Friday, February 24, 2012

The Crying Game: Growing Outside Your Comfort Zone

Can we just go hooooome!?

The other day our seven-year-old, Piper, said out of the blue, "I really, really miss Ecuador, more than I ever missed Colorado when we were in Ecuador." Which is of course, baloney. But we have a drama queen on our hands and everything tends to come in hyperbole. That said, however, the comment came over a dinner with some friends who were talking about their travels in Africa and intended future travels to other parts of the world with their son, and undoubtedly that conversation ruffled the thin veil separating Piper's memory of Ecuador and her life here at home. And so it seems finally, that everything is going according to plan. Mwaa ha ha ha haaaaaaaa!

In the initial parts of long-term travel, before their will has been broken, children (or at least our children) know only that everything is different and not at all what they are used to and want. So nearly everything you do or say, anywhere you go, anything you eat, will be met with rolling eyes, looks of disgust, and claims of generalized malaise. It is after just a few days of such behavior that the inexperienced and deeply caring parent will wonder what is wrong with their children and just what the hell they've gotten themselves into.

But perseverance and patience are still the most essential parental traits here, particularly because you too are out of your own comfort zone. Where's grandma to tag in when you're taking an emotional beating from these adorable little monsters? Where's the neighbor's pre-teen to play mommy's helper so you can go to your room and lock your door for just an hour, or maybe an afternoon…or month?

It's as true with this experience as it is with any other in life: true growth happens only outside your comfort zone. Well, well done, Admiral Shackleton, you've certainly paved the way for massive growth for you and your family. Now you can at least be comforted by the fact that growth itself is nearly always painful. Heh. Heh heh. So really, patience and perseverance are your tools to keep your emotions from mutiny and taking the helm from rationality.

We had prepared ourselves for the discomfort and complaints in Ecuador. No, scratch that—we had expected the complaints; there is nothing you can do to prepare for them outside your own personal spiritual practice and a firm but smooth wall to bang your head against. But if the whole family makes it through that "adjustment period" alive, the number and frequency of complaints reverts back to a level you're accustomed to, and you can get on with day-to-day living.

You will be tempted then to maintain the surroundings to which they (and you) have now grown accustomed. But do not forget that one of the greatest things extended travel can accustom them (and you) to is change. And so, just when the gales of uncertainty and unfamiliarity have stopped rocking their boats, you should consider blowing new winds in their sails and exploring this strange new land you are trying to call home. Force yourselves in situations with locals so you have to speak the language, embarrass yourselves violating customs, travel and get a little lost, eat weird food.

"We don't live in Ecuador; we're just visiting for 21 months," Piper would remind us from the background. Fair enough. Call it what you like; life here is like this. Or at least it is if you (parent) win this battle of wills. Children do not yet understand that that which does not make you kill them makes you all stronger. And you are all truly enjoying your experience. But no matter how happy they are or how much they enjoy an experience, their natural resistance to change will remind them that it's not home or what they are used to, and this whole adventure business was not their idea (which you can largely avoid by engaging the kids in the planning process early on), and they will complain.

But you, the wise parent, the sage, the patient sensei, know that regardless of what they say or seem to feel about it, this experience will forever change them in profound and positive ways. And someday they may even realize this and thank you for it.

Piper expressing (however over-the-top it may have been) that she misses Ecuador is the very first sign we've seen that she appreciates our sabbatical. It was honestly much sooner or more explicit than we ever expected. Time will still tell how profoundly they were affected by the trip, but it warmed the cockles of our hearts, nevertheless.

No matter how your extended travel with your family goes or ends, you and your family will be better prepared to experience change in life, not as pain, but as adventure. This is not delusional coping; change is merely that. The good or the bad of it is entirely our own internal coloring of what is; and when you have traveled hard, your own palette will be equipped with brilliant colors and not just shades of black and white.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Better eating through chemistry

Continuing on the "adjusting to life back home" series…
Though the cold and snow was obviously the first thing to smack us upside the chin once we exited the airport, the other big adjustments (food, prices, and overwhelming mountains of "stuff") can all be found in one great big interactive museum celebrating the incredible ingenuity, efficiency, and creativity of humankind right alongside its gluttony, vanity, and hubris—the grocery store.

Friday, February 10, 2012

I'm dreaming Ecuadorian Christmas

People keep asking how we're adjusting being back home, acknowledging the considerable differences of life in Ecuador to that in Colorado without actually knowing, or at least being able to appreciate, what those differences probably are. Our Ecuadorian friends have wondered the same thing, and since many are not as familiar with the American Way as, well, Americans, I'll do these next posts for them in hopes of also shining a brighter light on the obvious for the locals.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Teeter Without a Totter: Work/Life Balance

Hot on the tail of my last post, Di and I talked a bit about life balance. A part of our motivation to take a family Sabbatical was to "get away from it all". We certainly succeeded. But even when you do succeed in being purposeful with your time on what amounts to an extended holiday, there is something about "work" (in the sense of how you make a living) that is still essential and rewarding like nothing else. So as we now look around for work back home and twiddle our mental thumbs in the meantime, Di suggested the need for a post about the other half of the balance that we're all usually trying to get away from.

As Nigel Marsh says in this TED Talk of his, "I found it quite easy to balance life and work…when I didn't have any work." When you swing the pendulum far away from what we all generally consider to be the necessary evil of work, it comes back to hit you right in the forehead with the realization that you don't need to—nay, can't—do away with it; you need instead to balance it with your spiritual, emotional, social, and family lives. Oooooohhh, so that's what they call it work/life balance.

Piper has recently been complaining about being bored with just playing all the time. She's actually just making a poor case as to why they should be able to watch movies, but I think we grownups are experiencing something similar that probably comes from that amazing childhood skill of creating something to do out of nothing. We adults have a similar, if less adorable, capacity to completely fill our free time with things that make us feel like we are accomplishing something by the mere fact that we are doing something. But as someone once asked me (in an elevator, probably), are you a human being or a human doing?

We found our time on sabbatical, and even still here at home while unemployed, inexplicably occupied. For me, it is not until I apply filters (scheduling tasks, not answering the phone, staying off e-mail, etc.) that all those distractions go away. And then I try to plan and measure all my work by output, not by hours put in. I believe that is the greatest problem we all have with spending too much time at work—by focusing on the work itself and not why we work. No matter how much you love any kind of work, it is rarely fulfilling spend time on it without feeling it is time well spent.

So, now that we have walked quickly enough from one side of the teeter totter to the other to make it bang the other side, we're inching our way back to try to find the sweet spot in the middle.