A Letter to My Nephews

Preface: My family was blessed with two beautiful baby boys, Jordan and Nate, in the latter half of 2015.  Most of the time I am OK being away from my family.  The occasional pang of homesickness does hit, sure, but it passes.  I try not to dwell on the fact that I am currently 8,000 miles away.  But every now and then, I see how much my nephews are growing and realize how much I am (or how much I feel I am) missing.  Being away from them is one of the hardest parts about being away, period.  So, when I do get sad, I imagine reading them this letter…

Dear Jordan and Nate,

You’re too young to notice, but I am not around right now.  In a few months or a year, you’ll still be too young to remember my absence.  But I will remember that I was not there.

Sometimes it is terribly difficult to be away from you.  And the fact is, I do not know when I will be back or if I will even move home.  You see, my sweet boys, before either of you were on your way, I chose to leave home for a while to live abroad and travel in another part of the world.  One day when you’re older, I’ll tell you all about it… 

I always knew that being your aunt would be one my life’s greatest joys.  I love my siblings dearly, probably more than they know, and being a part of your lives was going to be hugely important to me.

Jordy, last January when your mommy and daddy told us that they were expecting you, I cried the sweetest tears of joy.  I laughed and smiled and hugged your mommy, who immediately turned to me with a big grin and asked “So now you’re not going to Thailand, right?” While she meant it as a joke, she was half-serious too.  Because you see, little man, I never planned to be away when you arrived, nor did she.  I was always going to be the aunt who did everything I possibly could with you.  I was going to feed you, change you, bathe you and babysit you.

We were going to be buds and have special alone time to bond and to give your mom and dad a rest.  You were going to grow up with me right there with you from day one.

And luckily, I was there on day one, five months ago.  I was at the hospital when you finally decided to make your appearance.  And then there you were – teeny, tiny and pink.  

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I touched your little hands and belly and when you came home, I held you countless times over the next 5 weeks.  

Your mom and I think you arrived a month early just to meet me and make the most of our limited time together.  I am so happy I got to know you and hold you and kiss you. You got to hear my voice and feel my touch and we took many pictures together that I brought with me along my journey.

You were the first baby I really cared for.  With you, I performed my first feeding, diaper change and swaddle.  You were perfect.  And part of me did not want to leave just so I did not have to say goodbye to you.

Nate, I was not there when you arrived three weeks ago.  I went to bed on a Monday, woke up on a Tuesday and just like that, we added a family member – you.  

Before you were born I missed you already.  I didn’t know your name yet but I loved you like crazy.  Last May when your mommy and daddy told us that you were coming, I again cried the sweetest tears of joy.  We hugged and kissed and laughed a second time.  

And then my tears of sadness came.  It dawned on me in the most selfish way possible that I would miss out on your early days.  I knew then that while I would almost certainly meet Jordan before my departure, I would not be home when you arrived.  I realized I wouldn’t meet you for I-don’t-know how long.  

I wouldn’t change your newborn diapers or hold you while you fell asleep.  You would not know my scent, my touch or my voice except through the speakers of an iPhone and the voice recorded book I left behind for you.  My solace is that I’ll likely come home before you’re too big and hopefully I will not be too much of a stranger to you.  

Part of me really wants to be there with you both now, watching you grow by the day, doing all of the things I planned to do.  But I can’t be.  I am not with you beautiful boys and it hurts when I really stop to think about it.  

One day, I will explain to you that I was not there in the beginning because I had an itch I could not help but scratch.  This itch I tried to deny and avoid and pretend was not there but I couldn’t because it was always nagging at the back of my mind, begging for attention.

One day, I will tell you that this itch was to simply, go.  I will explain that there is a big wide world out there and I wanted to see a piece of it for more than a two week stretch of vacation time.

I will describe how I was young and carefree and lucky in some of the best ways a person can be lucky.  I had a strong desire to do something different and the privilege of opportunity.  I wanted to take advantage of my youth while I had it and the freedom my American passport afforded me.

I will explain that while I had a good life in New York, I was not happy.  I had to go so that in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years I would not be asking “what if?” wondering what would have happened had I had the guts to try.  I needed to leave home to appreciate how wonderful it is.  I needed to go in order to want to come back.  

