Friday, July 5, 2013

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a...???

I have a lot in common with Clark Kent. Well, not a lot, really. But we have both pulled some identity shifts.

Everyone's identity morphs sometimes, to some extent. People might identify themselves with a certain clique in high school, with a profession or a hobby, and/or take pride in an identity as a vegetarian, a fan of a sports team, a resident of a beloved city, proponent of a favorite cause, an expat, a mom or dad. Over the past nine years, my identity, to me, was mostly: mom, then single mom. There have been lots of other components, but that has been the uppermost layer. After O's accident, I was a mom, still, but the 'single' makes a big difference. (Fun fact: In German the expression is not 'single parent,' but 'raising-a-child-alone parent.')

So it feels strange to duck into that phone booth again and essentially adopt another identity once more. But it is time to do so, because many changes are afoot. I am about to no longer be a Single mom. I'm starting again - with a new partner, and even a new baby, due in 76 days (I recommend the "How Far Along Am I?" feature on to all obsessive expectant parents). 

What will this new identity be like? Does a newly unsingle mom just fall into a family pattern of "normal" again, just like that "normal" that eluded one during the nuclear-family-fallen-apart years? Will it be like having PTSD, or having a baby after infertility, which makes one jumpier, more anxious, sensitive and protective than if all had been "normal" all along?  

Maybe there ought to be a trendy media buzzword for single moms who get a new start with a new partner and new kid. There are patchwork families, SAHMs (stay-at-home moms) DINKs (double income, no kids). I'll be on the lookout for a fitting nickname. If you have one, do share.
This kind of 'Superman' I can really identify with.

Guess it will be time to update the blog profile soon. I won't be "thirtysomething" much longer, either....

Friday, December 7, 2012

Make Me a Bird. So I Could Fly Far, Far Away

Note: The title of this post is adapted from a quote from Forrest Gump.

Usually I, as Lady MacBeff-the-blogger, wear my expat mama hat; sometimes the one with the single-mom brim. But today's post comes from the caregiver corner of my hat collection.

The person I give care to is my ex-, my daughter's father, who made a bad call with a daredevil sport in the Swiss Alps seven years ago and became severely disabled. He's now more like my brother. Actually, more like a son; like a kid sometimes, he gets stubbornly fixated on things. And like some with traumatic brain injury (TBI), he can lack awareness of, or interest in, reality - a condition that we caregivers don't have the option to ignore. It can be frustrating because it's like bearing 200% responsibility for everything. But then, one does not want to begrudge someone who now clearly is getting a very raw deal for the rest of his life.

Case in point, O. decided that he WILL take a round-the-world trip for his 50th birthday. O. used to travel without a care. His sibling and parents have travelled the globe. Li'l G and I cross the planet routinely to visit our U.S. family. O. does not see why he shouldn't do this, too. Well - there are, in fact, many good reasons why not; but truth is, none of the reasons is truly insurmountable.

Only, to surmount them requires a heck of a lot more than just calling a travel agent. And this trip... it's so risky. Imagining all the what-ifs makes me want to just crumble to dust. It's unbearable to think of his tragic vulnerability if, say, his wheelchair broke down in Dubai or there were a toileting emergency on a 20-hour flight over Asia, or a real medical emergency or if his passport were stolen. His bearing zero responsibility for dealing with these problems - and not even being able to imagine them or see why he should bother to try - can almost be seen as one of few upshots to his particular brain damage, in my eyes.

Wheelchair Stranded at Zurich Airport
This was the stunning (depressing, apt, ironic, rude?) tag attached at Zurich Airport when one of the few flights attempted since O's accident was cancelled.

So, I'm trying to make this trip come true. Main destinations: Dubai, Singapore, Australia and Hawaii. Because few of us have two whole months free for such travel, let alone the nerves for it, my first task - the one the whole thing hinges on - is to find a person to travel with O.

