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.