I’m leaving Peru. The packing is not done yet, and chaos still abounds, but I am here – in the midst of it, trying to ride the waves of emotion as they come. Sadness. Excitement. Regrets. Elation. I don’t really like all this feeling. I much prefer putting all feeling and experiencing off to a more convenient time – maybe a few years from now. This life we chose doesn’t give us that luxury. Next year will have it’s own waves to ride. And the year after that will too.
It’s a circle really – New place excitement, homesickness, culture shock (of the ugly expat kind), acceptance, finally making friends, new assignment decisions, excitement for the new place, packout, sadness and goodbyes. Repeat every 2 or 3 years.
I have no glib “3 rules to make goodbyes easier” for you. When the goodbyes are easy, I think it means we held back. We didn’t bring our best self, let it all out, share our gifts, work like crazy to make a life here. So what I may offer instead are ways to make the goodbyes hard, and the rewards high.
Be vulnerable. Share. It seems that we always get closer to friends right as we are about to leave. I have wondered if it is because we are vulnerable and open only at the end, when we know we are leaving anyway.
I was at a brunch a few weeks ago with some ladies I had not met yet. I was less than a month away from leaving, and here I was, meeting people I wanted to get to know better. I could have met them all earlier if I actually joined the expat group I always intended to join.
Learn the language, learn the customs, go where the locals go.
I have always said that I would not be the expat bubble kinda expat – the one who goes to the expat school, the expat club, speaks only English, lives in the expat neighborhood. And yet, I understand the allure of the expat bubble – I live much of my expat life in that comfort.
Still, the rewards come when I get in that terrible looking taxi, speak my terrible Spanish, and go in search of the best lucuma, the cobblers’ market, the place where locals buy their fish. We could never fool ourselves that we could live like a local, and making local friends are challenging in some places, but the rewards are so high when we try.
Move in. Unpack every last box. Hang the pictures. Walk the neighborhood. Smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the wave coming. It can be the ride of your life.
Since my boys were very little I have tried to instill small routines in our lives to help them mark time and build a family culture that allows them to feel a sense of belonging. Some rituals have changed… I no longer nurse babies to sleep, or read Goodnight Moon repeatedly snuggled in the rocking chair. These days, they prefer their stories scary, all together on one bed while they jockey for the best position with Dad.
The one family ritual that has been unchanged no matter where we are is family pizza movie night. In Egypt, my oldest (then two) loved helping me to put anchovies on his pizza. (And sadly, he no longer eats them now.) We bought dough from a local bakery – it was always a rather buttery pizza, and the movie of the night was something animated and (usually) Pixar.
While on evacuation in Arlington, the pizzas where often from Trader Joes or a local pizzeria. After all, we had a limited kitchen. The movies where chosen from TV – a luxury for my little guys who have never had a cable subscription!
Here in Lima, I learned to make my own dough, and top it with spanish chorizo and many many olives. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, my husband was diagnosed with a wheat intolerance. By now, the ritual is important enough that I have spent many hours perfecting pizza dough that tastes not “good for gluten free” but really good.
We all look forward to pizza movie night. It is the one reliable part of our week, no matter what else is going on.
Want to learn more about family rituals and resilience? I’m teaching a webinar on resilience on March 10th at noon EST. Would you like to join? It’s Free! Sign up here
I am a planning junkie. One of my favorite things about December is the arrival of shiny new blank planners, and all the big dreams I write in them for the coming year.
Every book and class on planning emphasizes that you should start by reviewing your current year. This is the part I usually neglect. When I started my planning process for 2016 a few weeks ago, I wanted to forget 2015 all together. We had some lovely travels, and some exciting things happened, but what I kept getting stuck on is that there has been no certainty for us this year.
Here, at the beginning of December, we still don’t know where we will live next year. For a [control freak] planner like me, this is excruciating. Do I keep winter clothes (for some posts I don’t have nearly enough, for other it will mold unused in a box.) Do we need a new car? (Some posts yes, some no.)
