When you live in two different countries, you either discover a knack for leaving or decide to stay put in one or the other. Forget life coaches and self help books. You cannot learn how to turn off one life and turn on another as simply as that. You need to live through the experience over a course of time, strengthening emotional muscles and developing the patience for processing relationships. In other words, you have to become less self-centered, less dependent on others, and more open minded. Mostly, you need to explore the idea of consciously creating your own and respecting the boundaries of others.
Imagine this: you board a plane with your freshly minted immigration card, and three hours and 1,000 miles later you are reading Splat the Cat and kissing a sweaty cheek which seems fuller than it was eight months before. The kids are taller, sassier, and do not have pjs with slippers built in. You will not have to change diapers this trip, or ever again. This makes you surprisingly sad. The last first day in kindergarten is three months away. There are no strollers in the garage, and all your grandchildren can roll their eyes, wink and count to 100. You are turning 70, and a decade of little hands reaching for yours in parking lots and crossing streets will be over by the next time you visit.
In three hours you go from managing a staff and welcoming guests at the Inn at San Pancho to reading bedtime stories and playing Shark in the pool. Even your language has changed from Spanish to English. You find yourself ordering coka lite and saying Hola and si and como estas.
Slipping in and out of lives is not at all like you imagined. In the beginning, it was wrenching. Goodbye, hello, goodbye, hello. When will I see you again? I miss you. I miss the kids. I miss the supermarket. I miss my house. I miss my cat. I miss my friends. The language of this life is heavy handed and there are days when you get teary eyed thinking of missed dance recitals and early mornings on the beach and watching movies with grandkids whispering in your ear. There are the dinners with your sons, the talks over mugs of tea with your daughters in law. And then there is Silvia, waking you each morning, going over which of the casitas needs new sheets, which tubs of laundry she should do first, whether or not next week’s guests will need an extra bed, the crib, a welcoming night dinner. There are so many people splashing in the pool of your life – a life which drifts like the sea back and forth, a tidal pool ever refreshing and new.
Eight years into shifting lives, I have come to treat departures and arrivals with less drama. It is time to leave, time to arrive. The reservations are made, the dates set. The angst is gone. The difference today, eight years after I moved to San Pancho, is that I bring myself – the same self — wherever I go. Schedules change and there may be more or less down time, longer days, shorter nights, less reading, more playing. But the me, the essential Eileen is all of a piece. I know that bringing love, I will receive it in return. On the eve of my 70th birthday, I have come to believe that these later years are rather the best. Has life always been so generous, or am I just beginning to realize its vast dimensions now? Oh, dear, I am coming late to the real party, letting myself slide into the days, the changes, the arrivals and the departures as a whole person seeing life as a whole – a person who has enough of everything she needs to go on, comforting and comforted, deliciously, extravagantly alive.