Memory Strasse

My first day of Dutch preschool, circa 1980

I’ve been eagerly following the adventures of moving a family of 8 (!) across the Big Pond to live in France for a year over at Design Mom. Oh! And her sister‘s family moved to Paris for a year at the same time. Ooh la la! Dreamy, no? Visions of crunchy baguettes, gorgeous bowls of fresh yogurt and a contagious lust for a cultured adventure makes me ponder the time our family spent in Germany and The Netherlands when I was a wee one. Shall we take a short trip down Memory Strasse, lovelies?

While it was only for a few years and before I even set foot in kindergarten, the experience of living in Europe as a child was an incredibly formative one for me. But here’s the interesting part that I’ve been mulling over… Did the experiences themselves inform my identity, or is it the stories that I’ve created from the photographs from those years that have created this identity? Or is it simply the adventurous idea of my parents moving a young family overseas to chase a dream that inspires me? Hmmmm.

Regardless, I remember those years fondly and think about my parent’s choice often. Especially now with a family of my own when some days it’s difficult enough to just get out of the house to go grocery shopping and arrive home without mayhem ensuing. Taking small children on long, international flights and arriving in a country where you know no one and can barely speak the language? Oof. In some ways that just makes me feel tired and in other ways, energized. To pursue dreams, adventures.

Walking the beaches at the Isle of Wight, eating fresh figs in Portugal, taking walks by myself to the deer park or getting a loaf of bread or maybe some beer at our neighborhood store in the Netherlands, skating on frozen canals, sitting on the rocks of Stonehenge… these are great stories and photo memories, but what has truly stayed with me? Cliché, but true:

  • love of language and different kinds of people
  • appetite for fresh, good food
  • interest in trying new experiences
  • ability to easily adapt to new situations
  • expensive tastes. A European sensibility does not come cheap, my friends… oof.
  • desire to travel, see the world, push beyond my comfort level in far-off places
  • love of a simpler life: community, walkability, family, friends, nature

So is it important to me that Wren has a similar experience? Yes and no. I want her to develop these traits, but do we have to move our family to achieve them? I’m not sure. What do you think, lovelies?

If we were to move overseas, Scandinavia appeals most to me at this point in our lives. Similar weather that I love about northern Michigan, the aesthetic, fresh fish, natural beauty, interesting languages… but at the same time, if someone put me on a plane to just about anywhere in the Mediterranean right about now, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight.

Where would you go if you were to move abroad? What’s holding you back? I’d love to hear your thoughts, lovelies. XO

Yes, I wore wooden shoes. Wasn’t I a cute little kid?

0 thoughts on “Memory Strasse

  1. Awwww … I don’t remember your face being that round – I think it’s just the photo, but you sure were a cutie, and talk about confidence – it just flowed from you.

    Our impetus for moving abroad was quite simple: Your dad was out of work in the US, and there were jobs in Europe. However, had I not spent three years of my life overseas from age 16 to 19, we may not have gone. I had the advantage of already studying French and German, but could speak only street German, but that helped a lot. I also got some advice from my parents, who as you know, were also ex-patriots. And, when we moved over (our immediate family), Uncle Gary was living there, not far from Dusseldorf where we first settled.

    If I had a choice, I’d go to England. All things English beckon me, regardless of whether it’s an inconvenience or a pleasurable thing. I love the history, the countryside, the yeasty bread, the accent, the roundabouts, even the rain. Brits scoff at me, proclaiming that Americans are so much friendlier, life is so much easier here, we have everything, yada yada. All that may be true, but I remember, too, the Isle of Wight and exploring the remains of a castle there, the various colored sand, the ferry ride to the Isle – I loved Cornwall and Land’s End, and the countryside in between Bristol and London, coming across the quoits still standing in the hils amidst the hearty heather. Yup. If I could, I’d go to England, find a little old cottage, maybe with a thatched roof, paint it in bright colors, surround it with flower and vegetable gardens, buy a bicycle to ride to the local village, and fill my cottage with books and flowers. Well, we’re allowed to dream, aren’t we?

    The only drawback about taking little kids abroad is that relocating to the States, assuming the travel is for a limited time, it’s hard for kids to assimilate. It wasn’t too bad for you, Ash, because you started Kindergarten in Romeo and pretty much grew up there, but Chris had to go to school in Lincoln Park and Houston before we settled in Romeo. By then he was starting 4th grade and friendships were already formed, and I believe he felt like an outsider – which broke my heart. You, you little trooper (trouper?) fit in snuggly like a pair of well-fitting gloves.

