Sunday, February 28, 2010

Can't Think Straight

Well, I have so many things to update you on. But I'm losing my mind over here. The fireworks are driving me slowly insane. They've been going on every night since February 13th. It's the 28th now. I think tonight must be the last hurrah, because they're pretty bad.

Oh, sure, it was fun for the first few days. And even tonight, before bedtime, it was fun to prop the kids up on the windowsill and watch the various shows going on all around our house.

But enough already! I have to get some sleep!

I'm trying to take advantage of the noise by staying up late to finish my taxes online. But of course, the Internet is being uncooperative. So here I am, on blogger, while I wait for my tax forms to kick in.

Okay, well, more from me later. It's snowing again, and cold. I still have to get ready for work tomorrow. I need to download pictures of the weekend's adventures. And then, of course, there's the small matter of the taxes. I'll check in again soon, I promise, with some more exciting details.

For now, though, here's a fascinating little tidbit. I ran into a neighbor today, who passed on this little fact that she learned from a visiting scientist: the average Chinese person consumes over 5 pounds of pesticides every year. Can this be true? Sadly, I'd have to say, yes, perhaps so.

If the fireworks don't keep me awake tonight, worrying about that little factoid certainly will.

Sweet dreams!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mr. Fix-It

Aidan's bike got a flat tire. Or, to put it more accurately, when one of Shay's friends tried to do some tricks on Aidan's bike, he popped the tire.

So today, after work, and after Kyra's doctor appointment, but before I went home to make cupcakes for Shay's school, I took the bike to the local Mr. Fix-It. (Yes, I'm trying to make the not-so-subtle point that I'm a busy, busy woman.)

Mr. Fix-It sets up shop just down the street from our compound most every day, and if your bike or other wheeled-contraption breaks down, you just drag it over to him and he fixes it right up, there on the street corner, for a nominal fee.

He fixes lots of other things, too, as you can see from the advertisement painted on the side of his motorcycle. (Also, an aside - the blurry quality of the photos is not my fault this time! That's really what the air looked like all day: a little fog, a little smoke, a little gawd-knows-what, all mixed together into a noxious brew you might describe as "air," for lack of a better word. That's what we're breathing over here.)

He and his friends were playing cards and drinking tea out of jars when I approached, but they stopped the game to watch while he fixed up Aidan's bike.

It only took a few minutes to replace the inner tube. And as you can see from the pictures below, he made no attempt to move away from the road to work. Oncoming cars were simply expected to avoid hitting him. Which they did.

I paid him 35 RMB for his work, or $5. You just know I got ripped off, as a local Chinese would have paid significantly less, but who am I to argue? It would've cost a lot more in the States. As I was leaving, I tossed out a "Happy New Year" in Chinese. For some reason, even though the entire transaction up until then had been conducted in Chinese, this Happy New Year shocked the heck out of the onlookers. "Did you hear that?" one person asked him. "She said 'Happy New Year!'" And they all stood in silence, watching me walk away with the bike.

A minute later, though, they were back to chatting amongst themselves and Mr. Fix-It was already helping his next customer, a woman who came walking up leading a broken-down moped.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Digging in My Heels

Shay has been saving and saving to buy this special chip for his Nintendo, a chip that allows players to hold loads of games. He actually had one, courtesy of his parents, but he lost it. So he saved 300 RMB (almost $50), and then asked me to take him to the market to buy one.

Well, I should have taken him to Amy, my electronics lady, down at Hongqiao. She's honest, and she knows me, so I don't have to barter. I just tell her what I want and she gives me her best price.

But last week I had no ayi, as my clever readers will remember. And I didn't want to take all the kids to Hongqiao, which seems so far away. I hired a neighborhood kid to babysit for 3 hours so I could take Shay out, but, not wanting to go all the way to Hongqiao, I decided to try Yashow instead. I figured, since I knew Amy's price, I could barter for the same price at a market that was 15-20 minutes closer.

So Shay and I went to Yashow instead. We brought his friend Jack. Sure enough, we bought a similar chip for 260 RMB - just 10 RMB more than Amy's price. We went to lunch, then drove home, paid the baby sitter and tried out the new chip.

