Last year on this day we woke up in a new city. We pulled wrinkled clothes out of a suitcase and loaded a backpack with a guidebook and map and set off, as tourists, in a place we would eventually call home. Everything was new. We assessed our surroundings with a combination of excitement and apprehension. We felt the need to explain over and over again to the girls. We would say, “We live in Denmark now,” never quite sure if they were grasping that concept – or perhaps saying it out loud would cause us to truly believe it ourselves.
The first weeks were spent going through the bureaucracy of becoming residents and asking a million questions about doctors, taxes, language, school systems and the fickle Danish weather. Even a trip to the grocery store was a process that was learned. We watched, listened and followed the methodical technique of getting through a grocery store line. The Danish language was gibberish, completely incomprehensible.
Fast forward one year…
This morning I headed out on my morning run as the sun peeked from behind the clouds. The lake, void of the usual throngs of people and birds, was still and quiet. I decided to run my new favorite route. Out near the Kastellet, I passed the iconic Little Mermaid statue. She was alone, not a single tourist in sight. A handful of cruise ships lined the harbor and I imagined the bustling activity going on inside – tourists pouring coffee and combing through guidebooks in search of the day’s activities, others still enjoying a blissful holiday rest. I passed a mammoth fountain, a charming church, a statue of King Frederick IX. (Or was it Christian?) I went by other runners, folks walking their dogs and people in business suites on their way to work. Like them, I was a local.
I thought about the day ahead of me and how different it would be from the last July 12th. Today I would return home to make pancakes for sleepy-eyed kids and tidy the apartment, awaiting the arrival of a 4-year-old friend, over for a summer play-date. I had a list of to-do’s that were mundane and kids who have been requiring constant activity – already a bit restless after only 4 days of summer vacation. So many things can change in one year.
As it approached, I was a bit hesitant about reaching this year milestone. As the past year unfolded, I anticipated each new season with curiosity and wonder: the beauty of the leaves changing outside our window, the surprise of the lakes freezing over and people skating on them, the sunshine in May, the rain in July. We experienced a hygge Christmas, an incredibly loud New Years eve and a non-existent Halloween. We know that the girls love herring but don’t like rye bread.
So as the year-mark drew near, I lamented to Brett, “thing won’t be new anymore.” Ever the optimist, he said; “Now you get to experience it all again – except this time you’ll know what you’re doing.” And he is right. Although there was a lot of beauty and excitement in the unfamiliar, there was also plenty of frustration as we navigated through a sea of change. Now we get to enjoy the ride.
The girls are in a great place at the moment, happy, relaxed. Matea said to me the other day, “Mom, are we going to be in Seattle for my next birthday?” (We were last year.) Thinking that’s what she wanted, I answered, “Would you like that?” Her response was, “No, I want to be in Denmark and I want to have a tea party with my friends.” No offense to our Seattle friends and family, but a wave of relief came over me. This was quite a breakthrough for a girl, who just 4 months ago, was going around telling complete strangers that she is “American and does not belong in Denmark”.
Just because a year has passed does not mean we are veterans to life abroad (hardly). Although there is a certain element of satisfaction for getting to this point with our sanity and even contentment intact, we are still learning…discovering…adjusting. As much as I want to “enjoy the ride”, I’m pretty sure the novelty hasn’t completely worn off, which is fine with me, because like most challenges or risks in life, the reward doesn’t always come in the form of a prize at the end. People don’t run marathons for the shiny gold medal or a pat on the back. The reward comes from the adrenaline you experience during the process. The victory might be self-awareness and the pride of conquering something new and difficult.
So here we are, a year later. We unchain bikes and strap on helmets in a familiar, rhythmic motion. We (usually) know which bus will take us where we need to go. We rely less on maps and more on instinct. We have favorite restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries. We take the girls to the park, the swimming pool, to play-dates and birthday parties. We found our way and have settled in. We have days that are ordinary and predictable and there is nothing wrong with that. We cherish that familiar routine and appreciate the day-to-day moments that make this experience uniquely ours.
So, if year two is the chapter where we balance ordinary with the extraordinary, I’m good with that.