Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I Have Never Ever...

...Trimmed my children's fingernails.

Michael has done it 100% of the time for the last 10+ years. It's true. My husband was an amazing Dad from the minute that pink line showed up on the pregnancy test. He was born for the role of Daddy. He took on every physical task related to taking care of a baby except for feeding, and that's only because he lacked the appendages that Mama was blessed with. In fact, I didn't change my first diaper until my first born child was two weeks old.  Michael left on a business trip to Japan, leaving my own Mama to stay with me as I recovered from a forty hour labor followed by an emergency C-section. Baby Nathan needed changing and I realized that I had no idea how to do it! I had to call my Mom upstairs to show me what to do!

Though I quickly took over all the baby care tasks, one thing remained Michael's (and only Michael's) job. That of trimming Nathan's nails. Michael is very fastidious when it comes to grooming his own nails, so this became an enjoyable bonding time with our baby for him.

When I found out we were expecting Benjamin, I had a bizarre reaction to trimming nails: it made me throw up. I'd had severe morning sickness with Nathan that required frequent hospital stays and prescription medication to keep me hydrated because I threw up an average of 15 times every day, all nine months. With Ben, the vomiting was at least manageable. I only threw up two or three times a day. And unlike my pregnancy with Nathan where everything made me puke, morning sickness with Ben had specific triggers that I could easily avoid... chocolate, dairy, sourdough bread, salty food, and the sight or sound of someone trimming their nails. I couldn't even be in the same room or I'd instantly lose my lunch.

To deal with my own nails while pregnant, I discovered pedicures. I wear sandals most of the time, even in winter, even in the rain. Regular pedicures are a great way to keep my feet from looking like they are constantly exposed to the elements. And what pregnant woman doesn't crave a nice foot soak and massage? And best of all, someone else trims your toenails, while you bury yourself in the latest People Magazine and try not to pay attention to what's going on down there. For my fingernails, I just used a nail file, which didn't have the same nausea-producing effect as the clip, clip sound that came from the clippers.

When Michael left for Macau last week, he took both the fingernail clippers and his fingernail clipping skills with him. This was bad news for me, because even though they are 10 and 7, trimming nails is still part of Michael's routine with his boys. And even though I'm not pregnant and haven't been for nearly eight years, the sound of clipping nails still bothers me like no other sound. Nails on a chalkboard are more pleasing to my ears than nails getting clipped!

Today I bought nail clippers with the intention of getting over myself and just doing the job in front of me. And when I started to trim Ben's pinkie nail, I got a little woozy. I kept trying to get the clipper lined up properly, and then I'd have to let go of his hand because I chickened out. Nathan was watching me carefully, trying to give me encouragement. Finally, Ben let me off the hook and said, "I'm almost eight. I'm pretty sure I can just do this by myself, Mom." And I let him.


He did a great job, totally unsupervised by his Mom, who hid out in the studio checking Facebook and shouting "Are you done yet?" every few minutes.

I can handle blood, vomit, diaper explosions, tears, slimy green trails that come out of runny noses, bugs that crawl and fly, colicky babies who cry for hours, and stinky boy smell, but I am easily and completely conquered by a teeny, tiny pair of fingernail clippers in action. We all have our weaknesses, right?

I'm just fortunate that in the areas that I'm weak, my hubby is super strong. The same is true of the reverse. Need someone to pack up your entire house in 4 to 10 weeks so you can move to a foreign country? Do not call Michael. He's clueless and inexperienced in this area, always conveniently out of town right before a relocation. You need me. I'm an international (moving) super star!

Sixty-five more days, and the unstoppable team of Michael + Heather will be back in full force, on the same continent!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Happy Easter!

Every year on Easter, we take a family snapshot (you can see them here, here, here, and here). This year, for the first time, we're not all together, so no big group shot. But we did take pics of each other via Skype on our respective Easter Sundays (Michael is 15 hours ahead of us).

We're kind of like a tree, blossoming out of Michael's head. Nice!

If you actually clicked on the links to our past Easter photos, you'll see one that includes our "adopted" son, Chris, his wife, and his brother. About a month ago, before there was even a glimmer of Macau on the horizon, we told our "adopted" daughter Michelle that she simply had to go to church with us on Easter so she could be part of our annual Easter photo tradition. Because if you're in the photo, you're family. (We collect extended family like some people collect snowglobes). But now that Easter is here, we realized that our photo was going to be incomplete. But, we took one anyway. Tradition!


I hope you are having a wonderful Easter,
where ever this day may find you!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Distractions

Sorry to be absent here... I've got all the Japan Stories just about ready to post so I'll get back on that soon. Funny how I started posting about our time living and working in Japan and then suddenly we're moving out of the country again... Maybe I should have done it a long time ago!

