He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Monday, December 10, 2012

A toddler and a teenager

If you had asked me when Jason and I first got married (at the extrememly mature and wise ages of barely 21 and 22) how many kids I wanted, I'm quite sure my first answer would have been 5, maybe even 6.  Not only did I want at least 5, I was pretty sure in my infinite wisdom, that the best plan would be to have them as closely together as possible.  I mean, after all we wanted lots, so once we got started, what would be the point in spreading out those years of sleepless nights, terrible 2s, diapers etc.  Well.  If you've read my IVF posts, you know that God quite firmly removed the reigns of control as to the timing and number of our children from my hands fairly early on in our marriage.  So, due to circumstances quite beyond our control, although we started our family pretty quickly at the young ages of 25 and 26, we managed to spread out our 4 blessings over the next 12 years.  

 I've decided that once you pass the number 3 as far as number of kids that you have, people are going to find a way to raise their eyebrows.  Face it, you've left the "normal" zone and entered the "weird, you're just asking for it" zone.  I'm pretty sure that if we'd had our kids closer together, for example ages 3,5,7, and 9, we would have gotten a lot of "wow, I bet your hands are full!".  And yes, I'm sure that our hands would have been full in that case.   However, in spreading our kids out, I can assure you that we did not bypass the raised eyebrows.  When we tell people the current ages of our girls- 13, 11, 6 and 18 months, we get a lot of "wow!"s or "oh, you really spread them out!" or "ooooh, I'll pray for you AND your husband".   

Yes, people.  It's true.  VERY VERY much on purpose.  We do have...

a toddler...

(who is apparently working on perfecting her angry expression)

 ...and a teenager

And, of course, as I would not want to leave anyone out, some pretty wonderful middlers to round things off...

We've laughingly thrown around that expression- "a toddler and a teenager" in recent months when when we're describing our girls, but I've realized that it does create a very unique, often challenging, but just as often very fun, environment.  It is also the reason that at the end of most days, I am dog stinkin' tired.  I mean exhausted.  Not always sleepy tired, though- but I can pretty much guarantee you that by 8:00 PM my brain is DONE!  I just want to crawl into bed and not answer any questions, not monitor any arguements, not change any diapers...  you get the idea.  

Now I can't really speak with much authority- but I would think that if your kids were somewhat clumped together- all in the preschool/school age range, your brain as a parent, wouldn't necessarily be pulled in the 137 directions that I feel like mine is pulled in on any given day.  That's not to say, there wouldn't be certain other challenges, but I've realized lately, that, WOW, having a wide age range of kids has some very unique challenges.  For example, training my brain to switch gears VERY quickly.   All in the range of 30 minutes to 1 hour, I've had to field topics like homosexual rights, predestination and the sovereignty of God (13 year old), how to handle it if you know friends are cheating and dealing with mean girls (11 year old), not being afraid to make new friends at recess and being kind to girls who aren't playing with anyone (6 year old), and the ever present toddler topic of "I didn't get my way and I'm going to throw myself on the floor and have a screaming fit and see who notices".  In this all in an hour period usually when I'm trying to fix dinner, help with homework, supervise chores and get girls to various after school events.  Sheeesh.  No wonder my brain shuts off after dinner!  And occasionally before dinner resulting in me doing things like put the milk in the cabinet instead of the refrigerator, tell Anabelle to "to potty" as I hand her diaper to Naomi etc etc.  (I'm sure my family could come up with many more examples.  I seem to remember quite a few times lately when Abbey or Maddie look at me and say something to the effect of "Mom, you realize you just... (insert brainless action here))

So, all that to say, I've decided that definitely the hardest part about this stage of our parenting is the pretty wide age range meaning I  constantly need to be on my toes to know if I need to be wearing "mother of teenager" hat and debriefing a first dance or wearing "mother of toddler" hat and actually disciplining said toddler instead of laughing at her along with the rest of her little mommies in our house.  Sadly, sometimes the girls are better at keeping a straight face over Anabelle's antics than I am!  But what is the hardest part, is also the part that I love the most.  I LOVE this stage of our lives.  Things are exhausting for sure, emotionally overwhelming- that's a fact, but also absolutely completely precious and priceless. 

