Summer Boys

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Our summer has been a wonderful whirlwind of friends and family.  The best part about living in Vienna is that everyone visits us!  We really should buy a house here.  Jake and Eli have figured out how to do passport photos now at their travel agency, and our home is filling with memories.  I wish we could live here forever.

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As the kids get older, our days take so much less effort and feel so much more fun.  One weekend Oma and Opa took the boys to Hallstatt, which briefly turned Mike and I into fish out of water.   We slept in an extra hour and talked over coffee, and there were no shoes piled by the door because nobody was forgetting to put them away.  I remember garlic cream soup and dressing up for an Embassy party, and not washing dishes for three days!  We sipped Riesling spritzers at Mayer am Nussberg and took a bike ride down the Danube.  It was peaceful, and fun.  We really like each other when the kids aren’t here!

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But the house is so…. quiet.

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There is a coziness about a bathroom cluttered with trucks and plastic dinosaurs, and nerf bullets in every corner of the living room.   What could be more fun than watching Jake and Eli light spa candles and give the cat a bath?

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Without Jake, who keeps up the dinner journal?  His neat and careful lists are interspersed through the pages of my notebook.  Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, tagliatelle con scampi, and pizza margherita from our last trip to Giuliano’s.  What a cute little person.

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Eli’s thoughts are scribbled in my notebook too.  “Sometimes it feels good to have a bug on your lips.”  “This summer, Gussy is going to Gussy Camp.  We’re going to train him to play Gussy Ball!”

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Without them, no one is around to make drinks at Happy Hour.

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Or laugh at the funny shape of this plum…

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Or convince us to rent these 6-person bikes at the park!

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As part of their summer responsibilities, Jake and Eli practiced their violins and took out the recycling every day.  Grandparents were here to make popcorn and stay up late watching movies.  Mike and I worked at being Mom and Dad, and all the mountains of laundry that go along with it.   More fun than any summer yet!

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Although they also grew up a little, and we’re learning that some things are harder than laundry.  Jake and Eli are nearing middle school, with the deep feelings and thoughts that require more than a cookie to fix.  “When do we get our own iPhones, mom?  All of our friends are doing WhatsApp!  Can we watch a PG-13 movie?  When do we get to download Fortnight?”

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Asking me to be okay with them on the internet and social media is like asking a four-year old if he’s ready for a shot.  How do I explain that the answer is NEVER!  Why can’t I keep holding you tight, like you’re still my babies and nothing has changed?  How can I say it’s okay to start gaming online, when I’m still stuck in a version of the world that includes texting in complete sentences?  I guess Fortnight is okay but it seems weird to play a game where you kill things.  Can’t we just go ride the swings?

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I just want them to be normal 10-year olds and do normal 10-year old things.  Excited to see castles seems reasonable, but living in Europe means they’ve seen about ten castles too many.  Their favorite part about traveling isn’t castles, but riding around on the luggage cart and getting to have Coke on the plane.

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They still like petting cats and climbing on concrete things.  Why do they need the internet?

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I wonder how they would fit in with 10-year olds back home?  It seems like everyone in America is eating kale and quinoa.  Is that true?   Our definition of American culture involves Eggos, McDonald’s, and making sure our kids can distinguish between tortilla chips, Doritos, and Fritos.  Our Austrian friends think they’re all “just corn chips,” the blasphemy.  What else about America are they missing?

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As their thinking grows deeper and their observations more acute, Jake and Eli realize that some people have bigger houses, nicer cars, more expensive clothes.  They’ve made the connection between higher income and bigger birthday parties.   They notice that some kids get more screen time and their own iPads with unlimited play after school.  Other kids get junk food in their lunches.   “Why can’t we do that, Mom?”

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These things are not really about culture or income, but about parenting style, at least that’s what we tell ourselves.  No matter where we are, we’re not able control our children’s awareness of money or having things, but maybe we are able to give guidance about what to have as a snack after school, or what to do with their free time other than plug themselves into a screen?

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Whether it’s growing up or growing old, or growing up without a clear place to call home, maybe the significance of the path not taken is just that another path was taken instead.

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Gaining something doesn’t exist without losing something, but that’s also true the other way around.

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So our hope is that somewhere along the way, the gains will make up for the losses.  And despite all our blunders as parents, we will end up doing at least a few things right.

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