Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wherever you go, there you are

On a typical morning, I am up around six, drag three boys out of bed, make them breakfast, pack lunches, and get them out the door by seven.

I spend about an hour reading my scriptures, exercising, and studying for a class I'm taking (Spanish).

I get my two preschool kids up and ready for school, carpooling when it's my turn.

I grocery shop. I work on organizing things in my house. I prepare lessons for my Primary (church) calling. I'm productive. I'm unproductive. I make phone calls. I blog.

Preschoolers come home for lunch and have a nap, or come home and demand my attention.

In the afternoon, I pick the older kids up, getting them to various activities depending on the day. I oversee homework, piano practicing and chores. I make dinner.

We have a short family time, including scripture reading and family prayer. Kids get ready for bed, often with lots of nagging. I read a book or watch tv until I can't keep my eyes open.

Sounds like a typical stay-at-home-mom day, right?

Except I do all these things on a different continent. (If your kids are old enough, show them where Santiago is on a world map compared to where you live -- it is FAR AWAY!)

For me, this is one of the biggest surprises about living in Chile -- life's not all that different than it was before. (Granted, we live in a very safe, modern, suburban area. I'm sure expats living in the Middle East, or in a big city like Tokyo would tell a different story.)

I've had to learn enough Spanish to pump gas and buy groceries, and we can't find decent dill pickles nor bagels, but many aspects of our daily life are just as they were in the states. I spend a lot of my time planning, cooking, and cleaning up meals. I shop in a lovely, giant grocery store. The kids still bicker, and I still spend more time than I would like in the car.

But isn't a move like this supposed to be life-changing?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, we are learning and growing. We've had many profound and memorable experiences, interacting with people from all over the world, and are (hopefully) going to be bilingual by the end of our three years. We will have a little piece of Chile in our hearts forever, and I hope that my children, in particular, will have a broader view of the world.

But I'm still me.

I didn't magically become more sophisticated, braver, or more cool. I still have great days and not great days. I am still fashion-challenged, and I still detest calling someone I don't know on the phone (even worse if they don't speak English!). I still have plenty of things to work on.

Anne has had this signature quote for years, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined." (Henry David Thoreau) I would submit to you that the life of your dreams has very little to do with where you live.

I want to be clear: I am not discounting the importance of place in our lives. On our first trip home, nine months after our arrival in Chile, I was unprepared for the rush of emotions I felt driving down our old street. Matt was feeling it too, and said, "Why did we sell the house? We have to come back here." But remember when Martha Stewart was in prison and she taught all of the other inmates how to crochet ponchos? There are things about us that have nothing to do with place. This fact isn't lamentable, but should instead reassure us that we are children of God, endowed with inalienable traits we were meant to have.

Of course we all have things we'd like to change about ourselves. Did you see (or read) "Eat, Pray, Love"? I liked it, but found myself kind of annoyed by the premise that you can fix yourself by jetting off to glamorous, exotic locales. I just don't believe it. If you have the opportunity and the resources to travel, it may give you some perspective, but change comes from within, and you can make it happen no matter where you are.

The old adage is true (and fitting for this blog!): bloom where you are planted. We're going to try to bloom here in Chile for a couple more years, and hope you will too, wherever you may be.

(Does all this mean that mean you should pass up a chance to go abroad? Heavens, no. We'd do this again in a heartbeat; name the place.)


Vicky said...

A great post.
Leaving everything you have known behind is daunting but its those things that stay the same that help us through. x.

Kayli said...

You said it. Good dill pickles. Miss them. Also bagels (except that I finally did get up the guts to make some, recipe found on this very blog, and they were fantastic!)

And yeah, it's funny how it's just life even though we're on a different continent. I feel like it's different more for my kids and husband than me, because they at least go to school/work and speak German. But our weekend and vacation travels are VERY exciting!! :)

Vorpaks said...

I can't resist throwing in a geeky kudos for the Buckaroo Bansai reference. Love that movie. :)

And the rest of your post really resonated. I definitely needed that perspective today. Thank you! :)

Shelley said...

Hi Liz,
My family may be moving to Santiago in July for 6 months. Have you been there during the winter/rainy season? What is it like during that time? I heard it pours A LOT.
Any additional suggestions/info would be great too. Thanks so much!!!

liz said...

Shelley, you need to email me. mattandelizabeth (at) hotmail (dot) com. I will give you the scoop on 1000 things. We would be so excited to have your family in Santiago, and there is a great support system here waiting for you! And yes, there is a rainy season here, but no, it isn't any worse than say, Portland, and 3/4 of the year is incredibly gorgeous and mild. You do need warm clothes for a month or two. Do you have other contacts here?

Anonymous said...

This year will mark 16 years of me living in another country. In that decade-and-a-half I've travelled to dozens of countries and gone back to my country of origin a handful of times (but never for longer than 4 months, when I was finishing my degree); but this is home now.

I'm American by birth; for me one of the most challenging and rewarding things about living overseas has been that I can no longer see the world through that American filter.

The children and I both have two passports. They understand that they are also American; but that is not their primary identity, nor do I want it to be. I would rather they identify with the country and culture of their father.

Rae. said...

Love this perspective, thank you.

Kimberly said...

How long have you lived in Chile?

I found for the first little bit of living abroad not much had changed, but over time that changed. The longer I live away from the states the more my perspective shifts and the more my life differs from what it would be like there.

Of course I'm still me, but for the first year or so of living abroad you don't really identify that deeply with the new place I've found. Stay long enough and those roots will deepen and will change you.