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: 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??
Tags: Batman, Boys, Children, Family, Flags, History, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Travel
“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” — Lorraine Hansberry
What historical sites (like Fort Sumter in 1, 2, and 4 above) give you pause? Are the clover blooming where you are? And why is it that a Batman shirt makes almost everything better?
“Q” is for all quiet … See more Qs at Jenny’s.
Tags: Beauty, Children, Creativity, Expats, Life, Motherhood, Perspectives, Photography, Shapes, Travel
“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.” — Georgia O’Keeffe
Did I tell you our camera got stolen? In Madrid. At the airport. In literally the last minutes of our year in Europe.
We realized it on the plane. 32,000 feet over the Atlantic. When there was nothing to do but wait for the complimentary snack basket and choke down a tiny bottle of free Cabernet.
I’ve missed it. I didn’t realize how much. (The camera, not the Cabernet.)
There’s just something about clicking to manual, cranking up the ISO, and opening the aperture. Everyday colors and shapes and patterns suddenly appear, amplified, in ways my eyes just don’t notice without a viewfinder. It’s mind-altering, literally, how looking through a camera helps me see the beauty in my own life.
Oh, yes, I’ve missed it.
What do you see when you look through your camera? What helps you notice the blessings in your life? And do you go for the free Cabernet or the free Zinfindel on international flights?
See more shapes at Beth’s.
Tags: Challenges, Children, Europe, Expats, Family, Life, Photography, Romania, Travel
“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” — Jack Kerouac
Pisa. Florence. Vienna. Budapest. Bratislava. Paris. Prague. Krakow. Countless towns, B&Bs, and gas stations in between. Not to mention dozens of twisty, potholed roads — asphalt, gravel, dirt, mud, and covered in ice — from here to there and home again in Romania. We’ve traveled during our year abroad.
And we are weary.
Between the first broken bone and the second, the near-constant deciphering of bus and tram and metro routes, and the voluminous laundry piles, we are so very weary. But, still, we ask ourselves: Did we do enough? Did we see enough? Did we make the most of it — of all of it, from feeding Cheerios to pigeons of various nationalities to dropping strange, shiny coins in subway musicians’ hats to sampling donuts and kebabs and wooden toys and raspberries from street vendors?
And if the answer is a half-hearted maybe? A shoulder shrug? A flat-out no? It’s too late. Our battered suitcases are nearly packed for the next road, the last road, the one that leads home.
And that’s enough. It’s got to be enough.
Has travel ever made you weary? When have you looked to the end of an experience and wondered if you’d made the most of it? And what was your answer?
See more movement at Beth’s.
Tags: Bones, Broken Elbow, Children, Expats, Kids, Motherhood, Relationships, Slovakia, Surgery, Travel
Prague. Krakow. Poprad.
And a Slovakian emergency room.
In the last hours of our two-week Eastern European vacation, that’s where we ended up. We had planned to relax in the bubbly warmth of an indoor waterpark before packing our bags and searching under hotel beds for lost trains, coins, and crayons.
But somewhere around 7 p.m, Giggles tumbled off the park’s playscape and landed on his elbow. His elbow. He screamed.
I’ll remember that sound for the rest of my days. And nights.
My husband ran to him and scooped him up. Before I could push my heart back down into my chest, he had Giggles in a sling and a porter on the way to lead us to the hospital.
Somehow, we changed clothes. Matched up socks and shoes. Navigated wet hallways, exit turnstiles, and escalators. Located car keys.
We left Lollipop and Bun with my in-laws, who by the grace of God or good planning or straight-up luck, were traveling with us. Somehow, somebody called a taxi to take them to the hotel. Somehow, we made it to the ER. Somehow, Giggles had X-rays taken within an hour of falling.
The doctor’s report sounded eerily familiar. Broken. Surgery. Pins. Damn.
Four hours later, somewhere around midnight, they wheeled him into the operating room. I stopped outside the doors and promised him I would stay right there — right there — until he came back. He screamed for me. My heart screamed for him. The thick metal doors slammed shut.
The hallway was quiet and dark. I sat down in a blue chair. I was surprised to find it comfortable.
I waited. I don’t know how long. There was no clock and I had no phone, but I sat and waited and worried.
Two surgery nurses rushed out of the operating room a few minutes apart, the heavy doors booming shut behind them. One went into a supply closet across from me. A dragon tattoo peeked out from the collar of his green scrubs. The other ran down a flight of stairs. A few minutes later, she ran back up. Neither nurse looked at me.
