POLAND: What I Didn’t Expect: When The Kids Go to School

Enjoying chocolate paczki – a national Polish treat – after preschool one day

A little over a year ago, I posted an article on WMN that announced all of my hopes and dreams for when my kids go to school. I talked about the things I wanted to do, the things I had been planning to do and put on hold for awhile, the freedom and the feeling of being on my own and pursuing anything I wanted in my newfound free time – whether that be a enrolling in a photography course, writing a children’s book, joining a cooking class, taking a tour of this beautiful city I live in.

With my youngest turning three last March, I decided it was time for her to try out preschool for a couple of days per week for a few hours per day. She would join the same class as her older sister and is familiar with the teachers, the kids in the class, and everything surrounding the school. She has been with me for every pick up and drop off of her sister over the last two years.

Ivy on her first day of preschool: not a tear in sight

Since she is my third and my last, she is both extremely close to me, but also very “grown up” in order to keep up with her older siblings. So, I was ready for anything. I was ready for her to cry. I was ready for her to rebel and run right out of that classroom. I was ready for her to be proud and march right in. Lucky for me, she was thrilled for her first day. With a wave and a smile, she said, “Goodbye Mommy” and headed straight on into the classroom. I waited in the coat area for a few minutes to see if she changed her mind or if she would start to cry when she noticed I was no longer in sight. Nope. I went to a cafe less than half a mile away to have a cup of coffee and catch up on email. I found myself incessantly checking my cell phone to see if I had a missed call or text from the teacher, saying that perhaps I should come to pick her up. The phone was silent.

After seven years of being with one, two, or three children all day everyday (besides a few babysitting hours here and there), I was on my own.

If I had to describe the mix of emotions I felt after dropping the last of my three children off at her first day of school, it would be nervousness, excitement, freedom, joy, uncertainty, and a little bit of fear.

I think all of those feelings are to be expected.

But here is what I didn’t expect: loneliness.

For my whole life, I have been around others. Whether that be at work, at university, with my children, with my parents, or with my husband. Nearly seven years ago, I delivered my son just two days after my last day of work at the U.S. State Department. And for the following seven years, I have been with my children. So the thing I felt the most acutely after dropping her off for a few hours? I was lonely.

Who would I talk to? What would I do?

I did not expect to be lonely.

As I had expected, coming to grips with finally having all of the children at school, especially when you have been a stay-at-home parent, is hard.

Most of us use our new unstructured free time to run errands, clean the house, read a book, go to the gym, catch up on email, or have an actual, uninterrupted phone call with a friend. But as my youngest went to school for the second, third, and fourth time, I realized that I needed to structure my time. I needed to have a plan. I needed to reach out to friends and other moms – meet them for lunch or an exercise class. I needed to schedule a lunch date with my husband. I needed to volunteer to read to my son’s first grade class. I needed to be around people.

It is funny, and even a little bit ironic, how it all comes full circle – or at least, how it did for me. I have waited all of this time for a little bit of silence and time to myself. And what do I find myself missing the most? Human interaction. The noise. The chaos. The laughter. The bonding. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I found myself talking to the dog in the car after preschool drop-off one day recently.

In the daily hustle and bustle of parenthood, we often don’t realize how the energy and joy our children exude nurtures us.

Parenting requires us to be in the moment 24/7. We are concerned with what we are providing for our children and how we are shaping their thoughts and actions, but have we ever thought about how they are shaping us? What they are providing us?

Love, joy, humor, and sure, a little bit (or boat load, depending on your day) of impatience at times. In the absence of the noise and chaos, I realized how disturbingly quiet life can be without the kids at home. So while you still have them at home, try to remember that and cherish it. And when they do go to school, have a plan, and nourish the part of you that needs the support, love, and interaction of others – because loneliness is something you might not have expected.

This is an original post written by Loren Braunohler for World moms Network.

What was your experience when you sent your kids off to school?

Loren Braunohler

Loren Braunohler is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She is a world traveler who avoids the cold (don't ask why she is currently in Poland). Former assignments have included Mozambique, Venezuela, Australia, Sudan, Thailand and Washington, D.C. She enjoys running, although she probably enjoys sleeping even more. Loren blogs about her family's international adventures and parenting at www.toddlejoy.com.

