Sunday, September 30, 2012

to the trains

{heading out early}
A couple legs to the trip... walking, pedi cab, cab, walking... to get to the train station where I planned to buy tickets for a trip south in the next couple days. I say "planned" because I had never done this before and was a little nervous how it all would go, not to mention if there would even be any tickets left seeing as how it is one of the craziest, busiest holiday seasons of the year right now. 

{getting it done}
This man was perched on a bamboo ladder amid a throng of what appeared to be very confusing wire chaos, as well as a throng of a billion busy people bustling at the base of his perch. It made me nervous to say the least.

{like ducks in a row, or kind of}
There we all were... hoping, waiting, sweating it out and praying we walked away with the tickets we needed.

{looking them over}
I watched every.single.person. around me do this several times throughout the wait... look over their I.D. card, their money, their ticket options. And then look them over again.

{in hand}
we got them! 

The maze of people and vendors continued after the tickets were purchased. I ended up on the backseat of some stranger's scooter, agreeing for a fee that he would get me back home through the traffic jammed streets. And he did.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A fountain. A freezer.

School let out and we came across this fountain spewing it's goodness as we walked home through the apartment complex. Cousins were there so of course we had to stop, and one thing led to another. Zhong Qiu Jie (Mid-Autumn festival) is on Sunday and Guo Qing Jie (National Holiday- like our Independence Day) is the very next day so everyone gets the entire week off school and work. It's a party!

We might be traveling to the hometown village of a friend of ours, which I am pretty excited about, along with wondering how all that will go with my four kids under seven and all. But we have declared that it is Worth It to go, and so it will be grand.

Also, I bought a deep freezer online and it arrived today. I am stoked about three things:

1. I bought a freezer online and it arrived. Success on many levels (communicating online, communicating on the phone, not getting scammed)

2. I have a deep freezer. This will solve so many problems and make my life infinitely more worth living. 

3. Freeze the living daylights out of all my food to keep away the nasty bugs. Gross.

Zhong Qiu Jie Kuai le!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

cluck. cluck.

I am not sure entirely how this came about, but I've been feeling the need to be more involved in circles outside of myself. I think circles are good, the ones that you naturally revolve around and within, but after we moved to this city last year, I found myself feeling circle-less, and in the end I wonder if it was a good thing. I think too that with the Man's move into an administrative position within our company, there comes a certain need to have friends who don't have any opinions about said administrator husband is doing.

My upstairs neighbor, Fang Jie, is forever stopping by with fruit in her hands for the children, or perhaps a freshly baked platter of sweet potatoes, or jiaozi she had just finished making. She has one daughter who is in university and a husband who seems to rarely ever be at home. She is retired, and owns a shop but doesn't need to work. I think she is rather lonely sometimes. Most Chinese women, especially older ones, are quite opinionated and bossy about... well, everything and especially things having to do with your children. Sometimes this can be off putting, but it doesn't bother me for the most part. I think it is just a generations old way of passing along information. Fang Jie does her fair share of scolding and finger shaking, but she seems to have a sensitivity about her at the same time. She'll tell me I shouldn't give them too many sweet snacks (a rice cracker was too sweet in her opinion), and that my baby shouldn't chew on that toy because it is dirty (it was a toy specifically designed for teething), but she genuinely tries to help me when she sees I have my hands full, and I feel a motherly care from her even though our communication is often tiring and leaves me with a headache.

Clucking. That's what we women often do. I pass the women in the morning with their small charges waddling around, little pants split right down the backside, bending for a toy only to have ayi right behind, swooping up to offer a drink, a wipe, a helping hand, a bite of some snack. The women sit together, clucking away about the children, their families, the news, the price of vegetables.

I sat in my own little circle group the other morning. We did our own share of the clucking. It ranged from husbands to children to friends to bargains to recipes to burdens and back around again. Later I was struck by this small band of women, and the varying ages and stages of life within it. I love the woman with her newborn sucking away next to me while the Grandma across from us shares about prayers she prayed long ago for her husband.

It has occurred to me before, when I have sat with my young mother friends who seem to have so many questions about how to do things, how to make this baby thing work, that perhaps we have lost a bit of our clucking culture. Nowadays people read everything online by the experts. They want M.D.'s to back up every bit of information they read, and then they walk off armed with articles and statistics and enough information to sink a ship and sterilize an entire universe from harm and infection and (God forbid) the failure to be properly educate, but not enough practical working knowledge to get them through the day.

