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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

William Becomes Mobile

I love babies who crawl.  Most people I know hate babies who crawl.  Babies who crawl can get into things you'd rather have left alone.  One minute they're happily playing with their toys and the next they have managed to fish five dusty Cheerios and one rotting grape from under the cupboards and are happily munching on them, having discovered a new place to find secret snacks.  Babies who crawl can investigate fascinating things like power cords, kitchen cupboards, and trash cans.  So I understand my friends' dislike of mobile children.

But I am a lazy parent.  I never have been good at entertaining children, even back when I was paid good money to do it.  If the parents of my babysitting charges told me that bed time was at 8, I usually had them tucked in by 7:45 and was down on the couch by 8 with the treats I'd found in the cupboard, watching Nick at Nite.

So one of my least favorite babyhood ages is that gap between when my children are awake for more than forty-five minutes at a time (six months old) and when they start crawling (usually nine to ten months).  I will set up a ring of toys all around the child, everything within reaching distance, which usually buys me twenty minutes of peace before they push all the toys away and then have a fit because there aren't any more toys to play with.  Then I have to run back over and push all the toys back for twenty more minutes of peace.  I have experimented over the years with all sorts of toy-containment devices to buy me ten or fifteen extra minutes, but none of them have worked very well and in the end I just have to patiently wait until they can learn to crawl.

Because when they can learn to crawl, their entertainment needs are met into forever.  Bored of the toys you're playing with?  Well, just go find some more!  See something interesting off in the distance?  Go and find out what it is!  The world is your oyster when you have the power of mobility.  This continues on until adulthood when you have the cash and ability to go anywhere in the world you want.  And truly it is fantastic.

Usually my children start their adventures in mobility with the backwards push.  It works particularly well on hard-surface flooring and inevitably ends in the child being jammed underneath a piece of furniture, crying for someone to come and release them.  After awhile the backwards push morphs into the army crawl, the child not yet having realized that those things hanging off the bottom of their torso are for anything but kicking mom when she's trying to change their diaper.  And finally, full crawling emerges and if it's winter, the jeans can never be used again for the holes.  Or if they are Edwin's jeans, one leg has holes and the other is perfectly intact because he only ever realized that one leg worked.

William has been different from my other children.  It started in the womb, where he would hold hours-long dance parties in the middle of the night, often kicking his father in the back.  When he came out he never stopped, wiggling constantly for seven and a half months.  I'm hoping this will translate into some amazing athletic ability, but I'm not researching sports scholarships yet.

So it was no surprise when just at his sixth month birthday he skipped the backwards push and army crawl, pulling himself up on his hands and knees to rock back and forth endlessly.  Rocking is one of his favorite activities.  It took him awhile to figure out what advantage this new ability gave him, and for awhile he would get up on his hands and knees, lean forward, and then collapse.  He could inchworm his way across several feet of carpet to snag an appealing toy or electronic gadget, but he hadn't yet realized what it meant.

But this past week he has finally put everything together and will take off across the floor the second I put him on the carpet, usually in the direction of the transformer.  This afternoon I was sitting on the second floor while the children were rowdily playing upstairs.  Intrigued, William took off towards the third floor and stopped forlornly at the stairs, clearly wishing he could join the fun.

There are no endpoints in child development, so William will soon learn the magic of climbing stairs (and have to learn the hard lessons of going down the stairs), pulling up on furniture, and finally walking.  Then he'll join the herd and never be bored or lonely again.

Hooray for mobility!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Settling Back In

Our life has been kind of crazy for the last ten or so months.  Not too crazy, but more crazy than I would like.  It started with the Christmas season, ran through three months of medevac, had a small lull until R&R, and finished up with summer travel followed by the beginning of school.  I really haven't had more than a month or so to settle down before something started back up again.

I'm very much a schedule person, and so this has been low-level stress in the back of my mind - not enough to notice when it's going on, only enough to notice when, after almost a year, it has finally ended.  Kind of like that annoying sound of the computer fan an overheated room, or the split packs running all day every day.  Not enough to run out of the house screaming crazy-town, but enough that the comparative silence is blissful.

