It surprised me that Halloween was my breaking point.
Here’s the thing – moving to Colombia in August was really hard. Seemingly everything was complicated and the kids took a long time to get even remotely comfortable with life here. People were super friendly, which was wonderful, but it didn’t really help much when (for example) I was trying to help a teenage girl navigate middle school social structures in another country and language.
The kids each had their moments when they were sad and wanted to go home. Claire’s lasted the longest, but the volleyball team seemed to have done something incredible that really lifted her up. Once she was feeling better, I was able to relax, and I settled into my daily routine: get up with Chris and get the kids breakfast, wait for their buses, walk to my Spanish school, study Spanish for the entire morning, get a bite to eat and come home for an hour or two until the kids came back home. Chris has had a lot of time with me but he’s also been working, so sometimes those afternoons I was pretty solo. That was okay with me. As I reminded myself when I’d feel a bit lonely, I can be alone. It’s not something I love to do, but one of the really important things that widowhood taught me was how to feel calm even when I’m on my own.
Much of the month of October passed like this. I learned how to lean into my routine, and if Chris was working or traveling, I managed the time by myself pretty well. I made lunch dates with other people in my Spanish class and sometime I even went out with other moms from the kids’ school. I figured that – at worst – it was good practice to be forced to speak so much Spanish. At best, maybe I’d make some friends. And I did…sort of.
But it was Halloween weekend when it truly hit me: I don’t have community here.
A few weeks beforehand, I had volunteered to come and help in Tommy’s classroom with the Halloween festivities, which were held the Friday before Halloween. It was very unclear to me what I was supposed to do, but I did understand that I needed to go to the office to meet the other volunteer parents right when school started.
So I did that. But no one else showed up.
I sat for a while and got to chat with the kids’ SAL (Spanish as an additional language) teacher, who I love so much. (He is basically their private tutor, as they’re some of the very few non-Spanish speaking kids in the school.) He was warm and thoughtful and I almost cried talking to him because he’s such a huge reason the kids are doing so well. Anyway, after a while, I started to think I was in the wrong place, so I wandered around a bit and found the office where we were actually supposed to meet. There were probably 20 women standing around and I briefly asked if this was the right place and was told it was.
Everyone was excited to see each other. I think it was one of the first big post-Covid events where so many parents could volunteer. They hugged and kissed each other and got coffee and there was a lot of laughing. And for some reason, I was mute.
Even in a situation where I don’t know anyone, I can talk to anyone. No, my Spanish is not good, but it’s good enough to chat a bit and it’s good enough to follow along with most conversations that the moms I know have. I went out to lunch with all the 8th grade moms last month and it was hard to follow everything that was being said, but I left feeling like I understood at least some of the conversation.
But this scene at the Halloween festival was different. It wasn’t the language that was holding me back (though it’s part of it) – rather, it was that everyone seemed so happy to see each other and so excited to all be together. They weren’t trying to be rude, but it was clear that I was on the outside of a really fun reunion.
It reminded me of a million times I’d been in my kids’ elementary school doing the same thing – waiting with other parents for a meeting or a performance or the lice-committee (yes, I was on it for many years). We’d chat and just catch up with the minutia of each other’s lives, and it never really meant anything. Half the time I wasn’t even friends with the people I was with! They were just other parents, people who were part of my community.
But they were my community. And when things were the worst for my family, they were there for me.
Right then, as we were supposed to gather and hear instructions about the Halloween festivities, I realized that I was going to cry. I was so homesick. Homesick for the casual friendships that had always sustained me, homesick for a group of people who knew me for years, homesick for Halloween trick-or-treating in my neighborhood. I backed away from the group, thinking I’d go get a cup of coffee and that would stop the tears, but I couldn’t even make it that far. I retreated to my car where I cried for a good 20 minutes.
It was not my finest hour.
I pulled it together and thought I looked fine to rejoin the group, but I ran into Austin and he immediately said, “Mom, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?” which I tried to deny but he knew the truth. Like his siblings, he has always been so tuned into my emotions. When I eventually told him I was homesick, he hugged me and said, “oh Mom” with such empathy that I almost cried again.
And that is the end of the story. I eventually pulled myself together and hung out with Tommy’s awesome teacher and the day wasn’t a total wash. I talked to a few of the other moms. Everyone was friendly. The kids were so cute in their costumes.
But it wasn’t home. And wow, I missed home.