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?

IMG_0831

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.

IMG_0840

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.

IMG_0884

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.


On moving

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.

 

IMG_0614

Sorry your life is so unsettled, StellaB.

IMG_0619

But I think, hope, that it’s rich in some ways that a “normal” life isn’t.

IMG_0629

It’s a trade-off, for sure.

IMG_0676

Just know this: wherever we land, one of your many, many “homes” is ecstatic to receive you.


Come to me

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?

IMG_0714 - Version 2This 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.

Matt. 11:28-29

 

 


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.

!!!!!!!!

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.

IMG_0518


Day in pics

Two days, two posts: has that ever happened?

Thanksgiving Day in pictures. Happy heart.

IMG_6737

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.

IMG_6738

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?

IMG_6752

Our little family at Stella’s first Thanksgiving. Happy, happy heart.

IMG_6754

Some of the place settings/decor. Dressing the table makes it feel like a true holiday to me!

IMG_6764 - Version 2

Just some of the wonderful people we get to live alongside.

Happy day-after-Thanksgiving to you!


The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

It happens.

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.

Curses.

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.