Friday, May 31, 2013

Attached to physical possessions much?

Today I cleaned out our closets.

When you move a lot, like we do, you can’t keep stuff. You can’t keep clothes you don’t wear, thinking you might wear them one day, or your kids might, and you don’t hang on to things “just in case,” because shipping fees are really not favorable like that.

So since we are going to the US for a year and have to pack everything away that we are not bringing, I went through all our clothes today. The idea was that we’d only keep things we were prepared to bring to the US, and anything else would have to be pretty darn special to be kept in a box. We already don’t have a lot, but this means that the few extra items that we do have, are extra hard to part with. But, you know; they're only things (or in this case, clothes). So I was doing pretty well, until I got to Maximilian’s drawer.

He’s two months old now, and it’s a steady +80 F degrees outside, which means there are clothes that he has grown out of, and there are clothes that although they fit right at the moment, he will never wear, because it’s too hot. One of these items is the very first baby suit I ever bought. I was pregnant with August, our oldest, and although I didn’t know the gender or our baby, I had a feeling it might be a boy, so I got this soft, very nice baby blue outfit at Inno department store in Leuven. I thought that even if it wasn’t a boy, a baby blue outfit would at least be an original first outfit for a girl. Well; August was a boy and he wore it all throughout those first couple of months, and then William wore it, and Abraham, and Maximilian wore it a few times before it got +80 F outside. And now, I don’t need it anymore, because I will never have a baby again that small.

And as this thought struck me, I stopped stuffing clothes into charity bags and sat down with the outfit on our bed, touching it, smelling it, and I caught myself shedding a tear. A sentimental, silly tear.

Our last baby. Ever.

No need to keep any of our baby newborn clothes any more; not even the ones that have made it all this time, through moves across three continents. The blue outfit, along with the Peter Rabbit one that my friend Ann got me; and that grey one I picked up when I was due with William – they are not needed any more, ever again, by us. 

Oh my.

Just as I looked over at the charity bag, my husband walked in and saved me, “Why don’t we keep just that one, or maybe one for each boy? They can maybe use them for their children, or if not, at least we saved the outfits for them, and they can throw them away during their own transcontinental move?”

Yes! Leave it to our kids to take care of our most sentimental items. Thank you. 

I put it in a box.

Do you keep things around? Why?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

You want to WHAT?!

Submitting to my wonderful OBGYN’s hints that it was time for me to move on and bother another doctor recommendation to see a specialist, I finally went to an appointment today with an expert in wound healing: a plastic surgeon.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. I was afraid he would say that there was nothing he could do, however my OBGYN had indicated that he might be able to cut away the bad scar tissue in the shape of a vertical eye, and sew me back up again, much nicer than before, so I think I was hoping for that. I even glanced at my calendar on my way out, to see what day next week would work best for us.

The plastic surgeon seemed like a good doctor – young, intelligent, friendly, confident – much like my OBGYN. After pulling out a couple of stitches that had made their way up, out of my abdomen, and were poking out of my skin (I know, right?! I mean, really?!) and inspecting my wound, he however gave me some pretty bad news: he can’t do anything until I am 100% and beyond healed, which will take at least six months.

Six months of looking like a freak?


And I won't even be here in six months, so it will be more like in a year.

Double sigh.

But then he told me the good news: when I come back in six months or a year (even better, he said) he will give me a full tummy tuck, getting rid of the scar entirely. Our insurance will pay for it, because of my wound history. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t even sure what a tummy tuck was, and his brief description did not entice me, since surgery right now isn’t exactly at the top of my Things I Want To Do list. But then on my way home I thought about it and how nice it would be not to have to look at this huge, ugly scar all the time. I texted a friend who also has carried and given birth to four children, and her response made me think that maybe it’s not the worst outcome, “A tummy tuck?! You are SO LUCKY!! I want one too!!!” In fact, I thought, if you ask any woman who bears the marks of multiple pregnancies on her abdomen, “How would you like for me to give you a 25-year old’s tummy again?” a lot of them would probably answer in the positive. Then I ran into another friend who made all kinds of exciting exclamations when she heard my plastic surgeon’s name. Apparently he’s quite famous in the region, and people come from abroad all the time just to have him operate on them.

So maybe it’s fine.

What would you do?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cyprus: veni, vidi, vici!

I was a little nervous; about checking in, about going through passport control, about renting a car, getting to Nicosia, managing to pay the passport fee at a bank, finding the embassy... Once we got to the airport and through passport control however, I relaxed. This time I came armed with a residence card for Max and his father’s signature, and was allowed to leave with him - without my master/husband.

The flight went well, as did the car rental. There was a moment there, however. Did you know that in Cyprus, people drive on the left side? Well, I didn't. Thanks for adding that, there, God. As if the whole trip wasn't challenging enough. I am very grateful for my friend, who so nicely came with me for practical and moral support, because driving alone on the left side with a baby - who hates car seats - in a car seat in the backseat would have been... stressful. It took both of our full concentration to navigate from Larnaca to Nicosia; my friend did the actual practical steering of the car, while I directed, “OK, to turn right, you have to turn all the way over to the other side. There, aim for that phone booth! You need to drive right past that sign! Stay on the left side! Here, over here! [gesticulating] Turn around the corner here, and follow the curb.” It really was a work for two. When we finally arrived at the hotel in Nicosia, it was late; we were both exhausted and extremely wound up at the same time. After check-in we went out for some food: pork kebab, tzaziki, taramasalata, Greek bread - and then headed to bed. 

