Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Revisiting Moving Memories – August 21, 2007

For sixteen years, I’ve remembered August 21 as the anniversary of my family’s departure from Los Angeles, heading to Jos, Nigeria. But now that I’ve moved to and from Scotland with my husband and kids, I remember the 1991 move through new eyes.

As a teenager, I watched my parents sort our stuff into “take with us,” “get rid of,” and “store in the U.S.” piles. I knew that I had the allotment of one box of my things to bring with me. Even today I regret some of the choices I made then about things I gave away. But for the most part, it was my mom and dad’s responsibility to figure out how to move our family of five permanently to a new country using 30 boxes (and storing very little).

When faced with similar decisions in 2005 as an adult and a mom, I struggled with various emotions. Part of me was thrilled to be “cutting loose” and not feeling tied to things anymore. Part of me was very sad to sell or give away items I would have preferred to keep. It was not fun to have a massive yard sale and see people looking at my things through bargaining eyes. I felt a responsibility especially to my kids, to choose what was most important to our family of four and make it fit in only 6 duffel bags and a few carry-ons. At least we were only moving for a year, instead of a lifetime. Even so, for the first month in Scotland, I’d go to bed regretting the loss of one thing or another.

At age 14, I was so excited about moving to Africa. Mom and Dad had been talking about it for a few years, so I’d had time to adjust to the idea. I knew I’d have to make new friends, but in L.A. I would have been changing schools anyway. I preferred the idea of an international school and a class of 30, to a Los Angeles public school with a class in the hundreds.

My parents were the ones who had to deal with logistics: shots, passports, visas, bank changes, etc. They stayed up for multiple nights, packing and cleaning. Each box had to be as close to 70 pounds as possible (but not over) and catalogued with its contents. Mom and Dad were the ones who had to get 30 boxes approved by the airline, amidst stares from other passengers in awe of our amount of stuff. They were the ones who worried about my sister’s refusal to eat during our entire journey, and probably wondered what they were in for in this new land and new job.

At age 28, I was the one responsible for the logistics. First there was getting visas—Steve took a day off work to take a train with me and the kids to downtown Chicago, aiming to come back with the necessary British visas. Instead we found that the visa fees were four times what we thought, and that we could not walk away with the visas in our hands. Then there was selling our home—I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning, cleaning and then crying my heart out, full of memories and fondness for our house. And just like my parents experienced, we felt the stares of Europeans in the Dublin airport, condemning us for our carts of luggage (their baggage allowance is even less than domestic U.S. flights). I broke down in tears when the airline attendants spoke harshly to us, accusing us of delaying the flight as our carry-ons had to be checked due to the European baggage allowance.

I’d never really thought about what my mom had to go through, learning to cook and keep house in a different culture. At 14, I’d been wrapped up in my own transitions and my efforts to make friends in my new school. In Scotland, though, I had to adjust my recipes to a different method of measuring and different ingredients. I had to learn to shop by foot and bus, instead of driving my mini-van. I struggled to cook and do laundry with fewer amenities and in a much smaller space. Within weeks I wrote to my mom, saying how my eyes had been opened not only to her international move, but also to her days of mothering 2 preschoolers in a small space and without a car.

Little did I realize in 1991 that my first international move would prepare me for another one 14 years later. Even though I’d moved as a carefree teen, I’d seen what my parents went through and I was aware of some of what was involved. Hopefully my next international move will benefit from both of these past experiences. That is the purpose of memory, is it not?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, Lis, I love your thoughts on moving. I never really thought about what Mom and Dad had to go through to get us all to Jos 16 years ago. One of these days, I'll move myself and have my eyes opened, too.