Monday, July 23, 2012

Sluggy Diversions

There's too much awfulness in the world. I can't write about it. Not about Colorado (fires or shootings--take your pick!), not about Syria, and certainly not about the presidential campaigns. So instead I will write about


And I will type that in caps every single time.

Wait, bigger:


I was plodding along on my recovery run today (did I mention I'm training for my first ever half-marathon? I am), and because it's damp (as always) and the light was starting to dim (it was 10:00 p.m.), I took great care to leap over the many many snails that peppered the wet concrete. Snails are okay--they are slimy like slugs, but as long as I don't have to touch one I don't mind them. They politely have a house on their backs to obscure much of their yuckiness, and I appreciate that gesture. Unfortunately, they do make an awful crunch when you step on them and send you into a guilt-spiral in which you contemplate the Snail as Man and Runner as God arbitrariness of it before your Beastie Boys track snaps you back to your task at hand. (I said Beastie Boys because I want you to think I only listen to cool things on my runs. It could be Beastie Boys, but if I'm honest it could just as likely be Nicki Minaj.)

I avoid the snails. To do so, my eyes stay pretty trained on the ground in front of me, just a few feet out. As I was running tonight, my mind when something like this:

Starships are meant to fly-y-y-y. 


Hands up and touch the sky-y-y-y.


But wait! That was no chunky stick. That was a giant monster Estonian slug.


I never stop when I'm running because my body loves it some inertia. If I stop, I can't convince it to seriously get going again. But I was horrified at what could have been--the splat would have been unbelievable--and believed that Husband needed a picture of this thing immediately.

I tried to use my finger for scale, but I was too squeamish to risk touching the GIANT MONSTER ESTONIAN SLUG, so please keep in mind that my finger is about three inches from my phone and another three inches from the GIANT MONSTER ESTONIAN SLUG. To do this thing justice you have to keep the perspective in perspective. I'd say it was easily twice as thick as my finger and about four inches long.


Well, when I look at it now I think this picture doesn't quite convey the gawdawfulness of it. Such giant slugs in such a tiny country! Estonia is 55% forest and 35% slugs! That does not leave a lot of space for the people.

I'm aware the folks in the tropics scoff at my GIANT MONSTER ESTONIAN SLUG. Granted, it is not a stick insect the size of my arm, but it is a helluva lot slimier so that must count for something. The ick factor of a slug is pretty much unparalleled.

And since I know you are wondering, yes the rest of my run fizzled out. It was okay, though, because I was tired of breaking in my seriously tight compression pants and had to send out urgent text messages re: slugs.

Totally worth it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Years are Short

Yesterday was my birthday. In two weeks, we'll have been in Estonia for one year. A day after that, Boy will turn 4.

Four, my God. Four.

There is a common quip about parenting young children: The days are long but the years are short. As I round the bend to completing seven years in this career, I'd posit that that's equally true of the Foreign Service.

There are some days with small kids that seem they'll never end: diapers, tantrums, Dora, playing hide n' seek again, cooking, cleaning, more diapers, administering more time outs than is actually productive, reading a story for one-millionth time. Despite the fact that I average only two full days like that a week, I often catch myself eagerly awaiting bedtime, ready to move from the monotony of play to the not-at-all-monotonous state of watching TV on the couch.

Boy has a new babysitter after school, and on their first day together I hovered a bit after bringing him home, waiting for tantrums or to soothe his new-person nerves. Needn't have bothered. He sent me back to work with nary a wave. While he still has his baby moments, with every day he grows closer to the teenager who won't want me to pick him up from school, to the grown man I'll hope I hear from once a week. Where has this time gone? Why was I ever wishing it away?

I'm sure my parents were thinking something similar yesterday. My God, I get it now. Don't grow up too fast. You have your whole life to be an adult.

When people ask about serving in India, I now have the perspective to explain it in a similar way: it went fast, and was an amazing experience. Each day dragged and I couldn't wait to get out of there. I imagine even the toughest posting goes by in a flash, at least in hindsight. I thought my sweaty Mumbai days, trapped in an apartment with a difficult toddler, would never end. Here we are: 31 and almost-4, with a year in our new home under our belt.

When I consider each previous assignment and place--even pre-Foreign Service--I imagine it a box. It's packed, sealed, done. New York, Israel, Korea, India. Just like Boy's toddlerhood or Girl's infancy. It's over; the crucial memories are packed up and safe, but the details--the stuff that composed a lazy Saturday in Seoul or each day with a 15-month old--they're gone.

I'm terrible with time. I keep thinking I have more of it, and inevitably I blink a few times and understand that a day, a week, a year has passed when I had said I'd get to it in a moment, an hour, the next afternoon. I call it my adult ADD, but the truth is it's just a lack of self-discipline and a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that this moment is all I know for certain that I have.

