Friday, December 30, 2011

Oh my goodness, this is a long post about the Sudanese plight and the excess in my life. Cheaper than therapy.

After weeks upon weeks of annoying everyone I know about a microwave for the second Sudanese family that just arrived, I had still turned up nothing.  We filled our Sienna 12 times with clothes, pots and pans, food, detergent, and every other generosity you can imagine.  But a microwave was not meant to be.  

I was really attempting to not buy it, not because they weren't worth it, but because I was *certain* that 2 minutes after I purchased one, a used one would show up through my connections. And then I would have spent $70 on a microwave, instead of that money going to food or other needs for the families.

The irony:  We moved into our new home, and realized there was no microwave.  

Okay:  There's the hippie-side of me that rarely microwaves.  We have a Zojirushi that dispenses boiling water on demand (I love you, Zojirushi, and so does my tea and Bailey's-cocoa habit).  I try to cook on the stove as much as possible.  But sometimes, you really need a microwave.  "Need" is so relative, so don't analyze that too closely.  But that's how it FEELS, okay?

Like the night I came down to the kitchen at midnight, pretty sure that if I didn't have nachos I would die.  A painful death.  I arranged my organic corn chips on a plate, covered them with organic mozzarella, and realized I had no microwave.  WHAT THE...?  

Then I sheepishly realized that microwaves are just a lazy/fast version of getting heat on food, so I put them on the stove-top in a pan and tried to melt the cheese. 

Not the best nachos.  But whatever.  

I was feeling this incredible sense of loss over my super-fast version of heat, when I had the luxury of (1) immediately accessing a craving when I felt it...(2) being able to buy organic forms of ingredients for my craving food...and (3) having back-up options.  I have so many heat resources in my kitchen, it's ridiculous. Zojirushi, double-oven, electric griddle, stove.  I'm sure I'm forgetting some, that's how copious they are.

I mentioned this to my dad, and he tells me he has an extra microwave, used once in a hotel, in a box in his basement.  He gave it to us when we visited at Christmas.

And this, everyone, cements my deepest maternal feelings towards the Lost Boy refugees.  That happens in our life more times than I can even count.  

They do not have this. 

Their parents were killed by machetes and guns when they were 5 and 6 years old.  Their dads don't have spare microwaves in the storage room of a 4-bedroom home.

We have generous spirits pouring so much into our lives.  Friendship and time, hand-me-down holiday dresses, the space-themed comforter that Jack is using right now.  I joked to Steve's mom that we must look needy, because people give us so much.  In truth,  I think that's part of being nestled into a really incredible support network.   We know amazing people, no joke.

Yes, the Sudanese refugees come here with little in the way of material possessions.  I could write books (series of books) on the intense needs of these incoming families.  It's this abyss of need that can swallow you whole once you start to care for them.  But it's more than that:

They don't have that safety net in their lives.  I can pretend that I'm this independently functioning adult, who works hard and lives frugally and really tries to make a good life for my kids.  But I was born to a scientist-father who had a great job at 3M, who always, always, always provided for me.  Emotionally, financially, everything.  

There is excess in nearly every single area of my life, especially when you think globally.

You know that axiom about if you have 2 coats, one is for the poor?  I have to actively fight in my life not to have 10 coats.  Maybe 20.  It's mind-blowing to me. 

Another side-story:

Andrew's blanket on his bed is shredded.  Only about 1/18th of the blanket's stitching is still holding the two halves together - one side fluffy, one side soft.  It still functioned for him and he never complained, so we just kept using the blanket.  Today, I finally decided it.was.time.  My baby deserves a non-shredded blanket.  I spent awhile in Penney's today, scoping out blankets.  Thinking about the long-term durability of it...the softness of the fabric (he's very tactile)....and for the cheapest price.  

Oh yes, and that it matches his room.  

First World dilemmas.

I came home with a thick brown polar fleece, 80% off at Penney's (land sakes alive the sales today!).  He loved it.  Problem solved.

That's the type of situation that keeps coming back to me.  Keeps me overwhelmed with gratitude, devoted to the refugee community, and wondering what makes some of us have so much and others so little.  

At the moment of deciding it's time for a blanket, I can then immerse myself into the process of getting one - the Perfect One - for my child.  But if I was in another country, mothering a starving baby with not enough clothes, I would still have that same intense maternal drive to care for my young.  And I don't know how to wrap my brain around not being able to do that.  

Back to microwaves:

One reason I love being married is because I get to fly my freak flag, and there's someone who's legally bound to still be with me.  Steve doesn't balk at my tears over refugees having 10 boxes of donated Easy Mac and no part because he's awesome, but in part because he's used to me at this point. 

I told him I felt some philanthropic-pain over a microwave being a phone-call away for us, but an almost certainly unmet need for the Sudanese family (whose lifeline in acquiring things just moved to Richmond on them).  I asked him if we could buy another one and give this one to the Sudanese. 

And words cannot describe my affection when he nodded immediately (not even that pregnant pause) and said he'd drive there and drop it off today.  

See what I mean?  Excess.  In every area.  

The refugee work has been my thing.  Not because I hog it from him, but because he's either been working like crazy to make money for our family or because he's been buried in textbooks from before sunrise until his head hits the pillow.  He's been a part of it in many agreeing to donate all our things last year?  He signs off on all of that.  Loading the UHaul, attending birthday parties of the Lost Boys' children, letting me cry about refugees, and about 100 other things over the last few years. 

But so much has been done away from him, so in some ways, he's been asked to sacrifice to this entity to which he's not really connected. I respect him a lot for that.  But I also think you lose something in translation when you have a middle-man donating your sacrifices.  When I give to Goodwill?  I get about the same surge of life-warmth as putting my bottles in recycling.  I know it's for good cause, but it's barely a blip.

When I stand in the living room of the Sudanese families, bouncing babies and asking them what things are most worrying them right now, it sends shock-waves through my ENTIRE BEING. 

Steve came home from dropping off the microwave, and I met him at the door: "So did you feel the magic?  Meeting them, seeing them?  Did you get what I feel?"  

With a smile: "Maybe." 

And then he proceeded to tell me about a non-profit business plan he thought up on the hour-and-a-half drive home.  To set up a business where they don't need language...painting, cleaning homes, etc.  They want to work so badly!  And then have an American who is the coordinator for it, lining up all the business and handling the logistics, but then the Sudanese get all the money.  The coordinator would be a volunteer. 