We have reached that comparative silence.  And I had almost forgotten what it was like.  This past week we had school.  Every morning around 8:30 I started by grading Sophia's math lesson, handed it to her for corrections, and then graded the rest of her school work.  Then we went over her corrections and we did our work together while Edwin did his math drills on the iPad (because technology is definitely something that should be used for drills).  I graded Kathleen's work, handed it to her for corrections, and then worked with Edwin on his school.  We finished that around 11 or 11:15 and I did Joseph's reading lesson to him, followed by lunch and naps for me, Eleanor, and William.

And we did it every single day.  Nobody came over.  I didn't go anywhere.  We just did the same things four days in a row and then on Friday I worked on other Mom tasks.  All of the children knew what they had to do and (mostly) did it.  By the time I woke up from my nap, everyone had done their school work and was ready to go outside and play.  Every morning the kitchen was clean.  Every evening the toy room was clean.  On laundry day all the clothes got washed and put away.  On bath day the children were washed.  Dinner was on the table around six.  It was cleaned up by seven, followed by stories and bed time.  All I needed was two little lines and we could have been something out of Madeline.

I know that eventually I'll get a little tired of the routine because that's the nature of being human.  Too much of a good thing becomes a little boring after awhile.  But the great thing is that I have a nice long stretch - almost seven months - to get nice and fully tired of such a wonderfully regular life and schedule.  I can revel in my life and children moving (mostly) seamlessly in the paths I've spent so much time, tears, and stress banging them into.  We can all enjoy the utter predictability of our lives and have the luxury of thinking that a little excitement would be nice without actually getting any of it.

And then it will all go up in smoke when we embark on our next move.  But until then, I'll enjoy it.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


During our time in Dushanbe, most of us have taken our turns having medical issues.  Sometimes it feels like these issues are happening constantly, but I suppose if you add up the number of people in our house (eight) times how many medical incidents one single person averages during the year (one or two), it averages out to more than one incident a month.  And if you ignore Joseph's stitches, two MRIs, and trip to London, everyone has limited themselves to only one incident for the entire time we've been here.  So it really hasn't been that bad, it just feels that way.

William has only been in Dushanbe for less than six months, but he decided that this week would be his time to monopolize the med unit here at post.

Diarrhea is a constant here in Dushanbe, so when William started having issues, I wasn't very worried.  After all, it's so much easier to deal with an infant's diarrhea than a toddler's diarrhea.  Potty training does have its occasional downsides.  But when he started vomiting, I began to pay attention.

On day seven of the diarrhea and day four of the vomiting, I decided that I probably wouldn't be overreacting if I brought him in to see the doctor.  Seven month old babies don't have a very wide margin of error and when you live in a place where serious medical attention is several time zones and a couple of plane rides away, waiting isn't the best idea.

Pretty quick we agreed that IV fluids were going to be helpful, but it turns out that dehydrated infants have very difficult veins to put IVs in, especially when the nurse is used to working on adults and not babies.  So instead we tried oral rehydration, but it didn't go very well and three or four hours later William got to have another attempt at the IV.  It's amazing how tiny baby veins are and how much they don't stick out when they're incased in layers of baby fat.

For awhile after the second attempt, William seemed to be doing better, but he took a turn for the worse in the late afternoon.  The wonderful doctor, who was only filling in because ours has left with no replacement, spent most of the afternoon on the phone consulting on the best way to get fluids into a rapidly declining baby.

There was some discussion of an intraosseous infusion, but the nurse, doctor, and four medics available had never done one on an infant.  In the end, we packed up an IV kit from the embassy and headed to a local hospital.  The doctor managed to get an IV in his head, after attempting one on his foot, wrist, and vein.  Once the needle was finally in, the rest was easy and William slept peacefully in my very (very) tired arms while he got juiced up with 225 mL of IV solution.  We made it home by 8, twelve hours after William and I had left the house that morning.

Saturday was better than Friday, but by 2 this morning, William was in a bad state again.  Brandon, who had been awake and trying to feed William the entire time, got to take him in to the embassy where he got another IV infusion through the same vein that had worked so well Friday night.

After a lot of discussion and test ruling out other possibilities, the doctor decided that William had probably come down with a rotavirus.  He has been vaccinated, but only once (he was supposed to get his second dose this week, but that didn't happen), and it turns out that vaccination doesn't necessarily prevent infections, just makes them less severe.  Rotavirus vaccination are pretty recent, only being just over a decade old, and have cut down on hospitalizations for infants tremendously.  I remember getting the fact sheet about rotavirus when Sophia was getting vaccinated (Kathleen didn't get vaccinated for rotavirus) and wondering why she needed that particular vaccination.

