I was messaging with one of my dearest friends the other night, an American woman who lives in Costa Rica, and she asked if I’d ever written a blog about the advantages of growing up global. Which I haven’t, and which I thought was a fantastic idea (thank you, M!), so this will be my list. I’d like to preface it by saying my point is not at all that growing up global is superior to growing up local, I could just as easily write a list of the merits of growing up in one place but that’s not our life so, write about what you know, right?
1: So many possibilities for a layered sense of empathy and compassion: By layered I mean talking to them about empathy and compassion, and then immersing them in situations where these things are called for, drives the lessons home hard. I think of the posts we’ve had in countries with a lot of poverty as empathy immersion school, unless you shelter children from what is around them (and that’s not a choice we make) it becomes very real for them what living in poverty really means.
When we lived in Guinea our oldest played street soccer with the neighborhood children and, in our neighborhood, that meant children who lived in shacks and wore tattered flip flops. Liam knew the children he played with lived a very different life from him, he knew their toys were made from recycled rubbish, he knew food was often scarce, he knew their chances of getting sick were far greater than his. So when we were living in Dublin and preparing for his eighth birthday I asked him “what would you think about having your friends bring presents for Guinean children instead of for you?” and he answered “momma, I have so much and they have so little, I don’t need more” so that’s what happened. The look on his face when we boxed everything up and sent it off to a friend to distribute, was priceless–he took such joy and satisfaction in what he and his friends had done, and he knew in a very tangible way the differences these gifts would make.
2: A concrete understanding that the world is a diverse place: It’s hard to live in so many different countries as a child and not know that our world is vast, and has so much incredible and beautiful diversity. Kids growing up global have endless opportunities to experience different languages, cultures, accents, art, music, history, food, religion, and so much more. And, honestly, it makes my job as a parent ten times easier because all I have to do to teach them this stuff is take their hands and walk out the front door so bonus for me.
3: Extra chances to commune with, and gain respect for, our natural world: From the forest regions of Guinea, to the Mediterranean beauty of Malta, the eerie peacefulness of an Irish bog, the serenity of Lake Superior in the Summer, and the wonders of the Costa Rican cloud forest, our kids have had so many chances because of our nomadic lives to experience the natural world. I think it’s sometimes easy to get disconnected from nature, no matter where you live, and being able to take our kids to so many different places has been a gift for them and for us and, I believe, has helped to nurture the respect and love they have for our planet.
4: Extra chances to go to important historical sites: It’s hard to not experience history firsthand when you’re in a country that is steeped in it. A prime example of this for us is when we took the kids to Rome. We spent a week wandering the city, in absolute awe. Our kids, who all love history, were totally blown away by the fact that they were walking in ancient footsteps. At one point we visited a church which was built on top of an older church, which was built on top of an even older church, which was built on top of ancient streets. We wandered down, down, down beneath the the city, until we reached the bottom and were walking through what had been houses in Ancient Rome. There was still a spring-fed aqueduct that ran through the houses, supplying them all with crisp, fresh water. We stood back as our children approached the water, their faces full of wonder, we watched as they slowly immersed their hands, squealing and exclaiming with delight, knowing they were touching history. Now that we’re in Maya country we already have trips to Tikal in Guatemala and Chichen Itza and Tulum in Mexico on the burners, I think our kids are going to pop from excitement when they see those ruins.
5: If you’re very lucky, and we were, you’ll get a chance to introduce your kids to their own roots, for us, this was Ireland: One of the challenges of raising nomads is helping them understand that being nomadic doesn’t mean being rootless, and this is something we’ve worked really hard on. This came ten times more easily to us when we drove to Belmullet in County Mayo, where my family is from and where we still have cousins. One of the things we did was all load into the car with my cousin Joe, who is my grandmother’s first cousin. We drove slowly along the wild Atlantic coast, stopping in front of a traditional cottage that had long ago been turned into an outbuilding. Joe told us what it was, I turned to the children, saying “kids, this is where your great-great grandmother was born and raised” and their collective response was “whoa!” We went back to Mayo many times, most recently on a trip from Costa Rica, and each time we go we bring flowers to the graves of their great-great-great grandparents, which is pretty cool. For me to be able to say to our kids “this is it, kiddos, this is where your roots first took hold, this is the land that is inside of you” and for them to be able to bend down, rake their fingers through the sand, walk the land their great-great grandparents, and their parents, and beyond, walked, is nothing short of incredible.
6: Understand that just because a friend is far away doesn’t mean the friendship is over: It’s tough, like really tough, to leave behind friends and family you love or to be the one left behind, the emotional roller coaster ride when dealing with this grief can be nasty. But, at the end of the day, our kids have learned that friendships are not finite, and they do not begin and end with geography.
7: A different way of understanding one’s place in the world: In other words, teaching the lesson “tiny fish, meet endless ocean” is pretty simple to do when kids see just how big our world is. Though they know they are the center of my life, and their father’s life, they are learning that they are not the center of the rest of the world.
8: Developing a very diverse social circle: We have friends spread to the four corners of the earth, American and locals, and we learn so much from their diversity–beyond when Liam proudly announced that he could swear fluently in at least four different languages. From Europe to The Middle East and beyond we love all the perspectives our friends bring to us, and those perspectives only drive home for our kids the vastness of this world.
9: A deep and lasting appreciation of home: The last time we were in DC, which has become home for us in a lot of ways, Liam said to me something along the lines of, yea, all the changes and traveling and moving is tough and jarring but if he didn’t do it then he doesn’t think he would have the same appreciation of his beautiful home country. The kids don’t take the US for granted, they love it and appreciate it in a way that, I think, is different (not better, just different) than someone who has lived there for their entire lives. My kids may not recite the pledge of allegiance, and the only time they sing the national anthem is when we’re at a baseball game in the US, but they are fiercely loyal to their country and bringing them home always feels to them like wrapping them in a warm, fuzzy blanket. And I know that all the insights and experiences they’ve had during their nomadic lives gives them gifts that they will pass on to the US, their perspectives and world views are out of the ordinary and, I think, valuable to our country.
10: Resiliency, because any parent raising nomadic children will tell you teaching those lessons I just wrote about is nearly impossible without it: All this change and flux and transition and starting over requires one thing, resiliency. I have seen my kids move to so many places, take a deep breath, hold their nose, and jump. Or, sometimes, dip a toe in, stand back with folded arms, and sit down to think for a while. No matter how it starts it always ends the same way–two feet planted firmly on the ground. Sometimes there’s adversity, sometimes it’s smooth as glass, but they are always pliable and resilient and I am a proud momma.
This life is full of choices, our choice has been to live as nomads with portable roots, each step we take forward is a conscience decision to continue on this path. And, for now, that’s what we’re doing. So, onward, my little nomads, there is more adventure on the horizon …