  I love having built in babysitters and helpers. 

I love that big sisters can set examples for little sisters.  (notice I said "can" which does not always mean they DO- but we're definitely trying to teach awareness of how important that is!).  I love the constant chatter that defines our lives and will for many, MANY more years to come. 

 And most days I even love having to be VERY mentally on my toes, ready to switch gears very quickly and know which mom hat to put on.   

And the whole toddler and a teenager thing?  Yeah, that's fun!  Mostly...  I mean I had heard that often when your kid becomes a teenager they tend to randomly revert back to toddler ways, but hey, since I've already got a toddler- I'm ready for it!  And hormones.  Oh, hormones.  Yes, they run rampant.  But let's be real.  We have 5 girls under one roof.  Hormones are going to run rampant in this house, teenager or not!  And so far I am super blessed by my (mostly) emotionally stable teen and her desire to help and keep this house running smoothly.  

I KNOW we don't do all things right by a long shot and I can't begin to count the amount of times I have to apologize to my girls for one reason or another for another botched discipline attempt (or lack thereof), but I also know how much my girls love each other.  They may not always cherish each other in the day to day grind of "she did this, she did that" but I cherish the relationships they are developing and am so thankful for that unique bond called "sister" that exists in abundance under our roof.  And even though our roof tends to change a lot (14 times and counting in 17 years of marriage), that bond will never change and will hopefully only prove to grow deeper.  

 There's no better friend than a sister-
There's no one more loyal and true...
and even when sisters are different
their likeness comes shining through!

There's no one who's more in your corner...
and no one you're more grateful to.
There's no better friend than a sister
and no better sister than you!
~Mary Engelbreit

Sunday, December 9, 2012


I've realized that when writing about cross cultural experiences, I have tended to do so with somewhat of a negative slant.  Completely unintentional, but true nonetheless.  It's probably because when something comes up to write or share about, it's usually something that I don't understand or don't like or is frustrating in some way.  So anyway, in thinking about that, I decided I should intentionally write about a positive thing or two in regards to the culture in which we have chosen to plant our lives.   There are many that I could choose from, really.  

I think it's safe to say, that for the most part,  Arab peoples, Muslims in particular, are largely misunderstood by many Americans.  Our lack of understanding for their culture and our lack of information about various cultural nuances causes us to look on them with eyes of fear and often judgement.  Sad but true.  And just because I live in this part of the world, I do not exempt myself from this tendency.  

Anyway, as I thought about this, I decided I wanted to share some of the things I love about my Arab neighbors and the way they do life.  Like I said, there are many positive things that I could choose from, but due to several experiences over the last few weeks, one aspect of the culture jumps quickly to my mind.   


Listen up fellow Americans.  We could take a lesson from our Arab friends and neighbors around the world on this subject and be much better off!  I'm not necessarily talking Biblical community here- a subject for another day possibly.  I'm talking good old fashioned, neighborhood style community.  Think Mayberry.  Barnie Fife.  Andy Griffith.  Community.   Sitting on your front porch sipping lemonade waving at your neighbors community.  

If you're close to my age and grew up in the 80s- think playing hide-n-seek around your entire block until 10 o'clock at night and feeling safe doing it kind of community.  Think going on bike rides around your neighborhood unaccompanied by an adult as a middle schooler community.  Think safety because there are other parents and neighbors out there who know your kids and are looking out for them kind of community.  The communities we have lived in on this side of the world have not lost that feel and I love that!   

I can send my 3 older girls (yes, that includes my 6 year old!) down the street and around the corner to the neighborhood convenience store without concern for their safety.  I know the shopkeepers and they know me.  They probably even know where we live which may initially seem a bit creepy, but here, it's really not.  They just know their neighborhoods and what goes on in then.  I was at the pharmacy last weekend which is a good 5-10 minute walk from my house, and another customer came in whom I vaguely recognized.  Turns out, he's the guy who delivers electric bills.  He pulled ours out of his pocket and gave it to me to save himself the trip to our building.   And knowing the community culture like I do, it honestly doesn't freak me out at all that he knows exactly who I am and where I live and which electric bill is mine.  

