Little Trinkets from Here and There


Confession time. I’m not a packrat. In fact, I’m like the opposite of a packrat. Which I guess is someone who not only constantly gets rid of their own things but harbors fantasies of cleaning out the closets, shelves and toy rooms of others as well. Yep – that’s me.

But wait! That’s not the confession. The confession is this. There’s one little tiny, packrat-like thing that I do. When I find a receipt or card or movie ticket stub or even a crumpled old parking garage pass hiding in the bottom of an old purse or coat pocket – I keep it. I take these things out from their hiding place and I look over them and I smile. Sometimes I even cry.

This weekend I found the receipt in the photo up there. It’s almost two years old and it’s from the time when I just gotten over the 6-month culture shock hump. I felt in my groove in my little life in Antananarivo, Madagascar. I had friends. I knew which store to go to buy toilet paper, tissues, dark chocolate and parsley. And even now I can still picture the produce guy who would weigh my food and print out my sticker at the Leader Price on the dusty, crowded, chaotic Hydrocarbon Road in Tana. I look at this receipt and I can actually feel what my day was like that day.

I see this receipt and I’m back there. I’m reminded of all the parts of myself that I leave behind in all of these little places. I’m reminded that I only really think I leave them behind – they’re still with me. Like little slips of paper hiding in the pocket of the jacket I haven’t worn in years…just waiting for me to bring them back out again.

And so, I never throw these little things away. I can’t. After my moment of remembering, I re-hide them. I slip them into books. I put them back into new purses. I slide them under the socks in my bottom drawer. It’s all like a little ritual now. They’re my little reminders that wherever I go I take a bit of my old life with me. Wherever I go I never truly leave behind the things I think I’ve left behind.


Working Through the Hard Days

Today was one of those days. You know, the days in your expat life when you think, “Why are we doing this? Again.” I find these days always hit me completely out of the blue. We’re going along, no big deal, feeling on top of the world and (honestly) quite proud of ourselves and our children. We feel like transition rock stars. And then – Bam!

Yesterday we were looking at some family photos from our last home in Madagascar. Because of his Type I Diabetes diagnosis my middle son was never able to say goodbye. He got sick. He went to the doctor. He got on a plane. He’s never been back. He found the photos upsetting. He got teary-eyed seeing his toys and his room and his friends reflected in the pages as we recalled our favorite memories. His siblings had closure. He never really did. At bedtime he was saying, “I want to go home.” But, of course, it’s not home…anymore.

Last night I had a dream that he and I were in a foreign country and we got distracted by something that was happening in the street and laid our bags down, then a civil war broke out, then our bags were stolen, then a small, starving child latched on to us and wouldn’t let us go. That’s my psyche working out the conflicts that always come up living this lifestyle. We wouldn’t give this up. We’re happy. It’s a way of life and the benefits, for now, far out-weigh the downsides. But man, that dream really hit me.

And then I remember:

  • Expat or not, I’d probably still worry sometimes (or…always?) that I’m screwing up my kids.
  • Sad days happen no matter where you are.
  • This lifestyle can be hard, but not always. Today is just one of the hard days.
  • There’s a lot to be said for love…and hugs.
  • I’m not alone.
  • Some things are portable – like fun, and silliness, and getting outside, and (more) love.

The funny thing is, by today he was completely back to his usual self. That makes me think that that list up there, all those things I say to give myself some perspective aren’t just things I say, they’re habits that my husband and I live out…and the kids know that. They’ve learned to tell themselves those things too. They’ve come to believe them to be true. So…now I’m back to thinking – wow, we’re kind of transition rock stars…most of the time.

In the Moment…

Last week we saw the new Richard Linklater film Boyhood. It’s on everyone’s minds. Having grown up in Central Texas (my hometown of Dripping Springs even gets the briefest of mentions), I found much of the movie mirrored my adolescence…only, of course, we didn’t have the Internet or Facebook or cell phones. But, I’m not the only one finding the images from the film stuck in my head. What is it about this movie?

Watching the film is like flipping through an old family photo album that covers an entire decade. It’s like watching your mom age right before your eyes. It’s like seeing yourself with chubby baby cheeks and then acne and then braces and then suddenly coming out of your shell all in three hours. It’s recognizing that you see yourself in the kid on the screen, but the also noticing that, wow, you really relate to the parents.

For most of us, this feeling can be unsettling. We like to ignore that time is passing. In this film, 12 years are wrapped into 3 hours so, unless you get up and walk out, you just can’t ignore it. These people are getting older! These people are making bad decisions! These people are doing dangerous things and (lots of times) nothing bad happens! These people are falling in…and out…of love! These people are having the times of their lives for now and then tomorrow who knows what will happen. So yes, it’s unsettling, but it’s also uplifting. It puts us all, the young and the old, right in the same place…or at the very least, headed in the same direction.

In the final scene, a young girl (a new character perhaps on the edge of taking a leading role) says (I’m paraphrasing), “You know the saying goes, ‘Seize the moment,’ but I think it’s more like the moment seizes us.”

