Audrey Brashich’s sons riding a double decker bus in Europe. Photo courtesy of Audrey Brashich.
Home is a tricky concept—at least for my family.
See, I’m a die-hard native New Yorker who started taking the subway home from school alone in sixth grade. I used to hang out with friends on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Friday nights while our suburban teen counterparts were at their local mall’s food court or cruising their town’s Main Street. And I took the Fifth Avenue bus to my own wedding. So, no matter where I live, New York will always be my home.
My husband has the same attachment to the places where he spent his childhood. Swedish by birth, he grew up mostly in Singapore and Hong Kong. So when homesickness strikes, it can leave him pining for anything from Singapore’s authentic chicken satay to Hong Kong’s grand history to Sweden’s long summer evenings.
But work opportunities have made us “global nomads,” the kind of highly mobile people—often without a permanent home—who travel from one country to another for business prospects and adventure. I’m a freelance writer however, my husband is a creative director at a visual effects company, a job that forces us to move frequently. We’ve now relocated twice for his career. Like other global nomads, we have only a cursory understanding of the local traditions and history in our current city, Vancouver, British Columbia. Sure, we’ve embraced this town for its high quality of life and easy access to nature. But we know we won’t live here forever and that makes us eager to pass on our birthplace memories to our two sons, ages six and eight.
Audrey Brashich’s sons riding the New York City subway. Photo courtesy of Audrey Brashich.
We do that by sending the boys to a weekly program at a nearby Scandinavian cultural center and by celebrating holidays from our countries of origin. While the Fourth of July is just another mid-summer holiday in the U.S., my boys know what it represents and celebrate it by watching parades, waving flags and (once they’re older) reflecting on history and tradition. The same goes for Thanksgiving, which we try to fly home for every year to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We also spend time in Sweden when we can, introducing the boys to crayfish parties and kanelbullar (Swedish cinnamon buns).
But my kids feel at home in Vancouver, too. Camping is big here, so they’re learning to sleep outside and cook over an open fire. They also know the names of the provinces and teach me about homegrown heroes like athlete Terry Fox . To them, home isn’t one place but rather a compilation of places. In fact, last summer in Sweden, I overheard my older son sum it up this way: “Well, we’re from here,” he told someone who had asked why his English was so good, “but we live in Canada. Though sometimes we’re with family in New York. And we have an extra clock in our kitchen that tells us what time it is in Hong Kong.”
Sometimes it’s hard to accept that my kids have such a different upbringing than my own. I get choked up when I realize that the location of my childhood memories are nothing more than unfamiliar dots on a map to them. And I often scroll through my newsfeed with envy, poring over photos of my friends’ kids attending the same schools in New York together.
But my kids are lucky, too. Their fluid definition of home means they’re learning to make sense of and respect cultural differences from a young age. As a result, they understand that life is different all over the world. When we travel to the various places we call home, the kids make comments about how the streetlights, doorknobs, and cars vary in size. They speak both Fahrenheit and Celsius; they know that in some cities you can board a bus by the back door and in others, by the front.
Perhaps those details feel overwhelming to my young children, but they’re also introducing a level of complexity and dimension that will serve them well as daily life continues as a global experience. Besides, there has never been a better time than right now to understand other people. Without that, our current world issues will only worsen.
So yes, I’m still a little sad that my kids don’t know the order and names of all the avenues in Manhattan — yet. But I also think that one day they’ll feel just as comfortable walking up on Madison Avenue or across from Central Park South as they will on streets all over the world.