Friday, August 29, 2008

Another Article

Here's my latest, from the Christian Science Monitor's KidSpot section. Enjoy...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Some Pictures of Our Day

Here they are in the playground during the Back to School picnic. One is very excited; the other quite nervous. Can you guess which is which?

Here's Aidan in his super-cool classroom. Seriously, I'd go back to school if I got a room like this. See the birds back there? You can't see the fish tank. In the second picture, you can see the "Bat Cave," which is the bottom of a bunk bed. The kids can climb up into the bunk bed or into the Bat Cave to read.

Both boys were all smiles when they got off the bus. No pictures of that, but you might remember the fancy bus from last year at this time. Same bus.

Tomorrow, I have to get the whole tribe to the bus stop by 7:45. Should be interesting to see if we make it.

Why I Don't Celebrate New Year's Eve

I hate New Year's Eve. Always have. To me, it's not so much a celebration as recognition of my own mortality: another year gone by, one less ahead. And what did I accomplish with that last year? Usually not enough.

So now maybe you're wondering: isn't she getting just a wee bit ahead of herself? After all, it's only August.

Yes, but here's the thing. My baby boy is starting kindergarten today. I still remember when I took Shay to meet his kindergarten bus three years ago. Aidan and I waved goodbye cheerfully, but when we went back to our silent house together, Aidan sat at the table and cried "I wanna go on the school bus." I hugged him and reassured him. "When you're a big boy, you'll get to go on a school bus, too." I said that, but I didn't really believe it would come to pass. I couldn't picture him getting big enough to go on a bus.

But here we are. His birth certificate indicates he's old enough for a school bus, even if he still asks for sippy cups sometimes. Another summer flew by, and I've got that New Year's Eve feeling. I had so many plans for the summer. Read every day! Make cupcakes together! Go to a museum! Hike the Great Wall! And we did do a lot of the things we planned to do, but not so many, and not so often. Okay, okay, I have a baby in the house, so I know I should cut myself some slack. But he's in kindergarten now, and my time is up. He's going to spend his days with his teacher and his friends now, and I'm going to be left behind, hugging Kyra and telling her "someday, when you're a big girl, you'll go on a school bus, too..."

So, for today, I'm going to wallow in my misery. I'm going to miss those two little guys who have tormented me all summer. I'm going to feel quite lonely in this big house, without my two boys whining at my feet and punching each other in the head. I'm going to think about all of the things we never got around to this summer. I'm going to think about the times when I wasn't patient enough, when I turned on the tv instead of opening a book, when I yelled instead of counting to ten. Today, I'm going to allow myself to feel just as sad as I sometimes do on New Year's Eve. Where did the time go? And what do I have to show for it?

But then, tomorrow, I'll probably leave the girls with the ayi and go sit in Starbucks with a book for awhile. All. By. Myself.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I Really Wasn't Bragging

When I told you that my daughter slept through the night last week, I really wasn't bragging. Honest I wasn't. But once again, in the category of "proof that God has a sense of humor," you'll find me bleary-eyed and ever-so-grouchy over here in Beijing.

As I reported, Ainsley slept all night on Friday. Happiness! Joy! Until Saturday night, when she refused to go to sleep until hours after her usual bedtime. When she finally dozed off, Kyra woke up. And then Aidan started talking in his sleep.

So once again I'm on a no-sleep diet.

Tonight we had another of those crazy Beijing thunderstorms, where the lightning and thunder are almost simultaneous, rocking the house. Kyra is terrified of these storms, so we had to take shelter in my office and blast the radio to muffle the sound of the thunder. She sat in my lap, quaking and sobbing and chewing her fingers. Ainsley also sat in my lap, chewing her own small fingers.

The dog is still not used to these storms, so he ran around barking ferociously after every thunder clap. Then, when he couldn't take a minute more, he peed on the floor. So I set poor quaking Kyra down and went to get a rag to mop up the floor. As I opened the garage, a huge thunderclap boomed in on us. Casey squealed and fled. Kyra took her fingers out of her mouth long enough to say "Casey poopie." Sure enough, the dog had the s**t literally scared out of him. He ran around the house spurting poop out the back end.

And lest you're wondering, let me remind you that in this blog I attempt to focus on the high points of my day. No point regaling you with the bad parts. So, yes, sleepless nights and dog poop fountains are really where it's at for me.

Don't you wish you were me?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

And The Angels Rejoiced…

The birds were chirping, the sun was shining and the angels were singing when I awoke at 6 this morning. That’s right – my baby girl finally slept through the night, and so I got to sleep until the luxuriously late hour of 6 a.m.

Parenthood. It really warps you.