I just couldn’t get past what was disappointing about this year. And that is where I got stuck – I couldn’t remember anything else that happened. So I started looking though some pictures. I looked back at my planner and journal.
And that’s when it hit me.
Planning the new year without reviewing the old, is like drawing out a very detailed map to your destination without having the starting point.
Looking back at the year, the goals we met or didn’t meet, the exciting and the ugly, what we know now, and what we realize we may never know, all of that shows us where we start.
What I found was a year full of family, new discoveries, and tenuous steps in a new direction. True, there is no tada! photo op at the end of any of it yet, but look at everything that started this year: my coaching practice, my oldest son’s school career. My Spanish is almost comprehensible. (Ha! I never thought I’d say that.)
That canopy walk? Well, I’m [a bit] afraid of heights. And what I tried to do there was put one foot in front of the other. Enjoy the awe of where I was – high above the trees of the amazon rain forest. All without looking down and giving in to the fear. And isn’t that what big dreams and plans and goals are all about? One foot in front of the other, enjoy the journey, don’t give in to the fear.
I have some exciting plans for 2016, and I can’t wait. But this time is about 2015.
How are you celebrating 2015?
PS: If you are looking for some guidance in planning your year, I can recommend Michael Hyatt’s Your Best Year Ever and Leonie Dawson’s Shining Life and Biz workbook. I’ve done and loved both, though they are very different. This year, I’m also doing Molly Mahar’s Holiday Council, but it already started, so keep it in mind for next time.
Arriving in a new country, you often don’t know anyone. Sometimes you don’t speak the language. You don’t have your house or car; you don’t know where to buy groceries. The kids have a new school, but you have to take them in a taxi. “Don’t let them rip you off,” people warn about the taxi. But how could you possibly avoid getting ripped off when you speak none of the local language, and haven’t quite figured out the currency and conversion rates. How much should temporary housing to the store/school/husband’s office cost anyway? I know I have shoved a hand full of bills at a taxi driver and hoped that he would give me the appropriate change.
Your husband goes off to work, and you are left to figure it out. When we move to a new city, my husband has learned that he probably shouldn’t ask how I’m doing unless he wants an earful those first weeks. But if he doesn’t ask I get mad that he goes off to his great job and doesn’t even care how we are doing! This is lunacy at its finest. Those first few weeks are rough.
The kids must be first, you think. You unpack whatever things you brought to make them feel at home. Toys, maybe their own sheets and blankets. Eventually, you get the school uniforms, the giant list of school supplies that has to be bought at 14 different stores, and the kids start school. You find their classes, chat with the teachers, and do your best to make friends for them. “That boy looks nice! Tell him your name! Can you ask him if he wants to play with you?”
You get home, and it is quiet, messy, and empty. You haven’t figured out the weird smell in the plumbing yet, or the best time to take a shower that won’t freeze or scald you, and that has enough water pressure to rinse out the shampoo – the last bottle brought from home. Once you get an internet connection, you respond to every facebook post in your feed, skype friends and family whenever they are on-line, and long for your previous life.
What now? What do you do? You pick up the breakfast dishes, you try your language study books. You try to plan a meal with ingredients you can find or pronounce. And you realize that you are exhausted. And lonely.
While those first weeks may feel like an eternity, they do pass. Eventually you get a home, a car, maybe a few friends made at school or through an expat group. One day, you arrive at the grocery store, and realize that you drove there without thinking about it.
Being an expat mom can be a pretty tough gig, but I want to tell you that you can bloom where you are (trans)planted. This can be the best adventure you could possibly imagine. In this new space, I’ll share what I’ve have learned about self-care, routines and rituals that can make your family more resilient, and simplicity that will make your expat life feel… well, simple. Let’s do it together.
Please, will you take a moment to tell me what you’re struggling with today? Use the contact form to drop me a line – I can’t wait to hear from you.
Right now, I am…
… buzzing with energy from the wonderful coaching session I had with a client this morning. I love my job!
