Monthly Archives: September 2012

Diving into the deep end

Yesterday was my first Dental Screening. I volunteered to work security. It’s kind of like overseeing, with a team of other people, hundreds of starving people lined up for a free soup kitchen that is their only hope for a meal. Ever. But this was for people who need to see a Dentist. And most of whom didn’t speak English.

I had in the back of my mind the seriousness of the endeavor, as Dreamboat had been to an Eye Screening (for double cataracts) last week, where the crowd had gotten out of hand. When the door they were pushing against began to buckle, the screening was quickly cancelled.

We left the ship at 07:00 (we use nautical time here) and were instructed what to do, how to use our radios, and outfitted with bright orange vests. No piece of clothing has ever given me such authority before. Loved it.  (I’m thinking of wearing one daily to increase the respect I get from the family.)

It was a short drive to where the offshore dental team works, and when we arrived there were already hundreds of people lined up in mostly orderly rows divided by: men, women, and children.  After tucking some cash into the back of my pants (next time I’ll wear something with pockets!), I walked down the three lines and chatted with people. Greeting old and young men, holding babies, and talking with the women. And grateful my French was coming back.

They were beautiful. Colorful (I LOVE the fabrics here). Faces full of hope. Most were full of smiles. Those that weren’t smiling were holding hands to swollen cheeks, some with tears streaming down them, with obvious infection and lots and lots of pain.

Ever had a toothache? I can venture to say it HURT. My ability to consider other peoples’ feelings goes out the window when something really hurts.  But maybe that’s just me…

Hordes of other people, those in need of non-dental medical care, milled about. Waiting. Hoping. Fathers brought their sons to me and showed me disfigured legs. Mothers brought their daughters to me and peeled back their little fingers to show webbed hands from burn accidents. A man brought his blind father. A woman raised her shirt to show me growths in her breast. The need was heartbreaking and overwhelming. I was starting to regret the vest. Many of these beautiful, hurting people I sent away with a “Je suis desolee” [ I am sorry]…

…But, I am not a Doctor. Today is for teeth problems only. For those who need a dentist.  Watch and read The Journal for news if there is another General Screening.

Those I turned away thanked me for my time. Thanked me. One father said a blessing for me as I walked him and his young son away. I was stunned. That probably wouldn’t be my first response if one of my kids was turned away. I was humbled, amazed, and inspired by him. By the beauty I have encountered in the people here. Warm. Gracious. Kind. Honoring. Even in the face of incredible suffering.

Some of these, whose ailments were operable, we were able to quietly lead away from the crowds and behind security, to a medical screener, who took their contact information, to reach out to them in a couple of days.

I planted myself at the front of the line, just to the side of a very large puddle. I thought it was safer there. Less emotional land mines for me.

As the sun began beating down full-force, some of the little children began to fidget and cry.  One mama brought over a piece of cardboard, so her kids could rest their legs and sit for a while.

The adults explained to me that many had spent the night on the street (strong word for the dirt-packed, trash-littered, grass & mud-lined place that it was).  Some had been there since 02:00.  All were tired. Most were hungry.

As surreptitiously as I could, I pulled a sweaty 10,000 GFN ($1.42 USD) from my yoga pants and asked the security guard (a handful of whom Mercy Ships hires to secure their off-shore sites) to negotiate and buy bread rolls from a woman carrying them, in true African fashion, on top of her head.  She lowered her metal pail, and forked, hopefully fresh, rolls to the children.

Snapped with my phone to not attract the military protecting adjoining buildings from photographs.

Most of the women had obviously rotten teeth. They explained that they brush regularly.  But difficult pregnancies, with lots of vomiting, eats away the enamel. It’s one of the hordes of unpleasant reasons I stopped having babies. I would be waiting in line right there with them if I didn’t have access to the dentists I saw regularly through each pregnancy. And if I were born here, to similar circumstances.

As time wore on, the sweat beading on my upper lip began to bother me. Instinctively I brushed it off. And then thought of the disease. The cholera epidemic here. The germs I must have on my hands from all whom I’d touched. And then transferred to my face. And then I was ashamed for thinking of myself. For worrying about keeping my hands sanitized, when these women with whom I deeply identified, were facing such bigger issues. And would continue to face, long after the few hours I volunteered.

I’d like to say the dental team arrived and all ended well, and eventually it did. I was truly amazed. But, it didn’t end without bringing to light corruption and sadness.

The security guard at the front of the line, against Mercy Ships direction, had been making a list, and probably taking money, to secure places at the front of the line.  Him moving people around almost started several uprisings. He messed with the wrong mama’s! But, he’s lost his job, the waiting people were calmed, and then eventually screened by the dental team. Those with urgent needs were seen immediately. Many were given appointments for today.  Many were also told to come back Monday and Thursday of each week, until all are seen.

