Taxes abroad

It’s that time of year again, when, with a flurry of paperwork and many cups of coffee, I (and many others) sit down to tackle the family taxes.  It’s not a task I love, but really, we have a pretty good situation here, so I can’t complain.  In fact, we’re amazingly lucky when it comes to our tax bill.  Because we’re US citizens and (I think?) because the IAEA and the UN have a special situation worked out with Austria, we pay US taxes, but not Austrian taxes.  AND, we’re exempt from large chunks of our typical US tax bill because we’re not living IN the States.  In short, we pay a fractional part of our US tax bill while enjoying so much of what the high tax bills of Austria pay for.  It’s a fantastic deal.  We get all the free preschool and clean streets we can handle, and we don’t have to pay for it.  (Of course, there are things back at home that we’re paying for but not using, but still, we’re on the winning end of this deal from a tax perspective, no question.)

But although the pain of actually PAYING our tax bill is seriously mitigated by our situation, the relative pain of FILING our taxes is generally greater here than in the States.  Not only do I have to check a remarkable number of the “this situation is not common” boxes on Turbo Tax, but there’s no handy H&R Block or anything similar down the street that I could go to for safety’s sake.  Luckily, since we sold our house in the US during our first year here, the situation is somewhat simpler than it used to be.  Still, it’s pretty darn complicated, and there are tons of paperwork and lots of calculations to be put together each year.  (Plus I have to keep track of which numbers are in Euros and which are in dollars, and if anything ends up messing me up, that’s going to be the thing.)

Fine, though.  That’s life as an American, at home or abroad.  As April 15 approaches, we panic a little, dust off our calculators and start scribbling numbers down on a little scraps of paper that will soon find a home in a shoebox.  That’s what I was doing this morning, when I realized that I’m probably not going to be done by tomorrow, thus missing the deadline.  Except, that as a US citizen living abroad, I get an automatic extension to file until June.  And I *just* found out, just today (this is the 3rd year I’ve filed while living abroad, and I’m just figuring this out) that we *also* don’t have to PAY until June 15.  No kidding.  (I thought the automatic extension was just like a regular extension, where you get extra time to file but the money is still due on April 15.  Nope.  If you’ve overseas, you don’t even have to pay until June, with no penalty.)

So, instead of spending the next 36 hours panicking about getting my taxes paid, I get to relax and get them done in a leisurely fashion between now and June.  Except that what will REALLY happen is that I’ll put it off, I won’t get it done, and on June 13 I’ll be freaking out all over again . . . and then I won’t have anyone to commiserate with.

Judgypants — My Messy Beautiful

We’ve been living abroad, here in Vienna, Austria, for 3 years now, but there are still SO MANY little day-to-day things that can be a challenge.  It’s these little everyday things that can trip me up the most.  My mom has always told me, “You don’t trip over Mt. Everest”, and she’s right — I am usually prepared to handle big things, but the little things can easily make or break my day.

I think, as with so much that I’ve learned while living abroad, this has always been true, I’m just more aware of it now.  These days, we so often get by on little kindnesses — someone being patient with our awkward German or smiling at us as we blunder through an unfamiliar social interaction — and our fragile comfort zone can be so easily damaged by the opposite — impatience, unkindness or a lack of understanding.

Last April, I had one of these not-so-great interactions with an Austrian.  (Though most of our interactions with the locals here have been overwhelmingly positive.)  I had just taken the kids to get their latest set of vaccines.  We’d had to skip nap time to make the appointment, and I was happily surprised and quite relieved that both boys had handled themselves so well.  We were on the tram, headed home, and enjoying the ride — talking to each other, commenting on what we saw out the window, asking and answering questions.  Normal mom stuff with a 2 year old and a 4 year old.  I was truly present in the moment, enjoying my kids, and we were all happy to be headed home.

Here they are, waiting for the tram. So sweet!

And then, quite suddenly, an older man near the front of the tram car stood up and started shouting at us.  It would have been unsettling regardless, but since Austrians are typically exceedingly quiet on trams and trains, it was particularly shocking.  The entire tram car fell silent and stared as he told us off, in irate German (extra angry-sounding points for that) for making entirely too much noise, before departing the train at the next stop, shouting as he went.

