a letter to the future

Dear Flynn,

I hate that these two years of your life aren’t being recorded for permanent safekeeping in that little noggin of yours. The most this experience will likely ever be to you is a fun fact you keep tucked away in your pocket to pull out for those “tell us one thing we wouldn’t guess about you” sort of games at summer camp or your first week of college.

Benin? I imagine your new friends asking incredulously. Where in the world is that?

Then again, if we stick with this lifestyle and you spend all your formulative years in far corners of the world, you’ll likely have even more interesting facts tucked away in those pockets, and maybe Benin won’t ever come out at all. That’s even more sad.

Though you won’t remember your time here, I firmly believe it’s shaping you into the person you will one day be. I believe that loving and being loved by all sorts of people of varying backgrounds and skin shades will allow you to respect and value everyone equally in your adult life.

I believe that hearing and starting to speak a handful of languages is flexing your brain muscles in a way that will be evident long after your knowledge of these specific languages fades away.

And I believe that eating anything and everything and rolling around on the ground who knows where is helping you build the finest immune system a little American boy could possibly have, you lucky son of a gun.

Because you won’t remember Benin yourself, I’ve decided to take a moment to collect some memories on your behalf and scatter them here on the interwebs for you to hopefully discover at some point in your future.

Flynn, I wish you could remember your great fortune of living a fraction of a mile from an international airport. Being a boy, you are naturally obsessed with all things that go. You know, before I had kids, I thought these sort of stereotypical gender preferences were forced upon little ones by their parents, but I assure you that you were demanding cars and trucks and planes before I bought you a single toy rendition.

Luckily you get to watch a dozen or two airplanes take off each and every day. You run to the window and sometimes out to the front porch at the sound of them, wave your finger up to the sky and say, “Airplane! Airplane?” You turn to me with wide eyes, like you’re questioning whether it could it really be so, whether you could really be so lucky as to see yet another real live airplane right above your very head.

And then of course there is the dilapidated airplane a few blocks from our house, abandoned as the result of some sort of customs dispute, as the story goes. You constantly ask to take walks to see it, and when I tell you no, sometimes you try to sneak out the gate and bolt down the street to go yourself. Luckily I’m still bigger and faster than you.

Flynn, I wish you could remember living by the ocean. Your dad first dipped your toes in it several days after we arrived, and since then it’s been a huge part of your little life.

Your bedroom window opens to the sea, and as you get your diaper changed you look out and tell us about the boats or the sand or the waves. Although you still call the ocean a swimming pool, you talk incessantly about the beach and sand in both English and French, probably because you visit it bucket and shovel in tow multiple times a day.

Sometimes when your dad and I get home from work and you are nowhere to be found, your dad points his telescope out the window and finds you and your nanny playing a little ways down the shore. The undertow by our house is too strong for you, but on weekends we drive a bit outside of town and let you splash around in the water. You run as fast as you can into the waves until they knock you down, and then giggle.

Flynn, more than anything else I wish you could remember your nanny Marie. At first I was jealous and nervous about how much time she got to spend with you. I feared you’d love her more than me and your dad. But somehow everything worked out. She never took our places. You love Mom. You love Dad. You love Marie too, and she loves you as if you’re her own. In fact, she refused to take paid time off when your grandparents came to visit until she spent a week getting to know them and finally decided they could be trusted with you.

Marie carries you in the traditional African way, tied up on her back in bright cloth, and this is your very favorite place in the world. Even now at two years old you hate to fall asleep anywhere other than au dos.

You spend your days with Marie going on walks, coloring, dancing, singing, playing; I am constantly amazed by the unlimited amount of energy she seems to have to make your life fun. You light up at the sight of her, but you probably light up even more at the sight of her son and daughter, who I’m fairly certain you think are your brother and sister. They build block towers for you to knock over, teach you how to kick a soccer fall, and let you climb on their backs for horsie rides. You speak beautiful French with them all, and when they try to say something to you in English you just laugh. You know that French is the special secret language you all share.

Marie told me once that after we leave she might try to find a housekeeper rather than a nanny job, because it’s just too hard to grow to love a child and then say goodbye. I get it. To be honest with you, the thing I’m dreading most about leaving Benin is your last à tout à lheure with Marie.

There’s more, of course. The goats and horses you greet on your walks around town. Your play dates with kids from all over the world. The mosquito net that you get in and out of more seamlessly than your dad and I are able. The giant lizards you chase through our yard. The guards who come find you for a high five when reporting for duty. The ladies at the nearby bakery who all greet you by name.

You’ve had a good life here, Flynn. This country has been kind to you. Though you won’t actually remember it, I hope in the future your time here means something to you.



