Finishing the Race

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If our time is India is a half-marathon, we’re in the last 500 yards.

In each of the seven halves I’ve run, for me this last quarter of a mile is an explosive mix of excitement and sheer exhaustion. It’s really only the crowd and promise of relief that keeps me going.

That’s where I am. I’d bet that’s where a whole lot of us are at this point in the year.

But this year the last part of the race is a bit tougher and more poignant than it has been over recent few years. As we prepare to leave India, I get the distinct sense that I may not run this race again.

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There is so much heaviness in taking in the last Saturday soccer, the last happy hour, the last rickshaw ride. I know none of these things will ever happen quite the same again.

In it all I keep searching for our take aways from India. Why we’ve spent the last four years here. The significance of our time. And perhaps that search is in vain at this point. Those big ideas don’t often surface until long after the last take off.

I can’t help but think about how much our family has grown here. Mumbai, and our special corner of the city, ASB, has given our older two children the bulk of their childhood memories and experiences. Stella was a baby when we arrived. Like, a full on, in a carseat, diaper wearing baby. Now, she’s such her own person, passionate about books and drawing and all the injustices of the world caused by her sister. Here, Paul took on a teaching position in the high school, earned his Masters degree, and spent more time on Google docs than should be allowed by law. I found my niche in early childhood. I put a bit of sweat and definitely some tears into growing a program that was suited for our youngest learners. I found some time to write. I got a taste of solo parenting for two solid years while Paul put in ridiculous hours studying. We are not leaving as the same family that landed four years ago.  IMG_9492  IMG_9510

Mumbai was our vessel for all of this.

Without a doubt we’ll walk away from here with great memories, growing experiences, and pieces of culture that have shaped us, but for now I keep thinking about how much India has given us.

Just a glance outside our windows reminds us that we are incredibly blessed by the life we’ve been given. And that really it was just luck that landed us in the circumstances we live in.

I’ve learned that whatever I fix my eyes on I will see. Beauty exists everywhere in this city, if you’re willing to look for it.

That we need each other desperately. Our own little unit in a big, big city.

I’m grateful for our time here. And I’m just beginning to get a lump in my throat when I think about saying good bye to it all.

Like most of the races I’ve run, I’m exhausted and ready to be done, and yet I don’t want the experience to end.

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The Beginning of the End

It’s hard to believe we’ve gotten to the point in the year when we are beginning our endings. Last week had our last visit to the Foreign Regional Registration Office where they extended our visas to the end of July-just long enough for us to collect our last paycheck and get ourselves and our shipment out of India. Today we sold our car. We’re really going to be embracing Mumbai over these last five weeks as get around using rickshaws, taxis, and Uber. Some of our furniture will be going later this month and we will pack everything else up in early June.

The countdown is on.

In so many ways we are ready to leave. Unlike Brazil, where I think we all agree we could have lived another few years, we are tapped out of Mumbai and India, in general. This last year as been a difficult one for many reasons and I think to stay beyond this year would have invited a lot of negativity into our memories of India. It’s better to leave a place before you’re bitter, disillusioned, and disenchanted.

At this four years ago Paul wrote a great post on our old Brazil blog about the top 10 things we would miss about Brazil. I toyed with idea of doing that here, but I just don’t feel ready yet. To do it now would seem disingenuous. There are so many great things that have happened here, but I’m not sure I have an adequate perspective at this point to sincerely reflect on our time here.

In the mean time I am hoping to squeeze a just a little bit more out of time here. I have five things still at the top of my Mumbai list:

The Dadar Flower Market

There are so many markets here in Mumbai I could never get to all of them even if I tried. But for years I’ve wanted to make the early morning trip to see the flower market opening up.

The Door Table and Chor Bazaar

This one seems unlikely, but it is still at the top of my list. There are so many beautiful doors I’ve seen over the last four years. I’m desperate to find one to make into our family dining table. Time is ticking and I haven’t found the door or the carpenter yet {insert sad emoji}. Still I am holding out hope I can make it happen.

Elephanta Island

Elephanta is often at the top of visitor’s lists, but we haven’t had many visitors. As a result we still haven’t made it to the caves just 10 kilometers from the Gateway. The heat is oppressive at this time of year, but I think with an early start we could do it.

Host one last Switch party

Over the last few years I’ve hosted various evenings for friends to come over with their once-loved but no longer worn clothes. We toss them on the bed, pour some wine, and spend a few hours finding new treasures to take home. All the leftover clothing is donated to a nearby church or charity. This needs to happen just once more since many of us our cleaning out our closets in anticipation of a move.

Mangoes and Vanilla Ice Cream

Mumbai has monsoons, a dry season, and a mango season. The mangoes are sweet and ripe and perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I doubt we’ll ever live somewhere again with such magical mangoes so I want to enjoy our last season.

