Monday, February 23, 2015

The bar is low, The grace is high, Let us pray without seizing

#lentwithclowns on Instagram 
Last December along with half of the Jesus-followers of North America, we went through Ann Voskamp's Advent devotional book. It was adapted into a family/kid-friendly version and given to us as a gift.  The readings (and then discussion) were about 15 to 30 minutes long each night.  That turned out to be about 10 or more minutes too long for half of the 7 participants at our house.

We ended up skipping nights when life was too hectic and then needing to do three or four nights of the readings all at once on several occasions.  Of course, on the night we would make them sit there for an hour or more, they would get all antsy and sick of it and then we'd say something snappy and brusque and cause hurt and then Advent would be ruined, at least in that moment.  "Sit down now, sit still, quit whining, and focus with great anticipation and JOY on the coming Christ Child! Or else."

That, I can confidently say, is not the advised way to do devotions.  Slack, slack, skip and slack, then JAAAMM it in for the sake of "catching up".  We felt like we belonged on the bench with our heads in our hands based on our lackluster Advent-devotion-performance.

No. That is not true. Not really. We are actually super sure God's grace is more than sufficient to cover our craptastic family commitment to nightly devotions - we are under no illusions that we are in some competition to be the holiest holy devotion-reading-family nor do we care to perpetuate an idea that earning our spot is a thing.  Because the bar is low and the grace is high. 

Last Tuesday when Troy told me he was hoping to do devotions with the kids during Lent I gave him the side eye. 'M-Kay, Troy, good-luck-with-that', I sarcastically thought.  Later that same day I saw a packet of paper printed and ready to go.

Impressed with the speed at which he saw his plan through to the next step, I asked, "So how did you choose the devotions you printed for Lent?"

Troy said, "Well, it was very well researched and thought out in advance. I looked for the very shortest one I could find and picked that one."

There you have the exact formula for how to raise a houseful of spiritual giants 5foot 4inchers - and a crew that knows their need for grace better than most.

Set the bar low and then rock the knee-socks off of your Father in Heaven.

Last night we completed the fifth night of lent.

So far, because the lesson is about 5 to 8 minutes long with the discussion, we are batting 100 and five out of five  (longevity!) nights - we made it happen. Bam.

(insert apology for lack of Christ-like humility)

There are a couple of our kids at super weird-o stages right now and each night has been highly entertaining. Somehow we have a larger than normal dork-factor happening right now. For Phoebe especially, there is a need to be right, to offer an answer, and to use all the vernacular she knows while simultaneously gaining the attention of everyone in the circle.  All five nights she has randomly interjected "GOD!" "Lent" "Fruit of the Spirit!"  - and on occasion things like, "Machete" "People in the street", and other random thoughts at totally inappropriate times.

To clarify what she is doing, it would be like going to work tomorrow and when your boss asks you a question about anything at all, you just shout "Fruit of the Spirit!" and then smile with confidence over having offered any response at all to said question.  Last night Troy said, "we're not talking about the fruits of the spirit just yet, but I am practicing Patience right now".  The other four kids all understood the jab and laughed like little hyenas at their terribly hILarious Dad.  Phoebe waited a second, joined in the laughing and then said, "Why are we laughing again?"

I think I am really going to like the clowns in my Lent group, if nothing else, they will bring us all laughter and keep us praying without seizing. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

when this feels like a battle that may not be won

Five day old twins, latched and nursing for the first time.
-My milk isn't here yet.
-My baby isn't hungry yet.
-My baby is sleeping all the time.
-My baby doesn't want it.
-My milk is "bad".
-I am poor, I can't.
-I don't have milk.
-The baby doesn't suck.

These are the things we are told when we ask new mothers at the large maternity hospital if they have offered their one, two, three, or more day old baby the breast yet.  

Many, maybe most of those we visit each Wednesday, will tell us one of those things.

Skin on skin and breastfeeding in the first hours of life are not only proven to be the best option for babies, we also know it helps with early bonding.  

In materially poor places, bonding is a luxury. Obviously, bonding comes more naturally to those that have their basic needs met.  Poverty often steals from women their ability to deeply invest in their babies or to have hope that their baby will live.  Breastfeeding not only increases a baby's chance of living, it increases the mother's ability to hope, love, and bond.

For this reason, we don our scrubs, grab our gloves, climb into the ambulance every Wednesday and wind our way through the traffic and potholes to go visit the hospital.  We understand that our chances of truly encouraging breastfeeding in the short interactions we have with the patients is not super likely. 

Yes, we can show a mother how to latch her baby and we can talk about the importance of skin to skin and colostrum, but without a lot of ongoing encouragement, a few words and a short interaction may not be enough. 

