Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some More Thoughts about Yesterday: An Expat Perspective

I think it would be easy to read what I wrote yesterday and think, "Geesh... Such self-pity..." 

I know I kind of thought that both while feeling it all day and then when writing it...

This morning I recognized the elephant in the room, understand more just WHY it hurt so much, WHY wanting holidays to be recognized in a certain way matters so much to me...

We've never had a set "home," moving around from grad school to grad school, to job to job... Multiple apartments as rents increased and our family expanded... 

It was one thing when our moving was within the US; everything around us remained relatively familiar. Now we're in a foreign country, one where we won't be staying forever -- we're not creating ROOTS while living here. And yet, we don't have a clear place that's ours when in the USA...

The only constant we have is what we create -- our family traditions. I think ahead, believing it's important for the girls to grow up with solid set of experiences that will fill their memories the way the familiar backdrops of my childhood milestones filled mine.

It makes holidays more "loaded"... Making it more disappointing when they don't go as I'd have hoped... And being expats already makes the holidays harder to begin with. It's not an ideal situation! I mean, psychologically that's a lot to have going on -- then add to it all the extra stress travel/having to plan far in advance (i.e. making sure I've brought everything back from the US that I needed to, which sometimes means thinking a year ahead)

I think of this Christmas, when I was EXHAUSTED after an intense end-of-term week at work,  followed by the trip on my own with the girls to Colorado (with the fun cancelled connecting flights and lost luggage), then the girls' jet lag... Then wrapping all the presents on my own, arranging it all, even having planned all the presents for everyone in advance, then setting up the house for Santa, etc.... 

At about 2 a.m., as I started to stuff my own stocking, on my own, I started crying and said, "FORGET IT. Santa is only coming for the kids this year. If anyone has a problem with it, tough. I can only do so much."

Perhaps I should have gone to bed much sooner -- but it was so important to me that the girls have basic Christmas memories that include something as simple as finding the plate with cookie crumbs that Santa had left the night before... 

So that's all one reason why holidays in general are important... Making traditions...

And the last reason is just as important, when it comes to thinking of my birthday or Mother's Day. It's not that I want all the fuss made over me, although it could be fun... It's more that I don't want my girls to grow up thinking that being a mother who gives all she can to her family should just be taken for granted. I don't want to set a bad example for them by plodding along, making a big deal of their birthdays and their father's, but glossing over my own; I want them to delight in a bouquet of flowers or special drawings that celebrate what wonderful women they will be. I owe it to them.

13 comments:

Tami said...

Completely understandable and not self-pitying (is that a word?) in the least. You've got a tough job...raising two girls so far away from 'home'. Living in a culture that is not your own...wanting to instill in them a sense of family, tradition and 'normalcy' - whatever that is. ;)
You're doing a great job. Someday, when you're living back in the States, you'll look back on this time fondly...and realize your girls have an amazing sense of family and tradition. ((hugs))

The Expatresse said...

I have abandoned a lot of traditional things. I don't even try to do Thanksgiving or Easter anymore (well, I used to buy candy for that, but in Russia I haven't even tried). I feel bad about it sometimes. I let them make Christmas cookies this year . . . and a big mess . . . because I wanted them to have some fun memories of the holiday. I think they did.

And it's okay to have a bad day and whinge/whine/moan a bit. That's one of the purposes of a blog, I think. We all need a safe place to vent. With some friends who will help us wind up our souls again and go back out there and continue what we do.

Don't apologize.

Annie said...

I do think that you are under some extra stresses - in terms of all the preparation and so forth.... However, I have felt very much the same way when holidays have been a big bust - even though I have "my house" and "my job", etc. Roots, so to speak. We've lived here 25 years....but that just makes it worse when suddenly everything seems meaningless and dry as dust. The roots don't help when you looked forward to a day having significance and meaning and it turns out to have NONE to anyone but you....you want to dash those holiday decorations against the wall!

I remember this in particular the last couple of years before we adopted when my older children were in HS and they wanted to take off after gift-giving on Christmas and go have dinner with their friends; my mom preferred to be by herself (is not one for big dinners or too much social life) and my husband just wanted to be left alone to watch sports. I can assure you having a home and stuff around me meant NOTHING AT ALL!

I really feel your pain, because I have felt it myself...that desire to create something beautiful and memorable out of a day while others just see it as "a day" and can't understand why you are so bent out of shape.

I grew up on the "Laura" books (Little House books) and that family was less connected than expats! Moving from place to place and living in abject poverty, really...yet loving family times brought them together. THAT'S the goal I've always had for my family holidays and somehow we always fall [way] short.

Lynne said...

I think you have done a great job of giving your kids a very interesting and exciting life. Yes, there are drawbacks, but drawbacks can and do happen everywhere...

Sorry your birthday wasn't better. As for Mother's Day -- you need to talk about it in advance!! Ask Chris a week or so in advance what he plans to do for you. :) Remind your kids about the day, and ask them when they plan on making their cards. A day or two in advance, ask what type of special meal you should have. :) I think some women like to wait and see what their family will do without reminders but that can lead to huge disappointment. John and the girls have never forgotten my birthday or V-Day etc. but that might be only because I talk about it frequently in advance. :)

Glad you were feeling better today.

Hugs,
Lynne

Anonymous said...

I am sort of Expat in reverse. I came to US with a small child, and my second child was born just a month and a half after we arrived. We, unlike you in Moscow, came here to stay. Not that we did know exactly what does it mean.
Trying to maintain two languages, two sets of traditions ( in our case it is really 3 set of traditions), is tough. At times it feels like all your attempts mean nothing to anyone in your family.
But in the long run, there are things your children will remember and cherish and do on their own, like your eggplant parmagiane. And it may happen when you least expect it.
Zhisn prozit ne pole pereyti.
Just hold on, you will be very pleased with results one day!
Olga

Carolynn and Steve said...

Tamara,
Like everyone else, I don't think that you have anything at all to apologize about. But I understand the need to explain. Living for any extended period of time in a different culture is just tough--yes, it can be exciting, but you don't really realize how draining and stressful it is until something like your day happens. Trying to "do it all" by yourself just wears you out--I totally understand that.
I also understand the longing for a settled place. We also live an itinerant life, and not having a place that is our "home" is hard to deal with sometimes.
Please, sweetie, don't stress about being upset--it is perfectly ok, and understandable. Know that there are people out here who are cheering for you, and who care what happens.

Annie said...

Olga - I want you to start your own blog. Your comments are always so interesting!

traveler one said...

Now that's a really good explanation of a feeling that is very familiar to most expats. Thanks for putting so much thought into this post. It was also my birthday this week and I really felt like crying all day. It's hard being away from your family isn't it?

Tina in CT said...

We all need an update on your student that was robbed and how the case is progressing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Annie and Olga (who both need to blog). I can attest to having lived in moscow and now having a home back in the u.s. in the suburbs, backyard, etc, it is not the "roots" or necessarily special traditions. it is the day to day simple pleasures of life. try to look for the beauty in a moment - however slight - each day. one day, you'll be shocked at was and was not special to your girls. also, everyone needs to vent and i am refreshed by your honesty. stay tough!

miss you!
jeannie

Tina in CT said...

Jeannie,

Annie does have a blog. Click on her name and it'll bring you to it.

Tina

Anonymous said...

cool! thank you, tina ; )

jeannie

Tina in CT said...

Jeannie,

You're welcome.

Tina