Celebrating Liam’s birthday

Happy birthday to Liam!  Just over a week ago, my little guy turned the big 3.  It is amazing and wonderful to watch him grow up.  (He’s getting so big!)

014The birthday celebration didn’t quite go as planned, though.  Our original intent had been for all of us to take the day off and to spend the day at the zoo (per Liam’s request).  In the days leading up to his birthday, though, he was quite sick with no indications of a miraculous, overnight recovery.  So, we changed the plan.  We certainly weren’t going to spend the day at the zoo, and since B was going to have to miss a field trip at school that day, we decided instead that B would go to school, Dan would work for the morning, Liam and I would stay home, and then we would all take the afternoon off to be together and celebrate.  It seemed like a good plan.

071But then, Liam woke up on his birthday, and our plans had to change.  He was happy and excited that it was his big day.  He was tired and still sick, but he was starting to feel better.  And though he seemed completely unbothered by rescheduling our zoo trip, he was very disappointed that we weren’t all spending the day together.  B was too.  All Liam wanted for his birthday was his brother to stay home with him.  They were both very sweet and very sad.  How could we say no to that?

So, we changed the plan again.  We agonized a bit over the decision, but ultimately, we called the school (and got lectured a bit by the principal who reminded us how important this year of school is for B), notified Dan’s work, and spent the day at home together.  If what Liam wanted for his birthday was the day spent together, then that’s what we’d do.  And if we had to seem a little flaky to work and school to make it happen, then so be it (it was a little tough for us to truly be ok with that, though).  Liam only gets one 3rd birthday, after all.


It was a lovely birthday.  We opened presents, the boys helped me finish the cake, and we got to Skype with Grandma.  We snuggled and watched tv and rested much more than is usual for our family on a birthday.  It could not have been better.  It was a great and happy birthday.  And, in retrospect, I’m so glad we decided as we did.  I would much rather feel a little sheepish at calling school and work at the last minute than regret not making ourselves a bit uncomfortable in order to give Liam what he wanted most for his birthday — the day with his family.  (And we’ll go to the zoo this weekend, assuming everyone is well.)


(And, as it turns out, all was well.  B didn’t miss anything earth-shattering that day at school, Dan didn’t miss anything important.  The next day, Liam was feeling well enough to go to school, and his teacher and classmates greeted him with their own birthday celebration, including pumpkin muffins baked by the class.  It was a pretty perfect birthday, after all.)

The travel “to do” list

When we first made the decision to move to Austria, we knew that traveling around Europe would be a major priority for our time abroad.  How could we live in Vienna and not see Salzburg, Prague, Paris, Venice, London?  So we made a list.  We each chose the places that were, to our minds, not to be missed, and we planned our vacations for our first two years (at the time, we intended them to be our only two years).  Plans changed, things got moved around, but we did manage to visit almost all of the places on our “must see” list in the first two years (everything but Prague) and we got to see a few others, as well.

We didn’t know how much we’d enjoy traveling, though.  We weren’t sure it would be worthwhile, when the challenge of traveling with kids was taken into account.  But we love it.  We’re getting pretty good at it, and we have overwhelmingly enjoyed the experience of traveling with the kids. It’s fantastic, and one of our favorite things about our lifestyle here.  Thinking about any of the places we’ve been can make me wistful and sentimental.  They’ve all been special experiences.

The only “problem” is, instead of “checking off” places on our travel wish list, our list has grown.  A lot.  Now that we’ve travelled, and we know that we love it, our enthusiasm has blossomed.  We’re less fearful.  Our horizons have expanded.  We aren’t limited by our previous ideas of what we thought we were capable of.  Our list now has over a dozen places that we’d like to go — and that’s just the ones in Europe . . . and doesn’t count the ones we’d like to revisit (which is nearly all of the places we’ve already been).  Now we’re facing the reality that we just aren’t going to be able to see them all before our time here is through.

Places become like friends — you visit and you love your time together so much that when you depart, you start counting the moments until you return.  And, as with friends, you end up with so many whose company you enjoy that you’re left feeling like it’s always been too long since you’ve seen each other.  You never feel “done”.  And, making a new friend is a wonderful experience, so that’s always good, too.

And, so it is.  We have only so much time, money, energy and flexibility to travel.  We just aren’t going to get to see everything on our list in the next year.  But that’s ok.  Really, it’s a wonderful “problem” to have.  We’ve been so fortunate to have been able to see so many beautiful places in Europe, and to have had such amazing adventures in each.  Of course that inspires us to want to see more.  Of course that leaves us itching to go back and experience our favorites again.  They all become pieces of our shared history, and wishes for our future, things to plan for and anticipate and share.  Each destination becomes either an old friend to visit or a new friend yet to be met, and they all add to the depth of our experience.  The problem isn’t having so many places that I can’t wait to see — the problem is viewing them as items on a list, waiting to be checked off.  Now I know — I’ll never be done.  Each place I see inspires me to see more.

Another year

I know a lot of our friends have been wondering what’s up with our return to the States.  Our original plan had us finishing out Dan’s initial 2 year contract and returning to the US in late April or early May of this year.

Things have changed a little.

Back in the fall, Dan was offered, and accepted, a contract extension.  At the time, we weren’t entirely sure *what* we were going to do this spring, but we wanted to keep our options open.  Having the option, though, got us thinking.

