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Archive for December, 2010

Moving to Africa was definitely a huge decision in our lives.  Neither set of grandparents were too excited about having us move half way across the world.  And although Bob’s parents were going to miss seeing us all it was devastating for my parents since Heather and Danny were their only grandchildren.

The summer before we left, Bob finished up his masters and I attended the World Mission’s Institute at the same university. It could be said I went overseas kicking and screaming and it certainly was true I had a plan as we both attended our various classes preparing us for the next phase of our lives. It goes without saying, then, that I was somewhat of a reluctant Jonah and to this day think I did a remarkably valiant effort to demonstrate how inept and inappropriate I was for mission service in hopes the review committee would determine we (me) were not fit for mission service.  Unfortunately, not to be thwarted God was determined to have His way with me and my best laid plans to convince others I was inept didn’t go exactly the way I had hoped.  Indeed, when the committee came to my name they reflected and discussed and came to a quick conclusion since my expectations were so low what I experienced by comparison would be fantastic!!

While we studied (and I unsuccessfully maneuvered)  my parents watched the kids over the summer. Although there was considerable nostalgia with our departure growing ever closer their moments together were clearly one of delight and full of special outings. Not quite a stern taskmaster but certainly a savvy one my mother utilized a menu of parenting options that are fondly remembered by the kids to this day. And certainly, one of the delights of staying with grandma and grandpa VanBelle was the easy access to water and swimming whether it was at their cottage in the Irish Hills or their place (at that time) on the shore of Lake Erie.  But, the mounting evidence of our stint overseas in the ever growing mountain of “stuff” we were buying to take with us was a constant reminder to us all of the impending move and grueling good-byes that awaited us at the end of the summer.

At that time missionaries made a three year commitment to their posting. There were no annual leaves—and because we were being sent to a very remote and isolated mission post you planned ahead and took even some of the most common things (like toilet paper) in a three year supply.  Trying to figure out how fast the kids would grow during that period and anticipate the clothes and shoes they’d need was challenging.  Trying to spread the meager allowance we were given to get all these supplies was even more of a challenge.  But, adept as I was at finding bargains and hitting garage sales, thrift stores and flea markets helped considerably to spread the limited funds we had.

But money wasn’t our only restriction.  The shipping weight was another so every purchase decision was weighed very carefully—figuratively and literally.  Two items that made it onto our bill of lading might have been reconsidered.  One was a hefty player piano.  It seemed like such a smart purchase when we saw it in the seller’s house.  We imagined all the hours of fun we would have pumping away playing the music—singing along to tunes we’d know.  Certainly the piano rolls could tickle those ivories much better than I could so we paid for the piano and made the necessary arrangements to get it to my parent’s home in Michigan for storage in their garage that was becoming the holding tank for all the items that would soon be steaming their way to the dark continent.  The second was a 5 gallon plastic bucket of good Canadian honey.

What seemed like such a great idea then would take on a totally different perspective nearly a year later when our shipment FINALLY arrived in our home nestled in the mountains just a short drive away from the equator.  Little did we know when we packed those two items what excitement they would create for all the villagers huddled together watching the muzungu family get their long-awaited-for belongings. It soon became very apparently to all gathered round as more and more bees began wildly buzzing around a certain crate that the precious bucket of honey had come undone during the rough trip over the bumpy Africa roads and coated many of our things with a layer of honey.  Not folks to waste anything–particularly something as valuable and sweet as honey–the villagers aggressively swatted off the bees in their frenzied efforts to scrap honey from boxes, crates and our wonderful piano.  Those dreams of all the fun we’d have huddled around it never came to pass; but images of villagers dancing around the piano fighting the bees for honey were a wonderful trade off and equally entertaining!

Heather and Danny took all the preparations in stride.  We’d talk them almost daily about our upcoming move invariably referring to all the wild animals they would see once we’d moved to Africa.  After all, what would spark a child’s imagination better than seeing a giraffe or maybe a lion or elephant in the distance just outside your car window? To be honest we really didn’t know whether those animals WERE anywhere near where we’d be living but after years of Tarzan and other Africa movies we were just certain there would be some not too far away.

