That had better not be an oncoming train

There is light at the end of the tunnel.  We’re getting there.  No, we’re not getting our stuff, but we probably are moving in to our new place.  Dan sent out a pleading email today (it contained the phrase, “my wife is going crazy”) to his new coworkers asking for help in getting the things we absolutely must have to move out of here and into “our” apartment:  a crib for Liam, a mattress for Benjamin and some plates and utensils (he also asked for some things we don’t need but which would be nice, like a changing table, a baby bath, blankets, sheets and an air mattress for Dan & I).  Thankfully, these people have all been there — the nice thing about the UN is that everyone is from somewhere else — so people inundated Dan today with offers to help.

We’re being loaned a portacrib for Liam, a mattress for Benjamin, a changing pad and a baby bath (at least).  Two coworkers are taking their lunch tomorrow to help Dan collect the items and move items into our new place.  I can’t get everything in this place together by noon tomorrow, so we won’t *actually* move until Saturday, but we could theoretically spend tomorrow night in our new place if we want to.  I am so grateful for everyone’s generosity.

There are some down sides.  Principally, we won’t have internet (which we’ve been relying on heavily since arriving) and there aren’t curtains on the windows (that, at least, needs to be addressed pretty immediately, or no one will be getting much sleep).  We also have access to a washer/dryer here (only one for the whole building, but still) and we won’t at “home”.  I don’t think it’s really going to feel like “home” until we get at least some of our things, but at least we won’t be financially supporting three apartments (our condo in VA, our temporary place and “our” place that we’re moving in to).

Frankly, the whole “camping” thing has really lost its lustre for me — it was a fun part of this adventure for the first few days, but camping for a month, especially when it isn’t on purpose, is just being homeless.  This time last month we were at the airport, getting checked in and heading to our flight.  We’re still going to be “roughing it” at the new place, but at least we can be actively moving towards setting it up as a home, rather than continuing to be in limbo.  For now, this seems like progress (but check with me again next week).

The harder half

006When Dan was first approached about potentially moving here and going to work for the UN, he was told (repeatedly) that the only way to make it work was to make his wife happy.  They told him I’d have the harder job, and the only way we’d be able to stay here through the duration of his contract would be for the whole family to work as hard as possible to make my job as easy as possible.

We’ve not even been here a month, but I see what they were saying:  I think I have the harder job.

010Benjamin, Liam & I went to Dan’s work with him for the first time today.  It’s pretty neat to go to the UN headquarters, and there is a beautiful fountain outside with the flags of the member countries displayed around it.  Benjamin and Liam thoroughly charmed the security and badge agents (who are every bit as serious, but MUCH more pleasant than the TSA screeners).  We got registered for our “family pass” (which will allow us to come and go from certain parts of the complex unescorted) and got the grand tour from Dan.

It’s a nice place, I’m really glad to see where Dan is working, and I know it was really fun for Benjamin, too (Liam’s just along for the ride).  But his co-workers were right:  he has it pretty easy.  We were there for a few hours, and we didn’t have to speak in German the entire time.  Everyone there speaks English, all of the signs are in English, you can buy coffee or lunch and order entirely in English (without feeling sheepish, even).  He’s doing something he’s great at, and he even has the benefit of having worked with these people before, so he isn’t even really the “new kid”.  In short, he gets to go to a place, for 40 hours a week that is easy, comfortable and familiar.  I’m thoroughly jealous.

014Upon finishing our tour, I headed home, alone on the train with both kids for the first time.  I had to manage the elevators, the train doors (they don’t auto-open here), seating and navigation completely on my own, with a stroller and while holding Benjamin’s hand — including changing trains.  The kids were both over an hour overdue for their naps at that point.  And, of course, when the situation called for communication with my fellow passengers, it was in German.  The train ride home is the hardest thing I’ve done up to this point.  By contrast, Dan signed some paperwork, got coffee, paid our rent and looked into a new phone plan (all in English) during those same hours.  I don’t mean to trivialize Dan’s contribution to the family — the responsibility of being the financial supporter of the household, and a professional in a new environment, is daunting.  But in terms of the magnitude of the challenge we’ve each taken on, I think mine is a mountain and his is a molehill.

Indoor Picnic

Benjamin has been asking us to do a picnic lately.  We’ve wanted to, but somehow the timing, opportunity and weather just will not cooperate.  (Which is complicated by the fact that we have good picnic “stuff” — coolers, a great blanket, etc. — but all of it is, of course, still in transit.)

