Five months after our move and our life in Chicago is still mainly characterised by the many new things and first times we experience almost daily. We are still going to places we've never been and meeting people we've never met. We're still eating new foods and trying new activities. When I lived in the UK, there was really very little that was 'new', in fact, almost everything about my life was familiar, regular, routine and comfortable. So it's inevitable that with so many new experiences comes challenge, sometimes discomfort or even a little anxiety - but always growth.
Just this week, between us we've clocked up another bunch of firsts: Son#2 sat his first high school finals, Husband played for the first time with the worship band at our new church and I had my first sauna... but more of that later. And let's not forget Son#1 who, as part of the Gibbs' UK Division, finished his first year of university.
So far, we're coping with 'newness' pretty well. For a start, you never get bored and you have lots to talk about. But there are one or two downsides. Firstly, I've struggled with names. This surprises me since, as a teacher, I used to be able to memorise classes of 30 kids within a couple of days. Here however, without the aid of a seating plan, I'm often thrown by all the new faces I'm meeting. It's like a messed up game of 'Who's Who'- not helped by the fact that most of the lovely ladies I've met all seem to have names beginning with 'A'. I'm so humbled that everyone I've met seems to remember my name and I have to reassure myself that it's not early onset dementia that causes my memory malfunctions but the fact that there's so many of them and only one of me! Luckily, it's getting easier as I'm now building friendships rather than just making acquaintances.
Then there's the ongoing issue of cultural differences. Some are subtle and are a breath of fresh air. Like the optimism and enthusiasm here that makes all things seem possible, or the nuances of the English language that cause mutual giggles when we use the wrong phrase. Americans love to 'reach out' which always makes me want to break into song. Meanwhile, Husband and I keep falling foul of offering to 'hook up' with people and Son#2 still cringes at his classroom faux pas of asking to borrow a classmate's 'rubber' (eraser).
But just occasionally, I find myself so far outside my comfort zone whilst exploring the newness, that I have to dig pretty deep to overcome my cultural reserve. Just last week I was invited to a spa and sauna. Since my policy has been to say 'yes' to every invitation, I gladly accepted and found myself in the company of two wonderful friends for a morning of pampering. With words like 'relaxing', 'cleansing', 'detoxifying' and 'soothing' used to describe this new experience, I knew I was in for a real treat. There was, however, one word missing from the blurb... 'naked!'
And so, I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place: too British to say no and cause offense and too British to want to get naked with people I'd only known for a few months. I'll leave the details there, but suffice to say, I know these two particular friends a whole lot better than I knew them before we went! Another first, another new experience, and on balance, one that I loved.
So the naked truth is this... the new experiences keep coming thick and fast. I suspect it will be a long time yet before everything becomes familiar and comfortable, but in the meantime we're all growing, changing and adapting, and that can only be a good thing... although I generally prefer to keep my clothes on!