Category Archives: Being an Expat

Traditions: Halloween

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This is the first in a small series on Traditions. Since we live far away from all our family we are free to reinvent any and all of our family and holiday traditions.

I loved Halloween as a kid. Favourite holiday hands down. New Zealand does not love Halloween.

I’ve seen people talk about how they leave their sprinklers on all night, leave their dog tied to the gate and so on. To me it’s similar to people blithely talking about kicking puppies. I’m horrified that people hate it so much.

Arguments I have heard against it:

Why are we teaching our kids it’s ok to beg for candy from strangers when we teach them the rest of the time that candy and talking to strangers is not ok? First of all, just what?The idea that it’s begging baffles me honestly.  But Christmas and presents are ok, and celebrating Guy Fawkes is A-OK? Nah, that argument is feeble.

It’s American commercialism being forced on us. It’s about  the least commercial holiday I can think of and the DIY option has always been popular for costumes and yard decorations. Candy not so much, but it’s nothing compared to Christmas, Easter (present baskets are a common thing now, it’s not just eggs and candy), or Valentines Day.

It’s not seasonal. Valid, but yeah, neither is Easter and that’s a 4 day weekend here where things are significantly less religious than the US.

People aren’t used to it so it can be alarming, especially for older people. This is one I can respect. I’m not about to go foisting my preference for Halloween on unsuspecting people. If/when we do get to a point or neighborhood where trick or treating seems ok I will be doing the send a letter around with balloons people can put on their mailboxes if they want to participate thing. I like the idea of letting people opt in.

So suffice to say it’s not really a thing here and while it’s trying to catch on (driven by a retailer or two)  it seems a lot of people are strongly opposed to it. So that sucks. For the first few years of Thing 1’s life we could get by with not really doing anything because there was (and is) nothing much to do and she was little and didn’t know about it. So mostly I was just sad that it’s not acceptable to dress up, and that trick or treating is frowned upon.

Anyhow, this year is different. I’m cautiously excited that we can do something and I won’t have to be sad that I’m ignoring my favourite holiday because it’s not done here. In her three year old wisdom, Thing 1 has cottoned on that Halloween is a thing. And she is excited (because it’s awesome!). So if we lived somewhere trick or treating friendly we would do that. But we do not. I’m not even sure if there are any trunk or treat or other activities on. I’ve seen some non scary costume school fairs and an Indian light show thing (Diwali) that people around here think is somehow equivalent or related (I don’t get it), but nothing free or casual like trick or treating. So she will dress up for daycare.

But what about the candy? Thing 1 came up a few weeks ago with the gem that the monster under her bed would leave her candy. At first I was all D’aww, how cute and misunderstood. Then I thought about it and decided it was a cute idea I could implement. So I have some little pumpkin buckets with a small amount of candy and some glow sticks in them. I will leave them under her bed and she can find them in the morning of Halloween. I think it’s a neat new tradition.

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Have to have two for jealousy control.

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Travel

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So I decided that I would indeed go see my family one more time. This means I am going to make a 24 hour international journey with an 11 month old. Alone. I am not looking forward to it.

I more or less know what to do having taken Thing 1 on a similar journey when she was a little younger than Thing 2 is now. Though I wasn’t alone that time…

My quick list of tips is:

Baby carrier- have one for airport transit. Easy completely off and on is essential for US travel. I like it better for maneuvering than a stroller and it ties into #2:

Pack light. One suitcase, because you will also probably be lugging a car seat, a baby bag and your own carry on. On the topic of car seats, if you don’t have an easily packable one (We have a Cosco Scenera-lightweight and easy to use), or are going to a country with funny car seat laws- buy one. It is cheaper than renting in many cases.  We bought one last time, so are bringing one this time.

Toys. I put all the baby toys on a long necklace. This meant that baby could be worn (in a line for instance), and pick and choose various toys and, this is important, not throw them away. Also handy for on the plane. Loop the necklace over your head or through your shirt and baby has anchored toys that are not easy to lose on the airplane.

Snacks. I pack some, but this time I am going through an additional country where I will have to dispose of my food items, so I’m not packing too much. Keep them all in one place for easy throwing out at the disposal bins before you get to customs.

Your baby bag should also contain at least one change of clothing, nappies, wipes and a water cup or bottle.  And trash bags. Even old plastic shopping bags. Just in case you get some nasty clothing, have to change a nappy away from trash, etc. I like hand sanitizer too.

Things I’m experimenting with this time, I’m bringing a second baby carrier to basically tie my lap child on to me while she sleeps so that I can sleep too. I have some ring sling rings so am bringing a baby blanket and a gauze woven wrap that I can turn into a ring sling in a pinch. Gauze wrap can also be used for snot, drool and vomit if necessary.

