Tag Archives: homeschool

Fierce and Clueless – My Messy Beautiful

I’m fierce.

I know that. Maybe not Beyoncé’s “Sasha Fierce”. But, fierce nonetheless. That’s who I am inside. I feel like my world is big. BIG. I feel like the impact I’m called to have on the world is big. BIG. I feel summoned.

But to WHAT????

The doors just keep closing. I’ve read all those helpful sayings, or not so helpful in my case, about rejection simply being a way to push us in a new and better direction. Or that when a door closes, a window opens. I’m looking. I’m watching. Believe me, I am. But, no apparent window or new direction has surfaced. Yet. Just more rejections. And ‘thanks, but no thanks’ emails. And phone calls saying they’re sure I’ll do great wherever else I land.

The temptation is to lower my ideals, reduce my dreams, so there’s less gap between them and my reality.

This isn’t where I thought I’d be. After getting rid of all our ‘stuff’, quitting our jobs, and taking just over a year to travel and volunteer, I thought we’d land somehow different. Better. I thought this year of intentional discovery and challenge and growth would be like a magic-carpet-ride. Transporting us to a magical place in our lives.

And for a while, with three amazing, different, jobs, it almost did.

Where I could help change the world.

But it didn’t.

And, I’m still at a crossroads.

But you know what? If I hadn’t taken this time ‘off’, I’d live with regrets. Big ones. And that’s NOT. ACCEPTABLE. Not to me.

And I know that it took huge courage to step out and make this dream happen. To rid ourselves of the things that kept us busy and scheduled and focused on things that weren’t the most important to us. And to take the kids out of school, against the wishes of Peanut’s therapists. And to spend our savings. And to go. And to do. And to see. To really see.

Seeing the Eifel Tower. For the first time.

And I know that I bring all those learnings and the amazing experiences with me. I know that Dreamboat, myself, and our three kiddo’s are forever changed, in a multitude of ways, from this year.

In addition to our new skills of surfing and Spanish, and our love of Ceviche, we have taught the kids how to love those who were unloved. (Now that we’re back, I have to admit, I’ve regretted this a teensy bit. I’m just a tad nervous, but proud too, as I watch them befriend those who are lonely, and odd, and without friends.)

How to give generously of our time, skills, and resources.

We’ve all learned to be more flexible (some of us more so than others, but nonetheless, I, oops, I mean ‘we’ have improved…at least a bit).

How to focus on others, while not losing sight of who we are. (For me, this one is hard. Unfortunately, it’s still a daily lesson.)

To appreciate the beauty of things being unique and different. And to not be frightened by them. Or to judge.

So, I’m reminding myself of these and all the other gifts we’ve received from this year. (And of course the two gorgeous bags I had made in Marrakech. I’m pretty grateful for those as well.)

And I’m trying to drown out my fears with my gratitude.

I remind myself that I would chose this path again. And I’m taking to those lessons and insights into who I am.

And I’m refusing to lower my faith in myself.

As a wise friend of mine said to me this morning, “Being uncomfortable is OK. Necessary even, to move forward and grow.”

And, she’s right. Of course. (Thank goodness. ‘Cause I AM uncomfortable. That’s a very benign word for the angst that comes in waves. Big, scary waves.)

But, I’m choosing today. Again. Not. To. Lower. My. Dreams. To continue to find a way to make my reality reach the seemingly impossible. To see the invisible and hear the inaudible and then make those things a reality. (That last sentence is shamelessly stolen from Scott Aughtmon’s FB page this morning. I love it.)

And, I’m giving myself a not-so-little pep talk, to suck it up and keep looking. Keep trusting. Keep doing life, even though I’m afraid.

We can be fierce, AND afraid. Right?

——This post and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Filed under April 2014

Vulnerability

I’ve not posted in quite a while. Not because I’ve been without things to say, but because what I have to say isn’t pretty. It’s not certain. It’s not joyful.

I’ve decided to let myself be seen. To not be alone. To choose not to be numb. But, to release my worthiness, creativity, joy, & tenderness by being open.

The last five months have been filled with job searching, visiting and revisiting friends and family across the US. And then doing it again. With more job searching.  And then doing the whole thing over. Again. Really. We’ve put 26,000 miles on the car.  And in more than one home, they have started calling their guest room, “our” room.  We should be paying rent.

There have been some great job leads along the way. (And, I finally figured out what I want to do when I grow up.) And some opportunities we turned down (back when we were looking for the Perfect Job). But, currently there’s nothing. Not one thing. Not for me and not for Dreamboat.

There was budget for twelve months of amazing travel and exploration (and, it really was amazing). But, that was over five months ago. The budget is gone. The extra cushion is gone. The money is gone. And of course, the patience is gone as well.

I know that one call will change everything. Just one job and my world will turn right side up again. There are great, even amazing opportunities out there. I still have hope—which is what our souls long for anyway, right?

But, yesterday, things took a turn for the worst.

We’re driving, again, across the country.

On the road again…

 

Headed home to Seattle and planning to get the kiddos back in school while we consult and look for work. In addition to joyfully anticipating reconnecting with my friends, I am most excited about Peanut starting preschool at an amazing developmental place we had all set up before leaving on this adventure. But, I hadn’t heard back from them on my inquiries as to a start date.

So, yesterday, I called.

