Wednesday, November 24, 2010

There's No Place Like Home...

Vitals:  Everyone is glad, so glad, to be home.  Ruslan is adjusting fine and Bill is sucking in all of America that he can since he has to go back to purgatory in a few weeks. 

Details:  By the time we got home on Thursday night, all the kids were asleep in the rental van.  I had high hopes that we could leave the lights off and just sneak them into their beds.  Bill thought I was nuts, but it actually worked pretty well.  It was 11pm in the states, but 6am in Keiv, so they had really been "up all night."  

We put Ruslan on a mattress in the boys bedroom so he didn't have to sleep in his room alone.  While I was making up his bed, he met the dog.  Poor baby, he really freaked out.  This was about the worst tantrum I've seen him throw, no doubt exacerbated by lack of sleep and flat our fear.  He threw a massive fit anytime the dog got within ten feet of him.  This was a problem, since the dog is very friendly and attached to all of us.  We finally shut her in the girls room.

After that, we showed Ruslan his bed and, once he saw the dog had disappeared, he went right to sleep.  The other kids lingered a little, just making sure this was the right house and getting re-acquainted with their stuff.  They were so wiped out though, that after a few minutes they all gave up and went to bed.  

They slept through the night and once the sun rose, we realized that our house-sitter had actually cleaned, and I do mean cleaned, our house.  This was a little strange for everyone.  For example, I think we all had forgotten that our cabinets and trim are actually white, and it was really strange to walk up the stairs without dodging old socks and legos. 

The boyscouts had made a huge "Velcome Home" sign and hung it in the kitchen.  We saw it last night, but the lights were off.  It looked great in the morning sunshine.  The boyscouts, neighbors, and our house sitter had also stocked our fridge, which was AWESOME!  We all had a glass of good milk, that we drank without plugging our noses, bagels with cream cheese, cereal, pop tarts and Bill came down later and made bacon and pancakes.  

Ruslan woke later than everyone else, so all the kids were awake to hear him cry because I wouldn't dress him.   He waffles between wanting to do things on his own and wanting everyone else to do stuff for him.  I think it has to do with how much of a hurry he is in.  It's really hard to stand by and watch him get dressed because it takes so long.  But, there was no reason to hurry that morning because he was so afraid of the dog.  

The "dining room" in our house is actually a play room.  Ruslan closed it off with cushions and spent a good bit of time in there playing.  Whenever the dog came near, he would stiffen and sort of scream, so the kids would come running and pet and hug the dog etc.  After a half-day of this, Ruslan finally came out and, in an annoying change of disposition, spent the REST of the day following the dog around, trying to get her to stay, come here, sit and lay.  He started off keeping a five to ten foot buffer, but by the end of the day, the dog problem was solved. 

So, as far as the family goes, we basically spent the weekend eating, playing and sleeping off the jet lag.  

As for me, personally, I promise I did NOT have an unrealistic, nirvana-like expectation that all would be chocolate and cream when I got back to the states.  I'm generally a pessimist.  However, even by my standards, it's been a little rough.

There are a handful of women in my life who are rock-solid friends.  They love me unconditionally.  They want the best for me and my family.  They would give me the shirt off their back without hesitation (in fact, one even tried to give me the push-up bra off her back once, but that's a different story).  They believe the best about me, despite all evidence to the contrary.  They would trust me with their life and I would trust them with mine.  In short, they are ROCKS.  Whatever happens in my life, I have a solid place to land as long as they are within 500 miles.

One of them, Maryann, is married to a Navy Chaplain.  They have been living in Williamsburg for the last several years and it has been SO NICE to have her near!  We didn't see each other very often, but like all my key friends, we can pick up where we left off regardless of whether we have been keeping in touch.  We've been friends for about 20 years.  I came to the birth of her first two children.  I watched her kids when she moved to VA a few years ago.  Her husband baptized our kids in the Atlantic Ocean.  Last spring, she babysat for a week so Bill and I could go away together. 

We were missionaries together with Campus Crusade for Christ and we are both insanely tight with money.  Several years ago, Bill and I paid off some bills and hit a goal of becoming debt free.  To celebrate, I went to Wal-Mart and bought all new underwear.  Maryann is probably the only person in my life who completely understands this.  She told me a few days ago that she and her husband got some sort of hefty bonus, so to celebrate, she bought herself a package of Mentos.  You just don’t find that sort of kindred spirit every day.  Anyway, just before we left for Ukraine, her husband was assigned to Japan for the next three years.  So, I knew she was leaving, but I thought we would be home soon enough to see them one last time.

