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Sunday, January 19, 2020


Yesterday we went up to the mountains for the first time this winter.  Although I really don't like winter (the only real use of winter is to bring spring), I actually enjoy snow sports.  I skied a lot in college and also enjoyed snowmobiling with friends and would occasionally borrow my sister's snowshoes for an outing.  Brandon has tried to point out that if I like snow sports, that means I like winter because winter brings snow.  But I am happy to enjoy snow in places that I can travel to and enjoy warm weather in the places I live. 

Since I now have seven children, however, the snow sport that I get to enjoy is sledding.  None of the other sports work very well with an infant and two-year old in tow.  We weren't able to find a really good sledding hill last winter, and so when I found out about a new resort opening this winter, I was excited to see that they had a tubing hill.

We had originally planned to go on Monday for the MLK holiday, but the weather looked better for Saturday, so we switched plans at the last minute and invited some friends along.  

We eventually arrived around noon after a late start, and the weather was perfect.  It's been grey, cloudy, and smoggy in Tashkent almost non-stop since we came back in December, so it was wonderful to get up above everything and have a crystal-clear sunny day up in the mountains.  Everyone had warm enough clothing, so there was no complaining about numb feet or hands. 

Unfortunately, about half of Tashkent had the same idea we did so the resort was packed.  The only other ski and sledding options in the mountains are Soviet-era relics that don't even come close to deserving the name 'resort,' so it seems that everyone else is as excited as I was to try something new and actually functional.  

The resort itself seemed to actually be well run and felt like a smaller version of the places I skied in college (with a lot more Uzbek women in high-heeled boots).  It had equipment rentals, clean bathrooms, and several restaurants including one that served plov - because who wants to go skiing if you can't have plov for lunch?  

Paying for the tubing was somewhat frustrating because we didn't have a clear idea of how the system worked and the cashier couldn't understand that we really, actually wanted to purchase eighty rides for eight different people.  We ended up buying six cards with ten rides loaded on them, and then headed out to the tubing runs.  

There turned out to be two separate areas, one for younger children and the other for older children and adults.  For a country that doesn't believe in seatbelts or carseats, I've found Uzbekistan has strangely restrictive policies for rides - it's not like small children will be harmed by going down a big hill versus a small hill.  We've also run into this at the water parks and amusement parks.  When we went to the NC state fair, Eleanor and Joseph rode rides that Kathleen wouldn't be able to ride in Tashkent.  

The younger children were disappointed at being relegated to the 'baby' hill, but soon realized they had the better deal when we saw the line to the big hill.  After watching Eleanor take two or three rides, I walked over to the older kids and found that they had only moved about ten feet since they had gotten in line.  It wasn't helped by the elbow-throwing locals who pushed past in line until everyone joined up and blocked them from any more encroaching.

Thankfully we found a clearing next to the sledding hill where the children were able to play in the snow or the day might have been disappointing.  Driving over an hour and a half to take ten slides and throwing elbows in a ten-minute line for every ride (at ninety cents a ride) doesn't sound like a very good deal to me.

Happily, lunch turned out well - it was good, fast, and cost around four dollars a person.  And as a bonus, there was a TV showing cartoons to keep the children (all at their own table) quiet while eating their food.  It's wonderful to enjoy tasty lunch with friends while (most of) our children mind themselves.  

The day ended up being pleasant enough and everyone had a good time, but I'm not sure if I would go back to go sledding.  It was more that I'd like to spend on sledding (fifty dollars) when we own sleds and it's free if you can find a place to sled.  I also didn't care for the crowds and lines.  However, it was nice to have a hot lunch and a clean bathroom.  If I had the chance to go back and ski (without the children), I'd go because the skiing looked to be fairly decent, if limited.

But, it was nice to get out of town and have a beautiful day in the mountains.  I certainly won't complain about that!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A Return to Our Regular Schedule

This week I got up every single (weekday) morning and exercised.  We had full school every day.  Our Russian tutor spent nine hours at our house, dredging up our lost Russian skills from the dusty corners of our brains.  I cooked dinner each night.  And my naps have shortened from two-hour marathons to a much more reasonable forty-five minutes.

We are back to fully functioning life and it is beautiful.

