Two is…

I don’t know quite how it happened (well, I suppose I do, but time is weird), but here we are, nearly a month into life with a two year old. Her birthday was a casual family day, but it was also fun and adorable. The Engineer’s Two Year Old is proving a pretty fun person to get to know.

So far, Two is up and down and a bit all over the place, especially because it coincides with having a month to pack up all our stuff and move halfway across the world.

Two is also:

  • Pleading eyes and “Watch videos now, please?”
  • Long bedtimes and early early mornings (we’re talking 5am, or even earlier!)
  • Lots and lots of stories, again and again and again.
  • Picnics (or NICNICS!) on the floor in the lounge with all her friends.
  • Copying everything we do, with sometimes hilarious consequences.
  • Counting “1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10”
  • Stripping down for “nudie” time whenever she gets the chance.
  • Possessives: “Elsie’s friends” “Elsie’s Papa” “Elsie’s snot”
  • Feeding the fish one tiny piece of food at a time, so it takes forever.
  • Reading her animal books to me from the back seat. “Ox bellows. Mama make noise!”
  • Running away as fast as she can to show us she is done.
  • Showing us just how much she remembers from a surprisingly long time ago.
  • Snapchat. So much Snapchat. (She calls it “masks”)
  • A quite sudden ability to complete more complicated puzzles.
  • A whole new level of communication. “Spicy! Spicy mouth! Milk helps…” and “Kiss knee, Mama. Ouchie Elsie”
  • Inventing names for things. Flavoured crackers are “messy crackers”.
  • Telling us a story over and over until we figure it out.
  • Meltdowns over stopping her using our phones.

Two is hard. Two is messy. Two is a whole lotta fun.

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Two is two candles on a birthday cake and one birthday girl enthusiastically blowing them out.

The Campground Manager(‘s Wife)

After too long in Expat Limbo, The Engineer’s Family finally has our next move locked down. We’re very excited. But it’s probably not the move anyone expected. (Heck, it wasn’t a move WE expected until a short time ago!)

We will leave Brunei in about a month, and head back to New Zealand. Then, a couple of weeks later, we will start as managers at a small but very busy campground. 

So, in less than two months, I will no longer be The Engineer’s Wife. I will no longer be an expat. I will no longer be a stay at home parent. I will no longer be in Brunei. 

But I will be with my favourite dude and my favourite kid in my favourite country, and I’m very excited to see what life as The Campground Managers’ Family brings.

The Engineer’s Campground Managers’ Family

The lessons I’ve learned 

We’re not leaving yet. We still don’t know when. (This is, at least partly, why I haven’t written!) But with a good friend leaving today (sob sob sob), I’ve been thinking and reflecting. I’ve thought about just how much we have to do before we go. I’ve thought about saying goodbye to friends and acquaintances, some of whom I will most likely never see again. I’ve thought about how our life has changed, and I’ve thought about what I’ve learned. 

Living in a new country is a real teacher. You learn from being displaced. You learn from the people you meet and the different cultures you encounter. You learn from doing hard stuff away from your support network. If you travel with a partner or family, you learn from how they react. As with any huge and uprooting life change, you just keep on learning.

And so I present, in no particular order, ten things our Brunei adventure has taught me:

  1. That I need to be outdoors, and I need to walk. And if I don’t find a way to do it, I won’t be a happy camper.
  2. That South Indian breakfast foods are amazing, and that we are really limiting ourselves if we stick to cereal and toast and fruit and eggs for the first meal of the day.
  3. That The Engineer and I make a great team, but that even great teams get stretched when they try to do everything themselves.
  4. That productivity isn’t always the best goal, and that “unproductive” time can provide great lessons.
  5. That mangoes can be delicious, but papaya is still not for me.
  6. That the internet is a truly amazing tool and can provide greater support than I ever imagined in so many different ways. 
  7. That geckos chirp.
  8. That fancy resorts/hotels are not entirely boring, especially with a toddler. I’m even warming to the idea of a cruise.
  9. That I really enjoy and miss my work.
  10. That sweetened condensed milk in coffee is pretty much the greatest. 

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Coffee with condensed milk/Galaxy computer sleeve/Photo by me

Moments

So often, I open this blog up, and think about writing a post. Often I start a paragraph or two, and then delete it all because it just isn’t coming together. I think I know why this is: it’s because I like to write stories, and life with a toddler is not lived in stories.  Life with a toddler is lived in moments.  I know that with some time and space, those moments will come together into stories. But life with a toddler is also not lived with a lot of time and space. So today, rather than give up before I even begin, I’m going to embrace the randomness of toddler life, and talk about some of those moments.

