Hello Dear Internet Diary (aka my parents),
Long time no see! There’s been lots happening in life lately, but little—nothing—showing up on this here blog. Reasons? Not because I’m busy, but because the simple act of sitting down to write about the current state of affairs seems far too overwhelming to contemplate. But here I am, and here goes a recap of life, lately:
We are in Atlanta. Living by the grace of God and other people’s generosity, in a mother-in-law suite attached to someone else’s home. It blows my mind that this is available to us, but it’s real, and we are–maybeperhaps–just beginning to figure it out. The first six weeks we were back in the States, Michael had a few classes in Atlanta and the three of us bounced around like a ping pong ball between Alabama and Tennessee. We are gloriously glad to be (semi-)settled, particularly because all that transition was hard on the Bean, leading to clinginess and unsettled sleep patterns. Michael starts class this week, and we are trying to ease ourselves into some semblance of routine.
It has been–and here’s the Dear Diary aspect of this post–a difficult transition for our family. It has been obvious that the Lord is leading us and He has abundantly provided for our needs, but there has been much uncertainty, little alone time, the stress of our different personalities responding to events in different ways, and (particularly on my part) grief for what we left behind. As we begin to settle into life in the States, I’ve realized that this season has placed me in a bit of a pressure cooker. Living overseas, we often talk about how life in a second culture (in the recent words of a friend) “lowers the water level” and reveals the ook and grit we’d prefer to keep hidden beneath the surface. For me–at least at this point–it seems that this year in America is placing me in a place of uncertainty and instability and revealing bits of me I’d prefer no one (least of all myself) to see.
Unknowingly, I’m realizing that I took quite a bit of pride in my ability to “live well” overseas. After six years, I could speak the language; had long-lasting friendships in the midst of the constant transition of ex-pat communities; knew how to cook and go to the market and just generally accomplish things; loved our apartment complex and loved how well our neighbors loved StellaB; and found our daily lives purposeful. This year, I am confused by Publix; feel anxious and awkward making small talk; have great friends near-by-ish but not in my vicinity (or at least my life stage); am intimidated by American fashions and styles; and–maybe this is the kicker to my pride!–am not an expert on anything in daily life.
I’d love to tie this all up with a pretty bow and summarize why this is healthy or how it’s going to help and change me, but right now I believe instead of feel all these things and so have no neat wrapping with which to package this. I’m grateful for where we are, but learning to deal with all of this is certainly a process.
Annnnnd Stella is crying to get up from her nap, so there’s my cue. Next time maybe I’ll have cute pictures to post, at least?
Have you ever wondered how it would feel to have the paparazzi on your tail, stalking your every move, documenting your tiniest sneeze, analyzing your clothing choices, rating your performance?
Well, wonder no more. Just ask Stella!
This girl is princess of the playground, ruler of the one-and-under crowd, queen supreme of have it your way. That’s her taking over some kid’s portable keyboard. (FeiLong, in the gray sweater, is public enemy number one as he also likes to have it his way. Kid is half-American: sensing a pattern here?)
On the downside, this means Stella’s clothing choices are regularly criticized and bringing her out with a runny nose and short sleeves leads to looks of death and judgment. On the plus side, if I’m feeling tired, I just head outside and I betcha 10 bucks I can find someone else who’s willing (desperate! dying!) to hold the Bean.
There are a lot of things that make me nerve-y about being back in the States for a year. Maybe the biggest? Who’s gonna take care of my baby?
Yes, that’s right: other people regularly grab Stella and go. This is her with her name twin: XuanXuan jiejie (that’s XuanXuan Elder Sister, also known as Stella) and XuanXuan meimei (XuanXuan Younger Sister, who’s smaller by two months). This picture was taken a month ago; on Sunday, Stella danced for 30 minutes or so to XuanXuan meimei‘s stroller boom box and then, like the tyrant we all know is bottled up in there somewhere, made XuanXuan meimei‘s mom walk her around for another 10.
