What I Like Best

Today, Alex and I met with the school counselor at Alliance Academy International, the Christian missionary school here in Quito. When Hansei first asked us to consider having Alex tested for ADD/ADHD, the main challenge was finding somewhere that would do the testing in English. My sister (who works part-time at Alliance) made some inquiries, and they graciously agreed to allow him to be tested there, even though he is not one of their students. We were there about 2 hours, but I was not in the room while the counselor was administering the tests, so until we have our follow-up appointment in two weeks, I won’t really have any answers. But my initial impression, just from the few words I exchanged with her after the tests, is that he performed well, but had a hard time concentrating and staying focused. Which is fairly consistent with what I have observed and experienced as his mother/teacher.

While Alex was doing his tests, I was given a bunch of forms to fill out in the lobby. Forms that ask questions about your child’s behavior, academic performance, social skills, etc. Most were answered simply by circling a number, but there was one that had a few open-ended questions with lines for writing your response. About halfway into this form, I encountered the question, “What concerns you most about your child?” followed by, “What do you like best about your child?” That second question brought me up short because I wasn’t expecting it, given the context. I mean, wasn’t I there because of my child’s problems, whatever those are perceived or determined to be? I wasn’t there to talk about his good characteristics or skills; I was there to get some answers for how to deal with those things society deems unacceptable!

And then I realized, I have been so focused on problematic behaviors over the last several weeks — ever since he started attending Hansei — that I have failed to recognize all the things about Alex that are wonderful and special and endearing. I have allowed the notes being sent home by his teachers describing the ways he is acting out to stress me out to the point where I am struggling to see and praise him for the things he is doing well. Several hours later, as I sit here reflecting on the events of the day, I am so grateful for that question! I’m grateful because it forced me to stop thinking about all the things that are “wrong” with my child and look, really look, for all that’s right and good, unique and precious. I’m a perfectionist, as I’ve mentioned before, and I think I’ve realized that I need to be careful not to let my perfectionism extend to my children, holding them to an unattainable standard and causing them endless frustration in the process.

Here, then, is my answer to the question of “what I like best about my child.” I tried to remember everything I wrote down on the questionnaire. I have also added a few additional thoughts and explanations:

  • He is smart and inquisitive. He knew all the capital letters of the alphabet by the time he was 2; he’s learned not one but 2 foreign languages well enough to communicate with other kids his age (and he’s only 7!); he has an amazing memory and vocabulary; and he soaks up knowledge and information like a sponge. He figures things out so quickly, sometimes it is hard to keep one step ahead of him!
  • He is tender-hearted and compassionate — when he wants to be. He generally plays well and is careful with children who are younger and smaller than him (he has been used to being “bigger” and “older” most of his life). He loves giving gifts, and he is very affectionate. Already, at 7 years old, he understands that there are many poor and disadvantaged people in the world and that he has a responsibility as a person of privilege, to do what he can to help them.  For his sixth birthday, he agreed to collect money for needy children instead of receive presents of his own, and every time he goes out to Kumanii, he takes a backpack filled with little toys to give away to the children he meets on the river.
  • He is outgoing, friendly, and social. He makes new friends easily and loves to be around people. (He gets all this from his father, I know, because this is not my way AT ALL!)
  • He leaps into new situations with confidence and enthusiasm. He is not usually fearful or timid — in fact, sometimes, I wish he was just slightly more cautious so he wasn’t getting hurt so often! He tries new foods without complaining and has a pretty varied palate for a 7-year old (he likes snails, green tea, and Indian curry, for example). We have traveled the world with him since he was a tiny baby, moved many times, enrolled him in school in 2 foreign countries now, and he just takes it all in stride. He handles change better than many adults I know, including myself!

Perspective is so important, and I’m thankful to have regained a little of it today. No matter what happens in 2 weeks, no matter what the results show, no matter how we decide to proceed, I want my son to know that he is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and that I am so very proud of him, so grateful that he is a part of our family, and so blessed to be his mama!

Tomorrow

I am an anxious person. A worry wart. A pessimist. I worry so constantly, I’m actually surprised I don’t suffer from ulcers or some other chronic condition. The other day, when I went in to get my driver’s license, I was so nervous, I had butterflies in my stomach and sweaty palms. I couldn’t even read the book I brought with me! I was worried I wouldn’t understand something that they said to me in Spanish; I was worried I wouldn’t pass the eye exam (it has been 11 years since I had new glasses!); I was worried I wouldn’t pass the theory exam. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried about any of those things. I communicated well; they didn’t even make me take an eye exam, just noted that I was wearing glasses; and I got a perfect score (20/20) on the computerized theory exam.

