Have you ever heard the saying, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”?
The bitter taste of failure and disappointment is still fresh and nearly overwhelming as I write this from St. Petersburg, Florida back in the US.
If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I decided, along with my wife and 2 daughters, ages 7 and 16, to leave our longtime home in Cincinnati, USA to travel and explore the world. We bought one way tickets to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and set out to travel Southeast Asia for an indeterminate amount of time. It turned out that “indeterminate” proved to be shorter than I’d hoped.
Because not everyone in the family was able to adapt to the traveling lifestyle, we were forced to change plans after a little more than a month and look for something different.
With stops in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, we lived our goal of traveling slowly, staying in places that allowed us to see things through the eyes of those who live there. This is either a laudable goal, or a laughable one – maybe both. The more we traveled, the more I realized that it’s difficult, if not damn-near impossible for a westerner to really live like a native Khmer from Cambodia, or anyone who has grown up living in a developing country. We could get close for a short time, but growing up with luxuries I didn’t even realize were luxuries has made me soft. Staying in inexpensive guesthouses and a few even more modest digs gave me a whole new level of respect for those who have no other choice.
I’m trying to tell myself that I knew when we set out that there was no guarantee of success – no certainty that a family of 4 people would all be so in-tune that we would be able to function in a dizzying world of constant change and the randomly interspersed moments of ecstasy & boredom, of gritty discomfort and stunned amazement that are a part of long term travel on this earth.
Dealing with a teen who was not doing well with all the turmoil was a challenge I just could not overcome. The thing about being a parent is that – no matter what – it’s your job to make sure your kid is ok.
Imagine: The one thing you’ve wanted most for as long as you can remember turns out to be the thing that wrecks the confidence and emotional well-being of one you love dearly. My desire to go out into the unknown and explore the world firsthand was something that was simply too much for one whom I am sworn to protect and nurture.
The conflict and turmoil I am feeling right now is overwhelming. I wasn’t up to the task. I couldn’t overcome the obstacles. I failed at my goal. There it is.
Nevertheless, if there was ever a situation I was cut out for, it’s dealing with a defeat. So, here we go.
As a parent, part of the deal is that no matter what, your kids come first. Their long-term needs trump your short-term plans. Every time. They deserve our love and support. They deserve the very best us we can give them, so we’ve tried our best to make some lemonade out of this particular lemon. Though we could have continued to parent and do the best we could alone, we found that our emotional reserves had been depleted (silly in hindsight that we didn’t anticipate this), and we knew we needed some support around us.
Like a quarterback who finds his offense ill-suited to execute the play that was originally called, we’ve changed our plan midstream – called an audible, if you will.
We headed back to the US, and to St. Petersburg, Florida, which has a (for us) magic trio of a walkable urbanism, access to ocean beaches, and soul-replenishing sunshine. We are still proudly car-free, and have stumbled on an amazingly flourishing homeschool community. We hope to become a part of this community and contribute to what is an emerging creative class here. We don’t know how long we’ll stay – only that it feels right here for the moment, and that is enough.
There you have it. As a writer, I try to highlight the best and brightest of what I see, but sometimes life isn’t what you plan for. It isn’t always good or all that bright. Sometimes life, uncaring and ruthless, hits unexpectedly. So we get back up, wipe off the dust, patch the wounds, and move forward. Always forward. Where else is there?
Make no mistake, our travels yielded some amazing discoveries, beautiful moments, and good memories that will last forever. I’ll tell some of those stories and post pictures of some of those sights as I move through this process. I need to heal a little. I think sharing more of the experience will help with that.
In the meantime, I know that many of you have faced challenges and setbacks that make mine seem laughable. I honor those defeats and setbacks. I honor the courage and strength it has taken for you to face them. Only if we embrace the setbacks and struggles, do we earn the privilege of savoring the victories.
Here’s to the shitty view from down in the valley.
Here’s to the amazing view from atop the next peak.
What say we all meet there over a drink and talk about the climb up?