Days before our departure date some strange tiny pink spots appeared all over Heather and Danny’s body.  A quick trip to the doctor confirmed they were suffering from a mild case of chicken pox.  Not a terribly great way to start such a momentous trip but undaunted we headed for the airport. Final good-byes all said we began the journey to the Mirabel airport in Montreal where we’d take a Sabena flight to Brussels where we planned to meet Bob’s younger sister, Joan, and her boyfriend, Marcel, for an overnight stay there.  However, the chicken pox paled in comparison to the dilemma we met when we arrived at the airport later that day.

When we first arrived at Mirabel it was empty except for a few janitors slowly and methodically cleaning the terminal floors.  We piled p our luggage and sat down waiting for something to happen; for someone to arrive. After what seemed like an eternity things started happening;’ people began arriving. It was with mounting excitement we finally found the Sabena ticket counter open and ready for business.

Not ours, however, for shortly after checking in we were told that the tickets that were supposed to be waiting for us there had never left Washington, DC.  Seems an over-worked and less than competent secretary had forgotten to fedex the tickets.  Thanks to the tenacity, generosity, kindness and trusting Sabena ticket agent, however, the airlines issued new tickets with promises from the overworked secretary she’d send the tickets to him that very day for cancellation.

So, it was with a bit of foreboding and a general sense of high anticipation that our motley crew boarded the plane for Brussels that night. I’m sure if anyone scrutinized the 2 year old toddler with the stuffed chimpanzee strapped to his back that beloved Aunt Barb gave him, a rambunctious frolicking 3 year old girl hugging her doll and toting her precious books and other special travel gifts in her backpack and an over-tired and stressed out mom and dad lugging way too much carry-on luggage very carefully they would never have guessed all the adventures and mishaps awaiting them just around the bend.

Arriving in Gisenyi, Rwanda: The Adventure Begins

 

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He weighed in at a hefty 9 pounds 10 ounces.  Even though he was the heaviest off all my kids he was actually the shortest at 19 ½ inches. If you write his birthday by the month, day and then year he entered the world as a 9-8-76er.  Besides having such a cool birth date his birth coincided with the day Mao Se Tung died.  This momentous coincidence was further intensified by the complications from bilirubin that caused jaundice turning his skin a yellowish-red hue.  So, when we looked at our own chunky little Buddha we couldn’t help but wonder if he might be the reincarnation of the famous revolutionary and author of Marxist-Lenin Maoism theories.

Even before his birth Danny was a mover and shaker.  Actually, kicker is more to the point. I well recall one night late in my pregnancy when I was trying to soundly sleep when he kicked me so hard that his father, sleeping with his back to my swollen womb of a baby oven, actually woke up from the powerful kick inside me!  When his father turned to me complaining that it hurt and woke him up—well, you can imagine how much sympathy he got from me!!

So, it was no wonder to any of us when Danny took the world by storm.  He was full of mischief, cunning and oh so cute.  One time his father strutted into the living room carrying his bundle of charm chuckling and chortling about what a great wingman his kid was!  Seems his 9 month old son had enamored the check out ladies to their core by giving them with a slow, seductive wink with those long adorable lashes of his.  “Oh, look”, they exclaimed “that baby just WINKED at me” one gushed.  There was no doubt he’d inherited his grandfather VanBelle’s ability to charm the ladies much to the delight of many an older (and younger) woman who couldn’t help but be tickled pink by the out-going, chubby little boy with the quick smile, cherubic face and kind heart. And no one was more smitten than his daddy–unless maybe it was his grandpa VanBelle.

Nowhere did his generosity and gentle heart shine more than with his interactions with his older sister.  Pretty much anything Heather wanted Danny did. He’d follow her around continually asking her if he could join in her activities and play with her and her toys. Among the first words he learned to say was “Hedder’s bebe” referring to the little baby doll she played with incessantly.   And, once when slightly over three years old, he bravely offered to take a punishment in her place because he didn’t want his adored older sister to be spanked.  Yes, Danny and Heather, the inseparable team big sister little brother fighting with and for each other and devoted to one another through childhood and teen years and even now–as married adults.

