As years turn to decades and little flags are pinned at least on a dozen places you’ve lived, the needle slowly tilts away from your country of birth and starts swiveling like crazy in all directions.. You’ve now entered the Bermuda triangle on an expat’s life map hanging on the wall. There’s no destination.. No clear point of exit.. and if you do exit, well, there is no sure inkling as to where you really want to end up.
One early morning, on our way to school, I tell the kids:
- You know which countries are opening up now?
Three pairs of sleepy eyes look up and they all ask, with little enthusiasm: Which?
Costa Rica, I announce, ignoring their reluctance to engage. It’s a morning ritual and I’m used to it by now. But I know I can always count on Costa Rica to awaken their most treasured memories and loosen up their slumbering tongues.
Suddenly Tarek’s knee jerks..
- Let’s move there now!
- Are you sure? Are you already done here?
- Yes, definitely Yes!
T2 and T3 are silent.. They’re literarily rolling the idea over in their heads.
T2 says he’s not THAAAAT ready to move yet but Yeah, why not!
T3 is just silent..
10 months only into South Africa and my ever-fidgeting T1 is already planning his next move. He’s happier here than he’s ever been elsewhere. This country was designed with his special passions in mind. Nature, good weather, animals, hikes, loads of road trips and fun adventures. Sure Middle School is tough, but this set-up is the best and the most sheltered he’ll ever have, and he knows it. So why?
I try to nudge a reason out of him, some deep concern he’s reluctant to share, an angst of some sort, a bad experience he’s eager to leave behind. But the truth is much simpler than that… My T1 has grown to be an eternal expat. In his head, he’s a traveler, an explorer and settling down is just a tangle of drama and broken friendships that his frail social skills have yet to learn to navigate.
Leaving is the easiest way to escape our failure to integrate, to establish roots and to belong. My T1 is a pariah at heart, and our nomadic lifestyle offers him exactly what he needs, a fresh start whenever loneliness creeps in and reminds him that friendship is a complicated affair.
For a fleeting moment on an early morning school ride, I feel blessed I’m an expat mom.. I spend so much time helping my kids settle in a new environment that I fail to appreciate the best gift I offer them over and over again: An Exit Plan!