It didn't work. After hours of messing with the thing, it still didn't work. I stormed around the house, cursing the salesman, cursing Yashow and cursing my own idiocy - trying to save 45 minutes was costing me the entire day.

We just couldn't get it to work.

It so happens that another neighbor was going to Hongqiao the next day. She said she'd bring the chip to Amy, just to ask what the problem might be. Amy took one look and said the whole thing was fake - it would never work.

Grrrr. So today, with the boys back in school, I loaded the girls in the car for a return trip to Yashow. There's no return policy - it's all buyer beware. But I was determined to get my son's money back, and by now I was beyond pissed.

We got there right when the store opened, and we rode the escalators all the way up to the 4th floor. I found the guy. "Remember me?" I smiled sweetly, and he nodded and agreed that he did, indeed, remember me.

So I pulled the chip out of my bag and said "This chip doesn't work. I took it to a friend of mine, who works for the Embassy, helping the police to catch and arrest counterfeiters, and he told me this is fake. He wanted to take it straight to the police, but I told him no, that I wanted to give you a chance to give me my money back."

(Here I was just a tad dishonest, as I actually have no friend who assists the police to arrest counterfeiters, but I figured, he wasn't exactly honest with me when he sold me a fake chip, right?)

The guy looked the chip over and told me it wasn't fake. I politely disagreed, and told him I was pretty sure my imaginary friend knows what he's doing, as he helps the police catch all sorts of counterfeiters.

"The police don't care about this stuff," he scoffed.

"Maybe not," I agreed, "but my friend knows them pretty well, and he asked for your card and this chip. I didn't give it to him yet."

So he tried a different tactic. "I think maybe you just don't know how to use this chip," he said, and I went just a wee bit ballistic on him. I explained that I have two sons, both of whom own real chips and real Nintendos. My sons, I said, have friends, and we all tried to get this chip to work. "Why don't you go get a Nintendo and show me how it works, then?" I demanded.

He tried a different line of argument. "I don't have any money," he explained. "The shop just opened. You come back this afternoon, after I make some money, and I'll give your money back." No, I explained, I wouldn't be going home and coming back again. "I'll give you thirty minutes to find the money," I said, and the girls and I left his stall. We wandered around the shops. I bought 3 sweaters for work. I bought new guitar strings. I looked in a tailor shop. Suddenly, it occured to me that in 30 minutes, he might not be there anymore. So I went back to his shop after just 15 minutes.

"I still don't have any money," he said. "You come back at noon."

"Tell you what," I responded. "I'll wait right here until noon, with my kids."

And I crossed my arms and stood there, staring at him.

After a short stalemate, with me staring at him and him staring at the countertop, I switched tactics. There were a few laowai filtering past, checking out the stalls, so every time a foreigner walked by and glanced at his wares, I exclaimed loudly "I really don't know why you won't give me my money back when we both know you sold me a fake chip!" The foreigner would scurry past, not stopping to examine his stall.

After a few of these comments, I said "You know, I think maybe the longer I stand here, the harder it will be for you to make any money from other customers. Maybe you should borrow the money from your friends so you can pay me now and I can leave."

He offered me half of the money, 160 RMB, but I refused. It's my son's money, I explained, and he worked hard to earn it, so I couldn't accept just half. He asked me again to come back later, and again I refused. I'm telling you, I was boiling over with anger.

I smiled down at Kyra, who was hopping around Ainsley and trying to push Ainsley's stroller. I said to Kyra, who was actually being quite good: "Now Kyra, you need to behave. I'm really sorry, but we can't leave here until this man gives us back your brother's money. Remember how long he worked to make that money? So we can't leave until we get it all back, and I think we might be here for a long time, okay sweetie?" Kyra looked at me funny, but she nodded and put her sticky lollipop fingers on his glass display case. (Sometimes, you know, 3-year-olds can come in handy.) Ainsley chose that exact moment to let out a joyous shriek.

I waited a few minutes more, while the guy sullenly rearranged his display case and Kyra ran a toy car over the sticky glass. A few more tourists passed by. "You know," I said, "I don't want to be here any more than you want me to be. If you pay me back, I can get out of your way."

By now it had been about an hour. The guy was still holding half of the money in his hand - the money he'd tried to offer me earlier. He went back in to his cash drawer and emptied it out, scraping the bottom to come up with 190 RMB and 2 $5 bills - exactly the amount he owed me.