And speaking of parenthood, I’m trying to enjoy the last few days of summer vacation with my boys (one of whom is currently lying on the floor next to me whining because I won’t let him eat breakfast in front of the television). So I probably won’t be blogging much until late next week. Too much to do to get ready for school.

And this school? Run by crazy people. They’ve had all summer to finalize teacher assignments, but they didn’t manage to get assignments out until Friday night at 9 p.m. Since Shay is a returning student, he has to go on Wednesday to meet his teacher. We get ten minutes to meet her and discuss our “hopes and fears” for the coming year. Ten minutes. I'm sure that'll be more than enough time to cover my hopes and fears for my child. Since Aidan is a new student, his ten minutes won’t happen until Thursday morning – the same day school starts. Aidan is supposed to meet his teacher, with me, at 10 a.m. At 11 a.m., there is a school-wide welcome back picnic. School officially starts at noon.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Because school doesn’t start til noon, there’s no bus service the first morning. So I have to drive both kids in. But – Shay isn’t allowed to come to Aidan’s conference, and he isn’t allowed on school grounds until the picnic begins. So I bring Aidan at ten, meet the teacher, rush home for Shay, go back to school, fight with the rest of the parents for the few available parking spaces, have a picnic, say goodbye to the kids, go home, and then come back in 3 hours to fight for a parking space once again in order to pick the kids up.

Whoever planned this fiasco is not going to be on my Christmas card list this year.

The first lesson Shay will learn this school year will be: The rules don’t apply to us, son. Because I’m bringing him with me when I bring Aidan. That’s just how it’s going to be.

And the traditional “first day of school photo in front of the bus” will have to take place on the second day instead.

The Olympics are winding down, and I for one am ready to be done with them, mostly because of the crazy group of tourists that has taken over the apartments in our compound. There is a gigantic group of them who all showed up together, wearing orange everywhere they go and smoking cigars by the kiddie pool. I don’t want to make broad generalizations about an entire country based on 50 or so of their compatriots, but boy do the Dutch like roaming the streets in orange speedos! If you ever go there, look out. Everyone smokes and no one wears anything but skimpy orange swimsuits and matching flip flops. Even in the grocery store.

Meanwhile, in other Olympic news, Bart managed to procure tickets for Xiao Tong, so she was able to go to an event on the Olympic Green with her husband and son. To me, this was actually the most exciting part of the Olympics. It has been near impossible for your average Chinese citizen to procure tickets – when they opened up the final phase of ticket sales just before the Games, they had to deploy riot police to control the crowds. People camped out overnight and still left without tickets. So Xiao Tong was thrilled to be able to take her family to see an event. We could only get two tickets, but they let her bring her son anyway, which was pretty cool. Xiao Tong is a mild, even-tempered sort of person who seldom shows too much emotion, so it was funny to see her grinning when she came to work the next day and recounted her adventures.

I’m sure there’s more to tell, but that’s all the time I have. My friend Jessica is stopping by for one last quick visit on the way to the airport – her sister’s field hockey team got 8th place here – so I should probably go make sure the kids aren’t fingerpainting in the bathroom or something.

Monday, August 18, 2008

And More Olympics...

On Saturday afternoon, we went to see rowing. Good crowd, lots of cheering. The weather was beautiful - we could see clear to the mountains. We even got a photo taken with a giant Fuwa before going home and collapsing.

On Sunday night, we took the kids to see beach volleyball - China vs USA. It was a great match. The US lost pretty badly, but it was so fun. Everyone in the crowd was hollering "Zhongguo!" "USA!" back and forth all night and doing the wave.

As usual, we drew quite the crowd. Kyra was a big hit, as she was running around waving a Chinese flag all night. Everyone had to take her picture, so she had her own pazzarazzi trailing her throughout the venue. Too funny to watch her pose.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

More Olympics

We took the whole family, plus Xiao Tong, to see women's preliminary springboard diving at the Water Cube. Shay loved it - sat in his seat for the whole 3 hours and didn't even get up to get ice cream. Kyra clapped and cheered and told everyone around her to look at the "jumpy lady" every time someone stood on the board. Aidan... not so interested, but all in all he was good.

We walked around the Olympic Green for a bit, but it was hot and naptime for Kyra, so we didn't stay for hours and hours. As usual, we had lots of people taking pictures of the kids, as you'll see in these pictures.

Today, we're going to try to find the rowing park for some more Olympic adventuring.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Somewhere in the World

Somewhere in the world tomorrow, a woman will discover a lump in her breast.

Somewhere in the world tomorrow, a woman will undergo a biopsy.

Somewhere in the world tomorrow, a woman will hear her doctor say: It’s cancer. Likely, everything the doctor says after that will be a blur.

