A new venture that’s sure to make me crazy.

For years, Nate and I have been able to put off the education question.   After all, we had no idea where we would end up long-term, and we had no idea what the school options would be in whatever city/country we settled in, plus our kids were too young anyway.  It was easy to just sit back and say, “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see when the time comes.”

Then suddenly we were settled in Arequipa and our kids were getting bigger.  As we started working through what we would like our family’s home-life/ministry-life balance to look like, the school question just kept coming back to the forefront as an important factor in those plans.   It was time to tackle it.

For an expat, that’s a more complicated decision than I expected, and there are many more factors involved than I had ever realized.  Then we threw Luís’ developmental needs into the mix, and it became a big convoluted mess.   In the end, a few things stood out as deciding factors:

  • the state of the Peruvian public schools (which PISA ranks as #65 out of 65 countries tested every few years)
  • the cost of the Peruvian private schools and international schools
  • the need for substantial supplementing of things not taught here (US history, English reading & writing, English lit, etc) in order to keep them on track for what would be required by a US college
  • the fact that our life as missionaries often requires travel
  • the fact that we have to return every few years to the US for several months at a time to give reports attend to agency-related issues, and update our supporters.
  • the fact that I don’t want the kids to have to be in school all day long when family visits
  • the fact that Luís needs some extra one-on-one attention and help that he isn’t going to find in schools here

Taking all those things into consideration, it became pretty clear that homeschooling would be the best option for us right now in this season of life.  Maybe not forever, but at least for now.

Of course, there are logistics involved with that too, because finding the materials here is next to impossible (especially in english), and having things shipped costs a FORTUNE and isn’t even guaranteed to arrive…which means any visitors will be doubling as school-supply mules as well.  Sorry about that.  (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)   Plus, I still want the boys to retain the spanish they’ve learned so far and continue on to fluency, so I will have to add in lots of cultural activities and opportunities to be immersed in spanish (such as a soccer team) in addition to our church activities and inviting people into our home.

And there’s that tiny little issue that those 3 boys have a slightly extroverted mother who tends to get stir crazy in the house after awhile, and there aren’t exactly homeschool co-ops here… so I’m going to have to find a way to do this without completely LOSING MY MIND.

But, on the upside, I’ve always been someone who likes to learn.  I loved school (which is why I kept going back and may go back again one day in the future, who knows?), I love to read and still read anything I can get my hands on, and I love teaching.  All of those things combined make me think that this will be a fun journey as long as I use a literature-saturated curriculum and can figure out a way to do it without feeling confined to the house all the time.  (Field trips, playdates, and experiential learning, anyone?)   Oh, and as long as Nate understands that HE will be teaching higher math.

Really, though, I’m not too worried about it right now.  My kids are still really young, barely kindergarten age, so most of “school” consists of a few basic things and a whole lot of life skills.  I’m just as concerned with teaching them bathroom hygiene as I am with teaching them to read at this point.

So I looked at a bunch of curriculum options, ordered a few little things to get us started, and we will spend the next year or two figuring out what kind of groove fits us best and working on some home routines that might help us down the road when we start the real stuff.  Because kindergarten is supposed to be laid back and fun, right?  I hope so.

For a bunch of reasons, we decided to go ahead and get started now rather than wait until the Peruvian school year ends in December.  They’re finishing out the month, and after that, the new journey begins….with 3 boys at 3 COMPLETELY different levels and with completely different needs despite being the same age, all of whom are hyperactive and without a smidgen of self control.

We’ll see how this goes.

Pawpaw.

In one of my earliest memories, I remember “running loops” at my grandparents’ house.  I don’t know what we called it back then, but that’s what my boys call it now, so I’ll stick with that name.  Their house was one of those floor plans where the kitchen, dining room, den, and foyer were all connected, essentially creating a big circle in which all the grandkids would chase one another.   When the whole extended family was together, you could barely run loops without knocking over the Christmas tree or the folding tables set up to accommodate all of us, but we ran loops anyway.

