Liam and the dentist

When I was little, my dad always used to say, “If you ignore your teeth, they’ll go away”.  I don’t know if that’s what did it, but I’ve always taken good care of my teeth.  I floss and brush carefully and religiously, and I’ve tried to instill the same respect for oral hygiene in my kids.  I know, though, that along with good home care comes the requirement for a good dentist to aid in the protection of our teeth.  I was so lucky to have a great dentist when I was a kid, who helped me create good habits and, possibly most importantly, never gave me cause to be afraid of going to the dentist.

As a mom, it’s been very important to me to make my kids’ early dental appointments as positive as possible.  I know that if they get in the habit now, they’re more likely to keep it up as they get older.  I also know that even one bad experience now can turn them into the type of adults who would rather do anything than go to the dentist.  It’s not always easy, though.  Little kids aren’t always up for letting a stranger get close to them, let alone for opening up their mouth for one, no matter how many reassurances they get.  And the process of a dental cleaning can be uncomfortable, awkward and scary, even if you aren’t a little kid.

With Benjamin, we’ve been really lucky.  First, he is just a generally cooperative kid.  He wants to do the things we ask, most of the time.  In fact, the vast majority of the time, simply asking him to do something — even something as “awful” as putting away his toys, or walking away from the ipad — is enough to get it to happen.  We did once make a visit to a pediatric dentist who explained that if the kids were difficult, they’d be strapped down … but we only stayed long enough for them to “count” Benjamin’s teeth — code for getting the kid to allow this stranger to put a mirror in their mouth and do a quick exam — and we did not go back.  Instead, we subsequently took Benjamin to our own wonderful dentist and excellent hygienist back in the US, and by the time we relocated to Vienna, he already had a positive foundation to build on.  Once he realized that the dentist here had a toy bin that he could choose from after his cleanings, just like the dentist back home, he was perfectly happy to have his teeth cleaned in Austria.

With Liam, we have not been as lucky.  When we moved to Austria, he hadn’t yet gotten any teeth, so he didn’t have any “pre-Austria” experience to draw on.  Liam is also not generally what I would call a compliant kid.  He’s not fundamentally uncooperative, either, but Liam is very unlikely to be bribed, cajoled, encouraged, pushed, led, strong-armed or threatened into doing ANYTHING that he really doesn’t want to do.  You can sometimes convince him, but you can’t coerce him.  When pushed, he pushes back.  So while lots of praise, encouragement and baby steps got us easily through Benjamin’s first dental cleanings, nothing could get us through Liam’s.  Starting when he was about 18 months old, we started having him accompany us (including Benjamin) on our cleanings, just so he could watch the goings on and get used to the idea.  This part went fine.  It took a bit of patience on the part of our dentist, but after some very kind requests, Liam did once let the dentist count his teeth without complaint.  Once.

There was nothing obviously traumatic about that visit, but after that one visit to the dentist when he was about 2, he was totally done with the idea.  We could explain to him what was going to happen, and he would simply say “no”.  We could ask if he was worried, and he’d say, “I just don’t want to”.  He would GO to the dentist without a problem — no tears, no worry, no fear — he would happily walk into the office, climb into my lap in the chair, and look at the dentist . . . he just wouldn’t open his mouth.  No promise of toys, pleading, stern insistence or threat of withholding treats made one ounce of difference.  Short of actual force, it was just not going to happen.

And so, it didn’t.  Every evening at home we’d brush and floss, and we’d brush every morning.  He didn’t love the process, and certainly complained more about it than B ever had, but we made it through, most every day, without major issue.  But when it came to the dentist, it was just not happening.

But, as time went on, as he turned 3, and then 4, the need to have his teeth actually checked and to get the process of cleaning them started became more pressing.  I would take him in every time B or myself had a cleaning, and we’d give it a try with Liam.  Each time, before we went, we’d talk about what was going to happen at the dentist’s office.  We’d practice at home during teeth brushing times.  We’d talk about how important it is, and how everyone needs to get their teeth cleaned.  B would reassure him that it had always gone fine for him.  A few times, Liam allowed the dentist to look in his mouth and count his teeth, but when it came to the idea of actually cleaning them, we had no luck.  He would clamp his mouth shut and completely refuse.  I’d try to convince him, and he’d cry.  The dentist suggested bringing him in on his own, not during someone else’s cleaning, so we tried that.  Still no.  The dentist suggested bringing him a month later, so he could find the surroundings more familiar.  Nope.

