During these last few months of searching for our next move abroad, we talked about it endlessly with everyone. Everyone except for our kids. I wasn’t scared to tell them; I just didn’t have anything to tell them and “I don’t know where we’re going” didn’t seem like a solid answer for their inevitable followup question. Last week, after Husband accepted the job offer in Guadalajara, it was time to talk and here’s what I learned from that talk: when you’re moving with kids, there is a lot to consider, but there is no right way to tell them that every thing they know is about to change.
Believe me. I’ve been preparing for months. I knew when the time came that I would let them feel all their emotions. If they wanted to talk, I’d listen and if they wanted to cry, I’d hold them. Heck, if they wanted to start packing, I’d help them. In the meanwhile, I scouted children’s books that I could start reading to them and pointed out random-not-random places on the globe. I would name drop places that were on our radar every chance I got.
You like giraffes? You know where there are lots of giraffes? In Kenya.
Oh. The new Disney princess Elena talked about Dia de los Muertos? I wonder if she’s from Guadalajara, Mexico? You know they celebrate that there?
I was ready.
We sat down, family meeting style, and gave them the news. Santiago didn’t flinch. Not because he was shocked but because he’s 3 and had no idea what I was saying, so he sat there waiting for real news – like that we were going to HappyLand. But Rafa. Her eyes wandered in confusion, looking around the room trying to stop the world from spinning. Her sweet, little mind in turmoil. It physically hurt my heart to watch her try and be brave and smile while visibly fighting off tears. I watched her trying to make sense of her emotion and why she felt like she did. She didn’t have the words to explain that she felt smashed up inside; she just knew it hurt.
The genuineness in her sadness mirrored mine; she just had the courage to show it. She shot her words before launching the tears, “Pero… you no me quiero mudar de Santo Domingo. But I don’t want to move from Santo Domingo.”
I was mistaken – I wasn’t ready for this.
I knew her response had nothing to do with Mexico. Like a breakup, it was a classic case of It’s not you, Mexico – it’s me. All she knows is that this is all she knows. This is all she’s ever loved. She isn’t thinking about the new adventures or magical experiences that come with travel which will mold her future self. Nor is she thinking about discovering food and culture and history. She can’t possibly view Mexico through the lens that we do. Unlike, her dad and I, who can Google our excitement for the adventures that await, she, like most kids, only focuses on the bird in hand, the “what I have right now.” And right now, Santo Domingo is perfect and this bomb we dropped on her, sucks.
“I know you’re sad,” I said to her. “I’m so sad too. Mami is very sad. It’s ok to be sad and to cry. And if you have questions, I want you to ask us. If you want to cry, you should. I’ve been sad and I’ve cried, but you know what makes me happy?”
She looked at me desperate for words to make her feel better, “What?”
“What makes me happier than anything is that we’re doing this together. That I can share this with you and Papi and Santi. We are doing this as a family and we will find so many new things together. We will go to new parks and meet new friends and see new places and try delicious food at new restaurants. Together. Always”
She looked at me, still uncertain, but a bit more open to possibility, “What are the names of the restaurants?”
That’s my kid… “Good question! Let’s Google.”