We weren't.  She called on Saturday to say goodbye.  I could have driven over, but she was in the middle of packing and saying goodbye to her neighbors and etc. and we were just getting settled in with Ruslan.  It just seemed better to stay home.  ...Japan is more than 500 miles away.

Anyway, another of my Fabulous Friends is Cindy.  She lives across the street from me.  She's the kind of person with no boundaries and since I don't really have any either, we get along well.   She is the one that I brag about on facebook because she cleans my house and brings over dinner for our family.  She doesn't look at me like I'm a lunatic when the floor in the playroom is not visible.  She cleans with the full knowledge that all will be filthy again within a few minutes after she leaves.  She babysits at the drop of a hat and if she can't do it, she sends her husband.  She walks in the door with a huge bottle of wine and two wine glasses and starts pouring.  She’s pushy, gregarious, generous, crude, selfless, an uncontrollable pack rat, a compulsive cleaner and terrible at spelling.  I love her dearly.  

We both walk into each other’s houses without knocking, and on most days, one of us travels the "walk of sanity" because we need a break.  I am always welcome to retreat into her chaos and she into mine.  She's the kind of person that enjoys my personality quirks rather than tolerating them and she is a friend for life. 

We both have electric fences for our dogs.  A few years ago, her electric unit was ruined by lightning, so she walked across the street and grabbed ours off the porch.  We weren't using it, since the battery was dead in our dog's collar.  I was glad to see it and she knew I would be glad.  She had given us so much in time, labor and stuff over the years that I was complimented that she understood: what's mine is hers and what's hers is mine. 

Most of my other neighbors are very, very nice, but they are just too busy and too cultured to love us like Cindy.  For example, one neighbor told me early on that I spoil my children.  Our kids rarely play together.  This put a damper on the relationship and a sledgehammer to any idea of shared babysitting.

Another is of the opposite opinion and doesn't trust me with her youngest child.  Her older daughter told me she was worried about the girl eating our cat food.  However, I keep it on a counter.  This is more to prevent my dog from eating it than any children (stuff's expensive),  so I suspect there's something else involved.  Needless to say, this puts a damper on that relationship and another sledgehammer to any idea of traded babysitting.  

A third neighbor called once wondering why my children were playing in their yard without asking permission first.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course.  It is, after all, their yard. 

A fourth neighbor recently expanded his conversational vocabulary with me to include, "Is this the boy?"  Considering that for the past several years, he's limited himself to, "hello" and "goodbye," this is a 200% increase (and that's if we count a glance-less wave as the word "goodbye").  I suppose the potential is there, but it doesn't feel the same. 

As you might guess, Cindy is also moving.   She skyped me in Ukraine and said that her husband had quit his job, they had secured a renter for their house and were moving to South Carolina.  The new family moves in on December first.  

So, as I was pondering God's rock removal from my life, I remembered this verse: "When the foundations are destroyed, what shall the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3)  Well, the smart ones take refuge in The Lord.  I stupidly answered the phone.

It was my son, Frank.  We had adopted him from Costa Rica eight years ago, when he was 12.  He came from a violent and abusive background, but he seemed to have dealt with it well and for the most part, he was a great addition to our family....until about two years ago, when something cracked and he started falling apart.  He ran away last August, when he was 19 and we really hadn't heard from him in over a year.  He called Friday night to say that he was homeless.  He and his girlfriend have been living in a truck in Delaware.  It seems the girl friend just gave birth to a baby girl (Kala Marie, 5 pounds, 14 ounces, 19 inches) and they were thinking that the truck might not be a good idea any more.

He insisted that he had called all the shelters in Delaware looking for a place to stay.  In his mind, nobody cares.  If people really cared, they would let Frank, Angel and the baby free-load indefinitely.  But, nobody cares.
People tend to get their dander up about newborn babies living in pick-up-trucks.  So, I was VERY skeptical that Frank had lifted a finger and spent much of the weekend on the phone with the shelters in Delaware.  They were extremely helpful and when I called Frank back with some numbers, he told me that they had found a place to live.  A woman had taken them in temporarily.  We'll see how long it lasts.  My consolation is that I have done the ground work for the next time. 