The older I get, the more I love a schedule.  It's soothing to my soul to know when I'm going to get up, when I'm going to eat my meals, go to bed, and what will happen in between.  I can slot all the event in my life into the schedule and know that all the important things (like my nap) are getting done.

And so the last four or five months have been a little hard on my psyche.  Actually, it's been hard ever since I got pregnant.  I'm no longer the young, energetic mother that I was a decade or more ago, and this last pregnancy wore me out.  Instead of getting things done and feeling awesome, all I wanted to do was sleep, rest, and then sleep some more.  So the last ten months have been in survival mode.

It's been hard to get any sort of schedule set up for those last ten months.  After we finished school, the whole summer was spent preparing for our departure for the States.  After getting to the US, we had a semi-schedule established that quickly got demolished as soon as Elizabeth showed up, and we've been running ever since.

But now we are back in Tashkent, I'm not pregnant, and I've been sleeping all night for almost a month.  It's amazing.  I love checking off a long list at the end of the day and high-fiving myself for being so awesome and getting all those things done that have been bothering me for the last ten months.  Even more, I love not feeling destroyed after that day of doing useful things.

Brandon is especially happy that we're not going anywhere until July.  And even more than that, we're both happy that we aren't moving for another year and a half.  I realized recently that 2020 is the very first year since we each moved away from home at eighteen (so two decades for me) that we haven't moved, just moved, gotten ready to move, had a baby, or been pregnant.  I guess I can hardly complain about having a boring life.

I'm sure by the time late summer rolls around and we're ready to get out of the country, I'll be happy to have a break in our schedule and have some variety.  But for now, I'm just glad to back in the groove without any interruptions in sight.

In Defense of Ritalin

My family has a history of ADD.  Brandon's family does too, so it isn't surprising that two of our children suffer from it also.  When I was a child, ADD was a made-up diagnosis, something that was used as an excuse for children whose parents didn't teach them how to sit still and be quiet.  I didn't really believe that it was an actual mental difficulty.

Now, of course, I know differently.  Life - and especially parenthood - has a way of taking childish notions and proving them entirely wrong.  We started the older child on Ritalin while living with my parents during an OB medevac.  This child was not hyperactive at all and wasn't one one would think of the 'classic' ADD case.  My parents were a little skeptical that this child needed medication - after all they weren't disruptive and were capable of doing their school work.  But after the first day of watching this child on Ritalin, both were amazed at the difference.

Recently we started our second ADD child on Ritalin.  We waited to start the first one, a girl, until third grade.  But with this child, a boy, it became apparent that third grade was going to be waiting too long and so we started him earlier.

The day he started it was immediately apparent when the Ritalin kicked in.  Writing a sentence that took half an hour the day before took five minutes.  His balkiness when working with his sister disappeared.  Even his handwriting improved.  He usually made it through the school day with a liberal sprinkling of breaks but when I asked him if he wanted a break that day, he cheerly replied, "Nope! I just want to go ahead and get my school work done!" And he did.

These days I feel like that general approval of Ritalin was waned.  There are accusations of doctors handing it out like candy, and lots of hand-writing statistics about how many children use the medication.  Impassioned articles beg parents to decline brain-altering medications in favor of moving at a pace that the child can handle, usually with lots of breaks.

There are also lots of theories as to why the diagnoses of ADD have soared over the last few decades, from nutrition to old age to increased school demands.  I imagine that eventually that puzzle will be worked out, but the hows and whys don't really matter when you have a child that is struggling with a real problem.

And after watching my two ADD children, I know that it is a real problem.  Having seven children has allowed me to observe a lot of childhood behavior and sort out what is normal age-appropriate behavior and what is not.  After we had one ADD child, it made it even easier to spot the second one pretty young.  They weren't simply inattentive or lazy, they were different.  It wasn't just an issue of not having a desire to do their work or remembering to concentrate, it was a fundamental inability to do it when things got too hard.

And so I did the responsible thing - I got help for my children.  And help in this case was medication.  It certainly wasn't only medication, but medication was a crucial part of that help.