This must be a person who is pleasant, unshakable and incredibly trustworthy. To say nothing of O's gullibility (like when he recently thought a store gave him a raincoat for free as a present; while I received a $300 invoice a few weeks later), O's very life will depend on this person. I placed an ad in the local university's online bulletin board. I really wasn't sure what to expect in response.

The responses have been overwhelming - both in quantity and substance.

A few are just ridiculous. The ad does mention that a fully paid, business-class trip around the world is part of the compensation package. It's no surprise that this elicits some responses that amount to, 'Sounds awesome. Dude, take me.' Remember, we have to place O's life in this person's hands, so we're not hiring anyone who sounds too light-hearted and -headed. The superficial, greedy-sounding responses make me feel like Little Orphan Annie when Daddy Warbucks offers a cash reward to find Annie's parents, and scores of desperate scam artists line up claiming to be her mom and dad.

Most responses, on the other hand, are sweet and seem sincere. Some are witty and convincing. Some are heartbreakingly moving. Some people just felt compelled to say how touched they were and how they wish O. the best of luck in fulfilling his dream.

If you're interested, here is the ad - mostly in German, with some English thrown in to ensure applicants can really manage an international journey. If you really want to know what it says, ask me or Uncle Google:

Job: Temporär
Begleitung für behinderten Mann auf Weltreise

Wir suchen eine Begleitperson für einen sehr netten Mann im Rollstuhl (als Folge eines Unfalls mit dem Deltasegler). Sein Wünsch für seinen 50. Geburtstag? Eine Reise nach Australien und Hawaii, mit Zwischenstopps in Dubai und Singapur! Wir wollen nicht, dass seine Behinderung ihn verhindert, seinen Traum in Erfüllung gehen zu lassen.

Deswegen suchen wir eine angenehme Person (m oder w), die SEHR vertrauenswürdig ist, und die sich auch 6-8 Wochen Zeit nehmen kann. You should be abe to speak English pretty well, especially so you can support the traveller at various international airports, hotels, with nurses, etc.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy... Nothing Day!

I am almost tempted to blame it on the body snatchers. But I think it's expat-ism that is really to blame for the Thanksgiving that Wasn't.

It is the fourth Thursday in November - it is Thanksgiving, to my mind the most important U.S. holiday! And for the first time (to quote A Chorus Line), I'm feeling nothing.

It's strange, really. Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday; at least, since I grew up and stopped fixating on the big gift and/or candy holidays. Thanksgiving is beautiful, inspiring people to feel gratitude and share love with with their families and friends. The classic T-day feast features the best of American food (except for bagels and peanut butter/chocolate, maybe). And there's hardly any commercial aspect to Thanksgiving (if you can drown out the Black Friday adverts).*

While living abroad - fourteen years total between my earlier stint in Germany and the current one in Switzerland - my heart had always been achey-breaky over missing Thanksgiving, the time with my family and the traditions. A few times, I did up a makeshift Thanksgiving for our tiny family unit in our itty-bitty kitchen with the teeny-weeny oven and refrigerator, And I'm lucky also to have shared many wonderful Thanksgiving events with dear expat friends. Every year, I made my proprietary walnut bread, the one recipe only I was ever mandated to make, since I was 11 years old.

But this year, while happily observing the gratitude emanating online from my American friends and family, I'm feeling that today is a plain, old Thursday like any other. Though I promised my daughter we could watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving** tonight, she decided to play at a friend's house, and that's fine. We had work, we had school and we'll probably have müesli and yogurt for dinner.

Of course, we could make this and have
This letting-go of Thanksgiving Thursday might be the single biggest change I see in myself since living abroad. (Besides, of course, that I now find lukewarm Diet Coke nearly acceptable and don't blink when I see cold fish and cucumbers on a breakfast buffet.)

