On turning 40…

I have a confession to make.

Birthdays bring out the diva in me.  When I met my husband, neither one of us had two pennies to rub together, and yet I had travelled just enough and had started to believe and dream big enough that I actually said to him,

“For my fortieth birthday, I’d like to own an apartment in Paris.”  

I followed up that statement with the claim that I’m not a complicated woman.  No, not at all.  What I meant was this: I don’t need fancy clothes or a fancy home, lots of expensive jewelry or handbags.  What I want is a lifetime of guaranteed travel.  An apartment in Paris fit that ideal.

Since then, I have decided we don’t need an apartment in Paris.  First, why would we buy an apartment when we have several friends with apartments in Paris who would gladly let us use their homes when they are on vacation every single August.  Second, the market has gone up so dramatically in Paris that we could not possibly afford an apartment right now (though I might add that once-upon-a-time there were affordable apartments in Paris). (Ok, and I’ll admit that I’m actually looking online at Paris apartments now.  Who knew?)

See, I’m not complicated at all.  No, not at all.

And so here I am, turning 40 today.  And working at being not complicated at all.

40.  So much pressure.  Have the perfect party.  Don’t look your age.  Do something BIG, like sky diving.  Or GO somewhere bucket-list-y.

Boob jobs and trips to Paris abound for the woman turning 40.

I’ve spent a lot of time (& $) making sure I’m not 70+ years old staring at the foreign world from inside an air-conditioned tour bus, rolling through the streets of Paris.  So, no Paris for me.  I still have a travel list but, I insist, it is not a “bucket” list.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I considered the vanity project.  What could I fix?  How could I look younger?  I see women all across the country hitting the gyms at about 39 ¼ years, working ferociously to be in the best shape of their lives at 40.  I’m talking about beautiful, smart, kind women.  Who are already so lovely, inside and out.  And even they aren’t happy.  The constant message to women is to look better than ever, at any and all costs, or you might possibly not be valuable anymore.  By all means, work out and eat healthy, but do it because you know it is good for you all of the time.  Not just so you can look good at 40.

I like to work out. But I like it in a sustainable way. And I’m not miserable in my body.  I don’t want or need to look better at 40 than I’ve ever looked. I want and need to look, well, like me.  Me at 40.

At around age 35 I found some pictures of myself at 25.  In a bikini.  Thinking of my 35-year-old body, I shook my head and said out loud, “what did I ever have to complain about?  Look at that!  I should have been walking around naked all the time.  ALL.THE.TIME!”

And then I realized, when I am 50, I will likely say this same thing about my 40-year-old-body, too.  Because we do age.  It’s normal.  Can’t it be graceful?  Can we have little battles and not all-out wars with ourselves?  Can’t we just finally love and accept ourselves?

If not now, when?

This is what I tell women (some even 10+ years younger than me) who seem to be in the fight of their lives to finally be fit enough, beautiful enough, enough, enough, enough.  When they weigh X, they will be happy then. They will love themselves then.

If not now, when?

I am not exempt from the pull of vanity.  I pluck and poke and prod.

I suck it in.

I stretch my arms up high and imagine that my boobs still sit where they are only when I’m touching the ceiling.

I meet my girlfriend in the hair color aisle at Walgreens to figure out how to color the bits of gray that show up at my temples in between my hair appointments.

I try fancy new creams and elixirs to make my skin look younger.

I’ve contemplated a boob job.

I’ve considered a tummy tuck.

And, yes, I’ll admit it, I do a bit of Botox.

Aging, turning 40, is about do, do, do.

There is so much do.  And not enough be.

But why aren’t we insisting that turning 40 is about who we have already become?

Our culture has created so much fanfare and angst around this particular birthday.

As I turn 40, I am turning away from some typical turning-40ish-activities—mainly, I have not chosen to make it a vanity project, to take a bucket-list trip, or to feel sad about turning older.  Not one bit sad.  My aim is to look closely at my life, to examine who I am at 40, and then to look around at the people who have helped me be this woman.

Because, we are not guaranteed any time.  I have been to a few funerals these past years.  And I am always so grateful when I can sit at someone’s funeral and know that there is nothing left unsaid.  I am always sad when there are things that I wish I had said.

If not now, when?

I am discovering that gratitude is delicious.  Gratitude is a creative force.

Here is what my birthday month is shaping up to be: lots of pondering and writing, soul searching and gratitude.

I decided that I would think over the arc of my life and make a list of the 40 most influential people who have helped shape my beliefs, my mind, my vision, my dreams, my core.

Here’s what I mean: the people who have had the kind of massive influence on your life that, if removed from your personal timeline, you would wind up in a different NOW than you are currently.  The people whose words come out of your mouth when you least expect it, whose guidance made you better, whose mentorship steered you this way, and not that.

I have written 40 letters of gratitude to my people.  This project is difficult, fun, full of dreaming and memories, secret smiles and tears of joy and gratefulness.  So much gratefulness.

I’ve written to my parents, my high school DECA teacher, a college mentor, an ex-boyfriend.  To my children.  To my first child, my nephew Bryon.  My childhood best friend and her parents, the woman who gave me my first job, my boss in Paris where I taught English, my intern at ASU who looked up to me just enough so that I wanted to be worthy of her admiration, the woman who taught me about tithing 10%, my best friend from college, my Godmother who watched me get baptized in the Catholic church as a young woman.  To my husband, who is the perfect match for me, in all ways.

Gratitude at 40 is fulfilling in a way that I’m certain losing 10 pounds or a boob job or yet another trip would not be.

Here is where I’ve landed on the whole turning-40-situation:

While a work in progress, I’m pretty fucking awesome just the way I am. 

And what’s more, the ways in which I’m awesome have NOTHING TO DO WITH HOW I LOOK.

I’m going to go ahead and declare a new way to approach turning 40: take account of your life, who you have become, and who helped create this stunning human being that you already are.

And then get busy writing your own letters of gratitude.  Gratitude is vital in life; it makes all the best parts of life shine brighter and the harder moments dull in power and significance

As a fellow mommy said recently,

“I’m up past midnight, because my life is too beautiful and it demands to be thought about and laughed about and remembered. I’m literally just sitting on a bed being happy. I can’t call that anything except time well spent.”

