On the Corner of “Hope” and “Faith”

Bill has always said I can make a friend anywhere. Usually I have no problem striking up a conversation with a total stranger, but for months I have wondered about the stories behind some of our local “sign holders,” and have been too afraid to approach.

They appeared a few years ago, out of the blue it seemed. Along a major highway in our area, at every intersection. Different people, all the time. I hardly ever saw any one person twice. We all wondered what was going on. Were they drug dealers disguised as homeless? We’re they just looking for easy money? Did they work in shifts?  It couldn’t be legitimate, so we drove on.  As the weather got worse, they dwindled in numbers.

It has eaten away at me since the beginning. It breaks my heart.  I want to help. When we lived in Shanghai, we were told to be careful of the beggars. They make more money begging than working, so that is what many do, hanging around areas where westerners live. Regardless of this warning, I used to give a handicap gentleman in Shanghai money when I passed him. He never asked, but I knew he needed it. He was sweet. He always smiled and said hello, even on the days that I didn’t give him anything. I enjoyed our little interactions, which were limited by the language barrier.

When we were on vacation in Chicago, my daughter, at the age of 8, had the compassion to give a homeless guy outside of the Disney store, a few dollars of her allowance. When we were in Washington D.C., my fourteen year old son asked if we could buy a homeless guy a sandwich and drink at Starbucks, which we did, and the oldest son volunteered at a food bank during his senior year of high school. We often give to charities for the needy. We have taught our children to give to the less fortunate, yet I kept passing them by on the street.

Lately, there has been a gentleman standing by a local church. A beautiful church, which was recently deemed a minor basilica by Pope Francis. He is almost always there. His sign says “Family Hungry, Need Job, Do Anything. ” Carleigh and I gave him a dollar once when we were sitting at the light, but it is on a major street, so there is no time for chatting. He is out there in any weather. In below zero temperatures, biting wind, and blowing snow.  This made me believe that he must really need the help, as it is only the diehards I see out there now. The same people, all the time. Today I decided to take him a hot chocolate, and talk with him. As I turned the corner to park, I saw he was smoking. I had a judgemental moment. He was buying cigarettes with money he could use for something else. I almost left, but I didn’t. I’m so glad I stayed.

His name is Steve, and he is 60 years old. He is Catholic, and occasionally attends mass at the church which he stands by. He rents a room about 25 minutes from the corner, and takes the bus to get there. He has two children. A fourteen-year-old daughter, who according to him, is just beginning to blossom, and a twelve-year-old son. They live with his ex-wife, and mother-in-law about a half hour away from where he is standing, in the opposite direction from where he lives. He sends money to his mother-in-law for the kids, as he says his ex-wife is not trustworthy. He visits when he can. He appeared to choke up a little as he told me that his kids do not know he stands on a corner.

He grew up on the east side of Detroit, and is a florist by trade. He worked in his parent’s flower shop on the corner of Jefferson and Alter. When the area started deteriorating, and they were robbed, they closed down. His parents are now both deceased. He took care of his mom for the last six years of her life.

His most recent job was as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, but it closed 8 months ago. He is always looking for work. He just applied for two more jobs. He said he has found jobs standing on that corner, or the other one he uses two miles south. He takes day jobs that people offer him until he finds something more permanent. He is trying to get enough money to pay his room rent.

After about 10 minutes of chatting, he tell me he has to get back to “work.” He doesn’t  want to miss a job opportunity. I gave him five dollars and told him good luck and God Bless, that it was nice to meet him. Then I left him there. Standing on the corner of “Hope” and “Faith,” holding a sign, repeating the Rosary over and over in his head. Looking for a break, but not giving up.

 

 

 

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Adventures on a Chinese Movie Set

Lights , Camera……Action!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yesterday, Bill, the boys, and I headed to the Chedun Film Studio, just outside of downtown Shanghai. Over the weekend we were offered the opportunity to be western extras in a movie, and I thought it would be a fun experience for the kids. We portrayed a British family in the 1890s, on holiday in Yokohama Japan.

The day started at the insane hour of 3 AM. Yuan-Yuan arrived at 3:30 AM to watch Carleigh for the day, and Mr. Tao arrived at 3:45 AM to take us to the studio.  Once at the studio, we were “fitted” for costumes. I use this term loosely, as this process was much like what I would do with my kids while out shopping. “Turn around, Honey, let me put this up to your back. Try on these shoes. They’re too big? Can you walk in them? Okay they’re fine. You’ll grow into them.”  We were dressed in clothing which was appropriate for the time period.  Unfortunately for the boys, this consisted of ruffled shirts (about a year ago, Carleigh was calling Brennan a new nickname; “Ruffles.” She must have known this was in his future.)

