Just FYI, the next couple posts in this series will dip into some serious topics. Don’t worry, though, I won’t stay there forever.
The tutors at our language school really wanted all six of us to attend their annual Christmas party. (Red Flag! Taking children to cultural events markedly increases my stress.) Jonathan had some duties during this party. He was assigned to read the Scripture in Khmer and lead a Christmas carol in English. This meant that we needed to bring not only the 4 kids and diaper bag, but also Jonathan’s oversized Khmer Bible and his guitar, which does not yet possess a case of its own. (Yes, you are entirely right. A guitar does indeed deserve better. We really should remedy that situation.)
The child-care and the stuff-care fell to me during most of this program. Our four fair-skinned blondes are quite the spectacle in this country, so I knew people were watching me as I watched my kids. And I felt more pressure than normal for them to behave during what amounted to a church service, complete with incarnational sermon.
It seemed like my younger kids squirmed and fought their way through this entire service. I had no husband sitting next to me to take one of the kids, or enforce their silence. (Oh why are fathers so much better at keeping kids in line?) When Jonathan read the scripture, I held the guitar. When he played the guitar, I held the Bible. All the while trying to prevent my toddler’s escape and begging my preschooler not to whine too loudly. And I was smiling. Oh yes, I smiled through the whole program.
But I wasn’t happy.
Here are my kids after the program. At least some people were happy.
Jonathan was the main event. He even received some free tutoring hours as a thank you for his help at the party.
Sometimes he was the main event back in America too.
Every Sunday for seven years, he sat on the front pew to lead worship, and there was always a line of people waiting to talk to him after church. I sat in the 3rd pew with my parents, who thankfully helped me with my kids. But the thing is, I felt secure. I was at my home church, and everybody knew me. I had friends – people who knew I wasn’t just the wife of the youth minister and worship leader, capable only of smilingly policing my kids. I had my own identity. I had my own skills and opinions, my own relationships and personality.
But as I endured that Christmas party, and its aftermath, with all the tutors praising Jonathan to the sky for his language ability and contributions to their party, I did not feel that same security so familiar to me in the Midwest. Nobody there knew me as anyone but my husband’s wife. Nobody knew if I had anything of interest to say, or had any skills besides holding squirming children. Nobody even knew if he had had good reasons for wanting to marry me. (I may have been slightly Overreacting there.)
I felt Exceedingly Sorry for myself.
What really happened that night is that I experienced all the emotions of a Trailing Spouse.
And it is NOT fun.
Trailing Spouses often do not have the meaningful, fulfilling, and yes, congratulatory, work that their spouse has. Their skill set may not be useful where they live. They may be unable to relate to their spouse’s colleagues. They may be lonely. And they may be deeply unhappy.
I was unhappy that night; I was Trailing. It had been almost 3 years since I identified myself as a Trailing Spouse, and I had forgotten how awful it feels. Jonathan’s skills and abilities were on display that night, and I was little more than a babysitter on display.
The Christmas party reminded me how draining it is to take children to cultural events.
But the experience also made me more thankful than ever that I am no longer trailing behind my husband in his desire to live and work in Cambodia. It made me more determined than ever to remain non-trailing. Oh, I may always trail in the language department. But I don’t trail in the passion department. I don’t trail in the settled-in-this-country department.
And I’m really glad.
Because Trailing stinks.