Friday, December 9, 2011

The Scanga family's coming home

The calendar is starting to lose meaning to me.  If I turn back four or five pages I am looking at dentist appointments, trips to my parents, days at the Pittsburgh zoo.  Just four or five months.  Was it only that long?  I think I may rip my calendar in half, break it into lifetimes.  This life... and that life.  It doesn't feel right to bind them together, to separate these worlds by a day or a week, to let them sidle up against one another like any old day next to any old day.

I turned the calendar today (just nine days late this month) and realized in a little over a week we fly home.  Home, to our family and friends and all that is both familiar and comforting.  But somehow, after four months of fantasizing almost daily about our life there, imaging where I would be, what I would be doing, recalling the exact texture and flavor of my favorite Turkey Hill ice cream... I just can't picture life there.  Real life that is, not the stuff of my fantasies.

I think mostly I can't picture myself there now.  Because when I do, it is something like an escape for me, from this life's reality.  It runs as a movie in my mind, takes me to a different time and place where I can pretend everything is perfect.

But as we're all well aware by now, life is not perfect, anywhere.  And while I mostly feel excitement, there's a lingering tinge of timidity.  Like the fear of walking right into your favorite tv show.  The very idea of chatting with the actors, of lounging in the armchair of  your favorite set, is overwhelmingly exciting.  But there's always the chance you ruin it... just by being there.  Or on the other hand, that you find it just so wonderful you can't possibly return to reality.

I wonder if it will feel different, or if I'll feel different.  I wonder what I'll love, and if there's anything I'll hate.  I wonder if I'll miss it here.  Which life I'll think of as home.  Or if it is possible to feel at home in both worlds.

I can be sure of some things, though.  The Double Dunker ice cream waiting in my parent's freezer.  Soft couches and warm homes.  Laughter and good food and the ability to relax again.  The people who love us most in the world, anxiously awaiting our arrival, counting down the minutes of our journey across the ocean.

I quite literally can't wait for Mexican food and drive-thru Starbucks, to chat with cashiers and understand what people are saying around me.  I am anxious to walk down the street, to smile and say "hi" and know (most of the time) it will be returned.

But most of all, I'm excited for my children.  I'm excited for them to experience the full adoration of their grandparents, the love of their family and friends, the people who poured into our lives for years, or decades, the people who most naturally and easily love them (even at their most unlovable).

The separation from these people remains the most painful part of watching our children grow overseas.  And while there are so many happy moments and these boys are certainly not suffering for lack of love over here, there is something very special waiting for us in the States this Christmas.

Worth the cost, worth the 18 hours of travel time, and most certainly worth the wait!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving abroad

Thanksgiving came and went this year.  Just another day here in Central Europe, where it turns out no one cares too much about pilgrims and turkeys.

Joel worked and in the evening we ate out.  I got my turkey, but it was stuffed with sheep's cheese instead of smothered in gravy.  My only news of Thanksgiving came via status updates on Facebook.

But when you are one of very few people celebrating a given holiday, you are kind of at liberty to decide when the celebration occurs.  

So Friday was our Thanksgiving.  And while Joel took his morning off to visit utility companies with our landlord I was determined to spend my AM hours stressed out in the kitchen.  

I mixed and rolled and scraped and mashed while the children played trains and watched Strawberry Shortcake (a necessary compromise for several uninterrupted hours of cooking).

And so, after a short nap and a few tantrums (both mom and kids) we were off, destined just minutes away, our first Thanksgiving overseas.

Delicious food.  Good conversation.  Fun and games.  Dessert.  Hot wine.  Thankful go-arounds.  And of course an evening viewing of Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving special.

It turns out Thanksgiving reaches all the way over here.  That even a day late and thousands of miles removed, laughter and friends and stuffing yourself sick crosses borders and oceans.  And although we missed our family, that overwhelming sense of homesick I expected never did arrive.

Which got me thinking, maybe I do have some things to be thankful for here...

Like a family that can make me laugh even in my worst mood.

Two beautiful boys whose kisses and dinnertime prayers and farting jokes far outweigh their fighting and spilling and absolute inability to leave the house without at least one major meltdown.

A wonderful husband and great father who, in one of the busiest times of his life, still knows how to drop everything for his family.

New friends.  The ones who drive us to and from school when our car, once again, refuses to leave the driveway.  The ones who share their holidays with us, who invite us for sausages and burning stuffed Guy Fawkes on a fire.   The ones who share our holidays, who serve as our makeshift family when our real ones are so far.  Who open their homes and families and lives, though we were strangers just a few short months ago.

Old friends.  With their timely calls and e-mails, their thoughtfulness from across the ocean, and mostly for their constant love and support, for the calming knowledge that they are there for us, whenever and wherever.

Our devoted and loving families.  As well as the technologies that keep us connected and the planes that will soon take us home.

For our difficulties here.  That we are learning patience with the language barrier.  Navigational skills when our GPS fails us.  And that after 6 years of marriage and 28 of life, I am finally learning how to cook.  That without cake mixes and whole wheat tortillas and chocolate syrup I am just now starting to make food from scratch, and actually enjoying it.

Also, on that note, the time with which to make these things.  Because even though I still miss Aiden like crazy, his absence really seems to free up my schedule.

And finally... I am thankful for Hungary (which will come as a real shocker to my husband, the recipient of many emotional calls starting out, "I hate Hungary!").  I like that things are slower here (excepting internet of course), that, alone with kids, someone will always help you on and off public transportation, that they'll give up their seat without a moment's hesitation... that our sons now pray at dinner, "Thank you for Budapest" and beg at the end of the day to go back to "Budapest house."

I am thankful that I can be thankful at all.  That after four months I am beginning to see a light here.  And just now starting to feel at home.    

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Our fall trip (Part 3)

Sorry this final vacation post was so long in the making (or writing, I guess).  I had great intentions of posting all three last week.  But to be honest the past week or two were hard for me.  And it was slightly torturous writing about such a happy time for my family when I felt so heavy inside.  The weight is easing a bit, though, and I'm ready to finish this up.  So without further ado...

Day 5

I jump from bed with the speed of a mom on a mission.  In this case, packing, dressing, feeding, and moving my family from one country to another (a relatively common practice for us these days).

A certain tiny son of ours proved an obstacle to this mission, unusually grumpy and prone to unexpected tears.  But we moved on and out, with the easy explanation that he was, in fact, two years-old.  And from our past experience this seemed explanation enough.

We chose the scenic route, figuring it the best way to see Slovenia.  And besides, when we entered Italy, we wanted to know we were entering Italy, not just changing from one highway system to another.

Three hours later, halfway through what was supposed to be a two and a half hour car trip, we started to rethink that decision. Particularly at the end of a painfully short nap, ending in frantic, inconsolable tears for our little one.  And for the first time since "the fall" nothing helped.

