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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Wine and Cheese (Definitions): Parenting Edition

spaghetti-baby_130435123242Alone time (noun): A closely guarded state of being in which you are able to sit quietly for more than three consecutive minutes without anyone requesting anything of you. As in: I would sell a kidney for some alone time. See: Fantasy, Alternate Reality

Attachment parenting (noun): Conducting daily life with a child attached to a parental body part, barnacle like; in the way of a parasitic twin. As in: No, I can’t remember the last time I showered alone.

Cash Cow (noun): The slow-moving, somewhat docile state of acceptance upon realizing that your children at times view you as a walking, talking ATM machine. As in: No, you can’t just get money from the machine in the wall, that’s not how it works.

Dinner Reservations (noun):  The hesitation to try anything new at mealtimes due to resignation that your child/ren will inevitably pick out anything healthy, declare their intention not to eat a single bite, apply negative terms based solely on appearance, or all of the above. As in: I’ll just make grilled cheese sandwiches again, it’s easier that way.

Drop and Go (verb): The act of leaving clothing, toys, wrappers, apple cores, empty bowls and other personal items exactly where they fall. As in: Oh, there’s a trash can/laundry hamper/toy box? I didn’t realize. See also Turning a Blind Eye.

Finish Line (noun): Can be bedtime or college, dependent upon where you are on the parenting continuum. As in: Do I have to wait until the kids go to be before I open that second bottle of wine? 

Hunger Games (noun): The art of cooking a balanced meal which includes at least one ingredient everyone will eat in the short space of time between afternoon snack and the fifteen minutes before dinner is ready during which children start rummaging through fridge and cupboards declaring their bodies are now in starvation mode. As in: Don’t eat that, dinner is almost ready! Yes, you can pick out the tomatoes!

Mom

I Don’t Know How She Does It Syndrome (noun): The collective mistrust of the one mother who bakes, cooks, cleans, chaperones, volunteers, crafts, works out, showers, works, sleeps and has frequent sex with her husband without ever complaining. As in: I don’t know how she does it. Chances are, she doesn’t.

iPad (noun): A home full of cabling and gadgetry resulting in the inability to be away from phone for more than 30 minutes at a time. As in: My phone’s out of battery, but I can message you from my iPad while I’m waiting to load the server on my Mac.

Life Fairy (noun): Magical, mythical creature who provides food, clothing, and clean shelter for those who reside within. Often remembers birthday cards and gifts, vaccination schedules, and baked goods for special days. See also: Mom

Multiple Personality Syndrome (noun):  The sometimes schizophrenic behavior children display at home versus what they show the rest of the world. As in: At parent teacher conferences they told me Billy was shy and quiet in class. Was she talking about the same kid?

Peer to Peer Network (noun): Instant messaging, texting, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and the seventy-two other ways that teens have to communicate with and embarrass each other in the public forum. As in: Facebook is for old people

retro-drinking-225x300Show and Tell (noun): The nagging, low-level fear that your child will eventually spill something embarrassing and/or untrue about you/your family during class time. As in: When the teacher asked Johnny what Mom did all day he told her ‘nothing’.

Teddy Bear Picnic (noun): The phenomenon of trying to one-up the next parent by devising elaborate ways the kindergarten class bear can spend its weekend with you. As in: Do you think we need to schedule something fun for the weekend that Teddy Eddie spends with us? 

Turning a Blind Eye (verb): The act of willfully ignoring the clutter and debris field which results from Drop and Go policies. As in: What? What mess?

Weapons of Mass Destruction (noun): Lego. Specifically the small, sharp bits that find their way into your pockets, clog your washing machine, stuff up your vacuum hose and embed themselves in the soft underbelly of your sole. Or soul, depending on how you want to look at it. As in: Those f*&$ing plastic bricks are everywhere!

X Factor (noun): The eventuality that no matter how much your kids have, someone else is always going to have more, leading to begging, pleading and hyperbolic threats of life ending consequences. As in: Please, please can I have the iPhone 10? Everyone else does. YOU.ARE.RUINING.MY.LIFE.

 

 

Cigarettes and Alcohol: A Memoir

Photo: coolspotters.com
Photo: coolspotters.com

Smoking is a nasty, deadly habit.  Cigarette smoke reeks, it penetrates your clothes and catches in the ends of your hair.  You can taste the singe of smoke on your tongue, feel the burn in your mouth.  Cigarettes stain your teeth, they stain your fingers, leave you with small holes in everything and make your health insurance premiums go through the roof.  Cigarettes are a crutch, an addiction, an expensive act at playing cool.

I miss them terribly.

Not all the time.  Most of the time I don’t think about it.  But sometimes I fantasize about hoarding cheap, duty-free cartons of Marlboro (American ones–European ones are different) and smoking my way through my final decade of life in one, giant smoke ring of devil-can-take-me-I’m-mostly-dead-already happiness.