I tucked the money in my purse (after checking to make sure it was real), thanked him, and walked back toward the escalators, feeling good.

I really hadn't believed I'd get that money back. The best I thought I could do was get a replacement chip that may or may not be real. But I dug in my heels, and I won.

So, to recap:

Refunded price of chip: 260 RMB - $38.24

Total cost to me:
Friday's babysitter: 240 RMB
Lunch with Shay and Jack: 230 RMB
Tolls and parking fees for 2 trips to Yashow: 35 RMB
3 sweaters, bought today on a whim: 220 RMB
guitar strings, also on a whim: 25 RMB
cocoa and muffins at Starbucks to reward girls for good behavior: 81 RMB

Grand total: 831 RMB - $122.

I spent $122 just to get my money back. I have absolutely nothing to show for these two wasted days. I still have to take Shay to Amy's stall at Hongqiao after all of this.

But I won, dammit. I dug in my heels and I won.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

If Ye Are A Parent, Ye Shall Laugh Mightily

It was just Ash Saturday here in Beijing. Ash Saturday, you wonder? Yes, Ash Saturday, because our super-secret church was not allowed to meet on Wednesday. So we went instead on Saturday, and had ashes placed on our foreheads, and for some reason my kids were all well behaved throughout the service, and I said a little "Thanks Be to God" when the service ended without my once having to remove a child from the service for a little Mommy and Me time in the vestibule, or whatever church people call the entryway area thingamajig.

For Lent this year I am giving up shouting. Yes, shouting. I am trying my best to stop yelling things like "Turn Off That Nintendo Now Young Man!" and "Stop Hitting Your Brother!" and "Don't Hang The Baby Upside Down!" and "Bath Water is Not For Drinking!"

Perhaps this article found its way to me because of my new Lenten promise. Why, oh why, have I never read this before?

Seriously, you must click over and read. You must.

Oh, and p.s. if you must know, Shay decided that for Lent, he will give up his much-dreaded swimming class. Big of him, don't you think? I suggested that, instead of giving up the actual swimming, he just give up whining about it for a solid hour before it starts each week. Coincidentally, if he'd give up whining, it'd be easier for me to give up yelling.

'nuff said. Go check out that link. The boys start school tomorrow, and I am off to read awhile before bedtime.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Balancing Act

Some people make it look effortless. I am not one of those people.

So here we go, with the post that will make me look like the whiniest fool you ever did see.

The kids are all out of school this week because of Chinese New Year. Many of their friends have flown away to enjoy the holiday on a beach somewhere (smart, smart friends). And of course, I have some sort of bizarre eye infection, causing me to have a blistering headache and a lingering fear that I am about to go half-blind as well as half-deaf, thanks to all of the lovely diseases this country has to offer.

All of which means: I am at wits end.

Normally, I have a full-time ayi. This is the most awesome aspect of my existence as a foreign service spouse here in Beijing. She is in my house forty hours a week. She watches the kids when I'm at work. She does the laundry. She cleans the house. She chops up a plate of fruit and another of veggies for dinner every single night. This amazing service keeps me sane, for the low, low price of about $350 per month. Which I can afford while we're overseas, because we don't have to pay rent for this house.

I know, I know. I hear you all clicking away now, looking for the link on how to apply for a job in the foreign service. (or, more accurately, you'd need a link on "how to marry a guy who has a career in the Foreign Service." Sorry. No such link. Just luck, I guess.)

But here's the thing. You need an ayi here, in a way you wouldn't back home. For starters, there's the pollution. The air is so dirty at times that the floors and surfaces have to be vacuumed, mopped and dusted every day, or who knows what you're walking on? And when you need to do the grocery shopping, keep in mind that there aren't any grocery carts with seatbelts. So if you take the kids to the store, you can either put them in unbelted and hope for the best, or you can lock them in a stroller, which is too wide for the aisles, or you can let them run through the store as you search for ingredients for dinner. Probably at least one of the ingredients you need will be out of stock (canned broth and tofu this week), so you'll need to stand there in the aisle and come up with an alternative, pronto, before your little angel discovers the aisle with all of the kids' candy right at eye level, or worse, remembers the toy store that is attached to the grocery store and takes off running.

