Friday, November 23, 2012

More to be thankful for...

Another Thanksgiving in Budapest.  

A day of gratefulness and family (where my children and husband never hear me yell,  "Just get out of the kitchen!").

And now, more than ever, a time with friends, pulling together stuffing and mashed potatoes, conferring over turkey baking techniques in the kitchen.

Last year it felt a little strange and sad, but this year it started to feel normal.  Of course I miss home and family, Thanksgiving parades and dozing on the couch while football announcers drone on in the background.  But I am thankful to be here.  

I am thankful for home.

I am thankful for the feeling of home, that it is more connected to my husband and kids than any particular place in the world.  

I am thankful for this city at night, for the magic it holds all lit up against the navy sky.

I am thankful for Starbucks at Christmas time, that while I pay almost double what I did in the States, it is so worth it to hold that warm, red cup in my hands and gaze out the white, decaled windows at the busy city passing us by.

I am thankful for warm snuggles on chilly mornings.

I am thankful that I'm a grown up and can eat candy before dinner (though I am back to sneaking it quietly in the corner of the kitchen).

I am thankful for my hard-working husband.

I am thankful that at least once a day someone runs to the bathroom yelling "Poo poo!" like it's a national emergency.  

I am thankful for little superheroes who climb my fingerprint-covered windows, shooting webs and ice from their tiny hands and jumping unabashedly from the couch, sure that one day they will take flight.

I am thankful that in 4 months we will add one more superhero to our collection. 

I am thankful for tiny feet jolting my belly, and for little hands pressing in from the outside.

I am thankful for this busy, growing, boy-filled family of mine.

And I'm thankful that we're crazy enough to keep adding to it.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Not another church!

Today I am relishing the soft couch beneath me.  The boys dive through their toy bins like long neglected treasure chests.  Joel reluctantly left hours ago, back to the grind after tearing himself from the spontaneous embrace of our children.

We are back from fall break.  Back from long car rides and ancient ruins and pizza for nearly every meal.

Our trip began with the annual October break medical emergency.

After clearing our fridge of all edible food through the course of the previous week, we were forced into the local pub for a quick Friday night dinner.  As we finished our meals Finn attempted to climb over the small bench, but instead fell backwards into the heating unit.

We are used to loud bangs and crying children, so after a short "I told you so" lesson I scooped him up in my arms and stroked his little blonde head.

When I noticed a spot of pizza sauce on my arm I leaned him forward, hoping to dab it off with a napkin.  But underneath the spot was more like a puddle, and when I matched it to the bleeding gash on the back of his head panicked mother mode kicked in fast.

Joel paid the bill, Aiden gathered the toys and we were off within two minutes.

The gushing quickly subsided and though we looked like a scene from a horror movie the doctor was able to fix him up with some antiseptic, a small haircut, and a few dabs of glue (a merciful substitute to stitches).

So it was off for bed and some last-minute packing, readying ourselves for the next days adventures.

I thoroughly enjoyed our first car trip.  Those precious hours with a hot cup of coffee and our energetic boys strapped to their seats... something I frequently miss from home.

So aside from some whining and relentless requests for food and drink, we rolled through the green, Slovenian countryside quite blissfully.  After a short stop in Ljubljana for ice cream and gyros we finished the day's adventure at beautiful Lake Bohinj.

The next few days were spent...

 hiking sparkling green (and surprisingly long) river gorges...

finishing with some hot drinks at the top...

riding scenic cable cars (for those of us not staring at our feet, praying it would soon be over)...

feeding the ducks (while carefully avoiding the swans)...

and most importantly, relaxing.

Finn still insists his favorite part of our trip was playing with toys in the apartment.  Aiden loved cooking and eating dinners at "home" (we have to literally beg this boy to go out to eat).  And Joel and I enjoyed sipping our coffee together in the morning, reading books and watching German-dubbed children's television.

From Slovenia we passed over steep, winding mountain roads and into the long, flat expanse of Italy.  There we shed our layers and soaked in the sun on our arms, navigating outlet store and roads lined in olive trees.

This time we ventured further into Italy, ending at a tourist farm just outside Florence, greeted by a bottle of homemade red wine on the rustic, wood table.

The next three days were a blur of people and pizza and so many steps to the next gelato.

But we did get to see these things...

Of course the smiling pictures leave out the whining and meltdowns, our complete exhaustion and the fact that when we finally strolled up to the Vatican Aiden screamed, "No, not a church!" and burst into tears.

But once again it's the happiest memories that linger, gnocchi that melted in our mouths, the kindness of strangers patching our tire, replacing our windshield wiper in a downpour, falling asleep with two little ones tucked between us, small smiles on our faces.

I'm not sure they know how lucky they are, and I'm certain I don't.  But I suspect someday we will.  And until then we'll just try to enjoy living it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Finny turns 3

"Finny, how old are you?"