We go again and again because we hope that the nurses and doctors are watching, listening, and buying into the song we sing and the lessons we're trying to share. 

At times it feels a little bit like dropping grains of sand in the Grand Canyon, and hoping to fill it up. We don't leave the hospital feeling the abyss any less gaping. 

Even so, as long as we are welcome to enter the government hospital and come to sing and visit ladies bed to bed, we plan to keep throwing tiny grains of sand. 

Agathe helping a second time Mama get her two day old baby latched for the first time.

BondingThe levels of oxytocin hormone in a pregnant woman's body play a role in how closely she will bond with her newborn. In animals, oxytocin, dubbed "the hormone of love and bonding," is involved in good parenting and maintaining close relationships. Dr. Ruth Feldman and colleagues at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel, studied the role of this hormone in humans and found oxytocin is important in the bonding that occurs between mothers and their infants. Psychological Science, November 2007.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Geronne celebrates her birthday today.  We were lucky to get to meet and interview her father before he passed away.  Tonight we will skip the Mardi Gras revelry and have a birthday party for our dear friend of 9 years. 

~          ~          ~          ~ 

Posted originally April 2011:

Miradye Alexandre 

This weekend Geronne's Dad came to stay with us. He is 90 years old and very frail. He ended up here by accident due to the cruddy reality of Haitian healthcare. While we were sad she had trouble getting him care, we were very touched and blessed by his presence in our home. We have known Mr. Alexandre for more than five years. He spent his whole life in the area we first lived when we moved here in 2006. (For those that have Troy's book he is pictured there.) This was our first opportunity to spend an extended time just listening to him and sitting with him. Multiple times throughout the day Saturday and Sunday we had tears in our eyes watching Geronne care for him or listening to his laugh when Lydia came through the room or listening to him speak of his broken relationship with his father or his memories of raising 12 children in rural Haiti.

Miradye knows which generation and the names of his family that came here by force on a boat from Africa. He tells that story with confidence, as if he has it etched on his heart and has been passed down word-for-word.

We listened intently as he jumped from decade to decade sharing stories from childhood and recent years and everything in between. Geronne filled in a lot of details throughout the weekend. She shared in a matter of fact tone at times and with much emotion at others. We were humbled to be trusted with much of what she shared.

After the lengthy discussion about his life Miradye talked specifically about his faith. He said he used to be able to read a Bible and asked if we had one. His eyesight won't allow him to read anymore. Troy randomly flipped open the Kreyol New Testament. He "randomly" started to read from John chapter 14 ... try reading this to a 90 year old who is aware his time on earth is short.

John 14 Jesus Comforts His Disciples 
1"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.
2"In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
3"If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
4"And you know the way where I am going."
5Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?" 6Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

Monday, February 16, 2015

a potpourri post

The documentary above is excellent for all adoptive parents to see - it does a beautiful job of exposing and examining some of the complicated feelings and nuances in the relationships of the adoption triad.  We encourage you to see this. 

~    ~    ~

I have been having trouble writing about Haiti and life here, partly because I've been here so long now that everything is much more "normal" to me than it was in early years. I also think there are some other things in the way of writing often. I hope to find some stories that feel right to share. 

Because of the writers block or whatever it is, I had asked if anyone reading had questions about anything at all. (adoption/Haiti/Missions/MaternalHealth/personal) 

These are the only questions asked and the answers...

Hi, everyone. I am a technical writer and have written about biotech subjects, although never medical procedures. I've often wondered what you use in your classes. Do you use anything printed or any online resources? Would you ever want to? --Nancy on on writing and a podcast

on 11/30/14
Tara, So my question: Do you ever find that your blog, your audience, and the desire to post consistently changes your experience of your own life? In a negative way Or perhaps in a positive way? Carlo on on writing and a podcast

Me again. I'd also like to know how you are doing physically from the chikungunya, if the after effects have lightened up and if anything has worked. Praying for you and everyone affected by it. on on writing and a podcast

In the classes we teach at the Maternity Center we don't use many printed resources. We estimate that about 30 to 40% of the women we serve do not read or write. Most of the class-room-teaching is done verbally and by showing videos and discussing topics. We also do skits a lot to teach.  Anything we share needs to be made culturally palatable, which means that a lot of times resources that are printed for the developed world won't necessarily work here. For example, if a pregnancy book or brochure suggests a woman eat a certain diet and get a certain amount of calories, we know that realistically most of those suggestions for "a healthy baby" are not possible for the clients we work with in Port au Prince.  There are many other examples, but we try to customize the classroom time as much as we can for the needs of the group. Group dynamics change throughout the year based on the personalities in the room and at times we need to teach breastfeeding more and at other times we find that teaching on STDs or other topics seem more important.  As often as possible we have Haitian leaders/nurses teaching, but we also do have American midwives teach too.
~  ~  ~  ~

I don't desire to post as consistently as I used to in the first years in Haiti.  I think in the early years I felt so confused by all that I was seeing and experiencing - writing about it was a way that I processed it. 

