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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Saturday: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Saturday morning started with The Bad.  It started with The Bad at 5 am.  Normally when my alarm begins its aggravating beeping at that time, I groggily turn over and hit Brandon who stumbles out of bed to turn it off.  About five minutes later (or maybe ten) I get out of bed, pull on my exercise clothes, and stumble upstairs.  I don't particularly enjoy 5 am, but it's a part of my life that I've committed to so I do it.

But when my alarm rings at 5 am on a Saturday after I've made extra-special sure to turn it off Friday afternoon, I am angry and annoyed and irritated and grouchy and vocally so and might try and smash the alarm against the wall.  So Saturday morning, the only morning of the whole week when I get to sleep in as long as I want (well, as long as the children will let me which is usually the same thing these days), started at 5 am.

After only managing to fit in a short nap, Brandon and I finally gave up the ghost around eight and crawled out of bed to feed our starving children.  Hooray for Saturday!

Since we were going out that evening, we decided to take the children to the park.  Everyone had a hasty breakfast of cereal and scrambled eggs before being washed, dressed, bathroomed, shoed, and sent to the car.  Which is parked across the neighborhood since the road in front of our neighborhood is finally being paved.

On our way out the door, I noticed Brandon's phone dancing across our entry table while flashing.  I picked it up just as the call ended and looked at the name: Brandon's boss.  The phone alerted me to two other missed calls: his boss and the DCM.

My stomach dropped.  There must be something going on.  We had received a security message from the embassy yesterday informing us of protests planned for Saturday.  The last few protests hadn't caused much disturbance, but these ones must be larger.  I saw our lovely morning to the park cancelled, Brandon rushing off to work and me left home with the kids.  Couldn't they have at least waited until after we came home?

I called Brandon down and handed him the phone.  The DCM picked up after a few rings.  "I noticed I missed a call from you.  What can I help you with?  What?  Oh!  Well thanks!  That's great news!  And him too?  I'll make sure to congratulate him.  Thanks again for calling!"

He turned to me.  "It looks like I just got promoted!"  We looked at each other in pleased surprise.  He was tenured a few weeks ago, so he hadn't been looking to be promoted - he hadn't even told me that he was up for one.

Relieved and excited, we finished buckling the children into the car and headed down to the park.  The weather was gorgeous, everyone was pleasant, and we even made a new friend.  After playing enough for everyone to be happy to leave we came home and put half of the family down for naps.

That evening, the new ambassador was hosting an open house for the mission members, so we happily left the children eating dinner with the babysitter and went out on a date.  We planned to stop by the open house and then go out to dinner.  We showed up at the tail end and were able to say hello to everyone and offer and receive congratulations around.  One of my favorite aspects of living overseas with State is the wonderful communities at post.  Cairo was such a large community that we never felt very involved, but we've had a wonderful time getting to know many friends here.

After leaving we decided to try out a Georgian restaurant recommended by a friend and headed downtown.  The GPS informed us that we needed to turn around, so we pulled down a road and into a wide dead-end alleyway.  Checking the road for cars, Brandon put ours into reverse and started backing up.  Out of nowhere, a car started honking quickly followed by a sickening crunch.

My heart went cold.  I knew that sound.  When I was sixteen I caused two car accidents, one minor and one a major four-car pileup, within six weeks of each other and I will never ever forget the sound of car body panels crumpling.  I will never hear that sound without starting to tremble.  I will never think of that sound without feeling sick.  I will never forget how your car suddenly stops, interrupted in its progress by something that wasn't supposed to be there.

Brandon pulled the car forward and looked behind us.  When there had been a wall ten seconds before, there was a silver Jetta with two very angry Azeri ladies in it.

Drivers in Baku commit a wide variety of breathtakingly stupid driving maneuvers.  Impatient of waiting in line at a light, they will skip ahead by driving in the opposite lane of traffic and then pull back in when the light is green.  I have been waiting to turn left and watched drivers pull the previous move, pulling around me and then turn right in front of all of the other lanes of traffic while the light is red.  Busses routinely pull around me in the left lane to get ahead - just so they can stop fifty feet later and pick up passengers.

Ironically, they never run red lights.  Ever.  The lights here flash green, turn yellow, and finally turn red.  Everyone always stops when the lights flash green.