There's no Target, or Costco, or Old Navy. You can't take the kids with you when you shop at the local markets, so you'll just have to leave them at home while you go in search of clothes and shoes. Which you'll have to barter for, at each individual stall - no price tags or check out lanes.

So here I am this week, without my ayi but with my four children, trying to do the cleaning and the shopping and the cooking and the entertaining and the diapering and it is really, really hard to keep it all together.

I'm actually doing better than I expected I would. The house is relatively clean (not neat, but clean). The kids are all eating several meals a day (Pizza. Lots and lots of pizza.) The laundry is folded and put away (okay, so maybe my husband had to fold most of it, but whatever. It's my blog, people. I don't have time for those little details.)

It's been cold here - too cold to take the kids out and enjoy the blue skies that we've been blessed with lately. (Aside: how do they manage to clear the air for every major holiday? If you take a good look at the satellite images, you'll probably see giant fans propped up on the Great Wall, blowing the pollution to Xinjiang...).

It's also been loud. The first night of the New Year, we took the kids out to watch the fireworks, and we were able to park so close to one display that we could hear the ashes from the falling fireworks sizzling on the car (yes, we moved.) Just before midnight that night, I awoke to a rolling thunder when fireworks displays started up all across town. From my bedroom window, I counted seven displays. Plus, I could see flashes of light almost non-stop, from fireworks that were going off out of my range of vision. The noise did not slow down for well over an hour - it was just one non-stop rumble. The kids slept through the whole thing, and I grew bored after ten minutes of watching, so I turned my deaf ear up and went back to sleep.

Every night since we're heard more fireworks, though they don't seem as intense as I remember. Is the global economic downturn affecting the cost of fireworks, or am I just sleeping through them better this year?

We've managed to keep relatively busy during the week, with brunch at one friend's house and a Valentine's party at another, with dinners out and cooking at home.

We even took the kids to the Chaoyang Acrobat Show for the first time, and they really enjoyed it. Ladies balancing on the bike were a big hit (see picture at the top of this post), as was the gentleman who was juggling while 20 feet in the air and running on the outside of a giant metal habitrail contraption.

So you see - if they can balance 20 girls on a moving bike, surely I can manage to get dinner on the table and get my office organized ahead of our impending packout.

Watch me try.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Year of the Tiger

Xin Nian Kuai Le! The Year of the Tiger is about to begin, and all over my neighborhood the fireworks stands are setting up. It should prove to be a week of non-stop no-sleep fireworks excitement. It's especially fun because our poor old dog loses control of his bowels every time a firework goes off. For the next two weeks, any time my husband complains that the house is a "Sh%t Sty," I'll have to agree.

Fireworks are banned inside our compound, technically, but not in the neighboring one, which is one street over. Last year, they put on several shows throughout the week. Huge fireworks displays, the kinds you'd need a license to run back home, just a couple of houses over. Hopefully nothing gets burnt down this year. Shanghaiist had some amazing pictures of the building that was destroyed last year, not far down the road from our Embassy, because of an illegal fireworks display.

The boys have a full week off of school - they'll be barrelling in the door any minute now. And Kyra has two weeks off. Ayi is gone for a week and a half. So - no work for me. That is - no paid work. You SAHMs know how it is.

The rest of this post will be a "grandparent post:" that is, it'll likely be of no interest to anyone but the grandparents. So, if you're not related to one of my kids, spare yourself the details and click over to a more interesting blog, okay? I won't be offended.

Aidan lost tooth #2 this week. His teacher helped him pull it out, because she was concerned that he'd lose it in his sandwich again. So he came home with a tooth necklace aroud his neck, thrilled to bits. He looked a little like a gap-toothed Superman when he came through the door, unzipped his jacket and thrust out his tooth-necklaced chest, hands on hips.

Shay is planning a week-long sleepover with his friend Jack, to coincide with this week off of school. Not sure if Jack's parents are aware that Shay's about to appear on their doorstep, rolling suitcase in hand. Personally, I'm all for it.

Kyra had a dumpling-making party at school today. I missed most of it because I was running around with Ainsley trying to finish up errands on this, my first day off. Also, Ainsley is sick, as am I, so I figured it might be better to stay away from the other kids.

