Back at Home and The Path Forward…

Coming back home has been a shock. Even as early as the airport in Belize, I felt odd being surrounded by more white people than brown people. I have nothing against white people, mind you! It is just what we got used to. (Once, when the kids were in school in San Ignacio, Brenny came home in the afternoon and said, “White people visited our school today to tell us about God.” I just about died laughing.)

The real shock hit us, however, when we landed in Cleveland and climbed into my brother-in-law’s van and headed out of the city toward home. No highway in Belize is bigger than two lanes. Seeing five rows of cars whizzing through the darkness was very weird.

We stopped quickly and shoved takeout gyros in our mouths while hurrying home. It was late. We were tired and hungry. That was the first time I ate in the car since last November. I felt over-full and slightly queasy.

Getting back to our neighborhood and house, however, was the biggest shock of all. After coming from a land of small houses in Belize, many of which are wooden shacks or small cement structures, our neighborhood struck us as extremely polished and manicured. We pulled into our driveway as if in a dream.

We opened the garage door with the opener and walked into the garage. Our garage is the same size as our little blue house in San Ignacio. Then… we walked into the “game room.” I loved our game room, and still do, to tell you the truth. But it was just such a wake-up call to realize we have a space for playing that is bigger than most Belizeans have for living. We are blessed to have the house we have and blessed to live in a neighborhood like this. But we can’t help but think: do we need this much house? Do we need this much mortgage? Most Belizeans don’t even have a mortgage. They live in smaller houses but they have freedom from monthly debt. Who’s the poor person in this scenario?

My brother and his wife had been living in our house but they’d already gone so the place was dark. We snuck in, feeling like impostors. It took me 10 minutes to realize I’d been whispering. The house was quiet, still, and… cold. After a winter of consistent 100 degree days, we had to turn the furnace on. Can you say, “Wake up call??” Shivering, we put the kids to bed, camp-out style, on the couches and a mattress in the living room (we’d moved things around for my brother’s family) and said good night.

We walked very far away to find our own bed.

As I went to sleep, I struggled not to let myself be sad. I knew I was tired and not likely to have the most positive thoughts. This was the beginning of a new era for our family. I had no time for looking back.

Some of the other difficult aspects of coming back to our home have been:

  • finding food that isn’t packed with chemicals;
  • shopping in stores as big as a whole village and only accessible by driving great distances;
  • figuring out the best time to get together with friends who are very busy;
  • being very busy ourselves;
  • having people pull out their cell phones to check them even if our conversation is only 1-2 minutes long;
  • traffic;
  • constant noise in public (when have you ever not heard the radio over the sound system in a store?);
  • the smell of chemicals on lawns while we take our walk (including our own – no eco-saints here…).

Everyone told us reentry back into the United States would be hard. It has been strange. But the difficult moments have been balanced with the good things from home:

  • familiar surroundings, habits, and customs – we no longer have to figure every little detail out of life;
  • loved ones and friends at an arm’s distance away;
  • our home, which is stocked with the things that help us feel comfortable (i.e., a fully-stocked kitchen for cooking);
  • places to walk, run, and bike easily with kids, and a cooler environment to do it in, which is something we appreciate after going for months not having much of an exercise plan.

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With a mindset for looking forward, making positive changes, and maximizing the lessons we learned in Belize, we are happy to be back. I do believe I want to be more selective about the parts of the culture I choose to invite into my life. The busy schedule? No. The corporate food? No. The putting off dreams until retirement and focusing more on stuff than experience? No and NO.

It’s quickly becoming apparent to us that we simply pick and choose what we want from our culture – and leave the rest.

While we were away, taking a step back from everything that was normal for us, our whole family had time to talk about our path forward. Even our kids got a chance to consider life choices in a way they wouldn’t have been able to if we’d never broken free.

[REMINDER: You can read about all our changes in my book, which I’ll launch next month – Exit Normal: How We Escaped With Our Family and Changed Our Life. Check out ExitNormal.com for more information or to receive updates.]

As a family, we decided to refine our Family Vision. As we digest our experience in Belize,our conversations inevitably lead to what our future looks like.

