Friends, meet my sister, Liz. She is brilliant and real and witty and the best person to talk on the phone with while I'm cleaning my kitchen. And now she is here for your reading pleasure while I sit on the couch and nurse a newborn. Today begins a series of posts about Liz's latest adventure--living abroad with her family of seven. Enjoy!
In late summer of 2009, I got a most interesting phone call from my husband, Matt.
I was at a mall with all five of my children (11, 9, 7, 3, and six months) having portraits taken. It had been a frazzling morning finding decent-looking clothes for everyone to wear (our clothes always seem fine until picture day, and then suddenly everything looks ratty and urchin-like), combing hair, and generally trying to make them look presentable, and I had arrived at the mall and discovered that the baby had a stinky diaper, which was a bit of a problem, because I had absent-mindedly set out for the outing with no diapers. We were twenty or more minutes from home, and late for the appointment, so I settled for a ratty swim diaper that I scrounged up from the back of the van (those work fine as long as the baby doesn’t pee!) and somehow, we made it through the session with some pretty cute pictures of my offspring.
We were in the mall food court having lunch (always crazy with a bunch of kids) when the call came. Matt’s company wanted to send him to Brazil. He’d be gone for three weeks each of the first few months, then two weeks there and two weeks home for a few more months. Should we do it? Oh, and P.S., there was some possibility we would move to Brazil at the end of this assignment.
The very idea took my breath away, and I’m sure that an un-biased person observing my personal chaos at the mall that day would have thought we were all crazy, but to Matt and I, there was scarcely a question. We had dreamed of living abroad someday, and this wasn’t a career opportunity to be passed up. He would revive his rusty Portuguese, dig up a few even-rustier Spanish phrases from high school (for side trips to Chile), and he would go and have an adventure. If we were lucky, it would turn into an adventure for the whole lot of us.
For the next few weeks, I could scarcely control myself. I scoured the internet for information about Brazil, life as an expat (expatriate just means someone who lives outside their own country), moving internationally, and everything in between. Every thought was of the possibilities. Every decision was colored by the potential. We were up in the air.
Matt's travel began right away, and I became a part-time single parent. It was our new normal, and we could do it, but it was also grueling at times -- he had always been a hands-on dad, and his absence left a huge void. There were more fast food dinners than I'd care to acknowledge. I hired a friend to help me with cleaning a couple of times a month, which didn't mean my house was clean, but it took the edge off. We had amazing help and support from family and friends. We missed him when he was gone, but we were surviving.
I had to put thoughts of moving to Brazil on the back burner. We didn't want to get our hopes up, and we didn't tell our children it was a possibility. We knew that moving our big family internationally would be very expensive for the company, and may not fit into their budget. Nothing was even remotely certain, and besides, I was busy as could be just doing the basics for my kids and maintaining some level of order in the house.
At some point that fall, there were some changes in the company, and Matt told me one day that if we did go to South America, it would likely be to Santiago, Chile, rather than to Brazil. Didn't matter a bit to me (I didn't speak either language, and had never been anywhere), and I didn't have the time and energy to research Santiago. I was just trying to keep kids fed and homework done. Though we were excited about the opportunity, we knew it was still a long shot, and we just waited.
Then one day in January, Matt sent me an email. He was in a heavy day of meetings, and knew he didn't have time for a decent phone conversation, but was so excited he couldn't wait to tell me. (He'll never live that email down.) He got the job. We were moving to Chile.