Baby / Life Lessons from Overseas

Moving Overseas With a Baby

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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?

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18 thoughts on “Moving Overseas With a Baby

  1. Great thoughts. It’s all very revolutionary-learning how to travel with kids isn’t it? I think you hit the nail on the head though when you realized it’s not really traveling-it’s home now and that makes it completely different.

    I wish I had some great advice for you I’m not sure anyone knows the perfect mix for raising a third culture kid but I will say the following things:

    I’ve found that being a mother (especially once I had more than one) no matter where we live means I’m stuck at home much of the day during the work week. I don’t like to leave the kids too much with our house hold help and I we respect the naps in our house. It’s just a fact that it requires me to be at home more than I’d like. I have gotten use to it and it’s crucial to find things to keep busy at home.

    If we get out and have a great exploration day once a week we are happy as a family. This usually means Saturday or Sunday.

    Follow your gut instincts on your parenting decisions. Don’t let other sway you too much. Everyone has their opinion on the matter. Also consider that your frame of reference about pollution, heat, disease is different coming from a living in China previously.

    People are always shocked when we tell them that we love the fresh air in Addis because it truly is fresh compared to what we lived with in Manila. It’s all perspective. We also get strange comments when we said we took the kids to such and such and saw this or that for an overnight trip. Some people don’t like to be out with their kids because it’s not easy. An weekend away with three kids in the third world is not vacation. But it sure makes memories!

    The key is to listen to your kids and learn their limits and needs. Our girls love to get out on the weekends. They ask to go out to dinner or for a walk. They get stir crazy too.

    While Will is young I’d suggest pushing him to travel and see markets and such as much as you can because 1) he’s not going to be Ergo portable forever 2) if you have another kid that changes things again, 3) he is your kid and if you like to be out and see things-so will he. You want to teach him to explore and not be fearful of new things early.

    It’s a balance between Mama Bear protectiveness and Adventure seeking wanderlust. I feel it too. You aren’t alone.

    • I love hearing your perspective Sara, especially since you have 3 little girls at home now! You guys’ trip to Gonder was such an inspiration to me. I keep worrying a little about what will happen to our ability to get out whenever we decide to grow our family. I feel really lucky right now that it’s just me and Will right now–so much of what we’ve done even in the past few weeks would not be possible if I was out with two or more kids! I love the idea that we are teaching him to be an explorer by taking him with us. That’s part of the reason we do it even when it’s hard or stressful. I hope it works!

  2. Hi there, I read often but haven’t ever been successful to comment….whether it be because of help from one of my two boys or having trouble signing in!
    Thanks for your honesty in this post. So glad when people can keep it real about this lifestyle. When my husband and I started the Foreign Service it was an adventure. And when we added kids it became real life. I had very similar experiences when I arrived in Bogota with a newborn. I was ready to take long walks with Jackson to learn the lay of the land. It was a huge community and very tough to get to know other people. The other wives had been there longer and were leaving their kids at home to go lunch with friends or join clubs, shopping, whatever. If they had been in the US their lives would have looked very different but I always feel like some people jump in and act like they have always had a lifestyle that supported a nanny raising their kids so they could really be free to live. It can be lonely parenting how you know you should. But you know best about your family. And although Will needs to be home and getting into a routine schedule in a couple of mini adventure times to feed your need to have some exposure to your new world. I find I have fallen into a pattern of my first job being to settle the kids and my time comes a bit later. Both are important and critical but no one can enjoy and relax until the kids are somewhat sane.
    Hang in there. Thinking about you as you settle in. I hope you make some great like-minded friends. Keep up the blogging and keeping it real. It is so refreshing!

    • Kristen, you are so right that our time comes after. This is our first overseas with kids (taking them at 6-weeks old to a Mexican border town didn’t quite have the same adjustment issues as this move to Vientiane at 2.5-years old) and the key to feeling sane in all the madness was realizing that once they are settled that I’ll feel settled enough to truly find my bearings in new country whether it’s exploring as a tourist, finding a job, or just settling in to my own routine. It’s the reality of motherhood and gives me the focus I needed to quiet my itchy wanderlust feet during those first few weeks after we landed.

    • Thanks Kristen soo much for sharing your experience. It sounds so much like what I’ve seen a bit of in these first few weeks. I hear you on the nanny thing, it’s definitely a different environment here than in Chengdu. I think it’s amazing that so many women can work here because they know they have capable nannies at home to help take care of their kids. I think good, affordable childcare for working parents is such an important thing. And I think it’s wonderful that we have the opportunity here to get out and do things sans kids once in awhile that our kids couldn’t or wouldn’t enjoy doing with us. I generally like having Will with me when I’m out, but if a regular lunch date with friends or a few hours to wander the city and get a pedicure makes the difference between a happy, loving Mama and an unhappy Mama for someone else, then I think it’s a no-brainer. Mama should get out once in awhile. We’re all wired a little differently when it comes to motherhood after all. Still, it really does seem like the affordable childcare for non-working spouses does change the social dynamic quite a bit. For instance, are kids welcome on CLO trips for spouses that happen during the week when most people have housekeepers/nannies around to watch their kids? Will people be annoyed if a kid (say, mine?) shows up? I don’t know yet, still figuring things like that out! So all of these other perspectives are so great to have!

