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.

Arequipa.

It’s almost January, but my doors are open to let in the breeze and the sunshine, and I’ve got on shorts, flip-flops, and a tiny bit of a leftover sunburn.  This isn’t Bogotá or Mississippi, that’s for sure.

My blog went stale, and in the meantime I moved to the other side of the equator.

Obviously, I haven’t done a great job of documenting that whole process, which I am sure I am going to regret later.  But for the past several months, the priority has been SURVIVAL, and sometimes writing it all down just doesn’t make the cut.  Unfortunately.

But here we are, starting a new adventure in beautiful Arequipa, Peru, and I guess I should get myself up to date.

Back in the summer, the discussion started among the families on our team and our missions agency about the possibility of making the transition from Bogotá to Peru earlier than we had originally planned.  Nate and I were actually in Cali, Colombia for our adoption travel call when it all started.  We were meeting Luís and experiencing an intense emotional whirlwind within our own family, so all of the details and specifics about when we would move to Peru were the farthest thing from my mind.

As the decision to move in December was made, I was still neck-deep in chaos at home with Luís and the twins, so anything beyond the current day was too much to think about.  “Just tell me when to get on the plane,” I told them.    And really, until the time came to start packing up the house, I just didn’t worry about it….which is weird, because normally I’m the type that gets so excited about things like this that I scour the internet and spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking and planning and daydreaming about the new place.   But this time, I told myself, I would discover it when I got there, and that would have to be good enough.

To sum up, we sold or gave away almost everything during the month of November.  We held on to our beds, some clothes, and a couple of small items and loaded them up in a container to be shipped to Arequipa.  On December 2, we moved out of our little townhouse in Bogotá and into the same missionary guest house that we had stayed in when we first moved to Colombia 15 months before. We spent a week saying goodbyes and finishing up last minute things, then on the 11th we flew to Lima, Peru, where we started our visa process (which had some hangups and will have to be done again).  On December 18th, we finally touched down in Arequipa with 4 trunks, 1 duffel bag, and 4 carry-ons.  (Plus 2 other families and all their stuff, too.)

all 17 of us heading to the airport!

Leaving Bogotá…all 17 of us heading to the airport!

We got in late after dark, so I couldn’t see anything.  Nate kept telling me that the volcano, Misti, that towers over the city was RIGHT THERE, and that I would be shocked when I woke up in the morning and actually got a look at the city around me.  He was right.  This was my view when I looked out the front door the next morning:

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Arequipa is unbelievably different from Bogotá, in every way imaginable.  And it might be a desert, but the sandy mountains, amazing volcano, and warm sunshine make it stunningly beautiful.

We’re staying in a furnished rental apartment for a month or so while we hunt for housing and a car, and hopefully we will be able to start setting up a house sometime in January or February.  

In the meantime, I’m going to get started on finding out all the cool things about this city that I had put on the back-burner for the past few months.  So far, I can tell you that this desert city is breathtaking.  Beautiful views.  Amazing weather.  Friendly people.  Yummy food.  

I think I’m going to enjoy the discovery.   

Cartagena.

When we made our plans for our quick, 3-day trip to Miami for Luís’ citizenship, passport, and our visa renewals, we decided to take a little detour on our way back to Bogotá.  Instead of flying straight home afterwards, we made a stopover in Cartagena for a few days, which is a beautiful Colombian city on the Atlantic/Caribbean coast.  For the entire year that we’ve been here, we have heard over and over again, “you HAVE to visit Cartagena before you leave.”   And since Nate and I knew that our little family desperately needed to have some quality down-time together for some really intentional bonding, we thought the opportunity was too perfect to pass up.