Maybe it’s a bit of both. A two-way street.

Sure, sometimes we seize the moment and make it ours, but perhaps if we do life well, we find that we’re surrounded by moments that have the potential to seize us.

I like this twist on that famous line. I like the way in which it sounds like a call to wake up, to pay attention, to say “yes” a bit more to what’s happening around us. I think there’s a happiness booster in there too. A little less doing, a bit more listening and, I’d like to think, a lot more following your heart. Who knows, there may be some adventures out there just waiting to take you along for the ride.

What Moves Us – In Any Language

This morning, driving back from dropping the kids at summer camp, my husband I had a great conversation about music. We’re huge music lovers at our house and we see that permeating our kids lives as well. We were noticing that one of the greatest joys of our international lifestyle is the complicated and diverse fabric of music we have come to love. My husband and I can understand the lyrics to songs in English, French, Spanish and even a bit of Japanese. Our kids on the other hand (despite once being bilingual in English and Spanish and having a smattering of French), really don’t understand the lyrics most of the time…frankly, even if it’s in English, their native language.

But, they’re so moved by the rhythm and the energy that comes from the things they hear. Some of their favorite songs they simply request by reproducing the beat or other times they approximate the lyrics by giving a go at what they believe they’re hearing (as you can imagine, this is especially adorable).

As we were talking this morning, I was thinking about this and the way in which it’s another unexpected positive consequence to this mobile lifestyle. Their flexibility with experiences, with language and with culture is being formed in so many complex ways we never even really think of.

And, it’s yet another thing that reminds me how little actually needs to be “done” in order to make this lifestyle work. We kind of just nestle down into living, having fun and making our best go of it without overcomplicating things. Then out the other side comes a simple, unencumbered ability to dance to a rhythm that moves us – even if we never really understand each and every detail.

For the music lovers out there – here are a few favorites that we never get tired of hearing.

We love Stromae and he actually gave a really great NPR interview with Eleanor Beardsley this morning.

Such a fun and addictive song! This was a real hit of the elementary school birthday party set when we were living in Madagascar.

Ok – we LOVE this one, but be warned – the video is horribly sexist…I also can’t promise that none of the lyrics aren’t offensive….but, on dance beat alone, this song is hands down a favorite.

And here – just a simple, never-gets-old classic. I have to admit too – I love the fact that my kids only really recognize the Spanish one.


Making All Kinds of Summer Memories

There’s no other way to put this – I’m really, really, really into summer. I love the heat. I love the food – eating fresh and light from the garden. I love making a meal out of chips and guac and a nice cold beer. And then there are the long, long drawn out evenings. One of my all time favorite feelings is being tired and worn out from a day in the sun.

So many of the details of my summer memories are wrapped up in my childhood. Growing up in the Texas Hill Country gave my brother and me (and all of our friends) the pleasures of Hamilton Pool, Barton Springs and Pace Bend. And when those places got too crowded or it was too far to drive or it was late at night, there was always swimming at a friend’s pool (or even occasionally in a rumored-to-be-water-moccasin-infested tank…for the under-informed, a tank is what we call a small pond that cows can drink from). We also had lots of lots of barbeque and tacos and chips and salsa and burgers on the grill and Blue Bell. And, well, it really is very, very, very, very hot – it creates a certain way of being…lazy, and relaxed, and kind of tough in a weird sort of way. When I’m here in Texas in the summer I feel completely defined by this part of my past. There’s no place I’d rather be and I spend a lot of time watching my kids as they learn to navigate these weeks of summer that we always spend here.

For those of us nomads that are parents, there’s a point at which we ask ourselves what we’re going to do to make sure our children feel that somewhere is home. For my husband and me, the single most important factor is that our children feel that home is where we hang out hats. The walls may be different, the beds not “truly” our own, the sights and smells and sounds a cacophony of the new and strange, but if we’re together (the five of us) that’s all that really matters. We take time to make traditions that fit our mobile lifestyle and we stick with them through thick and thin.

But in addition to creating a sense of family that goes wherever we go, we’ve also committed to making our hometown (for my husband and me that’s Austin) feel like home. It’s exciting to see that as our children get older, they’re collecting experiences that lay the groundwork for their own fond memories of this special time. The experiences are their own and different from mine – different camps, different places to swim, their own friends and interests, but they’re punctuated by the many things that are familiar to me – the same food, the incessant heat, the long, long evenings that seem to go on forever.

Watching all of this come together (the combination of our never-ending moves abroad along with summers spent back home in Austin) fills me with an incredible awareness of how very special and unique our lifestyle is. I feel the passage of time and know that summer days that seem so recent are now twenty or even thirty years ago for me. I know for sure that my own love of this place with its heat and water and good food and long days is being instilled in them. At the same time, I note with such a full sense of peace and satisfaction, that they’re so blessed to have this and to have all of the other intricate and complicated parts of their international life too. I can’t help but be excited in advance for the incredible mix of memories they’re creating – here in the Texas Hill Country and in so many little corners of the world. Love. Love. Love. Summer.

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