11 September 2017

I remember

I remember waking up, panicky about the situation in Jos that week - riots in my hometown.
I remember going to the computer to check my email, finding nothing.
I remember going to BBC.com to try to look at world news (required for a class) and being frustrated that the page wouldn't load.
I remember trying another site and seeing a headline about a plane crash.
I remember exiting the browser without even thinking about the plane crash.
I remember racing to class, distraught and frustrated, and taking my seat with others my age who probably had also just woken up and raced to class.
I don't remember the instructor's telling us what had happened in New York, but I think he must have.
I remember someone - the department secretary, maybe? I didn't know her - coming across the hall to our classroom to tell us that a second plane had crashed into the other tower.
I remember the instructor's turning on the TV, watching the towers fall, feeling that awful, heavy rock in the pit of my stomach.
I remember classes being canceled for the morning and a special prayer service being called.
I remember sitting in chapel with Allison and just holding onto each other.
I remember Allison wept, and I was silent.
I don't remember having the energy to grieve for all of those people who lost their lives, for their families.
I remember Allison was wearing her Wonder Woman shirt.
I remember being terrified not only for my parents but also for friends I knew in New York.
I don't remember being afraid for myself, because I wasn't.
I remember Ruth's saying, "If we go to war, I'm going to join the Army."

I remember American flags everywhere I turned.
I remember "God Bless America" always reverberating in my ears.
I remember learning the story of Wheaton alumnus Todd Beamer, who participated in the heroic destruction of United 93.

I remember being repulsed by the wave of nationalism that suddenly overtook the country.
I remember people starting to openly hate anyone who looked even remotely Arab or Middle Eastern.
I remember "United We Stand" meant the country stood united against not only terrorism but foreigners.
I remember feeling less American than I had ever felt.

I remember.

09 March 2017

Pinewood derby fail

Let me just begin by saying that we are part of an absolutely amazing Cub Scout pack. It's new, and it has had to overcome many challenges. The leadership is outstanding, the boys are fun, and the parents are very helpful. This post is not in any way intended to impugn the quality or effort of any of the folks involved. We love Cub Scouts and are so glad to be part of the pack!!

I discovered recently that pinewood derbies are really popular. This probably seems like non-news to most of you, but as the mom of young kids (and a single mom, to boot), I wasn’t aware of the popularity of this event. But pinewood derby is a Big Deal.

And it can be a lot of fun. I mean, what little kid doesn’t love a race? Especially when his or her own creation is competing for a prize? It’s adrenaline, it’s speed, it’s rapturous.

But I’m going to be a wet blanket and say I don’t like it. Designing is fun. Creating is fun. Decorating is fun. And even racing is fun. I’m not denying any of that. But can we all just agree to admit that it’s not about how much time and work the child puts into the car but about the time and work the parent puts in? At least up until a certain age, the average kid is going to make an average car. Only when the parent steps in to make suggestions, buy accessories, and soup it up will a car actually have a chance of winning.

I admit I didn’t want to be involved in the pinewood derby from the very beginning. I felt overwhelmed, and the way things came together, I felt as though I was just expected to know what to do: where to get the wood, how to saw it, how to add wheels, what paints to use, how to get it a certain weight, how to make it fast. When I tried to talk to other moms around me, they had all done it before and just talked to me as though I was either stupid or crazy for not having a clue. It was weird because these same women were usually friendly and kind, but they obviously just couldn’t fathom my complete ignorance of this activity. It was this condescension—unintended though I know it was—that first gave me a bitter taste in my mouth. I’m not stupid. I’m an intelligent person, have a college degree, have assisted in surgery, and have only not gone on to grad school because I have no interest. I understand the basic laws of physics as much as the next layperson.

But I’ve never worked with my hands, and I know absolutely nothing about speed, aerodynamics, or wood. I have never in my memory used a saw, especially a power saw. I have sanded wood maybe once or twice. I have never painted wood that I recall. And when people say “weights,” I think of dumbbells. I was told to watch YouTube videos, which is all well and fine, but some people don’t learn well from watching videos.

To be fair, our leader planned a few building sessions to help not only my son but also other kids complete their projects. She was magnanimous and helpful. But when you’ve got that many kids and that little time, everything can’t possibly get done. This year I sat entirely in the backseat, only watching while my son picked a design, got the wood cut, sanded it, and borrowed paints to make it pretty. I watched while someone else’s dad put the wheels on and critiqued the car. Someone else did all the work.