As I reflect on that early period, I wish I had done better at processing things internally and with Troy and close friends. It has taken so many years to feel a little bit like I have an understanding of Haitian culture and I recognize in hindsight that I probably would have been wiser to share less during those early years.  Also, early on I was pretty shocked to find anyone reading what I wrote and it mattered a lot to me to have readers back then.  Right now I don't have a clue who reads or why they read and I think it allows for a healthier me that writes when I want to and not because I think I must.

When I read archives from the year of the earthquake I feel like that time was an unfiltered and raw time, and some of it feels a bit too vulnerable.  

In recent years (mainly since I started working in Maternal Health and became a Midwife) I honestly don't find many opportunities to write about what is happening.  My fear is that I will disrespect the women we are here working with or that I will write out of turn in some way and while they all have very interesting, difficult, and inspirational lives, it doesn't always seem like great blog fodder to me. 

It is hard to write about the discouraging things AND the victories.  For us, we don't want to ever be super negative or cynical (and we are flawed humans working in a really difficult country so we get in those ruts) and we also don't want to be all self-congratulatory (acting like any sort of hero) when the really good stuff happens. 

It is a weird line to ride and I know from reading other newsletters, blogs, and things that the marketing engines put out that it is very difficult to share one's work in Haiti in a balanced, realistic, non-savior-complex, and open way. The fundraising side of things seems to keep many from being transparent about the failures.   

Truthfully, I love when Troy writes.  He averages two times per year, but in my opinion, he has the most enjoyable stories. :)  

~  ~  ~  ~ 

The short answer is this: most of us that had it last May and June are still regularly having arthritis pain. It comes and goes. There are days where I feel like a healthy 42 year old and there are days that I feel very stiff, sore, and 80ish. I have a place where I broke a bone that hurts me the most. Troy's ankles hurt him often.  I have asked around and most of those that are here in Haiti will say that they think it still messes with them, but given the challenges many face here, a little arthritis isn't going to stop anybody from doing what is important to them.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A V-Day Compare & Contrast Exercise

  1. 1.
    a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love.

February 14, 1997 - Had been dating Troy for four months
February 14, 2015 - Married 16+ years - together 18+

1997- Was given flowers, chocolate, a card and a Teddy Bear (because tradition)
2015- Was given a new teddy-bear shaped jar of honey, and with it he said "I don't like you using that fake sugar, it is bad for you." (because true love)

1997 - Some fancy, candle lit, high-end restaurant for two (because tradition)
2015- Stir Fry Veggies cooked by Troy for seven of us (because true love)

It is super crazy to think about the things that used to be important to me.  At 24 Valentine's Day came with expectations of flowers and the things the world considers romantic.  If you know that February 14th brings the annual tradition of a certain gift, a card, and a fancy dinner out - what is exciting or mysterious about that? 

The world has its own definition of romance. (The world is über stupid.) The world knows very little of what romance and abiding love and sacrifice look like.  I find it exciting when Troy puts his kids above his work. I found my gift of honey to be quite a surprise! I think it is mysterious to watch the unique ways he comes up with to make me, each of our daughters, sons, and sons-in-law feel his love. 

Talk about a turn-on. Rawr. 

Very slowly, over the last 18 years, I have learned that authentic love (and even romance) look less like flowers and candle-light and more like this:

with the boys (09)

(son in law love)

(Britt 2009 - Paige 2015)

singing with Hope 2015 
Grandpa Troy - nothing zexier

I love you my Valentine. 
Thanks for understanding what romance is.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Final Chapter Traveling Circus Clown Posse Returns Home

(Part 8 of 8 - the final installment)

back in Port au Prince - and happy

hats make us BA or dorky.  you decide.

Getting ready to come "home" is always an exercise in faith.  We don't necessarily know before it happens exactly how every child feels about "home".  Truthfully, we don't know how we will feel. Each trip, each change in our family, each union, each reunion brings its own unique set of emotions and feelings for us all.

 The transition back is difficult each time and isn't something we can force. It takes exactly as long as it takes. 

Troy and I wondered as our three week vacation wound down if we would be dragging anyone home unhappy or even angry and depressed.  

On Thursday night before the morning we were to leave I served the kids apple pie and ice cream. They were excited to eat such delicious treats and knew we were doing something fun to celebrate our last night in America.  I asked, "Who wants our flights to be cancelled so we can stay in Florida longer?"  Not one child raised their hands or moved in agreement with that idea.  Noah spoke first, "I really miss home" he said.  The other kids all chimed in, each shared their reasons for being ready to go home.

