My parents both grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. A liberal area, with conservative (Chevron-refinery-working) parents. My mom was never a hippie, but has always been pretty open. Open in a conservative way, if that makes any sense. That is, go organic, believe in and practice reiki and the healing power of oils, homeopathy, acupuncture and all that good stuff. But use your own spoon! Don’t be naked! No premarital sex!
One of the things I’ve admired about my mom is her leading by example. She wanted a different life for us than she had. She didn’t want us growing up in the Bay Area, so she and my Dad — both city kids! — started a sheep ranch. A sheep ranch! Then, after a rather brief move into town, she and my Dad decided to move to the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific to become Baha’i pioneers (“pioneer” is a Baha’i term for missionary).
Fiji! Tiny island nation with enormous mosquitoes, big diseases, and few jobs for foreigners! Fiji! Tiny island nation with lovely people, strong culture, and a lilting rhythm in life. Fiji! Where swimming can be an actual form of transport! Yes, Fiji. Pre-internet. Fiji, when moving there from California necessitated newspaper and micro-fiche searches for information, books, and enormous leaps of faith.
We want so much for our kids, don’t we?
We want them to have what we wanted when we were younger, we want them to participate in life and enjoy every waking moment. We want them to learn, grow, thrive. We want their dreams to be sweet, we want the world to be kind to them. I think we end up feeling that if we throw money at our bag of wishes and wants for our children, somehow it will come to fruition. If we do THIS wonderful thing, THEN we’ll get that wonderful result.
But see, I — the kid who was dragged kicking and screaming to the tiny island nation of Fiji where there were enormous flying cockroaches, the tiny island nation where there is actual breadfruit, where prawns live in streams, where avocados are the size of American footballs — well, I don’t buy it.
I think all that “if-then” will buy gloss and comfort. Gloss and comfort can be really great things, so don’t get me wrong here, I’m not dissing it. But I am questioning it. I’m questioning how necessary it is, I’m questioning our cultural obsession with it because you know what? In Fiji – that tiny island nation where I’d sit outside after school with my friends and dip the mangoes we picked into a blend of vinegar, raw cane sugar and freshly chopped chillis – in Fiji nobody I knew had any of of all this and people I knew were content in a way I’ve never seen people in the United States content.
Us kids had time to just ride our bikes around and free play. Go swimming. Sit and eat mangoes.
Schools — we didn’t have textbooks in the schools I attended in Fiji — we’d all have notebooks for each subject and we’d copy out what the teacher wrote on the blackboard. We would submit our notebooks for checking and we’d be marked according to our penmanship and drawings (because we’d draw out the skeleton and so forth). All of that writing was reinforcing every.single.thing we were learning.
Those schools in Fiji were far, far from fancy by American standards but coming out of them, I easily jumped two grades when we moved back to the US. Easily. Schools in Fiji are that good and schools here are that easy.
I look at the courage of my mother and I admire it. I admire what she did, the chances she took. Even knowing what I know now, knowing how some of those chances did hurt, I still admire that she did it at all.
Because now… well, now I’m faced with the same chance. My knees are shaking and I am experiencing first-hand how hard huge leaps like this can be. I thought it would be easier than it has been. I grew up in Fiji, right?! Giant flying cockroaches! I counted bugs at night on my mosquito net like other kids counted sheep. This should be easy.
I think of my Mom and how she led by example. She showed my brother and I how to grab life by the balls and really do the scary things. I want to be that way for my kids: I want to show them by my example – lead them by example – in a way that shuttling them to and from camp, school, progressive activity-upon-progressive-activity – never will.
I want to show them how to have courage in a world in which we can choose our destinies.
There is no limit.
The learning will never end.
The adventures will never cease.
We can choose our destiny.