Now I know why babies get vaccinated.  If we had been in the US, William would have been in the hospital.  If we had been living in a remote village in Tajikistan, William would have been in the ground.

Instead, it was somewhere in the middle with some very sleepless nights and a lot of good work done by the medical staff here at the embassy.  Once again, I am grateful for the blessing of modern medicine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

September, the Month of Disappointed Hopes

Right now it is eighty-nine degrees outside.  I forgot to water my plants this morning and my four o'clocks are draped over the sides of their pots, leaves hanging limply.  The children are playing on the third floor with both air conditioners going full blast so that the toy room is inhabitable.  Everyone will turn on the air conditioners at bed time tonight so they can sleep.  Yesterday we spent three hours at the pool and nobody got cold.

Yes, it is September in Dushanbe.

After my first long, hot summer in Dushanbe, I figured that we would find some relief in September.  After all, the first day of fall is in September, so one could reasonably expect something resembling cooler or at least cool-ish weather in September.  And there is cooler weather in September because ninety-degree weather is cooler than one hundred-degree weather.  But it isn't exactly the type of fall weather that one usually drinks hot chocolate to or starts making things like pumpkin bread (which will be happening here a lot this year as we use up our stores of canned pumpkin).

Every year I'm thrown by September.  I attended school long enough to associate September with Not Summer, the month where carefree summer days at the pool turned into long slogs of school, homework, and increasingly shorter afternoons.  All of my cute summer clothes would, after the first few weeks of school in August, be retired in favor of jeans and jackets and crisp fall mornings.

But here in Dushanbe we're still rocking summer, finally dipping into the upper eighties - temperatures that send countries like England into panic - halfway through September.  I haven't even thought of breaking out jeans in months (I think I wore some in April, maybe) and I'm pretty sure I'll be caught flat-footed when the children finally need shoes and somebody has grown out of theirs.

September is the month of stale summer, unwelcome summer, summer that has stayed just a little too long.  We were all happy to see summer back in May, when winter had bleached our skins paper-white and our diet had been reduced to mealy apples, stringy oranges, grainy greenhouse tomatoes, and soft potatoes for too many months to count.  Summer was welcome, the season of abundant fresh produce, endless sunshine, and flip flops - every mom's favorite shoes.  All of the flowers were in bloom, the swimsuits new, and trees full of bright, green leaves.

But summer has been here for months and everyone is ready to move on.  The children's swimsuits are bleached and faded from months' use.  The flowers are faded and dusty, plants tired of life.  I groan inwardly at yet another afternoon hauling the children to the pool because it's still too hot to take a simple walk down to the park.  A cup of hot chocolate is nice, in theory, but still oh so out of place.

But still September drags on, taunting us with shorter days, cooler nights, and slanting sunshine.  It looks like it should be fall, it feels like it should be fall, but still you broil every time you step out your front door at noon.

I feel that I am looking a gift horse in the mouth and know that I will kick myself for wanting a day more of cold when I am in the depths of February, months from anything resembling flip-flop weather.  I know that friends in places where September means the first frost are wanting to kick me right now.

But I suppose it is the nature of humans to never want too much of a good thing, and too much of a good thing is summer in September.

But it is not October yet, and so I will wait, holding my breath, with everyone else in Dushanbe for summer to finally die and fall to make its welcome appearance.  Until then, however, you can find me at the pool.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Golden Age

Last week we had Monday off to celebrate Labor Day.  Since the weather is still warm and we had spent the previous Friday holiday at the pool, we took the children down to Puli Sangin.  Takijistan has very few nice places to go and relax with the children (so far the total is one), so we decided not to ruin our holiday by trying something new and instead went back to something that worked, and worked well.

We've spent a lot of time with family in friends over the past few months and Monday was the first time in quite a while we had spent time with just our own family.  I have tried these sorts of trips before, day trips that involve complicated situations like lunch in a public setting and children around other people for extended periods of time, and they've never worked very well.  Usually by the end one of us wants to kill the children and the other wants to kill both their spouse and the children and we wonder why we bothered spending money to be irritated in public when we can just be irritated for free at home.  After awhile I forget that things like this are stressful and then I try them again only to remember exactly why we don't do things that other people with a reasonable number of children do on a frequent basis.  Having six children can sometimes be limiting.