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Here’s what we’ve come up with so far:

  • We want to get rid of things we don’t need or want anymore. The physical clutter of things made us feel extremely overwhelmed upon returning to our house. We’re planning a huge garage sale!
  • We’re making plans for another trip. We want to see so much, including more of our own country that we haven’t gotten a chance to explore yet.
  • We want to choose our activities with wisdom and clarity and only take part in organized activities that feed our souls. To that end, I’ve asked each kid to think long and hard about the sports and other activities they want to join. (No choice is made in a vacuum. If you say yes to one activity, you’re necessarily saying no to something else.)
  • We plan to seek deeper connections with our friends and family. Life is too short to put anything in front of people.
  • We want to explore those things we’re curious about and delve deeper into the riches of learning.

Waiting for Radio Show

As we readjust to “normal” life, we’ll most likely have some rough patches. After all, I haven’t visited a Wal-Mart yet! The time away, however, has given us a clearer focus of the direction we want to be heading.

When we left for our family sabbatical, we thought we were heading out for an adventure but we had no idea it would change our life so completely. We need to follow the path that is right for us, though. We truly believe that. As a family, we’re heading into some uncharted waters but we’re all heading there with curiosity and joy – and we’re heading there together.

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Domini

Writer, mother of four awesome kids, and free thinker, Domini Hedderman is the author of the book, Exit Normal: How We Escaped With Our Family and Changed Our Life, which tells the story of her family's six-month sabbatical in Belize. Since the trip, she and her family are homeschooling and traveling extensively. Her soul mission is to inspire others to live the life of their dreams. Check out her other website at http://www.ExitNormal.com.

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17 thoughts on “Back at Home and The Path Forward…

  1. What an amazing journey! I have been following your post since January of this year and I want to thank you. Thank you for sharing the journey, thank you for being bold and confident enough to follow your dream. I am inspired by your drive and your commitment to stay focused on what is important in life. Your family has certainly been blessed as a result and I can only imagine that your children will be stronger, happier, well adjusted and enriched by it. You have also inspired me along my journey to remain true to myself…..it is not easy…working on making a paradigm shift!

  2. Domini and Kevin,
    Welcome home! It will be an adjustment but you will always know it was well worth doing it. Although it was not on quite the same scale, Gretchen and I had the same adjustments to make every year of the seven years we were traveling as we were gone for four months at a time.
    After you get settled and are ready for the world give me a call (835-8171 or at home 835-4678). We would like to talk with you further as we have been to Belize more than once and it will give us a chance to compare notes.
    Doug

    • Many years ago I lived outside of Oaxaca, Mexico, for a few years, in a little village called La Chigoloo, and am thinking of moving back, this time to Belize. As an older single woman, what thoughts have you on the Belize experience? For instance, I am a poet, currently working on poems and various prose pieces. How is the literary culture there?? Active? Or mostly non-existant? And if you could give me an idea of where to live. I don’t like extreme heat (it’s very muggy here in New York right now). It appears the mountains might be best. Please write back to tinkerbelles123@yahoo.com. thanks. BB Smith

  3. Domini, I have followed you and your family on your wonderful journey in Belize and enjoyed every moment of it. Welcome back “home,” and I wish you all the very best. I am planning my retirement from a full-time position in Colorado with Hospice in an administrative capacity, and I plan to take a journey to Costa Rica and stay at least a year or two before returning to my birth home in Ireland to retire in our family village with family and friends…..I’ve been in the US since 1964. At 77 I am still healthy, happy and always waiting for the next adventure. My first job out of college was in Colombia and I loved it and have always wanted to go back, but I’ve chosen Costa Rica now. I’ve already started some of the planning, although it will be a couple more years before I actually get there, and the excitement builds as the time grows closer.
    I can’t wait to read your book and ponder my own adventure.
    Thanks for sharing with all of us.

  4. Domi, Can’t wait until your Book is published. Aunt Connie and I are waiting patiently , hoping to see you soon . Sounds like a great adventure and I know you all will be going on another great adventure.

  5. Domini~ Glad to see you made it back, I was looking for your fb page and for some reason couldn’t find it….I wish you continued success on your life journey. If you ever return to Belize feel free to look us up in the Corozal area!