I really like that guy.  A lot.

I really believe that THIS is what happens when you interact with the persons of need.  Your heart just wraps around their needs and you pull them into your own mind and consciousness.

I'd like to say I have a thesis statement for all this babble, but I do not.  And I could wrap this up with some conclusion that makes sense of all this, but that would be a lie.  It's not that simple.  This is just a peek into Sarahbeth's brain at 12:46 EST on a Thursday night.  

If you're still here, I commend you and your attention span.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Losing my Mikey

My friend Mikey died today.  Died.  I've never known someone my age who died, I don't think.  But Mikey wasn't just anybody - he was in my inner circle. One of my "bridesmaids," in fact. One of the persons who has known me better and longer than most people in my life.

He called himself my "token gay" bridal attendant.  That made both of us laugh, in part because after 9 years of friendship, there was nothing "token" about him.  I can't think of Mary Poppins without remembering his wedding toast to me, saying he thought I was "practically perfect in every way."  You hang on to a friend who thinks that about you, even when they know you well enough to see the flaws. :)  

I have been friends with him since ninth grade.  Ebbed and flowed in closeness as the distance stretched between us.  But we could always pick up exactly where we left off.  Every college break. Freakishly long phone calls.  Email messages and then later, facebook updates and messages. We were going to visit him in California this summer. 

When he "came out" to me, the summer after freshman year of college, he had been sleeping over at my parents' house with me.  We were on couches facing each other and he said with a weighty seriousness: "Scottie, I'm gay."  I nodded and said: "I know."  And we went on from there.  He said he'd been practicing in his mind all night about what he was going to say, and then it was a non-event. I asked him in the next breath if he wanted more popcorn.  

He loved that story.

Mikey and me, circa 1997
I could always, always count on him for a laugh.  He was brilliant and quick-witted.  I could bring him a problem, and he'd have me doubled over in hysterical laughter...sides splitting...within minutes.  In the middle of the laughter would be wise, spot-on suggestions...but oh my goodness, the laughter.  I will miss that so much.

But not just funny:  He was so kind.  So so kind.  I loved how I felt when I was with him.  He made me feel accepted and beautiful and could bring out the funniest sides of myself.  When he complimented, he was authentic but exuberant.  I sent him my haircuts for review and he gave me counsel on skin creams.  

One of his last notes to me, just this last month, was so "Mikey" that I could practically frame it:  "I just have to say that I LOVE your profile pic--you look great. Outfit, skin, amazing cheek bones, perfect smile and I love the color of your hair. Miss you!"

That was Michael.  So kind and complimentary that he could make your entire day.

That side of us, though...his clothing and hair advice, was just part of it.  You could look in on him and just see the superficial sides, I suppose, ignoring the rest of him.  You could see him just as the costume designer for soap operas or the Barney's stylist.  But that wasn't who he was.  He had so much depth and character and love to him. 

I could fill this blog with stories about him that I'll remember forever.  When he decided my dog Emerson was gay, for one.  In complete seriousness:  "I have never gotten this vibe from another animal in my life, but I think your dog might be gay."  

How he demanded (demanded!) that I buy those black pants in my senior year of high school.  And they are one of the few pairs that I still own today.  His style was impeccable. 

When he did my make-up for me on my wedding day, and how he had me laughing so hard I couldn't stand still for him. 

But in all the snapshots of memories of Mikey, there is an overarching affection for a truly great man.  He will be missed for more than just those moments; he'll be missed for the person he was in life, and the person he helped me become. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy 5th Birthday, Andrew

Andrew.  Just writing that name conjures up all this emotion…a twist in my heart, an almost painful affection.  You have captured my mothering spirit in such a way, I can’t even describe it.  Happy 5th Birthday, My Andrew.

You are a child of such intensity – such passion – such fire in your heart.  I am grateful for your spirit.  What you’re going to become.  The way you’re going to brush aside the boundaries of your life. Or knock them down with machetes, more accurately.

Yes, there are moments…days even…when I wish I could push a button that slows you down.  Makes you stop jumping or touching or doing.  I fear sometimes that those moments will be the ones you remember.  That you will think back on your mother with hands on your shoulders saying exasperatedly: “Please…stop…jumping.” 

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to be your best mother, and I’m not always sure I’m successful at that.  There are so many ways that your Andrewness runs counter to what’s easiest, tidiest, most convenient for a mom. 

But when I think about who I want my children to become…the grown up version…then I am filled with throbbing-joy that I was gifted with such a passionate, curious, active, scary-smart little boy.

You are this particular blend of your dad and of me, in ways that take both of us to the next level. 

You have that warrior-active side from your dad.  Love of being physical, sense of protecting your loved ones, and love for Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian, Terminator.  You want to protect the persons you love, even if right now that means toy swords against imaginary enemies.

But you also got my impulsive love for adventure.  That need to explore just how far you can push a boundary.  You are born to a mother who sneaked into Bosnia on a night-bus, the only woman in a bus filled with men, against the advisement of the American Embassy.  Who paid a man in Turkey $50 to borrow his motorcycle for a day, even though I’d never ridden one, and spent the day riding it along the ocean highway with no helmet…

Am I surprised that my child is now dangling upside down from a banister by a laundry-line rope? 

I have a love/fear mixed together for that side of myself, I suppose.  I cringe at the things I’ve done, the chances I’ve took, in the exact same emotional swirl that I am ever-so-grateful for that side of me.  I’ve done things, seen things, and experienced moments I NEVER would have experienced if I’d had more caution or insecurity.

And now that I am mothering that same blend of adventurous, impulsive spirit…oh my Andrew.  This is part of my mothering journey with you.  Teaching you to do those moments, but to wear the helmet, ride with someone else first.

God, I don’t know. 

I have so much joy about what is ahead in your life, Andrew.  I see that sparkle in your eye…the same sparkle that can overstimulate me at 8pm at night when I just want everyone to go to bed so I can grade papers…it’s the same sparkle that will have you throwing open your life into things beyond what we’ve seen or done.

You are truly an incredible human being.  You inherently love others…talking to everyone, smiling at everyone. The way strangers will gather around you when we’re out.  When we were at the Toyota Dealership the other day getting work done, I was talking to the cashier and then turned around.  I saw three workers circling you and talking about you – not even a specific about you, like your hair or shirt or something – but the essence of you.  I see that too.  There’s this light in you that draws people in. 