But here’s the thing: my son couldn’t have done any of it without another grown-up. (In his case, it took three of four.) People had to pitch in because I was taking the backseat. And they’re busy people who had their own kids’ cars to worry about. The most they could  do is make sure my kid had a car. They couldn’t be bothered about its design or its racing potential. While I’m super grateful to them for making sure my son had a car, I also understand that he can never win unless he has one adult who gives his or her all to make it happen.

The kids who actually won their races (at least in the younger grades) all had huge parent/guardian participation. That’s just the truth. And they had all raced before, so their parents had experience as well. So the competition was really about how great the parents/guardians were rather than about how much work the kids put in. This just doesn’t seem right to me.

Granted, they don’t compete for money, and each car wins some type of prize. That is completely awesome, and I love that. But as far as the actual race goes, I don’t like it. I don’t think it makes sense. What makes sense is the kids making their own vehicles—or group vehicles—completely by themselves and using all the same materials and components. Or not having a race at all, just a fun building experience with maybe a contest for creative design—but all building done together. That way it would be about what the kids are doing rather than what the parents are or aren’t doing.

So unless all work on the cars is done together as a group, with each kid getting equal help and the same suggestions from leaders, I don’t think we’re going to participate in the pinewood derby. My son needs to know that he is not less just because his mom can’t make a race car. He needs affirmation, and if he competes, I want him to compete on his and only his skill.

13 October 2016

Heading left

A week ago I attended an LGBTQ affinity group meeting on campus. 
Before you ask, let me say for the record that I am unequivocally straight.  

But that doesn't mean I can't support inclusion and equity for my LGBTQ friends and family.  

Some of you will be horrified that I have taken such a simple step in this direction. I know others of you would like to give me a pat on the back. And others would probably respond, "So?" 

To be transparent, I must admit that on a faith level, I am really no longer sure I understand what God's take is on homosexuality. I used to be so absolutely sure that the conservative Christian community was the only group to be correctly interpreting the Bible in its brief discussion of sexuality. I used to be sure about lots of things that I discover I am now examining with much more depth and intensity than ever before. So I'm shelving my understanding of scripture and how it relates to the LGBTQ community. For now.

Regardless, my understanding of Jesus as a compassionate, loving teacher led to my decision to participate in this affinity group. The fact is that the LGBTQ community--especially in a place as right-wing as Bakersfield--is persecuted, and my role as a Jesus-follower is to help end persecution. Prejudice and bigotry toward a particular people group is never right, whether you're against people of color, Muslims, Republicans, Catholics, the homeless, socialists, the intellectually challenged, or those with different gender preferences than you, just to name a few.  

And for the first time last week, I asked myself, "What if it were I? What if I had found myself, growing up in a conservative Christian community, to have feelings for other girls or women? What if?" And I knew that my experience would have been nothing short of miserable. I might not even be alive today. 

My LGBTQ friends deserve to feel safe, included, and supported, just like the rest of the community. They should not stand alone or be made to feel less, and they certainly should never have to fear for their safety.  

Just within the past week since I attended my first group meeting, two amazing young women I know have come out, and when I think about them, the idea that people would make slurs about them or treat them differently because of their gender preferences – it just makes me angry. I love them and want to walk beside them. One of them is a college student, and while I'm too far away to offer in-person support to her, I can offer in-person support here on her behalf. So I'm going to participate in this affinity group, get Safe Zone training, and cooperate to create ways to make our LGBTQ community members feel at home, that they belong. And I will keep on trying to show love. 

01 September 2016

On behalf of Chase

I was a senior in high school when I met Bob. He was a junior, and he and his brother Ted were new to our mission community in Jos, Nigeria, where I grew up. They were friendly and cheerful.

And they could sing.

Yes, Bob was smart and kind also, which I noticed over time. But the biggest impression he made from day one was that he could sing. Just wow. We're not talking pop singing like Josh Groban or George Strait. We're going straight to Irish Tenors or King's Singers here. And it was so fun to sing with Bob because I could do whatever harmony I wanted, and he still carried the melody - or, better yet, an alternate harmony. So super cool. (You have to remember that my school was tiny, with a graduating class of 27, so we didn't have a very big pool of musical talent... Although, looking back, considering our size, we did have quite a lot!)

Over time I got to know Bob a bit better. He starred in the spring musical. He took one of my best friends to the junior-senior banquet. He was in AP Biology, and I was a guinea pig in his sleep deprivation study. It was a fun year.

When I was in college, I saw Bob a couple times, as he went to school an hour or so away. I took the train into the city with his cousin (who attended my school) for his junior voice recital, which was of course outstanding.

But we kind of lost touch after that. My parents and his parents were friends (as are most missionaries in our community), so I heard about his marriage to an amazing young lady named Ellie, and I got to see photos of their kids once I got on Facebook.

