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Jennifer Wilson

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The Craziest Thing We've Ever Done

Posted: 10/21/11 09:14 AM ET

In my late 30s, I began to feel a strange yearning to move my husband and two children halfway around the world. What if we packed up our safe American life and moved to the Croatian village where my great-grandparents once lived?

It was a crazy idea, which was why I decided to discuss it with my husband, a man I've described as "a steady Midwestern man who spent his free time fine-tuning our Ameritrade accounts."

"Let's talk," I began, plopping down in front of him as he was watching an ultimate fighting match.

He turned to me. "We are not watching 'Rock of Love' with Bret Michaels," he said. "No matter what you promise me."

"This is better," I said, grabbing the remote and clicking off the television.

He sighed.

"Remember how we used to dream about living overseas together?" I asked.

"I remember," said Jim.

I smiled, trying very hard to look beguiling. "I've been dreaming about it again."

Surprisingly, Jim did not mock this.

So I unveiled my proposal for a return to the old country, where we'd relearn the forgotten lessons of our ancestors and spend uninterrupted time together. It would be a reverse immigration of sorts -- my own family starting over where my great grandparents left off. There was a tidiness to the plan.

"I know it doesn't sound sensible," I said. "But for some reason it sounds right."

Now, in most marriages, there is a contented partner and a restless one. You can probably guess which one I am. But Jim wasn't quite the contented spirit he had been. He'd suspected for a long time that architecture wasn't the best career choice for someone who would rather build a house than draw one. At night, he pored over cooking magazines, dreaming of owning his own lunch truck. To most people, he was the same old Jim, the guy who'd push your car out from the snowdrift. But I recognized restlessness when I saw it.

I sat there waiting for the onslaught of Reasons Why We Can't. We've got a mortgage. We've got pets. We just hooked up the TiVo. But Jim sat in silence.

Then I realized that he was breaking into the same look he'd had the first time we met, when he was bellied up to a bar with his buddy Dave, pretending to watch Hawkeye basketball but really watching me drink whiskey near the jukebox, harmonizing poorly to the Eagles' "Take It Easy" with my sister, Stephanie.

I liked that look. I married that look. Jim stayed quiet, rubbing his beard and running his hand over his mouth. Then he got up and poured me a glass of wine.

When he sat down again, he spoke. "You know, I don't see any reason why we couldn't do something like that. We've got some money saved up. We could rent out the house."

I chimed in. "We're not getting any younger. And it's the perfect timing for Sam and Zadie -- they aren't old enough to put up a fight yet."

"I could take a leave from work," Jim said.

I was stunned he was even considering this. "Really?" I said. Maybe we were both crazy.
"Why not?" he asked. "I just sit at my desk all day and think of the things I'd rather be doing -- working on the house, making dinner, just hanging out. Do you know how long it's been since I've had a whole day just to hang out with my kids?"

He got up and grabbed the atlas. He flipped through it with an enthusiasm I hadn't seen since, well, since he took me home on "Take It Easy" night. We were clicking on this.

We studied the map of Croatia for a while: the funny tilted wishbone shape, all that seacoast, the proximity to Italy.

"The idea of just leaving. Just walking away." Jim shook his head. "Can you imagine?"

I wish I could say that our decision to run away to Croatia was more carefully crafted than the drunken midnight talk of two tired parents. But it wasn't. Jim and I could argue for hours about the frequency and aptitude of his lawn-mowing skills, right on down to how he only used the weed eater biweekly. The smallest minutia imaginable. But in regard to the biggest decision we'd ever make in the trajectory of our family, it really was as simple as two restless souls in a rambling mood setting in motion a ball that hasn't stopped rolling since.

This post is excerpted from "Running Away to Home: Our Family's Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters" (St. Martin's Press).