Like the moment this afternoon when The Engineer’s Toddler tried to copy me saying hippopotamus. She ended up with popom and a big grin, and we moved on.

Or the moment yesterday when she figured out how to get the roundabout at the playground moving and then stepped on for a (very slow) ride.

Or the moment this morning when she sat on the big blue mat at our swimming class, crawled towards me, and pushed herself into the pool for the first time since we joined the group several months ago.

Or the many many moments that she spends saying Ehss (her version of her name) and pointing to her chest proudly.

Or the moment, while on holiday in Mulu, where she put on her adorable little lifejacket, and held my hand with a huge grin while we waited for our boa’ (that’s boat, with a glottal stop instead of the t. Trust me, it’s cute.)

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Even the moment yesterday when she woke up early from her nap and wouldn’t go back to sleep and screamed and signed all done madly and shouted Moose and noi until I turned off the white noise and opened the curtains.

There’s also that moment when she got nearly to her bedroom before running back to me for one last kiss.

And the moment today when she asked me to put a dress on her, then on all her toys, and then her dolls, and wouldn’t take no for an answer when I told her that my big ol’ body wouldn’t fit into her size 1 dresses.

And the moment a couple of weeks ago when we had a big proper tropical downpour and I let her run in the rain at the playground after our toddler tumble session. She definitely liked that moment.

She also liked the moment a couple of days before that when she found a big pile of dry leaves to jump in at the park.

And the moment when I gave her her first ice block. That was a surprisingly short moment, because the afternoon sun is relentless some days, and an iceblock is no match for that heat.

So many of these moments are fleeting, unrepeatable. And that’s part of the wonder of the individual moments and part of the wonder of life with a toddler.  They’re changing, growing, learning at a crazy pace, and it’s amazing to see. Even when it’s sometimes not that much fun.

But among the weird and wonderful flyaway moments, there are those moments I’m so glad to get to repeat over and over.

Like the moment each night when she lies down next to me, requests Baby (that’s Hush, the Kiwi version of Hush Little Baby by Joy Cowley and Andrew Burdan, for those unfamiliar with The-Engineer’s-Toddler-speak), and cuddles in as I sing.

I know that moment won’t be a part of our routine forever, but sometimes I certainly wish it would be.

 

 

 

 

Toddler Talk

In the last few days, at 19 months, The Engineer’s Baby has finally started to say Papa. For the last two months, she has called us both Mama. And before that, she just got our attention with grunts and screams, and didn’t really see the need for names. It has been a surprising wait (she has been babbling up a storm since 6 months old, and she LOVES her papa), but watching her learn to communicate has been one of the absolute joys of parenting so far. She took a while to get started (she said her first word, bowl, around 16 months, which isn’t all that late but was late enough for this perfectionist to get a little bit caught up in comparing and worrying), but she soon got the hang of it, and is now going along great guns (although she’s definitely still not the most verbal kid!)

Papa is the latest in a list of maybe fifty or so words that she says (we haven’t kept track very well!) Her favourite words are more and teddy and no, and now Papa.  Many of the others are variations of the syllables ma and ba, making it pretty difficult for others to understand her, although I’m getting pretty good at spotting the differences. But even if people don’t understand every word, she’s a great communicator. She uses signs. We taught her water and all done, and she invented several more (including pepper, which came into play around 17 months when she was only just starting to speak and sign, and was an adorably weird view into her priorities). And when she doesn’t have a word or a sign, she uses gestures and/or drags people across the room to show them what she wants.

Interspersed with the meaningful communication is a whole lot of toddler babble, which is totally adorable. She chats to her teddy and her moose. She talks to herself as she works on things. She sometimes talks herself to sleep. A personal favourite is a little “oh dear/ooh ooh” sound that she makes when she is looking for something. It’s impossible to describe, and impossibly cute.

Which brings us to the biggest problem with writing a blog post about toddler talk: It’s completely impossible to convey in words how cute the communication is, and she clams up as soon as a video camera comes out. If you know a toddler of your own, I’m sure you’ll understand exactly where I’m coming from. If you have a baby and are waiting on this stage, you have so very much to look forward to.  And I guess everyone else will have to just take my word for the fact that kids are amazing and adorable, and my kid is no exception.

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The Engineer’s Baby with Moose (mah), and Teddy (teh-deeee)

 

Expat Limbo

There’s nothing like having an old interview published, and directing people to your blog, to make you realise that it’s been FOREVER since you updated. I mean, we all know it’s always been forever, but this has been a particularly long absence.