Now it is Monday morning.  Maryann and her family flew out today at 7am.  Cindy is packing up my sanctuary and she'll be out by the end of the week.  The boys are outside "raking leaves" with Ruslan and I was looking over homeschool stuff and trying to plan for the holiday.  

One of the shelters in DE just called.  It's normal to call social services about homeless babies and they asked, somewhat offhand, whether if they take the baby, I want temporary custody. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Wife Olympics

Vitals: We are home.  We only got one child out. One of us will have to go back for the other child in a few weeks. We must forgive the Ukrainian government for this.

Endless Prattle:   So, our flight was on Thursday, November 18th.  We spent most of the morning packing, but there were two noteworthy events that occurred before we left.

One involves the kids journals.  We made them keep a record of their trip for school and they have been more or less faithful about writing in them every  morning.  Reilly and Sharon will be turning theirs into their public school teachers and Matt and Paul keep a journal for homeschool.  I should note here that Paul never really wrote about Ukraine or the adoption.  His journal entries were all about the imaginary world in which he lives, the creature he was creating or fighting and how the war is progressing.  It’s a little hard to correct for spelling and grammar, since I never really understood his entries —except for ONE….

A few days earlier, I walked into the kitchen in our apartment and idly thought, “I want brownies.”  Then I took a step and remembered we don’t have an oven.  After another step, I realized that even if we had an oven, we don’t have cocoa.  A third step brought me to the table and as I sat down, it just sort of hit me that there was NO WAY I was going to get brownies for a good long time.  Sadly, this thought was so traumatic that I teared up, my nose got red and I couldn’t talk.  Just my luck, all the kids, including Bill, were sitting at the table.  Bill was all over me, asking me what was wrong, sure that at least the dog had died (possibly hoping the dog had died), putting his arm around me, hovering.  The kids were locked on me wondering what could be wrong and waiting for me to tell some dreadful news….  I finally got a good enough breath to stammer out, “re- re- remember …brownies?!” and then got up to find a tissue.

I can’t remember what happened after that, but I have to say in my own defense, that is the ONLY time I lost my composure in front of the children.  I ate organ-meat and dill pizza for crying out loud, and I smiled while doing it!!  Nor did I ever lose my temper with my kids, even though we were in a small, one bedroom, one toilet apartment for TWO MONTHS.  Nevertheless, EVERY KID wrote about this event in their journal.  Mind you, they were not gracious enough to say, “Mom teared up over brownies.”  Oh no.  Instead, they wrote entries like, “Mom Lost It!” and, “My mother is cracking up!”  ….charming.

There’s no fighting this by the way. Their father has been short tempered the entire time, practically blinded by his contempt for all-things-inefficient, and gracing us with an endless stream of proof that “these-people-are-lunatics.” But the children never wrote one word about HIM.  Mom is the only one who cracked. 

The other noteworthy event happened in the bathroom.  I walked in on Bill as he was getting ready for a shower.  I sat down on the toilet in all my glory and said quietly, “I hate it here.”  Bill, who was taking off his socks said, “I was just thinking the same thing.”  Then after a second he said, “Actually, I wasn’t thinking that.  I was thinking, ‘you’re beautiful,’ but I hate it here too.”  Wasn’t that sweet?  How many women are graced with lovely compliments while on the crapper?  I decided to relay that, since I am about to berate Bill for several paragraphs and I don’t want to have to convince to my mother that we are not going to get a divorce…yet.    

Bill doesn’t travel well. I don’t know if it’s come out in any of these entries, but the man is a, “TYPE A,” “why-isn’t-the-system-perfect?” “help-or-get-out-of-my-way,” work-a-holic.  I adore him.  But even my deep love cannot get around this one teeny-tiny-little personality quirk.  It must be endured.

One of the ways this trait manifests itself in our marriage is that every time the family goes through an airport, Bill goes into Traveling-A-Drive and puts me through his own version of Wife Olympics.  Events include:

The Luggage Carry:  Bill takes the largest/heaviest bag out of the taxi then races off to the front door.  I gather the children, zipper coats, count hats and mittens, assign the lesser bags to be carried, stop the fighting, wipe the spittle off my cheek and eventually, pick up the youngest child to race after him before he disappears into the airport.  Extra points awarded for a backward glance to find the forgotten mitten and keeping all the children with in ten feet of the mom.  This event happens in reverse at the end of the trip, with me at Baggage Retrieval and Bill racing off toward the car rental. 