There's also a sense of trust that kind of goes along with the whole community thing.  Or maybe trust is not the right word.  It's more a sense of honor in regards to standing by what you say.  This is very much an honor/shame society.  And no, I'm not saying that's always good, but I do think we could learn some lessons from it.  Truly, there are negatives, for example, kids being shamed in a school setting is not so great but when it comes to the honor of keeping your word, for example, it can be a good thing.  Here are a couple of examples from our daily lives- all of which have happened within the last month showing that this is not so much a coincidence as a pattern of life here...

The girls and I have become regulars at the pharmacy that is right across from our pediatrician's office.  Between Abbey and Naomi's allergies and Anabelle's ear infections, let's just say we've become "frequent flyers" (to use a term we used when I worked Labor and Delivery and had desperate mom's come in over and over during the last few weeks of their pregnancies...).  Anyway, frequent flyers, that's us.  This pharmacy, by the way, is in a kind of medical district and would not at all be considered "close" to our home by Amman standards.  So we are there a few weeks ago and with all our allergy meds and antibiotics, I owed 48 JOD- a little less than $70.  Well, apparently the pharmacy had decided since our last visit that they no longer accept Master Card, and conveniently, I'd forgotten my debit card (which is visa).  All that to say, I had $70 of meds to buy and no way to pay for them without piling all 4 girls in the car and driving around to find an ATM- NOT easy at 5 o'clock rush hour.   Seeing my frustration, the pharmacist asked what neighborhood I live in.  I told him and he immediately smiled, "no problem" he says.  Gesturing to an assistant, he says, " He lives there.  Give me your phone number and he will come by your house tomorrow or whenever is convenient and get the money."  Awesome.  And, no I was not afraid to tell them where I live, knowing that they genuinely were helping me!

A few weeks ago, Anabelle and I were out for a walk and we stopped at a neighborhood store to pick up a few things.  I realized when I started to pay that I was about $2 short, so I started to put a few things back.  The cashier's response?  (someone who doesn't know me AT ALL, by the way)...  "No problem, no problem.  Bring money tomorrow or as you can.  Please take what you need."  

Just a few days ago, when our car was being worked on and I was trying desperately to stretch our groceries so that I didn't have to make a big grocery run via taxi, I loaded Anabelle into her stroller and walked around to our neighborhood shops which include a bread store, a store with hummus and falafel, a produce stand, a convenience store and a pharmacy all grouped together.  Conveniently, there is also an ATM which can be randomly hard to find!  Anyway, my plan was to get some cash out and then get what I needed at the various stores knowing in advance that I needed a good bit and that they didn't take credit cards.   My first stop was the convenience store that I send the girls to pretty regularly.  After I had unsuccessfully attempted to maneuver Anabelle's stroller through the VERY small aisle and ended up leaving her sitting essentially blocking the door while I gathered the things I could reach and asked for assistance with the things stacked to the ceiling, I realized once all my goods were piled on the counter that I had forgotten to go to the ATM first.  Great.  I explained to the shop keeper that I was going to walk down and get cash and return quickly.  He was almost offended as he quickly corrected me saying that of course I did not have to pay right away.  I could come back "anytime, anytime" or, even better, I could send my "beautiful, wonderful girls" to pay whenever it was convenient.  It's really quite amazing here that, despite the lack of customer service that I have complained about many times before particular at the large chain type stores, when you get into the little neighborhood stores, they are all about serving you, trusting you and making you feel at home in their store.  

So thankful for the sense of community that in so many places is long gone.  Here, on the street where we live.   

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Strange Conversations

I could have alternately made the title to this post, "things I never thought I'd say" or even "things I hoped I'd never say" but there were also some all out strange conversations thrown in the mix over the past 24 hours so I decided to stick with the conversation title...

Here's an example from about an hour time period yesterday morning...

