Our bags are on their way to being packed. Our apartment is on its way to being cleaned up and cleared out. Well, as much as it can be. Iggy still needs to live in it for another couple of months. I’ve left him essentials — pots and pans, stashes of canned and frozen food, towels and sheets — but the framed photos and travel mementos and other homey decorations are now boxed up and waiting patiently to become part of our 600 pound air shipment.
Some of our big-ticket items like the rocking chair I spent countless hours on with Baby K, while pregnant and then later with her tiny newborn body in my arms, have been sold. Iggy will handle the rest of it once I’m gone (a washer and dryer, a fridge, a dresser…you know, in case you know of anyone in the greater Haiyang area looking!). That’s in less than 10 days. Between now and then, I need to sort through baby paraphernalia to decide what to throw out, give away, or take back. And I need to plan Baby K’s one year birthday celebration, which will be the easiest of my tasks, one that requires surprisingly little thought, which makes me feel a twinge of guilt. The anticipation of our move and all the work it requires is overshadowing the bigness of this milestone. We may not have any presents for her to open, but she’s getting the fortunate gift of being brought up in the U.S., so let’s hope she forgives us one day for these slights.
Officially, our time in China is coming to an end. Baby K and I are the proud holders of exit visas, and will be kicked out of the country if we don’t leave willingly before October 7th. No problem there! Over these last four years, my mood and perspective on China have slowly deteriorated, keeping pace with the increasingly decrepit state of our apartment. This last year — our final one — has been the hardest. Some of that is because having a baby here has been HARD. But mostly it’s because of changing circumstances beyond our control. It didn’t help that a lot of expats, including a few close friends, left as the project that brought us all here winds down. Or that the incentives for being here have unexpectedly and unfairly dwindled thanks to our corporate patrons. Increasing pollution levels and growing anti-American sentiment haven’t made 2016 our rosiest year here either.
So, with that said, you’d think I’d be overjoyed about our imminent departure. I thought I’d be! But I’ve been cranky. A good friend of mine was, too, just prior to her return to the U.S. At the time, I just did not get it. Fast forward a year and change and here I am: her. Leaving a place that’s been our “home” for so long to return to our real “home” is tough and most of us expats face big unknowns.
In my cleaning/packing fury, I came across a handout given to us in our pre-China prep session that detailed “The Cultural Adjustment Process.” It’s a pictographic of the roller coaster of feelings we were told we’d go through pre, present, and post assignment. Accurately, it turns out. Like my friend before me, I’m now in the second to last phase they call “Return Anxiety.” As my hippy mother would say: right on.
The logistical part of “demobilizing” (corporate speak for moving back to our home country), is a pain in the ass, but it’s the easy part. The mental and emotional part is the kicker. When we set out for China back in 2012, we were newly weds looking for an adventure, without much care for anything other than a steady paycheck, which, thanks to Iggy, we had.
Our friendly village mascots were shiny and new when we arrived back in December 2012.
Now we aren’t quite sure what our lives will look like back in the U.S. where big decisions have to be centered around our little kid. So much about our lives has changed.
The mascots have faded almost as much as my view of China in the four years we’ve been here.
So much about the U.S. has, too. Judging from the headlines, it seems like it’s a different place than when we left. What the hell happened? There’s a crackpot presidential contender, one after another unexplained police shootings of black men, and likewise mass shootings and terrorist-like attacks. It’s hard to make sense of it all. Am I already entering the final phase of the expat experience of “Shock/Reintegration?” Probably. But a lot of people back home have got to be feeling the same way. Right? I guess I’ll find out soon. Until then, I better get back to packing and party planning.