26 February 2019

First Birthday Book

When it comes to gifts, I tend to err on the side of very practical (i.e. food, cleaning supplies, educational materials, etc.) or entirely sentimental. This is one of the sentimental ones.

I had the idea, for Cyrus's first birthday, to make him a book about his first year of life. If you've ever spent much time with kids, you may have noticed that they often have a slight streak of narcissism. When my youngest sister was a toddler, she didn't like seeing any family photos that she wasn't in, and would insist that she was merely sleeping or in a different room when the photo was taken, never believing that she didn't yet exist in photos taken of the family years before she was born.

Now, the narcissistic streak isn't necessarily something we ought to encourage all that much, but still, I thought it would be very fun to be able to read to him, as he gets older, a book about the beginning of his own life.

I drafted out the words for his pages, not an actual story, but more along the lines of highlighting different moments from our first year with Cyrus, and then got my sister on board for painting illustrations. We toyed with the idea of making the book digitally--scanning the illustrations in and combining hand-drawn art and typed words and making an actual bound book...

...but that seemed like it would take too much time. Since this was such a short little story, and we only needed one copy, we took the easy way out and I hand-lettered the words of the story onto the pages that MaryGrace illustrated. Then we laminated the pages and bound them with a couple metal rings.

This was an easy project that will be a fun keepsake that we can read together as he grows older! Now that MaryGrace is nearing the end of her high school career, she has finished all of our traditional curriculum and is doing project-based skill-building until she starts college. So, this project can count as a school project as well as a birthday present--double bonus points for her! If you'd like to see more of her watercolor art experiments, you can follow her on instagram @mgsillustrates. She's planning to go to college and study art in some form, possible a degree in fine arts or art education, as she's very interested in using art in a classroom setting. In the meantime, I come up with a variety of ideas for her to expand her drawing portfolio and abilities--like birthday books for my baby! One of my favorite parts is that we purposely decided to include "real" details in the paintings--his toys are the real toys that he has, the rug pattern is our actual rug, Cyrus's clothes are inspired by his actual clothes, Dad is shown wearing a blue plaid shirt just the way he always does...

What birthday traditions does your family have? Do you do parties, practical gifts or sentimental gifts? My family's birthday traditions are asking the birthday person what they've learned this year, and my parents telling the story of the day we were born.
24 February 2019

Unintentional Traditions

I've come to the realization that unintentional traditions are some of the greatest joys of my life. I have noticed this more and more as I move from one season of life to another--what I miss most about various times of life is the "unintentional traditions" that characterized different times.

When Angel worked night shift at the hospital, out of necessity, we started meeting up at my college once or twice a week to have dinner together before my evening class and before his night shift began. We'd go to Taco Bell, or a place that was literally called "Chinese Take-Out," and then we'd wander the antique shop or the estate sale store that was right across the street until the last possible moment and then he'd drop me off back at college and we'd go our separate ways for the night. I remember our tradition of meeting up for dinner with immense fondness.

Or, also during the newlywed era in Michigan, when we took long bike rides together, or went sledding with our cat a couple times each winter, or brought our dinners out to the picnic table during the summer and fall, or picked up Arby's and went to the park to picnic while studying our Chinese textbooks in the year before we moved, or when, every Sunday after church, we'd stand around in a circle chatting with my uncles and aunts and grandparents and cousins so long that the second service was starting by the time we finished our chats--those are the traditions I remember most. I was a "better blogger" back then and Angel would take photos of my clothes at least once a week and I loved planning outfits and he liked finding fun backgrounds. We did the same thing a week or two ago when we went out on a date and I think we were both pretty rusty at the task of behind in front of the camera and behind it.

I miss when we lived in China and once a week after work I'd send Angel out for a 9 kuai (hmmm, maybe $1.50) bowl of 25 beef dumplings and a box of white rice and we'd split the meal in our little cockroach-infested (not an exaggeration) apartment while watching a show.

One unintentional tradition that has followed us to every home and through every season of life is me accompanying Angel on shoe shopping expeditions. I can't even tell you how many shoe stores I've visited with that man, nor how much I've learned about athletic shoes over our eight years of marriage. It's serious business. Cyrus has not yet joined us on a shoe shopping trip. When the time comes to replace the next pair of shoes, I guess we'll see if Cyrus has the patience it takes to participate in this tradition.

