Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valen Times Day

I have a longstanding distaste for Valen Times Day, as our Maria calls it, because it demands a completely arbitrary celebration of love.  It goes against everything in me to do something just because the calendar says so.  It's not like Christmas which marks a very significant historical birth.  Or a wedding anniversary, which is an obvious time to reflect on love within a marriage.

But still, I find myself compelled, not by the 14 in the box on the calendar, but by my heart's desire, to put to paper some thoughts about my man.  The man who has stood beside me and called me his girl, even through our storms, which still do their share of storming...

I did not know, as none of us can, who I was commiting to share life with when I walked the long aisle toward Tim 15 years ago.  I thought I knew close to everything about him, but as it turns out, I knew very little.  And even what I knew is not relevant now, as he has changed so deeply and wonderfully since that day.

In a word, he is now much more self-aware.  He is eager to know who he was, who he is, and who God wants him to be.  And he wants me to join him in that journey.  I gladly join because he is soft and strong, not harsh and aloof.

Two weeks ago, we had an apartment full of throwing up children and a mommy who was herself sick and wearing very thin.  I stood in my closet, which has clothes strewn in all manner of disorganization, and within five minutes, I scratched down a long list of things for which to thank Tim...

So Tim, I know you like lists!  Here's one for you.  Remember the big kids first day of school? Tuesday, January 31?  I want to thank you for:

     Doing dishes and cleaning the kitchen.
     Making children's lunches.
     Staying home from doing your things to help with sick kids and baby.
     Putting sunscreen on kids.
     Telling me to take my time walking kids back from school, to stop and get a treat with them on the first day of school, even though you were home with sick girls and crying baby.
     Admitting I was right about your poor exchange with Wesley.
     Playing handball in the hall with Brock.
     Snuggling with sick Maria in her bed.
     Cleaning up Maria's throw-up in her bed during the night.
     Taking Wesley to the toilet every night.
     Drawing a picture with Rachel.
     Not pushing me toward you, but gently inviting me and waiting.
     Suggesting burrito-wrapping baby Anne at night.

Simply the quick list from that one day.  The list grows longer every day.

Most of all, though, I want you to know how thankful to you I am for this grand adventure we are on.  This Australian adventure.  Thank you for slowing down.  Thank you for doing the risky, hard work of looking at yourself.  Thank you for listening to me, seeing me, knowing me.  Thank you for taking me, our family on this beautiful journey.  I'm glad to travel with you.  Happy Valen Times, my man...

Sunday, February 5, 2012


You know that story about Gideon preparing to go to battle against his enemies, and God tells him to go down to the river and have his soldiers drink out of the river.  Based on the way in which each man drinks the water, God tells Gideon to eliminate a large portion of his army, to the point where the Israelites are sorely outnumbered by their foe. A victory under these circumstances is impossible.  Then by a miracle, God wins the battle for Israel.  The point: the victory is God's alone. 

That's what it felt like for me on Monday, Rachel and Maria's first day of school.  Felt like the only way I was a gentle mommy who did all that was required of me was because, in fact, God did it.

Last week, the whole family travelled via train across the harbor to North Sydney where we met Maria's preschool teacher, Ms. Alex, and familiarized her with the facilities at St. Thomas' Preschool.  She was all smiles as she found the sandbox, her cubbie, the toilets, and her name on the birthday list.

Then, the following Monday, January 30, the girls started school, which was one day before their brothers started, so we had a special morning celebrating Rachel's first day of "Kindy" and Maria's first ever day of school.  Rachel was a bit apprehensive about a new school, and even shed a few tears.  But Maria was nothing but eager to get to join the ranks of the big siblings in her life who attend school...

Upon arrival at the school building, Rachel tootled right on in, in search of her one new friend, Johanna.  With Rachel's successful start to her first day at St. Andrew's complete, the remainder of the family escorted Maria to the Town Hall subway station just outside Rachel's school, and onto the northbound train departing from platform 3.  The 10-minute train ride is lovely, and the view out the train window from atop the Harbor Bridge is reason enough to make the trip.

We stayed in Maria's classroom long enough to hear her introduce herself in front of the group with loud confidence.  As she happily participated in class conversation, we rest of us headed out... Tim and the boys to Shelly Beach, for one last hurrah before the start of school.  And Baby Anne Michelle and I took the scenic route home, enjoying our quiet bus ride home, then strolling through Queen Victoria Building, an ornate, airy shopping gallery.  We finished it off with a walk through Woolworth's looking for nothing in particular...

The boys' day at the beach proved to be a splendid, breezy, wave-crashing adventure.  They jumped off large rocks into the ocean and climbed into rocky caves along the shore.  Just the stuff boys love to do with daddy.

Soon after Anne and I arrived back at the apartment, around midday, Tim and I spoke and agreed it would be best if I retrieved both girls from their schools, in order to avoid the necessity of the guys having to cut their trip short.  It had taken longer than expected to get to Shelly Beach.