You are loved beyond any word I could type here.  There is not a descriptive phrase that could possibly sum up what we feel for you.  The adoration…the amazement…the way you have charmed our hearts. Happy 5th birthday, my boy. 

2011, you were quite a year.

I really loved 2011.  I didn't love it because it was easy or because it made any sense.  I loved it because in so many ways, I feel like who we are as a family finally crystallized.

What I learned:  When we believe in something, we will do anything to make it happen.

Whether it's Russian camp for Jack (1000 miles from home), or Steve going back to school for his CPA, the family somehow figured out ways to make it happen.  When Andrew didn't want to leave his Play and Learn class, we drove back an hour each way from Williamsburg to make sure that happened for him. 

Could our family be just as happy with less-extreme measures?  I've wondered that. 

But then I look at the Other End of these decisions that seemed overly-complicated, and I am overcome with gratitude for our feisty, impulsive, non-conventional ways.

In the thick of things, sometimes I wonder what the hell we're doing.  When I was orchestrating the complicated chain of command to send Jack to camp alone...including his solo flight on Southwest to Chicago to Steve's parents...the hand-over to my dad in Wisconsin Dells...then my dad driving him 4 hours to Northern Minnesota...

When someone else looks in on that and wonders, "Is it really worth it?"...I do understand that.  On the surface level, those efforts aren't really necessary. Will a week at camp at age 7 bring future fluency in this language he loves?  No.  He might not even remember a lot of it a year later.

But what I hope we taught him is that he can dream big goals for himself, and we will find a way to make that happen in his life. That we believe in his interests, the things he loves, and we'll take measures (financial and time) to help him do what he really craves doing.

Steve's career change certainly seemed risky and impulsive, too.  When I told Han, our friend from China, that Steve used to be a math teacher, she thought at first she didn't understand me correctly. "I am confused, because in China, you do not do this.  A man who has a family does not change jobs."   I laughed, and told her it's pretty odd in America, too.

But omigod.  Look at the other end of this. What if we'd said "no" to the uncertainty of it and didn't take this risk?  What if we'd edited our lives too early, because we didn't have a guarantee on the other end?

What 2011 taught me was to take those risks and keep believing, even through the complicated path towards making those goals happen.  Watching our savings whittle down without a new stream of income wasn't a great feeling.  That wasn't the part we signed on for, it was just a necessary step in the process.

But Steve getting that Deloitte offer...the chance to explore Richmond, a whole new chapter of our lives...finding the new schools for the kids and wondering about what lies ahead?

Even more so than a year ago, I really believe in what life can offer.  How truly magical it can be to make those decisions that aren't black-and-white great decisions, but feel very very right on a soul level.  How life can just explode into arenas that you couldn't even imagine. 

I love these children of mine, and I adore my husband.  And if their life needs something extra to be who they're supposed to be, then I will back them 100%.

And if it's the wrong answer?  That's okay with me too.  Because I'm seeing that things aren't etched in cement, they are molded out of play-doh that's filled with chemicals so it doesn't dry up. :) You can fix things.  Make new choices.  And close doors on mistakes and said: "Well, THAT won't happen again." 

All of it fills me with gratitude, and excitement about what's in store.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Hot-Mess Monie"

Something that gives me a lot of mothering joy is when I hear "field reports" about my kids.  I mean, of the main elements of parenting is that you're raising these human beings to send them out into the world.  And you can hope that you're raising kind, open-hearted, curious children (or whatever your goal for them might be), but if they aren't perceived as kind (etc...) by others, then what the heck does it matter?  

I only get to be their "mothering mother" for 18 years, and then the hope is that they're fairly well-formed human beings...going out into the world making good choices for themselves.   We grow and evolve our whole lives, certainly, but that parent-centric part of laying the foundation -- well, I can just hope I use my 18 years with them well, and then can bask in watching them be really great adults leading lives that fill them with joy.  

An oversimplification, I know...but I'm writing a blog-post, not a book.

So this is an excerpt of an email about Simone today, from one of her co-op teachers.  It made me laugh so hard (we're going to call her "Hot Mess Monie") and get misty-eyed with pride, that in her little 3-year-old way, she is going out into the world and making people laugh.  And, watching her form these relationships outside of the family - pulling important persons, like Suzanne, into her fabric.  Writing her own life story, filled with her own characters and dialogue.

From Suzanne:

I just adore her and can't wait to see what she grows up to be. I love her independence and the way she knows her own mind at such an early age. I love how she is so cute and pretty and has all the trappings to be this "pottery barn kids model" little girl, but instead, she is a hot mess, with mismatched clothes and shoes or no shoes--hair askew--I mean it is so cute and so awesome all at the same time.

 When we did the little TVs--she said she wanted a picture of her mom and so I drew a little stick figure mom. (Just for fun, I had you holding a flower--all she had said was draw a picture of my mom.) Well, she said, "What is that," and I said, "a flower," and she said, "No, I gave her a leaf." I love so many things about that story. She made me laugh all the time. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Good-bye, Hampton Roads. Hello, Richmond.

We have moved.

To Richmond.

Loaded and unloaded all the Big Stuff into the new house.

There's so much more to cram in those white spaces of sentences.  But that's the main gist.

We have spent the last week or so winding down life.  So many "lasts."  Last day of SEE co-op.  Last Air and Space class.  One more day at Tuesday co-op and then we really-and-truly close the book on this chapter of our life.  

My misty-eyed self telling all these wonderful persons "thank you" for all they've done for my babies.  Gawd, we are saying good-bye to so much goodness.

In-laws have been here the last week...saving our sanity, packing up bits and bobs, letting me sleep off my mid-week sickies, tiring out our children for us, and generally being amazing human beings.

And now they are gone, and we're sitting in our nearly-empty Williamsburg home.  Camping cots and a few days of clothes, just sitting on a pile on our floor. 

For all our life-chaos in the last 5 years, there's been a thread of stability that we just cut.  We've bounced between homes and covered oodles of addresses, but we kept the core of people in our life.  We've been with the co-ops for several years now.  And while the mileage between friends kept shifting, we have maintained friendships for up to 5 years. 

For the first time since our move from Chicago, we are starting over.   

I crave change...thrive on change...feed my soul from newness and novelty.  But there's still a twist in my heart when I think about "walking away" from all we've built here.  So many much joy and friendship.

This isn't a cross-country move.  Meeting people halfway means only an hour drive for both parties.  Andrea is already coming to Richmond in January, and we'll have S and E all day for the kids to play together.  

