Morning

With just ten days left in Santiago, I want to remember the small things.  Like how I wake up in our apartment to help whichever kiddo is up first, glad for our small space so I can cradle or direct to the bathroom before anyone else is woken up.  While I warm up milk or get toast going, I turn on the hot water pot so that I can attempt to have tea as I sit down to the view of the Andes that stuns in the winter time.  We’ll never have a view like this again, and even though the snow rarely reaches our neighborhood, I love seeing it dress up the great big mountains that cuff this sprawling city.

Whether it’s avocado toast or oatmeal, half of Adela’s breakfast will end up on the floor and half-way through Rayna will wander off to play, beckoned back only when she is reminded of the perks of being a good listener (read: tv time).  The aim is to make it to school in time for the bienvenido, which sometimes happens and sometimes does not.  Inevitably at least one kid cries, I threaten to take away privileges, snacks are packed and we race at glacial pace through the morning routine.  These days, the process of getting out the door includes hats and snowsuits and sometimes a rain cover for the stroller, and even though the climate is fairly mild by many standards, something about Chile makes you soft and so weather feels extreme even when it is not.  We cram into the elevator and greet the concierge, Eva or Walter, as we head out the door, dragging the stroller up a few stairs with their assistance.  Rayna is not friendly in the morning but her little sister charms with a laugh or baby conversation and our concierges eat it up.  Then it’s the uphill hustle to preschool through Providencia, just 5 blocks away but so full of people and traffic and life.  The buildings in our neighborhood are a mix of gorgeous refurbished colonials, ugly 70s block apartments and new construction.  We pass throngs of students heading to class at the university on the next street and smell the fresh bread for sale as we weave around slow walkers; Chileans are generally very unrushed but it is the morning commute and so we are in the flow.

We stand at the corner of Ricardo Lyon and I wave hello to Pato in his wheelchair as we wish for the light to change and he waits for the pause in traffic that allows him to wheel through traffic exchanging pesos and warm greetings with the drivers.  Every single day, he pretends Rayna is skipping school because she refuses to say hello, and I awkwardly bridge the gap between the two of them, reminding myself that daily jokes are part of Chilean culture.  I smile and nod hello to the morning regulars heading on their way and pass out crackers as the baby starts to yelp, bored of the stroller or annoyed by the sun in her eyes.  We pass people sweeping up leaves and white roses that seem to bloom all year as the sun streams over the mountains and buildings.  As we make the last turn towards the jardin, we get into the frenzy of the families coming and going and I am usually sweating by the time I ring the bell of the big metal gate.  Someone buzzes us into the cheery open patio and we’re welcomed with morning greetings no matter how late we are.  After hugging my big girl goodbye, I’ll usually hear the latest from a couple of other jardin moms and we’ll complain about the cold or the air quality and say Ciao before my cracker stash runs too low.

On the way home, we stop to buy fruits and veggies at the stand by the street, and while they know Adela by name, I will always just be ‘amiga’.  I’ll refuse their plastic bags but welcome their forgiveness if I forgot my wallet and have to pay tomorrow.  Tucking our haul into the stroller, we either head next to buy bread and coffee or cruise back to Galvarino Gallardo (this part is downhill) and make our way up to our sunny little 8th floor home.   I’ve come to treasure the people and the sunlight in this city even as I’ve begrudged the loud din of traffic and the terrible air quality.  This neighborhood has held almost all of our life in Chile and I’ll remember these mornings with love.

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Wanting Perfect

I have never once been called a perfectionist.  I am comfortable with messes, am regularly guilty of leaving things unfinished, and recognize that life is more enjoyable when you don’t stress the small stuff.  Despite all this, I find myself wanting perfect… in the place where it is almost certainly impossible.  That wonderful, complicated, draining, beautiful place is parenting.  I know, I know, there are no perfect parents, as there are no perfect people.  I need to just let it all go, enjoy them, and love them and it will all work out fine.  And I try, I really do.  But this desire to be a perfect parent sneaks up on me, surprising me with its dynamic approach to making me feel inadequate.  Sometimes it is simple guilt over doing things I want to do rather than what they’d most benefit from. Even though I know they’re actually better off when I get my run/dance class/glass of wine in, I fret over being selfish.  I also think about all the typical stuff: whether we read to our girls enough, whether we are instilling grit, if the shows we let Rayna watch are OK, if the food we give them is going to expand their palates, if we talk about faith in the best way, etc.   And then I think about the situational stuff: have we failed them by taking them from family, putting them in the city, not camping for a year?

