We’ve been here for a month now, I can hardly believe it. Some things have gone by SO fast and others have dragged out and taken forever. The ideas I had of where I’d be and what I’d be settled with and what I would still be struggling with far differ from reality.Certain things I thought I would miss dearly, and others I didn’t think about for a moment, turns out I am no good at predicting the future. So, in no order, here is a list of things I really do miss, and a list of things I could live without.
Things I miss
- My dog. There’s something about coming home and dumping all your bags of crap inside the door and being greeted by someone who is so incredibly happy to see you that feels like home. I miss walking her even when I didn’t want to. I miss watching her find the perfect play partner at the dog park and getting dirty with said dog. I miss watching her run her heart out fully encompassed in joy. I miss bathing the dog park dirt off of her, and I miss giving her treats in exchange for the most ridiculous tricks.
- Knowing what to put on a pizza. Seriously, I don’t even care that the majority of cheeses out here are goat cheese, I love goat cheese..I love cheese, but using it in recipes in a way that makes sense? I have yet to master the tastes and placements. I’m not used to the cured meats I see around here, none of them taste familiar and I wouldn’t know how to use them in a recipe if I tried. You know how you can walk into a grocery store and find those little recipe cards with meal ideas on them? I need those, for things I can buy in the market around here. In english.
- The many aisles of OTC drugs in stores. If I know what I’m looking for and what dosing I’m comfortable with, why do I have to go and ask for it? Can’t the pharmacists just make themselves available? Is it really necessary that every little bottle of Advil and cough drops be kept under lock and key? Do I really need to discuss my probiotic needs with somebody? Cant I just read the boxes and decide for myself? It’s SO much easier to understand when I’m looking at the words with a moment to think than when they are thrown at me super fast while I’m at the front of a line of 15 people.
- Picking an easy dinner. I was really sick last week, REALLY sick, I told the kids I didn’t have it in me to make dinner, we were going to sit somewhere or pick something up. After walking around for about 30 minutes, I gave up, bought a box of spaghetti and died a little inside. It was a Monday around 4:30pm, so none of the restaurants were open yet (They typically open closer to 7pm) and because it was Monday, most of the quaint little sandwich and snack shops were closed. It crushed my soul that I couldn’t just say no to cooking. (I have since found a place that sells frozen foods, never have I seen a frozen lasagna for the miracle it is!)
- Asking for drugs. I have a medical condition that occasionally requires prescription pain killers. At home in Canada, I run out, I get more, easy peasy. Before I left I visited my doctor and told him what I needed and in what quantities. The only thing he even questioned was the pain killers, and if I’d chosen enough. I don’t take them on any sort of regular basis, some weeks I might need 8 doses, and then I may go 6 weeks without needing any. He told me I should have more, I told him I’d averaged out my usage over the last six months and thought I’d be fine. The prescription he ended up writing for me was about 1.5 times as many as I’d asked for and I am thankful he did, every time I need to open my bottle I wonder if they’ll last me the entire trip, what I would do without them, and how it would look asking another doctor, who has never seen me, for pain killers. Honestly, I was scared about customs, I was scared about going through 3 countries with narcotics (despite the prescription), I shouldn’t have been, nobody even looked at them.
- Moms, on the playground. Seriously, I miss every one of you, even the ones I only talked to only once in a while. When I pick up my kids, I don’t say a word to anybody. I have, three or four times, approached other parents and asked them things to start conversation. It took a lot of courage, there were language barriers, but every time I was left feeling even worse. Turns out they aren’t very approachable, maybe I should have greeted them with a kiss the next day? Good lord, those kisses. A little small talk goes a long way. Asking about the upcoming project/field trip/ other happening at school, goes a LONG way. AND THE PLAYGROUND, MY GOD. I pick my kids up from a giant gate in a dirty, smelly alley. When your child exits, you leave. There is no standing around while the kids play and burn off energy, no chatting while the kids run through the field, no place to have a snack and enjoy being outside for a few minutes. I never realized how nice that part of my day was.