As we were walking out, my husband said he didn’t know why I get so worked up about things like this. He wasn’t being mean, but I know he thinks I’m silly. It’s hard to explain this aspect of my personality to someone who generally flies through life by the seat of his pants.

And the thing is, there is always something to worry about. It’s part of being human and having a life, I think. Tonight, I find myself worrying about tomorrow. Tomorrow, I am taking Alex in for a psychological evaluation. We are having him tested for ADD/ADHD at his school’s request, and they are also going to do some type of intelligence test as well on him. I know I shouldn’t borrow trouble before we know the outcome and the official diagnosis, but the questions keep whirling around in my mind. What if he does have ADD/ADHD? Does this mean expensive medication with tons of side effects? Does it mean other lifestyle alterations, such as a strict diet? Does it mean a permanent label among teachers and authority figures as a “difficult” or “problem” child?

And beyond the practical questions, lurk the more sinister, guilt-inducing worries — that my son is the way he is because of my own failings as a parent. Have I been too lenient? Have I been too strict? Do I expect too much? Should I expect more? Has the transience that has marked our life since he was an infant done irreparable damage? Have we made him the way he is because we have denied him stability and permanence?

Like most parents, I’m trying to do my best with the precious souls God has entrusted to my care for the time being. But what do you do when your best doesn’t seem to be good enough?

It’s at times like this that the following verse is such a comfort to me:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Philippians 4:6-7, MSG)

Starting Again

GAH! Has it really been 15 days since I did my daily writing practice? I should probably rename this blog “Writing Project 300.” It just doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Writing Project 365.”

I think the hardest part (for me) of picking something back up after I’ve slacked off for awhile is just knowing where to begin. That, and fighting the urge to explain make excuses for my long absence. I’ve been toying with the idea of implementing a blogging schedule (writing about certain topics on certain days), just to eliminate some of the work of deciding what to write each day. My two ongoing weekly projects right now are the Stay Awake Challenge (Seriously need to do some catch-up-work with that! Sheesh!), and my chapter-by-chapter review of Unrooted Childhoods. I’d like to start writing and sharing some more poetry, so maybe one day a week for that?

Here are a few other random ideas that may find their way into future blog posts:

  • a series of posts on “the work of a missionary,” focusing on some of the aspects of mission work that aren’t quite as glamorous as “seeking and saving the lost,” or “telling others about Jesus,” but just as vital and necessary.
  • James Bond and the objectification of women — We finished our marathon the other night, which means I have now seen every James Bond film ever made (24 to be exact). So, I feel semi-qualified to write a post like this!
  • I promised to share the experience of getting my Ecuadorian driver’s license, which I finally accomplished today  — yay, me!
  • My sis and I are in the middle of watching the third season of “Downton Abbey,” and I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say about that when it’s over. (Confession: I already know what happens in the end, thanks to Facebook, but I’ll wait to share my opinions until I’ve actually seen the whole thing.)
  • Maybe I’ll buckle down and finally write my kids’ birth stories.

So, did I whet your appetite for more?

It’s good to be back here!

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 9

Week 9 is about trying something new. You can read the original post here.

I’m still trying to catch up on the Stay Awake Challenge. I kept putting off writing this post, mostly because I just didn’t know which direction to take it. Because, honestly? I got this one down, baby. My life is all about trying new things. It’s about all I’ve done for the past few years. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But seriously, with each move comes a host of changes and new things to try. It gets to be a bit wearying after awhile. There are some days when “routine” and “sameness” and “normal” and — yes, even “boring” — sound so appealing. I long for the ability to put my life on auto-pilot for awhile rather than having to continually, actively think about the smallest things. Maintaining a constant state of mental alertness can drive you to utter exhaustion. I think this is one of the things that makes those first few years on the mission field so difficult.

