Good friends and great adventures

boys and chicago cousins

After three months of living abroad, our first visitors from America have finally arrived, and I’ve been counting down the days for them to get here.

I told Sarge I was looking forward to talking to Americans again. He said I could always talk to him. But it’s really not the same as talking to my girlfriends from back home. Even with messages and video chats, being far from home has made me miss the human connection of longtime friendships, the same way my kids have missed their school friends. I’m grateful to have friends who would travel the world just to see me.

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My friend Tanya A has been my pal since we were newspaper reporters just out of college, and everyone on the city desk called us “Tanya A” and “Tanya B,” since our maiden names start with A and B. We’ve signed Christmas cards to each other that way ever since. We’ve seen each other through career moves, failed relationships, pregnancies and all the milestones that longtime friendships withstand.

She’s traveled across the country to see me get married in Hawaii, be Godmother to my son in Alabama, go boating in Indiana and stay connected in points in between. Our families have spent weekend trips together and have become close, and our kids are like cousins. Right now, all five kids are piled in one room on beds and air mattresses for a week of sleepovers.

Sleepovers are among the things my boys have missed about America. Their friends in Croatia haven’t had the same American sleepover experience. But the boys and their Chicago cousins brought the experience here, complete with popcorn, Nerf guns and Minecraft video game battles.

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My boys have shown off their favorite find in the Adriatic Sea – inflatable water parks. These are like bounce houses on the water, and my boys can spend hours on them wearing themselves out. Spending the afternoon at one yesterday may explain why all five kids are still asleep this morning.

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Travel has been a unifying bond for us. The kids remember a Spring Break trip to meet up at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis one year. We took a trip to Chicago to see them the year after that. Last year, we met to go pontoon boating on a lake. The kids’ memories of each other are like a collection of vacation snapshots. And we are creating some new ones this week.

One of the great things about being here is having the chance to experience things that are new to everyone. I’m just as excited to be reacquainted with my old pal and reflect on all of the places we’ve already been together.

 

 

Pep Talk

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A parenting book I once read noted the saying: “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child.”

I hope that’s not true. My unhappiest child is miserable. Or maybe it’s just that it’s Monday, which I can’t even pronounce in Croatian – “ponedjeljak.” It’s going to be a long ponedjeljak.

One child shares my wanderlust. The other just wants to go home.

One is excited to kick around a soccer ball with strangers. The other would rather play with the landlord’s dog or look for the turtle that lives in the front yard instead of trying to talk to anyone.

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“W” went to bed last night already dreading ponedjeljak. He misses his friends, his school, his cousins, his baseball team, his video game chatrooms, his music, familiar food and the comfort of everyone speaking in English.

Sarge and I gave him a pep talk and snuggles, but the boy woke up with a stomachache and held my hand the whole walk to school. There were tears – mostly his. Mine were all on the inside. His teacher saw us sitting outside and tried to tell him it would get easier. “W” doesn’t believe us. He’s probably acting exactly like I did when I didn’t want to go to the all-girl high school my parents sent me to. I ended up loving it. I want “W” to love traveling as much as I do. I hate that he sees it as some kind of punishment.

Traveling the world with kids means dragging them along even when they don’t want to go. I’ve been assigning the boys journal entries in hopes that they’ll savor this experience someday. I peeked in “W’s.” One page is filled with frowny faces and words about how much he hates this place. Sarge told me I shouldn’t have snooped.

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I can only hope that dealing with homesickness at age 10 will prepare him for transitions he’ll make throughout life. I can make up a better pitch and tell him that dealing with something different is like dipping your toe in a swimming pool. It’s freezing and uncomfortable at first, but then you dive in and get used to it and actually like being in the water.

My words are lost on him right now.

“No matter what anyone says,” he told me this morning, “I’m not going to like it.”

My unhappiest child and I are a little knocked down today. Maybe it will all be better after ponedjeljak.