Due to several red-tape, governementalish reasons (none of which are for the benefit of my little guy), Peanut can’t begin any time soon. In fact, it will be summer break before all the paperwork and processes are completed.

There will be no school for him until next September.

There will be no speech therapy to help him form the new words he so desperately wants to say.

There will be no occupational therapy to help him learn to feed himself the food he so desperately needs to nourish his body and help him grow.

And, no potty training that his mama was counting on the peer pressure, and a trained specialist, to take on for her!

So, all those lovely inspirational quotes and sayings that are filling up my FB feed today (and every day really) about ‘step out of your comfort zone,’ or, ‘look forward prayerfully, and live in the present gratefully’–I am trying. I am trying really, really hard.

I rotate my prayers between variations of ‘please…’, ‘help…..’, and ‘thank you…’ throughout each day, and am conscientiously practicing gratitude. And requiring it of the kids. And, let’s be really honest here, I have a LOT to be grateful for.

I know this year has been a once-in-a-lifetime gift that will continue to benefit each of us throughout our lifetimes.  And, I don’t regret the decision to quit our jobs, get rid of our stuff, and introduce the kids to volunteering, surfing, Spanish, ceviche, the mysteries of Africa, and countless other experiences. Yet. But, I don’t know how long it will be before I begin battling the regret. I’m guessing it will have a direct relationship to mounting debt.

But right now, the platitudes aren’t helping. In reality, they add an element of shame for me. As though I could do more, or differently, to get different results.

But, hearing of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death this week, as he chose drugs to numb his pain, I decided to be brave. To be open. To be known. To not numb my pain.

As a society, we are the most in debt, addicted, obese, and medicated adults in history. Today, that won’t be me :-)

 

 

 

 

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Filed under February 2014

Four

Eight months into this magical year of travel, and I can breathe a sigh of relief and say unequivocally that it has already been filled with growth and learning for each one of the five of us.  Even, and maybe especially, for Peanut.

You can read some of his story here

We have proven his therapist’s fears were unfounded. HUGE gratitude fear didn’t win this one.

Many milestones have been joyfully celebrated along the way. Some were small (increased coordination and stability in his walking).  Some were big (flying calmly, without frightened screaming for the first hour). And some have been HUGE (calling me “mama”)!  I am so proud of the effort and hard work he expends daily, to challenge himself.

Loving his core work at the fair today!

This little man brings me immense joy. I’m so grateful that he’s tickled to cover my face with kisses, and wrap his arms around my neck for some heart-melting cuddles. Each day with him is truly a gift. (I was going to say each moment, but only in a big-picture kind of way would that be true. There are moments, especially when he’s screeching, frustrated by his inability to communicate something, for which I’m not as thankful).

But, there’s one milestone that I knew we’d face during our travels, which I’ve been anticipating and dreading. In equal parts.

It happened today.

My Peanut turned FOUR.

Angry Bird birthday breakfast

He’s no longer a toddler.

And, once again, but in a different and deeper way, I know the pain of loss. He’s not just “on his own schedule”.

Being ‘four’ makes his delays more glaringly apparent. More is expected of him, even by me. And, less allowances are made for him. And, it’s harder to watch a one-year-old begin to learn the things he cannot do. Hopefully, cannot yet do.

Today requires more ‘letting go’. Again. And it’s hard.

Dreamboat and I are realizing that sweet Peanut is going to get more challenging, and sometimes downright difficult, to take out in public, as his frustration levels increase. Last night’s dinner, supposed to be a real treat at a French bistro we found here in Lima, turned into frustration and gritted teeth, while Dreamboat and I took turns walking Peanut outside. We think he was overly hungry. Or maybe didn’t want to sit in a high chair. Or perhaps wanted sushi (I’m only partially kidding. He loves to eat sushi. But other than for sweet things, he’s never shown a preference before). And, he couldn’t tell us.

The good news, and what I’m counting on, is that the increased frustration means that Peanut will work harder on his communication. That he’ll learn to speak.

I don’t have all, or even many, of the answers for where this path will take us. And I’ve no idea what life will bring to the table in the future. But I do know that along the way, like today, I have to let go of my dreams. And grieve. And then let Peanut guide. And remind myself that in these four years together, our lives are already more beautiful than the plans and dreams that I had for us.

Sharing an oreo shake with Daddy. A perfect end to a perfect day.

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Filed under May 2013

Missing things

As the countdown has begun to leave our international destinations and head back to the US, for the driving-across-the-country/US-history portion of this amazing year, I catch myself making mental lists of things I miss about home. And lists of things I will miss when I leave here.  These are some of them, in no particular order.