I was mortified.  I was also genuinely surprised and immediately defensive.  My kids had not been particularly loud (seriously, by American standards we were using almost library volume voices) and this man had been sitting dozens of feet away from us.  What was his problem?!?  My fellow tram riders gave me sympathetic looks and glared after him in commiseration, but still, behind my embarrassment and bruised ego, I felt entirely defeated.  Here, in this moment which I’d thought had been going so well, I felt suddenly reminded of how out of place we were, of how easy it was for us to be inappropriate, and of how poorly we were fitting in.  I felt so judged, and like such a failure.

In truth, I was also pretty pissed.  My kids were behaving, being happy, and no louder than the ambient noise on the strassenbahn, which creaks and squeaks as it makes its way through the streets.  If my German had been better, I would have told HIM off in return.  (So there!)  How dare he!  He doesn’t know us or our situation.  I immediately started creating dramatic scenarios we could be suffering through (but weren’t) that fueled my feelings of indignation.  What if this were my first time out with my kids alone ever?  What if one of us suffered from agoraphobia or social anxiety and just being on the strassenbahn was a victory?  What if we had suffered some kind of trauma or loss and it was our first happy conversation in months?  None of those things are true in our case, but it IS true that being out with both kids, on public transportation, in a country where I am an outsider and have trouble communicating is a major challenge.  Keeping both kids relatively quiet and happy is a major achievement, and he had just crapped on it.  I was hurt, I was angry, and I was instantly critical him for not being more thoughtful before he opened his big, angry mouth.  I put on a brave face for the kids, who were looking to me to see how to react.  I shrugged it off and went back to discussing things outside the window, but in my head, I fantasized about all of the nasty things I wished I could have said.

And then, as I obsessed over it, I was suddenly struck by a realization – I was judging him, too.  Maybe *he* has trouble being out in public.  Maybe *he* recently suffered a loss.  Maybe he is old and bitter and alone and the sound of children laughing is like nails on a chalkboard to him.  Maybe he once lost a child, or a grandchild, and my children being happy was painful for him.  Or maybe not.  Maybe he was having a bad day.  Maybe he got some bad news, or was in bad health, or was exhausted from taking care of someone or stressed about his finances.  I don’t know.  Any or all of those could be true.  (Or he could just be a big, old, Austrian grumpypants.)

Regardless, it’s no more my place to judge him or to lash out in anger than it was appropriate for him to shush us out of his own personal frustrations or issues.  And yet . . . I pass judgement on others all the time (both good and bad):  I like her hair, I think he’s fat, I wonder what she was thinking when she put that outfit on this morning, I think that dad is clueless because he’s letting his kid get away with something.  I judge, ALL THE TIME.

I don’t know anyone else’s situation.  And, sitting on that tram, I realized that not only is passing judgement on others thoughtless and unkind, it absolutely bounces back and ends up hurting me, too.  When I judge someone else positively, I will feel (today, or one day in the future, maybe on a day when I don’t have it all together … like most of the days) like I don’t measure up to that standard I judged them against.  When I judge someone harshly, I will feel inadequate and ashamed later when I find myself failing to live up to that same standard.  Even the judgements I feel the most entitled to don’t serve any good purpose in my life.  We all have tough days.  MANY of my days over the past 3 years have been tough, and I’ve failed against all kinds of personal standards in ways I thought I would never allow to happen.  Things change.  Life is hard.  Nobody is perfect.

I think it’s part of why I carry so much guilt as a parent – because before I was a parent, I passed judgements about other parents.  I *knew* what I would do or say or how I would handle certain situations or behaviors.  I would *never* do this, that, or the other and would *always* do something else.  And then, when it was my turn, and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WENT HOW I EXPECTED, I constantly heard my own voice echoing in my head, judging and criticizing my choices.  And I naturally assume that everyone else is constantly thinking those things too.