- My tutor. Learning french here is not what I have expected it to be. Yes, I have picked up a lot, yes I am improving everyday, but coming across things and googling it later is not the same as sitting down with a native speaker and asking the question in your own native language. (Actually now, I found a tutor! Kyla, myself and another english speaker sit down once per week with our new tutor and she is FANTASTIC. She has taught french in a classroom setting and her english is great, plus she knows the area, so she can answer a lot of my questions about how the hell to make life bearable, yay!) I can learn an endless amount of vocabulary but grammar doesn’t exactly come naturally through speaking and listening.
- Pools. Now that we all have our mandatory swim caps and Kaleb is set up with his tight, skimpy, mandatory european swim suit, turns out a lot of the pools around here are for lanes and lessons, NOT to play in. Kaleb is currently in lessons with school, so he’s the only one of us who’s seen the water, despite promising my kids that was going to be one of the first things we would find in the city. Know what would be a great rainy day activity? Swimming.
- Big Box stores. Do you know how often I buy toilet paper? In Canada, I buy giant quantities of my favourite toilet paper whenever it goes on sale, sometimes it seems as thought I have enough to last for years. Here, I buy two or four rolls at a time. It’s the only quantities I can find them in and honestly, I cant carry much more than that and lug it back home. Same goes with many other things around here that we use on a regular basis, small quantities means buying more often. And yes, I have actually found a big box store, it sits on the edge of town a long bus ride away and hardly seems worth the trip, especially since I can only fill my old lady cart and a backpack, just to hop back on the bus.
- Being normal. Sometimes, being the obvious outsider gets old. There are times that people start with speaking english to me before I even speak with them, I want to take offence and reply in French, but most often it’s times when I feel lost and confused, and know they are just trying to help. It’s walking into the post office and wondering which of the eight lines I should be in, and needing to go to the front counter to read the signs of each line before I figure it out. It’s getting in line to pay for a purchase and being told to go to the other cashier, getting there and being told to go to a third cashier (Is this a joke? Are the employees trying to send each other difficult customers? I only have one item and have no questions What is happening here?) My kids feel it when they’re asked what level of swimming they’re in, or when they’re asked to multiply xx by yy, We feel it when we’re walking down the street and somebody talks towards us, we didn’t understand what they said but they’re making eye contact with us, do we say pardon? Do we ignore and walk away? Are they speaking to us or into the headphone mics everybody uses with their cell phone, all the time. It is felt when you’re half way through a great burger lunch and you look around only to realize that everybody here is eating burgers (and fries!) with a knife and fork. Oops.
- Coffee, to go. One does not grab a coffee and head out the door here, coffee, like many other things, is an experience, not something to be rushed. Which I can appreciate, honestly, but sometimes I dream of drinking an almond milk latte (yeah, also you can’t get a latte here, lattes are a breakfast drink you make at home, not something you can order anywhere) and window shopping all the crazy and wonderful shops around here. But I have yet to grab myself a thermos mug (Not surprisingly uncommon around here) and you just can’t buy a coffee to go.
- Milk. My kids and I no longer eat cereal. I’ll avoid any dish that has a strong milk component. It’s cheese juice. It’s watered, powdered blue cheese and gorgonzola juice. Surprisingly enough, it’s ok in coffee, so I buy 500ml and it goes bad before we finish it.
- Teachers. In all the years my kids have been in school we have been very lucky with teachers, I can think of only 2 I would have changed if I knew then what I do now, and I would kill for those teachers right now. Empathetic, caring, goal setting teachers. Knowing what’s going on in the classroom, knowing I can contact the teachers about any little thing and get a response in a way I appreciate, I think I maybe have taken that for granted for a while. I have always said that teachers and nurses are under appreciated, but I’ve never realized how great we’ve had it. In Canada, if a teacher told one of my kids to shut up, I would be pitching a fit, and it would be heard, here, it’s a daily thing for a teacher to say shut up to the class. Seeing the teachers get physically rough with students scared the crap out of Kaylee. Kaleb seems to have a great teacher, he is comfortable, engaged in his school work and gets a lot of help on things he doesn’t understand. Kaylee asks for help with math and is told “Forget it, go practice cursive since you can’t even do that.” It took a lot of communication, frustration and fear to get to today, the first time ever Kalyee said she got help in class and had a good day. Lots of adjustments to be made.
