What it’s like to be the center of the universe

Have you ever wondered how it would feel to have the paparazzi on your tail, stalking your every move, documenting your tiniest sneeze, analyzing your clothing choices, rating your performance?

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Well, wonder no more. Just ask Stella!

This girl is princess of the playground, ruler of the one-and-under crowd, queen supreme of have it your way. That’s her taking over some kid’s portable keyboard. (FeiLong, in the gray sweater, is public enemy number one as he also likes to have it his way. Kid is half-American: sensing a pattern here?)

On the downside, this means Stella’s clothing choices are regularly criticized and bringing her out with a runny nose and short sleeves leads to looks of death and judgment. On the plus side, if I’m feeling tired, I just head outside and I betcha 10 bucks I can find someone else who’s willing (desperate! dying!) to hold the Bean.

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There are a lot of things that make me nerve-y about being back in the States for a year. Maybe the biggest? Who’s gonna take care of my baby?

Yes, that’s right: other people regularly grab Stella and go. This is her with her name twin: XuanXuan jiejie (that’s XuanXuan Elder Sister, also known as Stella) and XuanXuan meimei (XuanXuan Younger Sister, who’s smaller by two months). This picture was taken a month ago; on Sunday, Stella danced for 30 minutes or so to XuanXuan meimei‘s stroller boom box and then, like the tyrant we all know is bottled up in there somewhere, made XuanXuan meimei‘s mom walk her around for another 10.

Last week, I was eating lunch with a friend at a fine local establishment. Stella was in the stroller making faces at the people at the next table (who asked if I was ever worried someone would steal her because she was so cute). Next thing I knew, Stella was out of the stroller and the waitress was bouncing around the restaurant with her. Lest you think this was odd, this was the second visit in a row where this happened.

Sometimes I should probably be a little more hands off. But y’all. Seriously. People are happy to entertain my child while I enjoy a leisurely meal. They are happy to make faces and coo at her when she cries on the elevator. They are happy to get the door and open the gate and happy to share their kid’s toys and happy to laugh at her when she pitches a fit about wanting to take said toy home with her.

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I swear that Stella must think her name is yang wawa (foreign baby doll) because honestly, people scream it every time she shows up. And it’s not just around the local crowd.

Our friend group here is disproportionately young and single and that means Stella is disproportionately the center of it all. She does have a few friends her age (see above: hi Jack and Luke! Addie and Noah, we miss you!), but the numbers are so far out of whack that there are always at least 5 or 6 people available to coo and giggle and clap and cheer.

Girl has got a cush life. Oh, well–all that’s coming crashing down in T-minus 25 days when we pack it up and head for ‘Merica.* Tell me, are Americans generally happy to be seated next to one-year-olds on trans-Pacific flights? No? And how do they feel about happy babies who have been traveling for 24 hours before they sit next to you on the Dallas-Atlanta leg? Not great?

Oh well, Asia. Stella (and Stella’s mama) are in for a cruel wakening in the real, harsh world of the SouthEast USA.

 

*Who am I kidding? Gran and Grandpa and Bebe and Papa will pick up the slack right where Asia dropped the ball. Stella, honey, you’ve got it made.


The Case of the Missing Passport

Or, All’s Well That Ends Well.

Stress? Ha! I laugh in the face of such a tame, easygoing word. The last several weeks have been whooooooooPRESSURE, and it’s not likely to let up soon. Perhaps you are unconvinced? Last Saturday, I tried to eat a marble that Noah handed me. (Thankfully, I spit it out before swallowing.) I’ve taken to pacing around our apartment, and I gave Michael a super stellar haircut. In the midst of all the excitement, I also managed to lose, and find, Stella’s passport.

Wednesday morning. Up early, and subway into the city with Miss StellaB to pick up her passport. Her visa had expired, so it was at a government center while they renewed said visa. The trek into town is a doozy (hour and a half-ish subway ride + 15 minute walk off the subway), and although Stella slept in the Ergo much of the way there, she was wide awake, wired, and hangry by the time I left, passport in hand. So. I took a cab half of the way back. It was only about $5, and, you know, longdaylongweek I deserve it. I chatted with the cab driver, fed Stella, and was pleased with myself and my wise decision to save time and energy by the time I hopped out of the taxi and walked to the subway for the rest of the journey home.

Until. I. realized. I. left. her. passport. in. the. cab.

