Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thanks to a Mouse, its a Small, Small World

The Internet is an interesting thing.  With the click of a mouse one can find just about anything their heart desires- online encyclopedias, the latest edition of your hometown newspaper, hotel reservations, cute shoes, or even a spouse- all can be found on the world wide web. 

Technology has come a long way since I sat in front of my first computer- a Commodore 64 back in the fourth grade in Washington, Maine.  I still remember staring at the black screen with alien green font as I clicked away on the keyboard.  Later in high school we were required to pass a "computer literacy test" which essentially meant we had to prove that we could turn on a computer, create and save a document, then shut down the clunky machine.  Back then our typing classes (probably the single most useful class I took in high school) were held in front of old electric typewriters.  In college the Internet was beginning to appear on campus but its use was mainly confined to those students majoring in computer science.  My first computer was an Apple II, a cube of a computer that made typing papers easier but the only thing it connected to was a dot-matrix printer.  By the time I graduated, Mount Holyoke had Pine, a basic system that allowed for some rudimentary email communication.

Fast forward a few (or more) years and it seems as though the entire world has gone high tech.  Thanks to technology the entire world feels like a smaller place.  We may physically be living in Albania but thanks to Facebook, Skype, and the abundance of online stores we are more connected now than we ever have been.  We regularly talk to our families back in the States via Skype and receive play by play updates on friends' lives via Facebook.  We can buy just about anything online and have it shipped to us.  I've discovered that many on-line stores actually have a better selection of products than their sticks-and-bricks counterparts plus my transactions can be completed without having to fight for a parking spot.  I realized just how well connected we were when Glenn and I were coming up with his most recent stateside shopping list.  As I struggled to identify items he could buy in the States and carry back in his suitcase, I realized that there really wasn't anything I needed or even wanted.  (A cup of Starbucks doesn't count since he couldn't get it past TSA security).

I'll admit that the pace of my online shopping has accelerated since we arrived in Albania.  Instead of dropping into the store to pick up an item I fill my online shopping cart with the needed item plus a few additions.  After all, if you reach that critical price point in your basket you qualify for free shipping!  Of course, I must wait a few weeks before my purchases arrive but I get the same thrill from the email announcing I have a package that I did when I saw those little yellow slips in my MHC mailbox.

Some would argue that all of this technology is actually making the world a more detached place.  After all, you can accomplish so many things without actually talking to another human being.  I would argue just the opposite is true.  Thanks to technology we can meet people we would otherwise never know, we can learn about far away places without spending the money to travel there, and we can talk to our friends around the world.  The Internet could actually be viewed as a great equalizer.  If you have access to the Internet you have access to the world.  I realize that not every place or person has this access, but the number that do is increasing on a daily basis.  This means that eventually we will all be able to learn about one another and share ideas and we could even all end up wearing the same pair of shoes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Albania is a country filled with ancient sites in various states of ruin and neglect.  We've seen castles and fortresses that were mere piles of rubble and others that have been better preserved.  This past weekend we ventured south to Apollonia Archaeological Park, a 750 hectare preserve west of Fier.  I had seen a picture or two of some of the ruins and had been promised that there was now a "new and improved" road providing access to the site but beyond this, I didn't know what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised by what we found.

Bouleuterion (Monument of the Agnostics)
According to the Albanian Ministry of Tourism, Culture, Youth, and Sports, Apollonia was first established in the 7th century BC, by Greek settlers from Corinth and Corcyra in the territories of Illyrian Taulantis.  Of the thirty cities in the ancient world that were named in honor of the God Apollo, this Apollonia was the largest and most historically significant.  Archaeological excavations have revealed that Apollonia achieved its height in the 4th - 3rd centuries BC. During the 1st century BC, Octavian Augustus studied philosophy there until he heard the news of Caesar's murder.  The City of Apollonia was developed in stages with a total of 60,000 inhabitants living inside its 4 km of walls at its height.  During the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, Apollonia was damaged by a series of destructive earthquakes, the most powerful of which shifted the flow of the nearby Vjosa River.  Cutoff from the river and previous easy access to the nearby Adriatic Sea, Apollonia fell into rapid decline.

So what did we find?  At best, the "new and improved" road was paved and passable.  The approach to the park was through rolling hills filled with grazing herds of sheep.  We were granted complementary admission to the park because we were "American diplomats".  We would have gladly paid the 700 Lek admission fee but the gate attendant refused to accept our money.