I imagine that if I only had one child, perhaps we could have forgone medication.  Perhaps.  My day would have been taken up by timers, reminders, and watching my child like a hawk.  And over time, they would have slowly, painfully developed that ability to manage those systems by themselves.  But it would have been a lot of work and probably been bad for our relationship.  One can only remind someone to do something nicely so many times before the gentle reminders turn into stern requests and eventually irritated demands.  Nobody likes to be bothered like that, and I know that I am driven crazy when I do the bothering.

I have a friend who was not diagnosed with ADD until adulthood.  When I mentioned that we had put one of our children on Ritalin, this friend thanked me for recognizing that this child needed help and then helping her with medication.  My friend said that they had spent most of their school years wondering why they were never able to manage things like everyone else seemed to be able to.  They felt like they must just be stupid or incompetent and went through episodes of depression because of it.  When the diagnosis - and subsequent medication - finally happened, this friend's life became functional in a way it had never been.  They were so happy to hear that our child wasn't going to have to go through the same struggles.

There are times for medication and there are times for other methods.  And often those things need to be used together - it doesn't have to be an either-or proposition.  My ADD children's days begin with medication, but it certainly doesn't mean that I get to check out and stop parenting.  Instead, it just means that I get to parent them more like my other children.  We still use timers and lists and check-ins, but they not longer are accompanied by increasing frustration and anger on both sides.  They get more autonomy and choices in how they get their work done instead of having rigid schedules to keep everything functioning properly.  There are definitely still times when both get seriously distracted, but it's not every ten minutes like in the pre-medication days.

I'm grateful for the tools that I have to help my children, and grateful that one of those tools I have is medication.  I'm glad that my ADD children don't have to try and brute-force their way through a problem that is not of their own making.  I'm happy that we can have a good relationship because we're both not driving each other crazy.  And I'm thankful for a supportive pediatrician that has helped us get our children the medication they need.

Now it's time for my public service announcement: If you or someone you love is struggling with ADD or ADHD, don't dismiss medication as a viable tool to help with that struggle.  Medication isn't the only thing that will help, but it's definitely something to consider.  We all need help, and sometimes that help comes in the form of a little white pill. 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Seven Children: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Some days I have a hard time believing that I have seven children.  Seven children sounds like a lot of children.  It's a number that is reserved for crazy people or families that sing together while climbing the Austrian alps.  Nobody thinks seven children is anything but a circus.

Usually when the phrase 'seven children' comes up in conversation, people inevitably ask me how I handle taking care of so many people.  I generally shrug and admit that paying a housekeeper is an essential part of making life work.  I've got a system and adding one more doesn't make that much of a difference.

I can't say that I'm any more stressed than I was when I had three children, and in some ways I'm a lot less stressed than I was a decade ago.  But there are definitely some things that just get worse the more children you have.  

So, for those of you out there who are considering having a large family (or just like reading about having a large family), here's my take on what is hard and what isn't hard about joining the all-star ranks of big families.  

I've found that the stress of actual childcare hasn't really gotten much worse as we've pushed past four children.  As we've added more small children, the formerly small children have gotten older.  Older children are a lot easier to take care of than smaller children, and when they get even older they can help take care of the smaller children in truly helpful ways.  

My household tasks have actually gotten less as I've gotten more children.  I used to tidy up the house every morning (it started out as a self-defense mechanism to keep the housekeeper from hiding my stuff from me), which would take at least half an hour.  My house is still tidied every morning, but I'm only responsible for my own room as the children are each assigned part of the house.  I only fold my and Brandon's laundry, and the same goes with packing suitcases.  I haven't bathed children in years.  When I am taking all the children somewhere, I usually get to the car and find everyone dressed, buckled in, and waiting for me.  After Sunday lunch, Brandon and I go and take a nap while the children clean the kitchen.  I'm much more managerial than hands-on these days.

Homeschooling hasn't gotten much harder, as Kathleen and Sophia are almost entirely self-directed in their schooling (aided by a couple of online classes each) and Kathleen helps out with Joseph's school.  My teaching time is taken up by the children in elementary school, which is only every three children at a time.  And three children isn't that bad, especially when you're on the fifth time teaching some subjects.

Sleeping arrangements aren't tight either, even though our house only has four bedrooms (despite the house being 6,000 square feet).  All three boys share a bedroom, and there is one bedroom for the big girls and another for the young ones.  Even when we were on medevac and the bedrooms were fairly small, it wasn't difficult to fit everyone in.  In a pinch we could fit in three bedrooms, although the big girls would protest most loudly.

