Expat High: Precious Home Leave

Kerryandfamilyby Kerry Nappi

High: Time spent with family and friends

Without doubt, the high this month was the time spent with family and friends. In my nine plus years of living as an expat, this month in the States stands out as the most precious home leave I’ve taken.

Perhaps it was the difficulty of our first year in Brazil or the sight of my mom after her year of hospitalizations and pain that made me feel too far away; maybe it was seeing the joy in my 15-year-old’s eyes after hanging out with friends who have been there for her while she pined away for them from South America; without doubt it was enhanced by spending treasured time with my 19-year-old son.

He saw me between restaurant shifts and after long days; he surprised us by driving 14 hours from Michigan to New Hampshire to spend time with family for the 4th of July weekend. In one short month, I will return to drive him to Washington DC where he will start his freshman year at George Washington University, and then I won’t see him until Christmas, somewhere in the world, so seeing him those summer days was amazing!

Family and friends-who-become-family hosted us uncomplainingly for 4 weeks. That is, four states, seven house changes, and dozens of breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and late night snacks as we caught up on lives lived in different places but with the same hearts as when we lived across the street or down the freeway.

Low: Strep throat!

Of all the family visits I anticipated this summer, the one I most looked forward to  was a 4th of July barbecue planned at my sister’s. My mom and all but two siblings would be there, including my brother Tommy from Tennessee and his two children. I have seen Tommy periodically since moving away, but it is harder to catch the kids – my schedule, their distance, a custody situation, and their chronic health issues usually prevent easy visiting. Unfortunately, they both have cystic fibrosis, and hospitalizations lasting an average of two weeks are a normal part of their childhood.

This summer, though, they came north for five days, and I was lucky enough to be able to be there for a couple of those days. They stopped en route to another cousin’s house from the airport and I got a picture and five minutes with them, with hugs and promises of more time on the 4th. Three days later, the barbecue heated and the fireworks ready, I ended up in Urgent Care with strep throat! Sadly, I was banned from the gathering to prevent the kids from
potentially threatening bacteria… and I lost my last chance to see them until who-knows-when. I have her spunky voice in my head declaring, “I don’t remember you at all!” and his sweet one thanking me for the Brazilian instruments we had brought him. Sigh.KerryandElena

Glitter: Elena Ricardo

Our New York portion of the great northeast trek was mostly reserved for family and friends. Of course, there was Sarah’s highlight: a Taylor Swift concert with her dad and six female cousins. I passed on that, but I was keen to see another Broadway show. We saw Mamma Mia because the movie makes me smile and sing every time I see it. And it was incredible! The acting and singing was strong and true; they even did a sing-along with the audience at the end.

When we left, we had to find an aunt who was taking us out to dinner, so our focus shifted to that. What I didn’t realize was that the crowd beside us was standing there because it was the stage entrance for the cast. I turned around and there was the actress who played Sophie, Elena Ricardo. She was tiny beside me, but friendly and signing playbill after playbill. My daughter rushed over to show me her signed playbill, but suddenly Elena was beside me. I felt like a child discovering Cinderella at Disneyworld, and you can see in the picture just how glittery that moment was.

Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

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