Snow Day

I grew up loving snow days. Waking up to a pile of snow (or not) and either way hearing that school has been cancelled for the day brought an indescribable kind of childhood excitement for me. I don’t even actually remember much about how I spent snow days as a school kid, but I know I loved them.

Flash forward to continuing to spend time in education as an adult. Snow days have always been equally as exciting when you work in schools. Granted, managing possible school cancellations or not when working/living in 3 different school districts within one family is no easy task (this happened when Henry was small), but the ultimate satisfaction of an unexpected day gifted to take a break from the real world, spend time with my children and play in the snow was always a mid-winter welcome.

On to India and missing snow days. Not only for the permission to not do the real world, but also because of the cold weather, frozen ground and all that comes with it (snowmen, snowballs, snow forts, sledding, etc. etc. etc.). We had monsoons that delivered rain days, flood days, hurricane days while living in South India, but the snow day type of excitement was never quite there in those cancellations. Playing in it was not necessarily an option.

Flash forward again to being back in the midwest. Anticipation of a large snow and resulting snow day off from school has been growing since the first signs of winter in Minnesota. Looking forward to piles of snow to play in for hours, resulting rosy cheeks and hot chocolate requests have been on all of our minds.

Unexpectedly, I am viewing snow days from a different perspective for the first time in my life. What used to be a welcome break from the daily grind of routines, work and life now feels like an added task. This is the first year since I can remember that I am not only not working, but also not working in schools. Snow days mean working harder.

A snow day means that, while I love my children more than anything, I “get” to spend another full day with them. This makes 4 in a row. I understand that some parents do this all the time. I have a great deal of respect for them. Some who greatly enjoy it and some, like me, who do it because they either cannot find gainful employment or it does not make sense to work with the extremely high costs of child care in this country. This being my real first experience as a SAHM (Stay At Home Mom – slang I have learned since the start of this gig), I have realized I am a much better mom when being a SAHM is not my full time job. I mean, come on. A snow day now means I won’t get to read my book, drink hot coffee, listen to a podcast or sit in silence for even 10 minutes unless I guiltily put my boys in front of the TV or a video game. It means they spend another day with one another, likely doing everything they can to irritate the other because, let’s face it, this is day 4 together.

Instead of being the pessimist that this post is starting to make me sound (and, well, I am sometimes because SAHM, unemployment and transitions are HARD), I tried to take today to appreciate all of this fluffy white stuff. The sun glistening and reflecting the sparkles in the snow. The not so frigid temps that allowed for spending time outdoors in the cold air and sunshine. The joy in my kids when they fall into the snow intentionally, and lay there for a while basking in this stuff that has not been in their lives for the past 3 years. The excitement in Henry’s voice when he describes the detail that went into the snow fort he and a friend have been building. William regularly eating it and sucking every last bit of moisture out of his mittens.

Today was fun. It wasn’t like my usual snow day excitement, but fun. Now, looking forward to tomorrow…when I put them on the school bus, have a hot cup of coffee and enjoy 10 minutes of silence.

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Transitions

Transitions.

They’re hard.

We finished our blog today but took the easy way out. For those not sure of what I am talking about, T, H, W and I kept an ABC Gratitude blog during our last 26 days in Chennai, but quit a bit early due to, you know, moving prep and chaos. So, here we are in Minnesota, USA for the past 7 weeks and still unable to fully do justice to the gratitude journal that had the best of intentions. Someday it will be fun to read through. Not meant to entertain an audience, mostly meant to help us record, reflect and appreciate as we prepared to move back to the US. If you have any interest in seeing it, check out the link above.

Now, we’re in the heart of transition, and it’s not super easy.

Being back in Minnesota feels like another summer break. If you’ve never been to Minnesota in the summer, you must try it. It might be the best place on earth from June to August. The weather is wonderful, the mosquitos are not as intense as in South India, the heat/humidity is way more tolerable (we’ve only turned on our air conditioning 4 times). The people, restaurants, parks, trails, lakes and beer are all to die for. People keep asking me if we’re happy to be back and my response has always been, “Absolutely! Who doesn’t love MN in the summer!?”

