Monday, September 26, 2016

Finding a House, Making a Home

I don't consider myself a very superstitious person, so I really didn't think much about moving into an apartment on the 13th floor on the 13th of the month, except that my kids pointed it out.  "Well," I told them glibly, "It's not like Friday the 13th!"  But after the events of that week, I might re-think my position on superstitions.

As I mentioned in my last post, my first week in Korea was crazy intense, and on the fourth day, we began apartment hunting.

When I say this I mean, my husband called me from work and said, "Hey, can you go meet the realtor tonight at 6?"  

Remember when you were in school, and you'd ask the teacher, "Can I go to the bathroom?"  The teacher, thinking he/ she was oh-so-hilarious would say, "I don't know... Can you?"  So even though it was the kids' first day of school and they'd brought home hefty school supply lists and high emotions, and I was jet-lagged, tired and had a splitting headache, and I wasn't sure what I'd feed everyone or when -- yes, I technically could meet the realtor.

At 6, I went to the designated meeting point.  I had no idea what this man looked like except that he had glasses.  There was a man standing around looking as if he were waiting for someone, and!  He had glasses!  So I walked up and asked if he were the realtor, and he said yes he was, so I got into his car.

You're probably reading this and screaming, "YOU GOT IN A CAR WITH A GUY YOU'D NEVER MET JUST 'CAUSE HE SAID HE WAS THAT MAN?!  YOU DIDN'T GOOGLE HIM FIRST?!  YOU DIDN'T ASK FOR TWO FORMS OF IDENTIFICATION?!" Trust me, so was I, in my head anyway.  It is so deeply ingrained in me that women don't just walk up to some random man and ask if he's So-and-so and then when he says yes, get into his car unless they want to die.

Obviously, though, I didn't die.  It was simply one of those things that was so far beyond what I would call normal.  We looked at three apartments that night, and I got home and cried.  They never show that in House Hunters, but I did.  I was exhausted and my head hurt so bad and I felt so far out of my element.

But a few days later, when Matt and the older girls were with me (my parents were watching the littles), we looked at a few more.  One of them was lovely, and we tried to get it, but it fell through -- so we found out a week-and-a-half later.  Then the realtor showed us the apartment we ended up with, and it seems really, truly wonderful.

Except maybe that whole number 13 thing.  

On the 12th, I was trying to repack our hotel-apartment, which is easier said than done when you have a toddler.
 It had not gone well, but I got some Indian food take-out, and we were sitting and eating it when suddenly I noticed the table was shaking.  So were the walls, and the light fixture above the table was swaying as if a strong breeze were blowing it.  I looked at Matt just as Skyler asked, "Is this an earthquake?"  Matt nodded and calmly took another bite of palak paneer.  I froze, ready to throw myself over my children to protect them.  But just like that it was over.  Wyatt, who had eaten more snacks than dinner, was busy jumping on the couch in his undies, and I don't think he even noticed.  We all laughed (a little nervously), but there was lots to do.  

My friend was coming over with her minivan to pick up a load of the suitcases and boxes we were moving because the plan was that Matt would be over at the new place first thing in the morning when the movers delivered our household goods while I finished up at the hotel and checked out.  I called to see if my friend was still up to making the drive, and she said no problem, so I went downstairs with Skyler to meet her and load her car with our belongings.

We'd just gotten to the meeting point when another longer, stronger earthquake hit.  Skyler and I were looking around, trying to figure out where to go for cover in case things started falling.  We were in a sort of open area kind of like a huge lanai with a high ceiling -- as in the ceiling was where the third floor would be -- covered with tiles.  The only other option was to go out into the street, and I was sure that wasn't a good plan.  We just kept asking each other, "Where do we go?  What are we supposed to do right now?"  I've been through plenty of earthquakes before, but not in a situation quite like that.

Luckily, my friend showed up a couple minutes later, and we hurried so she could get home.  But by then, the younger of my kids were a little more disturbed -- I mean, two earthquakes in one night was kind of a lot for them to deal with, and the second one was pretty scary.  It took forever to get everyone calmed and even longer to get them to sleep.  Repacking?  I had to forget it for then.

