Another visit ends

1752All good things must come to an end, and so it was with our trip home for Christmas last year.  Just like the year before, we got treated to a significant snowstorm the morning of our flight out, but unlike last year, I was mentally prepared for the possibility, so I was able to enjoy it a bit with the kids instead if just stressing about how wet everyone’s snow pants were getting.  (Good thing, too, because we had another disappointing snow year in Vienna this past winter, so it was nice to get some kind of chance to play in the snow together.)  And again, our flight was delayed (though not as badly as the previous year), but before too long we were trekking through the snow to the airport to return to Vienna.


I hate leaving.  Every time.  Doing it repeatedly does not make it easier.  Our time here has gotten long — longer than any of us counted on — so leaving is hard, because part of me feels like we shouldn’t be leaving at all.  But we did.  With help from our family, clear and safe roads, and our boys, we collected up our things and prepared for another transatlantic journey.

Because of a different seating configuration on the plane, we sat differently than we usually do.  Whenever possible, we sit in the middle of the plane, 4 across.  When that isn’t possible, we sit 3 across at the window with one on the neighboring aisle.  This particular plane had only 2 seats near the window, though, so Dan & B sat there, and L and I sat across the aisle in the middle section.  No problem.

Except that it was a red-eye, and when it came time for sleeping, we had a problem.  It’s never easy to do a red-eye with kids.  No one ever enjoys sleeping on a plane, and kids can get progressively less adaptable as they get more tired.  When my guys are a bit older, they might think it’s fun to stay up all night and watch movies as we fly over the ocean, but not yet.  B leaned up against the window and fell asleep.  Dan dozed next to him.  Liam, with no window to lean on and no family member to bookend the other side of him, could just not get comfortable.  We tried putting him on the aisle with me in the middle seat, and we tried me on the aisle and him in the middle.  Whatever we tried, he ended up either sticking an appendage into the aisle or kicking the woman sitting next to him (the one that wasn’t me).  He was so tired.  He cried.  He tried to lay on the floor of the plane.  He could not get comfortable and he could not sleep.  He finally dozed off, laying across me, for maybe 20 minutes when it was nearly “morning” (meaning it was still very much the middle of the night for us).  I didn’t sleep at all.  It was a rough flight.

But, it was at least fast.  We didn’t know why at the time, but despite taking off about 15 minutes late, we landed in London over an hour early.  (We later discovered that our flight was able to take advantage of unusually strong upper level tail winds — we were traveling at over 700 mph!)  Arriving early in London wasn’t as much of a benefit as it might have been, though — we were to have had a 5 hour layover at Heathrow, which would now be over 6.  With a very tired family, it was a bit of a daunting proposition.

Other than rare occasions when we get a direct flight to the US, we usually connect through Heathrow or Charles du Gaulle.  I don’t love either option.  Both are huge airports which require commuting between distant terminals for international connections.  I don’t mind flying TO those airports, but I don’t like flying THROUGH either one.  This time, though, I learned to love Heathrow a little more.

We were lucky to discover that in the terminal we’d be flying out of (some 6+ hours after we arrived) there was a “Family Lounge”.  We didn’t know exactly what that meant, but we decided to find out.  It turns out that it was a spacious set of rooms outfitted for kids of all ages, and only accessible to people actually travelling with children.  They had comfy places to sit, an indoor play area (full of foam-rubber covered obstacles to play on), a nap/quiet room and a game room with TV and foosball (for older kids).  There was also a coffee machine for the grown ups.  It was EXACTLY what we needed.  Not only were the kids able to both run around and rest as they needed, but we were free from the typical airport worry that we were bothering any of the other travellers.

1830The kids started out by running around, climbing on the equipment and playing with the other kids who were waiting.  Eventually, Liam layed down in the nap room for some much needed rest, and we were able to charge our phones, connect to the wi-fi, and let the kids play games on the iPad while we waited.  It gave us some peace and relaxation during a very long day of travel (and has bumped Heathrow up to my most favorite airport to connect through).

The best part about flying back to Vienna from the States is that by the time we get on that second flight back to Vienna, we’re almost home.  That last little flight feels so short in the overall scheme of the entire trip, so it’s not so daunting.  It was another long day of travel, with another transatlantic journey accomplished, but we made it back “home” from another great trip Home.

