The wind is in from Africa; last night I couldn’t sleep. It sure is hard to leave you, but it’s really not my home.
Usually song lyrics getting stuck in my head are for random reasons. This week, though, this Joni Mitchell line is, like totally us: the winds ARE in from Africa, sleep eludes me, and as our time in Greece comes to an end, we’re all feeling excited to go home, but also sad to leave here.
We’ve been reflecting a lot on the last 14 months. A year ago now, we were on the island of Rhodes and getting ready to embark on our fantastic central European tour, though I don’t think we had it totally planned out. We had registered for school, but I had put that out of my head with six more weeks of summer and on account of being terrified of a local upon receiving my first email not recognizing a single word. Gulp.
And now, I watch the kids talk to other kids on the beach, playing waboba ball with them or showing off a live sea star that my snorkeling champ Michael has pulled from 8 feet down. I see them swim so (too) far out in the sea … all the way to the buoys that mark the boat lines. I see how close they have gotten to each other and how their imaginary games work in things they’ve learned from our travels in Europe to 8 different countries: bull fights, free build F1 lego cars, playing knights or Roman soldiers, choosing their outfits for the day based national team soccer players (“Does Harry Kane ever wear all red?” “I HAVE to wear this. Ronaldo wears long sleeves!” “I’m in all blue so I’m Griezmann today.”)
There’s a lot we’ll miss here. We’ve met such wonderful families at school. Our school and they way they ‘handled’ us was just excellent. Our neighbors are so great. Greeks are such good-natured people. For all their emotion and passion and risky driving habits, they are kind, patient, understanding and fun. Learning the language and the expressions and a lot of Greek history really explains them as a culture. And they all — ALL — love kids. Nowhere else have I seen so many complete strangers (I’m talking adults) rub the boys’ heads, ask them a question, insert themselves into their mini-soccer game, or high five them for wearing the ‘right’ soccer jersey. One day in the Supermarket, a man saw Peter’s jersey, asked his name, and congratulated him on rooting for Olympiacos. On the flip side, last week in Monasteraki, a waiter snatched Peter’s red and white komboloi, saying ‘this taverna only allows Panithainiakos’ paraphernalia. Of course he was kidding and Peter knew it — both giggled. In our plateia, the taverna staff will kick the ball with the kids, or go fetch them when the food arrives, carry them to me and bring ice when they fall, and one server even gifted them a basketball.
We watch Peter, who has changed and grown so much, with his big English vocabulary and his perfect Greek accent. He’s learned the language so well and so fast, he doesn’t even have to think in Greek anymore. It just comes straight out. His English teacher told me that when kids didn’t understand things in English class, he explained it to them in Greek. He’s always singing or humming a Greek song. This summer I saw only Peter’s feet sticking out of the water. He must do 50 water hand stands a day. And Michael, whose quiet confidence and leadership skills have increased tenfold. He did his schoolwork faithfully and without complaint, and he’s got Greek grammar rules down cold. He brought soccer cards to school every day to play with anyone who wanted to and his classmates all drew him goodbye pictures. And when we go to the beach he grabs his mask, snorkel and fins at a speed like he’s in the transition area in a triathlon and is in the water faster than I can chase him with the sunscreen. He emerges 20 minutes later with some treasure in his hand — a clam, the aforementioned sea stars, a hermit crab. Yesterday, Demetri saw a sea turtle on his swim. Total thrill.
At this moment, what everyone says they’ll miss is the obvious things: Papou of course. Greek food. Our cousins and how close we’ve gotten to them. Living a block from the sea and watching the marine traffic pass all day — sailboats, yachts, ferries, cargo boats. The plateia. The laiki, especially in summer with peaches priced at €1.50/kilo and figs for even less. Watermelon. But these are the things in our immediate reach; in our everyday lives. It will be interesting to see in a month or six what we miss that will be more significant to our souls.
I wasn’t familiar with the acronym FOMO until recently. Inversely, over the last year we enjoyed JOMO — the joy of missing out. Part of it was because we were fairly insulated — we didn’t watch the news because we couldn’t understand it; we didn’t hang around school to learn much insider information, and again, not sure we would have understood it. We didn’t have jobs so didn’t get enmeshed in office or local politics. We also didn’t feel like we missed much at home; we didn’t wish to have been there more than we wanted to be here. And what this experience did for our family is something that we (the parents) wouldn’t change for the world. We are closer to each other as a foursome, our marriage is stronger, we understand each other better, we admire the bravery in each other for different things we took on this year and we learned that we don’t need stuff to be happy. We just need each other.
Will we do it again? Θα δουμε. Quite possibly.