Leaving for London

London collage.And I said, what a pity, To have just a week to spend,When London is a city,Whose beauties never end!

This line of a poem sent by my daughter Stefanie sums up some of our feelings as my 15-year-old son and I travel to London today. We arrive early morning in the United Kingdom and will be joined by Stefanie arriving from Milan and Cliff, my husband, arriving from Edinburgh in late evening.Stef and Jonathan will be introduced to London with all its history and charm as this is their first visit.

As we prepare I realize once again how vast the world is and the magic of travel. Along with the magic of moving between worlds and cultures will be a sweet reunion with Stefanie. Stefanie is 19 and has been on a gap year between graduating from high school and entering college. Her experiences have taken her from Milan to Istanbul and London will be our reconnection between coming back to life in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Reunions for the third culture kid are many and often. Hellos are frequent, goodbyes more so. Trying to work through the complexity of being willing to get to know someone only to let them go is a challenge in this context. The tendency at points is feeling it’s not worth while, that the goodbyes are too painful and bring about unresolved grief and loss. Dave Pollock who worked extensively with third culture kids until his death says this:

“one of the major areas in working with TCKs is that of…dealing with the issue of unresolved grief. They are always leaving or being left. Relationships are short-lived.At the end of each school year, a certain number of the student body leaves, not just for the summer, but for good.It has to be up to the parent to provide a framework of support and careful understanding as the child learns to deal with this repetitive grief. Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.”

It’s also self-perpetuating – just as we said a lot of goodbyes and faced continuous loss as kids, we bring up our children with a love of travel and the world so we continue to face these partings, only now it’s with our most precious commodity – our kids.

But then we go through that glorious feeling of reunion where your hugs are so tight that you can hardly breathe and you can’t talk fast enough to get all the missing thoughts and words of the last months and years out of your heart and head and into the heart and head of the other person. And you know in that instant that no matter how much it hurts to say goodbye, it makes the reuniting all the sweeter. That as much as you think you want that other persons life – the one who has lived in the same house for 30 years and has all of their family within a 5 mile radius – it will never be so for you and your family and that’s quite alright!

14 thoughts on “Leaving for London

  1. “Reunions for the third culture kid are many and often. Hellos are frequent, goodbyes more so. Trying to work through the complexity of being willing to get to know someone only to let them go is a challenge in this context.”

    This is a beautiful explanation of a big TCK dilemma. Although TCKs may resist building deep relationships at times (sick of the constant goodbyes and the ever increasing collection of losses) they are also masters of the cross-continent relationship. One of the greatest joys of my work here in Beijing is when kids come “home” to visit us over summer or Christmas. (Usually kids who have returned to their passport country for university, but still have family in China). These jubilant reunions are startling and heart-warming :)


    1. Thanks so much for reading and for this comment. I like your descriptions ‘masters of the cross-continent relationship’. I just spent the day with TCK’s that I didn’t even know very well – the bond was amazing despite differences in nationalities and current life situations. Would love to hear more about your work in Beijing.


  2. Thanks, Marilyn. Nice reminder for the times when I wistfully say goodbye after talking with Travis in China on the telephone or Skype. (And, oh, that brief reunion in Dec was sweet!)


    1. So true Jan – and wistful is the descriptive word here – I love it. Stef will now join us in Cambridge for a bit – but there is that recognition that when they leave, they do leave. Back for a time, and it is a delight (most of the time!!) interacting with adult children but there is that loss as well. Thanks so much for reading.


  3. London has charm? I musta missed that when I was there. Give me Rome any day. London, not so much.

    Yes, the world is vast and wide — with room enough for all our preferences and peccadillo’s and it is chocked full of that “unresolved grief” . . . more for some than for others.

    The dilemmas don’t seem to have so much to do with whether the reunions will be sweeter, but whether there will be reunions at all — with people or with places. Perhaps the younger you are the more difficult it is to grasp that.

    I am random. You, on the other hand, are wonderful! Blessings on your reunions!


  4. Wow Marilyn your writing is amazing! to get those thoughts into words is beautiful. And I also think of foster care. The children have unresolved grief, as they move from home to home and never really understand why. And we as foster parents have such heartache and tears when they leave our homes, sometimes swearing to never do that again…..but we do. “Trying to work through the complexity of being willing to get to know someone only to let them go is a challenge in this context. The tendency at points is feeling it’s not worth while”…..Oh but it is worthwhile. Thanks


    1. Patti – so glad for this comment and for your reading the post! You are a living, breathing example of being willing to say hello and goodbye despite the personal cost and I but more importantly dozens upon dozens of kids are impacted. Thanks for your light shining incredibly bright.


  5. London is one of our favorite cities in the world; a great place to connect and reconnect. Enjoy with those two young people!


  6. Thank you for this insightful blog! I’m sending it to my sister-in-law who is a counselor and works with TCF. (families) Also, I would like to add an insight that the grief of goodbyes is often experienced by children who are raised by a series of caregivers, in a daycare setting, or in the home. I think most people are unaware of this.


    1. Pegi – thanks so much. It is a high compliment. It has been great to finally get thoughts on to paper that I have had all these years around memories, loss, feeling ‘other’ and more.
      I feel you’re right about the grief of goodbyes of someone experiencing a series of caregivers. One of the things my mom pointed out to me quite some time ago was the dilemma kids have when they go to boarding school and their parent visits and is in the same place or room as their authority figure from boarding school. It’s as though they don’t know who to choose. I wonder if it is the same with day care, and even more so when multiple care givers. Different issue I know but….
      I have one coming out tomorrow called identity theft!
      Thanks for reading.


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