We tried again a month after that.  This time — success!  He allowed the hygenist to clean 3 of his teeth.  Yay!  Wonderful!  Lots of praise.  I was certain we were on our way!

We came back again about a month later.  No progress.  He was still only up for getting about 3 teeth cleaned (and I was a bit frustrated that the hygenist started over with the same 3 teeth — I’d been thinking that at least we could maybe get through his mouth 3 teeth at a time . . . but no).

I try, as best I can, to balance being empathetic with my kids against the fact that certain things really DO need to happen.  I get that they’re scared of the dark, but I’m not up for them sleeping with the lights on.  I know that going to school can be tiring and sometimes scary when you’re little, but it’s important to go and learn.  I know that vaccines hurt, but they’re essential.  In this case, I couldn’t tell whether I was being overly empathetic, and basically feeding into his fears by letting him say when he’d had enough, or if my forcing the issue of him getting his teeth cleaned was making a bad situation worse.  I wasn’t going to flat-out force him, and I wasn’t getting a lot of support or direction from the dental staff — I still don’t know if they thought I was going too easy on him or making too big a deal of it (and though I might not have been swayed by their opinion, I wish I had known what they thought, since they have much more experience with this than I do).

When we flew home for Christmas, I decided to try what had worked so well for Benjamin when he was little — we went to our dentist at home, had Liam watch Benjamin and I get our cleanings, and then it would be his turn.  Benjamin did great.  Liam got his teeth counted, but no more.  At the sight of the cleaning tools, he was done.  (Again.)

I was totally frustrated.  I was worried about Liam’s teeth.  I was tired of going to the dentist once a month.  I was embarassed that though I could clean his teeth at home, I couldn’t convince him to let the dentist clean his teeth (I’m fairly certain our dental hygenist here in Austria doesn’t believe me that I was brushing and flossing his teeth every day).  I was afraid of creating a lifelong phobia or setting him up for serious dentral trouble down the road.  I had no idea what else to do or try.

In January, after things had calmed down from the holidays, we went back again to our dentist here in Vienna.  I talked with Liam beforehand.  We’d talked about what I wanted the dentist to do and why.  I explained that he’d be safe.  I promised that I’d hold him.  I assured him that it wouldn’t be much different from what we did at home every night.  He said the dentist could count his teeth, and that the hygenist could clean a few of them.  I agreed that’s what we’d do.

And, for some reason, this time was completely differnt.

He was still nervous.  He still wanted to go slowly and only do a few teeth at a time.  But he ultimately let her clean all of his teeth.  We went from 3 teeth at a time to all of his teeth at once, and he was fine.  He wasn’t traumatized.  He didn’t cry.  He didn’t object at all.  I have no idea why.  I don’t know what changed.  He was so proud at the end.  I was so proud of him, and so relieved that we’d made that progress.  I was so grateful that we’d FINALLY gotten that first cleaning done, and that it was a positive experience.

Next month, we go back to try for a second time.  I’m hoping that he’ll remember that positive experience, and remember that it wasn’t as scary as he’d feared.

I’m an aunt!!!!

Back in November, I became an aunt, and I’m really happy about it.  My nephew is cute and sweet and absolutely wonderful, and his parents have been doing a truly AMAZING job of being new parents.  They’re way more relaxed, more comfortable, and significantly less stressed than I was in the first few months (or, perhaps, the first few  years).  This whole thing is pretty great.  We got to meet him when we were home over Christmas — he was just over a month old when we arrived home.  I miss him a lot, and it’s hard to see him growing and changing while we’re so far away.  I never would have expected that I would be so far away from home when my first niece or nephew was born.  I always imagined that I’d be nearby, able to come over, to bring dinner, to babysit, to answer endless “did your kids …” and “is it normal when …” questions.  I haven’t been able to do much of that, and though I know that my mental image may have been based more on fantasy than in fact, it’s undeniable that being so far away has fundamentally changed the dynamic that would have existed if we still lived 45 minutes away.