After putting our costumes on over our own clothes (good thing it was a cool day), we were sent to “makeup.”  This consisted of Ethan’s hair being slicked back with mousse and hairspray, much to his distaste. Bill, Brennan, and I were given hats, and I was the lucky recipient of bright red lipstick and nails, and I mean BRIGHT red. When completely costumed, Bill look dashing, Brennan looked adorable, Ethan looked like a preteen who was just glad he wouldn’t be seen by any of his friends, and I look completely hideous.

Once filming began, we were put into key positions and told to act as if we were choosing a restaurant, walking down the street, watching a fight, etc.  The day consisted of lots of sitting around, blowing dirt from the set street, bathrooms with no toilet paper or soap, a really bad Chinese breakfast and lunch, and nothing to drink but water and one packet of instant coffee with powdered creamer, but nothing to stir it with. From what Bill tells me from his experiences in the past, this is nothing like how they do it in the States. From our experiences in China; par for the course.

Brennan as usual attracted a lot of attention. His gregarious personality is always a hit here, and at one point he had a line of the men and women of “makeup” waiting to have pictures taken with him. The hat and ruffled shirt made him look especially adorable, which didn’t help his chances of hiding when it came to the Chinese camera. He was targeted for photos all day long. They also love to watch him play his game system on breaks, and were often looking over his shoulder.

It was a long day, and we didn’t arrive home until 7 PM. I made sure the kids took showers and ate, and then took a shower myself, and went to bed. It was 8:26 PM. It was an experience, and I can’t really say it was fun, but I can say it was interesting, and we did get paid. I don’t think it is something we will do again, but I’m glad that we did it. We were Americans, playing British tourists, in a Japanese movie, filmed in Shanghai, China. Not many people can claim that.

 

What I learned from my Crohn’s Disease

As I have said before, I have Crohn’s Disease. It has been in remission for 12 years, but from a year after my diagnosis in 1998 to August 2002, it was like a wildfire reeking havoc on my body.

I spent three years, from the summer of 1999 after Brennan was born, until my major surgery in 2002, fighting for my life. I didn’t realize it at the time. It snuck up on me in little increments, and before I knew it it had overtaken my body. Specifically, my large intestine. I was on a severely restricted diet, and took handfuls of medication and vitamins. I was constantly in doctor’s offices, or emergency rooms. I had raging fevers, higher than you would think a person could survive. Higher than the kind that send parents into panics. I had a racing heart, even at rest, lost partial vision in my eyes, and fought a staph infection in my leg for a week in the hospital. I never had the stomach pains that many people with Crohn’s do, but I probably spent more time in the bathroom than the average person will spend in their lives. My weight went down to 88 pounds.

In the end of December 1999, after spending the holidays (which are crazy busy during NORMAL circumstances) at my grandmother’s and Bill’s grandfather’s viewings and funerals, I got what appeared to be the flu. It went on for a week or so, and didn’t seem to be getting better. As lay down for a nap one day, I said a prayer. I asked God to give me a sign. To let me know if I should go to the doctor after the New Year, or if it would go away on its own. When I woke up, I had little insect bite-like bumps all over my body. I will never forget that moment. We are a quietly religious family. I have always been a believer, but this was a pivotal moment in my life, my belief, and love of God. I spent the next two weeks in the hospital.

I remember, sometime in the second or third year of my Crohn’s, being exhausted. Tired of the constant battle. Laying on the bed, getting ready for another nap. I, again, said a prayer. I asked if I would be feeling better the next day, and begged that I would. Within a minute or two, and I kid you not, the phone rang a strange double ring. It reminded me of the way my phone at work rang when I was getting an interoffice call. When I picked it up, it was an operator recording. “I’m sorry, your request cannot be processed at this time. Please hang up and try again later.” I ran downstairs and asked Bill, who was sitting on the couch, if he had heard the phone ring. He said yes, but didn’t notice the weird ring. Another moment I will never forget. I am still quietly religious, but much more so. I believe. No one could ever tell me otherwise.

I fought having the surgery to remove my colon for a long time. I was too young to have an Ostomy bag. I was only in my early 30’s. How could I deal with that for my entire life?! I finally gave in to myself, it was my choice. I wanted to be there for my boys, and I was just too ill to be the mom I wanted to be. When the surgeon went in for my pre-op colonoscopy, he couldn’t even complete it due to the swelling. I had put the procedure off, and if it had been done sooner I’m sure they would have told me how dire the circumstances were. I’m glad I made the decision myself prior to that. I’m glad that I did it for the love of my family. In the end, it would turn out to be so much more than that.

