A year ago, if you asked me to describe my strengths as an employee, I’m sure I could have mad a list that would make me look decent in any job interview. If you asked me my strengths as a wife, I’d make a lot of jokes, ignore anything too mushy, and make a list of what I thought my husband would say. If you asked me the same question and told me to apply it to motherhood, I’d have a much more difficult time making a list, and it would definitely be shorter.
But if you asked me to hit CTRL+F and search the three lists for the word “brave,” I’m not sure it would have made any list. But ask me today or tomorrow, and I guarantee you “brave” will be at the top of just about any list I make.
Roughly a year ago, my husband got an email that changed the trajectory of our well-oiled, scheduled-to-the-minute life. We had three kids under seven, two full-time jobs, both traveled fairly extensively for work, and the last time we saw anything that vaguely resembled a 40 hour work week was probably sometime in the early 2000s. On that particular day, the kids were at home because school had been called for snow.
I was on a conference call in my office, hitting mute every time a kid yelled, and my husband was checking email in the kitchen when “the email” came in. He had officially won a Fulbright Award and SURPRISE, we were moving our family of five to another country in approximately six months for a school semester. There was much jumping and shouting for joy, and we may have opened beers in middle of the day, while texting and calling all of our family members.
And then the night came. And reality hit. And I lost it. We were living in a house that was currently for sale, and trying to manage showings between messes the kids created. We were both logging between 50 and 60 hours a week at work, and somehow managing to squeeze in all of the comings and goings that three kids require. We both spent more hours looking at our computers than at other humans, and were both nearing our wits’ ends. And now we were looking at something awesome – that was probably going to be the end of us.
Schools, housing, red tape, pediatricians, passports, money, travel, winter coats – the list that my mind came up with that night was never ending. And all totally valid – although I probably could have held off the doomsday predictions for at least a few months. But at that moment, I was lost – and had NO IDEA how we were going to accomplish the mountain of “stuff” that we faced. It took a few weeks, and we finally came up with the mantra “It will all be ok when we get to there.” And we repeated that same sentence over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, as we slogged through emails, websites, phone calls, faxes and everything else that consumed us from February to June.
Throughout the summer, it got harder instead of easier. There are some great stories about how we sold our house with only three weeks to close, lived in a college dorm for three months, and loaded everything we owned except 10 boxes into two PODS and packed them away for at least nine months. But the true version includes having to turn to therapy and medication to actually get us through it. It wasn’t pretty, and frankly, we’d kind of like to forget that four or so of those months ever actually happened.
And then we got in the car. We “quit” our jobs for a few weeks, spent some time with family in various parts of the States, and decompressed a little. And then the day was here, and we ACTUALLY FOR REAL started the drive to our new, temporary home. We had a lot of fears about the trip, and a lot of them came true (people, it took us three tries and five days to get across the Canadian border.)
And then we were THERE. In another country. And we’d remembered all three of our kids. All of our stuff (eventually) made it to us. We learned to live without a car and walk everywhere. We managed to deal with a population that always spoke to us in French first. We got the kids to doctors anytime they needed it. We grocery shopped even though we didn’t have a clue what the packaging said (pro tip – the English version is on the BACK of the packages). We traveled to other cities on highways that only had signs in French. We got the kids properly enrolled in a school and daycare. We learned to kind of know what the numbers in metric and Celsius meant. And we LIVED. Man, we lived. We ate every dessert in sight. We visited every historic marker, market, museum and park. We lived in Montreal like we’ve never lived anywhere before. And we had FUN.
And then it was over. And we had to do all of the above in reverse. And while I guess the option to just stay in Canada illegally was always there, there was a definite certainty to the fact that we had to go “home.” So we packed up 12 boxes, loaded up again, made it back across the border MUCH faster, visited family and arrived back to live in another on-campus apartment, while we attempted to find a permanent house.
And you know what? We could have just said NO. At any point, we could have thrown our hands up in the air, and yelled “NOT GOING TO DO IT ANYMORE” and quit. We tried; I can remember several times. But each time, we decided we were going to move forward, we were going to just keep handling the stress, the finances, the yelling, but we were going “to get to there.” There were plenty of times I cried in a ball in the corner, but we always managed to take one step further.
There’s a great quote I ran across at the beginning of this journey from the author of Paris My Sweet, Amy Thomas.
I tell people who are considering moving abroad or doing anything that feels ‘scary’ to them, that action, activity, motion – no matter how minor, is the key component to accomplishing everything. There’s a train metaphor I like to use: Just “get on the train” – any train. I mean, you can always switch trains at the next station. You can even take a train back to where you started. But standing still on the platform gets you nowhere in life.