Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What a Day

You know when you have one of those days that just can't end fast enough?

The other day I subbed in a Special Ed class. These were low functioning students.

I have so much respect for the teachers and Instructional Assistants who work with these same kids day after day after day. After a couple hours I was mentally fried, and I had several hours left of my day.

In the course of one day I saw:

-One student who has down syndrome and can barely communicate (used a bit of sign language), spent at least a half an hour piling raisins into a water cup, eventually dumping the whole cup into a sink, clogging it. She also started her period and had to communicate that to the male IA.

-A set of twins who mostly yelled and roared at people. Literally. They hit themselves and took long naps on the bean bag chairs. One loved to run to the freezer, open it, and pick at the freeze-dried ice. They couldn't speak but seemed to understand and respond to instructions.

-There was a boy who couldn't be trusted to not run off so an IA had to be constantly positioned behind him in a chair. Several times he got away and more than one IA was needed to physically block him and "guide" him back to his chair.

-There was the boy who everyone seemed a little relieved to be absent, and then he showed up. He spent a chunk of time on his Ipad. Then he had tantrums that were so intense I was afraid for my safety a couple times. He pulled a drawer out of a cupboard and tried to throw it across the room. He had a pair of headphones and swung the cord around several times, nearly hitting several people. He cussed and yelled and tore up papers. He almost pushed over a table, but an IA was one step ahead of him. This kid had to be physically blocked a few times too. He also escaped out the door once. During Reading class he had a tantrum because the topic was whales. And he hates whales because they hit him in the head. This kid could communicate verbally, but he threw incredible fits.

-Then there was the kid who came back from lunch not liking the options, and went on a rampage. He pulled over a large bookshelf. He tore open cupboards above a stove, looking for food. He found a bag of marshmallows, ripped them open, and started chowing on them. The IAs just stood there, watching him, giving him space. They usually set a timer for 5 minutes while these tantrums happen, to give him time to cool down. I guess we were close to a "Room Clear," which I assumed meant he reaches a level no longer safe for the room. They didn't quite explain it, but we skirted around it after he found the marshmallows.

Did I mention there were like 5 adults for 10-15 kids, and it never felt like enough adults? When almost every kid needed such direct one on one attention, the few kids who didn't need that were basically on their own.

I have never looked at the clock so many times in a day as a substitute. I kept watching these staff in awe. Their patience and positive attitudes were impressive.

Towards the end of the day, one student refused to put his math book away, and the IAs wouldn't let him leave until he did it. (This reminded me of dealing with my own toddler in so many ways, but this kid was bigger and much, much stronger than me). At one point, three IAs were blocking the door as he tried to push his way out the door. He grabbed my arm to pull me towards him, and locked onto my sweater. It took 2 other IAs and several minutes to get this kid to let go of my sweater. It was intense.

Needless to say, I was relieved when the day was finally over. The IAs told me this was a tame day for them. Oh my word. I have no idea how they do it. One IA told me she goes home and just tries not to think about work the rest of the day. No kidding. These people do not get paid enough.

After work I headed to see our new townhouse in person, and to meet with the inspector. (We loved the townhouse, by the way! Our realtor did great checking it out for us.)

It had been a rough, tiring day.

The inspection went well, and my girls were with me as we were leaving. I piled the three into the van, backed out of the driveway, and bumped into my realtor with my van!

Not only was I tired, but now I was crying and embarrassed. Luckily, she was more than gracious and I don't think I did any actual damage to her vehicle.


As a side note, I don't know what's going to happen with education, but I know this week a bill was introduced by three Republicans which would, in effect, drastically reduce funding for students just like these ones. It's reprehensible.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

On Making Big Life Decisions from 30,000 Feet in the Air

I won't admit how many hours I've spent pouring over real estate websites, hoping and praying the market will suddenly change and become affordable in our area. We've looked at some pretty trashed, tiny places, and even many of them have been outside our budget. Our lease in our apartment ends May 4th, and we have needed a plan for what's next. We've spent hours debating where to live, what type of commute to tolerate, housing prices, and school options. At the end of the day, it always comes down to one major trump card: we are committed to the girls attending a dual-immersion (Spanish) school, and the district we are currently in has plans for dual language curriculum through high school. Most districts have a lottery and end up with a wait-list, but we got lucky and got into the program last Spring while still living in Guatemala, and our other two girls have automatic entrance as siblings into the program. It feels like the most obvious choice, but one that makes housing more difficult.