When my radio cackled it was time to leave, I wasn’t prepared to go. Not ready to leave. If it weren’t for the meetings waiting for me back on board, I would have stayed all day, sharing in the hurts and celebrating the joys with these inspiring people.

Physically, it was a tiring day.

Emotionally, it was exhausting.

And rewarding.

And, why I’m here.

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Filed under September 2012

The adventure has begun

Rather than simply change planes in Brussels, we decided to spend a few days there, to adjust a bit to the time difference, and have a family break before starting life in Guinea. This picture sums up our five days in Brussels.

We had such a wonderful family time, to decompress, eat, drink, and be silly.

The flight to Conakry, was a deep (and LOUD) dive into local culture! The man a few rows ahead, traveling with his two young daughters, had his hands full. When he couldn’t get one of them to shush, either someone sitting within the sound barrier (eight rows front, back, and either side), or someone within arm’s reach, would take one of the girls.

Sometimes the man would raise a daughter up over his seat and hand her to an unwitting (but apparently not unwilling) passenger.  Sometimes it was initiated by the fellow passenger.  All of these were strangers.

And, strangely enough, each of them tried their hand at quieting the child.  Some were men, some were women.  They each succeeded in getting the girls to sleep. And then they would quietly pass the angelic, and finally quiet, girls back to their dad.

I think Peanut knew he was going to be handed over if he fussed, and was suspiciously quiet the entire seven hours. 

Our cabin on board the Africa Mercy has been a pleasant surprise!  It’s 10% of the size of our house, (it’s still our house–the sale fell through) but much bigger than we anticipated.  We’ve got Peanut’s stroller and backpack shoved behind the end of the couch, but we’re in!

The kids’ room has a bunk bed for the older two, and Peanut sleeps in a pack n’ play at the foot of their bed.  The room is just wide enough for him to reach over the side of his crib, open either of his siblings’ closets, and dump all their contents on the floor.  He’s greatly amused.  They’re campaigning for me to pay them in TV-time, every time they have to clean up one of his messes. I like the idea of paying for chores with something other than cash, but not sure TV-time is the winning currency.

Our “Master Bedroom” (had to say that - it makes me snort and giggle) is cozy. I love that Dreamboat and I literally brush past each other a dozen times an hour. Small spaces make for lots of contact. Can’t beat that.

Hmmm…I’m thinking that in the next house, we should switch the master bedroom with the closet. That’s a much better use of space.

Speaking of closets, I brought ALL the wrong clothes. This is a Moslem part of Africa. No ‘kneevage’ allowed. I’m looking at my knees with new eyes!

During breakfast, early one morning, (and, I do mean EARLY.  There are mandatory meetings that start at 7:45 am, and Dreamboat had left at 4:00am for a screening of potential patients with DOUBLE cataracts.) Miss O was telling me that I don’t understand how hard it is to be my daughter. Had I shown more sympathy to her plight, we might have avoided the incident that followed. But, I didn’t. And here’s what did.

Miss O, quite dramatically left to use the restroom. When closing the bathroom door, which is about three inches from the kitchen sink,  she was making a point. Firmly. And she locked it.

Now, the room we’re staying in isn’t used often. And, it was once the showcase cabin while the ship was being retrofit. And the keys to the rest of the ship don’t work here. And our doors are solid metal.

Without knowing any of this, Miss O shortly tried to leave the bathroom. The door would not unlock.  I have to admit I wasn’t feeling my MOST charitable, so I let G try to help her for a minute. Then, I tried pulling the door while she tried the lock. Then pushing the door. Then we tried passing things like coins under the door, to see if she could use them to unscrew something. Anything.  G tried passing his math under the door.  I think perhaps he had ulterior motives for that one.  But, I didn’t think it was serious. For Pete’s sake, if she locked the door, she could eventually unlock it. Right? So, while I tidied up from breakfast, we continued to encourage her through the locked door, and her voice stopped quivering and took on more of an annoyed tone. Again. I chalked it up to all the adjusting we’re doing, and continued trying to help.

After thirty minutes, I sheepishly called Reception, told them of our situation, and asked if there’s a master key.  Within minutes the Duty Officer arrived.  He called the First Officer. Who called the Captain. They worked for TWO AND A HALF HOURS.

While we waited, I took advantage of the forced halt to the day, ran Peanut up to Preschool (a thirty-second-commute), and made coffee to share with the Captain. We had a great chat and the officers provided emotional support to Miss O, asking her how she was doing every minute or two. I kept her supplied with reading material.

