Saturday, August 1, 2015

Enjoying the Moments

One day I will not wake up to the crying of children.  I will wake up, and it will be after 6am, and nobody will have disturbed me all night long.  I will drink an entire cup of coffee while it is still hot.
One day no one will reach out arms for rescue from the crib-prison and spin circles around the room in a celebration of freedom.  No one will wake up overflowing with dreams and ambitions (what she has decided for her next birthday cake and when she can change her name to Elsa).  I will no longer cling to my coffee as the sweet nectar which sustains all life.
One day I will lie down on the couch and read a book.  Just uninterrupted reading, for more than thirty seconds.  No one will try to sit on my Kindle or suddenly discover a DIRE band-aid situation (can't you see the teeny, tiny cut I got last week??)  that needs immediate attention.  There will be no screaming.
One day no one will bring in a pile of slightly-chewed books saying, “Read! Read!.”  No one will climb on my belly and demand 20 games of "ride the horsey" which end with everyone in helpless giggles.  The chubby laughing face will have become too busy for silly games.
One day I will eat an entire meal in peace.  I will sit down, eat leisurely, and not get up until I'm done. There will be no screaming.  No one will steal the best parts of my food.  My husband and I will hold entire conversations not broken by a single "mama-mama-mama-MAMAAAAAA!"
One day no one will climb into my lap with a mischievous grin while slyly reaching for my bread.  No one will give an animated account of what happened at kindergarten.  No one will say incredibly funny things and then get mad at us for laughing.
One day no one will wipe boogers on my shirt or pee on the couch or talk about poop at the dinner table.  No one will shriek with frustration because the Stupid Puzzle Piece Won’t Go IN!!!
One day no one will dance wildly to "Pop Goes the Weasel," no one will beam with pride over a wobbling tower creation or laugh with joy when it falls down two seconds later.  No one will nuzzle a soft cheek against my chin.
One day we will get out the door without hunting for socks and shoes and waterbottles and toys.  There will be no sunscreening squirmy faces or last minute trips to the potty or how-is-your-face-still-covered-in-breakfast-oatmeal-at-4pm.  There will be no juggling of bags and strollers and babies up and down flights of stairs.
One day we will decide to go somewhere and we will just...walk out the door. We will go out to dinner and then say, "Hey, let's see a movie.  Why don't we walk around the lake?"  And then we will just do it.
One day we will go to concerts and coffee shops and whatever places adults go to.  We won't plan our vacation around the hotel with the good playground and the amount of insanity required to get there.  We will get on an airplane and just watch a movie or read a book.  Maybe we'll even fall asleep.
One day we will stop to point out the playground or the cows or the really big dump truck and no one will care.  One day no one will beg for hide and seek, or plant twig trees in the ground, or ask where the worm lives.  We will get on an airplane and nobody will be wildly excited about the little buttons and the window shades and the teeny tiny bag of pretzels.
One day we will not hurry back from dinners or forgo evening plans because little ones are melting down.  No one will take 30 minutes to put on a pair of pajamas or demand the door cracked at a perfect 13% angle and the right light on and the covers straightened out again and the waterbottle placed just so...   And there will be no screaming.
 One day no one will make a last minute pajama escape, running giggling through the living room exulting in nakedness.  One day no one will cuddle in laps for another reading of Goodnight Moon. There will be no "Jesus Loves Me" and prayers and sweet kisses through crib bars.
So I won't enjoy the 2am wake ups or the 3am throw ups or the 4am attempts at morning.  I probably won't enjoy most of the happenings between 1-5am, because seriously, I'm not crazy.
But I will enjoy the thousand other tiny, sticky, loving, learning, out-of-control-silly moments that fill the day.  Because one day is sooner than I can ever imagine.
[Linking up with Velvet Ashes: Enjoy]

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tips for the First Year Overseas...Single, Married, and With Children

Ten years ago I moved overseas for the first time.  Single, barely 22, with no earthly clue what I was doing.  That first year was rough.  Quite rough.  But I survived – and not only that, I learned some really important lessons. 

A few years later I returned from leave as a newly married woman – so grateful for my new companion and relatively unprepared for the pressures overseas living would put on our newlywed life.

And a few years later I transitioned from full-time teacher to full-time mom.  Talk about a big learning curve on absolutely no sleep!

I grew a lot through each of these transitions.  I’d like to share a few tips, particularly from all the things I didn't do well, but you know...that's how you learn.

Tips for the First Year 

…As a single woman
Be prepared to need your teammates more than they need you.  Maybe they are experienced and have a wealth of established relationships, maybe they are a family who is up to their ears in interpersonal interaction. Their fondest dream is of “alone time” when 90% of your life is just that (and not so rosy as they’d imagine).  Help them to understand your needs and work to understand their perspective as well.  Figure out what your team can do to help meet your needs and figure out how your gifts and abilities can benefit your teammates.  You may be new at everything, but you still have unique offerings!

