Modern Technology, I Love You

I just realized how many different ways we use technology to reconnect with our American friends!

Tonight, one kid FaceTimed her friend while playing and chatting on Minecraft with her friend and two other friends, another kid played PlayStation while chatting with several friends through his headset, and I was on a phone call with a friend using WI-FI.

The kids also connect with their friends through Google Hangouts, Gmail, Animal Jam, and Musical.ly. I also use text on WI-FI, SkypeMessenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and FaceTime.

H.A.P.P.I.N.E.S.S.

So I guess we ended up enjoying Labor Day too here in Denmark! Despite the nine-hour time difference and being a weekday, we all got to hang out with our American friends, who had just woken up on their day off, when the kids got home from school.

Tonight we definitely feel less homesick, I freaking love technology!

Finding The Silver Lining in The Sad Stage

I really, really want to love everything about our new life. I really want to feel bubbles of happiness, as I walk around in our cool, cozy neighborhood. I really want to enjoy my last two months of maternity leave. I really want us to fit in, all of us. I really want to feel thankful for everything that is going well in our transition. Instead of feeling sad. Instead of having a constant feeling of “something’s not right”, “something’s missing”. I know that I have a huge responsibility and ability to find happiness by focusing on being thankful. But right now we’re transitioning, repatriation is damn hard. We’re stressed because even though a lot of things are going our way, we’re still far from being and feeling settled. So bare over with me as I let myself wallow in ridiculous, small, sad feelings that hit me as I navigate our transition:

  • Labor Day Weekend is happening right this second in the U.S. People post happy pictures from their getaways or staycations. Where would we have gone this time, Gold Country? Maybe Sonoma?
  • Halloween! Yes, it’s in October, but in our family the planning and anticipation stage starts now! Will we even get to dress up this time? Will we go trick or treating? Will there be Halloween decorations with spider webs and pumpkins to make us smile? Will we feel ridiculous if we celebrate Halloween in Denmark?
  • I miss not only our close friends, but also the sweet mommy friends that I saw only at school and soccer. I want to ask the people (teachers and parents), who know my children so well: “How do you think he/she is doing?” “What can I do to help them fit in more with their peers?” But these people are far away, in a different time zone, in a different lifestyle. How would they even understand what we’re going through and adapting to?
  • The only person that really truly understands the transition I’m going through is my husband. Other people bring me perspective and support, but they can’t really understand.
  • I miss speaking English. My daughter has the b.e.s.t sense of humor, she sees the funny in everyday situations and calls them out. It’s hilarious and she makes us cry with laughter. Until one week ago, I tried to make the kids speak as much Danish as possible to me to make their Danish stronger. I no longer care. Laughing is more important. On our walks home from school, we now speak English and sometimes laugh as tears roll down our cheeks. Speaking English is liberating and a way to return to our true happy selves. I just wish other kids wouldn’t keep pointing out that my kids have an accent! I tell them they should be proud of that accent, they earned it, and they’ll lose it soon enough.
  • Who is living in OUR house, enjoying OUR view from OUR kitchen, and sleeping in MY room?
  • School, nope, we’re just not there yet, something is missing, something is off, something doesn’t feel right — I’ve had that feeling for weeks and then it hit us both: We should move our 8-year-old to an international class like her 12-year-old brother. Damn it that we didn’t see this coming, now it’s probably too late, there’s probably no space for her, she probably won’t cope with a second transition — but it’s the right thing to do. Damn it.
  • I miss that sense of belonging in a larger group.
  • I miss Trader Joes’s goat yoghurt, Starbucks’ cold brew, and my car.
  • I miss shopping in Westfield followed by dinner and a dry, cold glass of white wine with my amazing friend.
  • I miss my iPhone 6, locked by our American cell carrier despite their promise of the opposite, thieves!
  • I miss yelp reviews, I feel like a foreigner, I don’t know what brand to get and where to get it; why don’t Danes review stores/food/prices ect?
  • I miss watching my shows on Xfinity; how can I watch The Real  Housewives of OC? (My guilty and no longer secret pleasure after this blog post :)
  • I miss barbecuing, I miss the anticipation of San Francisco’s summertime between September and November.
  • I miss my positive and happy self.

