A Sewer Note

May 18, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Posted in Bun, Giggles, Haiku Friday, Transylvania | 8 Comments
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Haiku Friday: A Sewer Note

Prague, oh, lovely Prague!
Castles. Gardens. Kafka. Beer!
And don’t miss the sewers.

Do your children have their own vacation agenda? Does it involve castles … or dropping Cheerios down gold-plated sewer grates?

Line Drives

May 15, 2012 at 10:00 am | Posted in Photo Tuesday, Transylvania | 7 Comments
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Corund, Harghita, Romania

Sighet Prison, Maramureş, Romania

Vadu Izei, Maramureş, Romania

Woodcarver’s Shop, Maramureş, Romania

Mocanita Steam Train, Maramureş, Romania

“The human heart likes a little disorder in its geometry.” — Louis de Bernières

What shapes do you see where you are? How do you handle a little disorder in your otherwise orderly life? And did you loathe geometry as much as I did in high school?

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

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See more lines at Beth’s.

My Waterloo

May 9, 2012 at 10:29 am | Posted in Bun, Transylvania | 21 Comments
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I can’t write this post. I just can’t.

I sit. I check the laundry and the celebrity headlines. I stare at the cursor. Blink, blink, blink. No words come pouring out, as they usually (eventually) do. And with every hypnotizing pulse — blink, blink, blink — I talk myself out of a nap I desperately need.

Because today you are two.

And I want to write this. For you, for me, for all those future girlfriends (or boyfriends) I’m going to embarrass you in front of and (let’s be honest) never consider good enough.

I want to write this because I’m your mom. And you’re my baby. My perfect baby.

The one who takes the batteries out of my alarm clock.

The one we call Napoleon because you’re short and demanding. And because you make nasally, guttural growling sounds, just as le petit caporal must have done when his troops flanked left instead of right.

The one who scuttles about with your pacifier hanging out the corner of your mouth like a soggy, half-smoked stogie.

The one who throws stuff. Lidless markers. Tonka trucks. Cartons of mints from grocery store shelves. Rocks, socks, books, pants, cups, caps. All of it.

The one who turns the oven on and off and on and off and on and off when I’m not looking.

The one who eats no pasta. Or bread. Or beans. Or cheese. Or carrots. Or meat. Unless it’s called a McNugget and contains your recommended daily allowance of yuck.

The one who carries around a nub of blue chalk for hours and hours until you turn into a Smurf.

The one who charms the şosete off all the little old Romanian ladies waiting for the 35 bus on Calea Turzii.

The one who poops more than any other child I’ve ever known.

The one who barters hugs for crisps of cereal or chunks of pistachio and then adds an “Ohhhhhh! Love you!” to sweeten the deal.

The one who could stay in the bath all day long, filling and dumping and filling and dumping and filling and dumping your little yellow cup.

The one who climbs on the kitchen table so often that I forget to be surprised when I see you there, unwinding a roll of Scotch tape or poking leftover muffin crumbs with your toes.

Those perfect toes. My perfect baby.

Growl on, my little Napoleon. Growl on.

Happy 2, Bun! Want to read his birth story? And my husband’s take on it?

Plain and Simple

May 7, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Posted in Giggles, Lollipop, Photo Tuesday, Transylvania | 13 Comments
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“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” ― Jack Kerouac

Do you strive for a simple life? How? Why? And does it involve throwing pots?

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Fluffy Bunnies in Romania:
Read the tales
.
See the photos.

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See more “simplicity” at Beth’s.

When the Bough Breaks

May 3, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Posted in Family, Transylvania | 16 Comments
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The sun lasered through the white pear blossoms as I glopped sunscreen on three sets of ears. Bees sniffed out invisible spots of honey on the wooden breakfast table. The rooster next door cock-a-doodled at us through the fence.

An idyllic Monday morning. In an idyllic country inn. Except for the occasional quarrel over who got to make wishes on the wispy seeds of the next white dandelion.