Be prepared to feel helpless and useless and confused…fun, huh?  Get ready to be humble and glean others’ experience about culture, about your new roles, about how to buy fruit.  A trip to the store will be exhausting, and it’s not because you are weak – it’s because your mind is trying to process 50000 new stimuli and you are getting smarter by the minute.  You may feel like you have never been dumber, but actually you are learning more than ever before.

Take care of yourself.  Sleep. Eat. Exercise. Rest.  Pretty basic, but let’s be more specific.  You will need more sleep than you used to because you are working really hard just at daily life.  Eating well does not mean heating up a tiny package of tomato soup in the dark and calling it dinner (obviously I have never done that). Exercise may look different when running past five thousand gaping strangers who are trying to figure out what is wrong with the crazy foreigner.  Talk to your teammates for ideas, and experiment to see what works for you (say, running after dark!)  Don’t feel guilty about watching TV or reading a book or doing a puzzle.  You need breaks, and if you don’t take them you will not last.   We all know that 5 hours on Facebook is not helpful, but it’s easy to feel guilty about any “indulgence.” Rest is not selfish; it’s healthy.

…As a married woman
You and your husband will handle the transition differently.  It’s bound to happen.  Maybe one of you is super adaptable and seems unruffled by all the transition, while the other is feeling the effects of everything (I’ll let you guess which one is me).  Maybe one of you is gifted in language while the other is struggling.  Maybe one is in your element and the other is feeling totally out of place.  These things can cause a lot of tension that can easily lead to resentment.  Talk about how the transition and your new roles are affecting each of you.  Then keep talking about it, because this is not a one-time thing!  Work really hard to understand the other person and to make yourself understood.

It’s easy to blame culture stress on your spouse.  Culture is vague and hard to yell at, while your spouse is right there, such a visible target.  Try to think carefully, “Am I really mad at my husband or have I just had it with bargaining?  Is he frustrated with me, or did he just have a frustrating morning at the bank?”  Try to become allies instead of enemies as you work through cultural frustrations.

Your relationship is going to change.  You might be spending more time than ever with your husband in shared work.  You might be adjusting to long hours or days apart.  McDonalds might be the hot new date night location.  It will take some time to adjust, but you’ll work out a new normal.  You’ll likely depend on each other more than ever before, and hopefully you’ll realize that in all the crazy changes, you have someone who sticks with you and “gets” your life – past, present, and future - like no one else.

…As a mother
You are strong.  You went through the trials of pregnancy and the “I can’t do this!!” moments of childbirth, and you did it anyway.  Or you agonized over paperwork and more paperwork and waiting and setbacks and uncertainty until your child could finally come home with you.  You have made it through sleepless nights and the days when your children seemed to be testing out new torture methods. You have survived parenthood thus far, and that’s how you’ll survive this difficult first year.

Think basics.  When I first became a mother, I quasi-joked that my goal for the first year was for us all to be alive at the end of it.  This is a pretty good goal for your first year in a new country.  Everybody ate.  Everyone has bathed sometime in recent memory.  Everyone is alive.  You win!!  Keep your expectations low and give yourself a lot of grace.

Whatever your long-term goals are, your first year will probably be a lot about your home and family.  Maybe you are learning how to home school for the first time. Maybe you are trying to figure out how to buy diapers and milk or how to carry three bags of groceries and two clinging children around the block and up 5 flights of stairs.  You will be helping your kids through their own adjustments, and that’s huge.  The wellbeing of your whole family is an important factor in being able to stay.  You may feel like you aren’t doing anything useful, you aren’t doing anything you couldn’t do in your home country, but don’t believe it.  This is make-it-or-break-it stuff you are dealing with.  You are vital.

Get out of the house.  You may need to put a lot of focus on what’s happening inside your family, but you also need to get out.  You need breaks from your children and their ever constant needs (who doesn’t?).  You need to feel connected to the culture and the reason you are there, even if it’s not as much of your life right now as you imagined.  You need to connect with people who are not related to you.  Talk to your husband and your team about how to make this a reality.  For the good of everyone, make it happen.

You will get through this.  With support, reasonable expectations, and a lot of grace, you will thrive.  And if you’re like me, you’ll be blessed to look back 10 years later and wonder where time has gone.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Stay at Home Feminist

[This is not a comment about working mothers vs. stay at home mothers vs. work at home mothers vs. part time working mothers... Nor does this issue just affect stay at home mothers, although I focus on that area. Sometimes  working mothers are respected only because they have made the progressive decision to work, and the whole huge part of their life that is being a mother isn't viewed as significant.  Sometimes working mothers are viewed as inferior mothers because they love or need their careers and don't spend every moment with their child.  All of this is stupid.  How about we respect and value mothers no matter what?]

The other day I read this super annoying, super stupid article from USA Today about this husband who wouldn't let his wife quit her job, even though she wanted to stay home with the kids, because he wanted better for her.  It made me really mad for many reasons, not the least of which is a controlling husband making his wife's decisions for her.  He won't "let" her quit her job? Someone I know said this kind of talk makes her feel "stabby," which I thought was an apt description. 

