When your daily activities are in concert with your highest priorities, you have a credible claim to inner peace. – Hyrum Smith


12/25/14

#ChristmasFail

To all you parents, shaking your heads tonight, wondering where you went wrong,

I get it.  I feel your pain.  I am here to write about our no-so-perfect Christmas experience.  Because while I believe there are many very happy Christmas's out there, I don't happen to believe they are all as perfect as Facebook or Pinterest would have one believe.

We had an unhappy camper this year.  I won't say which child, but I will say it was devastating.  I was not as upset about getting the "wrong" gift as I was about said child's reaction.  While they were not rude or mean, the fact that they were upset at all was appalling.  Hadn't they just opened some really expensive gifts that they had requested?  Were they really going to get bent out of shape because every gift wasn't perfect or just what they had wanted?

I was mad.  No, seething, is a better word.  Seriously?!  I realize they still believe in Santa and therefore don't know exactly how much work went into Christmas this year (and being overseas, it was a tough year to gather presents).  But, seriously?!   Visions of a giant burn pile danced in my head.  Don't like your toys?  Well, at least we'll have a nice, festive fire tonight!  Marshmallows, anyone?  (That was my internal dialogue.  I didn't actually threaten to burn the toys, I just fantasized about it.)  Then I launched into the Don't-you-know-there-are-children-with-no-Christmas-presents-this-year speech, which in hindsight was not the wisest move.  What about Santa?  Doesn't he give them toys?  Don't argue with me when I'm disciplining you!  
*Sigh*  What was wrong with them?

That question quickly morphed into:  What was wrong with me?  Where had we gone wrong in our parenting?  How had I raised such ingrates?  Had I ruined them?

I've decided to chalk this year up to a learning experience.  It's an opportunity to change our family culture.  Yes, my kids are young, but there are concrete ways in which I can introduce them to the fact that there is much need in this world.  They can learn to be grateful, and they can be taught to serve.  I can start by modeling gratitude myself and limiting complaints.  

I'm still a realist.  While I am sincerely hoping next year will be better (in terms of the attitudes and hearts of our children and ourselves), I still have some dire predictions about next year's Christmas season….

26 hours of travel with a high probability of someone vomiting, having diarrhea, or both.  100% chance of snot, lots of snot.

Bringing the wrong clothes, not having enough clothes, feeling cold, and wishing we were back "home" in Singapore, swimming.

Sleepless nights as we cram into a) hotel rooms or b) family guest rooms.

Forgetting gifts for relatives, last minute shopping, overspending.

One (or more) of our children complaining about a gift from a relative in the relative's presence (despite much advance coaching, bargaining, and threatening).

Schlepping Christmas pr├ęsents back home.

Merry Christmas, moms and dads out there!  Only 365 days left...






 



Christmas 2014

"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"  This Charlie Brown quote has been haunting me for the last month.  

I feel like life is like a cartoon right now.  The old kind where the character would dig to China only to find everything is turned upside down.  Yup.  That's a little what it's like.

Christmas, in particular, has been disconcerting.  Everything to do with Christmas seems to have gone awry.  It has made me seriously call in to question just what Christmas IS about.

I can tell you what it's not about…

The decorations.  Ours missed the boat and are (hopefully) in storage somewhere.  So we went to Ikea and got the picked-over cheap ones. 

The tree.  We ordered a relatively small artificial tree before we left the States, unsure about the availability of live trees.  The picture on the box looked promising.  The reality was pretty sad.  Take away our collection of ornaments (in storage), add some cheap Ikea balls (only to the top 1/3, as the baby launches the ones on the bottom), and voila!  Crap.

The gifts.  Some of the gifts I really wanted to order would have cost an arm and a leg for shipping, and you just can't find them here.  However, the culture here would have you believe that all your dreams come true in the shopping malls.  One huge sign read: Make luxury a habit.  Another: You CAN buy happiness.  Ugh.