Here are just a few of the new things I’ve done just since moving to Ecuador:

  • studied a new language
  • moved into a new house
  • learned my way around a new city
  • learned to shop and cook in a new country
  • met lots of new people
  • started attending a new church
  • found a new doctor
  • driven a car in a new country
  • tried new foods
  • started homeschooling my kids
  • had “helpers” in the house for the first time
  • gone zip-lining
  • spent a week in Brazil by myself

If you don’t know me well, you may find this difficult to believe, but I don’t have a very adventurous spirit. I only live the life I do because I happened to marry an adventurer. Rusty loves to explore, and I am thankful for this, because sometimes we discover new favorite spots. Just in the last couple of weeks, we have been to a total of 4 new restaurants. The first, a grilled chicken restaurant that advertised “original recipe Portuguese chicken” had the yummiest piri-piri chicken I’ve tasted since leaving Portugal. The second was the Middle Eastern restaurant where we ate for my birthday. The third was a café and pastry shop called the Swiss Corner with yummy apple strudel. And the fourth, a Mongolian grill where we ate for our date last night, turned out to be a dud, and I don’t think we’ll go back, but hey — 3 out of 4 ain’t bad! When I was thinking of a picture to put in this post, the first thing that came to mind was a picture at one of these new restaurants. Would you believe that I forgot to take a picture at any of them? I even forgot to have someone take a picture of Julie and me the night of our birthday! And I have a camera phone, so I am really without excuse.

So, as an alternative, I am posting a screen-shot of a comment I made on another blog. See, I’m not normally much of a commenter. I read a lot of blogs, but I don’t typically join in the discussions or voice my opinions in the comment section. However, recently, I have started to comment on other blogs every now and then when I feel like I have something to add to the conversation. The screen shot is of a comment I made on a blog called Communicating Across Boundaries, and the post was about Third Culture Kids and reentry, which you can read here. If you care to read the comment, you can click on the picture for a larger view, or just click the link to read the post and all the comments in their entirety. Leaving the comment was one thing — but then I also had to learn how to take a screen-shot and save it as a picture file, which I have never done before. So, there you go… I taught myself to do something new on the computer today! Sometimes, life is best represented by a microcosm.week9

Unrooted Childhoods: Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer’s essay “Living in the Transit Lounge” serves as an introduction to the entire book, Unrooted Childhoods. He starts out by describing — no, romanticizing — the globally nomadic life. I don’t relate well to this right now because, in recent years, I have become increasingly disillusioned with this lifestyle. Oh, it seems exciting and adventurous and romantic to someone on the outside, and I’m not denying that there are many benefits to all the moving around our family has done in the last few years. We have certainly seen some amazing places and had some very cool experiences. But there are times when I just long for stability, for normalcy, for roots.

I was glad to see Iyer move away from romanticizing the life of a global nomad into an honest treatment of its pitfalls and problems. “What is the price we pay for all this?” he asks on page 14, then goes on to say, “Seasoned experts at dispassion, we are less good at involvement or suspensions of disbelief; at, in fact, the abolition of distance. We are masters of the aerial perspective, but touching down becomes more difficult (p. 14-15).” I definitely feel like this is a good description of where I’m at right now. With each move, each painful goodbye, each difficult transition, it becomes harder and harder for me to “attach” the next time to a new people, a new place.

At the same time, I think that my faith grounds me in a sense. I am not completely lost in the world, bobbing about like a cork on a vast sea. When Iyer asks, “What does the Transit Lounger feel? What are the issues that we would die for? What are the passions that we would live for?”, I feel that I can answer those questions. I find my purpose in Christ, and this gives me roots. Oh, they aren’t geographic roots, to be sure, but they are roots all the same. And all of my global wanderings have had a purpose as well, a purpose that goes beyond myself and any desire I might have for adventure or cool experiences.

In the end, a missionary is not so much a Transit Lounger as an Ambassador: “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:19-20)

Four Years Ago Yesterday…

With all the birthday party hullabaloo yesterday, I barely had time to reflect on the fact that it was also Stephen’s fourth birthday. It’s hard to believe he’s 4 now, the same age Alex was when we first moved to Portugal.

If I ever get around to writing my kids’ birth stories, Stephen’s will be short and sweet, very unlike my first labor and delivery experience. 4 hours from when the first contractions woke me in the early morning hours of April 6th to when I was pushing him out on a hospital bed with no one but Rusty and 2 L&D nurses in attendance. We barely made it to the hospital, checking in a mere 12 minutes before Stephen was born; my doctor wasn’t there yet, and the doctor on call didn’t make it to the room in time. She showed up later and gave the nurses a little bit of grief for delivering a baby without her. Whatever, lady. Like they could have stopped me?

And the difference in their birth stories is just the beginning of the differences between Alex and Stephen. Stephen is so different from his older brother in so many ways. Before he was born, I think I understood intellectually that all children are different, have different personalities, different needs, different aptitudes, different interests, but now I understand it based on my experiences these last four years. And yet, despite their differences, there is a bond forming between these two that is precious to see. I love watching them play together, interact together, imagine together, create together. Of course, it’s not rosy all the time — we have plenty of moments when they annoy each other, pester each other, or are downright mean to each other. I hold onto hope as they grow, those moments will decrease, to be replaced by a genuine friendship, like the one I share with my siblings.

