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!