This month marks the 10-year anniversary of my “retirement”. I never actually set out to retire. In fact, I thought I was embarking on a romantic adventure to raise my daughter bi-lingual in a charming and provincial Swiss winemaking village. We knew that we were “localizing” in Switzerland. We knew that it would be up to us to find a road back to the US, but it seemed like such a ripe and exciting adventure that we didn’t stop to consider my career at all. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t hold any paying position of any kind for a decade. When Bookworm was born, it wasn’t a reasonable option for either of us to consider staying home…and to be honest, I really loved my job. I liked having a career identity. The 80s were a magical breeding ground for bright little girls-we all saw Melanie Griffith take over in Working Girl. We wanted giant shoulder pads, big hair, and the corner office. Well I did, anyway. I got a degree in Business because I wanted to wear suits to work and tell everybody what to do. So-imagine my surprise when I had my first child and I began to wish I could be home with her. I hated missing her first words, her first tooth, snuggling with her when she woke up from her afternoon nap. When the opportunity arose to move halfway across the world and live a “storybook” stay-at-home life in a quaint European village-I didn’t just go willingly…I leapt joyfully.
I remember thinking, right around the 4-year mark, that I would find a job when the girls were both in school full-time. My French was passable, with some effort somebody would hire me. And then we moved to Hong Kong. Job opportunities were actually abundant. I signed up for Linked In and received at least a dozen different inquiries about my willingness to work or consult or come in for an interview. But I didn’t want to work in Hong Kong. For the first time in five years, I had time to myself. I was able to be a part of my kids’ lives..but my life wasn’t ONLY my kids’ lives. I had friends, and places to go and see…and let’s face it. Hong Kong is awesome. I only got 18 months there! I sometimes think I would have eventually gotten tired of working out and hanging out and gotten a job if we were still in Hong Kong.
But, the truth is…I could probably get a job in Bangkok. I’ve been contacted via Linked In in the last year. Despite the fact that my profile is 5 years old. I haven’t had a job in a decade. I realize that means if I do decide I’d like a career (not a job), I will be learning something entirely new. Because my field has changed so much I wouldn’t recognize it. I worked in media before social media existed. I’d be working for a 20-year old. My ego can’t take that. She probably wouldn’t even know who Melanie Griffith is. Wait-she might…she’d ask me if she was the MOM of the chick in the 50 Shades of Grey movie. And then I would start to cry and run out of the office.
See? This is why I cannot think seriously about working again. I have a few friends that re-entered the workplace after 5 or 8 or 10 years. They are all smart, and successful and capable and clearly less prideful. The truth is this-I wouldn’t hire me. The reality is this: I’m a mom. As much as I lambast myself for being a sucky mom-I’m doing my best and that is, actually, enough.
As I was pondering this fact, I also realized that next month is our Expat-iversary. It’s also been a decade since we left our home country and went out on the road. Greener pastures, as it were…
I can’t remember that actual date-but I do know I quit my job in March, spent some time visiting our family in Colorado and then moved to Switzerland in April. I know for a fact we were well-settled and jetlag-free for bookworm’s First Birthday.
I wonder sometimes if it’s weird that I mentally acknowledge (if not celebrate outright) these little milestones. I do know the date we were asked to move to Hong Kong (July 4th) and the date we were asked to move to Thailand (June 11th). And I know when my family arrived in Asia (December 27th). But I think it’s not. I think these are the dates I hold on to because they mark significant moments in our personal story. I don’t have career milestones. I stopped wondering if I’d be a Director or a VP “by now” a long time ago. I don’t have a “normal” life. My kids won’t have one wall where their heights were marked for their entire childhood. They won’t be able to easily go back to visit the playground they went to with their nursery school friends. We won’t visit their kindergarten teachers when they are in High School. Instead, I mark these dates and talk with them about where we have lived, and what that was like and I try to show them photos and remind them of our friends and what the vineyard road smelled like during the vindage in our tiny Swiss village. I talk to Bookworm about the boulangerie in the village above ours and how they didn’t have a door but a giant velvet blanket keeping out the cold on frigid January mornings. I remind the Bean of what it felt like to be the only pale face in her nursery school in Hong Kong, and how she explained, deadpan, to her grandmother that she likes rice because “I am Chinese”. We talk about how every Thursday after I picked her up from nursery school, we walked to the Deli France in Stanley Market and shared a mini-quiche (who seeks out French fast-food in Asia, you ask? One whose 2 year old was born in Switzerland and raised on tea-room quiche and pain-au-chocolate). I try to hold on to these little things because Expat-iversarys are weird but real. They are moments that matter for my kids.
And then I wonder. If (when) it’s time for us to roll on from Thailand…what will I remind them of? At the moment, I think it will be the heat that makes your eyeballs sweat. But it might be the call of the locusts at 6am and 6pm. It might be the call to prayer that we can hear from Bookworm’s bedroom at 6pm from the muslim community out our back gate. It will definitely be the taste of ripe mango mixed with creamy coconut milk and chewy sticky rice. It will be riding their bicycles to school-alone-at age 7 and 10. It will be the safety and the freedom.
Before I go get all sentimental on you, I will also remind them that the internet doesn’t work. There are always rats in the ceiling and they have to go to bed with an electric bug-zapping tennis racquet next to their bedside or they will be eaten alive in the night.
Just keeping it real, folks.