I imagined all the things going wrong. Of course I did.
I imagined them again and again and again even though I tried making my brain count the chipped, faded tangerine floor tiles. 1, 2, 3, blood transfusion, 4, 5, oh, my God, do they test for AIDS in Eastern Europe? 6, 7, 8, it’s his heart, please, please, please, not his heart, 9, 10, 11, they don’t have pins small enough for him, I knew it, 12, 13, 14, I was wrong about when he last ate, shit, I was wrong and he’s aspirating, 15, 16, they can’t fix it, 17, 18, it’s worse than they thought, 19, 20, something is wrong, 21, 22, 23, something is really wrong, 24, 25, 26, oh, God, what is wrong!? …
And then another nurse walked out. He looked at me. He looked at me.
“Okay?” I asked, not sure if he spoke English and quite certain I spoke not a word of Slovak.
“Okay,” he said. “The doctor is finishing up, and then he will come talk to you.”
He rushed down the hall. I counted tiles. 27, 28, 29 … And then he came back wearing a black-and-white warm-up suit … 30, 31, 32 … He pushed the elevator button and shuffled his sneakers … 33, 34, 35 … He waved as the doors opened and took him out of the hospital and back into his real life, where maybe he was headed home for a cup of tea or an Aerosmith marathon on MTV Czech.
Only then did I think everything might be okay. He waved. He’s going home. He’s wearing rayon and headphones. It’s going to be all right.
He’s wearing rayon, so it’s got to be all right.
They wheeled Giggles out a few minutes later. All I could see was his blond hair, flushed cheeks, and closed eyes. He looked so very small.
I tended to him through the night. He begged for water. He thrashed his legs. He cried. He cried in his sleep.
I smoothed his hair. I held his hand. I shushed and soothed and said everything was going to be okay. Occasionally, I slept, my forehead touching his temple on the impossibly flat, impossibly scratchy hospital pillow we shared.
Two days later, we carefully loaded him into the car and drove eight hours home to Romania.
He’s got 2 pins, 12 stitches, a soft cast, and a fear of everything.
But his eyes are finally his eyes again, glittery and gorgeous. His laugh is finally his laugh, thick and real and warm, like butter melting on pancakes. His elbow is in pieces, but he’s not.
And he’s what’s keeping me together.
Have you ever noticed the fragile smallness of your child? Ever found your own strength through his? Ever heard him laugh and somehow known everything would be okay?
Tags: Boys, Children, Curiosity, Expats, Perspectives, Play, Poetry, Prague, Travel
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?
Tags: Corund, Expats, Maramures, Mocanita, Photography, Pottery, Romania, Sighet Prison, Trains, Travel
“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?
See more lines at Beth’s.
Tags: Children, Creativity, Expats, Life, Maramures, Outdoors, Photography, Pottery, Romania, Travel
“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?
See more “simplicity” at Beth’s.
Tags: Blogging, Children, Family, Growing Up, History, Life, Motherhood, Poetry, Relationships, Travel
This sweater is old.
It’s an odd mottle of colors, like the dollops of paint my son swirls around and around.
It’s Kraft-cheese stripes are an accidental hybrid of funk and tang.
It’s exactly as frayed as it ought to be.
This sweater has been places.
I bought it, cheap, on the beach in France. Hundreds of flip-flopped tourists.
I was the cold one.
When I slip my arms through, I hear the wailing wind as it leaps from the Cliffs of Moher.
The whispers in the Sistine Chapel.
The sizzle of frying calamari at that tapas bar in Madrid.
This sweater reminds me.
My mom. Rocking, rocking. The worn springs strumming a lullaby — woom, woom, woom.
My forehead burrowed in the brown-sugar knits and purls of the sweater she wore, always.
The one that smells like her. Like buttercups and post-its and cherry tomatoes and safety.
It’s exactly as frayed as it ought to be.
This sweater will remind them.
I hold them. I listen to their tales: timeouts, worksheets, noodle soup, ladybugs.
I drink them in. Their longness and leanness. The freckle on her shoulder. His eyelashes.
My God, his eyelashes.
Their synapses churn out data, imprinting this, all of this, onto the endless RAM of childhood.
They will remember.
I hope they will remember.
This sweater is old.
This sweater has been places.
This sweater is time, memory, instinct, life.
It’s exactly as frayed as it ought to be.