Six weeks ago, not-so-fresh from 30-some-odd hours of travel, we landed in Malaysia, collected our five giant bags, and wheeled our way through the long, hot customs line. We were home … sort of.
Well, we were definitely home — the envelope binder-clipped to the inside of my carry-on contained stamped, sealed letters written in officialese from governments on both sides of the world granting us permission to call this city home for two years — but nothing about it felt familiar or comfortable or at all home-like.
I expected that. We’d done this before — new cultures, new climates, new foods, new routines. But I didn’t expect to feel like a complete interloper, even now, 44 days later. Most days, I wage an internal battle between staying in the condo — safe, air-conditioned, stocked with peanut butter — and venturing out. Even the most mundane things are an actual, honest-to-goodness, frequently terrifying adventure.
Whether we need laundry detergent or a pizza margherita from the cafe .3 kilometers away according to Google Maps, it goes like this. Put on sunscreen. Deet up. Pack water, hats, and an umbrella. Pee. (Yes, you. Pee, even if you don’t have to. Because it’s pee in the toilet now or squat in that porcelain-lined hole later.) Get in the elevator. Cluster around the center to avoid getting limbs sucked into elevator doors (learned from experience on day 12). Launch into reminders. Dear children: do not fall in open sewer channels. Remember that cars are coming from the opposite direction than you expect — and scooters are everywhere, following absolutely zero traffic protocols. Remember that people — the strangers you’ve been taught your entire lives to be wary of — will stare at you, strike up conversations, and take your picture without asking because, well, we obviously aren’t from around here. And talking to these more-or-less strangers is okay … Sort of. Mostly. Don’t pet cats or dogs (or monkeys) even though we all got three rabies shots so we could potentially pet cats and dogs (and monkeys). Remember: the “scrambled” part of scrambled eggs is a relative term and that packet of ketchup is probably going to be spicy. Or sweet. And please, oh, please, try not to whine loudly and incessantly about it. And, last, remember that 9-1-1 is now 9-9-9. You need to know this if one of us should happen to get walloped by a scooter and knocked into that open sewer and you can find my phone and a modicum of calm to call for help. I, myself, will be catatonic. And possibly covered in other people’s poop.
And that’s the crux of it for me, I think. The last time we did this, I could buckle my boys into the double-stroller, hold the hand of the other child — the one least likely to bolt into traffic or eat something brown and vaguely cracker-shaped off the sidewalk — and be off. They demanded less autonomy, and I was mostly in control. Mostly. In. Control. And even still, this happened. And this.
Here, now, I am even less in control. There is more I don’t understand or know how to accomplish. I spend my days wondering if that mosquito carries dengue or Zika, if that earthquake 400 miles away is going to spawn a tsunami (and what in the world I should do if that happens), or if that chicken was cooked to an internal temperature of 73.9°C. And in this exotic and chaotic city, I want to be able to singlehandedly haul us all across the busy road with no discernible sidewalk or shoulder while scooters come at us from every direction. I want to keep us safe. I long to be in control. I’d even settle for mostly in control.
Yes, I’m a rational adult able to assess risks and weigh costs and benefits. Believe me, I know this. It is my mantra right now. You are smart and capable. You can figure this out. It will be all right. Breathe, repeat, breathe, repeat. But I’m also a mother, and I am mothering in the unknown. I do not know this place yet. And I do not love it, despite the whopping sunsets, enchanting azan that floats across the city, and the uber-cheap Uber cars. But I’m hopeful, with time (and deet), I will.
How do handle parenting in the unknown? What’s your mantra right now? And do you prefer your ketchup spicy or sweet?
Tags: Children, Creativity, Curiosity, Family, Fun, Growing Up, Kids, Perspectives, Photography, Summer
“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
F is “for everything Thy goodness sends.” See more F’s at Jenny’s.
Tags: Books, Cats, Children, Kids, Photography, Play, Rain, Summer
“Summer afternoon — summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.” — Henry James
D is for downpour and distraction and delightful. See more D’s at Jenny’s.
Tags: Autumn, Children, Fall, Halloween, Kids, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Play, Pumpkins
“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” — George Eliot
Are you wedded to autumn like Eliot (and me) or to another season? Have you made your annual pumpkin-patch pilgrimage yet? Are your Halloween costumes ready to go??