Ready to go home

I still love Austria and I’m still enjoying my time here.  I still feel happy, and I love to be in Vienna. I’m looking forward very much to our summer vacation plans that we’re in the process of making and I’m super excited about the school we’ve chosen for B next year.  I still think our life here is pretty amazing, and very cool, and good for all of us.  But I’m ready to go home.

This isn’t the desperate, hiding under the covers feeling of homesickness.  It doesn’t come from feeling overwhelmed or incapable of managing the challenge of being here.  I don’t feel sad or lonely.  Given infinite money and infinite opportunity to travel, I’m not sure I’d want to go home yet.  I really do like it here, a lot.

The real issue is that, however much I love Austria, I miss my family and friends at home terribly.  I want to be able to see them more often — not just for a few weeks on vacation, which is lovely but always too short and with too few chances to see and talk to everyone.  I want a chance to be part of each other’s day-to-day lives again.  I want to see my brother on his birthday.  I want my mom to be able to come to the school plays.  I want to have my sister over for dinner.  I want to go camping with my kids in my dad’s backyard.  I want to have a lunch date with a friend.  I want to ride my horses again.

I miss my people from home.  I love Austria very much, but not enough of the people I love are here.

Our journey home (for the holidays)

I was a little apprehensive, after a year and a half of only relatively short flights with the kids, about our very long trips home and back across the Atlantic.  Circumstance (and winter weather) meant delays — long hours waiting on the plane or at the airport — which didn’t make it any easier.  Even so, I was pleasantly surprised at how well we all fared on our journey.


Before we even got underway on our trip to the US, we saw something at the Vienna airport that I’d never seen before (and wouldn’t even have thought possible).  While we were waiting in line to check our stroller at the oversize luggage line (we opted to check the stroller at check-in, since the boys were riding their Trunkis) we saw that the woman ahead of us was waiting to drop off … a Christmas tree!  Surely, you can’t check a Christmas tree as luggage?!?  But apparently, you can, because that’s just what she did.  The luggage guy did look a bit surprised, but he checked that it was tagged with a destination and accepted it.  Amazing!  Although I wish I had a) taken a picture, b) found out the destination (wouldn’t there be import restrictions on trees?) and c) been able to see how well it came out at the other end!

010The first leg of our flight was delayed due to the inbound flight from Paris being delayed before departure, and then further delayed (once we were on board) due to de-icing.  All of which resulted in an eventual dash through Charles de Gaulle once we landed in order to make our connection.  I was quite certain our bags wouldn’t move as quickly as we had and that we would arrive in Washington without them.

Not to worry, though, because even after the lengthy boarding process for our plane, there was, evidently, a chip of paint off of the rudder which had to be inspected prior to departure, which resulted in us sitting on the plane, but not moving, for almost 2 hours.

014Although that’s always a bummer (although not as much of a bummer as it would be to fly in a plane that wasn’t working properly) we were stuck on the A380 with Air France and, as it turns out, it’s about the best plane it is possible to be stuck on.

Not only is the plane itself incomparably cool (it’s a double-decker with a spiral staircase in back, and each seat has its own on-demand entertainment system) but Air France made it as comfortable as possible by handing out the headphones early and providing snacks.  We had games to play and movies and TV shows to watch PLUS we could have charged our iPhones and iPad at our seat if we’d needed to — all of which was a recipe for happy kids (and thus, happy parents) during the delay.


Once we got on our way, flying on the A380 was a little weird.  It’s so big that rolling down the runway for takeoff, it felt impossible that we would ever get going fast enough to get off the ground.  And then, when it was finally flying, it was surprisingly quiet for something so big.

019The trip went very well, and the kids were great.  Any worry I had about how they would do was unwarranted.  They were amazingly patient, got along well together, and behaved beautifully.  Liam had a bit of a crying spell after waking up from a nap (actually, he woke up because we were landing and had to be moved out of Dan’s lap, where he was quite comfortable, into his own seat, which he objected to), but I could hardly blame him for that.  (After all, he’s *3* and he just accomplished his 6th and 7th intercontinental journeys.  Pretty impressive, really.)  In the days leading up to the trip, we gave the kids 3 rules for flying.  We’ve said similar things before, but never quite so simply.  1. Whenever the seatbelt sign is on, you have to wear your seatbelt.  No exceptions.  2. No kicking the back of the seat in front of you.  3.  No yelling.  That was it.  We reminded them of these rules often in the week before the trip, and it really seemed to do the trick — all we had to do was remind them of the “airplane rules” and they remembered.  (Must not forget that for future trips . . . )

The flight was long, and the delays at the beginning took their toll on all of our patience in the last few hours.  We had a good journey, though, helped by comfy accommodations, the fascination the kids had with the in-flight moving map display (did 023you know the outside air temperature at 39,000 feet is -86 F?), lots of electronic entertainment, a few coloring books and stories and many trips up and down the spiral staircase.  It was a really pleasant flight.  (And I would definitely recommend everything about flying Air France — I wish we’d tried it sooner.)

