My husband and I met just after college and we immediately connected over our mutual love of travel. I’m originally from the US and he is from Poland, but he moved to the US when he was a teenager. When we met, we were living in Illinois, but after dating for two years we got engaged and moved to North Carolina for his job. We knew that we would probably have multiple moves for his job, but didn’t expect to live in such great places. While living in North Carolina, I went to grad school and got my Masters in Child and Family Development. I worked as a teacher and in Early Intervention but once we moved to Europe I put my career on hold. Parenthood and traveling became my new full time jobs! In 2011 we moved abroad to Czech Republic from the US and then in 2014 we moved abroad again to Switzerland. This past December we moved to Toronto, Canada with my husband’s company, making it our third international move. You could say that we are very experienced expats!
I was 7 months pregnant with my first child when we moved to Prague and it was definitely a bit nerve wracking to give birth abroad. We found an amazing doctor there and I wound up having a really great pregnancy and birth experience. The actual hospital stay itself was slight torture...post-Soviet hospital building, nurses who spoke not a word of English but could yell at me in either Czech or German, vegetarian “menu” of boiled carrots, potatoes, and some bread, and being rationed on ice and pain medication along with a 5 day stay which is standard for a normal, vaginal delivery were all a lot to struggle through. But we survived and I was so happy to be discharged home! Things with my second son were much easier since by then we had learned some Czech and the nurses remembered us from the previous time and incidentally were much kinder. Then five years later I had our third child in Switzerland and what an entirely different experience it was! The private room was like a five star hotel, we chose our very gourmet meals daily from a menu, and my husband and I even got a private three course meal in the restaurant (cafeteria) along with champagne while the baby went to the nursery. It was incredible and I was slightly reluctant to go home!
Now I am a Mom of 3, two boys aged 9 and 6 and a baby girl who is 15 months. My husband travels a lot for his work and I am a stay at home Mom. My life as an expat Mom has also inspired me to write a travel blog and create content on Instagram about our experiences traveling to more than 50 countries (more than half of those with kids). We were actually traveling in the Southwest US in March 2020 and had to cut our trip short as things got more serious and talk began of the US/Canada border closing due to the coronavirus pandemic. We rushed home and made it back just a few days before the border closed. While we were on our trip in the US we got the email that schools would be closed for two weeks. (It’s now been cancelled for the rest of the school year, which ends at the end of June). When we got back home, my husband’s company told all employees to work from home for the foreseeable future, so we came back from our trip to a very different world than when we left.
In our previous routine, our boys were in school and I was taking care of the baby but had planned to enroll her in a daycare two days a week in the fall so that I could have more time to get back to my work. Now the daycares have had to decrease their numbers so it looks like there won’t be a spot for her. Now, with all three kids at home during the week, we really have to stick to a schedule. I help the kids with their e-learning while the baby takes her first nap. They do 1-2 hours of work and then have some outdoor time and lunch. After lunch, the baby takes another nap and the boys do some quiet reading or other activities while I try to get a few things done. In the afternoons we usually go for a walk or a bike ride. I fix dinner and my husband wraps up his work day and joins us. He does bath and bed-time and I work out and unwind or get some work done. Normally I’m so exhausted though, that not much gets done!
One of the biggest impacts of the pandemic for me personally is just a complete lack of free time and personal space. My husband takes the kids out on the weekend a little bit, which is easier now that the weather is nicer. I had a lot of projects and things I was working on before this, so it’s been hard to basically put everything on hold. My parenting has definitely been tested as I’ve found it so monotonous to be at home 24/7 with the kids. Even though I stayed home with the kids before, it was so different being able to go out with the baby to the library and her baby gym class and just out to run errands or go grab a coffee. It’s easier with the boys who are independent and just at fairly easy ages...but keeping a one year old entertained at home constantly is just really hard.
Personally I struggle a lot with loneliness lately. Our family is all a closed border away from us and the uncertainty of when we will get to see them again is really hard to deal with. Since we just moved at the end of December we have hardly had a chance to meet anyone. It’s hard knowing that even when things ease up a bit and some socially distanced gatherings are permitted we don’t even have anyone here to see. I get really overwhelmed when I think about the future because how do you make friends when everyone is on lockdown? The baby gym my daughter was going to for a short time before this has gone bankrupt and once things start to slowly reopen, life will look different. What if school doesn’t go back in the fall? How long could this drag on and how will we ever make any friends? In the beginning it was really nice to facetime friends that we usually don’t get to chat with because everyone’s schedules are so busy...but now after 10 weeks of this, in the evenings I just feel so emotionally exhausted that I can’t always muster up the energy to connect virtually. My husband’s work has been busier than ever so we don’t have much time to connect either. Some days I wonder if I’ve forgotten how to carry on a conversation with grown ups anyway!
I also miss traveling desperately. It’s such a way of life for us and we’ve never gone this long without having a trip or at least one planned. With all the uncertainty, I can’t bring myself to plan or research anything because I don’t know what’s realistic at this point. The provincial parks and conservation areas were all closed here for about 9 weeks and that was a really hard one. Nature is definitely my therapy and not being able to get out into a forest or on a trail was tough. I’m so thankful that they’ve now reopened and we have at least been able to get out into nature with the kids. As the days finally start to warm up here, I’m glad that we can go out and explore a trail, have a picnic, and find some water for the kids to splash around in. It is a huge game changer at least being able to get out and do that. I hope everyone will use the trails responsibility so that we can continue to enjoy them!
Despite the difficulties of the situation, we definitely have also found some silver linings in all of this! We are normally on the go a lot and my husband travels tons for his job so our time together as a family is usually much more limited. We usually look forward to the times that we travel as a family so much because it’s usually the only uninterrupted time we get together. Having some time to just chill and all be together has been really nice. We’ve started some new traditions like Friday night pizza and a movie once the baby goes to bed. Saturday night we do game night and little things like that give us something to look forward to. We also have finally made time for a lot of things that we should have done earlier but just never found time for...like the boys FINALLY perfecting tying their shoes. They’ve started doing more chores and cleaning up after dinner every night and giving them more responsibility has also given them more self confidence. We have had so much fun quality family time the past few months, and for that I am really thankful.
You can follow Ashley on her website and social media accounts as: Born Explorers!