Friday, August 31, 2012

Goodbyes are hard

Last night I pulled a sheet over myself instead of turning on the air conditioner. Last week I noticed that the angle of the shadows has shifted on the balcony, and the days are perceptibly shorter. The mornings are cool before the sun gets high. The arc of the sun across the sky is lower; it's only a few weeks until the Equinox.

Yesterday I packed up and mailed the first of about five boxes to books plus a few odds and ends to Colombia. All of a sudden it felt real - that we are leaving in a few short days. I almost started crying in a souvenir shop, and then I did start crying while watching Shpresa play with Gabriel.

By far the hardest part of leaving Albania, for me, is saying goodbye to Shpresa. Sure, I'll miss the ubiquity of local fresh fruits and vegetables, macchiato e gjate, roasted eggplant in everything (pizza! quesadillas!), learning Albanian; I'll miss Fun Cafe and the lake. I'll miss walking everywhere and the delicious range of fruit juices available. And I'll miss some of the women from church. But Shpresa has been like a sister to me, more than a friend. Her affection and care for our children has gone far beyond that of a paid employee.

I think part of it is just not knowing if or when we'll be able to come back, thinking of how much the kids will have changed if/when we do, wondering if Gabriel will remember her. She's almost like a second mom to him right now. She gave him his first "solid" food, she was there when he started walking. He talks to her in Albanian.

"It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," right? I know our lives are richer for having shared them with her, and I hope she can say the same about us.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I had so much fun with my balcony garden this summer. I don't know the name of that succulent at the top, but it has thrived in the heat. In addition to the flowers, I also had a planter with mint, rosemary, and basil - just brushing by it smells so good.
Tomorrow night Terry leaves for one more trip - three days in Lebanon. He gets back Saturday night. I'm planning to spend the morning doing some souvenir shopping and taking a gift to my Albanian teacher.
Friday I'd like the kids to go to the pool so I can dig into the packing some more. In the evening some friends are coming over for pizza, another farewell-ish event.

Saturday more packing, and an evening with friends.

Sunday I hope to zip the suitcases shut and weigh them.
Monday I hope to have a quiet day without much to do except whatever we feel like doing. Hopefully go out somewhere, maybe go pick up Terry from work.
And Tuesday we leave.


Monday, August 27, 2012


I have butterflies in my stomach today - our last full week in Albania. 
Trying to cram everything in as the days slip by like water.

Saturday we rented a car and drove to Dajti
since Valerie refuses to get on the cable car anymore.

It was perfect - cool, quiet, sunlit, breezy, fun.

We totally wore the kids out - both of them fell asleep in the car on the way home.

(I think this white horse was pregnant. I felt bad!)

 I know, I know, no helmets. What can I say. 

We're treating G. for giardia. V. probably has it too, but no symptoms. She's not eating anything except pizza and milk, but that seems to be due to something in her mouth since she'll only chew on the left side. Wish we could get a good look. Otherwise we're doing pretty well, all things considered! Down to the wire!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


This is from this past winter - it was so cool, Samueli made a self-propelling little car out of an empty toilet paper roll, a balloon, a straw, four plastic caps, and two Q-tips. The kids loved playing with it although they needed help blowing up the balloon again!


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

And More Packing

I didn't think I was stressed, until I developed a headache last Tuesday that lasted four days. I thought it was lack of sleep, so made sure I got a super-long nap. Headache still there. I wondered if it was my glasses (I really need to get bifocals). But then Saturday and Sunday I took a holiday from even thinking about packing - and the headache vanished by midmorning Saturday. I even ended up giving myself the day "off" on Monday, and didn't start sorting through bins of toys until today, Tuesday (glad to say the headache has not come back so far).

In a way we're still far enough out that for the most part it's just normal daily life.

We had a great weekend, taking the kids to parks and mall playgrounds. We totally wore them out, it was awesome.

Right now it's all feeling doable. I have boxes of books and toys to ship to Colombia, boxes to ship to the US, and boxes to give away. I'm giving away stacks of books, and household items we bought here. I've started talking to Valerie about the new home we'll be going to in Colombia, so that's slowly starting to sink in. She hopes there is a balcony with plants on it (note to self: check on that...) There are dozens of tiny little decisions and in each case I hope I'm guessing right about what's most important to the kids. This morning Valerie asked for a toy that's currently in storage at Aunt Gin's - a giant colorful caterpillar that we call Mr. Peekaboo - at least I could tell her where it was, and it was understandable to her, and she is fine because she knows she will see it again soon.