That surgery saved my life. Literally. It was that bad. I can now eat anything I want, I take no medication for Crohn’s, and am back to a more-than-healthy weight. And I am LIVING. Living a life I wouldn’t be, if not for said surgery. I am living a life I would not be, if not for Crohn’s Disease.

I have learned to appreciate the little things that so many take for granted. The blue sky, white clouds, green trees. The contrast between them, and the beauty of it. The breeze. The birds. The smell of fresh air.

I have learned not to take my family and friends for granted, and to catch myself when I think that I am. To take care of them, as they took care of me. To love them with everything I have. To look to them for strength when I need it, and to give strength and support to them when they do.

I have traveled farther out of my comfort zone than I ever thought I would. If not for Crohn’s we would not have traveled abroad, adopted our daughter, or lived in China. Before Crohn’s my life was ruled by fear of the unknown. After Crohn’s, by the spirit of adventure, and a love of life.

I have walked on the Great Wall of China, and stood before the first emperor’s Terracotta Warriors. I have trekked through the rainforest in Langkawi, Malaysia, and floated through the mangroves. I have basked in the hope of longevity from the waterfall of the Pure Water Temple in Kyoto, Japan, and walked the Nightingale floors of Nijo’s Castle. I have explored the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, and traveled through the Mekong Delta. I have walked the beautiful beaches of Vietnam. I have zip-lined through the trees in Thailand, and fed an elephant bananas. Right into that giant mouth. I have been to the Demilitarized Zone in South Korea, and I have stood in North Korea, in the MAC (Military Armistice Commission) building.

Through my Crohn’s Disease I learned how to live. How to love. How to learn. But I’m not done. I have so much more to see, so much more to experience, so much more to love, thanks to my Crohn’s Disease.

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Reposting for no other reason than this is one of my favorite pictures, and I can use it with the new format.

If you haven’t realized it yet, I have named each of the recent posts about the children after hymns. They are all songs that bring me joy, just as my children do. They are God’s gift to me. Blessing from Heaven.

Our youngest child, Mei Mei, is known to most as Carleigh. When she was younger I called her our little spark plug. A firecracker. She was energetic, passionate, curious, stubborn, and fearless. She was as I have said before, taught by her older brother, so there is no other way she could be.

When we lived in China, she would get on the giant school bus, which was actually a touring bus, like she was in charge. Talking the minute her four-year old body climbed the steep steps, and not stopping until they arrived at their destination. She was a social butterfly. When she was home, she was stuck to me like glue. My tiny Asian sidekick, endlessly filling me in on what was going through her mind. She was never one to play with toys much, never cared for dolls, and only used her play kitchen and pots to store the chalkboard paint she peeled off her wall, or wet pull-ups she wore at night. If she hid those pull-ups and put on a dry one, she would be closer to the reward she would receive after a pre-determined number of dry days. Bringing up another of her traits. Sneaky and mischievous.

The sneaky part reminds me very much of myself as a child. If she wanted it, she would find a way to get it. I can’t tell you how many fruit snack wrappers I would find hidden in her room. We would buy them, and she would binge. This was troublesome mostly because a box of fruit snacks cost about $10 in Shanghai. Needless to say, we stopped buying them. On the mischievous side, one day, before we moved to China, she was supposed to be napping in her room. She was very quiet, so I assumed she was. Unfortunately, when I opened her door, she had taken a black magic marker and “outlined” every single thing she could in her room. Dresser drawer handles, parts of the door, toys, a carousel rocking horse and all of its details. One of many, many shocking but lovingly humorous memories of her younger years.

Carleigh loves everything fluffy and soft. Fluffy pillows and blankets, soft sweatshirts and fleeces. Blankets are the biggest obsession though. It’s hard for her to pass one up. The fluffier and softer, the better. Each one getting pushed down the line a little when a new one arrives, but all getting used and loved. Pillow pets and stuffed animals were her favorite toys, along with the blankets, when she was little.

She is still all, or most, of those things and more. She is passionate in both anger and joy, but sometimes she holds things in and let’s them simmer until they boil over. This tends to come out on Bill and I, Brennan, or on herself. I rarely get a snuggle, but she likes to lay with me while watching TV sometimes. Today, was one of those days. Cherished time with my baby girl. She loves watching anime with her biggest brother, Ethan. She is solidly a tweener, so she also enjoys hanging out by herself in her room reading or listening to music. She is trying to figure out who she is as a person, and doesn’t feel especially comfortable in her own skin right now. She is getting there though. Discovering who she is. Who she wants to be.

I hope she always knows that no matter what she does or who she chooses to be, she will always be my baby girl. Forever in my heart, all things bright and beautiful.

