Saturday, August 31, 2013

12 months and beyond

David is growing in leaps and bounds. I know that probably sounds cliche as they change so much day-to-day. But he really is transitioning in major ways. One thing is that he is more "teachable" in that we can show him how to do certain things (intentionally or not) and he repeats them. He's waving, "snapping" his fingers, and using certain tools. He takes laundry out of the washing machine and puts it back in. He takes lids off containers and tries to put them back on. He takes his socks off and mimics fastening and unfastening velcro straps. Etc., etc...

Though not walking around freely yet like some of his peers, David is a VERY interactive child. He is always aware if someone new has entered the room and he "yells" at him/her until he gets a greeting. When he is proud of himself, he looks around and makes eye contact with EACH person to make sure everyone is looking and praising. He adores having little "conversations" with people even if it's just a game of peekaboo.

So here's the challenge...David is at an age now where I take him OUT of the stroller when we go on walks.

That might mean more dirty clothes for us, but it ALSO means more social interaction. And as a bilingual parent, I feel a little awkward. In Russia, my language is less dominant. So I feel a little funny speaking it in public. And yet, I don't want David to feel that one of his languages is something to be ashamed of.

The neighbors on our street in Massachusetts this summer had a French-speaking nanny. We could hear her speaking French to them from across the street. Maybe I could create a cool nanny image for myself?

I just get into those situations where it's more necessary to be verbal, and that means speaking Russian. So do I:  A) Speak Russia with the other people and English with David, B) Speak Russian with other people and switch to Russian with David when in public, or C) Just keep a low profile and improvise depending on the situation?

Even the SOUNDS of childhood are different. The "oops," "boing," "whee," "vroom." Those sound different in another language! And they might sound funny to onlookers (but hopefully not obscene).

On a Russian playground, there is a lot of instructing going on. It's constant commentary from the mothers (and grandmothers and even fathers) accompanying their charges. Here is how you go up the ladder, here is how you go down the slide, here is how you share your toys, here is how you brush your clothes off if you fall. It is great for language learning, I'm sure. But to be honest, I also get a little overstimulated being privy to all that information.

I park David near the slide to watch how a little girl goes down. Her mother sees a teaching opportunity and brings her over, saying gently, "There's a BOY. See the BOY? Say HELLO to the boy. Are you being shy? What's the matter? Go on."  The little girl manages a little grin and giggle and David offers a jerky wave in their direction after their backs are already turned and they're walking away. I didn't tell David to say hello to them. I didn't know what language to use.

David will learn the Russian well enough. He's got a Russian father and grandparents. For English language purposes, we may need to find ourselves a playgroup. And he'll learn his second language, too. It's just figuring out the mixed situations that's a little tricky.

I've linked to a few bilingual blogs in my sidebar. I guess I'll take a look and see if any of them address this.

Friday, August 30, 2013

New Beginnings (5 a.m. musings)

As I lie in bed unable to sleep, I scroll through the faces of everyone that we saw this summer, to set them in my memory. Sometimes we sleep 3 (2 1/2?) to a bed here at a certain someone's request, and one or more of us may be snoring. We didn't get to see all of them-all of you-this summer. And a few encounters were quite brief, maybe from across a room. But I still think of you.

I know we've been away a long time because I have forgotten where we keep things. I had to scramble around looking for bedding on our first night back. My wardrobe seems to be filled with summer clothes-only, and David's are all too small. I am excited to do some home improvement projects, though I don't know when exactly it will work out. I have a whole new blueprint for the my head. ;)

There are things I want to do with David this year that I couldn't last year, because I was in a different place emotionally and physically. I want to go on walks with him more regularly, explore the world together. I want to teach him that bathtime can be fun. I want to start reading to him more.

Maybe the time has come for me to do some "extracurricular" activities again. But then again, maybe not. There's the question of "can or can't," the question of "want or don't want," and...other questions. Andrei's work situation is a little bit vague, too. Some knowns, some unknowns. Some negative changes, some positive, and others still to come. We are hopeful, always. Though we (I) don't always practice it.

I think I like this year, in general.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A "Christian" wedding reception

How does one go about planning a wedding celebration among church-goers? Should there be alcohol or not? What about dancing? If dancing is to be included, then what kind of music should be allowed? If there won't be dancing, then how should the guests be entertained? And do they need entertainment?