The three hour trip south from Saraseedy to Fort Lauderdale was fairly easy. I may or may not have tried to force the last of the cottage cheese, milk, and vegetables onto people as their breakfast.  Sadly, the troops would not drink the half gallon of milk we had left and a cow gave up that milk for nothing. We pitched it. 

Paige left her computer cord behind so we added a stop to a post office into our exit plan.  That made it just tight enough that we had a chance to snap at our kids and be stressed out near the end of the drive. Our strategy was to unload Troy and the 9 fifty pound bags and three kids to check in at the JetBlue counter and then for me and two kids to go return the rental vehicle and catch up with Troy and the other three after they did the hardest part.  This allowed us to get rid of the luggage on top of the car without the car rental people ever seeing we had strapped luggage to the top of their truck. It also allowed me to not be the one juggling the extra pounds around. I knew all the bags were about two pounds over and that a game would need to be played wherein you pretend to move it to a lighter bag, knowing full well there is no lighter bag.

Four of us got new hats on the trip.  Hats don't pack well without getting smooshed. We looked SO DUMB - four of us with our fashion chapeaus on board our heads.  But what can you do?  Sometimes you don't think ahead and you are required to look dorky.  Also, dorky is true in some cases.  There was a part in one of the National Lampoon Vacation movies where Clark Griswold said, "We're not dorks! We're the Griswolds." That is what I told myself as we traipsed through the airport. "We're not dorks! We're the Livesays."

Since we got home the kids are back at school, which they love. Well, they mainly love it. A few hate mornings and being woken up against their will. I for one, agree. That is not cool.

For the next three months they have an extra teacher here. We are touched by the love of Caroline Rogers who volunteered to join us for a few months. The timing is great because with a new baby Becky is very busy and less available for teaching.

Caroline graduated from Baylor University and will head to her home state of TN in May to prepare for the job she has waiting there for her. She is living in Paige's old bedroom and is exposed to the inner workings of this family but she seems to be good with it all. (it's early though) Caroline is helping Jimmy with the youngest kids and is in charge of math for all five of them. 

The Maternity Center has had three births since we got home. Two ladies that delivered with us and one that ended in a transport after several hours and a cervix that was getting smaller rather than larger.  I have been involved in so few births in recent months that when the phone rang one night and I stayed asleep, Troy shook me and said, "There is a lady in labor", I actually thought, "Yeah, so, what does that have to do with me?!?!"  

The most recent birth was one of those adrenaline producing intense ones that you just don't see coming. (A stuck shoulder and a need to resuscitate the baby.) I left that birth yesterday feeling crazy blessed to be in a place where I can see God at work in such a tangible way. The prayers of all in the room as things got tense were desperate and real. Jesus, save this baby, we prayed. 

As fun as it was to be lards on a ship and to dance and laugh and celebrate so much with friends and family, it is even more fun to be home doing what we love.

Thanks for reading, caring, praying, and supporting.  If you have an interest in supporting Heartline Ministries in 2015 or any of the Heartline staff that are donor supported, please contact us with questions.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

TravelingCircusPosse: (Part 7 - Sarasota)

As we boarded the cruise ship I was feeling sad for Paige and thinking of her first week as a newlywed without Michael. His new job is a great opportunity, but it means many days alone for Paige. (He was one of 93 people offered the position out of nearly 3000 applicants. For the training period he does not come home during the week.) 

As I lamented the blur of speeding time and the sad goodbyes after the wedding I realized that one plane ticket could equal another four or five nights with Paige and Graham. I messaged her and told her my idea and said I would check in on Wednesday from Jamaica to see what she decided.  When I got to internet to see what she decided I was giddy to hear that she had booked a ticket and would be meeting us in Sarasota.

excited little brothers waiting on a big sister and nephew to arrive
A few weeks earlier we had asked our friends the Dukes if they wanted to drive south from Atlanta and hang out for a few days with us in Sarasota. We have been writing to one another since 2010 and Keight had become a friend in writing that I had long hoped to make an IRL friend. 

At one point in our friendship I was trying to go run a half marathon with her but I bombed out and never got there. I am ten years older than Keight and she tried to see me as a mentorish type friend. I set her straight and cleared that up right away. We decided that iron sharpens iron but sarcasm and humor only serve to keep us mocking and laughing and inappropriate. Getting sharper would not be something we would offer one another.  The Mr. of the Dukes family, Jesse, visited us in Haiti in 2014. However, the friendship that had been nurtured on-line was not between Jesse and Troy. They had no problem creating an instant bromance because of their common interest in brown hair, dashing good looks, and worship-leader-chord-chart stuff.