The park itself was impressive with well marked ruins.  It many respects, it was very "un-Albanian".  Paths were well marked, trash receptacles were plentiful, and litter was at a minimum.   Apparently less than ten percent of the ruins have been discovered.  We were provided with a map that laid out the ruins that had been uncovered, and more importantly, the guide was in English, thus allowing us to really understand what we were seeing.  Unlike many ancient sites where you are kept at arms length from the artifacts, no such barriers existed at Apollonia.  This may someday work against its preservation but in the meantime, Sidney thoroughly enjoyed running, climbing, and playing within the numerous ruins.  We spent several hours exploring the site of the library, various temples, theaters, storehouses, and cisterns before settling in for a traditional Albanian lunch.

The main monastery building
The site also includes a museum and an ancient monastery which was perhaps the most impressive site in the park.  The well preserved chapel and grounds were hidden within the walls of a non-descript  compound.  The small chapel is still in use as was witnessed by the priests strolling through the grounds.

We know we only explored a mere fraction of what the park has to offer.  Apollonia is certainly not Rome nor is it Athens but it gives me hope for what Albania could be.  Since the park was established in 2006, the number of annual visitors has continued to increase.  According to the Ministry of Tourism, 35,000 visitors explored the park in 2010.  If our visit on a Saturday in late March was any indication, visitors- both foreigners and Albanians alike, are visiting the site.  In addition to the elderly Albanians we saw sitting on benches throughout the grounds we saw large groups of youth and a surprisingly high number of Chinese tourists exploring the ruins.  Apollonia is one of Albania's remaining wonders that could serve as an anchor in their ongoing attempt to become a tourist destination.  I think it is probably one of the coolest places we've been in Albania to date and we will definitely be going back.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

All About Bacon

Yes I am writing about bacon.  It is one of life's guilty pleasures.   It almost feels wrong to dedicate an entire post to what is essentially pig fat.  But it is so good and such a hit in the Brown household thus the reason it is getting blog time.

Much to Glenn's delight, Sidney has inherited his love of bacon.  Like his father, our son can smell bacon cooking, recognize it in the freezer and just one bite elicits screams of "bacon!"  Bacon can be bought here in Albania- usually under the name of "prosciut".  The quality of it varies and none of it comes even close to tasting like the American version we are used to.  Because of this, bacon and bacon items are a special treat in our house with both Brown boys getting very excited when I dip into my special stash that we imported from the commissary in Naples.

Bacon can be fried and served as a breakfast side but it has so many other uses.  I remember my Polish Nana having a can of bacon fat next to the stove for frying foods.  (This was obviously before the health conscious 1980s rolled around).  In his quest to learn to like the taste of eggs, Glenn spent many a childhood breakfasts eating various styles of eggs drenched in bacon grease.  (He never learned to like eggs but I suspect this experiment only intensified his love of bacon).

Currently I rarely serve bacon as a breakfast side; rather I incorporate it into other dishes.  As the saying goes, everything tastes better with bacon.  Both Glenn and Sidney will eat Brussels sprouts if I braise them with bacon.  A quick weekend favorite in our house is a BLT risotto.  For a completely piggy meal I've wrapped bacon around pork tenderloin before roasting it in the oven.  During a fit of complete decadence that would make my doctor cringe, I discovered King Arthur Flour's recipe for maple-bacon biscuit bake. It is a completely artery clogging gooey goodness incorporating maple syrup and bacon.  It is also so decadent that it is definitely a special-occasion dish.  I recently started following the Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja blog and the first recipe to pop up was one for oatmeal bacon cookies. I was intrigued and decided I had to try it. I substituted dried cherries for the raisins and my two in-house food critics both loved it.  Even while the cookies were still in the oven cries of "bacon" could be heard in the next room (I won't disclose who was the source of the bacon cries).
So yes; this is a post about bacon.  It is indulgent but it tastes so good.  Just as everything is better with bacon everything must be consumed in moderation.  That is my story and I'm sticking to it.  Even when I'm in my doctor's office.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Nata Pekinase- A Night of Chinese Arts in Albania

