I’ve had to do a good bit of “adulting” these last few weeks. You know, those times where you do the wise thing, not the fun thing; not the thing you really want to do, but the thing that you know in the long run will create less stress, less angst, less struggle. But it’s really frustrating making those “adult” moves when the inner child in me just wants to shun responsibility and create memories because we’re leaving Asia…again.
I left Asia when I was five and moved to the USA, the “foreign country” with all its weird foods like corn, mashed potatoes, and hamburgers. I remember hiding under the hideous wet bar in my parents’ living room crying because I missed my dog and my cat and my old life (I didn’t have the words to know that was cultural adjustment). Happiness was becoming friends with a Filipina girl because she looked right. Although we lived in a fairly diverse area, it was strange being with so many caucasians. It had taken me most of my Kindergarten year in the Philippines to realise I was the only fair skinned, blue eyed, blonde haired child in the class. Now, I was in a sea of white faces and Miriam made me feel at home.
In High School, I returned to Asia, Hong Kong specifically…sulking. My parents “made” me go with them. I had it all figured out in the USA – who I could live with for the year, what school I would attend, how it would work and yet they still made me move with them. And 14 is a horrendous age. You don’t have to transfer continents to experience the awfulness of it; childhood pudginess is at its peak, acne is present, hormones are racing. It stinks and I moved to Asia that year. And it was glorious. Glorious. So. Many. Good. Memories. A year later, I left Hong Kong in tears. Four Chinese friends came to the airport to say goodbye. Two spoke with an American accent, one with a British accent, and one with an Australian accent. We’d all been a part of the international youth group where friendships had run fast and deep. But, again, it was time to leave Asia. It had been fun, growing, memorable, but it was time and I knew it. I was sad, but excited to return.
Then, there was the phone call from Brian, “Want to move to China?” Nope. Don’t want to. Quite content with my suburban, American life. And yet, less than 9 months later, we moved to Macau. We lived two memory-filled years there. We got pregnant there, had our first child there, made friendships that have proven solid despite distances. The smell of incense sends me right back to the tiny temple down the road. I hear the raucous sound of Cantonese and it sounds familiar and strangely homey. I look at a sea of Chinese faces and find one Caucasian and wonder, “Why is that westerner here?” Completely forgetting that I look the same. But then, kicking and ranting, I left Asia again. This time I was mad. Our time had been cut short. Brian’s job had ended suddenly. This wasn’t our choice. This was UNFAIR. And it took months for the tears to flow and the emotions to work their way out of my soul. Maybe I needed a cupboard big enough for an adult to climb into like when I was five. Leaving Asia ripped me open in a way that I still don’t understand. It left a hole in Brian that had him searching for a job which would take us back to Asia for four years. Four years of job hunting to get back.
And in a few short weeks, I will leave Asia again and I want to cram as many memories into my weeks so I’m dragging my kids to everything possible because we need to build memories, cement relationships, see everything we didn’t see yet…you get it. And life fell apart this week; three of us crashed hard with our emotions. After some time alone in my room, I “adulted” – I put aside my want for something, something good, something I can only experience once and said, “We’re not doing it. We’re not going. We’re staying home.” I sent an email to a friend I’ve wanted to visit and I was sure I could cram one short trip in, but instead I wrote, “I’m so sorry, but I can’t. I have to be here to end things well. I can’t make the trip.” And after that awful two days and hard decisions, my heart got a little less frantic. A little less frazzled. I little more filled with grace for myself and my kids.
And I wonder, when I leave Singapore will I wish I had lived more vicariously? Or will I rest knowing that I made some healthy decisions that will mean we can end our time here well instead of frazzled? In the great scheme of things, I think that’s more important. Ending well. Taking the time to say goodbyes, to experience what we can, but not everything we can cram into our schedule. And who knows, we might come back. Maybe not to Singapore, but there’s something in me that loves Asia so deeply it’s like it’s part of my soul. Out of my 40 years, I’ve spent more than 10% in Asia.