When I was 11 my mother moved us to Jordan for a year, where she enrolled me in private school and allowed my teachers to fail me as long as they also helped me learn to read and write in Arabic.
She spent every spare moment trying to enrich my experience in a place I knew nothing about: she let me take in a stray kitten when I was homesick, even though cats are not pets in Jordan. They’re actually grossly unregulated and are usually considered feral pests, but this kitten was perfect and sweet and soft, and often she was my only consolation.
Mama planned trips for us and we explored whenever we could, hiking into Petra with me complaining every step, taking me through Syria for a week (where I made us miss our bus in more than one city), and venturing out in my grandfather’s car to Amman, with no GPS and only a vague, ten year old memory of where my uncle lived.
She worked as a teacher, as she’s done her entire life, to qualify for her retirement benefits, that we would have lost had we not uprooted our lives and done this. Her entire salary was just enough to keep me enrolled in the private school she’d registered me in, and outside of that, like most of my life, I barely know how mama made ends meet.
I hated it so much at the time, I was being taken from everything, only long enough to disrupt my path in the most critical time of my small little social world: I was going into middle school that year and my friends were going to forget me! I felt this to my bones and didn’t let my mother forget it for most of the first summer we were there.
My mother is a warrior, a single mother-widow-guardian sister-goddess. There have been many times in my life that I have resented her, but looking back now I understand that there were choices too big for me to understand, choices too hard for most people to make. My mother made those choices. At the end of the year the district told her she needed a few more months of service, and that there would be paperwork and waiting periods to process. So I wouldn’t miss any more school, ma sent me back to my grandparents in America, telling me she’d only be three months and that I needed to start 8th grade. She made the right choice. It was the hardest year of my life, having never been without my mother and living in a strange place at a new school. While it was the right choice, sometimes I think our bond was more important to me developmentally than school was. School always came easy to me, but the symbiosis of our overly codependent relationship was disrupted and I felt it. I felt it deep.
It was so hard then at just 11 to not alienate her and probably make her doubt her choices. I was not an easy kid, having been given a lot of easy in what I knew was not an easy life, and these were not easy choices. What I marvel at the most when I look back at that year, is that no matter how miserable I was in the beginning, that year changed my life forever. No matter how badly I thought America was home, I envied my mother her extra year there, I resented that I could not do the same. That year that was forced on me was the first lesson I got in real homes: they are not a place or a person or an idea. Home is not a place but the best commonality, it is your starting point and your safety. Real homes are the lives we build with the ones we love.