Back in America. What Now?

Today I’m linking up with some brilliant writers I met through the book launch team I’m on. The theme this week is “What Now,” and we’re sharing about transitions and changes. This is a good one for me to start with since I get to do a lot of transition and changing in my family.

So here I am, almost 10 months after moving back to the States from a three-year tour in the Middle East. It’s just enough time to feel like the major areas of transitions are mostly stabilized.

My focus for the first few months after moving into our new place was to get the kids settled. Find them beds, friends and routine and help them process all the changes from the only life they knew previously. The kids are by far the most resilient of us, but we couldn’t overlook what their little hearts and bodies go through.

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At one point, this was the furniture in our living room. Got iPad? Kids’ll be just fine!

As they were getting settled, I also worked to get our house set up. We received all our earthly goods in three shipments over the course of four months, so it was (is) a slow process. I took full advantage of neighborhood sale groups, Craigslist and rediscovered an old love-thrift shops-to furnish and decorate.

My husband jumped pretty quickly into his new assignment, a fast-paced job that requires long hours and frequent travel. These are not new facets of his job, we just had to get used to the differences of living in the D.C. area while dealing with them.

We had maintained a close connection with our church in D.C. and the transition to going back has been sweetly easy. Our kids are loved and thriving in the children’s ministry. John and I have found areas to use our gifts to bless others in the church, but mostly have been in receive mode for others’ gifts during this re-entry time.

Through all this, there was a pretty major area I mostly ignored in the way of being intentional about the transition. Me. Maybe this is something we do as moms or as women or humans, but I know I’m not alone in putting myself last.

Oh sure, I read plenty about putting the oxygen mask on yourself first and self-care and filling my tank so I have extra to give, but it’s much easier to read than do. I’m the last person who’s going to tell you how important all that is, because I’ve done a pitiful job of doing it.

Until recently.

I explained it to my counselor like this: I didn’t have much margin or resources to handle some of the hardships of being in the desert, so I stuffed them down to deal with “later.” There were babies to have, toddlers to raise, jobs to struggle with, home-preschools to start, husbands to support, home churches to run, Bible studies to lead, trips to take, bomb threats to wait out, sand storms to weather, and groceries to buy (a much harder task than you’d expect when you factor in scheduling drivers and stores closing for prayer).

Look, there are some good, beautiful things in this list. My kids had a wonderful time there and still talk about how much they miss it. They had a charmed life. My husband had a different kind of wonderful time, with an engaging job and living in what can absolutely be called “a man’s world.” So, I absorbed most of the “suck.” (I also had a very good life there, but that’s a different post).

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In a world where only men can drive, you have to start them young.

Now I’m here, in the land of the free, with so much goodness and green grass around me, but I’ve got all this stuff compressed inside.

My compressor is at capacity now. My “stuff” is leaking out and I’m flinching from my bursts of anger and stepping in puddles of depression. I don’t recognize my thought patterns and don’t trust my instincts anymore. It’s “later,” and I need help dealing with it. I need someone else with their oxygen mask on to help me with mine.

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To prove my point, here is a screen shot of a Google Image search for “airplane oxygen mask.” I GET IT!!

Help for me looks like this these days: Healing Prayer appointments, professional counseling (can I get a Hallelujah!?), membership at a gym with free childcare, and permission from John to take a morning every week to write and ignore the dishes.

What’s next? With the support of my family and dear friends, I’m going to get my Self unpacked and healthy again. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), there’s no time table for that, so who knows how long it will take. I’m sure it will give me plenty to write about, so hooray for you!

If you have a moment, please check out the other blogs linked here to see how others are writing about transitions and changes. Thank you!

Of Musical Geniuses and Laminations

The copy machine at my daughter’s school turned into a time machine the last time I used it.

What’s really weird about it is that it took me to two different places at once, a parallel universe within a time warp, if you will.

It was parent-teacher conference day and I had accidentally arrived an hour early for my appointment. Earlier this year I volunteered to be on call for lamination projects, so I put the extra hour to good use to help clear out the task basket.

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Instead of the school hallway though, I was suddenly 17 years ago and a few hours down the road. I worked at a big office supply store as one of my many jobs in grad school. I loved working there. You wouldn’t guess by my messy desk, but I love organization. I might actually love the idea of being organized more, but just working in that store allowed me to live in an organizational fantasy.

Life got even better when I transferred to the copy center, or should I say, “heaven.” I really did enjoy making copies (ooh, do you want that double-sided, collated, color, on cardstock?), binding documents, laminating, and helping design business cards and banners. I mean, I was Leslie Knope before she was.

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For someone like me who likes to check off boxes and have something pretty to show for a day’s work, the copy center was my happy place. Don’t even get me started on the thrill of being able to clear a paper jam without needing the manual. Give me that work order, sir or madam, and I will give you your completed project.

As I copied and clipped little clock worksheets in my daughter’s school so the children could learn to tell time, I easily settled back into the sweet rhythm of my copy center days.

The other place the time machine took me was a not so distant time, but a very far off place. When we moved to the Middle East almost four years ago, I had a hook-up for a job at an international preschool teaching music to the little ones. I’ve decided to do a whole separate post about this job, but for now I’ll say it was one of the worst I’ve ever had.

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They did give me a cake on my last day there, so it wasn’t all bad!

I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I didn’t know how to manage the classes. I had so many students in so many classes at different levels, with no training for either teaching music or teaching children. Doing both in an international setting with language and cultural barriers, being pregnant and enduring culture shock and a 2-year-old who was also adjusting to all these changes just about did me in. I looked forward to the semester ending almost every day from the first one.

As the end of the semester loomed, I learned that I had to fill out report cards and do parent teacher conferences. I had over 70 students on a bi-weekly basis and had to fill out a report card for every one of them!

Then, to do parent-teacher conferences? Thankfully, I had only three kids’ parents sign up to meet with me, and only two showed up. I asked for some guidance on the meetings, which was that the parents usually just wanted to hear that their child was a musical genius. If I was under-qualified to be teaching these classes, I was negatively qualified to make the “musical genius” determination. I ended up telling these parents that they should pursue individual lessons for their children if they were interested, and keep them exposed to all kinds of music, which would help them in all kinds of learning. They heard what they wanted to.

Stepping back into the present, I shuddered as I waited for Ayla’s teacher to tell me what a genius she is. I’m so glad I’m not on the other side of that little classroom table anymore! I’m more than happy to do my part by the laminator.

(In the final approach to my 40th birthday, I’m contemplating my past, present and future. You’re likely to see more posts like this and I hope you stick around!)