Somewhere in the world tomorrow, a woman will shave her head so she doesn’t have to watch her hair fall out.

Somewhere in the world tomorrow, a woman will start chemotherapy treatments.

Tomorrow, in a very specific spot on the globe, a dear friend of mine will undergo a double mastectomy in order to rid her body of this disease.

She’s the kind of mom who spends hours on the floor with her kids, building with playdough or reading books.

She’s the kind of wife who supports her husband, even when it means he has to pack his bags and travel to other countries for work.

She’s the kind of neighbor who makes four-course meals for her friends when they’ve just had babies and can’t possibly conjure up the energy to cook for themselves.

She’s the best kind of person, and I’m honored to call her my friend.

Please send your prayers for her into the universe. I know those prayers will find their way to her little spot on the globe. I can’t do much for her from over here in China, but I can pray. And right now I’m praying that she emerges from this surgery healthy, strong and cancer-free.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shay's First Olympic Event

Bart somehow snagged a couple of seats to swimming in the Water Cube tonight, so I drove Shay into the Embassy and he went with his dad. They had great seats, right up front. And we have the pictures to prove it.

Wheels Up

The President left yesterday, and the Embassy breathed a collective sigh of relief as their workload racheted down a notch. Of course, there are still a bazillion other important folks roaming the streets of Beijing, so after they finished that sigh of relief, most of 'em went back to their desks and continued working.

George W, George Sr and Mrs. Bush all came to the new Embassy, which is scheduled to open shortly, for a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Immediately following, they planned to take a photo with the Embassy kids. Make that: they planned to take a photo with any Embassy kids whose parents wanted to wake up at 5 a.m., board a bus for the Embassy, and then sit in a holding room until 9 a.m. or so. Picture me, doing that with all four of mine? Me neither. Luckily, my neighbor graciously offered to escort Shay, who reallyreallyreally wanted to go. So off he went at 5 a.m. to hang with the Prez.

I hate going to those kinds of things because you usually spend a lot of time standing around, elbows deep in a crowd, but you seldom get close enough to throw out the phrase “last fall, when I was hanging out with the President…” Jimmy Carter came and went a few months back, giving an interesting speech but shaking few hands. I still remember waiting hours to see Madeline Albright (kind of a hero of mine), only to discover I was on the wrong side of the crowd and wouldn’t get close enough to shake her hand. So, wake up at 5 a.m. to stand around for nothing? Not me, no thanks. But apparently, the President did a fantastic job of working the line, shaking hands with just about all the kids there and stopping to talk to quite a few. The kids were thrilled. Shay even had a little chat with Laura Bush. Apparently, she apologized to him for making him get up so early, to which he responded “that’s okay, I’m not a sleep kind of a guy, anyway.”

My friend Jen was hired by the Embassy to photograph the event, but at the last minute, some evil secret service guy denied her access to the press box, even though she’d been cleared by the Embassy. So, sadly, I don’t have a picture to post here, yet. I’m told the White House photographer will be sending along a picture shortly. If so, I’ll post it here.

The Olympics are everywhere here, and in Chinese. Kinda fun to see the events live on TV and know they’re happening just down the street. It’ll be even more fun to go to an event this weekend. The Chinese are just so proud of themselves for hosting the Olympics – it’s interesting to be privy to all of this excitement. The stories I’ve read seem to make a big deal about their “nationalistic pride,” as if it’s a bad thing. But back in the States, we run our flags up poles and chant “USA.” Nothing wrong with being proud of your country, I think. I was in a hospital waiting room yesterday (another story entirely), and the waiting area was full of people watching synchronized diving. The Chinese guys were awesome, and the crowd was cheering, right there in the waiting room. And no, it wasn’t a “someday we will rule the world” kind of a cheer. It was just a regular old “go, hometown heroes” cheer.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Yesterday was Ainsley’s 3-month birthday. To celebrate, she grew her first tooth. Apparently, nobody told her she’s too young for teeth.

Always fun for a nursing mom to have a baby with a mouthful of teeth…

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

14 Years Ago...

Exactly 14 years ago, I walked into a church with my about-to-be-husband and said “I do.” Of course, I was in a hurry, so I forgot to read the fine print, otherwise I would have realized that I was actually saying “I do… agree to move with you and your four kids to some random country where I have no friends and I don’t speak the language and oh, by the way, on our anniversary you’ll likely be too busy with the President’s security detail to come home in time for dinner.”

Oh, well. I would’ve married him anyway. Plus which, he gave me an awesome anniversary present. So who cares if I have to eat his share of the cake? I still maintain that I married quite well.

