China Is So Far Away

We have a daughter in China and she came home on Monday. She was gone for two months. We missed her.

Elena has been with our family for three years. She is an international student, living and studying in the United States for high school with the hopes of attending a reputable and rigorous American university before returning to Beijing and starting her career. Her real parents live in Beijing with her maternal grandmother. She is an only child, most of the time. But ten months out of the year, she is the oldest of four and she is very much a part of our family.

Our family has benefited immensely through the experience of hosting an international student. One of the greatest benefits of spending time, especially living with, a person from another country, is being exposed to different cultures and customs of the world. We have learned how to make and appreciate traditional Chinese food, which is very different than what we are used to. Our three children have been introduced to an entirely different level of studying and to the discipline required to achieve an academic goal. And we have been completely humbled as we try to learn the Mandarin language, with all its tonal fluctuations. We are so bad at it, Elena usually ends up rolling on the floor, seriously falling down from laughing so hard. I'm not sure the vulgarity we are muttering but we keep trying. We love to see her laugh.

Additionally, and equally beneficial, is the opportunity to provide American experiences and insight to our culture and way of life, while supporting a young person's journey to better herself or himself. It's outreach in the most fundamental form and in the comfort of your own home. Elena has learned how to make and appreciate traditional American food. She has been exposed to the concept of balance and finding the value of "experiential" education as we drag her away from the books for trips to the beach or neighborhood parties or campouts. While studying new-to-her subjects like U.S. and World History and English Literature, she has refined her English language skills, recognizing and now even using, slang and puns and American conventions.

Lastly, hosting an international student, whether for a semester, a year, or longer, will change lives. It's opening your home and your heart to a new member of the family, one whose differences are gifts, whose experiences are lessons and whose thumbprint will be permanent. We stumbled upon the opportunity to "adopt" Elena via a family friend and we are so happy we had an open mind and got matched with an AMAZING young lady. (Not everyone's stories are the same.) The ultimate reward, the forging of a lifelong and meaningful relationship, has been invaluable.

We love you, Elena. Welcome home!


Holly and Jenn

Summer Buzz Kill

I love Target. It's one of those stores that just makes me happy. Things are color-coordinated and perfectly placed. Target makes me believe that even I can be organized and put together. There's no place else that you can take your $12.99 and get that perfect impulse-buy without the guilt. Whether it's a new chevron scarf, a few pairs of frilly panties, a CD or best-selling book...whatever "must-have" it may be, Target has it. Target and I have a great relationship. Or, I thought we did.

Recently, while prepping for my annual camping trip, I roamed the aisles for my s'mores supplies, RV-friendly toilet paper and other various camping necessities. I was taking my time and taking it all in, filling my cart and letting Target work its magic on my mood. I. Was. Happy.

Then I rounded the bulk items aisle and found myself in what looked to be a construction zone. The shelves were bare and the bins were empty. I stopped mid-aisle and wondered what wonderful seasonal items were going to be set out. Maybe patio and garden supplies, or more summer toys, or some other amazing find meant just for me.

All of a sudden, five, red-shirted worker-bees came toward me pushing GIANT carts. I couldn't believe my luck, that I would be able to witness the unfurling of the newest must-haves. As I watched with excited anticipation, I noticed the carts did not carry painted flower pots, matching gardening gloves or watering cans, nor did they carry brightly-colored pool toys or lawn games. No. They were overflowing with little yellow and green boxes. Boxes filled with colored pencils, pens, crayons and water colors. They were stacked high with ruled paper, scissors and glue. They were filled with school supplies. In July!

Oh Target, why did you hurt me so bad? I thought we were friends! I thought you were looking out for me! I thought you knew me! I stood there in disbelief as a wave of nauseousness came over me. Then sadness. Then rage. Really? It's July! We have almost two months until the kids are due back to the blacktop with their shiny new backpacks, clean, hole-free shoes, and oodles of school supplies. (Really. The list is long and very specific.)

