schools. This year we discovered that three of our good friends are moving, either returning to their home countries or moving outside of Prague. While I’m devastated to hear the news, I know that for each of our friends their upcoming moves are filled with excitement and new adventures.
We spent the last afternoon of the children’s school year with the families of two school friends. One family will likely no longer be in Prague after the summer break, and we’re only just getting to know the other family. While the children played, oblivious to the coming changes, the mothers and I chatted about the pros and cons of leaving or staying put, and how we’d handle finding ourselves in the position of uprooting our families and starting anew. I decided that while I’d welcome the chance to embark on a new adventure, overall, I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to adjust to living in the Czech Republic. Still, I sometimes lament that it is not possible to be in two places at the same time.
Without fail, in the weeks leading up to one of our extended stays in the US, my emotions spin on overdrive. I’m thrilled that we’re going to my home culture, and I take great pleasure watching our children experience some of the same summertime rituals I did as a child. However, I’m also nervous about the upcoming change of roots, wondering how our family will adapt to the different lifestyle, language and culture. For some reason, every time I say goodbye to our friends and neighbors in Prague, some small part of me imagines what if I were saying this for the last time. So too, each time I step off the plane and onto US soil, I imagine what it would be like if, in fact, I was returning to the US for good.
There are so many things I miss about one culture when we are in the other. When we‘re in the States, I miss hearing my children speak Czech and watching them go back-and-forth between languages as they determine whether the person they’re speaking with is a better English or a Czech speaker. I miss observing the Czech culture, particularly the active, outdoorsy lifestyle that even the older Czech generation embraces with passion. Seeing older people walking, with Nordic trekking poles in hand, along the wooded path near our house is a regular feature on my weekend morning runs. But then, it is also just as common to see a Czech family dressed in their Sunday best taking a stroll through the woods or even an older person walking with a walker or being pushed in a wheelchair through the woods.
Once while biking in Cesky Raj, Radek and I came upon a group of bikers ranging in age from grandparents to young children, dressed in old-fashioned clothes and using antique bikes. They didn’t seem to be an official group, just a gathering of friends meeting to bike in varied costumes on a Sunday afternoon. I’m always thrilled by these unexpected signs of individuality in the Czech culture. It gives me hope that even if many Czechs are sticklers for precision, conformity and a vision of “normal,” there is room for individual expression, often in the most unexpected situations.
When I’m in the US, I miss visiting the village butcher’s deli and watching Czechs order everything from soup and fried chicken to ice cream at the pre-lunch hour of 10:30am. On the morning after the children’s last day of school, I took the boys to the local butcher shop for their last parek (hotdog) before our summer departure. They sat at an outdoor table beside two men dressed in workmen’s clothes who were having soup and a morning beer. It was nowhere near lunchtime, but after Oliver finished his first hotdog, he requested a second. He valiantly finished the second dog, wiping ketchup from his face and shirt where it had squirted out of the bun. When we’re in the US, I miss having soup as a first course and a good beer with a hearty lunch. No one in the States tells me that a beer with my meal is good for my digestion like my in-laws here insist.
In contrast, during our time in the Czech Republic, I miss having my family close by. Knowing that our children have their first (and second) cousins to play with or that they have friends to communicate with in English makes me relish our time in the States. It’s also the primary impetus for our family to spend more time there. When we’re in the US, I’m grateful for the slower pace of automobile traffic, roads with brightly painted lane lines and wide parking spots to easily navigate into. During our summer and winter holidays in the US, I’m also appreciative of simple conveniences like having my groceries nicely bagged without feeling the cashier’s annoyed stare when the groceries pile up faster than I can get them into my shopping bag.
I know that I’ll never be perfectly satisfied with living in one country or the other, but I’m beginning to learn that perhaps it’s not bad to wish for change. Saying goodbye, whether it’s to my daughter’s second grade classmate’s mom or to my good friend who’s moving back to Sweden, isn’t easy, but as the saying goes, “When one door closes than another door opens.” I’m beginning to believe it. Life is filled with transitions and some of the toughest transitional times pave the way for more good times to follow.
This summer, we’re looking forward to tent camping and hiking in the Smoky Mountains, swimming and relaxing on the sandy beaches in Florida and even taking the children to Disneyworld for a taste of theme park culture in America. It should be an active summer filled with different experiences and lots of family time. We’re all excited to get the trip underway, even if it means saying some goodbyes here first. The children are eagerly waiting to say their first “hellos” in English at the airport where my parents have promised to be waiting with open arms.
I want to extend my many thanks to Half ‘n Half readers for your continued support. Enjoy your summer adventures wherever they may take you. Half ‘n Half will return in September.