With almost everything else in my life, I become more adept with time and practice. The more I knit, the better I get. The more I cook, the richer, deeper, faster and more flavourful my meals become. The more I write, the easier the words fly off my fingers. The longer I work in my job, the better a resource I am for my organisation. With each month of parenting, each milestone covered, I am a better mother.
Why then, does being an expat seem to get harder with each year? I have lived outside of the US for all of my adult life. I have been in the UK for 10 years. I have gone for years without seeing my brothers, sisters and parents. I have a wonderful network of friends here who are like family. I can count on one hand the things I truly miss from my American world.
But every time I have to say goodbye to my mother, when either of us get on a plane to go home, I find the whole experience gut-wrenching. Each time I speak to or Skype with my dad, or connect in any way to my American family, I am reminded of what I am missing.
Of course, I understand that the time we do spend together is not a real picture of what day to day life would be like if we lived on the same continent. International travel isn't something any of us take lightly and visits are rare and precious so we make more effort to really be together, to clear the decks and spend quality time being a family.
However, while the quality over quantity argument goes a long way, in the lives of small children, quantity counts for a lot. They grow so very quickly and their memories are short. Popping round for a cup of tea, shared holidays, 'just happened to be in the neighbourhood' visits mean a lot in the transient world of childhood. Simply being present may not be everything, but it's importance can't be underestimated.
Over 10 years, I have said a lot of goodbyes. Some have been quiet and sad, some have been close to spectacle, complete with sobs and running back to give that one last hug. But with however much practice I have, it doesn't make any of it any easier or make me cry less when the time comes.
I miss you already, Mama.