Year TWO in Chile has come and gone. Though occasionally there were days and even months that seemed to last indefinitely, generally speaking this past year has flown.
Like pages of a cartoon flipbook, work, kids, school, activities, day-to-day humdrum, and exploration fluttered past. Becoming established and comfortable has given way to the life of a typical, busy family of 5. Just in a different part of the world.
A life that has finally become a bit softer, a bit more breezy, like the cotton that is symbolic of the two year anniversary.
However, a recognition of having made it two years is not the most resounding part of the milestone. Though trust me, it’s right up there at number 2!
No, I believe milestones pop up to remind us of the miles we have already weathered. We are about to embark on mile three, but how will we proceed from here knowing what we know about the first two? What has caused pain? How will we address that? What has made us stronger? How will we use that?
How have we changed in these two years?
It’s a circled square on the calendar that gives us an excuse to pause and reflect on the months, weeks and days that lead up to that point. How we individually, and as a family, have changed and grown since we embarked on this “road less traveled”.
So, I thought it would be a fun opportunity to reflect on what I have noticed are five of the positive and unforeseen ways this experience has influenced us…and one undesirable one.
Who knows? Maybe it will come as useful out there who has been considering a major life change along these lines?
Travel With Children is Survivable
Prior to our move down here, (7,000 air miles, 3 airplanes, one way, I might add), our children had been on a plane ONCE. Four hours to the Caymen Islands and I was a nervous wreck, planning for every second of that plane ride times two, just in case my first choices for entertainment didn’t work.
I think that was where I went wrong. Thinking I had to entertain my children, when they were and are perfectly capable of entertaining themselves. I’m not sure we even used any of the “fun” I jammed into our carry-on.
Unfortunately, I quickly forgot whatever I had learned from that trip as I prepared for 28 hours of travel to Chile for the first time. Momma Mary Poppins had anything and everything that trip, the obvious Ipad, Two Leap Pads, suckers, stickers, art projects, games, blankets, pillows, not to mention the actual essentials of diapers and food and bottles. (Our youngest was 7 months old that first trip).
I don’t think they used ANY OF IT. (Except the diapers and bottles, of course). They were completely content with the movies on the airplanes. (And people, our children are HIGH energy).
Since then, we have made 8 additional 7,000 mile stretches with 3 kids, and you know what, IT IS NOTHING TO STRESS ABOUT. We bring some books and an Ipad, and everything fits in one backpack. I’m not breaking my back carrying around 50 pounds of crap anymore. True, it’s not the most fun, and yes, it’s exhausting not sleeping for 24 hours. But children are versatile, and they will find their own way to pass the time (usually movies or sleeping or eating).
In fact, just replace all the stuff with more diapers or clothing changes. I cannot tell you how many parents I’ve seen in that jam in the airports.
Moreover, PLEASE, you do not feel like you need to bring gifts for your fellow passengers or flight attendants as a preemptive apology. I mean, if you want to I’m sure it’s well-received, but I can assure you, when thinking about the myriad of other stresses you might have preparing for a trip with children, it is so not necessary. If people are going to be annoyed by your children, nothing will change that. Experience has thankfully revealed that typically our fellow passengers either enjoy children, have their own and understand, or take a hold of the opportunity to share stories about their own familial travel experiences.
Point is, don’t go overboard and don’t stress. It always works out just FINE.
Which brings me to my second point. Not only have we adapted at 30,000 feet, but we have developed an ability to more easily acclimate to surroundings, come random surprises or roadblocks. Being forced out of our comfort zone, and compelled to build a new home with an entirely new set of bricks, might be one of the most notable transformations we have undergone.
Individually, day in and day out, we have each laid the bricks to our individual “rooms”. The kids have had to learn under an entirely new curriculum while learning a new language at the same time. Moreover, being “outsiders,” they had to come up with their own ways for making friends in the neighborhood and at school.
Tom embarked upon not only a new job, but in management of a plant in an entirely new culture. I needed to learn a new language and work on the small, but significant, behind-the-scenes work that makes sure we are all sustained from one day to the next.
A move abroad metamorphosed the entire paradigm of what we knew as “everyday life.” Simple things became foreign and necessary to relearn. Educating myself in grocery and pharmacy goods, (both more difficult then you might think), familiarizing with the schools, the doctors offices, the neighborhood, the extra-curricular options and activities, the laws, the “dangerous parts of town”, monetary conversion, navigation, repair work, and so on and so forth. Day-to-day errands that could be easily taken care of in one sweep back at home became their own, individual conquests. i.e. Monday, I will learn the meat section of the grocery store. Tuesday I will find out where they make the school backpacks. Wednesday I will learn where to go if there is an Earthquake. And so on and so forth. Little things became a full-day’s job. All while being done as an extranjero and in a new language, of course.