We had invited the Dukes to the wedding but those dates didn't work as well for them as the Sarasota dates.  I was pumped when Keight said she would be bringing the crew south to spend some days with us. She thought it was five hours and she thought we *might* be worth the drive.  It ended up being 7 hours for them, which is a big/long two hours when traveling with three young kids. The pressures to love one another much, much, much weighed heavily on us all after those extra two hours on the road.

Graham and Noa Dukes have an arranged marriage plan. They don't know about it yet, but it matters not.  Oddly enough, the exact same day Paige announced her pregnancy to me last February, so did Keight. Noa Dukes was born five days before Graham Gonzales. Like his Tito Troy, Graham digs older women. 
Save the Date - Nuptials June 2038 
When we pulled up to the house that friends that do mission work in Haiti own, we found it locked. As we stood in the driveway trying to figure out what part of the instructions we had messed up I realized that the neighborhood we were in was chock-full of bonnets, bikes, and buggies.  I said to Troy, "Honey, I think this is an Amish or Mennonite neighborhood. What if the person that comes with the key walks here and is offended by us and doesn't let us into the house after all?"  

I quickly fished out some jeans and ditched the shorts in an effort to not become homeless for a week in Sarasota. Sadly, that was the best I could do because I didn't bring my homesewn clothing on this trip. Troy fell over on the ground from seeing me do something as kind as changing clothes so as not to offend.  When I finally revived him I said, "People grow, Troy. Yes, even me. Also, we don't have the budget for five nights in a hotel." 

My Mennonite friend Janet tells me that I was indeed in an area where many of her people reside. She enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two experiences. We left the wild cruise ship to land in quiet old-school area of (Pinewood) Sarasota. 

Obviously, we are culturally very out of place in Pinewood.  First, Troy cannot grow a giant beard if his entire life depends on it. Not in weeks, not in months. No giant beard ever. Second, Troy didn't know the rules and he found out that if you take a huge SUV filled with kids to the park, the folks on the bikes don't necessarily move out of the road - like at all.  He backed the truck up several hundred yards to park it and walk when the stare-down ended in his defeat. It became abundantly clear he would not be driving into the playground area.  

We don't know any of the rules, but we were certainly willing to learn about the old order by trial and error or any other available method. The general feeling we got was that everyone knew were were outsiders (duh) and weren't necessarily all that excited to have us invading their area.  My Janet will explain things to me and I will do better next time I visit Sarasota.  The thing is, we have two major things in common.  We have lots of kids and we dig rejecting the principles of conformity. Maybe next time we will be braver and make a friend or two and play some shuffleboard in the park with the Yoders or Brubachers. 

Because we excel at procrastination, we had put off Isaac's eye appointment until the last week.  We had a major head-butting problem with the women at the eye place in WalMart. They couldn't find it in their hearts to offer ANY customer service so we ended up with an eye appointment at Target the following day. Long boring story short, we waited long enough to not be able to get the kid his new glasses in time to take them home with us.  Still trying to get them to Haiti as of the writing of this blog post.  The time in Sarasota was split between staring at Graham, laughing at Keight, and being a parent that takes their child to appointments and helps them have good health.  We renamed it Saraseedy because it is actually the place circus performers spend their winters and let it be said, it is just a very odd combination - a bunch of carnys on vacation in the same area as the Amish - wha!?!?!?

On my favorite day of this part of the trip, we all went to a park together.  Jesse was forced to ignore the skateboard park, because old. Troy would never even consider such a thing, because older. That was sad for them. Everything else was happy.

This was no ordinary park. It was utopia...

People from all over the world living in harmonious peace and joy. Zero exaggeration here, we chatted with immigrants from Russia and Vietnam and undisclosed lands. Additionally, Lydia shared Cheez-Its with a black woman while she gratefully accepted my offer to lift her nephew onto one of the park toys because her back was bad.  

It was a diverse stew of humanity and we simmered in the beauty of it all and tried to figure out how we could just create our own little United Nations mission right there in Saraseedy.  We considered linking arms to sing We are the World, but Troy and Jesse forgot their guitars. The Russian Mom brought her baby girl (Zoe) over for photos with Graham and Noa, because world peace. The Vietnamese Dad (small in stature) pushed me (less small - more stature) on one of the park contraptions - because different but equal.

holding our babies in the park

World peace is within our reach - so says Graham, Noa, and Zoe

diversity makes the world go round 

oh nothing - just hanging with our friends - punny
We are the world, we are the children.