Adults change slowly.  We keep in touch pretty well over Skype, text, email, Facebook.  But babies change quickly, and they only get to know the people who are around them a lot.  It’s hard to have not been there for his first few months, and for the next few months, and for the rest of however long we are here.  I love this adventure, and I am glad that we are here and are doing what we are doing, but I wish we could be having this experience and be about 15 minutes away from our family at the same time.

I am a proud auntie, and I think my nephew is super cool.  Thanks to Adam and Kristin for having him and for being amazing parents to him.  (And thanks for finally making me Auntie Em!)

Lanternfest . . . or not

515I’ve often said that of all the new traditions we’ve discovered in Vienna, Lanternfest is my favorite.  I love watching the kids with their homemade lanterns out in the autumn evening, I love their songs, I love the story of St. Martin and the moral of charity and kindness.  I’m a fan.  Benjamin got to do Lanternfest all 3 years he was in preschool, and last year the boys got to do it together (which I particularly loved).

Because it happens in the dark, it can be tough to see — especially for the kids, who are holding lanterns, it’s hard for them to pick out the faces of their parents beyond the glow of their own lanterns.  So, even though the school practices for a few weeks leading up to it (but only in the daytime), there are always a few of the little ones who dissolve into tears once the parade and singing start.

518It happened to Benjamin his first year — he got freaked out by not being able to find us in the dark.  One of his teachers brought him to us (because, in the dark, it was equally impossible for us to tell that he was the one who was upset) and he was able to finish up the performance, just holding my hand.  After that first year, he was fine.

With Liam, we were lucky, since he had the advantage of having seen the whole thing several times by the time it was his turn to do it.  He was finally getting his wish and was up there with the “big kids”, so he was more excited than worried!  Besides, Benjamin was participating too, so he wasn’t there alone (not that any of them is there alone — there are 60+ kids at the school, plus teachers and parents, but a lot of the kids still experience it as being “alone”).  He did great last year.

527So this year, our collective fourth Lanternfest, and Liam’s second as a participant, we expected smooth sailing.  B was a little sad to not be involved, so we dug out his old lantern from last year and he brought that along to hold while he watched.  We took Liam to his class, dropped him off with his teacher and went to find a good spot to watch the show.

Liam didn’t make it to the show, though.  For reasons I don’t entirely understand, Liam freaked out before it was even time for the kids to line up.  He was so upset that his teachers simply brought him out to us, where we were waiting in the dark.  He was too freaked out to participate.  Last year, we dropped Benjamin off first, so he was unfazed by us dropping him at his class.  This year, I guess the thought of us leaving him inside while we all went out just worried or upset him.  I offered to walk with him, or to stand by him.  I tried (repeatedly) to convince him to rejoin his class.  I reminded him of how much he’d been 551looking forward to it and how much he’d enjoyed it the year before.  He declined.  I was surprised, but he was firm.  So, rather than walking and singing with his lantern, Liam stood with us and watched.

For the second part, where the kids and parents go on a stroll around the block, he was happy to join in.  We all took a walk together and shared a kipferl (kind of a hard croissant) at the end, as is traditional.  Liam was clingy, but happy.  Benjamin was wistful, but also happy.  It was another good Lanternfest, and I’ve officially decided to quit thinking that I have any idea of how these things are going to go from one year to the next.

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Monkipark

Vienna’s winters are very dark, with relatively few hours of daylight.  Between November and February, my kids leave the house before the sun has properly risen, and come home after it has set.  We spend months only playing outside on the weekends, or in the dark (and cold) of early evening.  It’s tough on all of us.  The boys go a bit stir-crazy with tons of unspent energy, bouncing off the walls and bothering each other a lot more than usual, and I get absolutely frozen keeping vigil in the dusky playground while they brave the cold to climb and slide and swing a little.

