One of the things I love the most about the Sanity Plan is getting the opportunity to see how other people put their own Sanity Plans in action. The following post is a guest post written by an American woman who is raising her children abroad. I got to know Emily through a writing group we belong to and found her story incredibly interesting. I hope you do, too!
A Sanity Plan: Three R’s that Keep My Life Abroad Balanced
As an American mom married to a Czech, keeping a healthy life balance while raising children abroad is a top priority. My family has lived in the Czech Republic for more than 13 years now. Many Czech friends, my own children, and my mother ask me why we don’t live in America, or when we’re planning to return to the US. I used to ask myself the same thing.
Now, I can’t imagine leaving.
Over the years, I’ve tried to understand where home is for my family. Like many expats, I’ve had moments where I’ve wanted to pack my bags and wave goodbye to the Czech Republic for good, and I’ve had moments in the US where I’ve longed for the day of my flight to arrive to take me back to Prague.
On good days, I am at home in my adopted country of the Czech Republic. Beer is cheaper than water, there are more castles per square meter than in any other European country, and Czechlish is my family’s language of choice. I thrive on the atmosphere of growth that comes from living in a country different from where I grew up, where even going to the store to buy meat can be an adventure.
Then, there are the bad days. When the supermarket clerk gives me a cold stare that brings me to tears, or the heating goes out, and I don’t know the right words to say to the serviceman in Czech. When my children are embarrassed that I can’t speak Czech like a native, or I yearn to chat with my mother but realize by the time she’s awake, my day will be halfway gone.
Despite believing that making a home in the Czech Republic was the right decision for my family, I do miss my roots (a lot).
To help me feel grounded in my life abroad, I have created a Sanity Plan that I like to call “My 3 R’s.” Based on rituals that I can do wherever, whenever I need to feel balanced, “My 3 R’s” are an essential part of keeping my own sanity. These rituals are what I give to myself to keep my passions alive, my sense of humor intact, and to remind myself of who I am beyond the labels (mother, wife, teacher, writer, fill in the blank).
My 3 R’s: w(R)iting, Reading, and Running
Writing (and friends who write)
Years ago, I met two Americans in Prague who liked to write as much as I did. One evening a week, we shared our stories over dinner. With encouragement from my friends, I began to write a weekly column called Half-n-Half for a local newspaper.
The column was a way for me to make sense of the cultural differences (and similarities) that I observed while living in the Czech Republic. Even when I had more important things to do (change diapers, help with homework, or teach English lessons), whenever I stopped writing, I grew grumpy and irritable. So, I picked up my pencil.
Writing was how I took a step back from my life. It was also a way for me to connect with other foreigners living in the Czech Republic and Czechs living abroad.
The other day, my preteen daughter asked me why I spent so much time writing my stories, if I didn’t get much money from them. While I fumbled to answer, getting emotional and half apologizing for my dedication to something that wasn’t putting money into our bank account or food on the table, my daughter answered her own question.
“I think I understand, Mommy,” she said. “It’s kind of like my dancing. I love dance, even if I’m not going to be a prima ballerina.”
To balance my writing, I run. I am not a hard-core runner. I don’t have sleek abdominals or toned arms. I run to keep the witch inside me at bay. And, I run to let the witch out. There is an ongoing inner monologue when I run. Some days, I sort out a writing dilemma or a work problem, other times I rehash a conversation that didn’t go as planned. I think about my children and what is going on in their lives. I look at the trees or the creek that winds along my trail. Or, I stare 7-8 feet in front of me and will my legs to keep moving.
When I see other parents pushing strollers or walking with children on bikes in the woods, I often feel guilty. But, I don’t run home to coerce my children to join me. They have their own sports classes and activities. Running is my time.
On my birthday, the kids and I do a family run (at their request). When we finish, my daughter says, “I wish I had the time to run like you do.” I tell her that any time she wants to run, I would be happy to have her join me. And I mean it. I tell her that running makes me a better mom.
For my family of bookworms, bedtimes stories are the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae. Ever since they were babies, I have read aloud to my children each night. Reading is the one consistent way (in addition to speaking to them in English) that I balance their Czech school education and the Czech culture that surrounds us. It is also the one time a day when each child receives my full, focused attention.
As each child learned to read, our ritual was expanded. Now, I rotate through their rooms at bedtime, starting with the youngest. He reads a few pages in Czech, then I follow with a story in English. My older two children read on their own. On busy nights, my daughter listens to my youngest son read while I do dishes and pack school lunches. Then, I come to read to him.
Even (or rather especially) when the day has been crazy, for these few moments, I focus only on the time my child and I have carved out for one another. And the stories we share together.
Most days, I don’t have time to do as much writing, running, or reading as I wish. But, by following my passions a little every day, I hope my children see that their own dreams (no matter how wild or crazy they seem) are valid and real.
Do you have rituals that help you keep your life sane? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Emily Gates Prucha teaches English and writes about raising multilingual children in the Czech Republic – the land of beer, castles, and Krtek (The Little Mole). Find her stories about Czech culture online at Half-n-Half for The Prague Daily Monitor and prague.tv. As far as Czech traditions go, she doesn’t like being whipped at Easter but having a carp swimming in her bathtub at Christmas suits her fine.
Do you have a Sanity Plan that you’d like to share? Please pitch your guest post to firstname.lastname@example.org.