(Christian) (Mom) Swingers

After the park we headed to an awesome Peruvian slash Mexican slash Tex-Mex restaurant to continue on with the diversity themed day. (It claimed to be all of those things.) My face hurt from smiling already.  Little did I know, the funniest parts of our day were still to come.  As we ordered food for ourselves and our tribes Keight kept us entertained with her non-stop comedy act.  Not too long after we had ordered, a woman that clearly had been roughing it in life for a few decades shuffled into the otherwise almost empty restaurant.  She got a little frustrated trying to get by our table with rowdy kids. At the counter she asked where the bus station was. The lady working the counter didn't know. Keight said, "Oh she needs a ride." Next thing you know Jesse is out of his chair and walking out the door to give the lady a ride. Jesse (much like Troy) is eye-candy.  Once he got up and offered to give the down-and-out lady a ride to the bus station, Paige leaned over to whisper into my ear, "He got even more attractive right then."   

Keight wondered aloud if he would return to her or be taken from the earth in a dramatic fashion.  We teased her and came up with multiple possible horrible endings. The time he was gone was long enough to all start to make up wild scenarios. At least two police cars and an ambulance sped past the restaurant during our wait. Before he could get back to us the food arrived and the kids all needed help.  Keight single-Mommed it like nobodies business up until baby Noa did something truly legendary. Somehow in the middle of Two Amigos restaurant, Noa pooped a volume of ka-ka that has never been seen or recorded in modern history.  Paige, Keight and I went to work trying to figure out how the world's wet-wipe supply would be sufficient while Troy dealt with everyone else and their food and beverage and attention from adult needs. 

The poop was in so many places I couldn't stop laughing at the epicness of it all.  A table that had been seated sometime after us gave us the stink eye while we laughed until tears were running down our face and baby Noa screamed in anger over her state of affairs.  

Jesse waited until everything was totally in control again to walk back in from saving the world with his kindness.  He will never fully know the horror or hilarity of those five minutes.
bonded for life by poop trauma at Two Amigos 

I took the Dukes dung-stained laundry home to wash for them and we parted ways until the next day. 

The entire memorable day birthed a bond between us that can never be broken.

Troy and Jesse are suckers. On our third and final day Keight somehow managed to get the dads to take the kids to a wild life "large cat preserve" where they would hug animals and feed bears hot-dogs on a stick. I am told all "wild" bears are doing this now.

have you hugged an Emu today? 

Paige and Keight and I and the two little baby-lovers stayed home and talked and laughed until our sides hurt. The Dukes had another seven hour drive ahead of them and left us on Wednesday afternoon.

Goodbye (for now) photo for posterity's sake - Love us some Dukes!

On our last day in Saraseedy we slept in and laid low all day. We played with the kids in the swimming pool. We hugged and kissed and obsessively photographed Graham.  We all went to do our last minute shopping late in the day.

The five youngest kids had their own money burning holes in the pockets of their pantses. Watching them shop/choose is summed up in one word. Maddening. Lydia got another giant stuffed animal, rounding out the collection she has already imported.

Do you have a fan club watching when you bathe?  No. I didn't think so.

favorite past time 

Friday morning Paige had to take a cab up to Tampa for her flight in order for us to manage to get south to Fort Lauderdale in time for our flight.  The 5am goodbyes were way less dramatic. Being too sleepy to cry is far less emotional turmoil, gotta note that and plan it the same for next time.

last night in America  
In the next/last installment, the kids all cheered about going home to Haiti, even after their amazing adventures. The packing, the last time moving all the bodies and crap, the return to Port au Prince and to school/work. 

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Ahoy! TCP Takes to the Seas

(Part 6 of 8)

Aboard the Norwegian Epic we traveled 

Miami>Jamaica>Grand Cayman>Cozumel>Miami

How is this boat possible?  That was the number one question on our minds.  How in the world can something as monstrous as this float? All week long everyone tried to figure it out and everyone kept coming up empty.  It is not possible we concluded. This must not be real.  

My Mom and Dad booked the cruise several months ago. They are celebrating 45 years of marriage this year and somehow we benefitted from their longevity and got in on the celebration. We were nine people in three rooms one after the other on the tenth floor. The ship had 16 floors.  Because why not see how many floors will float? 

Because they are awesome-sauce, Mom and Dad suggested that no kids sleep in the stateroom of Troy and Tara. 

This was our first experience on a cruise ship.  I don't know what each of us imagined, but I am guessing we were all off a bit in our estimation of the size of the boat.  Holy man. Gargantuan. 

We left on a Sunday afternoon. The ship had mechanical problems which meant a later than planned departure.  Troy and I enjoyed that the ship had mechanical problems. Things getting broken and lateness make us feel comfortable and at home.  It is also oddly reassuring to know that things break in other places. 

