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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Halfway Done

We have now been in Tashkent for eighteen months and have eighteen months left.  One one hand, this feels like a long time, and on the other it feels like we just moved here.  Eighteen months feels like no time at all, but I know that it's actually a very long time.

But psychologically something changes when you have less time in front of you than you have behind you.  It doesn't actually matter how much that time is in front or behind you, as long as one is less than the other.

I have spent a reasonable amount of time and money getting our house arranged the way I like it.  I've never, however, been able to get everything arranged exactly right.  Back when we had more time left, I would make plans to spend time and money rearranging and redecorating to make things more lovely.  But now I've given up.  Why bother when you have less than half a tour left?

I have a friend who has lots and lots of lovely houseplants.  Every time I go to her house, I make plans to go to the bazaar and spend more money on plants that I will have to ditch when we leave.  I look at her beautiful pots with envy and scheme how I can get some pretty pots of my own. 

But now when I look at my house with its lack of attractive plants in nice pots, I mentally shrug my shoulders and sigh.  Maybe I can do better with house plants at my next post.

When we moved here, the thought of how incredibly old my children would be when we left - Kathleen will be in high school!  William will be four and a half! - no longer seems that strange.  After all, high school begins next school year - which is only a few months away.  And William turned three a few weeks ago, which isn't that far from four.

I've also lost my urge to explore.  We don't stay home every weekend, but when we do I'm not going crazy because we've missed some great adventure.  Uzbekistan has some travel opportunities, but there aren't buckets of them and they are all less optimal for families with seven children.  And spending a second tour in the same region hasn't made this better; I think my children would be perfectly happy to never hike again.

There is a new crop of families moving in to the embassy community this summer, and while it's fun to meet new people, the thought of forming a friendship that will only last a year seems like too much energy.  I've got my friends and we're perfectly fine, thank you.  Even though a year is actually a reasonable amount of time to have a friend, it seems like it's not worth it.

I'm already thinking of our next assignment and scheming what places I'd like to live in next.  I don't even want to leave Tashkent - I'd be happy to spend several more years here - but the inevitability of leaving is so much more real that I can no longer pretend that we'll be here indefinitely.  Sometimes I wonder how I'll be able to handle my life when we stop moving every few years.

In reality, eighteen months is really a long time, so it's quite a while before we really get serious about leaving.  In a year's time I'll get truly serious about thinking about getting things ready for our departure.  Right now I'm just giving it a passing thought.  But still I'm not buying any more houseplants.  Really.  Right after I buy just one more.

Life Lesson: Don't Stick Pencil Leads in Your Ear

I have no idea why children stick things in various orifices.  I don't understand what causes them to look at a small item (bean, bead, seed, etc) and think, "It would be really fun to stick this up my nose!  I would love to see if it fits!  Of all the things I can do for fun, this would be the most fun thing I could possibly think of!"  But I suppose I'm judging the actions of people who also suck on appendages, refuse to eat perfectly good food, and wear nothing but underwear all winter long (*cough* William). 

We haven't had any things-in-orifices crises for quite awhile.  The last incident was when Edwin stuck a bead in his nose on Sophia's sixth birthday.  Her birthday happened to fall on a Sunday, Eleanor was less than three weeks old, and we only had one car.  It was a lot fun and took a visit to both urgent care and the emergency room to get the bead out.

So I should have figured that it was about time for another incident - we were in fact overdue - and not been surprised when Joseph guiltily sidled up to me last Thursday afternoon.

Thursday is my one free afternoon of the week.  I don't have Russian lessons or laundry folding or play dates so there are three full hours of time to do whatever I want.  This Thursday also happened to be the very first Thursday of piano lessons with our new piano teacher.  Our previous teacher had gone back to work after having a baby, and the new teacher is a friend from the embassy community.

As I descended the stairs to start Doing Whatever I Like, Joseph approached me with a worried expression.  "Mom," his high little voice quavered, "um, I have something to tell you."  It's never good when a child has 'something to tell you.'  That's when you know that whatever trouble they have gotten into is so bad that they can't possibly clean up the mess themselves.  They are in so deep that dealing with mom's wrath is still better than whatever new problem they've created.  

I took several deep breath, composed myself and calmly asked him what the problem was.

"Well, I was doing my school work and while I was writing the lead broke off my pencil.  I was bored and so I put it in my ear.  The last time I did that, I shook my head for awhile and it came out.  But this time I did that and the lead wouldn't come out.  I tried sticking scissors in my ear, but that didn't work either.  What do you think I should do?"

As the words tumbled out of his mouth, I saw my open afternoon evaporate.  I hate medical emergencies.  Our first resource is always the embassy health unit, which is great to have, but is also half an hour away.  Any time I have to take anyone in for the simplest thing, it's always an hour and a half minimum taken out of my day.  So before I change into real clothes and head across town I make sure we really need to go see someone about the emergency.

Unfortunately, I don't have anything better than the scissors Joseph had already tried, so I immediately knew we were in for a drive together.  

The American P.A. was out of the country, and the American nurse was out of the embassy for training, so we got to see Dr. Rustam, the local doctor who works at the embassy.  He took a look in Joseph's ear and confirmed that yes, there was a pencil lead deep in the ear canal.  I silently rejoiced.  The only thing worse than a trip to the med unit is an unnecessary trip the med unit. 

Dr. Rustam pulled out a pair of long, thin grabbers and rooted around for a bit without any success.  Joseph, thankfully, put up with the poking and prodding quite stoically without any tears or complaints.  

I wasn't sure what would come next after the grabber.  Dr. Rustam then pulled out an irrigator that hooked up to the faucet with a gun that shot water into Joseph's ear.  After a couple of attempts, a small black pencil lead came out and Joseph was declared to be pencil-lead free.  

