Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Vacation or die

Five weeks in America without a single post and now, what to say, what to say? I'm pretty notorious (in my own little world) for putting aside journaling and learning for a future day on which I imagine I will sit down and dedicate a large, continuous period of time to the said exploit. That day, of course, never comes or when it does, the original interest or interesting thought is diminished, such that I would have been better off doing a little at a time as the fancy struck. So, it is rather characteristic of me to find myself here at 10pm on my second-to-last night in America, trying to scrape together a blog post that captures something authentic of these past weeks.

There will be no shortage of photos as the folder marked "Angela+Family Summer 2008" on my brother-in-law's laptop holds 654 objects. So where my words fail in this post, cute photos will come to my rescue in others.

It was much easier than I thought to be here without Oliver for five weeks. I had family and friends around helping me constantly, so as far as the logistical assistance that a spouse provides, there was no lack, in fact, I often had the manpower of multiple spouses (and in real real fact, it was probably more like my mom or sister became my wives). Additionally, I lived in the Chicagoland area for 22 years before ever meeting Oliver, so it didn’t seem odd to be seeing people here without him, as it would do if I were in Barcelona or England without him. We were also just plain old busy doing fun things (and sometimes unfun) such that that there was little time to reflect on the lack of a partner. It was vacation or die.

All that being said, this last week I’ve missed my Oliver quite a bit. We were in Wisconsin with Christa and Nick and the kids, as well as my brother and cousin Gina, and that is a vacation Oli’s been on two years in a row. He was missed. There were also little moments when I’d be being silly with the kids and wish he could be here to take part; he’s better at it than me. I’m also tiring of being out of my own routines at home and miss mulling over the day and life with him before bed. You’d be surprised to know that I actually don’t do all the talking in these late-night sessions and I miss hearing what he’s thinking about. Our rushed phone conversations have been poor replacements and I have a feeling we’ve had separate months filled with distinct emotions and experiences that no later mulling or sharing will really make up for. In a way, this is a good thing. It’s nice to sometimes be a lone emotional soldier and scientist out in the world making objectives and observations with no one else experiencing or immediately being told about 75% of the things you do, something single people take for granted. On the other hand, I miss my husband and driving each other crazy from too much time spent together. Oh, sweet drug of marriage.

Lily has done much better than I could have hoped without Oli. I was worried there would be crying in the night or other responses on this level, but no. She’ll bring him up in relevant conversations and, very surprisingly, point out landmarks related to him that we can’t believe she remembers from a year ago (places he did stunts in Wisconsin last year, etc), but not cry for him. I chalk this up to the fact that we didn’t make a big deal out of the separation, told her it would happen and that there would be a time soon enough when we’d all be together again; we were cool so she was cool. We’ve talked about him most days and she’s getting more and more excited to see him as we talk about our upcoming flight to England. I’ve promised her the first hug and kiss, a promise she now reminds me of each time we talk about him.

I know Oli had a bit of a rough month, so I feel somewhat guilty that we were here living it up at breakneck speed. It’s always hard to be the person left in the usual place with all the old customs once the usual suspects have up and left. Makes me think of my last weeks in Chicago before my first departure for Barcelona after college.

In any case, seeing friends and family was what it ought to have been. Seeing Lily with her family in America or England, getting a kick out of one another, is always a treat. Old times were rehashed with friends and new times were made to talk about next time.

This month has also seen a lot of two-year-oldness from Lily. Drama abounds. Crying and whining as well. On the bright side, we've worked through most of it and I've felt really good about being able to discipline without compromising certain values I hold as a parent but thought might go out the window with the frustration that inevitably comes with owning a two-year old. Basically, when Lily starts crying or whining instead of telling me what she wants, or because I've said no, I tell her that if she can't tell me with words she'll have to go to her room (or to the car or some other place if we're out in the world). I don't say this as if it were punishment, but say that she needs to recharge or collect herself. I don't yell. I don't act like she is terrible for acting the way she is. If her behavior doesn't stop, I pick her up and take her and leave her alone in the said spot. When she stops crying, she usually comes back to where everyone else is and life continues like normal, or if she stays for a long time quietly upstairs, I go ask if she's ready to rejoin the sane and she usually smiles and jumps to her feet. This seems to work really well at resolving issues quickly without follow-up drama (Mom's mad at me, woe is me!) and is teaching her some healthy self control. Sorry to go on, and I know this is just a modified timeout or naughty spot, but I'm so darn pleased with how quickly this has cleared up major issues we were having and has improved our relationship.

