We came home last weekend – home to our familiar, comfortable house on our familiar, comfortable street. Surrounded by people and things we have known for years: the school up the road, the park around the corner, the shops only a ten minute walk away. It always feels good to come back to this place – the house that we have owned now for nearly ten years, where we brought our first daughter when she was less than a year old and our second when she was just two days. It’s where we have become a family and holds so many dear memories. It’s the place I feel most like myself.
But coming home from a holiday in Florida on Saturday morning was tinged with sadness because I knew that this time we would only be here for two months and then, with as little fanfare as possible (I am not a big fan of prolonged goodbyes), we’ll be gone. And I have no idea how long it will take until our new house will feel like home – if we manage it at all.
This led me to think – what is home? How do we, as expats, with our peripatetic life, ever feel truly at home somewhere? Can we? And why do some houses – like the one we live in at the moment – feel like home, while others never do. Is it really about owning somewhere? Knowing it’s yours forever, even if you don’t live in it all the time you own it?
I think you only really know what home is when you’ve been away. It’s the coming back that makes somewhere special. Even when you’re having the time of your life somewhere, if you think about somewhere else with longing – whether that be a country, city, house or even a person – then you know that is where you belong. Or at least, you know it “belongs” to you. Sometimes you grow out of or apart from somewhere (or someone) – I once longed for London; now, I love to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there anymore. It’s “home” in as much as it is the capital of my home country, but I don’t belong there.
For me, I can only guess that it’s having children that has made our current home feel so special. It’s also the longest place I have ever lived somewhere (four and a half years!), plus, apart from a short spell of ownership of a Victorian flat in south London, the first time I have ever owned a property. In addition, the home is in the west of England, the part of the country where both my parents were born and raised (and now live), even if I wasn’t. Perhaps this area is in my genes.
All of these things combined have made our current home a very special one – but it’s more than that. It’s just something that feels “right” about where we live, as if all the elements have clicked into place. Which is why it is going to be so hard to leave it, despite the fact that I have moved so many times before. Including from this very house – this will be the third overseas move we will have made in the ten years since we bought it. We’ve just always come back again.
Looking forward, I already know where we will be living in South Africa, and can thus start to try and imagine our lives there. I know we will have a very attractive house in a pleasant neighbourhood (despite the high electric fences, guards on gates and panic buttons installed). I know that we will have comfortable furniture and a pretty garden, a real, open fireplace for the cold winter evenings and three spacious bedrooms. I have no complaints about the house at all – but will it ever feel like home?
I guess the only way to find out is to go there, live there for a while and then go somewhere else. It’s only when it’s time to return to that particular house in that particular street in that particular city will I know whether it’s my home or not. And in the meantime, I’ll make the most of the home we’ve got in the little time we’ve got left in it. Until we come home again.
Where is “home” to you? Is it where you currently live, or somewhere else completely? Can more than one place be “home”? And what makes somewhere “home”, how does a place change from simply accommodation to somewhere special?
Just adding a little edit here – there is definitely something in the air at the moment because I have suddenly realised that there are several posts around at the moment about the same thing so I thought it would be fun to link to them.
From Pasta and Patchwork – What Make’s Home Home
From Expat Chronicles – This is Not Home
And from Kaffee und Kuchen – Where’s Home?
This post is part of the My Expat Family link-up. Check out other posts about living overseas by clicking on the the link below.