I'm sitting here thinking about how to process our final days in Germany and mostly what comes to mind is how I've eaten the last 4 meals either on our hotel bed, on our kitchen floor, or sitting on our steps. It's basically camping. Go ahead and send me that merit badge.
Our house is completely boxed up, all the furniture wrapped tightly in what will turn out to be very ineffective bubble wrap. I remember sitting on our spiral steps 3 years ago with Zach, anxiously waiting for our stuff to be delivered into that sterile white space that was our new house. Yesterday we sat on those same steps, this time with our daughter and in a space significantly more scuffed and lived in...and peppered with dog hair and Goldfish cracker crumbs. Those sterile white walls we painted, the holes from pictures we hung, the little grimy hand prints and wet-dog-nose marks on the windows...all the signs of a well-loved home.
I remember crying a lot when we got here 3 years ago. I wasn't unhappy to be in Germany, but it was a very hard transition and often very, very lonely. It seems fitting to close out our time here the same way we opened it, with lots of crying. These are the best kind of tears, I think. The kind that are born from immense gratitude, fond memories, strong friendships, and seasons of growth and change. The kind of tears that sneak up on you out of nowhere and cause you to laugh through your blurry vision when you realize you're crying about the fact that you'll miss driving through little red-roofed villages or the sound of tractors chugging past your house at 6am. Today Zoe and I went on a walk in the little town we're staying in and we passed a house with a beautiful German shepherd walking around the yard. Zoe immediately walked up to the fence, laughing and saying "doggy, doggy!", and I stopped her just before her little hands were through the fence. I heard a voice call out from the front porch; the German man who owned the dog assured me, in German, that the dog was friendly and loved kids. He walked over and asked me Zoe's name and how old she was and when I responded, he asked me if I was American and then switched to English when I said yes. We chatted for a few minutes while the Zoe giggled over the dog, then we continued on our walk. As we walked away, tears filled my eyes yet again. Three years after arriving and being so overwhelmed I could barely leave the hotel and I just had a conversation in German (obviously not great German as he quickly realized I was American, but enough that communication was happening). We really have made Germany a HOME, not just a place we've endured for the last few years. We love this home. It's part of us now.
Two days ago we left Zoe with our neighbor so we could focus on finishing up last-minute tasks as the movers started to pack boxes. At one point I took a break and went to sit in Zoe's room (mostly because the rocking chair was the only available seating option at this point) and the tears came again as I sat in her very first room and thought about how our lives changed forever when we welcomed her into our family. One day we'll bring Zoe back and show her where she was born and lived her first 17 months of life. I looked out her window into our backyard, the backyard with 3 very large, very deep holes dug by our silly dog (sorry future residents!). We became a family in that home. First with Olive, then with Zoe. It's the only home Olive and Zoe have known. We're going to miss that little white house in Speichersdorf so very much.
I was worried this last week in Germany would feel frantic and fast, that I would be overwhelmed and uptight and that before I knew it we would be gone and I would feel like I had been pushed unwillingly through the final days in Germany without a chance to really process or enjoy the last moments. When you leave somewhere, it seems like there is pressure to be nostalgic and say your dramatic goodbyes and document all the "lasts" and be intentional about what you do and where you eat and how you feel. At least that's how I was feeling, and I told a friend that I felt guilty, on top of it all, for not succumbing to that pressure, for not having a week or two of choreographed "lasts" and "final goodbyes". She very wisely said something along the lines of "Oh that's too many feelings, you have to just let that go". And so I have. And in doing that, along with the prayers of many faithful friends and family members, I have been able to relax, to enjoy this week, to process leaving, to really soak in the things we love about living in Germany.
I'm sitting on the hotel bed as I write this. Zoe is napping and I'm looking out the window at a sunny, gorgeous German day. I'm looking over red roofs onto rolling green fields and it is peaceful and beautiful...and I think to myself, if we left in the middle of winter I would just say "good riddance and goodbye"...it's much easier to love and feel fondly about Germany in the summer. I am thankful to have this unexpected quiet, this gift of a slow week with time to take deep breaths and simply enjoy Germany for a few more days. And while I find myself welling up with tears over just about ANYTHING, I am also unbelievably happy. I'm happy to be going back to the States and to be closer to our families. I am happy that we've had such an incredible 3 years here in Germany. I'm happy that we leave with wonderful memories and dear friends. I'm happy that we're headed to a new home to make more memories and to reconnect with old friends as we make new ones. I'm happy that leaving Germany is this hard, because that is a testament to the time we've had here.
Today, even amidst the tears, I am at peace with the transition. I know that it won't be the case every day...there will be hard days where we ache for Germany and our life here, there will be days when I'm sure I won't think twice about it and simply bask in the joy of being back in the States (those days I'll probably be in Target or Chickfila). But today is good. Today I look at Germany with teary-eyed fondness and I look towards the States with immense excitement. I don't think I could ask for a better farewell.