As we boarded the boat (six of us in one group that went first, three in another group that had to board later after returning rental car) we chatted with the kids about what to expect.  Lydia heard me talking about the kids club. At one point I refered to it by its proper name, Splash Academy.  Lydia got a wrinkle in her brow and said she had no interest in going to Splash Academy.  I said, "You said the kids stuff sounded fun, what changed?"  She crossed her arms and said, "I know they are gonna make me do math." The word "academy" means school to her, and she was having none of that.  

There is a transition that must be made whenever there is cognitive dissonance. In the past I have managed to offend others when I struggled with making room for two realities that are incongruent. I have not yet found a way to feel the discomfort without making people feel defensive.  Let it be said, my dissonance isn't really about anyone else. I'm not telling anyone to feel bad about their aisles of choices at the grocery store, nor am I saying anyone is a bad person if this dissonance stuff doesn't mess with them.  

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values

The fact that both Haiti and the Norwegian Epic are real places, feels a bit improbable. It for sure causes mental discomfort for some individuals. Troy spent time once we were off the ship researching the cruise industry and wanting to find out all the things. His exhaustive research taught him this: Some people are on the ship for a relaxing vacation, others leave their families in the Philippines for months in order to provide. 

It is similar to the economy and situation in Haiti, wherein those here depend on family with jobs elsewhere to send money back home. 

It is possible to be both glad they have an opportunity to work, and sad that mothers leave two year olds for 9 months at a time in order to make ends meet. It is certainly easier to only think about the positive benefits of a job - but I found myself thinking about all of it.  Rod, the guy that took care of our rooms shared that he has a 16 year old daughter that he hopes to send to college. In the incongruent world sometimes parents don't get to know and raise their children if they also want to provide for said children. 

End portion of deep thinking.

Now, icecream! 

I laughed at Hope when early in the cruise week she said, "I feel bad wasting this ice". By the end of the week it became apparent that ice wasn't something to fret about.  (But, in her defenese, ice is a Haiti treat and if you take more than you need at our house, Troy will notice and tell you to knock it off right quick.)  

The kids started out unsure of how to be fancy, but by midweek they were ruined. The day Phoebe's fresh hot waffles came out without the little side of whipped cream and she crossed her arms and said indignatly, "What!?! No whipped cream?" we pretty much knew they'd crossed over to the fancy side.  The first night at dinner the server asked Noah, "Would you like a starter?"  Noah said, "sure" and handed his menu back. Choosing your main course and ALSO a starter is a learned skill.  We also learned about butter knives and napkins on your lap and trying not to pass gas at a white tablecloth restaurant. 

Noah decided in October that he will not eat mammals. This is not a difficult decision to make on our island, we don't really eat much meat anyway. Five out of seven meals a week are generally without it as it is. 


noun pes·ca·tar·i·an \ˌpe-skə-ˈter-ē-ən\
Someone who is too lazy to be a vegetarian, and will only eat fish. Refraining from the consumption of mammals.
Aboard the ship, there were menu choices galore. Noah ordered fish most nights while his carnivorous siblings tried all varieties of beef.  

Lydia made us feel a little sick when she chose and then effortlessly put away 16 ounces of steak four nights in a row.  The missing front teeth made for quite an event each night while she chewed and chewed and chewed her adult portion of steak. 

Soft serve cone machines are located in multiple locations aboard the ship.  We let the kids serve themselves a cone at anytime. They thought they had died and gone to heaven. 
Watermelon and French Fries 24/7 for this guy

On the second day of the cruise Noah sprained his foot pretty badly. The limping was a bummer, the sadness it caused was worse.  Thankfully he didn't let it take much more than a day away from him.

We went on an excursion in Jamaica to a waterfall area. The guides wanted to move us through quickly and were just a liiiiitttle too pushy for someone that struggles with authority. As he (the guide) demanded the girls change without a bathroom to save time, I told Troy, "We are not letting that guy boss us. He can go without us."  

After we ditched the guide, life was much better. I loved the beauty of the waterfalls and the lush green that surrounded it. I hated the coronary they caused as I watched five kids climb them and wondered what the evacuation plan was if somebody cracked their skull clear open. Phoebe is our most cautious child and I fully expected her to not want to climb the falls. She surprised us and was all in and did everything the other kids did.  

Leaving the waterfalls they funneled us through a trinket market where the sales men were hard-core. They asked your name and began carving it into the items they were selling before you had a chance to think. Isaac and Lydia both got suckered into buying wood carved animals. Both animals broke before the sun set that same day.  Noah said, "I'm not buying this stuff, I know how this works."  I applauded his good sense and asked him to teach Isaac and Lydia something. Isaac owns an alligator with no tail, Lydia a dolphin without a nose. 