"I'm three!"

"That's too big.  You're getting too big."

"I'm not too big for you to hold me.  I'm just a little big."

And hold him I did, wondering at my little baby turning boy.  Wishing for the millionth time to slow down time, to keep him little forever.  Nudging him awake just to spend a few more moments of his birthday together.

When we arrived here over a year ago, Finn was still very much a baby.  He toddled around in his diaper, drank from a sippy cup, clung to his stuffed rhino like a lifeline...

Now he's a potty pro, insisting on his privacy when I dare to invade his space; when he's thirsty he grabs the juice, pours himself a cup, and chugs it down; and sometimes when I clean up at night I find rhino thrown in a corner, Finn sound asleep upstairs, without him.

He's his own person now.  Fiercely independent and overwhelmingly stubborn.  Endearing and sweet and manipulative, the great combination of toddlerhood.

One year older.  Which I'm starting to view as a year gone, slipped through my fingers, vanished too fast.

But if a year's going to fly by anyhow, at least it's been a memorable one.  From his second birthday until now, somewhere between the ups and downs, the giggles and tantrums, this boy has been some places.

All in all I'd say it's been quite a third year...

Finny's second birthday party.  Our house.  October 2011

Soon to be bit by a swan.  Lake Bled, Slovenia.  October 2011

Chugging with a broken collarbone.  Venice, Italy.  November 2011

Swimming at the Aquapalace.  Prague, Czech Republic.  January, 2012

Finny's favorite activity, anywhere in the world.  Vienna, Austria.  April 2012

My handsome man.  Budapest, Hungary.  May 2012

Soaking in the rays.  Barcelona, Spain.  May 2012

Cruising the Danube.  Budapest, Hungary.  June 2012

Throwing stones.  Brela, Croatia.  June 2012

Best friends.  Filzmoos, Austria.  July 2012

Loving daddy time.  Prague, Czech Republic.  August 2012

Back home!  Our village, Hungary.  August 2012

So I'll survive another birthday gone by.  In a few days the sappiness and smothering will subside.

But these memories will remain.  And though I'm sure he'll forget soon enough, somehow I know this adventure is shaping him, just as it is all of us.

And as much as I miss each stage, I love the Finn he's becoming, and I'm thankful for all of the moments that brought him here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

One year here... and one year gone

(This post should actually be backdated a bit, I wrote it a couple of weeks ago on a Word document and forgot to post it.  I'll be back with something more current soon!)

When we first hit upon our one year anniversary in Budapest I thought about how far we’ve come.  I imagined and relived our first few days, comparing those hazy memories to our life here now.  Fear and confusion replaced by confidence and security, tinged with happiness, spotted with challenges. 

I looked at our family.  The boys screaming with excitement when Joel arrived home from work.  Navigating car rides and countries and kids entirely on our own.  I watched the boys grow sticky with ice cream and wet with dancing fountains. 

But the memories, both happy and hard, are tainted with gaps.  Moments of dead air where we most acutely feel our distance from home.  Those times of joy and hardship that we are simply not there for. 

One whole year and I still haven’t figured it out.  How to celebrate new life without holding it, how to be there through surgeries and sickness without stepping through the tinted hospital doors, how to grieve without funerals, to comfort without hugs.

And while we try to do these things from afar, we fail to accomplish that which we would back home.  There are just some moments where a phone call won’t suffice, where 100 written words lack the simple power of presence, where hoping for help falls short of offering it.

So I simply understand that this, also, is life now.  Memories built and memories missed.  I don’t think, anymore, it’s a matter of importance.  This life trumping that one.  Just that we’re more aware of our choices.

Had we stayed back home we would still be losing out on memories.  We wouldn’t know it and we wouldn’t feel it in the hard way we do here, but I can’t imagine erasing this year of snapshots, and can’t really picture who I’d be right now without them.

Even as I write we drive with my parents through the Austrian Alps, its gray tips peeking through thick blankets of clouds, mysterious and breathtaking.  As we’ve spent a wonderful month touring both families through this world of ours sometimes I think, why wouldn’t we live here?  It makes so much sense when they are here, when I don’t, at all, feel alone.

But I’m a bit like my eldest son who, as we prepared him for the excitement of his grandparents’ visit, quickly pointed out in his sad, little voice that before too long they also would leave.  And I know it too, that some days I’ll look around and ask, instead, why are we here?

I suppose this aspect of life is unchanging here.  It touched our very first days and continues even now.  It’s the same old bitter and sweet, just a slightly different flavor each month, each day. 

When we chose this path I expected hardship, but hoped it would quickly fade.  Instead I am learning it changes, morphing and evolving with time. 

But bitter and sweet isn’t always such a bad combination, and one year later I’m just beginning to appreciate its distinct taste.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Day Two

One year ago...