The next day started Matt left early, and I took the kids to breakfast.  I was planning to head back up to the room after dropping the kids off, but my phone started going crazy with texts.

"You need to get down here to the apartment."

"The movers are here."

"Come on!"  

Okay, change of plans!  No problem!  I could do that!  I've had a lot practice changing plans lately!  I stuffed the rest of breakfast in my mouth, kissed the kids goodbye as they headed to the bus, and caught a taxi.  I arrived and found many boxes already in the apartment!  No wonder Matt was so stressed!  The rest of the day was a blur.  Another friend came and oh-so-graciously took Annalee out while Matt and I managed the movers and the did all the administrative things that needed doing.  That evening, after the kids were home, Matt and I headed back to the hotel to finish packing up.  We were still not quite done when Jayna started texting us about Wyatt being fussy and crying, and then she said, "I think he's running a fever."

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh.  

He'd had a cold for forever again and been rubbing his ear and saying it hurt, and I knew it was an ear infection.  I hurried home with just a few things left in the hotel.  I figured we could come back in the morning and get breakfast since we were paying for the night anyway, check out, and then I'd take him to the doctor in the morning.

This should have been... Well, not too hard.  There is a pediatrician close by that all my friends use when their kids get sick. I was told to get there early because you can't make an appointment, but the next day after the first part of the plan was executed, it was well past opening time when I walked up to the clinic.  I'd given Wyatt Tylenol early that morning, but it was wearing off already.  He felt feverish and was crying, saying he just wanted to go home.

And that's when I saw the sign (cue Ace of Base).  Closed for the holiday.  Thursday was the Korean Thanksgiving Day, so the clinic was closed for the rest of the week.

I tried not to freak out, even though that's what I'm best at, and walked down to the taxi stand while texting another friend about where to go.  She recommended a hospital that was close by and even sent me the address in Hangul so I could show the taxi driver (the third one took me.  They tend to be picky about who they will take.).  

At the hospital, no one really spoke much English, except the guy at the front desk who told me it would cost me $300-400.  Again, I tried not to freak out, but we aren't rich enough to be quite okay with spending that for an ear infection.  I texted Matt frantically, and he said to go on, but he'd call our insurance.  

Wyatt had his temperature taken, and we were taken back to the peds' ward.  A nurse came up to me with a bowl of water and some gauze.  I looked blankly at her as she motioned something about dipping the gauze in the water.  Then she said, "Fever control."

Okay!  Fever control!  Except... When I go to an ER, I'm kind of done with sponge baths and band aids.  It's time for the serious medications and heavy equipment -- the things I can't do at home.  My heart was pounding, but I sat there with Wyatt on my lap, crying as I sponged his burning forehead.  I tried to think, It's like a Jane Austen novel! and appreciate the quaintness, but then my phone rang.  It was the insurance company -- who, by the way, is located in Singapore, an English-speaking country.  They informed me I was at the wrong hospital, and the right one was 30 minutes away.

"So I have to leave?" I asked incredulously.

"You don't have to leave," the man said in a charmingly gracious and cheerful tone, "but we won't pay for that one."  

This is when my blood pressure went into the red, I think.  I stood abruptly and asked if anyone spoke English, and I think-hope I communicated the situation.  Fortunately, other than the sponge bath I was administering, he hadn't been treated yet.  They nodded and said I could leave, and... Well, knock on wood, I haven't heard anything yet.

So I left and got into another taxi with Wyatt.  There was the whole exchange about where I wanted to go that took several minutes and the help of my phone and sketchy old Google Translate.  By now any trace of Tylenol was gone.  He was crying, and I was texting my husband and another couple friends, and the driving was, well, the exciting driving that it is.  I started to feel nauseous from carsickness and all too soon, I could hardly keep breakfast down as it roiled in my stomach.  We got to the hospital, and I staggered out of the taxi, pulling Wyatt with me.  