Causing a Ruckus on Dong Tai Lu…

As the days of Dong Tai Lu in Shanghai end….. I fondly remember my time spent there.

Dong Tai Lu………

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Yesterday,  I met my friend Andrea, and her friend April who is visiting from Michigan, on Dong Tai Lu, or “antique street,” as we call it. It was an absolutely beautiful day in Shanghai, sunny and 60s, and great for a walk outside.

Dong Tai Lu is lined on both sides with tiny shacks that sell anything and everything that is old,  or even “looks” old. Items are cluttered all over tables, on shelves, and on the ground, and are often dirty or tarnished. It’s like a giant garage sale with every shack competing for your business. Many of you know that I am not a garage sale-type. I hate searching through piles trying to find something I like, but Dong Tai Lu has plenty of entertainment to go along with the shopping, and I usually find a “treasure” or two anyway.

Up and down this little street, along with the shacks, are locals,  usually grandmothers and babies.  They are sitting on the sidewalk, on folding chairs, holding babies with split pants. Yes, little bottoms hanging out all over the place, at the ready for any necessary potty breaks.  Smiling grandmothers, enjoying the company of neighbors, on a warm spring day.

It is common  to find lots of Buddhist items on antique street.  There are all sorts of Buddhas, prayer bowls,  prayer sticks,  jewelry, etc. There are also books, rugs, posters, porcelain dishes, vases, and figures. Ornately carved wooden boxes, old Chinese instruments, creepy old dolls, and bird cages.

There’s plenty of jade and bone in various forms,  and this is where the “visual” entertainment comes into the picture. Along  with charms, statues, and small swords and knives that can be found, there are also many things of a more “adult” nature. One thing that I purchased to bring back and show friends, merely for entertainment value,  is something we like to “Naughty Fish.” It looks like a regular wooden Chinese-style fish on the outside,  but if you pull its head off of the body,  you’ll see “naughty” pictures carved into the piece that fits into the body. You will find similar Kama Sūtra-type pictures on bone panels that are strung together, a different picture on each panel, and on both sides. Things like this can be found on vases, rugs, and in figurine form as well. It always amazes me that they sell this stuff in such a public place.

At one point, not long after we arrived,  Andrea saw a shoeshiner that she had met before, and asked him to shine my shoes. It turns out he’s a well-known shoeshiner, who has been featured on the news and in newspapers. He had a notebook with the names of many foreigners whose shoes he had shined, and had me sign it as well.  He was a cute and animated older guy, and it was a fun thing to do. He also gave me a GREAT shoeshine for under one dollar.

Along our way down antique street, April accidentally knocked something off of a shelf, causing it to break a plate below it on the ground. The vendor wanted us to pay for it, but we argued that she shouldn’t have had plates on the ground. Andrea and I went back and forth with her for a bit, while April worried about being taken off by the Chinese police.  Luckily, to our Michigan friend’s relief, the po-po wasn’t called. Andrea and I had a great laugh, as we knew that wouldn’t happen, and I think April joined in, once her heart rate went down.

Towards the end of our trip, I bought a small wooden boat at a stall, and a few minutes later, just down the street, another vendor came up to me with a much bigger boat. It actually was much nicer than the first one, and he started talking to me in Chinese. In the middle of his rant, he called me a “Ben Dan,” or “Stupid Egg,” thinking that I would not understand him. But I did, and knew that he had just insulted me! I started loudly announcing, in Chinese, that he had just called me a stupid egg, and I could not believe he  done this. This resulted in a crowd, of mostly older Chinese women, forming. This always happens in China when something interesting is going on and can grow quite large, with people of all ages. I continued to rant back at him for the show. He apparently thought I paid too much for the boat (the reason for the insult), and I probably did, although I had looked for one all day, and it was the only one I had seen. In the end,  I bought the bigger boat, even after the insult. Although, we did make him apologize. Maybe I am a Ben Dan!

 

I Wish…….A Letter to my Children

I wish I could protect you from all of the harshness in the world.Iwish you would believe me when I say those mean girls are just jealous. I can’t say of what, because I do not know, but over the years I have learned. They are insecure, it is not you. And those kids. The ones that think they are so cool. They will face the same difficulties in life. They think they are immune, but they are not. Life does not discriminate.

I wish you could know the dangers of the Internet, and that it is much less important than face-to-face relationships. Those people online will not be there for you when you need someone the most. Your family, your siblings, your friends. They will be. I hope you never take them for granted.

I wish I could protect you from people who don’t understand you. Your quirkiness, your humor, your eccentricities. People who don’t know how smart you are. You are planning great things in your head. They will never know, because you will never show them that you care. But you see it all. You don’t miss much.