The Concourse Slolem:   A race from Concourse A to Concourse D at top speed, kids in tow, dodging unworthy-travelers-who-are-slower-than-us.  Top competitors (that’s us) will take the stroller up the escalator because the elevator is too slow.  Points are deducted for lost children, passenger bumping, dropped luggage, or losing sight of the husband –thank God mine is relatively tall.

Passport Purgatory:  We stand in line, Bill in front, for anywhere between 20 minutes and two hours.  Bill loudly complains about the people, the process, the lack of personal space, the dad who is ignoring his children in the next line over while letting his wife take care of all the discipline, and my unreasonable preference to carry my own passport.  My job is to take care of all the discipline, gently remind Bill to keep his voice down, count the children, distribute gum and discreetly explain the source of unsavory smells.  This may seem innocuous, but it’s actually the hardest event. 

Seat Shuffle:  Bill holds the smallest child for this one.  He also carries all the tickets.  He shows them to me for exactly 2.5 nanoseconds, than races down the expandable hallway to the plane.  I gather the rest of the children, explain to the ticket agent why we don't have our tickets, walk to the plane (knowing Bill can only go in one direction this time, so we can’t lose him), and explain to the stewardess that I have NO IDEA where our seats are, but I’m with the tall, scowling man so… you know, everything’s fine.  At the seats, I maneuver around/through the other passengers (who are looking at my children like they spread the plague), determine where we are assigned then set up an invisible force field around our children so they don’t irritate Bill or the other passengers.  

This is not my best event.  I can figure out our ROWS, since Bill will unknowingly indicate somehow where I should be going, but I just can’t pinpoint whether we are in seat ABCDE or F.  I usually get this wrong, sitting in the seat of some innocent passenger, who, when I get up, betrays the terror behind his eyes by fervently whispering, “Dear God, please don’t let this seat be D-24.”

These events rotated over a 15 hour traveling schedule.  I have to admit, that by the time we got to the last flight, I was wiped out.  I had more or less held my tongue the entire trip since, there’s just no fighting the Travelling-A, and after all, this is a competition, but when we landed in Dulles I’d had enough.  At the end of the flight, as we were standing up and gathering our carry-ons, I announced to all the kids and everyone else on the plane, “KIDS, WE’RE IN THE STATES NOW.  WE’RE NOT IN A HURRY ANYMORE!  DO YOU HEAR ME?  WE ARE NOT IN A HURRY. IF YOUR FATHER RACES OFF, I WANT YOU TO FALL DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AIRPORT AND STAGE A PROTEST.”   The other men on the plane looked at me like I was a lunatic while their wives and children tried to touch me and asked for my blessing.  A few of the Moms who were too far away threw roses.

Sadly, this announcement was not enough to penetrate the cement walls guarding my husband’s traveling persona.  He hit the door of the plane at top speed, glanced back to remind me that the next event, Concourse Slalom, was well underway and got out his GPS to plot a course toward Baggage Retrieval.  We found him there a few minutes later, pacing like a caged  lion.  We decided to rent a van so we had to extend the Reverse Luggage Carry event all the way to the bus stop for the Avis rental parking lot. 

This is where, for the second time the entire trip, I lost my composure.  When Bill ran off toward the exit (which, I must admit, was well within the Olympic Committee Guidelines), he left the rest of us far behind.  Matt had a rolling suitcase with a backpack on top that kept falling off.  Reilly and I were pushing strollers (one with Ruslan, one with luggage) and Paul ran ahead to find Bill.  Well, we got way behind with the result that Sharon was running back and forth between us along the sidewalk, much too far off for my comfort.  I finally mentioned in my kindest, gentlest voice that Bill might "WAIT FOR US!"  So of course, we had a well deserved argument.  

Matt and Paul decided it was their job to announce this to everyone we met for the rest of the night.  They told the people at the bus stop, the people already on the bus with us, the people at Avis, and they would have told the people at McDonalds, but they couldn’t get their face close enough to the drive through window.  I think this was totally unfair of them, by the way.  It’s just not right to say, “Mom and Dad had an argument,” without going into the details.  They might at least point out that it was not my fault.  He started it.

On the way home, I told the kids they don't have to write about the trip in their journals anymore.  Honestly, I don't think they could spell most of the words I was using with Bill, but you just can't be too careful.  A little while later, Bill apologized then went to the grocery store and came back with two boxes of brownies.  Thank goodness we are home.