The other day Lena and I were sitting on the couch together, as we often do during Gil’s morning nap. We finished reading picture books together, and she started coloring. I turned back to Bread and Wine, a book I find myself reading slowly, savoring, and then caught up in irresistibly, reading faster than I intend, but unable to put down for the sheer joy and beauty of each honest story, each delicious food, each life lesson, that the author shares.
I had come to the chapter innocuously titled “Delicious Everywhere,” and I was totally roped in because she was writing about traveling and eating around the world, two things near and dear to my heart.
And then boom. I hit these last two paragraphs of the chapter, and my heart started to sing in my chest. Every line felt like it was written just for me, a perfect description of everything I feel and act upon in my life, said in a way I’ve always been struggling to find.
And right there, on the couch, in the middle of the morning, I began to cry.
“Sometimes people ask me why I travel so much, and specifically why we travel with [our little kids] so often. I think they think it’s easier to keep the kids at home, in their routines, surrounded by their stuff. It is. But we travel because it’s there. Because Capri exists and Kenya exists and Tel Aviv exists, and I want to taste every bite of it. We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. I want them to know that “our way” isn’t the right way, but just one way, that children all over the world, no matter how different they seem, are just like the children in our neighborhood — they love to play, to discover, to learn.
“I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn’t bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see themselves as bit players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful play, not as the main characters in the drama of our living room. I want my kids to taste and smell and experience the biggest possible world, because every bite of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious.” (emphasis mine)
I don’t yet understand why I love living and traveling overseas so much. Yes, I did grow up mostly overseas, but I didn’t always love it, and when we moved back to the States and I went to college, I was so ready. I was so done with living overseas. I loved living in Virginia and Boston and D.C. for a few years.
But then — as soon as the opportunity presented itself — I couldn’t wait to live overseas again. As Elliott will tell you, we’re living in Italy now because he let me choose where we could live next, and I chose Italy.
And, to be honest, I have really mixed emotions about moving back to the States for our new life in CA. Earlier this spring, Elliott interviewed for a job that would have sent us to Tbilisi, in the Republic of Georgia, and a big part of me longed for him to get that job, for us to plunge headfirst into yet another culture, another language, another city map, another international church, another home away from home.
I am sure there are many sinful emotions tied up in my love of living and traveling and being overseas. There’s pride and a desire for adventure and a longing to be different.
But there’s also a love for it. Learning the road rules, the food cultures, the hand gestures, the clothing staples, the housing quirks, and the right way to check out in a grocery store… I love all that. No matter where I am in the world, I get a thrill from learning these everyday communication techniques, learning how to fit in like a local, learning how to blend my family’s culture and the country’s culture.
And so, because of all these tied-to-my-heartstrings reasons, I’ve loved this chance to birth one of my children and raise two of them — at least for a little while — in another country. Together, Elliott and I encouraged and taught and watched them experience and savor this overseas life too. We watched them play with children for hours who didn’t speak their language, watched their eyes light up with delight over foods we can’t find in the States, watched them hike mountains and swim in oceans and walk on streets where no one else shares their nationality.
Our children’s acceptance and fascination with all we teach them — “this is good” or “this is different” or “this is home” — is a privilege given to parents. For this season of life, I’m so glad that we could teach them that home includes buying olives and eggplants at the market each week, and a handyman who speaks only Italian, and the unbending rule that you must say “grazie” after someone does something kind.
I hope we can continue to welcome the world into our home, in California and beyond, through food, visitors, books, and discussions around the dinner table. I worry that I will become complacent, or that I’ll forget. I fear — because I know my weaknesses — that I’ll become comfortable with familiar and forget the beauty and challenge of living so close to the ground in another culture. I hope I won’t forget.
And I hope it won’t be too long before we pack our bags and move overseas again for awhile. Oh please, God, don’t let it be too long.
Have you ever left a life overseas, and do you long to go back? Any encouragement for someone about to make the transition to the States?