None of these were intentional, planned, well-photographed traditions. I like "intentional traditions" too. I like filling stockings every year and taking anniversary photos and celebrating holidays and eating ham on Easter. I like documenting important events and keeping records.

But whenever I find myself looking back at these varied times of life, what stands out the most to me are the traditions that began very unintentionally. It just so happened that we did it once, and then twice, and then we kept on doing it regularly simply because it was fun and we liked it. Until life changed, flipped itself over, and the "unintentional traditions" that had become a part of the natural rhythm of life were gone. And I missed them.

I already know what accidental traditions I'm going to miss from this particular season of life. I'm gonna miss lying down on the living room floor as a family in the evenings, after Angel's home from work and everyone's been fed. Cyrus climbing all over us and playing with his toys, Angel and I chatting about our days and the work that went into them. Sometimes Cyrus starts ignoring us a little too much, so then I'll hug Angel and that brings Cyrus right away--if there's any cuddling happening, he has to be part of it! Sometimes I lie on the couch and read our Spanish storybooks out loud to the guys as they wrestle on the floor--stopping once in a while to ask Angel what a word means, or to complain about a grammatical construction that is difficult for this English speaker.

I'll miss coloring my little sister's hair, and brainstorming art ideas with her, and I'll miss the fact that I can't even visit my parents alone anymore, because the first words that will come out of their mouths are: "Where's Cyrus?"

These everyday, simple things, that somewhere along the way, we start to do repeatedly because they are fun and we like to do them...these are what I'll miss most when life changes once again. And while life remains the same...I'll make sure to take a moment to appreciate the unintentional traditions that have become a part of life as I know it right now.

What unintentional traditions have you loved in your lifetime?
13 February 2019

Time Limitations, Dates, and Valentine's Day

"We need a date," Angel texts me.

Which may seem like a semi-normal thing for a husband to say. Or not. I don't know if husbands believe in dates in general, or if it's more of the wife's domain. Because it's probably the first time my husband of eight years has ever said it to me.

We've always liked to have fun together, but in recent years when I've suggested us going out to get a meal or go for a walk or watch a movie, he's said, "Great! Let's invite your sisters, too!" Or my parents. Or friends, or kids that we know. We lived far away for so long that we don't want to waste the chance we have now to invest in our relationships with our family and community on this island. Angel fits very well into the community-based lifestyle where everyone does everything together. He reminds me that we moved here on purpose to serve this community, and we can't lose sight of our purpose. I also cherish the opportunity we have to live with others. I love that I finally get to see my sisters grow up. We live much more closely with others here than we ever did before--as an illustrative example, we had nine different people stay in our house for various reasons over the course of our first year in Malaysia, and it was fun.

When we lived in Michigan and when we lived in China we weren't quite so surrounded with a close community and we went on dates and watched movies alone and had a lot of our own traditions with just the two of us.

Life has changed dramatically since moving back to my hometown: diving deep into our community here and spending weekends with the kids at Awana and the teenagers at youth group and finding times to meet up with friends and having family game nights and making sure we're there for my sisters...oh, and now we have a baby, so that even when we go home at night, there is no more "just the two of us."

And now even Angel's at the point of saying, "We need a date."

Because between nights when he's coming home from school at 9 p.m., plus a couple nights of Angel staying out to watch movies with my family while I stay home to put the baby to bed, and then me going out while he watches baby, and trying to schedule when we're going to do our taxes and me reminding him that we can't do taxes at those times because of Awana and other commitments...we're becoming the two proverbial ships passing at night.

We can get a little caught up in our ideas: we need to make Cyrus a priority, we need to teach him new things and take him out to experience the world...and we need to spend time communicating with faraway family and spend time playing with my sisters....and we need to give haircuts to friends and go to a party at someone's house and bring a dish to a potluck and sign up to lead an extra-curricular activity at school and....all of these are valuable. We believe that our marriage is one of the strongest things about us and we believe that it can go without watering for a time, especially during crunch times like the first year of parenting a baby who doesn't sleep much while I have postpartum complications to recover from and our finances are stretched too thin and then Angel begins a brand new career and has to start from scratch in a new field.