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POLAND: Eight Reasons Why You Should Travel With Your Family (Even If It Is Exhausting)

POLAND: Eight Reasons Why You Should Travel With Your Family (Even If It Is Exhausting)

If you loved to travel pre-kids, you probably got a big shock the first time you traveled with kids. Goodbye vacation, hello stressful multi-tasking of the whereabouts, safety, and happiness of little people amidst canceled flights, busy airports, and a foreign place where you don’t speak the language.

Traveling with kids, especially young ones, is not glamorous. There are the long flights, canceled connections, missed naps, heavy car seats, and sometimes, hefty expenses. Top that with some whining, lack of motivation to get up and go, and the rogue fever or ear infection, and travel with kids can be just plain exhausting. So, why put yourself – and your family – through the hassle?

Here’s why.

Travel is an exceptional gift for your children, and in many more ways than one. In fact, I can think of eight, which I have listed below.

  1. Travel will introduce them to the beautiful diversity of our world. It opens them up to an array of cultures, languages, landscapes, and religions. They experience different holidays, traditions, types of food (kimchi, anyone?), varying styles of art and architecture. It awakens their senses and shows them that this is a big, wide world. That the world is bigger than their cul-de-sac. That the other kids in it might dress differently, speak differently, or even live very differently. Celebrating Loi Krathong by sending floats into the water in Thailand, helping on working farms in western Australia, listening to our gondolier explain how he came to inherit his profession as we glided down the small canals of Venice; these experiences and many more are what have taught our children that diversity exists, that it is good, and that it should not be feared, but instead explored and celebrated.
  2. Travel may help them grow into understanding and compassionate people. When we have the chance to see that people adopt different habits, customs, and traditions, it can create a sense of understanding, and even compassion in us. Just as we learn that the world is a diverse place, we learn to accept that people look, dress, and do things differently. When we see people in situations less fortunate than ourselves, we may also become compassionate. We may grow and develop a sense of wanting to make the world a better place – whether that is through helping humanity or the environment.
  3. Travel will teach them the importance of flexibility. Whether they like it or not, travel will teach kids to be more flexible; because, let’s face it – not all travel goes smoothly. When you were supposed to take a beautiful hike around the cliffs of Mohr, but the weather went awry. When you were supposed to have a 45-minute connection in Chicago, but your flight was delayed, you missed your connection, and now you have four hours to spend in the airport. When you ordered something off a dim sum cart in Hong Kong, but it just was not what you were expecting. Yes, travel will begin to teach children the fine art of flexibility. And as a parent, you will be thankful for that.
  4. Travel will awaken their sense of adventure. For some children, a sense of adventure is ingrained; but others are more cautious. By exposing children to new things beyond their day-to-day experiences, you are showing them that it is okay – and even good – to try new things. They might discover that “taking risks” will pay off. Perhaps they were hesitant to jump off the boat in the middle of the ocean, but when they look down to see a beautiful ecosystem of fish and coral below, their fear will fade away. Just a few weeks ago, we visited the Tatra Mountains in Strbske Pleso, Slovakia. There was an activity called “snow rafting” in which you jump in a white-water raft with a guide and go barreling down a snow tube to the level ground below. Even I was nervous to do it. But my children? They had no fear. They have learned to embrace new things (only ones we deem as safe, of course) and it wonderful to watch the joy and exhilaration on their faces when they find something new that they love.
  5. Travel will create wonderful memories for the whole family. This is the primary reason we travel – to create memories. Some will argue that it is not worth it to travel with young children because they won’t remember anything. I politely disagree. Okay, if the child is 18 months, he or she will not remember that walk through the rice paddies in Bali. But you will. Instead of allowing your family to keep you from traveling, let it do the opposite. Let it be your escape from the long days or sleep-deprived nights at home. Be sleep deprived in beautiful villa on Mallorca, with a beach nearby . . . or in Paris, with a view of the Eiffel Tower from your room. My nearly seven-year old remembers our nature walks in the Margaret River Valley where we spotted kangaroos when we he was only three. And my nearly five-year old remembers indulging in chai tea lattes on the side streets of Bangkok when she was only three. They do remember earlier than you think, so don’t sell yourself (or them) short.
  6. Travel will bring you closer together as a family. This probably goes without saying, but sharing new experiences in amazing places around the world will certainly bring you closer together as a family. You learn to be flexible together (see point 2), navigate new places together, try new food together. There is certainly a lot of bonding that goes on. And the bonding doesn’t only happen in the times when things are new and exotic. It happens in the moments of downtime as well. That card game around the table, that picture-taking lesson in the airBNB, that journaling about the best part of your day at the end of the day. Cherish the moments of no distraction just as much as the ones that are glamorous and exciting. Your family can grow together in those moments just as much or more.
  7. Travel with your family also allows you to travel. If you were an avid traveler pre-kids, but stopped traveling when the kids were born, don’t you feel like something is missing? Why not share your passion for travel with your children? Sure, it will require more time, patience, energy (and money!), but taking them along with you on new journeys not only enriches them (see all points above), it nourishes you. It allows you to continue doing something you love and enjoy. Finding that balance of providing and caring for your children, as well as taking care of yourself, is critical when you become a parent. Don’t let something you enjoy so much slip off the table; just learn how to adapt and do it in new ways.
  8. Travel is a wonderful form of education, enrichment, and exploration. For all of the reasons I have listed above, nothing packs as much of an educational punch as traveling does. Have I rested my case? Get out there and explore. Bring your loved ones. Let new experiences in foreign places teach them about the world and themselves. Travel is a wonderful gift. It is always worth “the hassle.”