So I turned on my heels, snuffing the Target employees that had just killed my summer-time buzz, and went to check out. On my way I regained control over my summer spirit. After all, if I can ignore Christmas decorations that make an appearance in October, I can surely avoid school supplies until later. Much, much later.


Holly and Jenn

Broken Bones and PTSD

Why is it that when you become a parent, no one shares with you that your children's injuries will leave indelible, painful marks on you?

I used to feel like I could handle it when my children got hurt. I was always the calm one, assuring them that everything would be OK. Then the last year happened. With one injury after another, my resolve to be cool and collected withered away to nothing. I was left raw and exposed and anxious.
We have become very familiar with the ER near our home.

In the last 12 months we have visited there on four different occasions with each of our children. In April 2012, my middle son was stung by a swarm of bees. We pulled 38 stingers off of his little body and took him to get steroid shots. In September my daughter was climbing on the bleachers at the baseball field by our home. She slipped and fell while she was pretending the hand rail was a balance beam. No stitches, but the area from which she was bleeding was a grizzly scene. In February of 2013, my middle son (again) fell backwards off a chair onto his head. He was having trouble speaking and his pupils were different sizes. We rushed him to the ER where they pronounced a moderate concussion. Most recently, my oldest broke his wrist playing trampoline basketball. Saying that it broke really doesn't do it justice. It SNAPPED in two. It was very dramatic and was the final undoing of my calm exterior. Everyone commented on how calm I appeared but that was a complete facade. I'm pretty sure I'm suffering from PTSD.

I know, being a mother of boys (and a daughter that plays like one), that accidents will happen. Cuts and bruises I can do without feeling panicked. But I've noticed that now I am much more vocal about what I DON'T want my children to do. Climbing walls, running in flip flops, crashing waves, and riding skateboards evoke sudden panic attacks and crazy yelling scenes that did not occur B.A. (before accidents). My children give me the rolling eye look as if to say "you didn't act like this before! Now everything is BORING."

Well, BORING I can do, and I can do it really well. Especially if it means keeping my precious children safe from all the things that threaten to beat them up and make them bleed. Is that realistic? Probably not, but until I go through desensitization therapy to deal with my anxiety, I will put up with eye rolling when I make them sit on the couch and watch TV instead of going outside to get hurt.


Holly and Jenn

The Middle

Today we have officially been out of school for 52 days. I think this is what they call the Dog Days of Summer. We are HALFWAY through. My oldest saw a back to school commercial the other day and moaned, "WHY are they reminding us about school?" That made me ponder the fact that I haven't made them do one math problem or pick up a book in the last 45 days. Whoops.

It's kind of hard to believe that it's already the middle of summer. It has been very easy to let the routine go. Too easy in fact. I have gotten used to not paying attention to what has to be done tomorrow and had more of a "go with the flow" attitude. We have had some "stay in our PJ's'" days, movie days, pool days, VBS days, art project days, and beach days. The joy in all of these days has been being on our own time. We make our schedule and with the exception of a few practices and some work days in the week, that schedule starts and ends when we decide. It is a luxury for which I am eternally grateful and long for starting around March 1st.

Is summer all fun and games? No. Are there days that I wish my three lovely children would have to be gone for six hours a day? Of course! I am only human after all. Being sole entertainer can be draining and sometimes frustrating. Trying to plan something that all three will enjoy usually has to involve ice cream or spending money. My 13 year old is not interested in playing with my five year old every day and my 10 year old would just play baseball if he could. Part of having a fun summer is a willingness to compromise. Teaching my kids that coming up with ideas that we can all do and enjoy together is difficult but always worth it. Bottom line, it's all fun. It's just in the way they look at it.

I am not looking forward to certain things that September will bring. Summer is a well deserved break and is not so easy to say good-bye too. However, the school year has its good points too. I guess it's all in the way I look at it.

A successful transition back to "real life" routine will be a difficult one. Practicing math facts for 1st, 5th and 8th grade will have to be on our summer agenda sometime soon. But I think I'll wait at least another 30 days before we start that.


Holly and Jenn