And the main reason for this absence (apart from the one and a half year old I have running around my feet most of the day) is that we are in total Expat Limbo at the moment. Expat Limbo, for those unfamiliar, is that time where you plan to move home or move on in the nearish future, but where you don’t have a confirmed plan of action/contract/moving date. Expat Limbo can last a few months, or in some cases much longer, and from talking to people around here, I gather that it’s a fairly common experience. So rather than not write my expat blog because of it, I thought I’d trying writing my expat blog about it.

For us, the plan is to move back to New Zealand, back to our house, and back to our old life, but with a toddler (that’s totally how it works, right?!)  We hope to make this smooth and seamless* transition before said toddler turns two, which is only 5 months away!! The biggest piece of the puzzle missing is a job for The Engineer. We are hopeful that something will change on that front soon (and we have good reason to be so – this is not a vague misplaced hope). But until then, here we are. Waiting. Hoping. Keeping it in the back of our minds, but not quite counting on anything.

And that’s where the Limbo comes in. That uncertainty of having a plan, but not being able to do much about it; of being half in your current life, half dreaming of a new life, and not totally present anywhere; of avoiding doing and buying things because of something that may not happen. It’s an exciting time, and a move we’re excited about the possibility of, but it’s sure not always easy.

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Facebook memories are not making this Expat Limbo thing any easier, with stunners like this (from New Zealand’s Bay of Islands) popping up to make me totally homesick.

One of the ways this Limbo is starting to get to me has been with buying things. We don’t want to have too much to ship home when the time comes, so we don’t want to buy too much. Also, buying new things in Brunei is not as simple as it is in some places. We often order online, but items may take up to a couple of months to arrive. And since we’re vaguely hoping that we may leave in a couple of months, so that we can travel before moving home, we don’t want to risk never receiving our orders.  At the moment I have a wardrobe full of clothes that don’t fit well, and The Engineer’s Toddler has a room full of baby toys (with just enough toddler things to keep her interest up), and it would be so nice just to be able to buy some things to rectify these “problems”. But in Limbo, that’s not an easy decision. The flip side is that it really makes us consider purchasing decisions more carefully, which is definitely a good thing. So I shouldn’t complain. And yet, here I am…

I know, I really do know, that the answer to reducing frustration while in Expat Limbo is to try and focus on and enjoy the present moment. The more I focus on what’s not happening or what’s going to happen or how frustrating waiting is, the harder Limbo becomes. Whereas the more I enjoy spending time with our friends here, watching The Engineer’s Toddler and her friends run riot at the playground, and planning in the “we have to do this before we go” experiences, the more I can see that however this works out, it will almost certainly work out. It’s not always easy to remember that, but I’m trying. (It turns out that focussing on the present moment is a pretty good strategy against many of life’s woes, but I’m still rubbish at it!)

And deep down I know that with The Engineer on my team, even if we end up with three weeks to pack and move across the world, we’ll figure it out and things will be okay. (But I really really hope we don’t end up with three weeks to pack and move across the world!)

* In case it’s not abundantly clear, I do not anticipate this move away from the only home The Engineer’s Toddler has ever known being anything close to smooth and seamless.

Choose Joy

I half drafted a post about how it’s been a rough time in the Engineer’s household, and some of the lessons I’ve learned. It wasn’t really a negative post by the end, but I got halfway through, and realised that I’m sick of only writing here in the hard times. I think it’s important to share those hard times, and will continue to do so, but at this rate everyone is going to think it’s all hard times here, and that I’m not enjoying this parenting thing. That is definitely not the truth, so today I’m going to focus on some of my favourite things about life with The Engineer’s Baby.

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This age (nearly 15 months if you’ve lost track, which wouldn’t be surprising with my posting (in)frequency) is so much fun, but my favourite thing is the babble. She doesn’t really speak any English yet, but her babble is fairly communicative and totally adorable. She adds sounds and syllables and babbly-phrases every day, it seems, and I love it.

We get on just fine, her and I, but she is absolutely crazy about her Papa. When she hears his car roll up, she gets the biggest grin on her face, and rushes to climb her chair and look out the window. It’s the cutest.

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Every so often she completely surprises me with what she understands. I’ll say “I’ve got a sore head”, and she’ll point to her head (and it’s repeated, so I don’t think it’s coincidence). Or I’ll ask her to get a cloth, and she actually does it. The other day she cleaned up her own spill with only instructions from me. It’s pretty astounding to me that babies can go from little newborn blobby cuteness to following verbal instructions in just over a year.

I love watching her play. She’s all over the place, of course, but every so often she’ll really focus in on one thing. Opening a container, getting a shoe onto her foot, pulling her buzzy be around, stacking her stacking rings. Her little focus face is adorable.

