Mama Birds

Flight is easier for some than others.  Birds have wings, hang-gliders have wind, and I have a Southwest Airlines dependency.  As I packed our suitcases for the most ambitious part of our trip (three cities in one week, four flights, and no Jeff:/), I felt like a mama bird about to lead my brood out into the wild…it was where we should go, but it would not be an easy journey.  It is in my nature to go the distance to be with my people, just as it is in the nature of geese to fly south, ducks to love water, and penguins to waddle.  And so flying from Washington to Idaho to Texas felt natural, because there were best friends to see, babies to meet, and long talks waiting to be had.

Of course, it is not just about me.  I have two little girls who also get packed along for the journey…most of the time, where I go, they go.  So I have to make sure that these trips we take will be worth the risk that (God forbid) they get sick from someone on the plane (we wash our hands A LOT) or they lose sleep because naps are missed or new bedrooms don’t have bright enough night lights.  I am, in this season, a mama first.  And the truth is, I like having them with me, despite how challenging it can be to travel.  Those two little girls are my job and my delight, my privilege and my most volatile asset.  And so, as we travel the country to reconnect with some of the most important people in my life, I make sure the snacks are in abundance, the coloring books are primed, and that I’m ready when my tired kids need extra snuggles at bedtime.  My motivation is simple: my best friends love my kids and these friend-family reunions are the richest of days.  I make these trips because it is good for all of us. That my girls have tias (and an Aunt KC Mom) who have been my tribe for decades will root them in friendship in the future.  What my chosen family may lack in proximity we make up for in years and years of commitment and laughter. Exactly no beats are missed when we reunite and it is always worth the effort.  And so I will continue to fly with my little ones, praying one will nap and the other will chill, and sweating through those moments when they don’t.

But things look different for every mama bird.  Some raise their kids in one home in one town and rarely leave, and I can see the beauty in that.  In truth, I envy that kind of stability and simplicity. But just like the penguins can’t become the sparrows, even if life in a nest seems divine, I can’t be someone I’m not.  While I can learn from and appreciate how other folks do life, I have to remember that we are doing our best in our unique and beautiful messy life and that different seasons will bring different things. I recently sat on the front porch of a lovely farmhouse in Oregon watching kids play in a small pasture bathed in sunshine and I realized how ready I am for a simpler life.  And God willing, it will come.  We aren’t there yet, but we are aiming our family towards it, intentionally choosing what is simple and good over what might be grand and prestigious.

We were watching Planet Earth recently and the way birds manage the challenges of life in nature is astounding.  Some live among nothing but cacti and manage to take care of their babies while avoiding being speared or snared by the perils of their environment.  Others travel for a full day to hunt for a meal only to make the return trip, feed the chicks and do it all again.  I was reminded how harsh and unforgiving nature is, but also how universal the love of a parent is.  Whether instinct or emotion drives us, there is no end to the lengths we will go for our little ones.  In my case, there also seems to be no end to the length I will take my children.  I hope someday they look back on all these trips and are glad for the crazy start we gave them.  I know I’ll always be thankful for these times and am doing my best to savor them while they’re here.  As they say, the flights are long but the visits are short, or something like that;).  Love!



We do not travel light.  I wish we did; it would make our lives easier.  But the combination of outfitting the family for multiple climates, long time-frames and a dislike for buying things we already own creates inevitably stuffed-to-the-gills bags.  We almost always hit the 50 pound mark on the airport scale, except for when we are one or two pounds over.  With two kids, our travel stress has obviously increased as we are now lugging a second car seat, baby nourishment and comfort/entertainment items, in addition to the sweet 20 pound baby herself.  It takes a tremendous amount of energy to travel with kids, whether you’re driving to the mountains or flying to another hemisphere.  Our kids are now seasoned vagabonds and we have reached what I hope is the apex of our travelling-with-littles season.

