Wednesday, November 17, 2010


It's a grey day today.  The sky is monochrome and the weather is decidedly dreary.  Which is a bit of a blessing.  It wouldn't have seemed fitting to put down my beloved cat on a bright, sunny day.

Feeling a little bit bleugh right now.  It's not just losing Ernie.  I can't quite shake the sense of loss I have about leaving Chicago.  It's not really leaving the city, or America.  I have been lucky to live here - and there have been many fun times and great experiences - but it's always been a bit of a hit or miss relationship and I have never truly felt like I have belonged.  However, the thought of leaving my dear friends does leave me feeling bereft.  Strange how I haven't gone anywhere yet, but I already miss them.

People seem to think I should be excited about moving home.  And after all this time of fighting for the right to move home with the boys, I should feel excited about moving back, of course I should, for so many reasons.  But I don't quite yet.  In fact, at times I feel quite the opposite.  It's not a sense of dread or regret, but it is a sense of deep sadness.  I don't think I will miss Chicago itself to a large degree, but the loss of my friends here is a different matter entirely.

But then again, the underlying tone of my 10 years in Chicago is tinged with loss.

First the loss of my independence.  Boy, I wasn't expecting that.  I had been so gung-ho about living in another country, so it was strange to arrive on the back of my husband's working visa and to immediately be persona-non-grata.  I couldn't get a job, couldn't co-sign the lease on our apartment, couldn't get a mobile phone, couldn't jointly be on any of the utilities.  It seemed to take me forever to get a social security card.  It was a shock to the system, after being independent from 18 years of age, to suddenly be totally co-dependent, verging on invisible.  I even had to start using my married name, which I had never done in the UK, because sticking to my maiden name was causing so much confusion and hassle.   I don't think my husband ever understood why this made me so angry and feel so belittled, but I have always resented the bureaucratic push I was given which seemed to change my whole identity to 'wife'.

Then there's the loss of my career.  Before arriving in Chicago I had worked for 15 years in Advertising and Marketing and was proud of my achievements.  I don't think I had really appreciated how significantly my job had defined my sense of self.  I did work for an advertising agency in Chicago, but unexpectedly felt like a square peg in a round hole.  The working culture was so undeniably different.  After 6 months I settled in, but options for continuing my career once I had children were extremely limited.  My choice was to go back to work full-time after 12 weeks of maternity leave (with only 2 weeks holiday) or to not work at all.  There was no happy medium.  And I guess when it came down to it, my career meant a lot to me...but being a hands-on, present mum meant more.

I did try to return to work but was incredibly frustrated that there were seemingly no flexible alternatives.  I interviewed at a few places and spoke to several recruitment agencies, but repeatedly came up against a brick wall.  Eventually I re-trained as a personal trainer and did work part-time, but it was never a professionally satisfying alternative.  And the pay was crap. Yet again, my self-esteem took a good kicking and I felt all the more like a second class citizen.

Of course, prior to the disintegration of my career we lost our first son.  Along with the devastating grief and the introduction of a black hole in my heart, I experienced a loss of my own physical confidence.  Suddenly I was no longer a strapping, healthy lass, forever at the gym and taking on new fitness challenges.  My body had failed me.  I no longer trusted it.  It was no longer an ally I could rely on, but a reviled enemy who had let me down in the most unforgivable way.  Its failure at the most important time of my life contributed to the death of our son.  There was no-one else to hold accountable except for my own, previously undiscovered, physical flaws.

So in a way, it was no wonder that ultimately, after losing so much of what I recognised as being irrefutably me, I would lose my marriage too.  I was no longer the person that had stood at the alter on that sunny day in June.  I had changed beyond recognition.  Become the antithesis of the values and principles I had once lived my life by.  I hadn't yet had the time, or energy, to replace all these critical components of me that I felt I had lost since coming to America, when my husband decided he was Done.

At the time, it felt like I had truly lost everything.  For a while Chicago represented the toughest of times, where my life took a series of turns that I had never anticipated and prepared myself for.  It was hardly the carefree, exciting 2 year adventure that I naively set out on over 10 years ago.

Yet I know I would not have the strength and optimism I have today about my future, without the love and support of my friends in Chicago over the years.

God, I'm going to miss them.


  1. Even though you won't be around to make a fuss of my dog, it's the right move for you and you will rise like a Phoenix!