There are plenty things about my San Francisco life that I don’t miss. Yada, yada, yada, I don’t care right now. I don’t want to find the freaking silver lining. Yet I know that it’s the little things that will put a smile back on my face, so after writing this, I jumped down to Super Brugsen, just across the street, and treated myself with Danish candy and magazines.

IMG_6053

After binging on candy, our favorite American family facetimed us during their weekly Saturday morning cleaning. Joking together with our friends and fuming with them over American cell phone companies that lock phones illegally, I suddenly felt that I could share anything about our transition, and they would understand — of course they will, because they were part of the life we left behind. Tomorrow my favorite American mommy friend and I agreed to call and discuss all the things going on that little ears aren’t supposed to overhear. It may not be as good as hanging out face to face, but it’ll do!

Ok, here it comes, I’m ready to focus on the good stuff:

I’m thankful for our expat years; I’m thankful for all the wonderful people and memories. I’m thankful for our family and loyal friends, who selflessly care for us and support our transition. It means everything and we couldn’t or wouldn’t want to do this if it weren’t for them. When I close my eyes, I see, feel, and sense our San Francisco life: I’m in OUR kitchen; I sit in MY car; I park by the entrance to the kids’ school; we drive across the Golden Gate Bridge; we sit in our friends’ kitchen in Marin; we street park by the zoo across our favorite coffee shop. I’m there.

Saying goodbye is hard, but memories last forever. Thanks god for FaceTime, messenger, and whatsapp that bring people together across time zones and oceans. I don’t have just the memories.

The Honeymoon Stage

photo

The first stage of both living abroad and returning home is called “the honeymoon stage“. Supposedly in this stage, everything about your life and surroundings feels new and exciting, even walking down the street is an adventure. Writing this blog post about the honeymoon stage, we have unfortunately already moved to the “confusion stage” and the “sad stage” in our repatriation. But boy, we really enjoyed our first three weeks!

I actually didn’t really believe in the honeymoon stage, because my first year in San Francisco was tough. When I walked down the street of our then new neighborhood, I was shocked and saddened by San Francisco’s massive homelessness problem (I moved us away within a month from that neighborhood!). Settling into our daily life and establishing routines such as learning to drive and navigating San Francisco was overwhelming and sometimes scary, fueling my body with a constant rush of adrenaline. My husband was busy at work, and I was in charge of creating routines and settling our family into a completely different everyday life, where I constantly had to decode the cultural different expectations to me and my children. Except for our travels and weekend adventures, our first year abroad was pretty awful.

My initial transition during our first eight days into Denmark felt weird. I felt like a foreigner, curiously studying Danes from afar, while feeling extremely American. Danes look so alike, and I kept thinking I ought to know the people smiling at me on the street. Our neighborhood looked different from what I remembered, and I couldn’t find my way around. I felt loud with my kids, Danes are so quiet, especially in the grocery store! We were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of people, who took time to make small talk with us on the streets or in stores.

After eight days, I suddenly felt very Danish and our life in San Francisco seemed distant. I was flooded by memories. I felt a change in the way that I acted, for instance I noticed that I started talking to my baby with a more Danish tone of voice (less excited and high-pitched). I remembered clearly the time from when my two older kids were babies, and I started singing Danish songs to my youngest that I hadn’t thought about in years. I remembered incidents from my own Danish childhood, and I found myself wondering how people from my Elementary school years were doing, people I haven’t thought about in years. Weird, right? Overall, I thought Denmark was pretty terrific.

Two weeks in and I felt more American again, more American than Danish, and our home and routines in San Francisco stood out crystal clear in my mind. Kids started school, and despite a reverse culture shock and confusion, we were still in the blissful honeymoon stage. Copenhagen seemed so exotic and exciting, and we loved walking the kids to school. The school seemed so promising and perfect. We were giddy about our neighborhood, and Danish food and candy. We enjoyed summerly weather, which definitely beats the wintery and foggy summer in San Francisco.