But Monday was different.  Monday was the fulfillment of a years' long dream where we would have a day that could fit right into a Hallmark channel movie without editing out all the bad parts.  It was the kind of day that I thought only other people with reasonable children could have.

All of the children played nicely together.  Brandon and I swam with them, taking ten minute dips in the freezing pool.  I sat on a deck chair with William on my lap, enjoying the warm sunshine while watching Sophia and Kathleen slide down the waterslide.  Eleanor and Brandon picked fresh figs for everyone to eat (no joke).  We had a lunch where everyone had food and only one glass (with water) was spilled.  Nobody cried. Or argued.  Or whined.  William took two naps.  

Like I said, it was magical.

Our family is entering the golden age of family life.  The logistics of running everything are getting easier because I have reliable helpers.  We have children old enough that spending time together isn't just babysitting, it's doing stuff that's actually fun for Brandon and me too.  And not only do we have older children, but we have little ones too, ones that everyone can enjoy adoring and doting on.  I feel sometimes, when all is going well and we're playing a game together or hiking or singing, that we could be on one of those family ads the Church runs.  

We are in this perfect slice of time where the oldest are still young enough to want to spend time with their family (and are still at home) and the youngest don't swamp the boat of family life.  I never thought I would finally make it to this part of parenting, the part where we finally get the payoff for all of the hard work.  In fact, I didn't think it really existed.  Or if it did, it existed for people that weren't me.

I'm already planning on making good use of this time, finally taking advantage of our international lifestyle to do something other than enjoy not cleaning all of our toilets.  I've been scheming to start visiting Europe during our summer treks, laying down a good PR campaign to get Brandon on board. And I was shocked when recently words, "That sounds like it would be fun," came out of Brandon's mouth.

I think the best part of this golden age is that we're never going to revert back to the dark age of small children all day every day.  The children will just continue to be more helpful and more enjoyable and more able to behave themselves in public.  We can trust them to pack suitcases.  They can eat their own food.  Most of them don't have temper tantrums.  They can use the bathroom on an airplane and even take their younger siblings.  Magical.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have some research on sightseeing in London to do.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

2017-2018 School Year

A few weeks ago the children started school again.  We didn't get a really long summer break this year because of that whole William-being-born-living-in-America-for-three-months thing, but between packing, traveling, and getting over jet lag, we got about six weeks which was enough.

Or it will have to be enough because this year we have to (again) school hard and school fast.  We'll most likely be leaving at the beginning of May, which means that I have just a little over seven months to squeeze an entire school year of learning in.  This isn't a problem for some subjects (grammar, reading, math, spelling, Latin) because they have ongoing lessons that aren't tied to a specific grade level or can easily be doubled up.  But it is a big problem for other subjects (science, history, writing), because there a set number of lessons that have to be finished, especially in the case of history.  Because if you don't make it to the end of one book, the beginning of the next isn't going to make much sense.

So this means that there's going to be a reasonable amount of doubling up lessons.  It turns out that I have an annoying conscience about completing schoolwork.  Leaving subject matter unfinished gives me secret anxiety attacks about that little gap in their knowledge that will make them miss just enough questions on some test that will then lead to not getting in to college, etc, etc, etc.  I know that's not really going to happen, but it doesn't keep me from feeling that it just maybe one day might be a problem so we'd better make extra sure.  I think that maybe homeschooling is more stressful than traditional schooling because every gap in your child's ability and knowledge is 100% your fault.  Excuse me for a second while I go get a paper bag.

So, this school year.

Kathleen is in sixth grade.  If she were going to school in North Carolina, where I grew up, that would be middle school.  I am so glad she's not in middle school.  Not for her, but for me.

This year she is continuing science, writing, vocabulary, math, logic, Latin, Russian, handwriting, piano, singing, history, and grammar.  And new (because sixth grade means electives! That I choose!) is music theory and video editing.  I'm finally getting to the fun part of homeschooling, where you get to make your own curriculum.  Kathleen is really excited about video editing, and has a teacher that will be working with her remotely.  Yeah for the internet!

This year I'm trying something new - that first child is always the guinea pig - and I've signed her up for three courses online through the Well-Trained Mind Academy.  We'll see how they go.  If anything, they will move some of the burden off my shoulders and get her used to the idea of having someone else grade her work.  I'm just afraid that they will be less strict than I am.  There was already some breathless reports of getting graded on only completion.  Heresy.