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

our view

our view

We booked a stocked apartment since it was cheaper than a hotel, plus it meant we could cook instead of eating out. (With a house full of kids this age, can you blame me?! Restaurants are NOT FUN right now.)   We spent several days exploring the cool walled city, splashing in the pool, and playing at the beach.  The kids LOVED it, and it proved to be just what they needed… a little bit of casual, laid-back FUN that they could experience together, as brothers.

the boys wading in the ocean

the boys wading in the ocean

We skipped a few naps, stayed out late doing fun things, and wore the boys completely out in the hot Cartagena sunshine.  They played hard and slept harder, and for the first time in 2+ months, Nate and I looked at each other and said, “this feels almost normal again.”  It was good, and we needed it.

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I was a bit worried about the whole Miami/Cartagena trip for Luís’ sake, because the only other time he’s been on a plane or to a new place was when we met him and took him away from his entire life as he knew it.  I was afraid that some anxiety and panic would bubble up, that sleeping in a new place might make him uneasy, and that he might be afraid it was all going to happen again.   But I also felt confident that being able to spend some intentional, undistracted time as a family unit, away from class and work and other responsibilities, would probably be good for us in the long run.  I prayed consistently before our trip that the Lord would ease any fear that might arise in Luís and that he would be confidently secure in his place in our family, despite another plane ride, meeting new people, and another new place to adjust to (even if only for a few days).

The Lord answered that prayer a million times over, and we were amazed at how well Luís adjusted to traveling.  I think he’s going to fit pretty well into this crazy lifestyle we’ve been called to!

exploring a fort and up to no good

exploring a fort and up to no good

In the short week and a half that we’ve been home since that trip, I can already see a difference in the way the boys are bonded to each other, and in the way that Luís is bonded to us.   It seems like he trusts us a little more.  The boys all laugh together a little harder.  Bedtimes have been a little easier.  A little more tenderness has emerged.  I see more and more glimpses of the “real” Luís starting to make an appearance.

Seeing a new, beautiful part of Colombia was good.  Seeing a new, beautiful part of my family was even better.

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{To see the full photo album from our trip to Cartagena, please click here!}

Official.

Believe it or not, we’re nearing the 3 month mark since Luís joined our family.  3 MONTHS.  I’m not sure how that happened.

For the first 2 months, we had legal custody of Luís, but he wasn’t technically our son yet.  We were waiting for the judge to review our case and sign the adoption decree, and we came back to Bogotá for several weeks while we waited.  (Benefit of adopting from the same country we serve in:  We spent the waiting period in OUR OWN HOUSE rather than 2 months in a hotel in an unfamiliar country!)  We got the phone call late on Friday night, August the 30th, that the judge had signed the decree and all they needed was our signature for him to be ours.  Nate got off the phone and immediately booked the first ticket out to Cali, Colombia for Monday morning.

So on September 2, Labor Day, Nate signed the adoption decree and Luís became a Bonham.  For real.  Forever.

(Well, technically he became a “Bonham Travis,” because that’s the way they do it here in Colombia.  He automatically got my maiden name tacked on the end.)

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^ The document that made it real.

But of course, that wasn’t the end of it.  He was a Bonham, but he wasn’t able to leave Colombia yet or enter the US yet.   We still had to go through the US immigration process with the US embassy here in Colombia before he could get the appropriate visa to leave Colombia and enter the States to become a citizen.   So we spent a couple of weeks carting him around to doctors visits, medical tests, embassy interviews, passport appointments, and more while we checked off our to-do list.  He was a trooper through most of it, despite missed naps, long days in offices, and a whole lot of paperwork.

^ sleepy kid passed out on my lap after yet another long day of appointments

^ sleepy kid passed out on my lap after yet another long day of appointments

We finished the process and were approved to take Luís back to the US for his citizenship.   We flew out early on September 24th, and when we landed in Miami that afternoon, the customs guy stamped Luís’ visa and that was it – He’s an American!

^ Somebody's happy to be America's newest citizen, just after getting his visa stamped and making it official!

^ Somebody’s happy to be America’s newest citizen, just after getting his visa stamped and making it official!

