Exploring Boston and meeting my twin

This week’s adventures included a friend visiting, which was a great excuse to explore Boston. I also met my name twin, which is probably not a big deal if your name is Sara Smith, but mine is a little more unusual. Only around 600 people born in the States in the past 35 years have my first name, according to Social Security data. For comparison, over 20,000 girls were named Emma in 2014. So this was kind of a big deal for me. Also, our last names are super similar, like Smith and Smithson. Add to that a few other weird similarities, like the fact she also just moved to Boston, and I made the joke that I shouldn’t bring bébé, lest he get confused about which of us is his real momma.

In the end, I didn’t bring him in order to have a girls-only afternoon, which included my first ever Thai food (yes I know it’s weird I’ve never had it before) and a walk along Newbury Street, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, and the Boston Public Garden.

Newbury Street

The afternoon started off a bit dreary, but it ended up being just beautiful weather, perfect for strolling around a new city.

Commonwealth Avenue Mall

It probably seemed like I was super excited about moving Boston, and I was, but now that the initial move is over and things are starting to settle down, I have been feeling a bit more blah about it. Since we do live a bus/train ride away from the center, it’s not like we can get to everything really easily, and with a toddler, long bus rides aren’t that fun. While I am still happy to be mostly car-free for now, working around nap times and train schedules doesn’t make for the most spontaneous weekends. And it really is very different from the environment I’ve been in for the past 8 years, so being back in an American urban aesthetic will take some getting used to.
Boston Public Garden

But making the trip in this weekend and walking around in the sunshine definitely helped me start to like it a lot more. I kept thinking “this will be great to show my mother-in-law” when she visits this fall, since I want her to approve of where we live now more than I’ve ever wanted her approval on anything! I missed out on some of my husband’s initial explorations those few weeks I was working and he wasn’t, so it was nice to discover a few things he hadn’t seen yet and tell him about it (since Boston is small and he’s seen a lot, just Newbury and Thai food).Boston Public Garden

We still had time to explore together, mainly new restaurants in our town, since having friends visit is also a great excuse for exploring local dining options. Walking around with her also helped me feel like this is “my” town now. She’s visited us in every single one of our apartments, so now we just need to plan a trip out West to see her and start exploring the States with bébé!

Getting used to a new routine

It’s been 2 weeks now since my husband started his job, and almost two weeks since bébé started daycare. He got his first ear infection the weekend before he was supposed to start, so I was at home with him for two days. I was able to work a little from home, and was grateful for how flexible my job is to allow me to do so, though it was definitely a challenge. I think any future work from home days will be while he’s at daycare, so I can actually work!

Even this week wasn’t a full week, because of the snow on Monday (Massachusetts weather continues to mystify me) I picked him up a bit early. So we are getting used to a new routine little by little, and hopefully next week will be a full, normal week!

The new routine involves waking up a half hour earlier than we’d been doing previously. It doesn’t seem like much, but I am really feeling the difference today – I even had coffee for like, the third time in my entire life (result = no increased energy, only increased acid reflux, boo). It’s only a tiny bit of sleep debt, but it builds up day by day, so after two weeks, I’m rethinking my whole morning and evening beauty routine to be able to catch some extra Z’s.

Other than the sleep, we seem to be managing pretty well. We’re all up by 6:30 (though this week bébé has been waking at 5:30 so that is a major contributor to my exhaustion) and bébé and daddy are out the door around 7. I have a bit of time to finish getting ready or to tidy things up, which makes a big difference at night. My husband drops him off on the way to work (on the bus) and I walk the 2 miles after work to the daycare and we bus it back home. And twice this week my husband’s been on the same bus as us coming home! So that was nice, to have some extra time to chat about our days. One day I week I have a late meeting, so we switch, and it’s nice because the same teachers don’t work morning and evening, so this way we both get to talk to all of them. We’re all home by 5:30 or 5:45, and I made sure to meal prep a bit on weekends so we’re all eating around 6. Bébé is (usually) asleep by 7:30, and we have so much time in the evenings for ourselves, it’s great.

It’s so completely different than the schedule we had in France, but that really was due to the long commute we had, and the inflexible schedules at our jobs. And while we could have moved to Luxembourg to be closer to our jobs, or changed jobs to get better schedules, I know we never would have. Small changes are hard once you’re really settled into a certain way of life, but one big change can be the catalyst for lots of little changes.

