Monday, April 3, 2017

After the Carriage stopped....

Some thought I was abandoning a (good though) not-so-exciting life/marriage in pursuit of a Cinderella story when I left the U.S. for Mongolia. Much of what I post perpetuates that fairy tale--and yes, I felt and yet feel that how Zorig and I began and came to be was a fairy tale. But now I've been living abroad for nearly two years. I expect some of you would like to know about the other side of the scales. Most of what people post via social media is the highlight reel of life (perhaps interspersed with an occasional rant or rage about something). Perhaps you've wondered......What about the bad days? What's been hard? What sucks about living there? Don't you miss the U.S.? Your family and friends? Is your life still the fantasy it seemed you were going after? 

I don't know that I'll answer all of that here, but I would like to offer up some anecdotes to share the bloopers or misses in this life of living abroad with my foreign husband and son. You see....I'll forever be a foreigner to them; and they will always be foreigners to me. 

Zorig sometimes asks me, "Do you ever wonder, what am I doing here?" So let me start with an answer to that and then journey down a rabbit hole or two. 

In all honesty, I do sometimes wonder at the circuitous life route that put me here, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in the year of 2017, married to an Asian, a Mongolian man, and mother to a teenage Mongolian stepson. I could not have predicted this reality. So wonder at it? Yes, I do. 

There are hard days. Hard moments. Disagreeing with your spouse or partner is hard no matter what, but add to that reality the fact that you either sold or free-cycled 90% of your belongings and moved around the globe to be with that partner--and yes, the ante is upped. Things feel magnified. Amplified. 

Of course Zorig and I fight or disagree. Not often, but often enough for me. And when that happens a little voice inside me is fearful and says, "uh oh, what if this is it? what if he decides he doesn't want you anymore? Decides having a foreign wife is too difficult?" I guess that shares my insecurity and fears. :)

Relationships fall apart all the time. Mine did in the U.S. But then I had plenty of friends and family around to help me through the falling apart and breaking down of things. I was in a system I knew and understood. It can be scary to imagine doing all of that--HERE. But I have gone through the mental exercise (while in the middle of one of those uh oh moments). I know that I'd be fine. I have friends who would help and support me. If I HAD to go through that terrible outcome. I know that I'd stay. At least into the foreseeable future. I like living in Mongolia. I like not living in the U.S. Being an expat is freeing in many ways. [Though I continue to miss salted butter and sharp cheddar cheese!]

The butter I smuggled home from China LOL
I also imagine people asking....well then, was it worth it? Moving around the world and giving up everything you had? Absolutely. Yes! If Zorig and I ended, for whatever reason, I would be forever thankful to have had GREAT love for the time that we shared it. I intend to share it into old age....but as a friend recently commented, Great Love--no matter if it was shared for days or years--is an incredible feeling and experience. It supersedes any job, accomplishment, belonging, position, or piles of money one could ever acquire (except perhaps having your own children--I can't speak to that). I have no regrets about moving to Mongolia and pursuing this love and this life. I would not go back to my previous life for any amount of money or wishes granted. 

So now that we have that clear, let's talk about the hard stuff. 

It's hard to fight and disagree with a partner that sees and knows the world through a completely different history and lens. It takes a lot of acceptance and unconditional love to just let another person BE who they are. I'm learning how to do that now--in my 40s. My previous relationships probably would have benefited from my doing that....and in my receiving of the same. But I wasn't there yet, and neither were my partners. Z and I hiccup through this process. Some days and weeks are better than others. We fall down sometimes. Have to make amends and work at being better. But we do it. The magic that drew us together and caused us to pursue this life together is yet strong and potent--it covers all things. 

It's difficult to be a mom without the years of training--which for most begin in the womb. I screw up and hurt Enji's feelings sometimes. I'm short with him and cold at times. I hate it when I do it. But once I see what I've done, I apologize and take ownership of my shortcoming or my failure. A pivotal exchange happened in the fall when we had a misunderstanding and he said, "I'm sorry, I'm not used to having a mom." To which I replied, "No, I'm sorry, I'm not used to having a son....but we'll figure this out together." And we do and are. He is a fine young man--compassionate, patient, thoughtful. He makes me a better human being and I enjoy his company. Our conversations are delightful (most of the time--I can only talk about what superpowers I would choose so many times!). That said, it's annoying to have to collect his technology and make sure he gets to bed at a reasonable hour, and eats enough, and focuses on school work, and stops watching silly videos on youtube instead of doing math problems. Yes, it was simpler when I was not responsible for a young soul. But it was also less fruitful. :) To see his grades improve and watch him achieve accolades is worth any annoyance. 

It's both easier and harder to make friends living abroad. Expats stand out so obviously here that we spot one another everywhere. However, expats are also part of a fairly transient group. At my school teachers sign a two-year contract and perhaps--if they can endure the pollution--might renew for a third. But generally they move on to another pasture after their initial contract. Of course one can still be friends....but not geographically together for very long. These friendships seem to stay in the shallow end of the pool. The young people want to party and experience all they can in their short time here and then move on. The single people beyond the young party crowd are doing their own thing, some of them hunting for their mate, some toggling between the groups (but less inclined to hang with those of us married and in a familial living situation). The Christians are plugged into their churches and respective communities. 

I am blessed with my circle of fellow American Wives. They are the ones I know I could count on if dire circumstances were to come my way. As well as being the ones to celebrate accomplishments or successes. We have our private Facebook group and it is a place of solidarity and trust. I visit it every day. However, most of them have small children which makes me feel a bit like an outsider. They accept and include me in everything--but I lack common experiences and that makes me feel as though I'm not fully in the group in some strange way (I fully understand this is my feeling....nothing they do). 

I sometimes long for closer, tighter friendships. I've had many over the years and do what I can to maintain them from afar (hoping to someday resume them geographically). I had my first "best friends" in elementary school. My oldest friend that was my BF for many years is married to my brother. We always seem to pick right up where we left off when we meet in person and in our virtual communications we cut to the chase. We have the history and foundation to do that. Over the years, and changes in career and geography, I've had many best friends. Opening up oneself to that kind of trust and vulnerability is powerful. Supporting/assisting one another through the trials and adventures of life is a great responsibility, and a greater joy. I have one close Mongolian girlfriend whom I adore. Despite our different cultures, we get one another and it's lovely. 

There are other frustrating or saddening things--but they are all on the smaller scale. For example, having small appliances and not being able to find the ingredients one wants to make the dishes one loves (my sweet Mexican cornbread!). Being so far from parents and siblings can be frustrating. Instead of spending hundreds to visit/see them...its more like 2K or more. Communicating with the time difference can make organic conversation difficult. Not having as much contact as I'd like with stateside friends makes me sad sometimes. I miss having a Crossfit gym and a dirt trail to run on. I miss having closets and being able to hang pictures (easily) on the wall (it's concrete here and not drywall). I miss Mexican food. But now we're just getting into inane details and complaints.

All in all, my life is good and satisfying. I love my husband and my son. I love the family we've cobbled together from differing pasts. My work is meaningful and inspiring. There are no guarantees about the future, but I can't imagine ever regretting the decision to move here and forge an unpredicted path in life. I have learned so much about myself and the world. I'm yet learning. But then that's at the core of who I am....I am a learner. 

So I guess you could say that I climbed out of the carriage and though life is not a happily ever after for anyone, I do find myself in a "happy now" most parts of every day. I'm content with that. 

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