I’m sitting here thinking about the things I know for sure, and the whole list can be whittled to just a few things:
- If I’m going to have coffee, I want it strong.
- I’m at my best in the morning.
- I’m not much good at sitting still.
And that’s about all I know. The things I don’t know fill the ocean in between here and there. I don’t know how long we’ll live in Hong Kong. I don’t know how homeschooling is going to work out. I don’t have any idea how to rectify the issue of my simultaneously not wanting to travel back to the States every year but wanting my kids to see their family regularly. The obvious answer is to not live in China. I don’t want to do that either. When I think about American teacher salaries and the hoops we’d have to jump through to have a tenth of the standard of life we enjoy overseas, I shut down.
I’m less of an American than ever before. I can’t believe the girth of the people around me, and I’ll go to hell for saying it, but I think the body acceptance trend is just a coping mechanism. Y’all’s grocery stores are enormously large, and it’s not because more strange fruits and vegetables are available to you guys. It’s because you make all of these fake foods out of chemicals and processes and then you sell them in pretty boxes and bags. And then you pat yourselves on the back for still maintaining a smile even though you’re enormously obese.
That stuff isn’t food. The rest of the world doesn’t live this way.
I know I don’t want my kids raised in a country that allows its citizens to buy a gun from the same store that sells bread and diapers. I’ve been living abroad since I was 24. My whole identity is that of an expat. But when I see the way my children fold themselves into the embraces of their families, I can’t deny the pull. Any Chicken Soup for the Soul book will tell you that family is the most important thing, and I never get tired of watching people love my kids. I think extended family dilutes the presence of the parents. In a good way. They help keep us in the middle a bit more, which is important. Especially for us. Because we swing to a weird left otherwise. With all of our ideology and perusal of the current research, we could use a little dilution.
My kids don’t fit in. Not all the way. They miss all the cultural references, and they’ve been shielded from media in a way that, it seems, most of the American folks we’ve hung out with have not. They do their whining with a British accent. And that’s okay. For me. I don’t know what that’s like for them.
My marriage, though not my relationship, is largely untested by family. We live abroad, on the other side of the world, away from both sets of in-laws. We spent many years together with them closer, but we’ve grown into our own removed from our families. We are each other’s families. I am a person who gives everything she has to one or two people. Everyone else is kept pretty much on the fringe. I don’t let people in, and I don’t let my guard down until years have passed. Over the summer, my husband is no longer strictly mine. He’s not just a husband here. He’s a son and a brother and a cousin. And I love watching him in those roles, because, for the most part, he handles each with grace and love. It’s a thing I could stand to learn. But at the same time, he becomes less mine. And I miss him.
Even while I enjoy our experiences here, I’m craving the mundane of there.
If I were to list the things we’ve done this summer, the list would be impressive. It would rival many people’s lists, I think. Parks and museums and concerts and hotels and sex in the ocean and picnics on the beach. Fireworks and pool parties and boats. Manatees and alligators. Canoeing and swimming. So it makes me quite the spoiled brat to say I’m not having much fun. Context is everything, and this all feels so partitioned, so doled out. It feels so time-sensitive and limited. It feels very much like a ‘cram it all in, it’s got to last a year.’
We keep saying, every year, that we’re not coming home next year. Most long-term expats don’t go home every year. It’s too expensive, for one. My other explanation would be that it feels too rote, too routine. This year is a cookie cutter replica of last year and the year before. Minor changes, yes, but for the most part—it’s the same. We spend thousands and thousands of dollars to do this, and it winds up feeling a lot like work. I wonder what it would feel like if the whole thing were less bipolar. Less here and there. Less then and now. Less vacation and more real life.
What’s our alternative? Not going home. I’m not sure that’s acceptable either.
So instead of chilling out and enjoying this sun on my face, I’m tangling with the big questions. It makes me a real joy to be around, I’m sure. Maybe the problem will solve itself, as I become too bitchy over the summer for anyone to want to share time with us anyway.