Friday, August 29, 2008

Dinner and a Discussion

We had a great time with our neighbors the other night! The wife, "Leigh" came by about 5:30 while we were still getting things ready, and my girls were SO excited to see her. Like, amazingly excited. Perhaps even unreasonably excited! They started running around like crazy children and acting like they had just received an injection of pure caffeine or something. So the next hour was spent talking with Leigh over the exuberance of my children, while occasionally having to take them aside for correction. "No, you may not pull the cushions off the couch! Do not throw puzzle pieces under the chair! Stop running up and down the hallway! SETTLE DOWN!" Let's just say nobody was bored!

Leigh's husband came over after he was done with work and we all sat down to enjoy a fabulous dinner cooked by my helper Lou. When we were in Hong Kong, Lou and Leigh spent several days together, just hanging out and talking. Their close relationship was evident in the ease and comfortableness of the evening. We truly had a fun time chatting and at times there were several conversations going on--John with the husband, me with Lou and Leigh, and Clara Anne telling stories to herself using her food as characters while Chloe just focused on eating. Christin didn't want to sleep either with all of the excitement so I was holding her at the table. It was a lively time!

We had a great discussion after supper, too. Leigh especially was so interested to hear what we had to say. She has really been thinking and had a lot of questions. In a situation like that I always wish my Asianese could go a level deeper. Thankfully in those moments I could look to Lou for help and her "interpretation" of my lack of grammar or choice of vocab. She's a wonderful help, and more and more knows what I mean or want to say even when I can't quite get it out!

In many ways, Wednesday was a day I've been looking forward to for a long time. An outsider looking in wouldn't know how it was special, but let me tell you how the day went. In the morning, Clara Anne went to kindergarten. While she was gone, I exercised, showered, then read books to Chloe. Some friends dropped by for about an hour. We had a yummy lunch, followed by a walk over to John's office, also within this apartment complex. We stopped along the way to admire the lily pads, water spiders, fish, and dragonflies at the stream. After a brief visit with Daddy the girls and I came back for rest time and playtime with Christin. Our neighbors came over for dinner and discussion and stayed until 10pm.

So what's so unusual or ideal about that?

Simply this: for many months this is the kind of life we've been hoping to have. A settled-in, good-family-routine, ready-to-work sort of life. But it seems that one transition after another has always intruded, and it's taken a lot of work to get to this point. But midway through my Wednesday, I thought, "This is what I want my life to look like in the next year! I hope this day will be "typical" for me in the future!" It's just that for almost the last year or so, "typical" has not existed for our family! So, here's hoping and praying that these kinds of days will be the norm and routine soon enough.

With that being said, we're off to a meeting in another city! Can you believe it? I think this will be the last travel for awhile, though. We leave on Monday and will be back next Friday. I have new pictures and other news to post, but it may have to wait until we get home. Blogger would not take my pics tonight so I'll have to try again, argh. (They're great pics, too, from a recent professional photo session with all three girls!)

Until next time . . .

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Kindergarten News!

Clara Anne has had three days of kindergarten now and is doing quite well! We're proud of our big girl!

The second day she was fine on the walk there, right up until the door, but then got scared and didn't want to go in the classroom. One of her teachers was right there to help her but she cried, begging and pleading for me to stay with her. Oh, the tugs at a mother's heart! After a few minutes of totally unsuccessful reasoning with her ("Remember, Clara Anne, how much fun you had on Wednesday! And Mommy will come back to get you before lunch! And aren't you a big girl now that you go to kindergarten!") that then turned into commands ("Clara Anne, stop crying now. You are going to be just fine. Take the teacher's hand and go into your classroom") that turned into the hasty goodbye (Ok! Have a great morning! I'll be back soon!") I beat a retreat around the corner and then watched to see how things developed. Her teacher held her until they got into the room and she stopped crying fairly quickly, then as I made my way down the stairs and out the door I peeked up and saw the teacher still holding Clara Anne's hand and talking with her. I went home, praying all the while that she would calm down and be able to participate. It's hard, but at this point we feel this is the best decision for her and she will get accustomed to it over time. When I arrived to pick her up before lunch she skipped to the door and brightly said, "Mommy, the teacher cheered me up!" So she had a good morning.

This scene was basically repeated on Monday, except that I left sooner and the teacher said she calmed down sooner. It's the moment of good-bye that is hard; up until that point perhaps Clara Anne thinks there is a chance that she'll be granted a reprieve! But then, she has a fun time and enjoys the activities and so it all works out. The teachers said she is a bit shy to join in on things at first, but then when she sees other kids doing things, she wants to do them too. I hope she will only grow more willing as time goes on.