So finally, finally, I realized something was wrong.  Possibly very wrong.  We stopped as soon as possible and gently pulled him from the car.  We filed out and crossed the street, and as Finny snuggled against my shoulder I slowly swayed before a large, sculptured fountain, hoping the running water would distract him.  My plan worked and he calmed down just long enough for us to spot an ice cream stand across the street.  In the suddenly mediterranean atmosphere and climate it seemed the perfect solution.

Two vanilla cones later and the boys were running around with sticky smiles.  The only remnant of Finn's pain, a right arm that sagged suspiciously down and forward.  When I saw the limp limb at his side I panicked.

Six hours from home on a Friday afternoon and I still prepared to pack it up and head back to Budapest.

But my sensible husband created a better plan.  We would drive to the bed and breakfast in Italy, from there call the doctor, and, if she felt it necessary, take him to the nearest hospital.

It saved us six, torturous hours in the car, so I agreed, but made the steadfast decision to refrain from enjoyment of any kind until I knew what was wrong with my baby... and how to fix it.  So I tried my best to ignore the fields of perfectly aligned olive trees, the wide open, blue sky, the beautiful sign on the edge of the highway proclaiming "Outlets."

And although Finn was all smiles and laughter from ice cream cone on, I worried and fretted my way to Italy, where, under flower-adorned arbor, we finally put our car to rest.

As soon as we found our room I connected to the internet and called our doctor.  After hours of poking and prodding I finally pinpointed the cause of his pain.  A spot on his collar bone, which, when pressed, caused an accelerating, "Owie, owie, owie!"  I explained all this to the doctor, along with his sagging arm, and the details of his fall, now four days earlier.

She seconded my prognosis (courtesy of WebMD)... most likely a broken collarbone.  We were welcome to drive back and bring him in, she told us, but should the X-ray confirm our suspicions, we would be told there is nothing we can do, and to go home.  So unless his pain increased, she recommended we finish our vacation, perhaps pin up his arm, and come in on Monday. (I will surely post sometime in the future on our fabulous doctors here in Hungary, and how I actually like taking my kids there.)

With the doctor's approval, and our baby's arm pinned up in a makeshift sling, I started enjoying myself.  We located a restaurant nearby and enjoyed a delicious, authentic Italian meal.  The boys finished an entire pizza themselves, Joel a large bowl of pasta, and me, a calzone the size of my head.  As we left the waiter kissed Finny's cheeks, and we couldn't help but smile as we drifted off to sleep... to be in a land where babies are kissed and smiles are shared and, in a few short hours, streets of water, spotted with magical gondolas, awaited.

Day 6

The boys could barely wait.  They spent approximately five hours watching the same 20-minute episode of Wonder Pets on our trip out.  An episode we downloaded specifically for the setting... Venice.

So as the boy's sang, "Let's save the kitten!" we boarded a bus and set off for the city of water.

I'll skip the boring parts (because it's late and I'm tired, and if things get too dull I expect Joel will find me asleep on this armchair in the morning).

The beauty of Venice captured, if not surpassed, the scenes from our imagination (though I think we held a fairly accurate picture from that episode of Wonder Pets).

We started out at St. Mark's Basilica.  The kids played trains on the colored, stone squares while Joel enjoyed some peaceful time in the church.

From there, we explored, and the cheap fun of running through narrow passageways, stopping only where water met land, became the day's grand event.  Aiden was thrilled to lead the way, and his brother to toddle after him, gimpy arm and all.

We found a comparatively cheap place for lunch.  And while we never expected hot dogs on our pizza, it was a nice break in the day (and I learned that the surprising combination was actually quite delicious).

After lunch we cruised the narrow canals, our hefty contribution to the obligatory Venetian gondola business.  But in the end, even though I had to hold Finn's belt loops just to keep him from going overboard, and even though I found myself analyzing life-saving tactics at each new turn, those things really are magical.  One of those moments that doesn't need a picture because it's imprinted in your mind.

On our way back home the boys stopped to feed a plethora of pigeons, which I thought was gross, but they seemed to really enjoy.  All three of them.

And so our adventure wound down, and we fell asleep with the expectation of home.

Day 7

Nine hours later (including a shortish layover at the outlets) we spotted the lights of Budapest.  The coming home was both comforting and disappointing for me.  Normal end-of-vacation blues, I suppose.  That and the nagging idea that the "home" to which I returned found me still, very much, a foreigner.

The next day, after a short round of x-rays, our suspicions were confirmed.  Finn did indeed fracture his collar bone.  Cracked all the way through, but not separated.  Simply a matter of time and caution.

Our life continues here is Budapest.  Some days harder than others.  But it is still early and there is so much hope, so much untapped potential.  And like those passageways in Venice, you just can't know what you'll find right around the corner.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Our fall trip (Part 2)

Day 2

The kids awoke bright and early. Another gloomy day loomed outside our window, taunting us as the boys elbowed and kneed their way out of bed.

We played, we packed, showered, dressed, and otherwise counted the minutes until breakfast.  And yet the clock seemed to drag towards 8:30, moving a minute at a time as the boys dumped the same large basket of teeny tiny toys over and over again (which their fool of a mom continued to pick up, time and again, miniature piece after miniature piece). 

Finally it was time to eat.  As coats were donned, however, the morning took something of a turn.

For perhaps the fifth time since the previous evening our little Finn broke into loud and frantic, though short-lived, cries when we picked him up.

Until that point we thought perhaps he was sore from his fall, or maybe just entering a new stage of independence that made holding or cuddling of any sort entirely repugnant.  But at that moment my mother's intuition kicked in (granted, it was twelve-hours late, but at least it made a showing).  

So we laid him on the bed and stripped off all his clothes, looking for some physical sign, or lack of, that would put our minds at ease.  

And we certainly found something.  It looked like a little lump, or bruise of sorts, underneath his armpit.  It made sense with the fall and accounted for his discomfort when picked up.  

And while I prepared to pack our bags and head back home, my more sane half (Joel) reminded me it was just a bruise.  It only seemed to hurt if we lifted him wrong, so let's keep an eye on it and keep going.  We thought about calling the doctor, but what would we say.  Our child has a bruise.  

So after a mouth-watering breakfast and quick good-bye to the animals we piled in and headed out.

Finn cried a bit, but nothing abnormal, particularly for a three-hour car ride.  But mostly he slept.  As did Aiden.  

So when they woke as we pulled into the city of Ljubljana, and though we were careful to hold him the right way, we hardly noticed anything was wrong.  

Instead we walked along the riverside cafes, stopping briefly for a macchiato and snack for the kids.  We scoured the large, outdoor market, settling on a large bottle of what we thought was homemade apple cider (only to later realize it was, what we could only pinpoint as, an alcoholic apple soda.  Which we were certainly not made aware of by our three year-old son's utter repulsion to the drink.)    And slowly meandered back to the car while enjoying some traditional Slovenian food (hot dogs and gyros).  Of course stopping for the obligatory train impersonations and pigeon chasing.

