Expat Summer 2: Home and Away

Kerry

by Kerry Nappi

High: Sitting with Mom

The time with my mom this summer was bittersweet. I had started knitting in April (after a lifetime of not following in Mom’s crafty ways) and my knitting projects had been going well. My mom and I sat chatting and doing our projects for hours this summer. One bad scarf, though, made my mom say, “You can crochet a border and that edge won’t be noticeable!” And thus we began – crocheting that border was the beginning of crocheting other things. Before the summer was out, I had made (since April) nine scarves and two baby blankets with my knitting and crocheting. It was my mom who, again, supported and cheered me on.

It was comforting, actually, to sit on the edge of my mom’s recliner and let her show me the steps I needed to take to chain a new blanket or double-crochet a border. Her arthritic hands are no longer able to knit, but with a flat-edge crochet hook, she can manage a few rows of crochet each time she sits to work. She has made 13 baby blankets now, almost all crocheted, and they will go to her thirteen grandchildren, a legacy of fine craftsmanship they can use with their own babies.

Part of the joy of learning from my mom again was that it allowed me to consider her as she has always been instead of what age is doing to her. In her mind, she is still strong and young and able. I am in the same in my mind, but my children also don’t see that. Mom is one of the smartest people I know, book smart and practical smart, but now she wrings her hands and bemoans her own stupidity when she can’t remember what to do with her technology. It’s usually her children, or more often, grandchildren, who have to help her now, but it was joyful to learn from her, sitting by her side.

Low: Away Time

China has its challenges: The air quality isn’t good, it’s hotter than the gates of Hades in the summer, I don’t speak Mandarin (yet!), and we can’t even flush toilet paper in our own house. However, I found myself longing to be back to it because for all it isn’t, it IS home now.

I was in the US for three long months this time, and six of those weeks were when my daughter and husband were still at home in China. I missed Sarah’s big end-of-year award and got pictures and texts from my new friends witnessing her achievement. Even once S and S joined me in the States, it was only two weeks of family bliss before Steve had to go back for work and we still had 5 weeks to go. As necessary as it was, and as much as I was able to do (help my son through a tonsillectomy, attend my brother’s wedding and my niece’s graduation, travel 4950 miles by car to see family and friends), I am glad to be home. Away time is low time, and I’d rather have it in smaller doses.

Glitter: Family

Family is an apt glitter this summer! I managed to see all members of my family except two nephews (damn med school and work), attend a wedding, a graduation, and a reunion, and reconnect with siblings in longer and more relaxed times than I have in years. I drove for 12 hours straight with each of my children once and brought them together in St. Louis for three days of touring a new city.

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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 has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, Bahia, Brazil, and now Nanjing, China. The kids, now 16 and 20, 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. For the first time, they are not all together, as her son has started university and work in the U.S., further complicating things like holidays and dealing with emergencies.

 

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