Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bullet Train to Tianjin

I thought I'd do another "our month in pictures" post. But people - there are 31 days in March. I get tired just thinking about it.

So instead, I'll post a few photos from Friday, when we took the kids to Tianjin on the bullet train.

Tianjin is a port city southeast of here. It took over an hour to drive to the Beijing South Railway Station from our house, but it only took 30 minutes to get to Tianjin from there. The bullet train goes up to 326 kilometers per hour. Let's see, in mph that's, uh, ummm, well, it's really fast. Really, really fast. You do the math if you really want to know how fast we went.

What'd we do in Tianjin? So glad you asked. I'm sure there were lots of Chinese-style port-city train-related things we could have done there in Tianjin. But honestly? We just went to McDonalds.

And then we came home.

In front of the train:

The Chinese countryside, moving fast. Really, really fast...

Kyra, making friends with the locals:

Aidan clowning for the camera:

See that guy carrying that huge sack? Lots of elderly sack-carrying guys were wandering in the station. I'm pretty sure I couldn't hoist that sack o' whatever...

Chinese McDonald's:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

When the Husband’s Away, the Mice Will… Make a Mess

Bart is on a business trip. Yesterday he was at a shooting range in Thailand; tomorrow he gives a big speech to security types in Hong Kong. Sound cool? Oh, maybe – but not in comparison with my job.

Today I made pancakes for the kiddies (whole wheat flax seed chocolate chip, if you must know). Then we played a rousing game of wii bowling, followed by a bit of wii golf.

Next we all got dressed and walked over to the hair salon, where Aidan and Kyra got washed and cut, for the low, low price of $7 each. Ainsley slept in her stroller at the salon while the hair cutting folks admired her. Unfortunately, they admired her so much that they couldn’t stop touching her. A head pat led to a hand grasp led to a “what the heck, let’s just pull off her blankie and check out her toes!” Strangely enough, she didn’t sleep long. And when she woke up crying (I wonder why?), they gave her a lollipop.

From there we went to Jenny Lou’s to pick up a few items for school lunches and check out the toy store. By the way, one of my readers used to live here, and awhile back she mentioned that the Jenny Lou’s employees sleep in the store at night; if you look up above the produce, you’ll see the mattresses stashed there. I happened to mention this to my friend Jen when we were in the store together last week, and I surreptitiously pointed them out. Sure enough, within minutes, the mattresses were removed, never to return. And you thought I was exaggerating when I said we’re always being watched!

From there, we made a quick stop at Starbucks to get sugared up (sorry, Jill, but you’ll be back in the land of Starbucks soon enough!). Then back to the playground to run off the sugar.

Are you exhausted yet? Me too. But soon enough it was time to head home for lunch, and I put the kids in charge. Aidan and Kyra washed veggies while Shay put cheese on bread for the sandwiches. Then I toasted the sandwiches while Aidan and Shay chopped veggies (yikes) and Kyra sprinkled pepper on the cucumber slices.

Everyone carried the plates to the table and ketchuped their own sandwiches (look at me, inventing verbs). Then the boys stacked their plates in the dishwasher and took off out the door to meet up with friends in their secret hideout. If I were a good mom, I’d know just where that hideout is, but alas…

Time for a nap for Kyra and a bottle for Ainsley. Then Ainsley fell gloriously to sleep. Both girls asleep at once? Isn’t that one of the signs of the apocalypse? I put Ainsley in her crib and came downstairs to survey the damage: pepper and cucumber bits on the floor, ketchup drippings on the table, a board game half completed, bottles waiting to be cleaned… the list goes on.

Yet here I am, writing about it instead of cleaning it up.

Hey, my husband’s in Hong Kong – he’ll never see the mess. And the kids don’t care.

And speaking of being watched all the time… for awhile this morning, we were at the indoor playground, which has a climbing wall on one side. For the first time, Shay and Aidan climbed all the way to the top, where they peered through a tiny window. “Hey, mom,” said Shay, “did you know on the other side on this window there’s a room full of people and computers?”

No, son, no I did not know.

I should have asked him if there were any mattresses stacked in there. Anyone want to bet on whether that window is covered over tomorrow?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Someone's Always Watching

Today, as I was driving to the school, a van pulled out in front of me, forcing me to slam on my brakes and horn simultaneously.

