Tuesday, May 31, 2016

In Honduras

The girls and I made a paper chain to count down the number of days until we leave for Oregon.

There’s a whole lot that has to happen before we leave, so the chain is a reminder to me of the number of days we have left to get a whole lot done.

We have spent a lot of our three years here organizing and cleaning up the office, literally and figuratively. We are content with the current state of things, overall, and heck, there’s a lovely newly remodeled office for whoever steps into the office next.

At this point, no replacements will be here before we leave, so we won’t have an opportunity to train or orient the next Reps. This means we need to leave things in good order, write out a Transition Manual and try to do everything we can to leave things ready to be picked up down the road.

So that’s what our next few weeks will be filled with.
After Rep meetings.

We’re currently in Honduras, with Country Representatives from the rest of Latin America and Haiti. It’s a bit surreal to be here, participating and at the same time planning for our departure in just one short month (We’ve booked our tickets: we fly home July 3rd). These counterparts, these other Reps, are literally the only other people in the world who have a clue what being a Rep is like, what our days and weeks look like, how stressful it can be and has been. We will miss their support and camaraderie. The end of this time together will be some of our more difficult goodbyes in this process.

On another note, I’m feeling so thankful that we have an apartment in Oregon. We E-signed the lease on Saturday. I couldn’t help but marvel that I was in a large van, driving near the border of Honduras in rural Guatemala, and there I was using Michael’s cell phone as a Hotspot to emit wifi so that I could connect my computer to the internet and pay our deposit on our apartment, AND sign the lease via some secure electronic signature. That is technology at its finest.

Ellie is enrolled in Kindergarten in a Dual-Immersion program at the school we wanted, and we found an apartment in the same school zone. Those were two of the biggest details I have been worried about over the last weeks, and my stress level has gone down immensely since these two things have been secured.

We have no car, no furniture, a heck of a lot to do here, 8 suitcases to pack, but I’m feeling at peace. Those things will fall into place. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Never a Dull Moment

The Chapmans have news. Again.

But first, here are some pictures of our cute kids feeding and chasing birds in the Central Plaza. 
Ok. Our news.

After a lot of reflection and conversations about what's best for us and our family, Michael has accepted a job offer to work at Medical Teams International, based in Tigard, Oregon. We will be moving to Oregon at the beginning of July. We are thrilled that we will be back in the state that we have referred to as "home" for years, though it's been almost 10 since we've lived there long-term.
With less than 2 years to go on our contract with MCC, this was a difficult decision for us. We have trusted the process and feel a huge peace in this decision. But we know how a decision like this affects our staff, our counterparts in other countries, our bosses, and of course, the partners and projects with whom we work.

MCC has been a wonderful organization to work for. They've been extremely supportive of us as a family and have cared for us well. We greatly appreciate the work they do and will continue to do and we will dearly miss the people we've come to know and love.

We've had an amazing three years here in Guatemala. We have no regrets. We are thankful for the friendships we've made and the experiences we've had. We leave happy and content. We are changed for the better.
But we also leave ready for another phase in life. We are excited that Ellie has the possibility of enrolling in a Dual-Immersion Kindergarten program that is 90% Spanish. I am excited to have time at home with Hazel and Ruby before Hazel starts Kindergarten one short year later.  I'm excited to possibly use my Oregon Teacher's License that I have maintained valid all this time.

So, it's sad news in some ways. I hate despedidas (goodbyes). There are friends and things about life here we will miss. We know we will look back and always see this as a precious experience in the life of our family. But this is good news too. This feels like a good change at the right time for our family, for us as a couple, and most importantly a chance to live closer to family and friends.

Oregon, ready or not, here we come!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Ellie's homework: A Sampling

I've mentioned before the mountain of homework Ellie has every week. I thought I'd give a sampling of some of her homework, and you can tell me if I'm crazy to think this is a lot for a pre-kindergartener. That is, a preschooler the year before kindergarten.

Every Monday Ellie brings home a pile for the week, including this vocabulary packet. This is due every Friday. It includes a page of words, syllables, and sentences to read, the vocab words to trace and illustrate, and a page of sentences to rearrange and write.
She also brings home weekly flashcards that she colors, cuts, glues, and I cover with contact paper. She is tested on these every Thursday. Luckily, they are always English words, so she has always received 10/10 and we never have to practice them.

