Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Lucky Me!

I'm not usually a lucky person. I don't think I've ever won anything in a raffle. I usually lose at games that are based on luck, like War and Candyland. I have never bought a lottery ticket, because it would be pointless. I laugh when I see ads on Facebook offering help to cure gambling addictions. I was cured before I ever started when I stuck very dear Danish crowns into a slot machine at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen and watched the equivalent of a dollar disappear in seconds. What's so fun about that? The rides were much more pleasant ways to make my money disappear!
Andrew is the lucky one in our family. One year Christopher got the Yahtzee game for his birthday and Andrew, then only about 4, picked up the cup and rolled 5 fives on his first turn. Grandma took him to the Monterey County Fair and he came home, arms full of stuffed animals and live goldfish that he had won. He didn't get to keep the fish, sadly as we were moving to Florida a few days later and I couldn't imagine carrying fish AND a cat on the plane with us . We've enjoyed cakes won at carnival cake walks, thanks to Andrew.
Christopher just had his tenth birthday and we celebrated in GRAND style. Somehow a kid who just moved here in August and is schooled at home managed to have sixteen kids at his birthday party! On his actual day, we dragged his poor grandparents all over Epcot (which stand for Every Person Comes Out Tired, in case you were wondering). I have forgiven Disney for the Everest fiasco because they really made up for it in the birthday celebration. In case you missed the ads, Disney has a birthday promotion during 2009. If you do not have a season pass, you get free admission on your birthday. For those with passes (like Christopher) there are other options, including fast passes for the family. We were supposed to get 5 passes with Christopher, but there were seven of us. The man at the gate without blinking added 2 more so we all could ride together. Then he gave us tips on how best to use our new magic "get-on-rides-without-waiting-in-line-with-the-peasants" tickets. Christopher got a pin that covered half his chest proclaiming his special status. It was like walking through the park with a rock star. Everyone smiled and greeted him and the crowds parted to let us pass to the front of the line.
We dined at the Marrakech, the very fancy Morrocan restaurant where Christopher feasted on lamb and couscous. Waiters in fezzes sang "Happy Birthday" in Arabic and English and even let Christopher wear a fez while he blew out the candles. I (at great self-sacrifice) took Christopher on the very intense Mission to Mars ride until we could hardly stand anymore. We managed to dawdle long enough to catch the fireworks at the very end of a very perfect day.
Grandma was great at reminding us throughout the day of stories of Christopher's first hours and days here on earth. She told of who was there, gathered in the waiting room (it was quite a crowd) and how his Uncle Tim had created a website and posted photos within hours of Christopher's birth (10 years ago, that was actually very cool). She told of his first bath and how they just ran him under the water in the the sink and then combed his dark and plentiful hair with a part. Todd said "Oh, no! She made him look like a nerd!" She also reminded me of something I said when gazing at this perfectly wonderful new human being in my arms: "I feel like we've won the baby lottery!"
Ten years later, I am gazing at the three perfectly wonderful little creatures strapped in to the way back seat, eyes open in wonder as they watch Pinky and the Brain, huge smiles on their faces even though they only get about half the jokes. And I think "We won that baby lottery THREE times!"
I am the luckiest person on earth!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rockin' Rollercoasters

