Friday, July 10, 2015

In Which (My) Pride Comes Before (Her) Fall

The pantsuit was an impulse buy.  After all, a 30-something mommy cannot live in yoga pants alone, and every now and then, has the desire to break the shorts-and-tank-top monotony.  So when I saw it, with its beautiful turquoise and navy, flowy fabric, on sale, I kind of had to have it.  No matter that the strapless top made me feel a little exposed, or the fact that I would have to pull it all the way down if I happened to have to pee while out and about and wearing it. It was fabulous, and so this mommy bought it.

I wore this fabulous 1970's throwback to the library the other day.  It was the weekly story hour, and the kids and I browsed for books for about ten minutes before it was time to go in for the program.  Sophie (8) always goes straight for the graphic novels (that's my little nerdlet), and Xander (6) usually grabs every Fly Guy book on the shelf, regardless of the fact that he just read them all through a week ago.  And the week before that.  And the week before that.  Manasseh (3) is just happy to wander near where sister and brother are.

Except that when it was time to go in to hear the story, he decided he did NOT want to sit and listen to Skippyjon Jones.  He did NOT want to make a super hero mask.  What he did want to do, was to thrust my phone at me and say loudly, "Call Gigi!  CALL GIGI!  Baby talk to Gigi!"

Yes, my 3 year old refers to himself as Baby.  He is, after all, the baby.  He probably will be the baby when he is a 30-something father himself, although hopefully his grammar will have improved by then.

Fortunately Gigi is on this side of the Atlantic at the moment, so I sent her a quick text.  "Mom, you there?  Want to Skype?" and took Manasseh out to the play area that sits in our library's children's room.  Mom and I chatted while Nasseh studiously pretended to ignore her, and while the bigs were doing their craft.  Then it was time for lunch.

Our school district provides free lunches to children birth through 18, during the summer months.  It is a state funded program that ensures no child will go hungry in the summertime, when they don't have access to the free school lunches.  There are also breakfast and dinner sites around the town.  One of the lunch sites, conveniently, is the library's front lawn, where an ancient cottonwood tree casts its benevolent shade over the grassy slope.  The lunch ladies had set up a folding table and were handing out hamburgers and milk to the families and daycares filtering out from the library.  I spread our blanket near some friends, and we settled in to eat.

At this point I was grateful I had opted for my pantsuit instead of a dress, because here I was, breezily lounging on the grass, delightfully cool and free to sit however I wanted to, while smugly aware that yes I looked f.a.b.o.  The kids quickly ate their lunches, then ran to play as I chatted with the other moms.

They ran back.  "Mom, we found tadpoles!"

Stop.  The ever-loving.  Presses.

In this dusty, desert town, finding tadpoles is akin to finding, say, a fluffy unicorn calmly buffing its horn against your Ford Taurus.  It just doesn't happen.  But miracle of all miracles, we've had a magnificently rainy summer, and the drainage ditch behind the library had actual water in it.  And in that water, there were, indeed, actual tadpoles.

Of course we had to catch some.

So off we set to find the children's librarian, because as everyone knows, children's librarians are the packiest of pack rats, and always have the necessary things for any emergency, including plastic cups for tadpole collecting.  And she did not let us down.  The librarian produced not only a cup for each family represented, but an extra one for herself (of course she wanted some tadpoles, too), and one for scooping and capturing the things.

The drainage ditch behind the library is at the bottom of a steep slope.  A small pond had collected there, complete with some fledgling rushes tentatively and bravely setting root, like it was normal to have a marsh habitat in the middle of the desert.  An impossibly neon blue dragonfly darted past, dipped slightly into the water, and flew off again, leaving a spreading pattern of rings on the surface of the pond.  Dark shapes darted erratically through the murk near the shore.  There were, indeed, tadpoles.  We were all enchanted.