Apparently lap children can get baby meals (jarred mush) or child meals as well. My travel agent arranged it this time, last time I had no idea. But if you are doing a DIY trip call the airline to ask maybe.

Travel insurance. Get it.

I anticipate my total carrying load to be, my purse, baby bag, one suitcase, one car seat, and a baby.

Younger babies are easier because they mainly just sleep. When we took Thing 1 she cuddled, she slept and was pretty amiable. I am worried about Thing 2 being slightly older. Our flight timing is not great either, we start early morning instead of later night so I expect a lot of awake baby. Good thing most international flights have free movies.

How the US medical system has ruined me.

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…or maybe it was just growing up poor in the US. Regardless. I have an ingrained reluctance to visit the doctor. It seems crazy to me logically, because for my kids it’s free and it’s not that expensive for me either. I think another thing that plays into it is that I’ve had a lot of problems in the past getting assistance with various medical issues. When I run into dismissal from medical personnel I tend to shut down and stop asking them altogether.

When I was younger we were poor. I didn’t go to the doctor much. I was depressed I think as a child (frequent moving, no friends because of moving, emotional eating, parents divorce etc), but it manifested as a general malaise. I don’t remember going to doctors much (or really ever), but I do remember being taken to a slew of alternative practitioners. Acupuncture, muscle testing, aura viewing and so on were all used to diagnose and treat my malaise. I was diagnosed as allergic to a slew of common things which further isolated me. It’s unfortunate that my mother resorted to this as I think some of the recommendations were harmful physically and medically in the long term for me.

Because of my own medical issues I developed the philosophy that if I couldn’t physically point to what was wrong there was no point in going to the doctor. In my early 20’s I had gone to the doctor for something undefined. I gained around 50 pounds in about 6 months and was alarmed about it. After being dismissed and sent to various specialists, including a gastroenterologist, I had gotten a maybe-yes maybe-no diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome that did not fit the ‘right’ criteria.  I had one medical team ham handedly working on it. They were earnest, but it was over a decade ago (ok, more like 15 years ago) and they were rigid in their diagnosing criteria, which I was not meeting. Then I moved and the new doctor (after a six month wait mind you), insulted me and dismissed me, so that was the end of getting any help for that. I carried on only going to the doctor with issues I could point at and pretty much knew I could get treatment for. Because of the US medical system all this was expensive and led nowhere.

When I was a bit older I took another run at it. Told by a doctor to lose some weight I asked how I could go about doing that. Said doctor was baffled and had no recommendations. I’m sure his thought was ‘durr, eat less?’, but I had emphasized I exercised regularly and watched my intake. I was sent to a nutritionist and she found nothing wrong with my diet. So that went nowhere.  Also the nutritionist trip was very expensive because my medical insurance did not cover it.

After the birth of Thing 1 I went to my doctor four separate times asking for help, only to be turned away with a shrug. I asked for help some other places as well and didn’t get much. I guess I managed so well by myself that ‘keep doing what you are doing’ was the best response anyone could give. it didn’t address the actual medical issue at all, but it allowed us to manage. It was not ideal.

This problem with my attitude came to a head about a year ago when my older child ended up in the hospital. She had had a cold and a cough for a while. It was coming and going, but the cough was ever present. I had taken her to a (different) doctor for her tendency to have a lingering cough previously and been dismissed as ‘slightly wacko first time parent’. As is sometimes the case. So we just let her get worse and worse thinking that a doctor was unlikely to do much of anything. When we took her in that day she had been awake coughing pretty much all night and the day before. We were hoping for some kid okayed cough syrup or something. Instead we were sent to the hospital. Where she was in for two days. On oxygen. So yeah, we felt like scum.

When thing 2 was born I had the same issue as I had with Thing 1, and as a last ditch swapped doctors, who (mainly because I armed myself with information and a request for a specific medication) began treating me for polycystic ovarian syndrome. Woo. So, there is that. It didn’t help the issue I went in for (milk supply), but it is helping another one I had given up on (weight loss).

I’m not sure if it’s just my bad attitude or some kind of institutional bias I have encountered from being female, poor, overweight or having a chronic condition. I feel like if I don’t know what the problem is likely to be then the doctor is a waste of my time, and depending on where you are, money. It doesn’t strike me as that is how is should be. I feel like it’s wrong that I need to either drop hints or flat out ask for specific treatment. Even now that it’s essentially free for my kids to go to the doctor, I balk at taking them. I think I’ll be dismissed or criticized. I put off going for myself as well because I don’t feel like it will do anything. It’s really no wonder that it’s a common thing to wait until a medical problem requires emergency work to get treatment. it’s because people are sensitive to being dismissed. If we gather the muster to seek help we do want to be taken seriously, not shrugged at.