Cue: shaking, running back to the cab line (too late, that guy is long gone), a frantic hang up to Michael (what could he do anyway?), begging other cab drivers in the line to put something out on the radio (soooooo not that simple), looking for the police.

I ended up finding the police and they were kind and helpful, but about 45 minutes into the ordeal I realized that their plan was to have the local government just make us another American passport. Sadly, it doesn’t work quite that way. I asked them to make an announcement on the cabbie radios, but this they had no power to do. Finally, they sent me on to the local traffic radio station: to get an announcement out,  I had to go in person and make a request. One 20-minute cab ride, 200 kuai, four station employees, and several forms later, our announcement was good to go. Careless American mom leaves her daughter’s passport in the backseat of kind local cab. Can anyone please help us get it back?

Let me insert here: those radio people, bless their hearts, were the bestest ever ever. I did have to pay 200 kuai ($25-ish bucks) for them to make the announcements, but they saw that I was low on cash (wasn’t prepared for all the day would hold and didn’t bring my ATM card) and actually threw in some extra announcements so that it would go on the radio every half-hour until the cab drivers changed shifts at 4. They also interviewed me so they could make a story of it, which they didn’t have to do, but was a huge help as that meant that my sad little tale would have more airtime and be more likely to be heard. My phone was also about to die (again, not prepared), so I kicked the guard out and spent about 30 minutes sitting in his shack outside the building  charging my phone and making calls to Michael and other, helping friends.

By this point, Michael and a local friend had hopped on the subway to meet me in town and see what else could be done, so I made my way back to the scene of the original mishap. We had just headed back, again, to the police station on the hunt for security camera footage when the newly-charged-up phone rang with news of a discovered American baby’s passport! The cabbie, bless his heart forever and ever, chided me a bit for my carelessness, but the long and short of it is he found Stella’s passport in his back seat and dropped it off at his cab company’s headquarters.

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He heard our little announcement and called to let us know where it was and heavens above I don’t know when I’ve been so relieved. All the horrible things that could have happened (baby gets desperately ill and is stuck in-country without passport or access to life-saving healthcare was one of the more vivid scenarios) started really running through my head. Stella and I hopped a subway back home (one big long exhale of it’s OK-ness the whole way), and Michael went to pick up the passport from our honest cab friend.

I’m often hesitant, honest truth be told, to ascribe these things to God. Last week, my friend lost her turtle, but God helped her find it, she told me. I smiled and nodded, thinking inwardly: “Uh-huh, I’m sure he would have turned up eventually.” But the crazy, unbelievable, hard-to-understand thing is: God does care. He cares about my carelessness, and my worries, big and small. About turtles and passports and things even more frightening than that. So often I struggle, but I am grateful that, even when I am faithless, He remains faithful to me.

 

 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.


Things I learn in the neighborhood

Spent this week’s sunny(ish) afternoon hanging out in the 小区 (xiaoqu, which means my apartment complex) with the neighbors and their babies. Here, that means a hefty helping of grandmother time (they are usually the primary caretakers for little ones) with one or two moms sprinkled in for variety. Here are just a few of the life lessons I picked up:

-I must hold Stella with my arm underneath her booty. I must never perch her on my hip or I will cause permanent damage.

-In America, the government gives you money to have children and you don’t have to pay for them yourself. I know this because one of the nainais (grandmothers) told me that her cousin’s daughter lives in America and told her this about the law. I tried to explain that this doesn’t apply to everyone, but she gave me the side eye and told me she’s sure this is how it is. (Note to self: apply for Stella’s money!)

-Also in America, you are allowed to keep having children until you get a boy. Sometimes you can even keep going after having the boy!

-Beef-flavoured candy is gross.

-Stella is always wearing too few clothes. Until I told the nainais that her purple suit is down-filled, at which point I am immediately informed that she is overheated.

-Everyone already knows where I live, all the way down to apartment building and floor.

-It is a bad idea to feed my baby yogurt at this tender age.

-My neighbors are the sweetest. They care for me and Stella well, and holding her (and comparing how she stacks up against their grandbabies) is the highlight of all of our days.

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Springtime catch-up

Hey y’all. I’ve disappeared from the blog, apparently, but the life update is this: I’m in America, Michael is in Asia, and all is well. Baby girl is still a girl, best we can tell, and I’m hanging out with my parents in Alabama until Michael gets back in May. We’ve been sad to be apart (a measly total of not quite six weeks: how on earth do military families do it???) but I’m thankful for time with my family in the meantime.

