tears and a toad

June 28, 2013

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I cried my way through the morning session yesterday. I didn’t expect to. And I shouldn’t have. I mean, really—this is the third year in a row that I have heard the same talk. But I guess hearing your own story doesn’t get old. And that’s exactly what yesterday was: my story. Technically, I guess, the session was “The TCK [Third Culture Kid] Profile,” but that’s exactly what my story is. So as the speaker talked, I kept having images flash through my mind that restarted the tears I had stopped shortly prior to that. But you know what? I LOVED it. In fact, after the session ended, I thanked L for her talk. I thanked her for making me cry. But she got that . . . she got me. She had just finished counseling us all to allow the TCKs to grieve, because they needed to. She had spoken of the intense conflict simmering under the surface of so many of us, surrounding the unique challenges of a mobile childhood [i.e. “homelessness”], cultural confusion [i.e. “lost-ness”], and relational difficulties [i.e. needy yet “need-less”]. We are, in short, a conflicted bunch ☺ But, as L mentioned, we would not trade our odd upbringing for anything. We want . . . need . . . the intensity. Who wants normal anyway?
But what I’m thinking about now, at this point in life, is the value of this upbringing for life as I know it. My temptation, in recent years, has been to feel guilty for time spent thinking about the issues that go along with a TCK upbringing. It can, for a busy working adult, feel a bit like wasted time: time frittered away reminiscing about things that do not exist any longer.
But what I am realizing now is that there is, in fact, a practical value for time spent with this issue. As with any aspect of one’s upbringing, awareness of what makes one “tick,” as a “TCK” [he he he ☺ ] can have a very real effect on one’s present life. The reason for this stems from the fact that self-awareness generally promotes more balanced and thoughtful reactions and decision-making.
So what I’m thinking, so far as my own life goes, is that I need to be aware of how different I am from the “norm.” This applies no matter where I am living, as any culture in which I reside will have a majority of people who are, more or less, “at home” there. If I try to fit in with the norm, I will fail. That said, I also know that I am accustomed to living as a chameleon, out of necessity. So I can, for a certain amount of time at least, appear to have adapted fine—can appear competent, efficient, and adjusted. But sooner or later, no matter how much I want to just be normal, with a settled routine, my restless roots will rear their head [feet? ;-)].
Maybe the solution is not to fight this as much as it is to choose my response. If I choose to be fully present, where I am, as much I can, no matter how long I expect to be there, maybe I can fight the current . . . if only just enough to doggie paddle ☺
This evening we had a thunderstorm: blessedly, after the increasingly stifling heat. As the downpour slowed to a sprinkle, Erika and I, stir-crazy after all the days’ meetings, decided to go for a walk. As we began, we saw a toad. I tried to get a picture of it, with Erika’s foot pointing towards it, but the rain falling on my computer was making the logistics of photo-taking a bit precarious. This was the best I ended up, which isn’t all that great, considering the toad is invisible. But as the computer was out, we then figured we should document our rain walk while we were at it. The walk didn’t last long, however, with the downpour resuming soon after we had begun. But we walked back inside refreshed and happy, even if we did look rather like drowned rats ☺

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where the feet take you

June 27, 2013

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just a light bulb

June 21, 2013

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“I have to go to W-mart . . . again!,” I bemoaned, as H and I practiced our Zumba routines this afternoon. “I’m having a light bulb saga.” Wait a sec, I thought. That sounds familiar. A light bulb saga . . .
I had one the last time I was in the U.S. as well. And that time also the simple light bulb held more significance than it should have to me, due to the relationships surrounding it. This time the light bulb signifies a friendship, and a birth. B is about to give birth to her second child. Her first did not survive, due to a genetic disorder that took him from them only one day into his life. B and her husband planned ahead for the day they would have with their son, and then they commemorated both his life and his death, nearly simultaneously. Now they are preparing for the birth of a healthy daughter.
This light bulb belongs at the outside entrance to their home. It is not a crucial issue but, if I could have helped by providing the necessary errand-running to fix it, I would have loved to. So I tried.
Three different stores. Three different light bulbs. No luck. I’m afraid it’s a wiring issue, which goes far beyond my helpful abilities . . .
But on a happier household note, the nursery looks amazing. I was able to help out a bit with the butterfly-painting, and I especially enjoyed capturing the work as the two of them worked together on the project. The mother/father set of hands was a lovely one, I thought.
*The strangest thing happened the next day, as I said goodbye to B and walked out the door. She switched the light bulb, for no particular reason, and the light came on, though it had refused to work earlier . . . as she said, this gave the saga a rather redemptive twist :-)

