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.