After a LONG day of travel (over 18 hours, counting the delays and the car travel) and a seemingly endless line at Customs, we were reunited with our family, many of whom we had not seen in over a year and a half.  It made every moment in the air more than worth it.  It was so very good to see them, and so good to be home for the holidays.


Skype makes us a little bit crazy

Skype has been very important to us while we’ve been here in Vienna.  It’s a lifeline — a connection to our family and friends.  I don’t know what we would have done without it.  The distance would seem so much greater, and the time we’ve been away would feel infinitely longer if we didn’t have it.

We Skype a lot.  In a typical week, we Skype 4-5 times.  And although it provides this essential connection to home, and therefore it feels completely unreasonable and ungrateful to malign it in any way, it often makes us all kind of crazy.

006An imminent Skype is always exciting — even after 2 years here, the kids are always thrilled to see their grandparents or other family and friends on Skype.  With excitement comes a lot of energy, but then, in order to make the Skype functional at all, we ask the kids to settle down, which almost never happens.  We expect a lot of them when we Skype — don’t touch the computer, don’t be too loud, be nice to each other, “What did you do at school today?”, “Do you remember what you wanted to tell Grandma?”.  They really do try.  But they also shout, push toys up to the monitor (almost never the camera), throw things, talk over each other and everyone else, and jockey for position in front of the computer, pushing and climbing on each other and on Dan & I.  They want the undivided attention of the person we’re Skyping with, and they want our undivided attention.  Everyone always needs something — a snack, a toy from a high shelf, a fresh diaper, a different tv show, different clothes — anything to regain our attention, and I put them off a lot with “Mommy can’t right now . . .” and “In a minute.”  Because they want our attention, the kids resort to wreaking havoc, attacking the computer or fighting with each other in order to become the focus.  And, since we’re on Skype, I’m uncommonly reluctant to enforce consequences — it takes me away from the Skype, and it is always a bummer for everyone.  So, I usually don’t.  The kids have figured that out, so Skype has become an insane whirlwind of frenetic energy and unruly behavior, beginning the moment I start to set up the computer.  It’s like distilling out the essence of a tough night’s sleep, too much sugar and a missed nap and injecting it into the kids.

Still, Skype is absolutely vital to our mental well-being while we’re here, and we certainly aren’t going to cut back on our Skypes — however crazy they might be, they’re worth every wild moment in order to see our loved ones from home.  I also doubt that they’re going to stop being a little bit insane anytime soon, but what they lack in normalcy they will continue to make up for in enthusiastic chaos.

The Fourth

I’m not a person with a ton of Independence Day traditions.  I’ve always done something to mark the holiday, but I have almost always found that my plans for the Fourth of July have come together at the last minute (if they come together at all).

Even so, I have so often been fortunate to celebrate the day with family and friends, whether hanging out at my Dad’s, being at the beach, going to watch fireworks, pulling over on a bridge at the GA/SC line to watch the fireworks over the river, chasing a terrified dog down a dark street lined by trees full of fireflies, or, most recently, flying home with my boys to be with our family in the States.  I have varied and bountiful memories of July 4th, and all of them, woven together, make up my very loose idea of Independence Day traditions.

013Being away from home, we wanted to do something to mark the holiday, especially because, since the boys are beginning to be old enough to understand such things, we want them to have some idea about the Fourth of July.  Fireworks aren’t a possibility, and neither did we find any convenient displays of American flags or red, white and blue anything.  We settled for celebrating with a version of a cookout (made indoors): hot dogs (served in buns, American style, with ketchup and French’s mustard), Cheetos, potato chips, watermelon, lemonade and ice cream.  (The boys are not interested in eating hot dogs in buns.  I fear we will have a lot of work to do in the realm of repatriation when we move home.)  It was really nice, and it did feel appropriately festive.

