Friday, May 30, 2014

Some Things I've Learned about Myself While Living Overseas...

...and a few worries. 

1. I love to travel! I have felt more alive and satisfied in the past 3 years than I can remember. And I think a lot of it has to do with traveling, experiencing new places and cultures. Watching the outback billow with smoke from the redrock plateau in Kakadu National Park. Walking up the stairs to the Sydney Opera house which glowed bright against the starlit sky. Soaking in the blue Bali sky after Jakarta’s pollution. Hearing the gamelan chimes and walking through the rice paddies. And of course, Italy. France. England. Traveling over the past three years has given me such joy that I’m convinced my heaven will involve seeing and experiencing new places! And...I’m about to say goodbye to this traveling lifestyle, at least for a while.

2. I function much better with money in the bank. Financial security brings such peace. I’ll be honest – I’m NOT looking forward to going back to live in the most wealthy county in America where we barely meet the median income. I don’t like being surrounded by mansions, SUVs, and real diamonds shining on my friend’s ears. The stress of figuring out where money will come from to pay for car repairs can rip the zest for life out of me. And I really struggle when my peers take extravagant vacations while we stay home (see #1). Jakarta's third-world status has kept me humble and grateful, instead of covetous. 

3. I still haven’t figured out the balance of work and motherhood. I find satisfaction in both. But trying to do both brings guilt. I like feeling worthwhile both in terms of my talents and a paycheck. And I confess, it is a lot easier to teach 9th graders how to write an essay than it is to instill kindness in my own children. Working outside my home has worked for us here because I have help with dishes, cooking, and laundry (oh I will miss Yuli!!). So when I am home with my kids, I can actually dedicate the time they need for homework, activities, and being together. I’m worried about my mental state next year as I try to regain my footing as a mother, a maid, a chauffer, and as an employee.

4. I’m not sure if I’m a “people-person” anymore. My husband says Jakarta can bring out the best and worst in people – the daily stress, pollution, and challenges can add up. I’ve had three monumentally difficult (possibly traumatic) interactions with people while living here. As in, tear-my-soul-and-haunts-my-dreams hard. And I find myself wondering if it’s Jakarta, or them, or me. Do I come across different than how I perceive myself? Am I a difficult person? Sure, I like my privacy, my alone time, and my autonomy – but does that make me seem prideful and unkind? 

Then, at the same time, I’ve also had some of the most inspiring interactions with people here. Beautiful moments sitting around the English faculty table at lunchtime, festive moments at Thanksgiving, joyful moments on the soccer field during holidays with friends, and simple moments with good neighbors….

How will I rebuild and present myself when I return. Surely I’ve changed, and chances are, my friends have grown and changed too. I plead with them to be accepting and fragile with my children and I. Please give us the benefit of the doubt, and we will give you the same. Let’s just be kind to each other.

5. My heart will break when I leave Jakarta. It already is. Like a knitted sock, I feel Jakarta holding to my heart, and with each booked plane ticket, each goodbye party, and each ending, my heart is slowly unraveling. I’ve been pretty stoic up till now, putting up walls where needed and avoiding heart-to-heart talks. But the end is looming and all the things I’ve been avoiding are lurking nearer and nearer.

5 days left of school.
40 days till pack-out.

45 days till goodbye.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons (or Mangoes)

Sometimes life is just hard. And I know “hard” is relative. There is hard, as in cancer-hard, which this is nowhere even close. But for my 14-year-old daughter, this is hard.

It started with a birthday party and a stroll out in the tropical air. The girls decided to pick the not-yet-ripe Mangoes from the tree in the yard. There may have been a game of catch. Madilyn remembers the sap feeling sticky and difficult to remove from her hands.

24 hours later, Madilyn’s face, neck, and right arm erupted in a terrible rash. The rash spread quickly and reminded us of Madi's reaction to poison ivy. A search on google confirmed the sap of the mango tree has the same skin-irritation effect as poison ivy. Oh crap.

Two doctor appointments. One shot. Ointment. Cold showers with special soap. A double-dosage of Predisone. Four missed days of school. And still very little improvement.

Today was the 8th grade farewell celebration. We had looked forward to this evening a lot. We had found a beautiful peach-colored lace dress. There was going to be a dinner with parents followed by a slide-show. We had picked these two pictures for the slideshow: 

Elise and Madi in Hong Kong for AMIS Choir

Madi, age 6, enjoying snow in Virginia:

Tonight I have to fill-in for all these things she will miss. And I feel so inadequate. I love her so much and want her life to be filled with good things.

Here’s what helps:

Baskin Robins "Pralines and Cream"

Anatolia’s (chicken kabobs) 

And "X-men" at the fancy theater with the lazy boy seats and soft blankets.

I’m proud of Madi for trying to stay positive, even though it’s pretty hard. She even laughed about how someday this experience will make a great lesson to use in Young Women’s or a scene in a novel.

Madi also mentioned there have been a couple perks. One: she told Charlotte if she gets too close, she’ll get the same rash. Charlotte hasn’t tried to climb on or touch Madi for 3 days! (A record). Another perk: book reading time. I think Madi has read one book a day for the past four days.