- My Husband. Best for last. I miss him in the most obvious way a wife who is apart from her husband for long time would, without a doubt, but I also miss him in less obvious ways. I would not go so far as to describe myself as a single parent, I have the love and emotional (not to mention financial) support of another person who loves me in a way nobody else on the planet does, but I have never had to be ON so much as a mom. There isn’t many times I can just hand my kids off. Having a friend here helps, yes, but I would never call up Kyla and say “My kids are being crazy and contrary, They need to be in their jammies and put to bed ASAP, I’m going to have a cold beer in a hot shower before I cry from frustration, good luck.” Not that that was a regular occurrence, but it was nice to know it was always an option. We had weekly meetings where we looked over all of our finances, our calendars, and brought up things we’d been pushing to the back burner. We’d watch a show, together, every night before bed while snuggling, and we’d decompress by talking about our days. Now, I kind of wander around a dark and quiet apartment, watch some mindless crap on Netflix (guess who’s running out of english shows) and eventually surrender to my bed (Which, I actually don’t mind having all to myself to be honest). It’s lonely.
Things I do not miss
- Packing lunches. No, seriously. My kids get fed a full, well rounded, healthy meal EVERYDAY (uhh, every school day anyways). No scrambling if I missed a shopping trip, no barely eaten lunches that we argue about, no wondering how much packaged food I can put in lunches before the guilt takes over. My kids are also being exposed to new foods, and trying them all and loving some. You love Creamed spinach? Who knew! A full hour to eat it all? “I didn’t have time to finish my lunch” went from being a daily excuse to an extinct sentence around here.
- A 2:30 pick up. All the moms from our Canadian school reading this, go ahead and cringe. You know how sometimes you thought “If I just had one more hour, I could get so much more done” Well, it’s true. 8:30-3:45 is a dream, and I feel like I have SO MUCH time during the day, I have never, not once, felt like that since my kids started school. Maybe it’s all relative, maybe the moms around here would kill for an extra hour, I don’t know, but right now I am totally digging it.
- My car. Ok, besides the big box store thing. Also, I’m in a city that was not built around the use of cars, so it’s SO much easier to walk around for everything you need. Suddenly I get those crazy people who say cities shouldn’t include cars. Even with a knee injury, I didn’t mind. I did mind the stairs, but I didn’t miss my car. I bought the kids scooters last week and guess what? They are a tool dressed up as a toy. Asking them to walk 45 minutes to a park? Torture. Want to go scoot around for 2 hours? SCORE! I see Adults on scooters everywhere here too… Honestly, I’m considering it. That, I did not expect.
- Flight costs. I’m going to Spain next week. It wasn’t in my original plan, and wasn’t in my original budget, but a 20 Euro flight? Sure, no problem, let’s go see Madrid and Granada, why not. I couldn’t fly to Edmonton by myself for the price my kids and I are paying to go to Spain and back. (Just kidding, I haven’t checked flight prices to Edmonton, why the hell would I ever do that?)
The day before we left a teacher at our Canadian School (another awesomely amazing teacher) from Belgium looked me in the eye and said “It’s a different culture” in a rather serious tone. We had a quick chat in the hallway and said goodbye, I didn’t think a thing about it at the time, but those words repeat themselves in my brain often, I see his face, I hear his voice. Was he trying to warn me? Was he excited for me? Was he trying to prepare me? Was he just trying to make small talk because I was holding him up after instruction hours? I don’t know, but he was right, it is different, all day, every day, everywhere I go, everything I do. It is a wonderful, exciting, amazingly soul crushing experience and I am so lucky to be in it.