Trifecta Series Part II: 3 Things We Miss Most About Home
In the second part of the “trifecta” series, I discuss what we miss most about home after two months abroad on our family gap year.
You Never Know What You’ll Miss
We all thought our house would be the thing we’d miss most.
I poured sweat and tears over countless home improvement projects; from rote wall paper removal and painting, to tearing down walls and building brick lined archways. Liuan and the boys endured blankets of dust, construction hazards, and a preoccupied husband and dad.
In the end it wasn’t just beautiful, it was unique and it was ours. We transformed every inch of it to serve our needs and facilitate our small pleasures.
After eight weeks abroad, I hardly ever think about the house, much less miss it. We miss little things from home: Liuan’s weighted blanket, Oliver’s Legos, baking bread in my oven. But talk of selling it and moving on feels less heart wrenching than it did before we left.
On the other hand, I did not think I would miss my job very much. I worked as a software developer for a small niche engineering firm. It was rewarding, but also exhausting. My backlog extended to the distant future, possibly crossing the horizon where AI takes all our jobs and it doesn’t matter anyway. My mind was in constant overdrive trying to balance a lot of work with few resources.
Regardless, I agreed to provide one day a week of consulting services for my old company. We agreed that I would start after a couple months completely off the grid. How bad could one day a week be, I thought at the time?
And wouldn’t you know it, when my break was over I was excited to start! It was nice to reconnect with my old colleagues. They were some of my closest friends before I left. It was also nice doing something I was good at.
Now, every week, I look forward to that day of work.
The Three Things We Miss Most About Our Old Life
1. Familiar People
No surprise here. We miss friends, acquaintances, and familiar faces in general. This is something the others feel more acutely than I do. But I have a bit of it too, as evidenced by my eagerness to reunite with coworkers.
School just began in the States. Upon hearing the roster of Oliver’s would-be third grade class he endured an overwhelming wave of homesickness.
Liuan misses her mom’s group and walks with friends on the Prairie Path. In her abstract, masters degree in sociology way of putting it, she misses community.
And, as you can imagine, we miss speaking English with people outside the home. There are very few English-speaking visitors here. In two months living here, we’ve run into Americans on only two occasions: the first was a pair of young women at a restaurant sitting at the table next to us, and the other a retiree married to a Brazilian that gives cooking classes. Both times, the easy flow of conversation in our mother tongue was a relief.
Our Brazilian neighbors have a useful word for our pangs of homesickness: saudade. It means longing or nostalgia. But the way they use it, there is no word for word translation. You can feel saudade for someone, yes. But it also works by itself as a single wistful groan… Saudades!
2. Making Things
Creative projects are what give me life. They will also be the death of me.
Once I start a major project, whether it be at work or at home, I struggle to relax until I finish it. Pre-travel, there was never a moment in time where everything was complete. The loose ends were a constant haunting presence.
And yet, creative projects give me a sense of purpose and get me revved up in the morning.
One aspect of this year of travel is that it required me to wind down everything I’ve ever set out to accomplish. I intentionally avoided starting anything new. This is a time to stop, take a step back, and refine my life goals. The hope is that having defined long-term goals will help me be judicious with my time in the future.
For the first few weeks the break felt amazing! My breathing slowed. The muscles in my neck and shoulders relaxed into spaghetti noodles and I melted into a hammock, letting the whoosh of the river heal whatever neuroses I’d let fester over the years.
But then the novelty quickly wore off. Low stress became the baseline. It stopped feeling special. I started compulsively checking my email, secretly hoping for a problem to solve. I started looking forward to that weekly work day.
I missed our home only for the fact that it was something I could tinker with and improve.
To be clear, my goal all along was to reach a point where I was itching to start something new. But the question still remains. What’s next?
3. Fresh Roasted Coffee and Other Small Conveniences
Convenience is all just a matter of having enough money. Or so I thought.
Here in Brazil, I’m having to reevaluate my relationship with convenience.
Back home, in the United States, the rare inconvenience was an occasion for outrage. It felt like a basic right was violated.
What do you mean my internet will be down for three hours? What do you mean I have to wait in person to renew my driver’s license? What do you mean the restaurant is closed for lack of workers? What do you mean Amazon doesn’t have an exact replacement for my favorite model of burr grinder?
In other words, for every need and want there should be someone ready to satisfy it for a fair price. Isn’t that the essence of a free market? And when a need is not quickly satisfied, then someone must be dropping the ball.
Here, in Brazil, there is a lot more friction between want and satisfaction. It took me six whole weeks to find fresh roasted coffee in the number one coffee producer in the world!
The roads are narrow and strewn with hazards. It’s hard to get from A to B quickly and reliably.
Most stores are small and specialized. An entire store in Brazil might be nothing more than the electrical aisle at your favorite big box home improvement store back in the States. And once you figure out which store has the item and you brave the car ride, good luck parking your car. Big parking lots with countless spaces are extremely rare.
Then there are all those things we consider basic needs in the States that most of the world lives without — thankfully, as far as the environment is concerned — such as clothes dryers and hot water from every faucet.
It’s not all Brazil’s fault. Some of that friction comes from being an ignorant foreigner. Not knowing the system or where to find things. Not catching all the information generously offered by locals due to our rudimentary Portuguese.
This is also not to paint Brazil as particularly deficient. America’s drive for perfect convenience — along with the impatience and harried lifestyle it breeds — is probably not spiritually healthy or the path to lasting happiness. All you get is a freaky fast sandwich.
Despite our initial shock at not being able to just click a button and enter a credit card number to solve every problem, we are adjusting. We are developing our resourcefulness and decreasing our expectations for frictionless wish fulfillment. As those two trends meet in the middle, our saudade for quick fixes is becoming more bearable.