No problem.  I relished the idea of making my way to Maria's school and back to Rachel's without any assistance from Tim.  It felt like an adventure.  Little did I know what the remainder of the day would hold... It would be an adventure, indeed!

I spent about half an hour studying the various routes to St. Thomas' Preschool, on the corner of Church and Miller Streets in North Sydney. I could take the train, then hop on a bus, or just take one 25-minute bus ride from a stop near home to one very near Maria's school.  

As the clock ticked past 2:00, then 2:15, I realized I had better select the quickest option if I had any chance of making to Maria in time to get back to Rachel by 3:15.  And that meant there would be running involved.  A lot of it.  Uphill.  Carrying a baby. And pushing a stroller.

So I took a deep breath, picked up the sleeping baby and hurried off, hoping to make the 2:40 train to North Sydney.  I dodged through pedestrians who were definitely not in the hurry I was.  Then I realized I could save myself a little effort by pushing baby in the empty stroller, which would eventually carry Maria. Easier to run pushing a stroller with two hands, than to run pushing a stroller with one hand and wearing baby in wrap supported by the other hand.

I'm at the top of the subway stairs. I check my clock.  2:39.  Less than one minute to get stroller holding sleeping baby down stairs and down another set of stairs to platform.  Right.  I arrive at platform at 2:41.  Thankfully the train is a little late.  Four minutes until next train to North Sydney.

The train ride is a welcome rest.  But here comes the hard part.  I exit the train, ride the elevator up to ground level, get my bearings, and start moving.  Running.  Uphill, like I said, for about half a mile, pushing the sleeping baby.  Might not sound like much for some, but for this mommy whose only workout in recent history has been chasing young children around the house, it was quite a daunting challenge.

While running, I get a call from Tim who informs me that we have missed several calls from Maria's teacher throughout the afternoon.  Maria has vomited twice at school.  Could we please come pick her up? On my way!

 I arrive at the top of the hill, literally dripping with sweat, and make my way to the school, where other parents are also arriving to collect their children.  There is pitiful little schoolgirl Maria, being held by the teacher.  I apologize for being unreachable, as we are just learning how to use our new Australian cell phones...  I don't even know my own phone number!  I lift Anne out of the stroller and Maria climbs in, explaining that she threw up today at school and she rested on the cot in Ms. Alex's office.

Thankfully, I have a new friend whose children also go to St. Andrew's with our big kids.  I called her, now knowing that I would not reach Rachel by 3:15, to see if she could wait with Rachel until my arrival. She agreed. Also thankfully, the walk back to the train station is obviously downhill, so I strapped baby in my wonderful Moby wrap, and guided the stroller down the hill.

We boarded a particularly and unusually hot and stinky-like-urine train bound for Town Hall station.  Maria stayed in her stroller for the ride and baby continued to sleep. About two minutes before our third and final stop, Maria said her tummy wasn't feeling so good and she might need to throw up again. Mmmm.  What to do? 

I push the stroller to the doors. The train stops.  Maria chucks.  The doors open.  Maria is still chucking.  A poor, kind gentleman offers to assist me across the gap to the platform and reaches out, grabbing the very spot on the stroller footrest where Maria's vomit had landed.  I hear myself saying, "I'm so sorry.  I'm so sorry.  Thank you.  Thank you."  I can't bear to look at his face!

The crowds clear.  Maria has one more bit of vomit there on the platform.  Poor girl.  At this point, she doesn't really have much left in her stomach, which minimizes the mess, at least.  Can't find the elevator, so Maria walks barefoot up the steps (guess the shoes got messy during the first vomiting episode at school), while I carry the stroller (and baby who is still peaceful in wrap).

We find Rachel, playing with Johanna, and her mother, waiting for us outside of the school.  Rachel had a fun first day, though she's not sure of her teacher's name, and she's ready to go home.  So off we go, making the two block, 10-minute (at Rachel's pace) walk to the apartment.  As we arrive at World Tower, baby begins to cry, but we have one last excruciating errand: pick up Wesley's school jacket from the alterations shop in the bottom of the tower.

That task done, we finally make the 76-floor elevator ride and arrive to the cool and quiet of our home, my shirt and baby's clothing completely soaked with my sweat.  Phew.  I am shaking with exhaustion.

"Mommy, I just poo-pooed in my pants."  Oh, yes.  Maria's sick tummy provides expulsion out both ends. Let the good times roll.  Holding a now quite irritated baby who is waiting for her snack, I help Maria remove very soiled clothing.  I nurse Anne while Maria visits the toilet.  Then, Maria and I manage to both get showers after our dirty day, and all four girls plop in front of Australian tv for kids, channel 22.  Phew.

Only way I managed this day, only way a baby peacefully sleeps through two hours of a running, sweating, helping-a-sick-sister mommy, only way I don't blow my top through the tremendous circumstances of Monday, January 30... God's strength did it.   No chance I could claim that my own hand has saved me today.