Do you travel with your kids?

This is an original post written by Loren Braunohler for World Moms Network.

Loren Braunohler

Loren Braunohler is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She is a world traveler who avoids the cold (don't ask why she is currently in Poland). Former assignments have included Mozambique, Venezuela, Australia, Sudan, Thailand and Washington, D.C. She enjoys running, although she probably enjoys sleeping even more. Loren blogs about her family's international adventures and parenting at www.toddlejoy.com.

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POLAND: Five Ways to Genuinely Connect With Your Loved Ones Over the Holidays

POLAND: Five Ways to Genuinely Connect With Your Loved Ones Over the Holidays

Good times with family over summer holidays

The great Amazon toy search. I found myself at it again this Christmas as I looked online for gifts my three children, ages 2, 4, and 6. My husband and I had already purchased the gifts that our children had said they wanted – you know, the big items that Santa brings; things they have been waiting on all year to receive. But now it was time to gear up for the holiday tradition of swapping gifts among their cousins – eleven in total.

So I searched. I rigorously searched for toys for over an hour trying to figure out what they might like. Once I narrowed down my list, I asked myself, “will this toy – which I’m not sure if they really want in the first place – bring them joy?” Maybe, maybe not. Is the toy needed? No. Do I feel like I should be asking our family to buy them a toy that I think they might want, but I’m really not sure? Definitely not.
The toy search – which should always be fun – was not fun at all. So I gave up.
I gave up and I announced to our families that the kids did not need any more gifts for Christmas.
What we preferred instead was to have a video call with them on Christmas. Less money, more heart. Less stress, more meaning. This is – and will be – the way to go from now on.  At Christmas time, children don’t need more things. They need to know that people love them. And what better way to demonstrate that love than with the simple act of interaction.  If you live far away from your loved ones, here are five ways that you can connect with them meaningfully:
  1. Exchange photo books. Last year, we used a fantastic service called ChatBooks to create photo books for our family. ChatBooks is great because it can automatically turn your Instagram posts into photo books. The standard size photo books are small and inexpensive, making them great for children to enjoy. Our children loved looking at what their cousins had been up to all year in America. They also recounted memories of our time back in the States with family over the summer. They looked at the books over and over again throughout the year. The books are like the gift that keeps on giving.
  1.  Organize an ornament swap. Two years ago, we purchased some inexpensive craft ornaments on Oriental Trading. The kids were able to write their names on the ornaments and we sent them to our cousins, who sent us some in return. It was such fun for the children to hang the ornaments and see each other’s names on the tree. Even as we pulled out the ornaments this year, the kids smiled and enjoyed thinking about their cousins at home. This creates a feeling that our families are close during the holidays, even if they are a world away.
  1. Set-up a video call. This is our current-year plan. We’ll connect with our cousins via Skype or Face Time on Christmas. This is not something the kids do all the time, so it will certainly be special for them. Being able to see facial expressions, share excitement, and see families as a whole is so much fun. Often we do not take the time to do this during the year because of our busy schedules. The time change between the U.S. and wherever we happen to be (Thailand, Poland) makes it even trickier. Planning it ahead of time gives the kids something to look forward to.
  1. Send something hand-written or hand-crafted. If your children are old enough to read, sending and receiving handwritten letters can be so gratifying. If you and your children are crafty, why not create paintings for your family members. Or perhaps bake them some special cookies with a note? What about a scrapbook of summer time fun that they spent together? The possibilities here are endless. Sometimes the old-fashioned way is the best way to go.
  1. Plan a meet-up.  What could be more meaningful than visiting with your loved ones during the holidays? Spending quality time with those we don’t get to see often can really solidify relationships. Our children have always lived far from their extended family members, but we always visit the U.S. each summer. Family is also very good about visiting us during the year, no matter what exotic locale we happen to be living in. Why not choose a location and meet half-way? This could create great adventures for everyone.
So what are your plans to connect with family this holiday season? Share in the comments!
This is an original post by Loren Braunohler written for World Moms Network.