Starting daycare after being at home with one or both of his parents for the past 5 months was definitely a big change for bébé, but he absolutely loves it. He is just so outgoing and curious, and interested in trying new things, that even the daycare workers are a little amazed at how quickly he’s adapted. I think having him with a nanny who had two older children must have really helped. We’re trying to do something new every weekend (past adventures have included Harvard Natural History Museum, a local diner for breakfast, and walking the trail along the river), so hopefully that will also help keep him excited and comfortable about new things and experiences. Or maybe he’s just naturally extra adaptable, which will come in handy in the bilingual, binational, bicultural life that awaits him as he grows up!

Getting used to Fahrenheit

It’s been two months now since we moved back, and I’m still getting used to Fahrenheit. I didn’t realize how much I’d adapted mentally to Celsius, since I never really totally understood it beyond “over 10 is ok, over 15 is nice, over 20 is warm, over 25 is hot.”

But really, that’s what you do in Fahrenheit too. “In the 30s and 40s” is cold, 50s ok, 60s nice, 70s warm, 80s hot. It took me awhile to remember this mental shorthand, so I kept all my weather apps in Celsius, and confused my colleagues by saying thing like “oh, 18 tomorrow, great!”

Adapting to pounds has been just as tricky, at least for food purchases. Ordering groceries online means I don’t get to see things first, and I’m always surprised how small 5 pounds of something actually is. Bébé just went to the doctor and he weighs 24 pounds and I’m like… so is that good? Though really, I have no idea what children are supposed to weigh in either pounds or kilos, so I just plugged it into the growth chart and was reassured that he’s following his normal curve. (At least he has managed to avoid bulking up on American food, unlike his parents!)

Centimeters never clicked for me anyway, so talking in feet and inches is at least one thing I’m totally fine with (besides with bébé for the same reason as weight). And I kept baking with American recipes in France, sometimes converting, sometimes using cups and spoons a friend sent over, so that’s been okay. Except milk and juice and things that come in pints and gallons. Bébé’s bottles are in milliliters, so I keep forgetting to do the math before going to the store and either get only enough to last two days, or waaaay too much. And since it isn’t the bricks of everlasting milk like in France, getting too much means we’re wasting quite a bit, which I hate.

Anyway, I just thought it was kind of funny how hard it was 8 years ago to get used to new measurements, and here I am going through the same thing again! An unexpected element of reverse culture shock.

Already two weeks in Massachusetts

… and I can almost spell it without looking it up! (Seriously, how are you supposed to know how to spell it without having grown up here??)

The move up to MA from MD went well. A wonderful and amazing friend drove up with us to help out the first few days. I’m not sure how we’d have done it otherwise, without either actually killing each other or filing for divorce. Moving states is apparently more stressful than moving countries for this family. So hopefully we’ll stick around in Massachusetts for awhile (yay! Didn’t look it up that time!)

We had a week to get settled before I started work, and my husband had an interview that week as well. And he got the job! In terms of timeline for his job hunt, it was a little quicker than mine, but still everything happened once we were physically in the States. So really, we could have spent those last few weeks in France drinking way more wine and sending a lot less applications…

I kept up my weekly DIY last week and made bread for the first time in 8 years (because who bothers to make homemade bread in France?). I made overnight oatmeal during the week, which I’m going to count because this weekend was absolutely gorgeous so I was out exploring rather than spending much time in the kitchen.

Since I can walk to work, my husband will be able to take the bus into Boston for work, and bébé with be at a daycare we can both get to on a bus to/from work, we don’t have a car (we only rented one for the week of the move). So we’ve mostly been exploring our new town on foot, which is just a few miles west of Boston. There’s a trail along the river that goes straight into Boston that I walk along to get to work, and we had a nice family stroll there this weekend. We also checked out a church in a very pretty 20th century building, the library, and a local park. We’ve been meeting lots of friendly people all over the place, so I’m feeling fairly pleased with our choice of town. I did just sign up for Zipcar though, since I know we’re going to want to explore further out in the coming weeks, especially if the weather stays so nice.

Getting used to a new state after being abroad for so long is hard because I can’t use the same references and landmarks. I don’t know what’s good, what’s bad, what’s dangerous, what’s acceptable, etc. But a big reason I took the job I was offered was how insanely nice everyone seemed, and how open and adaptable they were about work/life fit. Support is important when you’re abroad, but I think it’s even more important when you come back. And the support and understanding I’ve gotten after only a week at my new job has made such a huge difference in feeling more settled. Having never worked in the States (besides waitressing and the university computer lab), I can’t say if it’s like that everywhere. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not like that at most places. So I feel super lucky that this is the kind of job I was able to find!

