Kill the Buzzer


A week after we moved here, my downstairs neighbor showed up with an armload of board games. My kids were ecstatic because apparently I’m allergic to board games so we have none. Today when we cracked open Operation for some good old fashioned fun, my four-and-a-very-important-to-include-half-year-old son had an almost crippling meltdown, and I had a revelation.

Let me back up. Two weeks ago, we moved east across the ocean to a small but strong democracy in the Middle East. (Like the last time we moved, I’m not planning to put the name of the country in writing, but you can figure it out pretty easily. My reason for this is that I don’t want to draw attention from bots, trolls or google searchers looking to harass or gather info on people who live here. I might anyway, but I’ll do what I can to prevent it.)

Though moving every few years is part of the job we (my husband really, but we are one) signed up for, it comes with so many mixed emotions. People constantly asked, “Are you excited about moving to I—?” I would stutter something back about feeling a lot of things, with excited being the last (but not least) of them.

In the leaving part of moving, there are the feelings of apprehension, stress, loss and grief. There is the physical and mental work of sorting, purging, packing, and planning/attending goodbye get togethers that is rewarded with feelings of satisfaction in an effective process (or the inverse), appreciation for all the help and value from loved ones who soak up their time with you.

In the arriving part of moving, you can be met with feelings of awe and wonder at the newness of everything, curiosity and frustration as you try to figure out how things work, loneliness and isolation as you work to make new friends and find your place. There’s exhaustion as your body works through jet lag and adrenaline surges to cope with stress. Oh, and there’s also excitement.

With all this talk of emotions, I should mention that I usually score pretty high on the T side of the Feeler-Thinker spectrum. That’s not to say I don’t have feelings or emotions, but I’m most comfortable operating without their overwhelming influence.

So, when these huge transitions come and there are as many emotions to sort through as there are boxes of everythingweown to put away, I have a tendency to get overloaded with it all and just want to shut down. When Judson was ready to throw the Operation game out the window, I knew just how he felt.

His fine motor skill of extracting a small piece of plastic from an odd shaped space with a pair of tweezers had yet to be developed. This was a brand new task for him. The game’s buzzer of failure continually reinforced his feelings of inadequacy and limited his capacity for learning. He was quickly becoming Not-A-Fan of the game.

And then I realized I could kill the buzzer.

He could learn the grip and motions necessary to play the game and if the tweezers touched the side, he wouldn’t be frozen by the fear of failure. After a few rounds like that, we tried it with the buzzer on and he was much more confident in his new ability and still didn’t mind when he messed up.

Since we don’t get practice rounds in most of life, I want so badly to get things right the first time I do something that anything less sounds a giant buzzer in my head. Moving involves a lot of doing things (again) for the first time and a lot of not getting them right. It involves handling a lot of different shaped emotions for myself and my family and learning how to navigate them through all the different spaces. And of course, there’s plenty of touching the sides with the tweezers. Cue the buzzer.

Or not.

Maybe if I kill the buzzer in my head, I can allow myself to learn with more grace. Of course I’m going to mess up, this is my first time doing this. Of course I’m going to drop the ball, there are a lot of things I can’t control. Of course I’m going to get overwhelmed, this is a lot for anyone to handle.

Now, I’m not advocating a life free from the consequences of bad decisions. I’m just realizing more about how I learn by watching my kids. If I can tell them, “You’re doing fine, just keep trying. Don’t get too upset about it, try to have fun. Try it a different way if that’s not working,” then I can definitely say them to myself.

Hours after the near disastrous morning session, my kids ran in from the park asking if they could play Operation, Judson insisting, “It’s my favorite game!” Now that’s the sound I want to hear, not that silly buzzer!


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.


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.


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.

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!)



Month in Review-November

So far, November has been my favorite month of this year. Here’s what I’ve been up to.

For the first weekend of the month, a good friend here invited me to go to Kuwait with her for a work conference she had. Let me back that up. I heard she was going with her husband and baby, and right at the part where she was about to ask for help with her 2-year-old, I suggested that I go with her to help with the baby instead of her husband and then he could stay here with the toddler. I’m that good of a friend. I needed to check Kuwait off my gulf states to visit list and John has been there and didn’t really want to go again. So, both husbands agreed to this deal and we booked our flights.