I was probably 4.  I remember that everyone was there, the cousins and aunts and uncles, and that there was a ballgame on, but that describes a lot of our family get-togethers, so I have no idea which holiday we were celebrating at the time.  But I remember running from the kitchen, rounding the corner into the den, and getting ready to bolt through the space between the couch and the arm of the recliner.  But just then, an arm shot out from the brown recliner, barricading my escape route, and I crashed into it at full speed.

I didn’t even have to look up to know who was tickling me.  One of the risks of running loops was knowing you had to make it past PawPaw’s Chair, and you never knew when you might make it through and when you might get stopped by The Arm.  His arms caught me that time, and probably another 1000 times after that over the years, until one day when all the cousins were too big to run loops anymore.   Funny how that happens.

Pawpaw’s Chair is one of those sacred things, an endearing constant in my treasure trove of childhood memories.   And the Valentines Day cards I used to get from him every year, still stashed away in a box in my parent’s attic in Mississippi.  Or visiting him at the beekeeper booth at the state fair.  The vacations he took with us.  Taking me and my sisters to pick out a Christmas tree.  Seeing him smile proudly at almost every performance, play, awards day, and event I can remember.  And all the times he showed up in full bee-keeper regalia to do a science presentation to my elementary school classes on bees and honey.  I was always so proud to claim him as mine.

And oh, how he loved his grandkids.  And we knew it.  He loved Nate too, although it took some time for him to get used to the idea that the 17-year-old out-of-towner who kept showing up on the weekends to see his granddaughter might actually be “the one.”  I remember the day he went from being skeptic to supporter.  Nate was in town visiting one weekend, and I decided to take him to visit my grandparents church, which I loved.  Pawpaw’s car ended up with a flat tire, and Nate happily crawled on the ground in his sunday best to fix it in the blistering Mississippi summer heat.   Pawpaw slapped him on the back, shook his hand, and said, “Thank you, son. I’m not sure if I could have gotten back up if I’d had to get down there like that.”  Later he told me, grinning, “I guess that boy’s alright.”  They were buddies after that.  He told me several times in the years since how proud he was that I “picked a good’un.”

But that’s how Pawpaw was.  He was interested in and loved the things we loved.  He was one of my biggest supporters in missions and one of my biggest fans in life.

My sweet Pawpaw died late on August 23, and I spent much of that night crying on Nate’s shoulder.  Nate booked my ticket home, I threw some clothes in a bag, and I hopped on a plane less than 18 hours later.   I knew from when we lost my great-grandmother last year that I don’t grieve well from afar.   I needed to hug my grandmother.  I needed to tell my mom and my aunts that I love them while they grieved the loss of their daddy.  I needed to stand with my sisters and cousins and reminisce about our sweet grandfather, remembering together the trips and the nicknames and the love.  I was only there for 48 hours before I was back on a Peru-bound plane again, but it was worth it; I needed to say goodbye.

The service was beautiful, and a beautiful, gospel-centered tribute to a godly man.

I miss you already, Pawpaw.  I am so thankful that Luís shares the spanish version of your name (Lewis), and that he and his brothers will grow up hearing stories about beach trips, bees, perfectly smoked ham, your secret-recipe seasoning that I have carted all over the world with me, the nicknames that always seemed to stick, the Donald-duck voice, your chair, and running loops at the risk of The Arm.

I love you, and I will see you again.

 

The last photo we took together, when I was visiting in June.

The last photo we took together, when I was visiting in June.

 

‘membering Mississippi.

“Hey mama, ‘member Mississippi? When we went there?  Do you ‘member that?”  Hardly a day goes by without a munchkin-initiated conversation about our trip back to Mississippi this past June.  I can’t blame them, though.  It was certainly a memorable trip.

Even though we didn’t intentionally plan it that way, it worked out that the trip back home ended up being exactly one year after the solo trip I took last June.  So without even planning it, I was able to spend Father’s Day with my dad in person (again) instead of Skype.  My kids were able to attend our home church’s version of VBS, and their class just happened to be led by Kelly.  They got good quality time with one of the people I love most, instead of me just pulling up the pictures from the event on Facebook, like I normally would.   Then, on the one-year anniversary of the death of Kelly’s mom, I had the blessing of taking her to dinner and sitting across a restaurant-table from her as we talked about the past year instead of spending it continents apart on the phone.   We also celebrated my sweet little niece’s 2nd birthday by going to her party instead of singing “happy birthday” over a computer screen.   None of that was even on our minds when we bought our tickets.  I would have felt so sad and distant to miss any one of those things, but what a sweet blessing from the Lord when I realized all the things I would get to BE PRESENT for!

