Monday, November 22, 2010

Family Updates and a Walk in the Woods

So... I don't think I've done this in ages!
Right now life feels kind of like our trip to Nuremburg did:  so much to enjoy before us, but all of these other basic, logistical, important things getting in the way.

Jeff-- Well, the topic of the day is always his job.  Things have been really rough from the beginning, since he found himself in the middle of some crazy office politics.  There is some question as to whether or not he will keep his job, and he is having to do tons of extra work to prove himself.  It's a huge downer, and takes away from all of us.  He's working on stress management techniques, and we are both trying to think "outside the box" in terms of options if he loses his job.  There are a lot of international and American schools in Europe, and he is very skilled in his work.  So, we're oddly in the same place we've been several times in the last four years!  It's been hard to have Jeff gone for so much of the day. We were spoiled before with his job, since he was home around 4 p.m. and got a lot of time off throughout the year.  We're adjusting.

Because he spends so much time at work, he hasn't been able to practice German as much as he'd like, and hasn't made many acquaintances here in Amberg.  Fortunately, he's had a couple of days off for holidays recently, and we have used those for some day trips.  He has this Thursday off, and we don't have any Thanksgiving plans made.  We're still trying to decide what we'll do-- a trip to Pilsen?  He is getting in touch with a contact that may be able to connect him to a symphony here where he can play his violin.  That sounds like the perfect social "in" to me!

Amelia--  She is growing up.  We played Uno with her a few times this week.  I guess I could have introduced it sooner, because she totally "gets" it and figured out what was going on right away.  We have been having family game nights, and it's a really cool milestone.   I'm crossing my fingers that she will be a word person like me, and I will have a life-long Boggle and Scrabble partner.  We'll see.

Something that has been really fun is hearing her play by herself in German.  I know that a lot of it is made up words that sounds about right, but she is speaking a lot of actual Deutsch as well!  It's a little strange to see her as a German child, but I do, because she has the pronunciation and body language down perfectly.

She is liking her kindergarten, and gradually learning to enjoy playing with other children.  I like that there is a range of ages in her class, just like at her old preschool.  She can help the younger ones, but also gets help from older children herself.  Amberg is such a small town that we frequently run into families from her school.  She is so friendly, and attracts plenty of warm attention.  It's such a nice feeling to have some kind of connection to other people, and to start to feel like familiar faces.  There are a few moms there that speak English, so it has been nice to connect with them as well.

We are having some real challenges, too.  Amelia is entitled to  a ton of grace, especially since she has just left her entire world as she knows it, is in a new place, learning a new language, without the familiar people around to love her and devote special attention to her.  It's a huge adjustment, especially for someone who is so people-oriented.  She did a stellar job with flight over here and all of that stuff, but once the dust settled, she pulled out all sorts of difficult behaviors.  Part of it is just being a four year old, I know!  Regardless of all of the reasons, parenting has been extremely challenging, made compounded by the fact that we spend so much less time with other people than we used to, so I am often in the position of trying to meet her social needs. Part of it is being an only child, and not understanding the distinction between being a child and being an adult.  If Jeff and I can do/ eat/ watch/ etc. something, then she should be able to also, right?  She has a point of view on just about every verbal exchange Jeff and I have, and we often have to tell her that we're having a private conversation, that she can listen if she wants, but it's not for her.  I imagine that it all feels very discriminatory!  She loves to try to tell people what to do and micro-manage everything that's going on.  This would be irritating for anyone, but as someone who is always trying to curb this tendency in myself, it is awful to see it coming on so strong in a little child!  There's more, so much more, but I realize that it is just as much my own shortcomings being mirrored through her.   Sometimes I feel like she's more of a little sister, and Jeff is known to ask me, only half-joking, "Do I need to separate you two?"  I have heard people talking about having to grow up once they had kids, but I have never felt it so much as now!

On an extremely positive note, Amelia is sleeping like crazy!  She sleeps 10-12 hours each night, and takes a hearty nap on most days.  This is amazing.  Such a mercy.

