Today, my parents and little sister are making a huge move: from western Washington (where we were raised) to the suburbs of Phoenix. The news has raised a few eyebrows among our friends, so I think it’s rather fitting that my family’s new address will be in Surprise, Arizona. No joke.
Meanwhile, I’m 3,000 miles away, babysitting a couple kiddos in New York City. Never one to pass up the chance for a geography lesson, I aim to explain my family’s southern migration to four-year-old Jonah.
“Jonah, do you know where California is?” I figure Arizona is a long shot, but California seems a likely point of reference. After all, most four-year-olds have at least heard of Disneyland.
But Jonah just stares at me, puzzled. “Uh-uh.”
“Okay,” I answer. “Do you know if you have a map of America here in your house?”
He shakes his head, content to loll about on the sofa while I cross the room to the bookshelf. I can’t find any book that would suggest so much as a map of the City, let alone the country. The books in his room are no help, either. I could really use that Rand McNally world map hanging on my bedroom wall.
It’s here that I come to a seemingly small yet critical revelation: I am determined to teach my kids from day one about the world beyond their backyard. Without a doubt, leading my children to a knowledge and love of Jesus is most important to me. And I can’t wait to teach them how to swim and sing. But after that, almost nothing seems as valuable to me as raising my kids with a curiosity and respect for the people and cultures around them.
I’ve always loved maps and learning about faraway places. For as long as I can remember, my dad has had an unassuming-yet-handy globe perched on a bookshelf in his den. I loved running my fingers over its bumpy topography and discovering that places like Mali–well, would you look at that!–and Timbuktu actually exist. If I was bored, I’d spin the globe and drop my finger like the needle on Dad’s turntable. Wherever my finger landed, I’d look the place up in his Collier’s Encyclopedia set (at least, in the days before the internet, Wikipedia, and Google Earth.)
When I was in third grade and Mom was homeschooling me, I remember doing a huge research project. I put together a butcher paper-sized booklet on all seven continents, each ocean, and the major points of each area–unique animals, climate, industry, etc.–complete with crayon illustrations on each page. I think that project is still in a box somewhere. Mom has always been good about saving things like that.
In fifth grade, I was particularly obsessed with the inside front cover of my geography book. It was a two-page illustrated map of the world, and every major region was detailed with a representative portrait of its indigenous people group. I was fascinated by the Aztecs and Mayans, the Australian aborigines, and the diverse and resilient people groups of the far north, from Greenland to Siberia.
It comes as no great surprise, then, that I’ve developed an incurable case of wanderlust as an adult. I spent a week in Ireland with my grandma after high school, absorbing the culture of my ancestors and visiting Grandma’s longtime family friends. My travels abroad during undergrad were no small investment, but they were worth every penny. I spent the better part of a month flinging myself to every corner of London and beyond, relishing my first real sense of independence abroad and annihilating my bank account in the process. I was welcomed by warm, loving host families in Argentina and Thailand, and I am more sensitive to other cultures and their unique sociopolitical struggles because of my time in both countries.
And it is my two-week trip to New York in the middle of the bitter winter of 2009 that, frozen toes notwithstanding, served as my impetus for moving here a year-and-a-half later.
So here I am, on the easternmost edge of the map of America I want to buy for Jonah. It’s his fourth summer as a New Yorker, my third. I hope he grows up with the same cutiosity about the world as I have. And for my part, I’m going to fling myself into a few more corners of this world. Several African countries–and a number of humanitarian efforts–have topped my bucket list since high school, but they’ll have to wait a little longer. For now, I think there’s a bus ticket to Boston calling my name.
Get ready, Jonah, buddy, because we still have the whole wide world ahead of us! And I’m just getting started.