When I wake up sunlight streams into the room.  It seems like midday, but when I glance at the clock I see it's before seven.  Cups clank downstairs, Aiden makes distant car sounds, thrilled with the houseful of new toys.

I hear Finn stirring in the crib beside me, arise to his sunny smile.  I lift him out with a quick kiss and set him on his feet, but when we near the narrow, winding staircase I pick him up again, set him lightly on my hip.

Morning nearly always carries more hope for me than the nighttime.  And I am a little happy for the challenges ahead of us today.

But in a moment my sock slips on the polished wooden stair, right as it narrows at the center.  The following seconds feel surreal, but I notice the weight of my own body as it hits the hard edge of one stair, then another, and another.  But mostly I hear the thump of Finn's head, the sound of his cry.

Joel ends up running to his rescue, scooping him up while I lay helpless at the bottom.  I sit up slowly, but everything hurts, my elbow and hip run through with a searing pain.

Finn calms down quickly, the resiliency of a toddler.  But tears still moisten my eyes and I limp with Joel's help to the couch.  I sit and wonder what we will do.  Aiden hovers over me, scared of my pain.  I try to comfort him, but I think he knows I'm just as frightened.

Joel asks over and over, "What do you want to do?"  I know what he means, but I don't know where to begin.  Who do we call?  Our landlord, the school receptionist?  We don't know anybody here and again I realize just how alone we are.

I pop some tylenol and wait for the pain to lessen.  I am sure something is wrong with my elbow, but I stay quiet.

Now I am thinking of home.  Imagining this same situation one week ago.  My in-laws watching the kids while Joel drives me to our small town hospital, pulling under the awning of the emergency ward, knowing where to go from there.  My parents a phone call away, ready to jump in the car if ever I need them.

But here it's just us.  Our parents can't hop on over to help us.  And with two small kids in a new country the hospital is out of the question.  I am terrified by the thought of it.

In a few hours the pain does lessen and our landlord agrees to pick us up and take us to our car, where it waits in the school's gated parking lot.  I am limping when he arrives, and though I feel a little foolish I've stopped thinking about the hospital and am happy to be heading towards the school instead.

When our landlord pulls in he points us to a green car sitting lopsided in the parking lot.  It's our car... flat tire and all.

Joel rides with our landlord to the nearest mechanic, where he requests some help, only to be met with a "Come back later, it's lunchtime."  At this point he leaves us on our own, unable to wait out the long lunch of our Hungarian mechanics.

Later that afternoon Joel walks away from the school, where the kids and I munch on some leftover airplane snacks in lieu of a real lunch.  He walks to the next village where the mechanics are finally back from lunch.  I count the minutes until his return. I can't place us here, and without cell phones I feel like he's walked of the face of the earth.

Turns out he wandered just five minutes down the road.  Still, I whisper a prayer of thanks when I spot him walking towards us.

Later that evening we park our green car with its four, full tires on a bumpy, dirt road in the village.  We walk across the brick square, empty of life on this gray, rainy night.

When we walk through the restaurant doors we're a little nervous, but it feels like warmth in here, with it's pink and green, plaid tablecloths, it's flickering candles and English menus.

We attempt to order in Hungarian, one of the few skills we learned from hours of Hungarian lesssons while washing the dishes and driving in the car.  Still, our waiter crosses over to English when we realize learning to ask for wine is a fairly useless skill if you can't say red or white.

But the food is hot and filling, the boys are happy and we smile at each other over our plates, daring to imagine a future here, and a happy one at that.

Even with the mishaps, we're here now.  The months of daydreaming are over, the hope and the dread past.  It's up to us to live it now, to stop thinking about it.  For the first time I sit back just slightly in my chair and let myself feel some relief.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Day One

One year ago…

I stand in the terminal, frozen. Vaguely aware of the kids and Joel, struggling with our bags. Dublin to Budapest flashes across the board in menacing red letters. Around me I see only strange faces, hear only strange words. This will be my life, these people my surroundings. I can’t move.

Joel somehow herds bags, kids and wife to a table at a nearby café. Before I catch my breath a cold Guinness lands before me, its golden foam promising temporary relief.

I start to refuse, but instead sip slowly and the tightness in my throat loosens, ever so slightly. Enough to breath. And just barely enough to step on that plane…

When we land I concentrate on the in and out of my breath, fidget with the kids' hair, clothes, cleaning their sticky hands, gathering their trash… trying not to think of the next step and knowing there’s no going back.

I snuggle one child or another in the front of the bus that picks us up. I don’t know which one, only needing something warm and real to hang on to. Although we’re back on the ground I feel like I’m floating and cling to the only thing I understand here, my family.

In what feels like minutes night falls and we’re crossing a bridge. I glance to the left and it is like our Budapest guide book coming to life before us, only the lights more brilliant, the night even deeper. My breath catches, but it’s not nerves this time. I glance at Joel across the small aisle and my first smile today plays reluctantly across my lips.