Nobody ever warned me about the completely random things that I would have to deal with as a parent.  As the second of five children, I had a fairly good idea of the usual trials of parenting - sleeplessness, endless messes, vomit, diarrhea, injuries.  I can say that I've definitely had a lot of experience with those things in the thirteen years of my tenure as a mother.  

But then there are the really novel things that nobody would have ever thought to have warned me about.  "Make sure to keep pomegranate seeds away from children.  They fit perfectly up noses."  "Put the microscope slides in a high place.  Two-year olds love to throw them from back porches."  "Whatever you do, don't let the children play with butter knives in the yard.  They always end up on the front gate roof."  

It is not possible to name all the ways a child can get into trouble because children are endlessly creative.  There is no way to keep ahead of them and so instead I just follow behind them, cleaning up the novel messes that they have made while I was doing something else.  Whenever Brandon comes across a mess himself - one that escaped my notice while I was taking care of the rest of the messes - he inevitably asks why the anonymous child has decided to crucify Barbies on the lawn or use the front steps as a dry sled run or climb up the outside of the house using the Fifty Foot Rope. 

 I can never give him a satisfying answer because there isn't one to be found.  The best I can do is give a weak shrug, throwing up my hands in surrender, and reply, "It must have looked like fun to them?"  

And such is the life of a parent - never boring, endlessly surprising.  And one day, when we're old and have forgotten all of the bad parts, it will make for great stories.  Until then, however, it makes for a whole lot of lost afternoons.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Happy Birthday, William!

This week we celebrated William's birthday.  I find it so strange that my penultimate baby is three years old.  This means that I have will only have one more one year-old and two year-old and then I won't have any more babies left.  I feel like William was born so recently, so it's surprising to realize that he is already three years old.

He is somewhat like the little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead.  His disposition is generally sunny and cheerful, with an unfortunate penchant for calling people 'idiot' and 'stupid' when they cross his will.  It's hard to be too displeased with him, however, as it's so funny when he does it.  Kathleen would have been sent to her room for half a day for being so sassy, but William just gets laughed at.  Such are the privileges of being the sixth child.

Much to his older brothers' dismay, he has a deep love for any LEGO creation that is a vehicle and attempts to snatch them whenever he can, climbing tables and bookshelves to get to them.  He joined the boys' club back in September and has discovered the joy of bothering his older brothers every night during bed time.

His preferred clothing is still undies and nothing else, despite the winter weather of February.  Last week I went outside to find him running around in fifty-degree weather wearing snow boots, underwear, and nothing else.  Thankfully it was not in the street, so the neighbors didn't have one more thing to be dismayed about their crazy American neighbors.

We didn't do much to celebrate his birthday; he doesn't have a favorite meal for dinner or preference for a fun family activity.  So we celebrated with a cake, candles, and a few presents which were enough to delight his little three year-old heart.  It's quite easy to make a three year-old happy.

Despite his amazing temper tantrums, we are happy to have William as part of our family.  His cheerful smile, endless energy, and gift for quoting movie lines bring sunshine to everyone's lives.  Happy Birthday, William!


When Kathleen reached sixth grade, I added exercising to her daily routine.  Exercising is a life skill that everyone can benefit from, so I used my dictatorial powers for good to help Kathleen establish this habit.  We have a treadmill, so she ran for twenty minutes every morning.  After some initial grumbling, she did admit that it made her legs stronger for horseback riding so I figured that my point had been made.  

This year Sophia started sixth grade and daily exercising.  Not having enough treadmill time for both to run in the morning, I switched their exercise time to the afternoon.  The children have required daily outside play time (this is for my sanity just as much as for their physical health), so it was easy to mandate that the girls spend half an hour of it exercising for half an hour.

Being a kind mom, I only made them run twice a week (I run myself and I hate running, so I have sympathy).  The other days they could do a physical activity of their choice, which ended up being bike riding. We do have a soccer ball, but that didn't seem to be very popular.  On a whim, I ordered a badminton set so they could have one more option.  Plus, it would be an easy way to work on ball sports hand-eye coordination.  I have terrible hand-eye coordination and I'd like to give my children the chance to overcome their genetic deficiencies.  

Two weeks ago the net and racquets showed up.  The next morning, Joseph rushed through his school work, gobbled his lunch, and ran outside to set up the net.  Eleanor quickly joined him, and the other children followed as soon as they were able.  Everyone played until they were called in for the evening.

The next day the next came out again.  And again the day after that.  When the piano teacher came with her two kids, badminton was the game of choice and even the driver joined the fun.  

Yesterday was a Stay at Home Saturday, and when I asked Brandon what he wanted to do, he replied, "Badminton!" Winter had decided to take a short break, so the day was breezy, sunny and sixty-five degrees - a perfect day for badminton.  Kathleen, Sophia, Brandon and I matched up for two sets followed by practice sessions.  I felt like I was in some ad for 'family time,' with two happy parents cheerfully playing with their smiling adolescent daughters.  Nobody threw racquets, nobody stomped off in anger, and there wasn't even any name calling.  We were all (except Brandon) equally terrible so it was pretty even competition.  Everyone would have stayed out even longer than the two hours we spent together, but we ran out of time.  

I can't say that I would have ever predicted that badminton would have become such a smash hit.  It kind of seems like something that belongs back in sixties along with beehive hairdos and mixed drinks in the afternoon.  It is an Olympic sport, but the way that curling is also an Olympic sport - not something that children dream of achieving greatness in.  But, it does fit some key requirements: 1. It can be played in our yard, 2. It could be shipped through the pouch, 3. It doesn't require a high degree of skill to enjoy, and 4. There are no coaches, teams, or practices required.  

So hooray for badminton.  If it gets the children outside and playing happily together, I'll take it!