As a family, we would rally at the end of the day, compare notes, lend feedback, give hugs or shoulders to cry on when that was necessary. The fantastic Chilean wine found itself invited to a few of those adult sessions.
On our free weekends, we would explore new places, doing the best we could to learn about all corners of our new home. And with time, we began to bear witness to the glitter that danced all around us. More time became open for exploration as an increasing number of those previously mentioned “small” tasks became possible in shorter periods of time.
And together, we built that house. For, the reality was, those small things were big things. They were the bricks and mortar upon which everything else was supported.
(While also, what were previously big things became small things…more on that later).
The self-growth, the understanding of what both individually and together we were capable of, has been both stupefying and wondrous at the same time.
We began as saplings in a very large, very dark jungle, and were forced to find our own light and our own place in this new forest. We had to learn about strengths we didn’t know we had, and how to rely on them. To grow past mere survival and find ourselves actually thriving has been the most empowering experience of our lifetimes. Without a doubt.
We have been the ones that didn’t belong, herking and jerking our way through first and second and third gears. But somewhere along the lines, we hit cruise control, and managed to turn that same foreign place into the familiar…a home.
And if placed in a similar position now, whether in another country, city, or even new grocery store, we will move forward with confidence, knowing that as before, we will be just fine. Probably even better than ever.
I would like to think we were humble before, but honestly, I’m not sure anything can compare to the humility that is born from making your way in a new country, culture and language.
For instance, think about the last time you communicated with your pediatrician, or teacher. You were probably able to go in there with a vocabulary you had spent a lifetime perfecting, talking about information that you had learned from the Internet or from simply living for many years in the environment. You likely didn’t even have to think as the intelligence rolled off your tongue, striving for a dialogue that was going to result in the very best outcome for your children.
Okay. Now try having that same intelligent conversation with a doctor or a teacher, and try having them respect your position, when you are speaking at best first-grade Spanish.
That, my friends, will put you in your place REAL fast.
And it will also deepen your respect for the empathy and kindness of others that much more. I have been so thankful for the friends, doctors and teachers here who have been so very kind and have patiently stuck it out with me in order that we might all achieve the desired outcome.
It didn’t didn’t take long at all for me to forget about being embarrassed. If you are going to live abroad, making a fool of yourself quite frankly comes with the territory.
But the real lesson is, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, what your job is, who your connections are, or how much money you have. Putting all of that aside, we need to realize that at the end of the day we all just need each other.
Citizens of Humanity
The need for each other easily brings me to Number 4 and is one of my favorites.
Living abroad might be the most poignant way to truly understand that as members of humanity, we are a part of a bigger world that awaits outside of our cities, states, countries and hemispheres.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe nationalism can be a beautiful thing, in any country. I love the United States, and Tom and I are as patriotic as they come. I also believe it’s important when you are in a country that is not your own that you respect their language and cultural practices.
However, it’s kind of like recognizing the existence of our parents and not our grandparents. There is a bigger picture, a richer history, about where we come from. The people that live in Chile, or Europe, or Asia, or anywhere else for that matter, are only just fellow people, living their short lives, like you and I. Generally speaking they have the same dreams and hopes, the same fears and worries. They enjoy time with their friends and family, plant flowers and give hugs. Most of them want the world to be a more peaceful place; most of them choose love.
The divisiveness and anxiousness in our world at present is heart-wrenching. Now, so many of us live in fear of what we can’t see and don’t know; wary to go to a movie theater or an airport, much less travel to a foreign country.
There is no better remedy to all of the above then travel. Sit in a room with someone from a country that you would otherwise be fearful of. Engage in a conversation. You will likely find commonalities, erase mistaken impressions, and I would bet you might even find friendship.
Once you venture away from your home and out of your comfort zone, you realize that beauty and kindness exists around every turn. In fact, chances are, many foreigners are probably more scared of travel to the United States than we are of traveling away from it.
Which I find so interesting, no matter what is happening in our respective home countries and cities, the outside world tends to frighten us more…
Let’s put an end to that. Don’t live in fear. Explore. Even if it is just to a different side of town. See new things. Focus on the beauty. Spread your light. Remind others of your goodness while they are teaching you about theirs. And know, when you meet new people, wherever they are, regardless of ethnicity, religion, attire, language, salutations, or color of their skin, they are no different then you.
We are all just people, sharing the same Earth, after all.