But soon the roads narrow and the bus bounces over a playground of potholes. It begins to rain as we unload kids and bags from the bus, as we drag days and weeks worth of packing through the gate, loading the hallway of our temporary home with the remnants of our past life.

When the colleagues sent to greet us close the door behind them a quiet settles in and I am struck by our isolation. Surrounded by strangers, we are left alone to navigate this alien land all by ourselves. After six years of marriage and two kids, I feel like a grown up for the first time.

One thing remains the same, however. My kids need snacks, drinks, toys to play with, baths and bed. The routine remains unchanged and tonight it grounds me, the neediness of my children saving me from the vast emptiness just outside.

I watch American TV on my computer as I struggle to sleep that night. Every few hours I wake and click through for another episode of The Office, longing for a taste of home throughout this long night.

Forcing my eyes closed, I imagine tomorrow, the daylight, a hot cup of coffee. I am lucky I don’t know what it actually holds, but tonight I find enough calm to slip in and out of sleep until dawn...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A taste of ordinary

Wow.  So I knew I was majorly neglecting my blogging responsibilities, but almost two months?  Is it too cliche to ask, where has the time gone?

I mean, now that it's summertime there are so many important tasks vying for my attention.  Books that need read, pools requiring swimmers, reality TV shows begging for my viewership, and always, always children needing... well, children needing.

Today I woke up late (7:30) to Joel missing on a morning bike ride, Aiden coloring downstairs, and Finn whining in my doorway.  After providing four or five breakfasts to our continuously hungry boys we leisurely piled in the car, headed to Ikea.

Visiting Ikea always transports us back in time, to our first week here in Hungary.  Joel tells me the word terrifying is too strong, but I think it's a fairly accurate description of our first seven days (well, mine at least).  Terrified to board that plane, to drive, to shop, to stand in the Ikea food line with it's foreign menu, foreign money, foreign system.  I remember looking at each other with wide eyes, asking, "Did we just pay $100 for lunch?" (it was actually more like 10).

There is not much I like to revisit about that first week.  I keep thinking it will get funnier with time, and while many things have, that hasn't.  It was too real and we had too much at stake.

Fast forward 11 months...

We navigate the long, crowded food line with ease.  We know where the toys are, our boys' favorite Ikea meals, we've learned the absolute necessity of electronic entertainment if we hope to purchase anything.  We fill our car with the mass-produced treasures loading our cart, hop in and head happily down the road.  On our way home we near the McDonald's and with temperatures in the 90's the McFlurry temptation is almost impossible to resist.  As Joel finishes a phone call I pull the kids from the car, hold their hands across an empty street, and welcome the cool air as it filters through the open door.  With Finn in my arms and Aiden at my side I communicate our ice cream needs using a mixture of poor Hungarian, ridiculous hand gestures, and the ever-effective pointing.  But my heart isn't racing this time, I'm not worried anyone hates me for my wildly inept language skills, I don't flounder when they tell me the price, worried I'm somehow being swindled at every turn.

It's easy in a way I've never defined easy before.  Easy because it's what we know, because somehow we understand how things work here... easy because this is our new normal.  It doesn't mean that every day's a good one.  That I don't get lonely or nostalgic or sad.  But it's not scary now, and certainly not terrifying.

I've noticed in our time here that the lows are extra low, the highs extra high, but mostly, average is average, anywhere.  And almost a year in our days are mostly just that, average.  The boys racing cars along our tile floor, monotonous trips to the grocery store, dinners cooked, dishes washed, lazy afternoons on the deck.

And really it's what I love about this new life of ours.  Sure, the frequent trips to exotic and beautiful destinations don't hurt.  But I think when I look back on our time here it's the little moments I'll miss.  Finn peering through the window, shovel in hand, nose pressed against the glass.  Family bike rides to the sweets shop, cooling off with an ice cream cone.  Quiet dinners outside, swatting at flies and stabbing sausages.

It's what we lacked in the beginning, what we missed without knowing it.  A sense of the mundane, a taste of the ordinary.  The feeling of content, amongst all the intense emotions of those early days.  A feeling that surfaced so slowly I almost wondered if it existed here.

But it does.

And now we wait anxiously to show this world to our parents, to guide them through our every day.  It is fun to imagine them here.  Seeing things how we saw them for the first time, noticing people and places we've learned to just pass by.

Wondering what we ever found so terrifying about such an ordinary, and extraordinary, place.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The disappearing in-between

Ah, Mother's Day.  What a nice notion.  A day all about Mom.

A big "thanks for everything Mom" where I can settle down on the couch with a cup of coffee and watch my children play from a distance while my husband scrubs dirty dishes in the kitchen.

It always looks so hopeful first thing in the morning, when Joel calls the kids downstairs so I can get a few more minutes sleep.  When I finally do roll out of bed and my two year-old yells, "Happy birthday Mom" as I wander down the steps.  When I'm greeted with hugs and kisses and a steaming mug, a soft couch...

