A Letter to the Grandparents of My Third-Culture Kids
I remember telling you we were pregnant. We had spaghetti, because that is what you served your parents when you announced each pregnancy. I requested it, but you cooked it because I already felt sick—and so almost before I told you, you knew.
I remember telling you we were pregnant with twins. You knew I had the ultrasound that day. I stepped into your house and said, “We have something to tell you.” The plan was to show you the videotape of the ultrasound and make you guess why our baby had two heads. Again, you knew before I told you. You said, “It’s twins, isn’t it?”
I remember you tattooing my massive stretch-marked belly with planets and stars, and I remember you coming to see the high-level ultrasounds—and you crying.
I do not really remember telling you we were moving to Somalia, but I also do not remember you ever saying, “Don’t go.” You had expected something like this for years; it was almost like you knew again, before I told you. I do not remember telling you we were taking your grandchildren to the ends of the earth where there lots of guns and kidnappings, a place none of us could picture in our minds—but I do not remember you saying, “Don’t go,” because you never said it.
We boxed our belongings and stored them in your basement, in your upstairs closets, and in empty farm buildings. We wrenched up our family and our roots—and we left.
I do not know what that was like for you.
I can imagine. I imagine it felt like ripping and shattering. I can imagine it felt cold and black, unreal and yet too real. It seems so long ago, the actual leaving, but it also seems so near. That is probably because the leaving was not truly just that one day; it is every day since that first leaving in January 2003.
Sometimes I want to apologize to you, for causing this pain. Sometimes I want to apologize for not sending enough updates on the kids or Skyping often enough, and for having stand-in relatives.
Still, though I wish there was not pain involved, I do not feel right apologizing. Honestly, I do not have regrets—not ultimately, not when all things are taken into consideration. If I could live two lives, one of me would stay put and one would be on this wild adventure. Since I cannot, I won’t apologize for not being able to accomplish the impossible.
Instead, I will simply say thank you.
Thank you for not saying “Don’t go.”
Thank you for raising us with a vision for the world outside our immediate circles. Thank you for teaching us to work hard, to trust like crazy, to dream big, to love deep. Thank you for helping us pass these qualities on to your grandchildren.
Thank you for sliding down McDonald’s Playland slides, for gathering up snowpants when we show up for a month and the temperature is below zero, for washing extra dishes, for baby-sitting back in those days when we needed it. Thank you for finding used bicycles for us to use and even a stray cat for us to love.
Thank you for crying when we left but for never making us feel guilty. Thank you for making space in your homes for our boxes, and space for our bodies when we are back. Thank you for giving your grandchildren a safe place to talk about their experiences, for being interested in their lives, for seeing that they are content, and for not overturning that.
Thank you for all the trips to the airport, for welcome signs and welcome candies, for homemade quilts to warm our freezing toes, for bags of stylish clothes to wear while in the US.
Thank you for picnics and parties and fresh-fish fries and games of bean-bag toss and lasagna and bowls of strawberries. Thank you for keeping family traditions and for slipping us in seamlessly when we are here to join. Thank you for sending some of those traditions in packages across the sea.
Thank you for visiting, for stamping your passport with a country few of your friends have even heard of. Thank you for learning about a region of the world to which you previously had not paid attention. Thank you for seeing our lives there—not just the black hole left in your heart, but rather the life we have built of work and friendships and home. Thank you for possessing the courage and humility it takes to acknowledge and appreciate that and to not insist that the only good place for us to live is near you (though that would be good too).
Sometimes people say to me, “Oh, your poor parents—so far from their children and grandchildren.” Sometimes I want to respond (tongue-in-cheek, of course), “It is their own fault—they raised us to care about the world, to work for justice, to explore, to depend on God more than on ourselves.” Thank you for living this way and for passing it on the next and next generations.
Thank you for making it abundantly clear that no matter where we live, we are loved. I could never have asked for a better set of grandparents than you four. We love you and we miss you.
Question to consider: How do you keep the connection between your kids and their grandparents across the miles?
About the author
Rachel Pieh Jones is married to Tom Jones (not the singer, though he thinks life might be more interesting as a musical) and has three children (one named, loosely, after Indiana). Raised in the Christian west saying ‘you betcha’ and eating Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Family Fun, and EthnoTraveler, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble. Visit her website: Djibouti Jones or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.View all articles by: Rachel Pieh Jones
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