I wish you would believe me when I say not to worry how much money you will make in life, but to do what you love. We only have one life. Make the best of it. Dream big. Don’t let fear deter you. Travel. Discover the world around you. Never stop learning.

I hope you treat people, no matter who they are, with love and respect. Be polite. Be generous. Pay it forward. But if someone treats you badly, move on. Life is too short.

I wish you would believe me when I say that being on time is important. It shows you care, you are responsible, and reliable. It stresses me because it doesn’t reflect the awesome person that you are. I know eventually you are going to learn a life lesson as a result of this. It will make you sad, or mad, or hurt, and that breaks my heart. I wish that didn’t have to happen, but it will. It’s part of growing up.

I wish I could be there when that teacher that was so cruel, the one that didn’t like you because so many teachers did, has a moment when he gets it. When he realizes how wrong it was. I hope it doesn’t happen to his child though. I hope his wife, the other teacher who treated you badly, realizes it too. I hope it tears at her heart a little, or a lot. I hope that she never does it to another child.

I hope you realize that no matter what your body looks like, you are absolutely perfect. Short, tall, skinny, or fluffy. That your grades are important, but not as important as you as a person. All “A’s” doesn’t make you better, “B’s” are okay too, and even an occasional “C.” What matters is the effort you put into it. That you are a smart, funny, caring person. You have so much value. You make the world a better place.

I hope you know that I love you with every part of my being. That when I get angry, yell, or punish you, it is because it is my job to help you become the best person you can be. I will always be there for you. I will be your advocate, your protector, your shield. Every now and then, I’ll have to let that shield drop a bit. Not enough to damage, but it may hurt a little. It will break my heart, but you have to learn to stand on your own two feet. The world is a harsh place, but I am your mother. I will always be there for you.

Xin Nian Kuai Le! It’s the Year of the Sheep/Goat

Last night, our family got together with another family we knew from Shanghai, to celebrate the New Year with a fabulous Chinese meal. They moved back to Michigan around the same time that we did, and have children of similar age. In another one of those small world incidents, when we moved into our first house in China, the kids and I met the neighbor’s wife and children almost right away, as they were pulling in with their car when we got there. They were very friendly, and we discovered we were there with the same company. I knew we would get along wonderfully. The husband came over to meet us and my husband later in the evening. When Billy came down the stairs, both men started laughing and smiling. They had worked together in Michigan years earlier and neither had any idea that they were in China, nor that of the thousands of houses available to expats, we would choose one right next to them! Needless to say, we have remained friends, and although we don’t get together as often as we’d like, we love seeing them when we do!

Xin Nian Kuai Le…….Happy Chinese New Year!

A blog entry from January 26, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year, or as the Chinese call it, Spring Festival! This year, 2009, is The Year of the Ox. The Chinese spent their New Year’s Eve “scaring away evil spirits” with fireworks (“Nian” is a mythical beast who is afraid of the loud noises)), sending Chinese lanterns into the sky in honor of deceased relatives, and “sweeping” away the “old year,” while welcoming the “new.”

We spent the night in downtown Shanghai, on the Pudong side of the river, in the Shangri-La. We were joined by another family from the children’s school, and had a great time enjoying the holiday together. The kids swam in the hotel pool, we enjoyed dinner together, and then settled into one of the rooms with snacks and movies to wait for and watch the fireworks display.

At midnight, much like in the States, the fireworks peaked. However, in Shanghai it sounded like a war had begun in the city. No celebration in the U.S. has ever reached this level. In every direction, we could see fireworks rising above the buildings. Although we had heard fireworks at a decent rate since about 7 PM, at midnight the sound of the explosives could be heard continuously from all directions, for what I’m guessing was about an hour or more. In our awe of the show, we lost track of time.

Before we left the hotel today, we watched a Lion Dance performance in the lobby. Lions are a symbol of protection, and the dance is to summon “luck” and “fortune, ” and scare away evil spirits. The God of Fortune was there as well, giving out “golden nuggets” in the form of foil-wrapped chocolates.

During Chinese New Year, oranges are considered very symbolic. The Chinese word for “orange” is similar to the Chinese word for “luck.” Giving oranges to friends or relatives is sending “good wishes” for the new year. Fish is also a huge part of this holiday. The Chinese word for “fish” sounds like the word for “wealth.” The fish that is served whole, including head and tail, during the new year’s dinner must be tasted, but not finished. If the fish is gone, so is everyone’s “prosperity” for the coming year.