014Today was rainy and cool, so we decided to do a picnic . . . indoors, in our new apartment.  After nap time, we packed the boys up, picked up lunch on the way (along with a couple of Eiskaffees, which are my new most favorite thing) and headed over to our new apartment.  It’s nearly empty, so there’s a lot of room for Benjamin to run and have fun, and plenty of picnic space.  We laid down a pad of 5 blankets and a towel so that Liam would have a somewhat comfy place to join us on the floor.  Benjamin played soccer and cars while Liam proceeded to roll over (from his back to his front) for the very first time.  (He then repeated this feat several more times.)  We all had lunch, and wandered around, planning where all the furniture would go, while Benjamin drove his cars and trucks all over his new room.

We had a wonderful time.  It was so lovely to spend the afternoon in our new place . . . and to finally give B his first Viennese picnic.

Five Senses

This morning, I was looking through my luggage for a necklace that I swear I brought with me, and I opened a duffel bag that my mom lent to me for our trip here — it smelled just like her house.  It was great.  I miss home.  It’s not a bad feeling, but a wistful one.  I’m still enjoying my time here (even though there have been some challenges) but I wish I could be experiencing what I’m experiencing while surrounded by my family and friends from home.

The sights, sounds and even smells that remind me of home are lovely and sometimes surprising.  The sound of someone speaking American English on the street is pleasantly startling.  Seeing something (a sign, a menu, even graffiti) written in English in a place I don’t expect it makes me smile.  The taste of a McDonald’s cheeseburger, a Starbucks chai or “American Ginger Ale” are all unadulterated flashes of home.  The scent of my mom’s duffel bag or a piece of as yet unworn clothing from home that still smells of Dreft or Tide or Downy are familiar and comforting.

Giving my boys a hug or a snuggle feels like, home, too, but in a different way — they’re with me on my journey here, so they are less a reminder of home, and more a reminder that, for now, this IS home.

We have a place!

114We signed the lease on our new apartment this morning.  Woo hoo!  We are so excited and relieved to have taken care of finding a place.  And even better:  we love it.  It’s big, it has great light and it’s in a wonderful location.  The boys will each have their own room, and we will again have a tub for bath time (we only have a shower in our current place, and B has been great about it, but he can’t wait to get in the new bathtub, and Liam has largely gone unwashed since we’ve arrived in the second temporary apartment).  We were very fortunate (partly due to Dan’s persistence) to have gotten our relocation money just in time to sign our lease and pay our (huge) deposit on the apartment.

136Of course, we don’t have any furniture, or nearly anything else, to move in to our apartment.  That is still incredibly frustrating:  so we now have a place, but if we move in, it’ll be like we’re camping (with a 2 year old and an infant).  We still have not received our air shipment (nor our sea shipment) — we’re hopeful that either or both might arrive next week.  (So for the time being, we’re going to try and stay in our temporary apartment.)  And having our new place means we have a whole new list of “to do” items to take care of:  getting the electricity and heat transferred into our names, purchasing appliances, having appliances delivered, arranging for internet and cable service, getting renters insurance, baby proofing, getting curtains (because no one is going to sleep past 5:30 in the morning if we don’t get them) and then unpacking and arranging all of our stuff once it arrives.

138But, ignoring the monumental list of tasks ahead, for the moment, we’re so happy to have our place.  We interrogated the owner about the property and the neighborhood.  The building has been there since 16-something, but the apartment itself is less than 20 years old (so no worries about lead paint or anything).  He filled us in on the locations of the good restaurants, grocery stores, open-air markets, butchers, bakeries and pizza places nearby.  Interestingly, his kids were the same ages as ours are now when they first moved in to this apartment, so the place has even been kid-tested.  We even met some of our new neighbors in the building on our way out (including a retired American couple who used to work at the IAEA) and they were all very excited to meet us.

After signing our lease, we took the kids to the nearest playground (location also supplied by our new landlord) and had lunch in a cafe around the corner.  It is so comforting to feel like we’re starting to find our place here.