And then four years ago, I found out that Bob's second son Chase had been diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer. It's one of those things you read about in books or in Facebook posts about other people's kids, but you never expect to know someone personally in that situation. There was a real chance that Chase wouldn't make it to his third birthday.

But he did. He fought hard. Bob, Ellie, and the kids fought for and with him. Chase will turn seven the same day that my Anna turns six this December. The first fight is over, but there are so many other challenges ahead and continuing. While Chase is stable, he faces serious health issues and the overshadowing chance of the cancer's return. Ellie keeps up a blog and recently published a book about their experiences. They are totally my heroes - not because they are super-human but because they are human and real and rooted in Jesus.

Photo courtesy Chase Away Cancer http://www.chaseawaycancer.com/?page_id=3722
I've never met Chase, but through Ellie's posts and book, I've seen glimpses into his life, into their lives, and my heart is burdened for the whole family.

In 2015, Chase was chosen to be one of five St. Baldrick's Foundation "ambassadors," a real live person to raise awareness for childhood cancer. That's how I found out about the foundation and realized I wanted to become involved in supporting Chase by supporting the search for better treatments for childhood cancer. In 2000, a few New York businessmen decided to raise money for childhood cancer by getting sponsored to shave their heads for St. Patrick's Day. The response was huge, and so St. Baldrick's was born. While I haven't yet had a chance to attend a shaving event, I committed over a year ago to shaving my own head in honor of Chase. I finally signed up this past week and am booked for October 29, just in time for me to wear a wig for Halloween!

Call me crazy to shave my head, especially as a woman, but it's just hair. Hair grows back (usually). What Chase has lost in illness and treatment - good eyesight, healthy nerves and brain cells, and much more - can't grow back  I don't have much to give, but if my shaving my head can help even one child like Chase or alleviate the stress for just one mom, it will be so worth losing my hair.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, so I'm asking you to take a few minutes today, tomorrow, this weekend, whenever you get a chance to visit the St. Baldrick's site. Explore the history. Read Chase's story on Ellie's site. See his profile at St. Baldrick's website. And if you feel so led or called, please donate toward my head-shaving on October 29. For Chase. For his family. For every parent whose heart breaks in a doctor's office.

With love and thanks,

23 August 2016

Another sunset

A friend of mine lost his father today.

I didn't know the father at all, but for whatever reason, this death is really wreaking havoc with my emotions. I'm feeling the NF in my INFP personality, and it's hurting my heart. The truth is that this gentleman was elderly and in poor health, and his death was not at all unexpected. And in many ways, his death may be a relief for his family--the end of suffering for him and long days of worry for them.

But I barely made it to my car before I started crying.

I've always been awkward about grief. I don't express it well myself except privately. I'm not good at physical touch so feel awkward putting my arm around someone who's crying, or giving hugs. I never know what to say or how to act in the face of others' grief. I can remember even when I was in ninth grade and a fellow missionary kid was killed in a car accident, my friends gathered around me on a blanket spread under a tree, and while they cried, I just felt awkward. My tears came later, and even though I didn't know her well at all, I felt her death deeply. I think of her often. But I never knew what to say, how to act.

And while my amazing mentor Jay died nearly two years, and I have been meaning, wanting, and planning to write to his wife, I haven't done so. What's the use of words?

I'd never bought flowers in sympathy before today. I had no idea what to get, even had to ask the florist. I have no idea what to say in a sympathy card. How can I possibly express in words how deeply my heart hurts? Not possible.

But I'm at home now, alone, and in the absence of others, I don't feel awkward. My heart aches. Maybe this death is just the release I needed to spend some time grieving the loss of a few amazing men in my life whom I haven't really taken time to grieve yet. I have been so busy surviving that perhaps I shoved those deaths down and didn't give them proper time. I not only grieve their deaths but that I didn't get to say a proper goodbye to any but one (a moment I will treasure in my heart always).

I remember when a fellow missionary died several years ago, a friend I barely knew brought me a huge bouquet and a card. And the flowers lasted for three or four weeks in my basement studio apartment. I had been feeling so alone, but she touched my life so briefly but so deeply, just by noticing and acknowledging the hurt.

Maybe my words are meaningless, empty. May God grant me the grace to notice and acknowledge the hurt so that some day in the future, my friend may look back and recognize that he was not alone.

16 June 2016

Not just another post about the Proverbs 31 woman

I recently engaged in a Facebook debate about the role of the woman in a Christian home.

Can I just say, "Wow"?

