Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas in America

How is Christmas already over? How are we already 4 days away from a brand new year? I literally cannot believe I've already been in France for 3 months now. Trying to figure out my au pair duties, how to get around Paris, studying French, and making friends has definitely made it feel like I haven't been here that long. Back in October, I decided that I really wanted to come home the week of Christmas. I hadn't planned to come back to the States until next summer, but I really just wanted to spend this particular holiday with my family.

The weeks leading up to the day I left were hard. I could feel myself getting more and more down about life; particularly, what in the world I am going to do when I come back home next summer. Where will I go? When should I start applying for jobs? As much as I am enjoying my time over here, I've really missed having a full-time job, my own place with my own things that are currently crammed into a storage unit in Lynchburg, my car, and of course, being able to easily communicate with everyone wherever I go. I know I've said this before, but living here really is like an out-of-body experience. I left the job I had for nearly 6 years, the town I lived in for 11 years, all my possessions, my friends and family, and hopped on a plane to live in Paris. In many ways, I am so proud of myself for finally doing something I've talked about my entire life. But nothing could have prepared me for the level of isolation and loneliness I feel sometimes. I think a lot of that stems from not feeling quite myself here. I have made wonderful friends, but I was even talking to someone here once who is also American about how making friends here can't really compare to the friends and family back home who truly know you, that you have history with, and who know exactly how to encourage you on the hard days. If I'm having a hard day here, chances are I won't talk to or see anyone. It's just different for sure, and I can't count the number of moments when I've felt like a ship without a rudder. Again, mostly asking myself what comes after this adventure abroad when I return to my normal life.

I've been trying not to long for this time to go quickly so I can get back to normalcy. It sounds crazy that I've been doing that at all. But need I remind everyone that I'm not here on vacation. A vacation lasts a couple of weeks and you try to cram as much touristy stuff in as possible. I live here. Temporarily, yes. But this is my home until July. Perhaps there's this misconception that I see the Eiffel Tower every day, and life is so easy and great and I spend my days sitting at cafes reading books. I can assure you, that is not the case. I have work to do at home with G, working on French (it's hard...really hard), and let's not forget it's winter here. I just picture all my old LUO friends hopping in their cars outside their house, driving to work for 15 minutes, then parking and having a 1 minute walk to get inside. And I'm over here walking probably 1-3 miles on any given day in the cold and rain. When spring comes, there will be zero complaints on my end. Walking around in the warm sun will be a breath of fresh air. But winter...ugh...winter. I've never been diagnosed, but I'm positive I suffer from seasonal affective disorder (appropriately nicknamed S.A.D.). But seriously, when it's gloomy and cold, it's like a gloominess that seems to creepy down deep into my soul. On cold, damp days, I have to make myself go out and take advantage of this incredible city that is my current home. The minute the weather is warm, the skies are blue, the days are longer, and everything starts to bloom, it's seriously like I'm reborn and everything just feels better about life. There's more skip in my step and I'm just an overall happier person. *sigh* Just a few more months till spring. Just a few more months until the many Parisian gardens are in bloom, and I can grab a blanket and a book and go spend my free afternoons basking in the sun. I. can't. wait.

Christmastime in Paris was fun, and very beautiful. Lots of wonderful things to see and the Christmas markets were great. But knowing I would be home, and not very many people knew, I was just counting down the days until I got a break. The morning of December 18th, I dropped G off at school and walked back to the house as fast as I could. I called an Uber and 10 minutes later I was finally on my way to the airport. I flew AirFrance round trip, and it was a direct flight into D.C. The flight was long, and had been delayed a few minutes. Nearly 9 hours to make the trip. I got to D.C. around 5 PM on Friday, which is 11 PM in Paris, so I wasn't very tired. I was pretty much running on pure adrenaline knowing my parents were waiting for me. And good grief, the security to get into the U.S. It wasn't horrible, but there were just so many check points, and now they have these kiosks at customs where you have to scan your own passport, type in your info, then it spits out a ticket that you have to take to the immigration officer. They stamp your passport, then you head to baggage claim. After finally loading my bags into a cart (I took back a lot of stuff I didn't need in 2 suitcases, and only brought back 1), I was literally running toward the exit. Then there was another checkpoint where I have to give some other person the ticket from the kiosk, and then there was an officer with a drug sniffing dog literally right before the exit. I wanted to say "Seriously, I made it though security in two airports, had my luggage scanned, flew 9 hours, just picked up the luggage I haven't had the entire flight, and NOW you think I somehow smuggled drugs?" but I refrained. Finally I made it out the doors, saw my parents and ran over and gave them hugs. I was talking a million miles a minute because...they could understand me speaking in rapid English! AND they could understand my sarcasm, so no need to dial it down! Best day ever! I chattered like a child that won't shut up most of the way home, and marveled at the American flags at the airport and all the signs in English.