Finally, several drill bits later, and after trying several other options, including a crowbar to the frame, they drilled through the lock.

I’m grateful for the perceived lack of my empathy, as there was a great life-lesson for my girl.

I will also be grateful when a blank plate is placed over the gaping hole in the bathroom door.

There’s not enough bandwidth to upload the fifteen pictures I had planned to include. You can use your imaginations.

 

We all, truly, love the adventure so far.

 

 

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Filed under September 2012

Nighttime dose of reality

I know the pictures of us touring Brussels look like so much fun. And we are having a great time. But, let’s not romanticize what traveling with three kids can look like. I won’t go into the detail of the fighting and bribing to get two of the three kids to eat, at two of yesterday’s three meals (we fixed the usual fare for breakfast, in our apartment).  But, I will give you a brief overview of what the night looked like.

We were going to have an early night.

That was the plan. But, plans don’t always happen.

After blowing (Ruining. Forever.) our Bluetooth speaker (our only provision for the music required for family dance-offs), Dreamboat figured out how to accommodate charging 3 devices through an assortment of converters, power strips, and adapters. One of the devices was my phone.

Dreamboat and I finally turned the light out just after midnight. I swear I had turned my phone off. Repeatedly. But, as it was one of the lucky electronics to be charging, when someone called at 2:30 AM, it rang. And rang. And rang. I finally unplugged it to get it to power off.  Even though it was arguably my fault, for the sake of preserving friendship, I’m not going to find out who called.

The call started a chain reaction.

First Peanut woke from what he thought was an afternoon nap.  After 30 minutes of listening to him (and potentially cursing his being awake. Potentially), I got up and gave him a Melatonin.  Yep. Drugged the Peanut.  Shouldn’t have wasted my time.  When I went back to bed he yelled loud enough to be heard back in Seattle. Woke the other two kids.

Here’s where the night took a decided downturn.

I brought Peanut to bed with us.

Now, I’m not a family-bed-kind-of-person.  No judgment here for those who are.  (I believe that whatever works for your family and gets your kids reared with the least parental-suffering, and I suppose, least child-suffering too, is a good way to go.)   For me, that means no co-sleeping. Co-sleeping means I suffer. And we all know, “when mama’s not happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

I need my sleep. Dreamboat and kids will agree, I need my sleep.  In fact, I can totally see the appeal of Carol-Burnett-style-separate-beds. Just saying. (And, obviously I am seriously sleep-deprived or I wouldn’t ever say that. Ever.)

So, bringing Peanut to bed, which was a selfless gesture on my part to allow the older kids to sleep, had the usual disastrous effects on me. Even though I got more cuddles and kisses and slobbering and kicking and face-patting and hair playing (pulling) and eye poking and hand-holding than a girl could wish for.

Peanut thought he was in Heaven.

I thought I was in Hades.

Dreamboat slept through it. All.

At 5:20 am, Peanut fell asleep.  I immediately carried him back to his pop-up-crib and returned to bed.  Where I eventually fell back asleep.

At 7:00 am, construction started on the building across the street. Let’s just say my thoughts weren’t charitable and my earplugs, which I wear every night, can’t stand up to hammering on metal. With a metal hammer. At 7:00 am. After having been asleep for only 1.5 hours.

At 7:30 am, Miss O came in to show me a bite on her finger. A bite, on her finger?  From a bug. That’s why she thought it was ok to wake me? Really? I refrained from giving her a bite to complain about. But I thought about it.

I sent her away without acting on my thoughts. I thought I was even pleasantish. (Miss O may have a different opinion.) But, I bet she won’t wake me to show me a bug-bite tomorrow morning.  Although, she might wake me for a hangnail.

At 8:00 am, G woke up. And came to tell me was awake.  Wasn’t that thoughtful of him?

I gave up. Got up. Made some coffee.

I have to say, Douwe Egberts makes some delicious coffee. And, when paired with heavy whipping cream, it makes me happy.  And, drinking several 10-ounce ‘cups’, from a European-styled bowl, makes me really happy.  And helps to make-up for the lack of sleep.

So, I’ve now been up three hours, and Peanut is still sweetly sleeping.

And I’ve had lots of coffee.

I’m equal parts admiring and envious.  But, I’m letting him sleep.  How can I begrudge him the rest he needs, that also gives me the quiet I need to write?  And to enjoy yet another large bowl of heavy-cream filled coffee?

Once Peanut wakes, we’re off to explore the Atomium and other Brussels monuments, and free-museum Wednesdays.