That's how I came to be stooped down in a drainage ditch, my sparkly teal toenails buried in murk, surrounded by excited kids holding plastic cups, fishing for polliwogs as the traffic roared past.  Feeling utterly ridiculous now in the jumpsuit that had seemed such a fabulous choice.  Apparently, it wasn't as practical as I had thought.

Disregarding the sweat dripping into my eyes and the pungent musk coming off of the water, I pulled the loose fabric tight between my crouching calves so that it didn't drop into the water, and carefully scooped the wriggly little buggers out of the shallows.  We got enough for each kid to have a pet-slash-science-experiment to take home, plus some extras for our intrepid librarian.

Apparently, however, I didn't get enough for the librarian, because she left this message on my timeline a few days later.

Oh the things we will do for Science.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Things I Carry

A fellow missionary kid asked today ... "What do you carry with you?"


I carry with me the warm sun, and the stale smell of coconut oil in my friends' hair.

I carry a beach full of dark shapes, blurred from distance and tears, as the canoe pulled me inexorably away.

I carry a light green My Little Pony and my sister's lavendar one, prancing together on a trans-Pacific airplane's fold-down trays, and the kind smile of the stewardess, and not being able to reach the air nozzel from my seat because my arms were too short.  I carry a shiny new Bible Storybook given to me by my grandmother, and her earnest admonition to share these stories with my new Island friends.  The pictures were glossy and I was careful not to spill Sprite on them when the stewardess handed it to me, sparkling in a clear plastic cup.  I carry the delight of that Sprite, too.

I carry pounds and pounds of taro pudding, eaten because it wasn't polite to refuse.  Eaten because I didn't know the words to say, "No thank you, I've had enough."  Eaten because a smiling, brown faced woman offered it to me, warm and kind in spite of her missing teeth and gently swinging breasts.  I carry her delight that the white child ate her taro pudding, and I also carry the hungry looks of the children sitting on the periphary of the hut.

I carry the first moment the language sprung from my mouth, words flowing ready and fluid from brain to tongue.  In that moment I belonged, and I carry the belonging as well.  I carry belonging to a village, to a unit, to an entire group of people.  I carry always being cared for.  I carry being part of something larger than myself.  I carry volleyball games and four square and picnicking on the beach and diving off the reef.  I carry looking down at my white skin and being shocked by the strangeness of it.

I carry scars.  A perfect circle on the top of my left foot marks the tropical ulcer that almost ate its way completely through my foot.  My right toenail is forever cracked in two pieces, from the time I hit it against a rock hidden in the sand.  The pointer finger of my left hand has a white crescent moon, from when the knife slipped while I was peeling taro.  A blue dot on my calf from when I tattooed myself out of curiosity.

I carry full moon nights when the light was ghostly and bright, and the thrill of walking with my friends past a shadowed group of boys, knowing they were looking at me.  I carry our overly loud laughter, and the boys' answering boasts.  I carry the stolen touches on my breasts and bottom.  But I never told.  I never told.

I carry the sea.  Diving down to scoop the tinkling sand, balancing my tiptoes on coral heads and bouncing to keep my chin above the waves, feeling safe in the omnipresent roar of it.

I carry clattering coconut trees and monsoon rains.  Smoke drifting silent and heavy around shaggy huts.  Packs of naked children.  Raucus laughter of women as they sit weaving mats in the shade.  Happily drunk men passing coconut toddy and dancing to 'Red Red Wine'.  Steaming coconut rice and fish soup.  Nets strung out to dry.  Delisciously muscled teenagers carrying their canoes down to the lagoon.  Public fights between spouses.  The church bells every morning and evening.  The village's hush as the Magnificat is sung from the church, in nasal harmony.

I carry the warm brown faces, and the suspicious ones.  I carry hugs against soft, bare breasts and snuffling kisses against my cheeks.  I carry wails of 'Alohai-e' as the canoe pulls me away, away.

I carry loss and I carry joy and I carry it all tangled up inside of me in a knotted ball of strings.