Gabriel has been fussy and sensitive the past couple days. I'm not sure if it's an intestinal thing or that he senses a shift in the wind. He's been very clingy and wanting to nurse a lot.

It breaks my heart a tiny little bit every time he says something in Albanian. 

I guess we knew the risks when we came.

Friday, August 17, 2012


I actually like packing. I like sorting things into categories. I like the 3D puzzle of suitcases and boxes. I LOVE getting rid of stuff. Sometimes I overdo it and get rid of things I wish I hadn't, later, but that's rare. "When in doubt, throw it out." I'm married to a pack rat so that balances things out a bit...

Today I sorted out the kids' books. Shpresa's son Samueli is helping me put things in boxes, creating labels, scouting dumpsters for cardboard boxes discarded from grocery stores. I have boxes of books to mail to Colombia, boxes to mail to the US, and a short stack of books that will go with us in our luggage. Yesterday I took Valerie with me to the post office and UPS to compare shipping prices. 15-20 kilos costs about $75 to send to anywhere in the Americas by post, and 337 Euros by UPS. I think we're going to take our chances with the post office! I made a list of the books in the boxes just in case, though. I also did a quick check on Amazon to see if it would make more sense just to leave the books here and buy them again in the US - I have probably about $1,000 worth of books here.

I feel like we're in really good shape to be ready to leave in just over 2 weeks. It's nice not to feel too stressed out (so far!!!)!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Song and Dance

A couple times recently I forgot to take my camera along and missed some cute moments. So I’ll have to write about them instead.

About 10 days ago we attended the birthday party of a little friend from church who turned three! It was a tea party so we brought little tarts and cheese-sprinkled bread sticks from the bakery across the street. The children’s table was set beautifully and they all had a chance to practice pouring “tea” (cold water) from our hostess’s collection of teapots from all over the world, after the requisite rendition of “I’m A Little Teapot.”

I was so surprised when my normally reserved girl jumped up at the front of the crowd and sang out with the song, a huge smile on her face! She did the motions and everything. I think she was so excited to recognize a song I’ve sung to her dozens of times – but it was the first time I’ve ever heard her produce it!

She also did an expert job pouring (we’ve been using a neti pot to water the plants outside so I guess she was getting some good practice there), and sang out with “Happy Birthday” later on.

The kids just had so much fun. They also enjoyed taking turns in the hammock on the balcony and ringing the wind chimes. Valerie still asks me to “tell the story about when we went to Abby’s birthday party” every night at bedtime, and we play “birthday party” with big round pieces of bread and candles every day at home!

Another day Valerie and I walked (!!!!!!! Remember this is Stroller Girl we’re talking about – whose comfort object long after we arrived in Albania was her stroller) to the lake to look for a shoe we’d lost a couple days earlier. We didn’t find the shoe, but we enjoyed the walk. When we got there, she had fun throwing little dirt clods into the water until a young dog – still in that rollicking puppy stage – came bounding towards her; she got a little scared, but didn’t cry. Then we climbed up on a concrete block (remnant of something) and she wanted to do the Chicken Dance, which I taught her in a moment of boredom some time ago.

It was one of those I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this moments, standing by an artificial lake in the capital of Albania, doing the Chicken Dance with my daughter. But it was fun.

And then we walked home for supper. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Saying goodbye

I realized this week that we have less than a month left in Albania. Exact travel dates haven't been set yet, but we're thinking that the kids and I will return to the US the first week in September (Terry will come a little later after wrapping up some projects here and closing down the apartment).

As TCKs, Terry and I have had a lot of experience with transitions like these, so we will need to draw on that wisdom for shepherding our kids through it. Even though Gabriel has really only known life in Albania - except for our 2-week trip to Akron - after a few years he won't remember this phase of our life as a family at all. And that's a really strange thought.

It's been a pleasure raising him from tiny baby to two-year-old here.

