A brief interlude in the “Self-Annoyed: Solo-preneurship Done Write” series… because when we aren’t working, we’re living (and life has some pretty big curve balls of its own). Suggested soundtrack for reading: “There is So Much More” by Brett Dennen.
Everyone said we wouldn’t make it.
Well, okay, not everyone. But I couldn’t resist an opening line that sounds so much more deliciously dramatic than, “a few folks cautioned that this might not work out.”
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself – let me start at the beginning:
Seven years ago, my husband and I moved to Montana. It was my husband’s choice. He’d somehow stumbled into fishing and hunting, and he wanted to make a life – well, we wanted to make a life – that looked something like “Little House on the Prairie.” But with, y’know, less diseases and Oregon Trail-like mishaps.
I mean, it’s not like we traveled in a covered wagon or anything.
At first, I liked Montana. It was – is – beautiful, has four seasons, lots of wildlife, and we made friends fairly quickly. We had fun, went camping, fished, and swam in freezing cold rivers. It was, honestly, pretty stinkin’ cool.
Then we decided to have kids. That is, first we had “a” kid, then conceived a second kid eight months later (oops). And suddenly, life just wasn’t as fun anymore. It was exhausting, redundant, and kind of purposeless. I mean, not that raising kids isn’t a great purpose. It’s certainly part of my purpose. I just didn’t want it to be my WHOLE purpose.
I’m not cut out for that shit.
So, it happened that I found myself three years into motherhood with two kids under the age of four, wishing it would all go by faster, or maybe just fast-forward a little bit to a time when I could be Me again. Although, who that is, I’m not exactly sure anymore.
With this perpetual “woe is me / who am I? / what does it all mean?” merry-go-round going on in my head, my husband and I started thinking that maybe changing locations might help. If you consider the fact that we’d just been through one of Montana’s hardest winters in 20 years, followed by one of the worst fire seasons that robbed us of an entire summer, filling the air with apocalyptic ash for weeks on end, it actually sounds logical to sell all of one’s possessions and move to an entirely different country.
And that’s what we did.
We picked up and moved to Costa Rica, selling everything we had (except for our cars and a few choice keepsakes) and renting out our house to strangers. Sayonara. See ya next never. Catch you on the flippity, Montana.
Which brings us to the present day and an all-too-familiar scene: me, alone in my living room, in the dark, watching the neon red clock silently mark minute after minute, wondering: “what does it all mean? Who am I?”
11:14… 11:15… 11:16…
We came to Costa Rica with the intention of staying one full year, because why not really commit, y’know? We knew what we were getting into, or so we thought. We’d done the research, mapped it out, made a plan. Yet, here we are, only three months in – empty, tired, raw, and ready to go home.
Our one-way flight to the states departs this Monday at 1:25pm, and I’m certain of only one thing: that I will have none of this figured out by then. There are no clear answers, no reasons I can think of as to why this is happening, or how we got here. It was just a series of events, one after another, leading us to this point, like so many dominoes toppling over in a curvy, collapsing line.
And here I thought we’d be jet-setting to Panama right now. Shows how much I know.
The exact reasons we’re leaving don’t matter (although, I kept a detailed list so that I can remind myself why departing early made the best possible sense… it starts with drinking a dead lizard and ends with a rental car flooded on the side of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere while my kids stand there watching, wearing nothing but basketball shorts and asking for snacks).
No, what really matters are the lessons we have learned, who we are now, and how we choose to move forward. What matters is everything that we didn’t know before, that we now know beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Like, the fact that traveling abroad – even for an extended amount of time – is not the same as LIVING abroad. Let’s face it, when you exist inside of a culture that you’ve known your entire life, you implicitly understand how to navigate it. And, when you suddenly uproot yourself and try to replant inside of a culture you don’t know, the learning curve is huuuge. Far too huge to master in a year, much less a few months.
Living on your toes like that can be exhausting.
I’m not saying that we failed. Failure implies that we didn’t meet our objectives, and that’s not entirely true. Our objective wasn’t necessarily to stay here for a year, but to see something new, experience the unknown, and learn new things about ourselves. After four years raising kids, I was ready to do anything to feel alive and connected to myself again. I desperately needed to proclaim my independence from a life of suburban parenthood that, quite honestly, scared the shit out of me (and still does).
We did all of that and more.
We met new people and pushed our limits as parents and as a couple. We learned to ask for – and accept – help, and we learned one of the most important (and painful) lessons that life has to offer: when to take your ball and go home.
Do I regret it? I can’t yet say. I’ve seen “Sliding Doors.” It’s hard not to imagine myself as Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, walking two roads at once, hoping I picked the better of the two. It’s hard not to imagine where we’d be, what we’d be doing if we’d made different choices than the ones that led us here.
But, here we are. We maybe didn’t find all of the answers that we came here for, but we came here as a team, and we’re leaving as a team. We’ve learned to sacrifice for each other and make hard decisions as a cohesive unit. We’ve been to the high places and the low places together, and it’s only made us closer, stronger, and more reliant on each other. That certainly counts for something.
I came to Costa Rica looking for happiness, and what I found is that (duh) you can’t find happiness outside of yourself. You can’t find it by trading the mountains for the ocean, the ocean for the jungle, or the jungle for the concrete jungle. You have to find it deep inside. You have to learn to make it here, right where you are, before you ever have a chance of finding it anywhere else on the globe… although I certainly intend to see more of it someday.
I’m leaving here a different person than I was when we arrived. Not that I’ve changed, necessarily, in any formative way. But now, I know more about myself. I know that I’m a bit less tough, less flexible, less easy-going than I’d hoped. I like structure and crave reliable internet access… along with HBO. Am I happy that I know this? Not really. I’m not entirely thrilled with the Me I found here.
Now, I have to figure out what to do about that.
I also have to face up to the fact that I can make real mistakes now. Big, lasting, might-be-a-long-road-to-come-back-from mistakes. It makes me sorely miss my twenties, when decisions seemed less life-or-death, the stakes didn’t feel so high, and the outcome didn’t impact so many people who deeply matter to me. It also makes me SO glad that this is not one of those mistakes – we can go home again, back to Montana.
And oh, how I miss it.
Unfortunately, in adulthood, there’s nobody to make your choices for you, or clean up your messes. I raged pretty hard against that truth for awhile, but I definitely comprehend it now. It is suffocating and terrifying and I have a feeling it’s never going to go away, but I’m a 32-year old Mom, for crying out loud, and it’s high time I recognize my duty to stand up under the weight of it so that my kids can be kids, and have their time to make freewheeling mistakes under the cover of parents ready to point them in the right direction again.
That is parenthood. That is being an adult.
I’m not sure what the next chapter holds for us. That’s actually the most discombobulating part of this whole mess. I’m a planner, a list-maker, someone whose path is never just happenstance. But this? I have no plan for this. This location was not on my map, and I have no idea where to go from here. For once, I think that might be a good thing.
Perhaps you pray, perhaps you don’t (and if you don’t, maybe skip to the next paragraph), but it’s time I start letting God unfold my plan before I set to work creating it myself. Maybe it’s time I spend a little less time starting my sentences with “I,” and focusing more on “us” and “we,” and asking The One who knows better than I do, because He sees what was behind me and what lies before me.
I don’t know what will happen next, after we land in Texas in Monday. But I know it will be what’s best for Joey and June, and that’s good enough for me. It has to be.
The rest is yet to come… the best is yet to come.
And please, hold the “I told you so’s” until a day, sometime in the near future, when this all becomes funny. Which, even now, it already is.