I had a lot of fun surprising my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I think the best reaction was my dad's mom. We pick her up for church on Sunday. My mom goes inside to get her, and I'm in the back seat with my head turned away. She had just been asking my mom if they were going to Skype with me this week, and was excited to do that. Then as she is getting into the back seat she said "well who is this?" She thought it was my sister, so she wasn't even looking at me when she said it. Finally, she looks up and sees me, and looks shocked and starts crying. I'm surprised I didn't give her a heart attack. Later that day, she embarrassed the heck out of me at a restaurant when she tried to set me up with a Marine who had just returned from Okinawa to surprise his family for the holidays. My dad knew the friend who had picked him up from the airport, so as they were all leaving, my not-at-all-subtle grandma openly asks his mom if he is single. The more she talked to his mom, he ended up right behind her and directly looking at me. Yes, he is hearing all of this, and I'm covering my face in horror, pretending I'm not hearing any of this. Finally they left, and I hope to God I never see that guy again.

I also got to spend an entire day with my wonderful best friend, Sarah. I picked her up the night I got in, and we had the entire next day together. We got Diatri's (a staple in my hometown), manicures, I got to drive everywhere, went shopping, and chatted about life. That night, we came back to my place and watched movies with my sis. The rest of the week, my mom was off work, so we got to spend a lot of time together. I made sure to hit all my favorite restaurants, and Sarah made sure I got the one thing I didn't think I'd be able to have...Cheerwine. They don't sell it in my town, but she ended up picking some up later in the week. I drank them all in one day and it was glorious.
On Christmas Eve, we hit a lot of parties that my parent's friends were throwing, and that was a lot of fun. Christmas Day was the best though. After a nice, relaxing morning where I finally got to give all the Christmas presents I had accumulated over the last month, my aunt, uncle, and cousin from North Carolina arrived, and the rest of my family in town came over. I don't think there is much in this world that beats sitting around with my extended family and enjoying each other's company. I love my family, and I am so thankful I have so much of it. They love to have fun, and they love each other like crazy. One of the most encouraging things that happened was chatting with my uncle that night. We talked about potential job opportunities where he lives and he said he would help me find a job. I've wanted to move to Charlotte for so long, but recently, more and more people have told me to check out Raleigh instead. My aunt and uncle live in Chapel Hill, which is close, and they invited me to come live with them for a little while when I get back so I could find work down there.

That conversation did so much for my recent mood. I don't like not knowing what my next step is going to be in terms of a job, and I didn't know what I was going to do when I got back next summer. I figured I'd just move and hope for the best, but now having people in my corner that are going to help me look and are giving me suggestions for which companies to look at, and I sent him my resume too, it just makes it more realistic, and I will have family support while I make that transition. So that has been a huge step that I've taken this week, and it has put this whole Paris experience in perspective for me. It will only be another 6 months, then I'm going to have to come back and find a new job. It'll go by quick, and I have a list of things I still want to do. But it feels like it has put me in motion again. I have a plan, a goal, a next step. I don't feel like a ship without a rudder anymore. My mom told me any time I start to feel a bit lost or lonely, to start researching the Raleigh area, and realize that this adventure I'm on will end, and not to miss out on it. 6 months sounds like a long time, but then I look back at how quickly this entire year went, and how quickly the last 3 months went. It's really not that long at all. That same aunt and uncle, and one of my cousins, are likely coming to Europe while I'm still here for various reasons, but that gives me something awesome to look forward to as well. I've been dying to go to Normandy and Omaha Beach, and if I could somehow make that happen with my uncle who retired from the Army, that would make it so special.

The day after Christmas, I had an evening flight back to Paris. The flight back was only 6.5 hours, compared to the 9 to get here. Don't ask me how that works. When I got back to the house, and slept for a while, the jet lag wasn't as bad as I anticipated. I'm back on my normal sleep schedule, and to be honest, it's a strange feeling knowing I was just in the States and now I'm back "home" in France. France is somewhere you go on vacation for a week, not the other way around. And it's also weird to think I'm so far from my family after just seeing them. I was telling my sister while we were sitting in her room watching movies that being back in my parent's house felt like I had just been there. I've definitely gone 3 months without visiting home before, so she and I both felt like it was almost like I've just been down in Lynchburg, working like normal, not half way across the globe. But coming back to Paris was different this time. I have friends here waiting for me (I've already had one welcome me back and invite me over for dinner with her family). I know my job duties now. I know how to get from place to place. It's familiar, not scary, not unknown. I'm definitely looking forward to warmer months and more adventures, including planning a fun night out for New Year's Eve with my friends. 6 months left in Paris, and many, many things on my list of things to do. I'd better have at it. North Carolina will be there when I get back. :)