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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POLAND: Stay-At-Home Parent – When Kids Go to School

POLAND: Stay-At-Home Parent – When Kids Go to School

Indulging in ice cream on a hot day in Krakow's main market square

Indulging in ice cream on a hot day in Krakow’s main market square

Free time. Sometimes I feel like I would give an arm and a leg for a little bit of free time. To have lunch with friends.  To go to the gym.  To take a nap. To read. To go to the grocery store all by myself.  To do nothing.at.all. I knew when I signed up to be a stay-at-home parent that I would have little time to myself. I also knew that with my husband’s job, which has us moving to a different country every two or three years, that having a set of grandparents (or two) close by to provide some regular child-free relief was not going to happen. In our journey across the globe, we’ve been fortunate enough to find our place and develop our circles of friends.  The expat communities in Thailand and Poland have been good to us, and we know that if we have an emergency, we can call on the support of our friends to help us out with the kids if need be. That is the way it works when you are abroad. You help each other out.  And I am so grateful for these friends and their support.

But, still, when you are a stay-at-home parent, particularly not near close friends and family, you spend an extraordinary amount of time with your kids.  This is of course exhausting, but also wonderful.  You get to witness every little new thing they discover, the days their mood begins to change and they develop new facets of their personality, and watch the bond between siblings grow (yes, a time does come when they stop fighting constantly). Your life is so wrapped up in theirs that it is hard to imagine a time when it will no longer be that way. Their every little move is known to you, and yours to them.

Enjoying waffles while visiting the Easter markets in Krakow

Enjoying waffles while visiting the Easter markets in Krakow

But, one day they will go off to school – all of them (in my case, three) – and then, you will actually have free time. Think about that for a minute. You, without needing to feel guilty, will be able to do what you want to do – whether that is going back to work part-time or full-time, or taking on a new hobby or two, or just enjoying the peace and quiet for awhile.  This is your time. So what will you do?

I am not going to lie. I have about 18 things on my plate that I would like to do when the kids start school.  I’d like to start writing more often and for more publications, I would like to write another children’s book (and hope that it will be successfully published this time). I would like to train for and run a marathon.  I would like to learn to swim and bike correctly and try my hand at a triathlon.  I would like to become a good photographer.  I would like to get back to writing thank you notes, planning ahead of time, and reading. I would like to cook and not be rushed. I would like to explore the city – take tours, visit the non-kid friendly museums, mosey about Krakow’s beautiful old market square.

So yea, it’s safe to say I’ve thought about what I will do when the kids go to school. But sometimes I wonder if the thrill of free time will peter out quickly.  The reason I stopped working five years ago was to stay at home with the kids.

Will I be able to feel that my life is fulfilling when they are no longer at home, nor fully dependent on me? Will what I plan to do with my time be “enough?” Will it fill the void of not having them around?  Will my time be useful?  And if so, to whom will it be useful?

Enjoying a morning of fun at the Engineering Museum in Krakow

Enjoying a morning of fun at the Engineering Museum in Krakow

I have talked to other mothers who have the same concern.  One friend in particular who just went through the process of sending her boys off to school for the first time (she home-schooled them previously) has struggled with feeling whether what she is doing in her free time “enough?”  When your role – for years – is to raise sweet little beings into strong, confident, and loving children, and then one day the time you have to do that is cut back significantly – what will that feel like?  Will it be a blow?  Will it be a relief? Will it be bittersweet?

At a minimum, it will be an adjustment.  And while I don’t have any answers, yet, it is just one more milestone on this path of parenthood.

Are you a stay-at-home parent? How have you adjusted, or how will you adjust, to your kids going to school?

p>This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Loren Braunohler of 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: The Choice To Become A Stay-At-Home Parent

POLAND: The Choice To Become A Stay-At-Home Parent

crazy crewThink your intellectual and creative juices take a dive when you become a stay-at-home parent?  Think again.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post for World Moms Blog about my decision to become a stay-at-home parent.  Prior to staying at home, I was a U.S. diplomat for nearly ten years. Resigning to stay at home was not part of my plans.  I planned for a career in the Foreign Service and never really considered doing anything else.  When my son was born, that all changed.  I wasn’t ready to leave him, so I decided to stay at home.  Fortunately, we were at a place financially where I could choose to do this.

While I was happy that I could stay at home with my son, there were times when I mourned the loss of my professional life.  With the decision to stay at home, I thought that  it was downhill professionally from that point; that I wasn’t really qualified to do anything else other than be a diplomat, and thus I would likely move on to lackluster opportunities when the kids started school (I have remained a stay-at-home mom after the birth of my two daughters, as well).

But here is the good news:  I was wrong.  Completely wrong. Leaving a career that I knew I could not easily go back to opened up a whole new set of opportunities for me.  Ones that I was not previously able to explore because I had boxed myself in to a specific career path.

