Defining home has always been tricky for me. I could never quite pinpoint it to a specific place, at least not permanently. And a lot of times, this ended up being pretty lonely.
For those who have lived in the same place all of their lives, moving every few years and wanting to travel frequently seems bizarre. To them, I must be crazy to keep uprooting, to keep leaving just when things have started to get comfortable. How can the reasons to leave outweigh the reasons to stay? We look at each other through the lens of our own lives and everything seems off somehow.
But that’s just it. Our own experiences have shaped us into the people we are today. I am both a wanderer and a homebody, and I can live with that contradiction because I have been both. I have lived out this wanting to go and explore tangled with wanting to belong somewhere.
So for me, home isn’t a place on a map. It’s more than the place where I cheered for the high school football team, which in itself was a complicated mass of teenagers from around the country and even beyond.
Home is a bowl of piping hot borscht and a pot of tea in a family living room in Ternopil, or the overnight train ride we took to get there where a group of acquaintances became friends. It’s the first view of the Eiffel Tower as we walked past the trees into the clearing. It’s a cup of coffee and scrolling through Instagram pictures in my regular spot on our cozy blue couch while my children whisper secrets in their beds down the hall.
It’s not just one place, and it’s not just one feeling.
And that can be hard to explain to people who haven’t lived it. It can be hard to understand myself, because I’m still on the journey. I’m still building up all of the experiences that go into “home”.
In At Home in the World, Tsh Oxenreider talks about this very same tension between travel and stability, and what it means for her and her family and their definition of home.
“The act of travel, the constant moving and shuffling of our bodies and backpacks, our dotted lines across the map, the simplicity of owning less to see more – these small acts are weaving our family’s tapestry. Threads of pliable spirits when the train is delayed, rubbing sweaty shoulders with people of different races sleeping in close quarters, converting new currency every week – these fibers are becoming the heft of our ancestral fabric, the patterns we will show our grandchildren and say, ‘Here – this corner of the tapestry. This is why you are who you are.'”
Traveling. Moving. Experiencing different cultures and traditions and works of art and landscapes and food and inside jokes and tears and meltdowns and playgrounds and coffee and wine and mountains and oceans and birthdays and ordinary days in extraordinary places. These are the things that shape our unique take on the world.
I’ll never be able to experience all of it. My bucket list will always include more destinations than time and money will allow. But I’d rather soak in as many places as possible, filling my cup with the things that make us different and the things that make us the same, for as long as I can.
And then, when I am tired, when I need a place to relax, I’ll come back to where we have chosen to park our favorite mugs and our winter coats and our garden rake, and embrace the everyday for awhile, until the wanderlust kicks in again and we pack our bags for somewhere else.
I want to pass this on to my children.
This is something I understand even more now as a parent. For a long time, I was jealous of the other kids at each new school who had ridden their bikes on the same streets in the same neighborhood each year. I swore I would never do this to my children, and that they would have roots (my oldest is now in his fifth city in seven years). These decisions aren’t easy, but they are made with thought and care.
But as I got older, I realized that my childhood of moving around was actually a gift. I got to peek into different parts of the country, the different subcultures of America, before I was old enough to traverse them on my own. I met all sorts of people, and learned all sorts of things. They’re the reason I want to explore more. They’re part of my tapestry. And it’s beautiful.
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