Fathers Day 2014

Dad and his girls, Fathers Day 2014

The trip was originally planned because we needed to resolve some issues with Luís’ US citizenship.  (We thought it was taken care of back in Sept of 2013, but it ended up being revoked because we don’t currently live in the US.  So we have to go through a different process to get it, including a specific immigration hearing with a judge.) We thought we would tack on a bunch of other “business” items that we needed to have completed, and we had to leave the country in order to renew our visas anyway.  Plus, our families hadn’t had the chance to meet Luís yet (with the exception of my parents and Nate’s mom and stepdad), so it would be a great chance to introduce him to the family.  We had big plans, and LOTS of things to stuff into 2.5 short weeks.

My little sister (aka Aunt Jay-Jay) meets Luís!

My little sister (aka Aunt Jay-Jay) meets Luís!

Me and Kelly, meeting each others' newest additions

Me and Kelly, meeting each others’ newest additions

In the end, we STILL weren’t able to get the citizenship stuff resolved yet, (its a work in progress), but we WERE able to get lots of other stuff accomplished during our trip, like documents renewed and updated, doctors appointments, more doctors appointments, more doctors appointments….

As it turned out, doctors appointments dominated a good portion of the trip.  By the time I’d been there a week, I’d been to 6 different appointments for various things.  The kids came down with swimmers’ ear, one of Noah’s ear tubes started coming out and got wedged funny and caused him alot of pain, all of our yearly checkups and blood work and vaccinations and more, plus a mountain of GI appointments for Barrett that we weren’t expecting.  Our amazing pediatrician referred us to a GI specialist when I told him about a few issues that Barrett had been having, the GI was concerned about several different things and wanted to run alot of tests and ended up doing a full upperGI and colonoscopy, but first we had to have clearances by a pediatric heart specialist because of some heart issues he’s had since birth…..  which meant DAYS ON END of doctors appointments.   Thankfully, Barrett is doing well now that he has meds and a diet modification, but the few weeks of testing wore us out.

Barrett Doctor June 2014

A loopy and semi-sedated Barrett awaiting his procedure. (With robot fingers to help with anxiety!)

Halfway through the trip, we hopped in the car and drove to Chattanooga for 4 days to see Nate’s mom, stepdad, and brothers.  Nate and his brothers haven’t all been together in one place since thanksgiving of 2011, so it was really fun for all 4 of them to be together again.  Plus, the boys get spoiled rotten by their awesome uncles and aunt (not to mention their Mammaw and Pappaw), so I had no doubt that Chattanooga would be one of the highlights of our trip.  The boys played their hearts out, Nate and I relaxed a bit from the jam-packed schedule we’d had of meetings and appointments in Mississippi, and we were so thankful for the refreshing Chattanooga mini-break we had right in the middle of the trip.

sprinkler fun in Chattanooga

sprinkler fun in Chattanooga

Overall, we got alot done.  We accomplished all of the “business” items on our checklist (with the exception of the citizenship stuff). We were able to give reports and updates at several churches, including the one where I grew up, our “home” church where Nate and I worked before moving to the field, and a church in Emily’s hometown of Hattiesburg as well.  My parents hosted an open house for us to be able to say hello and spend time with so many people we miss, and we had several get-togethers with family and people we love.

Nate, Josh, and Nathaniel doing a presentation at our home church

Nate, Josh, and Nathaniel doing a presentation at our home church

We stocked up on items that we can’t find in Peru (or are ridiculously expensive to buy there) like some specific toiletries, spices, clothes, books & educational material in english, and more.  I rounded up an entire wardrobe for all 3 boys for the next year or two (mostly of amazing hand-me-downs so I hardly spent a dime!).  I jammed an entire huge, colorful living room rug into an army duffel bag and rigged it shut with floral twine, all because my mom said I could have it if I could figure out a way to get it back.  (And it actually made it through customs).   Sometimes the little things make a big difference.

sorting a wardrobe for 3 growing boys

sorting a wardrobe for 3 growing boys

But really, even though all of those things took up the bulk of our time, that’s not what I remember most about the trip.   For me, it wasn’t a business trip.  It was a refueling trip.  My tank was running low.  I don’t think I realized how low, exactly, but it makes sense that after another international move, adjusting to a new place, starting from scratch, and trying to make progress in piecing together a community here in a new country, I was running on empty.