On which I can sit for at most two minutes before realizing that even though it's Mother's Day, and perhaps even more so because of it, I am still the mom here.  And particularly with preschool-aged children, though I imagine it never really ends, they still expect me to do mom-type things and, well, to still be their mom... on Mother's Day!

I'm not the kind that can honestly say just being with my family is all I want for Mother's Day.  Believe me, I've tried in the past.  It took Joel just one year of taking me serious to learn his hard lesson... that's not what I want at all.

I want a big deal.  A to-do if you will.  Homemade cards, constant reminders of exactly whose day it is, and of course some festivities that center primarily around food and coffee.

I want lots of time with my kids.  Just time that consists of giggles and kisses, of chocolate-covered faces without the sugar aftershock.  A day that looks a lot like a montage of all our best pictures.

But as most parents know, though we may seriously attempt to lower our expectations of any activities involving our children, these days never seem to go as planned.

Everything was perfect in theory.  A bike ride in the morning.  A long car trip with quietly slumbering children.  An amazing brunch at a beautiful hotel, delicious food, plentiful drinks, a fully-staffed children's area.

It had everything.  Brightly colored cards.  Appropriately extravagant festivities.

Even constant reminders of the day's true meaning.

"Aiden, stop kicking your brother... it's Mommy's Day!"

"Just eat the toast... it's Mother's Day!"

"Get off the floor, you're going to trip the waiters.  Come on guys, it's Mother's Day."

"Finn, you just peed all over the door.  Really, on Mother's Day?"

Believe it or not, my kids were still needy today.  Still rebellious and frustrating and whiny.

At the end of the day I turned off their bedroom light, fell into my own bed, and decided as they argued in the room beside me that tonight, Mother's Day night, they could put themselves to bed.

Some moments later, a tiny whisper.

"Finn, you should go make Mom feel better."

When I saw those small silhouettes in the doorway I held out my arms and let them climb into bed beside me.  Finn rolled on his back, grabbing from my night stand anything with buttons.  Aiden fetched BooBoo Doggy (my childhood pal) from his new home in Finny's bed, beginning his usual interrogations as to the origin of BooBoo's injury, if it still hurts, why he's crying.

As I felt their slight movements beside me, listened to their aimless chatter, looked into those wide, brown eyes, my mind started scrolling through the day's pictures.

And in one of those surreal parenting moments, I saw only smiling, chocolate-covered faces, heard only giggles and squeals of excitement, felt only the weight of their arms around my neck and the height of their adoration.

It's a funny thing that happens with kids.  How hours and even full days of fighting and tantrums, of strife and pure, intense exhaustion, can be canceled by a single moment.  A small clip without a before or after, where you can almost hear the sentimental music filtering in, view the happy pictures fading and appearing before you.

I guess as someone's child myself, I am luckier for it.  Grateful that my mom tends to see all the good and none of the bad, and that I'm sure she views my sister and I's lives as something of a joyful montage (lacking many of the less-than-glamorous in-betweens).

It might seem like happy ignorance, and perhaps it is.

But I like to think it's magic.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A foot in each world

This is where I live.

Where my babies live.

My husband.  My house. 

This is my home.  

But also, this isn't my home.

It's not that it feels particularly foreign anymore.  In fact it feels quite comfortable.  I leave the house without fear now.  I bike, I shop, I talk (out loud).

I don't expect smiles and waves as we wander the streets, I've stopped worrying if everyone hates me, if they can somehow smell the foreigner on me.

In fact, until I open my mouth, it's pretty easy to blend in here.  And I find I'm granted a little extra leeway for the small children I tote around on a fairly regular basis.

There are certain moments, holding Finny's hand down the slide, coffee in hand, where I feel like this is mine.  Like I own it somehow, or at least participate as a small part in it all.  

But there are times when I feel my heart quite literally pulled across the ocean.  Back Stateside.  Back home.

It nearly always hits quick, unexpectedly.  And is layered with the guilt of my contentment here.

Mostly it is fear.  My nephew not knowing me.  My friends moving on.  My family not needing me.  My kids growing older.  

How I wish I could freeze our time here.  Enjoy it, experience it, learn from it, but not lose the time.  The moments I'm missing back home.  The moments they are missing here. 

Nine months in and I am happy here.  

Sometimes I sit back at my book club, or play group, or home, and I feel so lucky.  Lucky to be here, to experience this, to know these people.  

So when the panic sets in and the homesick surfaces, it's more complicated, and, to a degree, more painful.  I don't miss home because I'm unhappy here, I miss home because I'm missing it... missing moments, missing people, missing time.

I am torn between one happy life and another.