I love roller coasters! Really love them. Really, really love them. The faster, the taller, the more loops the better. On a roller coaster I feel weightless and about 10 years old, which makes me think my passion for roller coasters will only grow over time. So, the Disney passes this year are in many ways a greater blessing for me than they are for the kids. Christopher is a budding roller coaster junkie but Andrew doesn't much care for them and Katie is still too short for the best rides. So, when it is just me and the kids at Disney I sigh as we pass the lines for Space Mountain, and Everest and we do our best to find our thrills on the rides for the height-challenged. When Todd is with us, though ....
In October we met friends at Animal Kingdom where the great roller coaster is called Everest. Our friends left early to go to their hotel and left us with 4 fast passes for the Everest ride. Christopher and I, big grins on our faces ran off to the gates as quickly as possible while Todd and the younger kids trudged off to pet the goats at the petting zoo. Within seconds Christopher and I were strapped in and ready for our fix of thrills. We took off, rounded a curve, then another curve and then up, up, up the steep, steep hill until we were about 10 feet from the summit when we stopped.
I wasn't sure at first if this was part of the ride or not, but then I looked down below and noticed that all the other trains had stopped as well. Then the announcement came: "Please remain in your seats (as if we had a choice). The ride will resume shortly." Several long minutes later, the announcement was repeated, and then repeated again. Did I mention yet, that the hill was really steep? For 20 minutes we were hung by our toes on the slopes of Everest while the Disney crew tried to figure out how to fix whatever was broken. I managed to call Todd who was on his way to the exit where we were supposed to be meeting to tell him we were delayed indefinitely. He and the kids joined the growing crowd of spectators gathered, pointing at our train and gasping. Then the next announcement: "Please remain in your seats until our technicians come and evacuate you from the ride." Christopher was close to tears because he realized that we weren't getting to ride on the ride after all and I was only slightly relieved that he was not panicked about being hung by his feet for so long. It must mean that I was hiding my near-hysteria-level panic from him well. Slowly, slowly they emptied the other trains that were stopped at more level points on the ride before finally climbing the steep slope to rescue us. Row by row they released the safety bars and pulled us off the train and had us cling to a railing until we were all liberated.
At this point I must say that, aside from the various Disney attractions, Florida is really, really, flat. It was a clear day and I am pretty sure that we would have been able to see Cuba had not the curveture of the earth gotten in the way. The early evening fireworks above Cinderella's castle were also lovely to see from our vantage point, though we couldn't hear the music. When the last of us were finally rescued we hiked single file up over the summit and then down, through a secret door and then down the stairs getting an unusual backstage tour of the roller coaster. "No pictures!" our rescuers growled at the man in front of me. Back at the entrance to the ride there were Disney cast members handing out, wait for it...fast passes to Everest that were set to expire 2 weeks later! Not a free t-shirt, not a coupon for a free beverage, not even a fast pass that doesn't expire (which would have cost Disney exactly zero cents) but a lousy fast pass which we weren't able to use!
I still love roller coasters and though we have yet to make it back on Everest, I have managed to get few rides in other places. At Disney's Hollywood Studios, the roller coaster is called Rock'n'Roller Coaster and they play Aerosmith through the headrests during the ride. That's not what makes it great, though. Todd joined us one night after work and he agreed again to take the younger kids so Christopher and I could check out the "big kid" ride. Andrew decided at this moment that he was going to get over his fears and join us. I asked him over and over if he was sure, but he was firm. No Little Mermaid show for him, he was going to hang out with the cool kids on the thrill rides. Two seconds into the ride I knew it was a mistake but it was too late. We were strapped in and accelerating to 60 mph through a dark tunnel. So here is the moment that will disqualify me for mother of the year, if I haven't been disqualified many times over already: Andrew is sobbing in terror next to me and I grab hold of his hand but I can't help myself letting out a few shrieks of pure joy because it is REALLY FUN! So sorry Andrew but YIPPPEEEE! It'll be OK Andrew, but WHOOOHOOOOO! The ride is all in the dark with with this eerie glow and it's fast and upside down and really, really fun!
So now, finally, we get to the point of all these musings. Why is it that traveling superfast, in the dark, being spun around and around and upside down, not knowing which way the ride will take you next is really, really fun on a ride, but in life it is really, really not fun? I know on the roller coaster that all will end well. That in a few all-too-short seconds we will pull up to the gate with nothing more than mussed up hair and goofy grins to show for our experience. But isn't life for a Christian much the same. Some day we will pull into the gates of heaven and all will be OK and whatever has happened during this ride of life will not leave me scarred for eternity. Though I can't see them, I know there are tracks and all will be OK, not because God is afraid I will sue him if something goes wrong, but because He loves me and has planned the best ride for me.
I know all this, but I must confess that the ride right now is not very fun. I'd like to take a break and ride on the Dumbo ride for awhile. Gentle ups and downs that I can control with a little lever. But I also know that life is very rarely like Dumbo. I'm on the roller coaster, I can't get off, nor do I really want to mid-ride. I can't control any of it. I can't find a buyer for our apartment in Moscow. I can't find a job for Todd in California. I can't fix the economy which has made our support fall dramatically and weakened our safety nets. How can I embrace the thrills of the roller coaster and cry YIPPPEEEEEE when I feel like crying out OHHH NOOOOO!!!!!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Grief and Corndogs

