When I graduated from college, I had but one mission: to avoid going back home to live with my parents. If I could accomplish that one mission, then that would make me feel like a success. I know some people are already angered by this statement. As misguided as it may have been, it was once my truth and guiding principle. For a while, it took me very far and gave me the grit to be financially independent, free of student debt, and able to never ask my parents for anything substantial to support my life.
Before you cast judgment on my values, let me help you understand where I fall in the Johnson-family pecking order. I am the youngest of four children in a family of six. My mother wailed when she found out that she was pregnant with me, because she never wanted to have more children than her mother who had three children. Four kids do not fit neatly into the backseat of an average car. And it was rumored that I ruined my siblings’ college funds. The truth of that assertion has yet to be proven, but it was enough to give me a firm philosophy of life: do not be a burden to your family.
Yes, children have the capacity to think this way. I was getting straight A’s and breaking records in track and field with one objective in mind: by any means necessary, I will get a full scholarship to someone’s university. I will be an asset and not a liability. By virtue of my birth, I felt that my family had sacrificed enough, stretched enough, accommodated me enough. No one ever said it, but I just never wanted to be a cause of concern.
As the youngest child, you see the struggle—the college calls home from kids who needed co-signers for student loans or lamented that they lost their scholarship or who moved off campus and needed help with rent. You witness what it takes to make it all work in the end. If you see it three times, like I did, you ought to get the message. I had the privilege of learning from my siblings' experiences.
And so, I managed to receive a full scholarship to study in-state at Florida A&M University and stayed on campus all four years of undergrad. I never signed a loan, and thanks to my meal plan, roommates, and college boyfriend, I never went hungry. In fact, I owe a lot of wonderful people and organizations for my getting out of Florida A&M debt free, but I digress.
I married soon after graduation, moved across the country to work in government, then across the world to work in embassies. As far as I was concerned, mission accomplished. Hey, look Ma, I made it! You’re waiting for it, right? You already know that all the plans I had for my life came tumbling down eventually…but it did not start with coronavirus. Instead, it was something far less sinister: changes to foreign policy. I bet you did not see that one coming.
As I laid out in my article in May, I planned to accompany my husband to Iraq where I had been assigned to work my usual gig: citizenship and immigration issues. Well, the sorting hat (if you haven’t read Harry Potter books, please Google this reference) decided otherwise. Off my husband went to Iraq, while all spouses, by the order of the Secretary of State, were told to stay behind for their safety. I soon came to appreciate that decision.
You may have already read about the season of uncertainty I endured traveling around the world, working in three different countries, and living and eating in fancy hotels. Obviously, it was not all bad, and at least, I still had my greatest treasure: my autonomy. Being on my own was a liberating force in my life. Now, let’s talk about where it brought me—back here, back home…the thing I had avoided most for the last nine years.
Though it took a few days to adjust, the one word I would use to describe these three months living back at home is full. My spirit is full. I have watched Family Feud with my grandmother, exercised routinely with my sister, listened to audio books with my post-surgery father, given my mother the luxury of moments free of responsibility, and I have met weekly with a virtual group of women I adore. I celebrated my eighth wedding anniversary, my 31st birthday, my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. I have not been home for this many milestones since I was 17 years old. Is every day easy? Please read above about how many people I interact with daily, and you can imagine the challenges we face. Still, it is worth it.
At the end of April, I was offered an opportunity to return to Washington, D.C., to work on a government task force. The lure of perceived productivity and significance of a high-profile assignment tugged at me, but in the end, I declined. I sensed that if I had left home then, the only person who would have benefited from my absence would have been me and marginally so. I value my ability to be present with my family while my husband completes his tour in Iraq even just to contribute to the minutiae of living in a multi-generational home. Now, with a new assignment on the table for July, I feel that I am in a different space than before. I am ready to move forward and to complete this chapter of being back home.
Even as I prepare to pack once more, I believe I had to release the idea of being back home with my parents as “stagnation.” I believe God is rebuilding, restoring and redeeming me in this season. When I look over my life, I know that I will treasure these days and the people I have had more time to love. Aside from the serious contradictions of being back in the United States, I am soaking in every moment until my husband’s safe return home. For now, this is where I belong, and as long as God is with me, I am still a success.