I suspect that principally because of these long winter months, Vienna has several indoor “play parks”, but, until recently, we had never been to one.  I only had a vague idea of what they entailed, but I imagined massive McDonald’s-play-area-style ball pits and plagues of flu and stomach virus running through the revelers, so we had never gone.  Plus, my kids had never heard of them, so they weren’t asking to go.  I would have happily lived through our Vienna experience, and just skipped it entirely.

But last fall, B and Liam were invited to a friend’s birthday party at “Monkipark“, one of these indoor play places at a shopping mall we’d never been to.  B had heard all about it from the birthday boy, and he was so excited.  I was still apprehensive, but happy to try it out.

445It was not quite what I expected.  It was HUGE inside, and crazy, and chaotic.  In true Viennese style, the parents weren’t particularly hovering over their kids … and there were SO MANY kids, from toddlers to teenagers, running free in the play area.  There was a massive, inflatable climbing and sliding area, where my boys ran first.  (Being me, I did hover, so I went right along with them.)  It was crazy, but it was great fun.  It was like a giant, inflatable obstacle course.  The boys climbed, balanced, swung, bounced, and slid down a two-story-high slide.  And then they did it again.  And again.  And when they got tired of that, there was an indoor climbing wall, and soccer court, a ropes course (which was only for bigger kids), a bank of trampolines and a go-kart track.  And that was in addition to the snack bar and the private party rooms where the birthday boy invited us all for chicken nuggets and birthday cake.  It was impressive, and we all had a great time (though I still imagine that most kids come out of there with some illness they didn’t have before).  We really enjoyed it, and I understand it better now.  And it’s good that we liked it, because I’d put even odds that at least one of my guys will want to have their birthdays there this year.

The light in autumn

The light here is different than it was at home.  The summer days are longer, the winter days are shorter.  The angle of the light changes more noticeably throughout the year — in the winter here, even at noon, the sun is not overhead and we get, at best, a kind of weak sunlight that is neither very cheering nor very warming, even on the brightest of days.  In the autumn, the light is beautiful.  It is mostly golden, and has that wonderful “late afternoon” look all day long.  Everything touched by the sunlight looks like it’s glowing, and the trees, already golden, look like they’re on fire when the light catches them.  Sometime in the fall, the sun stops coming in directly through our kitchen window in the afternoons, and in the mornings, it no longer comes through our living room windows.  We have to wait again until spring comes around again to see it streaming across the floor.  As the autumn moves towards winter, we lose the “afternoon” effect of the light and move into a state where it seems to be perpetually early evening — a state which persists throughout the winter.

Just now, it is spring again, and we’ve begun to get our sunlight back.  Sitting in the living room in the mornings, the sun shines directly on our couch now — something it hasn’t done since the fall.  Just a few days ago, I was suddenly blinded by a ray of sunlight coming through the window, and I had a moment of confusion until I remembered that yes, that is normal — we just haven’t seen it for a while.  Spring is here, and we’re finally getting our sunlight back.

Running shoe shopping

On and off, I’ve been a runner for over a decade.  It started with the bizarre idea that I would train to run a marathon, which I did (and hated, and swore I would never do again).  But though I was done with marathoning, for some reason running stuck with me.  I’ve never quite enjoyed the running — not in the way I enjoy many of the other things I do — but I came to love the feelings I have afterwards:  accomplishment, exertion, challenge, and the satisfaction of having put in real effort and finishing what I set out to do.

I don’t look like a runner.  I can neither run very fast not very great distances.  My accomplishments are accrued slowly, through persistence.  But I do get out there and put the miles in.  After a bit of a hiatus, I came back to running last year.  I started in March, and by the end of the year I’d put in over 600 miles (counting both runs and athletic, fast walks).  I was feeling pretty proud, and increasingly fit.