    And don’t frget – prior to our moving to Romeo, your dad and I lived in:
    New Yok
    Washington, D.C. area,
    Houston and
    Lincoln Park. Did I forget anyplace?

    No wonder I’m content to stay in Michigan/Chicago – planes, trains and automobiles have lost their allure to me. But if I could manage to find that place in England ……

  2. hi ash — so your post makes me think about my own family. I was born in Michigan, but now that I have a kid of my own, i really contemplate the challenges that my parents (and particularly my mom) faced moving from India to England to Scotland then to Michigan. The days I catch myself complaining about this or that, I try hard to imagine what it was like for her to leave her huge family, move to England, live in the cool, damp, countryside with my brother while my father worked a ton at the local hospital, not know the language.. then lose her twins, lose her mother (and not be able to say goodbye), and then add to her family with birth of my sister.

    Her experiences have really shaped her and though she says nonchalantly that they “had” to do it “for a better life”, it still makes me think about living far away.She has gained so much from moving — confidence that is not evident in her female relatives; she learned to knit and make jam, drive a car, go back to school, and have a job.

    Even now with being in North Carolina I feel split about having an adventure down here, feeling guilty about not being near my family and seeing that my mother did it with strength just fine and was even further from her family.

    anyways, I think it’s hard for me to imagine living abroad right now since I struggle with just getting back to MI enough for Sonia to have some time with her grandparents. India would be fun for awhile, Japan perhaps. We love to travel and would love to explore new places.

    I read your post to Peter and his response is ” i’d live abroad, but not for more than 6 months”. He wants to know if you were able to see your grandparents when you were living in Europe as a wee-one? and his other question is ” do we have to work? and is money no object?” That is truly what is and will be holding us back for awhile — making it possible for Sonia to have experiences with her extended family. I didn’t get a chance to know my grandparents growing up — I suppose I had a reverse “abroad” experience b/c my family was essentially “abroad” from their family. My whole extended is still in India.

    This turned into a long answer to your question but it sure makes you stop and think about what’s important.


    • I loved reading your thoughts, Doreen. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It is amazing what people will do “for a better life.”

      When we were living overseas, one set of grandparents came to visit us and I believe we took a trip back to the US to visit the other side of the family at one point. But we didn’t really see a lot of our grandparents growing up and this is something I’m trying to change with our family. I do want Wren to know her grandparents as people and not just as an annual visit or an occasional card in the mail. It’s tough with everyone living so far away, but it’s important to me.

      Another thing that’s really important are Wren’s relationships with aunts and uncles and cousins. I can’t imagine not seeing my brother and his family on a regular basis and yet, I don’t feel like I really know my cousins at all.

      But there’s always Skype!!

  3. You are adorable in those wooden shoes! I do believe those experiences abroad, on vacation, or just in our backyard do leave an impression on us when we are little. I still remember the smell of cedar chips, the sail boats and tin ceiling from Fish Creek were my Dad owned a ice-cream parlor growing up. Growing up in Manitowoc, WI my mom was constantly bring home smelt and other interesting fishy things as well as art work on loan from our local library. I still love fish and I’m an artist. Go figure? On a side note my Grandma Z was such a fashionista. I wish I had more of that in my life. My parents went to Europe when I was little they came back with amazing slides of their adventures. As kids we watched these slides over and over again, hum. Then in high school I devoured French and Italian magazines and later in my twenties visited these places. All I have of some of the places I loved or people I’ve lost are photos. These photos recreate over and over my memories, conjure up stories and create folklore of my past.

    • Smell is such a powerful sense, no? I bet just the smell of smelt sends you quickly back to being a wee one.

      Thank goodness for photography! So very grateful.

      Thanks for sharing, Lisa!

  4. Ash,
    I really liked seeing these photos and reading your thoughts…I love the idea of two families moving to the same country. Stockholm is the new Paris. I am in.
    I’ve often thought about these same ideas in regards to the importance of cultural education for our wee ones. Honestly, I think it is the joy of curiosity of the parents with their children that can help a UP kid yearn for quests abroad, even little trips…sometimes I think I owe my mom’s love of adventure in the smallest of daily tasks like collecting mushrooms or cherries, that helped me say, sure, I’d live overseas. I’ve also taught kids whose parents lived in Italy and all they, both parents and children, missed were things like hot pockets and car garages.
    I would love to see Wren and the gang get to go abroad, you know overseas schools love couples…..
    Love love these photos of you.

    • Deal! Stockholm here we come.

      I agree, Em. The idea of having daily adventures in the world around you, wherever you may be, now that is an important lesson. What a great example!

      Confession: I ate at a TGIFridays once in Prague. I guess I missed greasy, American food? Egads.

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