The ironic part is that this man clearly thinks he is so progressive.  I am all for supporting your wife working when it is what she wants or what is necessary for your family.  In this case it was not a financial decision at all, he just didn't want his wife to waste her degree and career accomplishments.  He is afraid of her "becoming stagnant."

I'm sure the article was written to get a rise out of people one way or another. Some applaud him.  Some rise up in arms, either because of attack on stay at home moms or because of his controlling egotism.  It was some random opinion of some stupid internet guy. It shouldn't matter. Except that it is published.  This idea and so many ideas like it are constantly circulated.  

You may have noticed that I'm a bit of a feminist (aka. someone who thinks women should be treated with equal respect and have equal rights as men).  Few things make me all stabby like oppression of women in any form.  And it does take all forms. Most recently I have found it particularly as a stay at home mom.  Not because I am being kept out of the workforce or chained to the kitchen, but rather because my decision makes me seen as less-than.

I often wonder why it is that mothers, particularly "stay at home moms" continually need to be reminded we are doing something worthwhile. Is it just because we are over-sensitive females who imagine we are being overlooked and undervalued?  Or is it perhaps because we continually experience very real, subtle and not so subtle slights? 

Honestly, from my experience, I have met very few "weak" females.  And when I think about women worldwide, I am astounded at the difficulties they face and still press through.  I don't think we are a gender of particularly fragile egos. 

I am a stay at home mother with a college degree in elementary education.  It will be especially useful as I teach my daughter. That's right, I'm also a home school mom.  Double whammy.  Where is my calf-length denim skirt? I am responsible for my children's education - if they learn how to read and to love reading, if they learn the countries of the world and a global perspective, if they understand math - that's on me.  So yeah, I think I'll be using my degree.

I am a stay at home mother in China.  I have a masters degree in intercultural studies.  My family and I interact in another culture every day.  I practice Chinese language basics with my girls and encourage them to use it.  I remind them of the importance of responding graciously in cultural situations they don't enjoy.  My attitude toward local culture affects the attitude they take with them onto the playground, into Chinese kindergarten, and into the future.  So I'm pretty sure that degree will come in handy.

I am no chef, but I cook for my family.  I may not cook vegetarian, gluten free, grain-free, organic, free range, (insert current most important health initiative) meals, but you can bet I am thinking about their health.  I am thinking about how to cook healthy things the kids will actually eat.  I am providing their framework for healthy eating later in life.  And I am figuring out how to cook without a pile of children wailing at my feet.

I do laundry.  Constantly.  Laundry -unlike stain removal- is not a skill.  Anyone can (or should be able to) do it.  But someone has to keep us all in moderately clean clothes. Laundry is pretty easy due to the marvelous (wonderful, blessed) invention of the washing machine, but the process never ends.  Wash clothes, hang clothes, take them down, fold them, search for missing socks, put clothes away, gather them off the floor and take them to the laundry hamper.  Perhaps I should save time and just take them straight from the drying rack to the dirty clothes hamper.

I clean.  Constantly.  You cannot imagine how much mess children can create until they are running free in your home.  Why are there dry beans in the living room, three changes of clothes in the bathroom, toys from five different boxes in the kitchen, and half of the children's book shelf on our bedroom floor?  Children.  Children are not known for their efficiency in most areas, but mess making - it's incredible.  Of course, anyone can clean as well.  It's a job of janitors.  And obviously janitors don't deserve much respect...right?

I change diapers and I potty train and I discipline and discipline and discipline.  I do all these things, over and over again, but I do something more too.  I gather up little children running to me for hugs.  I tickle and giggle and make giggle.  I point out the beauty all around.  I show my children that they are valuable, that they are loved, that they are worth my time.  I teach them the importance of kindness and respect.  I show them how to love God and others, and how to be loved by God and others.

Mr. Stupid Internet Guy said he didn't want his daughter "seeing mommy at home, thinking she needs to do the same because that's what she grew up seeing." He wants better for her. Well you know what, I don't have any problem with my girls seeing me at home. 

What do I want for them when they grow up?  I want them to be doctors or mothers or janitors.  I want them to be doctors because they feel called to be.  I want them to be mothers because they find joy in it.  Or I want them to be janitors because they are not too proud to work with their hands. 

Whatever they choose, I want them to know that they are valuable not because of what they do but because of who they are. 

And also, if someone steps in to make their decisions for them, I want them to feel all stabby.