What I miss about home:

  • Friends. (That includes you, family). When it comes to reducing stress, talking with friends produces better results than Valium, therapy, exercise, meditation, yoga, or a stiff drink. And I had it in spades. I was surrounded by amazing people (some from a physical distance, but at least they had good internet and phone service which I’ve had only sporadically this year). And I miss them more than anything. Dreamboat has been a trooper, but I’m sure he’s ready for me to start sharing my thoughts and dreams and fears and and hopes and menu and frustrations and laundry dread, and the list goes on, with several someones other than him. And, if I ask him, even one more time, what he’s thinking, this trip may be over. Today.
  • Plumbing that is made to handle toilet paper. I miss this one a lot. Every day.
  • Whole Foods and Trader Joes, and the easy availability of healthy foods. And that food packaging is printed in English. And that I had a car to drive to the stores and didn’t have to walk up to eight miles to get there. (I know this one sounds snarky, and it is. But, it’s also true.)
  • The lack of ear-piercing car alarms, constant honking, trucks rumbling, music blaring, combined into noise pollution that never stops. This week, I heard a car’s reverse beep (not enough for only the large-sized trucks to have them here in Lima), to the tune of J Lo’s “On the Floor.” Swear.  I love the energy of a big city, but now, I crave me some stillness and peace.
  • Matching glasses (stemware). A full set of silverware. Cloth napkins. Pretty, shiny, things.
  • Not living out of a suitcase. And with only the clothes, and the shoes (especially the limited shoes), that I can fit into one suitcase.
  • Time alone that doesn’t equate to all five of us at a Starbucks, with everyone having received orders to READ and BE QUIET, to give me some uninterrupted thinking. Or a nap. Either would be fine.
  • My kids’ teachers. God BLESS them.  There are times, ok – they’re fleeting (or maybe not), when I long for having to go in to the office, for some kid-free time.
  • People Magazine (which I know is full of trash, and now has great, new trash on people I’ve not heard about after being away for so long), and Marie Claire (which has amazing fashion which I can no longer afford since I’ve not worked in so long), and House Beautiful (which is just silly as I’ve not been in a house in almost nine months, and my house is rented through the end of the year, and, once again, I can’t hire one of those amazing designers to come add their creativity and beauty to my home). But, I miss each and every one of these publications nonetheless. And, at every airport and kiosk and bookstore and checkout counter, I look for them. Finally, in Spain, six MONTHS into this trip, I gave away the Marie Claire I had brought from home. It still pains me to think about not having it.
  • Going to the movies. If I’m being totally honest, which of course I am, we didn’t often go to movies before we left home. There were the rare girls-night-out, or movie dates with Dreamboat. But, it had been months since I’d been to a movie before we left, and it has been the ENTIRE nine months of our trip so far, since I’ve seen a new release. I don’t even know what I’ve missed. But here’s the secret, when I was trying not to get buried under the stress of life, sometimes, without telling anyone, I would go to a matinee and just escape to be entertained and laugh or cry or dig my nails into the arm rests.  I loved the escapism and perspective it brought. The reality of my life was always better than the movie I saw. (By the way, you’d be surprised who is watching movies at 2:00pm on a Monday.)

What I will miss when I’m home:

  • Time. Time with the kids. Time with Dreamboat. Time to workout. Time to volunteer. Time to explore and learn. Time for naps. Time to write. Time that is all mine to spend as I wish, unencumbered by school and sports schedules, commitments, or work. The beauty and joy, from life without the morning rush to get everyone fed and dressed and out the door on time.
  • Knowing I’m following my dreams. Knowing I’m making a difference, every day, in my life, and the lives of my kids, and the lives of those less fortunate.
  • Low cost of living!  Cheap housing. Cheap food. Cheap wine. Affordability ROCKS.
  • Sunshine all year long! As we intentionally followed the sun, except for a freak snowstorm, we got to skip winter. After living in Seattle for 6 years, this girl has been soaking up the happiness of daily vitamin D.
  • Always being just a little off-kilter from being in a foreign place. Being ‘new’ which has kept me aware, learning, on the edge. And, more sensitive to others who are new, and able to reach out and make them feel welcome.
  • The lack of Hallmark Holidays and the freedom from the production of having to decorate and celebrate for every. Single. One. As much as I love my kids’ schools and their teachers (and believe me, I love them a LOT), there will be many times (every single holiday), when I’ll wish to be back in Africa and free of the guilt-inducing celebrations that require planning, effort, midnight runs to the store for materials, and time-off-work to attend. If I were to have more children, they’d have to draw straws to see who gets to have mama attend their event.
  • The intentionality of teaching and modeling the character I want to nourish in my kids. The daily challenges and lessons we have faced ‘on the road’ which serve as reminders that success is waking up every morning with your soul at peace. Of teaching them that compassion takes energy and attention, but is not hard. So if they’re not being kind, they’re just being lazy. And selfish.
  • Seeing poverty every day. And the joy of those living in it. And being reminded everywhere I look, that happiness is a choice, not dependent on our circumstances.
  • Surfing. And the sound of the waves. And the view of the ocean (not the one in Conakry with all the floating trash and the rotting fish, but the pristine one in Spain).

What I will not miss, ever, is a Hammam. I like to think of myself as stubborn, and anything but a quitter. I’m game to try most anything once. But, I quit the local Hammam mid-experience. After I had talked a friend into joining me and we were both stripped down our underwear, and had made it through the two outer chambers and into the, what was supposed to be, ‘hot’ room, to find myself chilled, grossed out by the slime and smell and wishing I could hide from the big, naked lady approaching with a dark brown fatty substance that looked like axel grease, I turned and walked back to the locker rooms (wet room with hooks lining two walls and a bench I wouldn’t set Peanut’s poopy bottom on), unconcerned with any semblance of dignity, and got dressed while all the women, in various stages of undress, sat and ate and watched us. Nope. Anything resembling a Turkish Bath, and I’m heading the other way, while spraying Lysol over my shoulder. No matter what country I’m in.

This year has enriched my life in more ways than I can name. And, is cutting out chunks of my heart, to leave behind in each of the incredible places I’ve come to know and love.