Job hunting while abroad

First things first: I got a job! In Boston! Now, to explain in a very roundabout way how I got it . . .

We moved without jobs lined up, so we were hoping to find something before we left, or at least have a few good leads. I was honestly quite doubtful that we’d get on the plane with an offer to start as soon as we arrived, but I was very confident it wouldn’t take that long once we got here. Job hunting while abroad was still very stressful at times, mostly because we started a little too early and got discouraged by rejections, despite knowing perfectly well how ridiculous it was to apply in September when we knew we wouldn’t be there until January or February. We did get into contact with the HR people of our companies in the States, to let them know we’d be moving and we were open to different cities. We both had some good conversations, but in the end, nothing was opening up that fit our profiles, and they can’t create jobs just for us.

One positive thing about leaving without jobs was that we had the advantage of picking the city that we wanted to live in. We made a list of all the places that interested us and that would offer the best opportunities for both of us. While I can pretty much work anywhere in human resources, my husband is in a very specific branch of banking, so we had to stick to big cities. For the most part, we focused our job hunt on these areas, though my husband did have a tendency to apply for jobs at tiny banks in the middle of Wyoming, just because he liked the name (of the town, the bank, or both), saying he wanted to try a new field. And maybe we could have a ranch and he could ride a horse to the bank. (Hey, this is our “American dream” after all . . .)

Wyoming reveries aside, we mainly stuck to the East Coast, since my parents live in the DC suburbs and one of the big reasons for moving was to be closer to them. I went to college in New Jersey and have friends in all the major cities, so I knew wherever we ended up, we wouldn’t be totally alone. I had a sneaking suspicion that we’d be getting the most replies from places around DC, simply because we’d have a local address once we arrived. And while I wasn’t against staying in the area (having a baby changes your view on things like school systems and parks), I was worried it wouldn’t feel like much of an adventure if we just slipped back into the same life I’d had in high school, just with a kid and nicer clothes. I wanted something new for me too, so my husband wouldn’t be alone in his adaptation to a new life.

This was a chance for us to change directions a little bit if we wanted to, so I looked for things a little beyond what I currently do, in the direction I want to go. However, I also applied to a few entry level HR roles, thinking I’d maybe need a little time to learn the new laws and payroll systems. I looked for things that mentioned French, since I knew that’s one thing that could really set me apart from other candidates. Also, if friends mentioned their company was hiring, I would send them my resume if there was something I was interested in.

Once we bought our plane tickets and put an arrival date on our resumes, I thought things would pick up a little bit. But actually, all the calls/emails I got were from applications I made in the three or four weeks before we left. So it seems really silly now to think of how stressed out we were in October about not having found anything. I kept saying it was too early, but it’s so hard to not be actively doing something to look for a job. However, sending out so many applications probably helped get our cover letters into good shape, and after awhile, we started to get fed up with all the complicated online forms, so we only applied to things we really wanted or were sure we were qualified for. So in the end, it was maybe a good thing to start so early, in a way?

I had a few different interviews in the two weeks before we left, via Skype, email, and video, for jobs around DC, and one in Boston. It sounded like a great opportunity to keep doing what I know and enjoy but lots of new things as well (basically, exactly what you want when you’re looking for a new job). And there’d be opportunities to keep speaking French from time to time. I got an email the week we arrived, asking me to come up to Boston for an interview, which went extremely well and just confirmed what a good fit this was for me, since a week later, I got the offer! A pretty sweet offer too. Along with three other calls for interviews from companies I had applied to within the past few weeks, all in the DC area! When it rains, it pours, right? Added to that was the interview and offer my husband got last week as well, in Baltimore. A very busy week for us!

The choice was difficult but not really. Baltimore was not exactly on our “list of cities,” being so close to where I grew up and and not a financial center. Boston was at the top our our list. My husband actually had a call with a company there the week we arrived, so we know he’ll have lots of options there. And the job he was offered is moving to the Delaware office in a few years, which, no offense to “The First State,” did not sound even a little bit fun. So while part of me feels guilty for him having to turn down his offer and follow me yet again into the unknown, a bigger part of me knows this is the right choice. This is a big reason why we moved to the States, to have better career options, and I really think Boston is a place where we can both do that. Staying around DC would be okay for us, but not great.