Friday, May 8, 2015

All About Me at 32

Every year I try to record some things about the girls to remember what they are like and what they are learning each year.  I don't change quite so quickly, but I thought I'd record a few things about this year so I can remember what I was into at that oh-so-distinctive age of thirty-two.
Currently reading: Christy (Appropriately one of my favorite books. I haven't kept track, but I'd say this is the 6th or 8th read)
Currently watching: Kevin and I just finished the the series finales of Parenthood and Grey's Anatomy.  So I'd say we've gotten plenty of emotional drama lately!  Probably good Downton's not in season.  Also the Planet Earth series - it's pretty awesome except the part with the thousands of cockroaches in the cave.  They should have warnings about that.  Even Adalyn loves it (there's a lot of water, and she's obsessed with water, so...)
Listening to: Gungor and the Brilliance with a bit of country thrown in; also freakonomics podcasts
Favorite blogs: Sarah Bessey (on being a "Jesus feminist" and a stay at home mom), Velvet Ashes (honest conversation about all sorts of life topics for women overseas)
Favorite part of my day: Drinking my iced coffee (thank you Pioneer Woman! I'm a new fan).  Seriously, how do non-coffee drinkers get themselves out of bed in the morning?
Newest finds: Thred-up, an online consignment shop.  It's like thrift store shopping from afar -but you can sort by size, style, and even color.  If I was the kind of person who really loved shopping, I would be in trouble!
What makes me angry: Oppression of women in any form, devaluing of children, stupid people on the internet
What makes me laugh: Julianaisms, Adalyn's "sneaky" face, Adalyn’s perfect imitations of the things we say
What makes me happy: Sitting on the laundry porch in the sun, listening to the birds, watching the newly-leafed trees, a little kiddo climbing on my lap begging for "horsey"; having an incredibly clean house for 5 minutes; iced coffee (oh wait, I already said that)
What makes me sad: Feeling disconnected from friends, when my kids are hurt or disappointed
What I appreciate: Having incredible friends who strengthen my faith in humanity, even if I don't get to connect with them much; living on a really beautiful campus; Kevin being supportive of me; lentils; Juliana's sweet declarations of love; Adalyn's kisses and giggles; being able to buy almost anything in China on Taobao
How I have changed in the past year: Overall, I think I have gotten better at noticing and enjoying the small beauties of life.  Also, I have more white hairs.
I'm looking forward to: Going home this summer!  Family, friends, nature, my 10 year college reunion, In-N-Out...
What I’ve been thinking about: kindergarten curriculum for Juliana, summer travel, how to understand and connect better with students 
What I'm insecure about: Not feeling useful, having little to show for my time, stay-at-home/homeschooling mom stereotypes
How I hope to grow in the next year: Focusing more on loving and less on accomplishing

Monday, May 4, 2015

Tale of a Second Nursling

A few years ago I wrote Juliana's nursing story, and I wanted to record and remember my nursing journey with Adalyn as well.

I think even Adalyn was shocked by the speed with which she entered the world.  She wailed loudly, protesting the harsh transition. But as soon as the excitement died down, she happily settled down to nurse. I loved being able to provide her with such a safe place in the strange new world - the warmth of mama's skin, a known voice, a familiar taste, a first and continuing connection.

But after her good start, Adalyn was sleepy and not so interested in nursing. The hospital's lactation consultants offered assistance, but when we left the hospital after two days, she was still not nursing well.  I wish I had asked for more help, but I figured we could work it out at home.  Besides, I had already done this before so surely I should know what I was doing, right?  Of course, Adalyn was just learning everything for the first time.

My milk came in by the second or third day, and since Adalyn wasn’t nursing so efficiently, I quickly became super, painfully engorged.  It caused a high enough fever I had to trek back to the doctor the day after leaving the hospital so they could rule out uterine infection.  Armed with pain medicine and cabbage leaves, I improved over the next few days.

The first weeks were rough.  I contracted mastitis twice in two weeks time - super high fevers, painful swelling, the whole works.  I have rarely felt so terrible in my life, but a hungry baby was always waiting, and of course nursing - the last thing you want to do - is one of the things you have to do constantly both for your sake and the baby’s.  During the worst of it, Kevin laid Adalyn next to me in bed and helped get her latched on since I couldn't sit up.

Thank goodness we were still with my family.  My mom, who has years of experience dealing with sick kids in the middle of the night, took over when I couldn't think clearly.  She helped get my fever down, called my midwife, and made trips to the 24hr pharmacy for more antibiotics, and she took care of everyone during the days of recovery.

Around this time, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding arrived from the library.  I read it practically cover to cover, even the parts that didn’t really apply to me.  I realized how much I had forgotten about nursing from the first time around.  It was so affirming and normalizing.

The mastitis finally improved but I was left with what appeared to be a plugged duct.  After working at it for days with no success, I went back to see the hospital lactation consultant and was examined by my midwife, who thought it seemed more like a cyst than a plug.  She scheduled an ultrasound and mammogram.  We spent the afternoon at the hospital, but fortunately the cyst turned out to be harmless and didn't need any extra attention.

Finally we reached the end of the first month, and things really started turning around.  During that first month, I was so grateful for my previous nursing experience to look back on.   I kept reminding myself, "This is worth it. It will get better. You really loved nursing."

Even in the pain and difficulty, there were sweet moments during that first newborn month.  The wailing impatience of a hungry baby instantly satisfied by the breast.  The milk-drunk baby who cannot resist drifting off into sleep. The tiny hands that reach and knead.  Waking up to discover you and baby have both fallen asleep nursing side by side.  Such closeness.

And things did get better after the first month.  At least until the second month, when I discovered another plugged duct.  After working and working at it with no success, I finally went to see the doctor, who ordered an ultrasound.  The results of the ultrasound were inconclusive, so a biopsy was done.  The whole process took weeks since it was over the holidays, so I had plenty of time to imagine tragic scenarios.  Finally I got the results - everything was normal!

