This, like most of these posts, is part of a conversation, or The Conversation. The exchange happens in my head almost constantly. This impending move is the thing that colors everything else, the opaque scarf that is thrown over the lamp. The Conversation, the internal dialog that gives voice to the different perspectives on this decision, occurs all the time.
For example, I was leafing through a catalog the other day, looking at their cute Halloween costumes and decorations. And I paused at the cute cloth candy bags, lamenting that for the past two years–the entirety of my daughter’s trick-or-treating experience–I’ve failed to have a real Halloween bag for her. It’s been the last thing I remember and we’ve just grabbed a handled paper bag we’d saved from a shop. As I was looking at the bags in the catalog, I was thinking how I could save us the last minute panic and get her one of these, which she would reuse year after year. Or would she? Do they have Halloween in New Zealand? Will this be her last Halloween for several years? If we end up staying–which is something we think we want to do, and what makes the move so heavy on my mind–will this Halloween be her last… forever?
That’s the way this move colors everything; because the implications, while a lot of the time seemingly lacking in real importance, are far-reaching and present in the many daily rituals of our American life.
And that’s where I pause. The potential loss for my kids of these Americana experiences pains me–just the thought of it. My husband voiced it too one time when he said that it makes him sad to think that our son won’t grow up playing baseball as he did as a kid, as so many kids do, something that he sees as synonymous with childhood. I remember little league softball, playing whiffle ball with the neighborhood kids, softball in high school. My insides get all rubbery as I begin to wax nostalgic about … well about what, really? My childhood? My adolescence? What is it that I think our kids will lack, besides baseball and softball? They’ll play rugby instead. Are there other inherently American things that they will miss? I am searching my memory and can’t think of anything that would only exist in an American kid’s up-bringing. Having sleep-overs? Hanging out at malls? (Why can’t I remember my childhood?!?) Soccer on the weekends? School recitals? All these things surely exist the world over. Staying up late drinking booze we’d stolen from our parents and then sneaking out to watch the sunrise at the beach? Surely kids do that there. Drinking coffee and eating french fries in diners until the wee hours? Kids all over the world find all sorts of ways to waste time.
What do kids do these days anyway? Once I go down that road of thought, I get very jaded. It’s when I think about “kids these days,” that’s when the blinders go up and I see, not what I fear my kids missing but what I’m actively trying to avoid. And these qualities do strike me as significantly American. American kids are always online, planning sex parties, I think (only half-seriously). They’re flaunting and abusing their privilege. They’re collectively harrassing someone via facebook or twitter, or videotaping themselves as they ambush and beat to a pulp a former friend of theirs to then be broadcast on youtube. Or there’s some adult predator waiting to abduct them. Or they’re date-raping women. Or they’re drunkenly flashing their tits for cameras.
Is this what I want my kids around, what I want them to see glorified on reality tv or entertainment news? I think of the selfishness of the Tea Partiers: now that they have theirs, we should collectively retract our society’s hand. The racism, homophobia, xenophobia that informs the conservative right and their increasingly vocal and popular views towards their neighbors. That Sarah Palin has our ear, that Octomom was front page news, that greed and selfishness is so blatant in the American business world… Well now my nostalgia isn’t waxing but waning. Now the green pastures of New Zealand are calling for us to get the fuck out of Dodge. To abandon the sinking ship.
But then, amidst the optimistic high I feel at the prospect of greener pastures (literally), the elation of wading out across the many seas to our new home, I’m caught in netting somewhere below. I think about those good people in our lives, the ones fighting the good progressive fight, the ones concerned with social progress, helping the underserved, proudly living their non-traditional lives, working to make America a better, less ecologically toxic, more tolerant and generous place. Are we betraying them by giving up? Are we saying that, in our minds, America isn’t worth saving. My husband and I used to have hands on the rope of the tug of war. But my family is walking away and leaving the rest to pull harder than they should have to or else be dragged, heels dug in, to the right. I have guilt about this.
Also, I have to remind myself, after I go on some internal righteous rant about the decline of American society, that these emotionally and intellectually vapid media “stars” hog the spotlight from the millions of decent, caring, generous, thoughtful people. They exist. There is a chorus of voices of reason out there. Most American kids do indeed learn something in school, possibly a lot, go on to lead good, happy lives, and don’t all end up on a Girls Gone Wild video. In fact, it says more about me that I can’t hear these voices, but am distracted by the clang and screech of the sectors of our society that I find the most repellent. Moving to New Zealand is not going to remove all the threats to our kids becoming ogres, terrible people with little self-respect or empathy. Perhaps it’s me I’m trying to save?