And while I know one day is not like living there, I felt very comfortable driving around Boston, even downtown. It all seemed different in a good, familiar way, if that makes sense. Well, I did used to go there during college to see a boyfriend, but that was 10 years ago, and in one tiny area of the city, so it’ll all still be very new to me. We’re going up soon to look at apartments, and I’m hoping the trip will make my husband a little happier about our choice. I mean, he’s happy I got a job I’m sure I’ll love, but it was scary for him to say no to an offer, not knowing when another will come up. However, if the past few weeks are any indication, I really think he’ll find something quickly. But not too quickly, because finding daycare is my next challenge and is proving to be slightly impossible . . .

This was a bit long, so if you’ve made it this far, thank you! Here’s my summary of job hunting while abroad: pick good cities with lots of jobs, start very early, get depressed about all the rejections, start applying to only cool things, then apply to only things near your parents, move,  have everything good happen within the space of about two weeks, make a huge decision that will impact your child, your marriage, and your happiness, then cross your fingers it will all be fine.

First experience with banks and doctors in the States

Less than two weeks into our new life, and we’ve experienced a few new things. Banks and doctors in the States are, of course, very different than in France, but it’s still a bit jarring to realize that I don’t really know how either work, despite having spent the first two decades of my life here.

 

Banking

I had maintained the savings account that I’ve had since college to pay my student loans, but closed my checking after a few years in France to avoid paying the fees. I opened a new one this summer, and transferred all of our money into it a few weeks before moving, expecting to be able to use the card sent a few months ago to my parents’ house upon arrival . . . Except they forget the “safe place” where they were keeping it!

No big deal, we had our French cards, and we could always go into an actual bank to withdraw money. Also, I had wanted to set up free online checking with another bank once we arrived, so I went ahead and did that. You don’t need a bank card to transfer money into a new account, just the routing and account numbers, which I had. While waiting for the new fee-free check card, I found the other one while cleaning my old room. (For anyone who has taken on the task of cleaning out your room at your parents’ house, you know how simultaneously fun and sad this can be.)

So hurray, I now have two bank cards, two accounts, and two ways to pay for all the things we’ll be needing to buy soon. But my poor husband still had nothing, since he was waiting on his social security number. It has been surprising to me how many things need this, at least coming from France, since they mainly use ID cards to identify people. But it showed up Friday, less than two weeks after arriving, and I went online to add him to my account.

Except the social security number is so new, he couldn’t be added! He needed to call to verify his identity. Reassuring but also mildly frustrating. He handled it like a pro though, since his job at the bank involved talking on the phone with clients all day about banking things and verifying their identities! I’m not sure if this would be a problem for people going in person to set up an account, but it’s something to keep in mind with the current trend of banking moving towards all online and phone services.

 

Doctors

This is not the sexiest secret to share, but I’ve had my ear blocked by wax the past few months, and was managing it with drops the doctor in France gave me. I could have gotten her to do the removal procedure, but every time I went in, I was with bébé, who refuses to let me out of his clutches in the presence of the evil shot-giver. It wasn’t too bad, and in the days leading up to the flight, almost all better, so I figured it would be fine and left my drops in France, leaving precious packing room for more important, non-replacable things.

The first few days here were okay, but every morning it got harder and harder to get rid of the “sleep fuzz” as I call it, so I went and bought drops here, along with a little bulb syringe. It didn’t really help the way I needed, and messing around so much probably just made it worse. The travel health insurance we bought doesn’t cover preexisting conditions, and I wasn’t up for calling all the doctors in town to see who would take me without insurance.

When visiting a daycare here, they mentioned CVS minute clinic as a way to fill out the immunization paperwork, since we don’t have a pediatrician here yet. So when my ear became totally blocked Saturday morning and I could barely hear anymore, I decided to check them out. Of course the one I went to that opened at 9 was exceptionally closed until 11, but at least I was first in line! It took about 30 minutes once it opened to sign myself in on the computer, wait a few more minutes to be called, and get the procedure.

It cost 89 dollars, which would make most people in France gasp in horror, but if you’ve ever had a blocked ear, you know you’d gladly pay much more to be able to hear normally again! I feel silly for not finding the time to do it in France before I left, but at least this gave me an idea of the kind of medical care available here. I know one clinic is not indicative of everywhere, but for a consultation or vaccine or short procedure like “cerumen removal”, it’s good to know there’s something available 7 days a week that doesn’t cost hundreds of dollars. And if it is a sudden illness, the travel insurance does cover one doctor’s visit, so it might even be “free”.