The Blue Couch and the Big Blue World

Some of my high school friends and I had a saying that you officially become an adult when you buy your first couch. Not the one that gets handed down to you by your parents, or the one you buy from the next-door neighbor at her garage sale, but the one you actually go to the store and purchase — it’s maybe not new, but you spend an amount of money that feels like a big deal. 

I get it — the couch metaphor is kind of classist, and connotes a kind of middle class existence that’s not everyone’s reality or even everyone’s choice. But I started a family early in my life, I grew up in a house where divorces meant moving couches, and the day my husband (my second husband, that is) and I went and bought the blue couch that sat in our living room up until a few days ago, I felt like I had crossed a threshold that not even having kids offered.

You see, a couch is heavy. A couch means you’re staying.

But three days ago, we loaded that couch into the back of a pick-up and took it to the dump, because after 12 years and four kids, we couldn’t give the sucker away. Even when we bought the thing, we knew that staying in one place wasn’t really the future we wanted.  We’d held onto the couch for too long, knowing that our time to stay put had long passed. Tossing the couch meant tossing all those other constraints on what it means to be an adult, a family, a teacher, a traveler, and a Nikki Thommen Bingham.

We started our search for international teaching jobs in earnest over a year ago, and today our departure date is less than a month away.

I’m not the first person to take off with family in tow to a new country. I mean, people have been doing this long before there was written language that one could use to document it. Putting my adventure in that context feels pretentious: as I try to rationalize the normalcy of this feat, I’m simultaneously linking it to the migrations of prehistoric peoples who traversed deserts and swamps and mountains on foot. And I’m using a colon as I do it.

So now my husband and I (both English teachers) are taking two of our kids — a 2nd grader and a 12th grader — to Graded American International School in Sao Paulo, Brazil where we will be teaching high school English classes. I am filled with anticipation and excitement. My husband says I run at 11, and it’s true that I often barge head first into a project with a sense of optimism that may not be based totally in reality. So it seems silly to say that I “have a good feeling” about this adventure. In a cartoonish version of my reality, I think I may look something like Olive Oil, stretched to absurd lengths between cliffs — in this case one cliff here in Oregon and the other in a massive city in a giant country in a continent I’ve never been to; or perhaps one cliff is the sense of great adventure and the other is the recognition that thousands of people do this kind of thing every year. My hope is that that as this experience develops, my traverse between worlds — the physical ones and the metaphorical ones — feels like less of a stretch.

Whatever the case, I won’t be sitting on that blue couch anymore.

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