Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Because of this, I am driving. A lot. Which is a very scary, very big deal for me.

I knew I wanted to drive here, which is why I took the time to get my Indonesian driver's license way back in October. But until this week, I'd driven only half a dozen times to pretty easy places. And never solo. My husband was always in the car, giving me directions and step by step instructions.

The traffic here is scary because of the volume. The roads are scary because of the complete lack of lanes, traffic laws, and those dang mopeds that seem to come at me from all angles. And even after riding in a car all over Jakarta for the past six months, I still can't navigate the city. So many side roads, so many roads that look exactly the same, and did I mention the lack of traffic laws?

Friday night Leasie had a playdate at a friend's house. Margono had already left. And I had a choice to make. I could call a cab. Or I could get behind the wheel and go pick her up myself.

I was all ready to go. Then panic seized me. I called Amanda, who is my driving hero, and she came in the car as my passenger and moral support (her daughter was at the same playdate, so it all worked out nicely). And you know what? I did it. I drove. And I only almost hit one person. Not bad, I tell you. Not bad at all.

Yesterday, I was scheduled to substitute at Jakarta International School. Again, I could have called a cab. But I decided to drive. All by myself. I fought the morning traffic. I even conquered the U-turn under the toll road where two other major roads are merging into the shuffle. Forty minutes later, when I turned off the car and got out, I felt like doing a Toyota Joy jump right there in the parking lot. I refrained. But just barely.

And you know what I discovered? I have missed the freedom of driving myself. I have missed the feeling of independence.

On the way home yesterday, with Madi as my passenger, it was absolutely lovely. We laughed. We sang! (I haven't sung in the car since moving here). And we stopped at an antique store I spotted. And because I was driving, I could make the decision without having to ask someone else. Liberating.

So I don't know what will happen. There are still a lot of roads I don't know, and a lot of places I don't know how to get to. But it is a start.

I'm driving. And I'm lovin' it.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Driver

My driver's mother passed away this week. Margono came inside the store where I was picking up a few things we were out of: eggs, milk, bread. He found me in the aisle with the condiments. Rows of chili sauces and soy sauces (so many varieties) next to the staples of yellow mustard and tomato sauce (aka catchup). I knew something was wrong right away. He'd never come into the store to get me before. Always just waiting patiently outside for me to finish.

He approached and tried to tell me, then stopped and turned away. Pulling a striped handkerchief from his pocket, he dabbed at his eyes until he could speak again.

I left the shopping cart right there, at the end of the aisle next to the display of overpriced lasagna noodles and Prego spaghetti sauce. We drove home together so he could get his motorcycle. On the drive home, I asked about his mother and family. "Siapa nama indu anda?" I asked. Without pause, but with a trembling chin he replied, "Maria. Her name is Maria."

He needed to leave right away. No doubt he would be departing Jakarta that same day to travel back to his village for his mother's funeral. In the Muslim tradition, his mother's body would need to be buried quickly, customarily within twenty-four hours. I expressed my condolences and wished him safe in his travels.

I stood there in my driveway, the car still warm from the running engine. How little I know about the man who drives my family and I. It is not because I haven't tried...in English and in my limited Bahasa. He is just a quiet man.

I took stock of what I did know. He is nearly sixty. A driver for expat families since 1974. He is a father or three and a proud grandfather of one. Like him, his wife works full time. His children all attended school and are grown. One is a banker. One is a teacher. One is a mother. He knows every side-street, alley, and short-cut there is to know in Kemang. He can get me to Jakarta International School in less than thirty minutes--a tremendous feat as far as I'm concerned. He never shows frustration in heavy traffic. He arrives early for work everyday. He plays basketball with Charlotte in our cal-de-sac. He carries the groceries into the house with me. He likes Durian (smelly fruit) and nasi goreng (fried rice). When his wife was sick, he did the cooking and he said laughingly that they ate nothing but vegetables because that's all he knew how to cook.