The root of all of the driving insanity is impatience.  Nobody can stand just waiting if ten seconds of reckless driving will get them to their destination thirty seconds faster.

Knowing this, Brandon should have looked behind him the entire time he was backing up.  Then he would have seen the silver car pull in behind him, impatient of waiting for him to finish backing up.  But he forgot that we live in Baku and an empty road doesn't stay empty while you're blinking your eyes and so ended backing into someone else.  Interestingly all three of the accidents we've been in so far have involved backing up.  Hmm.

Thankfully we don't live in Cairo anymore and so the gathered crowd didn't break out belts or start shouting at Brandon.  Everyone stood around and chatted and tried to mediate between Brandon and the ladies while the ladies took turns telling Brandon that he was careless, reckless, should have looked,  and didn't he see them signal?  Brandon likes to boast that one of his virtues is admitting his own faults, and he very calmly agreed that he should have looked.

Meanwhile I called mobile patrol and Brandon stalled when the inevitable question of payment came up.  With the invaluable help of mobile patrol everyone was able to come to an agreeable cash settlement (which thankfully Brandon had enough for in his wallet) and we went on our way.

We thought about calling it a night and going home, but then remembered that the children would still be awake when we got there so decided to keep our dinner plans.  We were able to find the restaurant and had a nice dinner that might have involved abusing local drivers and made it home without any further incident.

Exhausted after such an early start and so much excitement, we went to bed early.  Hopefully next Saturday will be a little quieter.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Homeschooling: Maintaining the Parent/Teacher and Child/Student Relationship

The other day I was chatting with friends about financially useless college degrees.  When I mentioned my own - painting - in the same breath as Brandon's very large life insurance policy, a friend looked at me surprised.  'I thought that you majored in education or something like that!  It seemed a natural fit since you are homeschooling Kathleen.'

I had a fit of giggles as I imagined myself majoring in something that involved... well... so many children and so much... well... teaching.  On the bottom ten list of favorite things that my college-aged self enjoyed those two things, children and teaching, probably would have been nine and ten.  Or maybe eleven.

Thankfully, we all have plenty of opportunity in our lives to change and learn and grow up.  And keep growing up.

Previous to my plunge into insanity I was excited about the opportunity it would give me to teach my children to love learning.  They would be freed from the classroom and social structure that tied them to the pace and interest level of the majority of the students.  I would be able to teach them of things in an interesting way that would spark their imagination and open new worlds to them.  They wouldn't see school as an endless set of hurdles merely to be gotten over.

What I didn't imagine was the actual mechanics involved: me as a teacher and my child as the student.

Any parent's relationship with their child is a complicated thing.  So many experiences and mistakes go into it that I don't think anyone involved in the relationship could even clearly describe it.  It's messy.  It's wonderful.  It's aggravating.  It is one of the best parts of your life.  It is one of the worst parts of your life.  You are so worried about messing them up.  You so want to mess them up.  You can be ready to throttle them and then five minutes later be cuddling together reading a story.

And now imagine trying to combine that with a teacher/child relationship.

Here's a fact I've learned about children: they like learning until they don't like it.  Kathleen will read any nonfiction book about horses she can get her hands on, but when I make her play the piano with a metronome (horror! torture!) she sits on the piano wracked with sobs so painful one would think I've been beating her.  Sophia loves to draw.  But writing?  Let her make L the way she wants (sloppy, imprecise but with amazing gusto) and she'll do them all day.  But make her start at the top left-hand corner and trace the dotted lines (torture! horror!) and she screams like she's been belted.

I wonder if regular teachers have to deal with this.  Surely not.  Maybe they do?  I don't remember very clearly any more.

And then of course there's back-talking and the endless, endless arguing that crops up every time someone is being made to do something they don't want to.  Imagine the trouble you get when you ask your child to clean their room.  And then imagine it with math.  If it's too much fuss to get the child to clean their room, there really aren't that many consequences - sure the room's a disaster but it will get cleaned up eventually even if you're the one to do it (we all do it).  But math?  If the kid doesn't do their math, next thing you know that Harvard dream is down the tubes.  A lot is at stake.

