It's about this time of year that thoughts turn to what the next year might hold. It's a time to think back on all that's happened over the last twelve months and begin to make plans and set goals for the next.
If you've kept up with my blog so far, you'll already know that a lot happened! But it's not just what happened to us that is preoccupying my thoughts, it's what our family of four has learnt and how we have been changed by it. There have been a tonne of high points such as making new friends and embracing a different culture, there have been the crazy moments like naked saunas and indoor skydiving (fully clothed!) and there have been life-changing moments like moving home, changing careers, being baptised, taking exams, starting a new school. All have left their mark, but what have we learnt about ourselves and each other?
I suppose the biggest thing is that we've all seen how we cope with massive change. I now know that I'm calm under pressure, I can be pushed outside of my comfort zone but get frustrated by a lack of control. Husband is way more emotional and has a tendency to catastrophize but has increased empathy. Son#1 has learned to manage stress, is a natural organiser and has great life skills that have equipped him for independence. Son#2 is resilient beyond his years and braver than most, but has to be encouraged to share deeper feelings to ensure his well-being.
Perhaps the biggest change in us is that we talk more openly about our feelings - good and bad. We've had to be more honest and open in order to ride the storms. We've shed a lot more tears than we've been used to, but also had far deeper conversations about our hopes and fears. Our family dynamic has changed, but we've forged new connections and found a different level of closeness - in our relationships as spouses, siblings, parents or off-spring.
Sixteen months ago, I thought I knew what the next few years looked like: a son going off to university, another five years or so in the classroom for me with maybe one more promotion, a husband resigned to a career that probably offered no more surprises, getting our youngest through the final years of high school. But as is so often the case in life, the plans we make are often just a rough doodle on a page that looks nothing like the final picture.
If the unexpected overseas move wasn't enough to pull the rug out from all of us, I also think how different this first year in America turned out to be compared to what I thought would happen. Did I think I would struggle so much without a job? Did I know how guilty I would feel about not being there for my family and friends in the UK? Could I ever have imagined the utter grief of leaving my eldest son behind that doesn't go away? Of course not. Because, had I known any of this, I'm not sure I'd have got on that plane back in January. But then again, could I ever have known how much closer we would all become, or how exhilarating trying new things can be, or how much more potential we all might have?
I started this year thinking I would do certain things like get fit, go on road trips and finish my novel. Instead, I accidentally started a blog, went to a few Zumba classes and took up knitting! Plus we've only managed to get as far as Wisconsin! But I can't feel bad about this because we've spent a year putting down new roots and finding our community and the months have also been punctuated by precious visits from family and friends with whom we've explored the fabulous city on our doorstep.
It seems as though making plans is a pretty futile thing to do since things rarely turn out as you expected. That said, setting a few goals is never a bad idea. At the beginning of the year, we decided that we would say yes to everything and it turned out to be a pretty good thing. It led to meeting some wonderful people and trying new things and it gave us a philosophy around which to build our new life here. I've learnt so much, but I guess the standout lessons have been how generous, hospitable and sociable Americans can be. I've also learnt that homesickness, like grief, comes in stages and I've learnt that it takes a lot more time than you think to feel 'at home' and settled.
So, what are my goals for next year? The biggest problem I've faced since moving here is establishing a routine and without one, I tend to become pretty unmotivated. I work best under pressure and as a creative person, I struggle with boredom, so any goal I set that relies solely on my own motivation is doomed to failure. Nevertheless, my main goal, is just to do more of what brings me joy. There's a reason I've stuck with my (almost) weekly blog, so I'll definitely keep writing. I'm not sure whether I'll continue with this particular blog - I feel it may have served its purpose. Perhaps Chicagojo will change or evolve into something else, just as I have.
But there is of course one more blog left to write and I'll be writing it over the Christmas holiday, spent in England, surrounded by my family and friends - in between catching up with Strictly Come Dancing on BBCiPlayer, stuffing my face with Quality Street chocolates and skipping joyfully around Marks and Spencer!