Me--  I have also been sleeping well, for the first time in ages.  For the first couple of months after we arrived, I had almost constant headaches, and slept terribly.  Headaches still happen, but not daily.  I attribute these life-changing improvements to dietary alterations and the happiness that a new setting has brought.  And some amazing light-blocking shades that were already in our bedroom.  My body is also becoming lighter, which feels good!  Other than that, I feel busy.  It's been an adjustment, trying to figure out the balance between school, home duties and rest.  Boundaries are a little harder when your classes are on the computer, and you can "go to school" just about any time of the day.  Sometimes I haven't been able to get all of my assignments done before the weekend, and then that cuts into family time.  So, I am trying to rein that all in a bit. I have been trying to take Mondays off, as a day that I can just clean up after the weekend and enjoy a quiet home without having to do school work.  I am getting close to finishing my first quarter, and that feels really good! 

Something that I have been meaning/ wanting to do is take the train to one of our bigger cities closeby.  I haven't been anywhere outside of our city walls by myself yet.  Every trip to the grocery store is with all three of us, since I don't drive here.  It's OK, but I really long for some time in a new place by myself.  Train fare is a little expensive, so I'd like to try to go somewhere once a month.

I have been enjoying blogging, and connecting with other people a little through that.  I had no idea that there was such a huge expat blogging community.  I should have known, of course, but never thought about it much.  I would love to find a way to make a little money doing some writing/ picture taking, but I am not sure how yet.  There are a lot of resources out there for people (women especially) who travel/ live abroad to write articles and do a little journalism and make some money.  We'll see-- I don't want to add much to the work that I am already doing, but I would be taking pictures and writing about our experiences anyway, so it would be fun to get even more out of it.

My German studies are not coming along nearly as well as I would have thought.  I spend most of my time at home, and haven't felt like doing the audio lessons-- talking is taxing for me, and there is nothing better than a silent house!  I learn from osmosis and deductive reasoning, so there are lots of things that I have figured out, and I can understand quite a bit.  But when it comes to speaking, the range is very limited.  My language partner has a paralyzed vocal chord right now, plus she keeps wanting to get together with our kids, which severely limits actual conversation!  But I don't have any time lines, so I will do my best and know that I'll get it eventually.

What else?...  We have had a lot of fun this month getting back into nesting mode.  We are talking about paint colors, hanging things on the walls, etc.  Even though our future here is a little uncertain, I was living in limbo for over a year before we moved, and I just can't keep it up.  We still don't own much. It feels strange, though, to buy things, since I went for a few months before of looking at every little thing we owned, wondering what I would do with it, how I would get rid of it!  Now I feel a little panicky bringing stuff home, but it feels really good to start settling in.  If we move, we'll move our things with us.

So, life isn't exactly as dreamy as I would have hoped for now.  But in the meantime it is very interesting, and we are doing our best to enjoy it all, while keeping an ear to the ground for what could be next.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

I missed doing the big post about Amelia that I had wanted to for her birthday... I started it, but then things were so chaotic that I never finished.  Since then, honestly, things have been so challenging with her that I didn't feel like I was in a good place to sit down and talk about her here!  But I wanted to share the part that I did write a few months ago.

As most of you know by now, Amelia is ALL about people! She has an almost magical way about her of drawing people out. Wherever we go, people notice and remember her. She seems to garner special treatment from everyone, which is something we're trying to keep in check-- we're afraid her worldview is already a bit skewed because of it.

A month or so ago, we went on our first family vacation to the coast. One morning, we were hanging out at a coffee shop there, and Amelia was doing a nice job of staying occupied, climbing on and off of her bench, looking out the windows, etc. She was staying close to us, but I could tell it was quite a discipline. Finally, I said, "Amelia, would you like to go meet some people?" She looked at me, beaming, "CAN I?!" And she was off, to the other side of the room, filled with grownups. She literally kept them captivated (and busy) for a full hour. She introduced herself, met everyone in the room, got a tour of the back of the shop. One lady went out to her car and brought her dog in for Amelia to meet. A funny moment was when Amelia saw a lady in the back of the shop, wearing a bright orange puffy vest and asked her "Are you doing some 'instruction' work back there?"

 I loved this moment, because it really shows Amelia's strengths.  She is super aware and considerate of other people.  A few weeks ago, a new friend of mine shared that she has allergies, too.  Then this week we were walking together to ballet class, and she turned to her and said, "So, Maya, how are you doing with your allergies?"  Most kids her age never really think of other people and ask them questions about themselves.  I am so thankful that she is generally cheerful, and draws people out.  I am trying to learn from her about not being afraid of being noticed,  and just engaging anyone who smiles at me!