Pack Mentality

February 4th, 2017 will mark our three-year anniversary living on the island of St. Kitts. During this time we’ve met and said “goodbye” to many friends and co-workers. The joke between us has been that it seems like everyone travels in packs. Each group seems to come and go at approximately the same time.

Some of the “packs” move on as their time as students comes to an end and they move along to their clinical rotations while other moves are brought on by new opportunities for faculty and/or researchers. We have been lucky enough to have gotten to know quite a few of these nomads.

We, much like our animal counterparts, want to feel secure with those who are most like us so we actively (or maybe subconsciously) seek out friends that make us feel comfortable and accept us for who we are. That was the hardest thing for me during that first long year. We met a lot of people when we first arrived and there was no shortage of opportunities to meet people and make new friends. While Matt seemed to adapt well, I always felt like I wasn’t quite accepted into the group. Maybe it was because I was “just” a stay-at-home mom or because I don’t hold a Ph.D. or because I don’t speak multiple languages. Who knows the reason, I just didn’t quite fit in.

Thankfully, after about a year and a half, I started having coffee with some of the other moms that I had met in the PTA who had also recently found themselves without a job for perhaps the first time in their lives. We all seemed to be in the same boat; going through the same struggle with finding our new purpose after years of working and having careers of our own. This is no easy feat as many of them have advanced degrees of their own. It was only after joining this group of ladies that I started to relax and actually enjoy not having a job to rush off to. I was finally able to just be myself and relax without fear of being mocked for my accent or completely left out of the conversation.

Luckily for me, these ladies have families that also mesh well with Matt and Kylie so it’s like our own little island extended family. Most weekends we are doing something with at least a few of them like hiking, going to the beach, or even just going for a movie at the local cinema. It’s so nice because there isn’t this pressure to be anything other than ourselves and they understand when Kylie is having a bad day. They don’t judge her for being a child who is learning how to deal with her emotions and they recognize that sometimes, their children act the same way and they don’t blame Kylie for standing up for herself. No one talks about work; we just enjoy being with our families and each other.

Recently we had to say goodbye to one of our “pack members” as she and her family moved back to Taiwan after being here on assignment with the Embassy. This was a difficult goodbye because, not only were we losing one of our coffee moms, we were also saying goodbye to their two beautiful children from our little school and her husband who was always willing to help wherever he could.

“Many people will walk in and out of your life. but only true friends will leave footprints on your heart. – Eleanor Roosevelt

On one of their last nights in St. Kitts, our coffee group took the mom out for a night of fellowship and fun at the beautiful Salt Plage overlooking Christophe Harbour and Whitehouse Bay. While we were sitting around sipping champagne, I started thinking about all of us and how each of our personalities come together to make such a dynamic group of amazing women. In all, we represented at least eleven different countries and came from varying levels of financial, educational, and religious backgrounds. And here we were, totally accepting of all that we are and perfectly perfect just as we are. I know this happens in other places so it shouldn’t seem so surprising that our little group has become so close. But, with all the division in the world today; with all the division in my home country right now, I just wanted to be able to somehow show everyone that all they have to do is open their hearts and allow each person to be themselves and just see that there’s no reason for all this divisiveness at all. As long as a person is kind, that should be all that matters.

As an American living in another country (I choose not to say foreign because it doesn’t feel that way to me), I am so grateful that I have been able to find friends from all over the world that accept me for who I am. I have come to know about their backgrounds and their traditions and cultures and have been able to have a view of the world as a “World Citizen” that I never would have had if we hadn’t taken this journey. I just wish everyone could have this chance. I think it would go a long way in healing this world if we could all just be a little more understanding.

So, my advice to you is:  No matter where you go in life, don’t be afraid to find your pack, even if they are from different backgrounds. Your life will be so much richer when you open yourself up to another’s point of view.


For Bailey

There are no words to describe just how much I miss you my sweet girl. I’ve been trying for months now to write this but nothing seems to do this grief justice. I think of you every day since your body decided it was time for you to go. For almost twelve years you and Molly were the one constant in my daily routine and I’m still trying to find a way to make the world to stop spinning out of control since you’ve gone. Of course, as with any death, I’ve had to find a way to continue on without you but life will never be the same. Our home is a little less comfortable now; a little less of a safe place for me. Not in the traditional sense of the word “safe” but in the emotional sense.