The truth is, the adventure that is our life has also added to our other baggage, the kind that only weighs you down in the company of family and close, trusted old friends.  We have long had a reputation of being a little all-over-the-place, maybe lacking a bit on the detailed planning piece.  Though I’ve always been pretty comfortable flying by the seat of my pants, our life abroad has forced Jeff to adapt to this norm and our reality of living between countries and without certainty of what comes next job-wise has amplified this.  Jeff and I have grown a lot over the last two years, but when we travel to the USA we are constantly in the chaos of transition and so it appears (to our family in particular) that we are the same old crazy couple who don’t know where they’re staying next week or how they’re getting to the airport.  While our friends tend to laugh about how many bags we lug through their doors for our visits, our families have grown weary of our strained straddling of two countries.  I think this comes from a place of love, as they see how tired we are after overnight flights, living out of suitcases, and trying to do all that we can with the precious time that we have.  And of course, they wish we weren’t visitors that just popped in for a week or two because this puts a lot of pressure on time and means an inevitable goodbye.

After sweet, challenging visits with both family (on the east coast) and dear friends (in Colorado), we find ourselves halfway through this trip.  There have been moments when I have wanted to evacuate this adventure and catch a plane back to Santiago.  But instead, I have reflected on why we’ve made the choices we’ve made (we have good reasons for doing what we do, I promise) and remember that we are choosing what is best for us as a family. That doesn’t make it easy, and it is obviously not always fun, but it does almost always end up being good.  In the last six weeks we have shared rich holidays, attended dinner parties, seen American icons, reconnected with loved ones, watched our kids enjoy our friends’ kids, and enjoyed the glory of Target.  We have also gotten stronger, carrying around so much baggage.  We have had hard conversations about the stress we sometimes cause, processed expectations with our exceptionally generous friends, and borne the burden of relying on the kindness of others.  We are blessed beyond measure by the people who love us and we look forward to the day when our time together is less constrained by departure dates.  But for now, we accept the road we have chosen, say thank you to those who are walking with us, and dream about the day when we are the rooted ones who support weary travelers passing through.  Because that day will come and the lessons we have learned about hospitality, flexibility and generosity will surely serve us well.  After all, there are some benefits to all this baggage, and even when we find our landing place we will treasure all we’ve learned.   Love!!!  (P.S. When we know where that home is, you are all welcome!)

We Cray

When you arrive at the airport to take a trans-continental flight with two small kids for the second time in 4 months, you realize you’re a little batty.  Being a little bit crazy leads us to do all sorts of nutso things.  Like travelling on the busiest day of the year for an Orlando/Disney/Harry Potter Christmas with the Freers.  Or driving a significant stretch of the east coast with a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old during the coldest snap the USA has seen in a long time.  We were like frozen fairies, bringing snow days to family members everywhere we stopped (you’re welcome kiddos).  Even Rayna got the hang of it; though she hasn’t been to pre-school in over 2 weeks, she woke up while on our road trip and said “No school today!  We’re such lucky ducks!”.

And she’s right.  These adventures may be a little crazy, but they’re also yielding memories I’ll always cherish.  From experiencing the Wizarding World with legit Potter-fans (I highly recommend going to Hogwarts with people who know every single twist and turn of each book) to waking up Christmas morning to open presents with family (Rayna could barely handle this amazingness), it was pretty magical.  Dreams came true all over the place…butter-beer, Pluto, pool-time and sunshine all played their part. Della finally got to bask in the love of my whole family and Oma got to have all her people under one roof.  This was our first Christmas in 3 years not spent in Chile and the spirit of the season healed some of what had been bruised during 2017.  While the holiday came with predictable episodes of family dysfunction and Orlando itself is pretty ludicrous, our time in Florida was overwhelmingly positive and it was a really special way to spend Adela’s first Christmas.