Well said, Jamaica, well said.   And that is what turning 40 feels like to me.

xo

A

 

 

Iceland

Because I love to travel, I get daily emails from a variety of travel websites attempting to lure me hither and yon.  They have glitzy pictures and alluring adjectives.  And food pictures. Always food pictures.

Last year I noticed a sweet little gem in my inbox about a special from Icelandair.  I did a little bit of research and learned that Iceland is a quick 7 hours away by plane from Seattle and it is the perfect place to view the Aurora Borealis in the winter time.  And, they have hot springs. Lots and lots of hot springs.  So, while Iceland is really heaven for the outdoors person (you know, the kind who hike, kayak, do physically difficult things with their bodies in the wilds), it certainly could be my kind of place, too.  Aurora Borealis + hot springs=winning.

When the special from Icelandair hit my inbox this year I was prepared. I really could go to Iceland for $700!  That $700 includes roundtrip airfare from SeaTac, 3 nights hotel, breakfast buffet at the hotel every morning, and one excursion that included dinner, a few hours in a natural hot spring under the stars, and “a search for the Northern Lights.” (We added three tours when we arrived at a cost of about $100/each).

I casually mentioned the possibility of a girls getaway to Iceland with my friend Lacy and was delightedly surprised she was on board.  We broke the news to our husbands, who both really wanted to go, too. But, someone had to stay home with the children.

Lacy and I have been in the trenches of motherhood for many, many years. Pregnancy, hormones, labor and delivery, sleep deprivation, hormones, nursing, hormones, hormones, hormones, sleep deprivation, the constant need for mommy, only mommy; these years have been like a long sleepy dream, beautiful and sweet, like swimming in a warm, gooey pool where most sounds, sights, and smells are dimmed.  We gladly gave ourselves to the mothering of our little children, leaning in to the constraints that this season of mommyhood meant.  We have basked in these years of mommy-hood and shrugged our shoulders about that wild, travel itch in our hearts, maybe all the while realizing that soon this constant need for us would slow and they would turn from us just long enough so we could come up for air.  Our children have all begun that turn.

OF course, it helps we married men who are incredibly competent fathers and willing to solo-parent so that we can be fulfilled in different ways than mothering provides.

And, off we went.  We came up for air from mothering for a brief moment and found ourselves in Iceland.

Now, it may seem silly to go all that way for such a short visit but here is the gold in this story.  My friend Lacy lives far from me and although we can always find time to text message each other, phone calls are rare. Rare because we each have little people who do not like their mothers to be on the phone.  So, Lacy and I had this marvelously long flight to Iceland together during which we napped, read, and talked. Talked and talked and talked.  It was delicious to have that time together.

Uninterrupted girl time.  Bliss.

Quite honestly, Iceland was just the bonus, the backdrop, to four days of catching up, dreaming, plotting, giggling, oohing and awing, discussing pee problems, tantrums (ours, husbands’, and children’s), aging, sex, poetry, and all that it means to be mothers and girlfriends and wives and daughters.

We arrived to a pitch-black Iceland morning and held our steaming breath as we boarded the bus to our hotel (the sun rises between 10:30-11:00am this time of year and sets around 6:00pm).  Luckily, the hotel let us in to our room that morning and I promptly took a nap while Lacy read.  We grabbed a cab to town around 11am and had some coffee and walked around a little, exploring quaint Reykjavik.  This city has the feel of Europe’s best old cobbled streets mixed with that ultra modern Ikea-feel that most Americans have come to know well.  Everyone was kind. Everyone spoke English.

We challenged ourselves to a conquer-jet-lag-walk back to the hotel and arrived just in time to catch a tour bus out to the famed Blue Lagoon.  We had both been lusting after this experience because it seemed so magical, mystical, and downright perfect for girl time.

The Blue Lagoon is this vast natural geothermal hot springs that is one of the 25 wonders of the world and it has earned that title.  It is a wonder. It is ethereal soaking in this light blue, hot water as steam rises and clouds the sky.  The backdrop was snowy rock cliffs and a sky that turned a lovely pink as the sun set.

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The Blue Lagoon

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Do you see that steam rising way off in the distance in front of that volcano?  That is the Blue Lagoon.  Impressive.

The water is rich in minerals (silica and sulfur) and as we slid around the pool our toes sank into the silty bottom.  The temperatures were moderately hot against the ice cold day but as we moved around the pool we would feel bursts of stronger heat and linger in those places to soak it up.  Not only is there a poolside bar with beer and smoothies, we also cozied up to the “mud bar” where a sweet Icelandic gal gave us each a scoop of white mud to apply to our faces.

After a few hours of floating around the lagoon we went inside for dinner at their Lava Restaurant.  For $75 we devoured the chef’s choice four course dinner.  While we were prepared for a touristy, overcharged experience we had quite the opposite. The food was delicious and interesting and beautifully prepared and plated–certainly rivaling anything we’ve experienced fine dining in the US.

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Fresh from soaking in the Lagoon, dinner at Lava Restaurant.  No, they wouldn’t let us eat in our robes. Yes, we wore our spa flip flops.  

We slept well that night.  Jet-lag is like a drug.  Following breakfast the next day we headed out on a small tour with Icelandic Expeditions.  Our guide Kommi eagerly greeted us in our hotel lobby and we climbed into the back of his Nissan 4-runner, joining an American couple from New Hampshire and a lone traveler from South Korea. The six of us visited the geothermal hills outside of the capital and visited not only a stunning lake to watch the sun rise and fill the sky with pink, but also a geothermal area that was bubbling hot, letting off steam across the constant white expanse which is Iceland in the winter. We ended the tour in a lava tube where we enjoyed hot cocoa with some traditional Icelandic liquor (just to warm us up, wink). Throughout, Kommi entertained us with tales of Icelandic folklore, trolls, superstitions, and how even in this modern era in Iceland someone can have a vision that can impact the way city council does its business.  (It reminded me so much of my travels in Ireland and the widespread belief of fairies.)

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The sun rising at around 10:45am.

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One of what must be hundreds of geothermal areas in Iceland.  

