Saturday, July 21, 2012

Redefining Success

Fields and barns roll past my car window as I contemplate a stranger's remark and my daughter's admonishment to "never hurry, never worry" as I tend to push things along.

We are about to begin life after the Navy, but I can only conjure up the past five years with one of us working full tilt and the other juggling, home alone, like mad. It was neither satisfying nor worth replicating. My husband's long hours and assignment in a foreign country meant that my job options were few which made the decision to stay home with young children fortuitous and led to adventures far flung from the confines of the American military base that supported other families like ourselves.

We enrolled our children into a Japanese yochien preschool without bilingual support staff. I soon had my hands full taking on a new culture that came home daily with my children, new unknown expectations of mothers in Japan, and the unsung duties as keeper of the flame.

My husband's days became long and longer. Work hours consumed him. He came up for air on the weekends except when traveling, on call, or away with other assignments. He turned green around the gills, got thicker around the middle, and took a hit on his health here and there. I got angry that everything and everyone being a priority but us, his family. Something needed to give and it felt like it might be me.

He started riding his bike to work, got a tan, and improved his disposition. Realizing that I alone was responsible, I began pursuing my own happiness. Yochien mama friends guided me through the currents of Japanese culture where even an illiterate beginner can go with the flow, it's the nail that sticks up that gets hammered down in Japan.

Things changed except the reality of the ever working spouse; I could rely only on myself. All obligations and adventures were scheduled during school hours. Cultural immersion combined with illiteracy meant that I missed details, but I learned to value presence, those who showed up, and those who invited me along. My American connections meant I had access to a book group except that they met in the evenings. I threw out the idea of a daytime book group. Chirp. Chirp. The knitting regulars were hot and heavy on Thursday evenings at the on base Starbucks. Inroads to use my brain while in the trenches of motherhood were blocked. I took to reading the book group's selection each month with the hope that a random encounter would offer up a chance to talk about books.

When another Navy wife sent out an email request for places to go, things to do, I imploded. Taking on more inputs, more sights, more adventures was low on my list. I wanted to have a thought, a cohesive deep thought. She kindly responded to my request for topical discussions but then got busy and eventually moved. I craved output while the rest of the world seemed bent on inputs.

Living in a language I couldn't speak gave rise to the writer within who longed to consider thoughts relevant to the pursuit of happiness as well as to the wells of misery that sometimes trap us with trickery and falsehoods with our blind acceptance of things that may not really work despite their popularity. Being an outsider made walls of belief objects that could be dispensed with or at least moved.

Living in a foreign culture is stimulating but draining. Being the end all be all parent to my children was all consuming. Seeing my husband exhausted every weekend wasn't fulfilling either.

Weekends we road our bicycles to the beach. The sound of the waves crashing ashore, the wide expanse of sea and sand, the washed up treasures of sticks, pottery, and shells, renewed our tired spirits and offered time for play and exploration to each of us. We managed, we got through.

Diamonds form as a result of time and pressure and so we considered future options in light of present pressures. Continuing the lopsided Navy life with one of us nearly working himself to death, was dismissed. My husband, a board certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist, has skills in short supply in many communities.

The options were wide open, except that we were not. Too many years away from home, like Marco Polo, meant that we wanted to go home and never leave again. His hometown, a college town without heavy industry, offered rolling hills, pockets of intellect and tolerance, a farmer's market, and opportunity, lured us.

A nursing career put on hold for five years meant that job offers were not forth coming for me. Luckily, my husband could use a good partner with a nursing and business background with skills for which I'm uniquely qualified.

In Japan we learned to appreciate the health benefits of life within walking distance of people and businesses. We found a house within walking distance of downtown in his hometown. The problem with buying a house is that there are always things to repair, remodel. Having waited twenty years to claim a house as our final resting place meant that we weren't interested in delayed gratification. The internet, long phone chats, an excellent contractor, and a tiger mom for a mother-in-law in town, allowed us to remodel from afar. A renovated house meant it was in move in condition when we arrived and that we are committed to this place, this home.

Awaiting our belongings' arrival from Japan, we took time out for brotherly love and spent a week at a family gathering on the shores of Lake Michigan. The waves crested with fresh water, the skies blazed blue, the sun colored everyone's skin. In a toy shop while searching for materials for friendship bracelets a passerby overheard me answer the constant, "Where are you from?" This passerby knowingly exclaimed, "Southeast Ohio! It's in the middle of nowhere, farms, cows..." he trailed off. The statement hanging in the air prompted me to say, "It's quiet, and I've had enough adventure." The intrusive stranger responded, "O. U., it's a college town, nice. Quiet." He seemed to soften as he moved along leaving me with the inquisitive shopkeeper and a lingering wonder at the man's initial attitude and transition toward the hills of Ohio perhaps boring and yet rich in their own way.

Like a lot of things that are given up for defunct, like time to cook from scratch, I still hang on to the romantic notion of a hometown. Maybe its that question, "Where are you from?" Maybe it's the thought of a refuge, of belonging, when one tires of exotic locations and foreign ways.

The old chapter of longing passes the baton to the new chapter of being. I aim to observe the hometown ways of American life with the same tenacity I explored being a Yochien Mama in Kamakura, Japan. In my usual way of doing things backward, I adopted the sister-city first.

My current idea of a successful life? It doesn't include money, travel, or positions of power. It does include family dinners, time to attend family events, pursing hobbies and interest along side of work, and time to cook with real food not packages of preassembled factory components with both of us working and leading a more balanced life, together.

Control of one's time may seem like our own El Dorado, the fictional city made of gold that led to the demise of a few Spaniards, but we're going for hometown life anyway.


Adventures in Hometown Living