Loren Braunohler

Loren Braunohler is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She is a world traveler who avoids the cold (don't ask why she is currently in Poland). Former assignments have included Mozambique, Venezuela, Australia, Sudan, Thailand and Washington, D.C. She enjoys running, although she probably enjoys sleeping even more. Loren blogs about her family's international adventures and parenting at www.toddlejoy.com.

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The Expat Life: When Visiting Home Can Lead to Unexpected Disappointment

The Expat Life: When Visiting Home Can Lead to Unexpected Disappointment

Delighting in simple pleasures during our trip home to the U.S. this summer

Delighting in simple pleasures during our trip home to the U.S. this summer

The excitement that is summer.

It is hard for anyone to contain their excitement for summer, but even more so when you are an expat. For families who live overseas, summer is synonymous with returning home, visiting family and friends, and going back to a place of comfort and familiarity. For our family, it means spending time with family boating and cooking out in the wilderness of Virginia. It’s blueberry picking, playing in Lake Michigan with cousins, and delighting in red, white, and blue popsicles. It’s having a lemonade stand and going out for “American-style” pancakes at IHOP at any hour. It’s s’more-making, slip-n’-slides, and good old shopping trips to Target and Trader Joe’s. It’s seeing a children’s film at the movie theater in English. Going home is the ultimate.

With that being said, we always seem to encounter the same disappointment (one which we often choose to ignore) during these visits home. As much as we look forward to getting back and seeing everyone, our friends and families’ lives and routines continue and sometimes it is hard for them to find time for us. This is hurtful. This is painful. This is frustrating.

Hear me out on this. I’m conflicted.

In one respect, I understand that people have their routines, their commitments, their summer camps and vacation plans and that the world does not stop for us when we land State-side. I get that. I respect that.

On the other hand, I have just traversed oceans and continents with my three young children to see you. We have made multiple connections and crossed over several time zones to visit you.

Yet sometimes the ones we come to visit are simply too busy to make the 20-minute drive to where we are staying. Or in the span of one week, they only have a two-hour time window when kids will be home from summer camp and we can come say hello and have dinner (if we make the 2-hour round-trip drive to them, of course). Or they have kids they need to take to tutoring, swimming, you name it – so they don’t have time to sit and enjoy us. They are just – as they always are – busy.

Airport musical chairs: here we go!

Airport musical chairs: here we go!

I know that I’m complaining. And in all honesty, writing this is cathartic. But I feel that all too often these days people are not placing enough importance on maintaining relationships with family and friends. People (myself included) could do a better job at prioritizing and realizing what really matters in life. Is it that one day of theater camp or is it the chance to see friends you haven’t seen in a year or two? Is it that rushed schedule that you feel compelled to maintain or the chance to clear your schedule for a couple of days and enjoy the company of your loved ones? Priorities, priorities. What matters to you?

Maybe I feel this way because I’m getting older. Maybe it is harder for me than others because we do travel a long way to see our loved ones. Maybe it is because we want so much to savor this summer homecoming because we only have a short time to make and strengthen family bonds. Maybe it is our fault for choosing this transient lifestyle and moving away in the first place.