But I am not sad. I am happy to think of the Americans I love enjoying this special day. I am happy I have to deal neither with Black Friday nor with boring sports on TV. And I'm stuffed with gratitude for many reasons. One of these is a wonderful American-German friend's invitation to celebrate Thanksgiving belatedly on Sunday. We will be a multinational, multilingual melange of 10 adults and 8 kids. The kids collectively are of American, Swiss, German, Canadian and Scottish blood, and there may be more nationalities.

I wonder what Thanksgiving memories those kids will have! Thanksgiving will surely have a much different meaning for them as they grow up, but I hope it will be, to them, just as special.

*Adverts? Did I just write 'adverts?' Good grief, I have been in Europe a long time!

**In 2011, I attempted to latch my daughter and I onto the U.S. holiday spirit by showing Li'l G It's A Wonderful Life for the first time, but it ruined her. She howled with inconsolable sadness for two hours when George jumped off the bridge. So Snoopy it is in 2012.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Missing Person Report

It's been a long time, a really long time, since I've posted. Somehow when I think of writing, I just feel like writing about LK. My randomly assigned college roommate, she became my best friend. The one who drove all night from Maine to Hoboken when my first and only daughter was born. We were maid-of-honor in each other's weddings. Though from the outset we felt like an unlikely match, we discovered that we could just feel comfortable with each other even if doing nothing, that we somehow "got" each other despite many differences. Maybe that makes her a kind of soulmate?

I don't want to be maudlin and depress people who might read this, and I don't want to overshare on very personal matters, but... (read: That's exactly what I'm going to do here.).

A year ago yesterday, my friend died at age 36, after saying good-bye over the previous weeks in her hospital bed to her husband, her two little girls, her parents and siblings and friends.

She's still the one I have an urge to e-mail or call when something happens. I think of her all the time; for example:

- When the seasons change.
When spring and then summer rolled in this year, and I hauled my daughter's warm-weather clothes up from the basement, I missed her. Many cute items were presents from LK, a children's-clothes connoisseur with a nose for sales, or they were hand-me-downs from her older daughter. This is the last year that will be the case, I guess. LK loved the seasonal changes of wardrobe, especially to cheerful spring colors and then to cute or flowy or strappy or rainbow-colored summer dresses.

- When the air gets crisper in autumn.
When the air was chilly, but the sun would heat the top of your head while outside or your forearms while driving, LK loved to pack up her pro-camera and go apple picking with the gang, or browse pumpkins at a farm store outside of Boston. She showed me how to cook applesauce with delicousness that one doesn't normally associate with applesauce. (Apple cider and honey are the secret ingredients that stuck with me.)

- When bright uniforms and flags of red, white and blue stream down Main Streets all over America.
The founding fathers didn't mean for the 4th of July to have a preppy flair, but LK appreciated that aspect of it. A child of New England, she always felt cheered by the holiday's patriotic Americana.

- When I do the laundry, especially if I toss in a Color Catcher.
An intellectual who also had an insatiable appetite for a certain vein of pop culture, she was an avid reader of Consumer Reports. She had devoured all available research on the optimal way to do laundry, down to water temperature and top-rated products. Also, she was addicted to ironing. (I told you we were different in a lot of ways, didn't I?!) Many a time when we hung out, chatting in person or on the phone, she would be ironing.

- When her tween daughter sends me a message in totally teeny text-speak.
I picture her trotting through middle school, which she started while her mom was in the hospital for the last time. I imagine her helping her little sister get a snack after school, maybe. My friend's daughters, two little blondies, are both chock full of personality - a bit like their mom. I wonder (a little anxiously even - for my friend's sake, because I never was a clothes horse) what her girls are wearing for school pictures.

- When I see professional photographs of families or children.
LK learned photography with her typical zeal after her first daughter was born. Her sharp eye honed right in to critique other work or learn from it. Catchlights visible? Family members wearing clashing clothes?

LK shot so many gorgeous portraits of my daughter as a little one, and my young daughter's big smiles at our dear friend behind the camera were genuine.