Perhaps I am not ready to reflect on our time here because I still have so many things I’d like to fit in. There are favorite shops I want to visit and special restaurants I want to eat at one last time. Here’s to hoping we can fit it all in during these last five weeks!

Finding My Program

Six weeks ago I signed up for a graduate program in educational leadership. I was enthused and excited to take on a new challenge. Paul had just finished the same program six months earlier and I felt ready to try something new.

I’m pretty good at trying new things. In the last decade I’ve added three babies, six different homes, two international moves, seven half marathons and a host of other world-rocking events to my life.

It seemed like it was time for the next thing.

And so I began the process. Emails were sent, recommendations written, and transcripts ordered. I organized my calendar, secured the appropriate books, and began setting times aside to work on this next thing.

And then life happened. Our oldest started running track and along with that came practices, trips, and a lot more responsibility to help him learn to manage. Our middle-always our strongest and most individual child-was riding the roller coaster of tween emotions and pushing back a bit. And the youngest was busy being four. You know, the usual four-year-old package of occasional meltdowns, disagreement, and the demand and immediate resistance to independence. And of course, there’s our next international move coming up in less than six months.

Life happened. Just life.

But the program was still pulling at me. The professional growth. The possibility of redefining of my role in schools. The dare to stretch the boundaries of being a wife, mother, and teacher even further than they had been stretched before.

And then, as they do from time to time, things started unraveling. And much like a pesky thread that has the possibility to take apart a whole shirt if ignored, I knew I had to properly deal with the situation.

Because sometimes making a sweeping change in  life can actually be a way of not dealing with the life in front of us.

And so with mixed feelings, yet resolve that I was making the right choice, I decided to defer my entrance to the program.

There is so much life happening right now and I need to be present for those things.

For now, that life needs to be my program.

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My Hedgehog

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There’s nothing quite like hearing the truth out of your four year old’s mouth at dinner time on a Wednesday night. Tonight, as I poured water and sliced delivery pizza, I mentioned I didn’t think the air conditioner was cooling very well. Perhaps it was the stifling Mumbai air seeping in through our poorly sealed windows or the crazy level of activity that erupts just before the five of us manage to sit for dinnertime prayers, but either way it seemed unusually hot.

And I said that. Out loud.

The second the words fully tumbled out of my mouth, Stella turned to me and said, with the confidence only the baby of the family can manage, “Mama, stop complaining.”

The soundtrack in my head was immediately filled with the sound of a record screeching to a halt.

Did she just really scold me for complaining?

The one who inspects every slice of apple for even the slightest imperfection?

The one who insists on only eating breakfast out of the turquoise bowl?

She who cannot be bothered to even hang up her backpack without melting into the floor Wizard of Oz-style?

I’m the complainer?

The say denial is usually the first response.

As Stella’s statement echoed in my ears I was clearly reminded about a concept we’ve been studying in one of my professional learning communities. The hedgehog concept examines the way that passion, ability, and economic gain can intersect to create a central vision for an organization. It’s this focus and unwavering commitment to a singular plan that helps take groups from meh to incredibly successful.

As my littlest called me out for grumbling about such a ridiculously not-real problem problem I was struck by how much my life could easier by adopting a version of the hedgehog concept in my personal life. To have a small, clear and consistent image by which I make most decisions. I don’t need to load down my to do lists and create exceptionally lofty and complex goals. If it’s not within my hedgehog, its not happening.

Obviously that’s easier said than done. However, as we stare down the end of March and see April, May and June on the horizon (otherwise known as often the most painful months of a teacher’s year) it seems that the hedgehog idea-especially a hedgehog that focused on being positive and seeing the good in any situation may be particularly useful.

I’m not typically one to shore up my life with unicorns and rainbows, but I do have to admit that the idea of my four year old calling me out for complaining p ut it all in a new light. These last few months are long, but to fill them with nothing but heavy and tiresome words hardly makes any one feel better about any of it. So for now I’m going to focus on my hedgehog and the let the rest fall by the wayside.

And if everyone else could play along, that’d be great.

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To The Mother In My Ear

To the mother in my ear:

Way back when, in the throes of indecision about living and working abroad versus returning home, we booked a trip. At the time our thought process had us squarely in the “go home” camp and we reasoned we should really squeeze in one more international trip before returning home. After all, traveling to far-flung lands would surely be cut from the budget once we were back living the dream of weekend trips to Target.

And so we did.

We booked a 9-day trip to Italy without our children.

Way back when, that seemed okay.

We have a diligent, caring, responsible nanny that has been with our children every day we’ve been in India. She’s cared for Stella since she was 13 months old. Heck, she hangs her underwear in our bathrooms. We are that familiar. The kids are registered for school intersessions and will essentially be in cricket-swimming-tumbling-computer programming-forensics-soccer camp every day next week. We have play dates and schedules arranged. I’ve written down every doctor’s number and emergency number I can think of. And yet, I still find myself justifying our decision to friends, family and my own insecurities.

