A Long Overdue Update

Well, I haven’t posted in a long time, and I can’t guarantee I’ll keep posting, because I’m just not that reliable. But I’ll try to bring you up to speed on what’s been happening in our lives, over here on the other side of the world. Let’s see.

This is what Brian has been busy with. He’s been doing a weekly English podcast in his free time, which gets 50,000 listens a month (actually 5,000 people listening to each podcast twice, but still, pretty great). Every week he interviews a different fellow foreign teacher in the city and discusses a grammar topic. I know it wouldn’t be much help to you, but if you just miss his voice, or the kids’ voices, you could check out this podcast about the family, or this podcast about our harrowing hospital visit with Toby.


I have been trying to build a website under the auspices of TianjinExpats.com with information about the city for other local expats with kids. I think it would be useful for expats like me, but there aren’t many (or any, maybe) other expats like me, who come here with children, but without an expat package (at least an agent and an expat neighborhood and an international school, if not an ayi and a driver, too), so it may not be so useful, but for some reason, I still persist. Unfortunately, the city is so big (as big in size as Connecticut, and with more people than 47 of our US states), that I only have information about the downtown area, but I’m hoping, if people ever do start finding it useful, that I can add a lot more information about the outlying areas. If you want to see what the city is like where we live, you can visit here. I can’t believe I was warned that the city wasn’t kid-friendly. It trumps any place I ever lived in America (as far as children’s activities—we won’t talk about clean air or green grass).

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The children have finally reconciled themselves to going to Chinese school, for the most part. If they have a holiday that is too long, they go back to crying when I say it’s time to go, but Piper is FINALLY starting to speak Chinese! This is a day I was starting to think would never come, but her Chinese language is blossoming, and I am starting to think maybe the boys won’t be quite so far behind her. I am astonished at how many words she knows that I never suspected she knew. I think the turning point was probably the arrival of our neighbor’s niece, Daisy, and the fact that she practically lives at our house, and so we all have to communicate both with Daisy and her aunt on a regular basis. I am so grateful.


Speaking of Daisy, we have been playing at having two little girls and two little boys, and it’s been a little too much fun. I think we are all going to cry (and Daisy, too), when Daisy finally has to go home (in August, after 4 months here). She lives in Sichuan with her mother and father (Bobi’s mom’s brother – Bobi is the dog who lives next door, obviously her mom is our neighbor), but Bobi’s mom borrowed her for a few months, which seems kind of awful to Brian and I, but it’s not so uncommon in China, and now, after two months here, it seems kind of awful to send her back home to life as an only child. She’s changed so much since she’s come that I really do think it will be almost as difficult for her to go home as it was for her to come here. And I can’t lie, I have loved the times I have gotten to take the four of them out by myself, pretending that she belongs to me.

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Piper has a best friend at school named Guan Pei Zuo, son of the people who own the grocery store in our community, and for a while was actually obsessed with him (a brief peek at the teen years?). Thank goodness she’s come to a healthier appreciation of his merits, and has accepted the necessity of sometimes playing with other children. I’m so glad that she’s starting to play with other girls, too.

Guan Pei Zuo on the right, already made up for Children's Day.

Guan Pei Zuo on the right, already made up for Children’s Day.

The children all wear uniforms at school now, gifts from the school for Children’s Day (topic for another post), and they are just so cute and so Chinese. Their school had an influx of new students after spring festival and seems to have changed so much for the better. As far as I know, they haven’t watched TV during the day, and they have done a lot of learning and a lot of playing outside. They even meditate after lunch and before nap.



Piper finished her reading lesson book (TYCTR100EL) and is now devouring all the Beginner books we were able to get off Amazon China. As of yesterday, she has decided that it is now her responsibility to read to the boys at night before bed. Now it’s the boys’ turn to learn to read, and we’re almost at the halfway point through the same reading book. It’s certainly the biggest strain on my patience that I’ve experienced on a regular basis since the boys were born. When we began, for maybe the first 10 lessons, Toby just took to it like a fish to water and Teddy struggled so much. It would take him 4 or 5 lessons to remember a new sound, and he’d cry when I said it was time for a lesson. However, the boys somehow switched places, and Teddy is reading so well, maybe even better than Piper did at this point, and Toby, while his reading ability is the same as his brother, his ability to pay attention is negligible. He can barely look at the page sometimes, and it often goes something like this. Reading the word RAT: “Rrrrr… Oh, look at that shiny thing over there!” “Toby, just look at this sound and say it.” “Rrrrraaaaa… Oh, look, that next sound we’re going to learn is P.” “Yes, it is, now what’s this sound, just say this sound.” “T…. rrrrrraaaaaat. I’m thirsty, I need to go get a drink of water.” As you can imagine, if that is repeated with every word in a lesson with 40 words in it, punctuated by periods of staring into space or watching a cat clean himself, it can take a little while. There are times he can’t remember the gist of a story he’s read twice, because by the time he finally reaches the end, it’s been so long since he started. I wonder if they would prescribe medical marijuana for mothers teaching distract-ible boys to read. And before anybody responds about ADD or ADHD, I don’t think there’s anything actually wrong with the boy, other than that he’s 4 years old.

Let’s see, in animal news, the rabbit has had free rein the house now since he decided that the kitchen threshold would no longer stop him, and he is about to lose his masculinity, if we can just find a vet that doesn’t think we owe them 2000 kuai because our cat scratched her. I had no idea fixing a rabbit would not only stop his new fondness for spraying his favorite people with pee and his amorous pursuit of our male tabby cat, but also stop the little dry pellets of poop he loves leaving in our carpet. (Yes, I can imagine by now you are completely revolted by even the thought of our house. What can I say? It’s a daily battle. And we have one lucky rabbit.)

One lucky rabbit, and 3 of the 4 cats, taking a breather after the kids fall asleep.

One lucky rabbit, and 3 of the 4 cats, taking a breather after the kids fall asleep.

My house is filthy every day. 10 minutes after I mop the floor has a new layer of dust and cat/rabbit hair. It’s an exercise in futility really, but it’s one I pursue every day while the children are at school. I would be better off pursuing some real exercise every day. Sometimes I feel like no one has ever tried harder and had a dirtier house. My goal these days is to somehow find out how to be at peace in a house that is just messy, because I know that when my children grow up, I will regret it if I keep choosing to clean the house over spending time with them. I mean, why do it for a house that anyone would walk into and think it hadn’t been touched by a mop in its life? I say that, but I’ve got to learn to really mean it. The picture above was about 5 minutes after I finished mopping. I really do savor those five minutes.

And it’s summer here, and so hot. Often over 90, and the pollution isn’t so great, but we have been getting a lot of rain, and when it isn’t raining, swimming in our kiddie pool on the roof. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

When it's raining...

When it’s raining…

When it's not!

When it’s not!



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