Wanderlust should have been my middle name.
|Enjoying travel even as a child (1996)|
As a baby I insisted on being born three weeks early, clearly ready for a change of scenery after so many months in one place. All growing up I dreamt of far-off locales and, depending on the week and my current mood, I was bound and determined to live either in New York City, Kenya or Italy. In high school I took five years of Spanish classes when only two were required because I just knew that someday I would go somewhere exotic where having a few foreign languages in my back pocket might come in handy. In college I spent a semester in England and loved every second of my time abroad. In fact, I loved it so much that upon my return I worked in the study abroad office and helped other students prepare for their own international trips. After college, not ready to be tied down to anything overly permanent, I spent a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member and after my term of service I took off for new adventures in Germany.
For the last twenty-four years knowing me has meant that, at some point in the not-so-distant future, you were going to have to say goodbye to me for an extended period of time. Travel isn’t simply something I do; it’s a part of who I am as a human being.
|Fulfilling wanderlust in England (2008)|
And so, you’ll believe me when I say that no one was more shocked than me when I decided not to extend my 6-month au pair contract. I made the official announcement to my host family this afternoon, but the decision had been quietly, personally made some weeks ago. I will be returning to the United States sometime in mid-February.
It isn’t that I don’t like Germany. In fact, I’m pretty enamored with the country, culture, food, language and people. I am genuinely proud to be of German heritage and would recommend a visit to anyone fool enough to listen.
It isn’t even that I dislike being an au pair. True, it isn’t my dream job and I am yearning for a bit of intellectual stimulation to go with the baby puke on my t-shirt, but my host family is kind and I have my own apartment which is more than most au pairs can say.
In truth, the driving force behind my decision is so terrifying I can’t believe I’m going to post it on the internet for all the world to see…but, I always strive for honesty and so, the truth is this: I want a little permanence in my life. I want a career that means something. I want to live somewhere for more than a year. I want to take my things out of storage and know that if I finally unpack those boxes I won’t have to repack them again in a few months. I want to buy furniture without thinking about how easy it will be to disassemble and move. I want to go out on a date without having to preface it with ‘So, I’m leaving in X amount of time and I don’t know if/when I’m coming back.’
|Still exploring (2012)|
When these thoughts first started creeping into my head I thought that it was merely homesickness talking, but the more I thought about it the more I began to realize that this is not homesickness in the traditional sense. This is not a longing for my mother or my car. This is deeper, more powerful, and much scarier. This is a yearning for stability in the middle of a life that has been decidedly topsy-turvy for as long as I can remember. And for a woman who prides herself on not knowing what will come next, the very idea of settling down ought to make my palms start to sweat.
It used to.
But today it makes me think of having a dinner party in my very own apartment. In my mind’s eye I can see the beautiful dishes my mother bought me years ago (yes, the ones that I’ve never used because I’m always moving and can’t be bothered to unpack them) sitting out on a kitchen table that I didn’t buy at Ikea. I can see friends sharing work stories over a bottle of wine as I try desperately to cook something edible (this is a daydream, not a fantasy). And, hanging on my wall, are pictures of the places I’ve explored. Italy. England. Mexico. Germany. The list goes on…
And it hits me. Having a home does not mean that I pack up my travels and hide them away as “something I used to do.” It isn’t a white flag of surrender or an admission that I really was wrong/stupid/silly to chase after adventure. It does, however, mean that after two weeks in Kenya I am going to need to come home to water my plants, collect my mail and pay my rent. And, in the end, I think I can be okay with that.