Friday, November 29, 2013

Walking to School with Charlotte

Every once in a while my schedule allows me to enjoy a slower morning (not the crazy scramble for a 6:30 departure, followed by a 45 minute commute, and a 7:30AM class start time). On these rare mornings, instead of rushing off to school, I accompany Charlotte to her school.

It is a short walk. Just a meander, really. Up our brick-paved street, past the columns of towering palm trees, a morning greeting of "Salamat Pagi" with the embassy guards at  the green gate, across the street from, Hero, our neighborhood grocery store, and next to the flower stalls. 

All along the way, Charlotte stops to smell and pick flowers. She wears a uniform, and I love to see her in her red plaid dress. A little school girl.
She collects a bouquet of flowers for her teacher, Ms. Sheryl, while keeping up a constant stream of chatting...about her school, her projects, her friends (Adam, Matthew, and Sienna), and her dance class. I nod and answer "uhuh" in the affirmative so she knows I'm listening. She pauses only long enough to hand me a flower to smell. 
Once we've entered the wooden doors to the school, Charlotte picks up her name tag. We climb the stairs together then she places her backpack at the "bag drop" near the front door of her classroom. I'm impressed by the neatness and order of things. Games and activities line the floors and tables, ready for the students.
When it is time for me to leave, Charlotte hugs me in an over-dramatic way. She clings to my neck, monkey-style, and grunts with the exertion of the hug. Then she looks over her shoulder to make sure Ms. Sheryl is taking note of this display of affection.

After I extricate myself from Charlotte's enthusiastic goodbye, I walk back down the stairs and begin my commute to work. It is always a bittersweet moment...where I try to balance my gratitude for Charlotte, her unconditional love, her great school, our walk together, and wondering if I made the right decision to work full-time.

I love my little girl so much. She is my sunshine.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What I missed

I've been waiting to write this blog. Waiting until I had time to upload the pictures of the Halloween I missed. But I never seem to have enough free minutes when I'm home...and I'm worried my thoughts about this will disappear before I can upload the pictures.

While I was traipsing around Australia, here's what I missed: two soccer tournaments, a basketball game, ten breakfasts, ten dinners, two family home evenings, two Sundays (both of which my children attended church sans parents, yes they were orphans), an elementary school United Nations day, and Halloween.

I'm not going to philosophise about whether or not my trip was worth missing all these family events because life is a balance. And I wonder if part of my enjoyment of the trip was knowing I had exchanged so much to be there. (Oops, I think I'm philosophising).

Here's what I want to record. I missed my kids. A lot. Especially on Halloween. I thought of them Halloween morning during my run along the highway in Katherine. As I watched the sky wake up with orange and fuchsia stripes, I wondered if Owen was fixing them a fun Halloween breakfast. As I handed out the spider and scull rings to the students on the bus, I wondered if Madi had helped make Tman's ghost costume. As I walked through the palm grove with hundreds of fruit bats hanging from the branches, I thought about how my own children would think it was very "Halloweeny" and cool.

And Halloween night, as I ducked and shimmied to avoid the pesky, flying beetles and braved the toilets with the poisonous toads, I thought of my children in their costumes trick-or-treating.

Now I will also confess in this blog entry that when I returned home, all was not perfect. I may have actually uttered outloud the following words in a moment of great frustration, "Twenty-two 14 year olds are easier than my own five children!" And in an effort to try to make me feel better for missing the family so much, Madi tried to comfort me by saying, "Don't worry mom. We missed you. But really we didn't need you here."  Ouch.

Quick tangent...I think the reason twenty-two 14 year olds were easier than my own five children is quite simple. My investment level (emotional and spiritual) with the students was minimal. My main job on the trip was to keep them physically safe. My investment level with my own children is eternal which makes my job never-ending and oh so important. So when my own five children have five very different needs all at the same time, I'm pulled very thin logistically, emotionally, and spiritually. I want to do a good job. That is what makes mothering so much more challenging than chaperoning.

Conclusion: I loved my trip. I love my children. I love being a teacher. I love being a mother. I'm grateful for both. It's a balance that I'm not sure I've completely figured out.

But here's what I know for sure: I'm going to try very hard not to miss another Halloween with my kids. Cuz, I really missed having fun with them on Halloween!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Snakes, Spiders, Frogs, and other Australian Wildlife

My first night in Darwin, Australia we stayed at Banyon View Lodge - a YMCA hostel. This HUGE stick bug greeted us in our bathroom:
Do you see how the bug is bigger than my hand??
And this was just the beginning. In fact, I like to think this bug was the welcome committee warning, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"

There were some cute Australian critters. At the aboriginal cultural center outside of Katherine, I got to hold a baby wallabie.
In this case, the baby was not as cute as the mom. I thought the baby looked a bit alien or rat-like (but a whole lot cuter than snakes!)