I will explain that it is important to learn about other cultures beside your own and to see how other people live.  It will show you just how big and small your life can be.

I will describe to you the amazing friends I met and lived with along the way, the students I taught and the hospitality I received from perfect strangers and new friends.  I will tell you about the sights I have seen, the steps I have taken and the many planes, trains, motorbikes and buses I have ridden.

I will teach you about the importance of adaptability and resilience, of not being in control and going with the flow and letting go.  I will teach you about loneliness and fear. About how some days you will feel invincible and confident in every choice you make and other days you will feel crushed by your own self-doubt and anxiety.  I will share how I learned again and again not to run from the inevitable challenges and accompanying negativity – hard times are to be expected, but they always pass.

I will explain how important it is to challenge yourself and test your limits, to prove to yourself how capable you are.

One day, I will tell you all about my adventures and I will encourage you to take your own.

But until then, know that I love and miss you.  And as much as I want to see you again, Jordan, and meet you for the first time, Nate, we will have to wait a little longer.  Because for now, I am eagerly accumulating a lifetime of stories to share with you.

 

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Decisions

Happy New Year!  It has been a while since my last post, almost a month to be exact.  I have a folder full of ideas and draft blog posts, but to be honest, I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to write about.  And since the theme for this blog is to share my “musings and wanderings,” I chose to focus on my wanderings for the reminder of December and wait to share my musings until I found something I really want to write about.

So, here we are on January 10th.  And I would like to talk about some recent decisions I have made, or rather, the indecisiveness that lead to the decisions.

Indecisiveness is a disease that plagues the very best of us, those of us who see the glass half full for a variety of situations and therefore have difficulty pulling the trigger and taking any one path over another.   

Indecisiveness is not new to me.  I am often (cough cough, always) conflicted about the best course of action, usually driving myself crazy in the process.  While considering the pros and cons to a decision is a rational and logical way to deal with the outside world, it can create issues.

I have gone to war with myself a lot when considering what decision to make.

Which is where I found myself until today regarding two decisions: whether or not to write a New Year’s post (a benign decision that does not affect anything) and what to do with my life come March (arguably, a bigger decision).

I could not decide whether  or not to write a goodbye 2015/hello 2016 post, because in truth, I generally find New Years posts to be overdone and terribly trite.

However, 2015 was a pretty big year for me – the best year of my life, dare I say –  and it feels like a disservice to myself not to acknowledge the highlights of the last year and few months.  Because my big year started last October, I will start there.  So, here we go.  In the last 15 months…

  • I acknowledged and came to terms with the fact that I wanted to travel and work abroad.  This was huge, as it took two years to leave my comfortable place of denial and admit that I was unsatisfied in my life and needed change.  Not just a change in jobs or living situation, but life-changing change.  This realization lead directly to the following…
  • I ended a four and a half year relationship with my college boyfriend. This was also huge.  And complicated and a source of major indecision in and of itself.  He is wonderful and we had some great years together, but ultimately, it was the wrong relationship for me and ending it set me free to follow my dream across the world.
  • I chose to move to Thailand to teach English.  Going from the theoretical “I want to move somewhere abroad” to actually choosing to teach and then picking my program and location took a few months and a lot of research, in addition to stress, anxiety and a rejection from the Peace Corp.  And I could not be happier.  
  • I quit the only “real” job I have had post-college.  This was tough not only because I was leaving the security of a steady paycheck behind, but also because I loved the people and the place so much.  Saying goodbye was hard, but I have yet to look back.
  • I became an aunt.  TWICE.  While this has nothing to do with anything I accomplished this year, it has everything to do with big happenings in my family.  Both of my nephews are beautiful, happy and healthy and I could not be more thrilled for my siblings and their spouses.
  • I became a scuba diver.  A few years ago, a new colleague joined my department and he happened to be a scuba instructor.  He offered to let anyone try it out.  Naturally, I jumped at the chance.  And I loved it.  But I figured I would wait to get certified until I had an opportunity to actually go diving.  Two years went by and no such opportunity presented itself.  Until I chose to move to Thailand, a country that offers some of the best diving in the world.  I completed my PADI certification in September and my first ocean dive in Phuket over New Years weekend was amazing.
  • I got my spark back.  In the last few years after college, things were OK.  I had a good job, a long-term boyfriend, great friends and my family close by and I paid no rent while living at home (thanks Mom).  I had birthday dinners and weekends away and I took a cruise to Bermuda and I grew my 401k.  But there was something so vitally important missing from my life and it took a very long time to come to terms with it.  As my mother so painfully expressed to me, somewhere along the way, I had lost my spark – my zest for newness and adventure and excitement for my own life.  I was stuck and unhappy.  But last October, when I stopped denying how badly I wanted to travel, I finally felt like myself again.