But then I walked back into the familiar open arms of the people and places that raised me, and I felt myself breathe.  And I soaked it up.  Every second.

My family.  I miss them every single day.

My family. I miss them every single day.

my beautiful sisters

my beautiful sisters

I spent every spare moment I could muster (in between a billion doctors appointments) with my family.  Kelly and her kids were practically joined to our hips from sunup to sundown, which is just as it should be.  The noise level at my parents house reached new heights every single evening with all of Lacey’s, Kelly’s, and my children stampeding through it.  They swam and wrestled and laughed, and the mamas sat on the porch and watched and talked and refereed.

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the crazy boys who spent every waking moment together.

refereeing kids on the back porch with kelly

refereeing kids on the back porch with kelly

Nate and I had long, lazy dinners with sweet friends that I miss daily and who encourage us more than they’ll ever know.   I sat on another friend’s back porch until the early morning hours talking about adjustment, adoption, calling, struggles, and just life in general while I soaked up her wisdom and silently thanked the Lord for speaking to my heart through her.  Michelle drove down and spent the night just so we could have 24 solid hours before she had to go back home, then again for the open house to bring food and manpower.

nikki michelle june 2014

Michelle. This girl always shows up for me.

Even though all of those moments were just squeezed in wherever I could get them, they added up to something much bigger.  They filled me back up.  They gave me the community boost I needed until I can build one here in Arequipa.  They reminded me what it’s like to belong.

But still, even with all of those things that I loved and cherish so much, even with the deep joy I found in being present in those moments, I was still anxious to get back to Arequipa.  I can’t explain it, but I still felt pulled back to this place where I don’t know many people yet, where I don’t have a community yet, where I don’t belong yet.   Because I know that I will one day.  The Lord is faithful, and he is steadily drawing my heart into this place.  I love the kind of deep community that comes from knowing and loving and living life with other people, and that will happen here, too.  It will look different, of course, but it’s supposed to.  It’s Peru, not Mississippi, after all!

The steady process of building community here wears me out a bit, if I’m being honest, but that’s okay with me.  It’s coming, and it will be worth it.   In the meantime, I’ll just take a cue from my boys and “member Mississippi” when I need a little boost.

Thanks for loving us well when we were home, folks.    You mean more to us than you’ll ever know.

*****

I decided not to take my big camera with me due to all the luggage I knew we’d be wrestling already, so all I had was my cell phone.  I didnt get nearly enough pictures, but here are a few more from the trip…

photo 5

A fun couple of days with Nate’s Dad and stepmom (aka Grandpa and Grandma)

photo 4 copy

view of my parents backyard from the back porch, where I spent about 90% of my free time between appointments

photo 3 copy

taking the new paddle boat for a spin in my parents backyard

photo 2 copy

visiting with my sweet grandfather

photo 1 copy

cheering Beckham on at his ballgame

photo 3 copy 2

playdate with cousins at the splash pad

photo 2 copy 2

lunchtime with Daddy after yet another doctor appointment for the Bear

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saying goodbye to Kelly and her crew before heading to the airport.

family pic june 2014

our one attempt at a family picture

Mississippi… according to 4-year-olds.

In June, we went back to the states for a couple of weeks to update a bunch of documents, visit a bunch of doctors, give a few missions reports, and visit our families.  Given how much we had to get accomplished in only a few short weeks, it was a whirlwind trip!

But more on the “grown up” part of the trip later.

It happened to fall during the couple months of the year when all three boys are the same age; the twins had just turned 4 and Luís was still 4 as well.   I always get questions when I’m out and about, but it’s especially funny when they’re all the same age.  “Your boys are adorable! Wait, are they triplets?”  “No.”  “How old are they?”  “They’re all 4.”  “…But they’re not triplets?… How does that work?” Lots of confusion all around.