…listening to Silk Road Journeys by Yo Yo Ma. Beautiful stuff.
…smelling the last of the pumpkin bread baking. It was good while it lasted, even if it is technically spring, not fall.
… enjoying the last week of silence before the boys are done with their school year.
… looking forward to having them with me as we prepare for Christmas.
…hoping that more bubbles can entertain them for a while this afternoon. Bubbles are always a hit around here.
…frantically preparing teacher gifts, santa lists, bits and pieces of costumes for the play (oh, that last week of school is always a challenge, isn’t it?)
… elfing together just a few more home-made gifts. Stockings for new family members, a few baby gifts from Handmade Beginnings, and a few stocking stuffers. Ambition always exceeds available time
… grateful to be done with gifts for my boys. We are working hard to keep it simple, clean, and open in their spaces. If you are still looking for kid gift ideas, I would suggest an art basket – great ideas from the fabulous Meri Cherry.
… writing shopping and packing lists for our upcoming trip… oh Trader Joe’s, I can’t wait to see you.
…choosing colors, design elements, and lots and lots of details for the new Vital Mommy website (to be revealed soon) and cooking up a few surprises to share with you next year.
My husband has a degree in history, and a doctorate in political science. To say that he’s a history buff is probably an understatement. When I once, early in our relationship, told him that I was not a huge fan of history in school, he said that it was because history was taught wrong. It was reduced to memorizing dates and battles, with no discussion of the human stories that make it happen. So it was with interest that I read The New History Wars on the New York Times, an article about the revision of the curriculum framework for the advanced placement test in American history.
After that conversation long time ago, I started reading biographies, and I was hooked. Since I didn’t grow up in the United States, I thought American history would be an appropriate starting point. I read biographies of Washington, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. I read Franklin’s autobiography – as much a study in time and life management as an account of a historical period. When I finished David McCullough’s 1776, I immediately went looking to see if he wrote “1777” because it read like a riveting novel, and I wanted more. I read personal letters from the wars. I read biographies, memoirs, essays.
When I started started traveling for work, I would prepare for a trip by reading Lonely Planet, and then whatever my local library had on the country’s history. I read about India, Indonesia, Turkey, and Egypt. It began making sense. What happened to people in one place didn’t happen in temporal or geographic isolation. If you want to understand the Palestinian conflict, start with a good read, like Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree. Then read something on the same topic from a completely different perspective.
As I started reading different books on the same topic, I started thinking about the observer effect in physics. Maybe history too, has an observer effect. After all, the historian is the product of his time, her education, his belief system, her heritage. What she sees and observes is not independent of who she is and when she writes. Then here is the depth of field. Is it a wide angel, seeing the 6 million Jews who died, lists of camps, dates of liberation? Is it focussed on the young life of Ann Frank, showing us the impact of history on the very real girl? Is it the recollections of Primo Levi, bearing witness to the events he lived through? While all these views might be historically accurate, the stories they tell are not the same.
Facts are facts, right? Maybe the reason that we teach kids dates and battles is because accepting ambiguity and gray areas is a more mature skill. It seems to me that there are lots and lots of gray areas in history. It seems to me that American history is not a static thing. The very nature of the melting pot, or salad bowl or whatever menu item you wish to call the composition of our country, dictates that history has to be inclusive. Our history is the history of the Roman empire, the British colonies, independence. But it is also the history of India, and China, and the Maya and the Inca, and the Spanish empire.
So what is a vital mommy to do when she teaches her children history? What’s vital of course. Help them to memorize the dates and battles, then get the atlas and show them where it happened. Take them on a field trip, even if its only to the local library. Read. Read. Read. George Santayana is credited with the quote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” To that I say that those who do not understand the interpretation of their history, and bound to misunderstand it.
By the way, if you need some examples from Peru, I suggest that you start with The Last Days of the Incas, and then read William Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Peru. For more fun, start with Turn Right at Machu Picchu, a fun adventure yarn with just enough history to make you curious for more.