And then, it really was smooth sailing.  Adalyn was a faster nurser than her sister, averaging 20 minutes a session instead of 45, which made a big difference, especially during the night!  She nursed often during the day but went for longer stretches during the night, so I really couldn't complain.

As Adalyn grew, she was also a much calmer nurser - perhaps because she was used to constant distractions.  She focused without too much difficulty and attempted much less acrobatics.
Her first birthday passed by with no thought of weaning.  What was a decision with Juliana - extended breastfeeding - was never a question with Adalyn.  It seemed perfectly natural to keep nursing, not “extended” at all.  We gradually reduced sessions until she just nursed before nap and bedtime, or occasionally during the day if she was fussy.  I would sometimes bring her into bed in the morning to nurse, but she rarely settled back down.

She derived great comfort for nursing, and I loved the connection with my busy toddler.  She loved to hold my hand or play with my fingers while she nursed. When she was feeling tired or sad or lonely, she would cry, "Naptime! Naptime!" Which I eventually realized meant nursing.  

Then one day at about 19 months, Adalyn abruptly stopped nursing.  One day she was happily nursing and the next she refused. I thought it was teething, which were obviously making her miserable, but as the days passed with no further interest in nursing, I knew she was done.

She nursed longer than many babies do, of course, but I was still sad for our nursing relationship to end.  I wish I had warning so I could capture those last days of special closeness.  I missed our time of cuddling, which she now had no patience for, and we had to work out a new bedtime routine.

Now I sit beside her crib and sing her a few songs while she sits up and pushes her face between the bars for kisses.  It's not the most calming routine, as it keeps us both laughing, but it's also irresistible.

I am grateful for the 19 months I had nursing my sweet second baby! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

That one time when nobody came

I don't usually plan large events, but recently, on an ambitious day, I decided: Hey, let's have a big party for all the Sophomore students!  This Saturday the Sophomore English majors all took a big, important standardized test, the TEM-4. They spent a lot of time studying and preparing, and most of them were pretty nervous about it.  So I thought, we could have a big party for them after the test is over!  A chance for them to have fun and let go of the weeks of cumulative stress.
Our teammate currently teaches all the Sophomores, and Kevin has taught them all in the past, so we invited all 5 classes, about 130 students total.  When our teammates invited the students in class, they all seemed very excited.  "I think we should expect a big turnout," he said.  "I'd think around 100."  That's what I was thinking too, as I planned games and activities.  I tried to come up with things that would work well for a really large group of students.

I planned relay games and gathered necessary items.  I put together a photo scavenger hunt to do on campus.  I bought candy prizes.  I baked at least 120 oatmeal cookies and around 100 cookie bars. Our teammate baked some brownies and bought a few snacks as well.

Today the weather was warm and sunny, perfect for an outdoor party.  We headed outside at 2:30pm to set up.  We were ready.  Juliana was excited.  3pm rolled around, and nobody was there.

It started to rain.  And by rain, I mean it was partly cloudy with a few sprinkles here and there, not worth an umbrella.  The air turned colder.  And by colder, I mean 65*F.  Surely this wouldn't keep the students from coming?

By 3:15pm, two students had shown up. Two. There was no way we could do our party with two students! We waited a few more minutes, just in case, but it was pretty clear no one was coming. I packed up all the supplies while Juliana cried, "Why can't we have the party? Why did nobody come? I wanted to have a party!"  Adalyn was crying after being dragged all over for nothing.  I was feeling frustrated, disappointed, and just ticked off.

We invited the two students to our house, and they invited two others as well. If these were the only students who bothered to show up, we could at least make it worth their while.  I put aside my frustration and focused on rewarding these few thoughtful students.  Juliana cheered up a little bit; she loves playing with students.

We brought out the cookies and encouraged them to eat to their hearts' content.  We played Uno and Dr. Seuss Memory.  I made up a quick game of "hide the candy," which they really got into.  They were interested in the games and happy to be around the kids.  At dinnertime we all went to the cafeteria together.  The students thanked us for having them over and assured us they really enjoyed it.

So the afternoon was not a total waste, but I won't pretend that it wasn't disappointing.  I still feel pretty ticked off.  How do 100 people just not show up?  And no, they didn't have a conflict, the other students said, "I think they are just is a little cold out..."

What about the people we know and communicate with regularly? The ones who indicated they would come?  Could they really not have told us, "Actually we're not going to come and neither is anyone else from our class."

No, they couldn't tell us that, because we would lose face, and then they would lose face, and then the world would end.  It's better to just not show up and pretend like it never happened. It's not the first time this has happened, but never on quite such a large scale.

Maybe we will reschedule the party. I do have 200+ snacks filling up my freezer space, plus the games I went to the trouble of planning.  And I did want to do something nice for the Sophomores, although not quite so much just right now.  Our teammate will probably mention that nobody came to the party, and they will all feel ashamed, and then everyone will come the next time.  Nothing like a guilt-induced party, right?

