Guest Blog: Giving Permission by Devi Duerrmeier
This week’s post come from the inspiring treasury of Devi Duerrmeier, writer of My Daily Bread and Butter. A former journalist, now blogger, she writes from the heart about faith, food and family (what’s not to love). Her wisdom and experience make her an extraordinary voice within the expat community. “Giving Permission,” will resonant with anyone who has ever needed a little more patience, fortitude and peace during times of transition (meaning all of us).
My first trip on an airplane was as a 22-month-old flying from Colombo, Sri Lanka to Fayetteville, Arkansas via California. I lived in 13 houses in the first 18 years of my life and split my childhood between coconut trees in a small province in the Philippines, idyllic Arkansan suburbs and smoggy Manila.
When you start your life as a third culture kid, it turns out you just keep looking for it and it keeps looking for you. University came next, again in northwest Arkansas, and I followed that with three years in Australia, a trip around the world, which is how I met the man who would become my husband in Geneva. We lived there for three years before moving seven months ago to Stockholm.
I’ve moved on average every three to four years, it’s a way of life written into my DNA, stamped on my passport and echoed in the chambers of my heart.
But moving to a different country is one thing as a child or teenager. It was full; my sisters and I loved being the well-travelled ones in a group and enjoyed tossing around stories of our favorite airlines (Singapore), airports (also Singapore) and travel adventures (being robbed in Sydney and then two days later in Melbourne). We never filled out immigration forms, dealt with itineraries, packed or unpacked boxes. All we had to do was wake up at the right time (grudgingly), sort our clothes and enjoy the ride.
Moving as the parent is a different story.
When we left Switzerland last August, we had an eight-week-old baby and a two-year-old, both boys. Both of them only knew Geneva as home. I was wrestling with night feedings, a toddler who started waking at night again upon the arrival of his baby brother, packing up a life and saying goodbye and moving to a new culture, all while two little people looked to my husband and I for their security, well being and love.
It was not an easy time, but there is one simple practice I employed as a means of survival: giving permission.
Giving myself, my husband, my kids and our family permission was a simple way to invite peace into our hearts and our home, and we desperately need peace when we are in transition.
I give us permission to fall apart. We had our second child, packed up our apartment in Geneva, moved to Stockholm and my husband started a new job all within eight weeks. Our oldest son – two at the time – started waking up in the night, often more than our newborn, to say that it drove me crazy would be an understatement. The week before our move to Sweden, my husband was in Stockholm setting up our new house, and I was alone with our toddler and newborn. The baby was sleeping six hours in a row at night, but my beloved toddler was getting up five times, sometimes more (I counted). It was surreal, unexpected, and all together awful. There were times in those five days that I would be awakened by his cry and feel angry.
He needed my love, gentleness, patience, and kindness, but it’s not what he received, and that’s partly because I wasn’t creating space in my own life to receive it for myself.
We give what we have first received, and there is no way to give grace and kindness to others if I haven’t received it first for myself. The only way I am able to receive grace and kindness for myself is to allow myself to fall apart, to admit that I’m struggling, not ok, having a bad day, to let people in, to pray and tell God. Admitting weakness is always the first step toward strength. I give myself permission to fall apart because it’s good for me; it’s admitting truth and so that I can be arms of grace to my children and husband when they fall apart.
I give us permission to be unhappy. I don’t have to love my new life. I don’t have to be happy with the stage I’m in. I give myself permission to wander around the supermarket and feel frustrated that a trip that normally takes 30 minutes now takes an hour plus extra tension from wandering unfamiliar aisles. All of us need time to adjust, learning to love a place on its own terms takes time, and pressure doesn’t nurture love, pressure creates tension and expectations that are impossible to meet.
I give myself permission to ask for help. All the time. In situations when it feels awkward. I will stop people in the street even when they look at me strangely. I will ask the woman standing next to me looking at winter coats in Stadium if she thinks this jacket will work for a Swedish winter. Even though it is not culturally done. Even though I look abnormal. I will do it anyway because I need help. I can admit that I don’t know what to do and how to do it. I will not look at an unclean house and judge myself because I’m giving myself permission to focus on making sure our kids are loved and that I am resting because this is more important than the tracks of mud on the floor and the piles of papers. My toddler can eat chicken nuggets and fish fingers and frozen peas all day long, and I give myself permission to not feel guilty about his food coming out of the freezer. I’m going to make my life as easy as I can because adjusting to a new culture is full of hidden costs and traps. Tiny things will cause major problems, and I will make my life as easy and basic as possible so that these tiny things are less stressful and I refuse to feel guilty about this.
I give myself permission to not be in control. That moment when I’m driving and I reach an intersection with a strange orange and yellow sign. I’ve never studied Swedish road signs, I have no idea what the sign means, and I give myself permission to say I am not in control. I will pray, listen, commit my ways and paths to God and believe in every step of my transition journey, my life is in his hands, held safe and secure. I give myself permission to throw my hands in the air and laugh when there is drama from my toddler at noon and we are still out. When people stare, I’ll be thankful I’m in a part of the world that’s understanding of children’s tempers, remind myself that I can’t time everything perfectly, he is two-years-old, this too will pass.
I give myself permission to fall madly in love with my new home. Sometimes your hands can be so full of your past that it will not open to receive your present and your future. I let go of the past, so that my heart can fill up with my now. I say yes to Swedish meatballs and fika invitations and yes to snow boots, yes to winter clothing that makes me look more like an eskimo than today’s winter fashion models, and yes to candles in the windows and yes to the strange levels of darkness and lights. I say yes to it all, I give myself permission to receive this new country and its beautiful people on their terms because I’m here. I can fight it or I can flow with it. I give myself permission to flow, and dance in the glorious freedom that comes from letting go of the past, embracing my present and turning my face to look forward into the future.