Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Loners abroad

My children spent almost their entire lives in a big old house in Seattle. When I say almost their entire lives, I mean it literally, because we are a family of homebodies. Very few locations beyond the front door have the enticement and charm of sitting in our kitchen, gathering around our dining room table, hanging out on our deck or typing away on our computers. Alone. In our rooms.

Last year, I realized with a start that my children were monolingual and extremely introverted. It is my own damn fault for not marrying a foreigner, for passing on the painfully shy genes from my family, for not following through with those social skills clubs when they were little. My seventeen year old wants to be a biomedical researcher and my 14 year old wants to be a hermit, albeit a hipster indie kind of hermit. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I cringe whenever the newspapers describe some horrible terrorist or criminal as a loner. As if that explains a lot.

Even though we hardly ever even leave the house, we decided to spend my son’s junior year abroad – together in Nicaragua. People said, Aren’t your kids going to miss their friends? Well, no not really because they have always been each others' best friend. There was minor trepidation about leaving their buddies for the year, but I told them they would come back and find that not much had changed. They kept up on facebook, barely.

One of the reasons we felt it would work was because they are closer to each other than to any of their friends. We thought it would be good to force them into a different social environment, a different country, a different world. We didn’t have that many specific expectations for the year, other than the hope that we would get to the other side whole, with an expanded world view.

Perhaps in our wildest dreams we imagined ourselves fluent in Spanish, and fully integrated into the community. One of the things about travel is that you change your location, but you always take yourself with you. I was under no illusions that my children were likely to join a street soccer game or that I would become chummy with my neighbors. In Seattle, my best friend used to live across the street from me, but I didn’t really get to know her until she moved two years later.

Here in Granada, I did once pull my rocking chair onto the street like my neighbors do every evening. I forced myself to sit for a while, but I had a real panic attack and I had to go inside.

We have spent a lot of time in our house. Just like at home. I mean just like at home in Seattle. Hours pass and we are each sprawled on our beds, using our laptops. My work life continues to take place in cyberspace and it isn’t that different if it is from Capitol Hill to Rainier Valley or Granada to Seattle.

I may have had a slightly different vision for the year, but I can’t say I am surprised, or disappointed in the way it has played out. I have spent a lot of time with my teenage sons, which is something I do not take for granted. I’m glad that we can make our own home where ever we go. I feel part of two communities, even if I never sit on my front porch in either one of them.


  1. Maybe you will want to sit on your front porch in Seattle. Maybe not.

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