Ninety percent of the time school goes very smoothly.  Kathleen knows the schedule, she knows the inevitability of school, and after she is torn away from arranging another block paddock for her horses, she really enjoys most of it.  Do you remember the first time you learned about how mummies were made?  It's really cool.  And did you know that elephant's skulls are hollow like bird bones?  There really are a lot of amazing things to learn.

But then there's the other ten percent.  Yesterday had the week's ten percent crammed into two back-to-back episodes with Kathleen and Sophia.  Sophia was wanting to write letters in her own, defiant, incorrect style.  Kathleen refused to believe me when I told her she was playing her piano song incorrectly.  Both encounters involved tears and screaming and every single last ounce of my patience being squeezed out of my soul.

After I finally gave up on the piano - I'm not interested in having any world class musicians in the family anyway - I had had it.  I stood in the middle of the living room glaring at Kathleen on the piano bench and Sophia on the couch.  I extended my finger, pointing in turn to each mute child.

"This has gone far enough.  I am no longer going to put up with being talked back to, argued with, told I'm wrong, and ignored.  If you are going to learn from me, you need to treat me like a teacher!  You are not the teacher! I am!  You are the student!  I am the teacher! You are the student!  So when I ask you to do something, you do it!  When I tell you something is incorrect it's wrong!  If we're going to make homeschooling work, you have to listen to me!!!"

And then I threw in the ultimate threat, the one that makes the blood run cold in Kathleen's veins and causes her to beg for mercy, "Because if this doesn't work I'll have to send you to traditional school!!!"

Schoolwork resumed with much chastened pupils.  Sobs were smothered.  Lessons were attended to.  School finished pleasantly with a history chapter about Sargon of Akkadia.

This morning Sophia didn't fuss about where to start drawing her J's and Kathleen meekly turned on the metronome to practice.  Peace and harmony reigned in the school room.

I'll now take bets on how long it will last.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Brandon and I have a strict policy about pets.

I grew up in a household under the reign of my mother, who doesn't have much love for living things, other than her garden and people.  Maybe in that order, depending on the day.  Brandon grew up in a household where you fed things in order to eat them later. 

I always swore to my mother that when I was old enough I would get a dog.  It would be big.  It would be hairy.  And I would let it sleep in my bed.  That's fine, she would reply, it will be your problem, not mine.

Then I married Brandon and the first four years of our marriage were filled with vast unknowns, and I never got that dog.  Something tells me that even if I had, Brandon might have tried to eat it.

So instead of pets, we had children.  

After awhile, those children started asking about pets.  Those of you who don't live your lives according to baggage allowances and weight limits and six-week 'vacations' in the US may never have given a thought about traveling and moving with pets, but we have.  For about the first and only time ever, children are actually easier to move with than pets.  They don't have to get vaccines.  They don't have to be chipped (although maybe that might be a good idea...).  They don't have to be quarantined.  And State pays for their tickets.  

So we set out a firm policy for pets: the children could get a pet when they're eight.  And it couldn't be warm-blooded, as transporting reptiles, fish, and amphibians across international lines on international flights is difficult enough (maybe you can't even do it?) that the pet will just have to be passed on when we leave.  

After Sophia asked if crocodiles were warm-blooded, we added one more rule: they can't get any longer than two feet.

So we were pretty much home-free until the next post.  No pets this go around.

Right after our return from R&R, my housekeeper mentioned that the rabbit at her house had babies.  Being a closet animal lover, I squealed with delight.  Did I want some? she asked.  Yes! Of course I did!  I would love little bunnies to hold and pet and... I thought of Brandon, and dinner.  "Maybe," I told her, "I'll have to ask my husband."

I asked Brandon.  No.  I needed to tell Naila no, they were going to be too much trouble.  And what would it say if, after repeatedly outlining the rules - no warm-blooded animals, and not until you're eight - we got warm blooded animals when Kathleen was only six??  We are parents, and we need to stick to what we've said.  It sends a bad message otherwise.  So go tell Naila that we definitely do not want those bunnies.

Now I'm a good wife.  Well, I try to be.  Really hard.  Most of the time.  I swear.

But bunnies?  Little soft, cuddly, big-eared bunnies?  And they're not so hard to keep as pets - Naila just kept them in her backyard and fed them vegetable scraps and had a house for them in the winter.  See?  No cages to clean out, no shots.  And the girls would love bunnies.  It would be good for them to have something to take care of.