Falling apart a little

We’ve been here 3 weeks today.  We’re in our second temporary apartment.  We can’t get our things.  We’re having trouble getting the money we were counting on for getting started.  Our current living situation is less than ideal:  there’s almost nowhere safe and comfortable to put Liam down, no good place to feed either child (Benjamin has been eating dinner standing up at the coffee table in the living room . . . which is also his bedroom), very little place for Benjamin to play and since it’s very small, it’s nearly impossible to keep from waking a sleeping child if the other one is up.  I miss my family, I’m having trouble communicating, and I’m starting to feel the isolation of being here.  So really, it’s not that surprising that it all is starting to get to be too much for me.

I did fine until about noon today.  I can explain what got to me, but it probably won’t make any sense — it wasn’t anything awful, it wasn’t anything unmanageable — it was just one thing too many for that moment.  Both boys were napping, and then Liam woke up and was very fussy and I spent about 45 minutes keeping him from waking B.  Eventually, that failed due to a particularly loud bout of crying on Liam’s part (which was frustrating) and B woke up.  So, I got Liam happy (enough) in his/our room and went to get B.  Probably because he’d been woken up early from his nap, Benjamin was a mess — unhappy and crying and asking for a bottle.  So, I told him I’d get one after I went to check on Liam (who was now screaming) and when I started to leave the room, B throws a fit.  He starts shouting, “Mommy Mommy Mommy!” and stomping his feet (which is really very unlike him).  And I just turned around and snapped at him (with frustration and irritation) “What?!?”  And he cries harder.  And then I start to cry (because I just snapped at my two year old and made him cry).  Which made him cry more.  (Meanwhile, Liam is still screaming.)

So, I go and hug B and tell him I’m sorry, but that I have to go get Liam (who is still screaming).  And I get Liam and bring him into B’s room (the living room) and pick B up and sit down on the couch holding both boys.  So now I’m crying, apologizing to B for snapping at him, and B is crying and Liam is screaming.  Excellent.  And I have a passing thought to call Dan, but I don’t know his extension at work (and I can’t imagine calling the UN switchboard while crying and holding two unhappy babies) and our internet wasn’t working, so I couldn’t even email him.  And, just for a moment, I gave in.  I just went ahead and cried and felt overwhelmed and put upon and not up to the task.  And then what?

Well, then nothing.  Nothing really bad happened — yes, I should avoid snapping at Benjamin, but I don’t think he’ll end up permanently scarred.  In all honesty, my crying fit probably freaked him out worse than my snapping at him.  And although it felt like it took about 10 minutes for this all to happen, it was probably closer to 2.  I really just had to give them hugs and kisses, get up, change diapers, feed Liam, make lunch and move on.  So, that’s what I did.

But I’ve still been slipping back into that place of feeling overwhelmed and stressed out.  I really wish I didn’t get like this, but I do sometimes.  I fluctuate between wanting to give myself a break (given current circumstances) and being really frustrated at myself for snapping at my child . . . and then for freaking out and crying about it instead of being a grown up and taking care of my kids.

I wish I could keep the proper perspective when things get to be too much — the absolute best thing I can do is apologize if I need to and then put myself together and get on with things.  I know that NOW, but in the moment, I just don’t.  I’m hoping I’ve gotten the fragility out of my system for now.  We sign the lease on our new place tomorrow, so there is hope on the horizon . . . but I think there’s still a lot between me and really feeling settled.

Easter shopping

Part of preparing for our move involved separating everything in our house into one of four categories:  air shipment, sea shipment, storage and things to pack in suitcases.  The idea is for the air shipment to arrive 10 – 14 days after it’s shipped (to provide things you don’t immediately need in your suitcase, but to tide you over until most of your stuff arrives) because the sea shipment doesn’t arrive for 4-6 weeks after it’s shipped.  Since Easter is happening almost 3 weeks after we left, I made sure to pack everything we needed for Easter in the air shipment.  It’s not a religious holiday in our family, just a tradition, but I was careful to plan to have the things I’d need when we arrived.  I packed up cute Easter hand towels for the kitchen, and stuff to decorate eggs, but most importantly, Benjamin & Liam’s Easter baskets and the things that were to go inside of them.

Well, one of the wrinkles with the whole paperwork/red tape is that we can’t access our air shipment.  It’s here, in Austria — it has been for about 10 days.  But, without some of the paperwork, which we can’t get until Dan actually starts work, we can’t get to it.  This has caused a lot of frustration, because there were a lot of things in there that we were counting on having sooner rather than later.  But nothing has been as disappointing to me as not having the Easter things for the kids.