However, there definitely are some things that are harder with more children.

One of the more obnoxious things is the fighting.  Each child has six other children to fight with (okay, potential fights since Elizabeth isn't stealing clothes yet) which means that there are forty-two potential one-on-one fights and even more if there are three or four involved in the fight.  We certainly don't have non-stop fighting, but there are probably at least two or three major fights and ten or more minor squabbles a day.  Fighting is a normal part of sibling relationships, but I do really get tired of breaking them up.

With the fighting comes the noise.  Brandon and I heartily sympathize with the Grinch as he complains about the noise noise noise noise noise noise.  There isn't a day that goes past without someone screaming bloody murder about something.  When the children met the neighbor kids, one of the commented, "Oh you live in that house?  That house is loud." Six children trying to talk over each other at dinner can sometimes drive one crazy.  Even worse than six children talking is four children talking, one child crying, and another child making continual noises.  I'm pretty sure the only time our entire house is quiet is when we are all sleeping.  And only mostly quiet because Joseph talks in his sleep a lot.

I've also found that more children equals more messes and more broken things.  This is compounded by homeschooling, as the children are home all day to make messes and break things.  Our house can go from spotless to trashed in under an hour.  All it takes for everyone to drop five things on the floor to have forty-five pencils, shoes, jackets, toys, books, candy wrappers, and LEGOs clutter the floor.  We clean up the house every morning, my housekeeper cleans it up throughout the day, and most evenings the house still looks destroyed.  It's almost like magic.  But not the good kind.

And, of course, there is the expense.  The last time we saw a movie in the US was for Kathleen's ninth birthday, and that was $95 for a matinee showing.  Going to the eye doctor is fun when six family members wear glasses - and the three that don't are five and under.  I sat down a few months ago and added up how much we could potentially spend on college and felt sick for days.  

But all of these calculations become insignificant when I stop to look at my children and think how each one has filled my life in their own special way.  In this area of the world, parents who have many children are called 'rich mothers' and 'rich fathers.'  When all is peaceful and I get to sit and watch and enjoy my children, I do indeed feel rich.  Being rich in other things matters not at all when I consider all that I have in my children.  There are days that are long, noisy, dirty, and difficult.  But those days are, in the end, short and will be over relatively quickly.  But I will always have the joy of being the mother of my children.  All seven of them. 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Christmas 2019

This year Christmas was cut a little short.  Brandon is still bitter about that, as Christmas is his favorite season of the year (did you know that there are actually five?).  Usually Christmas starts the Saturday after Thanksgiving when we spend the day decorating the house, listening to Christmas music, and finishing the evening watching White Christmas while drinking peppermint hot chocolate. 

However, this year we were an ocean and several continents away from our house and decorations, so it didn't happen the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Instead we decorated the house the next Saturday, less than thirty-six hours after we stumbled off a plane in Tashkent.  It was less cheerful than our usual tree decorating (and with vomit), but it did get done. 

We did manage to get in most of our traditional Christmas activities in three weeks instead of our usual four, even if it never quite felt as fully Christmas-y as it does in other, less jetlag- and newborn-filled years.

A week after decorating the house for Christmas, we had our fifth caroling party.  When I suggested skipping the party this year - jet lag and a newborn are a good excuse - Brandon insisted that we couldn't break tradition and the party would be happening.  And in comparison to traveling almost halfway across the world with seven children six weeks after popping a baby out, hosting a caroling party really wasn't that difficult. 

In addition to caroling, we also made snowflakes, watched Christmas movies, decorated a gingerbread house, made wrapping paper, and had friends over for Christmas Eve.  I love having traditions, and Christmas traditions are really fun ones. 

Christmas itself was wonderful.  Elizabeth let us sleep in until 7:30, so that was her present to us.  We had our usual croissant cinnamon rolls, opened stockings and presents, listened to Christmas music, read books, watched a movie, and enjoyed spending the day together. 