The weather.  Most versions of the song White Christmas omit the opening stanza: "The sun is shining.  The grass is green.  The orange and palm trees sway.  There's never been such a day in Beverly Hills L.A.  But it's December the 24th, and I am longing to be up north."  A.Men.  The weather here is gorgeous.  It's a tropical paradise.  But it sure doesn't feel like Christmas.  


Even the church service.  This year we headed to church in the hopes of capturing the Christmas spirit.  I wanted carols, quiet, a poignant message.  I should have known it would be a disaster before we left the house.  Everyone was melting down.  Crying, complaining, tired after having been allowed to stay up too late the night before.  We arrived at church and noticed the children's section was closed.  We were handed candles and headed for the back.  As we waited for the service to begin, the kids were crying, flopping around in their chairs like beached sea creatures, and visions of our candle-holding hellions burning the church down danced in my head.  We left.  Before the fist song began, we scuttled out of there and into the van again, tears in all of our eyes. 

What was missing??

I was searching in all the wrong places.  I was searching for a feeling, a familiar scene, the perfect holiday tune.  I had taken Christ out of Christmas.  For weeks I had been drilling the message that Jesus was "the reason for the season" into the kids heads, but my words were not matching my actions.  Instead of making an effort to serve others, I was catching buses and carrying bags all over Singapore in search of the perfect gifts (which, given the reactions Christmas morning, apparently were not found).  I was up all night online arguing with Amazon over shipping prices instead of reading the Word with the kids.  

The only time Christmas felt remotely like Christmas was when I headed to a friend's house to collect my wallet.  I had left it there the night before when we hastily left the Christmas Eve party because our kids were falling apart.  I was frustrated with myself for misplacing something so important, for interrupting my friend's Christmas day, with my kids for freaking out and requiring a quick exit.  

But, ahhh, the quiet of an empty van.  Suddenly I was alone but not alone.  I was able to pour my heart out.  I am sad, Lord, I cried.  I am sad to be away from family on such a family-centered time of year.  I am sad that it is not cold and snowy and Christmas-y.  I miss the familiar.  

At the same time, I was thankful.  I was thankful that it had all been stripped away for once.  That I could examine my heart and decide: Would I truly practice what I preached?  Could I blame my kids for being ungrateful because they weren't totally thrilled with 100% of their gifts?  They were looking at me.  I was literally surrounded by blessings and whining because it wasn't exactly what I was used to.  It wasn't exactly as I had hoped.

I am truly glad for this experience.  Moving here I was worried my kids would be robbed of certain American experiences.  For once, I think it's a good thing.  I want them to know Christmas is not all about us and getting exactly what we want.  It's about appreciating the perfect gift that was given to the whole world and recognizing that without Him, there would be no reason to celebrate.  So, thank you, Jesus.  Thank you for leaving your perfect, beautiful, familiar throne, to be born in a humble manger so we could learn how to love and serve.  Thank you.

Wishing you all a merry Christmas.


12/21/14

Radio Silence

I realize I haven't blogged much lately.  I am still attempting to make sense of our new life.  So much has changed, and I am trying to figure out my role.

I know it sounds crazy.  How could so much change with a simple geographical move?  But nevertheless, it has.  Allow me to try to explain…

When I became a stay at home mom, I was out of sorts.  I had been used to a very structured, productive day.  I received professional feedback, had regular paychecks, and enjoyed lovely dinners with my husband.  Then we had our first baby, moved across the country, and I decided to stay home.  Of course, my world was turned upside down.  It took me a long time to feel "normal" again.  I actually felt better after our second baby was born 18 months later.  I found my routines.  I felt useful.

And here I am again.  Only this time, we moved across the world.  My roles and routines, so clearly defined after having four children, are all askew again.  Many of my daily responsibilities have disappeared.  I still buy the food, give the baths, help with homework, wipe the tushes, cut the hair, but my other jobs have been outsourced.