But the day remained chilly and bleak, so in a last-minute decision we changed courses and headed to Postojna, home of the famous cave trains.  Need I say more.

The train-ride was surreal, the caverns lit from within, glowing from its recessed chambers.  Speeding through with giant, age-old rocks passing shockingly close to our heads, it felt more like a dream than reality.  

Until the train stopped, mid-trip, and the walk began.  Let's just say the tour, though beautiful and fascinating, was a bit long for a two and three year-old.  But we made it through, with no lack of complaining (mostly on my part), and were heading back to daylight, tired, but more knowledgeable (right Joel?).  

From there, in the dark and pouring rain, we found our next "home" and settled down for the night.

Day 3

Nothing really noteworthy to talk about here .  

While Bled is a beautiful region of Slovenia all-year long, it is mostly enjoyed for its glassy lake in the summer and various snow sports in the winter.  

So cold, rainy fall days leave the region tourist-free, and really a bit eerie.  

We did try bowling, but after a quick eight frames Aiden wanted to go home because he "wasn't really good."  

Day 4

Finally some sunshine!  It didn't last long, but was a nice start to the day, and though the clouds returned, the rain didn't, and we were anxious to explore the great outdoors.

So we headed straight to the lake's most well-known waterfall.  I knew from my research on TripAdvisor that it wasn't a short walk to the falls.  In fact, it consisted of 555 large, wooden stairs built into the side of the mountain.  And I'm still not sure how we ended up there, but after asserting to Joel we would not relive the "cave walk" and should choose something shorter, we stood at the base of a long, winding trail, waiting to pay our six Euros for what I could only assume was impending disaster.

But somehow our preschool-aged son, who complains that his legs are falling off when we walk half a block, practically skipped up the stairs... all 555 of them... all the way to the top.  We heard the waterfall before we saw it, and did not regret the climb as we turned the corner, greeted by the rush of pounding water and gently showered with the mist of the falls.  

It was beautiful, and though I'm still not quite sure how we got there, I found myself, in a rare moment I am hoping he quickly forgets, admitting that my husband was right.  It was worth it.  

After a short walk by the lake, where our sweet, youngest son was bit on the leg by swan (who I still can't think about without seething with anger, darn swan) we ate our first of many Italian meals and headed to bed.

We mostly forgot about Finn's fall.  He didn't complain or cry, unless appropriate of course (such as hunger, exhaustion, his brother beating him with a train).  In fact, we assumed his injuries were healed and the fall a distant memory, an inconsequential moment in our trip.  

So much for motherly intuition.  

(To be continued... again... in a third and final installment.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Our fall trip (Part 1)

I honestly thought one adventure was enough for us this year. I mean, if we survived an international move with two preschool aged children then we should probably just count our eggs and go home. (Is that even a saying? Because it honestly just popped out and now I have no idea what it means.)

But somewhere in the chaos of drop offs and pick ups, of late nights at school and long days with the kids, we decided a vacation was in order. A break from the demands of every day life. A chance to get away from it all.

I don't know if we were forgetful or just deluded, but we neglected to factor one thing into our plans.

The kids.

Of course we know by now not to plan on long, relaxing weeks at the shore or intense days of sight-seeing or peaceful dinners out.

We realize that vacations revolve around little bellies with huge capacities for food, well-timed naps and, of course, numerous, sporadic, and always inconvenient potty breaks.

But, at times, we still forget to account for the unexpecteds of traveling with kids.

Like long, gloomy days indoors.  Or overly anxious mom's chasing their energetic children through water-ridden streets.  Or long car rides with a broken collarbone.

But we also forget about the pleasant surprises.  The small moments that tell you the money and time and stress were truly worth it.

So to wrap up the latter (with a small showing of the former), we present to you, our fall trip...

Day 1

With our bags loaded and children brimming with excitement we were ready for takeoff by nine (a decently early start for a family of four, one of whom insists on eating breakfast at home, no matter what the occasion).

I felt optimistic.  After three months in the same place I found myself practically incapable of fathoming life outside Budapest.  It felt like its own planet, and while beautiful and rich with history, I needed to know there was more.

So with a large McDonald's cappuccino and Joel's homemade IPad travel holder, we set off on a hopeful note.  I imagined the children quietly soaking in the passing scenery while I savored one, complete, hot cup of coffee.

Vacation can really mess with a person's head.

Not even five minutes and choruses of "We want to watch something!" echoed through the car, followed by the unheard refrains, "Just look out your window" and "Quiet back there."

By the time I fought, distracted, and finally, gave in, I settled into the passenger's seat and yet another large cup of lukewarm coffee.

As we entered Slovenia the IPad was running a fairly constant stream of Wonderpets and Dora Choo Choo Train.  But Mom and Dad were taking it all in.  The beautiful, clustered mountain peaks, the rocky landscape dotted with ancient, baroque-style churches, the herds of sheep grazing on steep-sided hills.

Of course we enjoyed all this at 130 km/h, hardly leaving enough time to soak it all in.

So when we finally arrived and the tourist farm owner immediately led us to a quiet table of our own, cozy with the warmth of the crackling fireplace, we were ready for a break.  After speaking some quick Slovenian in the kitchen he returned with a plateful of biscuits and struedel, homemade juice for the kids, and two large glasses of red wine... for the frazzled parents.

From there we bundled up and explored the terrain, greeting the animals, utilizing the playground, following windy dirt roads... and absolutely devouring some of the most delicious, home-cooked food we ever tasted (besides our mothers' of course).

Only one slight mishap.  As we left dinner and headed back to our room, little Finny fell.  Just down one stair.  It was dark. so I could't quite see how he landed, but after some hard cries and enthusiastic distractions he came around.  We thought that was it.  Crisis averted, drama over.

So we all piled into our large bed, turned off the lights, and waited for morning.

To be continued...

(This particular post will be presented in three installments, due to the author's long-windedess as well as her undeniable inclination to laziness.  Sorry.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy 30th Joel (my best attempt at a mildly sentimental birthday post)

Today my husband turns 30.  And while I know he would die a little inside should I indulge my sentimental side, expressing my mushy feelings for all the world to see, I can't let this day pass without saying anything.

I knew from early on in our relationship, and even before, that Joel was special.  And not in a cheesy way, but in a very real and evident way.

He was one of those people who asked how you were and really cared about the answer.  He had this strange (and sometimes annoying) way of remaining completely non-judgemental.  No matter what the situation, or how it involved him or myself, he possessed the unique ability to see things from another perspective, and to truly understand.