The whole "kindergarten" culture is interesting in this country. Many of these children have been in "kindergarten" since they were 3 months old and their mommies needed to go back to work. Others started around 2 years of age, having been mostly taken care of by grandpa and grandma until then, since probably 90-95% of moms work outside the home. (That's my own very unofficial estimation.)

Take our neighbors, for example. I mentioned in a previous post that our neighbor and her son went with us the first day we went to check out the kindergarten. Lou shared with me today that when our neighbor had her son, she had the usual three months off and then grandpa and grandma took over his care while she went back to work. Then at three years old, the son started attending kindergarten full time and so has been there for the last three years. Various kindergartens have various specialties and the main focus of the one we're at is teaching Asianese, so our neighbor boy can now read fairly fluently, even can read a newspaper (I can't even do that!), though I'm sure he doesn't understand it all, being only six years old, after all.

But now, since my neighbor and her husband are both so busy with work, they put their son in a boarding school for primary school students. Can you believe that?! He is six years old! And boarding away--they will only go to get him on the weekends! So his parents, particularly his mother, have truly had very little influence on his life. Almost his entire life he has been primarily under the care of others. I wanted to weep when I heard this; it is so vastly different from what I believe God's design for the family looks like. Granted, I don't understand my neighbor's situation fully or what has happened in their family for them to choose this for their son, but I am sad for them that they think this is the best thing for their child. I am sad for this country that there are even boarding schools that exist for six year olds!

Tomorrow night our neighbor and her husband are coming over for dinner. They have expressed some interest in Things that we are also interested in, and we want to talk with them more. If you think of it, remember us! Their son, obviously, will not be joining us. But there are issues that are even more important than sending their son to boarding school, and we hope to talk about some of them tomorrow. Lou is going to stay and cook for us all, so it's really a great opportunity for me to focus on our guests. I'll try to give an update in a few days!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Home again, and off to school!

note: This post was written on Monday, August 18, but I was having problems with blogger. Finally got around to trying again . . . look for the update at the end!

Has it really been more than a week since I posted? My, how the time does fly!

Well, we're home again after our trip to Hong Kong. It was a very happy moment last Thursday morning when we received back our passports with that long-awaited mark in them, allowing us to enter this country again. John surely did lots of paperwork to make that happen!! We had planned to return home on Friday, and we are thankful that our plan worked out. We took the same route back (a taxi to a train to a taxi to a plane to another taxi) and arrived home about 7:30pm. It was a long day of travel but everyone did very well; John managed all the luggage while I managed the children.

And what a lovely feeling to be home again. My helper, Lou, had readied everything for our arrival and so supper was prepared and in the frig, there were fresh muffins, rice pudding, and some cut-up fruit awaiting us for breakfast the next morning, and the house was cool and clean. What a blessing! We were able to unpack almost everything on Friday night and feel settled really quickly again.

It's a good thing, too! Lots of changes are coming with this new week. We have been talking for some while about enrolling Clara Anne in a "kindergarten" (basically glorified daycare) this fall in order to encourage her learning of local language, helping her to acculturate, and helping her to make new friends. There is a kindergarten like this right here in our apartment complex, so today Lou and I, our neighbor (whose son has been going there for 3 years), and Clara Anne and Chloe all went to have a look at the facility and perhaps talk with the teachers.

I was impressed right away with the cleanliness of the facility as well as the decorations--very bright, fun, and educational. This particular kindergarten is managed by a group from the capital city and so seems to have pretty high standards for their teachers and teaching methods. We were able to talk for a bit with the principal and she understood my desire to only enroll Clara Anne in half days, three days or so a week.

All of these plans are certainly matters for prayer. We will have to pay for a year up front, but the principal assured us that if at any time we decided it wasn't the best thing for our family, then they would refund our money.

So, we're going to go for it! Tomorrow morning I will take Clara Anne to have the health check-up that she needs, and probably Wednesday or Thursday they will go for the first time. Clara Anne was very sad today when we left and she didn't get to play. She asked me repeatedly to "stay and play for a few whiles." On the way home she was already referring to it as "my" kindergarten. She seems pretty excited about it! It helps that her friends Emma and Savannah and Peter and Alex all go to kindergarten as well!

This fall is going to bring some big changes--with Clara Anne gone two or three mornings a week I'll have some good time with Chloe, but also will have to maximize my time with Clara Anne to do the things I want to keep up with her, like reading aloud, starting a chore chart with the girls, and doing the occasional craft activity. It'll be a fun challenge though! I know that Father will help us and I'm praying for a smooth transition with happy girls all around.

