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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Our Last Week

Leading up to our departure from Argentina, life was understandably complex. We spent most of our free time deciding how to best organize our things to be moved, determine which items we wanted in our air shipment (which turned out to be a bust, the air shipment was tiny), and what we needed to pack in our suitcases so that it wasn't packed in our sea shipment. In the midst of all of this packing and reorganizing, we had a birthday party to celebrate Gretchen turning 3, attended a wedding, gathered the mortgage paperwork on a house the house we now own and said goodbye to our home for the last 4.5 years.

We had some great tips from friends that had already experienced an international move, especially regarding items that you need to bring with you as opposed to packing - just to make life a little easier:

  • Proof of car insurance (if you had a car) such as your policy. This will help when you're applying for car insurance in the US, they like you to have continuous coverage.
  • Shot records for everyone in the family, recent medical records for anyone undergoing any sort of medical treatment. It helps to have medical records for your little ones too, so that they can get up to speed with a new pediatrician without overlapping care.
  • Checkbook. We hadn't written checks outside of our yearly taxes since leaving the US, this was one that we almost forgot about. You need it if closing on house, or for all of those little expenses when starting up your new life (school registration fees, school uniforms, law mowing service, etc)
  • All identity documents, Social Security cards, birth certificates, marriage license and the like. You never know what the DMV, post office or other random agency will request.
Considering that most everything I just listed makes it sounds like we had a boring, mundane, work-focused week, it was actually quite exciting. Our last week in Argentina sums up many of the reasons that I loved living there. 

Starting out the weekend, we woke up early to help the new owners of our couch move it to their truck. Outside of our front window, there is an upsidedown pickup truck, which had hit one of the city buses you see in the photo. Not that I loved horrible accidents, but there was always something going on out the front window. 

Like the time a Fernet truck overturned and people ran out into the street at 5:00am to steal bottles of the popular liquor.

Or when a helicopter landed on the street. 

Or once a year when the mounted patrols would parade by on hundreds of horses. 

Or once a year when there was a huge fireworks show. 
You get the picture.

We continued the weekend by attending a wedding. This was our second wedding in Argentina, and as with the first, it is an all night affair. This combines a few of my favorite things. The fact that we could go to an all night wedding (with which we stayed in a hotel because we had a big week of moving ahead and needed to get some sleep) and know that our kids were safe and having a great time with our wonderful empleada, Candy. She gladly stayed the night in our half-empty, totally disheveled home with both of our kids and acted as if it were an honor to be asked to do so. We miss her terribly.

The wedding was also great. Lots of food, lots of friendly people and plenty of last-minute-Spanish practicing before we left. 

Then Monday came, and Gretchen attended her last week of school. On my way to pick her up, I was stopped on the street by Dennis Rodman. Yep. Rodman reached out his massive wingspan arm to stop me and tell me that I looked too serious and needed to lighten up. Not that I'm in the habit of taking life advice from The Rod, but he had a point - I mean, I was walking down the street within touching distance of this enormous, recognizable guy speaking English and I had no idea until he stopped me. 
I love that you just never know who you're going to run into on the street. This was just one celebrity sighting that we had during our stay, others consisted of John Malkovich, Mike Tyson, Britney Spears, Madonna's children and posse (not the Material Girl herself), Ringo Starr and now, Dennis Rodman. Two thumbs up.

As the packers were going through the house, we tried to keep Gretchen as occupied as possible. It's pretty sad to watch your things be packed away and your house become an empty shell. Traumatizing even. So, she spent time with friends doing super fun things. Like going on this amazing picnic with Candy and her family. They made her fruit salad, delicious homemade cupcakes, sandwiches and the entire family (all four children and parents) took both of our kids to the park. They even went to the much further calesita park because it's what Gretchen wanted. Could they be any nicer?

Then we moved into this amazing hotel, the Four Seasons Buenos Aires and had a great view of Av 9 de Julio.

The hotel was incredible and even better, it was 3 blocks from our apartment. I loved that we could go out to a fancy brunch or sit and have a drink at their beautifully decorated bar and it was a 5 minute walk away. I also loved that we could pay in pesos and spend as much as we would at a normal restaurant in the US.

I also love that we saw, and met, James Hetfield from Metallica on his way to the gym. Gretchen gave him a flower that she had picked. He was a nice guy.

We got stuck in a rainstorm as I scrambled to get the last 2 vaccines needed to get the chicos up to date on their shots before we left.

I did not love getting stuck in the rain over a mile from home.

I did not love the cab drivers waving their angry little fingers at me telling me that no, they are not interested in my dripping wet stroller in their car.

I do love that we walked home, in the pouring rain, with no gear and Gretchen thought it was hilarious. I think living in Argentina has taught all of us to be more tolerant when things aren't perfect. Sometimes you need to just go with the flow, walk for awhile in the rain while your daughter's school uniform shields your 6 month old from the downpour.