Then reality hits. Social media makes it easy to see what friends from around the world are up to as they make their way back to the beloved city we called home for 3 years. While 3 years is not a lot to some, it is a solid amount if time for the Larsen family and created a space that really felt like home to us, with friends that will always feel like family. Watching life unfold on social media for others continuing that journey, therefore, is tough.

Let’s be clear. We made a choice to leave Chennai and head back to the USA, ready for what might come at us in terms of career paths, relationships with loved ones and this presidency. We decided it was time to be here. We think we’ll eventually feel like this was the better option for us at this time.

But being here is all but easy. It’s getting reacquainted with a house that once felt like home and we’re hopeful will again, with a lot of projects that need to be done while we await our shipment. It’s reconnecting with people we love so much, but also knowing they are not people we will see every day, or even every week for that matter. It’s figuring out life again in the USA, which, well….there’s reasons why we left in the first place.

We’re trying to be hopeful. For the right jobs to happen. For the right school situations for our boys. For the right balance for our family. Until then, we will take deep breaths and remind ourselves that we’re in transition.

 

Reflections

Just read this and realized I never published….so here it is. 

I haven’t blogged in what feels like a lifetime. While there are many reasons I have not been able to get myself to sit down and write to the point of publishing, there is one that has always been front and center for me. I have now decided to let that reason go.

I just reread some drafts of posts I’ve written over the past two years and never published. It is interesting and familiar to read my words from two years ago. It is also interesting and familiar to think about what has conspired since that time.

This journey. This journey is quickly coming to a close. Often more quickly than I’m ready for.

Feeling grateful tonight for many things. One could assume that through a series of setbacks over the past couple of months would lead me to believe India was trying to kick me to the curb. I am choosing to ignore the request and looking for opportunities for reflection over the next few weeks. Tonight is a night where reflection is central.

I interacted with a former student tonight who reminded me why I do my job. As we all do, we have moments of wonder…why did I chose this? Is this really what I want to be doing with my time? Am I actually doing anything for anyone? And then a chance FB interaction has you remembering that you do influence others in positive ways and are potential more of a mentor to others than you’re ever aware of. Feeling grateful for the interaction tonight, the interactions 8 years ago and then opportunity to provide mentorship to incredible humans.

Our power went out tonight for a period of time. This is a not an irregular thing to happen here, but usually reminds me of our privilege and comfort around access to regular power sources. My initial instinct of ‘ugh, we never turned on the air conditioner in our bedroom’ was immediately replaced with, ‘consider yourself privileged to live in a way that you can keep cool at night when it is 104 degrees in South India.

Work. Work continues to challenge me, mostly in good ways.

My thankfulness cup runneth over tonight. Case in point:
1. Former student reveals impact made on her and humbles my experience as a counselor. I do good work and don’t give myself enough credit.
2. Power goes out and I’m sitting here wishing I would have cranked up the air conditioning in my bedroom an hour ago to prepare a “cool”room in 105 degree heat. Remembering that most people in South India do not have that luxury that I normally take for granted.
3. Success at work with something that’s been brewing for quite a while. Accomplishing stuff. Grateful to have a job that I enjoy and great work relationships.

Buckets lists.

First of all, I don’t have one. I’m guessing most people don’t officially have a documented list, but I’m not even a person who has thought in terms of the meaning of that phrase. The Urban Dictionary defines it as “a list of things to do before you die.” That seems rather morbid to me. As the things people do that qualify as an item on their bucket list always sound awesome and enviable, it seems the phrase should be read as “things to do while you’re living this amazing life” instead. That sounds about right.

I’ve been thinking of experiences lately more in terms of YOLO. Not in a “we’re going to be careless, reckless or irresponsible” kind of way, but in a “why not” kind of attitude about this journey life is taking us on. I find that Todd and I often say to each other “can you believe___________” about what the current situation is in our day to day lives…whether it be related to experiences professionally, personally, globally. It’s been rather freeing and liberating to embrace the experiences around me, learn from them and create something new and different for myself (and our family) out of what was discovered.