You'll be hearing more about this transition in the coming weeks, I'm sure. For now I want to share a song my sister and I used to sing over and over again when we were kids:

Saying goodbye, going away
Seems like goodbye's such a hard thing to say
Touching a hand, wondering why
It's time for saying goodbye

Saying goodbye, why is it sad?
Makes us remember the good times we've had
Much more to say, foolish to try
It's time for saying goodbye
Don’t want to leave, but we both know
Sometimes it's better to go

Somehow I know we'll meet again
Not sure quite where, and I don’t know just when
You're in my heart, so until then
Wanna smile, wanna cry
Saying goodbye
La la la la la la la la
It's time for saying goodbye

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Enjoying the struggle

Sometime about two months ago or so, I was sitting in the living room with my family and I looked around and realized… I’m relaxed. I’m relaxed, at home, with my family. And yet, everyone is awake...! And I realized that it’s been about, what, four years? Since I’ve felt that way.

I’m not sure if it’s because the kids have hit a developmental stage where they can play more independently, or because something has shifted internally in the way I approach parenting, or a little of both. Up until this point, parenting has been for me a source of constant tension – always worrying about what and whether they’re eating, timing their sleep just right, wondering in just what ways I'm doing permanent damage to their psyches, and of course the ever-present risk of bodily harm as they careen through a world full of sharp corners and hard surfaces. Short of raising them inside a padded room, though, I didn’t really see any other way to do it.

When we were in Akron I heard a quote that began to revolutionize the way I think about my role as their parent: “children are hard-wired for struggle.” And I thought, wow, that’s true. That’s how we learn. Remove from their world all struggle and pain, and you remove the opportunity for them to learn and grow up to be resilient, adaptable, resourceful individuals. Not only is it impossible, but it’s actually not good for them. They are born with the inner resources to meet the challenges of life and grow through the struggle. It’s my job to nurture them through that process in a timely manner, to judge what struggles they’re ready for, to coach them through it. Not over or around it. Through it.

The tension and fear that has shadowed me as I shepherd them through life is abating somewhat. I find that these moments of relaxation are becoming more frequent and longer in duration. I still find myself at times drawing in to that place of tension and fear, that robs me of my breath and joy. I remind myself to breathe, to shake it off. (This is something I’ve been working on a bit with my sister-in-law who just started a business as a life-coach, she’s fabulous – I highly recommend her!)

This is who I want to be as a parent: patient, playful, positive, and peaceful. I’m also looking for a word that starts with P that means teaching – pedagogic? Professorial? Not sure those capture the idea – but focusing on these notions has recently helped me recently as I confront trying moments.

When Valerie was born, someone said to me “Enjoy your baby.” I want to remember to do that every day. Enjoy my children.  

Friday, August 03, 2012

Things Kids Say

About a month ago, Gabriel started talking. ConstantlyWhat used to be a series of cute little grunts - so fitting that V calls him Piglet - are now words - and even sentences! Here are a few recent gems:

I was singing "Rock a Bye Baby" as I put him to bed, and he started chiming in along with me:
"Rock... baby... tree top... APPLES!"
(Me:) "Apples? Is the baby picking apples? Is the baby eating apples?"
"Baby eat apples tree top!"

The kids were pretending to spray water on me from the vacuum cleaner hose, so I played along - "Aaa! I'm getting all wet!" So Gabriel trots out of the room saying "Get! Mama! Towel! Get Mama towel!" I hear the little pitter-patter of his feet going down the hall to the bathroom. "Get Mama big towel!" Then a short silence. Then, "Get Mama liddow towel! Get Mama liddow towel!" as he comes back, dragging his own little yellow towel, which incidentally is soaking wet from mopping up some spill or other, leaving a long trail of damp across the tile floor. Oh my heart, so cute.

And always the joker:
Me: Say "I love you, Mama."
G: I lo-lo... DADA! [big laugh]
Me: No, I love you Mama!
G: I lo-lo you... VAL-VAL! [bigger laugh]
Me: No, I love you Mama!
G: I lo-lo... DOG! [biggest laugh, followed by tickle-fest]

They also invented this awesome game - mostly V but now G is really into it too.

First they crouch in the corner of G's room behind an open closet door. They are my baby mice and they are lost in the "cactuses." So I try to find them, and V coaches me if I get the words wrong: "Where are my baby mice? I miss them so much! Are they behind the curtain? Are they in the fan? Are they in the dollhouse? Where are they?" etc. Then they both start fake-crying (which is HILARIOUS). "Oh, there you are! I found you! I found you!" Then I have to put them both in the "submarine" (G's crib) "to get the itchies and ouchies off." Then I take them out and hang them on the clothesline by their ears (for pretend - I lay them on the bed actually). Rinse, repeat!