Final thought: Being in America is always a bit shocking the first few days. It’s hard to write such things without sounding like a condescending expatriate. I just attempted to describe some things that shock me but I’m finding it difficult to do so without sounding like a complete jerk. In any case, the one overwhelming shocker is the role of consumption in everyday life. It is so easy to never get out and do anything here besides driving from one store to another to find stuff you need, to come home with more things than you wanted/needed, and to then talk about the process as if it were some sort of adventure worth recountung: ‘Well, there were these cute green socks right by the check-out and they were only like a buck, so I thought, ‘What the heck?!’” (This observation is in no way aimed at any particular family member or friend, but is sort of a generalization based off my real-life and TV viewing experiences in America.)

I am completely guilty of this “crime.” I love Target and the deals that lie within and have made several stops there while in the Chicagoland area. I’ve even commented once or twice in moments of immigrant desperation in Barcelona that I wish we had a Target there. It would make some things so much easier and cheaper. But the price I’d pay, at least for now while I haven’t learned to avoid big box stores when they’re on hand, would be a house full of 1-euro things I didn’t need and a lack of care for what I owned. Call me a crunchy Euro hippie, but this trip to the US has made me appreciate how little we own in Barcelona and how I take so much more care this last year in choosing food, clothing and home items because they aren’t always cheap and I have to talk to a human being (who is often expert in the products in question) to buy them. I’ve also recognized how much more living time we enjoy in Barcelona because we can obtain goods we need for daily life by simply walking down the street, and without being distracted by other things for sale. Perhaps even more shockingly, buying time feels like living time rather than something I dash through in the hopes of having more time for fun things. This appreciation is only based on the lifestyles I personally have led in two cities, so it doesn’t mean that Spain or Europe is better than America, just that the different lives I’ve led have surely helped me pinpoint an important contributor to quality of life that I would like to take with me wherever I might live in the world...if I am ever able to whiz past a Target or Tesco without a second thought. Sigh.

Many more blog posts to come.


Oliver said...

Errrr, you forgot to say that The Dark Knight is amazing and Heath Ledger is incredible as the joker.

Dow Jones said...

I think that Americans do most of their "living" at work. When you consider that most households have two working adults, and America's reputation for demanding jobs (i.e. we work a lot) it's no surprise that our shops would be places you can get in, get everything, and get out quickly. I know that the vast majority of my interaction with other adults happens at work.

Dow Jones said...

forgot to say that I second Oli's comment

Megan said...

Did they have blue socks?

Maiasaura said...

I don't have much to say here, just that I really appreciate your thoughts. I like to hear your reflections on being a married person but also still an individual. And your observations of the US seem spot on to me. I know that I am guilty of taking the boys to Target just for something to do. And based on the number of other moms and kids there, I don't think I'm the only one. Nate might be right that Americans do their living at work, but I have to say I think that is sad. (Besides, where does that leave me, as a worker who doesn't work outside her home?)
Perhaps I had more to say than previously stated. Hope your reunion with Oliver is happy happy and your vacation on the UK side relaxing.

Oliver said...

Target is awesome with kids. You can spend a whole day there without spending a dime.

Maiasaura said...

I've got to correct you there, Oli. YOU can spend a day at Target without spending a dime. I cannot. Maybe you've got some kind of ninja/British powers against the dark forces of consumerism, but they defeat me every time.

Oh, I'm just remembering that video you made in Target. That was classic. One of my favorites.