I’m not sure if it was a “bucket list” experience or a “YOLO” experience, but we attended the First Communion of our nanny’s son last night. Either way, it was a “I never thought I’d be in that kind of situation in my lifetime” kind of experience. One that left me even more fascinated with India than I usually imagine is possible. One that left me appreciating more and more the opportunities I have to connect with and experience what is real life for many people we are surrounded by. Real. Authentic.

I have been to first communion celebrations before. In some ways (at least as far as I could gather), a Catholic first communion experience is similar whether it happens in Tamil tradition, culture and language in South India or in English in the middle of the USA. Boys and girls dressed in their white, almost bride-like Sunday (or Saturday night) best. Moms, dads, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins beam from ear to ear as their pre-teen family members make a religious commitment that I have yet to fully understand the depth of.

Many pieces of my 2.5 hours observing and participating in that mass were different however. I’m not sure if not knowing any of what was being said meant that I had more time to observe the commitment to this religious practice than I have taken in the past, or if having my camera in hand allowed me to seek out the emotional connection of it all. Either way…it was powerful.

The commitment people had to the reason they were there was incredible. The love for the words spoken, the connection, the comfort I could sense among them in the room was compelling. The beauty in the evening outweighed the extremely uncomfortable heat of it all (which in South India is not always easy to do).

Pride.

Thoughtfulness.

Joy.

Faith.

These pictures say more than my written expression can, as usual. Not on my bucket list per say, but an experience I will not soon forget and will likely never happen again in this lifetime.

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Perspective and Paradox

Perspective. We often find reason to seek out perspective since we arrived in India over a year ago. We did before moving overseas also, but it has never been so right in front of our faces as it is now. Our kids complain about dinner and we remind them of the food situation of other children right outside the front door. Henry is “uncomfortable” in the car and we suggest he look out his window at the overflowing, hot city bus driving beside us. Perspective allows us to appreciate what we have, gain a global view and remember what is important. Our kids are not the only ones in this family that need the reminder.

This city we live in is full of paradoxes for me. So much beauty in the simplicity of life that I witness, even along a short drive to work. So much chaos in the amount of people, yet the bustling around is like none I’ve ever seen. There’s a grace to the movements, a purpose to the step. A logical, practical purpose in a city that seems conflicted between old and new. Other times nothing seems logical or to make any sense whatsoever. A paradox.

Today, the chaos outweighed the simplicity. What I do not do well with in my profession outweighed the reverse. Overall, year two in India has dealt us many more highs than lows. We have already been back for one month, and it has felt good to know where we are, what we do and who we are surrounded by. Mostly, India feels good. But not today.

Today was hard. Today reminded me that sometimes this city overwhelms me to the brim. Sometimes what should be the simplest of tasks end up being much more difficult than I hoped. Sometimes I’m not a good parent. Always, I’m not a good puppy owner. And often, I’m too hard on myself. So now, I need to chalk today up for what it is and move on.

Perspective is realizing that passport renewal might cause a wrinkle in my day, but I’m currently in a position where I need to renew my passport so that I can continue to travel. Perspective.

Perspective is remembering that in my current position at an incredible school, I may feel a bit out of my league at times because I am being well-challenged professionally. I can seek out ways to improve my professional self and know I will be supported. Perspective.

At the current ages and stages of our kids, a bedtime routine is not easy. It is even less so at the end of a long day. The simplicity and chaos paradox culminated in giving up on a regular Wednesday night routine when a neighborhood celebration including fireworks started outside our front door. Instead of treating it as chaos (because let’s face it, when fireworks start bursting in the sky when it’s kid bedtime, you could choose to be frustrated), we made use of the experience and ended up on one of our beautiful balconies partaking in the light show. Tired but happy faces. Perspective. IMG_20150826_193151787 (1)

Stuff.

