I haven’t seen him in nearly two years. I know parents of military men and women often don’t see their sons and daughters for two years, but this is a first for me since I'm not a military parent. My son is serving with the Peace Corps in Macedonia, teaching English in a primary school. The last time I laid eyes on him, we had just snaked alongside as he passed through the half-mile long airport security line, inching along the roped-off outskirts to stay close for as long as possible.
We awkwardly smiled at each other each time he moved in our direction. As we tracked him, my brain tried to imagine how long two years would feel, wondered if there would be visits in between, and if he would change. And of course, the really dark thought hovered – will life and events work in our favor so that we actually will see each other again?
We watched him offer his passport and boarding pass, strip off his shoes and empty his computer bag before going through security. Several times in the line he turned and smiled at us before vanishing once and for all around the corner after a last wave. My husband and I felt wrung out that day, but honestly never believed we’d go two years without a visit.
Soon we'll see how much he has changed. And he’ll have a chance this summer to see himself how he’s changed as he re-enters the States. Other Peace Corps volunteers have described to us in the past how re-entry is one of the hardest experiences for volunteers. Our comfortable and materialistic lifestyles stand out in contrast to the simple way people live in other parts of the world. On the physical landscape of our small city, he’ll see new apartments going up, some homes razed to make way for a new structure, the disappearance of certain businesses. It may take a little longer to see how his overseas experience has changed Kenzie.
Kenzie is our reasonable, rational, unemotional, level-headed and very responsible son. As a child we always called him “our rule-keeper.” If we gave him a rule, he had to keep it (unlike certain other sons). On a rare occasion when we scolded or disciplined him, we always found ourselves amazed that the boy cried projectile tears, so hurt by our disappointment in him. Thankfully there weren’t many of those moments in his life.
To survive in the Peace Corps though, he had to break a few rules: he needed to turn his back on the American dream of owning more and more possessions and making lots of money. He broke the rule of taking a traditional course of action, foregoing the ladder of success for one of service. He relinquished the American rule of living for his own comfort, entertainment and pleasure, instead living in an apartment heated only by space heaters which allows pipes to freeze five days at a time. He surrendered to loneliness and homesickness that must invade his nights, and wears clothes washed in the bottom of his bathtub while he showered then dried on chairs and furniture in his one heated room - the kitchen.
As his parents, we’re thrilled about his lifestyle choice (although we would’ve loved a visit once or twice). But now my countdown to see him will soon end as I once again prepare to be face to face with my beautiful son.