Sixteen years after leaving Guam for college, I find myself back home for a year with my soon to be 3 year-old daughter, on sabbatical. Sixteen years. I never thought I would live away for that long. But, that’s how life happens, isn’t it? Since I went into special education, I never really stayed away for too long, though. I visited for months at a time during annual school breaks. Yet, there are unfamiliar feelings this time around. It’s a pregnant pause, filled with life and expectations. My time here carries more weight, more responsibility, more intentionality, and more opportunity than before. This trip is not a vacation. This is a full year. What will unfold and how it will unfold is unknown. Lately, I have found myself surrendering my need for control to a higher power- the Universe, God. The active practice of faith, of trusting that all will be fine, feels right when so much is uncertain.
This travel sabbatical is through teaching, and I’m using it to come home to take care of my dad. Having been on dialysis for 2 and 1/2 years, he has mostly been doing it on his own, with some successes and challenges. However, dialysis is taking its toll on his body and his mind. And so, it’s a blessing that I can alleviate some of the daily responsibilities (preparing meals, driving around) while spending quality time with him. This act of taking care of my dad has been something I have wanted to do for years, but haven’t had the chance until now. Now that I’m here, however, the reality of the challenges of raising a little girl while caring for your father are starting to present itself. These challenges exist along a continuum. From not having a working Guam cellphone to coordinating daily FaceTime dates with Manny in San Francisco to taking Lola on adventures in the Guam heat to visiting with my dad to picking him up for different events (rosaries, games, stroll patrols) to preparing meals for everyone to finding a preschool for Lola. Time zone differences, adjusting to the heat and humidity (seriously, I sweat sitting down), and all of the events that go on on Guam make communicating difficult, as well as planning and executing routines seemingly impossible. Sometimes, it feels as though so much time passes while not much happens here.
Sometimes, it feels as though I’m running out of anything to give to Lola, my dad, everyone else, me. Fortunately, that feeling, like all emotions, passes. Using the time to reflect, to shift my perspective, I can see that every day there are beautiful, invaluable people and acts surrounding me. Waking up to the same ocean view on the same family compound I was born & raised on, Lola walking barefoot from one house to the other without a care and without my fear for her safety, watching my brothers compete in sports, hearing Lola ask, “Is Nana here?” daily, my dad laughing with Lola, Naiatea playing dress up with her niece, visiting with friends, FaceTiming with Manny, a spontaneous bbq and pool day, my mom staying home from work to care for my girl while I go to the gym 5 days a week. (I’ll write much more on that last one soon) There are so many people who want (and are making) my year back home be as successful as possible, so that the separation from Manny, his family and our life in San Francisco doesn’t weigh us down. What a gift! Quickly, I’m reminded of how the culture and community of Guam is a generous and welcoming one. I look forward to reconnecting with it on different and deeper levels over the year.
For me, focusing on life’s highs and lows, the ebbs and flows, the yin and the yang, the bittersweet helps center me, creates balance. I can already see that my time back home will be a daily practice of finding and maintaining that balance, something I’ve struggled with since I lived here last. Whether it’s my emotions, my work vs life, my physical fitness vs nutritional health, or my family vs friends; making time for all of these important commitments was and still is difficult. Yet, since I’m someone who is always looking to become a better, more complete version of herself, this sabbatical year seems to be a perfect opportunity for personal growth in the physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental state.