Déjà Vu: Why Melissa Writes –– or Doesn’t–– of Passage

I could swear you’ve been here with me before. And before that.

June 30, 2011, Singapore

You remember? I was sitting on this same chair, tapping on this same laptop, pushed up to this same desk. Around me worked a team of moving men, preparing to ship our life (and file upon file of a yet-to-be-written but contracted book, Global Mom: A Memoir) off to a new life in Switzerland.

At the same time and as part of that pre-publication ramp-up, I was advised to launch this blog right away because the whole conceit of Global Mom was based on moving, moving internationally, moving internationally often and at times unexpectedly, and doing all that while raising a family of global citizens. On this blog, I was to take you with me, real-time. Show you some of the guts of global momming. Strap you to my forehead the way sky divers strap on Go-Pros and shu-weeeeeeee! Take you for a swift transglobal spin. Prepare you for that thud-and-roll landing.

What you didn’t see, I’m afraid, was the scary stuff, all the gum-flapping and limb-flopping that was going on behind the camera. As you who’ve done any of the following know, 1) raising a family takes one’s absolutely full concentration, 2) moving that family to a new country demands even more of one’s absolutely full concentration 3) helping your family adjust and integrate once in a new country requires that much more concentration, and 4) writing and promoting a book in the midst of all that…Well, just cue non-stop gum-flap, limb-flop.

Cover (3)

Screen Shot

That lasted a year. I released Global Mom a year after leaving Singapore, and just when I felt maybe things were getting steady enough for my children here on the idyllic Swiss front, I signed a contract to write and publish my second book, On Loss and Living Onward.

Just as that book went to press last spring, we announced we’d be moving again. Unlike the previous move triggered by a restructuring of international headquarters, this relocation was wholly our initiative, one we’d been deliberating for some time.  We knew we needed to remove our youngest from a school environment that was unhealthy for him and causing our family much heartache (to frame it in the very gentlest terms.) Gum-flapping and limb-flopping don’t come anywhere close.

June 30, 2014, Switzerland

There’s a moving team milling through my house as I type. Same chair, same laptop, same desk. This week alone, I’ve seen my piano, refrigerator and Norwegian farm table go out the carmine red door of my soft yellow Swiss village home with is green shutters, its plump tufts of lavender, and tumbling velvet geraniums. Such a pretty, idyllic picture. Yet there’s sorrow and fatigue creasing the corners of my eyes. Two deep breaths, and I fill my lungs with optimism and gratitude. I work alongside men –– one French, one Swiss, one Kosovoan––packing our lives in cardboard, padding my concerns in bubble wrap, and heading things in a big metal box with wheels northward. To Frankfurt.

View out my office window

View out of my office window

My husband has long since preceded us to Germany, where he’s been living weeks-over in a sterile hotel room as he starts up a new job. One moment, I’m talking with a Jean-Michel about shutting down our Swiss/French phone lines; the next, I’m talking with a Johann or a Manfred about opening a German bank account.  Our Claire is at my side, mothering her brothers and helping me negotiate the 17th move of my married life. Luc is choosing classes online for what will be a German international school. Dalton, now 18,  is practicing his cockney accent and reworking his Singaporean Mandarin for when he heads in August to South London for a two-year mission for our church.

You remember? You’re right. We’ve been here before.

Dalton

Dalton

June 30, 2007, Paris

A moving team is arguing about how to get our massive Norwegian table out of our Paris apartment. I’m refereeing. Randall’s been living in Germany for several months already, starting his new job while we finish the school year and an eight-year French epoch. Dalton and Luc, 11 and 7, are finishing their French elementary school and once in a while I drop a German phrase or two into our talks, just to prep them for the next phase in our lives. Claire, almost 16, is inseparable from our 18-year-old Parker, who’s just graduated from ASP (the American School of Paris) and is heading tomorrow for a summer of leadership courses at college in the States. He’ll use the next months to complete the applications to serve a two-year mission for our church. Come winter.

Parker

Parker

Sorrow, fatigue. Deep breaths. Optimism, gratitude.  Days are spent shutting down French phone lines and opening up German bank accounts.  My daily discipline of writing so-and-so many pages? I set it aside, knowing I only have a few weeks left with all of us together.  How we are. The all of us. Like this. Sure, I’ll see Parker over the summer. We’ve made those plans. And he’ll come to us in Germany over Christmas to stay for a few weeks before launching out as a missionary. But still. I only want to be with him. The sails of life are stretched taut with stress, but also with gusts of hope, and we’re cruising on momentum, headlong into the cresting, broad, blue seas.

