On the shoulders--Europe, here we come

IMG_1036.JPG

It’s 5 a.m., Belgium time. We arrived yesterday evening after nearly 24 hours of travel time, three airplane flights, and one harrowing car ride from the airport. (Seth is relearning how to drive a stick shift, and I don’t like to drive at the best of times.) But really, if I were to be accurate, we have been traveling this way, toward Europe, toward our year-long sabbatical in Oxford, for more than three years, ever since Seth took the job at the University of Oregon with the promise of a year leave.

The last couple weeks have felt like running a 14-day marathon: up early to pack, clean, nail down another car rental, another piece of the logistical puzzle. Do we all have socks, a swimsuit that fits? What are these 37 pencils in the junk drawer, and are they worth keeping? Why do we have 15 sticks of deodorant? I believe I’ve analyzed every single thing we own, packing it into bins for the basement, hauling it to Goodwill, or throwing it in the growing pile of trash on the back deck.

Through it all, I’ve been overwhelmed by one reoccurring thought, that all the good things in our lives come not from our own merit, but because a hundred people are pulling for us. From Seth’s cousin’s husband, who heard we needed our deck redone and spent three days pressure-washing, sanding, and staining (saving us thousands), to my mom, who came in for ten days and absolutely gang-bustered the entire move. It’s hard to put down in writing all that she did, but here’s a sampling: she sewed eight pairs of curtains, bought all new towels and bathmats and linens, hired a woman who specializes in old windows to come restore a few of our broken panes. She cleaned out the fridges and freezers, all three of them, scrubbed the skylights, rearranged and styled each of our rooms for AirBnB, took two loads to the dump. The list goes on and on.

We’ve had so much help. Friends who came over to troubleshoot sprinkler issues. Friends who gave us a farewell party, who cheered us on, and reminded us that the seemingly impossible list of to-do’s would be worth it. Friends who live abroad who offered their advice and guidance. Family who contributed help and encouragement, my dad, my in-laws, all of our siblings. My sister-in-law Ondalynn, who fortuitously hosted Cousin Camp last week, giving us three days with no kids underfoot. People we’ve never met: a woman at Oxford, Rose, who helped advocate for me when the consulate office messed up the dates on my visa. We had to overnight my passport to New York on Thursday, four days before our trip, to get it corrected. And it arrived, like manna from heaven, on my in-laws doorstep on Friday morning at 8:30 a.m., with three days to spare.

Everyone pulled their weight. Jackson and Addison have been taking online English classes to keep up with their high school credits. It’s been a crazy amount of work for them. Asher and Preston helped with packing and cleaning. Seth put together every single detail for our stay abroad—he seemed, at times, superhuman with all that he was juggling. I did most of the packing and sorting and prepping the interior of the house for AirBnB and renters.

And here we are, on the cusp of our adventure. After so many months of talking and planning, it feels a bit surreal, like a dream. We are exhausted, and perhaps a bit traumatized by what we’ve been through to get here. We’ll be traveling around the continent for a month before landing in Oxford for the upcoming school year. Our kids have never been out of the country, so everything is new and fresh. The long flight over, the excitement of a full airplane meal and unlimited movies. A trip to the Belgian grocery store was a delight for Asher, as was the Harry Potter store in Heathrow. I can’t wait to see his reaction when he actually sees the great cities of Europe. We are going to ease in gently, with lots of chocolate and cheese and fresh air and rest. After all this, it seems a good way to begin.