The journey up from Orlando was loooong, but my mom did all the driving (she thinks I’ve forgotten how now that I get by without a car in Santiago) and the kids managed pretty well (packing snacks is my spiritual gift and Frozen/a pacifier got us through the other rough spots).  I’ll admit, I didn’t realize it would take 24 hours of driving to get to NY when I suggested this travel adventure to my mom in the fall, but we took our time and it was a great trip.  We spent sweet family time in South Carolina, ringing in the new year amidst excessive boardgame playing and peacing out just 2 hours before the snow started falling to the astonishment of the entire state.  We somewhat miraculously made it to Virginia without hitting any gnarly weather and enjoyed a delightful stay at the home of my cousin Meghan (fun fact: there are 25 cousins on the Freer side, something my grandmother tells everyone, including me, which was good as I’ve spent my whole life saying I have like 1,000 cousins).   Although the visit was quick, we packed in tons of great memory-lane moments; it was a little bit eerie to drive by my old high school with my two children strapped into the back of the car, but in a good way, like two awesome chapters of my life were walking by each other on the sidewalk. I loved catching up with great folks from my Virginia era and even though I hadn’t seen most of them in years, I left each gathering feeling grateful and reconnected both to the place and the people.

Now the girls and I are bunkered down in Glens Falls and while the cold is a little crazy, I kinda love it.  This is what winter should feel like!  There is snow on the ground, hockey being played, and I’m hoping to get Rayna on skis before the end of the week (with my strong-willed little lady, this could go either way…she could dash my ski dreams or take to it like a Lambert, we shall see).  While we miss Jeff who is back in Chile finishing up the semester, we are loving all the hot chocolate, snuggly blankets and remaining Christmas lights that allow the joy of the season to linger a little longer.

We can only guess what 2018 has in store for us, but we trust God has a plan and we are game for whatever that may mean.  For this week at least, we’re letting our crazy rest and wish you all a very happy New Year.  Love!!!

The (language) Struggle is Real

Living in a country where you are still learning the language is kind of like experiencing life with a huge cotton ball on your head.

Today I took Adela to an appointment for something called a Tac Torax.  Her doctor had explained to me that it was some type of chest scan, which made sense given her ongoing cough.  What I couldn’t understand was all the talk around sleep.  First, when I called to schedule the scan, I was told she needed to be awake 5 hours before the exam.  When I expressed my confusion over this (she is 6 months old and has probably never been awake for 5 hours in a row), the annoyed phone operator repeated the bizarre request slower and louder, obviously frustrated to have the bad luck to be helping such a moron.  Upon arriving for the scan, I was told that Adela needed to be asleep before the exam and stay sleep for 10 minutes during the exam.  Again, I was confused at how this was practically going to play out (she was tired but doesn’t sleep on command).  And then, as it turned out, she didn’t need to sleep at all but just needed to be relaxed enough for the loud whirring mystery machine to do its magic.   After what felt like seconds, the lab tech returned to the room and congratulated us on how well she had done.  Well, OK then, great, I thought, we’re done.  But then two of the medical professionals told me that the results were ready now.  What I didn’t understand was whether or not a doctor was going to discuss them with me.  First I thought they said yes, right now.  Then I understood that I had to go to pediatrician’s office.  But I didn’t have an appointment scheduled, so I asked how this worked, only to finally understand that the exam was ready in the system, but in order to talk to the doctor about it, I needed to schedule another appointment.  Ah, yes.  Obviously.

This is my life.  I try very hard to understand what the heck I’m being told, and then usually settle for getting the gist.  I don’t know what kind of chest exam Adela had today.  I’m sure it’s a great one.  But unless I took an hour to dig and research and translate, I’m going to remain partly in the dark.

Last week, I accidentally asked my friend if she could do dinner “this night” instead of “that night”.  As she rushed to change her schedule in order to join us for dinner that same night, she texted me updates and told me how she’d rearranged things to make “this night” work.  I, meanwhile, ignored my phone and enjoyed a relaxed afternoon until my friend finally called to figure out where we were going to dinner.  I was completely confused because it was Thursday and I’d asked if she wanted to get dinner on Tuesday…and because I’m often confused when speaking Spanish on the phone.  I apologized, befuddled by the whole conversation, but upon finally seeing her messages, I realized my mistake.

And then there are the preschool emails.  They are frequent, they are typically requesting something, and they are often so new-vocab heavy that I have to read them multiple times with the help of google translate.  The kids started studying something called “chanchitos de la tierra” this week.  I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be doing a whole unit on little pigs of the land (which is the direct translation) so I looked it up and conferred with my fellow English-speaking mom.  Turns out, they are in fact doing a whole unit on an insect that seems akin to a roly-poly.  Thank goodness this announcement came via an email rather than in person because there is basically zero chance I would have figured that out via context clues.  So now the question is, do I talk to Rayna about roly-polys or chanchitos de la tierra?