Parenting is hard.  Nothing in my life has taken me so quickly off of my high horse of “always” and “never” than having a child (except maybe for having the second one).  Living in a foreign country is hard, too.  And people ARE judging me.  I get stuff wrong all the time.  As a parent, as an expat, as a human being.  I make mistakes ALL THE TIME.  Like EVERY day.  And what I’ve learned in 5+ years as a parent and 3+ years as an expat is that every single thing I do is going to be “wrong” in someone’s eyes.  EVERY SINGLE THING.  People didn’t like that we used disposable diapers and others wouldn’t have liked it if we’d used cloth diapers.  To some people, it was wrong for me to breastfeed my kids in public and to others it was wrong when I would choose not to (it’s also wrong to not cover up and wrong if I did).  There are people who think that moving abroad was the best choice ever and people who think we’re heartlessly selfish for subjecting our kids to this.  Everything I do, from what I feed my kids to what I dress them in to what time I put them to bed to what I let them watch (or don’t) on tv will be wrong to someone.  I have gotten crap for taking my kids shopping in the stroller because it makes the store too crowded, but if I don’t bring the stroller, someone will be upset because one of the kids touched something they shouldn’t have or sat down in the aisle and refused to walk another step.  People roll their eyes when one of my kids is crying on the train and they roll their eyes when I give them a cracker to stave off the crying.  There is just no way to “win” the judgement game, except to choose not to play.

And, like the grumpy guy on the strassenbhan, the judgements people pass on me are ALWAYS a reflection of their own personal story, not of mine.  So, thanks, angry strassenbahn man from a year ago.  You gave me some much needed perspective.  It was an unexpected gift that I’m not sure you meant to give.  (Thanks anyway, though.)

 

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, CLICK HERE!

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Plan B

We had a plan for the last weekend of March.  The kids had Friday off for a teacher work day, so Dan planned to take off of work and we were finally going to go to Prague for the weekend — a destination which has been on our list since we moved to Vienna.

When planning travel, especially with kids, it’s so important to have a “plan B” in mind, because things don’t always work out as planned.  In this case, Liam spent almost an entire week sick with an on again/off again fever leading up to our intended trip, and a trip to Prague just wasn’t going to be the right choice for us.  So, at the last minute, we decided not to go.

It was hard to give up the plan that we were all so excited about, but we made the right choice.  By Monday, Liam was well again, but the next day, B got sick and then I followed him.  In short, we are just now coming off of 2+ weeks with at least one of us sick, and our trip to Prague was intended to be right in the middle of that.

It’s a bummer, because we were really looking forward to finally seeing Prague, and we had found a great (and not too expensive) place to stay (which B helped me pick out, and he was SO excited to go).  But it’s ok — Prague has been there for a long time, and it isn’t going anywhere.  We’ll just have to wait a bit longer for our chance to see it.

Field trip

It took some getting used to, but I now accept the frequency and variety of Viennese Kindergarten (preschool) field trips as a matter of course.  I’ve never had a child in American preschool, but I suspect they don’t do quite as many outings via public transportation as Viennese children do (Liam has two field trips, both requiring several subways journeys, just this week, and B has one).  It’s entirely common to see a group of tiny children, shepherded by 3 or 4 teachers, riding the bus or subway or just walking down the street.  I’ve grown so accustomed to it that B doesn’t even seem particularly young to be doing such things anymore.

Upon learning, during B’s first year in school here, how common these trips were, I was excited — as a stay-at-home mom, I’d be able to go along on a lot of these trips, right?  It’s one of the benefits of staying home with my kids that I’d secretly been looking forward to the most.  I love the idea of getting to do fun things around Vienna with my boys and their classmates!  Alas, they don’t do the whole “parent chaperone” thing here.  When I first suggested it, B’s teachers reacted as though it was the strangest suggestion they had ever heard, commenting, “But it wouldn’t be fair to the children whose parents couldn’t come.”  Bummer.

In all, though, I’ve adjusted to the idea of these preschool field trips, and so have the kids.  They’ve generally been great successes, and the kids tend to come home happy and very tired.  Liam had one such outing today, to an Easter market quite close to our house.  (His school is not at all close to our house, so they had to make quite a trek to get here.)  He’s gotten good at these, and always behaves really well, so I’ve stopped worrying (overly) about it.  This time, though, I did ask Dan to mention that the class would literally be walking past our front door, so that in case Liam refused to walk any further or insisted on going inside, the teachers would at least have some idea of what was going on.  I was SO tempted to just “happen” to stop by the market, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of him and his classmates doing cute stuff, but I didn’t — I knew that there was a good chance of me upsetting him if he saw me, since I wouldn’t be able to actually tag along afterwards.

I did get a lovely surprise, though — when Dan dropped Liam off this morning, and explained to the teachers that they’d be going right past our house, Liam’s teacher asked if I’d like to meet them at the end of the trip and just pick him up right there.  Wonderful!  Not only would that save him a round trip to school and back, but I’d get to surprise my little guy on his field trip AND take him home with me at the end.  Yay!

