Some transitions are harder than others. Becoming a parent was a huge challenge for me. Isn’t it for everyone? One day, you have all the freedom in the world. The next, you can’t even run over to Starbucks for a quick cup of coffee, for at least a few reasons (can no longer afford Starbucks / caffeine gets into breastmilk / have to drag the kid along or hire a babysitter). I also found it extremely difficult to transition into a new job when we moved to South Africa with a 3-month-old. New baby, new country, new job. I think I walked around in a daze until I decided to take a few weeks of FMLA to bond with Charley, get to know the nanny, and catch up on sleep.
Since we can’t seem to do anything the easy way, we moved to Ethiopia when Willa was an infant and I took a longer leave from my job that time (in the end, never going back), thinking that would help me make the transition. New baby, new country, new job. I don’t think I fully anticipated how hard it would be to stay home with the girls. Suddenly, I didn’t have an income, a title, a clearance. No car, no nanny, no friends, no cheese. It took about a year for me to feel somewhat normal.
Moving to Myanmar should be easy. Same babies, new country, same job. I have the same consulting clients as before, and they have been so patient with me during this transition. I have friends here! It’s hot, but I love the heat. The traffic is kind of bad, but our location is amazing and we’re rarely affected by traffic. There seem to be a lot of work opportunities here for me, should I choose to change career paths or take on new consulting work. The photo opportunities are endless. I am less enthusiastic about Charley’s school, but she loves it, which is what really matters. We’re still trying to get Willa into a preschool, but I haven’t given up hope.
I was complaining to a friend recently about the preschool situation. She said, “I keep waiting for things to get easier for you.” I actually gasped a little bit. I thought to myself, “oh no! Have I been complaining too much?” Maybe that is the case, but I don’t think that’s what she meant. She was simply acknowledging that our lives have consisted of one stressful challenge after another for the past 5 years. There is always some big unknown factor: where will we move? Will I be granted permission to work? Will there be schools available? We all have unknowns in our lives, but our friends back home usually get to pick where they live, decide what kind of job they will do, and can assume their kids will have a school to attend.
Not that challenges are bad for you. In Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn quotes a Harvard mindfulness and meditation study:
We know that people are happiest when they’re appropriately challenged – when they’re trying to achieve goals that are difficult but not out of reach. Challenge and threat are not the same thing. People blossom when challenged and wither when threatened.
Although I don’t love to travel, I really enjoy living overseas. I love exploring new cultures, learning about different people. And I’ve already said that moving to Myanmar seems easy in comparison to our previous transitions. So why is this transition still kind of hard?
Ethiopia feels like a dream. An Amharic phrase will suddenly come to mind, and I find myself wondering how long it will take me to completely forget them all. I wonder how my dear study partner, my Nigerian friend, is doing, and why I haven’t reached out in a while. Willa will turn to me and say, “Genet at home?” and I will want to cry, I miss Genet so much. Genet drove me crazy. Gazaw friended me on Facebook, and it was a shock, like seeing a ghost. Our Ethiopian neighbors gave us a small painting as a going away gift, and when I opened the package last week to get it framed, I swear the smell of doro wot was so overwhelming I had to close it again. Partly because I don’t love that smell. But it was also because I didn’t want to think about how I may never return to Addis. I tell myself, Addis is a major hub, we’ll at least fly through there at some point! Right? One of my clients mentioned that they might ask me to come there later this year, and I imagined bringing the girls with me (they ask about visiting all the time). Then I realized Charley will start kindergarten this year, and I can’t just take her on trips whenever I want anymore. Yet another transition. That’s life, right? Change being the only thing you can count on.
I’m hoping the Buddhist monks can teach me to meditate and appreciate the present. I want to apply to study meditation–there are two excellent centers right by our house. But I’ve heard the monks can be mean! Wish me luck.