I also, though, was feeling the pain of incredibly overworn running shoes.  I’ve lost track exactly, but I know for certain that I had not replaced my running shoes more than once since running the marathon … in 2001.  I was in dire need of new shoes, and endlessly putting it off.  I did not want to try to buy running shoes here, where I would most likely have to complete the transaction in German.  I wanted to try and wait until my next visit home, where I know a good place, and where I could make my purchase in English.

But I couldn’t hold out long enough.  By late October, my feet and knees were starting to feel sore, and I regularly had to pause during my runs to try and tighten my shoes — and I never could quite get them tight enough.  I had to admit that I couldn’t wait any longer — I needed new shoes.  I debated getting online and trying to choose some, but my previous experiences of being fitted by knowledgable professionals left me all too aware that choosing the “right” shoes out of a catalog was pretty unlikely.  I was left with only one daunting option — to shop for running shoes in person here in Vienna … in German.

After doing a little research, I was happy to discover that I at least wouldn’t have to go far — there is a good running shop right around the corner, on my block (and technically in my building).  One Saturday afternoon, I went for it.  I went to the shop and looked around, disheartened by the expense (and not daring to mentally convert to dollars).  I chose a few that I liked the look of (though I know that’s not the way to choose running shoes — choosing running shoes can’t be done by look, color or brand, you try them, then you know), and found someone to help me (who, thankfully, spoke a little English).

I discovered a few things.

First, I still have an inclination to choose marathon shoes.  Of all the running shoes in the shop, the three pairs I had selected were all more appropriate for long-distance running than for the short distances I do now. I also discovered that shopping for running shoes here is very much like shopping for running shoes at home. And runners don’t judge other runners the way that non-runners do — just like at home.  When I tell a non-runner that I run, they (always) take a look at my physique before uttering a (sometimes surprised, sometimes impressed) “Really?” (often) followed by, “Just jogging, though, right?”  When I tell another runner that I run, they usually don’t react.  No surprise, no nothing.  Just on to the next thing.  When I explained to the young guy at the shop that I was looking for running shoes, he had not a flicker of surprise or doubt, just immediately jumped into questions about distance, schedule and running surfaces … which was pretty great.

From there, he chose several pairs of shoes for me to try (none of which were ones I had selected), and then I tried them on in turn and ran around the shop — which is exactly the process I was familiar with from home.  (I like it — it’s like when Harry Potter goes to Ollivander’s to choose his wand!)

I finally selected a pair — not at all like the ones I thought I would have wanted — and went home very happy (but also a good bit poorer — running shoes are EXPENSIVE here).  But now my feet and knees feel better.

Saving Sweet Briar

It’s been a rough week.  Last Tuesday, within a single hour, I said goodbye to my wonderful canine friend (which I’m not quite ready to write about yet) and got some shocking and heartbreaking news — my alma mater, Sweet Briar College, would be closing this summer.

“Shocking and heartbreaking” might seem like a bit of an overstatement when describing the closing of a school, especially one I haven’t attended in nearly 20 years and haven’t visited in almost 7.  But Sweet Briar is not merely an educational institution, and its closing is not just the routine or inevitable result of gradual shifts in educational trends.  It is my second home (or, perhaps, now that I live in Vienna, my third).  Dan & I met and were married there.  Dan’s father taught there for many years.  I made many dear friends while I was there.  I learned more about the world and about myself there than I had any idea I needed to learn.  And I received one hell of an academic education, too.

Sweet Briar is a special place.  It is one of a dwindling number of women’s colleges.  Besides being a single-sex college, it is southern, rural and extremely small.  It carries with it an old reputation of debutantes and snobbery — once probably valid but long since left behind.  Those with only a passing notion of Sweet Briar may dismiss it as a “finishing school”, but in doing so only reveal how outdated their information is.

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Sweet Briar is so much more than those labels.  Like so many of my fellow alumnae, I never thought that I would end up at Sweet Briar, or at any women’s college.  I wasn’t “girly”.  I liked boys.  I was a liberal and distanced myself from anything with the label of “southern”.  I was a bright, hardworking kid, and I wanted to put an impressive (possibly Ivy League) name on my CV.  I also didn’t have a lot to spend on college.  When I first heard of Sweet Briar, I dismissed it completely, even though my best friend had fallen in love with it.  I was not interested.  It was not what I wanted.