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Filed under May 2013

Poop, Plumbing, and Picchu

The past three weeks have been challenging. Difficult even…filled with illness. Lots of change, adjustment, and unknowns. An acquaintance reeling from the loss of her sweet son. Deep, heart-longing for friends. Facing, explaining, and answering my Littles’ questions about the suffering across our world this week. An overabundance of poop –literally. A hair-coloring experience that went comically wrong by not only darkening my roots, but also two inches of skin around my hairline and all the fingers on my left hand. Permanently. (The upside being it reinforced that I am my mother’s daughter. Once, her hair turned purple. Another time it was pink. Yet another, it disintegrated when touched. And those are just a few of the episodes I personally witnessed.) And then there’s the ongoing emotional roller-coaster of traveling, and homeschooling our three kids.

But, we’re five days into the apartment where we’re staying for two months, which means we’re unpacked. Finally. And I go to sleep and wake up, every day, to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore below. And I feel my soul being fed. And feel strong enough to speak the truth, AND see the humor, in the last couple of weeks. And, I got a massage today (that right there is enough to return my optimism to overflowing).

Massage bliss. And, there was music to keep Peanut entertained too.

Last night, as we walked home with our groceries, G-man, who is seven, started us all recounting the many places we’ve stayed so far, during this year’s adventure. It was so varied. And hilarious. Places like;

“The apartment in Malaga where we spent New Year’s Eve, but our clocks were off by an hour and we missed it.”

“The hotel room where the ants took over.”

“The Dar in Fez that came with a cook who made fresh smoothies every morning, and we would guess if it was fruit (yum) or veggies (yuck), by the colors.”

“The airport hotel where they wouldn’t let us stay in one room and we had to upgrade to a fancy suite.”

“The hostel where Miss O threw up all over.”

“The overnight train from Madrid to Paris, where the boys shared a berth and the girls shared a berth. And no-one slept.”

As we went through every country, and all the places we slept (or didn’t sleep, depending), my heart filled with gratitude and awe at the last six-and-a-half months! I am living my dream. Dreamboat is living his dream.

We’re actually doing it. Together.

And introducing our kids to the world. Expanding their world-view, empathy, flexibility, and countless other great traits.

And taking a much-needed break from the often overwhelming routine of three-year-old Peanut’s care and therapies.

I am acutely aware of how fortunate, how very blessed we are, especially in light of the heartache and suffering in Boston, Afghanistan, Texas, and Bangalore this week. But, there are no rose-colored glasses allowed when traveling. With three little kids. For a year. So, here’s what the last few weeks have really looked like.

When we landed in Lima, after a couple of long flights where all three children insisted they weren’t tired, it was just after midnight. The pre-arranged, pre-paid taxi wasn’t there. All three children fell asleep and/or cried over the next half hour while we, and all our luggage, lumbered, exhausted, around the airport until we found wi-fi, looked up our new address, obtained local currency, and negotiated a new taxi and fare. And loaded all ten pieces of luggage into the van for the last leg of the night.

Our first ten days in Lima were booked in a small apartment. Which didn’t have sheets for all the beds. That was not a joyous middle-of-the-night arrival. It smelled strongly of mold. And within an hour of waking a short while later, to the double cacophony of pigeon calls echoing around the bathroom walls from the open window, and a piercing car alarm going off right outside our bedroom, we had plugged up TWO bathrooms. This was our introduction to the cultural norm that plumbing here is not made to accommodate toilet paper. (That lesson stuck – pun intended. Even with the kids.)

I have to mention that in the five weeks we’ve now been here, it hasn’t rained. Not once. So, we started out spending our time glorying in the outdoors. That first week we even surfed a couple of times. Yep, you can just call me ‘Surfer Girl’ now. Until one night, we played in the park after dinner, and I was ‘IT’ for a game of tag with the two older kids. Not wanting to be outdone by my kids, I chased them around every palm and bench, AND jumped over flower beds. As I triumphantly caught them, telling myself how young and fit I must look to passersby, I felt an old, unfortunately very familiar, searing pain. I had wrenched my lower back and inflamed two bulging disks. By the following day my back was in excruciating spasms and I was bedridden.

Dreamboat and the kids managed groceries and meals on their own for a few days. And then, things took a definite, downward turn. I was still bed-ridden. And bored. Very bored. (And maybe beginning to feel sorry for myself). Our lease was up on the moldy flat, and someone else was moving in eminently. FOUR other apartments fell through THE morning we had to move out. Dreamboat, who really, really, does not like to pack, packed up all ten pieces of luggage, and some bags of groceries, and moved us all to a hotel. Of course I tried to be helpful by providing suggestions from my bed. You’ll have to ask him whether or not the input was indeed helpful and how pleased he was, or wasn’t, with my efforts. I got a little suspicious as to his state of mind, when I looked up from popping muscle relaxants and trying to hold back the pain-induced tears during the short taxi ride, to notice it was me, all the kids, and nine pieces of luggage. Dreamboat had graciously hopped in a second taxi, with the one bag that wouldn’t fit.

Upon arrival at the hotel, a very sweet porter, seeing my obvious discomfort (isn’t that was doctors always call pain?), practically lifted me from the car and carried me to the elevator. I was so grateful, I think I tipped him in Euro’s, Soles, and Dollars (the next day, after I was lucid enough to find my purse).

