“Money in the bank. Braces are money in the bank,” my Nana told me at her kitchen table in upstate New York. I was 15 years old; my mouth was sore and full of twisted metal. I didn’t feel like having a mouth full of braces was such a wise investment. Her words were of little comfort to my angsty teenage self.
For six years, my brother and I would take the bus to our grandparents’ house after school. We lived outside of the school district and we needed a place to do our homework (me) or watch TV (my brother) until one of our parents could pick us up. My Nana would come home and she’d start making dinner. I sat at her kitchen table in a high bar stool chair, finishing my homework and chatting about my day.
These kitchen table conversations created an inner voice that spouts off two sentences of wisdom at a time. We all have voices in our heads—from our moms, dads, and then from other pivotal role models in our lives. Maybe they are from our coach, teacher, or a close relative. My Nana’s voice is one of those extra voices. Her words have stuck with me over the years.
Don’t Worry So Much
“You two could live anywhere, and you’d be happy. If things got really bad, I know you’d pick up a job bagging groceries or something to make things work. Don’t worry so much,” my Nana told me over the phone as I sat on my couch in Atlanta, Georgia USA. It was 2009, and the US economy was in the gutter. Things were looking bleak.
Everyone at my husband’s company had taken a 15% pay cut to prevent more layoffs (they had already cut some dead weight), and everyone was nervous. Would we lose our jobs? Would we have to move? What was certain was that we were in the Land of the Unknown—an uncomfortable place to be.
But Nana wasn’t uncomfortable with the Land of the Unknown—most likely because she lived there for so long. She lived through poverty, war, and post-war periods. She lived through babies, teenagers, and adult children. She lived through countless losses and learned that time marches on, with or without you. She’s now in the relaxing retirement era where she dispenses her sage advice to her grandkids over FaceTime.
My Nana was confident that we’d weather that storm and she was right—we did. Maybe she saw in us a resilience we didn’t know we had or she knew from experience that youth provides you the time to recover from mistakes. Either way, I learned to listen to her advice more carefully and to take it in with confidence.
“You have to live with yourself every day, so you better like who you are.”
Through my Nana, I have learned to trust that I know who I am. I know what makes me tick. I know what makes me happy or unhappy and I’m only ever unhappy when I go against my instincts. One has to be at peace with their core personality and make big life decisions based on individual essential core needs.
Recently we discussed the possibility of repatriating, and I had a strong physical reaction. Not only could I not stop crying, but I couldn’t breathe. It felt like I was tearing myself apart at the core. It felt wrong but then I felt guilty for feeling that way. I couldn’t do it.
Nana’s advice from years ago told me that we could make ourselves be happy no matter where we lived. We were resilient enough to weather any storm.
Repatriation is not simply a big move; it has tremendous implications for the mental health and well-being of the entire family. It involves changing locations, jobs, schools, languages, and identities.
There is an entire support group and website called I Am A Triangle, to help people navigate the emotional changes associated with repatriation.
Intercultural coach, Sundae Schneider-Bean reassures her clients that once you’ve expatriated, you’ve gained all of the skills and resilience necessary for repatriation and that you take those life skills with you no matter where you live.
She also emphasizes that you need to identify what your core needs are for you and your family and determine how to meet these needs during the next relocation. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people, finding a new tribe, going to counseling—these are all ways to recreate a life that meets those needs.
All of the experts—those who knew me professionally and personally—were saying that we could weather this storm if we needed. There would be enough time for us to recover and with that time, we would adjust and readjust. The Land of the Unknown isn’t a comfortable place, so you hold onto what you do know.
Saying no to repatriation felt both right and wrong—we said no to living closer to our extended families, no to a clearer career path for myself, no to living in a country where we speak the language natively, no to living closer to our friends. How could we possibly say no?
Staying abroad was definitely the riskier choice. In staying, we made the conscious decision to stay on the bumpy road far from family. It has taken us a long time to establish a supportive network, to find a neighborhood that is perfect for our family, and to create professional contacts for job stability.
It hasn’t been easy whatsoever and yet staying feels right. Staying doesn’t make me cry. Staying doesn’t feel like I’m tearing myself in two. So, we stay, and I keep my Nana’s words in my mind, “Don’t worry so much.”
Sundae’s podcast covers how to reduce anxiety or stress and identify how to take control of the things that are within your control. You can listen to it here.
Here is a video is of my grandparents singing to my daughter:
(This makes me cry happy/sad tears).