Somehow that combination of qualities made him easy to be around.  It's kind of addicting, being with someone who thinks you're really cool, and interesting.  Though with time I realized it wasn't really me.  It's him.  He takes in people's lives and values and thoughts like stories in a book.  And after six years of marriage, I'm still addicted to his company (which inexplicably doesn't seem to thrill him as it did in those early days).  Because even while I insist he drives me crazy and complain almost incessantly about wet towels on the floor and things of the like, I would rather be with him, with our family, than anywhere else in the world.

And though I'm sure I lost my interest and most definitely my coolness over the years, he is more than a companion to me now. He stepped over that line almost four years ago with the birth of our first son.  Our lives turned upside down in an instant.  We ate when he slept, he ate when we slept, nothing seemed to work like it should.  And the sweet snuggly bundle of our imaginations transformed into something of a wild monster right before our eyes.  We fed, we changed, we rocked, we shushed... but sometimes the thing just went crazy.  And being our first child, we were terrified.  Okay, I was terrified.  But Joel held us together.  Completely took over when I froze, be it soothing a frantic child, scrounging food together and creating something delicious from it, or cleaning baby poop out of the bathtub (by far my most terrifying moment).

And while parenthood brings out the best and worst in us, Joel loves our kids.  And with all of his positive qualities, it is the thing I love most about him.  How he worries almost obsessively over Finny's broken collarbone, barely letting me touch my own child for fear of hurting him.  How the obvious highlight of his birthday was Aiden's prayer at dinner ("Thank you for Daddy's birthday.  Thank you for the food.  We love you Jesus.").  How I can say with confidence that he too would rather be with his family than anywhere else in the world.

So, at the risk of sounding mushy, I love you Joel.  Thank you for loving and taking care of us through this huge transition.  Happy 30th birthday!

(And just a side note, I will post soon about our vacation.  Just needed to take this little detour today!)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Normal days

I know that my posting lately is irregular... at best.  And I'm sorry about that.  I would promise to get better, but let's face it, I probably won't.

And I could come up with some pretty good excuses, sickness, car troubles.... but when it comes down to it, these past few weeks were... well, boring.

I actually sat down to write two or three times, jotted down a sentence or two (can you say jotted when referring to typing?), then fell into something of a coma, staring off at the wall, recycling the monotony of this past week in my head.

Not that I minded.  It was actually something of a welcomed change.  Aiden was out of school for a whole week with belly aches and flus and ear infections... every time I took the kid to his class they bounced him right back to me.

But I enjoyed the lazy mornings.  Actually sitting down with a cup of coffee, wearing our pajamas till 10am, holing up inside, staring out at the damp, cold world while running my bare feet along our warm, tile floor.

Of course there were moments of near insanity.  But they were tempered by train races around the couch, soft pajama snuggles, and, let's be honest, inordinate amounts of television.

Come Friday I needed out of the house just as much as Aiden.  I found myself slipping into a hermit life, and I liked it a little too much.  So with Aiden's health much improved and after only a short internal battle against the lure of my couch, we set off for school, halloween costume in hand.

Aiden seemed to share my hesitance regarding our return to public life, sticking to my side through the Halloween carnival, literally sitting on the floor and picking his nose while children rushed from game to game around him.

But pretty soon he was waving across the room at his little friend, shyly responding to her inquiries about his health ("Are you okay?"), and moving on to things bigger and better than boring, old mommy.

Finn and I survived as well, enjoying some fresh air, socialization, and a large, McDonald's cappuccino.

But as the day commenced at the school's annual "Trunk or Treat" evening, we were ready to retreat once again to our warm, cozy home.  After only a few of many cars, Aiden announced that he was done trick or treating.  He had enough treats and it was time to go home.

No argument there.

So here we are, Sunday night, packed and waiting for our first adventure outside the city limits.  First to Slovenia then on to Venice.

It was a strange sort of deja vu, packing suitcases full or clothes and toiletries, and toys that will probably never emerge from their bags.

It brought me back to those terrifying weeks leading up the this adventure.  I remember laying on our bedroom floor, surrounded by suitcases and their spewed contents, muttering to Joel something about giving up.  That I just can't fit all our stuff in these bags, so, I'm sorry, but we can't go.  It's okay, though, we'll try again next year.

The day of our departure was marked with strange and inexplicable choices that we marvel at to this day.  People we talked to and people we didn't, structured timetables that ended in near sprints through the airport, important items left behind in favor of unusual and mostly useless objects.

And though I miss home in so many ways, those particular memories are best not revisited.

Perhaps if I knew then about this very normal week at home, tending to fevers and tantrums, burning grilled cheese and vacuuming countless crumbs, it wouldn't have seemed so very overwhelming.

But I guess that's the thing with fear of the unknown.

You just don't know.

So now we prepare for our next, small adventure.  And although my family may not know it from my numerous, packing meltdowns today, I think I've learned a little something since then.

First, it is never too early to start packing.  Or to start planning ways to remove the children from the house while you do so.

And second, we can never be totally prepared.  Or in control.  But even the most frightening choices still end in good, bad... and even normal days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

To my Finn on his second birthday (or a few days later)

My sweet Finn,

If I am being completely honest, two years ago, I wasn't so sure about you. It was ten days past your due date and frankly I was getting mad. The bags were packed and induction scheduled for 8:00 that morning. I tried to wait, Finn, I really did. But I was huge and the doctor was starting to wonder how you would get out. I prayed and prayed you would come, but I was told I could wait no longer. So as much as I fought against it the alarm was set and like it or not, we were going to have a baby.

You had different plans, which I found out around five or so (though I will spare you the details of how). I would like to say I rushed right to the hospital, as the doctor instructed, but I needed a few more minutes with my first baby, just watching him sleep, knowing his whole world would change when he woke. And, if I'm being completely honest (which I guess I am), I stood in his bedroom doorway wondering how I could ever love another child as much as I loved him.

After some sentimental moments your dad pushed me out the door and I spent the next ten minutes scarfing a protein-packed breakfast, careful even in the height of pain to ensure a full belly. Two hours later, you were here. With my eyes still shut from the pain of it all, I heard the doctor calmly state, "Up with the sun!" Your dad told me later it was really an amazing moment in which the sun crept slowly over the hill, breaking the horizon at the exact moment of your birth. I supposed you and I were the only ones who didn't notice.

Two years later and, cheesy as it sounds, you are still bringing us sunshine. And not just with your blondie little head. You can light up an entire day with your soft snuggles, your quiet little voice, your belly laugh.

When we moved here, and even now, I must admit that I worried. I worried we wouldn't make friends, or feel at home, or function as the same happy family I knew in Indiana. But I never worried about you. Partly because you are so young and adaptable. But mostly because you are so darn easy to love. So while family and grandparents hold a special place for you, you're already working your way into hearts here. And let's face it, you're close to impossible not to fall for, what with that sly little smile and twinkle in your eye.

I should have known from that very first day. It was love at first sight with you. You know, the kind you're expected to feel from the moment you lay eyes on your newborn baby, but end up wondering why his nose is all flat, what that awful smell is, and how you will ever keep something so tiny and fragile alive. Now granted, you weren't so scary or intimidating, being the second child and all. But there was something sweet and baby about you that you carried all the way until now, your second birthday.