We're not saying good-bye to the people forever.

But we are saying good-bye to the life we created here.

We drove by the kids' new co-op schools today.  Athenian Academy for the boys, preschool for Simone.  My children all inherited (or were trained) in the art of loving newness, so they were so excited to see their new place.  Wondering about the new friends they'd make.  

It's going to be good.  I know it is.  But trading in our Hampton Roads life for the one ahead of us does give me pause.  I'm feeling sentimental and reflective. I vacillate between the urge to duck out without saying good-bye, and wanting to give creepy-long hugs and cry.  

Yeah, I'm cool like that.

I could fill an entire post on grieving the fact that I'm moving away from the Lost Boys' families, and the newest refugees don't understand enough English to really know that I'm moving away.  

Simone tells me I'm "Santa for the Sudanese" because maybe Santa doesn't speak Sudanese?  And suddenly, these families will be cut off from this pipeline I've created for them.  I've scrambled and doubled my efforts to get all their basics lined up before the move, but really, their level of starting-from-scratch need is an abyss.  [Still seeking a microwave for one family, so if you know of one, you will help me sleep better at night.]

But in opening this space, I'm giving others the chance to come in and experience what I've experienced.  To meet the families, feel the importance of their life stories, and open their world in a completely new way.  If I stayed here and hogged all that goodness, that seems a bit selfish of me.  

My mission, in large part, has been to spread the awareness of the Lost Boys to my friends in the area.  Yolonda turned to me while we were shoe shopping with the teen Sudanese girls, and said: "I am in love!"  They spoke little-to-no English and she saw the complicated part of caring for them.  Finding size 11 shoes they liked, without really having any direct communication other than charades.  But she still "got it."

I completely understand. 

So maybe this is how it's supposed to work.  I've done what I can do.  I created the network and now have to trust that it's okay to keep moving forward in our lives.  New persons will fill in the gaps I leave, and there are more Lost Boys in Richmond who need me.  

And these friendships we've formed are still there.  Just different.  But we've opened up a space in our life for new ones to come in. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

So, here's the "real" post about our 10th anniversary.

One of the best things I ever did for my life was marry someone who, on the surface level, appeared to be a very bad fit for me.  In our 4 years of dating, we had to wade through a lot of superficial inconsistencies.  From the surface level, it appeared to be the bookworm-writer type marrying the college baseball star.  The world traveler marrying a man who hated airplanes. I wanted to live abroad, and he wanted to move back near his family.  Too many to list here.

We kept discussing (....and discussing...and discussing) what we were going to do about these elements that seemed like they should be deal-breakers.

What kept us coming back was the fact that, below all those things, we deeply loved the way our Core Selves fit together.  He liked my strength and independence, but was strong enough to be an equal partner to me.  I liked his steady calm and stability, and that I knew I could always, always count on him.  We could talk about anything, even the things we disagreed on, and craved the others' perspective on situations - primarily, because it was a perspective we couldn't create on our own.

We were Dharma meets Greg.

I kept hearing to marry someone with shared interests...hobbies...belief systems.   And while it seemed logical to me, I couldn't ignore that I wanted to marry this man even though it didn't seem like the right time (too young)...or the right compatibility (we are mirror-image on personality tests and shared almost no hobbies together).

But now?  I feel like I dodged a bullet in marrying in the completely non-prescribed way.

I am, in many many ways, not the woman that Steve married.  Those core elements of myself are still there.  Adventurous, independent, impulsive?  Yes, yes, and yes. Steve signed on for all those traits, and always says how much he appreciates the way they counter him and show him new ways to make decisions.

But ALL the superficial differences have melted into this big pile of marital goo, and it's hard to tell what we pulled from the other one.  Yes, Steve is now on board with living anywhere in the world that his career will send him.  Even planned his new career with that in mind.  It's important to me, though, that I was on-board with living in the same city my whole life if that's what it took to be with him.  I've watched that change in me, and I like knowing that wherever we live (even if it's the same home across decades) it WILL be home for me.

Right after marrying, I went back and got my MBA and was working in finance, pretty sure I wanted to go down the career path and had far-off thoughts about someday having children.  No maternal instinct. Fast forward a few years, and I had fallen head-over-heels in love with these babies I made with him...quitting full-time work to do jobs that would let me see my children as much as possible.  I've always wanted to keep my's part of who I am...but my Mothering side was like a truck ramming into my life that I didn't see coming.

I am grateful for many things about marrying Steve 10 years ago.  But what I am most grateful for is that Steve fell in love with the very basic elements of who I am, and nothing else.  He accepted those other things about me. That was (and is) important to me.  But that wasn't part of the rubric for loving me. 

Because as I've re-configured, re-evaluated, and flat out deleted certain portions of who I was "back then"...well, it hasn't changed anything in his mind. 

The girl saving for a home before we even married is now the one who would rather own an RV and a tent and never be a homeowner again.  Too much commitment. ;)  I'm now the woman asking to give away all our furniture to Sudanese refugees  -- the very same furniture we saved money for a year back when we were newlyweds.  

We joke about the changes all the time.  "So if you'd known I'd be birthing your babies in an inflatable pool in our living room, would you have married me?"  Or: "If you knew I'd want to give away all our belongings and live in hotels all over the world, what would you have said?"

But you know...I'm not sure those New Things are necessarily more revolutionary in terms of bad fit to him as the Old Things.  I was a strange match for him during the first versions of self. Yes, he would have laughed to think about me becoming a home-birthing hippie buying local raw honey and gluten-free pizza crust.  There have been so many surprises along the way, as we grow into who we are - together and individually.  When we would debate over public vs. private school, who knew we'd someday school our kids in a way we can't even define.

That contract we signed, though, had so few bullet points on it.  That's where I feel the most gratitude.  I've gotten to be the Most Authentic Sarahbeth at every point in the way, without worrying how it will disrupt dynamics with the man I love.  

So that's what I'll tell my children.  Trust your heart.  It will know when you found your right match, even if your brain tells you differently.  

Don't marry someone who asks you to change yourself...definitely...but also, don't marry someone who requires you to stay the same, either. 

Instead of having to change ourselves for each other, we just married into all those differences - with mutual respect abounding and lots of honest communication.  And in the end, we got to shape each other in many ways...and just embrace new differences in other ways.

