Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Crumbled Tower

It was the morning of September 11th. I sat at the table clutching a cup of coffee- praying that the sweet stimulant swirling beneath me would lift the haze of sleep and sadness I had been feeling. As the television buzzed indiscriminately in the background, something on the screen caught my attention. Haze shifted to focus as I turned up the volume and listened. Peter Jennings was reporting that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. I remember his voice as he tried to grasp what was unfolding before the eyes of our nation; and the trembling in it as we watched the second plane hit in real time. I watched in horror with millions of other Americans as the first tower collapsed, as people jumped to their deaths, as the wounded emerged, and as the scared ran for their lives through plumes of smoke and ash.
Prior to these attacks, September 11th was a day like any other for many people. For me, it was not. My twin tower had collapsed a mere 10 days earlier when my brother Garrett was killed in a four wheeling accident.
The grief that our nation was experiencing; the loss of life and sense of security that we were collectively mourning, had already paid my family an unwanted visit. I was acutely aware of how short life could be, how awful and consuming grief really was, and how utterly cruel life could be in the wake of death.
Every September 11th I join millions of other Americans in remembering. I am reminded of the fallen men and women and their loved ones, the heroism of everyday people, the American spirit; and my brother Garrett- who would have been one of the first people to get into his car and drive down to help.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Random Journal Snippet: One Year Ago (1/6/2012)

I walked with speed and determination as I pushed the cart of groceries in front of me. I was not in the mood to check myself out on this particular trip to the store; and so began my search for a lane staffed by another human being. If it meant I would have to wait 10 minutes longer- I was okay with that.

As I scanned aisle after aisle, I realized that I wasn't the only one avoiding the self checkout lanes. What might have been 10 looked more like 20-30 extra minutes, and I was not in a place to give that time up to such frivolity. After a few observations, I was convinced that the seeming ineptness of every single cashier was actually part of a larger plot to "encourage" shoppers to choose the do-it-yourself lanes. I retreated to the lonely land of self checkout in disgust.

As I stood in line for what seemed an unreasonable amount of time, my eyes searched for something to entertain me. They landed on the gossip rags that surrounded me; and before I realized it- I was catching up on the latest Hollywood gossip. It occurred to me as I looked over the various headlines that I didn't recognize most of the people in them. It seemed the US had grown more obsessed with youth and some freaky family named the Kardashians while I was gone. Who the hell were the Kardashians anyway? Furthermore- why on earth did we seem to care more about their every move than what was going on in the rest of the world? When I could no longer take in the images or headlines pasted all over the magazine racks next to me, I widened my view and stared off at the signs and lights around me. It all felt so cold and foreign to me.

When I first arrived in Shanghai, I was overwhelmed with feelings of isolation at the strangest times. It was rarely in the quiet of my home that I encountered this sense of foreignness; but in the midst of the masses, grocery shopping, or surrounded by the hum of life and the glow of neon lights flashing all around. I remember longing for the warmth and familiarity of my home country at those times. And now I found myself standing in the midst of a similar coolness as I waited in line at the grocery store. A similar feeling of home sickness washed over me, and I found an almost cruel irony in the fact that the places I once deemed my "retreat- from- China" hideouts-were now the places I would go to feel like I was back "home" in Shanghai.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Space Between (random journal snippets) April 2012

My new normal is full of a host of thoughts, ideas, and challenges. Some days I revel in the beauty of clean air, green grass and the ability to drive myself and my children to the zoo.Other days I sit in the midst of a public space and contemplate the strangeness I feel. It's on these days that I feel like a foreigner in a strange land. It is in these moments that I feel an acute sense of disconnection from the world immediately around me, and I become uncomfortably aware of the fact that I am still trying to find my footing in this new space; still trying to find my rhythm and identity.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Blessings, Dissatisfaction and the Birth of Change

"If there is dissatisfaction with the status quo, good. If there is ferment, so much the better. If there is restlessness, I am pleased. Then let there be ideas, and hard thought, and hard work. If man feels small, let man make himself bigger." Hubert H. Humphrey

Since our repatriation, the second round of big American holidays has begun. If I am honest- I have to admit that we are still desperately trying to settle into our home. It's different at this point because we are finally approaching the end. The finish line is within reach and it makes it all the more difficult to put our reckless pursuit of completion into check.

As I write- the front door of our house sits in the basement drying from its second coat of paint. Progress surrounds us. My once bright yellow kitchen with holes for a back splash is now a lovely shade of gray with tile for a back splash. The basement bathroom is the last of the major renovations to be completed and I am thrilled to say the tile man arrives tomorrow morning to begin the final phase of tile. Just a few more things to go and we will be done!

Phil and I have been relegated to domestic updates for the last year and a half and we are ready for some change. As projects come to a close, I find myself with a little extra time and mental space in my days. I've had time to think about what I want, who I am, and where I would like to go. I've been caught in a fog of repatriation, early parenting, and home renovations for a long time now; and I have allowed the dissatisfaction that I have felt in all of these areas to cloud my thinking and hold me down for far too long.