I’m constantly confused about what the sweet teachers/tias want from us and my eyes glaze over when a message seems to be about paperwork or pre-school certifications.  Normally the tias are gracious when I have no idea what is going on, though I did get a little lecture recently when I showed up with a photo of Jeff instead of a poster board presentation of his life.  Turns out the nuance between a picture and a project still eludes me in Spanish, and as a result, there was no artsy ode to Jeff hung on the jardin wall this month.  I hope Rayna doesn’t notice how out of step I often am or how I consistently do the bare minimum on her school projects (because, while it’s sometimes a language thing, it is just as often a protest because it is preschool for crying out loud!).  Let’s be honest, I’m not really trying to blend in, I’m just aiming to get her there on time and with brushed teeth (both her teeth and mine:).

The struggle is real, but it’s not all bad.  For example, I do understand when the elderly woman on the corner, the businessman crossing the street, and the gal in line at the bread shop swoon over Adela (this was just today).  My range of sweet things to say to babies is nice and wide, which is probably more important than medical terminology anyways;).  Love!


After a long winter, the sunshine on Lake George was glorious.  We arrived late in the day, but it was still warm enough for a swim.  I revert back to a kid when I’m by the water so I was more interested in finding my bathing suit than in helping my family settle in.  Alas, the reality of our collective level of exhaustion and the needs of two tired, hungry kids did sink in and we spent our first evening unpacking and recounting the long, long day of travel we had just endured for my parents.  But in the morning, rested and delighted to be home, I suited up as soon as possible and ran down to the dock.  That water has always held something magical for me, as if by submerging in it I can wash away layers of bad and be surrounded by only good.  Diving in that day, I felt the weight of so much struggle wash off and the minute my body hit the water, my heart was full.  We had made it out of Chile, where sickness had strangled us for months, to New York where family was gathering at the lake.  My joy was complete.  As the days unfolded, I got to witness Rayna delighting in my favorite place with some of the same abandon I experience, building sand castles and floating to her heart’s content.  Jeff had to work, but when he was able to escape from his responsibilities, he reveled in scenic beauty and the water with the rest of us.  On the very first trip of her life, Della mostly just smiled and ate contentedly wherever arms happen to carry her and I wouldn’t say she really enjoyed getting her feet dipped in the water.  But for me, my baptism at Lake George was a renewal.  I was fortified, by the water, by the love of family, and by being home.

We spent three sweet weeks in the USA and were so glad to get to attend both a wedding and a special birthday party before we boarded our plane to fly back to Santiago.  Coming home (because Chile is a home of ours now too) went smoothly and though both girls had a cough within days, the weather was better and we were refreshed.  We also had Tia Lynn’s visit to look forward to, and when she finally arrived, we were all giddy.  Lynn has been a best friend of mine since the ripe old age of 10 and her presence in our home was comforting and fun.  She had little agenda besides hanging out with the kids, getting to know Jeff better, and resting a bit herself, and it was a glorious time.  We took a weekend trip to the coast where we indulged in great seafood and ice cream on the beach, but mostly we just drank wine and talked.  Though we got a few days of sun, springtime has started off cool and so we spent most of her visit bundled up.  I did run into the ocean for one quick dip, and there were plenty of Chileans doing the same, but no one in my family was interested.  The beauty of the ocean was really enough and the fiesta atmosphere of the coast was great.

