I am usually not the one in this house who goes on business trips. Because they are just not really a thing when you work part-time at a small nonprofit with a small nonprofit budget. While Tony’s business trips do occasionally include some perks for me, usually I’m the one at home single parenting while he’s gone. Which is OK. It’s part of the life I’ve chosen, and I don’t mind too much being home alone with my (increasingly independent) children when Tony travels.
If you look at a map of the Netherlands (which I should do more often, since I know many of its cities only as final destinations for the trains I take), you see that Maastricht sits in what Wikipedia refers to as an “eccentric location” on a little extra tail that dips down between Belgium and Germany. Of course, as always, there are a variety of strategic historical and military reasons for this, which you can read about in Alexandre Dumas novels and various other places. In more modern times, it was chosen as the location for the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, establishing the European Union, which I hope we can all agree to go ahead and continue to keep intact. Please.
The Welsh have a special word for homesickness. Or I should say, a special word for a special kind of homesickness. Hiraeth can be defined as longing for a home that no longer exists, or that never was. It is homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. I guess it’s a form of lost love, but more for a place than for a person. It’s a longing that by definition cannot be filled, because its object is in some way unattainable, whether it has been lost or never existed in the first place, or has yet to be created. It’s a sort of slippery, indistinct concept, but for people who have felt it, I think, unmistakable. And those who have moved from one country to another, for whatever reason, are particularly likely to be among that number.
Several months ago, I found myself quite overwhelmed with my to-do list. Or should I say to-do list. I had them on post-its at my desk at work. I had them on post-its in various places at home. I wrote them on little pieces of paper. I had a great many in the “reminders” app on my phone. Tony had invited me to Wunderlist to keep track of the shopping, so I had some there too. To say nothing of the shared Google calendar without which most events in our life and our children’s lives would simply not happen. Some stuff I even tried to just keep in my head, which resulted in insomnia, as I would lie in bed running through my internal to-do list, worried I had left something off.
I’ve been quite looking forward to this post. It’s time to tell you all about my new job! First, a note on how I found it, because it’s a fun story. My father-in-law worked as a civil engineer at Chevron for most of his career, sometimes in some very exotic places. So when Tony was a kid, he spent a couple of years living with his family in Indonesia. Those of you who have been expats know that fellow-expats you meet abroad often become good friends, and you end up keeping in touch long after life has moved both of you on to different places. Fast forward 20 years, and the mother of one of Tony’s friends from his time in Indonesia posted a job opening in The Hague on his Facebook wall (Thank you, Nita!). I read it and thought, wow; that job sounds like it was made for me.
I’ve tried several variations on work-life balance over the years, and found most of them to be fairly out of balance. When the children were small, Tony and I ran a business together, whilst juggling full-time care for a baby and a toddler. We thought a lot about hiring an au pair or a nanny, but moved around too much to ever really manage to do it. So my memories of those days are a bit of a haze of sleepless nights and management meetings, and never having quite enough time to do everything. Still, it was fun and exciting, and I do look back on those days fondly. And I learned some pretty mad organizational skills.
Once upon a time, I used to spend hours a day hammering out business strategy. I read Inc. Magazine and Entrepreneur. I interviewed potential employees, approved new products, designed magazine ads, and wrote telemarketing scripts. I lived between laptop and blackberry. The business my husband and I started from our cinderblock apartment in college eventually grew into a company that did things like selling nationwide to high schools and colleges and sponsoring Team USA at the World University Games. Along the way, we gained a lot of practical experience in manufacturing, supply chain, import/export, and marketing. But most important were the things we learned about ourselves and each other, managing people and relationships, and juggling work and family.
So, we weren’t a very good fit for the whole Corporate America thing. I guess maybe we should have tried somewhere less brutal than Southern California. We just weren’t into the hour commute (both ways!), the fierce competition with colleagues, and the boss who told Tony, “I know you’re into your family. I want someone who’s into his job” (translation: you need to take your work home every evening and weekend if you value your job).
Fast forward to this summer, when we were in Ireland, doing contract work. Out of the blue, the fantastic Italian mayor who granted Tony Italian citizenship (yes, that’s included in the job description of a mayor in Italy) contacted us and said he wanted to fly Tony to Italy to interview for a job in his company. In the end, it turned out to be more of an on-the-spot offer than an interview.