That was the best "bad decision" I've ever made. :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our 10th Anniversary: Marriage Vows

I actually have more to say on marriage than recycling vows I wrote 10 years ago, but I have been thinking a lot about our vows in the last few days.  They were more prophetic than I realized they might be, like everything changing except that I want to be with him.  The "everything changing" will be for another post. :)

But here, unedited, are the vows I read to Steve at our wedding:

Standing here today, I can't conceive of a day I won't love you.  And standing here today, I can't fathom that we could ever change.  But I know it can happen.  Life tends to interfere with static conditions.  We're not immune just because we're in love, although it sure feels like it sometimes.  Life is unpredictable, and that's where my commitment to you becomes operative.  

I am not marrying you under conditions that you stay as you are, or that circumstances stay as they are.  Sometimes, people get diseases.  Disorders.  Sometimes, children are born handicapped.  There are no guarantees in life. 

None except this:  I am going to be there.  For you, for us.  Nothing that happens makes these vows void.  If so, it wasn't a real commitment.  

Life doesn't have to be perfect in order for love to be perfect, and I don't ask that is it.  I just want to be with you.

I love you so much, Steve.  Who you are, who you'll be, and all the stuff in between.  I want us to have room to grow.  To evolve, to change, to shift as life shifts.  

I'm going to be there every step of the way.  Making you smoothies, giving you foot rubs after your baseball games.  Admiring you and accepting you and cherishing you.

This is my version of "for better or worse."  Sickness, health.  Richer, poorer, all of that.  I love you so intensely.  I am so lucky to know you, and so amazed to be your wife.  Your partner.  

You can count on me, no matter what.  I commit my being to you. My body. My life.  I'm yours.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Because kindness does mean something.

Finding out that 10 new Sudanese refugees were arriving this week from Ethiopia was like a bomb going off in my life.  A good bomb, mind you...which probably means I need a better analogy.  But I have been emailing, Facebook posting, phoning, driving around, and collecting items for the families as though my own children were without winter coats.  Nearly all of our family conversations this week have had "the Lost Boys" somewhere in the beginning, middle, or end.  

Which is all to say: Here's the third post this week about the Lost Boys.

I run in some of the most generous, kind, wonderful circles of women I can imagine.  I can't believe how quickly they jumped into action when they heard there was a need.  People of all financial backgrounds, just wanting to help.  I am very grateful for the community around me.

But there's more. 

When I do the "drop-offs" - especially with new arrivals from Africa - I do feel a hesitation.  An insecurity, even.  And definitely some apprehension.  

These families are just off the plane from a refugee camp in Ethiopia, and knocking on their door is this woman with white-blonde hair driving a Toyota Sienna, handing them bags upon bags of food, clothes, bikes, etc.  It's like a ridiculous American stereotype, and I feel a bit icky being a part of that.  

It reminds me about the imperfect system in place.  

They come to America with this sense that it's a place of abundant wealth and easy-living, and in some ways, I'm representing that myth to them right off the bat.  Like: "Hey, we have all this extra stuff we don't is so easy for can have some, and we'll still be okay."

Let's be honest, that's a true statement.  Clothes and belongings really ARE in excess here. 

But that message has to come with the Full Story, which is:  

Just to let you is going to be very, very complicated for you here. It will be hard as hell to get a job.  Education is expensive and time-consuming, but almost necessary to get the job you'll need to have the life you envisioned for yourself in America.  

Finances are going to be more complicated than you imagined.  Getting a car to get to that job that was so complicated to find...then gas, insurance.  Rent on a place and utilities.  Family back in Africa (also believing the money-flowing-freely myth) will be begging you for money. 

When I grow up, I want to work for the International Refugee Committee.  And not just because I might meet George Clooney, although that would be a nice perk.  But there are some key things I'd love to change. 

Please don't make them pay for their United States visas.  

Please don't make them pay back their plane ticket here. 

They've been through enough.

When I grow up, I also want to set-up a non-profit that serves as a launch pad for new refugees.  Give them an orientation, and set them up with a mentor (from their own culture) who has been here for awhile.  Have rooms they can stay in for a few weeks while they find a safe, affordable place to live. Almost like a Ronald McDonald House for refugees.  Storage for all sizes of clothes, so they can store off-season ones and not keep them in their small apartments.  

And my biggest passion:  Teaching them about FAFSAs and college educations.  Resumes and job-searches.  Have a closet of interview clothes they can borrow to get jobs.  

Dental care.  Medical specialists who can screen for parasites, food allergies, and help them build their nutrient status so they can get the energy to work the long hours the jobs (that they're able to find) will ask them to work.

This is what I want for Christmas. Every Christmas. Birthdays too.

What happened today....all these friends of mine banding together to ease these refugees into so many colors of beautiful, you have no idea.  

But there is this dark-side of the arrival to America that NO amount of generous spirits can fix.  Coming here is not a perfect solution.  It's not the END of their struggles; they're just trading the old struggle (not enough basics to feel safe, secure) and replacing it with an emotional struggle that is so difficult for us to understand.

I knew, pulling my Sienna into that parking lot and knocking on the door, that I was helping to perpetuate this myth...the Legend of America...that is actually going to cause them some pain.  

Even so, though, I can't solve the imperfection by not doing what happened today.  

The imperfection is so much bigger than all of this.  

It started 20 years ago, when they were 5, 6, and 7 years old, tending goats while their villages were massacred and their families were killed.  When they fled for a month to three months, running for their lives, many starving to death along the way.  When they lived as refugees on foreign soil, until finally their visa was approved to come to this mystical America.  

Which ends up not being as mystical as they might have heard or dreamed it might be.  

Where am I going with all this?  Quite honestly, I'm not sure. :)  There's not an Aesop's Fable message here, other than please don't massacre innocent villages and thank you for caring for the refugees with your incredible donations. 

Maybe this is just Writing as Therapy, which comes up rather often for me.  

Life is complicated.  Politics are complicated.  Human suffering is complicated.  Human kindness is complicated.  

And the best I can teach my children is to just jump in and do what we CAN this moment...without worrying if it's the perfect solution to an imperfect problem.

Because kindness does mean something.  I have to believe that.

Were we representing a myth today that might give false expectations?  Yes, I think we were.  Does that mean we should have left 10 brand-new refugees without basics of living, just because we didn't want to teach them that America is "too easy"?  

Yeah, that doesn't make much sense either. 

Maybe the best solution...the lesser of all bad to be there when they need the basics.  And then be there when they realize that life here is going to be so much more complicated than anyone promised it might be.  Showing them how to succeed and empower them to create a new life here.  

