School has started again, and the shadows are starting to stretch across the driveway. The bus pulls up at 7:45, and we start our mornings in the dark, or at least I do, sitting on my yoga mat and gazing at planets in the sky. The boys take showers at night, making one less thing to get done between frying eggs and changing the litter box, and on Saturday afternoons we drive to baseball practice. The boys love baseball! I wonder if this is what it feels like when parents don’t have to force their kids to do things? There is an unexpected baseball culture here in Bulgaria, and the coach of the Sofia Lions is wonderful.
Gus has grown more wise and adventurous since turning 6 in September. He’s learned that when we’re putting on shoes or tying up the trash, it means we’re getting ready to open the door. Like a silent streak of lightening, he then squeaks outside before we even realize he’s there. He runs down the steps, meowing in outrage that we restrict his freedom in this way, and then rolls around in the dirt and nibbles grass at the end of the driveway.
Gus and I have a routine after work, too. As soon as the garage door opens he runs out, then waits for me to pick him up and cuddle him close while we walk together up and down the street. Gus is very sweet. All the little girls in the neighborhood love him.
Our magical Indian summer has been holding into October. On Sundays, Mike takes the boys to pay basketball, and I go for long walks up the mountain where the trees exhale the calming glow of autumn. Our neighbor smokes briskets that fill the air with a soothing scent of wood chips, and the birch trees in front of our house shimmer like gold. The grocery store sells masses of fresh figs for pennies, and there are villagers selling squash, honey, and homemade wine at the side of the road. We bake cinnamon rolls and finish the last of the nectarines and berries, and now move onto grapes, as wine season starts. The boys both still love the XBox but there’s been a marked decrease in video game time lately, in favor of spending afternoons with friends at the mall. I guess I knew this would eventually happen, and now, like all the things I used to worry about, I wonder why I worried so much about video games.
Our family time has changed, because our teenagers have different needs from us now. It’s easier to control the schedule in the early years when they’re smaller and need us to feed them and start movies, but this becomes ridiculous when they’re 14 and 6’2.” What at first felt like a loss, though, is starting to seem like something so much simpler.
They need to know that we’re going to keep loving them even when we disagree, and that seeing the world the same way we do isn’t a requirement of their belonging. Eli needs huge blocks of cheese and microwave popcorn, Jake needs cucumbers and back rubs before bed, but neither of them need us to control them. They need acceptance. And unconditional listening. And chocolate chip cookies. Because sometimes, that’s all it takes to make a bad day better and to know that you’re loved.
Late summer and early autumn in this part of the world mean we wake up to fog and go to sleep with fireworks, and some nights the sunset transforms the whole city into the most amazing pink and gold. Like the icons that glow in the churches, there is a halo of something beautiful in Bulgaria. Even with the corruption and the challenges of daily life, there is something here worth believing in. After centuries of struggle, they are still here. There is inner strength from knowing who they are and being proud of where they came from.
That is enough to make a bad day better, too.