To recognize one person who has made this experience for me better would be impossible. Far far beyond impossible in a place of a different stratosphere.
I could recognize Julia. She was my first real friend here. She was also a stay-at-home mom at the time I was 8 months pregnant and she would pick me up to have coffee. I had no car so getting from one place to another was as easy as moving a barge through mud. Having an instaFriend who I sat and had coffee with and told me the brutal honesties of new motherhood – “Your hair will fall out after you have this baby and your boobs will hurt. Just sore and painful.” – was refreshing. Up until then people had just been telling me how utterly amazing having a baby would be. She organized a baby shower for me. I knew her all of 3 weeks and she decided to throw me a baby shower, a beautiful little brunch and some poolside time to open gifts – that’s the kind of friend Julia is.
Without taking away from her beautyfullness, so many women have offered up that same kind of friendship to me. Mary who started our food train after Rafa was born, Gina who housed our family in more ways than one, Tia Erin who is a surrogate to my kids, J.No and Julain who have become honorary sisters, Katherine who makes me laugh, Honor and Sara who write with me and drink wine with me, Amanda who leads the fight in a woman being all things and not just a mother, Willner who reminds me why I look up to her every time I hang out with her, Raquel who is thoughtful beyond possible belief and makes me jewelry for my birthday, Gaby who is like my little sister…
I would recognize Shayna. If you knew our friendship it goes without saying why I would recognize this incredible love light of a person. A month before I moved to this country I had a best friend. A week after I moved here, I didn’t. My best friend from college was my soulmate in many ways but when I needed her the most, she bailed. Through an email. Newlywed, newly expat, soon to be mother – it was an interesting time – so much happiness was surrounding me and yet I was in a bit of a dark place. Although Husband is my eternal best friend, a girl needs a BFF – that’s just what we girls do. I was so happy to be a mother but I had so much sadness for a loss I never saw coming. And then… I found Shayna. Rather, Shayna found us in our apartment because she couldn’t speak Spanish to the taxi driver. She was my phoenix, a new beginning to take the place of something that had fallen to ashes. She became many things to me and my family (my best friend, Rafa’s Tia Yaya, Santiago’s twin sister [Isla] maker, Husband’s get out of jail free card) but she was a metaphor in my life; no matter what happens I will always get back up, out of darkness there will always come light.
I would also mention Laura, my best friend from grade school. She isn’t part of my expat life in that she doesn’t live here, but she too has been a part of making this experience better because she is my lighthouse. She has given me a friendship of, literally, a lifetime and she is someone that waits for me back home. Our friendship has evolved through the years, it has taken many shapes and phases. We met in 5th grade, graduated high school together, went to the same college, and then, as if by pure force of the universe, we got pregnant and had our first babies 6 weeks apart. Without someone like this to come home to, to anchor me home to New Jersey, there would be no reason to go back.
And then there’s Shelly. Oh Shelly. The single reason I cannot stomach leaving this country…ever. Shelly is our nanny. Correction: Shelly was hired to be our nanny but then became family. So Shelly is the family that helps watch our kids. Shelly has been with Husband and I as parents as long as Husband and I have been parents. She was home when we arrived back from the hospital with Rafaella. There when I battled through breastfeeding. She was the one that shoo-ed me off to go write, assuring me that our baby would be fine, that I had nothing to worry about. She was there when I announced my second pregnancy with Santiago and watched my belly grow bigger and bigger and bigger. Shelly stayed with Rafaella the morning we went to the hospital for Santiago’s birth. She has heard Rafa’s first words and seen Santiago’s first teeth and has seen me come into my own as a mother without ever judging only helping. She is loving and playful and honest. I have never doubted my kids’ well-being in her hands, not even for a fleeting second. To know that someone else on this planet loves my children as much as I do is a gift that I can never repay her for. And that’s just the wonder she has been in my life as a mother. As a wife, she has been a treasure, granting Husband and I a gem… time away together. I see the important role she has in my family and think of the heartbreaking day that we will leave this country with our kids that she has seen grow up every day since they were born and it is a knife to the gut. She has truly made my experience here better. She has made my life better because she has made our life better.
It is easy to figure out why living abroad is so hard. It isn’t learning the language or assimilating to the culture or any of the things you think might make it hard.
It’s learning to say goodbye.