So, that’s what we did.  Liam had a “great” time at the Easter market (apparently there were cookies and bunnies) and his teacher called me at the end.  I went straight downstairs and met them next door to our building.  (They were as cute as I’d imagined they would be, but I was so excited to see him that I didn’t get a picture.)  Liam was SO excited to see me, and SO thrilled when he asked if we could go home and I said yes.  He happily said goodbye to his friends and teachers and I took my littlest guy home to play, just the two of us, for an hour or so before Dan brought Benjamin home.  It was my favorite field trip so far.

3rd Viennaversary

We’ve been here for 3 years, as of yesterday.  That’s a little bit astounding to me, partly because I never envisioned being here for more than a year or two, and partly because it truly doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.

I think I remember every single moment — or at least every single feeling — from that first day.  I remember dazedly collecting our belongings (and Bailey) at the airport baggage claim, wandering out into the drizzle of Vienna and being shocked by how many people were smoking.  I remember being unceasingly watchful over our luggage cart while we waited for our friend Greg to pick us up.  I remember getting Bailey out of his crate and wondering if there was a specific place I was allowed to walk him.  I remember that I had no idea what I was doing, and worrying that I had made an awful mistake.

We had almost no money, no local bank accounts, and no idea that we would be largely unable to use our credit cards.  We spoke no German.  I was wary of everything, from our new landlord to the ATM machines.  We didn’t admit it to ourselves at the time, but we were afraid.

I remember somehow cramming everything into and onto Greg’s van.  I remember that he parked illegally while we got our stuff unloaded and that I was terrified that his car would be towed.  I remember being freaked out when our new landlord offered to help carry Liam into the building while I carried Benjamin.  I remember not being prepared to pay in cash when we checked in to our first apartment (which was expected) and no one minding that we couldn’t.  I remember Greg going to the market and getting us the things we needed to get through those first few hours . . . and that he left us his grocery bag so we would have one to use when we went back (we still have it).  I remember the waitress from the restaurant downstairs helping Dan carry plates of schnitzel and mason jars of cucumber and potato salad to our apartment for dinner our first night, because we didn’t know that takeout isn’t done here and I couldn’t face a restaurant with two jet lagged kids in a completely unknown language and culture.

I remember being absolutely overwhelmed with the kindness and generosity we were shown on a day when I was expecting neither.  I remember sitting awake as Dan, both boys and Bailey slept, and finding a little peace in the safety and security of that little apartment on Hollandstraße, and finding, again, a tiny spark of enthusiasm for this adventure amidst the overwhelming challenge of the reality of it.

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Time travel

I hate Daylight Saving Time.

Well, I do kind of like that the sun doesn’t rise at 3:30 in the morning in June.  And I do like having extra light in the evenings to run, or go for a walk, or stop by the playground.  But the switch from “standard” to “saving” time apparently makes my entire family crazy.

It doesn’t just feel like we moved our clocks ahead by an hour, it feels like we travelled back in time 6 months (or more).  We all make progress, all the time — the kids grow up, learn to do and handle new things while I try to work on myself, improve my perspective and weed out bad habits and thought processes.  The last 36 hours (we just had our time change this past weekend here in Europe) have been like stepping back to last summer or fall, and not in a good way.

Liam has been throwing more tantrums.  Liam has been throwing more toys.  Liam has been throwing more food.  (There’s been a lot of throwing.)  Liam has been hitting Benjamin, Dan & I – not something we’ve gotten rid of entirely, but something we had made massive progress on in the past few months.  Liam, who recently transitioned to not wearing diapers at all during school hours, refused to leave the house without one this morning and had a crying meltdown at preschool drop off.  Benjamin has been tearful over his toys.  Benjamin has been tearful over the arrangement of his pillows and blankets.  Benjamin has been tearful (and angry) about pretty much every single thing Liam has done in the past day and a half.  Both kids seem to have forgotten how to listen.  And I have handled all of this with hard-won wisdom and maturity — I’ve screamed, threatened, begged and cried.  Let me just say — it has been a massively charming day and a half around here.

