The 2nd Best Decision I’ve Ever Made

How many decisions do you make in the course of your life? Cereal or toast? (Neither) Coffee or tea? (Coffee) Open the bottle of wine or not? (Is it Friday? Then yes.). Life is chock-a-block with decisions, from the mundane to the momentous.

Every now and then you’re whistling along happily enough, tearing through the mundane decisions like a boss, when you come face to face with a giant one.

Marry me?
Should we start a family?
Should we buy a house?
Should we open the 2nd bottle? (Is it Saturday? Then yes.)

Sometimes they’re expected decisions you’ve been sort of prepping for your whole life, but sometimes they come out of nowhere.

In the back of my brain I knew my husband’s job might offer the opportunity to move overseas. But you know, when you’re talking about it, it’s all sure, great, what an adventure! It’s in the future. It’s the abstract. It’s not real.

Until he comes home one day and says, “Hey! There’s a job opening in Cyprus. What do you think?”

What did I think?

****

Have I told you how much I love NYC? Really? I mean have I really told you? Have I told you how the city boogied down deep into my bones until it became part of my DNA? Have I told you…oh, I have?

Forget Leaving Las Vegas, if there was an alcohol sopped memoir movie of this mid-section of my life, we could call it Leaving New York.

Leaving the city of my heart, where I fell in love, got married, had my babies…was tough. Like drag me away tough. Kicking and screaming tough. New York, man. It gets into your blood, it seeps into your pores, it worms its way…but enough about New York because I was leaving it.

On a jet plane, with two kids, a couple of suitcases, and a plan of action so loose it was jiggling like my post-baby muffin top.

And then there I was, in the middle of The Mediterranean. Me, my two kids, and a Yiayia down the street named Poppy. That was it. Me and a Greek Cypriot Granny. My entire life turned upside down because one momentous decision we made sitting in bed on a sunny Sunday morning while our second son slept a few feet away in our too small for two kids apartment.

****

For the first year, I was convinced it was, quite possibly, the worst decision I’d ever been a part of. Worse than the plaid pants with the ribbed yellow turtleneck get-up in 3rd grade. Worse than my hair in high school. Worse than every shitty financial decision we’ve ever made. (Note: Should you buy the one-bedroom apartment? Hell, yes you should).

I cried because I missed the election of Barack Obama. I cried watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve. My mother and my sister came to visit us and when they left, I ugly sobbed on the sidewalk as the car pulled away. It was…not good. It was in fact, bad. Really bad.

Of course things improved, even within that first year. As nice as Poppy the Yiayia was, I made friends who were slightly closer to my own generation, more Breakfast Club than the Early Bird Special club. But still, it wasn’t until after we left Cyprus and, if I’m honest, well into our Copenhagen cycle, that I started to really think about the decision we made all those Sundays before.

****

It’s not always easy being an expat. There are times it is appallingly hard. Being a family unit without the support of nearby relatives as a buffer can be–well, let’s just say intense. Family time, I am often caught saying, is overrated.

Some things about it actually are great. Being abroad has given us an opportunity to bond in a way I’m not sure we would have had if we’d stayed in NY. I’m not saying we wouldn’t have had a bond, it would just be a different one. This one is born of living a specific experience all together, simultaneously.

Our horizons? Not broadened as much as exploded.

I’ve learned to stop fearing change, and, dare I say, embrace it. Or at least more so than before. I’ve gone so far outside my comfort zone, I’ve gotten jet lag. Bizarrely, I’ve learned how to relax. Let’s just say I’m now type B- rather than type A.

Is it Friday? Drink the wine.

Living as an outsider in a country that isn’t yours, when you don’t speak the language, or understand the nuance of the culture itself, often at the mercy of a job, teaches you nothing if not this: you can’t control everything. Some stuff yes, other stuff, no. I think, for a long time I got them mixed up.

It’s taught me that I really only truly need the people I love around me and a decent wine shop. Should we open the wine? (Is it Sunday? Sure.)

Being an expat has taught me how to offer my friendship..and receive friendship in return. It has redefined my concept of home, on every level imaginable. It has honed my criticism of my own country, but it has also deepened my love of it.

It has given me an understanding of being the odd one out, of being on the back foot, of having to pay attention. It’s deepened my appreciation for difference, from the minor to the major.

It’s taught me how to bake from scratch and how to live with less choice, and how to start using cloth napkins because paper products in Denmark are stupid expensive. Also that I don’t know how I survived as long as I did without an electric kettle.

It’s taught me that when someone is meant to be in your life, you find a way to make sure they stay in your life.

No dinner, no drama.

This decade long adventure has allowed us to get to know each other in a completely unfettered way. It’s just us over here. No insulation. All family, all the time. No Sunday dinners, but no Sunday drama either.

It has, quite honestly, fundamentally changed who I am as a person.

For the better.

So as I meander through the mundane, bus or train? (Bus) Pizza or Thai? (Pizza) Should we open that bottle of wine? (Is it Monday? Then no, you big lush), I can look back at some of the momentous with more clarity.

That decision we made all those Sundays ago, saying yes to taking that chance? It hasn’t always been easy, but it was probably the 2nd best decision I’ve ever made.

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If It Takes 10,000 Hours to Become an Expert…

You know there’s that famous Malcolm Gladwell “it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something” thing?

Well, here’s a partial list of things, which, by that criteria, I feel like I’m an expert in.

And I would peel 10,000 carrots… And I’ll probably peel 10,000 more.