It's a rare sunny day in Tallinn, and I'm home with Girl, who is recovering from a mild cold. When she wakes up from her nap, I think I'll ditch the usual routine of helping her build a tower while I compulsively check my phone, and take her on a bike ride. After all, tomorrow it might be raining, and soon she too will have left her toddlerhood behind.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Report Cards

I'm having one of those weeks (er...two months, really) at work. We can file certain consular work under "N" for "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished." It is very demotivating.

So! Let's focus on the darling children instead. Nanny returned back to the U.S. on Sunday. Well, more accurately she left for the U.S. on Sunday. Because the airline industry is the airline industry, the fact that I paid more for her ticket so that she could be home in two connections and 16 hours mattered little to the The Fates. She left here at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and finally touched down in Kansas City at about 1:00 a.m. local time on Tuesday night (read: 9:00 a.m. Estonia time on Wednesday). That is one hell of a trip, and my understanding is the fine folks at LOT decided to scream at her instead of apologizing profusely for such egregious cancellations, re-routings, and baggage-losing.

Anyway. Nanny is gone. Girl started Estonian daycare last week, and Husband took this week off to rearrange the house. Girl finally has her own room, Boy moved up to Nanny's room (his own bathroom and everything), and we surrendered and turned the living room into a giant playroom. Seven-year-old me would be so jealous.

Girl is certainly a more relaxed person than Boy, but she hasn't been in daycare since she was a newborn and doesn't yet speak Estonian, so I was nervous. No need. Her report card thus far:

  • Joyful smile
  • Very well-behaved
  • Eats well
  • Dances during music class
  • Naps like a pro
  • Hates to wash her hands or her butt (no wipes, I guess?)
  • Will not walk to the park using the rope; insists on being carried or holding hands
Unlike Estonian children, Girl has not been potty-trained even though she is at the advanced age of almost 19 months. As for the walking, I haven't said anything about it, but she knows adults would normally freak if she walked into the street on her own. When she's intimidated, she wants to be held. I imagine walking down a sidewalk and crossing a street is a bit initimidating. To her school's credit, they aren't too worried about this and noted that she is, of course, the youngest one in the school. I don't want to be the parent who refuses to make the teachers' lives any easier, though, so at the very least we will practice spraying her little tush down with the bum shower (as the men of the house call the very European sprayer). The American in me shrugs at the hand washing and thinks, "She's small! Just make her do it. Ignore the screams," but from what I can tell the Estonians do put a premium on voluntary cooperation. I don't know that my kids are capable of such a thing, but I'll try.

Which brings me to Boy. At the risk of jinxing absolutely everything, we've gone most weeks with barely a negative remark from his teachers. He still gives us hell at times, but more often than not he's just ridiculous. His teacher mentioned the current challenge is his bug obsession. He collects all the bugs he can find on the playground, lays on his back, puts them on his chest, and let's them wiggle around on him. At home, he does such charming things as place two plastic bowling pins between his legs and declare, "My junk has engines!" (a la rocket engines). Someday he will HATE me for putting that on the internet, but I feel like that's his own fault for saying his junk has engines. Actually, at the time I placed the blame solely on Husband having taught him the word "junk" in such a context. 

Maybe it's the sun and the mild temperatures and all the outdoor time that comes with it, and maybe it's that he'll be four years old in just a few weeks, but perhaps we can hope against hope that he's turning a corner. Neither Husband nor I expects that Boy will suddenly be cooperative and have superior (or any) listening skills, but as long as the violence dissipates and the tantrums become fewer and farther between, he's headed in the right direction.

I'll take it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Playing Hookie

I took the afternoon off work today. I'm not sure I've ever done that before--just blow off work (aka "take annual leave") to explore the city I'm in.

After months upon months of No Visitors (no visitors in snowy April? Why ever not?), a long-lost friend who happened to be in Helsinki hopped over to Tallinn for the afternoon. A few instafriends and some fabulous moments involving Ye Olde Archery, Ye Olde Chainmail, and Ye Olde Beers later, I wrapped up my most relaxed afternoon in Tallinn to date.  It was much needed.

Husband and I bid farewell to Nanny this Sunday and our world will change. Not only do we lose someone who has lived with us for 15 months and cared for our kids while being ridiculously funny, but we lose the flexibility of having a night out here and there. Today reminded me that we can still use our annual leave creatively and shoot for an afternoon off once a month or so to just dink around this storybook town of ours without worrying about potty breaks and snack time and other kid-centric concerns. Our kids are the center of our lives, no doubt, but having spent a few hours in the company of some truly intrepid travelers, I'm reminded that this is quite a gift, earning money to live abroad. We should enjoy it while we have it.

On another note, enjoy your Independence Day. I will spend most of the holiday working at two official Fourth of July events, which is the trade-off for earning money to live abroad. It'll be too bright here for fireworks, so light a sparkler for me and grill a burger or twelve. Head iseseisvuspäeva!