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.

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Discouraged

Ever have one of those days where everything just seems to hit you all at once? That’s what Thursday was for me.

First, I was stressed over what was happening with Alex at his new school. Apparently, he made life pretty miserable for his teacher last week, leading the school to question if the class they had put him in was the best one for him. He came home on Wednesday with two notes written in his school notebook, one from the 2nd grade teacher, explaining some of his behaviors and why he wasn’t going to be in her class anymore… and the other from his new teacher, the Kindergarten teacher. Ummm, okay, so 2nd grade wasn’t working out, so they decided to move him back two grades? As it turns out, when Rusty went in to talk to them, they told him they felt like 1st grade was too full, and there were already 4 kids in 1st grade with special needs or learning problems or something, so they didn’t want to add Alex into that mix.

I’m really fine with Alex being in the Kindergarten class. As I said before, I’m more in favor of holding kids back than pushing them ahead, especially in the beginning. I just wish the school had explained to us the situation from the beginning (the correct class for his age was full) and let us decide whether we wanted him to be a grade ahead or behind so we could have avoided this mess. To me, it’s not really important what grade he is in — he is there to learn Spanish and for the social interaction. Academically, he is way ahead of the other students in Kindergarten, so I will probably have to send stuff from home for him to do so he doesn’t finish early, get bored, and cause problems for the teacher and the other students.

I’m mostly frustrated because I feel like Alex has already earned himself the reputation there as being a problem child. The school has asked us to have a neurological and psychological evaluation done on him. They suggested he might have ADD or ADHD. I’m not denying that might be a possibility (although I do think that high-energy boys are often falsely labeled such), but I do feel like they are being awfully quick to start requesting testing when he hasn’t even had a chance to adjust to this new environment. After all, he hasn’t been in a formal school environment for a year and a half, he’s immersed in a new language that he can’t yet communicate well in, and he was put in the grade ahead of where he should be. And they’re surprised when he has trouble adapting?! I’m not excusing some of his behavior (much of it was totally unacceptable, whether or not he can communicate well, and we had some pretty serious talks about it on Wednesday night), but I do think that once he adjusts and knows the routine, the expectations, the rules, and above all how to communicate his needs and problems, the acting out will diminish.

So, I was feeling anxious about all that, and then Rusty started telling me about the meeting he had with Kent and Josh the day before where apparently it came out that there had been some criticism as to his performance leveled at him by some folks on the medical campaign. I think it is interesting how people can come on these week-long campaigns, people who don’t even know you or have a vested interest in you or your ministry (i.e. they are not personal supporters or from a supporting church), see one aspect of what you do, and then feel like that somehow gives them the knowledge and the authority to critique you personally or how you are doing your job! Are missionaries the only ones who deal with this, or does this happen in other professions? I am sincerely asking — this is not a rhetorical question! I have been thinking about it all day, wondering if this happens to other people in other jobs. We don’t claim to be perfect, we still have much to learn (we haven’t even been here a year for goodness’ sake!), we make mistakes and bungle things up daily and probably will continue to do so for years to come! I guess it would just be nice if people would take the time to know us and understand our unique situation and the team dynamics we are working with here in Ecuador before being so free to offer up their criticisms.

I probably just need to grow a thicker skin. There will always be critics. I know this.

Also, Rusty left on Thursday for a weekend trip to Kumanii. We went to the bank to take out some money before we left — he needed cash for the trip, and I needed to pay the ladies who help me around the house. And none of our cards would work in the ATM — we tried his bank card and mine, as well as a credit card from a different bank and could not get money out with any of them. Which probably signifies a problem on the Ecuadorian bank’s end, or a problem with all international cards. Still, it was frustrating. And on the way out of town, Rusty called to inform me that he’d been pulled over for “speeding” (going 2 km. per hour above the speed limit) and given a $90 ticket. Really, Ecuador? Really?!

Sometimes, it’s the compilation of little daily annoyances on top of all the major stresses of living in a foreign country (learning to speak a new language and adapting to a new culture for instance) that just make that first year or two abroad so difficult. And sometimes, it just seems to come at you all at once, like waves relentlessly crashing over you, making it hard to catch your breath. After Thursday, I was grateful for a peaceful weekend at home, for crackling fires in the fireplace each night, for “Downton Abbey” with my sister last night, for a long nap this afternoon.

And I’m looking forward to our family vacation at the beach next week!

Do the Next Thing

Do the next thing. It’s been my mantra for the past few days. When I would rather give up, give in, stop trying, I make myself do the next thing. When my kids are bickering and whining and sassing and I just want to run away to a quiet, peaceful place, I take a deep breath and… do the next thing. Sometimes, it’s the only way I get through the day.

Strong coffee helps too.

I make the coffee. I make breakfast. I change a diaper and then change it again almost immediately. I help kids get dressed. I resolve sibling disputes. I reply to a few important emails. I read and teach and answer questions. I make lunch. Now — naptime, and a coffee break with my sister, a much needed respite. Then… I build block towers. I kill a spider. I make dinner. I clean up the dishes. I play Mario Kart. I supervise toy pick-up and getting ready for bed. I read stories. I give kisses. I sing a song.

The kids are in bed, and I wish it was over, but it’s not. I pick up Legos and put away books. I lock the doors. I observe the ants near our front door, trying to figure out what they are after. I conjugate verbs in the imperfect subjunctive and wonder if I’ll ever be able to use this language in normal conversation. I check email and there is a text from Rusty — they are having a wedding at Kumanii tomorrow and want to make a wedding cake. So I search online for a simple white cake recipe and email it. It’s now time for bed.

Tomorrow: Rinse and Repeat. Do the next thing.