And we can. We can. Maybe it's not the best idea, but we can do it. We're a tough pair.

But even Angel can get to the point where he says, "We need a date."

I've started to realize that the homesickness I struggle with sometimes isn't so much homesickness for Michigan as that it's just that I miss Angel. A three-day-a-week hospital job and a rather selfish newlywed lifestyle with few responsibilities...yeah, that was really really fun. No wonder I feel like I miss Michigan. But I don't want to go back, and don't plan to. What I do need to do, however, is schedule in those dates--those nights when we do eat dinner together and watch funny youtube videos. We do need to both watch Cyrus at the same time and play together as a family rather than constantly trading off so that the other adult can get some work done or go to an appointment. Hey, someday we probably need to even both sit in the front row of seats in the car while driving (I always sit in the back with Cyrus...). We're both good at getting work done together, now we just need to remind each other that we ought to have purposeless fun together, too. Put it on the to-do list, maybe. That might just work.

Happy Valentine's Day!
04 February 2019

Approaching One Year

February is a short month, and then it's March, and then, all of a sudden, Cyrus will officially not be a "baby" anymore.

I think this year of having a baby has actually made me more of a 'baby person' than I ever was before. I never really considered myself a particular fan of babies. I mean, yes, of course, I thought they were precious and amazing, but I liked kids more. I loved that little kids had unique personalities and could talk and were so very interesting. I thought babies were very cute, but not quite as interesting.

I learned this year that those unique personalities really do show themselves from day one. And Cyrus can't talk yet, but that doesn't stop him from doing things that already seem "so Cyrus," like carrying not one but two brooms all around the house because he's obsessed with brooms. Crying when people leave the house without taking him with them. Chasing older kids around at church because he thinks he's just as big and as fast as a two year old (but he's not). Never staying in the same room if only one parent is in the room, but if Angel and I are sitting on the couch together, then he stays and plays in one spot instead of wandering the house. Oh, and he also climbs on the couch now. That's not at all scary.

What a year. I learned a lot. I'm not as terrified of him as he was when I first brought him home. I still remember one of the first nights we had him alone at home he scratched his ear--a tiny scratch from a tiny baby nail--but it bled a lot and I woke up to a baby with an ear full of blood and I remember calling Angel and holding him and staying really calm while we figured out what the source of the blood was, but as soon as it was over and Cyrus was back to sleep, I was shaking and crying, suddenly, only after the moment passed, feeling the total fear and terror that picking up my newborn and not knowing why his ear was bleeding. I look back now and watch videos of Angel dancing with Cyrus, and I remember that I took that video, holding up the camera with what felt like all my strength as I lay weakly on the couch, hardly able to move or carry that 7 lb. baby. 

I have really enjoyed him getting bigger. It's much easier to care for a baby when you're not sick yourself, and it's much easier when you're not quite so frightened for their safety at all times (although a mobile toddler brings a whole new sort of safety concerns)...I don't wake up as often to check on his breathing as I did for months and months when he was smaller.

I still have so much to learn, and so does he. We're working on teaching him to be gentle (he loves people...sometimes he loves them with too much enthusiasm), and to obey commands. I know he knows what "No" means because when he's about to touch something he shouldn't, I'll tell him "No", and he might stop or slow down...but he'll stay right there. Only when I actually start moving toward him he'll quickly walk away innocently, like he was never going to touch the electric cord anyways. But he can't fool me, I know him too well.

He's still got just the six teeth, and I'm not sure how much he weighs, but I think it's around 22 pounds. He tries to dance and walk at the same time when he likes the music that is playing, and it's the cutest thing ever. He begs food from anyone who is eating. We take him out to play more often now that he really enjoys exploring different surroundings--the beach, the park, the garden or pool. I love that this is a hot climate so we never have to worry about him getting too cold in winter weather. He's changed our life immensely and while the tiredness is real, the fun is equally real. Also, dressing a boy baby is still fun, even if it doesn't involve dresses and bows.

I'm looking forward to the next year, the one where we can teach him so many more new things. Honestly, I can't wait to hear him talk. I've been looking forward to that from the beginning. Words are awesome, aren't they?