For some reason my friend has decided to ask me to teach her how to swim properly while I am in town. I wonder if she is second-guessing that entrustment now . . .
We have had a number of entertaining experiences with it already, only 3 days into the lessons. For one, we had a young audience yesterday. After watching us for some time, with a quizzical expression on her face, she turned to her mother. We realized what she must have been asking when we heard her mother explaining that grown-ups do not automatically know how to swim. “Just because you know how to swim,” she began, “it doesn’t mean all adults know how. Even grown-ups have to learn how if they’ve never been taught . . .” The girl nodded and turned back to watch us again, though it was clear that she still was not quite clear on the concept.
Today we tackled breathing. I tried to encourage H with the fact that breathing is one of the hardest parts of learning the strokes as we began the lesson. After practicing a few times, I noticed that she was taking rather timid-looking breaths. I told her she needed to boldly “claim” that breath, then I demonstrated for her what, so far as I could tell, she was doing. She burst into laughter, frustrating my efforts to then show how the breath should look. We eventually settled on photographic attempts to capture what breathing should photo 4. . . and should not photo 1look like.
Then we decided we had worked hard enough for the day and launched into poolside practice of our Zumba routines. I’m not sure how effective the lesson was. But I’m quite sure we managed to thoroughly entertain our fellow swimmers.

endurance training

June 11, 2013

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Is it possible to be bored with adventure? I don’t know. But I do know that my so-called adventurous life has become a bit humdrum to me. Well, maybe that’s not exactly the way it is: it’s still exciting enough . . . it’s just that excitement isn’t so important to me. There is another experience that has gained importance. The challenge of family relationships is a bigger deal these days. And it is a harder deal as well. I keep seeking out tests of endurance, in a sense. It is almost like an athletic training: trying to see how much I can handle in the way of child care and day-in-day-out relating to those close to me. And in the same way that one goes about training for a marathon, pushing to the limit one day and then going back for more the next, I keep going back for more.
As I said goodbye to my cousin today, heading to the airport for the next stop in my round-the-country family tour, we planned for the next time I would be there. I had the brilliant idea of offering to her a break the next time I came through. As I explained it, I was just getting to the point of understanding with her kids, starting to enjoy the way I was getting to know their quirks and getting to a level of family-comfort with them. So it would be a privilege to get to have some intensive hands-on time with them now . . . it just made sense. I know, it sounds crazy, to speak of my brilliant idea when it comes to uber-high-maintenance little ones: it probably sounds more sarcastic when said out loud. But I meant it. And I mean it. For whatever reason, work life has begun to feel too easy for me. I’m sure that I will wish I had eaten my words before speaking them soon enough, but there you have it—that’s the way I’m feeling now, so that’s what’s being spoken ☺
*Thanks to AME for the photo.

on impulse

June 10, 2013

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There is an impulsive side to my nature that sometimes catches me off guard. It has also led to some, well, interesting experiences. Yesterday I took an impromptu trip. It had actually been semi-planned before, so not entirely impromptu: but I had nixed the idea once getting the news that another cousin was on her way to visit me and the cousin I was staying with. I told my brother that I could not come see him anymore if it meant leaving the same day my cousin arrived for a 2-day visit. But yesterday afternoon, once I discovered that there would not be another opportunity to see him, I realized I was no longer confident in the decision to stay put. Talking it over with both cousins, I realized that if this was it—if missing this opportunity would mean I’d go back to China without seeing my brother [and meeting the newest niece]—I would regret not taking the one chance I had. Even if it meant a very short, semi-impractical journey. So at the last minute we decided it was worth the effort. I checked the bus schedule, threw together a backpack, and headed out the door. Yes, it was a very quick visit. And yes, I felt rather impulsive about doing it. But I knew it was right.
The hours I had with them flew by and soon I realized I needed to leave quickly in order to get back before the wee hours of the morning. I looked into those 3 little faces and told each girl how happy it had made me to see them again, and how much I was going to miss them, and I headed off.
A traveler’s confession is in order here: I actually have a tendency to figure things out as I go. I will make a plan but, when it comes down to it, I often end up relying on others I encounter along the way, knowing that random questions, that I could not have anticipated, will always come up. And in this particular situation, I had been in such a hurry to catch a bus that I had not had time to map things out . . . figure-it-out-as-we-go it would just have to be.
It took longer than I expected to catch the first bus of the trip so I was already feeling a bit of pressure from the beginning, wanting to be respectful of the household of little ones I was heading home to. After a few stops, then, I decided to just ask the bus driver for help. I assumed this was probably not proper city bus decorum, but I was not really concerned about being proper at this point. He turned out to be a very kind and helpful person, not annoyed by me as I had feared he would be. He explained which stops I could take in order to make the transfer, even drawing a map in spurts of hands-free moments. Describing the options, he said that he would recommend one of the stops over others, since he had 2 daughters my age. Being used to correcting such comments, I informed him that his daughters were, in fact, likely much younger than I, but I took his advice. When I asked him to describe again how to find the stop, he began to do so then interrupted himself; his shift was ending at the same stop, so he could just walk me there to make it easier. At this point I was really grateful to be getting off that particular bus: it was populated with a large number of very inebriated partyers who were getting increasingly vocal with their unwanted attention. It was strange how much that scared me: ironic, in fact, that I was so frightened by actions relatively innocuous considering the types of conflict situations I am accustomed to . . . but perhaps I have a higher level of tolerance for “real” war than I do for raucous, self-medicated rowdiness? At any rate, I happily exited the bus and followed the driver. He walked me to the corner and pointed out the stop across the way. When I got there, however, and found no sign of the bus number I was looking for, I almost panicked. At this hour on a weekend, in this part of the city, only bars were open. And my window for wandering the streets had passed: I needed to get home. Scanning the surroundings, I noticed another stop 2 blocks down the way. With my eagle eyes [;-)] I read the bus number and began to run. There was no way it would still be there by the time I made it, but I ran all the same. I was waving my arms wildly around me and pleading, out loud, “Please, wait! Don’t go! WAIT!” Against reason, the bus was still there when I arrived. As I breathlessly walked up the steps, the driver smiled down at me. “I saw you, honey. And I was talking to you, telling you I was waiting . . .” I thanked her, and apologized, making some sort of comment about how flustered I get when I don’t know my way around in this country. “What, you’re not from this country?” she exclaimed. “Why, you don’t even have an accent!” At this I just smiled, thanked her again . . . said a prayer doing the same, and made my way to my seat.
This afternoon we played “rainbow” on the trampoline again. For most of the day we had a pretty, blessedly, low-key set of kid-attitudes. When things got iffy again, we moved inside for a change of scenery. After a series of complaints, he hit upon a request that was not only manageable: it was actually a needed item of business: he requested a bath. Specifically, it came in the form of an, “I want a bath. The bath is a happy place.” My sentiments precisely, I thought, as I agreed to the order.