Friday, June 26, 2015

I Don't Know Why You Say Goodbye, When I Say Hello

I write about transition a lot.  Probably because my entire life has basically been a series of hello, goodbyes.  A therapist friend of mine, who is also an MK (she wrote a fabulous book, you should check it out) once told me, after I had called her sobbing on the phone, "Transitions will be a trigger your entire life."

But maybe I should back up.

I called her after a day spent slumped over my kitchen counter.  Literally.  Well, maybe not literally, but all I remember of that day was wandering into the kitchen (to clean?  Get a glass of water?  Plug in my phone?), my feet feeling like they had been encased in fifty pound blocks of concrete, my body heavy, my ears muffled like someone had stuffed cotton balls into them then duct taped the cotton balls into place.  My hands swinging and strange from my arm sockets.  My tongue swollen in my mouth.  My eyes puffy and itchy.  By the time I got to the counter, I forgot what I had even gone in there for.  Bending at the waist, I rested my chest down onto the cool laminate.  My arms out like goal posts, anchoring me.  My cheek heavy and slack on the scuffed plastic.

I closed my grateful eyes and slipped into a blessedly dark, quiet nothingness.  When I was younger, I used to slip out sometimes to the lagoon and wade in to where the water lapped warm and gentle at my collarbone.  I'd pull my feet up off the sandy bottom, close my eyes, and let myself float submerged in a world where the only sound was the distant tinkling of sand and the only feeling was the embrace of the Pacific.  This is how it felt now.  Except that it seemed my brain was also suspended, because I couldn't think.  I couldn't feel.

But maybe I should back up.

It began with a stupid argument, one that we'd had a million times and probably will have a million more.  But this time instead of our practiced and honed draw-away-come-back-together dance, I drew away and couldn't come back.  For some inexplicable reason I backed up too far and found a cliff I had never realized was there, misstepped, and found myself tumbling over the dark edge, arms windmilling, hair slapping my face, clothing tearing against my body.

I landed in a crumpled heap on my bathroom floor.  Propped against the wall.  Sobbing and unable to stop.  Unable to catch my breath.  Unable to think.

I think the clinical term for it is disassociation.  Or maybe it was a re-association.  Maybe my younger selves had been there all along, waiting inside me.  Because that's suddenly where my mind went.  I was eight and crying and saying goodbye to my room on Devereux Street.  I was nine and hiding from the laughing Islanders.  I was eleven and confused at the middle school lunch table.  I was fourteen and my Island sisters were rubbing their tear-wet cheeks against mine, as the boat slowly pulled away from my island for good.

And curled in a rumpled ball on my bathroom floor, I raised my wet face to the heavens and sobbed, "Why, God?  Why?  Why did it have to be MY family?  Why break up MY family for YOUR gospel?  It's YOUR gospel.  Why did MY family have to suffer for it?"

I said it but expected my words to fall back from heaven around me.  I expected empty silence.  I expected a turned head and a deaf ear.


Jesus was there.  He stepped in with me, into the ball of pain, and put his hand on my shoulder, and smiled in the most gentle way.  "I know," he said.

"I'm here," he said.

"I'm sorry you hurt," he said.

And somehow, that was enough.  Enough to calm my racing heart.  Enough to settle a blanket of blessed numbness over my bruised awareness.  Enough to receive the loving and worried ministrations of my husband.  Enough to get the kids off to school the next day, and then slump in heavy release over my kitchen counter.  Enough to call a therapist.

Enough to finally start facing the pain and the trauma and the anger and the joy and the loss and the love, to start untangling all the mixed up experiences and feelings, that had lain patient and waiting until such a time as this.


I want to encourage you, sister or brother, fellow TCK survivor, that you are not alone in your lonliness.  You're not alone in the always-leaving.  You're not alone in saying hello goobye with a smile on your face.  This is something that every kid growing up between worlds, experiences.  Therapy helps.  A lot.  Talking about it helps.  A lot.

Finally looking at the anger and the pain, in a safe place, frees you up fully live and fully feel in other areas in your life.