We stayed in Miami for a couple extra days to get an American passport for Luís, update Nate’s passport, and renew my and the twins’ visas for Colombia.  We also did a little shopping for things we’ll need in Peru (since we won’t be back in the States again before we move), and Luís got to meet 3 of his grandparents.

^ meeting Nanny and Mammaw

^ meeting Nanny and Mammaw

It was a quick trip with a whole lot packed into 2 very short days, but we got it all done and hopped on a plane back to Colombia, with our newest little American in tow!

And that’s it.  Other than some post-adoption follow-up appointments to see how the bonding is going, we are done with the process.  He’s ours.  After 2 and a half years, we’re done with the adoption to-do list…and it’s finally sinking in.

Now we can focus 100% of our attention on the bonding and attachment process, which of course, is a whole different ballgame (:

One year later.

Today, September 18th, marks 1 year that we’ve officially been “on the field.” 

Well, on the field in a training program, that is.    But either way, it’s a year away from everything we knew before, a year in a foreign land with a foreign culture, a year struggling through a foreign language.  The first year of our missionary career is under the belt.

One year ago today... Loaded up and heading to the airport!

One year ago today… Loaded up and heading to the airport! 

It’s easy to look back and give a list of all the things that have happened in the past 12 months.   Of course, there are the obvious things… we have learned a lot of Spanish.  We’re far from fluent, but we are conversational enough to have real, significant relationships with people that go beyond the surface level.   We’ve learned a lot about what it means to live and operate in a place that’s far different from what we knew before.  We’ve served in 2 churches and observed the leadership development of a new church plant.  We’ve visited some cool places in the city, adjusted to high-altitude living, and I can even cook a few Colombian meals.

...BIG city...

Bogota from above.

Then there are the team dynamics.  We grew to a 3-family team made up of our family, the Kines family, and the Gutierrez family.  We visited some potential ministry locations, spent a lot of time praying for guidance, and eventually began making plans to move our team to Arequipa, Perú.  We welcomed new team members through the births of Carter Kines and Simeon Gutierrez.

Bonhams, Kines, & Gutierrez

Bonhams, Kines, & Gutierrez

And of course, our own family dynamics have changed as well.  In the past year, our twins have turned 3, learned Spanish, and gained a new Spanish-speaking brother.  After more than 2 years in the process of adoption, we met Luís and gained custody on July 25, and he officially became a Bonham on September 2nd when we signed the adoption decree.  Having 3 young children the same age, combined with the fact that Luís doesn’t speak English has thrust us into a whole new realm of parenting that we weren’t quite prepared for!  Our house is a little louder, our days a little busier, our floors a little messier, and our hearts a little fuller.

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A family of 5 at last!

 Like I said, those are the easy things to list.  But it’s difficult to sort through the changes that have taken place on a deeper level, and even harder to put them into words. 

In the past year, we’ve learned to cling tighter to each other in our marriage and to make “loving well” an even higher priority than before. We’ve learned that making time to meet with the Lord in the morning before the house becomes loud and busy is no longer just helpful, its essential, and that the refreshment and fulfillment we find there can’t be found anywhere else.  We’ve learned that prayer and accountability with our teammates is more important than we’d ever realized.  We’ve learned that we are messing things up constantly, that stress compounds everything, and that the only way to manage being on a team or in a family in the middle of the mission field is to repent quickly, forgive quickly, and offer up as much grace as possible.  Asking for forgiveness has become the norm, as has thanking the Lord that he has given us such dedicated, loving, and broken people to walk this journey with us.   We’ve found dark, sinful places in our hearts that we didn’t know where there before, but we’ve found the Lord constantly meeting us there and covering us with grace and mercy. 

It’s been a hard year, and an amazing one.  Of all the things we’ve learned, I think the biggest one is that we’re still learning, and I don’t think we’ll ever be done.   I think we’ll probably feel like brand-new, naïve missionaries for the rest of our lives, because I can’t quite see how anyone could ever feel like they’ve got this whole thing figured out.  But in the midst of it all, we know that this is where we’re supposed to be, and we love it despite the hard parts.   We’re amazed and thankful for the ways we’ve seen God’s faithfulness in Year Number One.