How I fell out of love with my dogs

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Before we had kids we had dogs. We got our first dog when we had been together two or three years in 2002 I think. She was our apartment dog. My husband wanted the specific breed (miniature Dachshund), so we found a breeder and got one. We drove three hours to get her. She was pampered and well cared for.

When we bought a house we got another dog in 2004. Dog number one was a few years old at this point. We looked into fosters and rescues but found the volunteers for the ones we looked at flakey. We ended up getting a puppy from a no-kill shelter. We redesigned our yard to accommodate the dogs. He ended up a lot bigger of a dog than we planned on. We did training and obedience classes.

Then we got serious about moving overseas. Of course we were taking the dogs. My husband suggested leaving them, one with his grandparents, ship the other one to his mother. I was determined to keep the dogs with us. I anthropomorphized them to the point that I thought they would be sad if they were not together, sad if they were not with us. So we did the year of expensive veterinary tests, paid for the pet shippers and the month of quarantine and brought them with us in 2008. That was about $7000.

Once we moved we had to live in some substandard places because of the dogs. Finding a rental with dogs is hard. Dog food was really expensive when we first arrived so we looked into making our own. The dogs came to prefer the raw bones, meat and potatoes we made for them.

Then we had a baby in 2010. The dogs had an ok yard, we had a tiny place, and we all got on. We moved to a larger house with a larger yard for the dogs. We kept on making their food. The baby loved watching the dogs, but we kept them separate. The small dog was untrustworthy and the larger dog was boisterous.

Then we had another baby in 2012. The dogs were secondary to everything else we were doing. They got fed but otherwise we paid them very little attention. We were so busy with kids and life. Really, we did not love the dogs like we used to any more. We didn’t emotionally need them. I guess that means we got the dogs for the wrong reasons, but can you know you will fall out of love with a pet as your life changes? They became more of a hassle. Children grow and change, but dogs do not. We no longer had time for making their food, for taking them for walks, or even for regular playing. We could manage one out of those three any given week. Food was the usual choice. The dogs were just a chore.

So we made the decision to look for new homes for them. I felt terrible about it at the time, but I think it ended up being a really good decision. The older smaller dog went to live with a retired lady. The bigger dog went to live with a single guy. We vetted the people before giving the dogs away and still get updates occasionally.  They did not mind at all being split up and by all accounts are very happy in their new homes.

We moved again after giving the dogs away and moved to a no pet house. When we buy a house my husband says maybe we should get a puppy, but I am against the idea. Even though I know the dogs are happy I feel like we failed as dog owners. We didn’t give them forever homes. We fell out of love with them but stayed responsible. I guess at least we didn’t abandon them or even drop them at a shelter. I’ll never wrap my head around that. I mean we did still want the best for them, we just realized that was no longer us. It would have been an act of selfishness to keep them.

Maybe someday we can get an older dog. Or a cat. Or a fish.

Expat life

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So my grandfather is dying.

This was something we knew we would have to deal with when we decided to live overseas. We both have elderly grandparents with questionable health. I have a nearly 100 year old great-grandmother even.  We have more or less made our peace with it, but when the time comes you still aren’t sure what you will do.  I’m now toying with the idea of going back to see people, but then I have to bring a baby, but not a toddler, where will I stay, how will I get around, am I going to be in the way. I feel like I should come back to be supportive to those who aren’t dying, and also to say my in person goodbyes to the elderly.

We went back to see family two years ago and seeing my side of the family was…disappointing. I felt like we were ruining everyone’s routine the whole week we were there, and then we only got to visit with people who lived an hour or so away for one afternoon the day before we left.  We had arranged the visit months in advance and made sure everyone knew when we would be there. More than a minor let down and does not put me in a hurry to make a 20+ hour overseas journey with a small child to visit anyone anytime soon.

But here I am thinking about it.  I wonder if I’m being petty and I should just suck it up and travel, but then on the other hand,  hardly anyone makes an effort to call us overseas (and by call I mean Skype), and no one called Thing 1 for her birthday. I have sent every one of my cousins wedding and/or baby gifts over the past few years and have had no reciprocity.  Then I don’t feel so bad about not wanting to travel, just sad I can’t really justify it to myself.  Sure, we moved  far, far away, but no one seemed particularly determined to be close anyhow.

Overall we know there was a reason we felt ok about moving overseas. Every time I start to feel a little bad something happens like no one remembering to call for Thing 1’s birthday and I remember why we didn’t feel so bad about leaving.

I know I don’t want to go to a funeral, I would rather see the dying people before they die, but there are other logistical aspects to that. I certainly feel like I will get more flack for not going to a funeral even if  I go to visit before death.

Right now I’m thinking maybe just go for the 100th birthday and if dying grandfather is still alive, see him then. What a terrible rationalization.  Still, does he want to see me beyond Skype? People often become more isolationist when they become seriously ill, and I’m not able to be helpful by being there. I’m not even going to mention the cost.