In the ten days since then, there have been three additional moves (one where we’re still fighting to get our deposit back after a shower door shattered on Miss O), and a trip (with only one piece of luggage), that included taxi’s, buses, trains, planes, and hiking, to Machu Picchu. And we’ll just say that the hostel we stayed at in Cusco (the starting point to visit Machu Picchu), didn’t have any ‘stars’ anywhere near its name. And that the stains of Peanut throwing up all over the floor just blended with the previous marks. Those of you who know me, will be shocked by the very fact that I stayed in a hostel, as my idea of roughing it is a five-star hotel with only a shower. All five of us got various illnesses there. Whatever bugs we caught, mixed with 11,200ft of elevation, didn’t bode well for this family, or for the small supply of toilet paper, and towels, that came with the room.

The morning of our Machu Picchu trip, Dreamboat woke me as planned at 5:30am. But, he greeted me with the unplanned,

“I can’t do it. There’s no way I can make it.”

Miss O was also unable to get out of bed (or get far from the bathroom).

The doctor we called to come write our permission slips, required by the train company to reschedule, found a heart murmur on Dreamboat.

A HEART murmur.

Although we debated whether the arrhythmia was a scam, we took the doctor’s offered car ride (Yes. You read that correctly. The Dr. was also our taxi service, for a small, additional fee). He took us to a local hospital where he arranged to have a cardiologist ready and waiting to give Dreamboat an echocardiogram.

The efficiency and affordability of quality medical care was pleasantly surprising. In just over an hour we had paid a relatively small sum of US Dollars in cash, for exams from both of the doctors, the prescriptions, formal medical board notes excusing us from travel, and a copy of the reassuring EKG.

The next morning, all of us were well enough to go. (The other four had no choice really. We WERE going to make it to Machu Picchu. It’s been my dream for a long, long time.)

It was magical.

The train and bus rides through the valleys were relaxing, fun, and provided first-row seats to the breathtaking views. Machu Picchu itself was surreal. The preservation of its history is incomparable. The engineering is astounding. The reality of it slowly sunk in over the following days.

Miss O was so amazed by the lack of safety measures, that she kept asking if they ever allowed rentals of the historic site, for birthday climbing parties.

For the first time ever, Peanut tried to climb a rock. He couldn’t. But it was so precious to see him trying, wanting to be like his older siblings. And thank goodness he wasn’t able to, as neither Dreamboat nor I needed one more reason to have a heart attack as we watched the two older kids run and jump with only inches between a safe landing, and a fall of thousands of feet.

We flew back to Lima the following day, with our hearts, and camera card, full to overflowing. The visit has been wonderful content for a home-schooling unit on history, geography, culture and art!

And now, we’ve rejoined our luggage at a lovely eighth floor apartment, overlooking the sea. My back is strong enough that I’ve resumed some workouts, modified to be no-impact, of course. But I feel more balanced, just putting some focus and effort back on my health. We’ve unpacked, filled the kitchen with fresh groceries, overloaded the drains (but not the toilets) with sand from a trip to the beach, and are working our way through lists of more things to see and do.

And, come to find out, while I was out of commission, Dreamboat had started looking for a job again. To perhaps put an early end to this year of adventure. But, he isn’t anymore. Whew.

 

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Filed under April 2013

Paris etiquette

If anything, I have been wonderfully spoiled by all the places I have visited. There are little facets in each of the different countries that I wholly adore, and I always wonder if I can find a single place in the world that has all of these benefits. In Paris, it’s the food. Always, amazing food. The change is noticeable the minute you arrive. Even in the train station. The French, and Parisians in particular, love to eat well. And they do.

But, Parisian manners are not so simple. I think I’d leave them out of my imaginary, utopian place. It’s not all bad–just not easy. There’s a complex set of codes to navigating Parisian etiquette. And, they’re not written down. Nor are they followed by all Parisians. Saying bonjour at every encounter, peppered with lots of merci’s, will break through much of the Parisian, often snooty, façade.

We had some successes and failures. Here’s an assorted list.

 

I walked up to the counter at the museum café, and asked for the coffee I’d paid for, but forgotten to collect.

“That’s because it’s for after lunch”, the cashier said.

When I thanked her, and reiterated I paid for a café crème, she said, “We don’t have any cream. You may have an espresso.” Which I did.

 

While waiting at the post office, to send home the heavy boxes we were struggling to hold, a man walked directly in front of us, and took his place in the front of the line. As we’d already been in Paris a week and learned some of the ropes, Dreamboat walked around him, and began conversing with the cashier. The man apologized, smiled, and fell in behind.

 

Little boys here, just like little boys in a mountain village in Spain, a dusty road in Guinea, or an indoor field in Seattle, love to play soccer. You don’t have to be good, or speak the language, to be welcomed into their games.

 

Lots of people speak English in Paris. Often they’re happy to practice their language skills, especially if you or the children have made an effort to communicate in French. Sometimes, if their table is only an inch away in the crowded restaurant, and your seven-year-old has just asked about penises and vaginas, they will giggle and smirk and snort their coffee, while staring straight ahead.

 

Even if you’ve selected a table out of the way (so as not to overly burden the wait staff), and have made sure to order a dish and beverage for every member of the family (so as not to offend or short-change the establishment), you may not have a variation on a listed menu item. Even if the item is listed as part of another menu item. It is not possible. Not even for an extra charge.

