Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Making of an International Woman of Mystery Part I: The Early Years

I'm going to now tell you a story. It's the story of how I became an International Woman of Mystery. I was not as you might think, born an International Woman of Mystery. Oh no... far from it. The making of myself into an International Woman of Mystery has taken a long time.

But the reason I'm going to tell you this story is because I need to tell you another story. The story that I've been alluding to for the past couple months - the big story about the big changes that are happening this fall. But to really understand or appreciate the next chapter, you need to understand this chapter first.

This is a long story... So, sit back, relax, grab a glass of wine. And to make it easier for you, I'm dividing this story into sections. So, please come back and hear the end. Because once I've told this story, I'm going to tell you the next story and here I'm going to need your support.

You see I was born a small town girl . And when I say small town I mean population of aprox 4,000 people. Cows walk across the road and on some days you are more likely to see a tractor driving down the street than a car. My parents live in a house on a hill deep in the woods. You can not see the neighbors from this house. You cannot see the road from this house. This house is essentially in the middle of nowhere. My graduating class in high school was 110 students from FIVE small towns. Yes, we are talking about some serious hickville here. My town is not known for its diversity. It is 98.29 percent white - thank you Wikipedia.

I was the typical American girl. The blond, blue-eyed girl next door type of girl. And as typical American girls often do, I had an awkward phase of glasses and braces (which I credit for forcing me to develop my personality rather than getting by with my looks). But as soon as the braces came off and contact lenses replaced the thick glasses I had worn since I was 5 (it was a very long awkward phase lasting from about 5 years old until 14 ), I found that I had somehow managed to become one of the "popular" girls at school - which is maybe not saying much as I've already mentioned my school was very small. But when I was younger, I certainly was not an International Woman of Mystery. I was more the Girl Next Door.

In the All-American girl next door type of way, I was fairly smart and got good grades. I was Captain of the Cheerleading squad. I played sports. I had lots of friends. Boys seemed to like me - and I was asked to the prom by 5 different boys my senior year including the boy who became Prom King (I didn't go with him).* People told me I was pretty and cute.  I was a good girl. I loved my parents. I pretended to hate my younger brother but secretly didn't. I liked to go to parties, but never got drunk. I liked to go out with boys but I never let them kiss me. I kept busy with lots of school activities. I liked to be the leader. I was always on the go. But over all... I was pretty average.

I was the kind of girl who should have gotten married to the "boy next door" who was the captain of the football team (although our school didn't have a football team, but you know what I mean). I was the kind of girl who should have married my high school or at the very least my college sweetheart and built a home down the street from my parents and started pushing out babies in my early twenties. I was the kind of girl who was born in a small town and should have stayed in a small town and had a small town life and produced kids who stayed in the small town and had a small town life. In high school I heard the whispers "She'll never get out of this town." Or "High school will be the highlight of her life. It's all downhill from there."

But there was one problem. I didn't buy into the whispers and rumors. I had other plans. I didn't want to be a small town girl with a small town life. I was going somewhere. And thus the concept of the International Woman of Mystery took root somewhere deep in the dark recces of my mind.

But other than my small town background, there was another obstacle in my way of becoming an International Woman of Mystery. Growing up, I had a worrisomely unhealthy attachment to my Mother. From the day I was born (as she tells it), I literally did not like her to leave my sight. The first time she dropped me off at nursery school, I cried so much that the teacher had to send me home - I vividly remember this - her coming back to pick me up in that tan van she used to drive (a soccer mom before there were soccer moms - this was circa 1981) - needless to say she was not happy to see me. And the next day I smartened up and stayed at school knowing that my Mother would most likely be more happy to see me after school when I was supposed to come home rather than having to pick me up at school early due to my separation anxiety.**

The first time I slept over night at a friend's house, I cried and had to go home in the middle of night. Even spending nights at my grandparents (who I loved dearly) was difficult because I missed my Mother so much. As I got older, I never really got over it. I rarely slept at friend's houses. I didn't take trips with friends or with school. I liked being home with my parents in my safe small house in the woods. Even to this day I think about my Mom a lot. I talk to her in my head. And when I'm sick or hurt or sad, my first thought is of my Mother. Luckily, these days I can easily find her on BlackBerry Messenger when I need her.

The first significant separation I had from my parents was when I went away to college (a whole 3 hours drive from home). Seriously, before that I do not think I had ever been away from them for more than 3 nights unless I was at my grandparent's house (and I never spent more than a few nights there either). I was totally homesick the entire first semester at college despite talking to my Mom on a daily basis. I even went as far to obtain a transfer application to switch Universities to be closer to home. Luckily, I never went so far as to make the transfer. I finally did manage to settle into college life - and loved it!

What can I say? I was a Mama's girl. A homebody. A person who doesn't like change or routine. A "sensitive kid" as my Mother would say. I'm pretty sure that since that first day she had to pick my little crying self up at Nursery School, she was very worried that she would never get rid of clingy, needy daughter. She was not ever in favor of me staying in that small town. She had bigger dreams for my brother and I and also her dreams for herself and my father obviously did not include my brother and I living down the street from her and dropping off the grand kids for babysitting. Oh no. She made it very clear that she was not that kind of Mother and we were not that kind of family. On the other hand, she never exactly advocated for me to go to the other side of the world to get away from her either (but I'm getting ahead of myself here).