Anyway,  it was pretty exciting to visit Mississippi (and Chattanooga!) with a bunch of 4 year olds who had no idea what it would be like.  The twins had no memory of Mississippi since they were so young when we left (they had just turned 2), and this would be Luís’ first trip to visit.  They’ve heard me talk about it constantly for 2 years, and they know its where all the people they love live, but they didn’t understand much more than that.   Seeing it through their eyes was even more entertaining than I expected.

Here are a few of the astute observations of Mississippi from the minds of 4 year olds:

Halfway through the longest leg of the 18-hr trip to get there: “Mama, when we get to Mississippi I’m not going back to Peru. This is taking too long and I don’t want to do this part again.  Tell Daddy to bring our house with him when he comes.”

“Where are the volcanoes? And they don’t have any mountains?  Then what DO they have?”

Eating chicken nuggets from Wendy’s: “What is this? It’s not chicken.  This isn’t chicken.  I don’t like it. You can have it back.”

“What do you mean, ‘the water is clean?’ You mean I can drink it? Like put it in my mouth?”

“Why do you put the toilet paper in the potty?”

“Mama why are the trees SO BIG?”

“Why is there grass EVERYWHERE?”

“What are those?” (a.k.a. raindrops on the windshield)

“That scared me! That scared me! THAT SCARED ME! What is it?”  (a.k.a the first storm that woke Luís up in the middle of the night)

*Note: We lived in Bogotá, where it POURED daily… How did they forget that so fast?!

“Why are the buildings apart from each other?  It’s just one building and lots of grass. Why aren’t they stuck together?”

“The people don’t drive crazy here. Why aren’t you driving crazy?”

“We are in the car ALOT in Mississippi.”

At the Chick-fil-A drive-through: “Are we getting out? They’re giving you food THROUGH THE WINDOW?”

***

Apparently, reverse culture shock even happens when you’re 4.  But they loved Mississippi (and Chattanooga), and they basically thought the whole thing was one big adventure filled with swimming pools, playing in the grass, best friends and cousins, and lots of attention.  They told me a hundred times throughout the trip that they weren’t getting back on the plane to Peru (thankfully they did without a problem!), and they have asked me a hundred times since then when our next trip back to Mississippi will be.

I only have one thing to say:  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.  I might not be living in Mississippi, but I’ll raise boys who love it either way!

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Good times.

 

 

 

 

Settling: A Broad-Strokes View.

August marks 8 months since we moved here to Arequipa, and we are slowly but surely getting our bearings around here.  It continues to surprise me how different everything here is from Colombia (and of course from Mississippi!), but we are readjusting and resettling, even through another little bout of unexpected culture shock.

And despite the readjustments, I have been delighted by how much I am falling in love with this city.   Every time we discover a new part of town, a new way things are done, or spend time with new people, I find myself thinking how excited I am to be settling here long-term.  I had never laid eyes on Peru before we moved here, and now I can’t imagine leaving it.  I am so thankful that the Lord has continually answered my prayers that he would give me a love and a passion for wherever he calls us.  We still have a long way to go to really understand this place and its people (not to mention the language!) but I am enjoying the learning process in the meantime.

And since I haven’t done a great job of chronicling our adventures in Peru thus far, here’s a quick little run-down to get myself up to date:

DISCOVERING AREQUIPA

Even though the process of really getting to know a city takes a long time, we have really enjoyed seeing new parts of Arequipa and learning more about this place we call home.  We are constantly on the hunt for parks, markets, restaurants, neighborhoods and other interesting spots that we haven’t seen before.  We are trying to figure out how people spend their free time, where we can go to meet new people, and fun places to take friends when they visit.   But more than just seeing the cool parts of town, we want to learn more about “the real Arequipa” according to the Arequipeños who live here.  Really learning this city requires a whole new level of intentionality and dedication to engaging the people, listening, and observing.   Of course, 8 months is only a drop in the bucket, and we have a LONG way to go!