Last night Glenn and I had the opportunity to attend a performance of the Teatrit te Operes dhe Baletit te Pekinit, or the Theater and Opera Troup of Peking at the National Opera House here in Tirane.  The performance was a joint venture between the cities of Beijing and Tirane and this was readily apparent when you saw the marketing propaganda for the respective countries being flashed on the stage's backdrop.  Going in, I wasn't sure what to expect but I walked away having thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Pre-performance the event looked like it was shaping up to be your typical, unorganized Albanian affair.  We had reserved seats complements of the Chinese Embassy but upon arrival realized that "reserved" is a relative term in Albania.  We were fortunate enough to find two seats together in the "reserved" section but others- including Ambassadors and other dignitaries- were not so lucky.  All around us Albanians disregarded the reserved seating by ripping the reserved placards off of seats and throwing them on the floor.  They took seats reserved for others and refused to cede them as others arrived.  Glenn and I were appalled as we watched this but quickly realized that this is the norm when attending functions such as this.  At least we had seats-even if we were sitting in front of a child who under his parents "watchful" eye, hit us on our heads throughout the performance.

The performance opened with a traditional Albanian folk dance performed by Chinese dancers.  Their movements provided a gracefulness to the dance steps that is absence when performed by native dancers.  Traditional Chinese dances complete with colorful costumes and traditional music filled the next hour.  Songs were sung in Chinese with Albanian subtitles which put my shaking language skills to the test.  Even without understanding the exact words it was easy to appreciate the artistic value of the performances.  It was so beautiful.  Two separate acrobatic performances were nothing short of amazing.  The agility and fearlessness of the performers was breathtaking.  There were moments when the entire audience was on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what was to come.  The time between performances was peppered with commentary in both Albanian and Chinese, with the occasional aside in English set to the backdrop of Chinese scenery.  If you had missed the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing there was the chance to see parts of the opening festivities last night.

Overall the evening was impressive and perhaps was one of the best events we have attended since we arrived in Albania.  Yes, there were some aspects of it that "were just so Albanian" but that is part of the beauty of this life.  Where else can one experience such diverse cultures co-existing together in harmony?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Going Back In Time

Its ironic that in 2012, right in the middle of Women's History month, we are having the very same conversations about women's rights that our mothers and grandmothers had generations ago.  Hillary Clinton summarized the situation the best at a Women in the World Summit in NYC on March 10th.  “Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me.  But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies."  As Secretary of State, Clinton could be talking about extremists in other countries, which she most likely was, but sadly enough she was also likely talking about extremists in the United States.

I've often wondered why men, and yes it always seems to be men, feel the need to make proclaimations about what we women can and cannot do with our own bodies. As I often remind Glenn, "no uterus no opinion."  Or so one would think.  Current Republican presidentials candidates obviously disagree and think that they should dictate what I can do with my own body.  The campaign trail is filled with propaganda about what each candidate will do in regards to womens health if they are elected president.  Not one has mentioned imposing draconian measures that would limit a man's access to health care.  Perhaps that should a part of the campaign platform for the next woman who runs for president.

There are so many issues I could comment on.  I respect an individual's right to chose to have an abortion, seek out birth control, or make medical decisions that affect their own quality of life.  All I ask is that my own decisions be equally respected.  In a country that was founded on individual liberties, why are they slowly being taken away from us?  Further more, given the current state of the U.S. and world economies, is the question of whether or not I take a specific medication truly the most pressing issue facing us today?

In college I participated in my share of campaigns supporting womens rights and even spent a chilly weekend in D.C. commemorating the 20th Anniversary of Roe v Wade.  I've never considered myself to be political per se, but I've always believed that I should be able to chose and control my own body and yes, take ownership for my actions.  I still believe that.  Long time Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, a politician I have always supported and admired, has been quoted as saying that “it feels as if we are going back to another era.”  I think we are.  I guess the question now is how to we change the ebb of the current tide?
As I said earlier, no uterus no opinion.  I won't pass judgement on your desire to carry a gun, practice your religion, or not vaccinate your children.  In return, just allow me to make the same decisions for myself and my family.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Culinary Satisfaction

My food related post from earlier this week bemoaned my inability to find certain foods here in Albania.  I've received comments about the post being sad and in a way, it is.  What that post failed to mention is the amazing foods that are readily available here.  So today's post will sing the praises of food here in Albania.

Yes, there are many items that one can't find on the shelves of Albania's hypermarkets.  Typical American brands and pre-packaged items are non-existent.  (Not that I have ever bought a lot of these items anyway).  When they do exist, they are almost prohibitively expensive.  For example, the local Carrfour has a small speciality foods section that sells Old El Paso taco kits for five times what you would pay in the United States.  I would imagine that one needs to weigh their desire for these "tastes of home" with their willingness to shell out a lot of Leke. 

