Sunday, April 29, 2012

Days like these

When I was in my early twenties, I spent one year  living alone.  It was the first and only time in my life when I did not have roommates or housemates.  I lived in a tiny apartment in a building where the only two souls I knew were my dog and my cockatiel.  My apartment, billed as a 'junior one bedroom,' was so small that I could see everything I owned from any vantage point.  My belongings consisted of flea market finds and hand-me-downs.  It was small and simple, a metaphor for what my life was like back then. 

There are days, and lawd today was one of them, when I long for that little apartment and that simple life so much that I am tempted to pack it all in and go out in search of that old feeling.  I find myself shutting down and turning inward, just to block out everything else for awhile.  These days are few and far between, but when they come, the funk is hard to shake.  Days like today when the kids drive me crazy, the weather makes me feel hopeless, and I drown in the overwhelming knowledge that I am responsible for so much beyond my own happiness. 

Sometimes I get stuck in a rut where I focus on how hard things can be, and how 'nobody told me there'd be days like these.'  How it feels to love my children so fiercely and at the same time, sometimes want to be away from them.  That there would be times when I reacted as harshly to requests to read books as I did to sibling bickering.  Times when I would have to force myself to nod and smile and gush over a newly-drawn picture.  Days when my upbeat husband and I would be so out of sync that I felt like we were living on different planets.  Hours that passed too slowly, bed time seeming unbelievably out of reach.

I remember talking to my mom once awhile back when I was going through a particularly rough season of parenting. She thought for a moment, and then offered a heartfelt "Surprise!" which makes me laugh every time I think about it.

Tonight, I will remind myself of the pieces of today that I wouldn't trade for even a week of solitude in my tiny old apartment.  Reading to the kids around the dinner table; snuggling under a blanket with Dave to watch The Descendants; explaining to Casey that No, humans do not lay eggs; hugging my oldest child who is suddenly less of a little boy and more of a little man; listening in as Keller gave Marley pointers on dribbling a basketball and riding a bike. These are the things that make my 'here and now' so much better than my 'there and then.'

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Finding Day . . .

About an hour ago, as I sat playing solitaire and watching Indiana Jones with the kids, it suddenly occurred to me that today marks the 5th anniversary of Marley's 'finding day.'  Five years ago today, Marley was found, wrapped in a flowered quilt, with a bag of formula tucked inside.  She was estimated to be 2 1/2 months old at the time.  We know where she was found, and the name of the person who found her, but beyond that and what was published in her 'finding ad' in the local Chinese newspapers, we have no idea what that day held for Marley.  Was it a long train ride or a short walk from her home?  Did she wait long before being found?  Was she cold?  Scared?  Who brought her there?  Was it her birth mother?  father? grandparent?  This is perhaps the piece of the puzzle that I've thought about the most over the years that she has been our daughter--Who was the last person from Marley's birth family to hold her in their arms?  What did they think when they walked away?  How must that have felt?

I sat and wondered tonight if her birth family marks this day in any way.  Do they light a candle or a stick of incense in her honor?  Do they talk about it, using her birth name, which Marley will never even know?  Are there tears?  Do they wonder about her life and speak of the hopes they had for her when they made the decision that they could not be her family anymore?

And how should we mark this anniversary?  Should there be ceremony--flowers planted?  letters written, never to be sent?  

So many questions, and these are only my questions, not Marley's.  I can't imagine how many questions she'll have as she grows up. 

In honor of National Poetry Month, I had planned to post one of my favorite poems.  I remember reading it when I was much younger.  The ways I felt I could relate to it back then pale in comparison to the ways that I relate to it now.  It seems appropriate to share the poem on this night, the anniversary of the first night that Marley and her birth family spent apart. 

Comes The Dawn

Author: Veronica A. Shoffstall

After a while you learn the subtle difference

Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning

And company doesn’t mean security,

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts

And presents aren’t promises,

And you begin to accept your defeats

With your head up and your eyes open

With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child,

And you learn to build all your roads on today,

Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,

And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.

After a while you learn

That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,

Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure...

That you really are strong,

And you really do have worth.

And you learn and learn...