Because in the end, what they really want is to feel like their lives have purpose.  They are important.  They can take great care of themselves.  And that they are safe. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Raise up a child...?

Community service is a huge part of myself, and I was raised with it in my home.  My mother didn't work, but spent hours a week out in the community.  She went back and got a Masters degree to use it in volunteering.  There was a very Kennedy-style sense of supporting the community...appreciating what we had...and using our resources to help others. 

So I've seen that you can surround a child with that and create an expectation and appreciation of giving, instead of an aversion to it. 

But I am still very conscious about making service a positive in our children's lives.  When I've chosen ways to get involved in the community, I make sure my children can be a part of it.  For one, I can do more of it.  When I visit with Sudanese families, they come with me.  Meals on Wheels, the kids were an integral part of that.  I drove, but they wouldn't even let me carry any of the food to the doors. When I make meals for a new mom, the kids come with me and we talk about helping families when they have a new baby.  

I want that to be part of the fabric of their views on life. 

But I keep watching them, wondering if it will ever start to seem like a plus-one-minus-one situation.  Like if we give to the Sudanese or other persons, it will take away from them? 

Giving away clothes that are too small is one thing.  But buying Christmas presents for them, I watch that one really carefully.  

We're very simple with the things we buy our kids, but I'm different with the Sudanese families.  When you come from Plenty, the drive is often to scale-back...simplify and streamline.  When you come from Want, it makes you crave things (even hoard, at times).

So while I'm trying to scale back the expectations of gifts at Christmas in my own house, I'm creating this Christmas program that's about the very commercialization of the holidays that I'm trying to avoid.

Tricky situation, eh?

To be accurate, my kids get Christmas presents.  It's not like that.  We think really carefully about who our child is and a need to fill in their life.  Andrew is getting a climbing dome.  The boy needs to climb.  Simone is getting a dollhouse. She needs something she can entertain herself with while the boys wrestle in the next room.  It's not like my children get nothing...or even just token gifts...but we downplay the toy part of it, while I'm working to build that up for the Sudanese.

We spend most of the holidays talking about what to give others...making gifts for grandparents...doing Christmas outings...and having the presents be in the backseat.

I feel like it's one thing to opt out of having a big festivity of presents...and another to feel like an outsider to the American culture, and have this sense like everyone else is having this holiday experience you're not able to give your child.  The Sudanese have so many pressures on their finances - supporting family back in Africa, sponsoring family members in the boarding schools, paying for flights they took under refugee status to get here, etc.

We went shopping for one of our "adopted" children today, getting him the gifts I outlined here. Simone helped me pick out the gifts from TJ Maxx, so I wasn't sure how Andrew (especially) would feel about seeing these cool gifts, and knowing they were for the Sudanese children.  I picked out Mayuen's gifts specifically as things Andrew would like, since they were close in age.

I had nothing to be concerned about.

I happened to have my camera nearby, and snapped it as they were gathered around the gift, saying things like: "This is going to be GREAT for Mayuen!  He is going to LOVE this!"  And then all begged to help wrap it for him. 

I love these little buggers for so many reasons, but their giving hearts might give me more joy than anything else I see in them. 

Yes, they might debate who gets which color of bowl, whose song comes next in the car, and bicker over whose pancake was bigger...but whatever. Siblings will be siblings, and sometimes, I think they get a wee bit sick of each other. The way they treat other people is what means so much to me. 

Sudanese Christmas Program

This post is so I can send a link when there are questions about the Christmas program for the Lost Boys.  Sometimes people ask about the types of gifts to give to the Sudanese children, and this way, you can see one example.  There are many ways to do it, this is just one concrete example.  I know some people find that more useful.

We have a 3-year-old boy as one of ours, so we went to TJ Maxx to get the "large" items.  A large stuffed frog ($7), a Spiderman toy vehicle ($15), and a Melissa and Doug musical instrument set ($15).   

Our focus was on the largest size gifts for the amount of money budgeted.  There were quite a few smaller items that were also 7ish dollars, like some matchbox car sets, but I wanted something that looked larger.  Many times, these families can swing the small items... but not much money for bigger toys. 

For this child, we also included a down gray winter vest, bought for $9 at TJ Maxx, because it's his first winter in America.  Also, a package of 6 white socks in his size (clearance at TJM).  Not much fun for Christmas, but lightens the expenses for the parents a bit.  I don't wrap them, because that just seems mean ;)...but I deliver them at the same time.  Underwear is another good one, because even if they get hand-me-down clothes, new underwear is appreciated.

The kids and I went to the Dollar Tree for the stocking items, and even bought the oversized stocking for $1.  Stocking stuffers were a mix of fun things and useful items. 

The Lost Boys' motto is "Education is our mother and father" with gifts for them, I try to include teaching things, like alphabet items.

All these items listed were $1:
  • Spiderman toothbrush
  • Children's flossers
  • Toothpaste
  • Cookies with alphabet stamped on them
  • Animal crackers
  • Juice boxes
  • Sippy cup that he can decorate himself
  • Coloring book with Elmo (teaches letters)
  • Coloring crayons
  • Markers
  • Winter hat
  • Italian ices (not frozen, of course, but they can stick in the freezer)
  • Snoopy tissues
  • Dinosaur puzzle
  • 3 bottles of bubbles (set for $1)
  • Magnifying glass (plastic)
  • Superhero Squad coloring book
  • Santa hat
  • Hershey bar
Including the large stocking, this achieved my $20 budget for the stocking. 

Regarding wrapping:  I tend to pre-wrap the items (other than stocking), but include a note about what's in them for the parents.  That way, they don't have to get wrapping supplies or figure out HOW to wrap...especially the ones who've just arrived, and might be unfamiliar with the wrapping custom.