I haven't arrived, but I am finding ways to get comfortable in a life I haven't found comfort in for a long time. As I celebrated Thanksgiving and took time to reflect on the many blessings in my own life- I realized that I have a lot to be thankful for- including this phase of restlessness and dissatisfaction.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ghosts of Memory Past

As I sit on the ferry awaiting departure to Mackinac Island, the smell of fuel combines with the gurgling of the motor and I am instantly transported back to Shanghai. Somewhere in my subconscious I anticipate the groaning of motorcycles, the stench of cigarettes, and the stares of bewildered locals to surround me.

But alas, they do not and I am present once again in the smoke and noise free interior of my Mackinac Island bound ferry. The hoards of motorcyclists and choking cigarette smoke that once accompanied me on my daring ferry commutes across the Huang Pu river hang in this tension of scent, sound and memory; and I am left to wonder if this will ever change. Will I ever be free of these intruders that seem to weave themselves through most of my thoughts and experiences?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Smugness, Self Sufficiency and the Western Way

I am not a good sick person. I hate sore throats, coughs, fatigue that refuses to budge, and anything remotely related to illness. I like to be in control; I have far too many things on my list of to-dos; and I have 2 small children who need me to be engaged, energetic and present more often than not.

This past week, my body decided to play host to a rather unpleasant guest. No amount of vitamins and homeopathy could keep this bad boy at bay, so I spent a great deal of time on the couch while my children (gasp) watched more television than I could keep track of (gasp). I bleached all bleachable surfaces, continually washed our hands, and even wore a face mask when I was required to come within a foot of them. Was I over the top? Yes. Would I do it again to avoid the possible outbreak of such a nasty invader? Absolutely!

I found myself a bit homesick for Shanghai this week. It could have been the recent discussion about a potential job offer in Shanghai, but I knew it was more than that. Phil was out of town on a business trip, I was all alone with the kids; and the weight of the housework and childcare in light of my own illness was more than I could really process.

It made me miss those sick days when I knew Ayi would be coming through the door at 8am to clean, care for the kids if I needed her to, and maybe even cook. Poor me, right? I get it. It's very un-American to admit as a woman that I liked having another person help me care for my children and keep my home in order- but I admit it. There is something very lonely in the way we Westerners care for our homes and families; particularly Western women. We love our friends and families. We take great pride in our homes. We have can-do attitudes. These are all good traits. It's how this translates for many of us that can cause a lot of worn out women and families. Oftentimes, this can-do attitude mixes with pride and a few other elements to create overworked, overtired, and overstressed women who walk around feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders.

While Ayi was a hired member of our family, she was not a sign of our wealth or status like a nanny might be here in the US. She was simply an extension of our family as in so many other families in China. Having an Ayi is part of a larger idea that it does indeed take a village to do anything. People would often marvel in horror (if that can be possible) at the fact that I would have two little babies out on my own. We would often get to talking and joking; and the Chinese women would usually tell me- "you Westerners have 1 adult to 10 children while we Chinese have 10 adults to 1 child here."

Back then I felt a bit smug and self sufficient; now- I do not.

Friday, June 1, 2012

unfinished and complete

It's been a ridiculously long time since I last posted. I have been pecking away at this anniversary piece to no avail. It doesn't flow, I can't seem to find a fitting conclusion, and the list goes on. In the interest of marking the occasion and moving on, I will post what I have completed. I wrote this approximately one week post anniversary and have been struggling with it ever since...

"It's been one year since we moved back to the United States. The 13th of May came and went without notice. Days come and go without notice more often lately than I would prefer, but such is the life of a mother with twin male 2 year olds. The inclusion of their gender is with great purpose here as I am convinced that I am dealing with behaviors unique (though not exclusive I'm sure) to males. Take for instance- the incessant need to stick all things round and small up ones nose; or the unwritten rule that all things that can- will be launched into the air; and as of this morning- we've added that all things scalable shall be scaled.

So back to this whole year-anniversary-of-repatriation-thing (get a parent going and all coherent thought is lost eh?).

I still miss China. It is less frequent and pining, but I miss it all the same. I miss our friends, our opportunities, the language, the food, the daily and often tiresome challenges of living there, and the love-hate that so many Westerners experience once they've been properly seduced.

I mark this year anniversary feeling a bit underwhelmed. Repatriation certainly has its ups and downs; but the process of settling back in with 2 toddlers, a home under renovation, and all of the additional challenges of life here on earth have made this a truly challenging year; and one I look very forward to putting behind me."

(That's it. That's all I could come up with. The writer in me is not thrilled with the abrupt end. The critic in me can't stand the negative tone. The apologist in me would like to say "sorry for talking about how much I miss China, the food and our friends... again". The perfectionist in me really hates to admit this has been such an ass dragging struggle. And on and on the merry go round goes. With so many elements fighting me on the reality of my thoughts and feelings, it's no wonder this has taken me so long to post.)