Can you tell?

I was up last night unable to figure out why I couldn’t sleep. The weight in my chest is the anxiety I have about leaving the kids. Half of it about their well-being and the other half is the constantly overflowing well of guilt that is motherhood.

What kind of mother would leave her children?

And yet, I know that kind of mother. It’s the kind of mother who’s forgotten what its like to finish a sentence. The type who sincerely can’t remember who she was before she was responsible for the care and feeding of three little humans. The one whose character was once entirely wrapped up in being a good wife with no consideration given to how to be a good mother. The kind who longs to have a second glass of wine without dozing off on the couch at 9 o’clock.

And so we’ll go.

Late Thursday night we’ll head to Rome and then onto Florence and Venice. We have a quick one-day stopover in Vienna on the way back. We’ve packed only backpacks and a carry on, and I actually plan on reading and watching a movie on the flight. If either of us has to go to the bathroom or feels sick we can handle it on our own.

And if I’m lucky I hope I’ll come back the kind of mother who feels free in her decision to leave her children in the capable hands of others that love them. The kind who can carry on a conversation with her husband that doesn’t solely involve the kids. And hopefully, the kind of mother who can occasionally enjoy a second glass of wine and watch a full episode of House of Cards without falling asleep on the couch.

Fingers crossed.

And this face (with two beautiful others) will be waiting for us early on Sunday morning.

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On the Importance of the Pose

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Shortly before we left Brazil I was sitting around the lunch table when a colleague mentioned how important it is to be aware of the transitions of life, particularly those that involve leaving one place and moving onto another. She said, “Remember that leaving is like a yoga pose. You want to be as thoughtful and intentional getting out of the pose as you are getting into the pose.”

In that moment I didn’t fully understand what she meant. It was our first overseas stop and I was just excited to be heading off on a new adventure. I was sad to be leaving friends but I fully believed the move was going to be good for our family. Everything on the horizon was shinier and brighter than the present.

For me, getting out of Brazil was anything but thoughtful and intentional. It was awkward and messy. I was happy when I should have been sad, standoffish when I should have with friendly, and disconnected when I should have been sentimental. Despite Brazil holding such a special place in my life, I have almost no fond memories from our final months in Brazil.

Everything about that transition felt wrong.

It’s easy to convince yourself that if you just build momentum and push yourself through the movement to the next pose, or life event, you will be stronger, more balanced, and more beautiful.

But that can’t be the truth. We can’t rush through the less attractive and more uncomfortable places in life just to move on to the next big moment. We can’t rush to the destination and miss the journey.

Taking the transition slowly, strengthening and flexing each move intentionally, will carry us further than the momentum alone. It will make the next pose that much more beautiful.

We have three and a half more months in India. We’re beginning the process of transitioning to our next stop. There are so many things that require our attention and focus on the future. My hope is that I can move from this pose to the next not just with ease, but with intention. I want to spend time with those who are a part of our life here, say the goodbyes to our favorite people and places, and build a strong foundation for our new life in Doha.

And this time, maybe this time, I can move from this pose to the next with the thought and intention that will not only carry me to the next place but help me embrace the beauty of the in-between along the way.

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Quality Time

I took my Sophie to get her nails done yesterday afternoon. One of my goals this month was to take each child on at least one individual outing so that we could have some sweet uninterrupted time. Sophie was first on the list for many reasons, the least of which is she’d been begging me to take her for a pedicure for months.

Nine, I’m learning, is a funny age. Sophie’s precariously straddling the world between child and tween (I hate that word and yet I don’t know what other one to use). Her sense of humor is strange to all of us but her close friends, and her emotional buttons are triggered with little warning.In short, these days she can be hard to figure out. I was hoping a few hours by ourselves would be helpful in bridging this gap.

We had a good time. Lots of chatting and though Sophie’s humor seemed to appear in the strangest of moments, we enjoyed each other. On our way home we swung by the mall to pick up Paul, Noah and Stella. While we were waiting for them to come out Sophie turned pale and shaky. In a matter of minutes she’d become quiet and withdrawn and it was clear something was wrong. Once she said “I don’t feel so good,” I pulled her out of the car. And just in time.

Poor thing spent the rest of the afternoon and evening laying on the couch or bathroom floor. Her whimpering and shaking took me to that dark mother place where you can do nothing but hold her hair and rub her back to help.

As we laid in bed just before sleep last night Sophie said, through her broken and hoarse voice, that there was one thing she liked about being sick. She said the only good thing was that when you were sick you could see how much your family loved you.

And in that moment I recognized that as fun and important as dates with each child can be, it is really more the time in between-the packing lunches, the tuck ins, and the holding hair moments that define my relationship with each of them.

At the end of a rough day it wasn’t the fun nails, or the time without her little sister, or the treat from the deli that Sophie treasured. It was simply that when it counted,
I held her hair back.

And that alone is enough to keep me going.

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