June 21, 2014, Paris

“We’re pleased to welcome the family of Parker Bradford to today’s ceremony. We’ve invited their son Dalton to the stage.”

A dark blonde, blue-eyed kid wearing a white shirt, navy suit and his big brother’s tie strides up to the school administrator at the mic. It’s the same gentleman, a Mr. H., who’d handed Parker his diploma seven years earlier. Now, he hands Dalton a heavy plaque with his brother’s name engraved in brass and in ornate letters.

The kid blushes. His face is neither smiling nor frowning, but hangs between emotions. Or above them. He shifts from foot to foot. The sibling resemblance is eerie.

“Dalton, like all of you here,” says Mr. H., “has just graduated from high school, only in Geneva. He’ll be presenting the Parker Bradford Spirit Award to this year’s graduating senior who best embodies the qualities of tolerance, enthusiasm and buoyancy that typified Parker, Dalton’s older brother. Parker was a student here at ASP for eight years.  One month after graduating in June of 2007––just like you’re graduating today––Parker lost his life while trying to save a college classmate from drowning.”

The blonde brother stares out over an audience of quiet faculty and families. I’m in the back-most row in a corner, yet can hear––can nearly feel––his heart beating. I tuck my chin to my chest.

I’m struck in that moment by the flaccidity of words, how they fool only those who trust words to convey the true proportion of certain truths, realities simply too vast for language. I’m sobered by how vulnerable that whole auditorium full of families is, but how they do not know it. How luminous the boy Justin is to whom the Parker Bradford Spirit Award is given. How magnanimous the school has been to our family, how empathetic. How utterly vital a healthy school community is for families, especially those in transition. How we could have used that these last two years.

Above all, I’m struck by how quickly it’s over––the presentation of the award itself, the graduation, the passage, this life.

How I have been here before. How everything is different.

How, because everything is different, I vow to do things differently this time.

How, for this passage, I’ll truly be there for my family.  

Which means that for a little while at least –– for however long it takes –– I won’t be here.

On the Pont des Arts, Paris.

On the Pont des Arts, Paris, before the bridge became weighted with the love locks that distinguish it today.

 

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “Déjà Vu: Why Melissa Writes –– or Doesn’t–– of Passage

  1. Love and tears and gratitude and admiration, Melissa. It takes a great deal of courage and even more fortitude to know where one needs to be, and then to be there. You will be deeply missed here. But you will return. When the time is right. I know that.

  2. Sharlee, yes. I’ll have more things to write, though less, perhaps, on social media…I’m still weighing that cost to my family. In any event, I’ll pace myself for my next book. Books.

    Always with immeasurable love for you, sister–Melissa

  3. Melissa, your warm voice has been the chocolate chip cookies to go with my cold glass of milk. I will miss hearing about your global adventures with your amazing family. But that is the selfish part of me; the mom/wife/gospelsister part of me is happy that you are taking a time out. I will be patiently awaiting your return when the time for you is right. Until then you will be missed in my life.

    • Kayna– In this moment, I’ve been pushed to the farthest corner of our house as the tide of boxes crowds in on me. Only a few hours left under this roof, and only a few days left to this life chapter. I’ve learned so much connecting with people like you through my computer screen, and know I’ll be back in full form when I find a steady place to plant my soul in our new homeland. Thank you so much for being on the receiving end of my sendings.–Melissa

  4. Dear Melissa,
    It seems a little intimidating even leaving a comment on your post because as a writer in comparison I am inadequate. I wanted to let you know that your example and experiences are a great example. I did a post about my own reflections of EXPAT LIVING YEAR 1- I included quotes form your book Global Mom and a link to the video: http://www.moxiblog.com/expat-reflections-on-year-1/.
    I had hoped to meet you someday since we share a religion and a “host country” (we live in Luzern CH) but you are on the move too often:) Alas I am sure you are the first to tell me that life has a funny way of dishing up the unexpected and that we have the pleasure of enjoying what ever comes our way. Perhaps our paths will cross in-person eventually – and in the mean time- thank you for all the inspiration and example of positive thinking and love. Please keep sharing your life with others!!!!! Looking forward to hearing about the next chapter.
    ps- I loved the idea you had to interview expat moms for advise- I am always hungry for advise on how to negotiate this territory- especially in helping kids adjust (hard to describe– guilt for parental decisions that kids have to adapt to v/s clear opportunity that we believe will be an advantage in their lives).