Becoming a parent was something I always wanted and absolutely love but it’s a constant struggle; a constant source of stress. Am I making the right choices for Kylie; am I helping her to become the kind of person that can handle the world that she is growing up in; or am I just completely screwing everything up and she’s going to end up with a terrible life because of something I’ve chosen to do now? I never had those worries with you. I could just love you and I always knew that I was making the best choices that I could for you with the resources I had and I could see that you were thriving and happy. You were always my happy girl despite the health problems you faced. Being a dog mommy was so much easier and I needed you girls to help keep life in balance. Every night I would just look at you two and, while I was questioning everything about how the rest of the day had gone, I could just give you both hugs and kisses and know that I had at least done one thing right that day. I had loved my girls and they loved me back without question.

I have felt you both around me so much lately. I was dreading Christmas because I have been feeling guilty about not spending last Christmas with you. I never dreamed that I would lose both of you in the same year. But, since we had volunteered to dog-sit over the winter break, we faced spending the holidays without the distraction of family to help me through missing you. I have to say though, and people can call me crazy if they want to, I know that you had a hand in arranging it all. Each of the three dogs that we hosted in our home seemed to act as a messenger for the two of you at different times. When I would start to feel sad and missing you either Roo would poke her head into the shower like Rudy & Molly used to do, Saffie would nudge my like Molly always did or Jax would come lay on my feet or beg for cuddles like you always did. They didn’t do it all the time, just when I was thinking of you and missing you. It felt like maybe you were using them to let me know that you were still here; like you were saying “hello”. It has helped me so much.

I remember the day I brought you home. You were such a pudgy little thing. You wouldn’t let anyone hold without crying until a friend of mine put you inside his jacket and got you all cozy and sleepy. Then you got to spend the rest of the day at work with me being held and passed around from person to person. After that day, you insisted that I carry you everywhere like a baby on my hip until you were too big for me to do so. Then, you still tried to get me to pick you up every chance you got. You also had a habit of eating rocks in those early days and we spent several afternoons at the vet having x-rays taken to make sure that they were small enough for you to pass. One such afternoon I remember taking you into the local post office. Everyone was amazed at how you just sat there on my hip like a toddler. You loved everyone and were very gracious as they all petted you and told you how beautiful you were with your dark chocolate fur and blonde brindle markings. You were my spoiled rotten girl and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Your new sister wasn’t sure she wanted to give up being an only dog but she loved you so much. She wanted you to know that she was the boss and that made you cling to me a bit more. She would also play tricks on you like closing the door to your crate and making you think you couldn’t get out, hiding and then tackling you every time you tried to explore the yard, and barking to distract you from your chew toy so that she could steal it. Watching the two of you grow up together was so much fun. You were both good travelers and we enjoyed many years of traveling to the Outer Banks of NC to spend vacations running on the beach (your favorite place to poop). You always enjoyed chasing the seagulls and other birds on the beach as well as stealing the soccer ball from Molly and running back to us with it. She always looked so frustrated and you were so happy with that big goofy smile on your face when you would drop it and circle around us to take off after it again.

There are so many memories of your happy face that I am so grateful for. Since Molly was the alpha, you didn’t get many chances to play the tough role and be in charge with her. However, when you figured out that the calves would run from you, I remember how happy that made you. You would run along the fence line barking your head off and then come running back to me like, “Did you see that Momma? They are all scared of me! I’m tough!” All with that goofy grin. Then, in the winter, you would sneak under the electric fence to bring frozen cow patties back for you and Molly to snack on. You were so silly. You were always my protector. I belonged to you and there was no question about it. When we would take you on hikes, that was the only time Molly would let you lead. You would charge ahead into the woods and get just out of sight. Then you would circle back to the end of the line and make sure I was still hanging in there with everyone. You would touch me with your nose and then run back to the front again. There was also swimming at the river which, besides the beach, was your absolute favorite thing. While Molly would struggle and fight against the current, you would just puff your body out and float lazily around; occasionally using your tail as a rudder and a paw or two to turn back to us. Sometimes you would scare me by going so far away from us before coming back but it just seemed so effortless for you. You were a born water dog.

As you got older and started having surgeries for different things, you and I spent even more time hanging out together. You were always most comfortable when you could be resting your head on me. We spent months sleeping on the floor in the living room because you couldn’t climb the stairs and I couldn’t stand the thought of you being alone. And, there was always “couch time” where we would watch our shows and snooze together on Sunday afternoons. Then, in those last days, we spent many nights side by side on the floor while I kept my hand on your side to make sure you were still with me.

I miss running my fingers through your soft fur and hearing your big sighs. I miss you sniffing my mouth to see what I had been eating. I miss you getting up from wherever you were laying and coming to lean on me as soon as I sat down. I miss our connection. I just miss you Bailey so much.

Happy Birthday my sweet girl. You will always be in my heart.

Bailey Arianne Clemons-Haga (January 17, 2005 – October 3, 2016)

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Writing and Speaking for the Pop Culture Literate.

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