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;
- 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.
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.
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.
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.