It's time to move on
It's time to get goin'
What lies ahead
I have no way of knowin'
but under my feet, babe
the grass is growin'
yeah it's time to move on...
Story of my life. I remember first listening to the song as I rode along I-26 on the bus ride home from our 8th grade school trip to Seabrook Island, SC. I was fourteen years old. It was the end of the school year, the end of my first year back in America, and I was about to switch schools again...I was about to start high school.
It's funny, the things we remember, isn't it? I've carried that moment on the bus with me me all these years. The song always triggers that memory. It signifies the sultry heat and salty tears associated with saying goodbye. The folky tune is what I imagine change sounds like.
The end of the school year in also England meant saying goodbye to friends forever--not just for the summer break. Friends who were from Sweden or Japan or South Africa were going back to their native countries, or perhaps onto another foreign land, and good-bye truly meant good-bye. "See you later" was not in our vocabulary.
When we finally moved back to the States, I transitioned into a tiny private school with a class size of about 32. Most of the kids had gone to that school since kindergarden and they all knew each other. At age 13, I was struggling to fit back into a country where I suddenly felt like an immigrant. I made some friends but I felt that there was this huge part of me that was hidden and isolated. I didn't know how to incorporate my overseas experiences into this new environment. I might as well have been from Mars.
I only stayed at that school for a year. Then I went to a different school for my freshman and sophomore years of high school. Then we moved again to a different city where I finished off junior and senior years. Then I was off to somewhere new for college and then I transferred to another school after freshman year. Then, eventually, I joined the military, go figure, and for the past decade, the cycle has repeated from one time zone to the next to the next.
The other night, Chris and I were driving home from Davis. We were talking about relationship stuff and Chris said to me:
"You really have some sort of outsider complex."
I just kind nodded my head and said, "Yeah, I know."
Change has been almost constant for me. Playing the role of "the new girl"and trying to break into pre-established circles of friends that are sometimes rooted deep in years of history is a pattern in my story. It leaves me feeling both motivated and isolated, both challenged and tired of trying. I learned this pattern during a crucial time in my development, and as an adult, I think I've learned to perpetuate it.
I think I'm coming to realize that it's okay to just be me though. Gosh, that sounds cliche, does it not? But in the flux of so much change and transition, I have not known who "me" is. I am slowly starting to figure it out though, and I'm learning that who I am at the core is not determined by which country I happen to live in, which circles of friends I currently run in, or whether or not people understand every aspect of me.
A few years ago the term "Third Culture Kid" (TCK) was introduced to me through an essay one of my classmates wrote. A TCK "is someone who has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture." These changes typically take place during the highly formative years of childhood/adolescence.
Anyhow, Chris's outsider comment got me thinking about the whole TCK thing again and I started reading a bit more about it. I've been astounded by how much it resonates with my experience. Something I recently read on the subject struck me:
"...one of the major areas in working with TCKs is that of dealing with the issue of unresolved grief. They are always leaving or being left. Relationships are short-lived. At the end of each school year, a certain number of the student body leaves, not just for the summer, but for good...Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime."
I also read that TCKs "cope" rather than "adjust." We adapt, find niches, take risks, fall and pick ourselves up again...we feel at home everywhere and nowhere...and most of us never truly adjust back to life in America. And then there's that part about how we don't learn problem-solving skills in relationships because we can always simply leave a problem without resolving it. We carry our baggage to the next location and watch it play out in new relationships...until we can leave again. (Ouch.)
The more I come to understand this part of my story, the more I am starting to understand where my identity struggle/outsider complex comes from. This doesn't explain everything, but it does explain some things. I can understand more of why making new friends can be easy and painful at the same time, and why I become detached when I have to say goodbye to people. So many meaningful relationships have been woven in and out of my life so many times...and most of them are only for a season. Sometimes it feels shamefully easy to let go of them...but only because it's so incredibly painful to let go, if that makes sense.
But, despite the growing pains, I am also seeing the beautiful things that God has written into my story as a result of these experiences. The book I was reading through states that "while TCKs are cultural outsiders in their own passport country, 88% can relate to anyone, regardless of differences in race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality. They generally credit their third culture background with positively influencing their adult lives."
I know that my childhood and adolescent experiences burned a passion into my heart to reach beyond the limitations of my native country. There is this energy and drive inside of me that longs to identify with others who know what it means to leave people and places that feel like home and start over in a place that feels foreign. I tend to relate to those who feel like outsiders...who tend to lurk on the fringe. And while I realize that the scenarios of our stories are incredibly different, one name kept coming to mind as I've pondered all of this:
When we receive him into our arms he will have to say goodbye to everything he has known. At such a young age he will know profound grief. This will be part of his story.
While I understand that in many ways I cannot possibly know what this is like for him, I can recognize a few ways that I can. I also know that on some deep, guttural level, loving him will perhaps soothe the sense longing and grief that I carry inside of me because of the story God has given me. The further I travel this journey to my son, the more I hear God whisper:
This is your son and I have equipped you to be his mother. I created you to do this.
If things continue to go as planned, we will be in China within two months, sweating in the sultry July humidity, our lives forever changed for the better. I can't wait to be overseas again, and far more, I can't wait to hold my son in my arms.
Quotes taken from "According To My Passport, I'm Coming Home" by Kay Branaman Eakin, online at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/2065.pdf