We don't buy many presents for the children (instead of dollar signs I see pounds whenever we buy more things), so the day was less about stuff and more about spending time together.  As we watched the children and their friends perform the Nativity on Christmas Eve, I thought about how the birth of that baby made - and makes - days together as a family possible.  Because of His birth, I know that we all will live again and be together after we pass from this life.  But also His birth enabled us to know what things are most important and how to hold those things close. 

I've had difficulty reconciling the more secular aspects of Christmas with the sacred ones.  But over the years, I've come to think that perhaps Christ would want us to have the pleasure of friends and family and fun times together in celebration of his birth.  That all of the trappings - snowflakes, gingerbread houses, presents, silly songs - bring us happiness in simple little ways.  Instead of feeling guilty for doing things that aren't directly worshipping our Savior, I'm grateful that he came to earth so that we could enjoy these secular things along with the sacred.  I'm grateful for the family to enjoy them with, and all of the other blessings - health, peace, prosperity - that make the smaller things possible. 

This coming week we'll put all the Christmas things away and life will return to its usual routine.  January is always a bit of a sad, bleak month to me.  Christmas has gone and spring is very far away, with winter just getting settled in.  But there will always be next Christmas and all of the good things and times in between.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

So We Had a Baby

I have had a blog post about Elizabeth waiting to be published for the last six weeks, but it's been so busy I never got around to actually posting it.  Since the post is now - according State Department terms - OBE (overtaken by events), I'll sum it up.  Elizabeth was born.  Everything went well. 

I was scheduled for my usual induction, but when I went in for a check-up the afternoon before, Elizabeth's heart rate was a little worrisome.  Not wanting to leave things to chance, the doctor decided to go ahead and send me straight over to the hospital and keep her monitored there.

When I got there (after getting my parents to pick up the children and picking up Brandon myself), everything appeared to be fine and so the induction was started that evening.  The labor progressed pretty rapidly and Elizabeth showed up at 2:08 AM after over an hour of pushing.  Both of us were healthy, so we got to enjoy a few days in the hospital before being sent home to fend for ourselves.

The next six weeks went by quickly as Brandon and I made our way through the paperwork checklist.  I picked up the birth certificate a week after Elizabeth was born, and we headed up to DC the next Monday to apply for her passport.  It was done the next day and had her Uzbek visa in it the next week.  Elizabeth wins the family record for the earliest passport, with hers being completed by her twelfth day.

After the passport and visa, Elizabeth and I both got medically cleared, Elizabeth got added to Brandon's orders, and we had her plane ticket a full week before we were planning on traveling back to Uzbekistan.  Brandon and I kept looking at each other the entire time, wondering when the unexpected disaster would strike.  But no disaster struck, and we all flew back to Tashkent together on December fifth, arriving the night of the sixth with all our luggage.  The carseat that we forgot to pick up at the baggage carousel in Frankfurt even showed up. 

Before heading back, we were able to fit in Joseph's baptism and Eleanor's baby blessing the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Brandon's parents and sister Brooke made the trek out from Missouri, my sister and her family came up from Jacksonville, my aunts came down from DC, and my brother and his family came down from Delaware.  It was a wonderful family weekend.  As I watched all of the priesthood holders gather round to bless Eleanor and confirm Joseph, I was thankful for the wonderful men in my family who do such a wonderful job of serving God and taking care of their families. 

The next weekend my brother and his family and my sister and her family gathered for Thanksgiving at my parents' house.  It was a boisterous and rowdy weekend, with lots of delicious food.  All dozen of my parents' grandchildren were gathered, ranging from one month to thirteen years old.  Weekends like that remind me of all that I miss while living overseas. 

Our three months in North Carolina were actually quite enjoyable, and in the end I'm glad that we didn't go to London.  I enjoyed the time we had with family and friends - and also being able to drive everywhere and have a house with a yard instead of a tiny London flat.  I had such a great time that I was afraid that going home would be a disappointment after all the fun we'd been having.

But as soon as we walked in the door, I was so glad to be home, even if home is currently in Central Asia.  It's great to be settling back into our routine and enjoying Christmas in our own home surrounded by our 'family' here in Tashkent.  And most of all, I'm grateful that we're all together as a family.  All nine of us. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Three Days to Go

Brandon arrived safely, with all his luggage, and only an hour late Thursday night (which is a sight better than the two and a half days he was late last time).  This means that the baby can now, theoretically, come whenever she likes.  In reality, however, she'll be arriving on Thursday when I have my induction scheduled.  So I have three more days of being pregnant ever.