In bath tonight Aiden decided he would like to go back to the United States.  Tomorrow.  For one day.  Then he would like to find an airplane and fly back to Hungary.  For one day.  Then... well, you can guess where it goes from there.

But somewhere in that four year-old mind he is searching for solutions to my exact problem.

We love it here.  We are happy here.  But also, we love it there, and are happy there.

If only we could live with one foot in each world, a day here, a day there...

But if we followed through with Aiden's plan we'd spend most of our life in the air, between homes, in the company of strangers.

For now this is our choice, our home.  But a part of me belongs both places.

The pictures, the voices... they are snapshots of a life I'm missing, moments without an in between.  But moments just the same.

And while I can't have a foot there, these moments keep bringing me home.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Aiden's Easter prayer

"Thank you for Aiden and Finn, who are the best family in the whole world, and for Daddy, who loves us all so much.  And thank you for Easter..."

"Stop Mommy!  I want to say that part."

"Okay buddy, go ahead."

"Thank you for Easter and for dying when you were so sad, and thank you for coming to life, and for Easter."

It's something, really.  The way a child can simplify the most profound mysteries.  And how one short sentence breathed in complete sincerity can hold more impact than a book full of carefully researched theology.

Not that he is without questions.  In fact I've spent many a long and drawn-out bedtime answering such inquiries...

"Do angels fly?", "When Jesus comes back to live here, will he come to our house and play video games?", and my personal favorite,  "Does Jesus eat dinner in my heart?  Yes or no?  Just tell me, yes or no."

Sometimes I think he doesn't understand at all.  To be honest, sometimes I wonder if I understand at all.  The more questions he asks the more I think, "I have no idea."

But then he pulls out something both beautiful and simple.  He so easily suspends his questioning for belief.  And for thankfulness.

And so today, Easter Sunday, we are thankful for, friends, the everyday adventures of a life abroad.

But we are especially thankful for those things we don't completely understand.  The simple complexity of faith.

Happy Easter everyone!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A bit like love

Nearly 8 months and life is slowly creeping its way into normal here.

The onset of spring brought with it my usual change-of-season gloom. The sunshine and open windows, the fresh air and happy(ish) pedestrians... it all made me miss home.

But it wasn't so long this time, and certainly not so painful. And actually, spring here is kind of great.

Our first visitors arrived last week, just as the weather took a drastic turn for the better. It was like seeing the city through fresh eyes, the passersby practically bouncing in their light jackets, the bustling pedestrian street littered with cafe tables, the Danube glittering in the sunlight. It all felt a little magical.

And the best part... our fenced in yard where the beasts can roam free. So when Aiden starts chasing Finny with the broom, or Finn's tantrums have me pulling out my hair, I simply open the doors and breathe a sigh of relief as the whirlwind moves outside. And by the time they return, all that pent-up energy released, I'm almost happy to see them!

As always, spring brings new life... most notedly the life of my new nephew, Gavin! Born just a little over a week ago, baby Gavin has stolen our hearts from afar.

I loved him immediately, the second I knew he was born, but I felt the distance more acutely than normal. I left my first conversation with my sister in tears, knowing that a year ago I would have been right by her side, holding that baby in person, experiencing the joy of it firsthand.

But I understand that this is life now. And that the bond of family doesn't change or lessen with distance. It was actually something of a relief to feel such love for someone I never even saw a picture of, let alone held in my arms. And now that they are settled at home we can finally be together through the wonders of technology. Watching the baby, talking to the big sister, smiling and laughing.

It's not the same, but it's something for sure. And while Aiden's desire to "rub the baby's head" may be delayed some, it won't be forever, and before long I'll have that little guy in my arms (although he may be too squirmy to stay there!).

And so goes our life here now. I imagine the warm weather will jumpstart our weekend excursions to the city, where we'll wander the streets, eating ice cream and frequenting parks. The boys will continue their bike riding and us our family hikes.

I don't think I'll ever completely stop missing home, but I like that I can still enjoy life while I do. I like building memories here. I like that our family is closer than ever. I like that the boys are learning to adapt, that they're learning about different places and different people, that they can make friends with anyone, regardless of who is from where or speaks what language.

I like sitting out on our deck in the sunshine writing this blog, knowing that a few months back I was almost too scared to go outside. The sights, the sounds, the smells... they were all so unfamiliar, and they terrified me.

But now, they feel like home. It's a different kind of home, for sure, and certainly not the one of my imaginings. But, all things considered, and albeit some tougher moments, I think, perhaps, I am beginning to love it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What I didn't see before

So I realize these posts are getting few and far between.  I think about writing often, but ultimately land before my laptop with heavy fingers, that empty screen too intimidating to confront.

I tell my mom it's a good thing.  When time stretches out between posts she inevitably worries I'm not doing well, but it doesn't mean that at all.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I am most compelled to write when at my lowest, confused by my emotions, overwhelmed by my surroundings, or just downright in the dumps.  I'm a complainer, by nature, so when Joel tires of hearing my gripes, I turn to the blog.