On New Year’s Eve, red is worn, as Nian (which is also the Chinese word for “year” ) is afraid of the color red, and therefore, will not come down to eat the villagers or the children. Everyone sweeps out the house and cleans, to get rid of the “old year” and prepare for the “new year.” At midnight, all the windows and doors are open to let the “old year” out. For the next 15 days houses are not cleaned, as this would be cleaning away the “good luck” for the new year. Finally, one of the well-known parts of the holiday, “Hong Bao” (red envelopes) filled with money, are given out, generally to children and newlyweds, as gifts. This 15 day period, known as Spring Festival, ends with the Lantern Festival, when thousands of Chinese lanterns fill the night sky.

I love the tradition and folklore that the Chinese New Year is filled with. I miss celebrating it in Shanghai. It is such a joyous and beautiful holiday. It will always be close to my heart, and bright in my memories.

I Wish…….A Letter to my Children

 

I wish I could protect you from all of the harshness in the world.

I wish you would believe me when I say those mean girls are just jealous. I can’t say of what, because I do not know, but over the years I have learned. They are insecure, it is not you. And those kids. The ones that think they are so cool. They will face the same difficulties in life. They think they are immune, but they are not. Life does not discriminate.

I wish you could know the dangers of the Internet, and that it is much less important than face-to-face relationships. Those people online will not be there for you when you need someone the most. Your family, your siblings, your friends. They will be. I hope you never take them for granted.

I wish I could protect you from people who don’t understand you. Your quirkiness, your humor, your eccentricities. People who don’t know how smart you are. You are planning great things in your head. They will never know, because you will never show them that you care. But you see it all. You don’t miss much.

I wish you would believe me when I say not too worry how much money you will make in life, but to do what you love. We only have one life. Make the best of it. Dream big. Don’t let fear deter you. Travel. Discover the world around you. Never stop learning.

I hope you treat people, no matter who they are, with love and respect. Be polite. Be generous. Pay it forward. But if someone treats you badly, move on. Life is too short.

I wish you would believe me when I say that being on time is important. It shows you care, you are responsible, and reliable. It stresses me because it doesn’t reflect the awesome person that you are. I know eventually you are going to learn a life lesson as a result of this. It will make you sad, or mad, or hurt, and that breaks my heart. I wish that didn’t have to happen, but it will. It’s part of growing up.

I wish I could be there when that teacher that was so cruel, the one that didn’t like you because so many teachers did, has a moment when he gets it. When he realizes how wrong it was. I hope it doesn’t happen to his child though. I hope his wife, the other teacher who treated you badly, realizes it too. I hope it tears at her heart a little, or a lot. I hope that she never does it to another child.

I hope you realize that no matter what your body looks like, you are absolutely perfect. Short, tall, skinny, or fluffy. That your grades are important, but not as important as you as a person. All “A’s” doesn’t make you better, “B’s” are okay too, and even an occasional “C.” What matters is the effort you put into it. That you are a smart, funny, caring person. You have so much value. You make the world a better place.

I hope you know that I love you with every part of my being. That when I get angry, yell, or punish you, it is because it is my job to help you become the best person you can be. I will always be there for you. I will be your advocate, your protector, your shield. Every now and then, I’ll have to let that shield drop a bit. Not enough to damage, but it may hurt a little. It will break my heart, but you have to learn to stand on your own two feet. The world is a harsh place, but I am your mother. I will always be there for you.

For The Love of Two Worlds

Remembering China fondly today, it will always be close to my heart. This Valentine’s Day, I am posting a blog entry of mine from September, 29, 2008. For love of my second home.

Similaries and Differences

If I am sitting in my room with the windows open on a cool fall day,  I could be in China, or Michigan,  they both feel the same.  If the kids are playing in the park and I am sitting on the bench watching, it is the also the same. Sitting in Starbucks reading a book is no different. There are times in China that feel just like Michigan. When it’s hard to notice the differences,  but here we have luxuries that we would not have at home. Yuan-Yuan comes for the day to clean and cook,  and Mr. Tao pulls up in a silver Buick minivan to cart us all over the city. These things are very different. It  feels strange to have someone else taking care of my home.  I miss driving.  I miss having a car to jump into whenever I want to go somewhere.

There are many wonderful things about this experience,  many adventures to be had, but there are also wonderful things that we have left behind. We are seeing parts of the world which many will never see, we are learning a new language, and culture, but instead of learning it in a class, we are living it. We are strengthening  our minds and our spirits. It is a growing experience which I believe is very important for our children, especially in today’s world. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is a hard,  but rewarding thing to do. I am proud of us for taking such a bold step. I am proud of my children, for  even though they may not have had much of a choice, they have handled it well.