So maybe I didn't say anything when Naila mentioned that the bunnies were almost big enough to be brought over.  And when she asked if I wanted a girl and a boy, I might have said just two girls please and forgotten to tell her not to bring any at all.

But I didn't know exactly when she was planning on bringing the bunnies, and I really kept meaning to tell her not to bring them.  But when she showed up with two bunnies one morning, it was too late.  The bunnies were already there.  How's that for sticking by your guns?

Any thought of school was immediately abandoned and everyone headed outside to harass look at the bunnies.  Kathleen claimed the larger bunny and pronounced her "Pet," after Laura Ingall's pony.  It didn't matter Kathleen had already named her toy horse Pet.  The bunny was named Pet too.  Sophia decided hers would be named Beauty.  After awhile, she decided to name her bunny after Harriet, the cat I had growing up.

Throughout school and the rest of the day, the girls would go outside to check on their bunnies.  Were they eating?  Were they drinking?  Do you think they'd let us pick them up?

I emailed Brandon and confessed my sins.

His reply:  "Er…um…I thought we weren’t doing warm blooded animals?  What are we going to feed them? How are we going to keep them from getting eaten by cats?  Brandon"

When he came home that night, we went outside to observe the first of many parental backslidings.  They were gone.  Our yard isn't very big, and is more of a large patio with fir trees and a mudpit surrounding it, so I wasn't exactly shocked that they had decided to get out of there and look for greener pastures.  Or any pastures.

It's been a few weeks since the bunnies escaped and we see them every now and then, having continuously escaped the semi-feral cats roaming the neighborhood.  Some of the neighborhood children have even caught Pet and returned her to us, but she hopped back through the wrought-iron fence and back to her new home.  The girls are disappointed and talk about somehow luring the bunnies back to our yard, but I think we all know it's not going to happen.  

So I think that I've learned something about pets.  No pets until children are eight.  Nothing warm-blooded.  And get something that lives in a bowl.  Because it's not going to try and run.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Brandon Plays Diplomat

One day when Brandon came home from A-100, or Now You're Hired, What Next? he announced that he was officially a Diplomat.  I tried to look impressed, but instead I just laughed.  "You?? A diplomat?   But you're just going to go do visa interviews for two years.  Aren't diplomats supposed to do important things, like ride around in those cars with the little flags on them?"  No, he informed me, all Foreign Service Officers are diplomats.  That's why they get those special black passports.

Usually I don't call my husband a diplomat because it sounds pretentious.  Something you'd chat about over tea at the country club while your children took golf lessons from the resident pro.  Some diplomats probably have that lifestyle.  I don't.  I spend all day taking care of four small children and going grocery shopping.  Occasionally I'll dress up and meet with the other spouses for a coffee where I chat with the other moms about chasing children around all day long.  It's a pretty standard life, just lived overseas. 

And Brandon's job is pretty normal - pushing paperwork around.  He once described it to someone as a typical government bureaucrat job, just overseas with double the red tape - yours and the government you're working with.  He goes in, he does his work, he comes home (too late for the salary they're paying him) and helps me chase the aforementioned four children around.

It really is quite normal.  Sometimes I even forget I live in a foreign country.  Even when I'm driving.  

But a few weeks ago, Brandon had a week of being a Diplomat.  

Every now and then Congressmen (people? men and women?) travel overseas to visit countries that their work is involved with.  Their visit is known as a CODEL - congressional delegation - and they're, well, let's just say... a lot of work.  That's all I'm saying.

A few weeks ago, Brandon had his very first CODEL to play control officer for.  Congresspeople are very important visitors, and so they get to have very important meetings.  And since Brandon was the one and only control officer, he got to go along to all of the meetings.  It was all very busy.

So one day, Brandon started his morning off by picking up his Congressman at the hotel.  Then they picked up the ambassador at the embassy, and took a drive.  They drove out of Baku, past the airport, and to a very nice gate that led to - you've probably guessed it - the president's house.  Palace?  Compound?  Definitely a mansion.  There he got to take notes at the meeting and check out the three-story chandelier at the palace.  