Ce n’est pas fait”, (it isn’t done).

 

When in the middle of a grocery store, and the cashier looks over, and thinks your stroller is facing the wrong way, they will leave their till (and line of waiting customers) and come over to move the baby, you, and offending stroller, to face a different direction.

 

If your child runs wild (like a Cirque du Soleil clown sent out to work up the crowd) in a stately, walled, garden, no-one will notice. Unless he tries to leave through the gate, then all the adults will whip their heads in his direction, jump to attention, and rush to his rescue. All while glaring at his incompetent, albeit fashionably dressed, maman.

 

Street vendors gather around the outskirts of the Saint-Ouen flea market, to ply potential buyers with knock-off belts, bags, and other items. It’s best to avoid looking in their direction, to avoid any pushy, aggressive behavior. If you don’t have Dreamboat along to simply say, in his deep, gravelly voice,

“I believe the lady said ‘No’.”

Then there’s no more hassle. None.

Only a sweet “Merci” while they quietly back away.

 

Sitting in a sidewalk café, sipping coffee, really does make one feel more chic and intelligent, at least until the coffee is gone. And, if the wait staff is rude, it just makes the experience feel that much more authentic.

 

Sidewalk café living

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under March 2013

Bullfight

I take back all the smugness.

I once thought, said, even wrote on this blog, that I am a ‘great parent’.

Because we did babies well.

Oh my. Our kidlets were just easy, easy babies. We never hit the “Terrible Two’s” (whoever coined that, just hadn’t yet had a 3-year-old, or a 7-year-old, or a 10-year-old). I may have had each baby sleeping through the night by two weeks, but that was before they could talk. Before they could voice their opinion and displeasure. Articulately. Loudly. With emotion.

Now, I am lost.

And I take it back. I am not a great parent. And, I offer my heartfelt apology, for even thinking it. And a small part of me envies my friends who have chosen not to have children. Or who are now empty-nesters.

It seems to me, through the advent of social media, that I see, and share, happy snippets of daily life. Quips. Inspirations.

But I don’t often see, or share, the moments in between. The stress. The frustration. The pain. This is one of those moments. It’s not pretty.

It’s definitely not FB-worthy.

I have realized recently (or maybe I’m just now facing reality) that as a mother, I am acquiring multiple personalities…

Sometimes I go flailing into the verbal fight they seem to crave. A moment later, I ignore their outburst and give them grace and time to recover. I beam with pride over a friend’s compliment at their manners, and repeat it to myself like a mantra for the next eight days. I dread the effort required to cajole them into a new, ‘fun’ adventure. I hold their little hands, teaching them how to hold a sharp knife and be my sous chef while we prepare dinner together. I am shocked at their selfishness. I am delighted by their generosity and thoughtfulness. I walk on ahead of a pouting child, heard-hearted, without looking back. I stop and retrace our steps, repeatedly, filled with fear, tears streaming down my cheeks, trying to find my precious, precious child. I endeavor to lead by example, and ask them to forgive me for my own poor choices. I reprimand. I praise. I revoke privileges and doll out consequences (they would liken this to the behavior of an evil troll) for their offending actions, while absorbing the ‘spears’ they hurl my way.

Sometimes, and lately it feels like much of the time, by the end of the day I feel like I’ve been in one of the local bullfights we’ve been learning about. And I’m the Toro. And, although I started out brave and fierce, I’ve got a dozen spears protruding from my sides, and I’m leaving a red trail as the life oozes out of me.

No competitors were physically harmed

And the spectators are cheering.

I go to bed to licking my wounds, wondering, reading, praying, looking for answers and wisdom for the following day.

And then I think about adoption. And how Dreamboat and I have talked for years about wanting to be a family for little ones that haven’t had a family. Dreaming of helping someone who has felt unloved, to know they are loved.

And then I wonder…How could I survive, inviting more bullfighters into this ring? What kind of mother could I be to more little ones? How could we be family, when right now, it’s more like a blood sport? What kind of life is that for a little one who has already suffered so much? When I don’t know what I’m doing with these three, how can I add more children?

I don’t think I can do it. I just don’t have the strength to live through it.

And, then, unbidden, a thought dares to come to mind. Only when I’m brave enough, bold enough, secure enough–I take a deep, courage-inducing, stabilizing breath, and ask myself one of the scariest questions (which I’d rather not face);

“was I like this?”

“Oh dear God. Did I do this to my parents?”

And once again, I am humbled….

 

When my littles were little, what was best for our family was easy—I don’t really think there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to get through babyhood—but what worked for us, felt right. But, none of my personalities can agree on what’s ‘right’ for us now.

At this moment, they’re all asleep.

Just thinking of them, without needing to take a peek, my heart is overflowing with love and joy. The joy is so overwhelming that it hurts. I remember only the good, amazing, kind, selfless choices they made today. I remember the feeling of my daughter throwing her arms around me, unbidden, without asking me to buy something. I remember my littlest one’s cries as I stepped out of sight (to steal a few solitary moments to soak in the beauty of Madrid’s skyline as the sun set). I remember my oldest son’s fascination with the art he saw at Museo Reina Sofia, and doing his best to replicate a Dali when he got home. I know I am blessed beyond measure. I am grateful for these little people I am entrusted to raise. I am honored to teach them to be all they’re intended to be. To pursue their greatest dreams. To live their best lives.

