Yep... I've got a bit of a southern accent that gets a lot thicker when I talk to family and southern friends back home. I've really been looking forward to this chance to visit with you just a bit... wish we could do so in person, sipping honey sweetened sun tea - because it is definitely not the hot drink time of year here in Niger. And - we'd probably be sitting out under the tree in the front yard because we've been having lots of power outage lately - then we'd be able to take advantage of the breeze blowing up from the river.
|Our most recent family pic - taken at Christmas.|
The first thing most people notice about our family is that we're fairly numerous. I have, in fact, had local police stop my car to ask me if they all really did belong to me. Big families are the norm here in Niger - many men have more than one wife and the average number of live births per female is seven. So here, the only thing that is exceptional about us is that we are a white, expat family that fits that Nigerien demographic... well, except that I'm the only wife (and hubby says half the time he doesn't know what to do with the one he's got, so he's not the least bit interested in any more!). I love the fact that our family size usually gives us an automatic open door, with the people of this country as well as just about anywhere else we've traveled in Africa. If we were willing to arrange marriages for our girls with some of the local families, we could probably retire in style in just a few years! Seriously? We have had several offers...
People tend to make comments about what great parents we are... or how they could never handle having so many kids... or assume that I'm full of great parenting tricks and have all sorts of organizational or make-them-behave formulas figured out. Let me set the record straight. We aren't and we don't. We do the best we can, just like everyone else... and we grew into this space and place, one kid at a time. In reality, sometimes I feel like my kids are the hammers and my husband is the anvil God uses to shape me and change me... and I just needed a bit more pounding than your average person.
What are my best tips for living internationally with kids? I'm sure I've got them, but not a whole lot is coming to mind right away other than staying flexible and rolling with the punches. And I'm preaching those words to myself as I type them. We're due to get on a plane and fly home in three weeks... and baby girl was majorly exposed to chickenpox this week. So we do our best, we hope and pray for the best (i.e. no pox - 'cause it is really, really awful timing), but also understand that it isn't the end of the world if I'm in quarantine and we have to change plans.
Another thing I try to do is to follow my kids' leads when it comes to new situations, particularly cultural ones, particularly the older they get. One of the advantages of living in a large family is that my kids are pretty flexible and relaxed about almost anything. Our willingness to follow their lead has had a pretty cool payoff. They return the favor when it counts because they trust us. I also spend lots of time listening - when I drive carpool, when their friends are over, when we shove the furniture out of the way, blast the music and dance late into the night, when they just want to talk, or even when they want to read something they've found that they want to share. I try to say yes at least twice as often as I say no... within reason, of course.
An average day contains many household tasks - cooking, cleaning, laundry, sweeping the desert back out of the house and for the past several months, packing. I wish I had an immaculate house, but I don't... and sometimes you'll hear me griping that I'm the only one who even tries. That is the occasional truth, but not most days. I home school my preschooler and my 7th grader. I drive carpool. This year I make grocery lists and my husband braves the barrels and police checks to hunt down the items on said list. I teach 7th grade math and work in the Center for Academic Progress at the local English language international expat school. I sometimes consult with local schools trying to service the needs of exceptional children (i.e. children with disabilities) in their overcrowded classrooms with so few resources. I write accommodation plans and individualized education plans. I blog. I flit through Facebook several times a day. Lately, I've been trying to watch episodes of Burn Notice just to take a break. In the past, I've been very involved with women's bible studies, discipleship and literacy work in our church... but decided to phase myself out of that ministry this year, for several reasons.
People often ask me how I do it all. I guess I'm a natural multi-tasker who likes to keep busy. At home, I'm often having more than one parenting conversation at the same time: 2nd grader talking about his friend's birthday party coming up on Saturday while directing my currently home schooled daughter how to make doughnut dough. I make lists - but once I do, I usually don't have to look at them again. I do rely on a calendar that beeps reminders for important appointments and rendez-vous. I prioritize: what must be done each day, what would be nice to have done, and what can wait for another day. I also mix, match and combine, trying to kill two birds with one stone when and where I can. I tend to use mornings for home schooling, housework, lesson planning. Early afternoons are spent at school most days. A different person is assigned "kitchen duty" each day of the week - with Mama almost always available. That includes prep, cooking and clean-up. It is great to be able to say to any of my four oldest what the dinner meal plans are and know that they can pretty much put it on the table for me. That lets me spend evenings with the "off duty" kids; we all spend 30 minutes cleaning and picking up the house most nights. But keep in mind - these strategies are what is working for this family right now, in this season of life. It might change next week and if it does, we'll figure out together what to do then and there. I've also got an amazing husband and some pretty cool kids who will step in and help, if and when they see a need.
Someone once compared life to a juggling act - we all have too many balls we're trying to keep up in the air. The key thing is not to let the ones that will shatter and break hit the ground... I remind myself that people are always more important than an agenda or time schedule - which leads right into the final question I was asked.
|Last night, the middle school grades of Sahel Academy performed the musical, Sheherezade. Three of my crew performed and it was truly delightful and just a lot of fun. I love this community!|
What is my favorite part about living internationally? That's the easiest question of all! Hands down, at least in this particular locale - it is the community. I love the people with whom I interact on a daily basis - both Nigerien and expat, Christian or not. That's also the hardest thing when I think about leaving - not seeing this amazing extended family that God has gifted to us. It is really hard to imagine living, working and raising our family in any place other than this. It isn't the kind of place most point to on a map and say, "I'm dying to go live there!" I'm so thankful God decided He was sending us this way.
Now I'd like to introduce you to Ashley. She's a beautiful mama and you should really take a bit of time and get to know her. I've certainly been blessed by her sweet, humble and generous spirit as I've interacted with her over the past couple of years!
If we were to get together, I’d either invite you over to my apartment to share a cup of Starbucks coffee from my special stash, or we’d go to my favorite little bakery a short bus stop from my home. One of my favorite things to do is to connect deeply with friends over a cup of coffee!
Some things that I am passionate about are my family (we just had our 4th child in early April... it's been kind of a crazy adjustment!), encouraging missionary moms, relating to moms in my community and using our common joys and struggles to point them toward Jesus, coffee (did I mention that yet?), Russian culture, and my home town of Seattle.
Never in a million years would I have imagined that I’d become a missionary! Like so many things in my life, I have not ended up where I had expected, and I am so glad! (Ask me about what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was 10 years old, or where I thought I’d be less than a year before agreeing to go long-term to Russia, or about how we raised all of our support to go to a place we never went!) God’s plan far exceeds anything that I could have imagined!
Feel free to ask any questions that you may have in the comments!