  3. Oh boy, such similar adjustment issues and doubts here in Vientiane, too. I keep seeing tourists out and about reading their guidebooks, walking slowly to admire everything, and just as slowly taking photos, and I get jealous that I’m chasing after two kids from one cafe with a playground to another instead of exploring all the temples and cool shops. And about the toddler tantrums, I have a post coming out in World Mom’s Blog in a week about our traumatic transition to post which I think you’ll be able to relate. Your instinct that Will’s tantrums may be a good thing is correct. A friend of mine who has done research on toddler tantrums says its a way of getting their frustrations out and often times that’s what they need to do before they can move on, which is exactly what I’ve experienced. And yes, it’s hard to distinguish changes in toddler behavior that you can attribute to moving to a new country and typical behavior as they enter a new developmental stage. Either way, we just love, practice patience, and try to maintain our sense of fun and exploration in our new home. Good news is, it gets easier from here on out.

    • Thank you so much about the toddler tantrums info! I can’t wait to read your piece on World Mom’s Blog. How reassuring. Glad to hear things are getting easier for you guys in Vientiane! It’s amazing how getting one good trip and some great photos in with kids in tow can make you feel on top of the world isn’t it? I think in some ways, our experiences traveling and exploring with Will are so much more satisfying in a lot of ways than before we had a kid–probably because every experience is so much more hard-won!

  4. We are the expats taking our kid out to the Old City in Hyderabad and letting her eat spicy food in restaurants. We are also the parents respecting nap time and bed time because she really does need to go home and sleep when she’s overtired. Expat and Indian parents alike have plenty to say about our parenting techniques I think. But our daughter is happy and healthy. We moved here when she was three months old so India is the only life she knows. Cover up with bug spray and sunblock and trust your parental instincts. We’ve covered a lot of ground in our time here, in very small doses. And as much as I like our little adventures together, I also like leaving her home sometimes with our housekeeper so I can eat lunch or shop in peace.

    • Thanks Stephanie! I feel like we probably have similar styles when it comes to parenting and it’s great to hear from another parent in India. As long as the really important things are taken care of, we usually don’t sweat the small stuff like dirt and spices, but I know it sometimes throws other people for a loop watching as Will mucks around on the ground or accompanies me through a meat market. Ah well, he’s learning!

  5. Wow Dany, this is very insightful. My experience was a bit different. I joined the hubby when we got married and we pretty much had a year long honeymoon traveling all over western Europe “for work”. I moved to Thailand when we were pregnant with Evan and I did have time to explore and get into a household routine before adding Evan to the equation. I met many SAHMs and had a great time in playgroups and at bible studies. We visited Jakarta and lived there for a month with Evan as a 9month old before we even bid on Indonesia so I kind of knew what I was getting into. As soon as I got home I made our apartment feel like home so Evan barely felt the transition. I bet it’s going to be completely different once we go to our next place! Two boys, (even worse, two toddlers), a completely different and unknown place (I’m hoping) and a mom who’s eager to explore china town with a baby bjorn and even feed her litte boy some fresh rice noodles out of a pot… Then again maybe we go back to DC and that’s a completely different challenge for me… I’ve only been there as a single girl devoted to work, church activities and finding the coolest happy hour to visit with her friends so I don’t even know how to grocery shop for a couple let alone a family in the ever-so frightening and tempting aisles of Whole Foods hahaha….

    • Hey Ana, that’s so interesting that you guys were able to visit Jakarta and explore and see it before you arrived! When you bid next? ANy plans to go back to DC? I do have to say, while hte “mommy pressure” in DC is far, far great than overseas, there are so many things that are a bit easier. For instance, we don’t have housekeepers but the houses don’t get as dirty as quickly either!! ANd the groceries are expensive but they are also so plentiful! And you can get so many ingredients to get so many things! I don’t konw, I liked our time in DC with Will though I admit I’m very very happy to be back overseas again!

  6. Dani, this post has so many topics that resonate! Firstly, I think that although what we’re being judged on changes by location, parental judging is endemic around the world. I can’t even count the number of times I have been chastized for not putting a jacket on my sweaty daughter – this happened in Malta AND in Russia – you’d think the Russians would know better.

    From having lived in Delhi as an intern and visiting “Disney India” as we called the compound, if your experience in any way resembles mine I’d say you will seem dangerously adventurous to many if not most ex-pats. But remember, this is a place where you are comfortable, you know your surroundings, you know what are warning signs for actual danger. You know your own child and what he can tolerate. Trust yourself. And revel in the empty playgrounds at 10am, as we do in Petersburg.

    Just as being a tourist is a completely different experience than being stationed somewhere, having a child with you is a completely different experience than being alone. And as in the first example, it’s not better or worse, just different. For us, one of the biggest changes has been the way we tourist. I remember an early date with my husband being giddy that I didn’t have to drag him to the museum (he was an art major) but now instead of museums we check out every zoo we see, parks and playgrounds, architecture and historical sights. We don’t often go inside anymore.

