Lately, I have been dreaming of selling all our stuff and jetting off to some exotic destination where we can experience a different lifestyle and grow closer as a family. I know it sounds a bit naive and romanticized, but living abroad in Shanghai whet my appetite for this kind of lifestyle.
I want to be a nomadic family. There, I’ve said it.
I have always wanted to travel, it’s a core part of who my am. My biggest beef with life is that I can never decide what life to live because I want to live ALL THE LIVES. I wish I had 100 lives so I could be an artist in downtown NYC, a soccer mom nestled behind the white-picket fence, an actor on Broadway, a lonely National Geographic photographer, a busy book publishing exec in stilettos, and a warm psychologist with an inviting cream-toned office.
For me, travel is the answer to this dilemma. I can’t live 100 separate lives, but I can essentially live as many lives as I can find destinations.
Pre-China I was definitely living the young mother in LA suburbs life–I would go to mommy group play-dates, take the baby to the library and the park, eat at Chik-fil-A while my son enjoyed the play area, made DIY crafts, and made oh-so-many meal plans.
And then BAM, I find myself in Shanghai, living in a HUGE city (upwards of 24 million) for the first time in my life. Suddenly I’m dressing chic as I hail a cab to meet up with a friend at a trendy cafe, dancing on the 87th floor of the Jin Mao Tower in the financial district, squeezing (and I mean squeezing) onto a subway during rush hour on my way to work, jetting down the insane chaotic street on my scooter to pick up my son from his international bilingual preschool.
It was intoxicating.
It was also hard and complicated. Pollution was a big problem. School had it’s challenges. My son missed out on some things–his language development slowed down as he tried to learn a second language (this is perfectly normal for bilingual children and their language skills are often more advanced later in life). He really missed his extended family. It was nearly impossible for us to sign him up for team sports like soccer. He literally had no idea what go-gurt, pirate’s booty, or pop tarts were, which I’m actually ok with, especially since his favorite foods were red bean paste steamed buns and xialongbao.
There were many benefits as well. He was exposed to friends from all over the world, got a chance to see that not everyone is like us, and learned how to make friends on the fly. He knew that the world didn’t revolve around him like it often does in this artificially kid-centric world. He became basically the easiest-going kid ever, learning that yeah, sometime you need to walk far when you are tired because we are still a few blocks from home. We backpacked across Vietnam with him and brought literally two toys and did no “kid activities”–you know what? He was fine. He was more than fine, he LOVED it!
So how do I balance the benefits of family, school, and kid-oriented activities with the desire to teach my son to be open-minded, flexible, and adventurous?
No seriously, I’m asking, what are your thoughts?
Here is the best I have come up with: summers abroad.
This is a compromise. Its not what I really want: to be nomads living in different places, or be exapts living abroad on several-year assignments. I loved being a part of an expat community, we were so tight-knit. If you ever get the chance to live abroad, I would definitely take it! You’ll find that you will go, have this amazing life-changing experience, return home, and find that everything is mostly the same. Or maybe Trump will be president and that would be a shock to the system, like what happened to us, but otherwise everything else was mostly the same.
I told Chet when we got married that I waned to have a decade abroad, like when we are 50 and the kids are all out of the house, we sell the house, quit our jobs, and live in 5 different places for two years each. Enough time to feel established and really get a taste of what life is like in those places. But you know what? I don’t want to wait until then!
Ok, so back to my compromise. The main thing holding me back is school, I just feel like Gavin is really flourishing in school right now, so much more than before. I don’t trust that I could do as good of a job at home, though maybe I could if I really applied myself. But for now, I don’t want to take school away from Gavin.
So I was thinking we could pick a different destination each summer, and live there for about two months, and return home for school, family, and the typical American childhood. If nothing else, it could be an educational bonding experience for our family, satisfy my travel craving, and be a test for life abroad, giving me a better idea before I dive in. So yes, its a compromise and isn’t the ideal, but I recognize life is about compromises and I am not the only person whose needs need to be taken into account.
Have you or someone you know ever done something like this? How did you decide to take the plunge? How did you work it out with your/your spouse’s work? Where did you go or where would you go?