While pondering this question, Andrei and I thought about some types of weddings that we weren't particularly excited about (though we understand elements of them can be fun for other people).

-Typical Russian: lots of entertainment, with skits (depicting how the couple met, etc.), drinking, dancing, stealing the bride, having a fight, and other merry-making.

-Russian Protestant Christian version: Games are kept g-rated: tug of war, jousting with balloons, Bible trivia, giggles about what the offspring will look like or how they will divide chores.

"I'm looking for a volunteer": words that strike fear in the hearts of many mild-mannered wedding guests. Will they be dragged away to don costumes or ad-lib on stage?

We decided to go with the assumption that people just want to be left in peace to enjoy their meals or (gasp!) actually exchange a few words with tablemates.

And so, we put in a request to our friends for musical contributions. We asked a trusted friend to be the emcee.  My mom created some unique favors, sets of playing cards with our childhood photos on one side. And as a compromise, we burned a CD with a playlist of dance music, just in case the opportunity arose.

As it turned out, Andrei and I were teary-eyed with emotion for much of the reception. Our friends and relatives had prepared a whole concert. They had picked out each song with love. Other friends and relatives made speeches. Our plan to let people eat in "peace" backfired...the food was delicious, but how could we sit there munching while being serenaded by friends? Our plates kept getting cleared before we'd had more than a few bites. When it was time to cut the cake, I got ONE bite before something else happened.

We nixed the dancing and went with the final song. Through some oversight/misunderstanding, the leftovers didn't get sent home. Not even the cake...sigh.

BUT, we arrived home to find everything taken care of. Some friends had taken our millions of bouquets and put many of them in water-in the bathtub, buckets of water, anything they could find. Our gifts had already been delivered to our apartment, too. It was done with such thoughtfulness.

Not a bad start to life together...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

More entertaining

When I published the last post, I felt something nagging me.

I realized that it was the part where I divided people (potential objects of hospitality) into "brothers and sisters" and "strangers."

The problem is that for many people these groups may BOTH be made up of strangers. Are you close to people in your church, or do you find it hard to get to know people? Maybe the potential is there, but you've recently joined a new church.

I found myself going back to the passage and wondering about the context. How well did the people in that particular church know each other? And if Paul says "keep on loving each other," does that mean they're already good at it, or just that it's to be a continuous goal?

I guess we're not really off the hook here, because it doesn't say to love other Christians once we've gotten to know them and decide we like them, it just says to keep on loving them.

As for the strangers, is it safe to say that they are people whom we believe to not share our beliefs? After all, if we thought they were believers, we would welcome them as "brothers and sisters."

So, to edit my last post, it isn't really about showing hospitality to friends vs. strangers. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that we are called to love those we are in Christian community with (buddies or not), along with new acquaintances whom we suspect to belong to other religions.

Is that better?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Entertaining thoughts

"Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers..." -Hebrews 13:1, 2a

A really elementary observation of this passage that our pastor pointed out today is that we are called to love 1) our brothers and sisters in Christ (philadelphia) AND 2) people we don't know (philoxenia). So we have a constant calling to care for our close friends and care for people who don't mean anything to us yet, at the same time. I think this is a good summary of the challenge to managing our social lives.

Whom do I personally prefer to spend time with? I think it's typical for people to feel comfortable with those they already know, rather than expending energy on getting to know new ones.

But to say entertaining one group or the other is easier or harder oversimplifies human relationships. Close friends, relatives, and especially fellow church-goers may be downright difficult to please at times!

In addition, our family has been discussing lately how we tend to find examples of kindness, thankfulness, and generosity in people who are not particularly religious. It might be a neighbor with impeccable manners, or a colleague with a heart for the homeless. Why do they seem to get it "right" without attending church and hearing these sermons?

What are our excuses? As Christians, we may try to overspiritualize simple good deeds, either by waiting for a "worthy" opportunity or in not wanting to offer praise to men lest we appear to be make idols out of them. In holding back, we may miss the opportunity to bless someone; to speak good things into their lives.

When I've had a sleepless night, the hardest part of the morning after is actually emerging from the covers and getting my feet to hit the floor so that I can start my day. After that, I may face a challenging day because of being tired, but by far the hardest part is actually waking up.

