11 days and counting

There was a bombing in Arusha a few weeks ago. Did you know that? (Don't feel bad if you didn't, unless you're closely following international news sources it's unlikely you did; my husband is living in Arusha and even I didn't know until he sent me a text.) A bomb was thrown into the window of an Indian restaurant; 8 people were injured, one man lost his leg. Most of them - maybe all of them - were Wahindi Tanzanians.  Tim and I often had date night there.

Unless you're living under a rock (no offense, but even I know of this one) you'll know that a plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine. 298 people on board were killed. The plane had departed from Amsterdam airport. Tim is flying through Amsterdam on his way home.

This weekend Oliver had a fever. Thankfully it lasted only 24ish hours, but he was irritable and lethargic and sad for at least three days. Yesterday he couldn't believe that I wouldn't let him have chocolate milk again before dinner. "I hungry," he wailed in the corner. "Why no more chocolate milk? I want daddy. I want daddy. I waaaaaaant daaaaaaaddyyyyyyy."

Eleanor has started drawing pictures with which she wants to plaster the walls for Tim's birthday surprise (Tim, if you read that, pretend that you're surprised). She cannot wait to buy something for his birthday, to make a cake - or maybe even a cake and cupcakes - and to celebrate it with him. Circled on the calendar that hangs by her desk in my parents' home office is the date he returns and last night she made a paper chain that she can rip each day until he returns.

When Alice sees him on FaceTime she still tries to look behind the phone to see where he is, and Oliver, when we have to say good-bye says "Daddy has to go away?"

But it's not all bad. In fact, it's almost all good (except when it's not.) On balance, we have had a remarkable summer: boating, swimming, beaching, playing in the woods, being with family. I have been reminded of all the things I loved about my own childhood summers in Maine and am so extremely thankful that I get to give a taste of that to my own kids. They have gone miniature golfing and ridden kiddie rides with my in-laws. They have gone boating and swimming in the lake with my parents. They regularly make houses and beauty salons and dress stores in the woods,  play with sticks and lead marching bands down the driveway, they garden and eat ice cream and go to the beach with their uncles and aunts (and adopted aunts, Annabel).

For all the complaining I have done about having Tim gone, what I really want to complain about is not having him here. (Yes, those two things are different.) Not having him here means that he doesn't get to share all of these experiences. He doesn't get to relive his own summers on Great Pond - swimming for hours, canoeing out to the islands, catching fireflies and sitting in front of a roaring fire on cold rainy evenings. He doesn't get to see the sunset over Portland Harbor while sipping bear and eating pizza at Flatbread and he doesn't get to watch our kids create plays in their forest theater. It's not fair to him, because these moments are priceless.  

So, because I don't want him gone and I don't want him to not be here, I think it's time that he comes home.

Just 11 days and counting.

a better me

When we plotted our summer in Maine, I knew it was going to be difficult. I expressed concern about it to Tim on several different occasions - that feeling of doubt that lurked in the background and made me question the wisdom of our plan. I thought about the kids being out of their routine and how much better - happier, better behaved - they are when they have one. I thought about being away from our home and our things and just having our own space. And, obviously, I thought about there being no dad. Which I knew would be hard for us all.

I just didn't know how hard it was actually going to be. The last week, in particular, has really taken a toll on me. When I thought about all the things that were going to be difficult, I thought about all the obvious ones. What I didn't think about was how hard it would be to have to be both disciplinarian and care giver: to have two children who are, at any given moment, simultaneously mad at me and yet don't want me out of their sight. I didn't think about how much the kids, and Eleanor in particular, would miss their playmates, classmates, and neighborhood kids. Grandma and Grandpas are awesome, but sometimes they are no substitute for another 5 year old who likes to dress up in princess costumes and wear 5 rings on each hand and play house. I didn't think about the fact that the kids would be deeply saddened by Tim's absence, not have words to express  - or even a real understanding of - those emotions and rather than express those feelings of sadness they would instead express anger. (Directed at me, remember.) And I didn't consider how much I would miss my routine and how being out of that routine would have unanticipated consequences.