    • Hollee–Google Maps is my cherished friend, and he tells me that Luzern and Bad Homburg are only 4 hrs and 18 minutes apart. Shoot, that’s nothing, a morning cruise! No reason we can’t absolutely without question meet up. Why not plan on it? There are even all those gorgeous stretches in between in the Alsace (villages like Colmar, Equishiem and Riquewihr) that are a perfect halfway point. 🙂

      I’m actively lecturing on the many, complex challenges associated with serial relocation and cultural integration, especially with children of all ages. Believe me, it’s harder than it looks! (And it doesn’t look easy.) So all my sympathy (and shared feelings of guilt) in this strange and sometimes straining lifestyle that shapes our relationships and children’s sense of self.

      I spoke with a group of expat mothers in Lausanne just last week. What a great group! None had yet encountered the issues that go with adolescence-on-the-global-road, so they were only imagining what those costs might one day be when you’re dealing with heavier academic and social questions, and when serious questions of identity–“Who Am I? Where is Home?”– begin affecting the adult psyche.

      I suggested to them the following Ted Talk from author and expat Pico Iyer, which helps us understand that this 220 million-strong “floating island” of expatriates is in fact the fastest growing demographic in the world. Giving our families a sense of rootedness that is not affixed to a certain geography, but to something else (a movement, a cause, a family, a religious affiliation) is more and more important than giving them a lifelong zip code.

      https://www.google.com/search?q=pico+iyer+ted+talk+where+is+Home&oq=pico+iyer+ted+talk+where+is+Home&aqs=chrome..69i57.6251j0j1&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

      Cultural Agility* is one of the most valuable traits the leaders of the rising (global) generation can have. IN fact, it’s the title* of a book by Dr. Paula Caligiuri of Northeastern University in Boston. While it’s an academic text intended mostly for business experts, Dr. Caligiuri successfully outlines what is needed from both the corporation and employee (family) perspectives to succeed in a globally transient work world.

      Maybe my next nonfiction book (because I’m also planning on writing fiction) will address parenting/schooling issues head-on, since I think most international schools have yet a way to go in understanding what that community must do to support children of families like yours and mine. Until I write that, there’s another, new book out there, B at Home by expat mother and school teacher and 3rd Culture Kid herself, Valérie Besanceney. It’s a wonderful resource, I highly recommend it, as Valérie’s written for children and parents in language and scenarios they’ll immediately understand. (And besides, Valérie is a super human being…and she and her husband know how challenging this life is. They speak with authority.)

      Until next time, Hollee, when I hope we meet face-to-face. And thank you for including quotes from Global Mom in your blog post! Much warmth—

      –Melissa

  5. Melissa: Even though like the rest, I will sorely miss you for a time,– but the rightness of your decision outweighs the sorrow! Good luck to you in your new move! Congratulations to you for magnificently preparing your third missionary child! All different fields of labor! You are such a superb mother, wife, friend to all, and more than kind in your love, warmth, concern, sensitivity, caring, friendliness, and rapport with others like me who admire you and appreciate you to no end!!! Thanks a million for your extraordinarily great example of faithfulness, righteousness, steadfastness amidst change, optimism, gratitude, willingness to serve wherever called, for being in tune and following the Spirit, making good decisions, and unselfishly so! Good luck to you, and I look forward to reading about your new life in Frankfurt, Germany when the time is right for you! Kudos!!!! Your forever admirer, Gena

  6. Dearest Melissa,

    This journey has filled me with more emotions, more wonderment, more enlightenment than I could have imagined possible when I first began to read your words here. You articulate with such a soft, gentle voice of happiness and sadness, grace, loving, anticipation, a far-reaching heart and soul that has reached out and been embraced in return.

    That voice has carried your dear Parker’s memory with such dignity and a profound love for a son that only a mother could feel in kind…yet we have been afforded such a beautiful glimpse into his life, through your eyes, through your heart. Through your journey he will follow, as he has always done. He will observe as you and your family, his beloved family, begin a new phase in that journey.

    I can only offer, with some sadness attached in your leaving, warmest wishes for you and your family. Be well and happy always and I will watch with anticipation your return to share in this next chapter as you so remarkably do.

    Until then…

  7. This is absolutely beautiful; you are as compassionate as you are talented. And gorgeous! (No, really.) I am an aspiring blogger/writer and have had to let it go the last few months bc my family life is so hectic right now. I’ve hovered between feeling bad and good about taking a break. This post helped me see that sometimes we have to give up good things (work, writing) for even better things (unstressed family time.) That’s what I’ve been trying to do, and your post validated me. And I see some time to write again just around the corner–good to remember that the hiatus doesn’t have to last forever! Thank you for taking the time to write, and taking the time NOT to write!

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