What can you find here?  During the summer season, fresh tomatoes are plentiful, taste the way a tomato should, and are cheap. I mean crazy cheap.  The same tomato that would cost you several dollars at a Whole Foods Market costs mere pennies at one of Albania's many roadside markets. The same goes for most fresh produce.  Last summer I commented on the plentiful supply of fresh figs.  At one point I had so many figs that I couldn't cook or eat them fast enough.  Fig season is long gone but this past winter I was introduced to mandarin season.  We have a mandarin tree in our yard which, given its size, produced an impressive quantity of the small orange fruit.  Guests at our December events were treated to chocolate dipped mandarins, mandarin cake, fruit salads, and bowls of mandarins doubling as table centerpieces and dessert.  As with all of the freshest produce, while it is in season it is abundant but once it is gone, it is gone. However, there always seems to be a new fruit or vegetable that takes its place on the shelves.

On a year around basis, jars of roasted red peppers and jams that would be considered to be speciality items in the U.S. are plentiful.  What would be considered gourmet juices in the U.S.- peach nectar, sour cherry and blood orange juices and yes, even banana juice, are plentiful and sell for a little more than a bottle of water.  We have so many Nutella-like spreads to chose from that I find myself buying a different brand each time.  The same items that I might be able to find at Trader Joe's for several dollars sell for less than a dollar here.  This past week I sought out lemon curd for a baking recipe only to find that I had not one but three different brands to chose from.  This in the same store where peanut butter is non-existent.  Go figure!

Fresh mozzarella and lamb have become dietary staples for us.  Due to their high costs, these items were occasional treats for us back home.  I remember planning a small dinner party when we were still living in Norfolk.  Since we would be a party of six I decided to splurge and grill lamb chops. Somehow the guest list exploded to twelve. After that dinner we ate pasta for a week.  Here we can buy a whole lamb for less than the cost of those lamb chops.

So yes, I have complained about the lack of variety in the food here but the food we do have is good. Really good.  It is fresh, flavorful, and embarrassingly inexpensive.  I've gotten accustomed to eating fresh mozzarella and tomato salads with my lamb dinners and Sidney will only drink blood red orange juice and peach nectar.  Part of me tells me I should enjoy this while I can.  The other part of me is thinking about how I will have cravings for these foods when we are back in the U.S.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

I've Got Cravings

I love food. Eating it, preparing it, reading about it- you name it and I'm all over it.  Back in the U.S. I could spend hours browsing through Williams SonomaSur La Table, and La Cuisine thinking about the perfect meal prepared and presented in just the right dish.  Now I satisfy these urges by browsing on line.  Its not the same but its the best I can do at the moment.  I subscribe to an obscene number of cooking magazines-as of late favorites include Fine Cooking, Cuisine at Home, and Saveur and attempt to cook at least one new recipe a week.  Sometimes it happens and other times it doesn't but I try my best.

I show my love for friends and family through my cooking and I must admit I'm a pretty good cook.  Food tends to play a central role in my life. No matter how busy we may be, we try to we sit down to a real, home cooked meal each evening.  If Glenn and I are going to be out, I make sure Sidney has a freshly cooked plate on the table.  Back in Norfolk we were a part of our neighborhood cooking club and regularly invited friends and co-workers to join us for dinners.  To me, the more people around the dinner table, the merrier it is.  Here in Tirana I bake batches of banana bread on a weekly basis to distribute to co-workers at the Embassy.  For Thanksgiving we had 23 people join us around three tables.  We are required to entertain in our home and I spend hours planning just the right menu.  Sit down dinners, working lunches, and larger scale receptions are all a culinary challenge that excites me.

When I am cooking I am in my element.  Our house in Norfolk had a gourmet kitchen complete with three ovens.  In D.C. we were regulated to a galley style kitchen that made cooking a challenge. Here in Tirana we have two separate kitchens that combined are merely adequate.  To me the space isn't what is important, its the planning, execution, and consumption of the meal that matters.

One of the things I love the most about traveling is the opportunity to try new foods.  When we first arrived in Albania I quickly set out to cook using the local ingredients  and eagerly tried all of the local specialities that were presented to me.  Food here is different than what I was used to and while most of it is good, after nine months, it is all beginning to taste the same to me.  Dinners out, whether in "fine dining" or more informal restaurants, are all beginning to taste the same.  Restaurant menus read like novels but three quarters of what is listed is never available and what is, is always the same. Everything seems to have a distinctive "Albanian" taste.  This isn't necessarily bad, but it just doesn't excite my palate.

