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.

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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.

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.