I'm not going home for Christmas this year.

Yes, I have a plane ticket that I fully intend to use. I will be sitting around the Christmas tree with my parents and siblings participating in the traditions that we've had since I was a little kid. We all love each other and have good relationships with each other. I'm really looking forward to this.

For me, however, going back to the city I grew up in and going home are two entirely different things. It's not that I have bad feelings towards where I grew up, it just never felt like home.

I'm what some people refer to as a third culture kid. I don't like to use that term to describe myself, since the idea behind the term is that since my parents raised me in a culture that was different from my own, I'm not supposed to feel fully integrated in either my parents' culture of origin or in the one I was raised in, so I form my own culture with other people in my situation. I don't feel this describes me, and I also don't like the image of the perpetually confused, socially inept misfit that's often associated with it. 

However reluctant I feel to apply the label of third culture kid to myself, there is one aspect of the description that I do feel applies to me: never being sure what to call home. For most people, being asked where you're from is a simple question. They can simply say, "I'm from Philadelphia" or, "I'm from Tokyo." Or Amsterdam. Or Los Angeles. Or Kenya, Russia, Mexico, wherever. For me, the answer is more like, "I was born in Chicago, grew up in Quito, Ecuador, but I feel most at home in Fargo, North Dakota and now I live in Minneapolis." It takes too long to say and it often turns the conversation to my weird situation when I often don't really feel like talking about it. I also don't feel like answering with any one of those places is completely honest. I was born in Chicago, but if you dropped me off in Chicago without a map or a GPS, I'd be completely lost. I'd know what some of the landmarks were, but beyond that, I'd be as confused as any of the tourists there. I know my way around most parts of Quito, but I don't speak perfect Spanish and or look even remotely Hispanic. I also don't really feel like I'm from there. Fargo makes the most sense to me, because I did fit in there, but if the response is "Oh really? Me too! What high school did you go to?" saying I went to an international school in Ecuador raises eyebrows. My scarcity of childhood memories involving sleds, skates, and snowball fights would also eventually come into question.

I got the where are you from question a lot when I lived in Ecuador. With my pale skin, reddish hair, blue eyes, and distinctive accent, I definitely stood out. I got tired of it. I felt like being asked was a constant reminder that I was different and that I didn't really fit in. How I answered depended on what I was feeling that day. I'd sometimes simply say I'd lived in Quito most of my life, hoping that would close the topic, and the follow-up question was always "Ok then, where are you originally from?" I knew people were just curious, but it got old after awhile. I especially hated it when people would say, "Well, if you've lived here so long, why do you still have an accent?" Because of this, my definition of "home" now includes the idea that it's somewhere where you're not seen as some curious being who seems to be visiting from elsewhere.

I moved to Fargo at nineteen, and within a few months, I felt like I'd lived there forever. I quickly found a great group of friends. I lived there for 5 years and really loved a lot of things about living there, even the extreme climate. The friends I made there are still some of my best friends ten years after I left. If I was going to call any place home, it would be Fargo.

Going back to Quito to visit after 17 months in Minneapolis brings mixed feelings for me. On one hand, I can't wait to see my parents and siblings. While my parents and sister have all visited me in Minneapolis, I have not seen my brother since I left. I'm looking forward to spending time with him in person. There are also certain foods I'm excited to try again and places I'm excited to revisit.

On the other hand, part of the reason I moved was to get away from some bad situations and painful memories. There were things that happened both when I lived in Ecuador as a child and when I returned for seven and a half years as an adult that I wanted to get away from: the memory of growing up believing I was defective, instances of sexual mistreatment, being told that one of the perpetrators of one of those instances was now my new bandmate and then being kicked out of the band when I questioned the decision, developing a mysterious illness that occasionally still affects me, and just the constant feeling that I was seen as an outsider...while any of those things could have just as easily happened anywhere, putting physical distance between myself and where they actually did happen has been an important part of healing, of moving on. Being somewhere where my presence is not questioned but accepted as normal has been incredibly helpful as well, as has finding a new day job where I feel competent and valued, finding fun acting gigs, working at Scream Town where I feel like my quirks are an asset rather than a detriment, and trying to get a live version of Legend's Ghost up and running with two people I really like. When I go back, I'll be leaving that all behind for a week and going back to where some of the most difficult things I've had to deal with happened.

Because of these things, it makes me feel a little weird when someone mentions that I'm going home for Christmas. I usually say something like, "Yes, I'm very excited about spending Christmas with my family." I don't say that it doesn't feel like I'm going home, because in the end, it's who I spend the holidays with rather than where that matters to me. 

In the end, it's just a week. I'll enjoy my family, have a cup or two of canelazo (a local alcoholic beverage), go to my favorite vacation spot on the coast, get reacquainted with the idea of slathering on sunscreen rather than bundling up in layers of winter clothes before going out...and then go home to Minnesota.