Outside of Italian, ethnic foods are essentially non-existant in Albania. The new Carrefour stocks a small section of speciality foods that includes Old El Paso taco mix but without jalapenos to accompany the meal it just doesn't feel like Mexican food to me.  A local restaurant lays claim to having an Albanian-Mexican menu but everything I've eaten there tastes more Albanian than Mexican.  Chinese food is equally uninspiring- a qofta in a sweet red sauce is not the same as a true sweet and sour dish.

For the past fews days all I've been thinking about is the foods and flavors I just can't find here.  Last night I even dreamed that I was back in the States eating my way through my favorite foods-  a honey habanero burger from Kelly's, the Orchard Sandwich at Tailgate Picnic, and cider donuts from Atkins Farms.  A CNN clip on cupcakes has me thinking about lemon blossom and chocolate hazelnut cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake.

I try to introduce familiar flavors through my own cooking but it isn't always met with success.  A good Thai curry is always a hit in the Brown household and mine has been known to rival that of Thaiphoon but my inability to find fresh lemongrass here leaves the dish lacking.  Even a basic grilled hotdog is not the same and all of the seasoning in the world leaves it lacking the special flavor of a hotdog from Wasses'.  I did make a semi-successful Chinese sweet and sour pork dish a few weeks ago but after two hours of cooking it didn't even come close to a dish you would find at Peking Gourmet Inn.  My crab and artichoke dip- copying  Old Ebbitt Grill's  very own recipe- did not even begin to compare to what I could make with fresh crab from the Chesapeake Bay.  All of the love in the world cannot make up for the lack of key ingredients.

Alas, I now find myself thinking about food all the time.  I think it is the mere fact that I can't access these tasty culinary delights that has me thinking about them all the more.  What is a girl to do? I don't have the answer but I'm off to go make a cheesecake.  I'll follow my trusty old recipe substituting an Austrian brand of cream cheese for good old Philadelphia and hope the results will be the same as they were back home.

Friday, March 9, 2012

In Honor of International Women's Day

International Women's Day receives scant attention in the United States, but here in Europe it is a big deal. A very big deal.  Albania, like the rest of Europe goes all out in it recognition of all women- mothers, sisters, and daughters alike.  The restaurants are packed with well dressed women celebrating with their "sisters".  This posting is a bit late but I'm borrowing the following from our Embassy newsletter to explain one version as to why this day is so special.

The origins of such an upbeat holiday surprisingly memorializes one of the saddest events in the women's equality movement.  International Women's Day actually commemorates a 1908 fire in a New York textile factory.  Female workers had decided to strike due to unfair wages and terrible working conditions.  After several days of strikes, the factory owner barricaded the exits and set fire to the factory, killing all 129 works trapped inside.  This terrible atrocity led to the formation of the first women's labor union in the United States, and paved the way towards gender equality in the workplace.

International Women's Day is celebrated annually on March 8th.  In different regions, the focus of the festivities ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation, and love towards women, to a celebration of women's economic, political, and social  achievements.  In many regions the day has become an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a combination of Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.  In other regions, however, the original political and human rights themed designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

Festa e nenes dhe e gruas, as Women's Day is called in Albania, is celebrated with gifts of beautiful mimosa flower bundles.  The mimosa was chosen as the international symbol of the celebration in 1946, to mark the first Women's Day after the end of World War II.  It was chosen for its bright color, sweet fragrance, and full bloom during the often cold early-March weather.  It's viewed as a symbol of rebirth and renewal, underscoring its relevance after the war time. 

On this important day you can send mimosa flowers or bake a mimosa flower cake  for the special women in your life.  Or you can simply say "thank you" to the women who have touched you in a special way.  So on that note, I say thank you to the women who have helped make me who I am today.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Parenting Albanian-American Style???

Just when I thought there couldn’t be any more issues that could make me feel insecure about my parenting skills I have stumbled up on a whole new set.   Parenting books aren’t new and as a recent piece in the Washington Post reiterates, everyone has a different take on what is the best way to raise a child.  Conflicting parenting philosophies cross generational, socio-economic, and geographic boundaries and the debate can be downright testy at times.  French, Chinese, American, or Albanian, can't we just all raise our children in the way we see fit without interjecting our views on each other?

