Munchkin’s birthday party — last month’s news whose memory has been eclipsed somewhat by more recent events — was as much a celebration for him as it was for us. The birth of one’s first child is a watershed moment: the ultimate of life’s responsibilities suddenly crashes in on one’s complacent, self-centered lifestyle. It’s scary. More than once we caught ourselves doubting whether we were ready, fearing that we might not be.
We had planned to spend last weekend in Ukraine. There was an indoor frisbee tournament at a sports complex outside Odessa, the seaside Ukrainian resort town that is just across Moldova’s south-eastern border. While D played, S intended to do some touristing with Munchkin, with the hopes that D would save a little energy to go out with her in the evenings. Among its attractions, Odessa has an excellent restaurant scene and a well-regarded opera house. Unfortunately, an administrative snafu (emphasis on the last two letters) forced us to cancel the trip just hours before our planned departure.
There is a real art to crafting a good baby book, especially if one hopes not just to tell a story, but also to captivate completely a very young mind. Though the Gigantic Turnip remains one of Munchkin’s favorite stories, it has become clear that his English-language books do a much better job of stirring his imagination than the traditional Russian tales we have in board book form. It is not a matter of language either; when Munchkin hands D his English-language books, D frequently “reads” them in Russian, and Munchkin still prefers them to the stories actually written in Russian.
After visiting us in Nairobi, a friend jokingly suggested that we should print concert-style t-shirts featuring the places we have served as a memento for those of our friends and family members who visit us at every one of our postings. In Kenya, we had hosted visitors nearly every month. Moldova, though easier to reach from the United States, has proved a much quieter assignment, and the potential pool of t-shirt recipients has dwindled from several dozen to just two for now. In addition to S’s mom, thus far only our friend Cam has visited us in both Nairobi and Chisinau.
Living abroad, one has to make adjustments. Sometimes it’s a question of adjusting one’s diet. As S learned during her backpacking days, it can be challenging to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle in much of the world. Other times, it is one’s expectations that require adaptation. For example, in Moldova it is rude to come to someone’s house empty-handed, so no matter how much we insist that people need only to bring themselves, we have come to expect that our guests will ignore our instructions. And sometimes it becomes necessary to change one’s routine or behavior. In Kenya, for example, we never drove anywhere if we did not know exactly how to get there, and at times we took roundabout routes as a safety precaution.
Breast milk vs formula. Sleep training. When and how to introduce solid foods. Having navigated these parental debates and successfully shepherded Munchkin into toddlerhood, we have arrived at the next big parenting controversy, which is somewhat peculiar to our generation: screen time.
Much as we enjoy watching our little man learn to physically navigate the world, the most interesting development, which has crystallized over many months, is how he already has figured out to modulate his behavior when he interacts with us. It almost feels as if he has developed a hierarchy of love, instinctually knowing how to tug at our heart strings to maximize the TLC we shower upon him.
Alfama is a colorful maze of crooked streets that extends down the slope from the old castle all the way to the Tejo River below. There is no better way to catch a glimpse of Lisbon’s soul than by spending an evening in this, Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood, listening to fado.
Crossing the Tejo River and heading east from Lisbon, one enters the province of Alentejo — a sleepy land of whitewashed villages, rolling vineyards, and traditional farming with a focus on cork manufacture and a multitude of pork products. In warmer months, it would make for a great road trip destination for anyone interested in wine, good food, and local culture. As our Portugal vacation took place in January, we simply paid a visit to Évora, Alentejo’s capital city.