Sophia is in fourth grade.  I remember when that was so old.  She is doing pretty much everything that Kathleen is doing, minus music theory.  Almost everything she does (excepting grammar, some writing, and some spelling) is done independently.  I check her work every morning and go over corrections with her, but she's in charge of getting the rest done.  And I have to add, Ritalin is the best thing ever.  It has made all of the difference in the world for Sophia.

Edwin is in second grade.  He still does most of his work with me, completing math, history, spelling, and writing worksheets independently.  It's great to see the difference between his ability at the beginning of this school year versus last school year.  Last year he could hardly write a sentence independently and now he writes pages-long stories in his free time.

Joseph is in kindergarten.  He's working on learning how to read, about halfway done.  I don't start anything other than reading until first grade, something that Joseph is quite happy with.  More time for him to play.

And Eleanor and William are in independent play preschool.  They are working on keeping themselves entertained and out of my hair while I'm schooling.  William does a better job than Eleanor as he is asleep more than she is.  Right about the time they have mastered this skill, they'll have to start school.  But not yet.

And that is our school year.  Sometimes I daydream about the eventual time when I won't have babies underfoot and most of my children are running their own school independently and I'll be able to get back to some of the things I enjoyed doing before I started the full-time job as mom/teacher/cook/household manager.  That time, however, is a long long way away.  And plus, I don't have any free time for daydreaming.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Final Lap

It is now September.  We have finally gotten over jet lag, unpacked all the suitcases, reassembled our life, and are now staring down the home stretch of our time in Dushanbe.

A week or two ago, Brandon got an email informing him that he was paneled to our next assignment in Tashkent.  This means that we are definitely going to be living in Tashkent in at most a year (if Brandon doesn't pass his language test and has to spend a few months in DC brushing up on his Russian).

It's strange to be looking ahead and see a definite end date to our time here in Dushanbe, a point where all of our stuff will be packed up, we'll be getting on an airplane, and saying a complete and final goodbye to Tajikistan.

If we had spent a normal two-year tour here, this would be the point where'd I'd start panicking and buy all the things, hike all the hikes, and go on all of the trips I thought that I'd have plenty of time for.  But, it turns out that Tajikistan really doesn't have much of that stuff anyway and we've already done it all.  Twice.

I'm happy that we're not moving until May.  This gives me a whole school year to slowly get things ready, let the baby grow up a little more, and finish everyone's school work before packing everything up and leaving.  I'm not anxiously awaiting our departure, counting down the months and weeks before I can get out of here.  Dushanbe has treated me pretty well (other than the sicknesses and traveling) and I haven't gone crazy from the cultural differences yet.  It helps that I spend 95% of my time not interacting with Tajikistan.

But also I'm not going to be sobbing big, sad tears when we leave either.  It turns out that when you move around from foreign country to foreign country, there is an element of perpetual long-term tourist to your life.  Every Saturday can be spent going out discovering new things and having new adventures.  Once I thought about the lives of people who spend twenty years in the same house and neighborhood and state and realized that they probably ran out of new things to do about eighteen years ago.

I'm definitely getting a taste of on this tour.  We haven't gone a new hike in over a year because we've just about hiked all the ones within an hour drive.  Brandon and I choose our date night restaurants based on which restaurant (the Chinese, Korean, Georgian, Latin American, Asian, Ukranian, Afghani, or Middle Eastern one) we've gone to least recently.  The children are beyond familiar with the embassy playground, and I can tell you exactly what the Hyatt has for their breakfast buffet.  If we lived in America, this might be 'cozy' or 'familiar,' but here in Dushanbe and in this life where I get to see the world, it's more like boring.  I'm ready for some new scenery.

The children are equally excited for some new scenery, Kathleen most excited of all because of the possibility of a pool at our next house.  Well, some of them.  Eleanor isn't very clear on the concept of moving because the last time she moved she was seven months old.  Edwin is just irritated at the thought of his Legos being unavailable for several months.

For right now, however, moving is still a distant dream, like the thought of summer break when you've just finished the first month of school.  It's definitely going to happen, but not for a good long time.  In between now and then are lots of good things to look forward to also, and so I won't get too antsy yet.  But not too comfortable either.