Today I learned something else. He loves his mother. Of this, I'm sure.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Litmus Test

Soon after we arrived in Jakarta, my husband gathered us together in the living room. We sat on the brown embassy-supplied couches and chairs. From our temporary quarters on the 26th floor of an apartment building, the view of the city spread out before us as far as we could see only to be swallowed up in the haze at the edges, fuzzy like an out-of-focus photograph. We had unpacked our suitcases, filled closets, and yet we still felt like visitors staying at a hotel.

My husband asked each of us to say one positive thing and one negative thing about our experience thus far in Indonesia.

I can't remember the exact responses at this first meeting (how I regret not writing them down). My complaint was probably about the difficulty I was having with jet lag and its unexpected, flu-like brutality or the heartbreaking poverty we witnessed on a daily basis. And I'm pretty sure the kids complained about traffic, missing friends and feeling lost, displaced, "homeless." The negatives came easy, spilling off our tongues in long lists. The positives were harder to come up with. Some of us, more than others, really struggled to come up with something good to say at all.

We wanted to be here. But the transition was more difficult than any of us expected.

For the next two months, my husband repeated this sharing time. We began referring to it as our "family litmus test" - it was an opportunity to listen to the kids and gauge how they were coping. It was also extremely therapeutic to be able to vent my frustrations too.

Little by little, meeting by meeting, a change began to occur. Slowly our negative and positive responses evened out. And then, at some point into our experience, we started sharing our positives first and the negatives became less related specifically to Indonesia and more just about the general struggles with life--struggles we would have whether we were in America or in Asia. And about three months after moving here, the regular "family litmus tests" were no longer even necessary. The transition part of this experience was done.

Our sixth month anniversary of living in Indonesia came and went without fanfare. It was a normal day. I got up and made the kids a pancake breakfast, they boarded the blue and pink school buses and drove through the morning traffic to school. I shopped at the grocery store, bought fresh papaya and mangoes, and played with CJ. We ate dinner together.

Only when I lay in bed that night and realized what day it was, did I look at the day differently. And there in the dark, I did my own version of our family litmus test.

In spite of the sickness that has ravaged our family over the past three weeks (a BIG negative), these recent pictures came to mind, which pretty much sum up how were doing:

CJ and her friend Teagan walking home from the swimming pool.
Tman and his friend Justin after playing soccer on the futsal court behind our house.
Indonesian laborers walking to work. I came up behind these men on my morning run. Right after I snapped this picture with my cell phone the man in the back turned around and greeted me with "Salamut Pagi Bu" (Good morning Ma'am). Then he smiled, as all Indonesians seem to have a talent for--a smile that lit up his work-hardened face.

A smile that made me grateful to be here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Just a step

We walk the crowded street of Tarragon Raya.
Fresh from a concert, Madi totes her cello.
She steps cautiously along the crumbling walkway
while mopeds zoom by.

We find refuge in our favorite bookstore
And dine on lemon meringue pie, stale but eatable.
We talk about the upcoming Hunger Game movie
About school, about birthdays

I look at my daughter.
It was a blink.
This time from infancy when I rocked her to sleep in my arms,
her head cradled in the crook of my neck,
her fuzzy hair tickling my chin.
To age twelve.
No longer a child.

I thought I was going to cry the day she left primary at church
to enter the Young Women's class.
I prepared myself.
But then the time came.
And I looked at her, so tall, with her long hair and shy smile. And I knew she was ready.
So the expected sadness never came as I had expected.

Instead, I watched with an aching joy as she stepped over the threshold to Young Women's
as though it was no steep step at all.
Just another step.
In her journey.

(Madi on her twelfth birthday - enjoying a snuggle on her new beanbag with CJ)

Happy Birthday sweet girl. You will always be my first...first baby, first 1st grader, and now my first 12 year old. Thanks for paving the way! Sharing these firsts with you is one of the best parts of my life.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Bit of Home

Sometimes homesickness hits me like a punch to the stomach. The day before my birthday, it was a brutal one-two combination.