And as far as Year Number Two is concerned…ready or not, here it comes!!

Meet Luís

It’s now been a little over 3 weeks since our little family grew to add one more, and even though he’s not “officially” a Bonham for a few more days until we get our final paperwork, he’s already one of us.  It’s about time that I introduce you to the tiny little Colombian who has changed our family and our hearts forever.

Friends, meet Luís.

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It has been interesting over the past 3 weeks to watch his little personality emerge.   At first, we weren’t sure what parts were “the REAL Luís” and which parts were the result of high emotions, grief, and confusion.  So we just loved him, worked on gaining his trust, and waited to see what the real Luís was all about.

Well, it turns out that our first little glimpse of him at the meeting, when he burst through the barrier and unexpectedly bounced through our meeting with the government officials, was pretty accurate…. He’s a man of action.  The little guy has more energy than the twins combined, and he’s a step ahead of me in EVERYTHING.  He’s happy and fun-loving and silly, and he loves to play and laugh and be tossed over your shoulders or tickled until he’s practically crying.

Physically, he’s about Barrett’s height (in other words, short), but stockier.  He’s small for a 4-year-old, and by looking at him or interacting with him, you would think he was younger.  He’s 10 months older than the twins, but developmentally he’s a little behind.  So even though he’s technically their big brother, he functions in the family more like a little brother right now.   But he’s quickly catching up, and alot of the time it feels more like triplets.  People here are extremely confused when they see us out… especially since I speak english to 2 of them and spanish to the other, they all seem to be the same age, one looks distinctly different, and yet they all 3 call me “Mama.”   I get lots of questions.

He’s got a raspy little voice that still cracks me up whenever I hear him talk, and his laugh is like a little rapid-fire machine gun…so different and unbelievably distinct!  You can’t help but laugh with him when he gets going, which doesn’t take much because the boy is a CLOWN.

He loves tiny little things he can stash all over the house, and his pockets are always full of treasures.  We never know what random things he will have claimed as his own, or where he will hide them.  He always ALWAYS wants to have a coin tucked away in his palm. (“¡Mi moneda! ¡Mi moneda! ¿Dónde está mi moneda?!”  I hear that about 50 million times a day.)  And he can swipe & stash your food or your toys before you know what hit you, so you’d better be on your guard at all times.  Speaking of food, don’t get in the way of this boy and a plate.  He eats anything and everything, and usually about 4 helpings of it. He’s giving Noah some competition for the role of family garbage disposal, that’s for sure.

His routine has meshed pretty well with the twins, except for the fact that he’s an early (and loud) riser.  We’re all getting a little less sleep than before, but that gets better every day.  It hasn’t taken long for his naptime and bedtime to fall into place with Noah and Barrett’s, and I’m sure the wake-time won’t be too far behind. Things are becoming pretty consistent for all 3 of them.

In fact, it’s been that way with most things.  Having two brothers his age has helped him jump right into the flow of our family.  He just follows right along, and Noah and Barrett have been teaching him everything from the house rules to what a normal relationship with a mom and dad looks like.  He’s learning unbelievably fast, and we can see the ways the concept of “family” starts to click more and more in his little mind every day.

There are certainly still some rough spots and probably will be for a long while, but they’re already getting fewer and further apart.   My days are noticeably fuller and busier (and MUCH louder!) than before, but it’s a good kind of full.  And I’m tired, but it’s a good kind of tired.  Mostly, I’m just amazed to watch this little boy grow and adapt and adjust to such a huge life-change.  And I’m amazed to watch two little twin boys who have had such an interesting, unique, and private little bond start to open up and welcome in a 3rd member.  I’m so overwhelmingly proud of all 3 of my little men.

We’re still learning about Luís, just like he’s still learning about us.  It’s a process.  But we are loving what we learn, and I am so blessed to call him mine.