It's strange to reach the end of this part of my life, as I've been pregnant on and off for almost fourteen years now.  As soon as I birthed one baby, it was time to start thinking about the next one.  The relief of finally being able to sleep on my stomach again, tie my shoes easily, and hold children on my lap was always shadowed by the knowledge that I would be seeing this state again in the not-too-distant future. 

But today I peeled off my dress after coming home from church and threw it in the dirty clothes, figuring that I'd probably better wash it before sending it on to someone else who would need it.  It was my last Sunday holding a wigging two year-old around a the watermelon that takes up most of my lap.  Each time I get up at night to use the bathroom or flip over again because one side has grown too uncomfortable to sleep on, I happily remember that I haven't got much time left. 

I can't complain about my pregnancies - after all, they've been easy enough that I've been able to have seven.  I'm grateful that I've been able to have as many as I've wanted, especially knowing all my friends and family that have felt the ache of not being able to have the family they'd always imagined having.  I'm happy that I will always have so many children to love, teach, and nurture.  I sometimes imagine what my life would be life without my children, and I'm glad to be where I am and not in that theoretical other place (even if it is quieter, neater, and a lot more self-indulgent).

It's so strange to be looking at the ending of such a significant part of my life.  The only other clear endings in my life - high school and college graduation - were followed by such exciting beginnings - college and marriage - that I hardly noticed the endings at all in the excitement of the beginnings. 

But this ending isn't followed by any new and exciting beginnings.  It's just an end.  I've been looking to being a mother ever since I understood what mothers were and that I would be one too.  So it's strange to have this phase - the part where I bring all the babies into this world - be done with.  Now I just have to raise those babies into reasonable adults (which is definitely the harder part of the deal).

I've discovered that it's one thing to know intellectually that all mothers have to stop having babies eventually, and another thing to actually have that stopping point happen in my own life.  Of course nobody has babies into perpetuity - biology takes care of that - but it seems that a little part of me didn't include myself in the general population that that generality covered.  But it turns out I'm just as much of everybody as everyone else.

I can't say that I'm exactly mourning this end.  I've had many more pregnancies than most of my peer group have had, and so my experience with pregnancy is pretty extensive.  I didn't care for being pregnant the first time and I didn't care for being pregnant the last time.  It's nine months of unpleasant discomfort where you don't feel like yourself and you just get fatter and fatter.  As Brandon has commented many times, if men were having the babies, they'd only ever do it once. 

So it isn't sorrow I feel when thinking about the end of this part of my life, it's something else.  Maybe thoughtfulness.  Maybe solemnity.  I'm not sure.  Maybe just being observant of the end of one part of my life.  Endings always bring significance.  Even if they're good endings.  Or natural endings.  They're still endings.  When we reach the end of something, we change.  We go on to a new place and never return to where we were before. 

So, three more days of carrying a new life around with me, feeling her wriggle and hiccup and move restlessly.  Three more days of waddling around the house with a watermelon in my abdomen.  Three more days of being a tool of creation, making a body for one of God's children.  Three more days of uncomfortably trying to get sleep in between bathroom trips.

And then, on to the next part of my life.  I will always talk of pregnancy in the past tense, never the future or present.  I will count my children and always come up with the same number, one that never changes again.  Our family pictures will only have taller children, but never any more children.  And I will have ended this part of my life.  It will be time to move to the next one.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Wait is Almost Over

This week Brandon will board a plane in Tashkent.  That plane will fly to Korea, where he will wait nine hours before boarding a plane to Toronto.  Thirteen hours later, after nearly flying over the North Pole, Brandon will be on the same continent as we are.  After that, it's only a short hop down to Raleigh, where I will be eagerly awaiting him at the airport (the children will be asleep.  Thank heaven for children old enough to watch themselves).

I can't say that our five and a half weeks apart has been terrible.  Surprisingly, I've been able to homeschool, grocery shop, keep the house clean, and mother the children entirely on my own without completely losing it.  I've always been secretly afraid that if I were ever dropped off in the States without the aid of household help, I wouldn't be able to actually adult successfully.  After all, it's been a full decade since I cleaned my own toilet. 

