Bye Bye Miss American Dream
Once upon a time, I woke up and realized the American Dream I'd been conditioned to want had disappeared in a mess of airplane pieces, tumbling towers and thousands of innocent people dying.
I remember a Disney cartoon, Rolie Polie Olie, being on TV when my husband called with the question that would change our lives forever.
“Have you seen the news?” he asked with a somber tone in his usually cheery voice.
It was the morning of September 11, 2001. He was in Albuquerque, NM and had just begun pilot training at Kirtland Air Force Base for doing search and rescue operations with the HC-130 aircraft. Our 2 young daughters and I were thousands of miles away in Valdosta, GA, getting settled into our new home.
As a military wife, I knew that morning, as those towers of steel and glass and concrete came crashing down, our American Dream tumbled with it. Our dream of having an “easy military career” with no wars and a fat retirement, buying that perfect house with a white picket fence and playground in the backyard and retiring young, buying a place in the Carolina countryside to run a Bed & Breakfast…
Suddenly, all that got smacked with a dose of reality so big that it put a huge crack in our dreams. Yet, as the years passed, we still clung to that ideal (except the easy military career) and thought everything would still work out, somehow. It wasn't until our 4th daughter was born in October of 2005 that the crack became something that couldn't be held together anymore with nice paychecks from Uncle Sam.
Something inside my husband and I changed after the birth of our “littlest princess” that year. As we looked into the future, we saw fewer and fewer military benefits, a shrinking retirement and more stress and time apart with longer and more frequent deployments. One day, my husband came to the realization that, in order to claim his military retirement in 10 more years, he may end up like other more “senior officers” who were divorced or had children leaving their nests and not really knowing who those children were. Although this was certainly not true in every military family, all those losses of relationships seemed to be justified with an attitude of how important that 20 year mark for retirement was and the matter of answering their call of duty.
To say it was a tough decision to walk away from life as we knew it, is an understatement. The costs of staying in the Air Force were too great. Relationships were, and still are, more important to us than job security, so my husband got his honorable discharge and charted a new path.
We'd been inspired by a few entrepreneurs that showed us that we could have a home based business that could sustain our family. It wasn't easy (or fun) at times, but we knew that having a bad day working from home and being available for our children was better than an “ok” day on a military base a half a world away. It was a decision few make because it has been challenging, but for us, it's been worth it.
With the change in careers came a shift in our version of the American Dream. We increasingly disliked thinking only “inside the box” and constantly pushed ourselves in different ways. We moved to NC, my husband's childhood stomping grounds, bought a 9.6 acre hobby farm with a charming 1935 farm house (with a white picket fence to boot), raised chickens and enjoyed country life…except the winters.
After 4 years of living what many homeschool families consider a dream life, we literally sold the farm and moved to Brandon, FL. It was both a way to escape from winter coats and snow boots as it was a test to see if our growing marketing company would allow us to live anywhere we wanted. Our dreams of growing old together on a piece of land in the country while running a Bed & Breakfast had faded. No more did a soft focus image of retirement hang on our mental walls, and we were alright with that!
One year after moving to FL, we sold almost everything we had and moved our now family of 7 to Costa Rica. We'd never had the opportunity to travel outside the US as a family in the Air Force, something we'd wanted to do since before we got married. When the opportunity arose for us to take a leap of faith and move to another country, we took it.
Several years before moving overseas, we began to ask ourselves what we really wanted for our children. The American Dream, for us, always did center around our immediate family, but in a more materialistic kind of way with dreams of homes, fine furnishings, and lavish travels.
The pretty home, the fat bank accounts, they were all part of trying to do what's best for the children. But over time, we began to realize that the pretty home was a burden keeping us in places we didn't want to be and the fat bank accounts can be drained very quickly on junk that really doesn't matter.
Now, our dreams are still about doing what we think is best for our family, both as a whole and for us as individuals, but we're not so concerned about comfort like we used to be. We want our children to know what life is like outside of suburbia with all the pressures of having the best clothes, the most expensive toys and being involved in so many activities that you have to schedule family dinner time.
We want our children to be at ease talking to and being around people that are VERY different from themselves. Honestly, that stretches us as parents, too. We want them to be able to communicate in more than one language, like most of the rest of the world does.
We also want our children to know that the world does not revolve around them, that life is hard at times with no easy way out or “retail therapy” to cure the blues. We want to expose them to REAL history by visiting places most American kids will only read about in books. Since we've moved, we have begun a much simpler life, one that includes less TV, more time outside walking and fewer things to maintain, although somehow the few possessions we have still manage to make our home a mess!
I guess overall, our American Dream has shifted away from America. As our world becomes more connected through the internet, we are compelled to raise our children as more global citizens. Not that we don't love the United States. We may be expatriates, but we're definitely not ex-patriots. We just grew dissatisfied with the decaying quality of life, increasing pressure to buy more stuff to be “happy” and encroaching big government influence on private citizens. We feel its in the best interest of our children to grow up globally, with love and compassion for our fellow man around the world.
There are days when the house with a white picket fence or the ease of all the retail shopping outlets call me, but I've realized I don't have to answer. Our new version of the American Dream does hold fast to a thread common to those who have immigrated to the US for years: having the freedom to pursue a better, more fulfilling life for our family. At this point in our lives, that includes a radically different life, full of cultural experiences only found in traveling in this amazing world we live in.
But we're not the only ones who have a different view of the American Dream. Check out the posts below written by other traveling families: