When I hear the word ‘home’ I think of the heart of the midwest, Wisconsin. Where I enjoyed my childhood, grew up, and where my parents still happily reside… I also think of tropical paradise, Hawaii. Where I was born, wed the love of my life, and brought our daughter into this world… And currently home is Germany. A place I did not expect at all! If home is where the heart is, then mine is scattered all over the globe. Although I love my unpredictable life, it is not what I had imagined. So here is my personal reflection of HOME and what I’ve learned over the years.
First of all, I come from a very tight knit family. EXTREMELY close. We are not a large one. In fact my immediate family consists of my parents (who have been married since 1983), my older brother (Michael), and me 🙂 However our family flows over to aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, longtime friends, neighbors, co-workers, church members- who are all considered part of our beloved ohana. Growing up we celebrated everything. Together. As a kid I remember having a birthday extravaganza each year. Family dinner with the 4 of us-typically on the actual date, another family party with all the relatives-most likely on a weekend before or after the calendar date, and a friend party with all the bells & whistles- whenever was best for the big birthday bash. Each filled with love, laughter, and FOOD (you know how Filipinos are-if not, you’re missing out). We celebrated the holidays. Together. Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, the Superbowl, whatever the occasion, someone was having a get-together. My mother has 3 sisters, and over the years they have developed an awesome sort of host-rotation-system. It was even tradition that two of my aunts from Hawaii would fly to Wisconsin each winter, just to have a White Christmas with us. Now they both moved to WI and live in the same neighborhood as my parents; That’s what I mean, tight knit! We also celebrated all the milestones. Together. Births. Baptisms, First Communion, Confirmation, Graduations, Weddings. Any excuse to bring people together, talk story, and feast. Family was the center of my upbringing, my everything, my heart. To me, that is home. So in that sense, “home” is Wisconsin. It’s Hawaii. It’s Florida… it’s all places where my family has now spread, and where I feel that warm hospitable welcome.
Now speed ahead a few years later to leaving my parents house, attending college, traveling the world, finding “the one,” getting married, starting a family. All far away from the home that I know. Thousands of miles from my parents. My brother and I haven’t lived in the same state in over a decade, and he’s my best friend! Now I realize that this doesn’t sound very different than how most people live their lives- duh, Christina, people grow up and move on. It just was not how I envisioned MY life in particular. For a while I had dreamt of living in a neighborhood near my folks, weekly family meals, maybe my kids attending the same schools I went to, etc. But as the saying goes, you can’t help who you love. And I in fact fell in love with a military man.
Our fairytale was one of “spark to ignite.” (I will share our epic love romance in another post another time) But long story short, it wasn’t 5 years of dating, a long drawn out engagement, and a 10 year plan. It was I love you. This is it. Let’s do this. So although I knew I was marrying a military officer, I had not learned yet that I was also marrying the military. Woah, culture shock. I mean I have graduated college, explored the globe, but this world- this was something new. Ever since I turned 18, I have been living a gypsy lifestyle. Moving to new places, traveling internationally, never living in the same place for more than a year or two. So although uprooting was nothing new to me, the military life is just a whole other animal.
There were suddenly new IDs, security clearances, background checks, learning about branches/ranks/wings, paperwork galore, medical clearances, accesses, allowances… more than enough things to make my head spin. And then of course the beloved, PCS (Permanent Change of Station). Like I said, I am used to picking up and moving, but it’s different when you’re 20, have no ties, and go where the wind takes you, as opposed to being given a selective list of locations to choose from. And even then, there is no guarantee you’ll end up anywhere remotely close to where you want to live. And suddenly there it is, home is where the military sends you. In our young marriage, we’ve seen the positives and negatives of PCS. Fortunately, our first duty station as a married couple was Hawaii. My fiance at the time was stationed in Norway, I was living in Las Vegas, and he called me to say “we’re moving to Hawaii.” I was thrilled! Honestly, I had not put serious thought to moving back to Hawaii, but suddenly it was happening and it was perfect. We had our tropical dream wedding, I was able to reconnect with my family on the islands, and we bought our first home in paradise where we were able to grow our family. However living on an island for a few years does take a toll on you, and still feeling ties to my Midwest roots, “home” seemed far away. I missed road trips, and any plans to visit people ended up being a long (and expensive) trip. So when our time was coming up to move again, we felt ready and excited. Our daughter, Leilah, was a few months old at the time and we were hoping for an assignment anywhere close to family. Or at least somewhere near a big airport to make quick trips an option. And then we got our orders, Germany. Morgan and I had been waiting on pins and needles for days waiting to find out, and the morning it came through, he told me to read it on the computer because he didn’t know how to tell me. To say I cried is the understatement of the decade. I bawled my eyes out. Continuously. Suddenly I was ready to stay in Hawaii for a few more years! But after crying to my parents and having a therapeutic rant session to my brother, I put my big-girl pants on and started preparing for the overseas move.
Hear me out, I was not upset about being assigned Germany, I was distressed with the timinggg. As a matter of fact, it was our dream to move to Europe together and live overseas. Just not with an infant. We had already felt isolated living in Hawaii, and suddenly we were moving even further away. People tried to sell us on European life “you can travel everywhere!” , “Germany is great” and “just jump on the plane or train, it’s so cheap!” and we knew all that! It’s why we wanted to move overseas in the first place. But adults backpacking through Europe is one thing, it’s different when you have a newborn, a stroller, a diaper bag, sleep schedules, a crib, feeding schedules etc. Again it came down to timing. Ideally in my mind, we would’ve left Hawaii, moved to the states where we’d be closer to family/help/support, then get an assignment in Europe when the kids were a little older. Not in serious school yet, but at least out of diapers and able to walk, carry their own backpack and board a train or plane, you know what I mean? Nevertheless, here we are, doing it, and you know what… We love it. Sure it was a big adjustment, but we have settled in our country and are making the absolute best of it. We travel every opportunity we get, we have a big beautiful house in a local village, and we are learning to make this home.
I hope you do not read this the wrong way, I feel so blessed and I truly am living the dream, it’s just an unexpected fantasyland. As all things, there are ups and downs. Now knowing a little more of my family background and what it means to me, these are just a few personal examples of goods and bads over the years… I had to plan my wedding alone without my mom or girlfriends by my side, but everyone came to our tropical destination to share our dream wedding with us. I had to go through pregnancy and delivery without my family, but our daughter now shares my beloved birthplace. I see everyone back home having wonderful birthday parties for their kids, and just having moved to a new country- we had no one to celebrate those milestones with. However our daughter is 1 and has already traveled to 10 countries, and we are getting the experience of a lifetime… as you see, this is the unpredictable roller coaster ride life has shown me so far.
So all in all, home is what you make it. Home is what you want it to be. Home is not a place, it is a feeling. For me home will always be my parents house, abundant with loving memories. Home is the Hawaiian islands, the beauty of the land and the aloha spirit within my family. Home is where my brother is, where my friends are, and any place on the map we choose to gather and make memories. And home is also where the military sends us, wherever me and our growing tribe goes, we will make our home with love.