I suppose it’s possible that it’s a complete coincidence and we all just woke up in terrible moods and without any flexibility yesterday morning.  Maybe we’re coming down with something.  Maybe there’s just something in the air.  I mean, how could one little shifted hour wreak so much havoc?  This feels like jet lag on steroids.  We’re all out of patience, empathy, maturity and resilience here right now.  Fingers crossed that we get through this transition QUICKLY, and with a whole new appreciation for the progress we’ve all made over the past few months after this temporary reminder of how far we’ve come.

5 lessons I have learned from the Austrians

I love this week’s topic for Amanda’s blog link up … except that I really struggled to choose just 5 things!  I have learned so much from the Austrians, and I am so grateful for these lessons.  They’ve changed my outlook, my priorities, and (I hope) helped me to become a happier and more relaxed person.

1.  Public transportation can be VERY functional
The Viennese public transportation system, made up of buses, subway trains and trams is truly impressive.  (The nationwide and local rail services are equally noteworthy.)  The system is clean, safe and reliable.  They’ve obviously invested a lot in the system — not just in its purchase, but in its maintenance, as well.  The people who use the system take a lot of pride in it, too — outside of a bit of graffiti, everyone takes good care of it, and the public transport system will take you wherever you want to go in Vienna.  We don’t have a car, and honestly don’t need one.

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2.  Play should include actual challenges
I’ve remarked on this again and again, ever since my earliest days in Vienna.  The playgrounds here are significantly less safe here than in the US — full of hard surfaces, high things to climb, pinching hazards, and actual wood, metal and rocks — and that’s a GOOD thing.  Since moving to Vienna, my kids have learned to push themselves, to conquer challenges, and to dust themselves off when they fail.  As an American mother, I didn’t appreciate how overprotective I was being before.

And this practice of not protecting people from everything (including their own poor decisions) exists everywhere here.  “Personal responsibility” is very much expected (and thus is the norm).

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3.  We all need to get over how we look (and how everyone else looks)
In America, we have a nationwide love/hate relationship with food and our bodies.  We are obsessed about eating, and yet we are filled with shame about what we eat and judgement over what other people eat.  We are obsessed with fitness and the pursuit of physical perfection while being the most obese nation in the world.  We have a collective national eating disorder, and we don’t even see it.

Living in Austria, I’ve learned that food is for eating (yes, both fat and skinny people have to eat).  I’ve also learned that neat and tidy presentation of our personal appearance is important, but that we look how we look — trying to create physical perfection is as absurd as ignoring our health.  No one is perfect.  People in Austria also get less worked up about nudity and scant clothing — not every bit of nakedness is something to get excited about.

4.  Free time is so important
I love the Austrian attitude about vacation.  They get a lot of time off from work each year … and they use it.  5-6 weeks of vacation time is typical, and that’s in addition to the numerous holidays and nearly unlimited sick time.  It is simply an expected part of the culture that people must take time off to spend with family and to relax.  There’s no guilt about it from the employee and no stinginess about it from the employer.

Along with this is the Austrian cultural attitude that evenings and Sunday are for rest and for family, instead of time to get errands run.  I love it, and I hope to never forget it.

20140326-153017.jpg5.  How to shift the focus of the holidays
Christmas is, of course, a religious holiday.  But additionally, Christmas is meant to be about being together with family and celebrating the magic of the season.  I’d always found myself, instead, stressed about shopping, rushing from one gathering to the next and looking forward to Christmas not just as a fantastic day spent with my loved ones but also as the finish line for the craziness of the holiday season.  The Austrian focus really IS on time together, on religious observation and enjoying the entire holiday season.  Advent is as much a part of Christmas as the day before and the day itself.  Shopping for gifts happens in a more modest manner, and often amidst the festivity of a neighborhood market.  Living in Austria, I’ve learned that the entire season IS the celebration, and that rather than rushing to complete my checklist by a deadline, the Christmas season can be about spending time preparing together — shopping, seeing the lights, baking, cooking and decorating — not just about THE DAY.  The holidays really are about celebrating, being together, and bringing light and wonder into the darkest part of the year.

I have learned so many things by being here these past few years, and there are so many ways in which I hope I have been permanently changed by the lessons that I’ve learned.  I have also so enjoyed participating in this blog link up, sharing my experiences and reading about others’.  (Thanks Amanda!)