She decided last minute not to bring the baby, so I was off-duty for two whole days. Like, totally off-duty. I didn’t have to think about anyone’s needs and wants but my own. My friends, that is a luxury I have not had in years! I slept, I binge-watched Netflix (Master of None, brilliant show), I worked out, ran along the water, read, prayed, caught up with a great friend from DC, went to see a movie (the new Bond) even wrote some. I ate what and whenever I wanted. I did not, even once, worry about what someone else was eating. It was amazing. I had a great plan to write a month’s worth of blogs in all my free time, but besides a pretty decent list of what to write about, I didn’t get very far. I suppose my tank was pretty empty and I needed all that time to get it full again.

Our hotel in Kuwait had this thing with orange pillows in all their signage. This one was on the info for breakfast. It sortof reminds me of the old church saying when two young people are dancing, “Leave room for the Holy Spirit!” Or, in this case, for lots of orange pillows.

Meanwhile, my children were being lovingly cared for by some great friends here, our part-time nanny and their dad, of course.

Back at home, life continued to be sweet. The weather here has dropped to the 60s-80s range, chilly enough some nights to require a long-sleeved shirt. This makes my heart sing. My kids can play outside almost all day long. We are all much happier with this arrangement!

I’ve been doing a homeschool preschool co-op with Ayla and our friends, where we rotate teaching and hosting 4 kids, 3 days a week. It gives us the perfect amount of structure and social activities with plenty of fun and play in the mix. This month I covered Exercise, Farm, Geometry and Thanksgiving.

Here they are washing the vegetables they dug out of the sandbox while learning about Farms.
Making a square with their bodies for Geometry. Or nap time.
Making a square with their bodies for Geometry. Or nap time.

We have lived here for almost 2 and a half years, and I’ve never met John’s local counterparts who he works with daily. Well, not until this month. We attended a desert cookout with all the families from his office and the local men they work with. It was about an hour outside of the city on beautiful sand-dunes. The guys passed out kites to all the kids, so when they weren’t busy climbing up and rolling down mountains of sand, we had fun with the kites.

Flying kites in the desert
Flying kites in the desert

Every November, the Marine Corps celebrates its birthday around the world with the Marine Corps Ball. Attendees go all out with dresses, tuxedos, hair and makeup (and beards, if you’re my husband). The previous two  years we went, they played the National Anthem as part of the ceremony, but only an instrumental recording of it. Some of you know that when I was in the Air Force, I had the honor to sing the Anthem at several events. This year, I offered to sing it at the Ball and they accepted. There were so many countries ambassadors and diplomats in attendance, so I really think I’ve now become an international rock-star. Maybe not, but it was fun!


Just as I finished scraping the makeup off from the Ball, it was time to start getting ready for Thanksgiving. We met with a few other families from our house church and had a pretty traditional meal. I may have gone a little overboard with all the sides I signed up to bring. For me, Thanksgiving has to have certain tastes or it’s not complete, so I made sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, broccoli casserole (I have no idea why I made this, it’s not part of my tradition, just looked good!), stuffing and for the first time ever, home made rolls.

Table full of love!
Table full of love!

What about the pie? Oh the pie! I usually make John a pecan pie since his birthday is right around Thanksgiving, and this year I was going to do something a little healthier with a sweet potato/pecan pie mix. He caught wind of this and decided he wanted to learn how to make pecan pie. I had a bit of a dilemma, not wanting to have him make his own birthday cake and all, but wanting to encourage his budding culinary interests. The powers that be of Facebook suggested we do a pie bake-off, so that’s what we did.

The couple that bakes together...
The couple that bakes together…

We got the same number of votes, but I gave him my winning vote because he did a really good job with the crust and the pie was delicious. Mine was good, too, but it was, well, healthy and who really wants a healthy pie at Thanksgiving?

We capped off the month this very night by getting our Christmas tree up. It’s fake and only has lights and beads on it for now, but it’s up! We’ll do ornaments later with the kids and take bets on how long everything stays intact.


What was the highlight of your November?