Back in Santiago, we did touristy things and Lynn learned a lot about the history of Chile.  We even watched a movie about Salvador Allende’s final hours, and it came as no surprise that I learned as much during Lynn’s visit as she did.  We have that kind of friendship, having shared many firsts and learned so much together over the years.  On her very last day in town, we decided to join a small group of gals for a hike; after looking at the Andes for a week from our apartment, Lynn was ready to get into them.  With Jeff in charge of the home front, we were ready for adventure as we started our day on public transport, eventually bussing to the trailhead.  The way up was steep and challenging, but the wildflowers were showing off and the views were gorgeous.  Three hours in, the summit still seemed a way off and Lynn and I decided to head back down the mountain, as she had a plane to catch and Jeff was expecting us mid-afternoon.  We wished our fellow hikers good luck as they continued on to the summit and we started the slow walk down the mountain.  About half an hour after we split off from the group, an armed man with a covered face jumped out of the woods and demanded all of our belongings.  After taking in the gun, I realized what was happening and immediately complied, kneeling to the ground and handing him my pack.  At the same time, Lynn’s flight response kicked in and she screamed as she backed away from the robber.  This was the scariest moment, as he pointed the gun at her while yelling at her to be quiet and get down.  The idea of explaining to him that she didn’t speak Spanish crossed my mind just as she understood what he wanted and handed over all her things as he approached her.  He then told us to go and we ran the rest of the way down the mountain, stopping only to tell other hikers what had happened.  It was about half an hour before we reached the trail head, just enough time to figure out how we would get home with no phones or money.  By the time we’d gotten into a taxi, the adrenaline was ebbing and though we were still in shock, we were able to look at each other and be grateful that all we lost were things.  Crossing the threshold of our apartment, I started to cry as I asked Jeff to go pay the taxi.  Lynn hugged me and reminded me we were OK, and we were.  We had survived baptism by fire, experiencing a new level of fear and danger that one knows exists but hopes to never encounter.  Processing what had happened, we lamented the obvious desperation of the robber, the great economic inequality that exists in Chile, and the sadness of having a trek in the wilderness ruined in such a violent way.  Just hours after the robbery, Lynn was packed and on her way to the airport, soldiering on and promising to remember all the good moments of her vacation before the terrifying ones.

I share this not to further the notion that the world is a dangerous place, but only to record our experience.  To my knowledge, human depravity exists in every nation on this earth and guns can cause heart-stopping fear in any conflict.  We are thankful we made it off that mountain alive and are devastated for the victims of gun violence, whose numbers continue to mount at an alarming rate in the USA.  While we saw an ugly side of Santiago on that hike, there remains so much to love about this place and about this crazy, mixed-up, beautiful world.  Lessons will be learned, baptism may happen again and again, and that is life.  Love!

Now This Has Gotten Absurd

Here are some 2017 Freer Walters family stats, in case you’ve lost track.  100% of our family members have been to the emergency room.  75% of us have been hospitalized.  50% of us have worn hospital undies.  We have had around 30 visits with medical professionals in the last 6 weeks.  THIRTY.  These ranged from routine check-ups to cardiology screenings to ER visits to gallbladder surgery.  There have been exactly zero weeks since March where our entire family has been well.   There was a lot of barfing in January and February too, but we won’t even get into that.

Every time I think we are done, something else happens.  A fever leads to a seizure, a cough leads to kinesiology, a stomachache leads to a tiny, somewhat antiquated organ being removed.  It has felt relentless and hopelessness threatened to engulf me.  It has felt ridiculous, asking for prayer over and over, yearning for health amidst the joy and exhaustion a new baby brings.  It has felt like too much for one family to bear.

At one point, I told Jeff I couldn’t handle anymore.  I held my sick child and wanted to be home, in my own mother’s house, not struggling in some foreign country where the air quality and the winter were wrecking us.  This was before I got another cold, before Rayna got the stomach flu, (which thankfully only lasted 8 hours and Jeff handled single-handedly), before Della endured another uphill battle against the common cold.  It turns out, we can handle much more than we ever imagined.

Some of the lessons I have learned these last nine months have been hard, though simple ones.  Perhaps that makes them all the more important and valuable.  Life is not fair.  Choices can have consequences.  We are not in control.

Some of what I have learned this year fills my heart right up.  Our friends and family are with us, no matter how absurdly burdensome we may seem.  Being married to my best friend makes all the hard stuff easier because we’re in it together.  And God provides, even when I can’t be sure he hears me.  My faith has been tested, and through the power of Jesus, I am still standing.  We’re not through it yet.  But we’ll keep fighting, keep loving, keep living.  Pretty cheesy, but that’s what it’s come to.  Love!!!