It was an interesting week at work and I so wish I could blog about it. Someday, when I write my book...

That's it for now. I'm sick and semi-exhausted and I'm trying to strain the chicken broth before the boys get home and discover my secret ingredient (yes, that'd be the chicken - how else can you make such good soup? Shhh...). Also, I just started a great book. And since I've finished every errand with which I tasked myself, AND submitted 2 queries and an article as well, I think I've earned some quality time on the couch with that book. (Richard Russo's That Old Cape Magic, in case you're wondering.)

So Happy New Year. I'll check back in again when my thoughts are more coherent.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jedi Jugglers

Near the beginning of the school year, Shay came home one day and asked me to make three juggling balls for him so he could "learn to juggle and become a Jedi Juggler."

I had no idea what he was talking about.

Still, I found three old baby socks, filled them with rice and stitched them shut. I figured it would occupy him for the rest of the afternoon, until he realized juggling isn't easy.

He kept at it, though. He was determined to join the Jedi Jugglers at his school, and there was a whole list of things he had to do in order to join.

He had to juggle those balls 50 times. He did it. Then he graduated to rings.

He had to juggle rings 50 times. He did it. Then he graduated to clubs.

He had to juggle clubs 50 times. He did it. Then he became a Jedi.

I was amazed - am amazed - that he can do all of this. Once he joined the Jedis, he began staying after school once a week to work on his skills and practice for the big performance. He learned to juggle umbrellas, toilet plungers, apples... the list goes on. Not only that, but the PE teachers, Mr. Callahan and Ms. Stevens, set it up so it was a pretty exclusive club whose members had to help each other out to advance within the ranks. In order to become a member of the "Jedi Council," kids have to learn even more skills, like juggling with 4 balls and double spinning clubs. But they also have to teach a certain number of other kids to juggle, and they have to perform ten good deeds during juggling season. If you make it to the Jedi Council (Shay didn't quite get there this year), you even get to juggle fire. Seriously.

Last night we went to the school and saw these 4th and 5th grade Jedis in action. As Mr. Callahan (who was featured in a recent column of mine) explained at the beginning of the show, all of these Jedi Jugglers started from scratch, knowing only that juggling looked impossible. Each one of these kids learned to juggle, he continued, and in doing so, they learned that they can achieve the impossible if they work at it.

So true. It kinda gave me goosebumps.

The show started when a line of Jedis solemnly entered the gym while music from Star Wars played. Once they were in, the lights went out, and these kids juggled clubs, rings and balls, all with glow sticks attached. In the pitch dark.

The lights went up, and the show went on. During the course of the show, Shay juggled all sorts of objects, including soft toys, hair curlers, toilet plungers and scrubbers. Some kids juggled eggs and bread, baseball bats and umbrellas. At one point a bunch of kids rode skateboards and ripsticks up and down the length of the gym, juggling all the while. Another group juggled water balloons.

They had to work together, too. In one act, two kids juggled together. One was wearing a hat and watching while the other juggled. He would then steal the juggling balls, mid-air, and continue juggling. The other kid would take the first one's hat, and then steal the balls back. They continued on until one of them dropped the ball. The girls pictured here were the second-to-last team standing, and I have no idea how long they managed to go on for, but it was quite awhile.

At one point, they asked for 4 dad volunteers. Bart volunteered. Poor guy. The dads put on goggles and gym shirts. Then, using only their faces, they had to find three M&Ms hidden in a bowl of flour. The sons would then have to juggle the M&Ms ten times. First team to finish won. It was pretty funny.

There was another act called "Combat Juggling," or something like that. All of the kids squashed into a small area and began juggling. They were allowed to bump each other, trip each other or steal each other's juggling balls, as long as they didn't drop their own. And do you know - not a one cheated. You know how kids cheat sometimes because they want to win, but I didn't see a single kid try to stay in after he dropped a ball.

Once that was done, they called all of the Jedi alumni down from the stands to try combat juggling. The winner was a high school kid, who apparently learned to juggle all those years ago. It was so funny and fun to watch the big kids chase each other around in the ring, trying to knock each other down while juggling. And it really added to the sense of community, the fact that these super-cool high schoolers turned out for the show and stayed for the whole thing. The younger kids loved it.

