While I can be as Pollyanna as it comes, I have to acknowledge that life, motherhood, expat life is not always what we imagined it would be. Sometimes there are wonderful surprises. Sometimes, the surprises are not what we might have hoped.What did you think mothering would be like? Did you expect that your heart would break every day when you saw a child struggling to make friends? That reading your favorite books would not be sweet moments snuggled together on the coach, but rather admonishing of “If you don’t stop pulling your brother’s hair right now, I will stop this story.”
Expat life? The expectations would fill a book, the reality another. Maybe even in a different genre.
I’ve been learning so much about persevering through the tough times. Sometimes I think those are lessons I could really do without, but in all honesty, I know this is where the growth happens. Here’s a few lessons I’d like to share with you, so you can make the most of your tough time lessons.
1. This is now.
Sometimes, when times get tough, I find myself wishing for the next phase – please let this little kid fighting phase end. Please let them outgrow this habit. Only 18 months until we leave this country for the next, only one more Christmas here. When I catch myself, I stop and wonder at the questionable wisdom of wishing your life away.
This is now.
Cliched as it is, this moment will never happen again. In this moment, there is something beautiful. Take a deep breath, slow down just for a second, and think about the beauty, the joy, or if nothing else, the growth, in this moment.
2. Embrace the tough.
Hear me out. I’m not saying that you should be grateful that something horrible is happening to you. In fact, let me say that sometimes life is hard, and I’m so sorry that hard times are happening for you.
Here’s what I’m saying. Lean in. Feel hurt, feel sad, feel angry. Then acknowledge the growth opportunity. You are strong enough to do this. Hey, if you belt out a chorus of “I will survive” all the better.
3. Ask for help.
There is nothing that says you have to tough it out alone. Talk to other parents. Talk to other expats. Maybe the situation requires professional help. Get help. Ask. You never know what resources may be at your disposal. Figure out what you need to make it better, and then ask. People want to help, but often don’t know what you need. Are you overwhelmed with the needs of the new baby? I bet you a friend would be happy to pick up groceries, bring a meal, or take your older child to the park. Allow others in. Ask for what you need.
4. Nothing lasts forever.
It is the great tragedy and the great joy of our lives – babies grow, we get older, times change. I am a huge fan of the Anne of Green Gables books, and here is one of my favorite quotes:
“I’ve kind of contracted a habit of enj’ying things,” he [Captain Jim] remarked once, when Anne had commented on his invariable cheerfulness. “It’s got so chronic that I believe I even enj’y the disagreeable things. It’s great fun thinking they can’t last. `Old rheumatiz,’ says I, when it grips me hard, `you’ve GOT to stop aching sometime. The worse you are the sooner you’ll stop, mebbe. I’m bound to get the better of you in the long run, whether in the body or out of the body.’” Anne’s House of Dream by L.M. Montgomery
While I don’t wish my time away, I know that this will end. My boys will get bigger, the challenges of parenting will change. This tour will be over, and our new location will have its own challenges.
If I do this right, I will be ready to face those new challenges stronger and maybe a little wiser, because of the tough times I face today.
My grandmother passed away at 104 and three quarters. She was a doer of crossword puzzles, a voracious reader, and a great cook. I remember her garden – there were early peach trees, and a giant grape vine, and a hydrangea bush so big and fragrant that it dwarfed everything. The back of the house was cool and smelled of sunlight soap. She cooked macaroni casseroles for the day we arrived, served with chutney. We ate fried fish and chips hot from the oven in the garden before she served dinner, and she made biriyani – an indian mix of rice, lentils, chicken and fragrant spices.
I’m sad that she is gone, sad that she never got to meet my little boys, sad that I have not seen her in 15 years.
As expats, it seems that there are two things we miss most: family, and food. We miss births, and deaths, and weddings. We miss Sunday lunch after church. We miss the comfort food we were raised on. We talk incessantly about the place to find peanut butter your kids will actually eat, the difference between vegemite and marmite, and the acceptable substitutes. (Fray Bentos for me, none for the Australians.) We talk about who got chocolate chips from the U.S. I know the (three) places in Lima where I can find whole-wheat flour.
But our food genealogy changes. My favorite biriyani is that of my grandmother despite my travels in India. My favorite foods of all time might be my other grandmother’s chicken casserole, my mother’s chocolate mousse, the t-bone steaks with salt my grandfather grilled over a half-drum. Of course, there is my husband’s award winning chili.
But now it includes more: the lamb curry we ate after a dusty day on the road in Rajasthan. The koshary we ate at Cairo Kitchen, the cilantro hummus so good that I would eat the leftovers with a spoon while cleaning up after dinner. Dates from the street corners. It includes my finds at the fruit market here in Lima – cherimoya, lucuma, maracuya, and the small sweet bananas. Of course ceviche is great, but my new comfort food may be Lomo Saltado – a saucy stir fry with asia and new world blended like the rice and French fries that accompany it.
My family has also grown. Our small circle is tightly knit, and I count the days until my mom comes to visit obsessively. But now, my family includes the family we make for ourselves when we are far away… the women I can call to pick my kids up from school when I’m stuck in traffic. The women who showed me Cairo, and the way to live with grace in this crazy life of ours. The families with whom we share Thanksgiving – to me, the most sacred of American traditions.
We miss food and family. We miss so much. We gain so much more.