When the girls asked what a three-story chandelier was (did it tell stories? three stories were told about it?), I explained that it was a chandelier as tall as our house.  "Wow!" they exclaimed with round, round eyes, "that is a big chandelier!"

Everyone chatted (about something Important of course), took pictures, shook hands, and did all of those things that Important people do.  Brandon tried to look inconspicuous.

Brandon on the left, President Aliyev in the middle, identities of
Congressman and staffer covered to protect me from backlash

After leaving the President's place, they went to Parliament.  Again, more Important conversations, more handshakes, maybe more pictures.  Following a very cordial meeting, the speaker Mr. Congressman had met with invited everyone to stay for lunch.  Brandon had planned on Schlotsky's (just opened this year!) for lunch, so the invitation was graciously accepted.

The next time Brandon is telling anecdotes, I want him to pull out, "so when I was enjoying my five-course lunch at Parliament with the speaker, the ambassador, and the chairman (evidently there are different degrees of congressmen)...."  I think just about anything after that would sound awesome.  It definitely sounds better than "so when I was cramming my PB&J sandwich down my throat while huddled in front of my computer...."

The lunch was followed by a media round table.  Definitely more pictures.  Maybe handshakes?  Probably TV cameras.  And of course Important Stuff.  It is, after all a CODEL.  Why else would they visit, if it weren't for important stuff?

And then he finished his day with dinner at the ambassador's house.  It's a pretty impressive day when you have not one, but two meals with an ambassador.

I don't know how the food was, but I bet the dinner conversation was more high-toned than the conversation he was missing at home.  "So mom, what if I chopped off my finger and put it in the soup?  What would happen if my eyeball was the size of a button? Did you know that Edwin just put his whole hand into the soup pot??"

When he crawled into bed late that night, exhausted from a day of Important Stuff, I asked how it felt to go and do all of that, you know, Important Stuff and get away from the sandwich-cramming and eyeball questions.

He groaned and turned to look at me.  "You know what?  I'd take PB&J and button-sized eyeball mysteries over five-course lunches any day of the week."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Down That Slippery Slope

A long, long time ago before I had children I lived in Egypt.  Brandon was a student, and I came along for the ride.  While we lived there, I made friends with some ladies who were there with State.  Brandon and I were in Cairo completely on our own funding, with no outside help.  I remember the first time I visited one of the State apartments.  I was floored.  It was large, it was beautiful, it had nice American furniture, and well, it was large.  I asked my friend how she ever kept the place clean.  "Rere," she told me, "my housekeeper.  She comes every day."

Being young and judgmental, I immediately thought less of her.  What kind of stay at home mom with only two children at home had to hire a housekeeper?  Couldn't she cut it on her own?  After all, isn't that part of our wife-mother identity?  Make delicious dinners and keep the house clean?  Because, you know, if somebody else does it, you don't get credit for having a lovely house.  And if women all over America can do it on their own, women overseas should be able to also [all of you women can now laugh at me].

And then I found out about another friend's housekeeper.  She had six children and ran a dance studio, so I guess it was okay.  But really?  Having someone fold your laundry and watch your child while you  ran errands?  After a few months I figured out that everyone had a housekeeper.  I was appalled.  If I ever live overseas, I told myself and my husband, I'll never hire a housekeeper.

Fast forward four years.  The same friend who had Rere as a housekeeper was leaving Cairo a month before we arrived.  During a dinner in Virginia, we worked out having Rere come and work for me as soon as I landed.  Two days after we arrived, Rere showed up.

And I've never looked back.  Back in Egypt, I attempted to justify hiring a housekeeper.  It was only two days a week, and we had such a large apartment and it was really so much work to go and get all of those lovely vegetables and really shopping with all three children and no car would be really not feasible.  So really, when you think about it, life is just so much harder in Cairo, so I need the extra help.

But really, I knew that I was only doing that - justifying.  Really, I just enjoy not cleaning my own bathrooms.  So much, that when we went to Virginia for language training, I couldn't break down and clean my own toilets in the US either.  It's quite sad so see how far your moral fiber has disintegrated.  But not sad enough to make any attempt to repair it.

When we got to Baku, hiring a housekeeper wasn't even a question.  It took a little while to work things out, but I confess that I didn't even attempt to clean my toilets while we were waiting for someone else to do it.  Like I said - moral fiber.  Completely.  Gone.