The second-to-last act was the fire juggling, most of which I missed because Ainsley chose that moment to freak out and I had to leave. I returned in time to see the last few kids doing it - amazing. And then they closed with apple juggling. Each kid had two juggling balls and an apple. They had to juggle all three - while eating the apple. And as Mr. Callahan said, "We're strict. If they drop the apple, they have to pick it up and keep eating." The kids mostly managed to juggle and crunch without dropping.

And that was our evening of juggling excitement. The kids all had a lot of fun - check out Kyra's happy smile.

Of course, and this warrants a separate blog entry of its very own, we almost didn't make it to the show. Because about 30 minutes before it was time to go to school, Aidan came home crying, face covered in blood. Turns out he'd tried to jump a snow pile on his bike and he went eye first into his handlebars, cutting the corner of his eye in two places. At first I thought we'd be heading to the hospital instead of the juggling show, but once I cleaned him up - no easy feat when the cuts are right next to the eye - it looked like I could tape him shut instead. So I steri-stripped him and off we went. He has a nice black eye today, though.

And here's one last picture to close out this story: Shay and the amazing Mr. Callahan, post-show. Seriously, how do these PE teachers pull this show off every year? This is the same team that manages the Second Grade Circus, and runs the Super Spy Camps every year. I'm going to miss these guys next year - but not half as much as my kids will. Back in the States, public schools are cutting PE budgets more each year. But the skills my kids have learned from these coaches, year after year after year, the self-confidence they've found... well, I think the PE program might be one of the best programs this very good school has to offer.

Friday, February 5, 2010

And Here's the Post Where I Make YOU Work for ME

Hi there! Bet that title just sucked you right in, didn't it?

Here's the deal. I've been blogging now for about 3 years and, like bloggers everywhere, I've decided it's time to make some changes around here. Problem is, I'm basically HTML-illiterate, and did I mention I have four kids and a part-time job? So I'm not going to be making any fast bloggy moves.

But - if you roll your eyes just slightly to the right, you'll see a new link over there, titled "publications." See it? Good. That means I did something right.

Anyway, in your spare time, take a minute to click on that link and look around, would you? It should take you to links to a few of my published articles that are available on the Internet. If you find any links that aren't working, would you let me know? Also, if you find a relative who happens to publish a major magazine, like, say, O, or Parents, feel free to pass along my contact info.

Here's another thing you can do, if you're so inclined. You can click on that little "follow" button over on the right - yes, I know, it's quite a workout those eyes of yours are getting today, sorry. Just look right and click "follow," and you can have your little thumbnail photo posted up on my blog, along with the millions of others currently there. Okay, maybe not millions. Slight exaggeration on my part.

Thanks everybody. Let me know if you find a broken link, or a link to an article that bores you senseless and should be deleted immediately. And who knows? Maybe one of these days, I'll figure out how to change the header on this blog. I don't know about you, but I'm getting bored of looking at the same old green checkerboard every time I visit.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Out With the Old, In With the New

Our man in Beijing lost his first tooth this week. Literally, he lost it. It fell out at school, which is where you want them to fall out, apparently, because then the nurse gives you a "tooth necklace" to bring the tooth home.

Only Aidan didn't notice when it actually popped out. Maybe he swallowed it. Maybe it's out on the playground somewhere. Who knows?

In summary: no tooth. No tooth necklace.

We're starting a new lost-tooth tradition in our house. Per Aidan's request, we served a spaghetti meal this evening to celebrate the missing tooth. He wanted to slurp the noodles through the new hole in his face. We still have teeth aplenty; it's table manners we lack in this household.

Despite the lack of actual tooth under the pillow, the tooth fairy paid a visit, and she left 10 RMB under his pillow (about $1.50). This in spite of the fact that last week he explained to me that the tooth fairy is "actually just your parents putting money under your pillow because Thomas saw his parents doing that and he told me."

That tooth fairy came anyway, bless her rich and generous heart.

And my baby boy is about to enter his "awkward" phase.

Anyone wanna bet how much his braces are going to cost us?

Oh, and by the way: we did not cut his hair with a lawnmower. It only looks that way in the picture. His curls went flat from the dry air, and so he looks a little bit like he's had a D-I-Y haircut. So you know.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Our Weekend (we lived it so you don't have to...)