Grief was the subject of the retreat we went to to "debrief" our overseas experience. How you are supposed to process more than a decade worth of experiences that also included getting married and the birth of 3 children in one weekend seems a little ambitious to say the least. It was an amazing weekend, though, and I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone coming back "home" even if you think the path to transition is smooth and rosy. It was a great starting point for all of us, to articulate together (yes the kids, too) all that we have lost and left behind. To acknowledge that it is OK to mourn all those things. And then to turn the page on the new chapter and begin to list all the things that are great about where we are now, because to get stuck in grief is to miss out on the wonder of the present.

Katie demonstrated very well her concept of the stages of grief when she was told she could not have a corn dog for lunch the other day, but had to have the cheese sandwich that her Mommy had already made for her. It went something like this:

1. Shock or Disbelief: What?! Did Mommy really say "No" to the corndog?!

2. Denial: She didn't say, "No." She said, "Oh."

3. Bargaining: I'll be really, really good and I won't fight with my brother if I can have a corndog!

4. Guilt: (Though in this case Katie deflected the guilt on to me) It's all Mommy's fault that I can't have the corndog!

5. Anger: I hate the world and everyone in it because I can't have a corndog!!!!!

6. Depression: Oh, Why me? I'll never be allowed to have corndogs ever again!

7. Acceptance and Hope: Did you say grilled cheese sandwich? OK, but can I have a corndog for lunch tomorrow?

So, we continue to have our moments of sighing as we think of friends and fun we had half a world away. The kids long for snow and sledding (I'm perfectly content with the sunshine of Florida). But more and more the topics of conversation revolve around new friends and experiences here. Katie still talks about life when we return to Russia, but Andrew is scouting the housing market here, looking for a place to lay down some roots. Todd and I are still hoping for a call to California and Christopher is resigned to life as a gypsy for awhile. We all are trusting that God will continue to lead us out of this transition wilderness to the place He has prepared for us.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Lost in Transition

I have been stuck for a long time in starting this blog because I have not known how to title it. "Our Mickey Mouse Year" didn't seem to quite capture the breadth of it. It wasn't until last week that I began to make the connections with our time here in Orlando as a wilderness time. Why wilderness? Because having left Russia we have yet to arrive to the place where we feel God has called us. We are stuck between the was and the not yet. Like the Israelites, we are between Egypt and the promised land and so I am trying this title for the blog.

Not all wildernesses are alike. The wilderness for the Israelites was a desert. Hot, dusty, with little food or water. Our wilderness is much more lush. Green, fertile, rainy even. We live in an abundance of material comforts and spiritual ones as well. We have a great community with friends in similar transition as neighbors. We have weekly meetings where we are fed and cared for by other staff whose role is to ease our transition and help us grow. Oh, and the Disney passes are pretty cool as well. Yep, we are pretty well provided for, here in our wilderness and there is not much complaining.

That's not to say there aren't challenges to my faith, though. Our apartment in Moscow still hasn't sold and the clock is ticking. If we don't sell it soon there are some pretty serious Russian tax implications. We have seen God provide for us in so many amazing ways in our journey here. I know he can work this out too, and I'm pretty sure he will but I really have to work to avoid panic. Not so easy in this economic climate! I always thought the Israelites were pretty pathetic to whimper at the sight of big scary Canaanites inhabiting their promised land after having seen (actually seen with their own eyes!) God part the Red Sea for them and destroy the Egyptian army. But here I am worrying because our Promised Land seems to have similarly scary giants in our path.

So, here begins our story of this year: "How will we amuse ourselves and grow while we are in transition? Can we avoid wandering and make the most of out time here? How will God clear the path for us to move to our next step?"