We have left our home, friends, and family to move to the other side of the Earth. That was very hard. As we all know,  our home is a soft place to fall,  and when things get tough that is where you want to be. I look forward to the first time I sleep in my bed at home again, lying my head down on that soft pillow,  and being a car ride away from those I love.  We are doing great here, but we look forward to our upcoming visit.

There are so many differences in our surroundings here compared to home.  When a guest arrives, you bring them a cup of warm water. This is better for the body.  They will take off their shoes at your door even if you tell them they don’t need to. You must offer them a pair of slippers.  If you ask your Ayi or driver if they’re able to do something,  the answer will be “yes.”  They will not tell you that they do not want to do something,  or know where something is. That would be “losing face.”

There is not a fourth floor in most buildings,  as the word for the number “four” sounds too much like the word for “death.”  I’m sure Yuan-Yuan is not happy that Carleigh  has drawn a three foot tall “44” on the wall by the study. She has had to pass that forbidden Chinese number 20 times a day, and I think she’s afraid to touch it to wash it off. You can’t drink out of the tap, and must order water for the water cooler. Most bathrooms  STINK.  Here  you learn the places that have Western-style bathrooms and avoid the ones that do not. Tissue is always carried with you, as bathrooms do not always have toilet paper,  or soap, making  hand sanitizer a must as well. Surprisingly after the last statement,  there are always workers cleaning on the street,  and in the buildings.  You  will not have trouble finding someone to clean something up. Service in  restaurants is better than in the US, and no tip is required.  You must ask for your bill or it will never come.

You’ll never see more bikes than you see in Shanghai.  You will probably never see as many cars either. You would  be amazed at what can be fit on a bicycle. Don’t ever think you can’t move a refrigerator just because you don’t have a car. Nothing is too dressy to wear while riding a bike.  Heels are almost a must,  good for any occasion. Ankle-length nylons are fine with capris, or anything else for that matter.  Getting  there first does not mean it’s your turn,  getting noticed first does. If this means pushing to the front of the line,  so be it. Sleeping can be done anywhere, and is.

We enjoyed living in China. Its differences are intriguing and its similarities, when found, are little gifts.

SEE: Strength, Endurance, Enlightenment

Years ago, when Ethan was very young. Bill said that he wanted to send him on an Outward Bound trip when he was older. Outward Bound is an amazing organization that was developed during World War II by Kurt Hahn. It was developed to help seaman to deal with the harsh conditions. To build character, confidence, and the ability to survive in those conditions. For many years now, it has helped both youth and adults all around the world to do things they never thought possible. In July 2010, at the age of 14, Ethan went on a two week trip to the Smokey Mountain National Forest near Ashville, North Carolina to backpack and mountain climb. Scary stuff for both child and parents. He returned a new kid. Almost a man.

In October 2012, Billy came up with a “GREAT” idea, at least in his mind. Brennan and I had been having a hard time making it through his tween years with a constant battle of wills, remember he is me in male form, and Bill thought an Outward Bound Parent/Child trip was just what we needed. I disagreed.

First of all, I am not a camper. I have always said that my idea of camping is going to a Howard Johnson. In other words, I don’t camp. Ever. At least I thought that was who I was. Secondly, how would I deal with my Ostomy? I didn’t want people to know about it, and I didn’t know how I would deal with hiding it with no bathroom facilities…….and in a canoe. The trip was a four-day camping, and canoeing trip through the Everglades. Hours and hours, miles and miles of canoeing, and camping on little islands at night. But with my recent experience-it-all attitude. I couldn’t say no.

The day after Christmas 2012, with a fever brewing and illness setting in, Brennan and I left on a plane headed to Fort Myers, Florida. Bill said that maybe we should cancel since I was getting sick, but I wouldn’t do it. We had already had to cancel a major family vacation that summer to deal with a mysterious stomach virus I had for a month. I wasn’t going to do that to him again, so off we went. That night in the hotel my fever seemed to spike. I don’t know how high, but I had chills and asked Brennan to cover me with a second giant, down comforter, then popped a few NyQuil. I was going. Period.

The next morning I woke up feeling a little better, but not…”Hey! Let’s go paddle a canoe 10 or 15 nautical miles and be on, possibly, alligator-infested dark water until 10pm tonight”……kind of better, but that was what this was all about, right? Doing something you didn’t think you could. If I got too sick, they had people that could come get me. I never did tell them how sick I had been. I just asked if it was okay if I had cold medicine with me, as our paperwork said they had to know what everyone had medication-wise. This rule was generally for the kids on trips, as the counselors doled out medication when parents weren’t included.