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17 Responses to a letter to the future

  1. Sara says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. Such a sweet note. I find this emotional because we had a similar experience with our yaya in the Philippines. Our two eldest daughters spend their first three years with her in our home and she loved them as her own. We loved her as if she were their grandmother. The last day we spent in Manila, was hard. Yaya had one last day with the girls and at the last minute she decided to accept the large fish tank we had and our driver agreed to help her drive it to her village. It should only be two hours or so of the day. True to Manila traffic it took more than double than that and when she finally returned to our home, I had already put our youngest in her crib for the night. Yaya was devastated that she missed that one last bedtime and had to go it and snuggle our daughter and rock her one last time. It was heartbreaking and she’s not taken on a family with young children since our departure because she didn’t think she could take the pain of that child leaving again! These are the women that make our families run and love our children. We are so very grateful!

  2. Mara Rae says:

    awww that was the sweetest!!! i wish i could say those things about russia. unfortunately, our experience here hasn’t been that positive (specifically for jack). it’s so special that you have these wonderful memories of benin, even if flynn doesn’t remember it for himself 🙂

  3. Alex says:

    @Mara — Well I should probably note that this country hasn’t always been so kind to me and my husband, but yes, it’s been nothing but wonderful for our son, which is really the most important thing. We’re lucky in that way I guess. Hoping you have a better experience next time around!

  4. Alex says:

    @Sara, Aww… so sad about missing that final bedtime! Even though Flynn’s nanny said she wasn’t going to watch children again, we’ve got her lined up with another family with kids. But selfishly I’m super glad about this because it’s an embassy family so maybe they can help us Skype with her on occasion or keep in touch in some small way.

  5. Tiffany B. says:

    What precious memories! I’m holding back some tears now, too! I hope to have good experiences with our little one, too. Bosnians love children so I have a good feeling about it. 🙂

  6. Jeanne says:

    I think you need to translate this one into French and give a copy to Marie.

  7. lynne says:

    Alex, When we left Malta, and the nanny who got (my) Alex to nap and to try new foods and was such a dear part of our hearts, I managed to become facebook friends with her daughter and although my daughter no longer remembers her it’s been important to me to be able to share how my kids are growing and to know what’s going on in her life. You probably won’t have that ability but Skyping with a new embassy family, I think, will be a big help in easing away from her being a daily part of your lives.

  8. Mara Rae says:

    I definitely didn’t mean to downplay all the challenges you guys have been through! I’m sure Benin is much more difficult than Yekat in a lot of ways. It’s more that I hoped our experience with our nanny would be more like what you and some of the other commenters described, and sadly that hasn’t been the case. It’s difficult to enjoy a place when you’re worried about your child’s happiness. I’m hoping our next experience is more positive too 🙂

  9. Alex says:

    @Mara, no offense taken whatsoever — I totally got what you meant. And you’re so right. We’ve said time and again that thank goodness we hit the nanny jackpot, because with all the other challenges, if we had even the slightest doubt our son wasn’t in a great situation, well, I don’t know that we would have been able to make it.

  10. Leslie says:

    Alex, this slays me. We’re a year out from leaving and already I’m dreading saying goodbye and leaving the dear colleagues who have been so incredibly loving towards our almost-two-year-old. Thank you for articulating your hopes and fears. Thank you for writing this down for your son. And thank you for making me tear up (twice) today while reading this. Best wishes from Istanbul.

  11. Allison says:

    This is so beautifully written! We haven’t even arrived at post yet and I already have a twinge of pain when I think of how quickly the 2 years will pass by and how “grown up” my daughter will be when we leave.

  12. i love this letter – it’s funny when we start to raise kids in this lifestyle. similarly to Marie who grows attached to her charges, I think we become all that more attached to the homes and people that have given so much formative experience to our children. it just makes that spot in my heart for that country just a little more tender. beautifully written sentiments.

  13. I love this post. I don’t think our current location (on a tiny island in the Maldives with no other children) has been ideal for our three year old. But she will really miss our nanny. This is only our first expat post since we had her – moving on has somehow become a whole lot harder.

  14. Jdee says:

    Loved this letter! I have been following your blog since my OA. I recently found myself in a similar situation (hubby got an invite and I’m rollin “solo” in West Africa raising a 2 yr old till Oct 14. Our nanny has made such a huge impact on our lives. I would be a mess without her. Even though we still have awhile till we leave. We both will be so sad when it comes time to part.

  15. AC Clark says:

    Lovely….. Flynn is lucky to have a mom as thoughtful as you, Alex! He will cherish this blog and this entry one day. Kudos to a special mom and an amazing writer. 🙂 A.C.

  16. SARAH EIGEN says:

    What a beautiful and poignant memory story you have written! And I love the accompanying photos. I am sure that Flynn will insist that you read this story to him very often.

  17. bfiles says:

    such a beautiful and touching post. I loved it.

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