With every goodbye you learn.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wild Wales and Friendly France--The Epic Blog Post You've All Been Waiting For ; )

We arrived home from France at 1:30am this morning, and after a day full of unpacking, forcing filthy children into bath tubs, and working through 8 loads of the smelliest laundry ever--I've finally carved out a few moments to relieve my flash cards of their beautiful burdens.  We have been insanely lucky to be able to take two awesome trips in the past month--one long weekend in Wales and one week in France--which ended with a combined total of about 1,000 pictures snapped by Yours Truly.  I promise I won't post all of them, just a few hundred : )  

Caswell Bay, Wales

 Casey's baby tooth literally hung in there forever, but finally did fall out while we were in Wales

 The boys were inspired to write their own beach quotes.  Typical low-class behavior from them.

Three Cliffs hike--we had hazy weather and my pictures absolutely do not capture how breathtakingly beautiful the view was from the cliff line

 This next picture captures the relationship between these two so well.  As much as I feign emotional injury every time Marley tells me in her sassiest voice that she "wants to be a daddy, NOT a mommy" when she grows up because "daddy's are nicer," I love that they have this special bond. 

Rhossili Bay, Wales

We spent an entire day at this beach and would gladly have gone back again if we had more than a weekend to spend in Wales. 

We spent spring break week in the southern Brittany area of France, which was a choice we made by default.  We originally planned to spend the week in Switzerland, but the friendly gal we were hoping to rent a house from mentioned that there would "still be plenty of snow for skiiing and snowboarding" this time of year. . .so we opted out.  Skiing in the Swiss Alps sounds awesome (at least to Dave it does; I'm more interested in hanging out in a chalet mid-mountain, drinking hot alcoholic beverages and people-watching).  It just wasn't what we had in mind for spring break time of year.  We looked at our options that were driveable, and chose Brittany.  No regrets at all--it was a wonderful week!

Our seasoned road trip crew, loaded up and ready to start whining about who controls the DVD players, whose DS battery is dying, who sat/stood/farted on whose snacks/shoes/game

D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, England near where our ferry departed from

Pizza/Kebab house in Portsmouth We tend to gravitate toward these pizza/kebab/anything-else-you-might-possibly-want-to-eat places when travelling---the kids can fill up on pizza, I can get vegan goodies like falafel, and Dave can eat a whole bunch of whatever his metabolism seeks at the moment

We took an overnight ferry ride to St. Malo, France

Drove to Mont St. Michel  which was crazy-crowded and very commercialized, but awe-inspiring nonetheless

passed this en route

Worth braving the crowds to see something so beautiful and old

Casey got to celebrate his 7th birthday in our comfy "caravan" (read:  mobile home) at Ty Nadan in Arzano

Random beach in Lorient where we spent an hour or so and had a picnic lunch

 I love these next two of Dave and his Mini Me

Guidel, near Lorient

 I like to call this sequence "Blissed to P*ssed"

Hennebont market where we bought the best bread ever baked by anyone in the history of bread

St Cado, an amazingly picturesque islet with only about 20 houses and a beautiful old church.  This was one of the off-the-beaten-path spots that took a little detective work to find, but so worth the effort

my absolute favorite scenic picture from the trip

Carnac Megaliths an arrangement of about 3,000 giant stones that are believed to have been part of an ancient astrological charting system.  Unfortunately, they held about as much entertainment value for my kids as. . .well. . .a bunch of giant stones.

Plage du Beaumer at Carnac

 When Keller saw me with my fancy new hair wrap from the Hennebont market, he said, "One, two, three. . . wait--I'd better count by fives" and I quickly realized he was counting my grey hairs.  That's my thanks for a spring break trip to France.  Brat. 

 Coco, our world-travelling monkey, makes an appearance in France

Quimperle town and market, where we bought some more incredible bread, some tasty (and very non-vegan!) cheeses, and Dave treated himself to a giant serving of paella with local mussels in it

Ste Barbe Chapel, another off-the-beaten-path locale we read a tiny blurb about in our guidebook, and then almost gave up on finding.  It was so beautiful and serene, a fifteenth century church perched on a rocky cliff overlooking a river

skies that greeted us

 I can't describe how cool it was to search for this chapel with no idea what it might look like, and then to be rewarded with this view 

We passed this cottage on the way to Ste Barbe and I made Dave stop across the street on the way back so I could snap a quick picture

Adventure Course at Ty Nadan (our 'glamping' resort home for the week).  Dave and I were super proud of both boys for taking on the challenge (and kicking arse!).  Dave signed up and did the course, in case Casey needed any help (way to take one for the team), but he was hardly needed at all.  Marley decided to launch an un-contested campaign for Naughtiest Cheerleader Ever, running through all of the 'muddy puddles' she could find, throwing rocks, and at one point she even disappeared for a few heart-stopping minutes when she apparently decided she was going to walk back to the camper by herself.

