Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sugar High

A year ago, when we arrived in Tallinn, Boy turned 3, and we didn't know any other child his age in the embassy community. There was one, it turned out, but we didn't know him yet and once we did he and Boy fought every day in preschool, so a birthday party might have been disastrous.

In the past few months, the embassy has seen a number of comings and goings and while goings are usually sad, I'm happy that the comings have ushered in a whole gaggle of the under-6 set, many of whom joined us for Boy's birthday party, together with their parents and siblings, some friends who didn't bring small children but did bring patience and a great sense of humor, and some of Boy's school friends.

Wouldn't pictures have been nice?

Throwing a kid's birthday party is like throwing a wedding. Not in expense, thank goodness, but in planning and managing, only on a much more condensed schedule. As in all things, when I started I fancied myself a Martha Stewart. I had a Pinterest board dedicated to Boy's chosen theme (bugs) and was ready to make jello worms with straws and other various unnecessarily difficult things. Then I started getting unreasonably mad at the sites people have created for kid parties. Why would you put your own label with the party's motif on water bottles? Cover candy bars with a custom wrapper? Put candy in glass dishes and label it bug food? I'm sorry, that is not a container of beetles, it's a container of M&M's, and the sooner we are all honest about that we can stop this ridiculous charade of out-wedding-ing a preschooler's birthday party.

My anger exists solely to justify the fact that Plan Martha Stewart fell apart pretty quickly. I did make the food (no Wegman's to turn to for party platters) and I did slave over a pretty hideous cake. It was made with love, if not precision, and had proper bug-shaped cakes covered in icing on top. My momentary fantasy of designing cakes for a living came to a brutal and sudden end when I realized I am really terrible at designing and executing cakes. I scrapped any attempt at making the food look like bugs.

At any rate, no pictures. The party itself wasn't super labor intensive. Boy didn't flip out and Girl was off shoving sugar into her mouth and then dancing so they didn't need me. I did top off the food table a few times and help some kids who were sad or frustrated. I ran a few activities. I didn't get to eat, because it is like a wedding in that sense, but I did get to chat with some guests (or their parents) I didn't know well and hopefully will get to know better. As a host, no matter how relaxed I feel, I scan constantly, making sure no little one is crying and no adult is left without a pulled chicken sandwich (or vice versa, I suppose). Inserting a camera between me and my AOR just wouldn't work. I've never figured out how to do both.

So, for Boy imagine a skinny child with a Scott Baio haircut (then, not now) in a Star Wars t-shirt fretting about his presents, and for Girl check out the below. That gray stuff on her face is supposed to be chocolate. In your mind, add toddler squeals and singing and some weird gyrations and you've got it. (That's a butterfly on her forehead.)

Now I'm off the birthday hook until December, and Girl won't know she's turning two, probably, so I might be golden until next summer. Remind me next time to stay off the internet.

Friday, August 3, 2012


I walked the aisles of a large chain grocery store today, pulling a few things from the shelves to stock the house of a new family that arrives tonight.


Check, check, check

I remember when we walked into our house for the first time on that sunny evening in August and foods that were basic and familiar in almost every sense were alien in their names. I had spent a year learning the language, and while I knew the meaning of the words, this was the first time I had seen actual Estonian (singular nominative, natch) on something I knew as butter, milk, bread.


When you PCS, kids or pets or both or nothing in tow, you arrive in a place that is foreign and instantly home and new and familiar and exhausting and comforting all at once. You have known for at least a year--sometimes two or three--that this is your destination, that this isn't a two week package tour or a visit to an old college friend. This is home and it was always going to be, long before you even arrived. 

You've probably seen pictures of your housing, or at least heard about it, and unless it's your first tour you can be damn sure you've already seen the furniture. And while you hate the Great Aunt Gertrude gold brocade, it's familiar. You see it and you we go again.

But it's the food that makes you feel like the alien you are, homesick for familiar packaging and ingredients. Butter is butter is butter in most developed nations. Unless it's või or חמאה or a word you can't read but a picture that inexplicably connotes "butter." Maybe it's the obvious--a cow--or the less obvious--a field of flowers or a windmill--but you just know it's butter. And you know that this is what butter will look like, and this is what you will call it, and that in a few years, after you pull your welcome kit back out to sleep on papery sheets awaiting that final PCS flight out, you will stop looking for või and, in all likelihood, you will never look for it again.