I've been somewhat shocked to discover that I am a Real Girl after all and can do all those things that my brave America-living counterparts do as a routine part of your lives with nary a housekeeper in sight.  And not only have I done those things, I've done them while being very pregnant and a single mother.  It's cheering when you discover that you have more abilities than you credited yourself for.

I can't say that I've done things up to the highest standard, however.  Our weekly menu has a dedicated breakfast-for-dinner night in addition to frozen-food night.  And there might have been a few busy nights where cold cereal counted as a meal (of course, this won me highest acclaim in the under-thirty-seven population of our household). 

Story time has been hit or miss, depending on how tired I've felt.  One night Eleanor asked me to tell her a story - Brandon is the storyteller in our family and makes up wonderful stories about Eleanor, Space Donkey, and their extra-planetary adventurers.  When I came up with the shortest story I could think of, she folded her arms and pouted, "Mom, you tell terrible stories."  It had been a long day, so I shot back, "Well, I'm all out of talking.  If I had children that listened to me the first time I asked them to do something, instead of making me asking them ten times, maybe I would have some words left to use for stories.  But I don't and I spend all day telling everyone to do things over and over and over again, so my stories are indeed terrible."

I'm somewhat surprised that the neighbors have not called CPS on me yet, as most days William can be spotted wandering around the yard in just his underwear.  Joseph has taken to climbing trees and yelling at the neighbors across the street as they play with their children in the yard, calling out our life story to anyone who would care to listen.  I'm constantly leaving most of them home alone while I take one child or another to one more doctor's appointment.  And, of course, someone always starts screaming at some point every single day during afternoon outside play time. 

So yes, nobody has died.  But we also haven't devolved into total chaos while living in our own filth (an my toilet has been cleaned almost every week), so I count my single-parenting time here as an overall win.

But it will be very nice have two parents to mind the food and conversation (and maybe even start reading scriptures again) at the breakfast table Friday morning, and two voices to encourage the children to stop fighting, and two sets of hands to make and clean up dinner.  My hat is off to those of you who do this full-time or on a regular basis.  Life is much easier with two adults running the monkey circus.

But even more than having another set of hands around, I'm just looking forward to being together with Brandon again.  We try and talk several times a day, but a phone call is no replacement for having your husband there.  I've realized (again), that I just don't do well alone.  I may have six children surrounding me, but I'm still alone when I need real conversation that isn't punctuated by repeated commands to eat something or clean something or leave someone alone.  Thankfully, time with friends and family has kept me from completely losing it (and how grateful I am to have friends and family who will keep me sane), but I'm so glad that my best friend will be showing up this week.  I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

When the Weather is Warm

This past Saturday, the children and I went to the beach.  North Carolina hasn't gotten the memo yet that it's past vernal equinox and so that means that it's time for fall.  I know intellectually that Halloween is a month away, but viscerally it doesn't feel like fall is actually something that will be happening ever.

The beach is a hallowed tradition in my family, so I couldn't come to North Carolina and not go to the beach.  It's like coming here and not getting barbecue.  Theses are just Not Done.  I had planned on spending our first Saturday at the beach, but jet lag and a sick toddler decreed otherwise.  I was afraid late September would be too chilly, but the weather graciously extended us another chance.

My sister and her four children live half an hour away from our favorite beach, Topsail Island, so they met us for a day of beach fun.  After all, if the beach is awesome, the beach with your favorite cousins is even better.

Everyone had a great time doing what you always do at the beach: swimming in the waves, digging big holes, catching mole crabs, and watching tiny clams try to dig their way into the sand.  The beach seems to never lose its attraction.

The weather and water were even so agreeable that I went swimming too.  William, who has never swum in the ocean before, thought that it was great fun bobbing up and down on the swells.  He wasn't that sure about the crashing waves part, but that's understandable when you're about three feet tall. 

By the end of the day, we all realized that we should have reapplied our sunscreen (and also applied the first coat a little more carefully) and admired each other's fierce sunburns.  But that too is also the tradition of the beach.  If I get skin cancer, I'll name it after Topsail Island. 