Three weeks in and we had reached the following great milestones:

  • Hubby and I both signed employment contracts (we both had many offers and interest, which we hadn’t expected!)
  • Despite some hiccups, things were going well with the kids’ school start; we experienced a reverse culture shock in regards to how independent the kids’ peers were, on the other hand our American school probably taught a curriculum two years ahead
  • We re-enrolled officially in Denmark, which you apparently are required to in order to get access to insurance, daycare, school, doctors ect. You re-enroll  by showing up at “Borgerservice” — both parents (one parent wasn’t enough) and all kids — with passports and documentation for your living situation
  • I got a “Nem-Id”, which you need for e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g such as getting a cell number, enrolling the kids into bookends, daycare ect. Sigh
  • Our baby got accepted at a daycare from October, located two minutes away from our apartment, yay

Close to four weeks in and the honeymoon stage has been replaced by “the confusion stage” and “the sad stage”. Bullocks. We’re physically exhausted; moving back into our apartment was hard! All boxes are now unpacked, but our apartment is still a mess. We love our apartment, but we need to get some projects done, and it doesn’t feel  like home, not yet. I have no idea, when we’ll get the energy to settle into our new summer cottage. Well, not anytime soon anyway, because we don’t have a car yet. Both kids are starting having heavy reactions to school, they are working hard on fitting in and decoding expectations from school and peers. My husband just started work this week, so we are so thankful that my workplace accepted to wait until November 1st, because a full time parent is needed with no daycare and the two older kids’ transition into Danish school.

E.X.H.A.U.S.T.E.D.

… In my next blog posts, I’ll share more about “the confusion stage” and “the sad stage”. Even more important and directed to all fellow trailing spouses out there, I’ll share my thoughts about  returning to work after nearly five years as an expat trailing spouse. Whenever I get the energy to write :-)

One of Many Everyday Readjustments

That time I overshopped in my favorite Østerbro bakery with my excited 11-year-old and then couldn’t pay because I forgot that I in Denmark apparently have a pin code for my Danish visa.

That moment— after embarrassing failed pin code attempts in front of a long customer line and failed phone calls to family members to come bail us out — when a kind soul paid our 110 Danish Krones ($17) with a “Welcome back to Denmark” because he must have overheard my distressed conversation with my horrified tween.

That split second — after having thanked our savior which included grabbing his coffee that I confused mistook for mine and he had to ask to give back (OMG) — then recognized him as being the famous Danish movie producer Peter Aalbæk Jensen (Ålen).

… Thank you Peter Aalbæk for bailing my son and I out of that extremely embarrassing, awkward situation; Kindest welcome ever back to Denmark!

The First Half of Our Last Week in California

img_5896

During the first half of our last week:

  • We have had a blast instead of being depressed about our repatriation
  • We decided we’ll be back in Oceanside: what a beautiful beach and cozy, fun town
  • I realised Trump will probably win: I watched the Republican and Democratic conventions and Fox News, and I read Michael Moore’s blog post (here)
  • I discovered how much people dislike and distrust Hillary, which is so surprising considering Trump’s personality! If she were a man, I’m sure people would perceive her differently
  • We have been awwing non-stop at our soon to be one-year-old, who gets more adorable by the day
  • We shopped excessively at an outlet mall (like tourists, oh the shame)
  • Then we shopped some more on Amazon (oh well, no shame there)
  • We bought two extra suitcases to fit our extra stuff
  • I bought a winter jacket; I’m convincing myself that my lack of warm clothing — not the weather — is the reason why I’m shivering from cold from November to March in Denmark. It’s plausible, right?
  • I planned our last day, which we’ll spend in LA shopping and dining on Melrose Avenue, yay! Well, for me at least
  • We laughed because somebody was wearing a headlamp (because Americans are equipment freaks!), but then we discovered that there was a power outage — the blackout lasted for 22 hours, and we could definitely have used a headlamp!
  • We discussed, whether our moving back was the right choice for the first time since our decision
  • We realized maybe it wasn’t
  • If we move back to the U.S., we want to live in SoCal, our happy place

Flying With A Baby, No Worries

 

img_5887

Parents are often reluctant to fly with their baby, especially when traveling alone. Don’t be! Most likely everything will go well, if not, the reward of getting to your destination will outweigh any few miserable hours.