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She’s gone from a barely-cuddly baby to a really great hugger. Big around the neck cuddles, head resting on chest, the whole nine yards. Each night before The Engineer takes her through to bed, we have a last snuggle, and it’s just lovely.

This isn’t even the half of it really. There is so much joy in parenting a toddler. Sometimes it’s a little hidden behind some very real challenges, some not quite so real challenges magnified by sleep deprivation, and a whole lot of mess. But it’s there. And today, at least, I’m choosing to shine a light on it.

Homesick

“Well you only need the light when it’s burning low; only miss the sun when it starts to snow.
Only know you love her when you let her go.

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low; only hate the road when you’re missing home.

Only know you love her when you let her go; and you let her go.”

Passenger, Let Her Go.

I’m sure all expats are familiar with homesickness. The longing for the familiar, the comfortable. The wish to see family and friends. The feeling that this new place is too weird, too boring, too hard, or just not home. And let me tell you, I am really in the thick of it at the moment.

I miss home. I miss walking and just generally being outside. I miss not being sweaty. I miss tramping (hiking) and mountain biking and picnics and nature. I miss having a garden. I miss my favourite cafés and walkways. I miss gourmet burgers and nice beer. I miss my favourite op shop and my crazy wardrobe. I miss my friends and family. I miss feeling like I’m in the place where my soul sings.

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It doesn't look like much, but it's home.

Basically, I miss being home, and I am ready to go back. More than ready. Plans aren’t confirmed, but we’re working on it (and hoping to be back in 2016). I am trying not to get my hopes too high, but really I can’t wait.

But at the same time, I know that going back would/will be strange. We haven’t lived at home with our kid. The life we left is not the life we will go back to. We will need to relearn how to live there, recreate our routines, readjust our spending habits. Our experience in Brunei has changed us and our life in ways unexpected and unknown. We really don’t know what it will be like to be home, or if it will feel like home. It will definitely not feel like home to The Engineer’s Baby, who has only ever known Brunei.

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Although Brunei isn't so bad either.

And we will have to face the fact that for all the things we miss, there are downsides too. We will have to figure out seasonal dressing for a toddler. We will get cold, and will have to wear shoes other than jandals and Birkenstocks. We will get a shock every time we fill the car with petrol for quite some time. We will not be able to buy delicious Indian breads for breakfast every weekend (or ever, probably) and there won’t be a stall selling $2 noodles just down the street. We will miss our friends here and the life we have built.

But such is the life of an expat. Life abroad is full of good stuff and not so good stuff.  Repatriation is full of good stuff and not so good stuff. In fact, life anywhere is full of good stuff and not so good stuff. So at the end of the day, it’s not “expat life” that holds these challenges, it’s just life. And as long as we go into it with open eyes, an open mind, and an open heart, we’ll make it through.

Plus, we’ll hopefully be here, and who can be miserable with that view practically on your doorstep.

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Mount Taranaki, Stratford, New Zealand.

(Actually, me. I can be miserable anywhere. But that view definitely helps.)

The Brunei Best: Travel

It’s telling that when I sit down and think about the best things about being in Brunei, the first thing that comes to mind is getting out of Brunei. This isn’t because Brunei is a bad place to live, not at all. It’s just that Asia is such a huge and varied area, and being able to get to all (well, most) of it in not too long a flight is pretty darn amazing.

To be honest, we haven’t done as much travelling as we planned when we moved here. Out of the two and a half years we’ve been here, we’ve committed one year to growing a baby, and one year to raising a baby. These things don’t mean we can’t travel at all, but they certainly make it more difficult and less appealing. Add on a few months of settling in and getting visas sorted, a one month trip home, and The Engineer’s limited leave allowance, and our available travel time has actually not been all that high.

We have been on a few fun trips: to Chiang Mai for two weeks of chilling out with family; to Singapore and KL for long weekends and shopping; to the Philippines for snorkelling; to Kerala, South India (without The Engineer, but with my sister) for yoga and delicious food; to nearby Miri and Labuan for a change of scene. But the highlight so far has been our recent trip to Penang, Malaysia.

Penang is on the west coast of Malaysia, up near the Thai border, and is a 2.5 hour flight from Miri (which is a 1 hour drive from our house). We spent ten days there, which everyone said was too much, but which we thought was just perfect.

The first four nights we stayed in Georgetown, which is my favourite Asian city so far. There was street art and markets and hawker food and hipster cafés serving cold brew coffee and churros.

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We stayed in the heritage district and could just wander around seeing what was interesting, or jump on the free city loop bus or a trishaw to explore.