That’s my girl.

There was a moment at the movie theater that seems frozen in time for me. Elise and Madi sat in the seats in front of Owen and I. They adjusted their seats to the full lay-out position, until the backs of the seats touched the floor. They got giggling so hard. Madi looked back at us, laughing. And for a moment I forgot about her missed 8th grade celebration and the rash. We were together. We felt happy.

And in that moment I realized, family and laughter can heal even the worst things life can throw at us.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Beginnings of the Goodbyes

I keep avoiding writing. It's not because I don't have anything to write. Quite the contrary, I have too much to write. And most of it is about goodbyes, or endings, or at least beginnings of endings.

When I was in Uganda, someone told me to look at our move as a "continuation of the journey." I'm trying to look at it that way. Really, I am.

But today I handed in my Indonesia tax id card today and signed "exit" paperwork at school. The physicality of these actions magnified the finality of this whole experience.

And of course, in the midst of all the planning, shuffling, and goodbying, little wonderful and not-so-wonderful things are slipping by...

....dinner at Kenara's Indian Restaurant with Shana and Dawn. We exchanged Jakarta horror stories about dentistry. We ate spicy food. We turned down the offer by the cute Aussie to "Come join us at the bar ladies!" And we dreamed about our futures while enjoying Gelato at Tuscano's.

....eating my delicious salad from the "organic guy" and biting a rock! Two cracked teeth later, I'm wishing my return to the states was a bit sooner than two months away. Can I go two months without fixing my two cracked teeth?

....Madi winning the Middle School Writing Contest for the entire Foreign Service Youth Foundation (as in the entire world!) and planning her early return to the US so she can attend the award ceremony in Washington DC.

....saying goodbye to my seniors. Celebrating the completion of the AP exam with my awesome students as we dined on cinnamon rolls.

....mourning the bewildering anti-JIS climate, facing daily protests outside our school gates, and driving by to see men throw raw eggs at our school.

....teaching Melody and Beata (my teacher-friends) how to make cinnamon rolls and pies. We crowd in the kitchen mixing, rolling, and taste-testing while my kitchen ceiling drips water from the huge storm outside.

....purchasing the first plane ticket for the first departure. The first real ending and the first tangible beginning. Oh my heart.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

To My Mom

Even though my Mother's Day has been filled with thoughts and activities with my own children, I have, of course, been thinking of my Mom.

Blackberry pie still warm from the oven. Too tempting to wait until cooled, we eat it with a spoon. 
Morning pancakes. “Go ahead and have a sixth,” she says without judgment. 
Seminary visuals – my Mom’s handmade signs – the smell of black sharpie. 
Goodnight kiss. Mom wears her blue bathrobe and smells like soap. 
Yellow rubber gloves, a bucket of sudsy water, scrubbing walls.   
A walk down Lilac Avenue at the Boston botanical garden.

My Mom is a woman of faith. When I was in second, third, and forth grade and we lived in Port Angles, Washington, I was vaguely aware of my mom often talking on the phone and being extremely busy Sunday mornings. Looking back and knowing now that she served as Relief Society president during that time, I can imagine the demands and challenges she must have faced. Yet she still kept a clean house, prepared hot breakfasts, ran a preschool in our home, and took care of my sisters and I.  The fact that she accepted and served in this calling during this time in her life testifies to me her faithfulness and love of Heavenly Father.

When I was a teenager and we lived in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, my mom served in the YW stake presidency. I served on the stake youth committee at the same time. So together we planned stake activities, firesides, and youth conference. This required many meetings and many hours on the road to get to those meetings. None of the meetings were close – all meetings required at least a 45 minute drive one way. This meant Mom braved Massachusetts traffic, insane round-abouts, and heavy snow. I remember one Sunday afternoon driving through an East Coast blizzard to a stake meeting. Mom drove behind a large SUV and stayed in its tracks on the treacherous highway. There may have been a swear word or two. But there were also many prayers.

I don’t remember any specific conversations we shared during these long drives. But I remember we talked and talked and talked. I felt such love and companionship with my mom during these years of my life.

This shared time also meant my mom attended ALL of my stake activities. I never felt annoyed or embarrassed; quite the contrary, it was comforting and affirming to have her there. My mom was present for some of the most spiritually significant, testimony-building moments of my life. Together, we attended the conference when Kenneth Cope spoke and sang. We ate with, laughed with, and listened to John Bytheway together when he was the guest speaker. And together, we rode the spiritual high in the days following these conferences and grew in faith together. 

When it comes to church service, my mom is a dependable, dedicated woman. When my mom says “Yes.” She comes through…and then some. She taught me the importance of completing assignments and fulfilling responsibilities. There were mornings when she was up early finishing seminary visuals or planning scripture study activities.

I have never doubted my Mother's faith. I can, like the sons of Heleman, say with certainity. I "do not doubt [my] mother knew it." Alma 56:48.