I hadn't slept very well, still a bit anxious to get the paperwork done in the morning, but everything went well. I applied for Max’ Swedish citizenship and a new passport for myself. The Swedish embassy on Cyprus is really small, and the personnel was very friendly and helpful. We were done and back at our hotel room a bit after 10 am, leaving some time for a rest and packing before check out.

Our flight was leaving in the evening, which left us an entire afternoon to visit IKEA (we enjoyed some Swedish food and I bought wine glasses) and go to the beach. It was crowded – a lot of Swedes and Norwegians, burned like lobsters, drinking beer and swimming in the sea – but the sand was soft and the water fresh. Even Max got to dip his little feet in the water. For supper we tried finding a nice restaurant in Larnaca, but ended up driving to the airport and grabbing a bite there. We were both tired and wanted to make sure we had no problems getting home. When we successfully returned the car without a scratch, my friend and I high-fived and hugged from joy and relief. The rental guy looked at us funny. What an adventure.

It was such a short trip, but it felt long, probably because of the stress, and it was great to come home. I walked in the house with sandy feet and a big smile, and Abraham yelled at me for going to the beach without him, but the Swedish candy I had brought quickly made up for it.

My new passport will not arrive for another couple of weeks – it should arrive before we leave for the US, but of course I’m a bit nervous about this – and my VISA interview at the US embassy is tomorrow. I’m praying that they will not give me a hard time and deny/delay my VISA because of my passport situation. We’re anxious to start our adventures, and in light of recent events (the rocket hits), we’d like to leave as scheduled. Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

It's always five o'clock somewhere

It’s one of those days where I find myself cleaning up after breakfast around 11 am – hours after anything was consumed - dead tired. How do they make such a mess every time they eat? When I – to the soundtrack of yelling kids and a fussing baby - put the almost warm milk back in the fridge (hoping it has not gone bad), I find myself eyeing the chilled cooking wine in the door. Oh sweet release.


I didn’t *really* consider having a drink of course, but I thought it would be funny to write (if I ever got a moment); it’s the kind of thing other blogging mothers of lots of kids write at times when things get a little too crazy...

Four boys

You are not hearing from me much, because this baby will not let me put him down. As soon as I place him anywhere – a chair, my bed, his cot, in the car seat - no matter how asleep he is, he will cry within minutes. In someone’s arms, he is the happiest baby ever. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong advocate of baby holding/carrying, but sometimes I just need my hands, you know, to help the other boys, or go to the bathroom, and although the boys are always volunteering to sit and hold the baby, sometimes this defeats the purpose if I’m for example putting Max down so that I can help them with their school work.

Abraham has been a little more demanding than usual these past couple of weeks as well. He’s generally so independent that sometimes it’s easy to – almost – forget about him, but he obviously still needs me; not enough mommy-time is reflected in his behavior. As for the older boys – they’ve been the center of attention a bit lately since we’ve been trying to catch up on school and get them motivated to work among all the distractions. It’s difficult, I know – how can you work when a cuddly little cutie is yelling for you to hold and kiss him all day long? - but they’re getting better at it.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Our perfectly constructed paperwork plan, our beautiful card house

Last week our little baby’s passport was finally ready, and my husband went to pick it up. As soon as I had it in my hand, I purchased tickets for myself and baby to go to Cyprus. No, not as in “Yay, vacation time!” tickets, but as in, “Next step in the paperwork process” tickets. You see, the Swedish embassy in Lebanon and Syria is located in Damascus, and for obvious reasons, this embassy has been closed since, you know, things got heated in Syria. Now, because I only have a Swedish passport and because next time I enter the US I will want to stay for more than the three months the regular visa waiver program allows, I have to apply for a visa before we can leave for the US, and to get a visa, I need a passport that is valid for the entire visa period. My passport is due to expire at the end of this summer. 

In short; I need a new passport before I can get a visa, which I need before we can leave for the US. 

And to go get a new passport, I had to wait for the baby to be born, because remember how I’ve basically been on bedrest since before Christmas? And then once the baby was born I had to wait for him to get a passport, because obviously, I could’t travel without him. 

Once he had a passport I set up my trip to Cyprus, and then I went ahead and applied for a US visa, paid for the application and got my visa interview (which can’t be changed). You see, it will take up to three weeks for me to get my passport, and there was a three and a half week wait list for the visa interview, so I would have my new passport just in time for the interview- and then I would get my visa in time for us to leave for the US as planned. It was going to work out perfectly.

Until this morning.