And I know one day that babyness will go away. Already it is slowly creeping out. Like when you squirm out of my arms in the morning, breaking our sacred snuggle time. Or when you chuck your spoon at your brother's face when he pulls away your cereal (you are very serious about food). Or when you ask me as I head to the steps, "Mommy, are you starting the washing machine?"

But from that first day until now, not one single moment did I ever again wonder how I would love you. And when you are not so little and baby, and when I am not laughing in private when you throw things at your brother or shout "no" at the top of your lungs, I can promise that love will remain. From me, from your dad, and regardless of the endless teasing and fighting, from your brother as well.

Happy second birthday Finn!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The bright side

I behave fairly well in public. Even in the worst of moods smiles and small talk flow easily.

But as certain family members can testify, I have been a real handful at home lately.

I suppose moody would cover it, with lists of complaints that could rival a whiny child.

So for the sake of my family (one member in particular) I will put aside my gripes and spend the next fifteen minutes or so looking on the bright side.

Cause while I long for the land of family and friends, peanut butter and full-sized bags of jalapeno-flavored Tostitos, there are things I love about life here.

1. I love how children ride bikes everywhere. If they are old enough to walk they are old enough to bike. Strollers retreat in favor of small, plastic push-bikes, on which even the tiniest children fly past you on the village sidewalks, parents trailing behind. Our boys quickly adapted to this favored mode of transportation, and spend some of their happiest moments pedaling and pushing through the square, joyfully cruising down hills and avoiding near collisions with quick, surprisingly skilled turns.

2. Public transportation. It doesn’t matter where we go, museums, restaurants, the bathroom… if our kids can ride the tram, or better yet, the underground train, that is all they need. Kid-friendly trips to the city are no more difficult than parking our car and utilizing Budapest’s easy (if not stroller-friendly) public transportation system.

3. School. The beautiful grounds, caring teachers, and most importantly, the large, well-equipped playground create a kind of haven for our family. A place we can send our son knowing he is treasured and nurtured by an exceptional teacher who displays more patience with ten three year-olds than I ever did with one. A place I can grab a cappuccino and connect with the world while we just barely survive month number two in our dark-age home. And of course a place where my language of choice does not place me in the small, annoying minority, but allows for free and successful communication.

4. I love that there are more sources of free, child-friendly entertainment than there is time to enjoy. Fantastical playgrounds, miles of bike paths, mini zoos, sprawling castles. And for a small price, a railroad manned entirely by children, year-round circus, world-renowned zoo, tropical aquarium… all within the city limits. For someone inclined to boredom, I must stifle complaints that there is, quite simply, too much to do.

5. Our family. It is hard to explain, because we are the same family that left Indiana, Pennsylvania just two months ago. But also, we’re not. This place is changing us. Aiden is more independent. Finn, more opinionated and strong-willed. Joel, more adventurous (if that is possible). And me. As Joel put it the other day, I am more brave. Not because I try for or even desire bravery, but simply because I am forced. I must drive my manual car through the steep, narrow streets of the Buda Hills. I must acquire food for my family, furniture for our home, shoes for the freakishly fast-growing feet of my children. So I venture into a foreign world, brave public transportation, butcher the language, and navigate a country and people that are not home. And as much as I may not want to, I have to, and that simple fact is shaping me, and it is shaping our family.

So while I long for this place to feel like home, I realize we are in transition. It is slow, and sometimes painful, but it is changing us.

And in the meantime, we keep moving, because we have to, but also because we want to. It might not be home yet, but it is a pretty cool place for the interim.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Some of the time

I am not sure how, but I managed to survive three days without Joel this week.

It was way too soon, but after he filled my car with gas, my wallet with cash, and my fridge with enough food for a week, he was off on the school’s annual fall trip.

So while Joel braved water parks, city-wide scavenger hunts, and a nighttime boat trip with a bus full of sixth graders, I braved Budapest… alone.

To tell you the truth, it wasn’t so bad. With the help of some friends, a tightly packed schedule, and numerous cappuccinos from the school’s coffeeshop, I made it through with minimal scarring.

But in an effort to unwind from a jam-packed week, I made a mistake. I allowed myself time to think.

And with Joel still hours from arrival, Aiden off enjoying school, and my sweet little Finn contentedly playing with trains, I let myself miss home.

At first just a little, but these things tend to snowball if you are not careful, and pretty soon I found myself sitting across from Finn at the lunch table, baring years of memories to my wide-eyed, soup-covered therapist.

But if you never reminisced with a two year-old, here is some of the transcript from our session…

“I miss Indiana. I miss walking through the fall leaves to the warm library. Do you remember the library?”

“Which one?”

Hm. How to describe to a two-year old? I am not sure he ever noticed the books…

“The one with the play kitchen and the train tracks.”

“Which train tracks?”

Fair question. We tend to go a lot of places with train tracks.

“You know, with the Thomas trains, and the kitchen you played in? We went there with Emily and baby Ben…”

Getting a little teary eyed.

Awkward silence.

“Mmmm. Mashed potatoes!”

It was actually soup, so I took the hint and changed the subject to more toddler-friendly matters. Like Curious George and rhinos and some hilarious material in which I pretended to eat his food, but then didn’t.

But in the back of my mind is still that nagging reminder of home.

It is turning fall here, which usually means frigid mornings and evenings, with annoyingly warm afternoons where you are forced to strip layers you never intended to lose.

But there is still that fall smell in the air. And that smell can really take you back. When we lived in Indiana it took me back to riding bikes in my childhood neighborhood, to high school field hockey games and homecoming dances.

But here it takes me back to Indiana. Riding to the gym bundled in sweatshirts, Aiden begging to roll up the windows while I soaked in the feel of fall. Sunny afternoons in the backyard with scattered piles of leaves and smiling baby faces staring up through the turning leaves. Farm festivals with tubs of corn and hay-rides, hot apple cider and sausages covered with peppers and onions. Picking pumpkins and complimentary Halloween costumes. Strolling to the local coffeeshop, holding our hot cups in sweatshirt-covered hands, watching decorated children and floats march down the main street.

I miss it all to a near painful degree, most of the time.

But there are moments when I am here. Really here. Sipping a Starbucks mocha with a friend, watching our two-year olds ignore a playground-full of colorful equipment in favor of two, long sticks. Watching the boys ride bikes in the village square, eyes bright as they fly down the small slope. Snuggly sweatshirts and turning leaves and the wonderful things about fall everywhere.

In a couple hours Joel comes home and we spend a quiet weekend creating new autumn memories.

That someday I will miss to a near painful degree.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A city of our own

For months we planned and prepared, planned, prepared, and then prepared some more. Some hard good-byes and life as we knew it regressed to a small speck, fading from sight under the muted hum of our airplane.

