Moving from place to place, from country to country especially, the trailing spouse is offered the opportunity to reinvent themselves. One can change their name, their hairstyle, their spending habits. One can be the cookie-baking mother, the swears-like-a-sailor mother, the bible-bangin’ mum, or the marathoner, amongst other personalities. While it is hard to be all of these things together, sometimes it is possible (in my case, I don’t run marathons, bum ankle). Unlike the working spouse, who’s employment history precedes the family, and is usually responsible for the move in the first place, the trailing spouse is free, within the confines of the law, to develop a new persona, one that others will think has been in place since conception.*
But in order to reinvent themselves, one would have to have a game plan, of course. One would know where to find the hairdresser & the personal stylist; one would have to fill out forms with the new name, etc., usually months in advance.
Me, I have done none of these things. A passive reinventer, I am waiting for the Spaniards to butcher my name all by themselves. I am sticking with the same hairstyle, proven throughout the years because it is so immutable. The wardrobe, still preppy but with some Chinese silk thrown in.
Before I left China, I listened to a tape made 22 years before at a Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation (www.jocrf.org) aptitude testing center. Floundering after my first year of college, Thing 1’s godmother sent me there to help me figure out my next move. As an eldest adult child of two eldest children, I was good at taking direction. The battery of tests concluded that I should be a lawyer, either a litigator (due to my feisty Irish temperament) or one specializing in tax (given my preternatural ability to remember/scan numbers). I could also have been a business consultant, since it showed I was a problem solver, a diplomat (knack for foreign vocabulary) or politician, and finally a writer, but only of short pieces since I apparently don’t like to repeat myself (true that; the Meyers-Briggs test concluded the same thing). But mainly, I should be a lawyer. The tests also concluded that I had “low foresight”, meaning that I only projected my life forward in chunks of 3 – 5 years.
As I listened to my twenty-two year old self questioning the test results on a borrowed Sony Walkman of indeterminate age, and thinking about how I should spend my time in Spain (housekeeping versus writing and exploring), I realized that not much had changed during the last twenty-two years, besides my circumstances. I became a lawyer (3 years of school), moved to the East Coast (3 years), then Mexico (6.5 years – exceeding timeframe), Brazil (5.5) and China (2.0). Chunkety chunk chunk chunk, like boxcars on a railroad or a string of unevenly shaped pearls on a necklace. Only one of the nuggets of information from so long ago really bothered me – the low foresight. It sounded ever so slightly condescending, as if I am incapable of long-range planning, afflicted as I am, as if only successful people in the world have high foresight (i.e. children who, at a young age, map out their lives in the quest of the Presidency or a career as a physician).
Looking back, the real question is how, in fact, does low foresight apply to life subjects such as marriage (18 years so far) or childrearing (rest of one’s life)? Should one get married or have kids if they have low foresight? What about completing a novel or memoir (can I just stop and rest in the knowledge that it’s just beyond me)? Planning for retirement? Could I reinvent myself from Carpe Diem Girl to Sober as a Churchmouse Girl? Would I, in fact, be doing myself a favor? (I’m guessing not). Or am I just married to a junkie for change, a commitphobe wary of being wedded to one lifestyle, in which case it is not my low foresight that is in question, it’s my spouse’s?
Mr. Understanding and I discuss this regularly vis a vis our children who will have to make the same decision: to stay the same or reinvent themselves, given their multiple opportunities. As I noted in an earlier blog post, one’s sense of self in the pecking order of life is set by age ten. Will our children attempt to associate with the athletes or academes? The stoners or the straightlaced? The ambitious or the ambivalent? Can they navigate the new terrain with open minds and cautious hearts? Can we all carry forward the lessons learned from past assignments?
Confronted with the possibility of using her given name in the new school, Thing 1 has opted for her nickname, no retooling of herself there. Thing 2 is concentrating on his wardrobe and hairstyle, waiting for his hair horn to grow back in. Thing 3, well, she’s made no plans (low foresight?). Like true Third Culture Kids (TCKs), when asked where they are from, they will say they are American but are a bit Mexican, Brazilian, and a teensy bit Chinese and spend their summers in the state of Washington. They will not fabricate. As their mother, I know enough to put on my game face, new shoes, and coiffed hair for orientation on Wednesday. Most people still judge a book by its cover and ours will come with a nice dustjacket. But when our new friends get to the middle of the first chapter we will have shed our new people shells and will be back to being ourselves, relatively unchanged. How’s that for foreshadowing?
*As a small aside, it must be noted that expat princesses in general should eschew burning bridges from one country to the next because the world really is a small place.
***** Tomorrow starts the first in a new series ….. while my soul hasn’t totally caught up to me, my hormones have. I’ll be ramping it up before I’m targeted with something new, like H1N1 or driving lessons.