“A few weeks ago, I hit ten years of being in the US after moving back from Indonesia,” Elisabeth, a dear expat friend of mine, recently told me. Brown eyes pensive, she continued, “My time overseas is becoming smaller. I’m afraid it will become insignificant. That makes me angry because it’s become a part of who I am.”
As a TCK, I resonate with her fears.
Sometimes, ever-so-swiftly and in the oddest of moments, an indescribable feeling wells inside of me. I realize my previous home has become “smaller.” I don’t think of it as much as I used too. The smells and sounds of my old home have faded in my memory.
This can feel frustrating, worrisome, for TCKs.
What if “smaller” becomes “insignificant”? We wonder.
What happens when these parts of us-our previous homes and lifestyles- are no longer relevant with our current circumstances?
We grasp to remember, return to them, and reminisce with fondness. To do so, many TCKs and expats–intentionally or not–incorporate elements of the places we’ve called home into our everyday lives.
Our One Indisposable Thing
In her book Global Mom, Melissa Dalton Bradford writes, “That truth is that just about everything, every last thing, every object is, ultimately, disposable. Things are, especially when you have to wrap and pack and load and unload and heft their weight time and time again, not only comparatively little value, but they just plain make it tough to up and move quickly or gracefully. They’re gravitational, pushing you deeper in this earth’s crust…”
She goes on to explain that each of us TCKs and expats have at least one indisposable thing. For Melissa, it’s her kitchen table.
A few months ago, I heard a story about a TCK whose family recently relocated. On his scrawny ten-year-old wrist, he wears three different watches with the different times of his previous and current homes: Pakistan; Jacksonville, Florida; and the Philippines. A day doesn’t pass where you’d find this little boy without his watches. They are his indisposable things.
My indisposable thing?
My Cat Cup. I know. It looks as crazy as it sounds.
And yes, it’s actually a cup. Covered with black and white cats, expect for one: An odd, neon disco-ball cat.
My cup used to be white on the inside, but now it’s stained with coffee. Worn and yellowed with daily use, it has a big, black crack on one side. In fact, I’m sipping coffee out of it now as I write this post. When I move to Germany next fall, my Cat Cup is going with me.
Keeping our Stories Significant
But why do such trivial things like these, which have “comparatively little value” and are “ultimately disposable,” matter so much to TCKs?
How can some of us go through transition after transition without shedding a tear, yet can’t hold back an overwhelming wave of sorrow when our one indisposable thing is misplaced or broken?
Perhaps it is because they are needed, even vital, to tell our most significant stories.
In his book Arrivals, Departures, and the Adventures in Between, Chris O’Shaughnessy tells a childhood tale about a lost toy, his glow-in-the-dark owl. This seemingly-insignificant toy represented much more to him than a simple plaything. “My owl had been a symbol of consistency in my life,” he reflected.
To us, these objects extend far beyond the physical boundaries of just a cup. Or a kitchen table. Or a watch. Or a glow-in-the-dark owl.
They are constant, concrete, and tangible connections to our previous homes and lifestyles.
Many people ask the little boy with the bulky watches and cheeky grin why he wears so many oddly-conflicting time-telling devices. This question has become a conduit to tell his stories. They symbolize his previous homes. With him, he carries memories of times past. Literally.
As I sip out of my Cat Cup? I’m reminded of my second year in Japan. I was ten. I had just become a TCK. I hadn’t grown used to the reality of being always-foreign. I stuck out and desperately wanted to blend in. That was the Christmas I discovered my mug under the Christmas tree. The single disco-ball cat on the front? It’s me. I couldn’t help but laugh and acknowledge that “different” isn’t always “bad.” As I continue to move, change, and transition, it reminds me of my stories.
Our indisposable things may seem trite or odd, but they keep the significance in what we’ve left behind and cannot return too. They are like friends, witnessing life as it comes, right along with us.