UPDATE! Thursday . . . we did get the health check accomplished and Clara Anne had her first day yesterday. It went very well! She was glad to go, and glad to come home when I went to pick her up. I hung around outside the door after dropping her off and talking to her teacher a bit, and saw her already holding hands with a little girl as they were lining up to get a drink of water. I think the socializing is going to be really fun for her! She was full of stories to tell me as we walked home. Even better, last night at supper we were having some Crystal Light Raspberry Ice which is red, and she started saying the word for red in Asianese, unprompted! That's a first! I'm encouraged that she did well and we'll bring her again tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Daddy Difference

Two nights ago, the fan on our computer stopped functioning. An urgent message appeared on the screen saying it must be shut down immediately. We've been expecting something like this to happen with our relatively old laptop; it was just a matter of time. Thankfully we're here in Hong Kong where we could get it fixed easily.

John took it to a friend to look at before taking it in to a repair shop, and then by the time he got out to where the repair shop was, waited for it to be fixed, and got home again he was basically gone the whole day. (Notice a theme with some of my other recent posts?)

During the time he was gone, several discipline issues occured, including Chloe peeing on the floor while being punished for something else (intentional? or not? who can say? argh!), her pooping in her pull-up, me despairing of her ever being fully potty trained, Clara Anne playing instead of napping and the two of them fighting over some toys. I was very ready to see him walk in the door at 5pm!

Contrast that with today. Today, I had several doctor's appointments, leaving him at home with the girls. I came home this afternoon to discover: he had easily gotten Chloe to poop on the potty (a miracle in itself!), had been playing games with Clara Anne, and got a bunch of his work done as well! Amazing! (Of course, the dishes were not done and the girls were still wearing their pajamas, but hey, who cares about that?!)

So I think it must be the Daddy difference. I will be forever grateful if his progress with Chloe sticks. She has had issues with her bowel control ever since we moved to our new house, and we have tried every trick in the book to motivate her to use the potty. But John's method today was just to frequently make her sit there at the times when we suspect she has to go, and wait until she has some success. She was so proud when I got home to tell me what she had done: "Mommy, I poo-poo'd on potty!!!"

Excellent work, Daddy! I think the moral of this story is that I need to leave the girls with him more often! Maybe the next time I come home he'll have them speaking perfect Asianese, never again playing with their food and showing off their best manners . . . anything is possible when Daddy's in charge!

The Plan vs. the Reality

The plan: Leave the apartment right after breakfast, head down to the mall to do three things: Purchase American coke, buy a few games and art supplies at Toys R Us, and use up the rest of our tokens at the kids indoor play area. Return home for lunch.

The reality: Managed to finally get out the door about 9:50. Waited 15 minutes to board the bus, then got stuck in terrible traffic. Finally got out of the bus about 11:15, took the MTR (subway) and arrived at our destination about noon! So much for returning home for lunch!

We did a little shopping in a huge, fabulous grocery store that has almost every imported item I could imagine (except for dill pickle relish, sorry Amy!). By the time that was done we decided to get some lunch, then head toward the other part of the mall where we could let the girls play as well as shop at Toys R Us.

The girls had a great time at the play area, especially because we let Clara Anne have the responsibility of putting the tokens into the various machines to start them up. The girls rode lots of "car" rides and played in a ball pit for awhile. John played some basketball and I sat and nursed Christin in all the noise!

On to Toys R Us, where John and I had a great time! My list was short: a few games to play together as a family, and a couple of Crayola products. But once we got started it was hard to stop! We bought several classic games that we thought the girls would enjoy, and I know they'll love the glitter crayons and fingerpaints that are now hiding in my closet. Wow, I never knew I personally could get so excited about going to Toys R Us!

By now it was 4pm and John said, "we'd better leave before we spend any more money!" We had discovered that the reason for the mammoth traffic jam that morning was a huge fire in the area where we were staying. Some people were saying that the traffic there was still a mess, so we didn't dare to take the bus home (the most convenient way). So we walked the 20 minutes to the nearest MTR, made our way onto the subway, then arrived back to our stop and decided to walk home rather than wait for the bus--about a 25 minute walk. Oh my! We were pooped! It was hot and steamy out, we had way too many packages and all of the girls were asleep on us--John with 40 pound Clara Anne on his back in the Ergo, Christin strapped to me and Chloe sleeping in the stroller. At least they were sleeping, though, and not whining or crying! We arrived home about 5:15, and glad to be here.