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Feature creep

In my life before parenting, I wore many different hats.  I was, at different times, a dance instructor, a software engineer, a horseback riding teacher and a waitress.  I’ve often noticed how each of these professions prepared me for parenting, but, of all of them, I thought software engineering was perhaps less applicable to my current life than the others.  Until I had an epiphany today:  building a train with my 3 year old is EXACTLY like working with any of several difficult managers I encountered in my engineering days.

It goes like this:
Manager/3 year old:  “Let’s take on this project!  I’m very excited!  But I’m relying on you to do most of the actual work.”
Me:  ”Great!  I’m excited too!  I really enjoy this kind of work and I’ve thought of a clean, sophisticated, elegant way to do it.”

Manager/3 year old:  (some time later) ”What’s that part for?”
Me:  “That’s how we’re going to make the whole thing connect up at the end.”
Manager/3 year old:  “No.  It doesn’t go like that.  Turn it around the other way.”
Me:  ”But … ”
Manager/3 year old:  “No!  Other way!”
Me:  (trying to avoid a tantrum while rethinking the entire plan) “Ok, ok!”

Manager/3 year old:  (now much later, almost at the end) “I have an idea!  I want it to do THIS!”
Me:  (taking patient, diplomatic tone) “Yes, we could do that.  But we can’t do that AND this original idea at the same time.”
Manager/3 year old:  “But you SAID it could do that!  You promised!!’”
Me: “Yes, I did.  But it can’t do both of those things at the same time.  I don’t have enough to do both.”
Manager/3 year old:  “No, see?  You can just make it work like THIS.”
Me:  “Well, I COULD, but not using only the pieces I have AND meeting all of your other requirements at the same time.”
Manager/3 year old:  “Waaaah!”

20140325-142927.jpgThe project is finally complete when I make something work that meets the criteria (but which doesn’t bear any resemblance to an elegant solution) all while telling them they’re getting what they ask for as I quietly hedge and stick in as many not-desired but essential features without drawing attention to what I’m doing.  (Distracting them with bells, whistles and flashing lights can be very useful at this stage.)

At the end, success is counted by not having them destroy the entire project before it’s even operational out of frustration at your inability to bend the laws of physics.    And then I get this:

Manager/3 year old: “Look what I built!”

And I thought parenting and engineering had nothing in common.

The shortest day ever

I have this habit of leaving off pieces of the adventures we take when I recount the stories.  Ever since I stopped writing the blog WHILE I was traveling (to allow it to feel like more of a vacation) I’ve found that I get back, start to write about it, and then life happens and I get caught up writing about something new that is happening at that moment, which means that I often don’t quite finish telling the stories of our travels.

I want to get caught up, so I’m going to plan to spend at least a day each week catching up on old stories that have yet to be told.

401The snowstorm that came at the end of our trip home to the US for Christmas was a ton of fun for the kids (and I’m extra glad they got to experience it since we barely got any snow this year in Vienna).  But the other result was that our return flight ended up significantly delayed, which made for kind of a crazy day all around.

I have to give Air France a ton of credit for how well they kept us informed about the developments with our flight.  I woke up the morning of our departure with both a text and an email waiting for me about the initial rescheduling of our flight.  Because we had nearly 12 hours notice, we were able to relax, enjoy an extra few hours with family and let the kids play in the snow a bit more.  They also seamlessly took care of rearranging our connection each of the several times the flight was pushed back a little later, which let us spend our last day packing and enjoying instead of stressing (overly much) about how we were going to get home.

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Late that night, we finally headed to the airport (with much gratitude and sad goodbyes to so much of our family who drove us over there) to wait for a while longer in an effectively closed airport.  When we’d first planned the flight, a 7 pm departure seemed 400perfect.  Take off, have dinner, and then everyone sleeps (in theory).  My boys generally do well on overnight flights, so I was more worried about the flight over than I was about the flight back.

But with the departure moved back to just after 2 am, I didn’t know what to expect.  Waiting at the gate was hard.  We put the boys in their pajamas (because, realistically, it was after midnight, and sleep was likely).  Liam fell asleep.  B tried to sleep on the floor (unsuccessfully) after seeing several other people try it.  He eventually gave up and wandered over to watch a video over the shoulder of a little French girl who then invited him to come and share her seat.  (That was one of my favorite moments of the journey.  I was really proud to see B be brave enough to make a friend — and extra points because they did not share 404a common language.  I count this confidence as one of the many good things that have come of this adventure.)

