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?
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.
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.
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.
Thirteen or so months ago, we loaded up our lives into rice bags and hauled them 20 stories down, across the street, and 10 stories up into the apartment complex across the street. We weren’t thrilled about moving–our landlord kicked us out because he wanted the apartment for himself–but thought we’d ended with a good deal in our new home. A newer place; bigger; only marginally more expensive; and (maybe best of all) a landlord who was just keeping the apartment as an investment; a place we could settle and STAY.
The idea of staying was attractive because I’ve logged up the moves since starting college at 18. Here are the stats for the last 12 years.
Times I’ve moved continents: three
Times I’ve moved an hour or more (essentially to a new city, although one of the in-Asia moves was to a different part of the massive city where we live): six
Times I’ve moved apartments: 11
(Is it clear that this is a total of 11 moves? Not a total of 20. Just if you were keeping score. I sure am.)
But last spring, as far as we could see, there were no more moves on the foreseeable horizon.
Turns out, we couldn’t see that far.
Because here we are again, one scant year later, getting ready to pack it all up and move it all on. I won’t get into it here, but due to an unforeseen turn of events, we are headed back to America next year. It’s taken a bit of time for this fact to sink in, but now that it has, I feel: sad. uncertain. apathetic? thankful (that Stella will get to see her grandparents in real life, not just on Skype). overwhelmed. But mostly, I feel tired.
This life we live is crazy from any normal point of view. Who in their right mind would change countries as seemingly cavalierly as others change–I don’t know–their gym? Well, here we are, guilty as charged. (Although of course I must insist that these changes are not at all unconsidered or off-hand.)
It’s true, this ain’t normal. And while anyone who makes the life choices that we have made is obviously a little bit off somewhere up there, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt. The constant transition frays, sometimes more than just a bit, at the edges of my weary soul. People come, people go, it’s a fight to care. To know when relationships are worth fighting for, and when to just let them fade. To manage the details of packing up a life, of making plans for a new and temporary home, of planting and uprooting and re-planting.
No answers here, just questions. And this thought, from Abraham Verghese’s book Cutting for Stone:
“Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted?”
Old as this song and dance can become, this is truth. We have so many homes, so many places where we are wanted. Come or go, stay or leave, I’m grateful for that.
Sorry your life is so unsettled, StellaB.
But I think, hope, that it’s rich in some ways that a “normal” life isn’t.
It’s a trade-off, for sure.
Just know this: wherever we land, one of your many, many “homes” is ecstatic to receive you.
Run to him.
Arms open, body worn, heart rent.
The last month has brought upon our family, quite suddenly, a season of unexpected change. Where we live and how we spend our days are up in the air. I know that I am not defined by these outer characteristics, but in my heart, I sometimes feel as if who I am is being called into question. My heart is anxious, and my hands are busy.
In the midst of turmoil and uncertainty, what does it mean to observe the Sabbath? When your to-do list is linked with a ticking clock and there’s no escaping the tyranny of what must be done, how do you rest?
This one, at least, doesn’t seem to have any problems relaxing.
The dictionary defines Sabbath as a “special day of prayer and rest.” There’s value in that, in withdrawing and setting aside, in making space each week for respite. But to simply pause our activities is not, I believe, what we are asked to do. We are called to so much more.
In this time of uncertainty, Jesus tells me that true Sabbath rest is found in him. Again and again throughout the Gospels, he reminds Pharisees and disciples alike that Sabbath rules are not Lord of him, but that he–the Christ–is Lord of the Sabbath. (See Luke 6:1-11) He does not cease to do good or to care for the needy just because it is the prescribed day of rest, but he shows that true rest comes when we turn to him.
Should we rest? Yes and amen. But that rest must consist of turning from self and turning to him. In this time, for me at least, Sabbath rest means not less than ceasing my “deadly doing,” but much more.
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
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.
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.
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.
Two days, two posts: has that ever happened?
Thanksgiving Day in pictures. Happy heart.
Stella and Sarah. I’m so grateful for friends who are happy to hold her when I rush in like a tornado with a billion things to do. So thankful for friends who love our little girl.
Cat and Adelaide, me and StellaB. Addie is completely obsessed with Stella and it is the most precious thing. She regularly thinks that she is about to win the jackpot and get to hold the real live baby doll for a few minutes. It has yet to happen but a girl has to dream, right?
Our little family at Stella’s first Thanksgiving. Happy, happy heart.
Some of the place settings/decor. Dressing the table makes it feel like a true holiday to me!
Just some of the wonderful people we get to live alongside.
Happy day-after-Thanksgiving to you!
It happened last week.