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We took photos and ate and chilled out and it was lovely.

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Then we spent five nights in a resort by the sea. We hired a car and headed to the National Park and the Spice Gardens and Penang Hill.

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We ate seafood by the sea, and up in the trees.

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We relaxed at our resort.

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We celebrated The Engineer’s Baby’s first birthday by the sea and at the mall.

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Overall, it was kinda perfect (despite the many moments of not at all perfect, like the non-sleeping too hot baby, the taxi driver objecting to our car seat, and the rat in our room).

When you have all of Asia to see, and a limited time to see it, it can be tempting to cram a lot into every holiday. But we were so glad to have the time to take it slow and go at a pace that worked for the whole family.

We feel so lucky to have all this on our back door step, and this holiday was a great representation of what we love most about being in Brunei.

We would love to go back. But, if we’re honest, we have so much left on the list, so there’s a pretty good chance that this was it. And if that’s the case, that’s okay, because it was amazing.

A first birthday letter

The Engineer’s Baby’s first birthday was more than two weeks ago now, but we’ve been busy with various things, and I’ve been struggling to process all the feelings, so this letter is happening now. Better late than never, I say.

Dear E,

You are now officially one year old. And what a year it has been. It has been joyful, and hard, and surprising, and amazing, and tiring. We are both learning about each other, about the world. Of course, we haven’t always been right in sync. There are times where our needs have butted heads like I never imagined. But we’ve both come out the other end relatively healthy and happy, so I’m calling it a success.

When you were born, you were big and cuddly, and strong. You took a little time and encouragement, but then came rushing into the world with gusto. And these patterns from your earliest days have continued to appear again and again throughout the year.

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At one month you were smiling and staring and loved nothing more than your parents. We hadn’t yet figured out what you needed to ease into sleep, and the evenings were fairly loud and uncomfortable. But during the night and day you were a curious wee dot who wowed everyone with those strong legs.

At two months you worked out how to roll yourself over so you could see the world from a new angle. You spent most of the time on your tummy (or cuddled into a parent) from then on.

At three months you were growing and growing. You were moving through clothing sizes rapidly, were figuring out new things all the time and were starting to move around a little. We were still struggling with sleep, but the evenings were a lot calmer.

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At four months you figured out forward momentum and could commando crawl to what interested you, which revolutionised your play time. I started to feel like I knew what I was doing, and you showed me that I didn’t really (and probably never truly will).

At five months you worked out hands and knees crawling and how to get to a sitting position. You got your first teeth and tried your first foods. We were in New Zealand for most of the month, and came back with a completely different baby.

At six months it was hard to keep up with the changes. You were babbling, pulling up to standing, and going through your first bout of separation anxiety and we all caught more than one virus. I was tired and overwhelmed and it was a rough month. But we survived.

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At seven months we made some changes to your sleep habits, and we all got a bit more sleep, at least temporarily. You took your first cruising steps, and continued to surprise everyone with your movement.

At eight months you finally gave up the carrier for your naps (with a little bit of encouragement from us. Or quite a lot of encouragement…) You continued to get faster at cruising around, started to let go a little, and got a whole lot more teeth.

At nine months you could stand on your own. You also started to clap and wave, and were losing some of your babyness. It was amazing to watch, but we definitely had mixed emotions about how very fast you were growing.

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At ten months you took your first wee steps. We were so excited and proud, and you seemed to think it was no big deal at all. You slowly grew in confidence and walked further and further.

At eleven months you were walking more than crawling, and were starting to talk. Your words weren’t English, but were adorable. Combined with a lot more pointing, you were able to communicate more and more every day. Your favourite thing was to stare out the window and watch the birds.

And now, at twelve months you are just starting to run (or at least you want to!) You’re a real little kid, and an amazing kid at that. You love to wander around outside, and are very good at letting us know when you want a cuddle. You are very serious about your playing, and when we’re out and about. But for your favourite people you always have a smile (and often a present).

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I share these milestones not because the actual milestones or their timing is important, but to show just how far you have come. But with all that growth and change, you remain the same E underneath. You take a while to warm up to situations, but once you’re confident you go for it. You’re a bold little explorer, but like to have the safety of a parent watching out for you. You’re a scientist, running experiments all the time to figure out the world and your place in it. You’ve got your opinions, and you’re not afraid to show them (loudly if necessary). You are cuddly when you want to be, but are first and foremost an independent wee soul who needs to work everything out for yourself.

This has been the most amazing year of my life so far, and I can’t wait to see how you take these things and build on them in the years to come. I haven’t always found it easy to keep up, but together we made it.

Happy birthday E. I love you.

Mama