This is not to say that I think it would all be better had we stayed in VA while Tim was gone. Trying to imagine the counterfactual is a bit of a ridiculous exercise and, given school closings and (long) weekends, and how many of our friends were also gone for the summer, and Southern summers generally (read: HOT and humid) I can tell you, with a fair degree of certainty, that staying at home alone with three kids would be much, much worse.

Still, I have felt myself becoming a person that I don't like over the last week. I am short tempered and impatient. I can't find my way around Oliver's acts of aggression (he's throwing everything he can get his hands on, although thankfully it's mostly without malicious intent), and can't even seem to get out of my own way to figure out what other tactics I might use to change his behavior. I feel tired and unbalanced. I'm not getting up early and not sleeping well (both of which I really like to do). And I seem to cry at the drop of a hat. Today I cried while watching a tampon commercial. Seriously. 

I have moments of pure brilliance with the kids, even here, even now. I have moment when I handle their emotions, and my own, with grace and genuine peace. I have really loved being home and reliving many of the experiences that I recall so finely from my own childhood. And to give that to my kids feels wonderful. But I miss my husband. And I miss myself with my husband. Because I am a better person with him than without him. This is the most clarity I have had with respect to this idea - and not just the idea of it but gut-wrentching, beautiful, emotion of it - that I can remember. 

I know that we will get to the end of this experience and cry that it's time to return to VA. I know we will look back with such fondness that we'll start counting the days until we can do it again the moment we cross the NH state line. If that were the only thing to come from these two months I would feel like this summer experiment was a success. But to know - through to my bones - that I am a better version of myself when my family is complete...well...that's a pretty magnificent unintended consequence. I'll take it. 

our Maine week

I bagan blogging 4 years ago when we - Tim, Eleanor and I - moved to Tanzania and I wanted a way to let our family and friends know what we were up to without writing the same damn email 2 dozen times. Since then, my commitment to blogging has waxed and waned, but lately I've felt some renewed vigor. It's noteworthy that my interest returned just as Tim left to return to the place where this all started

As I did then, I plan to do now: turn this blog into a means of sharing my life with the people I love. This time, however, it'll mainly be focused on one person. One person who three little people miss dearly. These three little people are changing daily, and saying all kinds of things that crack me up (and that would crack their dad up too). They are also three little people who hare having a blast with their grandparents and experiencing a Maine summer. Tim should know all of this. 

But where to begin...

Nicole seems to be doing great, considering that she has three very rambunctious and energetic young kids on her hands. Last week, of course, was the first week with my parents and I working in the house with them, and there were days when all three were down in the office "working". Eleanor, as you know, has her own desk in the office and she's worked really hard to create one for Oliver too. Most mornings she tells us that she "has a lot of phone calls and emails and Oliver has a lot of phone calls and you [meaning me, Kiyah] have a lot of...well...{she thinks about this for a second}...work to do too so you have to come in and sit down and be quiet." I spent most of Tuesday afternoon sitting on the floor to type because it was easier to let them work. They really were very diligent. 

They love the yard...love, love, love it. Eleanor especially has made several different homes for herself in various parts of the forest or along the rock walls. She even created a dress shop where she measured and dressed us all for a wedding (between my parents). I was the bride's mother, she was the bridesmaid, Oliver was the ring-bearer, and Alice was allowed to hang out (but she wasn't really part of the wedding). The plan was for all of us to be pulled to the wedding in different carriages drawn by white horses. Everyone except Grandpa, who was the groom. His was going to be drawn by sheep.

We've done a ton of grilling, had some early morning (and mid-afternoon) soaks in the hot tub, ridden bikes, watered the garden and harvested strawberries. They also had a blast on Thursday with your parents. When I showed up to get them they were all hoping around the house like the Kangaroos they had seen at the zoo.   

