At age twelve, I saved my money and decided to visit my grandparents over spring break. In the bulkhead row of the plane, I inhaled recycled air and tried to look as cosmopolitan as possible as I sipped flat soda from a plastic cup. I was an unaccompanied minor, a young sophisticate with a mini-backpack purse en route to the impossibly glamorous environs of St. Petersburg (Florida, not Russia) and I wanted to see it all. The bug bit me hard–this was the life for me. I knew that whatever else I did, I was going to be a traveler.
Flash forward fifteen years and my husband and I have created a life on the road. Along with our 18-month old daughter Maggie, we bounce around the globe like stones shot from a slingshot. At an age where many we know are feathering a nest, we’re scheming to suck as much time on the road out of life as we can. We are both passionate about fostering life-long curiosity and a desire to learn, and we think the best way to encourage that curiosity in Maggie is to experience culture and history at the source. We move every few years and take trips as often as the budget allows. Even though Maggie is too young to remember feeding deer in Nara, Japan, we hope that she will always share our desire to seek and learn.
Most people seek out a village when they decide to have children. For reasons that I didn’t fully understand until recently, we decided to have our daughter after we moved thousands of miles away from our established networks of family and friends in DC, Maine and Florida. My husband’s job in the defense industry landed us a three-year tour in Hawai’i, and Maggie was born a little more than a year after we moved. In dedicating our life to bouncing from one spot to the next in order to literally give our family the world, it seems that we have neglected to build ourselves a traditional village.
It became impossible to deny: there’s just too much that we want to see for us to want stick around one place for very long. So though we knew we would miss everyone terribly, we were not sad to return to Hawai’i and begin planning our next adventure.
The fact that we lack that traditional village became more apparent during the last year, when an extended business trip took us back to the East Coast for six months. We spent several of those months with my parents in Florida, a month in Maine with my grandparents and extended family, and a month in the DC metro area. Being surrounded by such loving, caring people was wonderful, homey and familiar. And yet … we never snapped out of travel mode. There were lazy days, but we tried to get in as much exploration as possible. It became impossible to deny: there’s just too much that we want to see for us to want stick around one place for very long. So though we knew we would miss everyone terribly, we were not sad to return to Hawai’i and begin planning our next adventure.
Sometimes it pulls at us, having decided to make our home out in the world and not staying in one spot for the time being. We look at things differently than many parents we know. Take nursing, for example: I have no intention of weaning Maggie and it has little to do with the health benefits of breastfeeding or her attachment to the breast. It’s just that it’s my best weapon for establishing comfort and familiarity in a new place (not to mention being invaluable for immediate silence on an airplane). She’s pretty happy with the arrangement and with life in general, and therefore we’re happy too.
Despite Maggie’s happiness, it’s hard not to look at the homes our friends have made and worry that we’re denying her stability. She loves people and is very social, but there have been a few times in new places where she’s had anxious meltdowns. Sometimes its hard to know if that’s normal for her age without also wondering if we’ve caused it by uprooting her too often. And sometimes we feel bad that we may be denying Maggie what we had: the close family web, grandparents fifteen minutes away and cousins for playmates. Once in a while we think we should move home, settle down, and take advantage of the pre-made village of family and friends, especially now that all of Maggie’s grandparents live in the same Florida town.
But even if a job for my husband became available in the midst of that network, we both balk at the idea. That isn’t an insult to our families, Florida or Floridians, but not every place is a good fit for every person. As important as it is to know where you’re going and where you belong, it’s equally important to recognize when a place that you’ve romanticized (family barbecues! free babysitters! swimming in the family pool with the grandparents!) is not a good long-term solution.
Sometimes you have to listen to that irritating little voice that tells you the truth when you don’t want to hear it. That voice is the knowledge that no matter how nice it looks on paper and how hard you try to shape a life in a particular village, it just isn’t going to fit. It is telling us that we aren’t done traveling yet. Ignoring that voice would not be true to ourselves, and how could we teach Maggie to be true to herself if we did not do the same?
As we wrap up our three years in Hawai’i and prepare to move to an as yet unknown location, we know one day we’ll pick a place to stay for a while; somewhere to give Maggie a consistent spot that she can call her home base. Until then, we’ll travel, and the best part of that is that we can create a new village wherever we go. It’s hard work, but for the chance to see the world? Absolutely worth it.