Unrooted Childhoods: Sara Mansfield Taber

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.

Advertisements

Unrooted Childhoods: Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer’s essay “Living in the Transit Lounge” serves as an introduction to the entire book, Unrooted Childhoods. He starts out by describing — no, romanticizing — the globally nomadic life. I don’t relate well to this right now because, in recent years, I have become increasingly disillusioned with this lifestyle. Oh, it seems exciting and adventurous and romantic to someone on the outside, and I’m not denying that there are many benefits to all the moving around our family has done in the last few years. We have certainly seen some amazing places and had some very cool experiences. But there are times when I just long for stability, for normalcy, for roots.

I was glad to see Iyer move away from romanticizing the life of a global nomad into an honest treatment of its pitfalls and problems. “What is the price we pay for all this?” he asks on page 14, then goes on to say, “Seasoned experts at dispassion, we are less good at involvement or suspensions of disbelief; at, in fact, the abolition of distance. We are masters of the aerial perspective, but touching down becomes more difficult (p. 14-15).” I definitely feel like this is a good description of where I’m at right now. With each move, each painful goodbye, each difficult transition, it becomes harder and harder for me to “attach” the next time to a new people, a new place.

At the same time, I think that my faith grounds me in a sense. I am not completely lost in the world, bobbing about like a cork on a vast sea. When Iyer asks, “What does the Transit Lounger feel? What are the issues that we would die for? What are the passions that we would live for?”, I feel that I can answer those questions. I find my purpose in Christ, and this gives me roots. Oh, they aren’t geographic roots, to be sure, but they are roots all the same. And all of my global wanderings have had a purpose as well, a purpose that goes beyond myself and any desire I might have for adventure or cool experiences.

In the end, a missionary is not so much a Transit Lounger as an Ambassador: “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:19-20)

Unrooted Childhoods: A Chapter by Chapter Review

Last year, just after we arrived in Ecuador and desperate for reading material, I borrowed a book from my sister called Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global. It is a collection of essays from TCK’s from many different countries and many different walks of life. As I read it, I found myself identifying, as a fellow TCK, with many of the writers’ experiences. At the same time, I also found myself wondering how my own children will remember their experiences of growing up in other countries and cultures. I remember thinking that I should make a collection of quotes and passages from the book to revisit later… the only problem was that I found myself wanting to write down about every third sentence!

Now, almost one year later, I have decided to go back and read this book again. I will be doing a chapter-by-chapter “review” of it here on my blog. I use the term “review” loosely, because it won’t be so much a review as it will be an interaction with the essays and with the experiences and viewpoints of the authors. I want to explore both the positive and negative aspects of growing up abroad so that I can better understand and relate to my own children in the years to come.

See, I know from personal experience what it is to be a TCK, and all the blessings (and the baggage) that goes along with growing up abroad. But I don’t yet know from personal experience about raising TCK’s. I’m learning as I go, and I’m thankful to have not only my own life experiences to draw from, but the life experiences of others, like the writers of the essays in this book. I’m also thankful for all of the study and research that has been done in the last few decades on TCK’s. So much more is understood today about children who grow up overseas, about their unique gifts and also about the challenges they face.

As I re-read the introduction of this book tonight, the following sentence jumped out at me: “the paradox of nomadism is that its benefits are always tied to losses.” (p. 3) I think that neatly sums up how I hope to interact with this book: I want to recognize and give thanks for the benefits of an “unrooted childhood” without glossing over or minimizing the losses.