This week I've been focusing on not accomplishing anything other than being 100% present with the boys when they are home, and just being good to myself while they are not. "Being good to myself" involves a lot of reading and laying about being lazy. Which is fine because for the last two weeks I worked around the clock getting Michael ready to go, and for the next eleven weeks I'll be doing the same as I get rid of our possessions and prepare for the family move. I owe it to myself to do nothing for a week without guilt. So far, the boys have been angels. Could it be because I'm lavishing attention on them? I've also heaped a lot more responsibility on both of them, which they've taken on with relish. Michael used to do all the dishes, which was his way of showing his appreciation for me doing all the cooking. I hate doing the dishes and tend to put it off, even if all I have to do is rinse and put the plates in the dishwasher. So I'm having the boys immediately rinse their own dishes and put them directly in the dishwasher, no pausing to rest in the sink for Mom to find later. Nathan is already responsible for putting away all the dishes once they are clean. Now I just gotta get the boys to sort the clean socks... another task that I loathe that I always left for Michael! I hate socks so much that I almost always wear sandals, even in the rain, even in winter. I happily let the boys wear sandals all summer because it means less sock sorting!

Michael has been sending me lots of photos which I'll be sharing here starting next week. But I had to share one right now:


This is the welcome pack he got on his first day of work. A tee shirt, satchel, welcome book, and the thing I'm most excited about... a leather-bound binder that has little cards of all the attractions and sights in Macau in Chinese, perfect to show the taxi driver! I can't wait to go exploring! For the first time I've allowed myself to start daydreaming about what life is going to be like there, and it gives me ripples of excitement in my belly. Which is so much better than the pit of dread I was feeling as we prepared for Michael to depart. Of course, we've already been to about 85% of the sights in Macau as a family back in 2005. But that was with a preschooler and toddler, at a pace fast enough to keep them interested. Things are different now, and I'm so glad that even though they can be stink bugs on many occasions, I have raised two boys who are excellent travellers! Can't wait!

I already told Michael that he shouldn't get too attached to that tee... it's gonna be mine, all mine. And that satchel... I don't know if you can see it, but I'm pretty sure my name is there on it. Small price to pay for all the work that awaits me starting next week, right?

See you again soon!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Safe and Sound

Michael arrived in Macau about an hour ago, got unpacked, and set up his computer so we could chat on Skype.

Skype is awesome! So is Michael!

Since I went to bed promptly at 8:30 pm last night, getting up to do the 6:30 a.m. morning routine with the boys wasn't a hardship at all. I'll probably pass out this afternoon, but for right now, all is good! Amazing what ten hours of sleep can do for one's outlook on life! Unfortunately, Michael barely slept on the flight, so he's struggling to keep his eyes open (see photo evidence above). It's just after midnight in Macau, so hopefully he will climb into bed and sleep right now! Sweet dreams, Michael!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

72 Days Without Michael: Day 1

The two weeks we had with Michael went by at record speed. Last night we finished packing up the few things he needed, washed the clothes he planned to wear on the plane, and I gave him a quick 2:00 a.m. haircut. Since he'll surely need a haircut within the next eleven weeks, we figured it would be best to start him off with a fresh cut. At the 6:00 a.m. alarm, I went to wake up the boys and found Ben was already sitting up in bed, his cheeks wet from tears. I told him to go snuggle his Dad and then worked on waking Nathan.

We got out the door at 6:30 and made our way over to LAX as a family. A lot of people had offered to take Michael to the airport this morning, but I wanted to do it myself for a couple of reasons. First of all, I didn't want the boys and I to have our last memory of Michael before we see him again in July to be one where he's walking out our front door. So much better, especially for the boys, if we can see him walking away into the airport. Second, I love him and wanted to spend every last second with him that I could.

Ben drew a picture of our family saying Bye Daddy and telling him how much we love him, and then he attached it to a lanyard so Michael could wear it around his neck, which he proudly did.


We were a pitiful sight, our family. We stood on the sidewalk outside of United Airlines, holding each other as all four of us just cried and cried. It's certainly not the first time we've been separated (thanks to touring productions, it took until our fourth wedding anniversary before we'd spent more time together than apart!), but it is the first time that the boys have been 10 and 7 and fully aware of what is going on and knowing just how long 72 days are.


While we stood there sobbing in a big family hug, one of the shuttle drivers stopped her vehicle and got out and walked over to us. For a moment I thought she was the airport police there to shoo us off (you're not allowed to get out of your car at LAX, you just gotta move along). She put her arms around Michael and I, and let out a big sob of her own. Through her tears, she said she was sitting there in her shuttle, watching us say goodbye and she just couldn't stand it, she had to come wish us well and tell us that it was going to all be okay. It was so random, yet comforting.