But currently I am mostly gripe-free, so I suppose this should be a surprisingly pleasant update on our life here.

Shortly after Aiden's birthday our family spent a long weekend in Prague.  Joel both attended and presented at his first international conference and I fully embraced the perks of my stay-at-home mom status, tagging along with the kids as his supportive, but inevitably needy companions.

We spent some time exploring Prague on either end of our trip, but while the city held incredible aesthetic appeal in its rich architecture and beautiful, stone-inlayed streets, it was cold.  In the end my fellow complainers and I wrestled Joel into the warmth of restaurants and, ultimately, back to our hotel.

But the hotel was a treasure in itself.  Kids and hotels aren't usually a great mix.  The small rooms, thin walls, and lack of most anything fun can create a real nightmare past the initial new place excitement.  So when we decided to take this trip together, in the dead of winter, I knew we needed an exceptional hotel.  We needed... The Aquapalace.

It lived up to everything the name suggests (and Trip Advisor confirmed).  I loved the huge, delicious breakfast and small, attached play area where I could sip my coffee and watch the kids clobber one another in the safety of the ball pit.  The boys loved the wave pool, the miniature water slides, and, always, the ice cream.  Joel loved that he could focus on his conference, without worrying about us, where we were and what we were doing (I think he enjoyed the water slides a little as well).

Joel's presentation went very well.  He spoke about integrating Google Apps into classroom instruction.  About 20 teachers attended and from what I heard (via AISB attendees) it was a great success.

Our transition back from the States remains smooth.  Moments of homesick surface now and again, but I maintain a bit more perspective than I possessed in the fall, where floods of doubt and regret accompanied the most minor of setbacks.  And while life certainly is not perfect now and I've experienced my share of disappointments, I also stopped blaming Hungary.  This move.  (My husband.)

For the first time, in this past month, I experienced small moments of content.  Where I smile on my way to bed, for no other reason than the recognition that I am happy.  Truly happy, if not always, at least in that moment.

It may not seem like a monumental accomplishment, or even worth mention, but it is what I missed so much about home.  Because our first five months here lacked any of those moments.  Sure, I felt happy at times, but not content, not peaceful and assured and comfortable.  I trusted those moments would come, but I could barely understand how.  I thought those feelings were only a memory, of a happier time.

I remember, particularly in October, singing along to this song in my kitchen, knowing the truth of the words, but feeling so hopeless.

It's by Sara Groves, one of my favorite artists, and the chorus says,

From this one place I can't see very far. 
In this one moment I'm square in the dark.   
These are the things I will trust in my heart.   
You can see something else, something else.

I am just starting to recognize glimpses of the something else.  At times they are long and at times they pass by before I know what happened, but I'm glad for small glimpses.

The regrets are fewer now and I'm starting to see all we are gaining from this experience.  A closer family, committed friends, strength.

It's enough to get me from day to day.  When I'm feeling hopeless or anxious or lost, it's just enough.  Which, really, is more than enough.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

On Aiden's 4th birthday

(I wrote this over a week ago, but it's been a busy one, which is why I'm just now getting to posting it.  Sorry for the delay.)

I always knew love at first sight as a rare, romantic occurrence.

It happens, sure, but certainly not for Joel and I.  No, ours was a mild acquaintance that grew to inseparable friendship that evolved into strong and honest love.

But I still reserved the phenomenon of love at first site for the birth of our first child. 

Children were my dream.  I was that little girl playing mother to children mere years my junior.  Forming babysitting clubs while still in need of services myself.

My pregnancy with Aiden was uneventful, but I thrilled at every little nudge and panicked over the mildest of cramps and slightest of temperatures.

Labor was typical.  Long and hard.  I planned for an epidural only to completely miss the window in a narcotic-induced fog.

So when I finally peered upon my slimy, purple son I was tired.  And angry.  And amazed.  And hungry.

But I was not in love.

I knew I loved him, and I managed a few drunken "That's our baby boy"'s before they whisked him off to the weighing station.

I happily watched as Joel stroked the arm of our screaming baby, saying over and over, "It's okay buddy, it's okay."

But when it came time to hold that little thing I just wanted someone to take him away and let me sleep.

Now much of those early emotions were a direct result of the late-in-labor narcotics I begged for.

But hours later after an all-too-short nap I gazed down at this little life cradled in my arms, and I felt resentful. 

I mean, I was more than prepared to mother this creature, just right after I caught up on the entire night's sleep I missed while birthing him.

In the course of the next few days I oftentimes peered into his clear, plastic cradle and literally hurt with love.  But other times it felt like spying on a shriveled stranger.  (It didn't help that the blonde-hair, blue-eyed newborn of our imaginations ended up with a flattened nose and jet-black hair, and that the first day I could barely pick him out through the nursery window.)

