The Four Year Itch

The heat wave featured in my last post has finally subsided. It left its mark on the landscape though. Everything is extremely dry and it looks like fall already.

Upon closer inspection, the summer heat left its mark on me as well and I don’t mean in the form of sunburn. As the rage that fueled my last post moved out of my heart, a quiet realization was left in its place. It turns out that after four years of living here it has finally dawned on me that this move to Germany was not just a visit or a long trip. It was not a stint or a gig. I didn’t move to Germany for a little while. I moved here with the intention of building a life. Or did I? Maybe I wasn’t being honest with myself.

Now that I’m being honest, I can say that I saw the move as more of a challenge or a game. i.e. How fast can I learn the language? How fast can I assimilate? I originally named the blog Becoming a Franconian for goodness sake. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen when I had successfully assimilated but maybe in the back of my mind I figured that after four years a new challenge would present itself and I would have a chance to move on like I always have.

This mindset resulted in the pressure I mentioned in the last post. The pressure to become more German and less American in record time. And maybe I did that because the assimilation part of moving can be painful no matter where you are. Maybe I just wanted to get it over with quickly. But I see now that in doing so I missed the point. The point all along was to create something meaningful—slow and steady, right? Right. But I have been practicing fast and furious instead.

So why the sudden realization and what’s the problem exactly?

Well, it turns out that on average, my entire life has been made up of four year stints. Here’s what I mean:

We moved away from the first home I remember when I was 5. We moved again half way through elementary school when I was 9 and then again at the start of highschool when I was 14. Notice a trend? High school was four years and then I went to college–for four years. After college I danced for various ballet companies (also for four years) before I committed to one company for guess how long? Yes, that’s right! Four years. Then I moved to a different ballet company (four years there as well) before I headed to graduate school where I broke the mold because it was only a two year fellowship.

I celebrated my four year anniversary as a legal alien in Germany this July and it’s not surprising that I have found myself itching for some kind of change ever since. Every little imperfection, every difference that used to be charming is now something that makes me want to move on.

But there is no moving on. There is no saying, That was neat, and now I’m done. My husband and my two children are German citizens. Germany is woven deeply into the fabric of our family. I am not raising expat kids. Mine are instead bi-lingual, dual citizens, living in their own country. I am the only person in this family who really understands what Bruce Springsteen is talking about when he sings, Born in the USA.  I am actually the odd ball among us.

Hopping around every four years of my life was never planned. But it meant that every four years, sad as I was to go, I was able to tie up the loose ends and move on– from relationships, friendships, jobs, what have you. I was always aware of it and I never liked it. I longed to be grounded, to put down roots and to be a regular around town.

Now, finally faced with the chance to stay put, I’m not really sure how it’s done.

Many people said that it was brave when I moved to Germany. But I don’t think so. Starting anew and managing a life change was normal for me. I hadn’t done it in a foreign country, but I had done it plenty of times.

No, the real test of bravery comes now. Can I stay put? Can I build a longterm existence in a foreign country? Can I care for the things I’ve planted here and let the roots dig into the soil and become something strong?

In my mind, the answers to these questions are the start of the real adventure. Staying put is the next trek into the great unknown.