CELEBRATIONS

Our family has hit a lot of big milestones over the past several months, one right after another.  We celebrated the boys first day of school back in March (the school system has a different calendar here).  My parents visited Peru for the first time later that month.  In May we celebrated my 30th birthday.  In June the twins turned 4, Nate’s mom visited for a fun week, and then we headed back to Mississippi & Chattanooga for a couple of crazy weeks.  In July we celebrated Nate’s 30th birthday, our 1-year anniversary of Luís joining our family,  and Luís’ 5th birthday.   And this month, Nate and I will celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary, and next month we celebrate our 2-year missioniversary (or whatever you might call it)… We have had one exciting thing after another to celebrate!

GETTING INVOLVED & MAKING FRIENDS

Since we arrived here in Arequipa, we have been praying that the Lord would open some doors for us to get involved in the community and make some friends.   We have been so thankful for the ways that He is answering that prayer, and life has certainly been getting pleasantly full!  Between a couple of small ministries we’ve been able to get involved in, the small church we’re a part of, and continuing to meet people around the city, we are beginning to develop some relationships.  We are slowly but surely building a community here, and it’s a beautiful thing to see it developing.    Nate has grown close with several guys that he plays music with regularly, but it has proved to be harder for me to find opportunities to get to know other women.  (This was the opposite in Bogotá, where finding female friends for me was much easier than guy friends for Nate… we have had a role reversal here!)  I had asked several people to pray consistently with me that the Lord would provide me with a few solid friendships with Peruvian women who would help me learn the culture, practice spanish, and begin to feel more at home in general.  I’ve gotten to know several ladies recently who have been so patient and kind, and I am so looking forward to seeing where the Lord leads our burgeoning friendship.

SCHOOL

As I mentioned, the boys started school back in March.  It’s not an actual school, necessarily, but a “jardin” for children from 0 to 5 years.  It’s more like a preschool.  Trying to navigate preschool in a foreign country and language has been interesting to say the least.   Many parts of it have been a struggle, to be honest, and we are in the process of re-evaluating our plans for the next year.  But the boys have enjoyed it overall, and the process has helped me understand a bit more about the culture of young families here.  As the boys get a bit bigger and we move from preschool-age to kindergarten-age, we’re figuring out what is going to be the best fit educationally.

The boys aren’t the only ones in school, though.  Nate jumped back into classes several mornings a week with a private tutor at the language school here in town.   His professor is excellent, and between classes, homework, and the amount of spanish he gets in day-to-day life around here, he is certainly getting his fair share of practice!   I’m not in school at the moment, but I’m working through several spanish grammar text books on my own, and I’m trying to get in good conversation practice when I can.   Hopefully I’ll be able to do a couple of short intensive classes at the language school later in the year.

FAMILY

Last month, we hit the big milestone of one year home with Luís.  I look back over the past year and the ways we as a family have grown and changed and adjusted, and I am amazed.   That morning I sat around the breakfast table with the boys and told them the story of the day we met Luís.  I was shocked that none of them remembered a bit of it, not even Luís.  The twins have vague memories of a few things before he joined our family, but not many;  they had just turned 3 at that point, after all.   None of them really remember life before each other, and I love that.  In the past few months, there was a subtle shift from the transition phase to something that more closely resembles normal.  There’s a little less chaos, a little less drama, a little less anxiety, and instead our days have a lot more trust, affection, and playfulness.   We are still working consistently with Luís to make up for some developmental delays in a few areas, particularly in communication and expression, but he is doing really well.  He has recently started speech therapy in spanish 3 days a week, and I am hoping that it will give him a big boost in his communication skills.

Overall, the feeling of finally feeling “settled” here in Arequipa and starting to feel “settled” a bit more into our family has all flowed together in a weird and nice way.    I don’t know any other way to describe it than that….things are just starting to settle.

Of course, that’s just a broad-strokes view of life around here… the excitement happens in the details! Well, the excitement and the chaos and the boring parts and the busyness and the mundane, and everything else.   The details can be messy.  Messy, but always interesting. Maybe if I’m lucky, some of those details will start turning into blog posts (:

College. I mean Preschool.

After 100 years of silence, I am back to the blog.  Well, at least I hope I’m back.  I’m always awesome at great intentions.