Our babies might have hated their car seats, but all three of them have been excellent airline passengers. Flight attendants and co-passengers always compliment us; in general people are kind and never seem annoyed or rude, don’t worry about that part. I have travelled with the kids from they were four months old on multi-flight stops including up to eleven-hour flights.

Here are my basic survival tips:

  • Wear flip-flops or slip-on shoes, which are easy to remove at security screening.
  • Wear a backpack.
  • Have your travel documents and passport ready available for instance in a cross-body bag.
  • Dress the baby in soft, easily removable layers.
  • Gather any baby food in a clear bag and tell security you are carrying baby food at baggage screening.
  • Wear baby in a baby carrier; Car seats and strollers are just extra heavy things that you will have to deal with, and you can check them for free.
  • Security will most likely let you keep baby in the baby carrier, when you walk through security.
  • Wear a dress or a skirt so that you can use the bathroom with your baby strapped on you if needed (probably TMI :)
  • Get a window seat!
  • If you are nursing, wear a large cardigan so that you can breastfeed discretely (which I did on my last flight, seated next to a distinguished business traveler from India).
  • A large cardigan also works as a baby blanket.
  • Put toys, baby wipes, diapers, extra clothing, and baby food in a smaller bag and place it under your seat (don’t place them in the overhead compartment).
  • Nurse, use a pacifier, or give your baby a bottle during take off and landing.
  • Airports have larger family restrooms to change your baby (in the picture).

For toddlers, pack a small bag with a few new toys that they can open during the flight (minifigures such as Lego transformers are great). Give them stickers or sticker books to play with during the flight.

… And book your flight on a Tuesday or on weekends, where to next?

OMG How American We Have Become — Part V


Parade time in California Adventure, don’t stand in the front row, if you don’t want to become wet!

  • We adults love Disneyland as much as the kids! Our friends have been to Disney for app. 100 times and knew all the ins and out; we adults had the most fun weekend in our adult life full of park hopping, crazy rides, and fantastic food and wine! In my next life, I want to live in SoCal and have an annual pass to Disney.
  • We say sure instead of OK.
  • The kids and I still break down in tears laughing, because their dad five months ago called Vietnamese soup “po” instead of “pho” (with an f-sound).
  • Pho is the kids’ favorite take-a-way food, really!
  • I feel physically ill when I don’t tip, even where there’s no tip jar. The other day I insisted on tipping a barista in a supermarket without a tip jar. (Please remember to tip in the U.S., the minimum wage is ridiculously low!)
  • First call we made when baby was born was to our insurance company, because baby was admitted to the NICU and we were told that was $5.000 per day.
  • Danes keep talking about weeks instead of dates, and I have no idea what month they are even talking about, let alone date.
  • For the kids, Minecraft is history, now Musical.ly (the app) is everything! 
  • This year I forgot about “Good Friday”, which for us was a regular day.
  • On the other hand, I was psyched about egg hunt on Easter Sunday, which I had been looking forward to for weeks. Ups.
  • When school invited me to a speech called “most likely to succeed”, this time instead of scoffing, I was intrigued and bummed about missing out.
  • I start every phone call with “how are you”.  
  • I shop on Amazons’s app “Prime Now”, which delivers groceries within an hour. 
  • I feel fine about not lifting a finger, when employees bag my groceries at convenience stores, but I always make time for small talk.

Proving my point, here’s a pic from one of the restaurants, where we refuelled for lunch with amazing food and wine in California Adventure, even the kids loved it.