After our morning tour, we headed to the city for a traditional Icelandic lunch. Now, I don’t want to scare you because Iceland usually offers its tourists some pretty sane, normal food, you know, for the ones that want to play it safe.  But, if you hadn’t yet guessed, Lacy and I are all about adventure.

So, when in Iceland…

The Icelandic Bar had some really “normal” things on its menu that would appeal to any international traveler. AND, they had the food we were searching for. You know, your basic pickled ram’s testicle, dried haddock, and putrified shark.  No, I’m not kidding.

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We dined.  We chewed and chewed and chewed.  We chased the food with bread and water. Lacy had a beer.  We made videos as proof of our epicurean adventure (and sadly I am not able to attached these hilarious moments caught on iPhone “film”).

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Dried haddock served with butter; fermented shark (it had an aftertaste of stinky Camembert cheese)

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“Just a tiny bit of testicle.”

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Pickled ram’s testicle.  Yes, it was as unappealing as it sounds.

That evening we boarded a big tour bus as part of our original package and headed to a small town about 45 minutes from Reykjavik.  Dinner was an eclectic buffet, catering to the variety of nationalities (and tastes) of people who visit Iceland.  The brown bread in the buffet had actually been cooked in a metal container that was buried in the sand on the shores of the lake. Geothermal activity is no joke in Iceland and they use it well.  Not only is it a great tourist activity what with hot springs, lava tubs, and erupting volcanoes, Iceland harvests the naturally hot water and pipes it into towns to use as the hot water that comes from the tap. They save loads of money by not heating water with electricity.

The Fontana hot springs have multiple pools with varying temperatures as well as sauna rooms heated naturally from the geothermal activity. The town is small enough so there is not much light pollution so the stars were brilliant as viewed through the hot rising steam.  We relished the evening, lying across rocks in the hot springs, eyes closed, talking a bit, or dozing.  It was, as my aunt Paddy would say, a dipole moment.  While the actual definition of “dipole moment” is scientific and complicated, she explained it to me a lifetime ago as the moment when the world is so magical, when the environment is so perfect, that hydrogen and oxygen combine to form a  water molecule.  You know, you’ve had these moments.  Moments when life feels so perfect you can believe in miracles.  When even at a cellular level you are humming.  Imagine, when atoms are combining to form something incredible and new.

Well-fed and warmed up from those delicious hot springs we started the second part of our tour: the hunt for the Northern Lights.  What that really meant is driving from the Fontana Hot Springs back to the city, hoping we’d spy the lights along the way.  The tour guide explained to us that younger eyes can see the lights better, and more colors. Likewise, sophisticated cameras can often pick up the lights before we can see them.  When the tour guide thought she spied some light activity out the window we pulled over so she could snap a photo of the dark Northern sky and then look at the photo.  No lights. Not yet.  Soon though we could see some green activity in the sky so we pulled over alongside 4 or 5 other tour buses and jumped out to see what we could see.  The lights came and went, mostly green but some red, dim and then bright.  It was beautiful even though it was pretty dim.

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After about 45 minutes the lights just seemed to deliquesce into the night sky and we boarded the bus to call it a night. We were exhausted and frozen but still delighted that nature had cooperated.  We were driving down the road when all of a sudden people started shouting and exclaiming and when I looked out the window I could not believe my eyes. The Aurora Borealis was so bright and vivid outside the bus window.  After several minutes of our imploring, the driver finally found a safe place to pull over and we all piled out again.  I stood there with my breath misting my face watching the night sky come alive in a way I did not know was possible.  It was more than breathtaking. It was exhilarating.  The colors–both hue and vibrancy–were other-worldly.  The lights stretched from horizon to horizon in the Northern sky and moved and leapt and did things that made me rub my eyes thinking “is this real?” Everyone was giddy and snapping photos like crazy.  Here is a photo I took with my iPhone of the lights:

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So, lesson learned, bring a REAL and possibly SOPHISTICATED camera to Iceland.  Luckily I peered over the shoulder of some of our bus mates and saw that they had captured some brilliant images and they emailed me all of theirs.  Photo credits of all Aurora Borealis go to Mitchell from Another Land.

IMG_8826IMG_8831IMG_8835I mean, seriously.  These images take my breath away and they don’t even do the evening JUSTICE!  Seeing the lights dance and move and glow and fade across the night sky made our trip to Iceland perfect. Dipole moment for sure.

For Sunday we’d thought long and hard about renting a car and doing the Golden Circle on our own but the roads were just a tad too icy and our jet lag was just a tad too overwhelming, still. We really couldn’t be trusted to venture out and about by ourselves.  So, we settled on a horse back riding tour followed by a big tour bus tour of the Golden Circle.  Iceland raves about its horses and we soon realized why. Though short, don’t call them ponies as the handlers will be quick to correct you.  They are sweet little horses, with mellow demeanors and an incredible gate.  I’ve ridden horses frequently on vacation and grew up riding my grandmother’s Tennessee Walker horses, also known for their gates.  But this was something altogether different.  Their gate was so smooth you could easily sit a trot all day long.  The teenage guides took us along a snowy trail for two hours, crossing and recrossing a frozen creek.  The first crossing the horses were unable to break the ice so we all just rode gingerly across its frozen expanse.  All other crossings we watched as the lead horse went up to the edge and pawed at the ice until it broke and then lead the rest of us through foot-deep icy water.  While they outfitted us with full body ski/outdoor gear over our normal clothes, I don’t think I have ever been so cold in my entire life.  The last thirty minutes of the ride I just clung to my horse, Fire, hoping he was well named and some of his heat would seep in to me.

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After an unexpected lunch of homemade soup and bread at the barn following our ride, we headed by big tour bus to the Golden Circle.  We were so tired though that the best part of the (many hours, never ending) tour was actually our own antics: giggling, walking around pretending to be French tourists with our rusty French, and, in general acting like sleep-deprived giddy teenagers.

We saw countless volcanoes (“that snowy peak out the left side of the bus is Zycislcke–or some such named snowy peak), a large beautiful lake, a cool geyser, and an enormous partly-frozen multi-level waterfall.  I think if we had not been so freakin tired we may have been more impressed.