Here's to holding the goodbyes and hellos with open hands and tender heart.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Thoughts on the Naugler Family - A Conservative's View

A story has come up in the past few weeks about homesteading and unschooling family, Joe and Nichole Naugler.  The controversy surrounding the seizure of their 10 children by CPS, followed by subsequent criminal charges against the family's patriarch, has touched my little corner of the country because most of the people in these New Mexican mountains are rough, tough, and don't take kindly to government interference.  I've heard it said that New Mexico is the 'last frontier' in America, and in many ways it's true.  We are an independent, surly lot, and many pockets of this state greatly resemble the lost-but-not-forgotten Old West of cowboy and gunslinger lore.  Leave us alone, and we'll leave you alone.

Except when it comes to children.  When a person's expression of their civil liberties causes harm the helpless and voiceless in their life, then they have gone too far.  Just as 'free speech' doesn't mean you can stand up and yell, "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, 'the pursuit of happiness' doesn't mean you can subject your vomiting children to a 'camp out' around a fire pit.  In the Solomons once, my mom, sister, brother and I ate tainted meat from a can (fed to us by an Islander who didn't know better).  I have experienced food poisoning without indoor plumbing.  Projecting fluids from both sides of your body, into a metal basin, while laying on a pallet on the floor, is just a half step above literal hell.  To subject your children to it when there are medical facilities within driving distance is unspeakably cruel. 

Homescholers Anonymous published a wonderfully analytical piece by a former off-grid, homeschooled child that goes into far better detail than I can about how the Nauglers are doing homesteading all wrong.  It is highly recommended reading.  Also recommended is a perusal of the family's own Facebook page, Blessed Little Homestead.  Truly, the pictures they post are evidence enough in my mind that the kids are being needlessly subjected to a lifestyle that is physically and psychologically harmful.  

I also wrote a piece for HA, telling about my experience on Luaniua and comparing it to the living conditions of the Naugler family. 

My hope is that the state of Kentucky does its job in prosecuting the Naugler parents and protecting the Naugler kids.  My hope is also that those who are defending the Nauglers will come to the realization that this is not a civil liberties issue.  As a libertarian-leaning Republican, who also lives many aspects of the homesteading lifestyle, whose parents built their own home from scratch while their young kids lived in it, and who lived in what many would call deprivation while on the island, I can confidently say from personal experience that the Naugler lifestyle is, simply put, abusive.  Please don't let political dogmatism cause you to lose sight of what's really happening here.  Because then you become part of the problem.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Goodbye Islands, Hello Western World

Leavings have been the paragraph breaks of my life.  My life has a lot of paragraphs.

The Solomon Islands' main airport is known colloquially as Henderson Field.  The long airstrip was first laid into the jungle by American GI's so they could better fight the Japs on Guadalcanal.  International flights still use it today.  It was the portal through which we transitioned from Island to American.  Like some sort of SciFi warping mechanism that sheds a person's skin, on the Solomons side of that departure gate I was Danica, the white Solomon Islander.  Once I stepped through, I became Danica, the awkward American.

Whenever anyone in our missionary group would leave the country to go back on furlough, we'd all gather at that gate to say goodbye.  The leaving family would be dressed in their very best clothes and everyone was smiling.  Because that's what you do when family leaves, you smile and say, "See ya later!", not, "Don't go, you're making a hole in my heart."  If you happened to be the ones leaving it was double hard, because stepping into that void meant you were losing the family everyone else got to keep for a while longer.  My memories of actually stepping through the gate and onto the Western bound plane are pretty nonexistent, but I do remember my stomach feeling like a school of bonito had taken up residence in it, and the air being muffled, and not being able to hear much or really even breathe.

Another family from our missionary group leaving at Henderson Field.  I'm the awkward one with a strained smile at the very right.

