Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First Days of School

Do most mother's dream of the first day they send their children off to school? I have to say I didn't. Even though we spent the last couple years agonizing (it seemed) over whether or not we should send Riley early, or make him wait another year, the first day of this momentous occasion seemed like it snuck up on me.

The first clue that I was not planning for this day as I ought was when I caused him to miss the bus because of my lackadaisical preparations, i.e. never actually checking the bus schedule. This resulted in me guessing based on when I saw the kids walking up the hill to catch the bus last year, and I was off by about twenty minutes- twenty minutes too late it turned out. My sweet boy was un-phased by this mistake on my part and we quickly recovered by borrowing money from another mom (I was toting Ari and Sadie in my running garb) and hailing a taxi for the 25 minute ride to school. Not long after getting on the taxi I realized First Day Failure #2: Forgot to take picture of first child on their first day of school heading out the door.

When we arrived the excitement that had been building in Riley's psyche for almost two years now all dwindled in a matter of seconds when he surveyed the crowd of what seemed like thousands of children (in reality maybe around 100?) gathering in the main courtyard. They were filing nicely into their classes and looked excited, cheery, maybe a little nervous for the first day to begin. Riley was nearly in the fetal position. By now, sobbing and stating quite firmly he was not staying and was returning home with me and the rest of his comrades from the womb. Looking back, I think it was a Divine change of plans that we missed that bus and I was able to be there with him to work through those first tough moments. Finally, a couple friends who are teachers came over and offered to stay with Sadie and Ari while I went with Riley to his classroom, which we did- with him still firmly believing that he would not be staying. But it is amazing what a few well-placed name tags will do for a 4 year old and it was not long after finding his personal cubby, seat, coat hook, and who knows what else, that he was waving goodbye while hurriedly wiping tears from his face in an effort to become the mature Pre-K'er he now believed he had always been.

With the traumatic beginning behind us, the days have continued with little incident. The makeup of his class makes for some funny stories. It's quite diverse: 6 kids with four languages (Korean, Chinese, German, and English). Riley stated that they all speak Spanish. His Chinese is improving little by little though, which is encouraging. Today he also asked me if he could have some alone time in his room, building with blocks... "like, this could be the Building Center and you and Ari could go to the Cooking Center in the kitchen like we have at school."

Though I failed to look sentimentally ahead to this day with any real emotional preparation, I do find that my heart twinges a bit when he kisses me goodbye in the morning, sounding so old and adult with his questions about what he has for lunch and telling us he'll miss us but not to worry about him. And I've been trying to make up for my initial lack of enthusiasm by working on ideas to restore myself to status of Supermom... at least in my son's eyes. One idea that I thought was pretty ingenious but was quickly corrected otherwise was making super healthy, sugarless oatmeal cookies! What good mom doesn't try to provide healthy, heart-conscious snacks for her growing, brain and muscle-developing children? Riley was not fooled. A request was put in for the "OTHER oatmeal cookies, mom!" I have pressed on though. With a little tweaking of the recipe I think it's pretty good now and the boys seem satisfied- or at least they are eating and not choking or gagging... and sometimes ask for more.

So, in honor of the First Day's of School here is a new, healthy, not-too-bad-tasting recipe for Oatmeal Cookies.

1 cup whole wheat flour (perhaps 1/4- 1/2 cup more depending on the moisture of the dough)
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 T. cinnamon

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup olive oil (can also use some applesauce in place of oil if you want)
1 T. molasses
2 eggs (beat with 1 T. water)
1 tsp vanilla

can also add raisins or walnuts OR I added about 1/2 - 1 cup small, diced apples.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Returning to China for those whose home country is elsewhere must always have strong sensations associated with it. There are smells and sounds and sights that are so particular to this place and can overwhelm you with their reality when you are flung back into their presence. For me these past two weeks, they included some of the following: the sound of a xiao (chinese flute) being played by an elderly man as I ran along the ocean path early one morning, the pungent odor of feces and garbage accentuated by the oppressive heat as I walked to the store, a mini van slowing down to my walking speed and following me for several minutes simply in order to stare at me- a waiguoren (foreigner), fresh steamed vegetables and jiaozi with rice for dinner!, the smiling face of our ayi and her genuinely delighted hugs and kisses for the kids upon our return, pushing my cart through hoards of sweaty crowds as I fought with pushy old ladies to get my vegetables weighed at the grocery store, a broken air conditioner.