And I’ve already warned the family that I may not be at my most-sweetest today. Let’s just hope there’s no discussion over trying new foods today.

They’ve been warned.

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Montage of moving

We did it!  We all moved out of the house and made our plane. With LOTS of much-needed help from friends and family.  Here’s a quick montage of some of the milestone moments.

Goodbye party for the G-Man

Peace-themed sleepover for a gaggle of Miss O’s friends.

“All Natural” lemonade stand, to raise money for the trip…and for the Humane Society…which, as far as I can tell, is the only one who made any money.

Emptying of the cupboards

And empyting of the liquor cabinet, which funnily enough, I didn’t have the stomach to finish.

 

Some last-minute potty training (and quality reading) for Peanut

My brother helped by emptying the gutters.

You can’t tell very well, that as our stools are already gone, we’re sitting around the island on some old, LOW, chairs before they go to the dump. Feels a lot like little kids trying to reach the table.

Short visit from Grandma to say hello and goodbye.

 

Gut-wrenching goodbyes to Molly and Maisy.

Some unexpected fun playing with our colorful plastic cups, since all the non-plastic ones were either packed or given away.

1-800-Got-Junk stopped by, and within 10 minutes, our junk was someone else’s problem!

After all the goodbyes, we boarded the plane…all smiling.

Can you see the exhaustion and relief that “the longest goodbye in history” is finally over?! Our poor friends. It felt like I said goodbye (and probably cried), each of the last four times we got together. I’m sure they were thinking “Alright. Already. Go.” We finally did.

 

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Rollercoaster ride

Lots of people have asked how I’m doing. What I’m feeling, as the departure date looms just around the corner.

“Are you excited?”

“Can you hardly wait?”

“Are you ready to go?”

Although I’m looking forward to this year with great expectations, I have to say the answer to those questions is a resounding “No.”  I’m terrified. I’m overwhelmed. I’m too busy focusing on what has to be done in the next ten minutes, to be able to think about next year. It’s like a rollercoaster ride I can’t get off.

Here’s a random list, in no particular order, and in no way exhaustive, of some of the things taking up my emotional bandwidth, energy, and time.

Trey.  A friend’s 3-year-old just died. From Whooping Cough. He was born a few weeks before Peanut. Although I never met him, I loved him dearly and deeply. Most of the scary stays (‘visit’ sounds much too pleasant–but I guess ‘stay’ doesn’t do it justice either) we had at Seattle Children’s Hospital, Trey and his family were having their own scary stays, usually much longer than ours, at another Children’s Hospital across the country.  In addition to other physical complications, Trey was experiencing many of the same challenges as Peanut. I prayed for him on and off for 3 years and watched him struggle and grow and learn and develop.  Now, as I move from room to room, sorting and packing, each time I pick up Peanut, I think of Trey. The loss of him hits deep down inside. I cry for his Mama who will never again feel the delicious weight of him in her arms, or smell his hair as he snuggles close. I cry with gratitude that I have my Peanut and can kiss his sweet cheeks. And there’s a feeling, less strong than guilt, similar to uneasiness, that my life goes on. That my life is all about looking forward and adventure.  And I keep looking at video’s and pictures of Trey, and then I can’t stop the waterworks and can’t focus on packing. And then I’m completely derailed from whatever task was at hand.

Logisitics. To not frighten away anyone who might be considering making a similar life change to follow your dreams, I’m going to quickly smooth over the nightmare of tangled details required to get this family of five out the door. Read fast…Doctors appointments by the dozens. Countless house showings, always at the most inopportune times. More immunizations and paperwork than I am comfortable with. Flights. Housing. More flights. More housing. Contractors in and out (good idea to keep this one in mind so you don’t inadvertently leave the bathroom door open when you think you’re alone in the house. It’s embarrassing). House sale falling through. Goodbyes for each child, with each of their closest friends, and with their classes. Selling both our cars and coordinating “alternative transportation” (taking offers from kind friends to pick up and drop off, then breaking down and getting rental cars). Listing and selling all our possessions we don’t want to keep, and coordinating the pick-up/delivery for each. Boxing and storing what we do want to keep.  Getting the children to do the same. Changing our mailing address on everything. Getting the electronics and entertainment (music, books, movies) set up.  Changing insurance for most everything. Writing homeschooling and therapy curriculum. Working full-time and figuring out how/when/who to tell the news (oh, and block them from FB until you do). Figuring out, ordering, and testing eyelash enhancers. And the list goes on. But, I’ve lost interest in writing it and you get the point. We’re busy.

