Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The 'pros' of a place

Living and traveling in various places has given me an appreciation for what each country has to offer. The pros of a place.

In China the delicious spicy cuisine was a pro. 
In Kenya it was the relaxed atmosphere (which I have to admit was sometimes a con as well).
America has the best customer service in the world.
Hungary the quietest people.
The Italian and Swiss Alps win for stunning views.
Denmark has amazing boutique shopping.
Zanzibar the best beaches in the world.

Most recently my adventures took me to Scotland. And I think they have 'friendliness' going for them. Everyone was so nice. Always willing to chat. Generous. Their generosity and friendliness came out in full force when we went out one night with friends. We visited one of our co-workers in his hometown. His dad took us from pub to pub in the little town of Eyemouth (which you say exactly like it's written: eye mouth). Hanging out with intoxicated old men in a small Scottish pub showed the true friendliness of the Scots, especially as the night wore on.

At our last stop, our host showed us a photo hanging on the pub's wall that he took some years ago. I went back to look at it a little closer, then returned to the group for another drink. In the midst of my meandering back to my glass, another man in the pub went home and came back with a framed copy of the same photo I had just been looking at. He had snagged it some years ago and wanted me to have it, since I was admiring it on the wall. Seriously?! He went home and brought it back for me just because I was looking at it! I trekked the photo back to our host's house. I didn't feel good keeping it, since it was really a family keepsake. But I was astonished at the generosity and thoughtfulness of every Scottish person I met. Truly, the Scots are some of the nicest people in the world.

Friday, October 17, 2014

To my mommy friends

I'm not a mommy. But I have a lot of mommy friends. And lately a lot of you have been expressing the pressure you feel as moms. I've heard you talk about it in private conversations, emails, blogs and when I ask you how you're doing. When I hear you express your stress, guilt, fears of judgement and the pressures on you to be super mommy, I want to cry. Because that sucks! None of us should have to live with that kind of pressure. So this is what I want to say to you...

Ignore the pressure. Screw the pressure. Forget the pressure. I know that is easier said than done, but that pressure has nothing to do with your kids. Because your kids don't really care about the themed birthday party or the matching outfit or the organic lunch. And here's how I know...

I grew up with a single mom with three kids. She wasn't there for all the ball games or music concerts or school plays. She had to work. (And let's face it, she was TIRED!) We didn't have bento box lunches; we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wonder bread with two chips a'hoy cookies and a few potato chips from the big bag at home. We didn't have the newest clothes; we ordered the same five shirts, three pairs of pants, one package of underwear and one package of socks from the Sears catalogue every fall. We lived in a trailer for several years; our friends lived in two story houses with matching furniture in every room.

My mom's friends saw my sisters and me in our Sears catalogue clothes and eating no-frills lunches. They saw that my mom didn't always come to our events at school. They saw our mismatching furniture when they dropped off our friends for a sleep-over. But it's the things they didn't see that make me say please let go of the mommy pressure...

They didn't see that my sisters and I laid on my mom's bed every Saturday morning and talked and talked and talked. And my mom would just listen to our childhood and teenage ramblings. They didn't see my mom rush from work to make it to the band concert just in time. They didn't see her take me to the fabric store to pick out a homecoming dress and make it for me. They didn't see her mow the lawn or make dinner or put a band-aid on my finger. They didn't see her be my mom day in and day out. But I did. And even though we didn't have all the other things our friends had, I never felt without. Even when my mom said go outside and play, I didn't feel like she didn't want to be around me (although she probably didn't). Because I knew I was loved. Love. That's all your kids want. Kids are easy that way. Because the simplest things make kids happy...

This is what made me happy as a kid... I loved getting the Sears catalogue every fall and picking out what I wanted. I loved sitting on my mom's bed in that mismatching house every Saturday morning. I survived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chips a'hoy cookies allowed me some good lunch trades at times. I liked when my mom let me do the decorating to our house, even if it wasn't the nicest looking. I felt extra proud when my mom made it to a school event because I knew it was hard for her. I loved eating her fried halibut and helping her plant flowers in the yard. It's only when I look back as an adult that I realize that the things I loved as a child would have been looked on very differently by adults. Maybe my mom's friends thought I was without and that my mom wasn't a good mommy. But I didn't. And that's the best part - kids don't care what other people think; they just care what their mommies think.

So mommy friends, please don't let the pressure from others, pressure from yourself or pressure from society make you feel stressed, inadequate or judged. You are super mommy already. Your super power is love.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

What expats can learn from a six year old...

A new student started in my class this week. Fresh off the boat from America. As he experienced his first two days of school, he taught me some things too. Reminders of moving to a new country. For the first time... 

Culture shock is real.
This sweet little guy had a great first day of school. Excited. Made new friends. The other kids in the class welcomed him with open arms, as international kids do. On Day 2 the same talkative, happy boy got teary-eyed about 20 minutes into the school day. Seeing "Assembly" on the schedule set it off because he didn't know what it was. A stomach ache and missing Mom and Dad followed the rest of the day. And it made me remember my own bouts of culture shock when I couldn't communicate that I wanted to buy strawberries in a Chengdu market or when I had to drive myself across Nairobi in rush hour. Whether 6 years old or 30, culture shock is real.

We live in an "international bubble".
As is normal in an international school, when we met our new first grader, I asked him what country he came from. International kids always know how to respond to this. Sometimes they say one country, sometimes three, but they always name the countries they "come from". This child responded, "Minnesota". Again I asked, "That's a state. What country is it in?" After going back and forth with guided questions, I finally said, "Isn't Minnesota part of the United States of America?" A little quizzically he replied, "Ya." I forget that kids back home don't know much beyond their community. It's normal when they're six years old. But I've gotten used to 6-year-olds knowing all kinds of things about the world. Just ask them what they're going to do during the next school holiday. Most recently I've heard... eat chocolate in Belgium, go to a play park in Austria and visit Grandma and Grandpa in Scotland. That's not normal except to expats.

We are lucky.
Near the end of the day Dad came to support his son adjusting to his new environment. This included tagging along to the assembly, which had set off the culture-shocking-day in the first place. We watched students share their learning, perform dances from five countries and show a small video clip of a man dancing around the world while cheers came from the audience with each country that came on the screen. At the end of the assembly, Dad was sharing how amazing it was to see all those countries and cultures represented in the assembly. He was enthusiastic about what his children will glean from being part of this international community. Yep, we're very lucky. We get so much from being part of all the diversity that being an expat provides. And the travel is a big plus too!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Atilla and Ildiko

Atilla and Ildiko live down the road from us. They're an elderly couple who are Hungarian, of course. The first time I met them was on the bus. They got off a couple stops before me that day. Atilla helped Ildiko down the step from the bus, as she limped and held her cane. I watched them saunter down the sidewalk as the bus pulled away destined for the next stop. When I got off, I jumped in my car. (We often park at the bottom of our "mountain" to catch the bus to the city.) As I turned the car to go up the "mountain", I saw Atilla walking beside Ildiko as she hobbled up the road. I thought, she should not have to walk up this hill. Then Atilla stuck his hand out to wave me down. They wanted a ride! I stopped, helped them in the car and off we went. They spoke no English. I spoke my pathetic bits of Hungarian. We established that I didn't speak German or Italian either. But we had a great little chat and I dropped them at their house.

A couple weeks later I saw them trekking up the hill again. I told Will to stop and pull over. We gave them a lift again with me giving the directions this time. Later I saw Atilla walking on the village sidewalk and gave him a shout and wave from my bike.

Atilla and Ildiko are a small part of my new Hungarian village life. They are part of what makes me like my little Hungarian "mountain".