W is for wheeeeee! and wonderstruck and wedded to autumn. See more W’s at Jenny’s.
Tags: Birthday, Children, Creativity, Daughters, Growing Up, Milestones, Motherhood, Personal, Relationships
She’s been 7 for three days.
This girl, the one missing her front top teeth. The one who loves sequins almost as much as she loves rabbits. The one who graduated to chapter books when I wasn’t looking.
She roller skates. She backstrokes. She rides her bike, the one with the sparkly purple streamers, without training wheels.
She’s wise to this blog thing and suggested I write about “that funny growl Bun makes when he’s cranky, which is a lot, Mommy.”
She has a slight addiction to funny cat videos on YouTube.
She digs in the dirt. She makes her own mud. Her fingernails are a mess. She doesn’t care.
She does this thing now where she rolls her eyes and sighs when she’s exasperated. There’s usually an “aye yai yai” to go with it and, occasionally, a sassy hand-on-the-hip gesture.
She read a book on global warming this summer and decided to start an environmental club. There are 15 members and counting. So far, they’ve planted bean seeds, cleaned up the neighborhood park, and made nature collages. For the next meeting, she’s planning an autumn-focused sing-a-long and maybe some choreography.
She leaves me purple sticky notes on the kitchen counter with reminders like, “Please fix my bird’s wobbly beek” and “I prefer grape jelly for my luntch.”
When she grows up, she wants to run a store called Love Bunnies. She’s got a business plan partially drafted, complete with a social media component. She’ll sell real bunnies, stuffed bunnies, bunny clothes, bunny food, bunny snacks, bunny toys, and bunny bling. There may be a line of bunny ballet slippers. She will oversee things, and Giggles will be her minion. They are both okay with this arrangement.
Last week, she researched bats on the computer and wrote a nonfiction book about them because she had a little time before swim lessons. There may have been a glossary.
Last month, she got an award at school for, among other things, “general awesomeness.”
She’s 7. She’s amazing. And she’s mine.
I think I’ll celebrate with some choreography.
V is for she’s growing up so very fast, it’s giving me vertigo. See more V’s at Jenny’s.
Tags: Balance, Children, Fun, Growing Up, Life, Motherhood, Perspectives, Photography, Play
“There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day.” — Alexander Woollcott
Are the leaves and acorns falling off the trees where you are? What’s your learning-to-ride-a-bike story? And have you patted a fluffy bunny lately?
T is for truth and training wheels and tenderness. See more T’s at Jenny’s.
Tags: Beach, Children, Family, Life, Photography, Sand, Sea, Travel, Vacation
“Long before we saw the sea, its spray was on our lips, and showered salt rain upon us.” — Charles Dickens
When’s the last time you felt that lovely salty rain? Where’s the oddest place you found sand? And what’s the best treasure you brought home?
S is for sea and sand and shells. See more S’s at Jenny’s.
Tags: Boys, Family, Germs, Motherhood, Parenting, Poetry, Sharing, Toys
Haiku Friday: His Fair Share
He won’t share his cars
or french fries or magic seeds
or sometimes his hugs.
He won’t share pennies
or the hole puncher or rocks
or roly polies.
But broccoli and peas
and sneezes and fevers? These
are given freely.
What are your children eager to share? What are you eager to return? And are you in the throes of a summer cold, too?
Tags: Career, Children, Creativity, Family, Humor, Motherhood, Multitasking, Resume, Siblings
SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS
- 7+ years of experience growing, birthing, and raising children.
- Expertise in multi-tasking, resource allocation, conflict management, customer service, program development, scheduling, chauffeuring, and train-track assembly.
- Successfully completes numerous tasks simultaneously, including talking on the phone, digging a red Matchbox car out of my purse, wiping someone’s nose, and cutting off sandwich crusts (after washing my hands, of course).
- Arbitrates disputes over who ate whose Cheerios, who squished whose roly poly, who isn’t sharing the paper-towel-tube telescope, and who pulled the dog’s ear first.