On Mondays she also brings home this reading book that we are supposed to read several times throughout the week to practice and improve her Spanish literacy.

Every week she is supposed to practice writing her name in cursive. We don't do this very often because we barely have enough time/motivation/energy to get the other homework finished.

Once a week she brings home this vocabulary notebook. It contains a list of 5 English words that we are to find pictures in magazines, glue them in the book, and then she writes each word 3 times. This is always due the following day, and is usually accompanied with other homework sheets, also due the following day.

Some homework sheets that she gets a couple times per week, often math or writing:
She has weekly Dictations (in Spanish) every Friday at school, which get sent home for me to review and sign. She's extremely proud when she gets them all correct. Mostly because she gets a sucker.
Other days throughout the week she brings home science projects in English, phonics pages, or more worksheets. Once a month she has a presentation where she has to share about a topic with 4-5 sentences in front of the class, with some kind of display. She's done one on panthers, one "About Me," and one "My Family." The nice thing is that these are all in English, so the prep work and practice are minimized.
On top of all this, we are supposed to be reading to her at least 15 minutes every night, which we have always done as part of our bedtime routine.

On the one hand, this is so much. After being in class all morning she comes home and often has an hour of homework. It's a battle sometimes, though thankfully, she mostly loves it.

On the other hand, we are so privileged to have access to such a great school. She is learning to read and write and in just a few months we've seen her grow tremendously in her skills.

One of our projects with MCC is an adult literacy program for the Kekchi, an indigenous population. I'm constantly reading reports of (mostly) women who stopped going to school after 2nd or 3rd grade to help at home and never went back. Now, as adults with several children, often as widows or single mothers, they are taking the opportunity to go to elementary school or junior high. When I have this perspective, I can't help but pause and just be thankful for education and the fact that my daughters will learn to read and write while I know adults here who can do nothing more than sign their name.

It's all perspective, but it feels like, for US general education standards, this is quite a load of homework for a five-year old. Am I right?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Mother's Day x 4

Mother's Day stretched out all week. Last Thursday Ruby and I went to a breakfast at church. It was fun to spend time with my Littlest. 
Since Ruby was in the preschool for a few weeks, she had made this present for me, minus the handprints, name, or date. It was cute, but I'm not as into presents the teachers paint and make. I'd prefer something less perfect that she painted herself, or with her little handprints. So, we modified her gift a little, and I love it. My necklaces are hanging on it.
At church on Sunday we celebrated Moms. The kiddos sang a couple songs.

Mother's Day photo, 2016
May 10th is an official holiday in Guatemala and most Moms have the day off. I went to see Hazel's dance she's been practicing for weeks with her classmates. It's hard not to watch her and remember her first "act" here in Guatemala when she balled her eyes out during the entire song. She's grown up a lot. 
Ellie's Act was yesterday, so I got to see her dance and sing. She was so comfortable on stage. For weeks she's been keeping this "surprise" from me, not wanting me to know that she's been practicing a song and dance. She loved the idea of not telling me her secret, and kept it well. I hope I don't have to be worried that she's so good at keeping secrets from me.
(Yes, she has two different shoes on. That was intentional, her choice. One of her shoes broke and she wanted one of each. Sure, kid. Whatever you want.)
Flashback: My first Mother's Day in Guatemala.
Feliz Dia De Madre!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Good Luck Lemons

This is what bad luck looks like, or, a really bad "case of the Mondays," if you've ever seen the movie Office Space:
On Monday our truck was broken into during lunch and Michael's backpack was stolen. This was especially frustrating because he almost *never* leaves his backpack in the truck, but did this one time. This automatically signifies a time sucker. Replacing a passport is no easy task, and we travel to Honduras in a few short weeks. Then there's dealing with work files on the laptop, and accounting for other small items in the bag that aren't replaceable. Notes, agenda, calendar, chargers for his watch and phone. Lame. Lame. Lame.

Today we got a call and our luck reversed. Apparently, Michael's passport was found tossed in front of the US Embassy. They tracked Michael down and he is going to go pick it up this afternoon. What?!?! I'm pretty sure this never happens. We are beyond thrilled.

Besides being super random and crazy and practically unheard of, this saves us time and stress. He had filed a police report that had to be authenticated at the Department of Justice before trying to get a new passport. It was going to be quite the process. We are feeling so thankful in the midst of a crummy situation.

