At some point at the end of May we arrived in Romania by car. Exact dates and days of the week escape me. In late spring we stored our personal possessions, threw our furnished house on Airbnb and packed up our clothes and expectations into five totelockers, two suitcases and one duffel bag. Romania met us with open arms and a flowering, verdant spring. Here’s what I learned in June.
1. Around the world, moms are moms. Language barriers, emotional baggage and cultural oddities fall to the wayside when a mom with small children bumps into another mom with small children. Be it on the playground pushing swings (“higher mommy” is apparently a common refrain among children in all cultures), mutually battling children through the market (stop touching all the strawberries!) or passing each other on an evening walk. One glance and I know we have enough in common to be fast friends. Our day to day lives are more alike than I could have imagined. Even if my currently limited language skills don’t precisely convey what I’m trying to communicate about my kids (i.e. Yeah, mine still has accidents all the time too), my new mommy friend knows exactly what I’m trying to say and can completely relate.
2. A fence has little to do with security and privacy, but everything to do with animals. The dirt street out front is lined with an unbroken wall of concrete and metal fences, tall enough to keep a horse or cow from escaping. The only break in the fence line is the occasional crossroad or overgrown lot. In this rural region of Romania, everyone has animals – chickens, pigs, cows, horses, turkeys. . . If it is to be found on a farm, it can be found in our neighbor’s yard. As a result, everyone has solid barriers to keep the animals from straying. But don’t let that deter you from visiting! Everyone knows the fences are for the animals. Unless the gate is locked, you are expected to walk into the yard, close the gate to prevent any animals from escaping, and knock on the front door.
Initially, I felt a small violation of my privacy had occurred when someone entered my yard unannounced. Then I reflected upon my living situation in the U.S. I have no fence in my front yard. In fact, imperfect strangers would frequently walk right up to my front door, knock, and peer through the window to see if someone was approaching. I always felt my privacy was slightly violated when they did that. Couldn’t they just knock and restrain themselves from looking inside? Either way, I didn’t have a 6-foot security fence to keep them from approaching my front door, much less looking through my curtain-less window, so I should expect nothing less here.
3. I have A LOT of kids. Three, to be exact – ages five and under. Romanians, like many Europeans, have one child, wait a few years, maybe have a second, and then most likely stop. At the playground, on my second day here, a grandmother pushed her grandson on the swing next to my son. She nodded approvingly when she realized all three of the children were my own. With a mix of English, Romanian and a variety of gesticulations, she conveyed her pleasure at my large family, lamenting “families only have one or two children now.” Though not explicit, she was referring to families in her socio-economic bracket. [The Roma, or gypsies, have many children, as do many poorer Romanians].
After people realize I have three kids, they ask “how do you do it?” When you have only one child being raised in a multi-generational household, that child never waits for food, never falls down and never cries to be held. Those needs and desires are answered at a moment’s notice. How do I do it? Sometimes my kids are hungry, they often fall down and frequently whine or cry to be held. But they also learn how to pour their own cereal at four, pick themselves up after a fall and, well, they still cry to be held. ‘A lot’ is a relative term, but when we hit a rough patch in the day, I can console myself with the fact that I do, after all, have a lot of kids.
4. It’s extra challenging playing the ABC game in Hungary. The ABC game. It’s an old family favorite road trip game. While driving through northern Hungary, in the middle of a stretch reminiscent of central Kansas, my husband surprised me by saying “ABC game. Go!” It was a challenge. Ten minutes later and a few highway miles under our wheels, we just laughed. We couldn’t even pronounce the words on signs to play the game right. We managed, however, and he won.
5. You HAVE to write it down. In a new culture, you are highly attuned to every detail. Everything is fresh. But within a matter of weeks, it becomes normal. Not only do you not notice it anymore, you can’t. Newness is fleeting. You forget what is intriguing, challenging, interesting, or even important. This is why I’m participating in the “What I Learned This Month” series. It’s motivating me to put it down on paper (or screen).
What have I noticed this month that is quickly becoming normal? The sound of hooves racing down our dirt road late at night, pulling a wagon. I imagine a kid has stayed out with the family cart past curfew or a father is late coming home from the fields. Or the octagenarians with their peers, sitting on benches along the street, watching life happen. Or the rose gardens everywhere. Or the smell of burning grass, which reminds me of Africa days. Or my bright green and yellow bedroom that I couldn’t stand the first day – so Euro. I hardly notice it now. Or the best tasting, best textured tomatoes you’ll ever eat – for 40 cents a pound. Or. . . I’ve already forgotten some things. I need to write them down sooner.