Our first stop as we leapfrogged across the Pacific was usually Vanuatu.  Vanuatu at that time was more Westernized than the Solomons were, so many of the locals we came across on our layovers there spoke pretty good English.  I usually didn't speak at all to them, though, and let my mom and dad do the talking.  It felt immensely strange to be talking to an Islander in English, the white man's language, instead of Pijin, the shared trade language of the Solomons.  Speaking in Pijin in the Solomons was always my way of cuing in the locals that I wasn't some random ex-pat.  I belonged.  I was one of them.

Except that they didn't speak Solomons Pijin on Vanuatu, and I didn't belong there.  My otherness started getting more apparent.

The next stop was Guam, which we always looked forward to with great anticipation.  This was because Guam was the first 'Americanized' stop on our trip.  We always held a traditional heated argument on the plane flight from Vanuatu to Guam, which revolved around which American fast food joint we'd eat once we landed.  After years of deprivation, we'd discuss in detail the merits of each one, salivating over the little (free!  They give them out FREE!) sauce packets from Taco Bell, and how McDonald's burgers dripped delicious grease.

One time we took our McDonald's out into the parking lot to eat, and I spied a tree growing in a median.  I rushed over to it and set my food on the hood of the car beneath the tree.  "This is perfect!"  I said.  My siblings followed suit and when Dad saw all of our food bags and drinks on the hood of this stranger's car, he blew a gasket.  "Take your things off that car!"  he said.  "You can't touch other people's cars in America!"

We were flabbergasted.  "Why?"

"Because in America people view their cars like their houses.  You can't just touch someone else's car like you wouldn't go up and touch someone else's house.  It's taboo."

So many things were taboo.  We were stepping on land mines unknowingly throughout the entire trip from the Solomons to America.  Don't speak to someone who has brown skin in Pijin.  Speak to them in English and don't be surprised when they answer in an American accent.  Don't spit.  Don't blow your nose by holding one nostril and snotting through the other into the grass.  Don't look down when a man speaks to you but look up into his eyes.  Don't take your shoes off in the airport and especially don't take them off in a restaurant.

There were huge escalators in the airport in Guam.  My little brother Matt's eyes got huge when he saw them for the first time.  The rest of us hazily remembered escalators from the malls in Texas years ago, and while Mom and Dad rested with the baggage, we went up and down and up and down and up and down again.  Matthew finally tried but he was scared to put his foot on it.  We had to teach him how to time the stairs, then step quickly with both feet onto the magically moving, interlocking metal slats.  It was exactly like a scene from the movie, Elf.

We had people we knew in Hawaii, supporters who kindly let us use their beach house to decompress before getting to the American mainland.  A smiling white man who was big, so big, and who talked so loudly and who expected you to look him in the eye when he talked to you, who talked to you even if you were a kid.  Mom and Dad slipped easily into conversation with this man, conversation that looked different from how we talked in the Solomons, and it sounded different, too, even the conversations we'd have among other missionaries.  This man seemed to project himself into our personal space.  Mom and Dad immediately assumed this puffed-up-loud-smiley way of talking while us kids sat quietly on our bags and stared.

The man took us and our bags into his big car that was not dusty at all and smelled like something luxurious.  I sat on the cavernous inside and Mom had to remind us to buckle up, then had to help us buckle up because we couldn't remember how it worked.  And then he drove us out into the night.

He drove faster than I ever remember driving, and the road was huge, with more shiny vehicles speeding around us in amazingly straight and orderly lines.  So many people going so fast.  So many people and each in their own bubble.  The road suddenly took us way up in the sky and the man did not slow down at all.  I clutched the seat belt and could barely breathe from fear.  Dad turned around from his front seat, and said brightly, "Kids, this is called a 'freeway'!  Wait until we get to Houston, you'll see the spaghetti bowls!"

All I knew was that we were going way too fast into the dark of this strange place and home was far, far away.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday School Shoes

All of the girls in my Sunday School class had pretty flowered dresses with ruffles.  They wore little white socks that folded down and also had ruffles.  Even their hair looked ruffled, fluffed out about their shoulders and secured away from their faces with huge ruffled bows.  And on their feet, they all wore identical black patent leather Mary Jane shoes.