I can state with conviction that I am not someone who was born with the “mothering gene”.  In many ways parenting does not come naturally to me but thanks to my inner academic nerdiness I do my research and power through. Only time will tell but to date, I don’t think I have inflicted any lasting damage on Sidney.  As my own doctor and Sidney doctors have told me, I came into parenthood as an “older mother”.  Most days I like to think that with this age comes wisdom and life experience that helps guide my decisions.  There are other days, however, that my insecurities about my parenting skills pop up. Maybe it is because I am older that I am more aware of how my actions influence Sidney’s development.  This could be good, or it could be bad.   Only time will tell.

I’ll admit that part of the attraction of moving overseas was to escape the high pressure child raising atmosphere of the United States.  In an era when raising a child can be compared to a competitive sport I often feel overwhelmed by the unsolicited advice that pours in from what I hope are well meaning friends and family.  Opinions about breastfeeding versus formula, co-sleeping versus crying it out, and the “right” foods to be feeding Sidney only confused me and made me feel inadequate in my decisions.  The best piece of advice I have ever received came from a fellow NICU mom who told me that I needed to do what was best for me and my son and ignore the rest.  This is great advice but it is hard to ignore all the conflicting voices that came my way. My solution?  Move to Albania!  Ok, not really.......well sort of.

I naively thought I would be able to put my parenting worries behind me by moving half a world away.  With several time zones between us perhaps I would be able to ignore the tales of “when I was raising my child………….."  Now those stories arrive via email and Skype so they are easier to ignore but they are still there just the same.  Living in a small American community in Albania, however, has brought about a whole new set of challenges.   Here I find myself trapped in an American community within an Albanian world and much like the current debate over which country raises healthier, more well rounded children, my worlds are colliding.

In my experience, Albanians have a very different take on raising children than I do.  Whereas I am the mother at the playground who allows my child to fall down then pick himself up, Albanians rush to prevent the child from falling in the first place.  I let Sidney play in the dirt and (gasp) put his dirty thumb in his mouth while Albanians tsk tsk and physically remove the said thumb from his mouth.  I know to many Albanians, I'm probably viewed as being neglectful.  Kinder ones may dismiss what they view as my indifference to parenting as my being too busy to focus on my child.  This is the Albanian aspect of my world.

The American influences here just compound the matter.  Where as most of the American moms I've met here stay at home with their children, I buck the trend and work.  It is only part time but I also have responsibilities by virtue of Glenn's job.  These too keep me surprisingly busy and I find myself not having as much time with Sidney as I would like.  I don't have the time to hang out on the playground and attend play groups with the other moms.  I'm missing out on something and more importantly, so is Sidney.  Most days I convince myself that I am happier because I am working and a happier mom makes for a happier home but some days even I can't convince myself of this.  

I am lucky to have a full time nanny who loves Sidney as though he was her own child.  Sadly, most weeks she spends more waking hours with Sidney than I do.  This results in my not knowing some of the most basic things about my own son.  I still thought he loved broccoli but the nanny informed me that he stopped eating it weeks ago.  I thought Sidney loved to swing but he has apparently developed a fear of this piece of playground equipment.  The nanny knew this but I didn't.   Last week I did something I swore I would never do- instead of attending a monthly playgroup masquerading as spouse coffee, I sent Sidney with his nanny.  As I sat at my desk at the Embassy a mile away I felt the shame of not being an active part of my son's morning activity.  I wondered what the other moms must be thinking.

I tell myself that raising Sidney in a foreign country is good for him and his ability to master a foreign language at an early age will serve him well later in life.  Most days I believe this but on others, my insecurities rear their ugly heads.  When I stare hopelessly at Sidney as he speaks to me in Albanian and I just don't understand, I wonder if this really is the best thing for him.  Will he be able to communicate with children his own age when we return to the U.S.?  I tell myself that as Sidney plays in the dirt he is just being a boy and exploring his surroundings.   I try to stifle the voice in my head that questions what may be in the dirt.  When I am too tired to cook dinner and Sidney eats hotdogs for dinner I convince myself that ketchup is a vegetable.  

On a daily basis I remind myself of those words of wisdom passed on to me by that other NICU mother.  I too must do what I think is best for Sidney. If this means hotdogs for dinner after playing in the dirt, so be it.  If he spends the entire day with the nanny at least he is with someone who cares for  him and loves him.  And that is what is what is the best for all of us.