Interesting Jamaica facts: First time we'd been someplace where they drive on the opposite side of the road which is really kind of scary at first, "ya mon" is really a thing people say, we were told there are not problems in Jamaica, only situations. Also, two people tried to sell us wacky-tobaaccy. We declined. 

Later in the trip we learned we left a piece of ourselves in Jamaica. More on that drama later.

On the ship there were waterslides, trampolines, places to play basketball or soccer, a rock wall, and kids clubs that did not make anyone do math. The kids all love dancing, we got to do that a few times. 

A drunk guy was super awkward and kept bugging Isaac to join his family on the dance floor. (Isaac isn't that into dancing because what is one to do with limbs that long?)  The same twenty-something guy hit on my Mom after that. The Blue Man Group performed on the ship. (I listed the BlueMan Group in a top ten things I dislike most post one time.) Surprisingly enough, watching my kids watch the Blue Man Group was way more fun than watching those creepers without kids many moons ago. 

Lydia and Phoebe were hardcore about everything they did. The two of them worked out a system where one person went to get the icecream cones while the other kept playing. Most of the time it meant we could just follow drips of icecream across the pool deck when we didn't know where they had gone. 

Noah and Hope met some ladies from London at lunch one day and came back telling us about their chat with new friends.  On another night the kids were in the elevator with a young married couple named Paige and Michael, they filled the unsuspecting cruisers in on how important those two names are to us. 

On the very last morning we got up early to have one last shot at massive plates of bacon and fresh whipped cream with waffles with Grandma and Grandpa.  After breakfast we helped the kids find the stuff we hoped they would forget, (because we hid them in places and hoped they wouldn't recall having it) such as the slinky prizes they won and other worthless crap like that.  

They called our group to get off the ship.We went down to the floor we were instructed to go to in order to disembark.  My Dad left to use the bathroom and came back like four years later. We were just about to send someone to see if he had a heart attack on the toilet to end his cruise.  When he returned we had been waiting so long that we kind of made a quick decison to make a move and to make it fast. 

Troy told me to lead the way toward the end of the long line to get off the ship.  We all walked briskly for about five minutes until we reached the end of the line on the other side of the ship.  Once we were standing still I looked back to see that I had the wrong number of kids.  Lydia was not with us.  

Troy sprinted back toward where we had been waiting for my Dad.  He tried not to push over small children or the elderly, but it felt pretty scary realizing how long she had already been alone. When he got to the spot she wasn't there.  He looked around a little bit and found her with a staff member crying. The staff member looked disapprovingly at the terrible father and Lydia told him she thought we decided to leave her.  By the time Troy got back to us in the line (in order for us to also know Lydia was found) I had imagined no less than sixteen possible tragic ends to my last-born child's life. 

We are too many people to move anywhere easily. The plan was that my Dad would leave with Troy to go drop him to the Miami airport car rental desk and I would wait with our kids and the luggage at the port.  We had rented a vehicle in Troy's name in anticipation of that plan.  

While my Dad went to get his car we realized that Troy could not find his license (or my license) that he last had in his pocket on the island of Jamaica.  He did not even buy the pot he was offered, yet all our detective work points to the fact that he got back on the ship without two Minnesota driver's licenses.  

Things got a little tense while Troy searched through all his pockets looking for those. Phoebe might have started to cry from getting snapped at and Hope might have decided we were the worst parents ever when she got blamed for something she did not feel was her fault.  Happy family week comes to an abrupt close with stressy parents snapping at everybody. Troy had left his Haitian license in Haiti  - meaning no renting anything for him.  Thankfully, I had mine in my wallet or we would have been in a world of hurt with lots of bags and kids and no way to move any of them.  For me, it was a rare moment of being the responsible one.  Like Troy's friend Blake said, maybe it is time to re-think who holds the passports when we travel. 

Went to shore at Grand Cayman for a couple hours 

Fancy Dining experts - butter knives, and napkins in place

Soft-serve cones without limits 

Troy and the three oldest did Cozumel while the rest of us ate icecream cones on the pool deck.

last night out, to BlueManGroup and dinner

the one that loves to dance the most

last photo aboard the ship, right before the trauma 

We are so glad to have experienced this week with my parents and to have been able to celebrate their wedding anniversary with them.  The kids all say it was a week they will never forget. It might be another decade before Lydia can put the hurt on giant slabs of beef four nights in a row again, and that won't be too soon for any of the on-lookers.

Next:  In part 7 - Five nights in Sarasota before flying home - where the cognitive dissonance was more about the Amish buggies and the quiet in contrast to the string-bikini-clad women having dancing contests to the booming base aboard the ship.