I awoke on my birthday with homesickness still clinging to me, threatening to suffocate the day. But my day turned out good. I got to teach (which I love), I got to watch "Boy in the Striped Pajamas" which broke my heart (which I love), and my husband took me to eat Mexican for dinner (which I love love love.)

Then came present time.

This is a handmade bowl with lid from my father-in-law. The beautiful workmanship would be enough of a gift. But it gets better.

When we first moved to Virginia, we cut down a large Black Walnut tree in our backyard to make room for a garden. My father-in-law took big pieces of the tree back home to Mississippi to use with his woodworking. This bowl is a piece of that tree.

A piece of home.

Next. We play a lot of board games here in Jakarta, especially during the rainy season. Our new favorite game is Dominion which we've been borrowing from our friends. My husband surprised me with it! He actually surprised me. Usually I ask for things (okay okay mostly I buy things for myself and ask him to wrap them), so I was so pleased with his effort and success.
Finally, came the care packages.

Two boxes had arrived from Virginia the week before. I had been uncharacteristically disciplined and hadn't opened them.

When I opened the first box and saw the picture of my dear friends, I burst into tears. The care packages were filled with gifts, each gift representing a different time of day.

Running socks & shower stuff for morning

homemade granola for breakfast

a gorgeous pink sweater for the day

a teacup and book for afternoon

kitchen items and a CD so I can boogie while I make dinner

and a bathrobe and nightie for nighttime.

Plus more!
It was a bawl fest as I opened gift after gift. "Home" was all around me in the form of gifts from these amazing ladies.

Here's the thing. These ladies get me. They know me. Their gifts were spot-on when it comes to my personality and interests. And that means something. Being known, really known, and still loved...that's a miracle.

I was humbled that my friends went to so much trouble for me. It is no small effort to organize the gifts (in such a clever way) and mail packages across the world! I had this moment of feeling unworthy. That perhaps I didn't deserve their effort...I was, after all, the one who moved away from them to live on the other side of the world! But oh, how I needed their love and friendship to help chase away the terrible homesickness that day.

It boils down to this: family and friends (aka LOVE) make all the ups and downs of this existence bearable. And on occasions such as this, not just bearable, but downright wonderful.

Today I'm grateful for family, for friends, and for bits of home on the other side of the world.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


This is going to be a messy post. I can tell before even beginning to write it. Mostly because everything I want to say about "Mothering" right now is all jumbled like a tangled knot of yarn in my mind. And if that's the way it is in my mind...then it can't come out much better in the written word.

Mothering. I'll admit, in some ways it's gotten easier. Now that my kids span the ages of 3 to almost-12 (instead of 4 and under), I have much less messy messes. Less poop to clean up. Less spills to wipe. Less on-my-hands-and-knees time. With the exception of my youngest, I no longer have to bathe, dress, and hand feed all my kids. And because I have very independent, older children, they often pitch in and do big jobs like bathe, dress, and feed CJ.

I used to be stretched to my physical limits. Exhaustion was my constant companion.

The physicality of motherhood was the challenge.

But now I'm dealing with some new challenges. Namely, meeting the emotional needs of all my kids. Everyone is vying my for attention. When the kids get home from school there are after school activities, homework, field trips, and forms to sign.

And that's the easy stuff. Then there are the heart-break days, the feeling-lonely days, and the I-didn't-do-good-on-my-test days.

And even on the not-hard days, all five children just want a piece of me. A piece of my attention. From Tman with his chess, to CJ and her art projects, to Madi and her music, to Meya and her craft projects, to Leasie and her social needs.

I used to lament about not having enough hands. Now the problem seems to be, I don't have enough ears to listen, or heart to sympathize, or enough brain power to help them figure out all that is going on in their worlds.

And inevitably, someone goes to bed feeling sad, or bummed out, or empty.

How's that for messy and not neatly tied up?

I don't have a great ending for this post. I just hope my kids know that I love them. Love them so very much. And I hope they can feel that love...even if I can't help them with everything.