So, sometimes the reality is better than expected, like our trip to the pool, and other times we just sit back and laugh as our plans go completely out the window. I think we're finding that going out with all three kids and taking public transportation (other than taxis) is challenging in this city. It usually takes much longer than we expect, I guess we should just expect that! For all of Hong Kong's wonderful advantages, I will be eager to return to our city soon! Home will indeed feel sweet when we return.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Olympics Excitement and a busy week

Well, the long awaited day, the start of the Olympics, has come and gone! I thought the opening ceremony last night was interesting and impressive and hope that many of you got a chance to see some of it. (Though I'm still slightly shocked at the immense cost of a one time only, never to be repeated show! I heard the price tag was approximately $100 million USD! Oh My!)

This week has flown by for us here in Hong Kong. John has been busy with our visa stuff but we've had some time to do family stuff, too. A typhoon hit nearby and so there were several days of rain and wind here in the city. But today dawned bright and sunny so we decided it was a good day for an outing.

We took the bus to Kowloon Park where there is a beautiful public swimming pool as well as a gigantic stone pillar with a digital display counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the start of the Olympics. All of the displays read "0" today! The pool was about to close for a noon break by the time we finally got there (did I mention before how long it takes to get anywhere in HK?!), so we had to punt. There is a very nice playground in the park as well, so we headed there first, then ate a quick lunch at McDonald's before going into the pool.

Today was one of those days where I had pretty low expectations for the day, and was happily surprised by how it turned out! The pool had lots of shallow areas perfect for my girls, and Christin fell asleep in the stroller almost upon arrival, which was lovely. She slept and we played, and played, and played! Chloe is doing so much better in the water; she's much braver than she used to be, jumping in by herself and floating with just her arm floaties on instead of desperately clinging to John or me. Clara Anne is making some progress in learning swimming skills, as well. Midway through the afternoon I thought we might need to go because Christin wasn't wanting to eat but needed to, but then she finally latched on so we were good to go for another few hours. We just kept on swimming and floating and relaxing in the warm water, finally leaving at 5pm! Wow! Swimming fun times were had by all!

All three girls were sleeping on the bus ride home--Christin in the Baby Bjorn, Chloe in the stroller, and Clara Anne on John's back in the Ergo. They did wake up for a bit of supper and watching some Olympic swimming tonight, but I think everyone is going to sleep well tonight.

But I'm not going to get any sleep unless I stop typing and get to bed! Good Night!

Disneyland: Recap

Our day at Disneyland was really wonderful, and even magical, if I may use that word. A smile crept on to my face when we first boarded the subway with the Mickey Mouse head-shaped windows, and I feel like I was still smiling 12 hours later when we left the park! Three things made it particularly wonderful: my husband's preplanning, the sunny weather, and my kids doing very well. (By that I mean everyone enjoying themselves, no major discipline issues, Christin eating and sleeping on a normal schedule, etc.)

The day we were traveling to Hong Kong, John spent some time planning our day at Disneyland. He went into detail, thinking of how long it would take us to do certain things, where we should go at what time of the day, and generally giving us a structure for the day. At first I thought that seemed silly and would take the spontaneous fun out of the day, but actually it really helped! And for once, things actually went according to plan!

We arrived just as the park was opening and first on our list was to go and see the princesses. We had heard that they came out of their castle only at certain times, and so we were thrilled to see four of them lingering around the castle with basically no lines. Each of them took special time with Clara Anne (Chloe was feeling shy and so we didn't force her) and talked to her so sweetly. Clara Anne was still in wonder as to what was happening, so didn't react with great excitement, but at the end of the day when we asked her what was the favorite thing that she did, she responded, "meeting the princesses!" Actually, the day before she had said to me, "Mommy, that was too bad about what happened to Sleeping Beauty, how she pricked her finger on the spinning wheel. I'm real sorry about that." I told her, well, when you meet her tomorrow you can tell her so, Clara Anne! But when she met Sleeping Beauty she just shyly greeted her and couldn't think of a thing to say, of course!

The area all around the Castle was where we spent the majority of the morning. We seemed to stay slightly ahead of the crowds which was wonderful! It was steamy and hot out but we alternated some outdoor activities with indoor rides and shows. One of my distinct memories of Disneyland as an 8 year old was going to "It's a small world." So I was excited to show that to Clara Anne and Chloe. Again, we walked right in to that one, which was lovely! Another favorite of the morning was a 3-D movie with music and digital effects that were pretty spectacular.