My mom reminded me when we Skyped yesterday evening that Stephen was born in the middle of an April snow-storm, a Michigan winter’s last hurrah. We drove to the hospital through slushy streets that had yet to see the plows, and later, I nursed my newborn baby while watching the flakes softly fall outside the window. I’ve been reflecting on that moment today, as I look at my now 4-year old. How he’s changed and grown in the last 4 years! How many changes our family has seen these last 4 years. And how thankful I am that Stephen has been a part of it all.

A Joint Birthday Bash

Whew! It’s been a busy few days. I feel like all I’ve done for the past couple of days is get ready for Alex and Stephen’s birthday party this afternoon. I’m not much of an “event planner.” I love having people over for dinner or a few of the kids’ friends for playdates, but being responsible for a full-blown party with decorations and activities and special food stresses me out. And because Alex and Stephen have birthdays so close together (a little over a month apart), I find myself stressing out around this time of year as I start thinking about planning two birthday parties back to back.

Back in February, I wrote about creative ways to reduce both the stress and the consumerism that seems to accompany kids’ birthday parties. One thing I had never considered at the time was the idea of a joint birthday party. But a few weeks ago, a light bulb sort of went off in my head… and I thought, why not? I can throw myself into it, plan a big shindig, kill two birds with one stone (if you’ll pardon the expression), and then sit back and put my feet up and not worry about it until next year. And at this point in my kids’ young lives, a joint birthday party really does make a lot of sense. They have the same friends; they like the same things. I remember having joint birthday parties with my sister when we were younger. It wasn’t until we were older and going to a bigger school where we had different groups of friends (I was in middle school; she was still in elementary school) that we started asking for separate birthday parties.

So I asked the boys what they thought, and they got really excited about it. Alex had already decided he wanted a Mario Kart party, and Stephen was happy to go along with that, as he has really gotten into Mario Kart lately too. There isn’t a lot available here in Ecuador as far as store-bought decorations and such for a Mario Kart party, but thanks to the Internet and other moms with a lot more creativity than me, I was able to cobble together some ideas for homemade decorations, simple activities and games, and a race-track cake that worked very well for 2. (I will probably post pictures on our family blog at some point, so I won’t repeat all that here.) We invited the cousins, as well as a few families with young kids from our homeschooling group — 10 kids in all, a very manageable group!

Anyway, it was a great party, and the kids had a lot of fun. I, however, am worn out and very glad that I don’t have to turn around and start planning another party. For me, to put on my “event planner” hat is truly a labor of love for my children. Don’t get me wrong — I am happy to do it because I want them to know how special and important they are to me — but since I don’t feel like I am naturally gifted in this area, doing things like this will always create more stress than enjoyment for me.

Scattered

Sometimes, when I write, it flows easily.

Other times, not so much.

I have been staring at my screen for over 10 minutes without writing a single word. It’s not “writer’s block” in the sense that my mind is a blank. On the contrary, I have so many different thoughts swirling around in my head that I don’t know where to begin, or which one to focus on tonight, for this blog post.

I suppose it’s more a problem of organization. When I can’t organize my thoughts well, I can’t write well. When I can’t focus on one thing at a time, I can’t get organized. I feel scattered right now. I need to collect myself and my thoughts, but I’m not sure where to begin.

What do you do when you’re feeling scattered? Are you a list-maker? An exerciser? A cleaner? A music listener? A nap-taker? A crafter? A pray-er? What helps you order your muddled thoughts and reclaim inner tranquility?

My First Birthday in Ecuador

Today, I celebrated my 36th birthday on my 5th continent. It’s interesting — as you get older, your birthday really is just another day. We’ve been needing to go downtown to take care of some paperwork pertaining to our visas, and we can only go on Mondays and Fridays since Alex is in school the rest of the week. Friday was a public holiday, so today we trudged off downtown with the kids in tow to try to take care of it. We ate breakfast out, then went to the office… where we were told we needed to have color copies of our passports, visa stamps, and visa registration stamps. So off we went to find a copy shop, then back to the office… where we were told that now their computer was down, and could we please come back after lunch? We took the kids to eat at Burger King and let them burn some energy in the play place, then headed back to the office where we waited and waited for them to prepare the papers we needed. All of us had to stand for a picture, which was a frustrating process with Stephen and Benjamin. But finally, we were done and on our way home. Not the best way to spend your birthday morning, but it’s something we’ve been needing to do for awhile and we finally got it done, so that’s a good thing.

