One year at a time. That’s as far as I can plan. People always expect me to have a five year plan but I never do. I tell myself this is all about staying open to opportunities and responding to the needs of my family, but maybe deep down I’m a flake. Either way, one way that I cut the pressure of culture shock and re-entry last summer was to say, “I only have to figure it out for one year.” “It” meant different balancing acts depending on the day. How to keep our sense of discovery while we returned back to the daily grind. How to search out diversity in a fairly homogeneous, suburban environment. How to stay informed about world events and keep our kids aware too. How to remember, now that we’re back in our comfort zones, how it felt to be so far outside them, and to empathize with those who are new, alienated, alone. How to live responsible, rooted lives and still yield to our itchy traveling feet.
I still don’t know how to do this long term, but we have figured it out for this year. Terence will be going to Turkey for three weeks on an NEH grant, and the rest of us (grandparents, kids, aunt, and me) will be joining him afterwards in Slovenia, Croatia and (some of the adults, not the kids) Bosnia. Goosebumps. Our plan worked. As my father, my mentor in the ways of risk taking, told me: “you have to strike while the iron is hot.”
No sooner was the goal in sight than I did what I always do: pre-emptively freak out and doubt myself. “Is it worth it?” I moaned. Worth the money, stress, planning, the weeks I will be a single parent?
Last year, the same niggling question would sometimes cross my mind. Was that place worth the bus fare or the motion sickness or the sunburn to see? Was that hummus worth $10? Was the life experience we were gaining worth all the tantrums and exhaustion? Was a sabbatical for one of us worth a job sacrifice for the other?
These questions can drive you crazy and take all the fun out of the adventure. Now that I am on the other side, the answer is an unequivocal yes, yes about all of it. It was all worth it. And hard as it is for me to quell the pre-emptive freak outs, I want to trust that it will all be worth it again. I guess it comes down to deciding that international travel is a value for me, something I want to do no matter what. And of course I realize the privilege and the luck involved in a sentence like that. I will take it one year at a time.