Tropical Islands, Mental Health, and Parenting in Winter

by Abby on January 17, 2017

I love it when different threads from different parts of my life come together. It makes me feel like I know what I’m doing, like maybe I had a plan all along. It’s like that Steve Jobs quote: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Over-water bungalows in French Polynesia

When I was in college I would often fantasize about working for Club Med in Bora Bora after graduation. This fantasy derived from a combination of factors, including:

a) my fascination with tropical islands,

b) my love of travel, and

c) the fact that I was a French major and as such, had limited job prospects.

I can’t recall exactly why this didn’t pan out. Maybe because Club Med was inundated with applications from unemployed French majors? Maybe because of the vaccinations it would have required? (I hate shots.) Who knows.

Anyhow, my French Polynesian dreams were put on hold, though the fascination continued. In graduate school, I did a multimedia project on the island nation of Tonga, an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. (Made famous recently by their shirtless, coconut-oiled flagbearer in the 2016 Rio Olympics.)

And years later, I found myself vacationing in the British Virgin Islands with my future husband. Those dramatic, peaked islands were just as lush and magical as I’d imagined Bora Bora would be. And the secluded, palm tree-lined beaches were straight out of the “Tropical Dreams” calendar that hung in my cubicle. The trip only fueled my island fever more.

Fast-forward many more years, to when I took my kids to see Disney’s Moana a few months ago. Have you seen this movie yet? I adored it. The colorful animations, the girl-power storyline, the catchy music. (Fun fact: the soundtrack features songs written by “Hamilton” superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda.) Back home, I did some research: “Moana” takes place in Oceania, the region encompassing those familiar Polynesian islands. No wonder I was drawn to the movie!

Disney's Moana Movie

Next, my random wanderings of the library aisles – which is how I almost always choose books, BTW – led me to Sarah Turnbull’s All Good Things, a memoir of her time spent living on Tahiti. I quickly realized I had previously read Turnbull’s first book about adapting to life in Paris, Almost French. More of those threads coming together…

Her second book gives an intriguing glimpse into what it’s really like to live on an island many consider “paradise.” Mostly it is, however, Tahiti has its share of crime and social problems (drugs, petty theft), just like anywhere else.

One part I found particularly fascinating was when she describes how their cleaning lady stops showing up for a few weeks, then reappears casually with a simple explanation: “J’etais fiu.” The Tahitian term can be translated as fed up, tired, or “over it.” (Or: my normal state in winter.)

Even more interesting is that Turnbull does some research into this condition, which is similar to depression, and finds that instead of denying or repressing it, “Polynesians allow themselves to succumb to it. Just like the wet-season rains, feeling fiu is considered a normal part of the life cycle and it is understood it will pass eventually.”

Turnbull discovers that “this ability to switch off and withdraw may go way back. For the first Polynesians, long ocean voyages were as much a mental challenge as a physical one.” Like parenting in winter. I’m not a bad mom, I’m just fiu!

There was a moment last night, on the third day of a loooong holiday weekend, when I hit a wall. I had nothing left to give. The thing I never realized about parenting is that your patience, energy, and positive attitude can run out long before your children’s bedtime. And if you’re the only parent there, you have no choice but to slog through. Oh, you can try using excessive amounts of screen time (for them) or wine (for you) as a crutch. But it’s only going to come back to bite you in the butt.

Somehow, we’ve all got to learn how to survive those mental challenges, those long, drifting sea voyages when there’s no land in sight. We have to figure out how to accept it, stick with it, and know that it will pass eventually. Someday we will see that bright, welcoming shore again.

The kids and I passed that interminable final hour before bedtime by doing every puzzle in the house. Including one of surfing dogs on a tropical beach. I am nothing if not consistent.

boys doing jigsaw puzzles

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah January 18, 2017 at 5:11 pm

You know we have the useless French major in common. 😉
Kidding. I just went to Bora Bora in December! Found a sitter and if was the best vacation of my life. I even got mostly back into the swing of speaking French. Now that I’m home and fiu also, I try to imagine that feeling of sitting by the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen drinking rum from a fresh coconut.


Abby January 18, 2017 at 10:13 pm

That’s so awesome, Sarah!! That is my dream. Super long flight, though, right?


Sarah January 24, 2017 at 12:08 pm

For us 3 flights. Chicago to lax. Lax to Papeete (Tahiti) and then small plane to bora Bora. WORTH IT!!! I hope you get to go some day. 25 year anniversary?!


Abby Cameron January 19, 2017 at 11:26 am

Your random threads all seemed to make sense and I was following along, emphatically saying YES! I am “over” parenting right now as well, but mine is from the beginning phases of the terrible two tantrums! I woke up this morning trying to figure out what to do about it, and you’ve made me realize that I need to just roll with it. Accept it and and find a way to get through it.
On another note, my family would like to take an island vacation over Thanksgiving. Any favorites? We will have a toddler in tow.


Abby January 20, 2017 at 10:22 am

Thanks, fellow Abby! The twos are hard. I have never traveled to an island with a toddler, so I don’t know! I have heard good things about Aruba.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: