This post is a little off-the-cuff and a lot long so please feel free to skim or skip altogether!
When we moved to Chengdu in 2010 we didn’t have Will yet and I didn’t have a job yet. With no demands on my days except the nagging feeling that I shouldn’t be spending it all locked up in our house reading the interwebs, I had all the time in the world to explore.
And so I did. I was lonely those first few weeks and months, but I never wanted for a “real Chengdu” experience. I was able to have it, whenever I wanted. All I had to do was put on my shoes and walk out my front door.
I didn’t always know where I was going or exactly what I was doing. I was forever being served tasteless, plain white noodles at the local noodle places until I figured out how to ask for the spicy bowls everyone else was having. The first three times I tried to go shopping at Carrefour I left empty-handed because I couldn’t find the cash registers. For the most part though, I bumbled along quite happily those first few weeks in Chengdu.
We’ve been in New Delhi nearly two weeks now and it’s amazing to me both how much I’ve seen of Delhi compared to some of the folks I’ve met here, and also how little I’ve seen of Delhi compared to what my expectations were before our plane touched down in India.
I didn’t realized ahead of time what an impact Will would make on our getting-situated process. I should have probably.
Before we left I had visions of leaving the house early in the morning with Will in his Ergo and coming home late after a day of exploring. That’s usually how we roll, especially when we travel.
But what I forgot to take into account was that we aren’t traveling now. This is home.
This may be home now but Will is still too little to fully understand what is happening or why he is so tired or why we haven’t taken him back to the apartment in Rosslyn yet. He’s still too young to vocalize what he feels, but it’s pretty obvious that this whole moving-across-the-world business has him feeling as out of sorts as his parents sometimes do.
And when it’s your kid, your baby, who’s feeling stressed out because of something you’ve chosen for them, you’ll do just about anything to try any make it better.
Including tossing most of your dreams for adventure in those first few weeks right out the window.
Having a baby now makes getting settled and making this place “ours,” feel so much more important than I realized it would. In Chengdu, not having our stuff was simply inconvenient and I sort of enjoyed the freedom from “stuff” for those first few months.
This time I’m counting down the days until the boxes arrive. Will might never remember this place, but I feel driven by some misguided maternal instinct to make this place feel like home for Will for as many weeks and months as possible before we have to pack it all back up again.
I’m realizing too that, to truly make this place home, Will needs to spend some time here. He needs to get used to taking his naps here and knowing that where he is when he goes to sleep will be where he is when he wakes up. He needs time to explore and bump his knees and fall down on the hard tile and figure out what is and isn’t off-limits around the house.
So, throw in the need to take taxis everywhere right now, unpredictable monsoon rains, Will transitioning back from 1 nap a day to two or more, stores not opening until 11am, and a bit of insecurity about our India parenting choices, and the result is that we’re spending more time at home than I thought we would. Operation: Explore Delhi is unfolding much more slowly than I expected and, honestly, much more slowly than I’d like.
Our little man is clingier now than he was our first days here. He pretty much gave up solid food for our first 10 days and wanted to be held constantly. As most people who meet him remark, Will is a really chill little kid most of the time; but right now we’re seeing a lot more tears and hysterics and emotional roller-coaster-riding than we’ve ever experienced before.
It’s understandable, normal, probably healthy even, but it does make me think before I consider dragging Will across town twice in one day to satisfy my own wanderlust. I’m still getting my bearings and not entirely sure how long it takes to get places, what traffic is like, how much I should be worried about Dengue Fever and whether I’m simply crazy for taking Will around town with me at all.
We live in a place now with a few real risks and many inconveniences associated with getting out and about with kids in tow. I don’t usually give much thought to what “everyone else” is doing in the parenting department, but I’ve been second-guessing my parenting choices when Will and I are the only people on the playground at 10am on a seemingly beautiful day. Or when I don’t see many other expat kids out with their parents around town.
Is it the fears of Dengue Fever? Is it the heat? Is it just that much easier to leave kids home with their ayahs and go out to explore sans kids? Or are we simply somehow just managing to go everywhere at precisely the wrong time to see other kids and parents? It could easily be that.
