Nobody on the road
Nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
The summer’s out of reach
Empty lake, empty streets
The sun goes down alone
I’m driving by your house
Though I know you’re not home. – The Boys of Summer, Don Henley
There is a grocery shop down the road from our house in The Netherlands. I popped out a few weeks ago as we had ran out of milk. It took me by surprise that the premises was dark. I was able to translate the message the owner had put on the door. He was taking his summer holidays and would be back by the end of July. Gesloten. Closed. I walked up to the main high street instead. Our neighbourhood certainly is quieter. And I am mindful that as a third culture adult, there will always be an element of feeling out of sync with the rhythm of whatever country I am living in. Metaphorically, there is a joke I don’t get. It is a sense I’ve carried with me my whole life. And nothing brings it out like summer.
As I picked up my daughter on the last day of preschool, it was hard for me to listen to everyone telling me where they were going. Summer reminds me that I have nowhere to go but be where I am. My daughter, who is nearly 3, is struggling to understand what summer is. She knows it means no school. I am open and honest with her at all times when she asks me questions about it. I talk to her about her friends and teachers whenever she wants. I explain that Papa has to work in this season, that it’s peak time. She runs up to Dutch children and tries to initiate games in English. They welcome her but nonetheless she is still always on the periphery. I see her trying to copy their gestures and speech.
As a child, summer was also when the packing started and the moving vans came. When my family would wait in airport terminals, periodically checking the flight boards. It was alighting from a mode of transport and that time of limbo would begin. I would wait for August to end. Summer was when a friend, another UN kid, told me his family was leaving. I wandered down to his house close to ours and traced the letters on the Vendu sign. My neighbours in the Netherlands moved out in July of this year. I see their empty house whenever I put my key in the door. But some of my favourite childhood memories of are of the summer too. At the end of the 6th grade in Virginia, we were taken to a place called Camp Highroad. It was the perfect send off for middle school where we were given chores and responsibility but also lots of free reign. When I was 14, my family went to the beach in Bodrum, Turkey. That month was swimming in crystal blue waters, listening to music at the beach cafe, friendship and my first kiss. It is bittersweet that these blissful summers coincided with leaving a country just as I finally felt like I had a grip on the place. When bonds and connections were forming and growing. That I felt such happiness was no coincidence.
Summer was home leave. If I remember correctly, it was every 2 years with the United Nations. We would always go to my grandmother’s flat just outside London. Along with her comforting presence, there was outdoor play with local children, a new My Little Pony she’d bought me to add to my collection, flapjacks, cups of tea and British television. It was when she passed away, that it hit me how much this base in the UK had mattered to me. It was the only one I’d had. I went back to her flat once after she died, by myself, before it was occupied again. I walked the path I had done as a girl. I held my breath at the sight of her flowers, the bird bath and a robin redbreast. I almost saw her again through the front window where she would sit patiently for our arrival and wave in greeting.
When I lived in France as an adult, people used to poke fun at the French and how they all take off in August, in droves. But I found it charming and even envied it. How nice to have these rituals and traditions. They matter when you don’t have any. I knew a woman in London whose mother had died. She was estranged from her father. Her brother was homeless and drifted from city to city in the UK and kept in touch only sporadically. She told me of how Christmas and summer were excruciatingly painful for her. I won’t be an accompanying spouse forever. My husband and I have always planned to go back to London where we met and married. I even have this daydream where I turn to my daughter after a trip together, before school starts again.
“Did you enjoy your holiday?” I ask
“Where are we going now?” I continue
“We’re going home,”
During #TCKChat on Twitter, one of the questions was: which song sums up your life as a TCK? It was a no brainer; The Boys of Summer by Don Henley.