What is home?

“Mommy, you are like Sophia the First,” stated my 7-year-old, triumphantly. “How so,” I asked, eyebrow raised high. “Well, she left her village and joined a new family. And you left your home and now you are in this family.”

Oh. My daughter, a sensitive type, feels excluded whenever I express nostalgia for Brazil, where I grew up. My husband grew up in the New York area, and the childhood memories my daughters are creating every day resemble their Dad’s much more closely than mine. I’ve lived in this country for a long time. In many ways, I am a lot more American than Brazilian. I spent my childhood in Brazil, but my formative years here. Home is here and there. Everywhere and nowhere.

Is it possible to be homesick for a place that is not your only home? I miss so many things. There are obvious ones, like people. My family travels a lot. We go to Brazil every year and a half or so, my Mom visits several times a year. We take advantage of Skype and other technology to see each other in between visits.

When I was in college, we wrote letters. Email was brand new, and while I had a school account (I had to go sign up for it in the basement of the school’s IT building, that’s how old I am), my family in Brazil certainly did not. Once they got dial-up service, it was less than reliable. For most of my college years, I still put pen to paper, then stuffed my scribbles into envelopes. The letters took a week to reach their destination. Most of the time, whatever turmoil I had written about would be resolved and sometimes forgotten by the time my Mom tore the envelope, read my words, and formulated her thoughtful response. There were weekly phone calls too. They were expensive, and any additional calls were saved for IMPORTANT THINGS.

Technology has made living abroad undoubtedly easier. As annoying as Facebook can be – and I could go on and on here – it is sort of a miracle to be able to keep up with friends from middle school, see photos of their children, know what kind of career they have chosen for themselves.

Still, there are so many things I miss. This kind of nostalgia is not helped by technology, quite the opposite. They are the sensory memories: the smell of barbecue permeating through the air on a Sunday morning, as hundreds of families light up their grills for churrasco. Grilled sausage to be eaten inside a fresh roll, with potato salad and steak. Tomato and bean salad. Simple and fresh, all year, not just during the summer months.

I miss a completely different kind of flora, the landscape of my first decades. Trees that don’t lose leaves, and a majestic pine tree that is the symbol of my home state. I miss birthday parties with brigadeiros and guaraná, and people clapping along to “Happy Birthday.” Yes, you can buy brigadeiros and guaraná here, but they are the exception, not the norm. Birthday parties here are pizza and juice boxes, and “Happy Birthday” is not percussive.

I miss the flavors and sounds of my original home because they were the colors of my childhood. I am homesick for a place in the past. Even if I were to move back, some of it would be impossible to recreate, or not as sweet. I explain this to my girl, and try to share my language, my extended family, my history with her and her sister. I tell them about the beautiful city that I left (not a village, not even close), which they have have visited several times, but hardly know. I tell her that one day, she will feel a similar feeling, warm and sad, about her childhood, about today, about hearing my stories about a place and time far, far away.

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2 thoughts on “What is home?

  1. It seems as though you and I have a very similar theme on our minds these days, my dear, likely one that is on our minds most days. I’m interested in this concept of “formative years” you present here. I spent my formative years here in Connecticut (high school and college and then young adult years in neighboring states); I wonder if that’s why it does, and may always, feel like my most natural home. You’ve given me something to think about today. xo

    • I really believe that the place where you transition from child to young adult is the place that feels most like your true home. Your experience seems to reinforce that, right? I went to high school in two countries, college in Boston, and I think it is no accident that I chose to build a family here in the Northeast. I still feel somewhat divided, but I can feel my roots digging deeper 🙂 xo

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