In Chengdu I always felt a little like a nervous nelly Mama compared to some of the other expat parents we met. I kept Will home on days when the air pollution was bad. We didn’t drive around on a battery-powered scooter holding Will in our arms. We didn’t buy local baby products.
Here though, I can’t tell yet whether I’m normal or adventurous or would be considered borderline reckless by some people just taking Will in a cab across town. We’ve met a few really wonderful, game-for-anything families now, but I’ve also had people tell us we are “brave” for taking Will to all of the markets he’s been to in our two weeks here, while others ask if he’s ok going out when it’s “so hot out.”
I don’t feel like we are taking huge risks or, on the flip side, being overly-devoted parents by taking Will with us everywhere. He’s constantly covered in (baby-safe) bug spray, wearing long pants and being urged to sip from his water bottle. We always go home as soon as he’s too tired, too hot, too overstimulated to stay out any longer.
Surely I too will leave him home with the ayah once in awhile once we have someone hired full-time, but hopefully not all the time and hopefully not when we could be out making memories together as a family.
But are we doing the right thing(s)? Will we look back in six months and think we were nuts to drag Will around town with us for the seemingly meager amounts of exploring we are doing? We don’t know yet.
We’re slowly figuring out our personal parenting remix, incorporating some of the norms of the community and holding fast to our own family values. We’re still having fun here, we’re still exploring, it’s just been very different thus far than perhaps what we hoped and dreamed it would be.
I’ve been frustrated at times, I really have been. Recently it’s begun to dawn on me though that being here with Will, as opposed to without a kid, we may actually be getting more out of our Delhi experience already than I would have thought.
When you don’t have kids and you know you have all the time in the world, it’s sometimes easier to put off exploring for another day. You can stay at home and watch another show on Hulu and wait for optimal weather or the perfect mood to get out and see things. When being home is nothing but relaxing, it can be harder to work up the motivation to leave it.
Being with Will all day, every day though, those short windows between naps and meals are so precious that I don’t want to waste them. I don’t want to sit at home stealing glances at my computer if we could be out doing something–and Will doesn’t either. Like most kids, he gets a little stir-crazy sitting at home all day. He’s keeping me constantly challenged to think of new things to do and new places to go.
And he gets me out and meeting people.
One of the hardest adjustments for me in Chengdu was finding friends. We made a lot of great friends in Chengdu, but I don’t know if there was another stay-at-home expat spouse without kids in the entire city during our time there. Things got much better when I started working, but it was incredibly lonely at first trying to find people to spend time with during the day.
Not so here. Babies are social-magnets, seriously. They just make meeting people so easy. We’ve been here two weeks and there have only been a handful of days that Will and I didn’t have a play-date or a lunch date or meet new friends at the kiddie pool. Even on the few days we’ve “stayed home” and not left the compound, we haven’t actually been home that much. We’ve been hanging out with some terrific families and great kids and it’s been a lot of fun already.
I keep reminding myself that we have two years here. Six months from now, the fact that we spent most of our first week sitting at home or walking around the compound probably won’t matter so much to us, but it might go a long way towards how long it takes Will to feel secure and comfortable here.
After two weeks in Delhi, Will seems to have mostly adjusted. He’s starting to eat solid foods again. His sleep is still off as he keeps switching back and forth between two naps a day and the one nap per day routine that we got used to in D.C., but it’s getting better. He laughs often, smiles constantly and keeps finding new things to play with around the house. He’s still a little clingy sometimes and he’s begun throwing very theatrical tantrums when we take away a
electrical cord toy. But it’s hard to say whether that’s a result of the big move or simply us moving into the tricky business of toddlerhood (of which I suddenly have dozens of newfound topics for baby blog fodder right now!)
We’re busy right now chasing Will away from outlets and worrying about mosquito bites, trading afternoons at the pool for afternoons out in old Delhi, and wondering more than ever now whether we’re doing this whole third-culture kid thing right. At the end of the day though, we’re just so happy we have this opportunity for Will to spend time in a country that we love so much. It is, quite simply, really, really cool.
How did having kids change your adjustment to a new city, new country, new Post overseas?