We were all sad to bid the beach goodbye after only one day of fun.  Thankfully next year we will be able to attend our family beach week after two years straight of missing it.  There really isn't a better family vacation than going to the beach (those of you who disagree with me are welcome to your completely wrong opinion).  I'm already counting down the months.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Enjoying the Delights of America

It's funny how quickly it takes to get settled.  I think that I probably have a quicker rate than average, a skill gained by hard experience.  We've been here for two weeks now, and life is right back to its usual routine.  Everyone had a full week of school, I got up at five to exercise every morning, and I've even cooked dinner three nights in a row.  And it wasn't even pancakes; it was real dinner from a new recipe.

The children and I have also been enjoying all the good things America has to offer.  This week we made our first trip to the library.  When we walked into an entire building filled with books, Eleanor looked up at me and asked in disbelief, "You mean we can just take whatever books we want?!?"  Everyone walked out half an hour later with their own pile of brand new reading material.  And when I told them they could come back next week for more books, Joseph thought he had died and gone to heaven.

When we arrived, North Carolina hadn't gotten the memo that September is supposed to be a cooler month, but the weather dipped down into the seventies for a few days this week and I took the kids to the park.  It's wonderful to be in a city with seemingly endless parks.  There's nothing better than enjoying a sunny afternoon while the children play.

One afternoon this week, the children tumbled into the house excitedly, "Mom, we met some kids from church!  They want us to come and play in the creek with them!!"  An hour later they came back sweaty, muddy, and full of stories from their new friends.  Playing in the woods with friends that speak your own language is pretty amazing.

My sister brought her children into town for the weekend.  I finally took everyone home for bed Friday night past 10:30, having completely lost track of time while catching up, laughing, and telling stories.  We hung out almost all day Saturday and the boys found my dad's stash of water guns while the girls tried on old wedding dresses.  It's so easy to get together when you're only two hours instead of two days away.

Wednesday evening was activity night at church.  Kathleen played soccer at her Young Women activity, Sophia made a bracelet at her Activity Days activity, and Edwin learned marble games at Cub Scouts.  And me? I read a book.  At church today I got to sing hymns that I didn't play, listen to a lesson I didn't prepare, and drop the children off at classes I didn't teach.  Attending a full-sized ward with fully-staffed classes and programs is a lot easier than running half the church yourself.

For dinner we have had meals that included mangoes, avocados, sweet potatoes, flour tortillas, pineapple, ravioli, corn dogs, bacon, chicken pot pies, colby jack cheese, and corn tortillas that I didn't have to make myself.  I tend to cook the same twenty meals, and have been cooking them for a decade, so it's been a nice break to have new cooking options.  So many recipes have ingredients that I just can't get in Uzbekistan, and I'm really enjoying having access to the those recipes, if only for a little while.

One morning this week I was stretching after my morning waddle walk, I noticed that there was warm air coming out of the floor vent.  I was confused for a moment, trying to figure out when I had switched the boiler on and worried that the weather would get too warm for heat later on in the day.  Then I remembered that we had a thermostat that automatically decided whether we needed warm or cool air to come out of the vents.

After starting school, I realized that several school books were missing.  I ordered them on Amazon and then was shocked when they showed up the next day.  Since then I've ordered knitting supplies, kitchen utensils, paddock boots, clothing, and more books.  Nothing has taken more than four or five days.  It almost seems wrong to have such instant gratification.

I signed up the children for horseback riding lessons at the stable I rode at twenty years ago.  Their first lesson was a week ago, and afterwards I asked them how it went.  "It was great," Sophia told me, "I understand every single thing my teacher told me!" Having instruction in your non-native language may be good for practicing that language, but adds another layer of difficulty to learning that new skill.

Usually when we come to the States, it's for vacation.  We get to enjoy the flashier parts of America - tasty restaurants, family reunions, Target - but the smaller pleasures are missed.  Living in a place without things like potable tap water and signs in English increases my appreciation for those things when I do have them.  I try not to think too hard about the years and years I have left of being a stranger in a strange land.  As nice as libraries and friends are, it's also nice to have a husband with a job that pays our bills and lets us save for the future.  But I do look forward to one day being in a place where I don't have to count time zones before calling my bank or take three plane rides to see my family.  That day is a long, long time away, but I know it will come eventually.  But for now, I'll enjoy what I can.