Given that Friday is a holiday here, I finally accepted today that we really aren’t going to get our air shipment before Easter.  I’m disappointed.  But that’s not going to stop the Easter Bunny from visiting us here in Austria, so today, we went shopping.

We all headed off to the mall together, and Dan distracted the kids while I went to play the Easter Bunny’s helper.  I didn’t want to replace their Easter baskets, since we have perfectly nice ones that we just can’t get to, but which will available for subsequent Easters, so we found cute Easter-themed gift bags which should work well.  Then, I set off to fill them.  Since Liam is only 6 months old, and B doesn’t need any more sugar than his current gelato habit provides, I decided to go with toys, rather than candy.  I ended up spending about twice what I’d been planning (I found the perfect thing for B, but had to decide between two things, and then found the perfect thing for Liam, but it was really expensive, and after searching for something less expensive, I gave up, 005bought it, and went ahead and bought BOTH things for Benjamin because his things were so much less expensive — which was less about needing things to be even and more about justifying to myself buying both, which I really wanted to do in the first place).  Dan was supportive of my decisions when I got back, so we called it a success and headed home.

It feels good to make Easter happen.  A lot of what Easter is for my family is a time to get together — we’re not going to get to do that this year, which is enough of a loss.  I was really sad that I ALSO wasn’t going to have all of the right stuff to make their baskets, but it feels really good to improvise with what I have available.  I know that, right now, it means more to me than it does to my kids, but it feels good to make it happen, just the same.

I definitely don’t have it together

We’ve found a place, but we can’t move in yet.  We haven’t gotten our relocation grant, so we can’t go buy a washer/dryer or any other major purchase for the new place.  Dan’s work doesn’t start until next Tuesday.  So . . . . we’re on vacation!  We really can’t do much that’s productive right now — we might be able to later in the week, but right now, we’re waiting for a bunch of other people to do things, so we decided to have our first really leisurely day since we’ve been here.

010We took the boys and went to the Donaupark, which is a huge park near the Danube.  It’s got a lot of open green space — people were playing games, sunbathing, picnicking.  It also has playground equipment for little (and not so little) kids — the typical stuff we have at home and then way crazier stuff that you couldn’t get away with at home for fear of lawsuits.  It has at least two skate parks, lots of table tennis and trampolines.  It has a little train that takes a 20 minute trip around the park, and these huge mechanical animals that kids can ride around on.  We rode the train, helped B ride the animals and play on the playground equipment and just generally enjoyed a beautiful day out with our kids.  We had lunch out, and we stopped for gelato on the way home.  Benjamin had his very first bus ride today, too!  It was a great day.

016As part of being out all afternoon, I needed to feed Liam.  I’m still nursing him, and I’ve never really gotten the hang of doing it in public.  At home, I would have been really stressed about it, and maybe even avoided it altogether.  If I had done it at all, I would have made sure I was somewhere out of the way and as inconspicuous as possible.  Today, when we were out, and Liam got hungry, I just found a mostly shady spot on a bench, got him all situated and covered up, and fed him.  No big deal.  It wasn’t until we were finishing up that I realized that it was significantly less stressful than usual for me.  Is it the European mentality that nursing a baby in public is less of an issue?  Or just because no one knows me here, so I’m not worried about being embarrassed in front of someone I know?  Maybe a little of both.  But thinking about it, the single biggest difference is that at home, I would have been embarrassed simply by not being slick at nursing in public — the fact that I’m awkward makes me really self conscious.  Even if nothing “went wrong”, I want to seem cooler than that — I really want to seem like one of those moms that has it all together.

036I’m having to let go of that.  I so do not have it all together.  I don’t think there’s any way to take something like this on and still keep the facade of “togetherness”.  I’ve really had to send my ego on vacation these past couple of weeks.  I don’t speak the language, I don’t know the etiquette here of riding the trains or the buses, I’m living out of my suitcase (which means I don’t have many clothes or most of my “mom supplies”).  But, it’s forcing me to really focus on what’s important, rather than “doing it right”.  I might be ordering lunch in broken English/German/gesticulation, but Benjamin is getting fed.  I might be standing on the wrong part of the train, totally blocking everyone from getting in or out, but we’re all ON the train.  I might have spilled half of the milk I bought from Starbucks for B as soon as I got to my seat on the plane (and delayed the plane backing away from the gate while I got it cleaned up) but he had milk to drink before his bedtime, even at 38,000 feet.  And today, feeding Liam peacefully in the park, it was nice to realize how easy it could be.  Worrying about doing it “right” has been making it hard.  Today, I wasn’t “super slick international travelling mom”, but I had a great day.