I threw my back out, helping someone carry out an armoire they bought from us. Let’s just say that muscle relaxants don’t help with clarity and focus, and shooting pain isn’t conducive to packing, lifting, and moving.

We’re also trying to be thoughtful parents, and help prepare the kids for what’s to come, and to help ease some of their fears as they watch piece after piece of furniture leave through the front door.  FYI, I’m not currently focused on being a great wife. It may partially be because I think I get a pass for these last few days, and just possibly because it isn’t readily apparent that Dreamboat is focused on it either. But it’s possible it’s me and I’m missing the effort.  So, we’re trying to spend some time with each child, making them feel important, and allowing them time to talk through what’s going on inside them. And my heart is heavy for Miss O in particular.  She is struggling with saying goodbye to her best friend. And her best friend is really struggling. And Miss O is very similar to how I was as a child, strong on the outside, but very tender and sensitive and easily bruised on the inside. And this friend is the only person she really talks to. Including me (one of my greatest hopes is that I become her confidante this year).  And we’re also trying to do some ‘normal’ summer activities with the kids, like sports camps, additional therapies, and evenings by the water, enjoying al-fresco dinners at Music In The Park.

Time. With friends. There has been a steady stream of company, staying with us this summer. And, we’re trying to fit in every last opportunity for time with our local friends too. If you’ve heard of the book “Love Languages”, mine is TIME.  I feel loved when people spend/make time for me. That’s how I show love too.  So, in the middle of this craziness, I want to carve out time for everyone I love. Of course I’m driving the family that I love a little crazy too.  I haven’t figured this one out yet…no clear answer or boundaries set. I’m willing for things to be crazy if that means I get one last dinner, or Bunko game, or girls’ night, or sleepover, or coffee, or happy hour, or breakfast, or pedicure, or, or, or….I’m in!

A friend of mine recently returned from an extended visit to Uganda. With their three children who are similar in age to mine. I called to catch up with her and asked for some tips on what to expect.  She told me how one of their kids dealt with the culture shock by withdrawing and going very quiet. The older child showed his struggle by being angry. All the time. The third child couldn’t swallow. And gagged or threw up EVERY morning. It was awful. She hated it. And after twelve months they adjusted, and equalized. And a few months later they moved back. And now they’re going through it All. Again. But, she also said it was all worth it. And she’d do it again. So, I’m mulling it over and wondering how my friends will feel if I’m gagging through our champagne breakfasts upon my return…

And then there’s the fact that I’m going back to Mercy Ships. To where I grew up. It’s like going back to those horrid, awkward feelings of being thirteen. But, more on that another time. I don’t have words yet to describe it. For the ‘hornet’s nest’ to make sense.

So, I hope you’ll understand that although I know I am blessed beyond measure, and that this year will be a highlight for all of us, that I’m not excited right now.  I’ll get there.  Soon.

Miss O saying goodbye to Maisy

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For My FIVE Kids

Not sure I would ever say this out loud.  But, this is my private journal (right?).  I wrote this alone in a motel room, after a lovely glass of chilled rosé (it’s my favorite summer wine). And I recently read an inspiring story about an abandoned child that was rescued by Mercy Ships.

And, although I currently have three children, my key password at work is: For My FIVE Kids.

It’s not figured into our budget. There are no additional airline tickets purchased. And, just yesterday, Dreamboat tried to get me to agree we would NOT. But, here’s my secret hope…

There will be a child. Or siblings. Who need love. Our love.

I’ve always wanted five kids.  I remember Dreamboat’s eyes when I told him this particular dream of mine, on our fourth date (right after I told him that I don’t share well, and if he wanted to date the other girl he was seeing, then no hard feelings, but I wasn’t interested).  Well, obviously Dreamboat bet on me, and we’ve made three amazing children. And I barely lived through the pregnancies. And the family barely survived me being pregnant.  And I wouldn’t want to add children to our family while I’m busy working with my corporate clients.

BUT, while we’re taking this year to focus on family, should a child (or children) be without love. Without family. Without resources. Without hope.  Then, I want to be their answer.  We have love to give.  We have more resources than they were born to.  And, with this year “off”, we have the time to spend, incorporating them into our family structure. Loving them. Nurturing them. Showing them they are valued and unique and treasured.

It may not happen.  It doesn’t usually happen this way. In fact, Guinea’s adoption policy with the US is complicated.  And if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be OK. Disappointed. Maybe a bit heartbroken. But OK.

And, knowing me, I may put the dream to one side…but only for a while.

Miss O wants a little sister. I’m happy to comply. But, I’d be happy with any child. Boy or girl. Or one of each. Or two of one.

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Filed under Aug 2012