Last week when we got our baby’s passport we asked the university to get his residence permit sorted so that he could travel with me. (I remembered from our time in Cairo that it was very important the baby had an entry stamp in his passport to leave, even though he was born in Egypt, because they had just had some problems with adoption fraud.) Our AUB representative said however that there was no time to get the residence permit sorted before our departure because of the holidays last week, but that I could just bring our baby’s birth certificate and passport, and that I would be fine to travel like that. So I didn’t postpone our trip and this morning I got up at 4:30 am, nursed the baby, changed my wound and took a taxi to the airport.

Check-in went well but I was stopped at the passport control and ushered into a smoky, 60’s style office. Bare dirty walls, and a big poster of Hariri with Arabic writing on it. They asked about the father of the baby. Did he know I was traveling with the baby? At first I thought, “Surely they’ll let me go in the end. I mean, I have the birth certificate right here, stating in very offical Arabic writing that I am the mother of this child.” Soon it became obvious however that they were not concerned about the baby being mine. The rules and regulations they were following were clearly designed to prevent women from leaving their husbands with their children. “Only the father can go with the child,” the security official told me. I was informed that there was a stamp that I could get at the general security building downtown, which would allow me to travel with the baby. I showed them the birth certificate, and explained to them that I really had to go – that I had been told I could. I would be right back tomorrow. They said that they had no problem with me leaving, but I couldn’t take the baby. This statement seemed just ridiculous to me. The baby would have to come with me, since I’m his mom, right? He needs me, if nothing else physically to survive. Literally. So what were they suggesting? That I leave the baby? I couldn’t believe they were serious. Oh but they were. At some point, I found that I had stopped thinking they were just giving me a hard time, and realized that they were not going to let me leave. I felt a little like Sally Field’s character in Not Without my Daughter in that dirty, bare security office – not allowed to leave the country with my child without the presence of my husband, the father, head of the family; the patriarch. My Sally Field moment. I still tried to argue though, but a superior and several pleas later, I was forced to go back through check-in, cancel my trip and return home.

Our perfect plan, our card house, has collapsed.

Planning for our junior research leave

Sometime during my pregnancy it came to our attention that my husband’s junior research leave was coming up, and that we needed to make plans for when and where we were going to spend this free vacation opportunity. We applied for a few fellowships and research stipends, but thought in reality that we had as much of a chance getting any extra money as we would have winning the lottery. So we started planning for a more frugal one semester visiting scholar position at a university close to family. Around the time the baby arrived we had set dates, connected with a good university, and looked into renting a home. We had also found someone to stay in our apartment for the four months we would be gone. Since we were only going to be away for one semester we didn’t have to move out, but could sublet, with our belongings remaining in the apartment.

Just when we were about to agree with a contact on renting his house near our university of choice, my husband received an e-mail from a reputable university in GA (to be disclosed later) offering him a one year paid fellowship. What? …What?!

Where do we start? First we had to get the approval from the university for a one year instead of a one semester leave. Then we had to sort out the housing situation, which worked out quite well – a visiting fellow at AUB will rent our apartment while we are gone, and we can have it back when we return. The only trouble is that we have to move out and put our belongings in storage while away.

We are currently trying to figure out how and where we can store our belongings.

We have no idea how we’re going to pack up this apartment in just a few weeks.

We are looking for a furnished house to rent near the fellowship university for 9 months. Not as easy as it sounds if your budget isn’t $2,700/month plus utilities.

Our family is searching for a used van that we can buy to use while in the US. I have absolutely no idea how to buy a car, get it registered and insured in the US, so thank God for family.

We are working on the paperwork needed for a family such as ours to relocate to the US for a year (more on this in a different post). You know how much I love paperwork.

We are in the process of buying tickets, with a return date over a year from now. Scary.

So there: stuff going on here, folks. Lots and lots of stuff.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Time and Money

You knew that eventually I would have to make this joke: 

Having a baby is like being in a casino; you lose track of time and money.

Days go by when I just barely manage, always a few steps behind. I sit down with the boys to start the school week on Monday morning, then the baby needs fed and changed, Abraham needs new clothes and a bath because he spent the morning playing with dirt watering plants on the balcony, then I make food, do laundry, and next time I look up, it’s Thursday evening, everyone’s hungry, there are no clean clothes, the house is a disaster, the boys are behind on their math, Abraham is muddy, the baby needs fed and changed, and I’m number 13 in line on the phone with the IRS.

I just wrote this, and suddenly it’s Friday evening. I’m telling you; it’s scary.

Whatever budget we used to maintain before this baby has been completely neglected pretty much since mid-March. Gauze, saline solution, and bandages are very expensive, as are diapers, wipes, and all the extra chicken I buy because I’m always craving protein. All the paperwork (birth certificates, translations, passports, transportation to and from the embassy, visa) has probably cost us more than $1000 alone. We have managed not to order in too much, but have not avoided it entirely. 

A couple of weeks ago my husband started hinting that maybe I felt well enough to start taking on jobs again, but really, I don’t even have time for everything that *has to* be done *right now* so sitting down to work has not exactly been an option. Now I’m starting to feel the pressure, however. 

Must. Get back. To work.