We have to start this post with the events of last Friday, despite the clever title. Because Friday was the day that Ainsley woke up with a stomach bug.

"Poopy, mommy!" she said to me that morning, and indeed, she smelled worse than a Chinese squattie. So I changed her.

Five minutes went by before Ainsley again announced "poopy, mommy!" So I changed her.

Five minutes more. "Poopy, mommie!"

Five more minutes elapsed, and, well, are you starting to get the picture?

Fast forward to Saturday, the start of the weekend in question.

Ainsley woke up and didn't even have to say a word. The smell almost knocked me over. But she greeted me cheerfully, calling from her crib: "poopy, mommy?"

I almost cried.

So Saturday, despite the fact that it was a rare, gorgeous, blue sky and not too cold day in Beijing, we opted to stay home, close to our dwindling supply of diapers and wipes.

Everyone was cranky. (Except for me. I'm a saint.)

Sunday was another nice day: warm (and by "warm," I simply mean "above freezing"), sunny and blue-skyed (is too a word). Ainsley's diaper situation seemed to have abated somewhat, so I made the executive decision to take the kids out.

Of course, they complained. Getting four cranky kids ready to go out when noone wants to? Really not easy. But, darn it, I was determined. And, if I do say so myself, I was patient and even-tempered throughout (this is my blog, after all, and if say it's so, then it's so. Comments closed for my spouse.).

A new Element Fresh opened recently not far from us, in Lido, so we drove down to check it out. We had to wait a bit, but the kids were excited to see pancakes and cocoa on the menu. So they waited patiently. And get this: the pancakes come with fresh fruit! It says so right on the menu. So when the waitress asked if they wanted strawberries or blueberries, Shay chose blueberries and Aidan and Kyra chose strawberries. The kids were thrilled at their luck in restaurant choice.

Until the food arrived. Turns out, the pancakes do come with a side of fresh fruit. And then, in addition to said bowl of mixed-fruits-that-my-kids-universally-hate, they cooked strawberries and blueberries Right Into The Pancake Batter!

The kids took this in for a moment, this view of pancakes destroyed by lumpy cooked fruit. And then they began protesting. All of them. Loudly. "This is disgusting," said Shay. "I'm gonna throw up," wailed Aidan. "Yummy!" said Kyra, just to be ornery, before refusing to try even one bite of pancake. Not wanting to be outdone in the act-like-a-baby department, Ainsley threw her sippy cup on the floor.


Shay eventually found a way to pick the blueberries out of his pancakes so he could eat them - that's how hungry he was. Aidan and Kyra ate my tofu and rice instead.

Once they settled down, the kids were well-behaved despite their disappointment. Still - what a waste. And the low, low price for this delicious meal? 400 RMB - about $60. (Addendum for those of you who live in Beijing: Element Fresh is actually a good restaurant, if somewhat expensive. Good salads, good sandwiches, good lattes. Just don't invite my kids when you go. You'd be better off setting your money on fire.)

After that attempt at quality family time, we drove around the corner to a tiny park called Side Park. There's a little lake in the middle of it, and I'd heard you could rent ice chairs there. Excellent news - the kids love ice chairing, but the trek to Houhai Park is just too much some days.

The kids complained some more on the 3-minute drive. "This is boring," said Shay. "I'm gonna throw up," said Aidan. "Hurray!" shouted Kyra, because she's a PITA and she wanted to shout just to annoy the rest of us. "Poopy, mommy!" exclaimed Ainsley, though thankfully this turned out to be a false alarm. I think she just wanted to add to the festive atmosphere in the car.

We found the ice chair guy and rented some chairs. Finally, finally, finally, the weekend was looking up. The kids skated around on their rickety chairs for about an hour, happy at last.

Exhausted and out of money, we headed home, the car blessedly silent.

Silent, that is, until Aidan made good on his promise - and threw up all over the back of the car.

Like I said: we lived it so you don't have to. And if you're anywhere near Beijing right now, or even just reading this blog post somewhere else, I'd highly suggest you go douse yourself in hand sanitizer after you finish reading this.

But first: enjoy some pictures of our ice chairing adventure. Note especially the crazy sled-wagon that features a blonde dolly that can actually pull kids along in the sled. Creepy.

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