In Singapore, they call live-in domestic employees "helpers."  Fairly Godmother would be a more apt title.  I haven't written about the experience much for two reasons.  One is that I want to respect her privacy.  The other is that I still feel uncomfortable on some level about having help.

I am unworthy of this gift.  I wish I could somehow share this blessing with all of my hard-working friends and family back home.  I just feel weird, like a First Lady who was simply a wife/mother/employee one day, and the next, someone's washing her underwear.  Weird!

Another reason I haven't written much is that we have been traveling a lot.  I am torn.  I don't want to brag.  I feel like if I put travel blog post or pictures on Facebook, I would be tempted to feel prideful about them.  At the same time, I really want to record these experiences.

For years our "family vacations" consisted of camping out.  We loved it!  Some of our best memories were made watching babies crawl around muddy campsites and roasting marshmallows. These days, vacations are very different.  Aaron's work allows us one paid trip home per year.  If we choose to spend those dollars on other trips, that's okay.  It's not that we don't want to come home.  We have four children ages 7 and under.  A 23 hour travel day is not something we wish to endure right now.  So, instead, we've been exploring closer Asian islands.

I want to share those experiences, but I don't want folks to get the wrong impression.  We're still the Rausch's.  We buy our appliances at the secondhand store here, and I love to find a deal at the Japanese dollar (well $2) store.  We have half a reindeer minivan.  (Jack rolled down his window and we lost an antler on the expressway and we're too cheap to replace it.)  I ask visitors to pack items in their suitcases I refuse to buy here (cosmetics, sunscreen, etc.) because they are so over-priced.

This is our life right now.  It's wonderful and weird.  It's still messy (since many Asian bathrooms don't have changing tables and the cuisine doesn't always agree with Caleb's tummy).  I hope you'll still come along for the ride.  I hope you'll enjoy the stories about our travels and know that I wish you were right here beside me the whole time.




12/11/14

Gone!

I lost two kids today.  Caleb and Jack.  Gone.

It had been a hectic morning.  Where's my uniform shirt?  Am I supposed to wear red shorts today?  Are we going to get to school early so I can play like when I ride the bus?

We arrived so early, in fact, we had front row seats in the auditorium.  Front row seats with a 3 year old and 1 year old, hmmm …  I informed Jack before the show started that if Caleb began to cry I would exit to the right and that he was to follow me without a peep.  Perfect plan, right?

Needless to say we spent the entire program in the back of the auditorium, where Caleb cried and thrashed and I hissed at Jack to stop stomping up and down the risers.  Caleb's wails were so loud at one point that I stepped outside a nearby door.  Only to learn that it locked behind me.  With Jack still inside.  Ugh!  I raced around the auditorium, slipped back in and crouch-walked my way past camcorders to where Jack was still (thankfully) sitting.

By the time we got back to Parker's classroom for the tea and cookies, I felt as though I'd run a marathon.  Dispensing insane amounts of sugar to my three boys, I sighed with relief and allowed myself to relax and socialize with some of the parents.  I was so proud of my guys.  Parker was helping Jack with his candy wrappers; Caleb was toddling contentedly behind them.  The classroom was filled with parents, children, and festive decorations.  Christmas music was playing.  It was wonderful.  I met one of Parker's classmate's parents with their newborn baby.  Did I want to hold him?  Um, is the Pope Catholic?

So there I am, precious newborn babe in my arms, chatting it up with the parents, when I look around and notice I don't see Caleb or Jack.  Hmmm…I bent to look under tables.  Surely they were behind that couch.  Under a desk?  They can't open the doors, can they?  No one would have allowed them out, right?

I handed the sweet baby back and fought the panic rising in my chest.  "Jack?"  "Caleb?!"  "Has anyone seen my one year old and three year old?"  Blank stares.  "I'm not going to freak out," I squeaked.