Oh how I wanted a pair of those black patent leather Mary Jane shoes.  One day, Mom took me shopping for a new church dress, and I begged, “Please Mom!  Can I have some church shoes?”  

“No, Danica.  You don’t need new shoes.  Your school shoes do just fine.”  

My heart burned within her.  It was so unfair.  It was so unjust!  My school shoes didn't 'do' and they weren't 'just fine'. They were old. Scuffed. The pink was faded and now looked more grey. The sides of the soles had black marks from the ashphault on the playground. No. They would not 'do just fine.' But, Mom had spoken, and so let it be written, so let it be done. The injustice of it continued to fester in my heart until Sunday had swung around again and it was time to put on my pretty but practical church dress, plain cotton socks, and the old, scuffed tennis shoes with tattered laces.

Dad rounded everyone up.  “Come on!  Time to go!  Into the van!  Let’s get to church!”  I sullenly climbed into my seat next to Anna.  I hated this van.  “You know when I was a boy,”  Dad said as he backed out of the driveway, “Grandaddy wouldn’t wait for everybody to get in the car.  He would say, ‘We’re leaving at 9:00’, and if 9:00 rolled around and somebody wasn’t in the car, he’d leave them!”  I had heard this story before since Dad told it every Sunday when we left for church.  I hated this story.  

We pulled up to church, which was really a school and was only a church for us on Sundays, and everyone piled out of the van.  We joined the stream of families trickling into the foyer, all holding black bibles with gold trimmed pages, all wearing their Sunday best.  Inside, there was a little group of men clustered around a tall, steel canister.  They were all using the little black handle on the bottom of the canister to pour coffee into their white styrofoam cups and then they tore little paper packets of sugar and dumped that into their cups, and stirred with little back sticks.  Usually the ritual fascinated me, but today I was trying to look angrily at the tiles right  in front of where I was walking, instead of at my feet clad in the horrid used up shoes.  I hated that coffee.

We passed the mural that always fascinated me, too, and I had to peek a glance in spite of myself.  It was painted down the hallway that led to my Sunday School class.  It depicted a monkey that started standing up straight, and every time the monkey straightened a little bit more, it started to look more and more like a man, until it was walking completely upright and holding a stone hammer in its hand and looking exactly like a person.  Dad said that this showed ‘evolution’ which was something evil and bad, because God made the world in seven days.  It said so in Genesis 1:1.  

We had reached the door of my Sunday School class.  All the girls sat at their tables, with coloring sheets in front of them, diligently digging through the buckets of crayons to find the ones that weren’t broken.  A flannel board stood on its easel in one corner, ready and waiting for my teacher to stick the magic figures to it that miraculously stayed in place while she told her story.  Usually I longed to touch that board and figure out how it worked.  Today, I hated it.  

I found a seat and immediately tucked my feet under my chair.  Everyone else was coloring compliantly.  I hated their calm.  I hated the injustice of it all.  They didn’t have to worry about dirty old stinky shoes with torn laces.  They didn’t have to wear plain cotton socks that were the same as the socks they wore to school.  They matched from head to toe in their ruffles and bows and lace.  

When it was story time that day, I sat on the carpet and immediately pulled my feet under my dress so that nobody would see.  I didn't enjoy the teacher sticking the pictures to the flannel board. I didn’t even enjoy the snack like I normally did. Usually it was a delight to eat the animal crackers that Mom never bought at home.  Today, I hated the animal crackers. It was a relief when the grown  ups started showing up at their door to pick everyone up and take them home.  

The only thing I did not hate, in fact, was the little white paper bag my teacher gave me to put my coloring sheet in. It had 'Danica' written on it in black marker, like every week, and like every week I carefully unfolded the top where she had folded it down. At home, I would make it into another paper bag puppet to add to my collection. I loved those paper bags.