I think it is like that with hospitality sometimes. It is a lot of work to prepare for and entertain guests. Whether or not they are hard people to be around, there is always the cooking and cleaning and just setting aside our precious time. I think that for me the most challenging part is right before they arrive, with my stomach tied in knots just waiting for the doorbell to ring. But as soon as we are conversing, the blessings pour down.

We need to go back to serving a meal to people while not neglecting spiritual food. This is something my parents try to do on a regular basis. But identifying this as our calling is only half the battle. So many people around us are brothers or strangers. How do we know where to start?

I guess that brings me to my cozy bed and the breaking dawn. I just need to throw the covers off, grab my robe, and put my feet on the floor. But I'm not sure exactly what that means! What do I need in order to wake up? It is something to think about...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rejoicing and coping

I'm always amazed when I'm at a doctor's appointment or filling out paperwork related to David and someone congratulates me. For example, being at the dentist and the ladies saying "Awww, you have  a 13-month old?" Or when we went to the ENT last year to have David's tongue tie clipped and the surgeon said "Congratulations, you guys!" We were there to fix a minor medical problem and what she saw was a near-perfect newborn baby. That was her perspective.

In the middle of the most mundane (or even distressing) moments, people remind me that I have a CHILD. When we have to spend days or months renewing visas, we don't always remember that...oh yeah, there's a reason for all this...and he's pretty adorable! When I'm boarding a plane with the little rascal noisemaker cutie, I might have a pretty tiring journey ahead of me, but look at all those smiling faces admiring his chubby cheeks and toothy grin.

That is one perspective: in the midst of all the messy details, there is a child who brings joy.

But unfortunately, there are hardships that need attention, and that are lost in the light of giving attention to that child.

People may look at David and see a sweet baby. I love babies, too. But when I look at other mothers now, there are a lot of other questions running through my head.

If it's a newborn, I may wonder how her labor was. 

If the baby has teeth, I wonder if he/she has bitten Mommy yet. 

Did the mother get all of them dressed and looking like that by herself, or did she have help? Does she have stretchmarks under those cute clothes?

I guess my point is that at 13 months post-partum, I still feel post-partum. And I project that onto other mothers, too.  Even though David is going to be a toddler soon, I feel like I am still getting used to having him around. If the first several months were survival mode, then now is the time when I'm able to stop focusing on survival so much and able to add some more normal tasks back into my routine...with him in tow. I am able to enjoy it, too.
It's always good to focus on the blessings in life, especially when people can offer each other a positive perspective. But I think it's also important to remember that people who have experienced major changes in the past year or couple of years (love, loss, childbirth, adopting or being adopted, miscarriage, illness, moving, job changes, etc.) might still be learning how to cope. There is more going on than what's on the surface!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Ex-pat Life

We were going through Immigration/Customs control in Boston, and I had written "U.S.A." as my place of residence. But after interviewing us, the Customs officer said, "okay, just cross that out and write Russia next to it." Gulp.

I know I live in Russia, but I'm not Russian. And they'll never give me citizenship. I don't know if Andrei will ever get U.S. citizenship. I always write U.S.A. as my permanent address. I'm supposed to be granted permanent residency in Russia in the fall, but I still want the U.S. address. I know it's probably weird for Andrei and me to have different addresses, though.

I think part of it is always feeling like a second-class citizen in Russia. I feel like a real person with rights in the U.S., even while living/working abroad.

BUT...even that has its limitations. It gets sort of complicated with things like healthcare, having part of it happen here and part of it there. Bank accounts here and there, tax declarations here and there. I start to feel like I should be apologetic for having unusual circumstances; an exotic last name (exotic middle name to the Russians); a job that doesn't have an easy description. But then I think...why should I feel BAD about not fitting someone's mold?

I don't know if I'm necessarily patriotic, but I definitely prefer aspects of American life to life in other countries, and I prefer to have the freedom to come here if/when the need arises. It feels safe to have that option to fall back on.

Maybe that sounds like I am putting my hope in earthly comforts; in a misplaced sense of security. But God is faithful in testing me. He helps expose my idols. Missionaries or not, we all go through those same basic sin issues.

5 years later

 After my latest  weird dream sequence , I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up . I did the math...