But for all the beautiful, easy, convenient things I miss about life in the States, there are many things I love and appreciate about the people and pace of life here in China. I love the simplicity of our schedule and the close fellowship we share with our friends. I love the cheap food and the fact that I'm forced to make many more things by hand. I love the friendliness of the people and the way they love children and the fact that I feel safe most of the time. I am grateful that because life is not easy for so many around me, it forces me to think about my own life and the life of others in a different way.

The days continue to resume a bit more normalcy and routine. Riley started school last week. Sadie began sleeping through the night again. I was able to stay awake past 7:30pm. Chinese lessons start again in a couple weeks and I'm reinvigorated to start studying again. On our flight back to China, after finishing a bowl of yogurt, Riley looked up at me with his empty bowl and said "Mom. meiyou (meaning " have none"). My Chinese is back!"

I don't know the secret to contentment, though I did read a great book on it by the Puritan Thomas Watson once. He had some excellent pastoral ideas, but not the magic potion:) There is something simple about doing the thing before you that you believe God has given you to do though. And for us, that is being in this place. In spite of all that is not ideal (is there any ideal place though really?), I continue to find peace and contentment here. It's almost surprising to me and maybe even moreso that it continues! So, the return to the Far East is bagged. I'm glad to be back and ready to embrace the ridiculous humidity, obnoxious stares, and funky smells. I think it helps that I snuck back a few goodies from Target too. Here's to being content wherever in the world it is God places you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

My Home Away from Home

It has been nearly two and a half months since I've been able to sit down and write something here. The biggest reason for that is that blogspot and a slew of other servers are blocked here in China. The most recent casualty was facebook... something Josh has no problem with since he recently shut down his page out of some highly principled issue with the way it feeds on our narcissistic tendencies (or obsessions). I actually agree with him though it sounds like I'm mocking. But I am less principled than he. And I appreciate the good things about facebook in spite of it's time-sucking, egocentric qualities. Like, the simple fact that I can stay in touch with people and see pictures of their lives and hear little updates on a pretty regular basis. And for me, living so far away and so detached from so many people who are dear to me, this is a very worthwhile and good thing.

So there you have it, life in the PRC means living with blocked internet access on a regular basis. But the other reason for the long hiatus was that we were able to travel home to the States this summer for two months. I could have written while we were there, but somehow in the midst of plane trips and road trips, visiting old friends and soaking in the joys of a summer in places like the Adirondacks of NY, the rolling and historical charm of Philadelphia, the lull of beach life on the Jersey Shore, the simple and yet intriguing college town of Muncie, IN, the northwood beauty of Hayward, WI, and of course- the old standby- my parents back porch in Northwest Indiana, I failed to find the energy or maybe just motivation to put my hand to the keyboard. Apologies to all my faithful readers (i.e. sorry, mom).

Now I find myself back in Qingdao, with a (hopefully) excellent proxy at my side, time on my hands and thoughts in my head. So, I go forth.

I've been reflecting quite a bit on returning home. It's a new experience for me to be on hold for years at a time with things like shopping (fun shopping that is), being with family and friends, enjoying the freedom and ease of being in a land that you understand and that understands you. And it's a challenge to be flooded with all of that for 2 months of gorging and then return to a foreign place... that's really starting to feel more like home too!

So, more to come on that subject. For now, this post is long enough I think. But I will say that 7 days and 7 nights of jet lag later- it is good to be back and yet hard to be away again. Maybe that's a taste of what we should always be feeling, maybe to a greater degree even; at home here where we were made to be (on earth), but not at home because we're really foreigners in a world that is so far from the way it was created to be. Either way, I am truly feeling at home away from Home.