The day was book-ended by fusses with Michael. The night before Stella was up for an hour and then it took me (Michael, too–wonder why we were crabby the next morning?) another hour to fall asleep. It was yet another grey and smog-filled day in a long line of grey and smog-filled days. I lost my subway card. Stella and I schlepped in the rain to the center of the city, an hour and a half away, for a meeting, which is when the real climactic moment happened: while I was trying to balance an umbrella, a baby, and a bulky diaper bag, some jerk stole my iPhone.
Here’s the thing: I say I don’t believe in karma….but I act like I do. My first thought was: Seriously, God? I just came all this way with my baby to meet with a lady and talk about what we can do to help orphans, for heaven’s sake, and this is my reward? Ugh. Cue anger, sulking, and a sizable side dose of self-beration. (I knew it was stupid to put my phone in my coat pocket but Stella was half-asleep/half-crying and I was just going 20 yards in between buildings.) I act like I deserve good things, I am shocked and self-righteous when bad stuff happens to me… but really, deep down (sometimes not very deep), I’m selfish and self-centered.
Days like this, like that, it’s hard for me to love this place, hard for me to love this people. Some days, the good ones, I look at the crowd milling about the square and feel compassion for them, feel overwhelmed by love and their deep need. But that day, as I rode a glass-fronted elevator up above the square after being pick-pocketed, all I could think was, which of those idiots down there took my phone? (Did I mention I was carrying a baby in the rain? You should feel sorry for me–I certainly felt sorry for myself.)
That afternoon, I met with some friends. We talked, they commiserated with me over the lost phone, we grumbled about how people are sometimes the worst. BUT THEN. One of my friends prayed: for me and my crappy day, but also for the person who took my phone. What the what? It never would have crossed my mind to pray for the thief. But that’s what it’s all about. Not about karma, about doing good deeds and reaping good results as a reward, but about loving and caring for others even when they don’t deserve it.
Especially when they don’t deserve it. Because that’s the principle that has been applied to me.
I’m thankful that’s the grace I live under.
For some reason, I feel more than a little silly writing a pregnancy update on the blog…but dang all, I want to remember details so here goes. We start with a nearly-38-week bump. Voila!
I’ve been in America for literally months now, since early April. We have many American friends who have delivered their babies in Asia, but for us there was not much debate: we always knew we would come back to the States for at least our first child. There are many reasons for this, one of the main being that it was not medically advisable to deliver in the city where we live. This meant our options were flying (at least a month ahead of the due date) to a large city on the east coast or to Thailand, both places where we have no friends or family. After the birth we would again have to wait at least several weeks (depending on if we were in or out of the country) for processing of birth certificates, passports, visas, and etc. Not only could this quickly get expensive as we factored in housing, but it would also be emotionally very difficult to be isolated during this unique time in our life.
We spoke with many, many families who have been through similar decisions and the consensus was that it is highly advisable to have the first child in the mother’s home country. The last thing you want is a stressful labor and delivery where you are struggling to communicate and understand what the doctors and nurses are doing to you–especially when you don’t truly understand what to expect yourself!
Another, not minor, consideration was being around family in this season. Of course, they will want to be with us but (let’s be honest, more importantly) with their grandchild. I personally want my mom to be able to help me out and show me how to do the myriad daily tasks that come with a baby! This summer, we are living in Chattanooga at Michael’s parents’ home. They will be at their nearby lake house for most of the summer, and have graciously allowed us to make their home, ours. This is great for many reasons, the biggest being that Michael and I will have the opportunity to get used to being a family of three. My family will be able to freely come and go for visits (like they would if we lived in the States), and we will also spend lots of time with the Gregory clan. Chattanooga is also where we lived for two years post-marriage, pre-Asian return, so we still have friends in the area, which makes life lots more fun.
When exactly we will be meeting this little one is currently the subject of all my waking thoughts. My regular doctor was out of town this week and the guy I saw didn’t do more than check the heartbeat, so I’ve no idea where things currently stand. At my 36 week appointment, she had started dropping and was already measuring a week and a half ahead of schedule–but these things are so subjective at the end that there is really no telling when to expect her. Michael is proud as can be because apparently this little girl is looking to be quite tall. He’s already talking of volleyball or tennis, though I keep reminding him that the poor thing has my genes as well as his so athletics might not be a big part of her life.
Since our very early ultrasounds, our doctors have talked about what an active baby we have, and that doesn’t seem to have abated. I don’t have anything to compare it to, but this little girl packs quite a punch. We thought that would slow down as the due date neared, but so far she is still kicking and squirming and pumping away in there. Sometimes her little jabs are quite painful! I’ve also reached the phase of pregnancy where I grunt when I stand up (just as attractive as it sounds) and where getting out of bed in the middle of the night (which happens often) requires a lot of effort. While I am so incredibly thankful to BE pregnant, honestly, the actual state of pregnancy is not on the list of my favorite things. We are hoping very hard she comes a little early. I’m ready to meet her (it seems ages since the teary-eyed morning I saw two lines)!–and it would also help a lot as we have a limited time frame to get her passport and visa processed before our already-purchased flights back to Asia. Unfortunately there’s not a lot we can do about it as we really don’t want to induce unless it becomes medically necessary.
