Expat confessions: I’m 33 and I feel bad living far away from my family.

It’s 10pm on a Thursday night I haven’t packed for my flight tomorrow morning. My things are scattered across my room and the house. Well…my parents’ house, actually. I’ve been staying here for a few weeks now and I’ve maxed out the quality time. Lunch with Dad, coffee with Mom, a quick stop by my sisters’ homes to get some last minute time in with my nieces and nephews. Dinner with the whole family; the laughter and chaos of four kids having the time of their lives while the adults enjoy some cigars outside. It’s been a crazy few weeks, and the time went by way too fast as it always does.

I have a 4pm flight out of LAX tomorrow and the feelings are starting creep in. The reality is that being with friends and family that have known me before my international life began — know me in a way that brings a different side of me out and brings about a fresh reminder of the life I lived before I left. It’s a feeling I can’t summon on the other side of the world. People are more candid in person — both in the things they say and the things they don’t. And in spite of all the beautiful experiences I’ve had all over the map there is nothing that can replace family, old friends, familiar scenes and places. The bags are waiting to be packed and with them the realization that I’m going to have to say goodbye hits me in waves. It’s something we’ve done before but it doesn’t get easier.

I know I’m lucky and remind myself of that. I travel to the US often for work. I have the means to come and go as I please, and, being in London, I’m just a flight away. I take solace in some future date when I know I will see everyone again. We all want to stay in contact and sometimes we do. But it’s hard. I didn’t leave an average life behind and I didn’t leave hard times behind. I left when life was at it’s best.

I often make fun of myself for making such a big deal about these goodbyes; surely it’s not this hard for everyone. Plenty of people go years without seeing their families!

I’m at the airport. Gone are the days where I ask someone to brave the 3 hours of LA traffic to drop me off(I guess I’ve grown up in some ways). I battle the traffic and navigate my way to drop off my rental car whilst reflecting on the amazing times I had, feeling the guilt of people I meant to see, and preparing for days ahead. Life seems to move so incredibly fast these days.

I’m strapped in, earphones in, and waiting for the plane to take off. The National’s “I Should Live in Salt” is blaring in my ears. The song is about Matt Berninger feeling guilty for leaving his brother behind when he went away to university.

And then we’re airborne, two mini bottles of red wine down. I’m analyzing my time spent in my head; I do that way too much. Is everyone happy with me? I’m not sure what caused me to think differently about my guilt, but I had what seemed to be a novel idea at the time:

I often quantify my time with my family and friends as if the more time together the better and how being away leaves me at huge deficit, one in which in a perfect world I could make up. This is obviously impossible to achieve. This question ran through my head; how does me visiting from abroad make for my time with family to be different from the way most kids spend time with their parents and families? A few ideas popped into my head which made me think about living abroad a little differently. While we might be missing out on a lot I think we’ve gained something special. Don’t get me wrong — I love to be with my wife and I love to travel with my wife but because of my work travels and our conflicting schedules we are often visiting our families by ourselves. How many married couples that live in close proximity will go spend a week or two with their parents without their spouse? I’m not saying this is necessarily a good thing, but it is unique. Prolonged visits as an adult in my parents’ home make for a special time. Parents can’t help but be parents, but as a grown up kid you have the luxury of forming a special bond and friendship with your parents where you can relate to them in ways you wouldn’t have when you were young. How many adults that live near their parents would even stay in their parents house at all? Over the past 9 years when visiting home I get to enjoy the daily routine and live life with my folks.

Basically what I’m saying is that adult Joel 2.0 reverts back to being a kid again a few times a year and this is special. I might not get to see my parents every weekend but when we see each other the time is special and different from the way I would’ve spent time with them had I lived near them. Understanding how special this is made me realise that while I may be missing out on some stuff, I’m also very lucky to spend time with my family in a way most kids wouldn’t.

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