I admit I had to disengage pretty quickly, as I don't actually enjoy arguing with people I consider friends, and I could tell there would be no resolution. Our worldviews are just so completely different that resolution is impossible. This frustrates me, but I said what I felt I needed to say, and I can't change people's minds for them.

But it opened my eyes to other viewpoints and perspectives.

Basically, the article posted said that mothers are the first and most important defense against totalitarianism, and that as we see more and more mothers work outside the home, we will see an increase in Big Brother and government oppression. It further stated that this phenomenon tending toward totalitarianism is planned and implemented by "social engineers."

In other words, people are out there, plotting the totalitarian takeover of America by telling women they don't have to stay home with their kids and can instead work outside the home.

Wow. Just wow.

I don't go in for conspiracy theories generally, and this one is a whopper. I just... wow.

Okay, so the comments on the post were that dual-income families and single parents are contributing to the societal deterioration because we are not raising our children. Further comments quote Titus 2 and tell me God wants me to stay home with my kids and take care of my household. Another choice comment is that feminism is to blame, and that offering a paid maternity leave is bad because it encourages women to work outside the home.

Again, just wow.

I am not a biblical literalist. (Shocker.) But I tend to think that if you take Titus 2 to mean women should not ever work outside the home, you should also never wear jewelry, never braid your hair, and never speak in church. I know women who do follow all these guidelines, and I respect that. If you're going to take any passage in the New Testament as law, you really have to take them all, don't you? I've been accused of "picking and choosing" bits of the Bible to follow and believe, but isn't that exactly what's done by believers like the person who posted the article? If we're going to take the Bible as literal law, we have to do it in its entirety.

The article and posted comments imply three very important statements with which I contend:
  1. A mother working outside the home is never God's plan or ideal, 
  2. Working moms can't raise virtuous Christian kids, and
  3. Feminism is the root of all kinds of evil.
First, let's be clear here: I do not believe that a working mom should ever neglect her children. But that word "neglect" means different things to different people. As a single mom, I see my first priority as feeding my children and providing them safe shelter. Next probably comes sufficient clothing, and then education. Thus "neglect" means not meeting one of those four primary needs. Someone from a different point of view thinks that I neglect my children because I have them in after-school care. A third person might say I neglect my children in sending them to public school. We've all got differing ideas of what's important. But we can probably all agree that--using our differing views of "neglect"--we don't think a working mom should neglect her children.

That being said, I can't possibly imagine a God who would say every woman needs to stay home with her children, or that managing a household means not working outside the home. Having grown up in West Africa, among people who farm and/or herd cattle for a living, I'm inclined to think I have an inkling what the culture of the Old Testament may have been like. Women do not stay inside with their children. They work out in the fields, and so do their kids. Women carry small children on their backs. Girls as young as six or seven are put in charge of the babies and smaller children while the mama hoes and digs and plows. And on market day, that mama goes into town to sell her wares. A good African mama is not one who sits at home with the kids and waits for her husband to bring home money for food. She gets out there and makes her own money. This, to me, sounds like the Proverbs 31 woman. She is a do-er. She not only teaches her children at home, but she teacher her children in her actions outside the home. She is hard-working and productive and earns a living to prosper her family.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not knocking women who do stay home with their kids. My mom was home with me, and I am grateful to have had that privilege. Stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) can be just as productive and hard-working. But can they earn a living wage? Probably not. Some, of course, get involved in Mary Kay or Tupperware or Thirty-One or whatever and can earn money from home. That is awesome. But we can't all do that (or want to do that).

I don't believe there is anything in the Bible to suggest God doesn't want mothers to work outside the home. I don't see any verses, in reading my Bible, that say being a SAHM is the only virtuous option for a Christian mom. I see that the important things are to meet the needs of the family and teach your kids biblical values: kindness, purity, diligence, respect, self-control, and a host of others.

As a single mom, I have to work. I do not believe in begging for food or for money when I have a good mind and body and the ability to work a paying job. I'm grateful for compassionate charity I've been given, but I am perfectly capable of working to meet my kids' needs. In my own situation, I would feel irresponsible if I stayed home with the kids and let other people meet all our financial needs. I lived with my parents for nearly a year, and that really was too long. Some single moms can work from home or have enough financial stability from family to stay home with and/or home-school their kids. I don't. And so I work.

For me, it's not a choice. But for so many women out there, working is a choice, and they continue to work outside the home. Why? Because they enjoy it. Because they need to pursue a calling in life. Because they crave adult conversation. Because they want to use their intelligence to build up not only their kids but others as well. Because they have a dream. Because they like having extra spending money. Because they want to share their gifts. All sorts of reasons. Women have dreams just as much as men do and should be equally free to pursue them. If saying that makes me a feminist, I'm gladly accept the label. People are different. Are all women called to get married and have a few babies? No.

