Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Short Term/Long Term Thinking

Bibi in front of Santo Domingo, 2006

As the time for our departure approaches, I get more and more anxious. Partly, this is because there is still so much to do to get ready, but more than that, I'm just afraid of being in Mexico for a year. I'm afraid of how difficult it is going to be - for me, for the children, for my husband - even for Ivory, our elderly dog.

As I was saying to my sister today, it is easier for me to imagine the ways in which it will be difficult than it is for me to imagine the ways in which it will be fun. We will be living in two rooms, at least for the first few months, with no private access to either a kitchen or a bathroom. It will, for a large part of the time, be horribly and unrelievedly hot. The children will be plunged into a world in which they speak the language only slightly, and into the completely foreign culture of the Mexican school system (the decision to send them to local public school was not made lightly; I will go into the decision making process in another post). I imagine, based on previous experience, that I will feel alone and somewhat abandoned as my husband dives joyfully back into his natal family and culture, leaving me to sink or swim without his support. Homero will have difficulty walking the line, shown by previous experience to be razor-thin, between pleasing his wife and his mother. 

Sometimes I feel that I have decided to plunge the entire family into short-term hell, in the hopes of a long-term payoff. It is all too easy to picture the ways in which the year will be difficult for all of us - and not just those of us who are going, but also for Rowan, my teenager, left behind and on her own for the first time in her life; for my mother and father, even for my sister, losing a confidante for a year. To balance this, I am actively trying to spend time imagining the benefits of going. After all, this sojourn was my idea, and I must have had some plusses in mind when I suggested it.

When I think of benefits, I imagine long-term benefits. I imagine my grown-up children in their twenties or thirties, easily bilingual and comfortable in two worlds. I imagine them appreciating the time spent in another country, acknowledging the wider perspective they developed as a result. I have known several people who spent significant amounts of time in foreign countries as children, and without exception, all of them regard the experience as incredibly valuable and have formed lasting bonds with those countries and their cultures. There is no reason to doubt that my children will feel the same way. 

For myself, I imagine the pride I will feel at overcoming my anxiety and doing something brave and interesting. I imagine that I will consider myself a stronger person for doing this, and that when I am old, this year living abroad will be one of my crowning achievements and a glowing memory.

For Rowan, I imagine that having successfully navigated her first year away from her parents, as well as her first year in University (something I do not doubt will happen), will give her a sense of accomplishment and of independence. I hope that she will find her general anxiety level less as she accumulates the little day-to-day victories of doing well in school and taking care of herself living alone. I assume I will be coming home to a very different, more grown-up young lady, and I look forward to meeting her.

These are all long term benefits, and I really don't doubt any of them. But I need to spend more time visualizing the ways we will enjoy ourselves while we are there. Our recent trips to Oaxaca have been wonderful, especially the most recent one this past winter. Homero and I didn't fight at all, and there was little or no tension between the families. The weather was pleasant. We traveled and saw beautiful and interesting places. Certainly, during the course of our year there will be opportunities to do many of the things I love to do in Mexico - swim in the ocean, travel to new places, go to festivals and fairs. I will probably enjoy making a home for my family, even though it will have some frustrating limitations (such as being in my mother-in-law's house). If I try, I am sure I can see it as an exciting challenge to create a comfy nest in our little upstairs nook.

Homero will enjoy spending lots of time with his mother and siblings, and renewing his relationships with his other relatives and old friends. He will enjoy starting a new business venture (which he will certainly do - the idea of Homero not working for a year is rediculous). Just being in his home country will be a pleasure for him, speaking his native language all the time, having access to books and news in Spanish, and generally relaxing into his cradle-culture.

The children will surely go through a period of difficulty until they become more comfortable in the language, but I don't expect that to take very long - a couple of months, perhaps. After that, I am certain they will make friends at school and in the neighborhood. They adore their abuelita and she adores them. The deepening of that relationship will be a pleasure on both sides, I am sure. As will the deepening relationships with their Aunt Temy and their cousins. The children will enjoy many of the same things I do, travel, food, festivals.

I love the pageantry and richness of daily life in Mexico. I love the color and the exuberance of the landscape. I love the many occasions for festivities. I will keep thinking about the many things I like about Mexican life, and try to avoid thinking about the hardships.

1 comment:

  1. I think you have a pretty clear-headed sense of what you're getting in to. So there's only one little piece of advice I'd give you. Come up with a hobby slash project that gives people a handle on what they should do with this alien in their midst. I can't tell you how useful it has been to me, when traveling (I have Colombian in-laws) that everyone knows that I'm a birder. Whenever things are feeling crowded or hectic, they can pack me off birdwatching or introduce me to a local biologist friend or I can just take my binoculars and have an excuse to clear out. But I think it's a relief to them to have some clue about what this gringo underfoot wants to do - other than be useless and alien. Maybe for you it could be getting to know all the obscure local herbs, or getting fascinated with architecture and history or geneology. But some distraction that people can focus on. Anyhow, that's my piece of advice for you. It sounds like it's going to be an amazing adventure.