Exhausted, giddy, but delighted with ourselves for managing a three day whirlwind trip to Iceland, we spent most of Monday before our flight at our hotel’s spa basking in a warm swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, and steam room and lots and lots of girl talk.

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The trip was a success at all levels.

  • Much needed time away from our littles–check.
  • Girl time–check.
  • International adventure–check.
  • Seeing the Northern Lights light up the sky and dance before our eyes–check.
  • Soaking in naturally super hot, mystical waters–check.

I double dog dare you to go to Iceland with your craziest girlfriend.  You’ll find that it soothes your soul and fulfills you in unexpected yet necessary ways.

To read Lacy’s far more poetic account of our trip, please visit her blog.  She is a tremendously fine writer.

xo

A

 

Re-Entry

Six weeks ago…

We are standing in the Santiago airport–a new, glitzy first-world-looking airport (not exactly a mirror of the country) –when an announcement comes over the intercom, first in Spanish and then in perfectly articulate English. Carter & Quinlen are scrambling around on the ground, playing, ignoring everything around them.  Or so it seems.  When the announcement comes across in English, Carter and Quinlen freeze. They drop their toys. They rush to each other and hug, jump up and down and shout, “it’s in English. We can understand it!”

We may have underestimated the level of culture shock that we’ve submitted our sweet children to all these weeks.

And it only gets better from there.  After 9 weeks in Santiago, Chile, coming home to Yakima, Washington was undeniably lovely.

The first twenty-four hours were foolishly easy. Our bodies were exhausted but our minds were seemingly on tranquilizers because we slid around understanding everything without actually using our brains. It felt like pudding. It felt like magic.  Nothing took any effort.  We saw-read-knew in an instant everything around us.  We were comforted by friends at the airport, friends who brought us dinner, friends who just gave us deep, sincere hugs and told us how glad they were that we were now home.

Our first morning home I found Josh standing in the kitchen staring, mesmerized, into the kitchen sink as he ran the garbage disposal.

Our kids were transfixed with their old toys.

And yet.  We find ourselves hiding out in our home.  Avoiding going out.  We don’t want to run into people.  We don’t want to answer their questions.  We don’t want to acknowledge their inquisitive glances.  Even their benign questions feel like an examination and we don’t quite feel like we’ll pass the test. Because how can we possibly describe this experience?  We don’t want to let you down, see your excited eyes lower and fade when we respond with less than perfect enthusiasm.

“WAS IT AMAZING”

Um…yes?

One of our neighbors recently asked us, “how was your outrageous adventure?”

YES.  That’s it.  Our outrageous adventure was just that–

it was outrageous

it was an adventure

When we were living in Santiago I was constantly searching for the right words to express how we were feeling there. It may be surprising to you to know we both felt disappointed. Not all of the time. But certainly lots of the time.  In what precisely, I’m not sure. Santiago? Learning Spanish? Ourselves? For certain we had a rough start. And for sure we had high expectations that learning Spanish would be easy and fun and fulfilling. That living in a city of almost 7 million people would be exhilarating.  And fun for a family of five.  Imagine how much more there is to do with kids in a big city?

We had hoped that we would fall in love with the culture, the people, the city and, that after building a good base, we could return to it every year for a short period of time.  To practice Spanish, to reconnect.  But we just didn’t fall in love. It was a gamble, this experience. It was a wildly optimistic blind date.  There was just no chemistry, friends.

I keep in mind that I have evidence from my past that this experience, too, will be richer later. That is not to say that we did not live in the now.  Just that the “now” was seriously hard.  I hope that with time we will lose sight of all the hard work–or turn those moments into hilarious jokes–and we will hold steadfastly onto the good memories and the resulting personal growth we experienced.

For example, after college I lived in Paris teaching English at a public high school. I lived in Paris from August 1999-October 2000.  When I look back on that time of my life it almost takes my breath away. What deliciousness. What adventure.  What a life!  Oh, the stories I could tell you. It feels today, all these years later, like it was a vast and deep time of my life.  I learned so much.  About everything. And yet I remember very clearly how extraordinarily difficult it was.  Lie-on-the-floor-and-cry-daily-difficult.  I slept on people’s floors and couches for 2 1/2 months.  Now, in 2015, that’s a funny, quirky part of my time in Paris.  THEN? Then, it was hell. Because I didn’t know how the story ended.

In Santiago, of course, we were living with our own stressful expectations to enjoy every moment which was impossible. This self-induced pressure to have a BLAST, make the MOST of our time, ENJOY this sabbatical, was quite irritating.  It reminds me of my favorite blog Momastery and the post on parenting and carpe diem. I especially love the analogy between parenting and climbing Mt. Everest and that if you told the climbers during the climb to enjoy every minute they’d throw you off of the mountain.  Santiago felt–feels–like that for us.  Yes, we had a good time.  And yet.  This was hard.  I know in my heart that later, sometime in the (farther afield) future, we will sit back and love the memories, and what this work did for our lives.

We got more than we bargained for, more than we paid for, of course. Like college, when you pay tuition to study specific things, take certain courses, and the accumulation leads to a degree in your chosen field. But the experience of college is so much more than that degree.  We paid to learn Spanish and live in a different country and soak up a unique cultural experience.  We learned a lot of Spanish.  AND.  We learned we do not like living in a big city with three small children (kudos to my mommy friends in NYC).  We learned that retirement will be difficult for Josh someday because he really likes to work.  A lot.  We learned that our children can make friends with anyone, anywhere and that they have innate confidence that takes our breath away.  I remembered that I love writing and I learned that other people like my writing.  I learned how valuable it is to be transparent and vulnerable.

And so much more.

Six weeks after re-entry we are still re-entering our lives.  We are still trying to answer your earnest questions and piece together our experience.  My earliest blogs are enormously helpful to me now.  They remind me that we were seeking a steep learning curve, something extraordinary, that we knew it would be hard, but that we can do hard things.  Yes.  All of that.

Our next adventure?  Something outrageous, I’m sure.

They Call Her Queen

Quinlen Macy is our first girl.  Our angel baby.  Our baby who slept easily, played easily, ate easily, traveled easily….was the easiest little person.  Our middle child.

<And you know it’s coming, right?>

UNTIL.