I don’t feel lonely or forlorn at being away from home on this day.  But I do feel very aware of my American-ness.  Like any imperfect family (and all of them are), for all of our collective national dysfunction, I am proud to be a part of it.  The ideals on which my country was founded are wise, and the spirit of my fellow Americans is strong.  We are neighbors, we are family, we are a community, and I am proud to be a part of that.  And although I’m not exactly sad, I do miss it.  Today, on a day that celebrates my nation and my people, I am not among them, but my heart is home.

Visiting home

We weren’t planning to visit home this summer. I wanted to wait, until the fall or the winter, until the time of year when we most miss our family. I also wanted to wait until we had saved up some more vacation time — when we come, I want to be able to stay as long as possible.

I was thinking of coming home for Thanksgiving, or maybe Christmas, or maybe even Halloween, since we don’t get much of a Halloween celebration here. Christmas sounds the most tempting, because it’s a tough time to be away from home, but then, do I want to spend what might be our last Austrian Christmas away from Austria? (Of course, THAT was our reasoning for not going home this past Christmas, too.)

Mostly, though, we were pretty sure it wouldn’t be a summer visit. But then, while making our other summer plans, deciding when and where to travel, figuring out which weeks B will miss from school, Benjamin informed us that what he wants to do most for his birthday (in July) is go home to the US.

We were there last year for his birthday. We went to the beach, and had a fantastic time. There was sun, sand, surfing lessons, mini-golf, kite flying, cake, balloons, ice cream, and lots and lots of family. It was definitely wonderful.

So I don’t blame him for wanting to go home again. I just don’t know if we can make it happen. (In addition to vacation time issues, the financial aspect of a US trip in July vs. one in December is pretty different, in a much more expensive way.)

So now, we’re not sure. We’re working things out, but I don’t know what’s possible. I want to make his birthday wish come true, if we can . . . but I think he’d like waking up at Grandma’s house on Christmas morning, too. Whatever we do, it’ll be wonderful to be home . . . whenever we go.

Being American

Living abroad, I thought I’d be a lot more embarrassed about being American (and more reluctant to admit it).  It turns out that (to my face, anyway) I haven’t encountered a lot of anti-American sentiment.  People are much more likely to react with interest, rather than derision, when they hear where I’m from.  (So far, the only people I’ve met who make me embarrassed to admit that I’m American are other Americans who are behaving badly — but that is the exception, rather than the rule, as well.)

At home, we’re all from someplace else.  As you are getting to know someone, it’s very common for them to identify themselves with another country/culture:  Italian, Irish, French, Puerto Rican, Indian, Chinese, etc., etc., etc.  Even people born in the US — even people whose parents and grandparents were born in the US — will identify themselves by their country/countries of heritage.  People have a lot of pride about where their family is from.  I’ve heard (and been involved in) arguments about how much of your family has to be from somewhere for it to “count”, and heard cultural/nationalistic stereotyping used both negatively and inclusively.  It’s part of the “mixing pot” mentality, I suppose — since we’re all from somewhere else, we find and share our common bonds.  There’s strength and tradition in identifying with our culture of origin, but it also creates divisions and can create discord and dislike.

At home, I’m Irish.  (Well, mostly.  More or less.  More than anything else.)  Dan is Colombian (that’s legit, though, as he was born there — but his family likes to point out that they’re really Spanish, by way of Colombia).  Our kids are Colombian/Irish/???.

When we first arrived here, we’d find ourselves equivocating, the way people do at home, about where we’re “from”.  Living in Austria, that just confuses people.  If you say you’re Irish, they expect you to have an Irish passport, to have been born there . . . or at least to have BEEN there sometime in your life.

Here, we’re just American — no further explanation required.  I find it ironic that I didn’t really identify myself that way until I left.

Six months

Six months ago today, just about now, actually, we were on our way to the airport.  Most of my family escorted us — everyone helped us prepare for our trip in some way.

We miss everyone, terribly.  We Skype, we email, we text, we call (occasionally), we even write real, actual cards and letters (on paper!) from time to time.  But it isn’t the same as being together.  It’s really hard being apart.  I’ve already started to plan our summer trip home next year — it’ll be the first time we’ll be able to see some of our family, and the first time we’ll all have been together since we left.  Liam has spent half of his life in Austria, away from the rest of our family.