And then I had other random luck today. In three years of being here in Guatemala, I've never seen lemons (I explain in this blog post). Today I found these:
Also, I've never seen fresh blueberries. Today I found these, right across from the lemons:
The arandanos (blueberries) were spendy (more than $4 for one of these containers), so I didn't buy any, but I did buy some lemons. I'm having a hard time deciding between making fresh lemonade, lemon scones, or some other yummy lemon dessert. I might make them all.

 Because when life hands you lemons, you grab a whole bunch and horde them until you can make something delicious. I think that's how the saying goes. 

 At the least, I'll make something to celebrate our good luck after a rough start to the week.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Second parenting tip of the day

Ellie came home from school sobbing.

Every week, the nina/o de la semana (kid of the week) usually sends home a sorpresa, a little bag of candies or treats or toys (like from a birthday party). The teacher sends home a count of the number of girls and boys in class for the parents the week before (because usually the sorpresas are gender-specific).

Ellie was the last girl to get picked up today, and there was one girl sorpresa missing. Except, the said nina de la semana was still at school for after-school cheerleading, and she didn't want to give Ellie the last bag. She wanted it for herself.

Ellie was distraught. Heartbroken. These weekly sorpresas are a huge highlight, and this was a Big Deal to her.

It could be that the girl's Mom counted wrong and there weren't enough. There was one left for a boy, but it was for someone who was absent. And Ellie didn't dream of taking the boy one. It could be that her Mom wasn't counting her own daughter in the count, but either way, the girl insisted that she get one, at the expense of Ellie.

Hard life lessons. Lately Ellie has been learning phrases like "hurt feelings" and "selfish" and "not kind," and they definitely helped her express herself today, though most likely it was all just an accident. It's hard to know there was a bag available, just not for Ellie. A missed opportunity for kindness. Her teacher felt horrible, but there was no solving this one.

I sat and hugged her. I let her cry and express herself. I told her how hard it is to be hurt, that it's OK to feel sad and upset and confused. I want her to be able to talk to me and tell me about things, no matter the topic, and it starts with these Little But Actually It's a Really Big Deal Things.

Fortunately, my girls are at the age that a bike ride to the corner store for some helado will heal a lot of wounds. Every few minutes I hear, "Mommy, I'm really sad about the sorpresa," but the sobbing has stopped.
My second parenting tip of the day: ice cream heals (in moderation, of course).

Not a gold-star kind of day

Yesterday was a rough day as a Mama. I'm parenting it solo again for a few days and that always adds some stress. I found it especially ironic yesterday that I had a frustrating morning with my girls, especially with my oldest, because I was trying to hurry out the door so I could get to a Mother's Day breakfast at church.

I was NOT feeling like I deserved to be praised for my mothering skills, yet there I went.

The bedtime routine was not better. I was on edge and impatient and bath time often annoys me. Some parents talk about how much they love bedtime and the routine. I mostly dread the whining and fighting, though I can simultaneously relish and appreciate the bedtime snuggles and reading once we finally arrive to that part of the evening. You know, those last 15 minutes of the day.

Some days, some moments deserve a gold star for patience and good mothering. Yesterday was not one of them. I felt defeated. Deflated. I imagine many parents feel that way after a long day with the kiddos, despite our best intentions.

I can't help but wonder, if there feels to be more frustrated moments than good ones, am I causing permanent damage? Am i wrecking my kids in the way I handle mundane situations? What of my responses are creating new synapses in their brains?

Our kids pick up everything. Everything. When I get frustrated I make an obnoxious grunting noise. My girls now do that when they're frustrated. It's not a cute sound to hear, especially knowing it's a reflection of my own impatience.

I know what all the parenting advice says. Model good behavior. Model politeness. Model self-control and kindness. Knowing best practices and acting on them are not the same thing.

This morning I woke up determined. I woke up early, I showered before the baby woke up. I made a hot breakfast. I was determined to greet the girls with a positive attitude and an unrushed morning routine. And it worked. They got dressed without arguing. They were calm and happy and kind to each other. The morning went smoothly. A gold-star morning, I'd say. Today I deserve a Mother's Day breakfast.