Ones that allowed me to stay at home with my children and continue to work at my own speed, on my own time, and discover new things about myself and my talents.

Shortly after I became a stay-at-home parent, I took up writing and started my own blog to preserve some of my sanity amidst the at-home chaos.  The writing not only allowed me to let our family back home know what we were up to (we lived in Thailand at the time), but allowed me to continue to do something I loved.  While I often wrote about adventures in parenting and travel, writing time was my time; my chance to unplug from parenthood, reflect, and continue to challenge myself creatively and intellectually.  I began to write with a purpose to help families new to Thailand learn where to go and what to do.  I learned that I could be a valuable resource to others while getting my “me” time.  This was fulfilling and exciting, but became even more exciting when I got a call from Travel & Leisure Southeast Asia to write for their family travel issue.  The thought of being a freelance writer had never occurred to me.  I had resigned to be a stay-at-home mom, so you can imagine my surprise when I received a job offer for something for which I had never applied.  I was up for the challenge, but also nervous about trying something completely new.

Luckily, my article was well-received and I began to write for T&L on a regular basis during our time in Thailand.  The opportunity also encouraged me to test my talent. I reached out to other major online and print publications and, within the year, had written for the New York Times, CNN Travel,  and others. Developing and pitching stories, writing for large audiences, and working with different editors was both challenging and exciting.

Each day I could give my undivided attention to my children, and each evening I learned something new about myself and abilities.

In addition to the freelancing work, reading to my children a good hour or two a day inspired me to delve into the world of children’s literature and pen my own draft of a children’s book.  I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and learned how to write for a young audience (note:  writing for little ones is not as easy as it seems).  I joined peer review groups, learned to give and take editorial criticism, and began the process of contacting publishing houses and sending my manuscript out for review.  It was nerve-wracking to try something so new and unfamiliar, sure; but it was thrilling.  Would I have ever done this had I not become a stay-at-home parent?  Not a chance.

half marathonI began to challenge myself physically, as well.  In addition to writing, running is another source of “me” time; one I use to recharge my batteries and reflect on my parenting, my relationships, and our transient lifestyle.  After the birth of my third child in 2014, I trained for and ran two half-marathons.  When arriving in Krakow this year, I formed a women’s running group.  As soon as the kids start school full time, you can bet I’ll be training for my first full marathon.

All of these things – the freelancing, the children’s book, the running – they grew out of my decision to stay at home with my family. My assumption that becoming a full-time mom would inhibit me from succeeding professionally was false.  On the contrary, letting go of my career and becoming a stay-at-home parent opened up new opportunities for me that I surely would not have explored otherwise.

Have you thought about what other talents and abilities you might possess?  How does spending time with your children inspire you creatively and intellectually? 

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our mom to three and writer in Poland, Loren Braunohler.

The images used in this post are attributed to the author.

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: These Are The Days . . .

POLAND: These Are The Days . . .

Bagel necklaces

Can we just stay in a world where bagel necklaces solve all of our problems?

Shocked. Confused. Completely taken aback. That’s what happened the other day when I was watching my two young girls on the playground and elementary-aged kids came out to play.  Horrible language, bullying, and throwing around malicious comments about looks, behavior, and sexual orientation.

Those words.  Those attitudes.  That scrutiny. I was so suddenly jolted from my innocent little world of swings and sand castles and hoisted into a “big kid” universe that I was disbelieving of what was happening around me.

I had so many questions. How do these kids even know these words?  Should I do something to intervene?  And then the realization hit.  My children, now ages 5, 3 and nearly 2, will be thrown into similar situations in the not-so-distant future.  And what would they do in this situation?  Have I taught them to respect others?  To be the right kind of friend?

And close behind became a second epiphany.  These are the days.  The days to appreciate.  The days not to take for granted. I think I have problems when my 20 month old won’t go down for a nap on the first try.  Or when my kindergartener drops an entire box of Cheerios on the floor.  When my three-year old refuses to wear anything but her Olaf sweatshirt.  When my toddler eats Play Doh. Problems. These are our “problems.”

Sometimes I find myself complaining, maligning the fact that my children can’t quite do things for themselves yet. After my encounter on the playground, I’ll keep my problems and multiply them by one hundred before wishing for my kids to grow up.

Yes, I’ll happily read “Old McDonald Had A Farm” 100 times in a row, help you put on your socks and velcro your shoes, and carry you when you are just too tired to walk anymore, because these “problems” are not really problems at all.   They are tiny – nearly microscopic – bumps in the road to becoming independent.

And as not-so-subtly thrown in my face that day on the playground, I realized that as children grow up, their problems become more delicate, emotional, and serious.  The problems that they face are more complicated and likely to impact others.

Can someone please find a way to make time stand still?  Because I don’t want to get to the more serious stuff.  I want them to stay young, innocent, and oblivious to mean behavior, bad language, and unforgiving situations.  And I want my problems to revolve around Cheerios and Play Doh rather than the much, much harder stuff.