And I was pissed.

Most of the time, I take it in stride when the drivers around here do these boneheaded things. But every so often, when I'm tired or stressed or aware that I'm alone in the car, I just get so annoyed. And today was one of those days.

So instead of just moving along and forgetting about it, I honked again. The driver started up, but when I honked, he stopped and began rolling down his window.

This just fueled my rage. Seriously? Was he going to yell at me for honking? Not a chance. I turned the wheel hard and screeched around him in the bike lane while he was still rolling his window down. And I did something I never, EVER do.

I flipped him off.

But here's the thing. Just as I was zooming around him and lifting my finger in the air, I saw what he was really doing. He was extending his hand out the window and waving in apology, something you seldom see around here.

Just like that, my anger deflated and I saw the self-important ass that I'd just made of myself. And I've been feeling like a fool ever since.

You see, I'm driving around in a car with plates that identify me not just as a diplomat, but as a U.S. diplomat. Usually, I'm so aware that everything I do, good or bad, reflects on the U.S. as a whole. I'm not just any old person when I'm out there in the world: I'm an American, and MY behavior impacts THEIR views of US.

So I was doubly ashamed to be caught overreacting so.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I get tired of feeling as though I'm being watched all of the time. By the Chinese, by the neighbors, by my own kids. Everything I do seems to matter, if only on a very small stage.

And when I let down my guard, like today, it often ends badly.

Still and all - I think it was about the 5th time I'd been cut off today. The first few times, I managed to mutter under my breath and carry on.

Tomorrow - back to muttering for me.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Aidan came home from his friend’s house with a big bandage wrapped clumsily around his hand.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I got cut by a sharp pinchy thing.”

I examined the wound – no big deal really, but I did wonder how he’d managed to get hurt, so I proceeded to quiz him about this sharp pinchy thing. No, he didn’t know what it was. No, he didn’t know how it pinched him. No, he didn’t remember where in the house he was when it happened.

So I gave up. His tetanus shots are up-to-date, after all, so what did it really matter?

“Well, then, Aidan,” I asked, changing my line of questioning, “did you have fun at Scott’s house?”

“Oh, yes, mama,” he answered. “We played a game.”

“Really? What did you play?”

“We played ‘Who Can Catch the Sharp Pinchy Thing?’.”


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kindergarten Cookery

"Can we have chicken burgers for dinner, mom?" Aidan asked. "I had one at school today, and it was good."

"That sounds delicious," I replied. "I'm not sure I know how to make it, though."

"Oh, it's easy," said he. "You just get some bread and a chicken - a round chicken - and you put it together. So can we?"

There you have it, folks. 5-year-old cuisine.

Anyone know where I can buy a round chicken?

Monday, March 9, 2009

TGI... Monday

A crazy weekend this past weekend. Husband worked the whole time, but thankfully it was a really nice weekend, weather-wise, so I was able to shove the kids outside every time they fought.

I actually enticed them to go for a walk with promises of hot cocoa. The local Starbucks is exactly a 13-minute walk away when I go alone, so I thought a there-and-back journey would be good exercise - plus, I was desperate for a mocha. We walked there, the five of us, then stopped in the toy store on the way back, just looking for ways to burn our allowance. Then back home, but when we passed through the playground we discovered all of our pals were hanging out there, so we joined them.

The 13-minute walk turned into a 3-hour round trip, but it was all good.

They are laying down some sort of slightly spongy surface over the hard-packed earth in the playground, so the workers were all there, too, hammering and shoveling. Why they couldn't wait for a school day, I'll never know. I'm also not quite sure what they're hoping to accomplish - the spongy stuff is only slightly less hard than the dirt, and it doesn't look as though it'll last long.

But there they were, and at one point it must've been break time, because a couple of them lit up cigarettes and leaned against the monkey bars, smoking, right next to the kids. As if that weren't gross enough, one of them cleared his throat and spit, right into the sand where the kids were digging. Ummm... ewww?

Just a wee reminder that we don't live in the States anymore. And, if I were ever to monetize this blog, I suppose I could do some great marketing for Purell. Because I had to practically bathe them in the stuff when we got home.