Hopefully that helps?  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"You see, I'm a they"

So I'm going to list some of the things that I did between 8am and 8pm tonight.  Do you care?  No, you don't.   You did your own stuff.  But it's important(ish) to get to the point I'll make after the list-of-stuff-I-did.  So bear with me. 
  1. Andrew's friend slept over last night (cuteness!), so Steve made breakfast for everyone-plus-one, and then I got everyone dressed and in the car.  Steve stayed home to study. 
  2. They needed to be at the Air and Space Center for Cosmic Kids Club at 9AM, with a 40 minute drive.
  3. Dropped off the 3 boys at the ASC, then got Simone in the car and drove 30 minutes to Virginia Beach.
  4. Stopped at the Post Office.
  5. Bank.
  6. Thrift store to buy "pink books" for Simone.
  7. Stopped at FedEx to make photocopies of Simone's birth certificate for pre-school.
  8. Went to the pottery-painting place, so we could use up the Groupon that was about to expire.  I sat for an hour and watched her paint a plate, Christmas ornament, and tray for Steve in various shades of pink (and a bit of purple).
  9. Grocery shopping at Trader Joe's.  
  10. Got gas for the car.
  11. Pumpkin muffins from Panera. 
  12. Drove 30 minutes back to ASC to get the boys.  
  13. Got there half an hour early, so Simone played in the exhibits and I bought tickets for "Puss in Boots" on my Fandango iPhone app.
  14. Drove Samuel home.
  15. Took Jack back to Virginia Beach (30 minutes) for his Russian lesson at 1pm.
  16. Simone fell asleep, so Andrew and I hung out for awhile in the Oceanfront library parking lot.  He climbed around on things, I tried to read on my Kindle.  
  17. I gave up on reading and offered to take him to Chick-Fil-A drive-thru.  He took about a nanosecond to think, and then shrieked YES, nearly waking Simone. ;)
  18. Got our Chick-Fil-A then came back to the library.
  19. Cleaned out the car (dear lord, there's a lot of trash that piles up when you live in your car!). 
  20. Simone woke up.  
  21. We went inside to the library, doing double-duty.  I needed a folk-tale book for my Colonial America lesson plan on Tuesday, and the kids could check out books. 
  22. We played there for about an hour.
  23. We went to Target to get the Star Wars action figure I promised Andrew if he wore his glasses for a week without taking them off (much).
  24. Then we went to pick up Jack at 4.
  25. Drove to Jen's to get her donations for the Lost Boys Christmas drive.  
  26. Drove an hour back to Williamsburg.
  27. Home for 15 minutes (literally), just enough time to throw English muffins, pizza sauce, and some shredded cheese for fake-pizzas, put in the oven for 10 minutes, throw them on paper plates, get the kids back in the car, and then drive to the movie theater to watch "Puss in Boots."  [Author note: WHAT was I thinking, ordering movie tickets pre-bought to end a crazy day? More on that later.]
  28. Home at 8:30.
I promised you a point, and now you'll get it.  Or at least, my attempt at a point.

The reason I was filibustering our day, in part, was because Steve is neck-deep in schoolwork right now. Maybe forehead deep.  It's deep. So I was on my own for the busy day, and trying to make the best of it.  

When you break down all the Big Chunks of our day, it was about my children...: 
  • Spending time with a good friend.
  • Attending Cosmic Kids Club, which they love.
  • Giving Simone a special morning with just her mom.
  • Giving Jack another chance to see Natallia for Russian.
  • Having the experience of seeing a movie in the theater, and also giving Steve more solo time to study.
Friendship, fun learning experiences, following passions....those are absolutely my Mission Statement for my family.  

But in the midst of all the Big Chunks, I still need to grocery shop, send packages, go to the bank, get gas, etc etc. 

Not one of the things on that list really nourishes my soul directly.  If I was living a Sarahbeth-centered life, most of those bullet points would have been massages, facials, and finishing the Steve Jobs biography I'm immersed in.  

In so many ways, there's more "noise" in my life than I ever expected before motherhood.  It's more boring (in some ways) and chaotic (in other ways) to nurture three little spirits into their adulthood, more than I really understood.  I still would have signed up for it, but goodness!

I didn't even mention the group bathroom stops at Target, at the movie theater, etc.  Digging food out of grocery sacks and throwing it into the backseat when someone said they were hungry. 

There also wasn't a bullet point for Andrew, running full speed into a waist-high chain at the side of the sidewalk, flipping forward, and nearly smashing his face into the cement.  Where's the bullet point for my completely undignified scream in the middle of a busy town-square, and then crying (really) with relief when I saw he was okay?   Hugging him so tightly that I nearly squished him empty of air, because I was so-so-so-so grateful that nothing serious happened.

But there are good missing bullet points, too.  Like Andrew sitting on my lap during half of the movie, snuggling back into me, and the smell of his sweet, little boy head.  Knowing that I have so.little.time left where he will fit into my lap.  And wanting to devour every second of it. He is "precious" incarnate.

And as a backdrop to the entire day, I knew that we were giving Steve the space to do something that was important to him -- doing well in school, focusing on his work.  He's working so hard for our family, and taking a graduate program that isn't family-friendly at all.  I really love that man, and I want to help him succeed.

In that Five for Fighting song, 100 years, there's a part that I love:

I'm 33 for a moment
Still the man, but you see I'm a
A kid on the way
A family on my mind

Yes, that's it!  I AM a they.  Taking care of my family does nurture me.  More than I expected.  And not in a soul-sucking way, although I do know that feeling too. ;)  But my own personal spirit feels good about seeing smiling faces and happy little children, excited about life. And, supporting Steve however I can - even if it's about being gone all day. :)

Not always.  Sometimes, I really need a Criminal Minds marathon and a hot Epsom bath with no toys in the tub.  But in the big picture of things: If I know, at the end of the day, that my family's needs are met? It feels like a really good day.  Even if all I did was play chauffeur and disc jockey for the car music, taking requests from tiny voices in the backseat.

Someday, these little crazies will grow up and move on in their lives, and I'll think back wistfully to these hectic, joy-filled Saturdays. 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Clinically wiggly. Thank goodness someone else noticed.

Andrew fascinates me.  And not just in a "how did this creature jumping on the bed grow inside of my body" type of fascination.  Although there's that too.  

He just makes no sense in so many ways, and yet it all comes together to be Perfectly Andrew.  Even the things that drive me crazy... like his constant need to climb/jump/tackle/bounce...I wouldn't actually change any of it, really, even if I have long periods of temptation for a straightjacket for him.  Just for 5 minutes.  Or 10.

Andrew had an assessment this weekend -- the first time a professional "outsider" has reviewed or analyzed him.  It was just a 35 minute entrance thingy for an academic program, so it wasn't an exhaustive battery.  But she was a psychologist and had a lot of experience, and I was curious to hear her thoughts. 

The highlights from her verbal report, right after the battery:

He missed easy questions, but dominated the hard ones.  As in, missed naming some letters, but read words.  Got the one that just counted squares wrong, but quickly answered correctly: "If you had 7 items and someone took 3 away, how many would you have?"  

