When Terence won his research grant, I was immensely relieved for a deep emotional reason. “Awesome!” I told him. “Now when we are looking at each other some horrible day in February, wondering why the heck we uprooted our lives and did this crazy thing and came all this distance, we’ll have a neutral reason why. We can blame it on Fulbright.”
As it turns out, I haven’t needed that scapegoat nearly as often as I expected. This year has had so many ups and downs and yes, there have been some really, really tough days. But — as I recently wrote to a friend-of-a-friend who is considering a similar sabbatical plan — there have been virtually zero times when I questioned “what were we thinking?”
What we were thinking was: we needed a change, a challenge, an adventure. We wanted to seize the opportunity of sabbatical and shake it for all it was worth. Both of us have always loved traveling but Terence had never lived abroad. I had happy memories as a “global nomad” and wanted to give my children that same exposure. This was our chance.
Above all, it’s my children who have helped me on my longest days — when the rain won’t stop, when the conflict grinds on my conscience, when I feel alienated from all the communities around me, when the sheer effort of maintaining confidence and efficacy in this strange place overwhelms me. The bottom line is that they are very happy here. Margaret is blessed with a most un-Mead sunny disposition and would probably be content anywhere. But Hannah is more complicated, and has absolutely thrived here. She is healthy, she is learning and questioning, she is in love with her school and her friends. And just as I had hoped, a global awareness permeates her thinking now, even about the most mundane and materialistic things. This morning, contemplating a new birthday present, she asked:
“American Girl doll. Why is it only American Girl? Why not American Boy?”
“You could start that company, Hannah.”
“Or you could. And what about Israeli Girl Dolls and Israeli Boy Dolls? And then of course Palestinian Girl and Boy Dolls…”
I would buy these if I could. They would remind us of the big, beautiful, complicated world full of children whose stories are as important as Kit or Samantha or Kirsten.
They say a mother is only as happy as her least happy child. I’ve written before about my struggles with losing autonomy and professional purpose this year, and I still find it weird to define myself exclusively through my family. (“What brings you here?” “My husband is on sabbatical and has a research grant.” “And how have you been spending your time?” “I’m a mom!”). Yet there is no doubt that seeing Terence and the girls so fully in their elements helps me figure out what I’m doing here, and why we came.