Lucky for me, the administrative staff there spoke better English, and within ten minutes, we were seen by a doctor.  Granted, only about ten words were spoken, but the job was done! Wyatt was diagnosed with a double ear infection and bronchitis.  A shot was administered to his derrière. He was not happy about it, and every soul in that ER knew just unhappy he was.  But a fifteen-minute doctor's appointment in an ER? Thank you very much, I'll take it!

I'm really glad that he had that shot, as sad as it made me for him to cry, because getting the medicine down him was another story.  The directions were all in Hangul, but thankfully I've met a wonderfully kind Korean woman who translated everything for me and explained how I was supposed to mix them.  It was still stressful, not because it's so hard to pour 30 ml's of water into a powder and shake it myself, but because... That's not how we do it in America.  I'm trying to learn not to judge things just by how they are done here versus there, but sometimes, honestly, it's a tough process.

Anyway, his fever was going down by the time we got home.  He swaggered into the living room and proudly announced to his sisters, "I got a shot on my butt.  It didn't hurt though." 

The rest of the week was an unpacking blur.  Matt left for a work trip, and a typhoon past fairly close.  Wyatt broke out in a rash that scared me so bad because it looked like a rash Jayna had when taking Omnicef many years ago, but I think it was just a heat rash.  Now his meds are finished, and he seems to be on the mend, though his cough still sounds pretty bad.  And then a week ago, we had another earthquake, followed by one that we didn't feel so much on Wednesday.

In a way, I'd like to just erase last week from my memory because it was so stressful.  But I'm not writing off everything as doomed yet because I can't help thinking of what I read once in a collection of short stories by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: "Home is where we move fluently in the dark."  It's a line that kind of skewered me -- it left my eyes smarting the first time I read it and has stuck with me for the many years since I read it.  All my life, I've been trying to figure out where I was "from", or where I called "home".  I still stumble for an answer.  But these words are so true, in so many ways.  

Right now, my family and I are in the stage of "home" where we're still smacking our shins on the coffee table as we stumble through the dark.   Every night, at least once, Wyatt cries and says, "I want to go home.  When will we go home?"  I ask him, "What do you mean, buddy?  We are home." And he answers, "No!  I want to go back to the big green house."  My other kids miss their friends, Jayna misses her sailing classes and races, and if I am going to be completely honest, every time I take a deep breath, I feel just a shuddery hint of a sob, even though I feel perfectly happy.  
But I've been amazed at how we learn, as we make maps in our minds and hearts of pitfalls and hazards, our mistakes or mishaps guide us.  We learn what sharp corners to avoid and where to move slowly.  As crazy as that week may have been, I know I learned a lot.  This is such a beautiful country full of so many lovely people, and I want to know more.  So I trust that one of these days, I'll find myself moving a little more easily through this new place, and hopefully one day, we can comfortably call it home.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Hit the Ground Running

We've been in South Korea three weeks now!  In some ways, it feels like three years. So much learning and adapting to big changes has happened.  And in other ways, I find myself thinking, Three weeks already?  

I think the only way to semi-cohesively talk about our time here so far is in a bullet point post.  I don't love doing it this way, but hopefully I will give you a rough idea of our early days here, so I can talk more in detail in the upcoming posts.  So here goes!

-- Getting here.  Not gonna lie: It was painful.  I ended up putting a grand total of over 6,000 miles on my rental car!  I'd driven through thunderstorms, in steep mountain ranges, through deserts, along the coast, in crazy L.A. traffic... And two hours before I dropped it off, a rock hit the windshield!  Can you believe it?!  I was so stressed out.  I wanted to cry.  Actually, no, I did cry.  I think it ended up not being an issue, but by the time I got the car turned in and was at our hotel, my whole body was shaking from a nasty mix of adrenaline and fatigue.  Annalee had gotten just enough of a late nap that she didn't want to go to sleep until about 11:20, and then she and I didn't sleep soundly at all.  

So we were on a 11.5 hour trans-Pacific flight with a cranky, overtired baby.