…we moved,

…baby Lennox was born,

…she started school,

…she changed beds

…she gave up her binkies,

…her parents gave into her temper tantrums….

We have a long list of  excuses reasons as to why what seems like an enormous shift happened in her life and she started to really demand a large chunk of our energy and patience and attention.  Those of you who know us well know that we even sought out professional help this past year when we were truly at our wits’ ends.  Two different counselors with Ph.D.s after their names listened to our long list of concerns that we’d written down on our yellow legal pad (yes, we’re those people) and we carefully took notes as to how to curb her middle-of-the-night-temper-tantrums and her other fucking exhausting leadership qualities she was so strongly exhibiting.

Quin had become the bellwether in our family. “Did you have a good day Addy?” was only answered after I thought, “hmm…did Quin have a good day?”  Quin was becoming the leader in our family–and by leader, I don’t mean democratically elected leader. I mean, she dictated the temperament of our household by her mercurial moods.

Luckily, things shifted and by the time we were preparing to move to Santiago Quin was pretty even-keeled in her behavior.

We were relieved to see that all three of our kids settled into their new school in Santiago without much fuss.  Sure Lennox (and I) cried the first week during drop-off but the big kids were pretty disappointed when we showed up to pick them up every day. They made friends and played hard and learned a lot. Language barriers and all, their eyes lit up when they went to school.

In Spanish “qu” is pronounced “k” and “i” is pronounced “ee” and so technically Quin’s teachers should have called her “Keen.”  But, as it turns out, they somehow called her Queen.  They even gave up on the American spelling of her name.  I’m looking through her folder of school work from Santiago and see that every bit of her work is nicely labeled QUEEN.

Oh, so appropriate.

Last week our friend emailed and asked us how everyone was doing. How was Carter? How was Lennox? How was Queen?

This, my friends, is one of the finer memories from Santiago.

 

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Our Own Version of “Me Talk Pretty One Day”

One of my all time favorite authors is David Sedaris. If you don’t know him and his amazing body of work, please stop reading this blog immediately and get yourself to your nearest bookstore (preferably an independent) and buy ALL of his precious books.  You will laugh so hard you will pee your pants.  He writes short stories about life and they are brilliant.  My all time favorite story is Me Talk Pretty One Day about his experience learning French in Paris and how all of the foreign students, with no common language amongst them, would stand around and try and console each other in their childlike and broken French.  I love it because I lived it, too.  But I love it now, too, because I see our own version of this story playing out here in Santiago as we slowly learn Spanish.  Different from Sedaris’ story, our teachers are kind and patient and generous.  And for the first 2-3 weeks so were we.  But as the weeks have progressed, frustration has grown.  And to be really blunt (and completely immodest), I’m actually kick ass at learning Spanish. I don’t care if I sound like a child or an idiot, I talk to everyone all the time here. And I lean heavily on my brain’s experience and knowledge of French, a language that is very similar to Spanish.

And so, when I speak of frustrations growing, I speak mostly of my sweet husband.  A man who is brilliant in so many ways.  Who is a tremendous provider for his family.  Brilliant at his work.  But, very frustrated with learning Spanish.  But, so are others.   In my grammar class today when the professor asked us all how we were doing, I just went ahead and launched into it. Como se dice, “fed up”?  Because I am. I’m tired of Chile, I said in broken Spanish.  And I could tell I had compatriots in the room. I could tell that very easily I could lead a revolt.  Fuck Spanish!  There is this fellow from Australia who is likely brilliant in English but is painfully bad in Spanish. And an Austrian who has been here weeks and the poor young kid cannot even answer basic questions. It is painful to witness. It is humiliating to be that person.  When leaving school today I saw classmates hanging out on the terrace and I overhead some conversations about the frustrations of Spanish: “But why do they conjugate it that way.” “This part makes no sense to me.” “This is simply a trick.”  And I knew precisely what they were talking about and why they felt that way because it does make no sense and it is a trick and we feel so duped by these grand dreams we had that we could learn if we just applied ourselves.  I felt the same way in week five when they taught me that you MUST use the formal version of “you” when speaking to say, your friend’s parents.  Mind you this is WEEK FIVE! I’ve been living here and speaking to all these strangers DAILY using the INFORMAL you.  I was SO mad at my teacher and the school. How could they?  Why didn’t they tell me this, oh, I don’t know, THE FIRST DAY?  So, I immediately wrote my friend’s parents an email apologizing for insulting them the entire weekend we stayed with them at Cajon del Maipo.  Seriously.

Learning a second language is exasperating.  And humiliating.  And wonderful.

So, today, while the kids are napping, I can tell that Josh is frustrated. He is quietly fuming as he cleans the potatoes in the kitchen sink. He is not speaking but he is taking it out on those poor Chilean potatoes.  Then, and I’m waiting for it, he turns to me and says, “in your infinite wisdom…” (and now I know that maybe the fury is going to be directed to me because….what infinite wisdom?)…”how does “hay que” mean “es necesario?”  And I feel the laughter bubbling up inside me and I cannot stop it and it spills over and all of a sudden I am laughing so hard I am crying!  Because I do not know but, hey, just go with it.  Ok.  So.  Friends, this has been going on for weeks.  Josh gets really frustrated with learning Spanish because it doesn’t always translate into English.  And he is a very analytical man.  He actually hates learning Spanish and is very hurt and mad and frustrated that he’s not at all as good at learning Spanish as he imagined he would be.  For sure, FOR SURE, he is wonderful at learning Spanish but one thing about my husband is that he has enormously high standards of himself (and for others).

And so, I tell him, “babe, sometimes it just doesn’t translate.  And why should it have to translate TO English, why don’t we walk around and say, why can’t we have this same expression in English?”  He is so mad about this very point.  That these people told him what “hay” and “que” meant and then they fucking combined them and they mean something else altogether when combined!  The outrage!   And, he claims, others in his class were outraged by this concept too.

We’ve both accused our teachers of duplicity.  Of purposely holding out on us, not giving us the knowledge when we needed it most.