Although we miss everyone at home terribly, and in some ways, I’m kind of ready to be done living at the level of exertion required to be an expat with small kids, we’re not quite done here yet.  There are still things we want to do and see.  We want to work more on our German.  We want to get to enjoy being settled — we’ve just really felt at home in the past 6 months, and the thought of turning around and packing up, now that we’re finally finding our way here, is disappointing and overwhelming.

Going home is just so . . . final.

Once we leave here, and move back to the US, that’s where we’ll be.  The kids will be in school, we’ll be back home with friends and family, and that’s where we intend to build our future.  The opportunity here is a brief one, and we want to take advantage of it while we can.  I think about it a lot.  And the comparison that seems the most apt is that of raising kids.

As a mom, I love what I do.  I love being home to raise my boys.  I love early morning snuggles, playing in the tent, kissing boo boos, building forts and story time.  I love watching my boys learn and grow.  But sometimes, I really wish I could put it all on pause for a minute and go be just me, not “me as a mom”.  I want to stay out late, or sleep in one morning.  I want to go out with my friends without worrying about when I need to be home, or go away with Dan for the weekend, spontaneously.  Sometimes I miss those things a lot.  But it’s always only for a minute.  Then I remember that my boys are only little for a brief moment.  These times will pass too quickly and it will never come again.  My time for living without responsibility, for self-indulgence and spontaneity has passed — for the moment.  I’ll get that chance again one day, too, if I want it.  But, for now, this is my season of being a mom, focusing on my kids, being here for them, and putting those other things aside.  And I love it.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.  So, why would I want to rush it?

That’s how I feel about living in Austria.  Sometimes — often — I miss being with my family and friends a tremendous amount.  I miss getting in the car and running an errand easily, or stopping by to see someone on a whim.  I miss being able to read the packages of everything at the drugstore or having an entire potato chip aisle to choose from.  I miss drive-thrus.  I miss my horses.  But then, I remember that this is a brief season in my life, too.  Soon, we won’t live here anymore, and I’ll miss it.  I’ll miss shopping at the market in my building every day, taking my kids to (free) preschool, and having perspective-altering adventures every other weekend.  I had a time to live the American life, and I will again, very soon, but this is not that time.  I don’t want to rush though what’s in front of me now just because I miss something I used to have.

So, for now, we’re staying.  B will do his kindergarten year here in the fall, and Liam will join him (at the same school) for preschool.  In the States, B would have to do full-day kindergarten, which I’m not sure he’s really ready for (I’m not sure I am either) so we would seriously be considering keeping him home another year.  And, that would have meant literally keeping him (and Liam) home — the cost of preschool in the US, especially for both boys, would probably have been prohibitively expensive on a single income.  They’ll both get the chance to learn German in an immersion environment (a chance they’re unlikely to have again for a while, if ever).  They’ll get to go to school together (which otherwise would have to wait several years) and I’ll get the chance to have some time at home, just me, for the first time in almost 5 years.

Our plan is to allow B to complete his kindergarten year here in June of 2014, and then return home next summer in time for him to start 1st grade in the US (or do kindergarten again, depending on how he does this year, and how prepared he is for a completely different type of schooling).  It’ll make for a short turn around next summer, since school gets out late here and starts early in the US, but we’ll manage.  (Remind me that I said that next July when I’m freaking out.)

None of this is set in stone, but this is our current plan.  It’s been a tough decision to make.  I’m personally going through one of the most acute periods of homesickness that I’ve experienced since our first Christmas here, and Benjamin has started asking about when we’ll be moving home.  For now, though, I think this is the right thing.  There will be uncomfortable moments over the next year or so, I’m certain, where I wonder whether we’ve made the right decision (or where I’m sure we’ve made the wrong one).  But I want to fully live this experience while we have it.  For the moment, that means extending our stay a while longer.

Travel plans

Now that we’ve sold the house, our finances have finally started to flow in a positive direction, and I’m trying to get started with one of my major plans for our time here:  travelling around within Europe.  We’re here for two years (most likely) and I want to go home with a lot of memories and experiences not just from Vienna, but from varied locations within Austria and elsewhere around Europe.

Before we left the States, I drew up detailed plans for where and when we’d go — I divvied up our vacation time relative to the importance of each destination, and planned each trip to maximize the good weather in each locale.  I had little outlines of which sights we wanted to see in each place, and an idea of how we’d make it work.

At this point, all of that is pretty much out the window.  We’ve already missed planned trips to Prague, Salzburg and Innsbruck.  Initially, there was a necessary delay of travel — we just didn’t have the funds to support life here, a house at home and vacationing.  But even over the past weeks, since the house was sold and our financial picture has improved, I haven’t done anything about planning travel.  Part of it is inertia — now that my detailed itinerary is blown, it’s slightly harder to move forward because I don’t have a plan (and I do love a plan).  But the other, more significant part is that I’m really enjoying Vienna.  It’s hard to get motivated about going someplace else, when there is still so much to do and see here.  It’s a nice problem to have — I’m so happy where I am, I don’t feel the need to leave.

I need to get on with my planning, though.  I know I’ll regret it if we leave here without having seen some of what the rest of Europe has to offer.  We have less than 18 months left on our big adventure, and it’s time to start exploring!