Far Away Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Today I’m using an idea I got from reading Steven’s blog about spending Thanksgiving as an American overseas.

In the Fall of 2005, I studied abroad in The Netherlands through a program run by the University of California system. My destination was University College Utrecht in The Netherlands, which is an international university that, at the time, housed and educated roughly two-thirds Dutch students and the other third students from all over the world (of around a total of 750 students). My personal circle of friends included Americans, Dutchies, Australians, Germans, a Swede, and a few assorted others. It was one of the best, richest, most exciting experiences of my entire life.

For Thanksgiving, the UC program people put on a traditional holiday dinner for all the American students, who each got to bring a plus one. My boyfriend (now husband) was visiting me that week, and so he got to come and join in the merriment. For most others, that meant a non-American student got invited to their very first Thanksgiving dinner.

I honestly don’t remember much about the food at all, but the experience was so much more than what we were eating. At that point in the semester, we’d been away from home for four months. The days were growing short and cold, and many of us were starting to feel twinges of homesickness. Having the familiarity of tradition, familiar foods, and my boyfriend there by my side made me feel comforted and joyful.

I found a blurry picture I took of the food!

What I enjoyed most was the exchange of culture that took place. The non-Americans had so many questions about why we ate certain things and why this custom and compared it to their own. It was an invitation for me to stop and think about customs and traditions I had always taken for granted. To see myself, my country, my culture through the eyes of foreigners is an incredible experience. I highly recommend it.

When the dinner was over, we went outside for the short walk back to our units (dorms), and upon setting foot outside we found that it had started snowing. The Californians, me included, promptly lost their shit and started playing in it, not ready for the night to be over. It was a special dusting on top of a very special evening.

Frolicking in the snow!

Now that I think about it, that Thanksgiving feels similar to this year in that I’m separated from family. At least in 2005 it was by choice.

I’ve often stuck my nose up at the American tradition to celebrate gratitude by wallowing in excess. Doesn’t it make more sense that you’ll better appreciate what you have by going without? With that in mind, this year I’m making a special point to be grateful for my family and friends, especially those I haven’t seen in far too long. I’m not on the other side of the world this year, even though it often feels that way. Hopefully, we’ll be together again sooner rather than later.

Counting my blessings, and I’m hoping you have many to count as well.


Day 26

The Silver Lining

This post picks up where my last one left off, last Friday the 13th.

The next day, we woke up to snow. We couldn’t believe it. All winter, we’d been hoping for snow, wishing for some, and nothing. Until schools close and the world starts shutting down. It started snowing again during the day, and they were the biggest, fluffiest flakes I had ever seen.

THIS IS THE SILVER LINING! THIS IS PERFECT! I yelled as my family and I gawked out the window. My kids scrambled to put on shoes (no jackets) and ran out into our yard to play. Still wearing my pajamas, I put on a jacket, hat, and snow boots and decided to sneak out the front door to stand still in the (relative) quiet.

Several neighbors were outside also enjoying the weather, including my next door neighbor with their young son. Earlier, we saw our neighbors across the street letting their two retrievers frolic and play in their front yard. They looked like they were having the time of their lives.

“They should have their dogs on leashes.” my son dutifully said. He’s heard me complain in private and chastise people in person for not having dogs on leashes. It’s not safe for all involved, and I’m proud that my son now knows this.

“You’re right. They should be on leashes.” I replied.


I stood on the sidewalk and looked up. The fat flakes were falling so slowly that I could pick one out and position myself so I could catch it in my mouth.

I heard a shout from across the street and I looked up just in time to witness one of the gorgeous dogs get hit broadsided by an oncoming truck. It all happened in slow motion and all at once.

My other next door neighbor burst out of his house and started screaming. Apparently he had been watching from inside. He yelled at the owner something about how the dog should have been on a leash and pick him up, get him to the vet, RIGHT NOW. I also heard a voice whimpering oh no, oh no, oh no and realized it was mine. The owner ushered the still upright and walking dog into their house and closed the door. The truck was long gone; it never even slowed down.

Realizing there was nothing I could do, I turned around and made eye contact with my neighbor and his son. Oh god, I hope he didn’t see, I thought, and not knowing what else to do I turned and walked into my house and burst into tears.

I kept peeking out my window because I wanted to make sure they were going to get the dog emergency care. I saw a man come out and empty out the trunk of a car. The next time I peeked, the car was gone.

Over the weekend I kept watching for the car, and it didn’t come back until 48 hours later. I am both desperate and terrified to know how the dog is – too terrified to go and outright ask.

Needless to say, that event definitely spoiled my day and probably my entire weekend. I took a ridiculously long shower, trying to wash off the trauma. As a trauma therapist, I’ve heard every disturbing narrative you could imagine and many you can’t, but I’ve never actually seen something so traumatic. I also can’t tolerate violence toward animals, real or fabricated.

I spent the rest of the day manically cleaning my house. None of us went anywhere that day.

Since then, we’ve essentially been sheltering in place. On Sunday I saw on Facebook that our local library was closing the next day, so I ran out and checked out a buttload of books and DVDs to hopefully last us for a long time. My husband called in sick on Monday and then went to work on Tuesday only to pack all of his office supplies into his car so he could continue working from home. Besides walks around the neighborhood, grocery shopping, the dentist, and one trip to the pediatrician because my kids continue to be sick, we’ve been hanging out at home, just trying to hang on and get well.