It did not go well.  

She slept maybe three hours. I still don't understand the superhuman power that enabled this feat.  Most of the passengers around us were nice about it.  One guy in front of me kept turning around to mad dog us every time she cried (which was often), and Matt said that he could hear a couple in their young twenties talking about us saying, "Like, why would anyone bring a baby on an international flight?"

(By the way, please read that in a Valley Girl accent. It seems most appropriate.)

One of my friends here suggested that we tell them, "Because she isn't a very good swimmer. DUH."  That made me laugh.  I guess stupid people are just going to show how stupid they really are sooner or later.  It was definitely an exercise for me to not be so much of a people-pleaser.  I did my best, and all I can say is, if you're on a flight with an angry baby, please show kindness to the poor parents. 

We got to Tokyo and had an over-five-hour layover.  When we landed, it was 10 pm California time.  It was sort of like (I imagine) running a marathon and then having to do a half-marathon right after.  Would you believe Annalee was awake the entire time?!  I walked through the airport like a zombie while Matt and the rest of the kids took catnaps.

She would not sleep, and she would not have anyone else.  If you knew what a sweet, generally good-natured baby she usually is, you would understand how I just so badly wanted to lie down in the middle of the floor and cry.

But Lilly and Jayna joined me for some of it, and we found pretty cool things to see, including amazing origami displays.  I can't even make a crane, so I was blown away.

We finally boarded the flight to Busan,
and as we were boarding, Annalee fell asleep.!!!!! Since it was only 1.5 hours with dinner served, I thought I'd stay awake. I was kind of just wired and a little nutty by that point -- more so than normal, anyway.  But instead, I fell asleep hard, like someone had hit me over the head.  I probably looked just like Lilly and Wyatt,
but thankfully there is no photograph, because I was probably snoring and/ or drooling on myself.

-- When we were going through the immigration passport check, I had to laugh.  The man directing us to where we needed to go saw us and said, "Too many!"  We looked at each other a little panicked.  I mean, yes, I was afraid someone would say this at some point, but at the passport desk?!  Too soon!!  But because we were coming in on military orders, we all had to be with Matt, so we ignored him.  It was fine, but the man at the desk was definitely surprised as he counted us up.

Also, they took a picture of me and Jayna at that point.  I guess it's an ID picture.  It would be safe to say that is probably one of the worst pictures of me ever. 

-- It was so, SO nice to be picked up at the airport by the man my husband replaced. He had brought a 9-seater van AND a little truck for us and all our suitcases.  We got to our hotel and found that it was a nice comfortably-sized apartment with two bedrooms and two bathrooms and a WASHING MACHINE.  The kitchen had been stocked.  I mean, at the end of 24 hours of travel, that's the kind of thing that just makes you happy cry.

Plus,it has a beautiful view.

-- The weather when we arrived was incredibly hot and humid.  I'm talking heat advisory weather.  Poor Wyatt just could not deal.  Every time we walked more than ten steps out of the hotel, he'd start crying.  Spoiled by Hawaii.  It stayed that way until a week ago when a storm came through, and I'm not kidding, overnight, the temperatures dropped by at least 20 degrees.  It was nice, but kind of scary too because we don't have our household goods yet that contain the Rubbermaid boxes of sweaters and coats we last used when we lived in Washington state.  It's warmed up some again, but not as hot as it was.  Last week it was so windy, I'm not even exaggerating a little when I say that as I left my friend's apartment building, my sunglasses were blown off my face and the peplum t-shirt I was wearing blew up like Marilyn Monroe's skirt around my armpits.  It was so embarrassing, and now I can give you one more reason for wearing a pretty bra.  This week has been (thankfully) calm winds and warm, if not sticky, weather.  I'm hoping it just stays nice like it is right now for a while.

-- We hit the ground running.  Honestly, I think that phrase was made up just to describe our first week here.  I'm so thankful that Matt was able to change our tickets to come here 48 hours sooner because he had a day to "recover".  Initially, he was going to have to go straight to work the day after we arrived. That day ended up being a mostly fruitless hunt for an ATM that would take our card, plus a jetlag nap.  If you've ever had jetlag, you know how awful that is -- that feeling like you're in a coma and trying to get out of it. 