The best laid plans and all (America).  Plans cannot keep up with change (China).  Apparently it's a universal principle.  There are some lessons you never stop learning.  Oatmeal cookie, anyone?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Quieting the Inner Critic

We all deal with unrealistic expectations from others. These expectations can place an unnecessary weight, a burden of disappointing others. But expectations come from others, I find it easier to sort out which are reasonable and unreasonable.

"Oh, you've lived in China for a year now? You must be fluent in Chinese by now!" Okay, so you knew someone who was fluent after three weeks in China; they were either a genius or tooootally lying. I'll let you decide which one.

I have a much harder time disregarding the voices in my own head. It took me a while to realize that sometimes my "self talk" is not only unrealistic, it is lying and destructive. And where does deceit and destructiveness come from? Certainly not from a gracious Father.  But I convince myself since these are my voices, they must be telling the truth.

My crazy self-expectations come into play in every decision I make. Instead of seeing two choices of possible activities, I see two (sometimes diametrically opposed) mandates. I should be doing both of these things - or neither, so no matter what choice I make, it is the wrong one.

I should take the girls outside more often. The weather is getting warm, and everyone knows kids need more outside time to run around and explore. All those grannies spend hours outside with their little children, while we rush past them for a 10 minute playtime on the way to buy veggies.

But when I take the girls outside, that means I'm not getting anything done. Maybe we should stay inside so I can accomplish things. The wind is too strong anyway and will probably fill their lungs with dust. It would actually be irresponsible to take them out. And those grannies don't have anything else to do with their kids, so of course they spend all day outside.

If I don't take the girls out, I am depriving my children. If I do take them out, I am accomplishing nothing and possibly endangering their health.

If I am inside, I could cook more. Everyone knows that good mothers and healthy people cook every night, using lots of vegetables and whole grains -or no grains- and protein rich meat -or no meat, and certainly no msg laden products.

But cooking takes so much time and planning, and our whole family can eat a decent meal in the dining hall for a few dollars. It has lots of vegetables -and nutritionally empty white rice. I should cook less and then I'll have more time to spend on other things.

For example, I should blog more. I enjoy writing, and some people manage to blog all the time. But maybe blogging is selfish. It's not like thousands of people are waiting on my wise words. Plus, anything done on the computer is intrinsically selfish, and I should be playing with the girls instead. 

I don't spend enough time playing with the girls. They probably feel neglected. On the other hand, I probably focus on them too much, and they need to realize life isn't all about them. If I play with them too much, it will destroy their ability to self-entertain. And probably also destroy my sense of autonomy. And my marriage. And possibly the future of the world.

Every choice is a moral dilemma. Every decision is the wrong one. The expectations are ridiculous but somehow believable. Having unrealistic expectations of myself is not only frustrating, it sets me up for failure. I doubt every decision, even the smallest ones.

I am working to recognize these inner voices of expectation, especially the absurd or deceitful, and determine which of the "oughts" I ought to let go. 

I am trying to remember - what is really required of me? To love God and to love others. These are things I can do through cooking at home or eating in the cafeteria, accomplishing nothing outside or accomplishing things inside, playing with my kids or letting them play on their own. 

I can make a decision - maybe a different decision each day, and have peace that maybe there was no "right or wrong" in this matter. I can know that I will make wrong decisions, and that is the point of grace.

I can recognize that whatever others may think and whatever my inner voice says, God is not judging me for cooking or not cooking. It's possible he doesn't even care whether I take my kids out today or not. So maybe I can stop judging myself. I can step into grace.

[Linking up with Velvet Ashes on the topic of expectations.]

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What DO I do all day?

It is that age old question. So you are a stay at home mom - what do you do all day? People don't usually ask it outright because of the wrath it may incur, but they still think it. I still ask it of myself.  How is it that a whole day passes and I accomplish so little?

Some days being at home all day with the kids is pretty easy and enjoyable. Some days it is an extreme exercise in patience. I do not believe that being a SAHM is the hardest job ever or even a job in the traditional sense. There is much more flexibility, less time off, more fun, and of course no salary. But perhaps the biggest difference is how little we accomplish. Most jobs involve making measurable headway in some area. At home, you do the same things again and again each day, with small people coming along behind to undo them.
Some days either you hold the baby, or the baby cries. All. Day. Long.
How is it we stay busy all day and yet get so little done?  Here is an example hour in a normal day of my life.

[Note: this story only involves one child at home. The actual amount of accomplishment may vary based on the number and ages of children present, who is sick or in a terrible mood, etc. If there is a pregnancy or baby in the mix and everyone is still alive and somewhat sane at the end of the day - Bravo! Great accomplishment!]

Scene opens (Juliana has just been scuttled out the door to school).

8:01 - Reheat coffee and plan morning: do laundry, wash dishes. Then I should have plenty of extra time to organize the entire rest of the house!

8:02 - First things first: get Adalyn dressed. Where is Adalyn anyway? A quick search reveals her in her bedroom, dumping out the buckets of socks and underwear, happily wearing a pair of Elsa underwear on her head. Put away socks and underwear. This whole cabinet is an overflowing mess. I really need to get around to organizing it.
Adalyn gets a head-start on reorganizing.