This green fellow might appear cute. But just imagine him and ten of his friends lining the toilet seat at our campground. 
Yep, the frogs liked hanging out on the toilets - guess it was the best source of water they could find. They would peer up at me with their apathetic eyes, just daring me to go to the bathroom. Now imagine having to use the bathroom at night, not knowing if a frog is going to jump out of the toilet at any minute! Horrifying, let me tell you.

But the little green frogs were NOTHING compared to the giant cane toads at the next campground. 
These bulbous creatures are as big as an adult's foot...and poisonous! Their skin secretes a venom that is deadly for small animals and can cause a serious skin irritation for humans. Guess where these lovely animals liked to hang out? 
Yep, the bathrooms. The showers. And the toilets. 
We had the boys go in the bathrooms to scare out all the toads so we could take showers. I've never heard boys holler quite so loud. There was no pretending - we were all afraid of the cane toads. For my closest friends, and I mean closest (those who will not disown me, no matter what) I will share, in person and under strict confidence, what happened when nature called at this campground in the middle of the night. 

Okay. So I can deal with bugs, frogs, and toads. Snakes, on the other hand, make me fly into chicken-flapping-screaming-panic. While walking through the Cutta Cutta Caves 50 km outside of Katherine, our guide pointed out this cave dweller. The stalactites were home to these venomous snakes who fed primarily on bats. Imagine me, huddling through the cave, trying NOT to think about a snake falling on me. 
Here was a non-venomous snake we found at a rest stop.
Our guide thought it would be fun to let the students hold the snake. I was perfectly fine letting the guide hold the snake during my picture. Do I look scared? Cuz I am.
Which gets me to the last "critters" of Australia. The Australians were as colorful and entertaining as all the animals we saw. I found the beer drinking, shirtless men whose burps rivalled thunder, quite charming. Our guide named, "Sauce," (yes, as in tomato sauce) looked every bit of the crocodile dundee Aussie man - from his long scraggly hair and greasy beard to his tan shirt and shorts which I'm pretty sure he never changed out of during our seven day trip. There was Flick, our cook. Her short pixie hair was fuchsia and purple - as bright as bubblegum.  She swore like a sailor and cooked our morning eggs with a cigarette between her lips. But this was nothing compared to the drunk men who flashed us while we walked home from the late movie on Saturday night in Darwin. I think there might have been some silver speedos...but I averted my eyes as fast as I could.

We retreated back to our YMCA oasis to the chorus of "Who let the kids out, who, who, who?" (to the tune of "Who let the dogs out?") An entire bar singing us home.

Australia was definitely an adventure!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Do You Come From the Land Down Under?

10 Days in the Northern Territory of Australia with twenty-two 14 year olds. A recipe for crazy fun, physical challenges, and incredible views of aboriginal land. Three national parks. Seven nights of camping. Here are just the highlights - my favorite moments. I'll post about bugs, reptiles, and "colorful" people in the next few posts.

After two days of acclimating in Darwain at a YMCA hostel, we finally got our first taste of the outback. Here we are in Kakadu National Park where we hiked to the top of a Mesa. The Australian outback spread out before us in all directions. 
I kept having dejevu moments because the outback is so similar to Southern Utah and the four corners area in the US: the mix of spring green trees, rusty red rock, and blue sky. I found myself thinking often of Owen and the time we spent together exploring, hiking, and camping during our courting and first years of marriage. To say I missed him and wished he was with me are huge understatements.
The next day we hiked up to Gunlom plunge pool - a series of natural infinity pools at the top of mesa. I swam in the emerald pools. I felt the heat of the bright sun on my shoulders and back. I listened to the splashing and laughter of the students. I breathed in the warm, clean air. And I looked across the vast expanse of land so primitive, raw, and beautiful - and I was grateful to see nature, such a respite from Jakarta city life. 
On day four we kayaked Katherine's Gorge. I was grateful to my Dad for his years of "adventures" - all which prepared me for the hiking, camping, and kayaking. Wayne Kelsey and I were a force to be reckoned with on the river. My years of kayaking in Alaska paid off - I actually knew how to hold the paddle and steer. Some kids literarily couldn't kayak in a straight line. Some went in circles while others zig-zagged through the water, covering twice as much space as they had to. 
We beached our kayaks and hiked a short distance to the next gorge. Stunning.
My final favorite scenic moment of the trip was our last day in the outback - a hike to Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park. 
We hiked to the double waterfalls. The water was refreshingly cool - almost chilly. Such a refuge from our 95 + degree heat (both day and night). Here I am with Erin, a JIS student from South Africa. We swam to the waterfall, dipped under the pounding water, and touched the slick rock on the other side. 
Besides feeling extremely hot and longing for cold drink of water (the campsites' water was bathwater warm), the overwhelming emotion I felt throughout this trip was gratitude. I never dared dream to see this part of the world. And while I missed my family to the point of aching, I will be forever grateful for their support to let me go to Australia.