Broken Arm

It’s Saturday night and we have plans. Our sitter is coming over in about an hour and we’re going out with our Chilean friends Francisco and Jimena to one of our favorite spots in Santiago–Patio Bellavista. Josh is giving Lennox a bath and he calls to me down the hallway, amidst normal baby-bath-screaming, that something is wrong.  Here comes Lennox waddling out of the bathroom naked–a sight I cherish–but she’s screaming crying.  I pick her up and she’s easily consoled but when I squeeze her right arm by her wrist she immediately shrieks.

I’m not boasting when I say I knew immediately that her arm was broken but sometimes you just know.  I am instantly filled with mommy-adrenaline. The kind that makes you sit down and breathe deeply.  In addition to normal mommy-adrenaline, we now have the added adrenaline of living in a foreign country. Which, by the way, in case you haven’t guessed, is really fucking hard.  The kind of hard that makes going to the pharmacy something we actually “prepare” for, talk ourselves into, have “you can do it” talks with each other about.  We have to take the baby to the emergency room.  Tonight.  Thank God we have a sitter lined up.  The baby is hurt.  But then.  Maybe it’s nothing, we tell ourselves, while she wanders off the down the hall to play, chit chatting with herself in her toddler way.  Laughing.  Playing.  Normal.  But every time we squeeze her arm she cries.  So, there we were waffling between, “her arm is broken; let’s go to the ER” and “obviously she’s fine, look at her playing?” except when we look closely it’s obvious she’s not using her right arm.  We look at each other and know that part of the waffling is that we don’t want to go to the ER in Chile. We don’t know how their system works. We don’t understand Spanish well enough. We’ll be lost and alone and it will be hard to get help.  It sucks.  It’s uncomfortable and hard and we just don’t want to do it.  We say these things OUT LOUD to each other and clear the air. Lay the fear out in the room.  Look at it.  Smell it.  Examine it.  And then laugh while we’re crying because, duh, we can do this.  I sit down with Lennox and have a good cry so I can get it out of my system and then we get down to business.  We get on the phone and Facebook and start looking up what hospital to go to and all the words associated with broken arms and dislocated wrists, etc.

First, we head off to Clinic Santa Maria where they take Josh’s drivers license during registration and tell us he can have it back when we pay.  Then we try and convince two triage nurses that Lennox really is hurt, maybe her arm is broken, while Lennox is smiling and waving and saying “hi” to them.  This is a hard moment because we don’t really understand what they are saying TO us but their faces are saying, “these are some stupid fucking Americans.”  Then we hear the wait time to be seen is 2-3 hours.  Meanwhile, our friend Tatiana, a pediatric neurologist, is texting us to please get a cab to her hospital, Clinica Alemana, where she is currently working on-call and isn’t busy and she can help us.  Driver’s license back in hand, we get another cab to Clinica Alemana about 15 minutes away.

There is no wait at Clinica Alemana but we do have a hard time finding the correct Emergency Room. That’s right.  There are multiple emergency rooms. One for just kids. One for trauma like broken bones. And one for all the rest.  Wouldn’t that be nice moms, an ER just for kids?  Finally, we meet up with Tatiana who whisks us away to the correct location, helps us get registered and shown to a room.  The pediatric orthopedist comes pretty quickly and asks for x-rays.  Off we go to x-rays, a brutal, horrible, tortuous experience for Lennox and for me, who has to hold her while she screams as the x-ray tech pulls and fiddles with her arm to get the correct images.  Finally, finally, finally, we are done and try and find our way back to our room.  This hospital is beautiful and clean and confusing to us foreigners.  It is likely one of the nicest hospitals I’ve ever seen in the world though.  As soon as a staff member sees us wandering with utter confusion, we are redirected and sit and wait for the results.  Tatiana comes back from her consultation in the children’s ER to check on us and sneaks a peak at the x-ray results before our doctor arrives.  Lennox’s arm is broken.  But it is a minor fracture.  It will heal quickly.  She doesn’t need surgery.  But she does need an extensive cast, at least in the beginning.  So we walk across the hall and get her casted up.  This time I make Josh hold her while she screams in pain as she’s casted.  Another family in the room is so kind to us it makes me weep.  (I notice that my new emotional standard while living in Chile is that every time someone is especially kind to me I cry. Or want to cry.  This is new for me. It is evidence of how emotionally vulnerable–ok, all kinds of vulnerable–I am here).  This other family in the cast room has four kids.  Their son has a broken arm too.  He broke both of his clavicles last year.  This mom is reassuring in her calmness.  Her sureness.  Her this-is-just-how-it-goes-ness.  I love moms.  I love how she quietly hands her four year old candy to give to Lennox while she’s screaming so she can be distracted.  While we are leaving another girl comes in with two broken wrists.  Josh and I look at each other and grimace.  It could be so much worse.

And then, we are done.  Lennox is calm but tired as it is now hours and hours past her bedtime.  And it is hours and hours past my bedtime and I’m so relieved but I just want to lie down and cry.  Because this was difficult.  Because this was not difficult.  Because we managed fine when we’d prepared to fail miserably.  Because sometimes when people like Tatiana–who stayed with us almost the entire time–are kind to you the instinct is to just lie down and cry.  Or maybe that’s just my instinct.  And for all the challenges Chile has thrown our way I will say that we have been stunned and overwhelmed by people’s kindness.  Their utter selflessness and hospitality and guarantee of our wellbeing.  Because one of the challenges of this adventure is that we don’t have our village, we don’t have our usual safe guards, and we sense that more than we know it, every single day.  But then we see that we do have a village, though a small and sometimes uncertain one.  We do have safe guards.  And we always have each other.

We check out, arrange for a follow-up visit next Friday, and get our bill for everything right then and there.  The entire bill. Wouldn’t that be nice?  And the bill is, wait for it, $280.  For everything.  Doctor, hospital, x-ray: $280.00  No, I’m not kidding with the decimals.  Wouldn’t that be nice in the States?  That your bill equaled services rendered.  AND.  GET A STIFF DRINK BECAUSE YOU’RE SIMPLY NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS: The prices were posted on the wall in the ER. THE COST OF SERVICES–POSTED–ON THE WALL!

United Statesians!  We could learn from this!