8:05 - Adalyn has run off again, this time hiding in the pantry. Catch her eating raisins and uncooked rice of the floor.  Carry her into the bedroom. Change diaper and put on clothes, pausing for some belly tickles. Those baby giggles are so irresistible, we'd better do a few more.

8:10 - Clean off diaper in the toilet, wondering when the toilet was last cleaned. Balance diaper on top of full diaper pail. Maybe I'd better start by washing the diapers. Except I need to make up more diaper detergent. I'd better go on and clean the toilet while I'm thinking about it. And the diaper sprayer and the shower handles and mirror and - what are you doing Adalyn? Don't pull out all the toilet paper!

8:15 - Rewind roll of toilet paper while Adalyn plays in the trash can. Empty trash and wash Adalyn's hands. Catch glimpse of self in the mirror. Wow, I look really tired. Maybe I should put on some make-up. At least some under eye concealer. And one day I should do something with my hair. Maybe next year. Make silly faces with Adalyn in mirror. Notice Adalyn's face is still coated with oatmeal. Wash off face, a finely developed form of torture.

8:20 - Make diaper detergent and prepare to put diapers in the washer. What? There are still clothes in the washer! Oh no, I forgot I put some in last night. Smell test. Yep, they're still okay. Take wet clothes out to the laundry porch and remember there are still clothes hanging up.

8:25 - Adalyn helps pull down dry laundry. She is very good at pulling down laundry. Pile laundry on bed to sort through. Adalyn is starting to understand directions, so I tell her, "Adalyn, can you put the socks in daddy's drawer?" She grabs the socks - and heads off for the kitchen. Catch Adalyn and show her the drawer again. She puts in the socks. And takes out 5 other pairs. She puts her socks, Juliana's socks, and the dishtowels into daddy's sock drawer. She is very pleased with herself.
"I'm pretty sure I can reach that."
8:30 - Okay, maybe I'll fold the laundry later. I'll hang up the wet laundry first. No, I'd better get the diapers started washing. Seperate diapers and fill washer. Return to laundry porch to find wet laundry scattered on the floor.  Adalyn is looking through the books and notebooks by my bed, calmly dispensing of papers she feels are unnecessary.

8:35 - Hang up wet laundry. Rehang wet laundry Adalyn enthusiastically helps pull down. Pause to chase prism rainbows across the floor. Chase dust bunnies across the floor, complements of yesterday's dust storm. Perhaps I should sweep.

8:40 - Go into the kitchen to wash dishes. Discover coffee still sitting in the microwave. Re-reheat. Drink two swallows. Remember the drying rack is still full of clean dishes. Put away clean dishes while Adalyn pulls a stool over to the kitchen sink to play. Check for any dangerous objects and let her play. She is so happily occupied and has already poured water all down her front, so any chance of staying dry is lost.
No dish pile too large
8:45 - Put last dishes into the cabinet and hear a crash. Adalyn looks perplexedly at the pieces of broken bowl all over the ground. Move Adalyn out of the kitchen to clean up broken glass. She wants to help too and does not like being kept out. Sweep up glass while removing a wailing Adalyn 5 more times.

8:50 - Haul still wailing Adalyn into the other room to change her wet clothes. Put on new pants. Discover the shirt is size 9 months. I really need to go through the girl's clothes. Find a new shirt. Discover Adalyn's pants but no Adalyn. Find Adalyn sitting on top of the coffee table with a book, naked and giggling. Read book together and do some belly pats.

8:55 - Redress Adalyn. Put dirty clothes in the laundry and remember the laundry basket is still full. And the sink is still full of dishes. Add to list:
Clean bathroom
Go through girl's clothes
Reorganize cabinet
Sweep floor
Sweep? Did someone say sweep?
9:00 - My list is now longer than it was an hour ago. What have I accomplished? I dressed Adalyn, twice. Take another swallow of coffee, which is cold again. And where is Adalyn? Oh, she's in the kitchen making a tower with the cups I just put away.

Monday, March 23, 2015

18 Things to Know About Adalyn at 18 Months

I would be sad about Adalyn outgrowing babyhood, but this phase is so cute I really wouldn't want to go back.  At 18 months Addie...

1. Is just as sweet as always.  She loves to burrow her face against mine and runs to greet mama and daddy with a big hug.

2. Has developed quite a temper! Especially when overtired, she will throw herself on the ground and scoot backwards across the floor wailing. One day in a fit of rage, she picked up her little toddler chair and threw it on the ground! I know this will get old, but at the moment it's hard not to laugh.
3. Is just below "average" for both height and weight. She's pretty small but has a big old belly that she loves to pear at under her shirt.  She will pat it and say, "Belly belly belly!" Actually she likes to do the same thing to my belly too. It's hard to feel too self-conscious about not having a flat tummy when she takes such delight in it!