 Doesn't that little smirk just scream "NAUGHTY!"?

 Canoe trip at Ty Nadan, which involved a lot of Keller trying to steer us under hanging branches, Casey complaining that Keller was elbowing him, Marley crying because she thought Keller was trying to take us under water, and ok, I'll admit that I used a little of my 'French' while out on the river.  Not the high point of our vacation!

D-Day sites--Omaha Beach and the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, we visited these sites briefly on our way back to the northern coast to catch our ferry back home.  It was a grey and rainy day, which added to the somber ambiance.  (Dave gets full photo credit for the pictures from the cemetery and memorial)

If after scrolling through the million pictures above you find yourself tempted to think that vacations are all rainbows and unicorns for the Huffman crew, let me lay that to rest with a few anecdotes:

1. We arrived in France at 7:15 a.m., disembarked from our ferry, and quickly realized that we brought the GPS that only has UK maps on it, not the European continent.  We found a McDonalds with free Wi-Fi, and figured we'd stop for a little breakfast, load the maps and be on our way.  Alas, McDonalds in St. Malo, France does not actually open for breakfast until 10a.m., so we spent an eternity in the parking lot, being tortured by our caged animals children and trying Wi-Fi.  After spending 2+hours outside and inside of McDonalds (during which time we ordered a bunch of food and drinks that we literally were not sure how to assemble) we finally gave up after having a whopping 14% of our maps loaded on to the GPS.  By some miracle, it was just enough to get us through our whole trip, although we did find ourselves at the end of more than a few farm driveways and one one road that we're pretty sure was meant for cattle only :)

2.  I took two years of French in junior/high school, followed by a couple years of Spanish.  I have since taken Spanish in a variety of settings--college, private tutor, immersion experience in Guatemala, and have also used it with my ESL students (adults in Fairfax County and students here on base).  Needless to say, I have completely forgotten even the most rudimentary French, and found myself using Spanish words a bazillion times.  Example:  approach the fruit seller at Hennebont market and hand him my chosen specimens; point to my reusable grocery bag and say "aqui" (Spanish for "here") to which he says "ici?" (French for "here") to which I respond "Si" and he responds with a friendly chuckle "Oui?"    Dave had himself convinced at one point that he was pulling off a pretty convincing "Bonjour", but he sounded more like a big dude of German descent, who has mastery of toddler Spanish (minus the 'r' rolling) trying to say "Bonjour."  Kind of like Steve Martin in the Pink Panther.

3.  We travelled home across the English Channel, by ferry, on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  About 10  minutes into our ride, the captain came over the intercom and announced that due to engine failure in 1 out of 4 (he emphased the "out of 4") engines, we would be sailing slower than planned and would reach Portsmouth an hour behind schedule.  Something about the Titanic anniversary and our boat's engine failure left me feeling a bit uneasy.

I'll leave out other gems like how the boys were forced to 'go commando' for a day because they both ran out of clean underwear and how we realized after crossing the channel that Dave had forgotten to put the van in park on the overnight ferry.  We are still getting the hang of this world-traveller business and although each trip is slightly easier, we are far from having our multi-lingual international ducks in a row.
Seriously, though, Dave and I want our kids to understand how fortunate they are to be on this grand adventure, but we also realize that at their ages, they don't have the perspective that it takes to really wrap their brains around it all.   We try to put it on their level--like telling Casey how cool it is that he lost a tooth in Wales and then less than three short weeks later, celebrated his 7th birthday in France.  We talk about how fun it is that Marley was born in China, adopted by an American family, moved to England where she attends a British school (and has picked up a cute British accent), and has stamps on her passport from places like Malta and France.  I try to drive it home to them that all of these places and things they are experiencing are firsts for me, too, at age 38.  We hope for the best, which is to say that it would be awesome if they grow up realizing how much there is to see and experience in this great big world, and how lucky they are to have been able to dive right in at such young ages.

Until next time. . .adios Au Revoir!