So here we are: we've been Crete residents for a month.
Big picture, it's gone very well. It is a lot. lot. lot to move and resettle a family of six, and more so when it involves an international move to a foreign country where you don't speak the language. I keep reminding myself of this when we face decisions we're unsure how to handle or have hard moments. Which of course we frequently do.
So overall, we're doing great. We have an amazing house we all thrive in; I'm so thankful for that. We use the pool almost daily, there's a driveway great for biking, and bike/running trails behind the house we can all use - farm roads with no cars, virtually unheard of in Chania. The kids' school is, we think, the right situation for them at this stage. (It turns out there's another international school in town that nearly half the ex-pat community attends, one which offers a higher degree of Greek language exposure. Which is pretty appealing to us. I visited it about ten days ago and liked it, but ultimately we feel the school we're at is right for us for now.) We've met a number of American/international families and now have a few fledging social connections for our kids and ourselves. After some trial and error we're figuring out a couple of local extracurricular options for the kids. We've tried ballet, tennis, jiujitsu, and gymnastics, and it looks like tennis and gymnastics are the current winners.
Less than a week after our arrival it became clear that my left ear problem is not resolved as it first seemed; the August surgery at Mass Eye and Ear didn't correct my issue. That's of course disappointing, both because its popping in and out poses a constant annoyance and because it limits my hearing in a setting where - given language challenges - hearing's pretty important. The good news is: it's not an emergency. The hard thing is: it creates a situation of underlying crankiness/stress which - needless to say - I wish weren't there. Since attempting another surgery's out of the question till we return to the US, I'm slowly exploring short-term fixes here in Crete like insertion of a tube or getting a higher power hearing aid.
I'm also exploring language options. A lot. Within the first few days or weeks of arriving in a new country any ex-pat is faced with a question: do you want to learn the language? If so, how well do you want to learn it? And what method(s) are you going to use to get you there? You can either answer this question intentionally, head on, or you can default to having it answered for you by kind of... not dealing with it. You're in a community of other Americans in a setting where most natives speak some amount of English, so it's pretty easy for the "let the question answer itself" option to play itself out. The language barrier can be mostly ignored. The added twist here, of course, is that the language is Greek. The alternate alphabet makes it seem more daunting than other languages, and the long-term usefulness of the language is questionable in a way that (say) Spanish or Italian or German aren't. This fact is discussed constantly among Americans.
By nature I'm a person who loves language and loves the prospect of communicating with others in their own language; that's just how I'm wired. So I find I love being able to decipher the signs on the storefronts, when I can... And conversely, it bothers me not to be able to speak to Greeks in their language (at least to some degree). We're chipping slowly and non-strategically away at some Greek words and phrases, which is helpful, but it's only getting us so far. So I find myself frequently wrestling with the language question - should I really give myself to learning this language? I know I'd enjoy doing so, and I know it would have some amount of usefulness during the time we're living here. But does that justify the time and cost it would require? (Even if we end up being here less than two years, when it's all said and done?)
We have all four kids in school for the first time... ever. So I have discretionary time for the first time in more than a decade. Six hours a day. Most of this time so far has been spent finding my way around, figuring out stores and shopping, getting the house set up, researching activity/community engagement options. But as things settle down, I'm trying to figure out what the coming months should look like. Sitting at home alone, even mixed in with a run and a cup of coffee, isn't a life on which I'll thrive. Contenders for the use of my time are: consulting work (re-engaging with my US clients, which technology makes doable but time zone realities make challenging); language-learning; writing; volunteer work; some combination of the above. Not getting myself overcommitted ranks high among considerations too, especially since time and attention are needed for supporting the kids as they transition, keeping house, and ear challenges, etc etc.
Volunteer work: there's a cool service opportunity in Chania in the form of a new coffee shop that launched in 2015. It's open 10 AM - 2 PM and is free to the public. There's a kid play area and, for those in need, showers and washer/dryer open two days a week. Also there's a used clothes "store" (free) open once a week. I just yesterday met the family who runs it (Greek guy, Russian woman, two young kids) and really like them. They have a weekly Bible study and prayer group too, I think - they work loosely with the two international churches in town, both of which we've tried out. Unsure about what we'll do long-term as far as church goes... Many of the other American Christians we've met attend American services at the chapel on base or do family "home church" on Sundays.
Where does all this lead? To this: moving is, I've been thinking, an existential enterprise at its core. You show up in a new locale and you think, "What am I doing here?" That's a question that, in normal home life, you can and might ignore the vast majority of the time, but when you first move you just can't. First you're asking yourself, "What am I doing here... in this place?". But right on the heels, at least in my case, you're asking yourself, "What am I doing here... as a human? What's most important in this season/chapter/life? How can I best engage and contribute and experience what life offers in this location and time?" No doubt the specific circumstances of my situation - the kids all in school for the first time, the ear challenge - increase the existential bent that my thinking takes on.
Existential questions have their value, and for the Christian, this turns out to be a fruitful place to be. An uncomfortable one, yes, but a fruitful one. It forces you into the place of seeking, of waiting, of being acutely aware of the reality that our life isn't fully our own. We're here (generally on earth, and specifically in the space we currently inhabit) for a reason, and we have a part to play. Led into that part by a real God who knows and cares and has a tangible purpose for things. And this is actually What It's All About. So from eternal and character perspectives, which I'd count as the most important one, it's Good.
Work in progress here, then; many of them. I wonder where we'll be at the two month mark?