My Article in the Monitor

Here's my latest article for the Christian Science Monitor. This one is for their Kid Spot section. Interesting back story: while I was interviewing Sean at his house (he's one of the agents featured in my story), the doorbell rang. It was my husband, which was kind of weird - I mean, why would he interrupt me when I was working? And where were the kids?

"I need you to come with me," he said. "Aidan needs to go to the hospital right now. He got hit with a golf club, and he's bleeding pretty badly from his neck and I can't get it to stop."

With that, my interview came to an abrupt end. But you'll see, I still got the story.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Final Push

We had some summertime security bachelors over for dinner last night. “Summertime Security Bachelor” is a brand new expression. I coined it myself; go ahead and google it. It refers to a guy who works in the security field and whose family has gone home for the summer.

My favorite dinner parties involve summertime security bachelors. This is because they are so appreciative of food, any food, that they snarf it all down and make you feel like a 5 star chef. Summertime security bachelors don’t know how to cook – they long ago surrendered that domain to their wives, not suspecting that some day these very wives would get on a plane and spend an entire summer away visiting relatives. Also, in this particular case, summertime security bachelors are very, very busy. Perhaps too busy to even call up the local pizza place and put in an order. Because the Olympics start this Friday, and the President of the United States is on his way here, along with hordes of other Very Important People, and this particular group of summertime security bachelors is supposed to make sure that nothing goes wrong and everyone is safe.

So we had chicken and Mexican lasagna and quesadillas and way too much food in general, because over the years I’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t make twice as much food as you need, then your husband is likely to invite a few extra bachelors at the last minute.

Then we all sat down to eat, buffet-style in the living room, and the summertime security bachelors began to talk about work. This is my favorite part of the party, because if I’m lucky, I’ll hear some cool anecdotes about my husband’s work once they forget I’m there and they start talking shop. You never know what you’ll hear: once I heard about an agent who accidentally shot another, keystone cops style. Once I heard about a shouting match my husband got into with some senior military official. It’s always good stuff. Last night, they were a bit more circumspect than usual, possibly because our house is wired for sound, or possibly because they’re all just tired.

They were talking about the likelihood of trouble during the Olympics, and by trouble I mean everything from bombs to the unfurling of “Free Tibet” posters. During dinner, I noticed my eldest child was doing what I do: staying really quiet in the hope that he’d hear something cool about bombs, or at least maybe learn a good new swear word (summertime security bachelors occasionally let those fly). I’m sure today he’ll have some questions for me about what he overheard.

Throughout the evening, phones were ringing. My husband’s poor boss never got off the phone for more than about 5 minutes. His phone just rang and rang and rang.

But this, as they noted, is the final push: a month’s work of work crammed into just one week. When you think of the Olympics, you think of all of those athletes, training for weeks, months, years on end so they’ll be ready for a few minutes of competition. But you don’t really think about the behind-the-scenes people who are doing the same thing. Not just the security folks, but everyone who is involved with the Olympics, all pushing themselves so their little piece of the Olympics goes smoothly. The summertime security bachelors have been working non-stop for this. Personally, I think they should all get medals.

But I gave them lasagna instead. And they seemed cool with that.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Small Victories

I'm at Jenny Lou's, the grocery store down the street, practically every day. I spend way too much money there. Cereal, for instance, ranges from about $5 a box to well over $10. Needless to say, we don't eat too much cereal anymore.

Anyway, they all seem to know me there. The manager, John, is a nice guy who speaks great English and always asks after my kids. Once, when I was having trouble getting a vendor in a neighboring store to refund my money for a broken toy, John took me over there, argued with the guy in Chinese for a minute, then said to me "he will give you your money now." And the guy did. Don't know what John said to him.

So I try out my Chinese on them all the time. At first, I just said things like "thanks" and "how much" and "excuse me." Then I got to where I could say "how are you?" and "today is very hot" and "do you have any more yogurt?" But still, my Chinese is fairly limited. This despite the fact that I've just hit my 1 year anniversary in China today. Somehow I assumed that, given the fact that I can speak Russian without too much trouble, Chinese would be a breeze.

Not so. One year later and I still struggle to be understood. But I'm still trying.

Yesterday I was in J Lo's, talking to one of my usual sales guys. Mid-conversation (if you can call it that), he paused, then said in English "Your Chinese.... it's... it's getting better."

I've been cheerful ever since. I'll take the smallest of compliments, whereever I can get it.

Happy Anniversary to me!

Haiku Friday

Why do my eyes sting?
The Olympics are coming.
The air should be clean...

Olympics Dress Code

I know they're excited about the Olympics, but could this be taking it a bit too far?
Please. Write your own stuff.