4. Sleeps from about 7:30/8pm-6am and naps for about 1.5 hours.  At least at the moment.

5. Has a pretty impressive vocabulary.  She seems to hear a word and then immediately start using it in proper context. She doesn't talk as constantly (or with as much volume) as Juliana did, but I think she knows more words.  I guess that's the advantage of an older sister who talks all the time! She also uses a lot of phrases like "I want book" and "xi shou" (wash hands). She definitely knows more English, but she's picking up Chinese pretty well. Her tones are great.
6. Is a total troublemaker. She can frequently be found emptying out the pantry, climbing on tables, checking out the trash, emptying drawers or trying to snag a cookie.  She complements her actions with a very mischevious smile.

7. Plays more and more with her sister. They hide under the table, push each other around on the train, and build towers together. Not without conflict, but it's fun to see them enjoying each other's company.
8. Loves to read, although sometimes after two pages she closes the book with a decided "all-done!" Her favorites are books with flaps.

9. Favorite song is "If You're Happy and You Know It." It's my favorite too, when she lifts up her hands and yells, "Hooray!"

10. Participates in at least the beginning of our home school. She sings songs and repeats the day of the week, the month, and the Chinese phrases we learn.

11. Is happiest with mama around, but gets really excited when daddy comes home. She also does well with ayi after the moment of actual leaving.
12. Is always ready to go outside. Every morning when Juliana gets ready for school, Adalyn tries to put on her shoes and hat too, in hopes that this time she'll get to go too.

13. Eats almost anything. Except the last few times she has refused to eat pizza! She is especially fond of other peoples' food and generally ends up sharing second breakfast with whoever eats last.

14. Gets LOTS of comments about her big eyes, both from Chinese and foreigners. Mostly people have stopped assuming she is a boy.
15. Enjoys helping mama and daddy sweep, wash dishes, pull down clothes from the line, and clean up spills (sometimes intentionally created for this purpose).

16. Adores her "sissy" (who she also calls "Julna") and tries to do everything she does.

17. Nurses before naptime and bedtime and sometimes in the morning. This is useful
since she still has very little interest in cow milk. 

18. Adalyn is in love with waterbottles. Despite her extensive vocabulary, about 1/3 of her conversations are about waterbottles. She is naturally quite attached to her waterbottle, and if anyone should become seperated from their waterbottles, she is rather concerned. Of course, she also uses "waterbottle" to refer to any kind of water.  The ocean, the potty, the lake: "Waterbottle!"

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What I'm Not and What I Am

The other day a delivery woman asked me, "Are you a teacher here?" I almost answered yes, but then I realized it isn't true anymore. So I said, "No, my husband is."

It was a very simple exchange, but as I discussed in a previous post, small interactions like this remind me that part of what I have lost is a simple explanation for who I am and why I am here. I know I'm not here just for my husband's job, that I have legitimate roles here, but it all takes a lot more explaining now.

When I tell students and neighbors I am not teaching this term they look confused. I explain why - that I need to spend more time caring for the kids, that I am teaching Juliana some kindergarten - and they understand a little more. Everyone says being a mother is hard work. They don’t know how we handle two children and no grandparents nearby. But "stay at home mom" is not a familiar concept. To be an adult and not working is just...not normal.

In daily life, though, I am enjoying having one less role. Even though I was only teaching 4 hours a week, I had to figure out how to fit in planning and grading. I never felt like I had the time I really needed to prepare and teach as well as I wanted. It was good for me to have something separate and outside the house for this past year, but right now I feel like it is good for me to narrow my focus. While I enjoyed teaching, I didn't have enough time to actually get to know students well outside of class.

Not teaching means one less area to think about, so I can focus more on my other roles. I can slow down and have more patience with the kids. I can let Adalyn help wash the dishes (and herself and the floor) and put up (pull down) the laundry. I can sit and read books with her without fretting too much about everything else that needs to be done. 

I can spend more time doing school with Juliana. I found a fun curriculum (Five in a Row) that bases each unit on a children's book. Each week, we read one book together every day and learn about social studies, science, music, art, etc. using the book as a basis. Juliana is loving it, and maybe in the future I'll write another post about what our current home school looks like.

Since I obviously still want to invest in students and focus on deepening the relationships I have, this term I decided to start a book club. I love reading, so I'm not sure why I didn't think of this before! The club is made up of nine students (seven girls and two guys). Most of them are ones I taught or have gotten to know over the past year. I mostly decided who to invite, so I got to ask students I enjoy and want to spend more time with!

We will be reading The Little Prince, and I'm excited for the discussion opportunities it presents. The students are all eager for it as well. They like reading and want to improve their English reading and speaking. Plus, a club is much more fun than a class!

I already feel tempted to fill up my time with other useful roles, but I'm trying to resist that. I feel like I have a lot to learn right now, in my "year of Grace," about not doing. Not living in laziness, of course, but not rushing around in frantic busyness either. I want to live well and really invest in what I feel led focus on. I want to love well, even if I don't accomplish much (and incidentally I've realized may of the days I accomplish the most, it has been at the expense of loving well). 

My role is not so easily defined anymore, but that's okay. I want to move away from being defined by and seeking value in what I do anyway. Maybe I’ll write more about that in the future too!