  2. What a deep and thoughtful post. I don't really know what to say except it is beautiful and sad. I hope you will feel better once you've moved, even if you can't feel excited about it now.

  3. I have no words really, just to say I am reading

  4. You will get through this - and you will make a wonderful fresh start in London. The decade in Chicago has clearly been a difficult one, but on the plus side you have two lovely boys and friends who you won't forget. Hang on in there x

  5. Powerful, thoughtful writing. With regards to leaving your friends, I know exactly how you feel. I was just thinking the other day how I'd like to bring my friends and the life I've created for myself, with me when I move back home. We are in an impossible situation. The only thing I can tell you now is that with all the technology available, keeping in touch with friends is easy and there's always the holidays. In the UK, you will be able to move on and rebuild your life according to your terms - not your ex's and not Chicago's. Big Hugs, you're almost there.

  6. Keep plugging on, you are moving towards something positive, not running away from something negative. You can take all the good stuff from America with you - friends, experiences and lessons learned - and put everything else in a big box marked 'chicago' and leave it there. New start and exciting, wonderful times ahead, I'd give you a bracing hug but we've never met...

  7. ((((HUGS))))

    And a firm belief that you WILL find both a home, a strong support system, and YOU when you move back to England.

  8. I can't do any better than echo Mwa's comment. Deep and thoughtful... Beautiful and sad...

    It will be easier, I hope, once you've gone, rather than now, waiting to go.

  9. Expat Mum - I'm going to miss you tho. We need a goodbye night out - one last hurrah in over-talking each other!

    MWA - I hope so too. Maybe good to get the gloom out of the way now, so I can focus purely on the positive when I get home...

    The madhouse - thank you so much for reading. And apologies for being such a lax commenter of late

    NVG - I do have the 2 most fantastic boys, who are being incredibly stoic about it all. And no more excuses for me once I hit London - I really do just have to get on with my life. I am looking forward to it.

    Tattie - Thank you x

    Jo - I know I will keep in touch with many friends - but I also know that even with technology that some friends will just slip by the wayside. The time difference doesn't help. Most of us are busy mums. And that makes me a little sad. But still - I am also excited about all the new friends I am going to make.

    Helen - So nice of you!

    Teacher Mommy - I know I will too. I think I am still experiencing so much disbelief that this is happening. Still so hard to see that I am so close to being on the other side of the fence. At last.

    Iota - I SO want to be funny and irreverant...maybe that is waiting for me in London???

  10. I know what it's like to feel most of these losses and send you much love from good ole blighty.

  11. So sad to be leaving and so natural to be having such mixed feelings. I agree this is a loving and thoughtful post. Wishing you peace in this troubled time xx

  12. I think a big move makes you so aware of absolutely everything around you. I'm always amazed by your strength and commitment and know that you will start your new life at the beginning of a new year with energy. Enjoy your last few weeks in Chicago...I'm sure your friends are already planning trips to the UK to see you.

  13. Gosh, so much has happened in Chicago, such a lot of loss and so much gained too. I can imagine how it will be hard to actually say goodbye, even having anticipated this so much.

    I feel that life has chapters, and though you are leaving Chicago now, it will still be there, just 6hrs away, if you ever need it, and maybe it will be part of another chapter of your life.

    Who knows, maybe thirty years from now you will be living in a granny flat with one of your boys and his American wife by the shores Lake Michigan, showing the Chicago of your youth to your Grandchildren.

    I love the post, you have a great way of putting your feelings into prose. All the best xx

  14. So sad to read about Ernie, and don't beat yourself up about not being the perfect cat owner - I'm sure he had a terrific life and a loving home.
    Good luck with the big move. Yes, you will miss everyone, but give it time, things will eventually fall into place.
    I come up to North London once a month - if you want to, we could meet for a coffee or something one of these days.

  15. Your post really touched me. As an American expat living in London I can relate to how your experience living abroad and your feelings about moving home.

    We do set down roots when we move to a new place and it's hard to leave good friends behind. (I've recently suffered the loss of my son at 36 weeks pregnant and without my friends here in London I'm not sure how I would have coped.)

    I can understand your excitement and nervousness about moving back home. I hope your transition back to life in the UK goes well. I'll look forward to reading how it goes.