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Inside of a year

From the outside a year seems like so much time. And it is a lot of time. 12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. 8765 hours.

It’s long enough to conceive and have a baby. Long enough to buy land and build a house. Long enough to go into remission from a disease. Long enough start a new career, like becoming a realtor. Long enough to plan and leave for a sabbatical. Long enough to learn a lot of language. Long enough to get inches taller. Long enough to forget most everything about home (if you’re three).

But when you’re on the inside of those months and weeks and days and hours, a year can feel like no time at all.

It took five months to get temporary residency organized. Longer to get pay checks fully worked out. It was nearly six months before I could hang laundry outside our tenth story windows in a strong breeze without feeling like I should follow it up with a stiff drink.  Almost nine months passed before the portero casually mentioned that “everyone” knows the water from the garden spigot is the best for drinking. It was ten months before the kids settled into close friends and frequent play dates. At eleven months I found a friend for coffee dates. There are days when, after almost twelve months, it feels like life here is just finding a groove. That we’re just really getting started.

Then there are days when a year feels endless and home is the only place we want to be.

Either way, here we are almost at the very end. Back to the beginning of the calendar, but nowhere near where we started.

As quickly as people here asked, “Why come to Uruguay?” when we first arrived, they now ask, “You’re leaving so soon?”

We will miss being surrounded by Spanish. We’ll miss pastafrola, ice cream, fainá, and pizza. We’ll miss roaring buses that take us almost exactly where we need to go. We’ll miss the Rambla and the wide expanse of blue sky and brown water beyond. We’ll miss the store downstairs where, when we’re running late , he lets us take what we need and pay later. We’ll miss the almost daily find of some new knowledge (that soda moves east in the summer, that alcohol sales are prohibited on election day, that it is illegal for restaurants to have salt shakers on tables, that children’s vitamins just don’t sell here).

The kids will most certainly miss the porteros who chase them, tease them, bring them gifts, and never ever let them feel ignored. They’ll miss their schools where every single person knows their names. And where kids now stop Nathan and I to look up at us with the most forlorn expressions and ask, “Why do you have to leave?” I will miss walking past the boy’s school and catching a glimpse of him yelling and running after some giant six grader, his voice lost in the cacophony of kids at play.

I will miss kissing on the cheek as a way of greeting; that brief, intimate contact that humanizes even a passing exchange. I will miss this even though it often means waiting forever to be served because the person helping you must first kiss every single coworker and acquaintance they pass between them and you.

There are things we certainly won’t miss: dog feces, neighbors fornicating at 4am, the involved process of paying bills, and the sour smelling mold that blooms in our walls.

I think we’d all agree that we’ve enjoyed Uruguay a great deal. In some sense we wouldn’t mind the chance to stay longer, but it’s time to go and so we’re ready.

We’re ready in large part because over there, on the other side of the world, is home and friends and family and community, which I admit I never stopped missing.  Not missing it in the choking way that makes it impossible to enjoy the here and now, but in a way that is comforting and reassuring. And here’s where I get stuck in translating emotions into words. Phoebe is far better at expressing thoughts on friendship and distance.

Look, maybe it’s as simple as this: The experience we’ve had here this past year has been made richer and warmer by the support, friendship, and foundation we have there; and for that we are profoundly lucky.

 

 

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When My Husband Turned into a Shoe

People have a lot of advice about raising children. A lot.

This is especially true about sleep. All the sleep books that I read were guilty of using scare tactics couched as evidence to convince sleep-deprived parents to stick with a particular method. Using an opposing method either meant that you and your child would become so unattached that he or she would become a sociopath, or you would become so attached that he or she would never ever be capable of independence. Either way you’d be screwed in the long term, and still so sleep-deprived in the short-term that you would be a complete jerk. I speak from experience on the jerk part. Then there are the well-meaning advice givers who parrot back advice from one of the books you recently hurled into a wall. They have the added benefit of telling you long-winded, unsolicited stories about their own children’s sleeping (or lack thereof) habits. As parents we’re almost all guilty of this. I know I’m guilty of this because reliving the trauma of sleep deprivation is very cleansing for me. Less so for the poor schmuck, like you, stuck listening to me.

The thing sage advice givers and slick books don’t tell you is that whatever method you choose probably won’t work forever. Babies grow into kids. Needs change. Expectations change. Suddenly, the dark is scary.  Night terrors happen. Extra books will need to be read. Pre-bedtime extreme dehydration, which can only be resolved by a cup of water that should be from the fridge and served in the Monsters, Inc. cup (which is most certainly dirty and likely missing) because only an ass would bring it in the plain white cup, will need to be addressed.

In our house we sometimes fail to stay ahead of the curve of evolving needs and wheedling.  We give into some request for a short-term gain, but that leads to a long-term loss.

When it got colder here and was dark by dinner it was so easy to give in to the kids demands for extra snuggles at bedtime. It was warm under those blankets and they were finally quiet and still. What could it hurt this one night to stay a little more?  It couldn’t for that one night, but then one became two and two became three and three became a week and a week became a month and a month became an expectation on the kids’ parts that we would always stay with them until they were asleep.

After a while it felt like all we were doing was getting children to sleep or rousting them out of bed in the morning for school. Staying with the kids until they were asleep also meant that I was asleep, which meant that Nathan and I saw each other alone approximately never. It’s not that I don’t love time as a family, but trying to have every household conversation in the presence of the Why-Monster and the Interruptasouras Rex is maddening. Also, never spending time alone with your partner can mean seeing them more as an amalgam of all their annoying habits than as the person you do actually love and respect. So I was a pile of clothes on a chair  to Nathan, and he was his shoes left in the middle of the entryway to me.

Please note: This photo is a dramatization of actual events.

Please note: This photo is a dramatization of actual events.

Finally, we decided enough was enough, and one Friday night over dinner, all Bearenstain Bears style, we had a family meeting. We laid out the plan, which was clear and simple. Read. Brief snuggle. Leave. Children sleep.

The girl mulled this over for a bit while picking her nose. The boy immediately began to look for loopholes. Do you mean every night or just once? How long a snuggle? What exactly do you and Papa need to talk about?  The girl continued to pick her nose.

We held our ground because consistency is important, because children need boundaries, and because we really wanted to finish watching the third season of Sherlock, which we had started long before we got ourselves into this mess.

Now it’s 9:30 on the first night under the new regime. The kids have moved through the stages of denial and negotiating. They are in their beds with the lights off, but they’re still awake.

The music ostensibly lulling the girl to sleep suddenly switches, meaning that she has again stood up in her bed to retrieve the iPod off the shelf. The boy is groaning as he flops from one side to the other. When no one immediately responds he increases his volume.

The new music hits a crescendo and the boy reaches his breaking point. “Does anyone think I can sleep with that wailing music?” he yells, sounding much like a Florida retiree annoyed by the teenagers on his lawn.

We intervene to negotiate the lowering of volume,  the partial closing of doors, and to offer a gentle reminder that the girl is not to play club DJ at bedtime.

There is relative silence.

“Paaaaatito,” comes the forlorn cry from the girl’s room. “Want Paaaatito.” The stuffed duck is procured.

Silenceish.

“Ow. Ow. Ow. Ooooooow,” howls the boy. “My foot. It hurts. I can’t sleep. Ow.”

We can only hope this is a last ditch effort because he can’t help but slur his words.

Silence. Then snores.

One and half hours from bedtime to sleep.

Nathan and I then spend ten minutes alone together (mostly talking about the kids) before I fall asleep mid-sentence. It’s not much time, but it’s enough to make him look distinctly less like a shoe.

This night has been an unmitigated success.