It has been one hell of a year.  And at the risk of sounding cliché , I expect 2016 to be even bigger.

Which brings me to my next major point of indecisiveness: what to do next.

When I chose to come to Thailand, my intention was to teach for one semester and then start traveling, backpacker style (except with a rolling combo suitcase because a backpack is heavy and that is very unappealing). I said that if I fell in love with teaching and wanted to stay, I would.  I gave myself the flexibility to change my mind (you can imagine where this is going).

For the last few weeks, I haven’t been able to make up my mind.  

Here’s why: A few weeks ago, I boarded my usual Friday afternoon bus to Bangkok to visit friends for the weekend.  On it, I met a group of young travelers from Vienna, on the tail end of a 6-week trip, mostly spent island-hopping and in and around Bangkok.  Because I am me and I talk to everyone, I struck up a conversation with one of the girls and we spoke for a good hour about our respective experiences here.  While chatting with her, I realized that I love the fact that I live in Thailand.  I am not a backpacker or tourist, but a resident with a job, a school, local friends and a town I feel at home in.  I love the little life I have here and being immersed in the Thai culture in a different way than if I was passing through in a matter of weeks.  I love visiting friends on weekends and hanging in Bangkok, a city that has really grown on me in the last few months.

Since Christmas, I have spent all day, every day, mulling over my options: (1) stay at my school for another term; (2) stay in Thailand but move to a different region and school; and (3) finish out my contract and start traveling indefinitely.  

I have spoken to several friends who are struggling with the same decision and others who are certain of their choices – some are leaving while others are staying.  I have tracked when and why I change my mind and I have made pro/con lists, multiple times (big thanks to some of my amazing friends in Thailand – you know who you are – for dealing with me this last week and helping me work it all out).

I have asked and answered the following questions:

Am I ready for this special experience to be over?  Is 5 months enough time?  Did I accomplish everything I wanted to?  Why rush to travel when it will always be an option later?  Why NOT stay another term?

However, only in the last day or so have I been able to answer the most important question and the ultimate deciding factor: Do I want to keep teaching?

Being a teacher is pretty cool.  The title comes with a lot of respect and admiration from students, colleagues and neighbors.  Being in front of the classroom is daunting but so much fun.  I love working with my students and if they comprehend what I am saying or they are able to better articulate their thoughts and feelings as a result of my time with them, I consider it a victory.

However, I’m not going to lie, being a teacher is also limiting.  I cannot travel for as long or as far as I would like to most of the time.  I cannot visit friends in other part of the country during a regular weekend and time off is mostly reserved for in between semesters.  Teaching is an anchor to one place, and while that one place might be filled with many great experiences and local friends, I am not so sure I want to be anchored for another 5 months.  I am a little too hungry for more new experiences.

So, after some serious debating, I think I am finally ready to pull the trigger and choose my next path.  

I will stick to my original plan and start traveling when my contract ends in February.  Klaeng and Makudmuang School have been very special to me, but I am itching to get out the door and explore the rest of Southeast Asia and beyond.  

Maybe after a few months I will miss teaching and the friends I have made here and wish to come back.  Maybe I will miss living in Thailand and find another job elsewhere in the country.  Maybe one day I will teach in a new place, like Vietnam or South Korea or Spain, or find work along the way at a beach resort or a dive shop or get my work holiday visa for Australia and hang my hat there for a while.  Maybe after 3 months on the road I’ll be ready to come home (doubtful but I’m sure my family would love it).

I really have no idea.

So as it turns out, in the course of making several other decisions in early 2016, I have inadvertently made another one: to accept that I don’t know where I’m going or what the next phase of my life abroad looks like, but I am ready to find out.
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