“I can see my breath! It’s white!” Cian said excitedly after he walked out of Logan Airport a few weeks ago and, purposefully puffing, entered the New England Winter. Our last Christmas in the States was in 2012, Áine was almost two and Cian was just entering the Age of Santa. That year was a brutal winter, brutal enough to ensure our move to tropical Indonesia. In fact, we couldn’t attend the international teaching job fair in Cambridge, MA that February because of an impenetrable three foot snowstorm, leading to our sudden and exuberant acceptance of the jobs in North Jakarta via Skype. A stoic Nutmegger, I used to brave the four seasons with a certain gusto. I vehemently refused the hydraulic log splitter and snow blower, because dammit, I could split wood with an axe and shovel snow like my ancestors with a shovel. Now, with my return to New England just at the Solstice, when the days are gray and brief, my faux smile was put on for the kids and my feigned excitement for bitter, stinging, cold weather was a thin, pale veil of my current dread of winter. It fucking sucks.
Before we left Nigeria, I sat purposefully with Cian (who owns vague memories of shoulder height snow) and Áine (who has no memory of even living in America) to answer their barrage of winter questions. Snow is solid, but wet. The trees are sleeping and have no leaves. Families light fireplaces with fires to keep their houses warm. There are these things called snowplows that push snow off the street because snow is slippery for cars. The nights are longer than the days. There are no insects until the spring; No, not even mosquitoes. Snow, squalls, flurries, blizzards, sleet, and freezing rain are all different. The kids listened to each story enraptured, their eyes shining and their mouths agape; I may as well have been describing Narnia. I don’t think Áine believed half of what I told her. Secretly, I was enjoying their ignorance and looking forward to their reactions once they saw it for themselves.
Coming back for the Holidays, the first time in three years, brought a nostalgic sense of home and place. The same house decorations and glow of window candles I remember from when I was my childrens’ age, a warm fire crackling in the fireplace to defy the cold wind outside and laughing with family as classic Christmas carols played in the background created that timeless, cozy feeling of the season. Our attempts at Christmas while abroad, with little tinsel and mistletoe to be found (as well as our anticipation for some adventurous travel) made this visit magical. Christmas Eve brought the whole family together at my parent’s house for our traditional Hungarian meal of chicken paprikas and goulash (with homemade späetzle), while the next morning was a Christmas miracle for Emirates Air, who was about to make a fair bit of extra money when we hauled back to Africa the huge piles wrapped under the tree.
On the morning of December 26th, I woke and stretched. The children, suffering from jet lag, had been out of bed at 3am each day since our arrival, but today the house was quiet, and still dark from the stretched Yuletide nights. I picked my head up off the pillow just enough to peer outside onto the barren, cold scene below and immediately laid back in bed to stare at the ceiling. I was ready to go back to Nigeria (who says that?!). Not because I didn’t enjoy visiting family. Not because I wasn’t excited for our forthcoming Massachusetts and Vermont excursions. Not because I got coal in my stocking. It was the clear realization that our international lives, however impetuous and disconnected they seemed, were the right fit. And that gave me a sense of contentment for the remainder of our visit.
Indeed, winter’s glamour over the course of our stay began to wane on all of us, such as Áine’s first step into snow. Watch her reaction from left to right:
We spent a week after the Holiday traveling New England in our Rent-a-Jalopy van, whose number of dashboard warning lights increased as the vacation progressed. Our first stop was Deerfield, MA and a tour of the immense and well decorated Yankee Candle Company, a prime Holiday stop for New Englanders. Then up to beautiful Burlington, Vermont to spend time with Aunt Jenny and Uncle Nathan. My parents joined us for a night to celebrate my mother’s 70th birthday with a meal at the exquisite Bistro de Margot.
Finally, back south to Connecticut for a few days of hard-core shopping, stocking up on clothing, toiletries, and equipment deemed sporadic or expensive in Lagos. Our Santa-sized duffles bags loaded with Christmas loot and supplies tripled our luggage count from our way over. A few final farewells, including a whirlwind stop over at Tolland High School where I used to teach (hey, guys!) and suddenly we were being dropped off at the airport for our return. Áine missed the cats more than life itself and Cian missed the soccer pitch the same amount. They were ready to see their friends, run outside in the warm weather, swim in the pool, and eat fresh pineapple. It was time to go home.