I guess what I mean is, there is something to be said for one generation handing down "the way it's done" to the next. I am reading a book, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a novel about a young Chinese girl in the 19th century that tells the story of her life with her laotong, or "old same" which means a bosom friend for life. There is so much about Chinese culture in this story, and one thing it speaks to is the way the women handed down their way of life to the generation that followed them. Often this is was through clucking. They chattered at you, berated you, gave you unwanted advice, told you what you were doing wrong, and all that you ought to be doing. But in the end, you came away knowing something. Not because you merely read it or agreed with it, but because in practice you learned it with the care of a community around you who had done it before and learned from those who came before them.

In this way, we are givers and receivers always, and things that should not be lost or forgotten are kept alive for the good of us all.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The want of that one little thing

Last night, our Chinese friend and her husband came over for dinner. They have been married only a few months, and are both in their mid thirties. I know my friend really wants to have a baby. She tells me her husband wants to wait, and is unsure of the disruption and trouble a baby will cause. But I think she feels her biological clock ticking, and is anxious about her one chance to bring a child of her own into the world.

To sit and talk with a Chinese couple about marriage and family life is to be opened into a world vastly different from our own. To have a baby is to provide a child for the grandparents to raise. Your chance comes when you have your own grandchildren. A man's commitment is to his mother first, and then his wife. A wife must please her mother in law. Often the ratio is six adults to one child (one set of parents, two sets of grandparents).

So there we sat, with our four children... and zero grandparents within 10,000 miles. Our chinese friend is used to this, seeing me and the children running in and out of the Man's office on and off throughout the day. But her husband has rarely seen the entire crew in action. His eyes seemed big as saucers as he watched us pull dinner together. Plates flying, silverware getting handed out by a three year old, the Man holding the baby while I fished plates of food from the kitchen. I was proud of the relative smoothness we were able to pull off, but I still think it came off as One Giant Table of Chaos to him.

I'm not sure we helped them towards any decisions about having children.

There were more people for dinner tonight. A different group, with different needs. We had soup and bread and sat around telling stories about our most epic cockroach battles.

I feel energized in a way when these evenings are over. I feel good and thankful that we can do something as simple as make a meal, and open our small home with cramped seating, and somehow, hopefully, bring a small bit of peace and the feeling of being cared for into someone's life.

I must mention the Baby again because even though you may be rolling your eyes at me, I am just so thankful for him. I know it helps that he coos and giggles and always, always smiles at me, because if he didn't, surely I would be singing a different tune right now. But the fact is that I wasn't quite sure we could handle a fourth, or that we should be having one, and now that he is here I feel like I never enjoyed any of my babies the way I enjoy him. I could sit on the floor and just talk and play with him for hours. And sometimes I do just that. I didn't know I had it in me, to be honest.

I often look around here, at the roads hanging heavy with fog and the moisture sitting low in the air, or on a sunny day like today, the blue skies and glistening rooftops that stretch for miles and end in a row of apartment sky-rises, and I think on how all this looked to me just one year ago. I don't know that you can pray for joy and expect that it will be delivered, like something that is outside of your control and must be handed over to you. Do you have control in some way over the joy in your own heart? I'm sure there are many answers to this.

I know I have prayed for joy. And I feel it more often now than I used to. This is likely due to a large maze of events and reasons and dynamics that I don't feel the need to try to decipher or sound like an authority on. Others can say it better. I remember one... surprised by joy. I like that because true joy is not something that can either be either conjured up or dismissed if it is really given. Joy is perhaps one of the signs that this world with all its mishaps and brokenness, is really not all there is.

Monday, September 24, 2012

bits and pieces

I have decided I must write in snippets. 

Snippet #1
That cute little drawing up there is from my oldest boy. He is learning traditional Chinese Painting during one of his afternoon clubs at school. While it's nothing to go on about, I do like that they are teaching an actual skill... the proper way to hold the brush "just so, like this mom" and  to make skinny strokes or broad strokes depending on the angle of the brush. 

Then there is the panda of course. Pandas. Always Pandas. We live in the city of Pandas. It's quite famous and exotic. And for some reason, everyone and their mother spoke this to me as if it was some Great Comfort when we were moving here. "At least you'll get to see the Pandas," they would say in all seriousness. I would think, does the idea of seeing a Panda comfort you when you miss your family and friends? I think not. But they are cute and have a thumb and so I cheer on for the Pandas.

