I Have (Expat) Mom Rage

 

2014-06-06 17.20.57What now feels like a gazillion and a a half years ago, I gave birth to a baby girl in Vienna, Austria. (That’s her about to fall out of the sandpit.)

A few weeks ago, the lovely and brilliant writers/podcasters Edan Lepucki and Amelia Morris interviewed me about the joys and travails of having a baby abroad for their fantastic podcast, Mom Rage. We talked about everything from figuring out how to find a doctor in a foreign country, to the fantastic maternity leave policies, to the Austrians’ very entrenched ideas about motherhood. It was a total joy to chat with them. You can listen here. (Interview starts around 29:00, but do listen to it all; their banter at the beginning is always one of my favorite parts.)

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The Baby Villa, where I gave birth.

If you listen along and think, I must move to Vienna and have a baby! (I do recommend it), here are a few essays I’ve written on the subject (not sure whether they will convince or dissuade you, but anyway, you decide):

I Had a Baby in Europe; Here’s What It Did to Me

This Was Us: An Expat’s Search for Home

When a Child Speaks a Language You Don’t

Finding the American Dream in Europe

xoxox

 

My Kid Speaks German! I Don’t!

My Kid Speaks German! I Don’t!

Today I revealed that I don’t understand most of what my daughter says speaks German. Luckily for her, I don’t. Motherhood is so complicated.

Head on over to the Washington Post for my take on language acquisition, the power of circumstance in shaping parental identity, and children’s earliest individuations — or, put more simply, on being the dumb American at my kid’s daycare.

xox

The Ambivalent Expat

I wrote a piece that I feared would offend everyone I know about life as an expat in Vienna. Luckily no one has written me hate mail who was offended has told me so! Yay!

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(Life as an expat: Lots of dirty baby clothes. No dryer.)

***

When my husband and I moved to Vienna, Austria, two years ago, we were frequently set up on friend dates. This is par for the course for a new expat — someone hears that you’ve moved to some faraway city, and their coworker’s cat’s former owner’s cousin always knows someone who — can you believe it? — just happens to be your neighbor. No matter how outlandish the setup — they were born-again Christians or Hassidic Jews, they were hated by the very people who’d put us in touch — we always went.

After these meetings, I would invariably turn to my husband and say: We’d never be friends with these people in real life.

Real life: this was my phrase. Not in New York, where I had lived for 12 years, or the vague back home, but in real life, as though I had skipped a track and found myself in a different, parallel universe.

Read the rest on Medium!

xoxo

Happy Pesach! Or As I Like to Call It, Thanksgiving.

As most of you know, Passover is all about deprivation, although of a lesser kind than at Yom Kippur the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. It is about getting drunk and sitting through the most drawn out, hunger-inducing meal of the year eating a lot of crackers Matzoh, and forcing asking the youngest child to open the front door for a ghost or a stranger Elijah. It is about spending a long, boozy evening with your extended family, or if you live abroad, your four wonderful Jewish friends.

Over here, at our house, we also think of it as Finding Your Spouse Day.

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We think of Passover as a kind of Thanksgiving, a moment to reflect on all we are thankful for — or as a kind of Christmas (well, not as Christmas because we’re Jews, but some equivalent holiday where magical things come true and you get lots of presents, and no, Hannukah doesn’t count). In any event, it’s a significant, beautiful holiday for us. Our favorite. Proof that Hashem love and the internet are real. That one’s bashert might exist.

This morning (and by “this morning” I mean 5:30am when the sky was utterly black) when I looked at our daughter (who, by the way, has decided to no longer sleep through the night because I made an official declaration that she was doing so), I thought, Why the hell won’t you sleep through the night anymore? Thank God for Passover (minus the enslavement and exodus), because without it, you wouldn’t be here!

Seven years ago, when I still had my nice, pre-baby figure was a lonely, single New York City girl, I was Seder-less. A wonderful friend urged me to host a goy Seder. I did. Then I wrote about it. Fast forward many, many years and a random man across the world read it and wrote to me.

And now we are three.

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The short version of this story is here.

The longer one (complete with an incredibly embarrassing video) is here.

The original piece is here.

The moral of the story is: write about being single and someone might take pity on you and marry you Passover really is about finding (or, you know, giving birth to) your chosen people.

May it be a happy, healthy, beautiful one for you and yours. Next year, in Brooklyn Jerusalem!

xo

PS: We’re bringing the little lady to her first Seder tonight. Wish us luck.

 

 

 

The Waiting Game

What does one do at 1,000 38+ weeks pregnant? This is an honest question. I am sure I am doing something wrong. My list includes:

  • Watch reruns of Homeland and weep (over what, exactly? Brody? Carrie’s insanity?) Apply for a Fulbright.
  • Buy a diaper genie and some diapers, while I’m at it Work on the book.
  • Enjoy my last few nights of getting up to pee every hour still not being able to drink.
  • Take a long nap walk.

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Obviously I’m conflicted. Here in Austria, most women go on you’re too huge and tired to work anyway so go home Mutterschutz at 32 weeks. This means they are legally obligated to stop working — so obligated, in fact, that a friend had her phone and email shut down by the company she works for on her last day. On a scale of Austria to America, this is a wonderful thing.