When Danny was about 16 months of age I complained to his father that something very odd was taking place after I’d put him to bed each night.  I knew I was turning off the light when I’d walk out of his room after I put him into his crib but when I’d check on him later in the evening invariably  I’d find the light  on.  I just couldn’t figure out how  the light was getting turned on.

One night Bob solved the mystery.  He left Danny’s bedroom door slightly ajar so he could peek in on him about 10 minutes after Danny had been put to bed.  He was stunned by what he saw.  Danny climbed out of the crib and then waddled over the dresser that stood below the light switch.  Then he observed incredulous as Danny pulled out the dresser drawers to create steps to climb up to the switch and turn the light on. Then he’d climb back down the dresser drawers pushing them back into the dresser as he scurried down so we wouldn’t find the evidence of what he’d done to turn on the light.  That accomplished he ran over to his toy box, pulled out his favorite truck and commenced to ram it into the wall humming and brumming happily!  We later discovered tired from playing he’d climb back into his bed and contentedly go to sleep.

I’ll never forget the day when we were on furlough shortly after the birth of Ted. I was watching a Phil Donahue program about parents who were struggling to get their adult children to leave their parent’s homes.  One mother was deploring her adult son to move out of the house, get a job, and become independent.  Danny was watching the show his eyes growing ever wider until he rushed to my side sobbing, “Mommy don’t ever make me leave.  I don’t ever want to leave you. I want to stay with you forever.”  Despite my amusement I assured my sobbing little boy that I would never force him to leave home but that I figured the day would come when he’d want to leave.  He shook his head in defiance and assured me he never would want to leave his mommy.

Well, fast forward about 12 years and guess what?  Yeah, that boy who begged his mommy to let him stay at home forever was chomping at the bit to get out on his own and make his way in life.  And even though his proclaimed desire to live at home forever came to a very abrupt change the gentleness and kindness never left. Indeed, it stayed there in spades.  Now, as for him being a lady’s man….well, all it took was meeting Amy to put an end to that one.  She tamed his heart in no time and if I am any good at predicting at all—I suspect the wee one on the way will soon have Danny wrapped around a tiny pinkie!  Yessiree, I think history is going to repeat itself and this charming, adorable, gentle baby that’s blessing their family is going to forever capture Daddy’s heart.

 

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I sucked at it. But I did my best and my kids turned out really really well in my humble opinion.

Changing poopy diapers and cleaning up smelly spit-up wasn’t high on my list of likes: cuddling in a rocking chair with a newly bathed baby soundly sleeping—pure heaven-

I thought Danny (my second kid) would NEVER sleep through the night. At two plus years of age (when living in Zaire) I just CRAVED a soundless FULL night of sleep after years of not sleeping through the night night-after-night. So I moved him to a room at the far of the house—made sure he was safe—and figured MAYBE I could sleep through his nightly cries for a bottle of water. Best laid plans: the night watchman rapped at our bedroom window letting us know the baby was crying. Hmmmm…guess who got up with him? Yeah you got it. Exhausted mom doesn’t even come close to capturing it.

The moment I held my youngest, Jonny, in my arms and looked at the tiny dimples peeking out of his chubby cheeks—well, it was love at first sight.

No one told me before I entered into this contract that my bladder would take such a beating.

They used to say a tooth for a pregnancy. Well, hey that’s okay because it’s an easy trade off. You may lose a tooth but you easily gain ten pounds. My math skills tell me you’re way ahead when it comes to the numbers gain in this equation.

Four kids mean not much money in the pension fund. But it also means I have an army of kids and grandkids to come visit me when I get too old (and poor) to travel to visit them.

Being a mom: exhausting, enlightening, frightening, thrilling, fun, sad, meaningful, endless. The hardest job you’ll love and hate at the same time.

Being a mom: The most seminal experience of my life.

Special note to Danny and Amy: As you begin this wondrous experience cling to each other and make sure you are on the same path together.  A new addition to the circle of our family. This grandma can’t wait.

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