Let the waiting continue!
Busy, busy, busy.
I hate it when people talk about how crazy their life is, but I’m not sure how to write about what has been happening with us lately without using the dreaded b-word. Most of that busyness has centered around a move (never a fun experience and just possibly even less fun than normal in Asia). We found out about a month ago that we would have to move apartments sometime this semester as our landlord wanted to move in to our place in July. Bleh: we loved our home and would have been happy to stay there. But, what are you gonna do? We talked with our landlord right before everything shut down for Lunar New Year so, as soon as office workers began returning to work in late February, we started looking.
The apartment hunt took about a week, and after several false starts on places, unfortunately ended with us moving out of our complex and into the complex across the street. Not far at all but it is a little sad as most of our friends live in our old complex and I’m a bit bummed that we will be the outliers. Thankfully, though, we love our new apartment and hope (fingers crossed) we won’t have to move again for a while.
The move itself, of course, was a trying experience. We had approximately two days to pack (and of course we still had full days with other life responsibilities happening during that time) so we did what might charitably be called a very shoddy packing job, and were still shoving our belongings into rice bags when the “movers” showed up. Since I wasn’t able to help at all and because none of our friends here have any sort of truck, we decided to just hire out the heavy lifting. After a very long and trying Saturday, which included our movers spilling a can of paint in the hall just outside the elevator (and then insisting that it was no big deal and trying to step over it and continue to move our belongings over the puddle until the paint got all over a chair and on part of our carpet), an argument over the price, and lots of rain and mud , we called it a day.
Since then, we’ve been trying to balance daily life, settling in, preparations for my return to the States, and putting together some sort of nursery for our little girl. I head back to the States at the beginning of April, as I start the third trimester, and will stay with my parents in Alabama until mid-May when Michael will join me. That means I’ve got just over two weeks now to make this new place a home, try to put together a girl’s nursery (!!), wrap up responsibilities here and end things well with my friends who will have moved on by the time we return. Whew–I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it.
Thankfully, because of the move I hadn’t done anything to start a boy’s nursery so at least there is nothing to undo. Of course I know that the nursery is really not that important and many of our friends have not had the luxury of making these kind of preparations for their children’s arrival as they moved here after their baby’s birth (and in this part of the world children tend to sleep with their parents until the age of at least 3 or so! a tradition we do not plan on implementing into our lives)…. but I do love to make things beautiful and there is something stable, secure and loving about making a baby’s room. We’ll just see what gets done!
We’ve been back at home for more than three weeks now but whaddyaknow, I still haven’t finished updating the rest of our time in Thailand. Here’s the thing: it was awesome.
That first week was–truthfully–exhausting but thankfully we stayed on for another week and had the chance to take a very helpful and interesting class. We also had more free time and were able to get in a bit of hang-out time with friends. This night, pictured below, was one of my favorites. We sat at the tiny Thai restaurant on the beach and drank fruit shakes all evening.
Our week of class was refreshing intellectually and emotionally and Michael and I are still processing many of the things we learned. The best part, though, was getting to be around so many friends who we don’t normally get to see. Sometimes our world here can feel rather small (we have great community but there aren’t many people in it!) so having the opportunity to be around like-minded friends who live in other cities is truly a breath of fresh air.
After classes wrapped up, Michael and I took a few days vacation before heading back north and home. Planning was an adventure–come to find out, a large (and apparently very wealthy!) Indian family booked all the available rooms in our town, including an entire hotel, for a wedding at the same time as our vacation. Michael and I hadn’t made reservations yet but several of our friends were summarily kicked out of their hotels (did you know they could do that? because yes, it can happen!). Thankfully, we were able to find a spot about 30 minutes up the road, and had about two and a half days of glorious time to read and work out and, of course, eat.
We also got to hang out with these two fun families–Cat and her little ones, Noah and Adelaide, live in our apartment complex, while Shannon and her family live in a city several hours away. Michael and I lived just a few apartment buildings over from Shannon and Alan during our first two years in Asia and so enjoyed getting extended time with them during vacation!
After a few quick days of sun and relaxation we returned home, to Albus and to surprisingly non-frigid temperatures. We are so grateful for our break but also so glad to be home and in the swing of normal life… I still crave adventure, sure, but the older I get it seems the more grateful I am to come home.