This whole time, however, I've still clung to the justification that at least I only had someone come two times a week.  I wasn't addicted.  I can quit any time I want.  Really.  I also comforted myself by doing my own laundry.  Really I felt quite virtuous about it.  See?  I'm still a housekeeping woman.  I can hack it.  I wash my own clothes.

But you know what they say about pride, right?

After we returned from R&R, I started school again.  Previously Kathleen had been doing kindergarten, which consisted of an hour or so of work each day.  But this year she's in first grade and I have some real educational responsibility because first graders actually have to know something when they're done.  And combined with the endless, excruciating task of teaching Sophia how to read, my whole morning from 8:30 until lunch time is non-stop busy with school.

And this would be fine if I had only two children.  It might even work with three children.  But four?  No way.  I know there are mothers in America who homeschool with four children under the age of seven.  I'm not the only one in this boat (a boat, I might add, I constructed entirely by myself).  I know they can hack it, mostly because they don't have any other choice, and probably because their moral fiber hasn't been weakened by years of having someone else clean their toilets for them.

But me?  I can't.  It's sad, and a little disheartening, but true.

By the third morning that ended with me bouncing a screaming Joseph on my hip, yelling at Sophia and Edwin to quit fighting already or someone is going to get SMACKED (thankfully the windows were closed.  I think) and trying to discuss cuneiform with Kathleen, I was done.

That night I talked with Brandon about putting Kathleen in Real School.  Because if I had years of this to look forward to, I wasn't going to be able to do it.  I would have a heart attack in months from the stress.  He cautioned me against it, but I really couldn't see any other way except for maybe hiring my housekeeper to help out during school in the morning.  But that would be a line too far.  Because I'll let her watch my children occasionally, but every day?  That's my job.  I'm their mother.  I can give up on housekeeping, but mothering?  That is the whole point of me staying home - to raise my children myself.  I don't want them to feel like they are less important then their older siblings.  I want them to want me.  And besides I need to have some moral fiber, right?

But you all know where this story goes.  Within three days, Naila was at our house at 9:30, ready to take Edwin and Joseph for a walk.  I felt guilty, but more than guilty I felt relieved.  Kathleen, Sophia, and I had a beautifully quiet, calm two hours of school.  We discussed wolves.  Kathleen memorized pronouns.  Sophia learned to write the letter "H."  And when the boys showed up for lunch, I wasn't a crazy, screaming, stressed-out wreck.  It was amazing.

I knowing I'm sliding down that slippery, slippery slope to total and complete uselessness.  But boy is it great, great ride.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Recent Events

I'm not a news-checker.  Normally I am happy to let the world float on by me without much notice or mention in this blog.  But with this week's recent events, I can't ignore the news.

I'm not publicly political, so I have no comment on videos or apologies or security measures.

But I am a member of the diplomatic community, and I have stood by that flagpole that had its flag desecrated.  And I've walked through the courtyard that was stormed on Tuesday.  And I remember tanks rolling through my neighborhood eighteen months ago.

We have left, and so I'm relieved to watch the news from a distance.  But we have friends who are still there and watching and waiting to see if their lives will fall apart again.

Life is always dangerous, no matter where you live.  Anyone can die in a car crash, or get cancer, or be in the wrong time at the wrong place.  All of our lives end at some time.  So living overseas has never scared me - we can die in America just as easily in Azerbaijan.

But hearing of the targeted attack in Libya has changed the feeling of comfortable security I enjoy.  It doesn't take very many bad guys to cause a lot of trouble.  And one of those people in the consulate could have easily been my husband.

Yesterday I couldn't reach my husband at work.  He wasn't answering his cell phone either.  And our internet was suddenly not working.  I had no way to reach him.  I don't panic easily, and I try to stay rational, but I was worried.  Last week, it would have been an obnoxious confluence of events.  But yesterday it was something to worry and fret and send alarmed text messages about.  Funny how events  over a thousand miles away can make you break out in a cold sweat when you can't reach someone on the phone.

