Speed Equals Distance Over Time

Living far away from family does funny things to what should otherwise be a straight forward equation. Especially when it comes to speed. And aging.

Yes, I’m quite sure speed gets ramped up when you factor in long-distances and divide them by time spent with family.

I see my mother and sister twice a year. Once here, once there. It’s not ideal, but it’s more than a lot of expats get, and so for that, I’m thankful. But when family visits are limited to bi-annual hugs and semi-yearly dinners, you notice the passage of time more acutely–etched out on a loved one’s face, in the gray of their hair or the stoop of shoulders. And that’s just me.

Each and every time I face it I am slammed with the inevitability of time. And distance. And the speed at which they seem to be colliding.

Time? Time is a wall I keep trying to scale, but instead of climbing it, I keep running into it headfirst, knocking myself most of the way to unconscious.

And distance? Well, distance is the one thing in my control.

I don’t get homesick very often, not anymore, but I do miss my family. I look forward to their visits, and to mine. In my head I map out great big plans to relax. We’ll laugh and have long conversations and go for long walks! We’ll spend quality time! The kids will be gracious and happy to see their family and actually converse with them instead of retreating behind a screen anytime I leave the room!

I worry that the reality is….less than great. Or relaxing. I think I may come across as…well, for lack of a better word, grumpy. Instead of being all hunky and dory, sometimes I get snippy and snappy.

Bear with me. It took me nine long years to figure this out.

I realized I must come across as resentful. Or annoyed. Or just garden variety grumpy-pants. The truth is, there’s often an emotional orgy going on in my head, decisions battling reality–decisions which benefit US, but sometimes come at the detriment of extended family.

So when I’m being snippy, it’s sometimes because I’m fending off  the guilt that come with choosing to live far away. Sometimes when it seems like I’m short-tempered it’s because I’m trying to gauge how long can I justify keeping the grandkids away. If it seems like I’m a bit low on patience, it may just be because I’m trying to calculate how much longer I’m going to ask my mother to get on a plane for Christmas. If it seems like I’m sulky, it’s probably because I’m trying to remember the formula to figure out how time speeds up when there’s a greater distance involved.

I think my brain switches into efficiency mode due to overload. And efficiency mode? Well, everything gets done, but sometimes at the expense of emotion. AI’s got nothing on me when I switch over to efficiency mode. Just ask my husband.

Sure, there’s Skype and FaceTime, and it definitely helps, but expats know that E.T. was right: phoning home is really just a substitute for being there.

Then the trips are over. Bags are packed, flights checked-in on, passports stamped. It takes me a few weeks to recalibrate my emotions, to pack them all back into the neat boxes they live in. I get caught up in day-to-day dramas and hourly ados and I’ll sit down to put my feet up and suddenly it’s Sunday, or summer or six months later. And I gear up to do the whole thing all over again.

I’m in the midst of all that now. Long enough removed from the family visit to be able to take a step backward and say “Ah! Of course that’s why I was such a miserable Mabel, because I worry about how our choice to live away affects you. And you’re getting older. And I’m getting older. And the kids are getting older. And oh, my God, for the love of all that’s holy make it stop.”

Eventually I guess the scales will tip one way, or another. But there are few weeks a year when they swing wildly from one side to another, bouncing up and down.

Every time I watch my mother say goodbye to my kids something small inside me dies. Like that flower in ET, the one that wilts and falters. But…. I also know this. You know the final scene of ET? The one when Eliot is crying and Gertie has snot running down her face and ET is about to get on his spaceship? He touches his light-up heart, then points his long, wrinkly finger at Eliot’s head and says…”I’ll be right here.”

It doesn’t matter what the formula is for calculating distance, or speed, or even time. Because that’s where we are.

We’ll be right here.



31 thoughts on “Speed Equals Distance Over Time

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  1. This sums me up for the last few years: “I think my brain switches into efficiency mode due to overload. And efficiency mode? Well, everything gets done, but sometimes at the expense of emotion.” It seems practical and is indeed the result of overload and ptsd and health issues and all for me, and it makes sense to me, but I just don’t seem to have room for emotions much these days. I keep imaging I will someday…


    1. Oh, Donnalee, I hear you. Sometimes I feel the practical makes people think I’m cold (for lack of a better world), but there’s a lot going on in that head of mine. Pragmatism is what comes out.

      You will have room. I know you will.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I’m doing the have-died-technically-a-few-times thing, and am sorting of veering into it again due to the epilepsy and its impulses. We’ll see how it all works out, but I do try not to let the pragmatic comes across all the time as cranky, although it does feel cranky sometimes when i try to Get Everything Done efficiently and others seem not to do it my way!


  2. As always, I admire your candidness. One pretty much minor, off-topic point to consider: There should be a rhyming antonym for “hunky dory.” Maybe “funky hoary.” Or “gunky gory.” Or something else equally non-nonsensical. I know you’re asking a thousand questions in that head of yours, but let me answer the primary one – why it must rhyme? Easy. Because why not?


      1. It sure is. And even though we make the decisions for our families and ourselves, it is still not easy. And that can be hard for the ones that we “left behind” or moved away from to understand.


  3. Oh my goodness Dina- this is exceptional- I felt as though you were in my head as I read it. This should be read by every ex pat – particularly more poignant at this time of year after Xmas goodbyes 😢 you are so talented x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You should ask Mrs RupLB how I am when I’m with my parents.

    The emotions are inevitable as they age and appear to become more childlike. Consequently concern and the desire to care for them clashes with frustration.

    I console myself with the fact they did the same to their parents. Which doesn’t make it right, but sometimes being selfish is also necessary to carve out the life you want.

    PS. s=ut is the nomenclature I was taught. And I still mentally use the little triangles to remember the relationships 🙂


  5. this is a great piece Dina. My family lives far, but not that far. And my husband’s family lives in Mexico and only comes once a year. It is tough. Especially when the relationships are fraught with a history that is not all pleasant. And you try to make up for lost time and work through past dramas and traumas all at the same time. I’m with you sister.


  6. “Every time I watch my mother say goodbye to my kids something small inside me dies.” – This could not be more true. I have this struggle and I don’t really know how to deal with it, how to not feel the guilt. Torture.


  7. Reading this I half expected it to be a lead in that you’re moving home. 🙂

    I can relate (to a lesser degree) with the challenges of distance with my baby away at school and I smiled a little when I read about the snippy and snappy that happens. Partially because I remember that dynamic between you and your sister and your Mom from many moons ago, but more because we experience that too, in fact just recently while she was home for Christmas break. Maybe we are normal(ish).

    Love you and miss you. Looking forward to our annual bottle(s) of wine!


  8. Yes, my yes. I live in Iowa. My son lives on the NW coast, one daughter lives near the mid-Atlantic coast. That daughter has 5 children we see once or twice a year. They have grown up without us, and even though the youngest is 7, there’s no reason to think the number of visits will change much as he gets older. Son gets about a week past a visit (usually us going to him) before asking when we will come see him again. AND he’s recently asked us to move out there, as he’s about to get married and they hope to soon have babies of their own. I’m thrilled, in truth, with that notion. And yet, what does that do to our time with the daughter who lives near us, and her 2 children? With their time split between her and their dad, it’s already complicated getting time with them. It’s tough. Just plain tough. I don’t have a solution for me or for you, or for our families. Sorry for the full family dump of info here. I coulda just said, “I get it.”

    Liked by 1 person

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D.E. Haggerty

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