Alice is fascinated by the bear in my parent's room. She wants to say hello and good night to it every day. She also likes to pick its nose. She's saying several words now - including oatmeal, hello, and bye-bye - and she makes very clear when she means "yes" and when she means "no." She will also tell you what a fire truck and snake say. One of her favorite things to do is to rearrange the chairs on the porch. This morning I sat with my coffee while she did this, over and over and over, for a good 20 minutes. (And yes, she was wearing two different shoes, both Oliver's.)

As I shared with you, I want to do what I can to make the most of a Maine summer so we packed this weekend with activities. We went to Flatbread for dinner and walked along the railroad tracks. Oliver used the word humungous over and over to describe the train. He was overwhelmed with excitement. The ferry to Nova Scotia also docked that night after dinner and we all stood transfixed as it docked. Oliver still talks about it. 

Saturday we spent the day on the boat, motoring down the Songo river, through the locks, and up into Long Lake. It was a beautiful day - not too hot, not too cold. Only a few of us braved the water, but your two daughters made up exactly half of those who did! We had to pull Alice kicking and screaming from the river to warm her up. Sunday morning we ventured out to Two Light's State Park, where rock throwing took center stage. You were missed.

I think about you all the time, it's hard not to when I see these little ones. I was particularly impatient on Saturday after the river. It was a little long for the kids, and they were antsy and the boat is too small to have antsy little kids. I wasn't proud of being impatient, but am trying to cut myself some slack. I don't get up every morning like we used to, probably because it's not as much fun when it's just me.  I started running. Yesterday on my run I thought about how hard I thought this would be and how, at least for now, it's easier than I anticipated. That doesn't mean that I want to do this ever summer, but despite thinking of you all the time I don't hurt for you. I hope that doesn't sound callous. For me, it is actually reassuring; a sign of grown-up love. I much prefer experiencing things with you, but it's nice to know that I can do it without you for a little while. Even if it is a little less gracefully. 

10 years and a lousy t-shirt

Yesterday was my 10 year anniversary and the second one in a row that Tim and I have been apart. Last year he was at a conference in Norway {violin strings for him} and this year he's in Tanzania on what amounts to a 6 week safari with a little work thrown in {cue the violins, again}. I don't mean to suggest that he likes being away from me on our anniversary, because I know he doesn't, but it's true that he's been gone for the last two.

Despite his physical absence, however, he has managed (for two years running) to deliver a surprise anniversary gift. Last year, upon waking, I had a text message directing me to  look in the garage where we kept the extra cans of paint. Waiting for me was a gorgeous piece of pottery - a blueish-greenish glazed bowl that sits on our dining room table and is usually covered up by holds fruit. 

This year I came home after being out all day to this:

In sticking with the traditional wedding anniversary themes, he gave me a hand-crafted hammered aluminum serving bowl. It is beautiful. 

I know you're on the edge of your seat wondering what I managed to pull off delivering to him in Arusha. Maybe I sent over a tile cutter, with its diamond blades? Maybe a tin cup for drinking his masala chai tea every morning in the boma? Maybe, at the very least, a special dinner prepared by the guest house cook? All good guesses, but all wrong.

I gave him nothing. Terrible. I know.

Aside from the week-long trip to France last month, arranging the full summer of renters for our house, finding and managing the cleaning service in VA and our nanny in ME, maintaining a full-time job, and caring for our three children and one minivan while he is away I gave him nothing.

I was thinking about designing a t-shirt I could give him upon his return which reads: "I missed my anniversary two years in a row but managed to surprise my wife each time with a thoughtful gift and all I got was this lousy t-shirt!", but then thought that it would be too awesome and he wouldn't be able to walk down the street without being stopped every 15 seconds and asked where he got it. (That's how much I love you, honey.)

To be fair, I did buy us two tickets to a performance of Footloose by a fabulous theater company which performs every summer on the campus of our Alma Mater. That counts for something, right?

Seriously, Tim, after all these years you continue to amaze me and I am so lucky to be wandering through this life with you as my partner. And, if you happen to miss our 12th anniversary, opt for the modern theme.