Whoa. Okay, so this is not the view of the very conservative Christians out there, but it is my firm belief. I know several amazing women who have either never married or married but never had kids (whether by choice or not). Do these women sometimes feel unfulfilled? Yes. Do they feel unblessed by God, or that they have somehow missed God's plan for their lives? No. Some of my greatest Christian heroes in history are unmarried women.

So, to the second point. Can working women really not raise virtuous kids? Hmm. I'm not sure where this thought really stems from, but I'm pretty sure of a few things.

First, quality of time is more important than quantity. Period. A working mom who spends a little bit of quality time nurturing her kids is probably giving her kids just as much love and attention (and "virtue" lessons) as a SAHM who spends much of the day cooking, cleaning, and otherwise taking care of the home. Truth.

Second, while we as parents are definitely responsible for our kids, so is the village. This has kind of gotten shoved to the side in American society generally, but in much of the world, it's still a true thing. I believe it should be true here as well, but particularly in the Church. I give my kids love, attention, and life lessons, but I'm not the only one who can do that. I rely on my children's teachers, Sunday school teachers, and other community mentors to pitch in as well. And at certain ages, kids learn better from people who aren't their parents. While I may be the best person--in many ways--to raise my children in a positive Christian manner, I am not the only one who can or should do so.

And third, the way in which a child is raised does not guarantee anything--positive or negative. While I do have influence over my children and their choices, they are still free agents. And at some point, I have to let go of at least some of the responsibility. Some of the kindest, most compassionate people come from broken homes. And some of the sadists and sociopaths come from whole ones. I will do what I can to teach my children good qualities, to show them hard work, to model respect for all people. And I'll let God do the rest. But I believe in my heart that my children will be strong, kind, and resilient because of all we have gone through together and all they have gone through individually. Going to school and being in day care around children of other ethnic groups and socioeconomic backgrounds has already taught them lessons I could never attempt to teach them myself. They are richer for it.

Finally, feminism. As a college student straight from a conservative high school, I hated feminism. I insisted I was a complementarian, arguing that women and men have equal worth but not equal roles in society, especially in the family. As I've grown up and now have to wear the pants for our little family, I've definitely left that way of thinking behind. I am a feminist. I want equal pay for equal work. I want paid maternity leave to nurse my newborn. I want to be able to choose to bottle-feed if I want to, gosh darn it! I want to be treated respectfully as an employee and as a person--not just because I'm a capable wife and mother, but because I'm a unique child of God. Feminism is not intended to destroy the family. It doesn't tell women they shouldn't stay at home with their kids. It simply empowers women to realize that staying home or not is a choice, and the decision to work outside the home is as valid as the decision to remain in the home. (Granted, some women can't work outside the home, and some women can't stay at home, but the principle is still sound.)

So I choose to be the Proverbs 31 woman who works hard (including outside the home) to benefit her family, and I pray that one day, my children will arise and call me blessed.

10 June 2016

Why I'm observing Ramadan - because you asked to know

There are so many things I've wanted to write about on here for the past year. In fact, I started making list of blog posts that never were. But this, this is a response to the question several of you have asked me in the last couple weeks: "Why are you fasting for Ramadan?"

Ramadan is a month-long daytime fast observed by Muslims around the world. Because of the lunar calendar, the timing varies from year to year. This year it happens to fall in the summer, when daytime hours are rather long. One can eat and drink in the morning before it gets light and again after it gets dark, but during daylight, one must not eat or drink anything. I'm told it is a time of spiritual journey, of deepening faith, of prayer.

To clarify, I am not a Muslim. I am a follower of Christ and Christ alone.

And I am doing a modified fast. I am drinking water during the day (only water) and celebrating a feast day on Sunday.

The simplest explanation, which I gave a friend earlier today, is that this is an exercise in self-discipline, prayer, and empathy.

So what does that mean?

Self-discipline: I have never been good at fasting. Many Christians believe that God commanded us to fast regularly in Matthew 6:16: "When you fast..." The idea is that since Jesus says when and not if, it is not only expected but also a command. Whether or not one interprets the Bible this way, I agree that fasting can be very beneficial if you let it. For me, personally, fasting is very, very challenging. I love to eat. If you know me at all, you know I love to eat. Food is yummy. And I'm not a water-drinker. I have to force myself to drink water. Tea? Yes! Coffee? Absolutely! Soda? Duh! Crystal Light? Yay! Lemonade? Sure! Water? Um, not so much. So fasting from food and drinks other than water has been a real challenge for me. I'm on day four (should be five, but Ramadan began on Sunday), and while today has been easier than the first few days, it's still a challenge. I see the donuts someone brought to work and want one. I smell the coffeecake that someone else brought and want some. I want the bagels another person is sharing. And when I get asked, "What did you bring for lunch?" I have to cleverly respond without answering the question, as I haven't advertised at work that I'm fasting. Oh my gosh, you guys, it is hard to fast for 16 hours! But I'm going to do this! I need to learn self-discipline, and this is as good a lesson as any.

