Ever since I was a young girl in the Philippines, the lure of traveling always beckoned to me. Call it a perennial case of wanderlust that could never quite be satisfied. And I did good on my resolve, always making sure that I traveled to a new place at least once a year. But it wasn’t enough.
I didn’t want to just travel. I wanted to live abroad. Not because I didn’t love the Philippines. But because I believed moving to a whole new country would really help me grow as a person and shake me out of my small, sheltered world.
I was fortunate to find a partner who shared the same dreams as mine. And so after we got married, my husband and I began the process of applying for immigration to Canada, where we both had extended family residing. And with their help, four years and two kids later, our Canadian permanent resident visas arrived in the mail, giving us 7 months to pack up our lives and get ourselves to a country halfway around the world.
And all of a sudden, I was scared.
Summer All-Year Round
The set up in the Philippines for middle-class families is
that the parents work nine to five jobs and leave their kids in the care of
nannies and grandparents. I lived right next door to my parents, a stone’s
throw away from my husband’s parents, and my kids had one nanny each. The
extent of my mommy duties was expressing breast milk at the office to bring
home to my babies and directly breastfeeding them when I was home. The rest of
the dirty work was relegated to the nannies.
In other words, I was spoiled. I was comfortable.
What was I thinking? Move to another country now, with two small children, one of whom wasn’t even walking yet? Quit my job, take two toddlers on a long-haul flight, and settle in as a full-time housewife and mom with no nannies? To be alone all day with two kids, while my husband went off to work? Did I mention my biggest fear of no more nannies? The thought of deliberately throwing myself out of my comfort zone was giving me sleepless nights.
And I guess that was precisely why my subconscious was telling me moving abroad was what I needed. What my family needed.
So we did it. We packed our bags, drove to the airport, and after tearful goodbyes to our parents and siblings, we hopped on a plane and were off to Canada. And boy, was it a rocky start.
The toughest part was cleaning my kids’ butts and bathing them, two things I never did back home. Yup, that was tougher than struggling with homesickness, though I did battle with that, too.
Those first few months were hell. I was forced to be a whirling dervish every day, cooking, doing dishes, feeding the kids, putting them to bed, cleaning up after them. And that was just the physical stuff. I had to make sure I helped their mental stimulation, too. I read to them, helped them paint and draw, sang to them, brought them to the playground, and when I was just too tired to do all that, I put them in front of the TV or iPad. Yes, I let technology babysit my kids sometimes. Better than me losing my sanity and taking it out on them.
Winter Was Here
Then winter set in and I was completely thrown off guard by the below zero temperatures and thick blankets of snow. At the height of winter, we didn’t have a car yet, so we got around by taking the bus. And it’s no fun to push a double stroller through sidewalks covered in thick, muddy snow.
On some days, I’d just cry in frustration and wish I was back in my tropical comfort zone with my parents and the nannies. I couldn’t join my kids and husband when they frolicked in the snow, making snow angels and building snowmen, because I was too busy getting stressed about the wet clothes I had to take care of after.
But slowly, slowly, things got better. We’ve been here a full year, experienced all four seasons, and I gotta say, summer is still my favourite. I guess I’ll always be a tropical island girl at heart.
See, that’s the thing with us Filipinos. We’re resilient. We’ve weathered natural disasters and other forms of hardship like no one ever has. We can survive anything. And like my countrymen, I've managed to make a mean lemonade from the lemons thrown my way.
Living abroad is not for everyone. It’s a conscious decision that both you and your partner have to make together. And you have to keep in mind that you’re in it for the long-haul. Because if you always have that thought at the back of your head that you can just go running back home anytime with your tail between your legs, you’ll never be able to embrace your new life.
But I tell you, it’s totally rewarding. We’ve learned to be more independent, raising our kids on our own without having to leave it to extended family. Even our kids have become more self-sufficient, doing simple chores and not having a nanny to pick up after them.
I think the best benefit of all is that the four of us have gotten much closer. A simple game of hide-and-seek around our little apartment is the highlight of our evening before bedtime stories, prayers, and slumber. There’s no better way to make memories with our little ones.
This time, as winter approaches again, I’ll don my snow boots, gloves, and mittens and play in the snow with my husband and kids. And I’ll think about the wet clothes after.