Between "learning to navigate", "making lunch for 5 in a moving car" and "getting checked out, packing 5 people's stuff into 3 carry on's and getting it to fit in the car in the ONLY configuration possible, in under 20 minutes", my kids are basically really for the zombie apocalypse. You know, just in case.
Interesting to see the kids faces as they see new places, different customs, like unlimited drinking water, which is unbelievable if you grew up in Anguilla, a country without a water system that relies on rain water being collected. One of my favorite moments of flying here was one of the girls asking who they had to ask and pay to have a drink from a water fountain at the airport. "Free? As much as you want????"
(Manhattan elevator pic with dog we were *this* close to kidnapping)
One of the many reasons I wanted to do a 6 week road trip with the kids was ‘cause I didn’t want them to not be intimidated in times of uncertainty (which is pretty much all the time) and I didn’t want them to be afraid of making decisions, right or wrong. I want them to trust their information gathering and problem solving skills to feel comfortable navigating in life, to keep that sense of adventure and not be afraid to experiment.
And mainly, I wanted them to be there as we (hopefully) find our new home, to navigate along with me on our way from New York City to Orlando. Sure, picking a place to move to on my own and informing the kids of their new home seems easier but also rather uncomfortable if you reverse the situation. How would you feel if someone told you that your new home in another country was going to be called ________ (fill in the blank place you’ve never heard of) and you had no way to know what it looks like, feels like, smells like?
But doing a road trip where each of the kids got to navigate, each getting a chance to decide which direction we’d go in – South, East or West - would mean that they each would be part of how and why we got to our eventual new home. Also, it would save me from having to sell them on our new place, which seemed like a win-win.
And even if we don’t end up finding a place, I figured spending some time together trying new things and help each other cope with problems we've not encountered before would be good for us, but especially the kids who have had to work through things such as how to deal with missing a flight on our way here (check). They've also had to do online research on things to see along our travels (check) while also considering the budget and sometimes making tough decisions because something costs too much (check). I wanted them to be in situations they don’t know how to deal with like ordering room service (check) or using online tools to find a grocery store in the middle of Manhattan (check).
I was hoping for the lengthy and sweet conversations where the girls ask the boys all about American schools and what having a locker and a cafeteria is like (check). And I wanted to let the kids know that I too constantly learn new things, which was surely evident in my sheer look of panic while driving on the right in Manhattan (check) in our new car that we bought hours after landing (check).
In the end, I consider my only job as a parent to teach my kids how to make decisions and solve problems in my absence when dealing with the colorful mix of rainbows and crap that life tends to dish out. I don't want my kids to be afraid of life, to be too scared to make decisions and I desperately want them to feel capable of moving around this World like they belong in it.
And they do belong in it.
Now if we could only figure out where….
A tidal wave of nausea and cold sweat hit me this morning, as I uttered the words "see you in September" to someone. No clue how it happened so fast, but this is going to be our last weekend in Anguilla, which means it's officially time to panic about such things as packing, organizing pet care and not having a car in the US for our road trip - undoubtedly a rather important part of the road trip concept. But also, if this is our last weekend here, then that means it's time to let go, which basically means I'll be spending the weekend hyperventilating.
Yes, I know we will be back, maybe even before September, maybe just to pack, maybe to stay here for a while and strategize. But I know full well that once we leave in a few days, the island we know and have loved for 8 years won't be here when we return. Regardless if we do or don't find a new right place to live, Anguilla will have changed. We will have changed and this place will once again seem foreign and inconvenient, with a pretty 210 degree ocean view but so much tranquillity it's deafening.
Anguilla has taught me so much - how to be still, how to listen, how to allow
those tiny voices to bubble up, even though they don't usually tell you anything you want to hear.
It's here where I learned to be at peace and how to be a single parent to the four kids - sometimes even simultaneously. Turns out having nobody else to rely on (or blame) takes away all your leeway and excuses and forces you have to try harder. Or something different. Either way, it makes you try something.
Actually, Anguilla made us all try harder and it taught us how to work together as a family in order to cope with "indoor camping" and the often overwhelming inconveniences of island life. Not having stores forced us all to learn reeeeally creative problem solving, which is both a giant pain (when it happens to me) and a beautiful life skill lessons (when it happens to the kids).
Anguilla also taught us about connecting with people,
to be open in ways I am not sure I know how to be in civilization. Here we learned to observe more and judge less and Anguilla has allowed the kids to find out about being a minority in the gentlest of ways possible.
This island has a way to make people feel safe and let go of layers of bullshit and defences, which usually results in people interacting in ways which are both genuine and strangely healing. And I do worry that particularly the girls will feel lost or somehow less important in the US without this, unable to understand why people don't look them in the eye and say "good morning".