Prayer: I have never been a prayer warrior. I've always wanted to be, but I've never made a real effort to become fervent in prayer. Over this month, I'm making an effort at least to pray during my meals (as I usually eat them alone) and when I feel hunger during the day. Mostly this week I've prayed for my Muslim friends and others observing the fast, that they would find strength and sustenance in God. But I do also pray for specific needs of which I'm aware. The grumbling stomach is just a reminder to pray.

Empathy: Perhaps the most important reason for my fast is to develop empathy. While I grew up just streets away from the Muslim community of my hometown in Nigeria, I never tried to put myself in their shoes. I didn't wonder what their lives were like. I want to change that. I'm not a sociologist or a cultural anthropologist, and I'm no missionary in the traditional sense. But I want to have some idea what this fast is like. After all, it's a full lunar month every single year of an adult Muslim's life, and it's one of the Five Pillars of Faith. In other words, it's a Big Deal. A few months ago I was given the chance to wear a hijab for an afternoon. While I didn't observe a difference in the way people responded to me, I observed a difference in the way I felt: conspicuous but proud. It was very similar to the feeling I used to have when I wore my Nigerian clothes in college: "I know I’m different, but I'm not ashamed of it." Or maybe even, "I dare you to think I’m weird or treat me differently because of what I'm wearing." All that to say I want to know what it's like. I'm so far not brave enough to actually ask my Muslim friend if I can come over and join her for any of her Ramadan traditions, but I have told her I’m fasting, so maybe in a week or two I'll gather courage. Or maybe not. We'll see. But I love the Muslim people I know, and I want to connect on some level. Without knowing a good way to do so, maybe this will be a springboard. If nothing else, it might someday be a conversation starter.

Call me crazy. I don't mind. I think God has things to teach me, and I'm going to listen.

27 May 2015

Atlanta 2015

This is long and mostly for my family, so feel free to peruse or not as your heart desires. (My cousin took the photos, so I only have two or three, which I haven't uploaded yet.)

Day 1

My birthday present from my parents and cousin Alyssa this year was a set of Atlanta City Passes for Alyssa, my kids, and me. They had all arranged ahead of time to send us on a getaway to the Big City, and the trip was set for Memorial Day weekend. Alyssa drew up an itinerary, and we were super excited for a chaotic but fun three-day weekend!

When we arrived on Saturday morning, we went straight to the Georgia Aquarium. Timothy went there on a field trip with his class a month ago, so he agreed to be our tour guide. Unfortunately, one of the highlights of his trip was the dolphin show, and we were told at the desk that because of the crowd, we should be in line for the show at least 45 minutes early. Ugh. We find it a challenge spending any amount of time in line, and we had another activity planned for after the aquarium, so I made the executive decision to skip the dolphin show. Timothy wouldn’t let me forget it and complained on and off the whole rest of the time we were there. But we still managed to have fun! We touched the sea anemone and sea stars. We watched the otters play—and this is when I got injured. Anna was standing under me, and she jumped up, banging into my chin. I bit my tongue and two small sores on the edges of my bottom lip, which then became huge sores. After the initial shock—with Anna crying and crying because she felt so bad that she’d hurt me—I rinsed out my mouth, and we kept going. Eating, smiling, and even talking still hurt, but it’s much better than it was.