Here's my latest article for beijingkids. Read it s l o w l y, because it's the last one you're going to see until the May issue. I think my fledgling career as a writer is grinding to a halt - way to go, financial crisis!

And with that brief update, I'm off to meet the school bus. Dinner's already made, so I'm feeling good. I hate making dinner while the kids are all underfoot, looking for a bit of mom time, don't you?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sports vs School - An Article

Stumble it or digg it if you like it, please. It's from last year, but it just went online. How to balance sports and schoolwork?

Hang On

When’s the last time I updated this thing? Anybody? Anybody?

I’ve thought about posting. I’ve even started several posts. But here’s the thing: this blog isn’t exactly a reflection of my life. I try to focus on the high points or the things I want to hold on to so I have something to chew over some day when my kids stick me in the old folks’ home. I try to avoid writing the negative stuff. Serves no purpose, and that’s not stuff I want to remember. But lately, it seems, I’ve been a bit blue. Everywhere I turn, it seems there’s something not-good going on.

So I haven’t written anything. I’ve submitted a few articles for publication; waiting to hear. My monthly column at the local magazine was just cut to bi-monthly, due to budget issues (who’d’ve thought my unemployed self would fall victim to the faltering economy?). An editor I work with quite a bit in the States is moving on as her newspaper switches formats, so I’ll have to woo and wow a new editor. Really, all of this means I need to write more, not less. So I’ll try.

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about:

We mark the important moments in our world: births, weddings, deaths, because they matter so much to us. The smaller moments, too. It’s why we note the first day of kindergarten, or the last day of soccer season. Those things remind us, I think, of where we’ve been and where we’re going.

This foreign service life increases one’s propensity to mark time. For example, I knew when it was my last winter in Virginia, so I tried to take it all in. I knew when I was spending my last night in my house in Virginia, and it had a weird sentimentality to it, the whole routine of bath, book and bed seen in a new light. When I boarded a plane and left Armenia, I cried, because I knew I would never again return. Now in Beijing, I’m getting ready to roll into my second Chinese spring, likely my second-to-last as well.

So I’m a marking sort of person. I like to look around, to hang on to what’s leaving me.

Monday started with the usual routine. I nursed Ainsley, played with Kyra, got myself ready for the day. When it came time to nurse Ainsley again, she suddenly bit me and refused to latch on. Weird – and painful. But no matter. I figured she wasn’t hungry. After her nap, I tried again. Same thing: she bit and fought me off. Perhaps she’s getting sick, I thought? I fed her some solid food instead and tried not to focus on the fact that I was getting a bit sore (nursing moms will understand). By nightfall, when she still refused to nurse, I started to worry a bit. After all, my only previous experience with a child refusing to nurse ended with Aidan’s hospitalization and our medevac out of Kazakhstan.

I woke up the next morning and took Ainsley to the doctor. She checked out fine, which left just one thing: me. The doc speculated that I’d eaten something that upset her. He advised me to pump and dump. So I hauled my swollen self around Beijing, looking for a breast pump. At this point, I could barely raise my arms over my head.

I pumped, I dumped. Tried to nurse again. Again got bitten for my efforts. So I pumped some more. Just for kicks, I offered her some milk with a spoon, and she gobbled it down. Gave her the bottle, which she’s always rejected, and she happily gulped it down.

So it isn’t the milk. It’s me. I guess she’s just weaning herself. But I can’t give her Chinese formula (remember the melamine?). I’m a terribly inefficient pumper. And at just ten months, she’s too little to drink cow’s milk.

Whatever. We’ll figure it out, she and I. But here’s the thing. If I’d known, if I’d known that Monday morning was going to be my last morning ever to hold a nursing baby in my arms, to know that feeling of nurturing a small creature with my own self, surely I would have marked the moment in some way. I would have looked at her just a bit closer instead of checking email simultaneously. I would have sung her a song, or stroked her tiny head. I would’ve told myself: This is important. Hang on to it.

You can’t always know when you’re in the middle of a Last Time. Nor would you always want to know, I suppose. But still, when it matters, you need to hang on by that last nub of fingernail. It might be the Last Time. Or maybe there are hundreds more times in your future.

Either way. This is important. And so I’m hanging on.
Please. Write your own stuff.