    • Hi Brenda,

      Yep, we made it back alright, whether we wanted to leave or not! Haha. I will definitely look you up if/when we get back! I would love to meet you in person. :)

      Domini

    • Brenda, my husband and I are headed to Corozal for a week’s visit in February and (we expect) a move there come May/June. I found an Expat email address and thru it found a few folk who have pointed us in the right direction; many things we never would have thought about. Would love to hear about your time there and any pearls of wisdom you might share.

      -sara-

  6. been invited to a wedding in placenncia, as I am 65 years what advice and what place do you recommend to stay and how many days do you believe I need.

    thanks.

    • Hi Gene,

      I have heard great things about the Maya Beach Hotel and Bistro. The food is supposed to be not only some of the best in Belize – but in the world! I must say I’ve never stayed there or eaten there but it’s on my list when I get back to Placencia. We stayed in a couple of inexpensive places for the few nights we stayed there. We were actually stranded, as our truck had broken down and we were waiting for repairs to be done to it. :)

      I would stay for at least a week. Depending on where you’re from, flights to Belize can be somewhat expensive so my opinion is the more days, the more you get for your flight money! Placencia is rather isolated, but if you rent a car, you can drive around the country a bit. It’s rather small and you can see some really unique things – Mayan sites, rivers, cave tubing, butterfly farms, etc., within a few hours drive. Also, from Placencia, you can take a tour to the small village of Monkey River, which is where we were located during the first part of our Belize sabbatical. The tour takes you down the Monkey River and shows you all kinds of wildlife. You can book through barebonesbeachtours.com. Ask for Percy – he’s knowledgeable and very personable.

      Good luck and have fun!

      Best,
      Domini

      • thank you so much, I do want to be able to have some contact before arriving. I would like to have some idea of what to do while staying. from houston,tx. Love to sight see a few days.

        thanks again for your info. stay safe.

  7. so, I want to visit with my husband – which places do you recommend, love the beach – love – love bike riding, do not do fishing, or hiking. want to visit in November. please help with flight and hotels from houston,tx.

    • Hi Janie,

      I think Placencia sounds like a nice fit for you if you’d like to be on the mainland. There you have the beach, lots of yummy restaurants and bars, and bike riding galore. The other way to go would be one of the islands. We ended our six month sabbatical on Caye Caulker and loved it! No cars, just bikes and golf carts. It was an amazing experience. The beach is not quite as good here, but I thought the water was more Caribbean and the vibe was definitely very cool.

      I don’t know about flights – we always use Delta to Belize. But if you are staying over in Belize City before traveling on to your beach destination, try staying overnight at D’Nest Inn (http://www.dnestinn.com). Gabi and Oti, the Belizean owners, make you feel right at home. :)

      I hope you have a wonderful time. Please let me know what you and your husband decide. :)

      Best,
      Domini

  8. Glad to have found you via Int’l Living. We, too, loved staying at D’Nest, and had a great time driving all over Belize. We de-cluttered which felt like losing a thousand pounds, gave up most ties back home and are now slow long-term traveling with our youngest 7 of 9 dc. We traveled across our own country of Canada, much of USA, and just spent the winter on Baja, now in Colorado for the summer. Heading back to Mexico come autumn. Wouldn’t trade this life for anything, at this point its the perfect fit.

    • Hi Karen,

      Thanks for the comment! I love our new travel lifestyle and I’m so glad to meet other people who see how wonderful a travel lifestyle can be for families. Our plan is to keep a home base in the States and travel at least half of every year, doing slow-travel kinds of trips. Our six months in Belize truly changed our life and made us see how rich and rewarding travel can be for all of us, particular our children. We’re now homeschooling and planning our next trip: a few months of driving across the United States (with a jaunt up into BC). We’d love to do it in a veggie-powered school bus, 1) to make it a greener trip; and 2) because it would just make an awesome story! but first we’d have to find one and that’s a tall order before our departure date in mid- to late-August.

      That’s how I feel, too: “I wouldn’t trade this travel life for anything, at this point it’s the perfect fit.” We’re trusting our instincts and guiding our life based on them, but not ruling anything out for the future. The lessons we have learned in the last year have been amazing and completely altered our take on things. I’m glad to have met another kindred spirit!

      Best,
      Domini

      • We are currently looking for that same bus! But we have much more time to find/convert it than you I think.

        Enjoy your travels,
        Karen (and the 11 BCers)

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