Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Coming To America...from China

"The sun is riz,
The sun is set,
And AGAIN we iz
In Texas yet."

The "Big D" VS The "Pearl of the Orient"
David was active consulting, interviewing, and networking in the few months in between China and his new PerotSystems job. (Hard to imagine David as inactive, eh?) He did enjoy having lots of "special times" with the kids and reading Proverbs to them in the evenings...a new tradition that he has kept up this practice now that he is back at work. After 2 months on the East Coast, we headed down to Texas via Ohio and Missouri (beautiful state). Now here we are in Dallas.

Both Shanghai and Dallas are big cities, with lots of people and religious influences. But Texas seems to juxtapose itself in almost every way to China, or at least the two cities do: geographically, architecturally, culturally, religiously. We've gone from CCTV (Communist Party Television) in Chinese (Ni hao ma?) to the Telemundo! Channel (Hola! So fun to say "TELEMUNDO" with gusto! Maybe David is tired of hearing me do that.)

Dallas is a big, prosperous, sprawling, long-legged stretch-on-a-porch under a generous clear blue sky. There are lots of American-made trucks, well-kept ladies with good hair and painted toenails, and churches on every corner in this big city where everyone says the word "blessed" and the kid with 8 piercings says, "Yes, ma'am." Wide sidewalks and roads and office buildings stick out of the flat plain; manicured, grassy patches sit on the laps of big brick houses in perfect grids of neighborhoods filled with stay-at-home moms and kids on scooters. The houses are big, the hair is good, the heels are high, the diamonds are sparkling. Malls abound and include play areas...it's all sort of like a (benevolent) Truman Show or a hip 1950's. The furnished homes we visit as we house hunt are landscaped, cared-for, and full of portraits of family. It all may sound annoying to some cynics but you know, it is not annoying. Stereotypes aside, it is just seems easy, friendly, cheerful, and markedly UNcynical here.

While it was sad to leave that colorful, teeming, silk-and-dirt, concrete-and-porcelain city of Shanghai, every time we move to a new place, I find out again that the human heart in general is big enough to love a variety of places...Up to and including a crowded, noodle-eating, pressing, colorful, idol-filled Asian city and a big, wide, suburban, taco-eating, Bible Belt city.

In an amusing cultural note, in a store the other day and the clerk looked at my drivers license (still VA) and chuckled and said, "I knew you weren't from around here! Your jewelry is so discreet."

Things I Love about Being Back:
* Driving myself around (no taxis!) up high in my Honda Pilot with no cigarette smoke. Honda-mundo!
* Clean air! Breathe deeply! Ahhh! (You know it is bad in China when our expat friend calls from NYC and exclaims over the "lovely fresh air "after Beijing)
* Seeing all of our dear family, and touching base with some very special friends
* Yards and green spaces and playgrounds, oh my!
* Not having to "defend" my place in line
* Drive-thru Starbucks. Alrighty then!

Family update follows:

Local Color:
As we are eating our Easter cake, David says wryly, "Will, I am wondering why you eat your cake so much faster than you eat your breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
Will: "I get caught up with the talkin'. But cake is my favorite food, and, when I eat IT, I don't want to miss a single minute!"

Ben: "Did you notice how fast I am cleanin' up?" [Ben is the one who has struggled the most with cheerful and quick obedience in clean up time.]
Anne: "Oh yes, Ben, I did, and I am so pleased."
Ben: "I guess Jesus really changed my heart!"

Ben went on a special "guys time" with David and Will one Saturday. They returned and Ben came rushing in: "Guess what, mommy? Daddy showed us the hospital where I came out of the belly!" Sounds kind of like Jonah. (And goodness knows I felt like a whale with the 9-plus pound Ben inside me.)

Sarah is stroking my hair as we sit on the couch. A gentle, sweet mother-daughter moment. Then Sarah says softly, "Mind if I pull out these white hairs?"

Leading Cultural Indicators: Bedside Treasures
From time to time it is interested to examine one aspect of the minutiae of our lives to learn something about the big picture of "who we are." So I decided I would look at the bedside table next to each kid's bed to learn what I could about them. We have been quite transient the last few months, and are now in a temporary apartment, and so the little treasures, found and brought, that make it from place to place are usually quite special to the owner.

WILL: Lots of great stuff! ("Alright!" as Will would say. Will talks like Steve Irwin with an American accent. "How was your day, Will?" "It was GREAT, mom!" I keep expecting him to say "Crikey!") Six acorn caps, 2 silver pop gun pistols, Adventure Bible, Leap Pad with headphones, "Visual History" of space and astronauts, slip of paper with dad and mom's cell phone numbers, a Choose Your Own Adventure book, Treasure Island novel, chapstick. I surmise that this abundance reflects Will's interests -- everything! Will is a reader, a learner, a saver, a collector. He is the kind of kid who likes to fill his pockets with cool rocks he finds (and I find later in the laundry) and to save his pencils until they are nubbins. He is also a communicator, and he regales me with facts, interesting tidbits, and statistics. He likes "stuff and clutter," whether collections of things or collections of information.

BEN: Ben's bedside table is empty. His bed, though, is full of animals and old, special blankets, scattered in abandon. The bed gets "made" by pulling the blankets up in the morning right over the top of all the lumps and bumps (so the animals "stay warm" all day). He has Giant Thumper, Small Thumper, Christmas Darth Vader Dog, Benjamin Bear, Elephant Blanke [blanket], and Choo-Choo Blanke. These friends and associates corporately have gone with him all the way around the world and from house to house and really limit the amount of clothes I can fit it his suitcase! But with all the transitions it has been worth it. (Once Darth Vader Dog got left in Hong Kong, and It Was A Dark Time for Ben. The hotel found it in the laundry, and had it shipped back to us in Shanghai.) This all reflects Ben's personality and his focus on attachments and intimacy. He falls in easily and effortlessly with his peers in group settings; he treasures friendship and loyalty...and still loves to cuddle.

SARAH: Sarah's bedside table is clean and spartan. Her Children's Story Bible is laid neatly by her bed and perfectly squared off with the edge of the table! In her bed is one animal, Hannah the Pink Elephant. Sarah has asked me to keep her other stuffed animals packed, especially the small ones like Wombat, so that they are not left behind "on accident" when we move into our house. Eight cents also have been laid neatly on the bedside table. Sarah is a cautious, careful girl. She likes to have a plan and manage her things, and she is an excellent cleaner. She doesn't like surprises. She loves her animals and she cherishes her picture Bible.

So...What's on your bedside tables? What does it tell you about yourself, or your spouse and kids?

CURRENT: ...modes of employ for the Chamberlin boys, 7 and 6, include basketball at the local playground, digging up fire ant nests, and bombarding local 13-year-old girls with the "Incredibles" Super Soaker water gun from our second story apartment patio...an excellent ambush site. This latter activity is particularly rewarding: apparently teenage girls are the perfect targets as they "scream a lot even when we don't get them with the water" says Ben, in a mystified but satisfied way. Sarah, 4, is busy coloring with sidewalk chalk and working with her new bead kit. She has discovered the fully-American and springtime joy of the 7-11 Slurpee (nod to Nonna), and she is vigorously practicing her basketball dribbling and is quite good.