Finally I got the boys back in the van and I gave Michael one last squeeze before I drove away. I could see him sobbing as he turned, and the boys and I were wailing before I even pulled away from the curb.

Knowing that today was going to be difficult, I lined up three things that I thought would give the boys a boost. After dropping Mike off, but before school, I took them to McDonald's for breakfast for the first time in their lives. I got them both the breakfast platter that came with pancakes, bacon, sausage, hash browns, eggs, and an English muffin. Both of them ate every bite. Then, I let both of them buy lunch instead of making it. This year they have each been responsible for making their own school lunches, including making the shopping list for what they want in their lunches. They beg all the time to buy lunch, but I almost never let them do it. They were thrilled. And finally, after school I arranged to go over to our friend Megan's house to visit some baby kittens that the boys could hold and snuggle and love on. Michael is horribly allergic to cats, so if the three of us were going to spend a few hours being close to kitties, today was the day to do it! They couldn't decide which of these three things were the best. Benjamin commented: Why does the very worst day and the very best day have to fall on the same day?


I know we're going to make it, but I feel like we all need some extra grace this week. No plans, just chilling. Michael's plane lands in Hong Kong at 3:00 a.m. tomorrow our time, and then he'll take the ferry over to Macau. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to sleep like the dead starting at 3:15 a.m. knowing he's safely back on land after his fourteen hour flight, but for now I'm just a zombie, with streaks of wimpy waterproof mascara under my eyes. At least the boys are playing nice and helping each other with their homework and chores. Am I foolish to believe that this behavior might continue? Please God, let it!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Preparations

How exactly does one prepare for a move out of the country in one week? Thankfully, whatever Michael forgets can be sent along after him, at least for the next couple of months. I made a list of the things he absolutely has to do to help me out (go through all his clothes and purge what he no longer likes/wears/fits, clean the BBQ that I'm not willing to touch, etc.), and then a second list of things he needs to acquire before he gets on that plane. Today we scratched off the three biggies: steel-toed boots for the job site, athletic shoes for all the commuting he'll be doing via foot, and a lightweight rain coat because it rains 15 out of 30 days during Spring in Macau.

We also took the coin jar from his nightstand that has accumulated 4+ years of daily pocket change and cashed it in at a CoinStar machine. After all, he won't be needing quarters any time soon and it would be silly to store it. We've recently been raiding it for weekly Dairy Queen runs after the boys are in bed, but even with that we managed to cash in $95 worth of coins! I felt like we won at a slot machine when the number kept getting higher and higher!

Over dinner tonight I brought up the subject of what to do with my substantial Alice in Wonderland collection. Should we ship it over and use it to decorate the dining room of our new flat, as we've done in every house we've lived in for the last several moves? Should we store it? And if we just bring the art that currently lines the walls, should I put my collection of antique Alice dolls in storage? After all, what would I do with them in Macau? Even here in our current house they are simply laid on a shelf on top of each other rather than on display.

I looked over at Nathan as I pondered this dilemma and noticed his eyes were wide and quite wet. "Mom, you have to bring the dolls. You can't leave them in a box. You just can't DO that to your dolls!" His passionate speech got me a little choked up. I decided that no matter what else may accompany us to Macau, the dolls will definitely be among the lucky items that make the cut. He was so relieved. And frankly, I find myself a little relieved as well. Not about the dolls... but about the boy. He's ten going on 16, with all the sassiness and snarkiness one could expect from a teenager. Sometimes I look at him with his long hair (his choice) and his slouchy posture and I wonder where in the world that affectionate toddler and joyously happy preschooler went. And on nights like tonight, I am relieved to see that there is still a little kid left in him after all.

Now if only it was that easy to make a decision about the other thousand things we have to decide what to do with!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Moving to Macau, China. Again.

Three years ago, our family was packed up and ready to move to Macau. My husband was working on developing a brand new show, and we were going to relocate for a few years as it got off the ground. We'd sold off a lot of our household goods, and purchased our favorite hair care products in bulk. The boys were registered for a new school and we had the lease agreement in hand for our beautiful new flat in Macau. After having lived in Japan and Hong Kong for short term relocations, I was so ready to settle into 2+ years of living in a foreign country.

Thirty days before we were scheduled to get on the plane, the whole world went through a major financial crisis. The publicly owned corporation that was funding the show saw their stock go on a free fall from the $200 range to an all time low of less than $4USD per share. It wasn't just our flight reservations that were cancelled that day. Ultimately the entire project was cancelled and everyone, my husband included, lost their jobs.

It was devastating. I felt like the butt of a very cruel joke as I sat in our living room filled with carefully packed boxes that would now need to be unpacked. Our saving grace was that the bottom fell out while we still had a home here in the U.S, and not after we'd already given everything up and relocated. Can you imagine?

Our family in front of the Ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral in Macau during a visit in 2005 while we lived in Hong Kong.