    In terms of moving, as you noted too our focus is making sure the kids are doing OK. We’re on R&R right now and the kids are just about at the end of their tether, for the last 4 weeks they have had too many playdates, too many new experiences, napped in too many different beds at different times. We canceled a couple of things to give them downtime one day each week, and recognized that an hour at the playground a block away is better time for them than schlepping them to the Smithsonian or even the Playseum (that I was dying to check out!) Having kids makes me move both faster and slower. As you say, kids don’t like being cooped up at home all day, so they make you get out … but then they want their snack or need their nap and then you need to cut the day short to meet their needs. I remember one blogger who travels with kids who said something about how you want to travel with your kids often and from a young age so they are used to it. Of course you also have to recognize and work with their limitations. Now that the younger one is almost 3 we’re easing them into museums 30 minutes at a time (memberships are lovely!)

    • Isn’t R&R such a whirlwind? Your plan of making sure they have at least a day of quiet time sounds like a perfect balance between getting out and getting downtime. So glad to hear that at 3 you’re up to 30minutes of museum time! There is a light at the end of hte tunnel I suppose and, like someone else said, you do get to see things when you have little kids, just different things I guess–not always better or worse, just different. I like that, “Disney India.” For me I call it “the country club” but I have to say, I am very very very grateful to live here. It may be a bit fishbowl but I hesitate to complain because I also exactly how good I have it coming home to a place that works, that has power and that has a bit of green space. As long as we spend enough time out and about, it is a nice place to come home to. 🙂

  7. I have to come back to this post’s comments when I’m less tired, but loved the topic. We came to Dhaka with a 3 year old and pregnant with #2. We leave now with a 5 and 1 year old… and we’ve seen a lot. We too do the bug spray and the nets and the bed times at home, but we take the girls out. And we especially let local people enjoy them. No we don’t stop for every beggar or sick person in the street, but we let them be touched and held and smiled upon. We love that they interact with people and that they learn love and compassion. We explain difficult situations at the stop lights, but we fully embrace the land we live in and have grown to love. They have gone to local villages and loved every minute of it. And though a 6 hour car ride may be difficult (more for me than them), they’ve seen unbelievable places and felt genuine love. Only you know your child, and you know what’s best. And it sounds like you are doing a terrific job! Maybe I love your style because it reassures me of ours, but I think we are all helping to raise loving, well rounded, appreciative young people who will make a difference in the world. Keep on!

  8. We left for our first overseas posting with a 5 month old, and came back to the US 7 years later with 3 kids … one who was born overseas. If I could give one bit of advice … from a mom whose kids spent a majority of their young life overseas … it’s travel as much as you can, and don’t worry. My 9 year old has GREAT memories of all the places we’ve been and things we did. And is surprised as heck that her friends here in the States don’t have any of the same experiences that she does.

    In fact, as we are now bidding to go back overseas again, SHE, my oldest is longing for the experiences again. Experiences that she never would have had, had I not dragged her and her 2 siblings around … even when it wasn’t convenient for me.

    Enjoy your time in Delhi. Travel as much as you can. And as I always so to those who question why I schlepped my kids here and yonder … “I want my kids to experience what YOUR kids are reading about in the history books”.

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  10. I might be the only commenter sans kids… but, I wonder about that transition from “adventure” to “real life” with a baby in tow. In fact, we just wrote a post about vacillating about when’s the “right time” to start a family. http://towelspacked.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/babies-on-the-mind/. My mother’s answer to that question: it’s never a good time and you’re never ready, except you are. I’ve always wanted to be a young(ish) mama and given my profession/study of reproductive health it’s hard not to worry about waiting too long to start or ignore the ever louder ticking.

    I admire your resolve to go on mini adventures and stick to your family values. I suppose I worry that if experiences travelling with kids are often “so hard won” that I might become the one who just stays home, tossing our values out the window. It seems like every phase has its own challenges – pre-walking means you can strap baby in and go but many mamas choose to be home by nap time and post-walking means they just want to be on the move non stop. I do like what Lynne said, that “Having kids makes me move both faster and slower.” I certainly know mamas (and clearly you and your readership) that keep their wanderlust as their families grow… I just hope I’ll be that kind of mama.

    Side note: if you’re ever having one of those days and feeling like you need to listen to your own inner mama voice, a friend recently posted this link: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/hello-stranger-on-the-street-could-you-please-tell-me-how-to-take-care-of-my-baby

    • I agree with your mom. No matter what you do, no matter how many books you read, no matter how you try to prepare, having a kid is not going to be anything like you imagine it to be beforehand, at least in some ways. My husband and I say that no one ever regrets their kids once they have them, they only regret not having them.

      Getting out is about keeping your expectations in check and remembering the big picture I think. We don’t get out everyday and we rarely stay out all day. But a few hours out around town is usually more than enough to satisfy our wanderlust and it’s good for Will to see things outside his house too. I’ll say that there are definitely things that I would enjoy much much much much more if I could leave Will at home but there are also things that I enjoy much much much more by having him along with.

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