An Expat Summer: Never as Planned
The afternoon sun stretches like unfurled ribbons across my bedroom floor – a pattern created by the locked iron bars on my second story balcony. I’m back in Oman, after a summer traveling between northern and southern Utah, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. My body is jet lagged and my head slightly off kilter; summer is still something of a dream – a dream I’m trying to remember.
From my reposed position in bed, I glance around at my surroundings, taking note of the traditional American cherry wood dressers, mirrors, side chairs and pineapplesque lamps – the same furnishings procured for almost every Embassy residence around the world. I’ve lived with this décor everywhere from Greece, to now Oman – props and stage sets that have moved with us, while the play and actors have changed.
Our beloved Shakespeare gave us this: ‘All the world’s a stage.’ And I venture to add, it matters little if the stage is in Oman or the U.S. or somewhere else – we all have a part to play and we must play it well, adjusting to each new act and season.
This is our new season, Act II, if you will, in Oman, and we’re down one trooper: Micah. He’s off to great things at BYU, and we’re half way around the world, sporting alumni regalia with t-shirts and hats (we couldn’t be more proud or excited). But we miss him, especially when I cook his favorite pasta dish and there’s sooooo much left over, sigh…
Summer was a whirlwind. I guess that’s why I can’t quite believe it’s over and life is moving on. Maybe that’s why I sit here, trying to remember. Summer, for me, began in spring… back when I was planning and strategizing and lying awake at night, in this same bed, sleepless and typing notes into my phone, wondering how it would all get done. My to-list included appointments, visits to family and friends, and important events, but it all hinged on one vital assumption – that we’d be living in Provo in the townhouse we had put money down, the one Cooper flew to Utah to buy, the townhouse where our son would move into in the fall, when he returned from Army Basic Training, the townhouse that would be ‘home.’
Everything looked as though it was going according to plan too, so I took the liberty of enrolling Jonah in two weeklong camps at BYU and Maggie in another. But alas, the builders couldn’t get the subs and the subs didn’t put up the drywall till late June and the actual walk-through didn’t happen until the day before I had to drive to St. George to fly back to Oman August 17th.
Soooooo… we never lived in the townhouse.
And all my sleepless nights planning?
Instead, we spent our days and nights in a variety of accommodations, building up our Marriott reward points and relying on the goodwill and graces of family and friends who welcomed us in. As it turned out, schlepping 4 kids and eight suitcases around took some coordinating, (and the use of my in-laws Escalade, for a time). But we managed, until we were able to off load a third of our suitcases and bid a merry farewell to Micah at BYU for summer term. At least one of us had a temporary place to call ‘home.’
But as things turned out, we got to see more family and friends then planned, using our shiftless itinerant state to venture from west to east coast. Our visit to my parents happened to coincide with my brother’s family cross-country trek and for the first time in more than TWENTY years, we were all together for a family photo. A miracle I tell you. As the old saying goes: it wouldn’t have happened if we’d planned it.
The majority of summer, was spent living in St. George, ‘escaping the heat,’ as I joked with the locals, on days when temperatures soared to 105 and above. We stayed at my sister-in-law’s house in Santa Clara. She wasn’t there, actually. She was in Italy, enjoying quaint corners of the city and photo-worthy cuisine—as seen on her Instagram. We were ever so grateful for her hospitality. And as it turned out, grateful not to have a plan, because this way, each day took an unexpected shape of its own—including lots of time spent with old friends, and trips to ‘Swig,’ (Our favorite).
The unstructured living of St. George was balanced nicely with frequent trips north to visit grandparents, check on our townhouse, and attend events, like Cooper’s 30th high school reunion (Go Cavemen!) – especially memorable, because by mistake, I got in their Alumni Class Photo. I undoubtedly left some squinting at the Alumni Facebook post asking, ‘Who’s She?’
Interspersed between life and events, were the unexpected ‘conincidences’ too many to list. Like the time, we saw a young man Cooper coached in baseball in Vienna, Austria, return home from his two-year LDS mission. Back when we first met him, he was eight years old, newly adopted from an orphanage and only spoke Russian. Now his English was perfect, his strong 6 ft. plus physique looked healthy as could be and his countenance smiled – you’d never know the childhood he came from. I knew his adopted mother well, she was one of my best friends, and though she passed away from cancer several years ago, I felt like I was able to see her too, through him. Her love and bright spirit was a tangible part of who he’d become.
There was also the time when we walked into a restaurant and one of Maggie’s former schoolmates ran up to her and gave her a gigantic hug. My husband turned to me, puzzled, ‘Does that girl know Maggie?’ We were all surprised. We hadn’t planned on seeing her friend that day, but Maggie had lunch with her buddy and exchanged numbers so we could plan more playdates. For an expat kid who’s had to say good-bye to more people than you can count, this random encounter was nothing short of a gift.
To think back now, and reflect on my fears of an unstructured summer, how I had worried if things didn’t go according to plan, if the townhouse wasn’t finished, if we didn’t have a place to stay… the earth would come to a screeching halt. And yet, everything turned out fine—even better!
Including Maggie’s baptismal day. It’s illegal for our church to baptized here in Oman, so when Maggie turned eight (the age a child can choose to be baptized in our Faith), we waited, hoping to find the right time and place, hoping that some family could be there for the event and perhaps a few friends too. We never imagined the family and friends who traveled to be there. It was a blessed day we’ll always cherish.
As was another…
In all our planning, we didn’t know how we’d make it to South Carolina for our oldest son’s graduation from Army Basic Training. But between airplane rides and a 14-hour drive, we arrived just in time to watch his battalion, and three other battalions – hundreds of men and women dressed in fatigues – emerge from a smoke screen wall, in the middle of a wide green Carolina field edged by thick woods. As the soldiers held aloft the American flag, and music beat in the background, the tears streamed down my face. It was a moment you can never forget – will never forget. A moment that strikes deep in the heart of a patriot, knowing that each of the soldiers marching would go into battle to protect our country, their family and our freedoms.
I didn’t have this moment planned either.
Nor was the excursion to Fallingwater planned – one of our summer highlights. The house was designed by Frank Loyd Wright in 1935 for the Kaufmann family. His cantilever design (think of a diving board built on top of a diving board, built on top of another diving board), extends over a mountain spring waterfall. We toured the property with mouths wide open, continuously marveling at the genius of the design.
Indeed, whatever I thought I’d be doing this summer—decorating a townhouse, taking Maggie to swim lessons, having a structured schedule—it all paled in comparison to what we actually got—a series of beautiful, seemingly random encounters with humanity and joy. I know of no other way to describe it.
It’s life improvised. It’s packing up the props and taking the ‘show on the road.’
Shakespeare gave us the stage, but Hemingway taught us it’s a “moveable feast.” We get these moments and then we get to take them with us. I’ve got all these and more, right here with me in Oman. I think about them when I open the locked bars on my window and step outside and gaze at the incoming tide. I think how lucky I am that my life has never gone according to plan and I think: I hope it never will.