But we made up for it this evening — a double date with Julie (who coincidentally shares my birthday, although we are not twins) and Josh! The plan was to go see “Les Misérables,”and then eat dinner out. However, when we got to the theater, we were told that the showing we planned to see was sold out, so we ate dinner first at one of our recent finds, an awesome Middle Eastern restaurant. Then, we went back to the theater… where we were told that there were some problems with one of the projectors, so the next showing of “Les Mis” had been cancelled! The only other real option that would get us home at a decent time was “G.I. Joe,” which Julie and I rather reluctantly agreed to see. (It was our birthday, for crying out loud, and we didn’t really want to see a guy movie). However, what we didn’t know was that in the time that we stood there debating what to do, they fixed the projector, so Rusty and Josh actually bought tickets for “Les Mis,” but let us girls go on thinking that we were going to see “G.I. Joe!” It wasn’t until the movie started and I heard the familiar strains of the opening score that I realized what was happening.

Anyway, wow! What an amazing movie! Such a powerful story, such powerful music. It was hard to keep myself from bursting into song right along with the actors through much of the movie! I know “Les Mis” has its critics, but honestly, it seems like most of the criticism stems from people who can’t seem to expand their imaginations to see Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman in a singing role! I was pretty impressed with both their performances, actually. Even the noisy people in the row behind us who kept up a constant stream of chit-chat and giggling through much of the movie (ANNOYING!!!) couldn’t diminish the power of this film, although I do look forward to seeing it again in the privacy of my own home without all that obnoxiousness.

482322_10152708998005553_2013226771_nIf you are friends with me on Facebook, then you know that as his present to me this year, my sweet husband built me a scrapbook table for my craft room. He worked on it most of last week and finally got it done on Saturday night. The legs are made from shipping pallets that were in our container, and the top and shelves he made from a piece of laminate chip-board (counter-top) that he had cut up. Such a sweet and thoughtful gift! I look forward to finally getting all my scrapbooking and crafting stuff unpacked and organized, and to being able to work on my scrapbooks again.

It’s been a good day, and even though this morning wasn’t exactly fun, I got to spend my day with some of my favorite people in the world — my hubby, my kids, and my sister. I’m loved and I’m thankful.

The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 8

Week 8 is about saying yes. Read the entire post here.

It sure seems like I say “no” an awful lot these days. That probably has to do with the fact that I have an 18-month old who is both insatiably curious about everything around him and a tad aggressive when playing with others. (In his defense, he does have 2 older brothers, so maybe he learned aggression in order to protect himself?) In any case, it seems as though I am constantly saying “no.” It’s wearying.

I would like to say “yes” more. In fact, I would really like it if my kids would just get along with each other all the time, behave like perfect angels, and never do anything they know they shouldn’t, so then I wouldn’t have to say “no.” But that ain’t never gonna happen, so “no” will remain an oft-used and necessary word in my vocabulary! I think most good parents live in the tension of wanting to say “yes” more often, while at the same time recognizing that rules and boundaries (a.k.a. “no’s”) are good for kids and also an expression of our love (although they may not interpret it as such at the time). We want to allow our kids a certain amount of freedom and the ability to make their own choices, without being lax and permissive. Striking that balance is what is so, so difficult.

And then there are the times when I could say “yes,” but don’t because — well, because I’m lazy. I say “no” because I don’t want to be inconvenienced. I don’t want to deal with clean-up, so I say “no” to getting out the play-do or the craft supplies. I don’t want to get myself and 3 kids ready to go out the door, so I say “no” to going to the park. I’m busy with some project of my own, so I say “no” to playing a game. These are the kinds of things I need to say “yes” to more often.

Trying to be more of a “yes mom” is one of my survival strategies for coping with my seasons of single parenting. It really does make things go so much more smoothly. Maybe it’s because I’m more focused on my kids and their needs and wants. I’m not just saying “no” automatically or because it’s the easy thing to do.

The picture I chose for this post is one I took of Alex and Rusty playing some Mario Kart a week ago Friday. It was the morning after Rusty had come home after being gone for a week. Normally, since Friday is a homeschool day, screen time would not be allowed until after he finishes all his school work. But on this morning, he asked so sweetly if he and Stephen could play Mario Kart with Daddy after breakfast, and I said “yes.”

And I was glad I did because I captured this sweet picture while they were playing!

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