Carrot peeling
Closing doors
Right-side outing socks
Flushing un-flushed toilets
Packing lunches
Embarrassing myself
Finding ways to say “no”
Avoiding making phone calls
Trying to figure out who benefits if the whole earth being a sphere thing was, indeed, a hoax.
Sleeping
Drinking wine
Putting fitted sheets on the wrong way first
Turning everything into a ‘lesson’
Reading
Making small talk
Typing
Refereeing arguments about socks
Dieting
Wasting time on FaceBook/Twitter
Drinking coffee
Extracting dirty underwear from dirty pants
Listening to stories about video games
Shouting “close your (fill in screen name here)!”
Studying

I close all these doors daily

Making sure the toilet seat is down before I pee
Crying
Growing a human being
Finding ways to read my book instead of having sex (KIDDING, HONEY!!)
Saying “I just sat down!”
Filling water glasses
Worrying
Wondering where the time went
Saying “I wonder where the time went.”
Cooking breakfast
and lunch
and dinner.
Obsessively checking a bank account
Fretting over credit card bills
Resenting the two above
Trying to find logic in places where logic does not exist

I do, I did, I will

Saying “I love you” (maybe not 10,000 hours, but surely 10,000 times)
Kissing
Being a mother
Being married
Writing
Hating what I write
Wearing my heart on my sleeve
Loving
Forgetting why I’m standing in a room
Forgetting what else should probably go on this list.

The Perfect Kid

I don’t want to brag, but I have the perfect kid.

Well, I would if only I could take the best parts from both and ditch the rest. If I could take a little splice of that one and a little slice of the other and stitch them together with pink thread into some sort of Frankenstein creature type of thing, zap it all with Mom juice and presto change-o, perfect kid!

If only, if only, if only!

If only I could take the philosophical musings from one and pair them with the confidence of the other. If I could take the calm, slow to anger personality of that one and splice it with the self-awareness of the other one and bolt it all together at the neck….

I’d take a dash of the big one’s humor and tailor it with the younger one’s affinity for puns. I’d dig up the small one’s inner drive and pad through the dead of night to steal some chutzpah from my first-born. I’d secure a little motivation from here and a little natural charm from there. Grab my darning needle and voila!

Perfect child.

I’d take the genome that apparently dictates whether or not you remember to flush the toilet and mix it with the ability to make the bed without daily reminders. The bit that drives one to brush his teeth without threats glued to the other’s ability to remember which day of a nine-day cycle it is at the drop of a hat.

I’d lay out one’s happy go-lucky nature and combine it with the other one’s leadership qualities. One’s patience with the other’s determination.

Oh, what a kid I could make if I could pick all the best and get rid of the rest.

But of course, I can’t. And honestly, where would the fun in that be? And plus, who am I kidding. I don’t have a darning needle.

So I’ll keep harassing the thirteen year-old to brush his teeth because he also never gets angry and I’ll keep calmly explaining to the ten year-old why he can’t spend his life in disgusting pajamas because he also does his homework in Greek, just for the fun of it, and I’ll overlook the last-minuteness of the older one because he’s a stellar friend and pretend I don’t mind the way the younger one whines sometimes because his heart is so big.

No cut and paste stitch together, lightning bolt perfect kid over here.

I’ll take them just the way they are.

 

My Life as a Sponge

We’ve all had shit days.

We’ve all had days when it feels good to unload on someone else: a secret we’ve been carrying, a ball of anxiety knotting its way through our digestive tract, a fear, an embarrassment, a hazy memory of dancing on a table after that shot of tequila…

If we’re lucky, we have a friend or a spouse or a parent who listens. They take on a bit of our worry, making our own burden a little bit lighter. They absorb it.

Like a sponge.

As a mother, I’m an expert sponge. Seriously. As a wife, I’m pretty good too. Actually, I think I’m an all-around decent sponge. There are times though when it feels like my sole job in life is to be a giant sponge. There to sop up excess emotion and tears, to take a little anxiety or unhappiness onto my own shoulders. I shift. I accommodate. I rearrange the already heavy pack on my back so I can add another load like that ass from Buckaroo.

Mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend. This is what we do for one another, right?

Right.

Most of the time I don’t think about it too much. I sop. I absorb. I soak up everyone else’s worries and anxieties like a boss. And usually there’s enough time in between major spills to dry out. But every now and again you’re sopping up one mess after another, absorbing one hurt after another, mopping upset and stress and baking cupcakes and trying to figure out where this new fear of the dark came from and making sure football socks are clean and calling your mom and double checking that your son’s sandwich doesn’t have cheese and because God forbid he have cheese it’s the end of the world and freaking out over the news and–

Basically you’re taking on water from so many directions you get saturated.

There are only so many leaks you can plug. After all, even sponges have their limits. Without time to dry out they disintegrate and fall apart in a big, crumbly mess.

Ideally, there should be a sponge-share agreement, whereby you take turns. Most of the time this works. My husband and I seem to have an unspoken understanding that only one of us is allowed to freak out at any given time. If I am in free fall, it means he needs to be up to bat. And vice-versa. Two parents in meltdown is never a good thing.

But life is life is life and things happen and unpredictability and everything else and sometimes there’s only one sponge left in the cupboard.

When this happens, I recommend a week by yourself in a sunny location to dry out.

Of course all you usually get, if you’re lucky, is five minutes in front of a 200° oven while you stir the casserole you made for dinner. The one you hope has enough in it to shut everyone up for a few minutes.

That is, just enough time to dry out enough to sop up the next mess.