When people find out that my husband and I have taught in Asia and South America and plan to move to Europe this summer to begin jobs at the International School of Stuttgart, they inevitably make a comment along the lines of, “Wow, you’re so adventurous.” Most recently, we were talking about our plans with a staff member at our school who marveled at the potential difficulty of moving overseas with a child and said, “But you guys are so brave; you like that kind of thing.”
At the time, I nodded and smiled or something, but the irony is that she’s completely wrong: I am not particularly adventurous or brave, and I absolutely hate moving! Yet in the past thirteen years, I have moved eleven times (twelve houses/apartments, seven cities, three states, three countries), and I am about to move again. Most people, including me, think that although it’s probably exciting to see so much of the world, it’s also crazy. So how did it happen?!
For the first eighteen years of my life I lived in the same house, on the same street, in the same town. My parents still live in that house. When I went to college in another state I guess I compensated for this stability by proceeding to move to a new dorm or house each year. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, and most people did it. After graduation, I moved to Chicago for a year of AmeriCorps service. Then it was on to a one-year graduate program in Ann Arbor. Master’s Degree in hand, I moved back to East Lansing for my first year of teaching. When my then-fiancee and I each got warning of pink slips that spring, we decided to view it as an opportunity for adventure and moved overseas for a two-year teaching contract in China. Of course, while in China, we switched apartments after the first year! When the two years were up, I suppose we could have stayed indefinitely, but we didn’t. We’re not really “big city” people and had difficulty envisioning ourselves in Shanghai long-term. But once you’re overseas, it’s easy to continue country-hopping on the international school circuit and we hoped to live in a Spanish-speaking country before heading back to the U.S., so it was on to Bolivia. We left Bolivia early, after only one year, because the man who stepped in as a father figure for my husband was dying of cancer and we wanted to be with him.
We were very happy to move back to Michigan at that point, and fully planned on staying. We moved all of our belongings from storage into a little cabin in the woods, which we rented for six months before moving yet again… into our very first purchased house. I worked hard to put down roots in the community– I volunteered, made good friends, joined a church, planted a garden, etc. All seemed well, but then along came our old foe, job insecurity. In all fairness, our school had hired both of us when only one position was posted. At the time though, they were doing well financially and looked forward to re-instating a position (mine) that they had struggled to manage without for some time. Then came the recession and the crumbling decay of Michigan’s education budget. Fearing the worst, my husband and I started looking for other jobs, hoping one of us could secure a more stable position. After two years, we hadn’t gotten anything, and then it happened: my job was eliminated for the following year. If one salary could have paid the bills, I’m sure we would have stayed– but that just wasn’t the case. We had a baby and didn’t know what to do besides…take a wild guess…move!
I’m not sure what most people would have done at this point. Maybe they would have headed to New York or California, where they supposedly need teachers. All of our family and friends are in Michigan, so moving to another state seemed both random and permanent in a way that disturbed us. Also, it seemed risky to select a certain town or state when we couldn’t be assured of both getting jobs there. I realize that many people view moving overseas as an extreme and rather insane choice, which perhaps it is. But believe it or not, it did allow us to: a) both obtain secure jobs at the same time and b) keep Michigan as a home base.
So, most recently, we sold our house and moved into my in-laws’ beautiful home. This is working out very nicely, but in three more months we’ll be moving again– this time to Germany. I told M. recently that although I am only 31 I seem to have exhausted my capacity for moving and that after Germany, I will have the energy for just one more move– “so make it count!” I said, only half-joking. All I really wanted or envisioned for my life was to settle down in a nice small-ish town with access to nature, family, and friends– a place where I could grow a small vegetable garden and own a horse one day. We basically had that, and now we’re leaving it. Intellectually, I understand why, but sometimes I kind of shake my head and go, “huh?”
Of course, there are many reasons to be excited about our move. For one thing, I’ve lived in Germany before and love it. Since I lived there for a period of time as a child, a small part of me does feel at home there. Then, of course, Europe is beautiful and we will be able to travel by train to France, Switzerland, or Italy in the time it currently takes us to drive from one end of Michigan’s lower peninsula to the other. M. will be advancing his career in the direction he’d like to take it, and I’ll be able to stay home part-time with A. As I recall from my previous stint in southern Germany, the horseback riding is great, the farmers’ markets run year round, and there are places to hike everywhere. It is certainly a wonderful life and a great opportunity for us, deserving of much gratitude.
And yet…thinking about this move makes me tired. We are taking A. away from his grandparents, me away from my close friends, and our dog away from the wild woods, where leash laws don’t apply. We’re losing family, stability, and home to gain opportunity, language, and travel. The quote I chose for my high school yearbook senior photo was by Virginia Woolf, who said, “The beauty of the world has two edges– one of laughter, one of anguish– cutting the heart asunder.” And there you have it!