We ate lunch at the only non-asian food place in the park and then got outside just in time to line up for the parade. Clara Anne was finally starting to acclimate herself to the novelty of it all and during the parade, for the first time, she started getting excited and pointing and smiling at things. We then headed to a stage show and got great seats to see the "Golden Mickey's" where Mickey and Minnie handed out "awards" to lots of the Disney classic movies and so we got to see songs from many of the shows performed live. I was so impressed with the costumes and sets, everything was very professional and done very well. At the end of the show they fired off some streamers and wouldn't you know it, that was the girls' favorite little thing! They picked up some gold streamers and carried them with them the rest of the day!

It was so fun to see the girls start to really enjoy themselves. We went on a jungle cruise, drank some frozen cokes, went to talk with Crush the turtle (from Finding Nemo), and then went to the Lion King show. This was really spectacular! It was in a round theatre and the stage was in the center, with impressive performers, sets and costumes. The girls really liked it and sat quietly in amazement through the whole show. One thing I'll always remember about going to these shows was nursing Christin during those times! It just worked out that in the morning we were attending the 3-D movie and it was time to feed her, in the afternoon at the Golden Mickey's and then at the Lion King show she had feedings each time. That's how to survive Disneyland with a 3 month old!

After this point I was feeling like maybe it was time to go. We decided it was easiest to eat supper at the park again, then we would maybe ride the train around the park and head home. But at supper Clara Anne started asking to do more and more activities, and Chloe also seemed to get a second wind. So we decided that if they were still up for it, we'd keep on going! After supper John and Clara Anne did a car racing ride while Chloe played in a small water-spraying area and Christin slept, and then we all rode a few more rides before the fireworks at 9pm. I'm really glad we stayed for the fireworks--they were set off from the Princess's castle with music and were really beautiful!

The whole day was just lovely and I so enjoyed being in such a clean, family-friendly, fun atmosphere. I was so impressed with the friendliness of the staff and the beauty of the park! Once, we were in line to ride a Buzz Lightyear ride but as we got close to the front the girls got scared. As we were trying to get ourselves out of the line, with a crying Chloe, just like that there was a staff member there with a sticker to distract Chloe and bring a smile back to her face again.

So after the fireworks, we meandered our way toward the exit with Chloe still going strong and Clara Anne passed out cold in the stroller. We followed our family tradition by buying a magnet to add to our frig collection, and walked out in the warm evening, sighing a tired but happy sigh.

I do hope that the girls will remember something from this day in the future! It was a blessing to be able to spend this time together as a family. Smiles all around!

PS. One funny story: mid-day we were filling up our water bottles at the drinking fountain when a bright yellow something "splatted" on my foot! What could this be? Indeed, it was. Christin had pooped and squirted it right out the side of her diaper. She was in the Baby Bjorn and so it just shot right out and landed on my foot and all over the sidewalk. Wowza, Christin, that's some serious output! Glad I was wearing Crocs that could be easily washed! And, we were right next to the bathrooms so were able to get her cleaned up right away. I'm sure she felt better afterwards!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sneak Peek: Disneyland

We had a wonderful day at Disneyland on Monday! My only experience with Disney theme parks was a trip to Disneyland in California when I was 8 years old. I have some memories of that day, but not a lot of distinct memories. So it was like I was enjoying Disneyland for the first time when we took the girls this week! I was so impressed with the whole park--beautiful landscaping, such friendly staff, everything so clean and family-oriented and FUN! If you can believe it, our family arrived about about 15 minutes before opening and we were some of the last to leave, 12 hours later! The girls seemed to get a second wind just before supper and were asking to do more activities, so we stayed for the evening and through a special fireworks show as well.

It's already late tonight, so I'll just post a few pics here to give you a sneak peek of our day. Enjoy!

Clara Anne tells Princess Sleeping Beauty how old she is. The princesses took so much time with the girls and were so sweet! They all looked fresh as a daisy while the rest of us non-royalty were already sweaty and hot! Clara Anne really blossomed under their kind attention.
Chloe was feeling a little shy, but Princess Belle invited our whole family to take a picture together. Belle was the first princess we met; Clara Anne was a bit taken aback by the wonder of it all at this point still. Cinderella gave Clara Anne a "princess kiss" on her cheek.
And we saved the first princess for last: Snow White.
The teacups were a favorite: we had skipped it earlier in the day and Clara Anne asked specifically to go back and do it. Then the line was short so we did it again! The girls loved it!
More pictures and details of the day soon!