I also worry that with all the
conveniences and stuff the US has to offer, we won't need each other the way we
do here. That we'll have to try less hard to make life work.
I worry that I don't know how to pull off 6 weeks on the road without accidentally strangling a kid or two. And I worry I won't hear myself think or have enough time and space to be still, while constantly moving. But I suppose all that is part of the point of this trip.
Six weeks is just enough time to be dazzled by unlimited, potable water and the opportunities of life in civilization and forget a lot about what Anguilla really is like. Six weeks is just long enough for all kinds of things to fade into the background, so that being open to something new has a chance. Something I am hoping will happen, somewhere along the road between New York and Florida.
When something is right, it is dreadfully obvious. It comes to you naturally, effortlessly - no pushing or pulling required. And as a matter of fact, when something truly is right, you don't actually get to decide. It just happens and it usually comes when you least expect it.
Right things can’t be argued with, they aren’t rational, which is rather tricky for those of us with an affinity for logical decision-making.
Right things also can't rbe stopped, no matter how much you might want to. Sure, you can be in denial, you can settle, you can stop taking action on the situation, but (if you’re lucky) it’s just a matter of time before you run into that right thing, making you realize how wrong the thing is you currently have in your life.
So really, spotting right things is easy! They instantly, inexplicably make you feel more whole than you did before you met that right thing. No decision making involved, no agonizing, no real wavering. It just is.
That doesn’t mean that right things are easy though. They're not and they have a habit of turning your life upside down. And sometimes you meet a right thing at the wrong moment in time to come back to it years later to have a completely different experience.
Without fail though, right things come to you. They can't be pushed or pulled or coerced, which is simultaneously incredibly liberating and frustrating.
As a matter of fact, usually you have to go through a whole series of wrong things, before you can even recognize the right one.
Nobody is born knowing their favorite _____ (fill in the blank noun) it involves experiencing many, before you even have a chance of recognizing the right one.
Being still enough to where you can hear yourself on this level, the nuances in these whispers, the irrational ways in which you feel more whole around something - that's the tricky part.
The first and only time I’ve experienced a right thing in the places category was the first time I stepped foot on Anguilla.
Before that moment, I never knew how “not quite at home” I felt in every place I had ever lived, including the place I was born and raised.
The problem with experiencing such a clear and loud “right thing” is that it ruins you. Nothing less will do. Or at the very least, you’re painfully aware of the inadequacy of everything else.
I knew when we moved to Anguilla 8 years ago that this island would be temporary - all things are.
This tiny island has been such a wonderful place to raise kids, but it never was going to be the right place for teenagers. I knew that from the start and I’ve hoped and prayed and pushed and pulled to find a new “right place” for us before the clock would catch up.
After spending months researching a place to move to - overlaying weather maps with “distance from major airport” charts, school, average age, political landscape and cost of living statistics, I’ve come up with nothing. Nada. Logic and data are failing me, which is a blow all on it’s own.
The truth is, you can’t force a right thing to happen, and certainly not on paper. You have to experience it, see how it makes you feel, and on the odd chance you are lucky enough to find that right thing, nothing else matters. Tear up that criteria chart - game over!
You know the joke about the guy who prays every day to win the lottery, to which God replies with “Help me here, buy a ticket!”?
I’ve abandoned searching for a new home on paper and am taking it to the road. The long way, to (hopefully) a new home. So with an open heart, observant eyes, way too many digital devices and all four kids – we’re about to embark on a 6 week road trip across the Eastern-ish part of the US.
And if we’re lucky, we will indeed find that right place for us all to move to next. Either way, it'll be entirely obvious if and when we get there. No doubt about that.
Roughly 3 year ago, as my oldest finished 6th grade here in Anguilla, I made the excruciating decision to send both boys to middle school in Dallas and live with their Dad. The two of you paying attention (hi Mom!) may have noticed that this corresponds directly with the roughly 3 year gap between posts here, but never mind that.
Before the boys left, we had spent years defining and refining our roles and responsibilities in this family, in this place. There are no conveniences here in Anguilla, no dishwasher, no fast food, no clothes dryer and with just me, the four kids and a full time job, all that inconvenience got divvied up as chores. Everyone simply had to try just a little bit harder.
Eventually, everyone found their place and their role. It was loads of hard work but everyone in this house was needed, which is what likely never made any of the kids complain.
And then, when the boys left, that whole thing sputtered and fell apart.
For the past 3 years, the boys have come to Anguilla only twice a year and it's been utterly fascinating to watch what happens within minutes of their arrival each time. After the hug fest and dog pile is over, everyone gets quiet for a bit… and then goes on just like before.
The boys are here now, until the end of the Summer and the vote we took is unanimous - it's time to find a new home for all of us, together.