I’m pretty terrified. I’ve said it feels like we’re waiting for an invisible tidal wave to hit us and the anticipation is crushing me. I’ve had to shake off the ridiculous expectations that suddenly mothers are supposed to homeschool their kids like we don’t have enough shit piled on our backs. Not only are mine still ill, but they are confused and frustrated and do not take well to their mom trying to get them to do fucking worksheets. To hell with all that. We’ve been taking temperatures daily, we’ve been watching a lot of movies, and we’ve been taking walks, reading books, writing letters to grandparents, and doing art. On our walks, I’ve been carrying chalk and writing positive messages around the neighborhood. Once the rains come and wash them away, I’ll go out and do it again. Not sure if I’m doing that for myself or for others, but I guess that doesn’t really matter.

I’ve been meaning to compile a list of the positive side effects we’ve been experiencing as a result of all this chaos.

  • We get to sleep in
  • We don’t have to worry about being on time for shit
  • All the hilarious memes and videos and late night shows being broadcast from celebrities’ couches
  • I don’t have to make school lunches every night
  • My husband is home during the day
  • My house is going to be spotless by the time this is all over
  • Our carbon footprint has been drastically reduced! Both on a local and global level; how exciting is that?! Perhaps this experience will drive lasting change.

Now go wash your hands and stop touching your face.

 

 

Ready for the Unknown

Today was the first day I felt actually ready and excited to have this baby.

You know, because you never really feel ready-ready, and nothing can ever actually prepare you.

I’m due on the 26th and today I am 38 weeks + 2.  I started feeling crampy and achey last night while I was bending and lifting and standing to wrap Christmas presents.  It felt like the familiar daily race to get things done before my body gave out, except with more urgency this time.

I took a hot shower and the steady stream of water felt really great on my lower back.  I went to bed feeling oddly calm paired with the crampy anticipation and excitement that maybe this baby would be coming soon.

As the night wore on, with each successive trip to go pee, I felt more contractions and more anticipatory excitement that eventually kept me up from about 4-5:30am.  I started bargaining as I frequently do: please, just wait until morning so we don’t have to wake the kid and rush out of here to the hospital.  Also, please don’t wait too long and kick in just as the forecasted snow starts falling in the afternoon, making it hard for us to get to the hospital.

Arg, being unable to plan for something so important is making me go batty.  As much as I complained about being induced with my first baby, I am now realizing how it took away a lot of this uncertainty.

B got up for work and I told him I thought I was in the early stages of labor.  He asked if there was anything he could do, and there really wasn’t, so he got ready and left for work and we both assumed I’d be calling him in a few hours to get to the hospital.

This is perfect, I thought.  We’ll make the window between sleep and snow, and all my support people are still in town today.  And I’ll get to hold my baby!

As I lay there, I started thinking about the date and what her birthday might be, how labor would go, what I still needed to pack.  My mind was whirring.

It took some effort, but I was able to sleep for a few more hours.  I woke with continued mild contractions and started packing more stuff into my hospital bag.  Then I started my day with the kid and we had breakfast and…..then nothing really happened.

Contractions stayed the same.  We played, had lunch.  The snow began to fall.  Shit, I got nervous.  The window was gone, and now I just knew I’d go into labor just in time for the snarl of traffic that was sure to happen.  And it’s a 20-30 minute drive to the hospital with no traffic at all.  I texted B at work and we agreed that we’d call 911 to request a police escort if it came to it.

I worried that I was waiting too long.  What if these contractions were the real thing and my tolerance for pain is freakishly amazing?  The whole day felt like one long contraction anyway, as my uterus tightens up anytime I stand up to move.  I worried I’d end up having the baby at home, in the car.  I was questioning my judgement.

Once I finally got the kid down for his nap and I was able to relax and try to chart my contractions, I could tell there was no rhythm, no intensity, no buildup.  At the same time, I can feel that my body has turned a corner.  It’s definitely getting ready.  Just how ready and how quickly?

Leading up to today I’ve been doing a different kind of bargaining.  It’s the thing where I’m sick and tired of being pregnant but still had shit I needed to get done before she got here.  Christmas shopping needed to be finished.  There was wrapping to be done.  Decorating needed to happen.  We even did our Christmas brunch early.  And not to mention all the normal baby stuff that needed to be ready.  Washing clothes, folding, putting away.  We moved the kid into his new room along with all his stuff to make room for baby stuff.  Car seats, carriers, bouncy seats, etc.

But as of last night…all that was largely done.  We did it.  We got ready.  We’re ready.  Holy crap!

As I just typed that, I realized we never got to that point when I was pregnant the first time, because at 38 weeks we moved into this house.  In the three weeks before I was induced we were scrambling to get boxes unpacked just so we’d know where the pots and pans and underwear were – forget any kind of nesting or decorating.  So that makes sense now that I actually feel ready.  I’m thankful for the feeling…even though it can’t ever be ready-ready.

So now, we wait.  Come on out, little miss.  There’s a layer of snow on the ground and it’s beautiful, just for you.