And then he came rushing outside, the tall, dark-haired father carrying his tall, dark-haired daughter. She was limp and sweaty. Her flushed cheeks looked like too-ripe cherries. Her gangly little-girl-arms dangled strangely, like twigs broken from their tree.

He laid her on the wooden table and bent down to yell her name in her ear.

We all swarmed over, the guests, the kids, the innkeeper, her mother.

Her mother. Crying, slapping those too-red cheeks, screaming in vowel sounds instead of words, as if her brain couldn’t quite connect syllables.

Someone brought water. Someone else brought wet towels. Someone else, a blanket. Voices bounced off each other like pinballs.

I couldn’t understand anything being said. But I could feel the fear. The panic. The helplessness. As if it were my own. It was my own.

All the mothers, we felt our lungs lock up, refusing to accept air, forgetting how to rise and fall and breathe. We looked and looked away and looked again. We sent silent prayers into the ether.

We imagined our own daughters up on that table. Silent. Still. Wrong.

Minutes passed. Or seconds? The little girl opened her eyes. She reached out for her father. She started to cry, quietly, as if she could contain the confusion, the hurt, the embarrassment, in those perfect, tiny tears.

Her parents whisked her off to the shady porch swing in the cool back corner of the courtyard. They stroked her hair and made her drink water she needed but didn’t want. They rocked the swing, gently, gently, gently.

Her thyroid, someone whispered.

A blockage in her neck, said someone else.

Heatstroke, said another.

No one really knew. No one called a doctor.

Instead, we tried to give them privacy even as we brought offerings of umbrellas, orange juice, and barrettes.

We lingered. We held back.

And we pretended that scent in the wind was a mingled mix of rust and mud, and not sharp, pungent desperation.

Have you ever felt another parent’s fear? Ever wanted to help but not known how — or the words to ask? Ever offered refreshments because there was nothing else?

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The Borrower

April 25, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Posted in Bun, Family, Giggles, Lollipop, Photo Tuesday, Transylvania | 26 Comments
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“You don’t take a photograph. You ask, quietly, to borrow it.” — Anonymous

Are you a borrower, like me? How do you capture the quiet moments, the ones that might otherwise go unnoticed? And don’t you want a pair of those pink boots?

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Today’s Five for Five topic is pictures. Join in at Momalom.

The Bass Line

April 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 30 Comments
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I’m at a place called Boom Party Club.

Pop music blares. The disco ball whirls. Preschoolers shimmy.

It’s a five-year-old’s birthday party in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

While two child-minders in princess dresses lead imaginary dragon hunts and make balloon swords, the parents — me, a French couple, and 7 or 8 Romanians — relax in the back room around platters of schnitzel de pui and salata de cartofi.

After pleasantries in English and a round of gin and tonics, conversation turns to the usual adult fare: the economy, traffic, chicken pox, and the upcoming class trip to the football stadium.

There’s talk of a helicopter ride over the field.

At least, I think so.

At some point I don’t quite notice, the Romanians switch back to their native tongue, leaving me and the French couple swirling our empty gin glasses and reaching for more meatballs.

I catch words I know: grădiniţă, maşină, varicelă.

I laugh when I’m supposed to.

I chime in with a da, da! every once in a while.

But, honestly, I haven’t got a clue.

And it’s more refreshing than the salt-rimmed frozen margarita with fresh lime juice I haven’t had in 10 months.

Instead of wracking my brain for something to say about the latest Greece bailout, I admire the beadwork on one mother’s purse. I slip pretzels to the two-year-old in pigtails winding her way through our feet. I take a long but inconspicuous look at the woman across the room who I’ve heard has a newborn at home. She’s wearing high heels and mascara. Her hair is freshly blow-dried. I marvel.

Then I realize the room is quiet. Everyone is looking at me. I blink.

“American schools?” one of the dads asks. “Are they worth what you pay?”

