Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wo Men Zhong Yu Dao Le!

In order to avoid as much language atrophy as possible over the next 6 months in America, I think I should just blog in Chinese as much as possible.  So today's title is "We Finally Made It!" 

A little travel quirk about me, for those of you who care: I always try to straighten my hair before a long plane ride.  Curly hair inevitably gets thrown into a tangled knot on the back of my head, and it's not so comfortable to lean against a big mess of hair against the plane seat.  Plus, straight hair travels better and I look a little more alive to the world once we reach our final destination.  Perhaps a little vain but that's what makes quirks quirky I suppose.

After spending the weekend in Beijing with friends, we made it to the airport with plenty of time to navigate our way to the Air Canada check-in counter.  When I was shopping for flights a few months ago, the only options I could find were all Chinese airlines.  No offense, China, but I'd rather not ride in our of your airplanes across an ocean.  So I didn't.  We rode a Canadian airplane and were served by women who ended their sentences in "Eh."  

Our flight left at 6 PM on Monday night.  We've really come to appreciate red eye flights with the babies.  They sleep, I sleep, Kevin watches movies (planes are not intended to make 6'4" people comfortable), and we all get there in a much more cheery fashion.  There were a few times that Micah rolled off his seats into the floor while he was sleeping, so two Chinese grandmothers posted themselves as sentries over him.  I will certainly miss the ever-willing helping hands available in China.

We landed in Vancouver around 1 PM on Monday to find that our connecting flight to Dallas had been cancelled.  But as soon as we made it to the customs desk, a flight representative found us and presented us with eight tickets rerouting us through Phoenix.  Very impressive customer service, Canada.  We didn't hardly have a second to sit down at our gate because we move very slowly and our layover was quite short.

The boys slept the entire flight from Vancouver to Phoenix, which earned us the thanks and praises of all our fellow passengers.  The flight from Phoenix to Austin, however, did not garner such accolades since we were "those people" on the plane.  Micah made up a game with the people behind him that involved pulling down the arm rest and shouting (and I do mean shouting) "Hello!"  Let's just say that that hour and forty-five minutes lasted much longer than the eleven we had flown previously.

My parents met us at the airport in Austin, and that was a sweet moment.  Our airline had actually called them that morning to inform them that our flight had been cancelled, so we would be forced to spend the night in Vancouver.  Vancouver with the green trees and beautiful mountains.  In a free hotel.  With food vouchers.  Would that have been so bad?  Well, maybe not but getting a hug from my mom was certainly better.

The boys slept decently that night from 2 AM until about 7:30 AM.  We had belated Christmas the next morning complete with a tree that my mom left up.  

Now we're just getting settled into life, trying to get over jet lag and figure out heads & tails here in America.  I'll have to save my first impressions of American life for later because it would be wise for me to get some sleep.  It's only the third night in this wacky new time zone and our little buddies think that midnight is an excellent time to wake up and play for a few hours!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Packing Up & Heading Out

Today is our last day in our China home.  We're taking a morning train to Beijing on Saturday and then will fly out on Monday evening.  It's weird to think that we've been here for three years already.  In some ways, it seems like the time has passed really quickly.  But then I think back to the specifics of everything that has transpired over the past three years and how much we have changed through the course of it, and it doesn't seem quick at all.  We've grown up a lot since being here.  Becoming parents obviously does that to a person but having to reorient your life in the Orient also has a way of zapping a triple-shot of maturity into your blood stream.  

I remember the days when leaving the house was way stressful because people would speak Chinese to me and I didn't understand a single word.  Not even one.

I remember getting into a taxi during one of the early days having just learned how to say "airport" and considering making a run for it.  

I remember the days when paying the electricity bill required so much from me that I pretty much had to take a nap upon returning home.  

I remember coming to the realization that long-distance running doesn't really fit into my life here.  

I remember being lonely beyond belief because it seemed like no one really understood me anymore.

I remember suffering loss over the past three years that I had never experienced before.

But then language came (ok, well it didn't just come. I worked my tail of at it!).  Friends came.  The ability to connect with people beyond my culture & life stage came.  And then life made sense again.

So I'm leaving China now with a somewhat heavy heart.  Sure, we're looking forward to family, friends, Jason's Deli, Blue Bell, and the convenience of American life.  But when I think of China life now, I don't think of the difficulties that it often includes.  I think of the people & places that I love here. 

Friends like this who welcomed Kevin into their home almost every week since we arrived here and who patiently helped him improve his Chinese.  And who gave our kids their first "hong bao," which is a red envelope with money inside that children receive during Spring Festival.

Friends like this who used to bless me by helping me out around the house but now bless me by loving on my boys and giving me an crate of dozens of apples shortly before I leave the country. (Fear not...we managed to eat them all!)

Friends like this who make my babies smile.

Friends like this whose enthusiasm & animation about life are infectious and who can replicate American pizza pretty darn well.

And friends like this who will sit on my couch and really share their life with me.  It's an amazing thing when hearts can truly connect across culture & language.

We've spent the past several weeks saying goodbye to all the people that have made the past three years so special for us.  We've also been busy packing and getting things ready for our departure.  Which means that there have been a couple of incidents while a distracted mama was supposed to be on watch...

Like when Micah ate a blue marker.  Or when I was trying to vacuum but the boys kept licking the vacuum cleaner and pressing the off button (with their hands, not their tongues).  To curb my frustration, I took a break and gave them vacuum cleaner hickeys on their feet & hands for a while.  There's nothing like baby smiles that make frustration vanish.