But, right now, I’m tired. It’s time to head off to bed.

I look forward to waking up…

…to willingly enter the bull ring again.

8 Comments

Filed under March 2013

Part 2 (the better part) of “Bad attitude”

There’s no question, I have been blessed with some of the best friends in the world. Truly.  Here’s a response I got this morning, to yesterday’s post:

——————-

I’ve been keeping up on your blog posts and loving how real and true you are.  A few thoughts to cheer you up:
1. The days are long but the years are short. You are making the most of these short years!
2. You are forming lasting, life-enhancing, incredible memories that will last a lifetime.
3. The kids are thriving – even in a foreign country!
4. You are still calling the husband Dreamboat.
5. Keep track of any movies you really want to see. I will rent/watch them all with you when you get back! Girls movie day/evening!
6. Your view is better than mine (and just about every other mom we know).
7. When we are uncomfortable and/or unhappy, it’s usually a time when we are to learn something meaningful.
8. Toothpaste is overrated.
9. I despise laundry. In any country. I do not like it on a boat. I do not like it with a goat. I do not like it, Sam-I-am.
10. Across oceans and time zones, someone is missing you dearly.

Enjoy your adventure!!  Too soon you will have all the Target and Costco amenities at your fingertips…..embrace the adventure that awaits you now, each and every morning.

—————

I feel loved. And reprimanded. And supported. And reminded of how very, very lucky I am. And now I have some of my equilibrium back.

Isn’t she amazing?

So, I’ve gone and done all the laundry. Hired a housekeeper to come over once a week and clean the floors. (Dreamboat and I had a lengthy ‘discussion’ about cleaning today. And a housekeeper was his recommendation. I think to keep me happy. Looove that man.) And made pizza and brownies for the kids tonight. And Dreamboat and I are going out for a drink after dinner.  And I’m going to start on a list of movies to watch with my friend–the anticipation of time with her will make watching them together, even sweeter!

I hope all of you are blessed to have friends just like her in your lives..

H

xoxo

1 Comment

Filed under January 2013

Gateaux

Tomorrow night I’m talking to all the Mamma’s onboard the Africa Mercy (AFM), about growing up on a ship, and how that has impacted my life. And how being here as a mamma myself, gives me new perspective and lots and lots of admiration and respect for these amazing women.

And, we’re all supposed to bring a dessert.

So I decided to just run into Conakry this afternoon, and pick up something yummy from a French bakery I’ve come to love.  After a couple stops to chat with street vendors I’ve gotten to know, and buy a Christmas present for G-ster, I arrived at the bakery. Hot and very sweaty, but without incident.  The cakes were beautiful. All had writing on them, so I thought I’d pick one the least inappropriate for our gathering (not for a birthday as most referred to…but none said ‘just because you need to have something yummy’).

Then I noticed the prices. And decided I should get the cheapest one. I pointed it out to the lady behind the counter, making sure it could survive a twenty minute walk home in the sweltering heat. She assured me twenty minutes would be fine. And then I went to pay. I counted out 395,000 Guinea Franks in small bills–equivalent to SIXTY dollars– at the cash register. The lady took my money and filled a small suitcase with the cash, and tucked it under the table. (Ok, not really, but that’s what it felt like.) I’d like to highlight that there’s some serious math skills, and arm strength, required to live here and deal with such large denominations of currency, in very small bills.  As I tell Miss O, it’s a real-life example of why math is necessary.

The cashier moved on to the next person, beginning to count out their suitcase of money.  As this is after all Africa, and I need to slow down a bit, and I was happily chatting with a man who’d had lunch with the President the previous week and heard about Mercy Ships from him, I waited. But the ice cream I’d also bought was beginning to ooze out the sides of the container as it melted. So I asked the cashier for my cake. She hollered for the sales lady. Then others behind the counter began hollering for several sales ladies. Then there was lots of pointing and loud discussion.

The cake was lost.

Gone.

My concern was, the cashier would refund my money, I’d have to pick another cake, and then repeat the whole counting process again.

But, a sales lady ran outside and had their security guards bring a customer back into the store to look through his purchases. A man searched high and low throughout the store.  Another group of sales ladies began unwrapping…actually ripping…the paper off the FIVE boxed cakes (he brought someone to handle the cash. Seriously) the customer I was chatting with had purchased.

And after twenty minutes, the cake was found. It had been mistakenly wrapped and added to the desserts of my conversation buddy.

So I said my goodbyes, and headed out the door. I was preoccupied with not tripping while carrying the $60 cake on the way home, so kept my gaze focused on the ground, knowing the rush-hour traffic would let me know of their presence with lots of honking, in time to step out of the way. ut, I only barelyvery narrowly avoided several speeding motorcycles, and 3 curious goats.

Without further incident (marriage proposals don’t count), the cake and I made it to the port and back onboard.

I wonder if fierce committment to desserts is something I should mention tomorrow night?

4 Comments

Filed under November 2012

My little man

My delicious, six-year-old G-Man is a cuddle-bug. When he forgets, (which I pray he continues to do. Frequently. For many years to come), that he’s too old for his mama’s goodnight kisses, or that he’s now matured beyond walking hand-in-hand with me, he will come find me on the couch in a quiet moment, curl up in my lap, and let me hold him. This tender, precious, boy of mine, had my heart heavy with concern when we broke the news about this year of travel.