I have no idea if he’s talking about preschools or primary schools or massage schools. I pause and say “um, well, uh” a few times before coming up with something vaguely intelligent. Or at least something vague.

Eventually, the English words dissolve back into Romanian ones, and I resume parceling out pretzels to the pig-tailed toddler. I wonder how many grown-ups are sitting in uncomfortable folding chairs in San Francisco and Duluth and Tulsa right this very moment, double-dipping potato chips into ramekins of ranch dressing and talking about the state of education. Or how the soccer team is doing. Or the latest economic bailout.

When the child-minders beckon, we sing to the birthday girl. We eat strawberry cake and bop to catchy Romanian standards like De Zuia Ta.

Under the sparkly shine of the disco ball, I collect kids, shoes, and party favors. We say thank you. Mulţumesc! And goodbye. La revedere! The hostess and I cheek-kiss, as you do in Europe.

And we slip out the door of Boom Party Club, where cultures ricochet off one another like the children moshing inside to the thumping bass.

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Today’s Five for Five topic is words. Join in at Momalom.

Spare Change

April 23, 2012 at 11:54 am | Posted in Me, Transylvania | 36 Comments
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After you’ve been in Romania a while, you can tell who they are.

You look quick. And then you look away. Because staring too long makes you an easy mark.

With their oil-black hair, nutmeg skin, and onyx eyes, they are exotic and beautiful and shrewd. They peddle flowers and glass and potatoes. They stand by the OMV gas station on the E60 and wait for men to pick them up. They make some of the most enchanting music you’ve ever heard.

They are the Roma. The gypsies. Two million Romanians who are the minority no one likes to talk about.

A mother and her two daughters came up to my car once, while I was buckling the baby in. Bani, vă rog? they asked, their hands reaching over me and casing the black cloth seats. Alimente? Bani? Pentru copii?

With my own hands full of five-point harness straps, I tried maneuvering my shoulders to block them. Nu, nu înţeleg, nu vorbesc româneşte, I said, even though I knew exactly what they wanted.

I managed to slam the back door and slip into the driver’s seat. But not before one of the girls noticed our cache of change for parking meters and shopping carts. Bani? she asked as she stretched across me. I shoved a few silver coins into her hand and pushed her away. She eyed two forgotten Snicker’s bars in the door pocket. Ciocolată, she demanded. I gave her one and tugged the door closed.

She was seven, maybe eight.

I sat there. I watched her. I looked at my grocery list and the cloth bags in the passenger seat. Soon, they would be filled with milk and eggs and bread and yogurt and apples and cookies and pasta and all the things my family consumes in a week. When was the last time that little girl had a glass of milk? I wondered. An apple? A plate of spaghetti and a tomato-sauce mustache?

She stuffed half the Snicker’s bar into her mouth, pocketed the other half, and scurried up the road to join her mother and sister, who were rummaging through the trash cans at the top of the hill.

Without really thinking about it, I started the car and drove up beside her. I rolled down the window and handed her the other bar. She looked at me for a long second before taking it. What did she see? I wondered. A gullible stranger? A “rich” foreigner? A haughty bitch? Or someone who cared, at least for that moment?

As her mother and sister noticed us, they waved their hands and shouted. Bani, vă rog! Alimente! Pentru copii! I shifted into third and turned the corner, leaving that little girl with her 30 cents, her chocolate bars, and the mother who had taught her how to beg so she wouldn’t starve.

What would it take for her life to change? For her to go to college and get a job? For her to one day laugh at spaghetti mustaches on her own children’s faces?

Had I helped? Or hurt?

And who really needed to change? Her? Or me?

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Note: I’ve lived in Romania for 10 months. I don’t fully understand or have answers for the poverty and discrimination the Roma face in this country. But I know what I see, what I feel, and how I long for something to change. For me, writing it down is the first step. 

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Today’s Five for Five topic is change. Join in at Momalom.

