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Who I want them to be

09.11.09 | the world | 5 Comments

Last week we were invited to dinner at my grandma’s, with my aunt and her son, my cousin, the one who had the internship at the UN this summer. Apparently we can relate to David and his lovely wife Andrea because we’ve enjoyed living out of the country and we like to talk about doing it again someday.

My aunt was really careful in her invitation. She said if I wanted a grown-ups-only evening I could get a babysitter, or if I wanted to bring my kids, they’d be happy to see the girls. At first I wondered if that was code for “leave your kids at home if you have any class at all,” but later she told me she was serious about the choice; she said she remembered when her four kids were young, being offended if her kids weren’t included and also being desperate for a break from them.

When our regular babysitter wasn’t free, I decided to bring the kids. It was Mr. Bennet’s birthday anyway, and my kids are, comparatively speaking, pretty low on the annoyance scale.

What I didn’t realize was that I was comparing how my kids act to how other people’s kids act, not to how they would act when they were the only children in a group of eight adults. Not a pretty sight (or sounds), but nothing cataclysmic.

David and Andrea are fascinating. They live an unconventional life. While we were in Egypt at the time the second Iraq war started, David in his endless travels was in Iraq by way of several former Soviet states. He was the only American in a group of young men who decided to see Baghdad, were they were thrown in prison by American mercenaries. The embassies of the other nationalities came and freed his companions, but since it was the Americans holding him and he had journaled extensive notes on all his previous travels, he was held for several days.

You really can’t compete with someone who will out-do you at every turn. Think it was exotic to live in Egypt? How about being in a Baghdad prison? No contest.

David and Andrea are homesteading in New Zealand now, and I think they consider themselves primarily citizens of the world, rather than just “Americans.”

It has been tempting, at times through the years, to want to see myself as more cosmopolitan, more sophisticated, more aware and respectful and less ego-centric than a crazy patriotic American. Some people return from travels to Europe thinking North America is backwards, dull, lame.

I went to Europe at nineteen and giddily exclaimed over the beauty! clean! art! food! But when I came home two months later, and walked past the customs agents in their white uniforms with their lazy English accents, I could suddenly draw my first deep breath.

Home is where you don’t wish every moment that you could be somewhere else. When I’m away from Mr. Bennet or the kids, I never stop thinking of when we will be together. When I’m away from the United States (or even from Utah now), no matter how I enjoy the foreignness, the adventure, the sites and sounds and smells and the difference, I think every few moments, or every few hours, of how I will sit in my kitchen soon and remember this moment, this newness, that I can only completely appreciate and assimilate when I am home again.

We were in New York City on 9/11. Mr. Bennet helped reconstruct houses damaged by hurricanes in Mississippi. We’ve lived in some rotten parts of this country. Places where drugs and racism and guns and assaults where part of the everyday fabric of life right outside our own doors. Even people we admire are not always heroes.

But I am happy to be an American citizen, to have a passport that bears the name of the United States, even if it is expired right now.

Mr. Bennet went to Austria this June on business, and oh! I wanted to go with him, but it was too short a time for the expense, and then Mr. Bennet said he had to go because maybe this was his only chance to ever go there, and I told him that if I honestly thought this was my only chance to go back to Vienna, I would want to die right now, because what would be the point in even living if this right now were your only chance to travel and see?

No. I’ll have chances to travel and see Machu Pichu and Singapore and Prince Edward Island. Right now I’m busy raising my children to be happy they’re Americans. It’s pretty easy. Here they are safe and free with tummies full at night of healthy food and any sort of book they could want to read. Here they ride bikes in the street in front of our house and attend church with the neighborhood kids. Here their teachers at school are earnest and striving. Here we see grandparents and gardens and canyons.

Here is home.

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