But try as I may, I can’t freeze time.  They will grow up and make choices on their own. And when they reach that point, my hope is that the example I have set for them is to be kind; love others; empathize; have unwavering confidence in who they are; and surround themselves with the right people.  If they adopt that attitude, maybe we will be able to navigate the real problems with greater ease.

Just a few weeks ago, I volunteered to read to my son’s class. He proudly sat in my lap as I read, and when we left school that day, he asked, “Mommy, can you go on the next field trip with us?  You know mommies are allowed to go on field trips.”  It didn’t take me long to find a babysitter for my younger two so that I could chaperone his next trip.

Ornament Factory

Happy to chaperone my son’s field trip to the ornament factory

I’m not going to let these days pass me by – these days when they are impressionable, eager to listen and learn, and want me around.  I’m going to use them as wisely as I can.  Instead of thinking I have problems when my toddler throws her winter hat off for the tenth time in one day or my three year old melts down when her brother doesn’t bring her something from the school bake sale. I will think about how trivial our “problems” are in comparison to the more grown-up situations they will soon face.

And I will use the extra time I have not obsessing over the small things but to teach them how to embrace the qualities that will serve them well on that critical day when they have to start making important choices on their own.

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our mom to three and writer in Poland, Loren Braunohler.

The images used in this post are attributed to the author.

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: The Unimportance of “Things”

POLAND: The Unimportance of “Things”

mudEight thousand pounds, ten suitcases, three car seats, and a mammoth-sized double stroller. That is how we move from place to place. Our lives measured in mass. The “things” we take with us as we circumnavigate the globe.

Every time we pack up and unpack I ask myself, do we really need all of this stuff? All of these things? What would become of us if we couldn’t bring these things with us?

Before I became a parent, I wasn’t so concerned about having our things. It was always nice to receive our personal items and make our new house a home, but we could do without. While on assignment in Sudan, our household shipment took a year to arrive and be released at the port, at which point we only had one more year of our assignment left. Surprisingly, we found it pretty easy to live without our things.

But then I became a parent, and we acquired all of the things that come along with that wonderful privilege – toys, blankets, cribs, clothes, plastic plates, bottles, kid-proof cutlery, safety gates, bikes, trikes, scooters, hot wheels tracks, mountains of Legos. All of the things that entertain kids and make them happy (so we think). Times three.

Somehow our things mushroomed from two thousand pounds to eight thousand pounds overnight.

With three young children and all of this stuff, it then came time to move — not once, but twice (internationally) in one year. The first was a move from Thailand to Washington, D.C.; the second from Washington, D.C. to Poland. And with each move came new regulations about how much of our stuff we could take with us and how long it would take us to receive it. And naturally, as parents do, I worried about how the kids would fare without their things. How will they keep themselves entertained? Won’t they be bored? Won’t they miss their stuff?

And then the test came. In Washington, D.C. we were allowed 1/12th of our unruly-sized load of things. This actually turned out to be a very good thing. We got out to explore often – every day – and many days, multiple times. We lived near trails of every kind, streams, baseball and soccer fields. There must have been ten playgrounds within a mile radius. Libraries, museums, nature centers. Most within walking distance. By getting out, it became increasingly clear that the kids didn’t need their “things,” that in fact, those things become pretty unimportant when there were was so much exploring to do.

Their happiness was not predicated on whether or not they had their stuff. They were just as happy as before; if not, more so at the excitement of discovering new places.

Crib jumpingAfter a wonderful year in Washington, we moved to Krakow, Poland last month. Our things arrived in several different shipments over the course of six weeks. It was amazing to watch the kids use what little they had at the beginning to easily amuse themselves. Crib mattresses became trampolines, our back yard became a place of adventures, plastic tubs became swimming pools, and moving boxes . . . you name it, and moving boxes turned into all kinds of things from forts to art tables and clever hiding places. And just as we did in D.C., we are exploring. We are exploring our neighborhood, the main square downtown, the forest, the zoo, castles with dragon caves (yes, you read that right), biking trails, outdoor fountains, ice cream parlors, chocolate shops.back yard

On Friday, the last shipment of our 8,000 pounds arrived. As I look around, I realize how easy it would be to simply. To cut down the clutter. To purge all of the things we don’t need and choose to get out and explore as an everyday way of life. Kids are the best versions of themselves when they use their imaginations. Less really is more. Happiness is not about what they have, but about who they are with. So what does that mean for us? It means we will slowly be letting go of our “things” over the next three years and lightening our load before we embark on our next overseas adventure. And I’m sure the movers will thank us for it.

Have you ever felt the need to cut down on all of the “things” you own?  Have you thought about how you might do this (i.e. – by donating to local orphanages, Goodwill, etc.)?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog by 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 sleep more.  Loren blogs about her family’s international adventures and parenting at  www.toddlejoy.com.

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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