From there we went to the penguins, where the kids got to climb through a tunnel into the middle of the penguin habitat, where they could stand in a clear plastic bubble observatory and see the animals close-up. That was Anna’s favorite thing about the aquarium. We were disappointed to not be able to see the beluga whales, as the female had just delivered a baby beluga on Mother’s Day (yes, for real), so the curtains were all closed. (I only saw about a dozen episodes of Full House when I was little because I wasn’t technically allowed to watch it, but “Baby Beluga” is one thing I actually do remember from the show.) We met a Nigerian gentleman working by the curtained beluga enclosure and chatted a bit. After lunch we saw the Deepo 4D movie about a man who becomes a fish and learns how humans impact sea life. (It was another of Timothy’s highlights from his field trip.) Both kids loved that, especially the bubbles and getting splashed. Next we visited the river area, where the kids got to go into another observation bubble to see the piranhas up close and personal. (Piranhas always make me think of Tarzan: “Sweetheart, there are no piranhas in Africa.” – “Shh. Don’t tell the kid that. Of course there are piranhas in Africa.” – “No, she’s right. They’re native to South America.” Lol) Japanese spider crabs are huge, by the way. From there we moved on to the ocean exhibit, which was my personal favorite. We got to see whale sharks, sawsharks, sting rays, devil rays (Anna called them “double rays”), giant manta rays, and lots of things we didn’t identify. The walkway is a tunnel through the middle of the tank, so you can see the sea life all around you. So cool! Lastly we visited the coral reef exhibit, where Anna was delighted to identify several unicorn fish, which she had seen in a photo at the Columbia, SC zoo where we’re members. J All in all, except for Timothy’s meltdown about missing the dolphin show, the bad mood from which persisted for a half hour after we left the aquarium, we had a delightful time!

Next we walked to the CNN center, but their tours were sold out, so we enjoyed ice cream, and the kids explored the outside of a military Humvee stationed in the lobby before we decided to enjoy the playground by the aquarium for a while. This significantly improved Timothy’s mood, and the weather was perfect in the shade. We even got to see Dora and Elmo walk by, delighting Anna. While Timothy enjoyed the monkey bars, Anna spent time “making ant holes” in the dirt. Ha.
We had dinner at The Varsity, apparently the largest drive-thru in the world. (We didn’t drive through, though!) Yum! When we got to the hotel at last, the kids and Alyssa enjoyed some swim time (it wasn’t warm enough for me!), and we tried out the whirlpool before heading to bed for an early night.

Day 2

Sunday morning we drove to Passion City Church. We were 40 minutes early, but that seemed to be totally normal, as there were already parking attendants and a state trooper directing traffic. Whoa. Anna refused—as usual—to go to kids’ church, so we signed Timothy in and waited ten minutes ‘til the kids’ area opened. When we finally went in, we saw it was a large room full of tents—as in, tent camping, not like carnival tents—each of which had a sign for grade and boys or girls. Interesting. Timothy was with the 1st grade boys and had a blast. We went to the auditorium and waited for worship. Anna loved the lights, which are set up as for a concert. In fact, the music was very concert-style, with David Crowder and Kristian Stanfill leading worship. Great music (though, as you’d expect, very loud), and even Anna was delighted that she knew a couple of the songs from having heard them on our local Christian radio station. The sermon was interesting. It was geared toward those who are dating and interested in dating, which apparently is most of the church’s composition. (Yeah, I wouldn’t really fit in there long-term.) The pastor—who wasn’t actually there but who had recorded his lesson earlier in the week—encouraged people to focus on why they want to date instead of whom they want to date, to look inside and work on improving themselves before dating, and to only be willing to date someone who has the same mission: ultimately to worship God through service. (Basically.) He had some great points, and I gleaned what I could, but I’m disappointed that it wasn’t more relevant to me—and to the people there who didn’t fall into that specific demographic. Still, I’m glad we got to go to the church, and Timothy—as I said—had a good time in kids’ church.

We’d originally planned to save the zoo for Monday, but because of the chance of rain on Monday, we decided to head to the zoo on Sunday and save the indoor activities for the next day. After a quick lunch, we found our way to the zoo and discovered that our entrance included unlimited activities as well—the carousel, climbing wall, mesh climbing jungle, train, etc. We stepped inside to look at the flamingos while I oriented myself with the map, and wham! Anna fell headlong onto a curb. She started screaming and holding her face, and my first fear was that she had hurt her eyes. (I hadn’t seen it happen, as I’d been reading the map.) We finally deduced that she had hit the bridge of her nose, and Alyssa comforted her while I stepped away to get ice at the nearest snack shop. I was all choked up and could barely even talk at that point, so I’m glad Alyssa was there to care for Anna! (That happened when Anna fell on the playground and knocked her teeth back, too; I could hardly talk for fear of crying myself!) We iced Anna’s nose on and off for the next 20 minutes or so—while we rode the carousel and while Timothy climbed the mesh jungle and then went partway up the rock wall (before a kid fell on top of him!). At that point we realized she had also hit her forehead between her eyebrows and was developing a lump, so we tried to ice that before the ice melted. In the meantime, Anna perked up at the carousel and especially a few minutes later at the petting zoo, where she made it her goal to pet every goat in the pen. (There were no other animals in there, just goats.) Both kids enjoyed the fans blowing mist in the pen. J We stopped to medicate Anna—she wanted Powerade, of all things, to wash down the medicine—and then headed to see the pandas! Grandma (my mom) had reminded us several times that there had been twin baby pandas born there in the past couple of years, so we had to snap a photo for Grandma. I think the two bears we saw were the twins. There was quite a crowd—not regulated like at the San Diego Zoo—but we managed to watch for a few minutes. I wondered aloud why we find pandas to be so lovable. (Because they’re non-threatening? Cute & cuddly but not scary like grizzlies? Because they’re herbivores?)