Yes!  I know!  This is the same kid who completely skipped over baby toys and went right into action figures.  Who would rather watch grown-up movies (and follow the plot) than watch cartoons.  Who doesn't like kid music, but loves the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, etc.  The same kid who was asking existential questions about our purpose in life before he could name colors. 

What does this mean?  And: Does it matter?  Is this a problem, or just a quirk?  

I wanted to hug her (tightly and weirdly long) when said: "Andrew is very wiggly, isn't he?  I have 3 sons, and this isn't just a 'boy wiggly' thing.  He's really active!"

Thank you, Psychologist, for professionally validating that for me.  

She doesn't think it's ADHD, because he was focused on the test the entire time.  Stayed intellectually connected and aware, but just moved the entire time.

My working-theory is that he's just SO bodily-kinesthetic as a learner that if you ask him to stop moving, his brain shuts down.  So to process the test, he needed to stay moving.  

I don't know.  But gawd, is he wiggly.  To put it nicely. 

When I think about who Andrew is going to be as an adult, I don't even feel a flutter of concern.  I can look into his being, right now, and see a great man in there.  Not even the great man that he's going to be, but that it's already in him.  

He feels things so strongly.  The good and the bad, but along the way, he'll find that balance if we guide him.  He's such a deep thinker and has so much curiosity. And I can already see in him what a good husband and father he would be -- his caretaker spirit and his protective love for people around him.  

If a crystal ball predicted he'd be a Doctors Without Borders doctor, I wouldn't be surprised.  He seems so tuned in with saving other people and life and death and other cultures. In whatever job he chooses, I really think there will be an element of "superhero" in it.  Saving lives or just helping people.

Whatever he'll be, I know he'll be fine.  Not just fine, but great.  There's a lot of complex goodness in him. 

But in the day-to-day of raising him, I feel exhausted sometimes.  Sometimes it's about the bouncing off the walls.  Sometimes it's about the non-stop philosophizing in the backseat, and not wanting to crush his spirit but also needing a moment of quiet space. Knowing what to do with a child who takes a completely non-conventional path to everything.  Figuring out how to honor everything about him, but sand down the edges of traits that might complicate his life.

Simone and Jack have their own complex parenting journey, definitely, but it's a different one.  For another post.  They seemed to come out of the womb with their own manual pre-written, and it's just about listening to their instructions.  :)

Andrew has this gorgeous, colorful, complex soul that really aches to be understood and nurtured.  He's so much more wrapped up in the interpersonal elements of life -- cherishing family and spending time together -- that figuring him out as we go just seems trickier. When I mess up with him, I feel even more strongly about going and making it right with him.  Apologizing and re-connecting.  His value on our relationship is so powerful in his life.

I know that someday, I will look across the room at Grown Andrew and how truly great he turned out will take my breath away. I really believe that.

Along the way, though, I see a lot of late night chats with Steve, figuring out this special little man who came into our family.  He deserves the best we can give him. 

I am committed to his complexity.  We can do this.  Wiggly and all.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mission Simplify. Or: I'm getting really crabby about driving so much.

I had a dream the other night that I needed to get the kids somewhere, and had planned to ride my bike. I came out to find the chain had fallen off, and I was frustrated I was going to have to walk the kids 20 miles to their activity.  I was packing my bag for our 20-mile walk, and then a neighbor said: "Why don't you just drive them in the car?"  I looked over and saw there was a car sitting right there, and I hadn't even noticed.

Much better to drive 20 miles with 3 kids than to walk it.

I woke up from the dream, and decided almost immediately that my sub-conscious was telling me we've been making things too complicated, more work than they need to be.

Whether that's the dream's point or not, I ran with it.  Agreed with my sub-conscious, and re-doubled my efforts on Mission Simplify.  

We're moving to Richmond in mid-December.  This is a completely blank slate for us.  A chance to create our logistics from the ground-up.  There are no co-op friendships to revolve around, we can live anywhere in the city, etc etc. 

For the last semester, I have been driving 100 miles round-trip to get to our "old" schooling co-ops.  As in, the ones that made sense to attend back when we lived on the southside of Hampton Roads.  We've worked hard to maintain our friendships from Virginia Beach, which sometimes meant Herculean efforts.  

My last Saturday: Driving 50 miles to pick up Samuel, Andrew's best friend, bringing those two and Simone to Young Chef Academy, then driving another 25 miles (each way) to bring Jack to his Russian teacher of 3 years, then back to pick up the kiddos...and then drive 50 miles home.

This is the problem with living in Nomad Purgatory.  We haven't wanted to create a whole new life in Williamsburg, because we're leaving it in 6 weeks.  But trying to drag our Virginia Beach life behind's a bit like walking 20 miles when you should have just driven it.

As I told Ashley last week: "There's a lot to be said for living life in the present."

Do I regret our decision to take heroic measures to maintain our Virginia Beach network?  Not in the least.  Samuel, Andrew, and Simone had an incredible time at Young Chef Academy - and I'm even planning another field trip to do that same drive again soon.  I can't believe how much they are learning at the co-ops, especially Jack in the older-kid classes, taking science and languages that I can't teach him. 

And losing Natalia, Jack's Russian teacher, and her daughter M after our move? We will shed some tears over that loss.  Right now, the hour drive to her is achievable, so we've made it happen.  2 hours, we'll have to cut that cord. I really believe her loving, kind, intelligent friendship and Russian lessons with him have re-shaped the entire rest of his life.  We will never forget her. 

We've already chosen our new co-op in Richmond, The Athenian Academy, so I took a page from Andrea's life-manual and rented a home within 10 minutes of it.  Gah, I am so excited about this!!!  We've never had that experience in Hampton Roads; we were driving 30-45 minutes even from Virginia Beach.  

Simone is now enrolled in preschool (another post to come on that one) starting next semester.  5 minutes from our house.  

And when we find a new Russian teacher for Jack?  Well, hopefully there will be a native Russian speaker within 10 minutes of our house.

Because their good natures aside...I think my kids will appreciate a life that seems to actually be planned around us and our needs...and not driving all over the kingdom to make it a perfect fit for us. 

In the meantime, though, these kids have memorized every song on my iTunes shuffle...and lordy, it's adorable to hear them belting out the words from the backseat.  Andrew can sing a mean Lady Gaga's "Born This Way."  I might actually miss that part.