42 hours. It took us 42 hours to get from Lindon, Utah, to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. 45 hours! 45 active hours! 4 airports, 3 security checks, 19 hours in the air, 21 hours in layovers, 2 hours in cars… There’s a reality check for anyone considering this life: We love it, but it’s exhaustinggggggggggggggggggggg
As soon as I spotted the coastline and islands of Malaysian Borneo I knew it was all worth it. Turquoise water, white, sandy beaches, very few buildings… Is this paradise?
It wasn’t until the next day (after we’d all gotten some much-needed sleep) that we really got out to explore. Ben desperately needed to catch up on the past 2 days’ worth of Amazon orders, customers, and needs, so I offered to take Whit to the one place I’d been dreaming about: the beach.
We called a Grab (Asia’s version of Uber) and asked him tons of questions about the area on the short drive to Tanjung Aru beach.
Grab Driver: “Where are you from?”
GD: “Oh so far! It’s too bad you’re here in wintertime!”
Me: “Well, it’s snowing in America right now so I think 89 degrees is great!”
As we approached our destination I was impressed to find that, despite being the top-rated public beach in Kota Kinabalu, Tanjung Aru felt secluded from nearby buildings with a relatively empty parking lot.
Me: “Is this a good beach?”
GD: “Eh, I think there are better.”
Uh-oh. What if I chose wrong? I don’t want to be disappointed on our first day in this country!
We thanked him, got out, and then saw it: the beach. It’s breathtaking. The incredible sand and water I’d been hoping for, small islands with parasailers within view, and NO OTHER PEOPLE. I decided right then and there that if there are better beaches than this I was never leaving Malaysia.
Whit, on the other hand, had other plans.
He’d been excited for our adventure before leaving our AirBnB. He eagerly packed his swimsuit and wondered if the water would be warm enough to play around in. Once we arrived, however, he’d changed his tune. Suddenly he hated the feeling of sand on his bare feet, was over jumping into breaking waves after a few minutes, and flat out refused to play with a local child until I told him that learning to make new friends was part of O’Brien Academy.
I expected his attitude to wear off (we are in paradise, after all) while mine only improved. As I watched Whit play in the water from my perch on the warm sand I had an overwhelming feeling that this is the happiest I’ve ever been. Not just surface happy, satisfied happy. The sort of happiness that comes from being 100% satisfied with your life. There’s a lot we lack, but I can honestly say I don’t want to change one single thing about my life.
But all Whit could do the rest of the day was complain. I tried my hardest to find new things to do around the beach, but the playground, fresh juice stand, and a walk didn’t improve his mood. We were back at the AirBnB after only 2 hours.
The sad truth is that, though Ben and I are overwhelmed thinking about all of the incredible things to do in this outdoor oasis, Whit doesn’t seem to be enjoying it. We talk up the scuba diving, exploring caves, volcanic mud baths, farm stay, seafood, and other stuff we’re excited to do and he doesn’t bat an eye. I’ve even sunk to pointing out the ways our lives would be different if we lived in the United States again: he’d be in school (probably stuck in a desk) for hours a day, he wouldn’t get to eat fresh, local mango for breakfast, buying his little trinkets wouldn’t be as cheap, we wouldn’t be able to go to the beach whenever we want.
His response? That’s ok, I don’t really like the beach.
So here’s my question: at what point do we consider that the life we 100% adore isn’t best for our son?
He hasn’t always been like this. In fact, we’ve always been grateful that Whit’s detached personality allowed him to say goodbye to people and places easily. He’s always easily adapted to new thins because he just didn’t form attachments to the old things.
This attitude didn’t really surface until we went back to the United States for Christmas and New Years. We saw lots of family and cousins, including all grandparents, friends, and our old house during the three weeks we spent traveling to 4 different states. While there Ben and I felt like Whit’s behavior was worse and our relationship was suffering. We both realized we do much better when we’re alone- the three of us- on the road. The O’Briens taking on the world. It takes a lot of support, patience, help, and understanding from each other to make constant travel work, and it’s helped us grow closer. It felt so good to see so many loved ones and fill up on American favorites during our holiday, but Ben and I couldn’t wait to be back to “us” again.
To start the next phase of living abroad in such an idyllic location has felt too good to be true. Mayalsian Borneo represents everything we love about exploring the world, and it has been a great reminder of why we’re doing what we’re doing. There is so much to gain!
It hurts to hear Whit calmly tell us he’d rather be in America. But can he be trusted? I know his feelings are valid at any age, but surely he can’t know what’s best for him? Is it just because we a week ago he was eating Chick-Fil-A and hearing English? He doesn’t understand the value of having the world at his fingertips yet, but he will, right? I know all kids crave some stability. If the daily schedule we’ve developed isn’t enough, could we at least settle for longer stays? A few months to a year in different locations instead of a few weeks to one month? That’s a compromise we could accept. We don’t want to be selfish parents but we’re finally living our dreams! And it’s great! We don’t want to stop!
We welcome any advice.
And prayers. Lots and lots of prayers.