I cried a lot that week.  When Joel wanted to watch the football game on our tiny hospital television.  When I found an elephant ultrasound while flipping past the Discovery Channel.  When we were served applesauce with dinner (a pregnancy favorite).

Looking back I view this tearful time as a kind of grieving process.  While I thought I was bringing home a little bundle to snuggle and tote around like one of those fashionable dogs, I was actually losing a whole world that, despite marriage and my best efforts at selflessness, revolved entirely around me.

And on top of that this particular little package, while sweet and sleepy and seemingly good-natured, did little to make my heart soar.  At least not how I imagined it.

I loved my son from the very beginning, and at times I think even before that.

But I didn't realize that you could fall in love with a child as well.

And now, four years later, when I sneak into his room at night and lay my hand on the slow rise and fall of his chest, the love I imagined from day one hits me like a brick.  Knocks the wind right out of me. 

I find myself searching to both contain and express a love beyond words and actions. 

Sometimes I wonder if I could possibly love him more, only to realize the next day, as he bravely conquers imaginary fires and tells me I make the best cupcakes in the whole world, that somehow it doubled overnight.  And if it keeps going at this rate how will I even survive him leaving in just 14 short years?

In the past four years I watched him grow from a dependent little baby with spiky, black hair, to a tireless toddler with enough energy to power a rocket, to a full-blown little boy... one who thinks about other's feelings, who engages in actual conversations, who fights fires and pilots airplanes.

Any resentfulness is long gone.  In a way it is like he was always here.  I certainly can't picture life without him.  

He was our first step towards a complete family (well, second maybe, if you count marriage, which I probably should).

A family I am so happy with, so content in, we could quite literally go anywhere in the world... as long as we're together.  

And as we face life's challenges here together, I find I love him even more.  At his best, and at his worst.  And though he's only four and can completely drain me, his laughter and kindness and even his drama keep me grounded.  

This little four year-old makes the strangest of places feel like just home.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

When worlds collide

Five days back and no regrets.  No sadness.  No temporary bouts of depression.

Just something that must be contentment, with a slight chance of happiness.

Because to answer my previously posed questions, I felt three weeks ago like I was going home.  Then I felt like I was home.  Then like I was going home.  And now, like I'm home.

When I first referred to our return to Budapest as "going home" Joel did a double-take.  I'm sure he had no idea what I was talking about.  I couldn't possibly mean Budapest.

But I did, and I do.

I loved our time in the States.  Family and friends were like a breath of fresh air.  The grocery stores were bigger and more packed with every imaginable food and non-food item than I even remembered.  Sales people were friendly and helpful and, most importantly, spoke English.

I'm pretty sure I ate almost two gallons of ice cream and cookies for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And I can say in hindsight, the few extra pounds were definitely worth it (and it's not coming off quickly with all the Reese's peanut butter trees I stashed in our bags).

For three weeks we lived with our children's four favorite babysitters.  Joel and I could come and go as we pleased.  No need to book weeks beforehand.

But in light of all that, and though there were tears in my eyes as we said good-bye, I was ready to come home.

I was anxious to be here.  Both nervous and excited to function as a family of four again, out on our own.  To face the challenges of daily life with a little more courage, and a little more ease.

So when we flew by our house and eased onto the runway I found myself surprisingly calm.  Such a stark contrast to our arrival five months ago, when we stepped terrified into the small airport, feeling lost and alone and utterly helpless.

And though the children screamed mercilessly from the time the plane landed and though the stewardesses were forced to carry them off in tears while we toted a ridiculous amount of luggage, it all felt strangely comforting and familiar.  I was used to the way they so easily took charge of my children.  I understood they would force on their coats, though at that point a blizzard could have blown through and I wouldn't have taken the time.  And five months ago it may have, but this time it didn't bother me.

We knew our way to the elevator and quickly found our familiar bus driver, who happily greeted our just-barely composed children.

The city sparkled in the sun and we saw it for the first time as our home and not a tourist destination.  The familiar roads and buildings, the places we've been and the ones we want to go, and finally our village, the narrow streets leading to our house, waiting just as we left it.

Yet in that strange way things morph with time, it was all a little different.  Our village seemed just slightly more cluttered and disorganized.  Our house bigger and a little more empty.  And, as Finny so delicately put it, "Our TB's not big enough!"

But in a way it's a fitting summary of our time home.  Being here changed my view of being there, and being there changed my view of being here.  It made it possible for both worlds to coexist, for the old memories and the new to stand side by side, neither forgotten in light of the other.

Now I would like to maintain the right to misery from time to time.  I mean, really, it's only been five days.  Just hoping it's misery with a little perspective... and a lot of happiness to cushion it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Returning soon!

We are home. We're safe, we're happy, and we are incredibly tired. So give me a few days to sleep off the jet lag and I will return from my accidental month-long blogging hiatus.