Clearly our Chilean adventure just wasn’t complete with all of our other day-to-day challenges.  So, ok, a broken arm.  A new challenge.  It’s a broken arm.  A tiny fracture.  A no big deal thing.  I get it.  I know.  Carter had a far worse injury at the same age.  He burned his hands on the lawnmower and it was ghastly.  Horrible.  Hands down awful.  I broke my own right arm when Quinlen was four months old.  Super painful.  A hassle.  A truly crummy time of our lives.  Josh broke his arm a year after that riding the mechanical bull at a charity event.  Ok, so bones heal.  No big deal.  We get it.

So, what’s the deal.  Where is the pain.  Why the anguish?

Part of the pain is knowing how fragile she is.

Part of the anguish is not knowing how or when it happened. At our friend’s house Wednesday night? Ok, so that would mean we didn’t notice for three days.  With the babysitter on Thursday afternoon. Ok, so that would mean she had an accident that no one told us about.  At school on Friday?  Again, an accident that we didn’t know about.

Part of the pain is just feeling all that more vulnerable here in Chile.  And having to ask for help.  And not being able wanting to ask for help.

Lennox is quickly learning how to manage as a lefty.  Tatiana is picking me up Friday and going with me to Lennox’s next doctor’s appointment when hopefully she’ll get a new, maybe even waterproof, cast.  And so it is.  But this morning Lennox woke up and walked out to the living room holding her cast.  Yes.  That’s right.  She had removed her cast.  So.  First, we gave her a bath (duh!) and then we MacGyvered her cast back onto her arm.  So far so good.  Because, clearly, we don’t want to go back to the hospital!

xo

A

 

 

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What We Love

1. LOVE AND HONOR OF FAMILY. As a mother of three children living in Chile, I feel like a protected and honored and sacred part of society. Every single time we’ve ridden the bus or metro, people give up their seats for me and our children, insisting that I sit down. I feel protected and special–set apart and watched over. Every day people reach out and touch our children, rub their hair, stop to admire them, help them onto or off the metro, ask about them. Very possibly it’s because we look oh so foreign, especially Lennox with her prized blonde hair (Chileans insist that even Carter is blond). But quite possibly also we are living in a culture where family–and children–are more important than anything else. And we have evidence of that everyday here.

2. CEVICHE. I could eat ceviche every day here. It is fantastic. From fancy restaurants to basic corner cafés, ceviche is good everywhere. Fresh seafood abounds.

3. PARKS. Chilean parks are impressive. They are filled with not only exciting and fun playground toys but also cool activities that I’ve never seen in our parks. Parque Forestal is our favorite park in Santiago. Not only do they have great playground toys, they also have two trampolines set up that you pay $1.50 to jump on for 15 minutes with a bunch of other little kids. They have pedal-powered go carts to rent and drive around the sandy paths of the park. They have an artist area complete with big wooden easels and paint and pictures or blank paper and kids sit down and quietly do art for a break. They have vendors selling all sorts of snacks and toys. It is a wonderland and most of the wonder is created by a unique entrepreneurial spirit–not the city.

4. LIVING DANGEROUSLY
It is apparent everywhere here that Chile is simply not a litigious society. We’ve come across city employees at the top of 10 foot ladders without (gasp!) helmets or harnesses or colleagues below insuring their safety. Every playground we’ve visited has awesome toys that are not to be found in the US ever–as in, no more or never before. Our international friends stare at us with open mouths when I tell them that new playgrounds in the US don’t have swing sets because they are too dangerous and schools and cities can’t afford the insurance. They have no response. It is, for them, a new level of American ridiculousness. I have to agree.

And it feels so oddly liberating to live someplace with such danger as crazy fun playground toys. The statistically ridiculous and plain old greed has made the U.S. too safe in innumerable ways.

We recently spent the weekend at Casa Chueca, a small lodge in the countryside run by an Austrian family. Besides the trampoline and swimming pool, both requiring high levels of insurance in the US, there were animals roaming all around including a pony and a mare and her foal. Tree houses and zip lines, ponds and rivers–all accessible, unstaffed, enjoy-but-be-smart activities. We loved it and enjoyed every single moment. It was very much like staying at a friend’s farm for the weekend.

Chile is spectacular and yet we’ve only experienced a teeny tiny bit of it. Travel–cultural capital–worth every difficult and joyful moment.

Xoxo
Addy

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New Country, New Things

There are many, many things about Santiago and Chile and the Southern Hemisphere that are different than our American lifestyle.  Too many things to list, in fact.  One of the misnomers of traveling is the idea that you simply “translate” your life in your new country.  But in fact, you cannot simply translate your life. New money, new history, new language, new customs, new toilets, new flushing directions in toilets, new food, new spaces…the list is possibly endless.  Here’s what you can count on in your new country–they may not do ANYTHING in the same way you do it.

Top Three Bizarre things about life in Chile (so far):

1. Stray dogs.  Santiago is completely FULL of stray dogs.  They are in the street, lying on the sidewalk, in the parks, outside restaurants, EVERYWHERE.  Most of the them are unneutered males and all of them, without exception so far, are non aggressive, sleepy, dazed dogs.  They kind of beg but give up easily.  These dogs are so omnipresent they even have a special name for them: quiltro. Someone explained to us that in fact they aren’t really stray dogs. People who live in the country have dogs that they let roam around their property but when people move to the city they keep up the practice. So, many of these dogs really belong to someone, they just let them roam the streets of Santiago. Hmm.  After almost five weeks of living here they don’t bother us at all anymore.  Well, almost…

2. Nescafe.  Chileans are not fond of drip coffee or espresso. They love their instant coffee.  You can find it virtually anywhere whereas finding a “real” coffee shop can be pretty difficult.  We are lucky. We sniffed out a “real” espresso stand/coffee shop directly across the street from our school.  Needless to say, we are now over caffeinated as we try and make-up for our first two weeks of Nescafe-only-mornings.  We are also quite popular at our language school as we’ve shared the good news about the availability of real coffee with all the Europeans who look utterly dazed and confused every morning.

3. Food. Yes, food. Now, I realize that I’m a food snob/foodie/food guru/naturalist/etc.  But still. And I do not exaggerate here, it is nearly impossible to find good food here.  I’m not talking about eating out. I’m talking about grocery stores and rituals and customs.  We have yet to find juice that does not have sugar added or even color added.  Organic meat? Cannot locate. Plain Greek yogurt with no sugar added? Nada.  On our first night Josh went out and bought pre-formed hamburger patties. The ingredient list was 20 items long. The food movement Continue reading

What We Miss

Besides the obvious–friends & family–we miss other things that may surprise people.