I’m way behind on things that have happened in our life, but here are some photos from Asia just before I left.

The Saturday before Easter, we went with some friends to a (sort of) petting zoo about an hour from where we live. We had fun hanging out and saw some cool stuff, but–not gonna lie–parts were really sad as some of the animals seemed to live in less than ideal situations. The low-light was a tie between the performance featuring a dancing bear and monkey performing to blaring pop tunes, and the lion cages (more on that in a minute).

Still, we enjoyed one another’s company and–look on the bright side–when else can you feed a giraffe or pet a baby leopard?

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Meredith, Sam and Kelsey in our safari golf cart.

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The first stop of our tour was this yard (fenced in so we didn’t get to pet anything here) with kangaroos. The worker walked out with this bag and out popped baby Roo!

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Then we went to the giraffe area and got to feed and pet the giraffes.

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I freaked out a little.

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Post-giraffe and after we walked out on the dancing bear performance (we just couldn’t take it anymore!) we found the tiger enclosure. In the zoo’s defense, apparently the big cat area is under construction and will be open in May, but y’all, it was so so sad to see this whole row of tigers locked up in little cages. Also, scary. These cats were not happy campers and there was some roaring going on.

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Also some fighting: these guys were getting after it.

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The coolest part by far was when we walked out of the tiger cages to find this guy taking a baby leopard out of a cardboard box. A crowd quickly formed, but we were able to pet her and play for a bit. I did feel comforted because this worker (same guy with baby kangaroo) really did seem to care about the animals and enjoy playing with them.

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The next day was Easter, which was low-key and laid-back this year. Michael and I hung out at home all morning before meeting with friends later in the afternoon. I’ve hardly any pictures, but here are a few from our photo shoot. (I feel like I look huge in these pictures–which is true, but I honestly think it had something to do with the flow of the dress. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself!)

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A Feeling of Grace

Thanksgiving.

It doesn’t feel like it, much, this year. It’s dreary, befitting November, but there’s no chill in the air. We’ve finally made plans, decided who will make sweet potato casserole and who is in charge of the yeast rolls and what time we should eat. Turkey is de-frosting in the fridge: for the first time, Michael and I–and when I say “we” I actually mean “he”–will be baking our own instead of ordering from the Hilton. (That’s what happens when our only source for pre-baked turkey raises their prices to $200 USD–on the low end!)

In the language here, Thanksgiving could be translated as “sense-of-grace-holiday.” I certainly need that sense of grace, of gratitude, every day. For me, living overseas is not unusually hard. In a lot of ways, I find that my heart thrives here,  my sense of adventure sated, my desire for the unique and unusual met around every corner. But while I love Asia and am thankful to live here, so often that thankfulness slips beneath the surface, covered by layers of frustration over delays and inconveniences and a missing, a yearning, for our American home.

So here’s a small list, a teaspoonful of things I’m grateful for about my life, wonderful and imperfect as it is.

I’m thankful for those tiny oranges we don’t have in the States but which are sold on every street corner here. Sweet and tangy, quick to peel, the perfect mid-afternoon snack.

I’m thankful for chubby Asian babies, bundled till their arms stick out from their side at 45 degree angles, like Randy Parker in A Christmas Story. They’re adorable and precious and I love seeing them waddle around our apartment complex.

I’m thankful for my tiny space heater, which keeps me cozy and cuddled up on my couch.

I’m thankful that our local xiaomaibu (small store) stocks fresh milk in addition to the ultra-pasteurized boxed kind which lines most of the shelves.

I’m thankful for a community who loves and cares for me.

I’m thankful for Skype, which makes calls and communication with the States a hundred times easier than it was only five years ago.

I’m thankful for the subway which is soon to open (rumor has it next week!) near our home and will make transportation around this massive city much more convenient.

I’m thankful that we’ve only lost water once this semester, for a few hours, and we’ve not been without electricity at all. I’m also hopeful that this is not an aberration but a pattern that will continue throughout the year!


From the Mixed-Up Files

Did anyone read that classic of children’s literature, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? In the book, the two children have to navigate the confusing and seeming-orderless filing system of Mrs. Frankweiler to solve the mystery (about a priceless display at the Met in New York). I feel like I am Mrs. Frankweiler, and her confusing filing system is my brain. There’s not much rhyme, but there is reason. Somewhere. So here goes a peek into the madness of my mind.
-We’re back! And oh so glad. After what some seriously flawed flight planning on my part (overnight layover in New York–which actually was great although we missed the friends we’d hope to see–and non-connecting tickets from New York to Atlanta, which of course = baggage fees), we arrived at our home last Tuesday night. We spent the next days in a haze of jet lag, but at this point have finally re-calibrated to normal.