We finally got on the plane and got underway.  The airline dutifully served dinner (at about 3 am) and then got us all ready for “nighttime” just as the first rays of the sun were becoming visible on the horizon (they requested that everyone keep their window shades down so that everyone could sleep if they chose to).  They turned the lights on and served breakfast at about noon (that’s CET — it was then about 6 pm where we had departed, Eastern time).  By the time we landed, it was evening in Paris, the middle of the night in Maryland, and the kids, who had slept in short bursts throughout the flight, were confused and alarmed that the sun was setting just after breakfast.  (“Why is the sun setting ALREADY?!?  That was the shortest day ever!”  We effectively spent 30+ hours in the dark, which created some of the worst jet lag I’ve ever experienced.)

We were exhausted, we were disoriented, we missed the rest of our family already, but we were home (again).

5 reasons I’m glad my kids speak English and German

Since before we arrived in Austria, nearly 3 years ago, we have been determined that learning German (reasonably well, at least) would be an important piece of our time spent abroad.  We chose to enroll our kids in a Viennese, German-only preschool when they each reached 3 years of age.  For my older son, this means that he has had 2 1/2 years of school entirely in German, while my younger son is most of the way through his first year.  It’s been a great experience.  They’ve learned a tremendous amount of German, and having them enrolled in an Austrian school has provided most of my motivation for continuing to learn German, as well (B’s main teacher does not speak any English, and I need to be able to communicate with her).

Participating in Amanda’s blog link up again this week, here are 5 reasons I’m glad my kids speak English and German.

1.  They have the knowledge that they CAN learn another language, so hopefully the next one will be easier and less intimidating.  If there is one skill I wish I had that I don’t, it is the ability to learn languages easily.  I studied French for 7 years in school and learned a fair bit, but it was ways a struggle.  I’ve lived here for nearly 3 years and my German is just becoming passable.  Throughout my life, I’ve been so intimidated by the struggle of learning a new langauge that I don’t really try to (even when I have the opportunity).  I sincerely hope that having learned German at such a young age, my kids will have a lifelong confidence with which to tackle other languages.

2.  Confidence moving through the world.  I don’t think anything is more off-putting about the thought of travel than not being able to speak the local language.  Whether it’s the fear of getting lost and being helpless, or just worry over looking foolish for not being able to communicate, lack of language skills makes travel intimidating when it should be exciting.  German is spoken in wide areas of Europe, and I hope that their skills in speaking it will give my kids a sense of freedom to travel within those areas (at least) without any worry throughout their lives.

3.  German is less likely to be taught on their American schools later, so now may be the only chance.  When I was growing up, we were required to study a foreign language in school, and the choices were French, Spanish and German.  I have no idea if my children will take compulsory foreign language in school, but I do know that the German programs were on the verge of being cut when I was in high school (20 years ago) so I don’t imagine that many of them have survived the past 2 decades.  One day, my kids will be in American schools, and I will encourage them to learn a language (even if they don’t have to).  But that will be the time to pick up French or Spanish — this may be their only chance to learn German.

4.  German is really cool.  As with any language, there are particular words and idioms that are uniquely perfect within a language, and I love some of the ones I’ve learned in German.  I love that the German word for strawberry (Erdbeere) literally means “earth berry” or “ground berry” (because they grow so close to the ground).  I love the word “raunen”, which is the word for the sound the wind makes.  I love that the root of the word for speed (geschwindigkeit) is the word for windy (windig) so that it literally translates to something like wind-making-ness.  I just found out yesterday that the word for staple remover is the same as the word for mother-in-law … because both separate things that are together.  (Ha!)  Besides, nothing beats telling someone off in German for sheer intimidation factor.  German is cool.

5.  A common language is not required to make a connection to others (but it helps).  As they get older and more confident (and as they accumulate more miles travelled around Europe) I see my kids reach out to other children that they encounter, regardless of whether or not they can communicate well with them.  My boys have attempted French and Spanish when German and English have failed them.  But certainly, they have the easiest time (and the most luck) making friends when they can communicate together well.  Watching them chat and be silly with their friends and teachers at school is heartwarming and inspiring.  They simply could not have done that 3 years ago.  Learning the language has made the difference.

Expat Life with a Double Buggy