When I’m being logical, I understand that all we can do is our best and that our kids will probably be OK.  But so often, I feel the heaviness of this job, raising people, and the importance of it stuns me.  I talk to other parents about how to best talk to my kids about sex, race, God, and kindness.  And then I wait for opportunities when it would make sense to point out to my 3 year how beautiful brown skin is, how important it is to take care of her vulva, and how screaming isn’t really the most effective way to get what you want (can you guess which of these conversations comes up the most?).  But it doesn’t feel like nearly enough.  I want to pour into her little head (sorry oldest child, your sister will get in on mama’s crazy when she starts to signal she’s tracking with complex language;) all the things I’ve learned so that she will be enabled to reach her potential, live life to the fullest, avoid so many pitfalls, and grow into the woman I’m sure God made her to be.

And there’s the rub.  While I made her in my womb, she is not me nor really mine.  She is an individual, every child is, and trying to form her so painstakingly will do no good.  My girls will grow wild, just like I did, and so they will be interested in different things and walk different paths.  I have to be OK with that, just as I have to be OK with the reality that I will make mistakes as I try to guide them.  I love them so much that I want to be perfect for them.  But I can’t, and hopefully, the lessons I can teach them from my failures will serve them as well.  I realized the other day that when I see pregnancy announcements, my first thought is usually “Welllllcome to the most humbling experience of your life!”  Perfection will never be my parenting story, but the reality of the happy mess, the mistakes, and the joy will fill volumes.  Love!

En Joy

Right now, my floor is covered in peppers, cucumbers, and some grilled cheese bits.  Bottles need washing and laundry needs folding and I can’t find my keys.  But the sweet baby that half-ate all that food smiles at me over the mess and bobs to whatever song I have playing in the background.  We have our own washer and dryer, and that still feels like a luxury, so the laundry is all good.  And we have a key taped to the bottom of some hallway décor so I won’t get locked out of the apartment.

In this world where violence, tragedy, and brokenness are so present, I am at times overwhelmed by joy.  That’s right.  The heart-stretching, this-is-the-moment grateful kind.  It isn’t that the reality of our world doesn’t break my heart…it does.  But that isn’t all there is.  This life, these moments with my little children, the hugs I get from my husband, the friendships that stretch across neighborhoods and oceans…it is so full of good.  My family can listen to Coco songs on repeat and dance around our little apartment, I can speed-walk with my stroller all over Providencia and we get to eat scrumptious fruits and veggies along with ice cream most days.  These are things I am not taking for granted this year.

I have been reading and talking a lot this week about embracing the life we have.  And that means recognizing that these are the days (Macklemore keeps singing about this and I love it). It means celebrating the little things and making room for joy.  Della won’t fit so perfectly into my arms forever; there will probably come a day when Rayna won’t want to snuggle on the couch to read with me.  And so I am soaking in these times, treasuring them and trying not to focus on the fact that they are fleeting.

Sometimes I feel sheepish about how happy little moments make me.  I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna and I know sometimes my enthusiasm can be tiring.  And maybe I am a glutton for joy…I rarely forego an opportunity to soak in art, light candles, or spend two hours on a skype catch-up, because all of those things make me happy.  I know joy and happiness are not the same things, but they can overlap and I love it when they do.  Instead of feeling a twinge of guilt for indulging myself, I am trying to remember that these habits are healthy.  I take care of a lot of things for other people (I’m working on being OK that in this season, that pretty much just includes my little family).  It is a good thing to also take care of some things for me.

My life can be a mess.  I just pulled a crayon out of the baby’s mouth, someone left the gas stove on after making those fancy grilled cheeses, and I have washed 600 pairs of cartoon print undies this week because apparently, potty training is a two-year process around here.   We have teething and tantrums and fights over Biblical roles just like everyone else;).  But man, it is a beautiful mess.  My birthday is this week, and I’m already celebrating (did you know you can get cupcakes DELIVERED in my city?  It’s true!).  I have let Jeff off the hook as far as gifts go…besides flowers, because that’s just basic birthday etiquette.  But if you want to give me something, dear reader, would you find some joy this week…do something you love just for the hell of it?  Don’t feel guilty about it, don’t stress it, just enjoy it.  Love!!!

 

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!

Baggage

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!!!