And of course sorting & organizing three years of stuff always lends itself to amazing superhero costumes.

"Goodbye" in Chinese literally translates "to see again."  So as we say goodbye to our China home for these next six months, we are expectant and hopeful that we will indeed again enjoy the life that we've built here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The First (Of Many!) TCK Moments

For all of you not in the know, the term TCK stands for Third Culture Kids.  It refers to children whose parent's culture (Culture #1) is different from the culture in which they live (Culture #2), so their own culture & worldview is a hybrid of the two (Culture #3).  I suppose if you counted our boys' Ethiopian ethnicity, you could call them Forth Culture Kids.  But the acronym FCK leaves a little bit too much room for misunderstanding, don't you think?  So we'll stick with TCK. 

I never thought that at as young as two we would already begin to see traces of Micah's cultural worldview.  But there it was, plain & clear as we were reading a Dora the Explorer alphabet book the other day.  Next to each letter of the alphabet is a picture of a corresponding object.  B is for ball, I is for ice cream, Q is for quetzal (whoever said kids book aren't educational for adults is wrong! I never knew what a quetzal was before Dora).  Next to the letter J was a juice box with a little straw sticking out the top.  Except that Micah points to it and says, "Milk!" True enough, my son, because here our milk looks like this:

It made me laugh to think that anyone else who had never lived in or been to China would have corrected him.  And I'm quite certain that this will not be the last time that we'll see our little men show their true colors as TCKs.

Monday, February 06, 2012

One Is the Loneliest Number

One is the loneliest number that there ever was for a mama of three sons.  But three is the loveliest number that there ever was for a rumbling bunch of brothers.  The three brothers who leave pee puddles on every bathroom surface.  The three brothers who wrestle during every waking moment.  The three brothers who eat their mama out of house & home.  The three brother who grow up together to be three men.

We had an ultrasound in Thailand and found out that we will be adding another boy to our family.  I'll be honest that I was disappointed at first but that last about .5 seconds until I realized what a raucous amount of fun I'll have with my posse of men.  The doctor said that everything looks great with our mini-man. So very thankful to our God who is knitting him together in my womb!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Thailand, Oh Sunny Thailand

We just got back from a 10 day trip to Thailand.  Fab times, I tell ya.  We got to connect with some dear friends, eat way too much yummy food, and wear nothing associated with winter.  

Highlight #1 was a reunion between our 4 African buddies, Micah, Sami, Judson, and Esayas.  They are the sons of our good friends, Josh & Courtney, who happened to be in Thailand at the same time we were.  Our boys spent a few months together in the Addis care center, and they've promised us they'll be friends for life.

Here they are in April 2011 (well, 3 out of 4 of them!):

And here they are in January 2012 (again, only 3 out of 4!):

Oh there's the forth one, happily addicting himself to his perma-Ergo state:

We took the kids to an indoor play place that only cost $1 per kid and was walking distance from our hotel.  Yes, please!  Here are the mamas showing off our well-I-didn't-see-that-coming babies:

Highlight #2 was getting to visit the elephant camp with the Vaughns and their posse.  

All 11 of us (4 adults and 11 kiddos) rented a song tow (read: tricked-out pick-up truck with benches installed in the bed) for the morning and trekked out to the elephant camp to hang out with everyone's favorite pachyderm.  One of the residents let us sit on his back as he gave us a grand tour of the facility.  It was a jolly good (and bumpy) time.

Then we watched elephants do funny things like paint pictures, play harmonicas, and kick giant soccer balls soccer.  But when one of the balls nearly took of the Vaughn's son's head, we thought it best to relocate our fun.

This is a kid who is stupified by the amount of fun he is having.  If I had a baht for every time he exclaimed "Elfant!" through the course of our morning, I would have roughly $1 (not because he didn't say it a lot but simply because the baht to dollar conversion is so wonderfully low!).

This picture is courtesy of my mature husband.  If you've ever woken in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because you weren't sure where you could purchase elephant dung, then this place will restore you to your cozy dreams.  

Highlight #3: Making further progress in our betrothal plans between Micah & the Vaughn's daughter Makaria.  Rumor has it that Micah ranked up there on her list of Thailand favorites.  And I'd be lying if I didn't report that he daily asks about Karia (See? He already has a pet name for her!) 

I will say, however, to any of you who might be at all envious of our ten days in Thailand, it ain't all it's cracked up to be!  Sure, I'm quite thankful for our time there but ten days in Thailand means ten days of sharing a hotel room with babies, ten days of either sitting in the hall after they go to bed or going to bed with them (can you guess which one this preggo mama chose?), ten days of eating out (I'll admit that I even got tired of Subway!), ten days of kiddos nearing the precipice of craziness for lack of routine, ten days that make you quite relieved to be home again!

Home where the lights can stay on past 7 PM, home where I can dust of my rusty Chinese once more, home where traces of sanity seems to be re-entering our life, home where my son can sleep in a bed (ok, it's a pack&play...the poor dude has never slept in a bed or with a pillow one day in his life!) and not on the floor...

Home that we're leaving again in less than a week!  We're flying back to the States on February 13.  This is actually my very last Saturday night to spend on my couch.  Lots of mixed emotions & thoughts going on in my heart & head.  More on all this later...  But for now, we're grateful for Thailand and grateful to be home!