To be honest, however, I’m not exactly sure what the time is for (who am I kidding? It’s for watching Homeland) but it is certainly a much-appreciated gesture that acknowledges you’d rather not go into labor at work how much your life has already changed, with a nod toward the fact that it’s about to change a hell of a lot more. In other words, you might want to spend the next two months sleeping preparing for it.

Have I mentioned that you get paid while on this little “break”?

This is so un-American it almost makes me never want to go home uncomfortable. These days I don’t have a fulltime job, so I don’t get paid to buy a stroller this little Austrian benefit doesn’t really apply to me. But I’ve tried to go native, at least psychologically speaking.

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But it is harder than I imagined to do nothing — or rather, to accept that there is this reprieve, this break, in which you are meant to prepare for the biggest change of your life. In which you are meant to prepare by doing less. By slowing down. By putting your pregnancy, your impending motherhood, before everything else. Any mother in the world would say to me  — and many of my own friends have said — WATCH TV. SLEEP IN. REALLY. DO NOTHING. LET YOURSELF OFF THE HOOK. And yet, to misquote Colum McCann, the great world keeps on spinning, whether you’re pregnant or not. My husband goes to work every day, as he did last month and last year, and I have the nagging feeling that I should be doing the same (because back home I probably would be doing the same). But his mind hasn’t left the building He keeps writing and reading and pushing himself to get as much done before the baby comes, while I take a guilt-filled nap every afternoon.

I know that soon a leisurely day in bed will no longer be possible — but what happens next is so utterly unimaginable that it’s almost comical. I’m not even sure what metaphor would apply here. When else are you so completely on the precipice of something so hugely unknown and life-altering in so many ways? When you have to live with the mystery and wonder and instability and joy of not knowing when this will happen, and how, and who will come out the other end, and what life will look like afterwards? I keep thinking of something Cheryl Strayed wrote as Sugar about the birth of her first child: “It was a penetrating, relentless, unalterable thing, to be his mother, my life ending and beginning at once.”

What does it feel like to have your life begin and end at once?

These questions are almost too much to ponder. So instead I’m spending my time learning to bake delicious things I still can’t eat.

But I will let you know.

xo

Tea Time.

People, we have reached the stage where everyone here in Vienna is asking me, “Haven’t you had the baby yet?” “Have you started drinking the tea?”

To which I reply, of course, “40 weeks is ACTUALLY TEN MONTHS. IT’S A VERY, VERY LONG TIME.” “What tea?”

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Apparently once you hit 34 weeks, it is customary to start drinking mysterious teas that you must go to a special Apotheke to get. These aren’t of the standard raspberry leaf variety that you can pick up at any health food store and have been put together by, say, Lipton. You also can’t get it at a BIPA, which is akin to a CVS. From what I can gather — which, let’s be honest, is usually not the whole story — these are special concoctions made on the spot for you by a pharmacist/magician in an off-limits back room. My midwives gave me a whole booklet of items to ask for. It took me three hours of translate the seven-page leaflet and includes a recipe for a power bar I am meant to eat while half-clothed and screaming my head off in labor.

A list of concoctions I should be consuming.

I first heard about these teas from the women in my lovely Pregnant-and-Uncomfortable Ex-Pat-Ladies Weekly Bitch Fest Mom’s Group — a lifesaver, really, so far from home — since most of them are due a few weeks before me. Sitting around at a juice bar staring in jealousy at the ladies sucking on fresh Apple/Mango/Celery Drinks drinking water (because of my borderline Gestational Diabetes diet I can drink nothing else), I would hear them ask over and over again, “Are you drinking the tea?” and also, “Have you started acupuncture?”

In New York, I was addicted to acupuncture — in fact, I had the best acupuncturist ever — but I have yet to try it here, mostly because I am terrified of letting someone I can barely say hello to stick a needle in my ass/forehead/armpit. Back home, if you were to tell your O.B. that you were doing acupuncture to induce labor, the doctor would probably laugh at you might humor you.

Here it is standard practice at the end of pregnancy. In fact, you actually do it at the hospital.

Let me tell you what else is standard practice:

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This massage oil goes you know where.

According to my midwife — who got into a squat right in her office and demonstrated the technique for me — this makes labor easier because you’re all…oiled up. She also said that starting at 34 weeks, I could do it with Olive Oil.

There are so many reasons I am happy to be giving birth in Europe even though the Austrians won’t give the baby citizenship and apparently the nurses in maternity wards give newborns fennel tea — FENNEL TEA!!!: A midwife-centered birthing culture, Kindergelt (a monthly allowance for each kid), free health insurance, a law that makes women stop working up to two months before the baby is born, and a standard one-year-long paid maternity (or paternity) leave. But mostly for these hilarious moments. How often does someone tell you, with a totally straight face, to get your husband to massage olive oil up there?

xo

PS: I realize I’ve been woefully bad about updating you on the pregnancy. This is out of sheer laziness wanting to keep some things off the interwebs. If you’re feeling like the last time you checked, I wasn’t pregnant at all, here are two posts to get you up to date: Number One and Number Two.