-After a whole summer apart, our first order of business on Wednesday morning was going to pick up our sweet puppy. Oh, it was so good! And while we had feared that his summer at dog camp would leave him unmanageable, we’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that he’s actually grown up and calmed down. Oh, and also, he’s now bilingual: turns out this summer Albus learned to respond to basic commands like “sit” and “come” in the local language. We always knew he was smart.

-I woke up a few days ago with a nasty eye infection/stye. Interestingly enough, the same thing happened at the exact same time last year. I’m not sure if it’s environmental, due to travel stress/weariness, or just a fluke. I’ve been spending lots of time with hot compresses on my eye, but the weirdest and most useful tip has been dropping green tea in my eye. I promise I didn’t make this up myself (learned it from a friend!) but have been so surprised and thankful at how well this works.

-In addition to my eye infection, since returning I’ve also come down with some sort of nasty hacking cough. I’m not sick, just sound like I’ve been smoking for 40 years. Which led to some late-night Internet investigation (never a good idea) and the discovery that our city has made several top 10 worst air quality lists. And also that living here means my chances of someday developing lung cancer have spiked by like 20%. (The Internet told me so and we all know that the Internet is a good place for people like me with hypochondriac tendencies! Right???) All those years of cigarette fear, for nought!  In the same vein, yesterday Michael went and got our air purifier repaired, so that’s now running 24-7 in our apartment. And we bought a used treadmill from some friends who left this summer, so my outdoor exercise time will probably greatly decrease this year. –sigh–

-This time of year is slow going for us, and I am grateful. After a wonderful summer jam-packed with people, it has been equally wonderful to have time without so many people around. My introvert side is relishing the down time, and hopefully stocking up for the busy season that awaits just around the bend. In the meantime, we’ve been cleaning our apartment (despite double bagging everything in our kitchen, I still returned to a bug infestation which required two full days of bleach and washing–blehhh), stocking up on goods for the year ahead (this requires several half-day trips to various grocery stores located outside of our immediate vicinity), and organizing/cleaning the apartments of our soon-to-arrive neighbors. It’s been nice to literally get my hands dirty with preparations for the year.

-Speaking of projects, I’ve also gotten to do a few crafty things that had been on my list forever but which I never got around to. Hoping to share a few of those projects soon….

-Last Saturday, Michael and I, along with our friend Gunter, hopped on the motor bikes and took to the hills surrounding our little suburb. It was awe-inspiring. Michael brought his camera; here are some photos he took of a 2,000-year-old Buddhist temple we found. Seriously, never even knew there was a temple in the area. Crazy.

-In other crazy news, it is freaking hot. Like, hotter-than-Alabama-in-August hot. I’m so glad we have an air conditioner.


Frozen in Time

A moment. This morning. Albus sits at my feet, calm (worn and wearied is perhaps more accurate) from an hour of frenzied tussling with the rug and a water bottle. Outside, I see workers below me, building a veranda on a nearby rooftop. The sound of hammering is persistent, the low thud of background noise. It’s cloudy, hazy, cool in the way peculiar to thick and humid days.

I linger over my coffee, trying to discern what is inside my heart. Truth be told, I’m not sure. We head home (what a loaded term that one is for us!) in 10 days, back to our mamas and doctor appointments and siblings and the brightly fierce sunshine of the South. I’m ready. My list of things to wrap up here is long, still. Good-byes to friends who, when school lets out in July, will be scattered across the globe. A party to celebrate the soon-arrival of two sweet babies. Presents for family. Next year’s rent to be paid and visas to be handled and plans for the fall to be set. Worries about our tickets and stress over my own forgetful hastiness in myriad tiny details and one last week of walks and cuddles with the pupster. (We can’t bring him home, but no worries, he’ll be waiting for us the moment we get back.)

Trying, in the midst of that, to just be here for a few more days. To stop, to feel the breeze, to be and not just to do. To remember Who my fortress is, and to rest there. To quiet my soul like a weaned child, to quell the anxious thoughts that rise up in my soul over the most quibbling of matters. Striving, this morning, to go out and accomplish what must be done with a heart that is still.

To let this day be simple and joyous.

“I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens, but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”

L.M. Montgomery