10 April 2009

Memories of immigration

Grant's parents flew into Manchester airport about a week and a half ago. Last weekend Grant and I drove down to London to collect his sister, Shelley, and her toddler, Ethan, from Heathrow airport. We drove down the day before they were due to arrive and stopped at a favourite restaurant in Wandsworth, London, for lunch.

As we entered London I was overwhelmed with memories of our stay there. After we arrived in England in November 1999 I did a lot of freelancing in and around London. The following April I started a permanent job in Epsom, Surrey. We lived in Greater London until July 2001, when we moved to Lancashire.

There is just something about London, the scent of the air, the bustle of people, the sounds (sirens 5 times by the time we arrived where we were going, and car hooters (horns) 6 times!), the mix of ancient and modern architecture. But more than that, it's an indefinable feeling to the city. (I think for Grant the feeling was Major Stress - only fools and taxi drivers actually drive in London!)

We stared around at everything like country bumpkins. We had the sunroof open and the windows down; London is always a few degrees warmer than up north and the weather more than hinted at spring. Memories just flooded over me. I had despised freelancing and commuting into the city when we lived there and the exact flavour of that feeling came over me when we passed a tube (underground) station. I had loved getting out into London on the weekends and days off and exploring, returning home later with aching, blistered feet from walking around London all day - the feel of the spring weather took me right back to those adventures. Finding our feet in a new country, learning new ways of doing things, making plans and finding some security - all of these experiences were brought to memory just by being there. They were reinforced after lunch when we continued through Putney and down to Surrey to my cousin, Angela's house, near where we used to live. We visited with her and her family, including my cousin Di and her family. Then we drove to Di's flat and visited there for a while.

Some of you who have clicked over to Di's blog may know that she and her husband and daughter have recently immigrated to England from South Africa. Talking with her over the last few weeks has really brought my own experiences of immigration to the fore. I searched back through my journal a couple of weeks ago, reading and remembering and something that stood out for me was how I yearned for very simple and basic dreams to be fulfilled. I so badly wanted what I now realise I exactly have now - a home of our own, children, the blessing of being a homemaker with a husband in secure work that he loves. I am so, so, so lucky (which is just another word for blessed) to have my dreams come true. Some of you may roll your eyes at my very basic desires, but they were (and still are) what I wanted more than anything.

The other overwhelming emotion I felt as we drove from our hotel to Heathrow early (very, very early: we got up at 5:15a.m. - ouch!) the next morning was gratitude. It brought tears to my eyes (although that could be the fact that we were up practically before dawn) to realise how lucky I am to have had the experience of moving to England. Even though we struggled, even though we had some very unsettling worries, even though we had to work ourselves to the bone, even though we wrestled with indescribable homesickness - I am endlessly grateful to have experienced the adventures we have had.

I learnt so much about myself, about my husband, gained so many valuable life experiences, felt the security of my marriage strengthening. Being far away from the small expectations that friends and family naturally hold due to a lifetime of history together allowed me to just be me (and, more importantly, figure out who that was). Having only each other to cling to and lean on brought Grant and I closer and strengthened our relationship. Having the trials we did allowed Grant and I to figure out what we wanted in life, what we didn't want and what we were and weren't prepared to do to make our lives what we desired.

Any time a friend mentions that they have an opportunity to move abroad and are wondering if they should do it or not, I say, "Go!" without hesitation. "You might hate it. You might be making a big mistake. You might be back within the next year or two. But you won't regret it. The experience of it is infinitely worth it. Just go."

I may have mentioned before that, for various reasons, we plan to emigrate to New Zealand in the next few years. In fact, it could happen within the next 18 months and it scares me to death. I haven't been very excited about it even - just overwhelmed by the practicalities of the application process, Grant's recruitment into the police service there, the timing of everything, selling two houses here in England, deciding what to take with and what to get rid of, packing everything up, finding a home in New Zealand, getting the boys into a good school, settling temporarily while Grant is away training for 19 weeks and possibly moving again after that ... I haven't even really thought beyond that.

But last weekend has me peeking ahead, past all of the hiccups of leaving England and wondering what choice experiences (good and bad) await us on the other side. What memories are to be made. What resources we'll be called on to tap, and how enriching this adventure can be for our boys. And I'm ready. It's going to be stressful and hard, but we'll do it together. And that is what makes these experiences priceless.

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