Of Mice and Madness

April 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Posted in Bun, Family, Giggles, Lollipop | 12 Comments
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Three weeks ago, we were in Paris. Ah, Paris.

And you can’t take your kids to Paris without going to Disneyland. (It’s in the expat rule book, I swear.) So we went. And stayed for 10 hours.

I’ve just now recovered enough to write something semi-coherent about it. I said semi. (You’ve been warned.)

It was a blur of waitingridingwalking, waitingridingwalking, waitingridingwalking. Of searching for bathrooms and benches. Of debating whether the hour-long line at the Princess Pavilion was ever going to get any shorter. (It didn’t. She waited. And loved it. LOVED — all caps, italics, bold.)

At the end of the day, we had acquired sunburns, a Tinkerbell tiara, a Buzz Lightyear gun that makes the most annoying sound in the galaxy, and these … Observations? Tips? Anecdotes?

Whatever you want to call them, they’re part magic, part mania, and entirely, insanely ours. (And now yours. You’re welcome.)

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Ride the carousel. It’s still enchanting, whether you’re 2, 34, or 68.

“It’s a Small World” might just be the best thing ever. Better than Nutella. (Did I just write that?)

If your daughter (or son) wants to meet the princesses, if she spent the entire train ride to the park drawing personalized pictures for each and every princess, if she doesn’t even blink her baby blues when you tell her it’s a really long wait (like, a really, really long wait), take her. Wait with her. Get her picture. And pretend you think it’s every bit as amazing and fabulous as she does.

Don’t dawdle at the gate. (Yes, it’s Disney. Disney! Yes, there’s the castle. Castle! Yes, there’s merchandise to massage everywhere. Merchandise!) But go. Go, go, go! Get to the rides with the longest wait times. Your feet will thank you. [Also: there's an app for that.]

Use the Fast Pass. Whenever, wherever, however you can. Use. It.

The baby will not nap. He won’t. The sooner you accept it, the better the day will be.

Rent the stroller. For your kids. For your bags. For extra support when your head starts spinning. Trust me.

Somebody will cut in front of you when you’re watching the parade. Accidentally step on his foot and lift those kiddos up on your shoulders.

Bring food in. You don’t even have to sneak it. A picnic lunch under a just-blooming cherry tree soothes the soul as much as the soles.

Some rides are lame. These are the ones your kids will want to do again and again and again. (“Lame,” it turns out, is relative.)

The teacups are still as nauseatingly fantastic as they were when you were a kid.

Nonchalant Europeans will blow smoke in your child’s face. Try not to punch them.

Ask people to take your picture. Offer to take someone else’s. It’s good karma.

Try not to think of the sheer volume of people coughing, sneezing, spitting, peeing, and touching stuff in the same space as you. All day.

On a related note, don’t forget your Purell.

Someone will fall asleep on the way home. It might be Daddy.

The kids will get to bed late. Alas, they will not sleep late. (And Coke for breakfast? Is totally acceptable for post-Disney parents.)

Have you been to Disney (any of them, anywhere)? Was it magic or madness? Care to share your tips?

The (Easter) Grass is Greener …

April 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Posted in Photo Tuesday, Transylvania | 22 Comments
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Awake, thou wintry earth —
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness!
— Thomas Blackburn, “An Easter Hymn”

This is our first (and only) Easter in Romania. The traditions are different. The food is different. There are no pastels, no jelly beans, no Peeps. Instead, there are reds and yellows and blacks. Hand-rolled sarmale and cozonac with raisins and poppy seeds. Orthodox icons of the Virgin Mary on sale at the grocery store. It’s new. It’s strange. It’s amazing. And much to Lollipop’s delight? There are indeed rabbit-shaped chocolates.

Have you ever spent Easter somewhere else? Which traditions would you take with you, and which would you leave behind? Could you live without jelly beans? Peeps? Cadbury eggs?

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