Of course, there have other wonderful moments too. I loved when my Mom came to visit me in England. We watched "Oliver," took a train to Edinburgh, Scotland, toured a castle, and visited the Wallace Monument. I loved when my Mom came to help me when Madilyn was born. We were such amateurs! One evening, as we sat in the living room watching Madilyn sleep, I remember asking my Mom, "Did you really love me this much?" She responded, "I still do."

Oh these are precious moments. So my dear Mom, thank you for your blackberry pies, your chocolate wheat cookies with frosting, your pancakes, our long runs together, and your willingness to follow me around the world.  But mostly, thank you, Mom, for your example of faith and your endless love. 

Happy Mother's Day.

Mother's Day and the Mix

I think what I appreciate most this Mother's Day is the mix. What I mean is the variations of life - the vicissitudes. The chaos mixed with calm, the moments of joyful sibling bliss amid the squabbles, the satisfaction coupled with the frustration. I truly believe it is the very nature of this mix that brings me joy as a mother. 

My Mother's Day celebration started on Saturday. I wanted the entire family to go for a run around the Kemang Club neighborhood as a pre-Mother's Day activity. It was a great idea...until we tried rousing everyone Saturday morning at 7AM. There may have been some resistance (I won't name names my lovely teenager.)
 The temp and pollution proved a bit difficult. Open fires along the road burning leaves and rubbish left me choking and my eyes watering. At one point Elise and I could barely breath because of some overwhelming pollution - a sickly sweet, stifling exhaust that burned my throat. But there were good moments too. Charlotte's request, "Can I get down and run now?" Amelia's deep, steady breathing as she kept up a good pace. Having to call ahead to Madi, Truman, and Elise to slow down for their old mom. 
These were good moments.

We also celebrated with a rare breakfast outing to Koi restaurant. 
The good: Belgian waffles topped with chocolate mouse and ice cream.
 The funny: We asked for a small serving of maple syrup. The waiter brought the smallest amount of maple syrup I could have imagined in this munchkin-sized pitcher.
Do you see how well-behaved Charlotte is being in these pictures? 
The trouble: Once Charlotte finished eating, she used her pink scarf as a fishing net, throwing it over the bench at the people sitting behind us and at the waiters. Many apologies. Next, Charlotte draped the scarf around my neck then pulled to strangling-tightness. Finally, the scarf was confiscated by Dad, rolled into a ball, and stashed in his pocket.

There was also a breakdown: We tried to get a nice picture...
 which led to a little pre-teen drama
 And ended in an amused Madi, a pouting Elise, and a not-pleased Dad. 
(I told Elise she'll look back on this and laugh. She told me today, "I'm still not laughing!")

My early years as a mom, I struggled to find joy because there was SO MUCH CHAOS (there was also a hefty amount of exhaustion). I thought a perfect house, a perfect outing, and perfect kids equalled perfect mothering. There was a time when I would have considered the morning run and the breakfast outing failures because of the unexpected challenges. I now believe it is the good and the hard all mixed up together that brings me satisfaction (of course, a good night's sleep is also very helpful). It is the glorious simple moments and the crazy ruckus - both challenging and rewarding - that I cherish as a mom right now.

Here are a few more special moments from this Mother's Day weekend I want to remember:
Helping Truman get ready for the Blue & Gold banquet by straightening his neckerchief on his scout uniform and
encouraging him that he looked great, even if the uniform is a bit big.
Holding Charlotte while watching a movie. She is the only child small enough for me to still hold comfortably. Oh my heart.
Watching my oldest daughters clean up lunch and do dishes without any drama. 
Throwing a baseball in the afternoon sun on the cal-de-sac with the three youngest.
Listening to Truman play "Don Giovanni" - he's almost got it!
Listening to Madi play "Sense and Sensibility" songs on the piano and realizing her piano skills have surpassed mine.
Watching Amelia sew her cross stitch project and having her proudly show me her progress.
Hydrangeas (my absolute favorite!) on the dining room table Sunday morning. 
A hug from my daughters and the soft whisper during sacrament meeting, "Happy Mother's Day, Mom."

Here's to the mix.
Happy Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 4, 2014


After months of practice (five to be exact) Amelia performed in the Wizard of Oz this weekend. Amelia was an Ozian and a munchkin. And even the sea of green...

I was loved seeing her cute face, her bouncy dancing, and her radiant smile.
During the audition process, Amelia prayed that she would have "just one line." But with about 150 munchkins, I was worried her prayer would go unanswered. She kept praying and didn't give up hope. At one of the early rehearsals the director called for a second audition to divi up some extra lines. She auditioned and was ecstatic to be given the line: "Positively Absolutely!" (during the Munchkin scene).

I completely understand the thrill of performing. But as I've experienced with doing shows, it is the friends you make and the laughter you share back stage and during rehearsals that last longer than the applause at the performance. I'm so glad Amelia got to share this fun experience with good friends.

Our dear friend, Kathryn Prendergast, was Dorothy! 

Another good lesson learned during a show: the value of work and dedication. Amelia did not miss a single rehearsal. I'm proud of her for sticking with her commitment.

And lastly, as I sat in the audience and watched the action on stage, I found myself reflecting on our upcoming move. And so in this time of transition, I loved the reminder...

There's No Place Like Home