Anyone who has ever smoked can probably tell you their favorite part of smoking, whether it was the act itself or the sound of a match striking flint.  Perhaps it was the the accompanying whiff of  sulfur or the crunch of tearing cellophane.  Maybe it was the way a lit cigarette dangled loosely between fingers or that first lung bracing inhalation.  Though it’s the nicotine that’s addictive, it’s often the rituals that go hand in hand with smoking that are even more difficult to give up.  Muscle memory and Proustian sense recall can make you long for a cigarette years after you’ve quit.  My trigger is a holiday balcony.  There is nothing quite like watching a sunset after a hard day at the beach, drink on the railing, cigarette in hand. And then there is alcohol.

Photo: Felixinhollywood.blogspot.com
Photo: Felixinhollywood.blogspot.com

More so even than the rituals and the addictive substances, more than just the pure physical pleasure, cigarettes and alcohol encapsulate a laissez-faire attitude that comes in spades with youth and its shadowing feelings of immortality.  Cigarettes and alcohol meant Friday nights slouched on torn, vinyl bar stools with a pint of beer and a pack of Marlboro reds.  It meant slices of pizza and cheap tacos grabbed in between bar hopping.  Cigarettes and alcohol meant nothing ahead but a weekend of sleep and television and greasy diner food. Between you and me, I don’t miss the hangovers, though my husband does miss a good corn beef hash at Kellog’s diner. But I do miss the time-is-on-your-side kind of mentality that goes hand in hand with being young. When you are 22 and parked on a bar stool, you aren’t thinking about much more than how to get the bartender’s attention and making sure you are sober enough to get your key in the door the right way around and get into bed without knocking into the thermostat. You certainly aren’t thinking about quitting smoking or quitting drinking or what that extra wine is doing to your waistline or that pack a day is doing to your lungs.

Misspent youth has a way of making the future seem so far away that you actually can live in the moment. As much as I appreciate being older and all that brings, I do miss the carpe diem aura of youth.  Back then, the future was not college funds and retirement amounts and aging parents. The future was brunch.

No, I don’t miss the smell of smoke on my pillow or the sandpaper throat that comes from of smoking an entire pack during happy hour. I don’t miss the expense or the damage I knew it was doing. I don’t miss the guilt that comes with lighting up. But I do sometimes miss feeling like I was doing something bad-ass, something against the rules.  Yes, it is a stupid, dangerous way to define bad-ass, but there you go. There is a sense of childish sing-song taunt about smoking.  A sense of Ha, Ha, Death. I see your lung cancer and I raise you a “Screw You!”

In the end, as it is with many, it was pregnancy that forced my hand in regard to smoking.  And though I do admit to having a cheeky smoke now and again since my second son was born, the guilt I feel far outweighs any pleasure I get in sitting on a balcony with a glass of wine and a cigarette. Which leaves me with wine.

Over the years the drink of choice has gone from the cheapest vodka mixed with lemonade through the beer years and settling somewhere in the more expensive the wine, the better era.  I enjoy wine. My husband enjoys wine. We enjoy it together. Wine has been my vice for the past few years. Not as bad-ass as a cigarette behind the ear, a pack rolled in a shirt sleeve, but that ship has sailed. My go-to has gone from a Marlboro on the way home from work to a glass of smooth red with dinner.  But perhaps I enjoy wine a bit much.  Or a bit too much wine.

Photo: pbs.com
Photo: pbs.com

My er…enthusiastic enjoyment of wine has resulted in my pants not fitting.  Not in the “button is hard to get done” kind of way. Not even in the “waistband is digging into me and I risk being snapped as a Glamour Don’t” kind of way.  I mean the “I can’t get them over my hips” way.

After a summer of gluttonous indulgence in the US, I was a little concerned, but not too badly; I have a few tricks up my sleeve.  But this time, nothing worked.  After trying valiantly to blame the density of Danish bread, the cold weather, age, medication, and karma, my husband gently took me aside and suggested it might be the increase in wine. And so it has come to this, I thought.  Do I have to give up my last indulgence, my last vice?  My last chance to spit in the face of aging and waist expansion and maybe-it’s-not-good-for-you-in-vast-quantities indifference?  Do I finally have to choose between my ass and my wine?

It would seem so.

For the past few weeks I’ve been going into the local woods and doing push ups and lunges and triceps dips in the dark canopy of the trees where no one can see me.  I’ve been trying to power walk off that extra glass of Rioja.  And last week out I went out and did something I never thought I would do. I bought a pair of performance sport pants to exercise in.  My husband accused me of becoming Danish.  But my, they are comfortable.  And really, are a few push-ups and some panting really that high a price to pay for an extra glass of Pinot?

I’ll let you know.