Snippet #2
The Turkey Trot. 
I somehow rallied a few school staff to join me in a China-side Turkey Trot last Thanksgiving. It's a personal family tradition, and now we're trying to bring it around the world. Well, not really but it's just a way to carry on my traditions, stay motivated to run, and have an excuse to bring people together and most importantly... design a tshirt. So the 2nd Annual Turkey Trot advertisements have gone into circulation.

Snippet #3
This Little Guy.
He's so sweet I tell you. Just so sweet.

Snippet #4
It happened again tonight. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my children. Or perhaps enjoyed is another word for: I wasn't yelling and frustrated, irritated or impatient, or wishing my day would just end. And my husband wasn't even home. 

They all gathered around and I promise every single one of them was talking straight at me, needing me in some way. One was so intently explaining his plans to recruit, train, and organize a team of baseball players (made up of 1st and 2nd graders mind you) at the ever-important daily venue of recess. He was so intense I nearly started worrying if I would make the team myself. So, clearly he needed some input as to how not to scare off the rest of these kids who are from countries where baseball is about as familiar a word as fjwimenbryeuwor, as well as some encouragement so as not to deflate his enthusiasm or delight in something good like teamwork and being a leader. So there was him.

Then, my dearest daughter, who had been waiting so patiently for me to give her some lap reading time while I first fed the baby and listened to Baseball Fanatic, just couldn't handle it anymore and began shoving the book in front of my face, "read! read!" 

Curls was cheering on his brother, piping in on the sidelines with anecdotes and commentary on different kids and their skill level and what should be done with them according to the Fanatical Plan to Have Baseball Take Over Recess. 

There was a lot of homework. A lot of Chinese characters to be learned and read and copied. An antsy, drooling baby who no longer sits still but can't crawl or sit on his own yet. A girl with a marker and a refusal to be left out of any situation. It could have been a mess. But it wasn't, and I was pleasantly, gratefully, surprised.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

That light feeling inside when normally it's heavy

Kids can say things in such quirky ways. Sometimes, when that happens, it makes you look at what they've said much like you would look at a house hanging upside down right in front of your face. It's still a house, but you don't feel at home with it so you are forced to take it in, freed from all the comfortable, pre-conceived notions you normally bring to it. Kids talking about almost anything really, is kind of like that.

I like this quirky perspective. Just today I learned that clouds are dark and shiny when they clap and crack open. Also that when you sacrifice something you wanted for the sake of another, it makes you feel "light inside" and not "heavy like normal. Almost like I was being asked to play for Major League baseball or something." That's quite a feeling, just for thinking of someone else over and instead of yourself. I do believe it's called joy, and yes it does seem intoxicating.

I went for a run yesterday, along abandoned winding roads where weeds and crumbling brick have taken over the landscape. I saw a man on a bicycle, feet touching the road, arms folded and leaning against the handlebars, his head dipped down with his eyes pressed agains his forearms. He just stayed like that, in the middle of this abandoned road until after I had passed. I wondered at what made him bow over like that, and this curious and almost burdened feeling is one that happens often as  I walk among people here. Just beyond him, a few women combed a squatters garden for ears of corn and ripened gourds. It seemed a strange meeting place, the lot of us and our varied activities. Even now, the memory of it is strange to me.

Our baby boy is 5 months now. He is a tumbling ball of blubber and drool and smiles. The other night, I couldn't stop snuggling him into the curve of my neck, feeling the scrunch of his cheeks as he smiled, hearing him coo and giggle. What a gift he is. How blessed we are. I mean, I don't even know how I can feel this way about him, being overwhelmed at the thought as I was before and being not very much a baby person in general. But he just bounced right in here, and snatched my heart completely.

In fact, I have felt this way about all my children recently, to some degree or another. And this is rare for me. I suppose it's just that it doesn't come natural, the whole enjoyment of the baby/toddler/demanding-young-children phase. I like to think that my years to shine will be the high school years. "Then," oh yes, I think, "I will bask in the Awesomeness of Motherhood."But now I find that recently I have had moments, many of them occurring in the same day and on multiple days in the week, where I find myself enjoy these charming, humorous, adorable, and smart little kids of mine. I can't imagine I ought to take this lightly, which is why I mention it here.