1. WORK. The great American or Adult fantasy is often to not work. I know because I’ve had this fantasy ever since I started my career after college. Maybe it’s unique to Americans (or, as a few Chileans have suggested to me, United Statesians) because we have such dismal time off policies. We have amazing work ethic but a lackluster life ethic (thank you Audra). But the reality of having a massive chunk of time off is that one often feels unanchored, unproductive, and unhappy. Of course, our “work” here is learning Spanish and being good and productive students–besides the obvious constant and important job of parenting three small children. But…no “work.” This phenomenon is hardest on my husband who truly enjoys his career & has struggled here in Chile to make sense of his time and days and to feel productive. It is a blessing for him to know a bit what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom–that while I have work I also sometimes feel unanchored and unproductive. What a wake up call to realize how reliant we are on work and others to help us feel valuable. Josh has spent some time with colleagues here in Santiago just talking through some ideas and he always comes home vibrant and refreshed. What a gift to realize how much you love your work. It makes me realize even more how smart companies are to offer sabbaticals!

2. SPACE. We have a lovely apartment that is grand and spacious compared to most here in Santiago. But it is still teeny tiny compared to our Western rural American life. Specifically, our kitchen here is unmotivating. We eat out a lot. We don’t cook interesting or inspired dishes. Food has been demoted to almost a necessity. And we compensate by eating ridiculous amounts of sweets and drinking far too much coffee. We also have almost NO personal space when out in public. Side note: And every time I get on the metro my face itches. And I have to scream at myself (in my head, of course) DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE! Because we are packed into the metro and I’m holding on to bars and railings and am absolutely covered in germs. WTF.

3. BEING A PART. Even though we are out and about amongst the people here in Santiago, we never really feel A PART of the city or the people. We are, and feel like, foreigners who don’t really get it or know what’s going on. For example, we see signs and advertisements for things but never stop to fully translate them. At home in the States information is just absorbed because we see-read-know in an instant. As a foreigner, this does not happen. We miss 99% of the opportunities here. This helps me to see how helpful it would be to offer information in other languages at home–not to discourage people from learning English but to include them in our community. I don’t believe anyone likes being a foreigner and not being a part of the community.

We’ve reached the hysterical stage of our adventure. The stage when we laugh at ourselves (ok, to be honest, AND Chileans) all day long and think–and sometimes say to each other–“what the fuck?”, and then smile and nod some more because we have NO IDEA what these people are saying. Yes. You read that right. In the protected environment of our school we understand everything. And even out and about I can read, I can write and I can speak Spanish and actually accomplish things. But, um, when they speak to me….? No clue.

Oh well.

Hysterical.

To be clear, here are the stages of culture shock:
1. Sit on couch and cry
2. Grimace and get through the day/moment/minute/week (pretend you’re not secretly counting down the days until you can go home and resume your typical American life)
3. Everything is hysterical

I’ll let you know what the next stage is when we figure it out.

Xoxo
Addy

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A Typical Day

Our life here in Santiago is different than our life in Yakima, Washington. For many reasons–both obvious and not.

Monday-Friday we are all in “school.”

We get up around 7:00am and are out the door by 8:15am.  Thank God this apartment came with a “normal” coffee machine. Chileans love their Nescafe; we, decidedly, do not. We have about a half mile walk to the kids’ jardin infantil “Tamborcito” and so we load up in our double stroller–which often becomes a triple stroller with one additional child sitting on the front.  We get a lot of curious looks from Chileans everyday. Three children. Sometimes I “wear” Lennox but she always pulls her pudgy little baby arm out of the carrier and waves at all of the pour souls stuck in traffic (or tacos, as they say in Chile).

After we drop off the kids to their respective classes, we walk back about a half mile to our Spanish Immersion school, ECELA. We have conversation class from 9:00-10:45 and then grammar class from 11:00-12:45. The best instructors teach solely in Spanish using a wide variety of synonyms and pantomiming to make sure all of us understand the concepts.  On Fridays we have only conversation which is from 9:00-12:45 with a small break. In our three weeks of school we’ve had several different teachers and now have a few favorites. We’re mulling over taking a few private lessons in the afternoons–if our brains don’t explode.  Most of the time when we’re in school we feel wicked smart. Then we leave school and try and interact with Chileans. Ha!  When people speak at normal speeds we can almost understand 30% of what they’re saying. Ok, maybe 35%.  The entire process can be demoralizing.  But then I recall that when we landed in Santiago four weeks ago–FOUR WEEKS!–I didn’t speak Spanish well enough to get out of the airport.

Language school is exhausting. Bone tired. Want to cry tired.  Feeling desperate tired.  I don’t remember the last time I used my brain in this way. And FOR SURE the last time I did use my brain this way my brain was much, much younger.  I am concentrating so hard in school and when I’m doing day-to-day things like ordering a coffee. Getting a haircut or going grocery shopping requires not just an acute concentration on language but also on culture and custom. Everything is different. And yet, everything that really matters is the same.  But sometimes it is very hard to recognize the latter.

We pick up the kids after lunch and head home for naps. The kids are as exhausted as we are. New environment, language, culture, food, teachers, friends…there is a lot to absorb here.  I took a nap today that was simply delicious. I deserved it.

Too many days after naps (ver 4:30) we just play in the apartment because gearing up again and taking three small children out into the city just seems too hard.  We do have a nice green space just a block from the apartment where the kids marvel at a huge fountain–our own mini Bellagio sin music.

We have found a good babysitter who watches the kids 2-3 times a week so we can have “date night” and explore the city. News flash–small children are not good tourists.  We are also leaving them at school longer hours one day a week to have some adult time. This is good for everyone.

When Saturday morning rolls around we drag our bodies out of bed and sit on the couch and drink far too much coffee.  We have language-culture-city hangovers.  All we really want to do is relax (and check out) but we usually get out and about at least for part of the day.

Such is life in Santiago, Chile. Five more weeks of sabbatical!

xo

Addy

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