Fast forward to this January, when Michael once again found himself under-employed. A project he thought would keep him employed for the long term abruptly ended, while scene shops and production companies that had plenty of work in 2010 found themselves laying off staff in the New Year. We struggled along and this time our saving grace was the fact that we'd been working diligently to get out of debt and built up an emergency fund.

Right about the time when we were at our lowest point, Michael got a phone call from someone who had seen his resume and felt that his skills perfectly matched up with a position as Technical Director for a $2.5 million show that had recently opened up... in Macau, China.

He spent about a week doing interviews via Skype and phone, and finally he was offered the position. We had three days to decide. Of course, during those three days, Michael had to take the boys to Cub Scout Rocket Camp and then do a load out of a show in Orange County. So all our decision making was done via text message (so grateful for unlimited texting!).

We had a handful of concerns that Michael was prepared to negotiate. But when he finally connected with them very early on Monday morning, they addressed the concerns in our favor without Michael having to say a word. So... it looks like we are moving to Macau. Again. For real this time!

Here's the tough part: Michael will actually leave in twelve days. They need him as soon as possible so he can learn the show from the departing technical director. The boys and I will remain here in Los Angeles until early July so they can finish out the school year and our accompanying family visas can be processed. Then Michael will come back briefly to collect us and we'll fly together to our new home in Macau. The next 90 days will be the most difficult part of the whole thing. The boys and I are enormous fans of Michael and are going to miss him like crazy.


Standing on the highest point in Macau. The buildings on our side of the water are in Macau.
What you see on the far side of the water is China.

This is an amazing opportunity, a much bigger deal than the previous gig that fell through. I'm filled with equal parts excitement and dread, which means I'm not sleeping and can't eat and can hardly breathe. Once again we're getting rid of our household goods that would be less expensive to purchase than to store for 2+ years. The flats in Macau come furnished, so we'll only ship over a couple things, like the boys' bunk beds made by my Dad and such.

Macau is a Special Administrative Region to China, much like Hong Kong. It has an autonomous government in all areas except foreign affairs and defence, in which it must defer to China. The entire country is only eleven square miles, yet there are half a million people residing there, making it the most densely populated place on Earth. I don't think they'll notice another four people, do you?

Of course, you probably want details on the show Michael will be working on, right? Okay, I'll spill! It is a show called The House of Dancing Water, directed by Franco Dragone, one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil. It has so many technical details, my husband drools when he starts talking about it! Here is a one minute trailer for the show, just to give you an idea:




Crazy huh? Very exciting, and very much a dream come true for our whole family. Now pardon me if I make myself scarce in these parts over the next two weeks. I have to soak up every minute I still have with my husband!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Broken Record

One of Ben's favorite things to make is Sugar Cinnamon Toast. Which is simply buttered toast with sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top. I'm pretty sure that's the only thing I digested while I was pregnant with him (everything else came back up thanks to morning-noon-and-night sickness), so I'm not surprised he loves it. Are there any foods that don't actually get better when you pour sugar on them? Not to a seven year old boy!

The last time Ben made toast, he grabbed the sugar jar and tilted it just a tad too far, resulting in the lid sliding right off. It landed on the tiled kitchen floor, where it broke into four pieces. Horrified, Ben crouched on the floor and instantly started crying, repeating, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."

I started crying right along with him, and that made it worse, because he thought I was angry at him. I wasn't angry, I was just a little shocked and surprised (and I always cry when my kids cry. Involuntary reaction). Because somehow in just shy of 15 years of marriage and 10+ moves, we've never broken any part of the place settings we received as gifts for our wedding. We didn't register for fine china, just the simple but elegant Filigree set from Pfaltzgraff, which we've used every day for the last 15 years. It's served us well and I'm still happy with it. And I have to admit that just before the broken sugar bowl incident, I was marveling that we haven't had to replace a dozen broken plates in the ten years we've had kids. After all, I have quite a few memories of accidentally breaking plates, bowls, and glasses, both at my home and at my Grandmother Rose's house during my childhood.  How lucky we are, I thought just a few weeks ago, to have stayed intact all these years!


I tried to explain my thoughts to Ben, to take away the obvious guilt that was written all over him. It was an accident, and no matter how careful we are, sometimes things break. And it's okay to be sad at the loss of a perfect record, without getting angry at the person who shattered it. I just held him and wiped away his tears and collected all the broken pieces.

Internally, I felt gratitude that this happened when I had 10 years of parenting under my belt instead of during the earlier years when I might have exploded at a grubby-fingered toddler for destroying something, perhaps destroying something more important in the process, like his self-esteem or our relationship. We grow and change and (hopefully) become better people as we raise our kids. And thankfully, sugar bowls can be replaced.

But not Benjamin. He's one of a kind.