After a blurry month or so of packing and unpacking, navigating, settling, meeting, exploring, beginning… we needed a break.

I am pretty sure we started out on this thing as a family. Or at least we sat together on the plane.

But somewhere between Joel’s long hours at work and Aiden’s departure for school, we felt a little less than connected.

So when Friday rolled around we silently agreed that the weekend was ours. As a family. Just the four of us in the strange city that drew us here.

I left for the city as usual, with a weight on my chest and tightening in my throat. The same anxiety that seems to accompany any departure from home lately.

But after a few obligatory “You have no idea where your going’s” and “This was a big mistake’s,” I stopped for a minute to look around. In the short walk from beautiful, four-story mall, to small, friendly bike shop, to picnic and play at the park, I noticed where we were.

And that we were not just tourists here. That all this was so close and that in a way I have yet to fully discover, it’s mine.

On the way back we sat on a bench, watching the kids scream-laugh with ice-cream drooling down their faces and shirts. And even though Aiden’s vanilla was actually rum-raisin and Finn spent more time climbing into the fountain than watching it, I felt content.

I smiled knowingly at a couple with a troublesome toddler of their own, breaking that pesky language barrier with the universal commonality of kids. I watched as an older lady took in the sight of our sticky, wild children with joy on her face.

And as I walked away I felt happy and relaxed and unwound.

The next morning we explored our own, little village, just a few minutes walk from our house. We enjoyed pastries and cappuccinos at the bakery, visited the hardware store and nursery, and bought Aiden his first real bike, training wheels and all, at the new bike shop.

And today, for the first time in over a month, we left the city limits. Just a short ride away lies a beautiful, though admittedly touristy town.

The cobblestone streets are spotted with artist, cafes, shops. Across the main road… a beautiful river walk where we enjoyed our first taste of a delicious pastry called
Langos (although if our kids ask, we were eating pizza).

And of course our favorite ending to any day… ice cream.

And with that we head into another week of school. Another week of separation and finding our own ways.

But it’s a little less scary now. Because in my slow way I’m beginning to discover that, while our lives are very much our own here, in an essential way we are still in this together. And I suppose that’s enough.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

One week down...

Nearly a week in and I still miss my boy like crazy.

Now granted, I single-handedly accomplished more housework in five days than in the three and a half years since his birth. I actually sat down on the computer at school without nearly tipping it over as I hopped up running after one boy or the other. I braved the grocery store without a game plan or various sugary bribes.

I realized, in fact, that this is how I pictured life with children nearly four years ago… before Aiden. A little thing you tote around with you on errands and watch contentedly play on the floor while you clean the house and prepare dinner.

Of course that idea is now so far removed that the realization of it is a bit of a shock to my system.

Don’t get me wrong. Finn is nearly two and his feistier moments feel like a hurricane crashing through our house.

But mostly he is so excited to play with Emily train, pick his own TV shows, and devour an entire chocolate croissant all by himself that quiet and peace reign here (mostly).

And though I thought I’d never say this… I could use a little loud.

I miss the “WooWoo’s” that nearly exploded your eardrums. I miss his hyper song (a little diddy he picked up from a high-speed episode of The Backyardigans). I even miss the sound of Finn’s screeching when Aiden pulled his hair and Aiden’s sobbing when Finn bit him back (okay, that may be a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea).

Yet in less than five days the changes in Aiden are so stark and undeniably positive that I am stifling my urge to run to his classroom, pull him away, and bring him home where he clearly belongs.

He is nicer to his brother (who nearly pooped in his little diaper when Aiden kissed him good-bye yesterday). He plays more imaginatively and independently at home. He asked this weekend if his friend Abigail would speak Spanish at her birthday party (Abigail actually speaks French, but he’s getting the idea). When we asked what his friend Emily from home spoke sometimes, he answered, “Hungary?” (Once again, incorrect. The answer was German, but until this moment we never heard him mention another language.) And as he lay in bed last night he called me up in a panic. When I rushed to his side he pointed to a barely visible page in his book and asked, “Where are we on this map, mom?” To which I responded, “Where did you learn the word, ‘map’?”

It’s like his little world is expanding so rapidly we can hardly keep up. Not even a week and when I look at him I see a different child than the one I sent to school last Wednesday.

I am so proud of the little man emerging, but so fearful to lose the soft, dependent part of him that is still my baby.

With all the change and unfamiliarity spiraling around me it’s no surprise I’m holding on so tight. Because somewhere between the screaming infant who wouldn’t leave my arms and the proud preschooler who hasn’t looked back, he became a friend. A needy, slightly annoying, and very often draining friend. But a friend nonetheless.

So Finn and I are on a venture to find new friends. Feels a bit like elementary school all over again, but we’re meeting some nice people and acclimating to life without Aiden.

Every day is easier than the last. A little more normal, less overwhelming.

Thank you to everyone following our life. Thank you for your e-mails and messages of encouragement. We are still not connected to the internet, which is why these posts are so few and far between. I hope to update more regularly soon. Perhaps even throw in a picture or two. Until then, thanks for hanging in there with us!

Friday, August 26, 2011

The first day

At 6:30 our day began as usual. A little barking dog emerged from the bottom bunk, yapping and crawling around on the floor. Our top bunker threw himself around in grouchy spasms for about a minute before climbing down the ladder. Dad said good-bye and headed out the door while mom begrudgingly dragged herself out of bed and down to her morning coffee.

After a few sips and the ability to completely open my eyes the morning headed in a much different direction.

“Aiden buddy, you want eggs for breakfast?”

With a look that said, “What mom? You’re not going to make me wait for you to drink your coffee and then beg me to drink a yogurt so you don’t have to wash anything?” he happily agreed.

After Finn devoured two bowls and Aiden two bites I pulled out two sets of clothes handpicked the evening before, pulled from the drawer (not the dirty clothes hamper), and completely stain-free.

Yes, things were shaping up quite strangely in the Scanga household.

“Alright Aiden, what do you want to watch while mommy gets ready?”

“The Polar Express!”

After an involuntary “No” I quickly remembered today was a special day, sat the boys on the rug, and switched on the movie (skipping right to “the ice, the ice” under Aiden’s approving stare).

Once ready I herded Aiden onto the porch, straightened his polo, and snapped a few shots.

We climbed in the car and with Aiden chatting excitedly drove a few minutes down the road, pulled into a large parking lot, and emerged from the car with Joel waiting on the sidewalk to greet us.

A few more obligatory shots in front of the building and Aiden was off… to school.

Aiden tore into his classroom, the first one there, and immediately pulled out the trains he found on our previous visit.

After covering a few details with his wonderful teacher I hovered uncomfortably for a few moments, both hoping for and dreading a long hug, some “please don’t go’s” and possibly a few tears.