After our half-day of getting to know one another, team-building, and loading boats, we were on our way. Sunset would hit about an hour after we left, and I asked for aspirin, saying I had a headache, but knew my fever was starting again. Luckily, that was the last time I would have a fever. The remainder of the trip was just cold symptoms and bodyaches.

That first night, because of our late start, we paddled through the dark Everglades until 10pm. They had started the trip by mixing up the groups, and I was in a canoe with a 13 year old girl. A tired, young girl, who had to go potty. Together we were a sad team that first night. We were always at the back of the canoe pack, and crossing the big bay areas in the dark was scary! Maybe more for me than her, as I had someone else’s child with me! The area was full of Mullet fish, but everytime I heard a “plop” in the water, I feared being followed by an alligator. I was also worried that the rest of the group wouldn’t realize how far behind we were, and that we weren’t with them anymore. On the last large bay before the island we were to camp on that night, God and I had a little chat. He came through for me. Good guy that he is.

As dawn broke on that second day, I woke from my sleep under the tree I had hung my mosquito net from to birds chirping and flying overhead. I will never forget it. It was beautiful. It was the first moment that I thought…. “I got this.”

We had breakfast and cleaned the dishes, packed up our stuff, had a group meeting with charts and compasses and planned our route for the day, loaded the boats, and we were on our way again. On this day, the boats were filled with either two kids, or two adults. Another long day, and 15 to 20 nautical miles later, we arrived at a peninsula on a small island on the Gulf of Mexico. It was dark, but only about 7pm, and the winds were pretty rough. The canoes were slamming into the beach on the wrong side of the peninsula from where we had to camp. We had to get out of the canoes to pull them around the tip of the peninsula, over razor-sharp, crushed, oyster-shells-of-death. We were required to wear tennis shoes at all times, and now I knew why. Brennan was behind me with another young man, maneuvering their canoe around the beach. God and I had another chat. Luckily, we all came through unscathed and we spent the night sleeping on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico. We awoke to a beautiful sunrise.

The final day of heavy paddling was a test. We had to plan our route, use our compasses, and help each other to arrive at our destination without help from our counselors, who followed at a distance. It was a shorter day, and we were in the boat with our own child. The route ended at The Everglades National Park where we went ashore, ate dinner, and wrote notes to our child, or the child to the parent, to be mailed six month later. We discussed what we had learned about each other and how the experience had effected us. Following dinner, the children were to direct the adults on how to turn our five canoes, and the boards that were stored in the bottom of them, into a floating island to camp on. The adults were required to follow the children’s directions without comment. We paddled the “island” to just outside the park limits to camp for the night. Each of us had an area of about 2 ft wide by 7 ft. long to sleep and store our stuff on.

As as I said, I was still experiencing cold symptoms. I had run out of medication, and this would be the first night without it. As I fell asleep, I apparently started snoring. Loudly. Brennan elbowed me in the back. I stopped. Fell back to sleep. Another elbow in the back. Repeat. I wanted to sleep. I was exhausted. Finally, I fell asleep, apparently acceptably quiet, and so did everyone else.

It was COLD that night. Really cold. I was so glad that I had Bill to snuggle up behind. Until I realized…Bill wasn’t there.  That would be one of the guy counselors I was spooning with. Aaaaaaah! Turn towards Brennan…go back to sleep. Still cold…..so glad Bill is snuggling up to me…..”Wait a minute….! Now he is spooning with me!” Awkward! Apparently they had warned the kids that this might happen, due to the space limit, but forgot to tell the adults. In the morning, when we woke, I apologized for the unintentional spooning, and for what Brennan called my snoring. He said it sounded like I was “calling to the whales.”

After breakfast, we paddled back to the park on our floating “island.” We passed by individual canoes going out for the day. We looked like we were rolling in from the ocean, and got a kick out of the look on people’s faces. We cleaned the canoes, and all the equipment, then we met to talk about what we had learned and how we felt we had grown as individuals.

By the end of the trip, we were physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, but we had achieved great things, and seen some amazing sights. We had learned how to read compasses, and nautical charts. We learned how to navigate the hundreds of small islands in the Everglades, and use natural landmarks to identify where we were. We had made and cleaned up three meals and a few snacks a day, and packed and unpacked canoes more times than we wanted to count. We had worked as a team. Four adults, four kids, and two counselors. We had also seen beautiful wildlife, phenomenal sunsets and sunrises, a bright, big, full moon, and been visited by dolphins.

After returning to the hotel in preparation to fly home, I would summarize the trip on Facebook. Perfectly. “It was amazing and miserable, frustrating and enlightening, ugly and beautiful. I hated it and loved it. It was the most  precious time with my little man.”

No one can ever take that time away from us. No one will ever know how awesome it was. We will never be the same.