This coming April, we will celebrate the sixth anniversary of having come to Switzerland. Six. Whole. Years! How on earth did that come to pass? What strange winds blew us over sea and land to the mountains? What a bizarre twist of fate that was!
Arrival in your strange, new land is the most obvious anniversary to mark as expats; however, it is merely one amongst many. The anniversary that spooked me the most was three and a half years into our new life here. That time marked the point when Missy M, my daughter, had spent equal portions of her life in Switzerland and England, and the balance was about to tip in favour of Switzerland! Missy M was excited and rather proud, whilst I was totally stuck in my head about it.
These markers in time can be celebrated, noted, toasted or shoved into the basement of our lives. They weave together the story of our life and that of our families. This is what we did and when we did it. The question is WHY: the meaning placed upon the celebration (or commiseration) of the anniversaries.
How will the personal and family stories be told and retold about this crazy ride that we are on (otherwise known as the expat experience)? What will your child say, all grown up, when they are asked questions about their childhoods? A great deal of that will be decided in the here and now, by us, the parents. No pressure, eh?
Is the anniversary of “The Move” one of comedy and exploration or is it one of struggle and suffering? Both are the truth. Both pivot on how our personal thinking flavours and interprets events in our lives. Do we focus on the bizarre, the funny, the awesome, and the beautiful, or do we focus on the frustration, the misunderstandings, the mundane and the ugly? Do we pay attention to the torrent of screaming thoughts that rush through our heads every second of every day? If I listened to half the things my thoughts told me about what it supposedly means to be an expat, I would have been locked up by now!!
So which story do you tell yourself, your family and your wider community about your expat life? Whatever it is, it may feel like the “truth,” but it was created through thought at some point and it may be making you miserable! That’s why I urge you to look! Look and listen for the words that you use to describe your day-to-day life and your memories of living here. Listen to the way your internal voice in your head (thoughts!) frames your experience: the voice and the thoughts influence your mood and how you perceive and communicate your reality. Do you celebrate or commiserate? Embrace and remain open or shut down and protect?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you to reflect upon how you construct your world through your thinking, and thus upon your reality as an expat. Next time you are out with your friends, start to notice the automatic things that you say to describe your week. How does this make you feel? It is even true? Don’t lie about how you feel or say positive stuff you don’t believe, though! Just observe how it all works in your mind. Weird and fascinating, isn’t it?!
Be a kid again. Get out a giant crayon and scrub out that story of doom and foreign language horrors. And then…bin it! You don’t have to believe your own stories! This is your life and is far too important to mutter and grumble away. This is where you are in your life and in the world, so let’s find a way to party with what you have. Life responds to where you place your attention, so I invite you to notice the amazing, crazy, laughable, inspiring and phenomenal. You are worth no less than this and it is in your control. You are the teller of the fine family stories: you had better make them epic so you can celebrate!
But when you realize that the story of your life could be told a thousand different ways, that you could tell it over and over as a tragedy, but you choose to call it an epic, that’s when you start to learn what celebration is. When what you see in front of you is so far outside of what you dreamed, but you have the belief, the boldness, the courage to call it beautiful instead of calling it wrong, that’s celebration. ― Shauna Niequist, in Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life
By Tammy Furey
Tammy is currently writing her book The Gratitude Papers in between running a coaching practice for parents, trying to learn German, blogging, creating workshops and speeches, and, of course, parenting her daughter. Visit her at www.fureycoaching.com.
Illustration by Lara Friedrich
Lara has been a freelance illustrator for Mothering Matters since early 2013. She is in her third year of university (majoring in psychology) where she’s currently working as an assistant in a research project in pedagogy. Lara is also an assistant translator from German to English for various fiction books, and works as a demo singer for the songwriter Kate Northrop.