The Big Things Became Small Things…
By big things, I am talking about some of the things that were admittedly important to us when we lived in the United States. Houses, cars, toys, clothing, décor, keeping up to date on the latest gadgets and toys, trips, etc, etc. etc……
For starters, we will continue to obviously want some of those things when we go back. It’s part of the reason we are working so hard…to be able to live a comfortable life enjoying the activities that we love.
But that said, I think a desire for material goods has itself has found itself closer to the bottom of our priority list then the top.
When we arrived in Chile 2 years ago, we had to store practically every belonging that we had spent nearly a decade accumulating in a storage unit in Wisconsin. We came with one piece of luggage each, and four months later our shipment of a smattering of clothing and toys arrived.
That was it.
Guess how much of that stuff we have missed?
Tom misses his truck, (his fourth baby), and his fishing boat, and I miss a lot of my photographs and books, but other than that, NADA. The kids have not mentioned a single thing since we’ve been here. I’m fairly confident at this point they don’t have a clue what awaits them when we go back. I am 100% certain they can’t even remember what their bedrooms looked like.
We furnished our house here, of course, but only nominally and it will probably remain the property of Tom’s employer. We have purchased some Chilean keepsakes and treasures that we intend to return to the U.S. with, but honestly not much given our presumably tight restrictions on return shipping weight.
Notably, shopping in Chile doesn’t produce the dilemma of choice like in the U.S. If something comes up that we need or want, there might be only a handful of options from which to select. There might only be one. Not 500 like back home. For better or worse, the absence of significant competition in the markets has significantly reduced the time, energy and stress we use in making those decisions.
In other words, we have now lived two years with having almost zero concerns about updating our house, buying the latest fashion, (because they don’t even sell a lot of what we are used to here), or really, buying a whole lot of anything.
And let me tell you, the sheer WEIGHT this has taken off of our shoulders has been mind-boggling, and perhaps the most noticeable difference of all.
We have the freedom to live without fear of judgment. Even if that means judging ourselves. Actually, that might even be mainly what it means. The time that I am not using shopping (which was never my thing anyway) is now used with my children, or Tom, or as a family.
The kids, God bless them, wouldn’t know a clothing or a shoe brand if you asked them, and they seem almost oblivious to a difference in anyone’s homes. They would much rather be hiking a new trail or exploring the beach then shopping at the mall or living in a new house.
And trust me, the last thing I want to sound like is preachy, because I still 100% know how tempting it is to shop in the U.S. There is just SO MUCH STUFF! It’s incredible, especially compared with here. If I checked myself on these trips back, I might actually find myself drooling.
And when we move back, I obviously know I will go shopping. I know that I am going to want to find a home we love, enjoy decorating it, update our wardrobes, etc etc etc…
I just pray that when we do it, we remember how emancipating it felt to dramatically simplify our lives and free ourselves of excess. And that we continue to focus our attention on accumulating mainly memories instead of stuff.
Bonus Addition to our Personality Spectrums: Arachnophobia
Growing up in the frozen north, I have never been remotely scared of spiders. I heard once that a person eats a few every year, and I didn’t even flinch.
I mean, whatever. Poor spider, right?
But then we moved here, where there are several types of poisonous, fatal spiders, and everything changed.
The kids know to call for an adult if they see a spider. I remember the first time Ellie screamed for me, 14 months old! They know not to play in the bushes, or for that matter stick any bodily appendage in a dark area. They don’t jump in leaves, dig in wooden piles, or walk outside in bare feet. And they always shake their shoes and clothes out before every use.
Our sweet, small children know that if a spider bites them, they can’t kill it but have to find a way to capture it…to use its venom for the cure.
I’m sure this phobia will last awhile, even after our impending return.
One little friend actually crawled up my leg recently, right under my jeans as I sat at the dining room table. If it would have bitten me, best case scenario, I would be one leg-short right now.
Best case scenario.
Sooooo, we have that little puppy cryogenically frozen in our freezer. You know, a prophylactic…just in case someone gets bitten and isn’t able to capture the attacker.
(I’m sure I’ll hear now that there’s no way this will work, but listen-it makes us feel better!)
And so, you know, it’s not all gold at the end of the rainbow people…there are more than a few ongoing struggles.
Of course, that, quite simply, is life.
As time passes, our sense of appreciation for our ongoing journey has only continued to blossom. It has been far more enlightening and enriching than I ever would have imagined over two years ago when we first set sail for the unknown. And what began as the most difficult challenge of our lives morphed into the most rewarding, most educational, and most influential trips around the sun yet. It’s been a metamorphosis, and a source of pride.
And above all, a decision we’ll never regret.