What’s in a Day

Our Saturdays here are weirdly normal. Sometimes.

The work/school week starts on Sunday, while Friday and Saturday is the weekend. (Fun fact: the weekend here used to be Thursday and Friday, but right before we came, the king changed it to align with the weekend in the rest of the Middle East because kings can do that.) So, for most of the time I’ve lived here, I’ve been confused about what day it is, especially when looking at social media.

It doesn’t help that we have our (home) church on Fridays, so Friday afternoons feel like Sunday afternoons in the States, so we want to call our families, but they’re not home yet. Then Sunday is our Monday here and I get confused why people are posting stuff about church or other weekendy stuff.

And then there’s Saturday. Lovely Saturday. Weekends all around. Daddy is (usually) home from work, the locals don’t come out until the evening so the traffic is good for running errands and if we should happen to figure out what time it is in the States (day light savings time, what? #thanksobama), we have a good chance of making  internet-connection-willing calls to loved ones. There are even cartoons on TV (You know, for if I was one of those moms who lets their kids have screen time. #Iamoneofthosemoms)!

Something else weirdly normal about this Saturday is the holiday many around the world are celebrating. In this country, it is forbidden, which of course means the celebrations are everywhere and over the top. Stores sell surplus candy and toys, the international schools celebrate with “Storybook character” parades and many compounds offer trick or treating, haunted houses and parties with no attempt to hide the purpose.

So, even though this is my least favorite holiday no matter where in the world I am, there’s a strange home-style comfort in the pervasive normalcy of mutilating pumpkins and encouraging sugar intoxication.

Having a day that feels weirdly normal is a small grace for me in this season of life where most things in my world seem upsidedown and I’ve all but given up on making sense of anything.

Happy “This” Day to you and yours. May your Saturday(s) also be full of weirdly normal things and small graces to keep you sane.

Running towards the heartbreak

Right now I feel like I’m in a glass bottle, set on a table in the midst of a bar where fights are breaking out in every corner.

Over in Nepal, the earth shook and mountains trembled and so many thousands were gone in an instant. Though there is aid starting to pour in, and life will go on,  it will never be the same.

Then, near my old stomping grounds, the streets of Baltimore have erupted. One life there taken, but one in a long chain of too many. People are calling for so many changes, needed changes of heart, law, police procedures, society and on and on, but I wonder if this much change is possible.

Uncomfortably close to where I sit now, several Middle Eastern countries are at war, bombing airports, intercepting ships, overthrowing governments. Terrorists in nearby countries are kidnapping and executing Christians, committing atrocities straight from hell and forcing entire people groups to abandon their countries to find refuge elsewhere. People I know are working night and day to find bad guys and broker peace, but will they?

Meanwhile, in my little life, the dinner I made tonight was pretty good. We haven’t been able to find my daughter’s FAVORITE stuffed animal for going on three nights, but we’re surviving. My toddler son throws spontaneous dance parties that crack us up, and can also throw a fit with the best of them when I can’t guess the object of his “unspoken” desires. So, you know, life is fine. It’s good. Great even. Blessed, I would say. Quiet in the immediate vicinity of my glass bottle.

But out there, it’s messy and getting messier. I see people running towards the heartbreak in every direction. I see aid workers hitting the ground in Nepal and experts spreading the word on what can help and what doesn’t. I see clergy linking arms in Baltimore, showing up with love in the midst of the pain. I see my friends down in Uganda picking up the downtrodden, providing a refuge for the weak, lifting up arms that have fallen. (Wait, did I just slip Uganda in with everything else? Yes. It’s not the headline,-anymore- but it’s a country in crisis, where names and faces are still fresh on my heart.)

My bottle is shaking, quiet and whole, but I’m not unaffected. Now it’s just a question of what I can do.

I want to be out there running, too, helping somewhere, but in here I’m just tripping over too many toy cars and princess dresses to do much out there. Oh, I know this mom place is just exactly where I’m supposed to be, but it’s because I’m a mom to kids who live in this world that I watch these corners burn with a heavy heart, bent knees and open hands. (Ok, honestly, my hands are pretty full, but I’m a mom, there’s always room for a little more!)