Which I say without ever having been in coma, and hoping never to be in one.  It's just... Jetlag naps are awful.

That first week, Matt went to work, and it was Korean Independence Day, so there was no school.  We were shown some ropes(like grocery shopping) by one of the friends I'd made on Facebook prior to arriving here.  Tuesday we took the kids to school to get registered, and Wednesday they started classes.
Wednesday night, I viewed the first apartments we were considering.  Thursday was the Hail & Farewell for our command, where Matt and I were welcomed and the outgoing commanding officer was celebrated.  (He definitely left some big shoes to fill!). Friday was Matt's Change-of-Command ceremony,
which for me, followed a lovely coffee where I met some of the wonderful military spouses who are also stationed here.  

-- Funny story (now that it's over).  I mailed two boxes from Hawaii the day before we left.  They contained, among other important things, the dress I planned to wear for Change of Command and the shoes.  We got here, and they were nowhere to be found.  I knew they'd arrived, but... Where were they?  No one had any idea.  I went looking for a replacement dress -- couldn't find anything.  Fortunately, several of the women here volunteered to loan me dresses, so if I had to I could do that, but no one else, it seemed, had size 7.5 feet like me to loan me a pair of heels.  And literally, the only shoes I had were a pair of flip-flops, some really scuffed ballet flats , my running shoes, and a pair of Chacos (these -- so, cuter than regular Chacos, but still). 

So I went shopping... Turns out 7.5 is just this side of Officially Ginormous in South Korea.  I could not find a single pair that fit.  Everywhere I went, the salesperson said, "Order.  We order."  But there was no time to order!  The ceremony was the next day!  Annalee was over it and letting everyone know, and I was picturing myself in my nicest outfit hat I had with me, which was not that nice, and imagining with growing horror (as we women tend to do) everyone thinking, That poor man, married to such a slob.

BUT, just in the nick of time... my boxes were found in a warehouse and delivered to me Thursday night.  WHEW!!!

-- I'm pretty sure I couldn't have survived that first week without my parents.  When I told them our schedule, they asked, "Do you want us there?"  Um, YES!!!  As it turned out, my mom and dad were traveling in Asia, and my mom had just enough downtime to be here when we arrived and Dad joined in the middle of the week.  They were able to watch Annalee during the CoC, and (HUGE answer to prayer!!) she even took a 3-hour nap!!  She NEVER takes 3-hour naps!!!

-- So... It was such a whirlwind, I can't even tell you.
I have been so exhausted, I've fallen asleep by 9 pm most evenings, and I've taken a lot of Tylenol and Motrin for headaches.  The weekends have been rainy, which has been good for having an excuse to catch up on much-needed sleep.

But through it all, I have found myself grateful for answered prayers and for wonderful people who have stepped in just when I thought I was going to lose my mind.  I think if these past few weeks have taught me anything, it's the value of People Who Are Just Plain Nice.  No superhero capes needed -- just kindness.  
Like the guy at the rental car place who checked my car in, and as I rather tearfully told him the story of The Rock and My Windshield, expressed sympathy... With a lot of potty words, but still.  Sympathy.  (The potty words just showed that he really got it.) ('Cause I was sure thinking them, if not saying them too.)
And the brand new friend who took me grocery and school supply shopping.  
And the other brand new friends who offered dresses for the Change of Command, and gave me chocolates and a selfie stick (!!) for my birthday, which was barely a week after our arrival, and loaned me a stroller because mine is still in my household goods.  
And the kids' vice principal who hasn't acted at all weirded out about their homeschooling, but in fact, has been incredibly supportive and helpful.  
And so many of you!  Thanks to everyone who has been praying or commenting on Facebook and Instagram and sending notes of encouragement.  It truly means more than I can possibly say.  

I'll be back soon with more of the story. ;-)