In the Winter Weeds

It’s a gray winter day here in Santiago, and I’m stealing a few minutes while both kids are napping to write.  Lately, it feels like I do everything and nothing on any given day. I am in the weeds, as they say, in every area of my life.  There is always more stuff to clean, another meal to be prepared, someone who needs a snuggle or a lesson on kindness, clothes to be washed, naps to be coaxed, yoga to be done, emails to be answered, prayers to be said, etc.  All of this and the Coloradoesque weather of Santiago (we had snow last Saturday and then a week of gorgeous sunshine-warmed days) can have me bouncing from nearly depressed to elated within the span of a few hours. I hate to admit it, but my mood often hangs on how many ounces Adela eats and how willing Rayna is to use the potty.  Most days, I spend a decent amount of time just looking at and laughing with my precious family.  But I also have to put “take a shower” on my to-do list. The indignities and wonder of stay-at-home mom life continue to impress me.

I used to think I knew stuff…I knew how long it took to eat a yogurt and get dressed.  I knew how to fit a workout, a shower, and basic self-prep in before leaving for my day.  I knew how to avoid mountains of laundry and dressers exploding from being carelessly stuffed.  It turns out, I knew nothing.  Now, with two children, the breakfast time table can run from 5 to 50 minutes, and getting Rayna dressed requires the temptation of a TV show (something I “knew” I would NEVER do as a parent).  My self-care/level of frump ranges wildly from day to day.  Let’s just say the majority of my favorite clothes are either maternity or could be mistaken for pajamas.  Last Friday, when I went to pick up Rayna from school, I had clean hair, a little bit of makeup and a regular adulting outfit on.  The jardin director, who I have seen nearly every day for the past three months, did not recognize me.  I am not exaggerating.  As I stood outside the gate waiting to be buzzed in, I had to introduce myself (for the first time since I’ve been taking my kid to the school), and the director gasped and said “Oh Jessie, I didn’t recognize you!”.  Fair enough.

And let’s just talk about laundry.  Between a still-potty-training peach and a darling little ball of spit up, my kids create a lot of laundry.  I am running a load most days, and that part goes fine.  It is the putting it away that gets me.  I find myself looking for my phone under 17 small articles of clothing piled on our bed and there are typically stray socks on the floor in the hallway.  I am so so so thankful for a dryer (a luxury in a country that likes to pretend like winter is just one weekend a year, and thus they don’t need indoor heating nor dryers).  And I’m grateful for the gifted clothes and hand-me-downs that keep my kids from going out naked.  But seriously, the laundry could be my full-time job.

I am also more tired than I have ever been in my life.  In an effort to fatten up our teeny preemie, I have had to sacrifice any dreams of consistent sleep and instead focus on getting her all the calories possible.  Most days, a cup of coffee can lift the fog and Jeff encourages me to nap rather than meal prep, generously making dinner when he gets home or insisting we order take-out (side note: my husband is a saint).  How do I spend my days?  Sometimes, I have no idea.  What I do know is that I have had almost no time for my writing, have been a far less reliable friend than I like, and am often vacillating between a place of stuck and rushed.  Stuck nursing, rushing to get Rayna from school.  Stuck in an uber, rushing to get citizenship paperwork sent.  Stuck waiting for Adela to be asleep, rushing to take a shower before she cries.

A dear friend consoled me yesterday, as I lamented how I’m failing at life, and assured me that no one with 2 small kids feels like they’re doing awesome.  Managing life in Spanish adds to the challenge and being far from family continues to be hard.  We had to cancel our July USA trip because Della wasn’t medically cleared to fly and getting out of the house is still only happening when it is a necessity.  But despite all these things, I’m encouraged by the way we’re managing the trials we’ve faced this winter.  Rayna is thriving at school, dancing and singing her way through the days and fully bilingual at this point.  Adela is growing, slowly but surely, and it is so sweet to see her begin to engage with her world.  Jeff and I support each other in every way, which makes our home feel healthy even amidst the chaos, and we’re all pretty happy just to be together.  Our little corner of Santiago feels like a well-known friend at this point, so despite the weeds, there is plenty of sunshine.  Love!