What we did wrong

Having been here two years, I think we’ve finally got some distance and perspective on the trauma that was our relocation.  And even though it’s most likely nearly a year away, I’ve already begun to contemplate the logistics of returning home.  (Oddly, in some ways, it seems even more daunting to be moving home.  When we came here, we were expected to be overwhelmed and clueless for a while — when we move home, I think we’re going to feel a lot of pressure to have our feet under us right away, which I doubt very seriously that we will.)  In thinking about all of that, I’ve realized some things we really didn’t do the right way when we moved here, or at least some things I would do differently if I had it to do over again.

First, I really wish we hadn’t come over nearly a month before Dan started work.  We had visions of getting our house hunting done, getting moved in, having our phones and cable set up and being completely settled before Dan had to go off to work, leaving me at home alone with two small children.  But, it didn’t work that way at all.  Instead, because Dan wasn’t working yet, there was a ton of stuff, for legal and logistical reasons, that we couldn’t do at all.  We couldn’t sign a lease without being able to prove employment, we couldn’t get phones, and we had no income.  The IAEA provides a relocation stipend, which we were counting on as income for that first month, but we couldn’t start the paperwork on that until Dan signed his contract . . . which couldn’t happen until his first day of work.  So, although we were able to do some house hunting, it didn’t save us a lot of time, and mostly, we were just living here for a month without an income and with very little that we could accomplish.  If I had it to do again, I would come 5-7 days before Dan’s first day of work, maybe do a little sightseeing and/or house hunting, and then take the weekends of his first month of work to finalize getting a place.

In that same thread, I wish we had just rented a temporary, furnished apartment for an entire month after our arrival.  To go along with our visions of finding a place really quickly, we rented our first temporary apartment for only 8 days, which was an unrealistically short time (we were trying to save money).  We should have just rented a place for a month.  Even *if* we had found a place sooner, it took 6+ weeks for our stuff to arrive.  Having a single place we could have stayed in while we got ourselves situated would have been easier (and, ultimately, cheaper).  Moving to another temporary place 8 days after our arrival was stressful and complicated (and the second place wasn’t as nice, or as well located, as the first).  I’d rather have paid for the temporary apartment for a month and had the “frustration” of having to pay for 2 places at the same time, if we’d been lucky enough to find a place quickly, than to deal with moving around during that first month.  Alternatively, Dan & I could have flown over a month or so early for a long weekend and done some house hunting and found a place, and then have moved directly into it when we arrived.  (Although our furniture and stuff STILL wouldn’t have arrived until 6 weeks after we left the States.)

Speaking of “stuff” . . . I would have handled that completely differently, too.  The IAEA provided us with movers and with long-term storage for while we’re abroad.  We also got to choose which things would be shipping quickly by air and which would be shipping (theoretically more slowly) by sea.  That’s great, but we over thought those decisions way too much.  I tried to micromanage which stuff came and which stuff didn’t — these towels stay, these go, these others go by air and some go by sea — and it completely backfired.  Either because I was giving too many instructions to be understood, or because they just didn’t care, a lot of things did not end up where we’d intended.  (Almost all of our sheets and towels ended up in storage, along with most of my shoes, while most of our candles and knickknacks ended up here although we wanted them in storage.)  If I had it to do again, I would only have stored our guest room furniture (we didn’t know how many rooms we would have, so that was the right call) and any appliances that wouldn’t run on European electrical current.  I would have brought everything else and sold/given away/donated/thrown out stuff we couldn’t find a home for.  Also, because we were “so sure” we would only be here for a maximum of 2 years, there are some things (Christmas decorations, the toddler conversion for Liam’s bed) that we left behind to be “practical” that now I really wish we had.  I think we should have just brought it all.  And, in the same way, trying to sort out what needed to come by air or by sea was a mess.  (Our sea shipment arrived a few days BEFORE our “quick” air shipment.)  I would have put only a few things in the air shipment — the double stroller, the kids’ bikes, some of their favorite toys, maybe a changing pad — and sent everything else by sea.  Our temporary place was furnished, so we didn’t really need anything, and our permanent place wasn’t, so then we needed everything.  There wasn’t really an in between.

So many of our mistakes came from being over-eager and trying to be overly efficient.  Life here is not as efficient as it is at home, and in trying to force it, we made things difficult.  Because we didn’t know where we’d be living, we registered Benjamin for kindergarten near Dan’s work, to ensure he got a spot.  Although that ultimately worked out, and we’re incredibly happy with B’s school, the location means that I have a 45 minute commute to take B to school, and then again to pick him up . . . each way.  If I did all of the dropping off and picking up eery day, that would be 3 hours of my day (he’s only in school for 3 hours — it’ll be 4 this fall).  So, I don’t — Dan picks him up every day.  But if we’d waited until we knew where we were living, we might have been able to get him into a school that was a 10-15 minute walk from here, and I could have easily dropped him off and picked him up each day.  In hindsight, it would have been worth him missing the first semester of school when we got here to have him in a more conveniently located place.

Speaking of unrealistic ideas, we shouldn’t have planned to travel outside of Austria (and very little inside of it) for the first year.  The first year is all about getting settled, figuring out how stuff works and taking care of logistical things.  And, it’s very expensive to relocate (even if the movers are paid for).  There were a ton of start-up expenses we didn’t plan for.  So we ended up frustrated and disappointed that we couldn’t travel, when it was pretty unrealistic that we thought we were going to.  The first year is for getting established.  The second year is GREAT for travel — we had a ton of vacation time saved up from not travelling the first year, so the second year was a chance to see so many things and take a lot of time off.  It was great, but our original plan was just not practical.

The only exception to the “don’t plan to travel the first year” thing is that I wish we HAD gone home to visit the first year.  We didn’t, because we thought, “We won’t be there that long, we don’t need to come rushing home right away, we should use our vacation time to see Austria.”  And, there is logic to all of that.  But, the truth is that being away from home is really, really hard.  Not getting to see everyone for a year or more makes it much more difficult than it needs to be.  I wish we’d gone home for Thanksgiving or for part of Christmastime during that first year.  I honestly wonder if we’d be struggling with missing home so badly right now if we’d been home more often.  (As it is we’ve been home twice in 2+ years, but the two times were last spring and summer, so it feels almost like we only went home once.)

So, if I had it to do all over again, that’s what I’d change.  And, a few of those definitely apply for our repatriation next year, so they’re worth me keeping in mind.  (For anyone contemplating an international move like this one, I hope you can put our hard-won lessons and words of relative wisdom to good use.)

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.