And yet … the more I learned, the more it was.  The photos of the campus in the brochures were stunning.  There was a thriving equestrian program where I would be able to get actual college credit for my passion.  The class sizes were small.  And, they really seemed to want me there.  From there, more than anywhere else, I was contacted — by alumnae, current students, admissions staff.  I was courted.  I went to visit, and (like so many of my fellow alumnae) THAT was the moment when everything changed.  The campus was stunning — like something from a movie.  The students were friendly — not just to me, but to each other.  The students and the staff chatted together like friends in the cafeteria.  The classes were small … and intimidating, but for all of the right reasons.  The professors asked questions AND THERE WAS NOWHERE TO HIDE.  I saw girls — women — step up and speak out in a way I had never seen before, confidently, respectfully and passionately.  I was impressed and a little awed.  And, suddenly, I was seriously considering a women’s college.

I applied to Sweet Briar, but I was never one for half-measures — I also applied (and was accepted to) 10 other schools.  To most, I got significant scholarships.  There was at least one school on that list that I was sure I was going to attend.  It had everything I wanted.  But then I went to visit, and no matter what my head told me, my heart compared every bit of it to Sweet Briar, and it came up lacking in every way except for its name recognition.  As for Sweet Briar, the financial aid and scholarships they offered were impressive, but not enough.  I was surprised to feel so sad when I called my admissions counsellor to tell her that I couldn’t even consider coming because of finances.  And I was beyond amazed when she called me back with a better offer.   In the end, I narrowed my choices down to 2 — both women’s colleges — and no one was more surprised than I was.  I let my heart decide, and it chose Sweet Briar.  It was one of the best choices I ever made.

It’s not that every moment was perfection.  I had times when I questioned my decision (including a big part of my sophomore year when I seriously considered transferring elsewhere), but the good parts were so worth the struggles.  The students really were kind and welcoming.  The classes really were tiny and rigorous.  The professors really did get to know you — I saw them in the cafeteria, out on walks around campus, and went to dinner at their homes (and if you missed a class they’d call to see how you were doing).  The campus really was picture-postcard perfect all the time.  I really did get to ride for course credit.  The traditions, which seemed odd and a bit antiquated at first, became precious to me, and included me in a long line of brave, intelligent women who had come before me.  I made some amazing friends, and I became one of those thoughtful, confident, educated women who didn’t hesitate to open her mouth and speak her mind.  I loved my college years and I value my Sweet Briar education tremendously.  I have no doubt that I made the right choice, and given the opportunity, I would go back and do it all over again.

But that was almost 20 years ago.

Last Tuesday, seemingly out of the blue, the President of the college announced that the Board of Directors had voted unanimously to close the school, effective late August of this year.  Just like that, this place I hold so dear was dying.  I’d had no clue this was even up for consideration.  The powerful and passionate alumnae network had not been told that there were dire straits.  We were all taken completely by surprise by the announcement, which was put to us as a done deal.  Apparently the college’s enrollment and financials had been on a downward trajectory for years, and, according to the president (sorry — interim president, who has been on the job only 6 months), there was no way to recover.  The school was doomed and the decision had been made to bow out gracefully while the going was still good, leaving students to find another place to finish their education (or even to start it, as acceptance letters for next fall had already gone out), and leaving faculty and staff facing impending unemployment (and in some cases with losing their homes).  I felt as if I were losing a close friend, someone I didn’t even know was ailing.  It was like a bomb went off in my brain.  I was devastated, shocked, confused and angry.

But, here’s the thing.  Remember those confident, intelligent, outspoken women who knocked my socks off when I came to visit the school?  Sweet Briar has been turning us out for DECADES.  And within a day, the shock and tears had made way for outrage and determination.  We’re not ready to say goodbye.  There are thousands of strong, capable women out there who love Sweet Briar, and we’re willing to fight to keep her alive.  There is work to be done, there are questions to be asked, and there are sisters to be helped.  This is what we DO.  This is who Sweet Briar trained us to BE.  This is not where this story ends.

www.savingsweetbriar.com

#saveSweetBriar

Boo!