I hastily kissed Parker goodbye and hightailed it out of the classroom frantically searching the halls.  A teacher at the end of the hall wearing a Santa hat and smile said, "Oh the boys in the striped shirts?  They're with ______ (in my panic I neither heard nor cared about the name)."  I raced down the hall in the direction he pointed.  Dead end.  I ran back to the teacher, heart pounding.  "Oh," he said absently, "I'm sure they probably took them to the front office…"

More running.  Darn you double stroller and slow elevator!  I burst through the door to the office to see the boys happily wandering around, staff smiling.

"I'm so sorry!" I panted.  "I-I didn't realize they got out - could get out!  I-"
I swooped them into my arms and kissed their faces.   Then to Jack, "How did you get out?  Did you open the door?  Did you let Caleb out??"

"I jus wanted go in the hallway.  I'm jus sorry, momma."

Never have I been more grateful to live in Singapore.  Some call it "Disney with the Death Penalty."  It is beautiful, clean, and thanks to their extremely harsh punishments for breaking the laws, it is ridiculously safe.

No one was at all concerned that I had misplaced two very young children.  What?!  For once I was grateful I wasn't in the States.  That said, I am pretty sure I am going to need to put Jack and Caleb on leashes when we are in public.  Sheesh!  

12/3/14

To My Big Birthday Girl

Dearest Maddie,

I have put off writing your birthday post.  For over a month.  I didn't forget.  I wasn't too busy.  I was waiting... for the perfect post.  Then I realized, that post was not coming.

You see, in my head, I had planned to create at least 18 blog posts documenting your perfect birthdays.  Friends, family, beautiful decorations.  All-American birthdays with candles and cakes, and everyone smiling.

The truth is, this year was very different.  Not better, not worse; just different.  For starters, we moved from temporary housing (where we'd been for our first 2 months in Singapore) into our permanent home on your actual birthday.  Boxes and movers everywhere.  Since the muffin tins were still packed, I couldn't bake your cupcakes for school this year.  Instead I brought donuts.  You were ecstatic.

Grammy arrived that night around 1AM.  Early Friday morning before school you ripped open your presents from Grammy and Aunt Natalie and Uncle John.  You also opened gifts from Pappy, Grandma and Grandpa, and mom and dad.  You couldn't wait to get home from school to play with them!  (Of course, you couldn't play for very long because it was Halloween after all, and even toys can't stand in the way of sugar!)

Months before our move, when we first learned we would be living in Singapore, you immediately began to beg for a birthday party on the beach.  Halloween took up one weekend, the next we were traveling to Borneo, so your party was a few weeks late.  We took a family picnic dinner to the beach, with cupcakes, and tons of icing and sprinkles, so you could decorate your own.  We sang happy birthday and built sand castles as the sun sank low in the sky.  Palm trees and wild ostriches were your decorations this year.

Recently you received your first party invitation to a classmate's birthday celebration.  The agenda was quite creative and elaborate.  My heart sank just a bit.  I vowed to wait until I could throw such a party for you before writing your post.

But time marches on.  You are growing older and more lovely each day.  I can't wait for the "perfect" moment or party to document our lives.  You were perfectly content with your non-traditional birthday celebrations.  So I will be, too.

You find joy in so many things I tend to overlook.  I hear you excitedly teaching your younger brothers words and letters and giving them stickers for their efforts.  You notice and carefully collect fallen flowers along the sidewalk.  You constantly think of others, drawing pictures for them, making bead necklaces, or even giving your toys away.

We have our moments where we lock horns (particularly in the mornings when you don't want your hair brushed or sunscreen applied).  We yell.  But we also hug.  We make up.  We squeeze hands three times to silently say "I-love-you."  You still want to be carried, and girlfriend, you have some heavy bones, but I will gladly lift them up and carry you as long as you ask.

Sweet Maddie, thank you for being you.  For being thankful.  For being my darling little 6 year old girl.