a cycle

June 7, 2013

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Note to self: never underestimate the power of a child. Especially a toddler. Especially 2 toddlers, rather . . . uber-active boys, no less. After a melt-down this evening from one of the 2 in my care, I realized I was spent. Done. And that’s the way it is with little ones. It’s a cycle of joys and, well, “done”s. There are melt-downs and there are moments of exhilaration. We had a fit tonight, due to the fact that he had flooded the bathroom and, in the process, gotten his blankie wet. This equated to a true crisis in his young world. But we also had a moment of jumping on the trampoline in the heat of the day, making “rain” with a hose. As I listened to peals of laughter at my rain song, I smiled to myself at my own joy: seeing the small rainbow created by the arc of the hose water as it sprayed over the two of us. Nothing so glorious as a real live rainbow, but symbolic to me of the small victories that come in a day in the life of a family.

a yard with a view

June 5, 2013

DSCN2427DSCN2426DSCN2423Musing on the fact that much of this day has been wiled away watching these two little bottoms. One could do worse . . .

occupied

June 1, 2013

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So it ends. A school year done. A year half spent in one part of the world, half spent in another. Half spent in a land of guns, half spent in a land of . . . a land of what? Shortly after I arrived, a few weeks into life here, one of my friends asked me what my main impression of the country was so far. She clarified the question by telling me the one-word that had stuck with her when she tried to describe it. It took me a while to come up with one word, having been rather overwhelmed up to that point with the logistics of settling, home-making, and adjusting to a new sort of job. But once I had, I gave the word “occupied.” I explained that I had come from a lifestyle in which much of one’s time was spent waiting. Waiting for the conflict to stop. Or waiting for it to begin again, as oftentimes the case, when peace had lasted for long enough that we knew it could not last much longer . . . the proverbial bomb would have to drop.
To be here, then, where people seem to just pile on top of one another, bustling about with various agendas, I couldn’t quite get over the feeling of busyness. Everyone just seemed “occupied” with something . . . anything? Not to mention the fact that my friend and I were, at the time, in the middle of one of those cross-town bike rides that was, to say the least, harrowing for the first couple months of my time here.
Now, as I remembered that conversation, suitcase open and in mid-packing, the irony hit me for the first time. Occupied. Why would I ever choose that word to describe a state of busy-ness? I guess my mind at the time was thinking of the word “preoccupied.” But now, all that comes to mind when I hear it is the military connotation. Could it be that my last home remains with me still? Could it be that for all my daily work stresses here, there remains an underlying [though quickly fading] remnant of all the ways my war-torn home left me touched . . . wounded? It could be.
But back to what I began to write when I started this post: the school year. To celebrate the last school day I had dinner and a movie with one of the families at the school. We joked about kids’ antics of the day, reflected on the year, and planned together for next year, as this family will be helping me with a little sports venture I’m planning to start up in the fall. Then we laughed heartily at the goofy humour of a close-to-home adolescent flick. In between dinner and the movie, I was beginning to wash up in the kitchen when J called me over to the balcony. “You have to come here now!” she exclaimed. I dried my hands and went over to join her, gasping at the sight of my first rainbow sighting here. Scratch that—it was actually two rainbow sightings.
A fitting way to commemorate this day in the life of a year, I think ☺