At the same time as being an All American Small Town Mama's Girl, I manage to somehow develop a strong curiosity about other cultures. I was 4 years old the first day I heard someone speaking Spanish. I remember exactly where I was standing at the long closed Cederhearst puddle that pretended to be a lake where the small town moms would bring their small town kids to cool down in the hot summer and socialize with other moms. I remember hearing this young puerto rican girl speaking Spanish. I was in awe! I found it fascinating that other people talked and possibly thought in a different way. I immediately asked her to be my friend and forced her to spend time telling me all the Spanish names for everything around us (poor girl). I was hooked! I knew from that day on that I would one day learn Spanish!

The other main influence in the making of the International Woman of Mystery was my grandparents on my father's side. They had traveled all over the world and hosted various foreign exchange students. Their beautiful home on the North Shore was full of wonderful treasures from all over the world. I loved visiting my grandparents and touching and unfortunately sometimes breaking (much to their dismay) all of the treasures collected from their travels. I loved the small box full of money from other countries and couldn't believe that there were places in the world where the dollar was not used. I begged them to tell me me stories of their travels. I wanted to travel like they did. I wanted to see the world.

But there was one major problem with wanting to travel the world: I was a kid who had parents who were NOT interested at all in traveling.  Actually, more specifically, the problem was my Mother who more or less called the shots in our family (sorry Dad). My father probably would have liked to travel more. He had lived in Scotland during college and traveled through Europe. My Mother on the other hand, was a self proclaimed homebody. She didn't like to leave the family pets or venture far from home. Our vacations usually consisted of going to the beach on the North Shore of Massachusetts or visiting our grandparents.

So, because I was so attached to my Mother and because my Mother would never leave the US (her first time abroad was two years ago when she finally came to visit me in Stockholm), I was pretty much stuck in my small town (seriously, I really didn't even travel outside of New England) until I was old enough to make decisions on my own.

The first time I went on an airplane, I was 18. I went to Disney World with my high school Senior Class on a field trip. The first time I left the country, I was 20 and I was fulfilling my long term dream of studying abroad. It was with this journey that the International Woman of Mystery was launched.

In college I majored in Spanish and International Affairs (note the title of this blog). I mean what else would an International Woman of Mystery major in?

As part of my graduation requirement, I had to live abroad for at least a semester. And for some reason, I had my heart set on Latin America. Costa Rica became my final destination. I had been preparing myself for this day for ages! Ever since I met the little girl at the lake, I had always wanted to live abroad and speak Spanish. I wished I could have studied abroad in high school, but I knew that there was no way that I was mature enough to handle it (I could not have managed the separation from my Mom). But at the ripe old age of 20 years old, I felt that I was absolutely ready for my first international adventure.

Oh man! Nothing could have prepared me for my experience in Costa Rica. It's a story within itself so I won't go into details. But I will just say that it was way tougher than I thought to be a blond haired blue eyed all American girl living in the middle of San Jose, Costa Rica trying to "immerse" myself in the culture and the University life there. However, despite the difficulties I encountered, I do not regret the experience in any way. In fact, it made me tougher and opened my eyes to the world.

But, is it was a hard experience that left me a bit scarred. I started to have second thoughts about becoming an International Woman of Mystery. Maybe I wasn't up for it. Maybe I wasn't as tough as I thought. Maybe I wasn't really International Woman of Mystery material! I put the thought aside for the most part and focused on partying my sway through my Senior year of college and graduating magna cum laude.

Stay tuned for The Making of an International Woman of Mystery Part II: Asia

*I was not Prom Queen (the waiters and waitresses chose the Prom King and Queen and Court based on appearance so it was not a popularity contest) but I was on the Prom Court.

** I'm glossing over the gory details here. But let's just say that this little "disorder" causes major problems throughout my childhood and definitely affected my relationship with my parents (yes, it's probably the main reason that I felt the need to run away to the other side of the world as if to prove a point that I could do it).


wilybrunette said...

oh dear, i can't wait to hear the rest...i want to find out how i might become an international woman (mystery or not) i'd like to travel.

Sara Louise said...

I used to suffer major separation anxiety from my parents too... everytime I'd go to a sleepover, they would get a phone call about 11pm telling them to come and pick me up. I was such a pain in the ass.

Looking forward to Asia...

petit tresor said...

i can't wait to read the next part(s). unlike you, i've never developed a strong bond with my mom and the major reason i left the country and came to london to study was to simply get away from her. in a complicated relationship sometimes things are hard to say out loud.

Matt79 said...

I like reading background history stories like this. I cried on my first day of school too - maybe my first few days! Looking forward to part two.

International Woman of Mystery said...

Thanks Y'all for the support and kind words. And especially thanks for reading my long story!

Anonymous said...

Genial brief and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you for your information.

J.D. St. Michaels said...

Love the name!! And thank you for the patronage-

~ JD