We've been discouraged by what we've seen, and had just decided that a townhouse might be a great option for us, if the right one popped up.

In the meantime, MCC (the organization we were in Guatemala with), sponsors a "Re-Entry" Retreat, in which people who have worked with MCC throughout the world and have returned back to the US and Canada spend some time together talking about the process of transitioning back to North America. We had been planning for months to attend this, and left last Thursday morning. There were people from all over Latin America, several African countries, Bangladesh and China, and two of our Guatemalan team members were there, too.
So fun to see ex-MCC Guatemalan team members!
Thursday morning, on the way to the airport, I got a notification of a townhouse that went on the market, 76 minutes earlier, to be exact. We were standing by our gate, about to board our flight.

"Michael, look at this gorgeous townhouse." I tossed my phone to him. "The biggest floor plan in the whole community...I think we should look into it. This will go super fast."

The market has been crazy and homes get multiple offers, often over the asking price, within a couple days of going on the market. We weren't going to be home until Sunday night, and I knew that this home in such great condition wouldn't last on the market for long.

I started texting my realtor, using the wi-fi on the airplane to be in touch with her and our lender. My mom was going to drive up and look at it, but then we decided to just trust our realtor with that task. She had seen enough houses with us to know what we were looking for. By mid-morning there were already back-to-back appointments lined up to view the home.

By Thursday night our realtor had seen the place and we were ready to move forward. We stayed up late Thursday night writing a letter to the Sellers to accompany our offer, which we submitted Friday afternoon. We heard on Saturday morning that they wanted one more night to review offer(s) as one of the owners was out of town and there were several showings of the home that had been scheduled before our offer and deadline came in.

10:00 AM on Sunday, we were to hear if they would accept or reject our offer. Talk about a whirlwind!
California Redwoods

In the meantime, we continued to attend sessions at this retreat, discussing and sharing with others who had lived overseas, most for several years. We also spent a couple hours in Santa Cruz, enjoying the chilly yet sunny beach.

We shared our hopes and fears of coming back to North America, of leaving our work and our relationships in the countries where we were assigned. Despite living in unique places and cultures all over the world, it was incredible to hear how similar our hopes and fears were.

There were some emotional parts of the weekend. I found myself more and more nervous to hear about this home. We've been "back home" in Oregon for about 7 months, and living in an apartment has been part of our transition, but it's been temporary. We've been amazingly blessed by how rapidly Michael's role changed at his work. We have "adjusted" in most ways to being back in the US, but this last piece, finding a home and committing for at least a few years has been hanging there, waiting.

Sunday morning, the last morning together, we were focusing on our transition back home, on letting go of painful situations that may have occurred during our service, on looking for hope in our future, on being resilient and never, ever forgetting lessons learned.

We started singing "Great is Thy Faithfulness." At some point, my phone buzzed, and I knew it was the realtor. I was pretty nervous but knew I wasn't going to check my phone until our session was over.

And these lyrics reminded me that God has provided for us in so many ways, and will continue to do that, whether this specific home is the right one for us, or something else:

Great is Thy faithfulness! 
Morning by morning new mercies I see. 
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Finally, the service ended, and I stepped outside, tears still in my eyes from this sense of peace and realization that God will provide, either way.

"Well," said my realtor to me on the phone. "There was one other offer submitted, but they accepted yours. Congratulations!"

I immediately started balling. The stress of the past several months of looking for housing, plus the emotional weekend of processing everything about leaving Guatemala early, returning to the US, and the relief of finding a home, all came down at once.