Instead I forced a kiss and a terse good-bye then followed the other parents into the crowded hallway with Finn in my arms and a lump in my throat.

My little boy was going to school. He didn’t need me to put on his shoes, cut his chicken into little bites, put him down with a story and a kiss for nap…

Someone else would do all that. And while I had anxiously awaited a break from mothering two children I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing.

I found myself reaching for his hand when we crossed the street, pulling out a green m&m when Finn went on the potty, and listening for his footsteps down the stairs after nap.

I had just about decided it was too much when I picked him up from school. We would have to switch to a half-day program, or perhaps he should go just three days a week.

Then I saw the pride on his little face when he spotted me on the playground. There was no clutching of my neck or tearful reunions like the other kids, but he ran inside his classroom and returned with two Thomas books in his hands, his face glowing.

“I got these at the library! We got two books. I saw another one but the man said I could get it next time…”

And the boy I used to literally bride to tell me anything about his days hardly stopped talking all the way until bedtime.

He told us how he handed the card to the librarian, and the librarian in turn handed him his books, he told us he slept next to Abigail and thought about trying his mashed potatoes for lunch (he didn’t, but he wanted to note that he thought about it), and of course my favorite, how he hugged a boy who was crying on his way to the bathroom.

I found out later, from both his principal and teacher, that he and Abigail were great helpers, comforting the other kids who were missing their mommies and daddies.

And as much as a small, selfish part of me wishes he missed me a fraction of the amount I miss him, I am so proud of him.

Life is very different here for Finn and I. We both miss Aiden terribly (though Finn is undeniably benefiting from the unobstructed use of such objects as Thomas trains and pocket watches).

I am sure that eventually 3:30 will not seem so very far away.

But until then I am counting down the minutes.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Life More Colorful

I’m losing track of weeks, but we’ve been here a little while now. And while it’s still early we’re getting a glimpse of how life might play out for us.

Joel is gone in the morning before we wake up, utilizing every minute of planning time and throwing himself into school (at least until his needy wife demands him home).

The kids and I are trying hard to maintain some semblance of routine, but it is difficult. Especially on days like today when culture shock, or homesickness, or whatever it is hits mom unexpectedly and hard.

I think I figured after so much time I somehow missed the worst of it. Perhaps I adjust better than I thought, or this was so meant to be that I would never look back.

I was wrong.

It was building, I think, but we were too busy to notice. And then it was too late.

It’s normal. And without a friend who repeatedly warned me that this would be the case, that it happens to everyone, and that sooner or later it will end, I may be packing my bags instead of writing this post.

Truthfully it feels more like exhaustion than shock. Like I want a break, but just can’t find it anywhere.

Home is stressful with the boxes in need of unpacking, floors in need of cleaning, and children in need of dressing, feeding, and entertaining.

Trips to the grocery store or bakery are preceded by an unyielding tinge of fear that perhaps someone will talk to me.

Driving, while always a bit stressful, leaves me sweating behind the wheel here. Perhaps a result of my first solo drive where I stalled out five times (just leaving the driveway), ran into our gate, knocking it off its hinges, and cracked our hubcap when I panicked on a narrow street and ran into the curb. (On our next trip Aiden exclaimed, “You did it Mommy! You didn’t hit the gate!” as I successfully pulled out of the driveway.)

Joel is managing well. Certainly not avoiding all the pitfalls of an international move, but supporting his family, excitedly preparing for a brand new school year, and successfully navigating his wife’s many and varied moods.

The kids are adjusting as well. It’s hard to remember because they can’t tell you which tantrums result from acclimating to a new environment, and which ones result from the true and unadulterated desire for more cheese.

We are lucky though because we are not alone here.

Whether arriving in the last week or the last decade everyone possesses some idea of what we are going through.

And they are all so willing to help. They realize this is something we need to go through. We hear a lot of “Hang in there’s” and “Give it some time’s.” Offers to call day or night, to take us out for a beer or coffee.

I’m still waiting to hear someone tell us it took less than six months to feel settled, because right now that feels like an eternity.

But if it is anything like these past weeks there are plenty of good moments to help temper the harder ones.

Hearing the kids scream with joy as they play in a dancing fountain. Using the school’s free babysitting to enjoy cappuccino and croissants with a friend. Watching Joel play ball with the kids as I actually enjoy cooking in the kitchen (which to anyone who knows me is a true miracle).

I wish I could leave this bittersweet theme to all of my blog posts. But I suppose these dueling moments of contentment and strife add a little color to our lives, even when black and white might be a welcome change.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Week two (catching our breath)

It is nearly nine.  The kid’s are in bed, dishes cleaned, garden watered, and I sit here on my cozy Ikea chair with a glass of Hungarian wine feeling slightly and increasingly at home.

My last post already feels a bit like a different lifetime here.  A more overwhelming, isolated, and frightening one.  One that I hope we will not revisit.

Since that post the following occurred…

What felt like 20 trips to the nearest Ikea, which when you get lost three times each way, is not so short.

At least one haul to the grocery store each day, where no matter how much or what we bought we inexplicably ended up with some variation of pizza for dinner and an empty pantry the next morning.

A giant and terrifying move from school-arranged housing to our empty, barren home, where Finn slept on a beach towel for sheets and often ate our pizza meals on flattened cardboard boxes. 

A phone call and meeting with the middle school principal, whose concern and help felt like air to us at a time when we desperately needed to breathe.

The arrival of our brand new furniture, and about 15 minutes to stare adoringly at it before grubby hands and sauce-stained mouths attacked.

After a week of nearly complete isolation we met a new French couple with a three year-old daughter, ran into our new neighbors, an American teaching couple with two older girls, and met face-to-face for the first time with the family who held our hands and walked us through the exciting and terrifying moments of these past five months from afar.  Our next door neighbors are a very nice middle-aged Hungarian couple with two school-aged children.  We enjoy our conversations with them over the fence.

Our shipment arrived, and though we could hardly wait to get our stuff, somewhere around box twenty-five, when we realized they were only half way, I seriously considered taking it all back. 

Two trips to the city with our aforementioned friends.  And while the various modes of public transportation plenty sufficed for the boys, the sights, food, and atmosphere of this gorgeous city had us asking, multiple times, “Is this really our life?”

A bedtime story about Aiden train (a favorite character) who had to leave his best friend, Emily train, for a new station, where the passengers needed him and new friends awaited.  And though he finished the story while mommy teared up at his bedside, the reminder of friends and family an ocean away still remains.

And I know this constant mixing of bitter and sweet will mark our time here, for a while at least.

But we feel so blessed.  And though I am sure difficult times await I can say this was a great week and that we are happy.  I can say that we are adjusting and just beginning to find our place here. 

And at the very start of a journey with so many unknowns I think that is a lot to say.

