Coming home after traveling is always a bit of a relief. No matter how much you've enjoyed a trip, there's a certain satisfaction in returning to the familiar comforts of your home life.
We flew back to the States from Brussels the first week of December. We spent two and a half weeks at my parents' summer house in Maine, then drove down to New Jersey to spend three weeks over the holidays with Erin's family.
While the life we returned to wasn't exactly the same as the one we left, we were reminded of the things we've missed, but also some of the reasons why we left.
We celebrated Oliver's fourth birthday in Maine with family and friends. This is what we've missed the most, not just seeing our friends, but having Oliver playing with his cousins and friends his own age. I was glad to see how easily he jumped back into this type of peer socialization that has been largely absent during our travels, which is my biggest concern with this whole endeavor.
In New Jersey, we were reunited with our beloved pets, Renzo (paranoid pup) and Buster (ornery cat). It was great seeing the kids playing with their own pets again, and seeing how much the animals loved living with Erin's parents. Buster made it clear that he prefers them to us by peeing on our stuff. It was just like having him back home.
With the comforts of home came some of the obligations of home that we had been blissfully ignorant of over the previous three and a half months. In two weeks we crammed in six months worth of doctors, dentists, haircuts, Christmas shopping, house maintenance, and even an end of year tax meeting with our accountant.
For our first week in Maine, Erin drove an hour and a half down to Boston and stayed a few nights with friends so that she could get some time in the office. This left me alone in Maine with the kids for the week.
That week was the most complete role reversal Erin and I had had since starting the trip.
When I was working, I often had late evenings and overnight trips that left me missing the kids while Erin did all of the parenting, cooking, and housework. Now she was the one calling at seven o'clock to say goodnight, and I was getting them fed and put to bed.
Then I went through the nightly routine of cleaning the kitchen, picking up toys, doing laundry, and preparing for the next day's activities. Occasionally, I showered.
After her week in Boston, Erin walked in the door Friday night while I was cleaning the kitchen. Oliver's birthday decorations were still up, and the day's toys I hadn't gotten to yet were still strewn all over the floor.
She had the nerve to say, "Is this what the house has looked like all week?"
I turned off the water.
"How dare you..." I seethed. "You have no idea what it takes to keep this household up and running!"
I was indignant. Although that was what the house had looked like all week.
That week felt like the narrow life we had before we left.
One of the best outcomes of our travels so far has been that there are two parents on hand when needed. This means that if one of us (me) wants to take a shower, or take a nap, or use the loo, we can tap out and the other one can watch the kids for a little while. We both feel like active parents without sacrificing our own personal needs or Erin's work.
In addition, I used to always give the kids baths at night, because that was the only "fun" activity I had time to do with them on weekdays. Erin and I would both put them to bed because neither of us had spent sufficient time during the day with them.
Now I spend enough time with the kids during the day that I'm often happy to relieve tub and bedtime duties to Erin, which gives her one-on-two time with them.
This allows me to clean the kitchen and pick up toys so that by the time the kids are in bed, we can sit down on the couch and enjoy the evening. Or just stare at our phones. That still happens, but it happens at 7:30 instead of 9:30.
In January, Erin and I left Oliver and Vera with their grandparents overnight and drove from New Jersey back up to Boston for a friend's birthday party.
The trip was timely, because the previous day our neighbor called to tell us that our smoke alarms were going off while our tenants were away for the weekend. After investigations by our dog walker, another friend, and the Somerville Fire Department, we had determined that one of the smoke detectors was faulty. Duh.
We stopped at our house before the party, tested the smoke detector, drove to Home Depot for a new one, drove back, and installed it. All this running around to get one little thing done.
"Do you miss it?" Erin asked as we pulled away from the house.
We had each been to the house separately in the weeks prior, but this was the first time we had been back together.
"No," I said, slowing down to look back at it. "Not really."
We weren't just taking about the house, of course. We loved our home for the life that we had there, but now it was a reminder of the heaviness we felt when we had that life. There was always a smoke alarm going off somewhere.
We drove on to our friend's birthday celebration in Somerville, where we boarded a party bus for a disco-lit alcohol-infused three-hour tour around the city.
The bus took a strange route, initially heading away from the city further into Somerville. It passed the street where I had my first apartment after college. It passed the street of Erin's first apartment. It drove past the street of our current house, near the first apartment we lived in together, and even past my office. It was as if the Ghost of Christmas Past was driving the bus, reminding Erin and me of all the places we had called home in the past.
Since leaving in August, we have called eleven places home over five months.
(Devonshire, Grantchester, Leeds, Zurich, Marseille, Brittany, Lisbon, Brussels, Maine, New Jersey, and Florida).
At a play place in New Jersey, another mom asked Oliver where his home was.
"Well..." he started, "we have our house in Somerville, but now I live at Moma and Poppy's house."
I imagine she thought that was a four-year-old's way of saying that he was visiting his grandparents for the holidays. I thought it was an incredibly nuanced definition of what "home" meant to him right now.
No matter where we're staying during our travels, we always call our current apartment "home." We've separated the concept of home from the confines of place. We didn't leave our home behind, we've taken it with us everywhere we've gone.
Home is the place where we are, and we are who we are wherever we are.