looking back on the journey

My four-year-old just ate her third cream cracker covered in artificial jam and started her second viewing of an alphabet cartoon. It’s educational so I’m okay with it. She’s occupied for thirty minutes and Sugar Baby is sleeping so this might be my only chance today to think clearly  so I’m going to take it.

I’ve ruminated on the journey I’ve been on– moving to the other side of the world; having our fourth child; losing my mind, then getting it back (somewhat).  It’s not been what I’ve expected in many ways.

We have been in India for 2.5 years and it’s been quite the adventure. One I never dreamed of and one I’ve fought. Hard. Before we came and even after we arrived I fought it because I knew it would mean a different life for me than the one I had envisioned. And the fighting added to the struggle instead of making it easier. Funny how that works, isn’t it? Wrestling with something for years takes a toll on a soul. At least it did on me and those around me.

But it feels like I’ve had an internal shift. Now don’t get me wrong, I still have what I call too-much-culture days when I need to recharge in the privacy of my own home for a few days.The differences between here and home are vast. But those types of days are not as frequent and they don’t completely undo me like they once did. And by undo me I mean anxiety, depression and sometimes panic attacks. THAT kind of undo.

Life is better now. Not easier, but better because I’ve given up trying to control everything.

So why was life such a challenge here at first, you ask? So imagine you are an overly critical American who has moved to India and had your worldview challenged at every turn. You have no control over anything (or so it seemed). When you have to cook solely with a microwave for several weeks and don’t know where to buy chicken or cheese because there are only a few stores where you can buy meat AND groceries and we live nowhere near them. Where I couldn’t even cook a proper meal for my family, keep my house clean or drive a car anywhere. And the monsoon rains arrived with us and I thought I might melt from the heat, humidity, frequent power outages and no inverter to even run fans. And not to mention the sensory overload every time I walked out of the house. Yes, I became a bit critical those first years.

Okay, very critical. And alone. Life had challenges I felt unprepared for and quite frankly didn’t want. I don’t like hard places, most of us don’t. BUT…

While I would not relive our first two years here for any amount of dollars or rupees, I can say now that I’m glad I lived through them and they are a part of who I am. And hopefully I’m a bit stronger for it. Hopefully. Now that’s progress if you ask me.

So that’s where I am as we approach the halfway point in year three. And I still need to find a place around that sells tender (not chewy) chicken and possibly bacon (I miss bacon!). And we still have mosquitoes biting us at night and I still try not to make eye contact with roaming wildlife. But on a positive note I have working AC’s, mosquito wands that zap and decent cheese. I think I can manage with that.

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life with four

My keypad is a little rusty. It’s been a while now since I had the energy and space to sit down and write. Even now I know that at any moment Sugar Baby (my nickname for our new addition) might wake and I’ll have to stop what I’m doing and tend to his needs. Babies are like that. They don’t understand, “I’ll be there in a minute.” At least this one doesn’t.

But he’s doing great. What a sweet countenance this one has– I’m a big fan already and so is the rest of the brood. There’s four and a half years between him and his sister, so it had been a while since I’d taken care of a little baby. I’d forgotten how physically demanding it is when they only want to nap in your arms and not their beds; when they eat every three hours and poop every two. Add to that the fact that I have three other children and I live in a foreign culture without family support and you have yourself a very tired mommy by the end of the day.

So life is exhausting and full, to say the least. I’ve asked my friends with four or more how they do it– how they make time for themselves, keep a marriage healthy, see to everyone’s needs, etc. at this stage and no one seems to have a magic answer. At least not one I like. It’s more like just hold on and live through it until your youngest goes to school or college.

Fabulous.

Behavioral changes in the older children have also flared up since baby’s arrival. Our sweet Princess went from being the baby to big sister overnight, a big jump for a little girl. When we returned to India back in January I noticed that big sis had gotten a bit more sassy, independent and dramatic. If a meal isn’t delivered when she wants it she’ll ask me “am I supposed to starve?” She also started a fake cough and pretends that she can’t breathe when she gets into trouble to avert our attention away from whatever offense she’s committed (we know she fine because she’s talking to us). The first few times I sort of freaked out thinking she was in peril until I got a clue about what was going on. Well played.

The problem was she needed more from me than I was giving to her. Only she didn’t know how to say that. So instead she tried to get attention any way she could. On the other hand, our second born tends to get less attention because he doesn’t demand it. One day I realized I hadn’t spent one-on-one time with him in several days so we scheduled a “reading date” before bedtime. He loved it. Just us reading a few of his favorite books filled his little love tank. I never want our family to be so busy that only the squeaky wheels get the grease.

Our oldest helps me out with Sugar Baby and is my go-to guy when daddy isn’t around. It’s great to have the extra hands and it makes him feel responsible. A win-win for everyone, I’d say.

Then, there’s that all-important relationship that suffers the most when a new one comes along. Everyone will tell you to make time for your husband and don’t neglect your relationship when you have kids. This is all very well-meaning and true of course. But the reality is he can feed, clothe and bathe himself, so I let him and take care of those who cannot. It’s also hard when you don’t have regular baby sitters to go out. And let’s be frank, an outing with all four is more work than fun right now.

We recently decided to have Wednesday night date-nights in-house. We might watch a movie, play a game or read a book together. Right now we are going through The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Yes, this was my idea. It’s not glamorous, but we’re trying to connect and not just co-exist.

So life with four has been an adjustment. Grace has to be given in abundance or we would walk around frustrated–me most of all. If you have four or more let me know how your family survives thrives during this busy season of life and how you make time for everyone, including yourself.