- Teaches manners to otherwise caveman-like children who resist learning to pee in the potty, share their toys, and color on the paper (and only the paper).
- Utilizes educational resources including television, computers, and video games to prepare children for school.
- Possesses uncanny knack for knowing location of missing household items including left red rainboot, yellow cupcake eraser, favorite stuffed bunny, froggy sippy cup, and library book due tomorrow.
- Treats boo-boos from keeto bites and cat scratches to goose eggs and stubbed pinky toes.
- Manages four laundry baskets, three toilets, 56 markers, 56 marker lids, and one husband.
- Able to overcome a variety of obstacles, including sleep deprivation, wasp nests, and refusals to eat broccoli or anything green for that matter.
AWARDS & ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- Clean floors if you don’t look too closely.
- Record WWF score once of 114 points for the word “zouk,” obtained while children were feeding Play-Doh pizza to the dog.
- Children who sleep through the night in their own beds. Mostly.
- Recipient of lifetime supply of rainbow drawings.
- Pediatrician’s 24-hour nurse hotline, 2006 to present.
- Google, 2006 to present.
- My Little Pony Online Resource Guide, 2010 to present.
Are you hiring? What skills are on your mothering resume? And would you like to be paid in Cookies & Creme Hershey Kisses, too?
I is for “I’m an innovator in my industry.” See more I’s at Jenny’s.
Tags: Challenges, Expats, Facebook, Life, Milestones, Personal, Repats, Romania, Travel, USA
Exactly 377 days ago, we flew over an ocean, over highways and skyscrapers, over cookie-cutter subdivisions with manicured lawns and pH-balanced pools, and landed on American soil. We put our driver’s licenses back in the slightly-too-small front slots of our wallets and relegated our Romanian identity cards to a souvenir box in the closet.
We were home. No longer expats. No longer foreigners in a foreign land.
But, strangely, we found ourselves on unfamiliar ground: wide swaths of glorious, sole-burning asphalt offering up more parking spots than could ever be filled, except on the Biggest One-Day Shopping Event of the Year! Places (plural) to buy milk or batteries or pipe cleaners or whatever else we might need at 1:30 in the morning. Air conditioning. Clothes dryers. Cheetos.
Welcome home indeed.
Now, just over a year later, we’re repatriated. Completely.
I haven’t eaten cabbage in a year. Or smelled it. I lie awake at night willing dusty synapses to re-engage so that I can remember the Romanian words for “snow” and “strawberry” and “cable package.” I bake without rationing my chocolate chips. And it no longer feels right to kiss a friend’s cheek when I see her in the grocery store.
But I also keep a 10-bani coin in my wallet. I automatically say “Opa!” when Bun trips over his shoe and face-plants on the sidewalk. I prefer fizzy water, slightly warm with no ice, to the ice-cold still variety. And I tuck my children into bed with a whispered noapte bună.
All of it — the memories that have long since been deleted from my mental hard-drive alongside the ones indelibly imprinted there — makes my heart seize up as if I were navigating the roundabout in Mănăştur on my way to Cora.
Did we really live abroad for a year? In Romania? Did we really call taxis, order pizza (with corn and ketchup), and get used to frozen hair? Did we really break two bones, have two surgeries, and navigate health-care systems in four different languages? Did we really pick cherries and apples and blackberries and eat them, right then and there? And when did we stop noticing our perpetually vermilion thumbs?
If we really, truly did all of that — and I know we did; I’m still sorting through the 6,000 photos that document it — why has it been so easy to come home? To fall back into this land of the free public bathrooms and home of the brave parents who trudge to Walmart in the middle of the night for baby Tylenol, animal crackers, and a Red Bull?
A year there, a year back here. I wanted it to be hard. I needed it to be. Because if it wasn’t, how could our year abroad have meant anything?
I’m secretly and desperately afraid all I really have to show for it is some lovely handcrafted pottery. And an immense appreciation for Mark Zuckerberg, who makes it possible for me to stay in touch with friends from places like Sibiu and Alba Iulia.
But shouldn’t there be more?
Does home ever feel too “easy”? Where is your farthest-away Facebook friend? And do you know that smell I’m talking about, that cooked-cabbage-or-possibly-a-child-with-gas smell??