'20 months without my mum': Expat's Christmas heartache

Kirsten Laiken Brown
·Contributor
·5-min read

I have ceased my search for well-priced plane tickets home. My local Flight Centre has closed. And I haven’t seen my mother in twenty months, nor any blood relative in well over a year.

I shun the daunting idea of not seeing family for another year as the condition of The United States relentlessly falls into further decline due to Covid. But I need to come to grips with the very real reality that it will still be a while.

The city of fantasy and dreams, my L.A hometown is now a ghost town.

Kristen with Family in Los Angeles coronavirus restrictions Christmas
The coronavirus pandemic means Kirsten and others are stranded from family this Christmas. Photo: Supplied

I am afar––comfortably cradled within the safe haven of Australia. Oh Los Angeles, I once could hardly wait to flee towards you – jelly beans shaking in my belly in excitement, clicking ‘purchase’ on my homeward-bound airplane tickets. America, my heart aches as you once sheltered those I love, and you now unsafely imprison them.

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Gratefully, we welcome all that technology provides for us and although it provides minuscule doses of consolation, it can not replace the warmth of a mother's embrace or the closeness in jovial sibling jokes or the loving dead arm from your older brother to keep you humble. But for now it will have to do, and we appreciate it.

Kristen with son Christmas
Milestones have become something shared over an iPhone screen, instead of shown off in real life. Photo: Supplied

Normally parents worry for their young, but there has been a changing of the guard and I stand at unease of what the future may hold for my family.

Our son continues to pass milestone after milestone and we celebrate through a screen – but there still lies a profound distance, and keeping him locked in a hotel for two weeks upon arrival to Australia does not sit well with me. I would happily take an ankle bracelet and quarantine within my own home for two weeks, but this is not an option yet.

Kristen at airport with son suitcase liugagge trip Los Angeles Sydney
Travelling with kids has become a serious dilemma. Photo: Supplied

The faces of my parents through a rectangular screen looking disproportionate as they focus themselves for the conversation, eyeglasses clinking into the phone – answering FaceTime against an ear or blindly trying to find the camera button – makes me chuckle a little.

“Wait, where’s the sound? Where did the sound go? Why is the camera facing me? How do I turn this thing around?” Dad asks as if he is trying to find a single needle in a haystack.

“Dad, it’s the button with the arrows in a circular motion,” I reply, laughing.

“How come I can’t hear you now?” he goes on.

We make our way through, together, and soon we are laughing and trying to make light of as much as we can.

As an expat, you never leave your home country thinking you might be stripped of your freedom to come back. You set out for an adventure with the idea that you are only a flight away.

Kirsten with family LA expat coronavirus stranded
Kirsten never imagined she would one day be locked out of her home country. Photo: Supplied

These times have created a deep, profound appreciation for the smaller yet increasingly more important parts of life within my relationships – health, safety, a zoom call and or a smile over FaceTime. You can have distance with family but the closeness can not be taken… that I have found to be true.

As for being here for Christmas, well, Santa wears sandals, palm tree-print boardshorts, flashes a peace sign and he is shirtless surfing in the ocean. Where the heck is Rudolph? I shake my head in confusion. The sun is bright and cradles you in her warmth. An Aussie sausage sizzles on the BBQ which my fiancé referred to as a “snag”.

“Isn’t that something that happens to clothing?” I think.

We eat our dinner, viewing the sunset on the wrong side of the ocean. Winter is now summer and vice versa. East is west and north is now south. It is humid in December. There’s no snow, and nothing about it feels like home.

Kristen with son at Christmas snow
Christmas looks a lot different this year. Photo: Supplied

I force myself to feel comfortable about it. Get into it, Kirsten. I bet Santa devoured the lobster Rudolph went diving for!

It’s all so different from my childhood memories of flannel pyjamas, eggnog, crisp, cool California mornings and the scent of cinnamon and cloves drifting through the air. This is far from me now. How I miss my family and how I try to not think of it too much.

Instead, I am now greeted with a “Happy Christmas” and everyone walks around as though they are on an island holiday somewhere. Sundresses and sandals, shorts and sun hats, sunshine and boats, the clinking of wine glasses, champagne, BBQs, and long lunches. Australia is a happy safe haven to nestle in until I can head home.

I am planning an epic prank on my brother for the next time I can safely travel home. These things take time to plan. So, you could say I am making the most of this and I hear they have some surprises for me in store, too.

Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy my pavlova and a passionfruit Bellini, put my feet up and witness one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. A beautiful summer Christmas.

Merry Christmas to those near and far.

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