We had a going away party with some of the families at Gretchen's school. It was at a Burger King that had a play area for kids and when we tried to take a group picture all of the kids freaked out - so here is a picture of some of the moms from school. This was a great group of women who helped me out when I didn't understand, took me underwing when most of my friends moved away and helped us feel more connected to the community.

I love that as a foreigner, I was able to make such nice friends and even though it was hard for us to communicate at times, they still included me in their mom group.

To that point, here is Gretchen with Candy's son Ale on the way to the airport to catch our flight. That's right, Candy and three of her children accompanied us to the airport to say farewell. So incredibly thoughtful. To add to the sweetness, Gretchen and Ale held hands on the way and then both fell asleep in their seats. We are so lucky to have gotten to know this family, and Gretchen and Alex's early childhood was enriched by having Candy (and her family) in our lives.

It's hard to describe why we loved living in Argentina, there were so many reasons, but our last week summed up many of them in one 7-day package.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Leaving Argentina

We knew that living in Argentina was not to last forever, and we knew the end was near for a solid six months. There are many things that you can do to prepare for a large international move, and I recommend doing as many of them as possible - because even in the most prepared state possible, the move is a chaotic blur. When you are moving, here are a list of things that you should do as far in advance of the move as possible:
  • Sell everything that you think you might want to sell. This includes anything that you can live without for 4 months (while the sea shipment arrives), anything you can sell for the same amount as buying a new one in the US and everything that you don't want to fit into your new life. That weird end table that you don't really like, sell it. The swing your child will grow out of in a few months, sell it. Argentina makes it very difficult to get anything into the country, so generally, things have a much better resale value there than they would at home. AND you don't have to add the risk of moving/breaking/damaging the item if you sell before you move.
  • Close out all of your accounts as soon as possible. Argentinean pesos hold NO value outside of the country (as of 2014, many countries including the US don't even accept them as currency) so you want to leave with zero pesos. This includes, gym, school, bank, any sort of service should be paid in cash ahead of time if possible. 
  • Sell your car. HUGE hassle.
  • Plan your luggage strategy. Navigate the complex luggage policy of whatever airline you're on and know that you'll need to pack for 3-4 months. Pack clothes (and larger clothes for the fast-growing little ones) but remember to pack towels, basic kitchen needs, sheets and other daily items that you don't want to re-buy. I learned the hard way that you need a can opener, corkscrew and cutting board (all items we own multiple of that I was hoping not to repurchase). Note: I should have sold all of these things because now we own duplicates anyways.
  • Have your "art" evaluated. The moving company coordinated this for us so I'm not sure exactly how to do it, but make sure that it happens FAR in advance of your move (at least 4-6 weeks before packing). They send an appraiser to look at any original art that you own. We are not big art collectors, but that fingerpainting that we gave Daddy for his birthday - yeah, that's art. The photograph that a friend gave me and I had framed, it's art. The $5.00 print we purchased at an outdoor weekend market, art. A representative comes out to take photos of your art and provides copies to the moving company to use while they pack. At the end of the day, everything that is considered art will have a print out photograph taped to the outside of the box. The idea is that customs officials will then be able to recognize if we are attempting to move national treasures out of the country - this all started after one of the national art museums had a large robbery - though it seems laborious and ineffective to me. 
Art evaluation: Check
  • Visit your favorite places one last time. This was especially hard, there are so many places that we loved, including trips that we would have loved to re-visit (SaltaMendozaBariloche) but there just wasn't the time. We were able to get back to these local places:
The Calesita Park:

The Four Seasons pool:

The Abasto Children's Museum:

Vicente Lopez Park:

Puerto Madero:

  • Schedule the good bye parties for a week or two before you go. The night before a move sounds like a great time to bid farewell to your friends... three weeks beforehand. During the actual move you are tired, spent, and constantly running behind schedule. You don't want to have to cancel a despedida last minute or fall asleep in the middle of one.

Remember to have a little bit of fun. These weeks/months will fly by and I have to remind myself to take time to sit and relax with the kids. This is the first time that we have moved with kids of our own, and both Jon and I wanted to keep it as positive an experience as possible, in line with how our parents made moves for us. As a kid a move consists of eating out, sleeping in cool hotel beds and adventure. As an adult, it is a stressful, expensive and exhausting experience - and it is important to us that our kids feel as little of that as possible. Things that helped:

Lay around a little bit. If every second of every day is dedicated to the move, you will drive yourself crazy.
Look at this pre-cut hair! Such a moptop!
 Let them play. We "decorated" boxes with stickers, crayons and built cool forts while the packers worked around us. The packers thought it was great fun.
Caution: Precious Cargo
Watching iPad in a box fort = best afternoon ever
And on the landing end, picking out appliances is boring, but playing in a real play kitchen is superfun. Notice that ALL of the soap dispensers are in the microwave and cabinets. The salesman making commission on our appliance purchases was more than happy to put this all away.

Don't get me wrong, the move is still a chaotic blur, but if you can get organized before leaving, you may have enough sanity left to have time for fun while the chaos goes on around you. I'll let you know how we fare at the end of it all, the chaos is still swirling for now.