But as my teammate Alicia pointed out on her post yesterday, getting “settled” here in Arequipa has been quite the ordeal.   First of all, we have to do everything in spanish (which we’re still learning), and the way everything is done here is different from Colombia and VERY different from the States.  We’ve had to relearn the process for everything from contracts to bill-paying to house-hunting, etc.  Second, we didn’t have any contacts here.  The guys literally knew 1 person when we landed here, and that was a taxi driver named Jesús.  In Colombia we had some help and some resources to get started, here we had none.  And third, WE KEEP GETTING SICK.  The process of letting your body adjust to a new culture, new foods, new germs, and new viruses is A BEAST.  At any given time, there is at least one person on our team sick, usually more.  Parasites are no joke, people.

So we’ve been busy, and sick, and exhausted, but we are finally getting to a place where things are leveling out a little.  And since I now have a bit of time and mental energy, I thought I’d catch up with what’s been going on lately here in Arequipa.

First of all, MY KIDS ARE GROWN.  How did that happen? If I feel like the mission field has aged me, it has DEFINITELY aged my kids.  They’re practically adults.  (Except for the fact that they still can’t figure out bathroom etiquette, but that’s beside the point).  They are talking up a storm in two languages, can argue and debate with the best of them, and suddenly seem to be able to call me out in my parenting inconsistencies.  I was already feeling like I was surrounded by teenagers in 3-year-old bodies.

And then they started school.

Nate and I knew when we moved here that we wanted to find a preschool program, particularly for Luís’ continued language and cognitive development.  There’s a little “jardin” right down the road, and after visiting and talking with the director, we decided to give it a try.  I wasn’t ready to send them for the full 5 days a week, especially since we are still working so much with Luís and his attachment, but the director agreed to let me send them 3 days a week if I would keep up with homework and keep them on track with the class for the other days.

Wait…homework?

It turns out that preschool in Peru is the real deal.  Maybe it was the fact that my children suddenly seemed so grown up, or maybe it was because I had a school supply list that could fill a dorm room and looking through their curriculum gave me the urge to help them pick a major, but it felt more like I was sending my kids to college on that first day.

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^ 3 munchkins very excited about this whole “school” thing they keep hearing about!

first day of preschool

^ Excited about their uniforms… a beanpole in the middle and two little pot-bellies. The 3 couldn’t be more different, that’s for sure!

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^ my favorite pic of them in their uniforms… taken last week by my mom when she was visiting

Since then, I have tried my best to figure out this new world of preschool, but it continues to throw me for a loop every single day.  I have covered their books in wrapping paper and vinyl, as directed.  (That’s harder than it sounds…my version looks pretty ghetto.)  I literally took a school supply list of words I didn’t recognize to a shop, handed it to the sweet little shopkeeper, and said in spanish, “My children just started preschool.  Please help me.”   Maybe the desperate first-time Preschool Mom look is the same in any country, because she just laughed and said, “Don’t worry, Mamita,” and gently talked me through all the random little things on the list.  But I can now discuss things like glitter, tempura paints, yarn, and using gelatin to fingerpaint without a problem, so I guess that’s progress!

But every day, it’s something new.  Whether it’s a new list of things that they’ll need in class, or homework instructions that seem bizarre, or an explanation of how to pay for this or that, I’m always having to figure out how a new part of the process works.   Thankfully the director is very patient, she understands that preschool brings along with it a whole new category of vocabulary I haven’t learned yet, and she is willing to teach me every step of the way.

^ the book box for one of the boys… it contains 15 books, plus there are 3 more that don’t fit. The books cover everything from life skills to letters to math to science to art.

^ a little sample of the work and assignments they bring home

^ a little sample of the work and assignments they bring home as homework

And as confused as I can be at times, the boys are learning like crazy.   Barrett came home the first week and explained to me in detail how precipitation works.  I was understandably surprised that he knew what any of that was, and asked him if he had learned it at school.  He said, “Yes, my teacher taught me about that. Except she said it all in spanish, and I’m telling you in english.”    A preschool brain’s ability to language-hop is amazing, to say the least.