118As they say, sometimes it’s the little differences that are the most surprising when you’re living abroad.  Not that the big stuff doesn’t throw you for a loop (it does) but the biggest differences are ones you adjust to, or at least come to accept, pretty quickly (because you really have to).

This past Halloween (yep, still writing about last October) was our most successful trick-or-treat experience yet.  There were no tears during the dressing up process (though we did have a last minute costume change), we arrived at a reasonable (early) hour (before the slightly rowdy Austrian teens arrived and coated everything with silly string), we found our way on the first try, we had some very fun and friendly stops at a couple of super festive houses, we met a lovely Corgi named Wellington, and we met up with some friends … which gave us a good excuse to wander back through the neighborhood a second time.  Both boys had an excellent time and kept up their manners and enthusiasm for the whole event (which was a first).  It was a great evening, and the most I’ve been reminded of a true US Halloween since we’ve been here.

With one little exception.

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On average, the costumes here are very much like what you’d see in the US, but skewed slightly less scary — more princesses and fewer witches, more Spider-Men and fewer mummies — I think at least partly owing to the fact that Halloween is just becoming a thing here, while Faschings (aka Carnival), is very popular and has children dressing up in fun but non-scary costumes, and many kids just wear their Faschings costumes for Halloween.

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My spooky family

And, as often happens, kids’ costumes sometimes require props — wands, swords, lightsabers, broomsticks, etc.  Several of the kids (mostly boys) were carrying realistic looking guns and weapons with their costumes.  And that was the difference.  Some kids, dressed as cowboys, police officers, or bandits, were carrying realistic looking toy guns.  And I, with my American cultural background, was absolutely shocked.  Actually a bit horrified.  Here were young kids and teenagers carrying realistic looking weapons.  Didn’t their parents know how dangerous that could be???  Weren’t they worried that someone might think the guns were real and, just maybe, hurt their kids?!?

And, in that horrified contemplation, I truly looked at my own perspective and realized what I was thinking.  No, the parents here don’t “know” that those toys might be dangerous, and, no, they weren’t worried.  Because they don’t imagine that anyone would mistake the weapons as real in a child’s hand, and that, even if they did, no one here is going to shoot their kid.  There actually isn’t anything dangerous about those kids carrying toy guns with their Halloween costumes.  NO ONE HERE IS GOING TO SHOOT A CHILD FOR PLAYING WITH A TOY.  And sadly, that’s just not true where I am from.

Vienna by night

In Vienna, in the winter, so much of our time is spent in the dark, and in the summer, so little of it is.  From sometime in November until early February, Dan and Benjamin are almost never home during daylight hours.  From early in May until mid-August, my kids hardly ever experience darkness — they wake up and go to bed completely in daylight, for months on end.

The transitions to Daylight Saving Time and back happen at a different time here than at home, too.  Not only does that give me two weeks in the spring and one week in the fall where I have no idea what time it is anywhere, but it means we have 3 weeks more of dark evenings than we had at home.  This year, the Monday after the time change in October was a holiday (Austrian National Day) and we celebrated the fact that the whole family had a day off together by spending it at the swimming pool.

We were out most of the afternoon, and when we started to head home, it was already dark, thanks to the time change the day before.  I found it particularly odd and a little disconcerting, in large part because, strange as it may seem, I am pretty much never out in Vienna at nighttime between April and October.  Stepping out of the brightly lit swimming facility into the dusky evening was like suddenly stepping out into an unfamiliar city.  It happens every year, but it always takes me a little time to get used to experiencing Vienna in the dark … and then once I get used to it, I get to spend months getting REALLY used to it.

Just last week, I picked B up from school and we arrived home with enough daylight that we didn’t immediately have to turn on all the lights — for the first time in nearly 3 months.  It’s the first sign that we’re on our way back to seeing Vienna only by day and likely forgetting, once again, what it’s like here in the dark.