First Visits to Budapest City Center

Monday, August 1, 2011

Week one (let the journey begin)

We arrived just six days ago, though it seems much longer.  Our days here seem to alternate tiring and frustrating with exciting and encouraging.  On the more overwhelming days I can't seem to remember how we got here, or why.

But on the good days I just plain old can't believe we are here.  With a view of tiled roofs and blooming gardens from our window, a picturesque village just minutes from our home, and a beautiful mountain backdrop everywhere we turn at times it feels like stepping into a movie scene.

Of course when it takes ten frustrating minutes to communicate, "Large pepperoni pizza, carryout," our little fantasy turns very real.

Between the logistics and paperwork of moving to a new country, furnishing an empty home, and giving our two wonderful, but needy children the attention they crave, it can feel like too much.

Throw in a language barrier and the simple trip to McDonalds becomes a daunting task that in all honesty, we are sometimes just not willing to take on.

But there are moments that let me know we are just adjusting, and in the end we'll be okay.

Like our first successful trip to the grocery store, where the location and purchase of food and drink felt monumental and left us giddy as we loaded up and took off for home.

Or navigating the food line at ikea, returning to our table with lunch, coffee, and the boys' first bites of ice cream here in Hungary (okay, so it was really chocolate mousse, but it worked.)

Or picnicing on the floor of our empty home watching the kids dive into yet another piece of pizza.  Content together, on our small blanket, with nothing around us at all.

It is just our beginning here.  Aiden is anxious for friends.  He told us today he wants to go share with some kids.  Any kids.  And something must be wrong if a three year-old is wanting to share at all.

And though we don't express it with tantrums and tears, we're anxious too.  To find our place here.  To make friends.  To hold a  conversation that does not relate to purchasing anything.

But it's part of the process and while we're tired and worn, we're also happy and hopeful.

Each day is a little easier and we are grateful for that.

Thank you for joining us on our journey.  It won't always be smiling faces and nudey little butts on the beach, but it is nice to know there are people with us, no matter how many miles in between.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Goodbye Ireland

Too soon I find myself rushing around the room, measuring 3-ounce bottles, shoving socks in the black holes of our many suitcases, and praying for a miracle at the weighing station tomorrow. One more round at the airport and we are on our way east from Ireland to our final destination… Budapest.

But first… a quick wrap-up of our week in Dublin…

It all started with a seven-hour, overnight flight from New York to Dublin. We were able to grab a few hours of sleep with children piled on our laps while the car seats we lugged through two large airports sat empty beside us. We stumbled half-awake into our cab, somehow managed to juggle our mounds of luggage up to our second-floor hotel room, and each fell into the nearest bed for the longest, most beautiful naps of our lives…

Post jet-lag fog, here were a few of the highlights…

Our favorite place was a small pub called The Portobello. With a meal deal including a large dinner and a pint of Guinness for 10 Euro, we couldn’t resist. Joel and I enjoyed the best beer we ever tasted, Finn was psyched about his chicken nuggets (which he told everyone about), and Aiden shoved down his food as fast as possible so he could hang on the small brass pole beside our table, tipping his conductor hat to the passersby as though they were seeing the same thing he was (The Polar Express, of course).

We tried our best to control them, but besides sliding down poles, waters were spilled, tables climbed on, and of course noise sufficiently increased. Still, as we left our second visit, a sweet lady at the next table (who I thought was annoyed by the chaos) took a moment to talk with our children and tell us how good our boys were.

After wiping the shock off my face I started to think about all I heard of the Irish and their love for children. And though it took four days to find a high-chair or straw here, the kids were so warmly embraced that I think my definition of “kid-friendly” is forever changed.

After a day of sight-seeing in Dublin, we joined a bus trip to the Wicklow Mountains. Aiden explored castle ruins where he swiped the keys from the castle man’s pocket and saved the day (in his mind, of course), Finn chased after chickens and bunnies with a running commentary to anyone who would listen (English-speaking or not), I enjoyed the gorgeous views and Joel the “historical stuff” at Glendalough and New Grange.

Between sight-seeing and bus trips we made sure to appease our train-loving son with a ride on the rails. We rode to a small (but crowded) fishing village where the boys first felt at home in Europe… in nothing but their undies (and even less for Finn) running freely through the water.

At the end of the day we returned to our favorite restaurant in Dublin where Aiden proclaimed, “I’m glad we’re here.” To which I asked, “Where Aiden? In the restaurant or in Ireland?”

He didn’t even hesitate. “In Ireland.”

And suddenly it was all worth it.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How it all began...

photo: xlibber
Our adventure took off on a cold February morning as we sipped hot, airline coffee and pored through interview notes, headed to Boston on a small passenger plane.  Nervous and excited, we anticipated days of grueling interviews and a literal world of international schools at our fingertips. 

As the short trip neared its end we pulled a nearly blank sheet from our bags.  On it we were to list our goals and hopes for our school of choice.  Line by line we painted a picture of the perfect school, perfect community, perfect jobs.

We started thinking in ideals and were already politely declining offers in our heads as we stepped into the crowded hotel.

Three days, seven interviews, and a few rejections of our own later we sat in our hotel room with two offers and one giant question mark.  We needed to make some decisions.

Pulling out the list so optimistically created just a few days earlier we felt the weight of disappointment growing with each line.  The existing offers, while fitting a few of our goals and values, required too many compromises for our young family.

Which left us with the giant question mark.  With the most intensive interview process thus far this school held a position for Joel only.

From the very beginning we were told a single teacher with three dependents held little to no chance of securing a job in an international school.  Though I stayed at home since the birth of my first son, this was a dream of ours, and I felt okay going back to work.

But with one final interview left and some cautious optimism on Joel's part, I let myself feel just a little excited.  I knew no matter what it would be a difficult transition for our family, but with mom still at home perhaps it would prove just a little smoother.

So with that same cautious optimism we checked through the list.  In a way it was too good to be true. It hit all of our major values and many of our minor ones.  It matched goals we added on a whim with little hope of actually attaining.  It was, in fact, above all we could ask or imagine.

And the next day after a nerve-racking, stomach-turning wait (on my part) Joel emerged from his interview, job offer in hand.

We were given five days to accept, and though giddy from the offer, we took every minute of it, making sure this was, in fact, the best decision for our family.

With absolute confidence, on a Thursday morning, we signed and sent a two-year contract that would lead us on a journey to Budapest, Hungary.  

And though it seemed an eternity six months ago, we are now counting down to our departure in days.

We plan to keep you updated through this blog.  Though I certainly cannot promise a post every day, we will try to keep up with the major events as well as some day-to-day aspects of our life overseas.

This is truly a bittersweet time for us as we say good-bye to the places and particularly the people we love so much.

But we are so excited to begin this new journey and realize this is not truly good-bye, just a different kind of beginning that we hope, in the end, will bring us even closer to the ones we love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Blog Returns

In anticipation for our future adventure, the Scanga blog returns!

Check out the new subscribe by email feature on the right.