I have a truly amazing family.  Even though my parents have been divorced for over 20 years, we all get together regularly.  For either Thanksgiving or Christmas, just about every year, we manage to get everyone together in the same place.  This will be the first time I’ve missed that in a long time.  And it’s not just me missing it — it’s painful for me that my boys are missing it, and I know Dan is going to miss being there (he loves holidays with my family).

(You can tell I’m homesick, because it’s the first week of October, and I’m already thinking about Christmas — and I’m not the type to not give Halloween it’s due).

It’s been 6 months since we’ve seen our friends — since we’ve been able to have dinner at one of their houses, meet up at a park, or have a play date.

I can’t believe I’ve been out of the US for 6 months.  Prior to coming here, I’d never been out of the US for longer than 4 days at a time.

We are enjoying our Viennese adventure, but that doesn’t make it painless.  I am so grateful for the loving family and friends we’ve left at home, and I miss them terribly.

Left out of the earthquake

I’m originally from Maryland, but I’ve lived in Virginia for the past 17 years.  I’m in shock that there was a significant earthquake there today.  There was, a couple of years ago, a very small one in Maryland that a lot of people in my area felt.  I was awake, rocking Benjamin to sleep, and missed it entirely.  From what I understand, this was not something likely to be missed or mistaken for something else.

Now that I’ve made contact with my entire family (either directly, or through someone else) and I know that they’re safe, my mind is splitting in two different directions.  The first is shock and concern.  Hearing that there was a 6-ish earthquake in Virginia is a little like hearing that all the animals escaped from the zoo and took a stroll down main street:  both are, obviously, possible, but not something you really ever expect to see.  Virginians don’t expect to see earthquakes, let alone strong ones, so I worry that construction isn’t up to it.  I hope that injuries are minimal and few.

The second part of me is jealous.  (Yes, jealous.)  It’s not so much that I have I never felt an earthquake, but that I just missed out on a shared experience for the rest of my family and friends.  In the sense of common memory, I just became an “other”.  “Remember that earthquake?”  No, I was in Austria.  I’m a “Virginia Earthquake” outsider.  I feel like I missed out.

Missing the beach

Austria is a landlocked country.  I’ve never even lived in a landlocked state before, so this is a strange concept for me.  Growing up, we went to the beach every summer.  When I was little, my grandmother had a place in Ocean City, Maryland, and then when we got older, we’d go to the Outer Banks in North Carolina or to Cape May in New Jersey.  As an adult, I’ve been to Cancun, the Bahamas, Hawaii and Florida, in addition to trips back to Ocean City.  The beach is regular fixture in my summers, and occasionally even in my falls, winters and springs.  It’s an important part of my childhood memories, and a love that is shared with my entire family.  Only a few years of my life have passed without a trip to the beach, and nearly all of those were for specific reasons (we didn’t go the summer that B was born, for example).

I haven’t been to the beach since May of 2010, and it’s starting to bug me that we can’t just get in the car and go.  Getting to the beach from here would be expensive, and it would be a major undertaking.  Not impossible, by any means, but it’s just not what we’re planning on focusing our European vacation travel on:  we have beaches at home, but we don’t have Paris, London, Rome and Bavaria at home.  I’ve been itching to go, though.  I miss the ocean, the sand, the breezes.  If we’d been at home, we would have taken Liam to the beach for the first time this summer.  He’d probably hate it, because it would severely limit his mobility, but we’d take him anyway.  I know he’ll love it once he’s bigger — he’s bold and fearless, so he’ll probably stress me out completely in and near the water forever, but I know he’ll be ready to jump in the waves, if only to follow his big brother.

Benjamin wants to go to the beach, too.  He’s been three times (I think?).  The first time he was pretty ambivalent:  not thrilled about the sand, mostly, although he kind of liked the water.  The second time he was distinctly more interested, and the third time, he loved it.  That third time, we went in May, and the water was way too cold for me (even though I was 5 months pregnant and everything felt hot).  Benjamin and Dan got in the water, though, and played in the waves.  After that, they got out and B tried to bury Dan in the sand.  He was enthusiastic about going down to the water even when it was raining, chilly and foggy.  Benjamin has definitely learned or inherited the love that both Dan & I have for the beach and the ocean.

It’s hard for me to tell him we’re not going this year.  He wants to play in the sand and in the ocean.  We read stories about the beach, or he sees it in a cartoon, and he asks when we’re going.  I think, one way or the other, we’re going to have to make sure we go next summer — I don’t think either of us can hold off another year.