The first section in the book Unrooted Childhoods contains essays from people who would describe their global upbringing as mostly enriching. They have positive memories of growing up abroad. Sara Mansfield Taber’s essay “Rain Light” recounts the 5 years of her childhood she spent in Holland as the daughter of an American diplomat. I loved her rich descriptions of the Dutch countryside. It was obvious from reading her essay that she became very attached to Holland, the Dutch culture, and the Dutch language. Her love for the traditional wooden shoes and her determination to become good at wearing them became a sort of symbol of her attachment to and affection for her new home. I can relate well to being very attached to a specific place, as this is how I feel about Kenya, having spent my entire childhood there. However, it is not something I give myself permission to dwell on too often or too long as it can lead to a profound sense of loss.
Sara describes how, in the first few weeks after moving to Holland, she had trouble falling asleep at night until her parents had checked her room (sometimes several times) for kidnappers. She writes, “It was as though my body remembered, even if my mind did not, that change, though rhythmic and regular, is still a ransacking and a threat (p.31).” This is probably one of the most accurate descriptions of change, at least for someone of my temperament, I have ever read!
She also tells about her first few difficult weeks at a new school, how she “stood at the edge of the blacktop, pretending to be interested in my fingers and swallowing tears. Then, and many times thereafter, it seemed to me that my whole life had consisted just of this: standing at the edge of the blacktop, swallowing tears (p. 31-32).” My heart just sort of hurt when I read this because — I get it. I so get it. I get the wanting to fit in, but being hesitant to take the initiative for the paralyzing fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. I get the acting aloof and pretending indifference, and all the while aching to just belong. I’ve been there, many times, and it is so not easy.
Sara took Dutch classes in her first year of school in Holland and developed a real affinity for the language. However, the following year, despite her desire to continue with Dutch, she switched to taking the school’s required French classes. She writes, “With that… I was left with a little lump of feeling, which has remained in my belly ever since, that, somehow, an important chapter of my life had gone unfinished, a self left off, half-begun.” Um, yeah. I can relate to this on so many levels… on learning Portuguese only to not use it or remember it… on working towards Angola for 4 years only to not go at the last minute. I feel like these “unfinished chapters” have left me in a state of arrested development. Like everything that’s happening right now is just a sort of interlude. I know in my head that it’s not, and I’ll never be able to go back and finish those chapters now, but getting my heart to recognize that is another matter entirely.