I told Michael during the craziness of working up our offer, as we found a coffee shop on Friday afternoon to E-sign our official offer letter from a State away without having seen the actual home (the pictures were super helpful), "We can never do simple." (I was remembering last May, signing our lease via E-sign for our current apartment by using Michael's cell phone as a hot spot, while driving through the Guatemalan hills towards Honduras. We really do these things in the most complicated manner possible, right?)

Obviously, nothing is set in stone until Closing, which won't happen until the end of April, but we are excited, thrilled, relieved, hopeful. God's timing continues to prove perfect, even comical, in our lives. Michael leaves tomorrow morning for three weeks to Africa. And the Chapman Craziness continues.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A New Year, Another Change

This time last year I made a few goals.

I wanted to train for and run a half-marathon. Check.
I wanted to try to blog every day, "unpolished." That happened for maybe half the year, and then my blogging petered out.
Read more books. I'd say I've done that, especially thanks to having access to a public library again.

A year ago I never would have imagined that a year later we'd have returned from Guatemala. That was a huge and unexpected change in 2016. One of the reasons I stopped writing here last year is that I was trying to process our move and all the changes. And I still am.

People continue to ask us about the "transition" back to the US, back to Oregon. "How does it feel to be living back in the US?" "How is the transition going?" "Are you feeling settled?"

The pat answer is usually: It's good. The transition has gone well. We miss things about Guatemala but also feel like coming back was the right decision for us as a family. Those are all true, but a bit too concise, too simple.

The longer answer is that some days we really miss Guatemala. Some days we are sad when we see parts of Guatemala already slipping from the minds of our two oldest girls. The three years and three months we spent living in Guatemala were hard but also life-changing. Crazy and intense, and Ours. We miss the people and the friends and the diversity. So many things we miss.

But honestly, most days, we have felt relief. Relieved of the stress of living in a difficult environment. Relieved of the stress of an intense job that in no way was confined to an 8-5 schedule. Relieved of the stress that the role took on our family and our girls and our marriage.

The most clear benefit of being "home" is our girls.
I am getting a priceless year with Hazel, before she starts kindergarten this Fall. I get to help at her preschool twice a month. I get to see her thrive in an environment where play is the emphasis, not learning cursive as a 4-year old.
I am getting priceless years with Ruby. I get three mornings a week just me and her. We have a special bond and I know the next couple years when her two older sisters will be in school will be priceless, too.
Ellie is in a Spanish kindergarten classroom, not as intense as her classes in Guatemala. She seems to be thriving and our girls being in a Dual Language Program will continue to guide our decisions in the coming years. It's become a priority for us and we are lucky that Oregon has so many schools with this option.

Last May, when Michael accepted the position with Medical Teams International and we made the difficult decision to leave Guatemala, there were a lot of unknowns. We found an apartment and a school with Spanish Immersion. We bought a mini-van and found some furniture. The position itself didn't feel permanent. If I'm being honest, it hasn't been the best use of Michael's skills and experience, but it was our ticket home, and his open door into a new organization (he had been with MCC for about 7 years). So we trusted and hoped that this step home was just that, one step that could hopefully be the gateway into something else.
Our First Snow in Oregon

And this week, that decision we made to trust the process, to trust that the step towards MTI and Oregon was a good one, has been affirmed. On Friday, Michael accepted another position within MTI. It's a position that will better utilize his skills and experience and education. He'll be switching from a support role in the Latin America department to being the Africa and Middle East Program Manager. It's a big switch, in both scope and responsibility, and will involve quite a bit of travel, but we are excited. I can't help but feel like this entire year, the process of trusting in each step, has culminated in this new position.

It's one of those times in our lives where I will always look back and say, yes, I believe that was God guiding us. We trusted in the process. We trusted that coming home was a good decision for our family. We trusted that Michael would eventually find a better fit. We didn't expect it to happen quite so fast, but we are so thankful.

Enjoying a hike at Multnomah Falls to celebrate our 12th anniversary
I'm so proud of Michael and ready to see what 2017 brings to our family.