This is the life we've chosen, however, and we don't plan on giving it up.  Everything has its dangers and everyones dies at some point.  There's nothing I can do to change that.  So we keep on doing the everyday things that our lives consist of.  Brandon goes to work, I take care of the children, and we are happy to see each other safe at the end of the day, happy to join together for dinner.  Happy to chase the children around the house and tickle them and kiss them put them to bed together.  Grateful to sit down and enjoy our time together.  Grateful to go to sleep with our best friend next to us.

One day at a time.

And for those whose days together have run out, we are thinking of you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kathleen Turns Six (about a month ago)

This year Kathleen's sixth birthday fell on the day we flew back to Baku.  When she asked what she was going to do for her birthday this year, I told her that she was going to do her favorite thing in the entire world - fly on an airplane!  Surprisingly, she was rather non-plussed.  "But I don't want to fly on an airplane for my birthday!  I want to do something fun!" she pouted.

The week before her birthday we were at the beach, which isn't the best place to celebrate your birthday.  Nobody cares that much because they're busy playing in the water, and this year her grandparents are in Bogota, serving a two year LDS mission.  Cousins like birthdays for the cake, but they don't bring presents like Grandma and Grandpa do.

So instead we celebrated her birthday in Missouri.

We started the day with a trip to Fantastic Caverns, America's only drive-through cave.  We considered the zoo and horseback riding (don't tell Kathleen about the riding), but the 100+ degree heat was somewhat of a deterrent.  And since the cave is sixty degrees year-round, it seemed like a good option.

Kathleen found it very exciting, Sophia wanted to make sure that we couldn't be crushed, and Edwin didn't comment.  I was glad that children under six were free and Brandon made sure nobody jumped out of the vehicle into a twenty-foot sinkhole.

For dinner that evening we had Kathleen's favorite, black beans and rice.  After dinner both sets of her great-granparents came for cake and presents.

She received plenty of presents, but her favorite was a rider and tack that fit her play horses.  All of the others got thrown by the wayside in favorite of the ten-dollar plastic rider.  Sometimes I think that children should just get one present for their birthday, as they only care about one present anyway.

Brandon's brother Nick had bought up leftover fireworks after the Fourth of July, so following the party we had fireworks, something the children had never seen before in their lives.  I suppose that's what happens when you live overseas, not in China.  

Kathleen declared it 'the best birthday EVER!!'  

Sometimes it seems like an eternity since she joined our family, and other times it feels like only last week she showed up.  All of the time, however, has been great.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

When Life Gets Busy or I Thought I Could Beat the System

So school started three weeks ago.  One morning I pulled out the books and said "Hey kids!  Time for school to start!"  I neglected to take a picture.

When I decided to homeschool years (and years.  Before I was even married) ago, a major appeal was having to spend less time dealing with school.  Because I wasn't going to have to deal with getting everyone off to school, welcoming everyone home, doing homework, after school activities, and my personal dislike: volunteering.  All of you who homeschool can now laugh maniacally.

When I started Kathleen in school, I started to realize that my days were taken.  Every. Single. Day.  Well, I exaggerate.  Four days out of the week were taken.  For awhile I thought I could get away with not schooling when I didn't feel like it, or I was too lazy, or there was some internet shopping at J.Crew that really needed to be done.  Now.  because we were schooling all year round.  Then one day I counted up how many days are spent in traditional school and divided it through the year and realized that actually I didn't have as much wiggle room as I thought.  And I couldn't just school when I felt like schooling.  And those play dates in the morning were going to be missed.  And lunch friends, only maybe.  And J.Crew was going to have to be neglected.

And then I thought to myself, 'Hey maybe traditional school isn't such as much of a time commitment as I thought it was.  Maybe that will give me back my time.'  All of you who traditional school can now laugh maniacally.

In the end I remembered an oft-quoted phrase from my father-in-law. He has had a variety of occupations, most of them self employed, and liked to comment that the best part of being self-employed is that you get to work half days.  And you can choose which half you work - the first twelve hours or the second.

So I've finally realized that life just changes when your first child enters school (this year's curriculum is  a full-fledged first grade curriculum).  If Kathleen was in traditional school, I would have time commitments.  With Kathleen home schooled I have time commitments.  And there's no going back until the last one leaves for college.  And right now I'm not going to try and think how many more years that will take.

So that's the long story of where we've gone off to.  Life.  Some of it has been exciting, and most of it just boring.  But I'll try to keep you updated, Mom and Dad.