You see G is a contented little boy. A homebody. Happy to stay home and play. Entertaining himself for hours with cars, Lego’s, dirt, or rocks. For him, a year of adventure didn’t sound like, well, an adventure. It sounded scary and foreign and far from home.

The idea of selling our house, saying goodbye to school and his friends, and leaving, was frightening to him. He struggled.

Dreamboat and I talked a lot about how to help him work through his fear. How to allow him time to come to terms with it, and to talk through what was going on in his heart. About how much he, of all the kiddo’s, needed this year to learn to think of others. To grow from the natural inward focus and selfishness of a young child, into an awareness of others’ needs. We also wanted G and his brother and sister to be aware of how great others’ needs can be. To not only see, but to open their hearts to people who truly have nothing. And to become people of compassion, whose hearts are shaped at this early age, to help others.

So, as we began selling and packing up our things, we asked G if he would separate his toys into those he wanted to keep and those he would bring to Guinea, to give to the kiddo patients in the ward. I was surprised and pleased at his generosity, and dramatic flair, as he happily piled up the majority of his toys to give away. But, being limited by airline weight restrictions, I changed my sermon to also include being generous with kids in the area who have very little and shop at second-hand stores (not sure that had the same affect; they’re some of our favorite stores). But, we set aside two bags of cars, animals, balls, superheroes, airplanes and other treasures, and we paired down his clothes so that the toys could fit into his allotted suitcase.

I’m pretty sure I questioned my grand idea, and cursed those heavy bags of toys a time or two during our travels.

Within hours of finally walking onboard our home for the next three months, we had deposited our luggage and headed downstairs to the hospital ward to meet some kids. We didn’t have far to look. And yes, we broke the rules, unknowingly that time, as ‘Befriend a Patient’ wasn’t supposed to start for a week. We tentatively went in and were enveloped by a ward full of orthopedic patients, some in pre-op, some recovering. The ward was full of friendly faces, all thrilled for the distraction from their nervousness and boredom. And parents and extended families grateful for new friends to play with their kids.

We continued to break the rules, this time not so unknowingly when I pulled out my phone camera. (I know. I know. My name is Heidi and I’m a rule-breaker. It’s been 30 minutes since my last infraction). I reasoned, very maturely I might add, that they did it first…the father of one of the little girls had started videoing and snapping pictures of us from the minute we arrived. The bravest of the little kids, a girl named Mariama, with bow legs and club feet, and a little boy named Mamu, who was developmentally delayed (and reminded me of my Peanut),  pushed and fought…to take pictures of themselves, and each other, on my phone. The rest of the room quietly took turns sidling up to G and patting his blond hair.

As we were preparing to go, I asked the charge nurse (I had already been reprimanded for the pictures, so thought it best) if we could give the kids some toys.  She said we couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair. Unless of course we gave a toy to each of the children.  She had no idea what she was about to unleash.  Before she could change her mind, we ran back up to our cabin and hand-picked twenty-one toys to give away.

You should have seen the patients’ sweet faces.  I obviously wasn’t thinking when I took the earlier pictures, and consequently got busted, or I would have saved the rule-breaking for the best shots!  The only toys we’d previously seen in the wards were hand-made dolls of knotted yarn.  I doubt those kiddo’s had ever seen Lightning McQueen. But, they sure knew how to rev his engine and let him fly across the ward floor.

The following weekend, we went to visit and catch up with the same group of kids at Mercy Ships’ Hope Center — A ward at a local hospital, where patients stay to receive physical therapy and bandage changes, until well enough to return home. Added bonus, at the Hope Center, taking pictures is not against the rules.

When I recovered from Mariama launching herself at me before I made it through the door, I looked over to see G seated across from an albino man, with an obvious wound on his forehead (well, the wound was obvious to me. Not sure G noticed it, or cared).  They were deeply engrossed in a game of Connect Four. There was my sweet boy, not just observing others and their needs, but sitting with them, playing games, and becoming friends. Many of these patients had been outcasts, as a result of local beliefs that evil spirits caused their disabilities. But here they were, now physically transformed by free surgeries from Mercy Ships doctors. And G, with his open, untainted heart, and without a thought to the ‘propriety’ of touching this man, simply saw him as a willing participant in a game.

My heart swelled. And tears pricked my eyes. And I tried not to think about germs. And the flies landing on us. And what cholera-bearing-treats might be lurking in their nasty, flying bodies. I am after all, still a mother, who has to think of her boy’s heart, AND his health.

He spent most of the morning playing Connect Four, hollering for me to see when he was winning, and begging to play again each time his opponent won. We stayed and had lunch together.

Today, at dinner, G announced that when the year of travel is over, he doesn’t want to move home.

“Where do you want to live, Sweetie?” I asked.

“In Florida. Next to Disney World.  I’ve never been there. In my WHOLE life.”

I stifled a giggle, and took a long, slow breath. My boy is going to be just fine. Not only is he not scarred (so far), by the adventure, it sounds like he’s beginning to see the world as his potential home.  And, even if his current heart’s desire is met, and we move next to Disney World (which sounds more like a nightmare to me), his compassion and thoughtfulness are awakened. And growing.

4 Comments

Filed under October 2012