I’m sure it’s not coming from a place of malice on behalf of our family and friends. To be honest, I’m not sure they even realize that we feel hurt and disappointed by it. And I feel it’s patronizing and selfish to point out the fact that we wish they were around more when we come home to visit. After all, they have lives and things going on, too.

So where does this leave us? Do some conversations need to take place? Maybe. Do we need to readjust our summer plans and actually take a true summer vacation every other summer instead of coming home to carve time out for family and friends who aren’t around? Maybe. Do I just need to chill and realize that this is the way it is? I just don’t know. But one thing is certain, s’more-making and Trader Joe’s never do disappoint.

If you’re an expat how do you juggle going on “real holidays” vs visiting relatives back home? If you’re the one at home, how does it feel to have travelling families visit?

This is an original post for World Moms Network written by  Loren Braunohler in Poland.

Loren Braunohler

Loren Braunohler is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She is a world traveler who avoids the cold (don't ask why she is currently in Poland). Former assignments have included Mozambique, Venezuela, Australia, Sudan, Thailand and Washington, D.C. She enjoys running, although she probably enjoys sleeping even more. Loren blogs about her family's international adventures and parenting at www.toddlejoy.com.

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POLAND: Diving Deeper than the Typical Expat Life

POLAND: Diving Deeper than the Typical Expat Life

Imagine that it is your child’s first day of preschool. You are nervous, naturally, about them adapting and being able to spend time away from you. They are not sure what to expect and may be dealing with a
range of emotions from excitement to apprehension and fear. It is a big step – for both of you.
First day of pre-school in Poland

First day of pre-school in Poland

Now take that first day and move it to a different country. The school operates in a different language, which neither of you speak, and you and your child do not know anyone. You have only just arrived in this country a week ago and now you are saying goodbye to your child for a few hours, hoping that they will somehow understand what is going on and perhaps make a few friends despite the language and cultural barriers that lie before them. One thing is for sure – you don’t know what is going on.

This was our family in September. Being a US Foreign Service family that moves every two or three years, the expat life is not new to us, but sending our three-year old to a local Polish school was. The result? We are more connected to the local community in Poland than we have been in the previous six countries where we lived over the past 13 years.

As an expat, it is easy to arrive somewhere new and settle into a community of other expats. When you move far from home, you seek comfort and familiarity; both of which can be found with other expats who are in the same boat and who may share the same language, customs, traditions, and beliefs that you do. We’re guilty of it: we’ve done it in Thailand, Sudan, Venezuela, Australia, and Mozambique. It’s certainly not a bad thing. In fact, sometimes that familiarity is what keeps you sane. But, other times, being so ensconced in an expat community can unintentionally keep you from making local friends and appreciating the culture and traditions around you.

What have we gained from putting our daughter in a local preschool?

Visiting a local festival in Krakow

Visiting a local festival in Krakow

First and foremost, she is happy and has made a great group of friends. Her teachers are enthusiastic, loving, and kind. Additional bonuses? She understands and speaks Polish. The whole family has learned about Polish traditions, customs, and holidays as she celebrates them in school. It has allowed us to make a number Polish friends, further educating us about Polish lifestyle and culture. It has been humbling – for me, in particular. Each time I pick her up, drop her off, and attend school functions, I am embarrassed by my inability to speak Polish, but I have been overwhelmed by the warmth of those parents who speak English and go out of their way to befriend us. And from those friendships come great advice on where else to travel in Poland, what to see and what to do, what events to attend, and how to honor and celebrate Polish holidays.

The choice we made, albeit out of cost and convenience considerations at first, has helped us to dig deeper than the typical expat life we generally adopt when overseas. In turn, it makes the limited time we have in Poland richer and more meaningful.

Sometimes the decisions that scare you the most reap you the biggest rewards. In the beginning I asked myself if we were doing the right thing by sending our 3-year old to a school where neither she, nor I, could understand what was going on. Eight months later, we know we made the right choice.

This is an original post written by Loren Braunohler for World Mom’s Network

Loren Braunohler

Loren Braunohler is a former U.S. diplomat turned stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. She is a world traveler who avoids the cold (don't ask why she is currently in Poland). Former assignments have included Mozambique, Venezuela, Australia, Sudan, Thailand and Washington, D.C. She enjoys running, although she probably enjoys sleeping even more. Loren blogs about her family's international adventures and parenting at www.toddlejoy.com.

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