So much about parenting is the small choices, the attitudes we choose. As Daniel Tiger says, "When you feel so mad you want to roar, take a breath and count to four." I need to practice modeling that for my kids. Such wise words from PBS Kids.

Also, I had Adele playing all morning. I think that may have been the real secret to our successful morning. My determination, and all four of us (yes, even my 1-year old belts it out) singing on the top of our lungs, "HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE..." as we got dressed, brushed our teeth, did the Morning Things. A helpful parenting tip. We've got to share those when we have nuggets of success. You're welcome.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

I Have To Kill The Bugs

When Daddy goes out of town, it goes like this:

I have to kill The Bugs.

Last night the nasty huge ants seemed to have extra incentive to be out. Usually they hang out on walls and counters, but for some reason they were all over the floor. And they are fast. And I was barefoot. The trick is, you gotta have something really heavy. No flimsy flip-flop will suffice. Even when Michael is gone, his big, heavy, size-12 loafers come in handy.

The little suckers had no chance.

Getting ready for bed, I bent over to reach something in the cupboard in the bathroom under the sink. I glanced up. Literally, and I actually, really, truly mean LITERALLY, in the literal-sense of the word, less than two inches from my face was a big ol' juicy cockroach staring at me on the edge of the cupboard.

Michael's loafer saw a lot of action last night.

The smacked cucaracha fell off the cupboard into a plastic bin. I tried to tip the thing into the toilet, but he was stuck in the crack of the broken plastic. The loafer, for the win, banged that thing out of the crack and tipped it into the bowl.

I woke up this morning at 5am, thanks to The Return Of The Curse Of Eve. The squawking bird didn't want me to fall back asleep. I laid there, convincing myself that laying in bed, trying to sleep, was better than just getting up, when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

"Mommy. I had to pee. And now my bed is kinda' wet. And my pajamas."

So I was up.

After getting said wet child cleaned and happy, stripping the sheets off the bed only to discover I totally forgot to put the waterproof pad underneath the sheets after the last time (months ago), the mattress is hanging outside to air out.

The same child decided she needed to get books and hang out on the pot, and I told her I'd be upstairs feeding Ruby, who was awake before 6.

Two minutes into nursing I heard crying and screaming from downstairs. I debated finishing nursing, though a quick calculation meant I could be several minutes, and I probably shouldn't leave my 3-year old downstairs screaming for several more minutes.

I detached my baby, who protested loudly and adamantly with tears and screams and arching of the back. Holding the screaming one, I ran quickly past the bedroom of the last child still sleeping, hoping not to wake her. Hazel was standing in the dining room, undies around her ankles.

"Mommy....(sob)....There was a....(sob)....a big cock-a roach."

(Baby is still protesting her feeding-cut-short with screams and cries.)

I walk in the bathroom, and aha! another nasty ant. They're not nearly as big as a cock-a-roach, but if I'm being honesty, they're still really gross. To my daughter, all those creepy, crawly things are all cock-a-roaches. And this one had like a weird big double-sized head.

"The head on that cock-a-roach is like my shark toy in the bath tub." Yup. Minus the razor teeth.

Ant gone, child happy again, baby back to the morning nursing.

Only a few more days until Daddy is home. At least he left me his loafer.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

My Girls Are Rockstars

We started off our weekend walking to a school nearby for a fundraising carnival. 
We were these people, which wouldn't get much thought in the US, but here in Guate, it's not every day a caravan of strollers walks by.
2 strollers, including a double. They practically don't exist here.
The girls had fun playing...
and of course...
...are like rockstars to high school Guatemalan girls.
Selfie with the little gringas/canchitas (white people from US/light skinned people)!
There was fun sister time to be had.
And a Family Photo Booth for the WIN!
Christmas cards 2016?
Sisters are for licking chocolate off fingers.
In the afternoon we went to a story time at a mall with one of Ellie's friends.
Ellie won a 200Q gift certificate, which is like $25, to a kids store. It was a very difficult decision, but she finally chose a game she could play with her sister plus coloring pages to share.

They've been occupied with these for hours today. #awesomedayforMomandDad
And lastly, today marked another closure for us.
See this truck full of baby stuff? We said goodbye to the baby carseat that brought home all three girls from the hospital, Ruby's Bumbo and bouncer, and Ellie's first bicicycle on which she learned to ride a bike. Big, deep Mama breath out, releasing more of All Things Baby.