After a summer full of fun, friends, family, relaxation and countless wonderful times, I am now in full on packing mode as we leave the midwest in 2 days and start making our way back to the other side of the world.  My mind has shifted to stuff. Simply put…we have too much of it. This is one year after hosting multiple garage sales, Facebook group sales, Craigslist sales, and getting rid of “most” of our possessions before moving to India. Now, one year later we are packing our bags and getting ready to head back for year two….with too much stuff.

When we moved, part of the plan was to simplify. Life without Target (see that post here) is possible. Although we shipped many items we felt we wanted in India for the sake of comfort and familiarity, we simplified while there and discovered that necessities are very different from we once thought them to be.

That being said, after a summer in the USA we are once again facing too much stuff. Returning here after 10 months away has caused me to feel overwhelmed with options and at the same time excited about the purchase possibilities. I have spent more time than I care to admit in Target and shopping online this summer. While these experiences have been much more focused on items listed on the spreadsheet (yes, we had a spreadsheet) and not a slow, goal-less wander (again, see Target blog post here), there is still too much of it. Can my kids live without a back up pair of goggles this swimming season? What if Will grows out of his 3t apparel before we make it to next summer?

Let’s face it. Many people we know and/or observe in India and elsewhere around the world live with significantly less than what we will be bringing back in our 8 pieces of luggage (plus carry ons, car seat, stroller and hopefully my sanity). So why did we end up with so much stuff this summer? I’m attempting to allow myself to recognize that simplifying is not actually that simple. That riding of stuff and keeping ourselves from having too many unnecessary items is a process we all need to continue to improve upon. I am working on setting some goals for year 2 in India, and you better believe that a goal about stuff will be one of them.

Now, less than 48 hours before it all needs to be packed up, I’m left to figure out what is most important and what needs to be left behind. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. We’re returning to India for year 2 of what thus far has been a wonderful experience full of great people, jobs that challenge and motivate us and an overall experience of a lifetime. The stuff may or may not be along for the ride.

I’ll keep working at it. By the way…you should too.

Conquering Fears

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I’ve been thinking about my fears a lot lately. Growing up, I was always afraid of something; dogs, the dark, the dentist, thunderstorms. I remember jumping on my couch when we got our first puppy, terrified that she would be able to reach me and lick me all over attack.

In February, I traveled completely solo internationally. This much international travel is never something that I though I would have the means and access to. Over the past 9 months it has become somewhat of a norm.  Traveling internationally without (at least) Todd by my side was not on my radar. Anxiety always sets in for me prior to travel, and it was even more prominent when alone. I worked with it, owned it, and moved on. Fear conquered.

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Traveling with my toddler is another fear that I have had to work quickly to conquer. I’ve always be concerned about containing my children in confined spaces for long periods of time….will they misbehave, will they be too loud/irritating to other captive passengers? Will we have enough to entertain them, without succumbing to an abundance of screen time? Does that even matter? Will they sleep in strange places? My children have passports that are quickly filling up. With that comes experiences that make me forget those fears were even once a thing. Fear conquered.

Last weekend was no exception to the fear conquering I have been doing lately. I traveled with a group of high school girls to Bangladesh for a Soccer tournament. A wonderful group of young women and the ability to drink lattes while watching soccer for 3 days….sign me up! I discovered quickly that they sent me for a reason. Some injuries, one of which required me to stay overnight in a Bangladeshi hospital with one player, missing our flight home the next day. Advocating for your own child in a hospital in a foreign country is one thing (I’ve also done that). Advocating for someone else’s child (who speaks a different first language) in a hospital in a foreign country (whom speak a different language all together) is another. I became more assertive and direct in my communication to make sure she was getting what she needed. I supported her and we managed to arrive safely in Chennai the following day…glad to be home after the experiences had. Fear conquered.

This first year abroad has brought some of my fears and anxieties front and center. It has taught me to breath more deeply and put situations into perspective. The worry and fear has faded into a “lighter” me…more mindful and willing to “just be.”IMG_0624