Last week, I was eating lunch with a friend at a fine local establishment. Stella was in the stroller making faces at the people at the next table (who asked if I was ever worried someone would steal her because she was so cute). Next thing I knew, Stella was out of the stroller and the waitress was bouncing around the restaurant with her. Lest you think this was odd, this was the second visit in a row where this happened.
Sometimes I should probably be a little more hands off. But y’all. Seriously. People are happy to entertain my child while I enjoy a leisurely meal. They are happy to make faces and coo at her when she cries on the elevator. They are happy to get the door and open the gate and happy to share their kid’s toys and happy to laugh at her when she pitches a fit about wanting to take said toy home with her.
I swear that Stella must think her name is yang wawa (foreign baby doll) because honestly, people scream it every time she shows up. And it’s not just around the local crowd.
Our friend group here is disproportionately young and single and that means Stella is disproportionately the center of it all. She does have a few friends her age (see above: hi Jack and Luke! Addie and Noah, we miss you!), but the numbers are so far out of whack that there are always at least 5 or 6 people available to coo and giggle and clap and cheer.
Girl has got a cush life. Oh, well–all that’s coming crashing down in T-minus 25 days when we pack it up and head for ‘Merica.* Tell me, are Americans generally happy to be seated next to one-year-olds on trans-Pacific flights? No? And how do they feel about happy babies who have been traveling for 24 hours before they sit next to you on the Dallas-Atlanta leg? Not great?
Oh well, Asia. Stella (and Stella’s mama) are in for a cruel wakening in the real, harsh world of the SouthEast USA.
*Who am I kidding? Gran and Grandpa and Bebe and Papa will pick up the slack right where Asia dropped the ball. Stella, honey, you’ve got it made.
Thirteen or so months ago, we loaded up our lives into rice bags and hauled them 20 stories down, across the street, and 10 stories up into the apartment complex across the street. We weren’t thrilled about moving–our landlord kicked us out because he wanted the apartment for himself–but thought we’d ended with a good deal in our new home. A newer place; bigger; only marginally more expensive; and (maybe best of all) a landlord who was just keeping the apartment as an investment; a place we could settle and STAY.
The idea of staying was attractive because I’ve logged up the moves since starting college at 18. Here are the stats for the last 12 years.
Times I’ve moved continents: three
Times I’ve moved an hour or more (essentially to a new city, although one of the in-Asia moves was to a different part of the massive city where we live): six
Times I’ve moved apartments: 11
(Is it clear that this is a total of 11 moves? Not a total of 20. Just if you were keeping score. I sure am.)
But last spring, as far as we could see, there were no more moves on the foreseeable horizon.
Turns out, we couldn’t see that far.
Because here we are again, one scant year later, getting ready to pack it all up and move it all on. I won’t get into it here, but due to an unforeseen turn of events, we are headed back to America next year. It’s taken a bit of time for this fact to sink in, but now that it has, I feel: sad. uncertain. apathetic? thankful (that Stella will get to see her grandparents in real life, not just on Skype). overwhelmed. But mostly, I feel tired.
This life we live is crazy from any normal point of view. Who in their right mind would change countries as seemingly cavalierly as others change–I don’t know–their gym? Well, here we are, guilty as charged. (Although of course I must insist that these changes are not at all unconsidered or off-hand.)
It’s true, this ain’t normal. And while anyone who makes the life choices that we have made is obviously a little bit off somewhere up there, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt. The constant transition frays, sometimes more than just a bit, at the edges of my weary soul. People come, people go, it’s a fight to care. To know when relationships are worth fighting for, and when to just let them fade. To manage the details of packing up a life, of making plans for a new and temporary home, of planting and uprooting and re-planting.
No answers here, just questions. And this thought, from Abraham Verghese’s book Cutting for Stone:
“Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?”
Old as this song and dance can become, this is truth. We have so many homes, so many places where we are wanted. Come or go, stay or leave, I’m grateful for that.
Sorry your life is so unsettled, StellaB.
But I think, hope, that it’s rich in some ways that a “normal” life isn’t.
It’s a trade-off, for sure.
Just know this: wherever we land, one of your many, many “homes” is ecstatic to receive you.