And speaking of language, it has been INCREDIBLE to see the difference it has made in Luís’ language development!  We were told by the language/cognitive specialist in Bogotá that a spanish immersion environment would boost his abilities across the board, but we had no idea how quick and drastic it would be.  Within the first 2 weeks, Luís was using more english at home than ever before.   Now that he has an established environment for each language, his little brain is working hard to figure out the differences and he is making significant progress.  I could never have imagined how much spanish preschool would help his ability to communicate in english at home.

All that to say, preschool has been an adventure for the whole family.  I am still shocked at how “academic” it is at times, and that I am doing homework every day with 3 year olds, but they are loving it for the most part.

^ busy doing homework

^ busy doing homework

Plus, it has given me 3 mornings a week to do things like get a spanish language partner, clean my house, and keep up with all the things on my admin list….like blogging.

So hopefully, I’m back.  And as long as being a first-time Preschool Mom in another language doesn’t COMPLETELY fry my brain, I’ll be a regular around here again (:

Despedidas.

Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m not in Bogotá anymore.  It feels so crazy that our time there is finished, because it seems like we just arrived.  In the end, I was surprised at how difficult it was to say goodbye to a place that I’d only lived for 15 short months.

There were alot of reasons I wasn’t quite ready to go.  I knew I’d miss the people we’d come to know and love there.  We had become great friends with some of our neighbors, who were so kind and patient as we learned Spanish.  Our church family, who welcomed us with open arms, loving us so well despite our inability to communicate much at the beginning.  The long-term Colombia team who celebrated holidays with us when we were missing home, answered so many cultural questions, and encouraged us as new missionaries with young kids on the field.  Our amazing Spanish professor who spent hours with us every day, filling our brains with a new language and loving us even through the stress. The nannies who cared for our children while we were in class and taught us more about cross-cultural friendships than anyone else as they observed our day-to-day lives in our homes.   And of course, the other families in the AIM program, who walked with us daily through the most stressful season of life we’ve had to date.  They became family.  The goodbyes were hard.

But for me, there was another layer of complexity involved in saying goodbye to Colombia.  I wasn’t just leaving a place I’d loved for 15 months — a sweet little townhouse, a neighborhood I’d started to call “mine,” a familiarity that had taken months to forge.  I was leaving Colombia… Luís’ home.   His birth country.  His roots.  

It was different than the way I felt about taking the twins away from their birth country.  For the twins, they’ll always have a piece of Mississippi in their lives, because they have me.   I can’t separate my life from my Mississippi upbringing, and no matter what, my children will always experience pieces of Mississippi culture no matter where we live.  I carry it with me wherever I go, and even if my children never actually live there again, it will be a part of them; they are being raised and nurtured by someone with Mississippi running through her veins.  I am the link.

But I can’t do that for Luís and his birth country.   I lived in and loved Colombia for 15 months, but that wasn’t nearly long enough for the culture to permeate who I am and the way I live.  It wasn’t long enough for me to deeply understand and feel a part of the culture, to have it resonate so deeply with me that I count it as part of my identity, to be able to accurately pass it down to my children so that they feel like it’s a part of them as well.   Hopefully Peru will be that way eventually, but that takes YEARS to forge–a lifetime maybe.   And though I will try as hard as I can to preserve the pieces of Luis’ Colombian heritage and history, I know I can never do it fully.   In many ways, when I flew out of Bogotá a few short weeks ago, I felt like I was severing the link, and that breaks my heart.

But then, that’s not completely true.  I may have moved away, but Colombia will always have a piece of me.  Not only because I will always remember my time there as a season in which the Lord stretched and changed me in painful and beautiful ways, but because Colombia gave me my son.   Colombia will always be a part of me, because it’s a part of Luís, and I am now inextricably tied to it.  I couldn’t let it go if I tried.  Instead of me providing links to his roots for him, he’s the one who provides it for me.

So even though we said goodbye to Colombia, it wasn’t for the last time.   My children will always grow up with Colombian food and pieces of Colombian culture.  They’ll always hear me talk about the beautiful Colombian people and the experiences we had living there.  We’ll take them back as they get older, so that Luís and his siblings can develop their own memories of and love for such a beautiful country and heritage.

Now that I think about it, maybe goodbye isn’t the right word after all.

See you soon, Colombia.