Both kids enjoyed the naked mole rats, but they were intent on going to the splash pad, so they whined through all of the other animal enclosures. Alyssa and Anna saw the gorillas while I sat with a morose Timothy. They did both like the living tree house, where we got to walk among the birds. In the reptile/amphibian house, Timothy mostly wanted to play with the touch-screen activities rather than see the actual animals. (He’d fallen and scraped his knee just before we went into the reptile house.) We whizzed past the giraffes, looked for the rhino but couldn’t find him, sped past the meerkats, elephants, and warthogs, and finally got back around to the play area. The kids got into their swimsuits, and Alyssa took Anna to the splash pad while I took Timothy on the little train ride. (His words were, “Doing something with you is more important than playing in the water.” Too sweet!) Then we joined the others and splashed for about 40 minutes until they asked us to leave because the zoo was closing.  

We went on a wild goose chase for a non-burger place to eat and settled on Cook Out. Haha. So we had to get non-burger items, and the kids’ moods were significantly improved by milkshakes and a few games (Anna’s choice: “I Spy” and Timothy’s choice: the alphabet game with compound words). We didn’t get back to the hotel until well after 8, so we decided to skip swimming (since the kids had splashed anyway) and spend 15 minutes in the whirlpool instead. Everyone was finally in bed by about 9:30, and both kids fell right to sleep!

Day 3

The next morning was cool and cloudy. After breakfast, we packed up, wrote some postcards to leave with the hotel clerk, and drove to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. We got there just as it opened and discovered our entrance included an IMAX film. We got our tickets for the later show and then went to explore! They have a wonderful kids’ educational play area, and we spent the first hour there, seeing bugs up close with a microscope; discovering gravity through balls coming down chutes; watching time-progression of fruit decay, season change, plants growing, a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis; finding fish and other sea creatures in a computer simulation; trying to reconstruct a clay jar from an archaeology dig using magnetic potsherds; and several other activities. We had to practically drag the kids away from the play area in order to see the rest of the museum! 

We spent about a half hour in the hands-on science activity area (not just for kids!), making huge bubbles, doing visual experiments, having a conversation from far across the room using cavernous circular seats, pretending to be weather-reporters, watching a manufactured cyclone, seeing electricity zap the edge of the glass ball where we placed our hands... So fun! I kept wishing that my dad were there—but then we could have spent the whole rest of the day in just that area!

With our last 25 minutes before the IMAX film, we went through the Natural History of Georgia exhibit (although Anna and I zipped through it because of a potty emergency, so I can't really say much about it, except that it winds hither and yon in the building, and it took a lot longer to get out than I expected!). At noon we headed to the IMAX and watched a film called "Mysteries of the Unseen World," which was pretty incredible. It covered things that are too fast, too slow, and too small to be seen by the naked eye, and things that are invisible. Wow!

After the film we drove back toward the skyscrapers, had lunch in the CNN Center, where my aunt and uncle joined us, and then visited the World of Coca-Cola. The kids had been looking forward to this all weekend, especially the taste-testing. I had told them about that part, and others had mentioned it as well. I specifically remembered the drink Beverly from when I visited as a 15-year-old. But that was at the end of our self-guided tour. First we walked through the history of Coca-Cola exhibit, saw bottles being filled, got a photo with the Coke bear (or, as I called it, “the Coca-Colar pear”), and watched a short 4-D video (during which Anna cried, poor kid). The taste-testing was the jewel of the experience, I guess. Timothy and I sampled every single international flavor they had (very, very small sips!) and several of the North American ones, which I’d not tried. (I may have tried them when I was 15; I only remember Beverly!) My personal favorite was something apple-y from the Asia section. Timothy and I were both brave enough to try Beverly (again for me), and it wasn’t quite as bad as I remembered. (Chloroquine is a lot worse.) We finally left the place full of bubbles and very happy. J

We drove back to Augusta, had dinner at my aunt & uncle’s home, and then finally got home about 9:30pm Monday night. The kids were giddy with exhaustion and went right to sleep! We were all exhausted but full of happy memories! I’m so thankful to my parents and to Alyssa for this super birthday present!!