Our new place

Just over a year ago, I came to Vienna for the first and only time before I decided to move here.  I was here for four days — I came to meet Dan on one of his business trips.  I wanted to get a feel for the city and see if I could even imagine myself living here.  I wasn’t here for long, but we tried to get out, see some sights and experience as much of the city as possible.

025Sunday morning of my trip here (which was also Valentine’s Day) we got up very early (not easy to do, due to the jetlag) and went to see the Vienna Boys’ Choir.  We weren’t entirely sure where we were going, and we got a little lost on the way.  We came up out of the wrong exit from the U station into a silent little square.  It was cobblestoned and deserted.  We set off, trying to find our way, and encountered a few people making their way to the church that was a little further along the square.  It was quiet, beautiful and perfectly my idea of Europe.  I loved it instantly.  I wanted to know where we were, but we were running late and didn’t have time to explore.  We eventually found our way to our destination, and didn’t get a chance to return.

028A few months ago, when we made the final decision to move here to Vienna, we began to look for housing.  At one point in the search, I asked Dan, “Do you think we could live in that little square we found that Sunday morning?”  It was half-joking, since we didn’t know where it was exactly, and we both figured that area would be too expensive, since it was right in the heart of the city.

031This morning, we were heading back to our favorite apartment, to take a second look at it and make sure it’s the one we wanted.  Since we’re staying in a different part of the city now, we arrived by way of a different U station than we did the first time we saw it.  We came up out of the station on our way to the apartment . . . and we were in the little square.  No kidding.  I couldn’t believe it at first, but it was the same.  It’s busier on a weekday, and more beautiful in the springtime, but it was the same place.

We went on to see the apartment — it’s as perfect as we remembered, and we’re so excited to have found a place.  But, how amazing to have found that it’s just next to the little square we found that morning — the same little square we’ve been thinking of and hoping to see again.  This apartment, this neighborhood — they really feel like home to us.  When we visit there, it feels like where want to be.  Finding our little, quiet square this morning just made it seem that much more perfect, and we’re so excited to be moving there.

A day outside of Vienna

017One of Dan’s future co-workers invited Benjamin, Liam, Dan, Bailey & I to lunch today with his family at his home outside of Vienna.  We were really excited to get to see some of the area around Vienna, and to hang out with some Americans who had been through what we’re experiencing.  When Scott arrived to pick us up, they had outfitted their car with carseats appropriate to our kids’ ages, so we packed Bailey into the back of the minivan, and we all trekked off to Korneuburg.

I018t was so reassuring and validating to talk to them and compare notes on our experiences.  Ada, Scott’s wife, talked about looking at her “to do” list shortly after arriving here in Vienna and just starting to cry.  She also talked about showing up at the first temporary apartment with two kids (the same ages, at the time, as Benjamin and Liam are now — AND she was 8 months pregnant with their third) and insisting vehemently that whatever happened, they were not staying in that place.  On both 022points, I can really relate.  In terms of my “to do” list, most days I’m just not looking at it, and when I do, the word that keeps coming to mind (and more than once out of my mouth) is “unreasonable”.  As in, “This is an unreasonable amount to expect of any one person”.  And although I haven’t had to insist on any last minute heroic changes in accommodations, I was well prepared to do that yesterday (was it just yesterday?) had this place not turned out to be suitable.

But to see them now, seven years on in their journey, it’s hard to believe that was ever true.  They have a lovely home in the suburbs of Vienna, their kids are enrolled in school, and even their dog has a great yard to play in029.  Ada mentioned that she recently found the list that had brought her to tears, and looking it over, realized she had survived accomplishing every last thing on that list.  So, we will get through this — this too, shall pass.

We had lunch, and chatted about relocating and things to keep in mind.  Ironically, they are moving to Northern Virginia in July, so we were able to offer our own advice and encouragement, as well.  Their kids helped Benjamin through an Easter egg hunt they had set up for him.  Then, we stayed for dinner.  Our beautiful day turned into a lovely Austrian evening.  Our kids played soccer — the dogs played, too.  (Bailey makes an excellent goalie.)  By the time we headed back home, well later than we had expected, we were all tired.  But we had a great day.  Their hospitality was so appreciated, and so was the encouragement.