August 09, 2014

#missionarylife // a 3 year old's view

It never ceases to amaze me the grace with which our three year old handles the missionary life we lead.  The kid is just a little bit over three and has been on (literally) 29 different airplanes.

When we fly domestically he gets a little upset that there aren't TV's on the back of the seat like he's used to on the international flights.  He is still excited about flying, particularly the take-off and landing.  He likes the excitement of an airport, and has finally begun to understand that putting his friends through the x-ray machine doesn't mean he won't see them again, but that they get to 'take a ride' on the belt and he can pick them up on the other side.
This trip has been particularly interesting to watch though.  After living in Tanzania for nearly a year, coming to America at an age where he is completely vocal and can understand, for the most part, what is going on has been really eye opening.

We see that we are the most important thing to him.  We are his constant.  In his world, nothing is staying the same.  We're staying with gramma, we're moving to a new house with gramma, we're staying with friends, he has is own room for a few weeks, then he sleeps in a room with us for a few weeks, then we go on vacation and stay with a friend that used to be in Tanzania, then we go to the beach and he gets his own room again... change, change, change.  So.  Much.  Change.  And yet he has handled {most nights} with such grace and maturity.  What he can't do though?  He can't leave us.  Among all that change we are the only thing that has stayed the same.  He will not go into kids church, even though he loves Freedom House.  He panics if we are out of his sight for any period of time.  Even at his best friends' house where he is happily playing he makes sure he knows where we're at.  We can't leave him with a babysitter and go on a date, he cries every time. Even when it's gramma.  And you know what?  I'm kind of okay with that.  Yes, it stinks sometimes to be parenting together 24/7 but if that is what he needs, if that is the thing we have to deal with as we travel with our three year old, then I'm okay with it.

Wherever we go Owen is a star at making friends.
He was so excited to come back to Charlotte and reunite with all of his friends.  As we would drive to meet them he would tell, me: "Momma, when I see {insert name here} I'm gonna give 'em a hug because I miss them!"  And sure enough, he would.  And almost every time we had to say goodbye he would get really sad in the car.  I won't forget the first time he had to say goodbye to his best friends.  We'd played at their house for a few hours that afternoon, but had a dinner date and then were going to church that evening.  So we said goodbye, knowing we'd literally see them in just a couple hours again at church.  We got in the car and O said, with his voice quivering, "Momma, I'm just gonna miss them."  He had big tears in his eyes, and a big pouty-lip that happens when he's trying really hard to be tough and not cry, but he just couldn't hold it back.  My heart broke for him.  It still does.  And most times we leave a friend's house it's the same.  We just remind him that it's okay to be sad, and it's okay to miss our friends, but that we can Skype them and enjoy the time we have with them.

Our three year old is geographically smart.
 O knows that Phoenix is where gramma and cousins live, that Charlotte is where Freedom House is and that he was 'borned in a hospital in Char-yett", and that Tanzania is where we live.  As our time here in Charlotte has been drawing to a close every couple of days he'll say, "Momma, I just yike Char-yett.  I wanna yiv here." And then a couple days later, "Momma, can we go to Tanzania now? I wanna go right now."  I feel his pain.  People have been asking me how I feel about leaving and I had a really hard time answering.  After some thought I came up with the best words I could put to my feelings - I'm ready to get back to normal, but it's hard to leave everyone behind.  If Owen could articulate it, I bet that would be his response too.  My type-A little guy thrives in a structured, normal environment and I'm positive all this change has been wearing him out.  But he also thrives when he's in relationship with his friends, and it's hard to have friends scattered all around the globe.  It's a torn emotional state to live in being a missionary - especially when you're only three years old.

Attachment is an ever-changing concept.  His cousins were so kind to give him toys to play with while we were in Phoenix, and we brought them to Charlotte with us too.  (note his 'polic-ey' truck, it travelled with us everywhere when he first got it from his cousins)
But as we pack and prepare to leave we've been starting the process of getting him ready to leave them behind.  It's hard for him to understand, but most of the time he gets it.  We let him keep the sentimental items like the little train Max gave him, the firetruck gramma got him as a late birthday present - those will make the cut and we try to be sensitive to his sentimental attachments.  But sometimes it's hard.  Today we had to take some books back to the library and he really had a hard time with that.  There are no libraries in Tanzania so he doesn't quite get the concept of just borrowing books, and over the last few weeks he's gotten very attached to the stories and the big, crocodile tears came when he realized what we had to do.  He wasn't crying and throwing an obnoxious fit, he was just genuinely sad that he couldn't keep the books.  We try to make sure he knows it's okay to be sad, and we remind him of all his toys and books back home in Tanzania... but man it's hard.  It's hard for us, as parents to watch him battle with it.  Two days ago one of his friends gave him a rolled up paper quarter roll thing - you know what you roll money with to give it to the bank?  They were pretending it was real money and his friend told him he could keep it.  A few hours later we were at another house and Owen realized he'd left it behind and got a very sad/panicked look on his face, when I pulled it out of my pocket his look of relief and excitement was so great - all over a little piece of paper.  It's not always about the item, but about who gave it to him.

Even seeing how he's handled all this I'm curious to see what Tanzania will bring.  How will he react when he realizes we can't have blueberries anymore?
Will he be so excited to see his friends in Moshi that he won't be sad about leaving the friends in America?  Or will he cry and be a mess like I {might} be?  Will bringing back the toys his friends gave him here in America be a good way to hold on to sentiments or will it just be worse because it reminds him of them and all the fun they had?  Or will that be a good thing?  What will he do when we go to the petrol station and he can't get out to pump the fuel, but has to stay in the car with us and watch the workers do it?
Will he get upset, or will he be happy to just hand the money out the window to the attendant like he used to do as they smile at him and tousle his blond hair?

There are so many unknowns as a parent and as a missionary, and there is no way on Earth we'd be able to do any of it without God helping, guiding and offering his grace along the way.  So we just keep looking to Him, offering the same grace to our toddler, and holding his  hand through it all.  Because in his world that is constantly changing - in our world that is so full of unknowns - WE are constant.  God is constant.  And those two things - not the jet planes - is what carries us across the oceans and back, following the path God has called us to, one step at a time.