(me to Jason) "Thanks for boiling then diluting the water, honey, so I could rinse the shampoo out of my hair after shivering on the bathtub floor for almost 10 minutes since every last drop of water ran out AFTER I was all lathered up."

(Ok, so obviously I didn't say all that as my lips were blue and I couldn't talk for 30 minutes after said incident but I wanted to give you an idea of how my day started...)

Fast forward about 45 minutes.  Jason leaves to attend an all day conference.  I'm straightening up the kitchen in preparation for the day of having 3 friends spend the day with the girls as their parents are also attending the all day conference.  I notice a "piece of dog food" that has managed to escape from Mia's bowl across the room.  Not at all unusual as Mia likes to get a piece of food, carry it across the room to a certain carpet and eat it there.  Whatever.  Forget about "piece of food".  As I'm cleaning Anabelle wanders in and is jabbering behind me.  She gets quiet.  I look back and notice her standing where the "piece of food" was.  Shoot, she's eating it, I think.  No big deal, right?  It's protein.  Head over to remove dog food from baby's mouth.  It's already down the pipe but I wipe some off her lip and get a whiff.  THAT'S NOT DOG FOOD, THAT'S DOG POOP!!!!!!


Next thing I hoped I'd never say (or in this case text which is what I did to Jason):
"NOOOOOOO!!!!  Anabelle just ate dog poop!!!!!!"

And the answer to why there was a small piece of dog food shaped poop in the middle of our kitchen floor is "I have absolutely no idea".  Mia essentially has a litter box on our balcony and is very well house trained.  Who knows.  

Moving on.  

I mentioned we had friends come to play for the day.  It was a beautiful day so we headed to the park by the girl's school because Abbey and Maddie had rehearsal for their school Christmas program.  I figured we'd play while they rehearsed and then for an extra special treat we'd get McDonald's for lunch.  Mainly because I hadn't been to the grocery store since before Thanksgiving and although I've been known to feed MY kids really random things for lunch like popcorn and cereal on the day before my grocery store run (that happened today), I really didn't want to feed our guests any weird combinations.  So, McDonalds it was.  

First,  here are some fun pictures from our time at the park.

Anabelle loved climbing

And sliding

All the girls...

Big girl and little girl...

Little monkey

Anabelle's standard "cheese" pose whenever she is aware of the camera

Ok, so back to my strange conversations.  On the way from the park to McDonald's, I got everybody's order straightened out in my head.  If you've ever ordered for 7 kids at a fast food restaurant in America and found it at all confusing or challenging, well, try doing it at a fast food restaurant overseas.  That's all I'm going to say.  So I was very proud of my organization and planning ahead and had everybody's order grouped and figured out in my head down to who wanted what drink with what happy meal.  Aj and Maddie head the group into the playground while I go to the counter to order and have the following conversation with a McDonald's worker who I've chosen to name "Psycho Man"...

(first let me say that he saw me herding in 7 kids and was already chuckling when I started to order.  Thankfully the restuarant was virtually empty as we were WAY early for the typical lunch hour here even though it was noon)

(also keep in mind that some of this was in Arabic.  typically in fast food restaurants here there is a very random combination of English and Arabic because, well, "chicken nugget"and "happy meal" don't really translate)

Sorry, I WILL tell you this conversation.
Psycho Man (as I said, he was already chuckling):  Can I help you?
Me: Yes, first I'd like 3 Happy Meals with Chicken Nuggets with 2 sprites and 1 diet coke
Psycho Man:  No, you cannot
Me:  Oh?
Psycho Man:  Only chocolate milk or Tropicana
Me:  No, we always get soft drinks with Happy Meals, I dont' want milk or juice
Psycho Man: No, you cannot.  Problem with machine (he points to soft drink thingy)
Me:  OH, you mean with ANY meal, the only drinks I can get are chocolate milk or orange juice?
Psycho Man:  Yes, only.

(pause as I go re-take drink orders for all kids and return)

Me:  Ok, 3 chicken nugget meals with chocolate milk, 2 cheeseburger meals with chocolate milk
Psycho Man:  Ok
Me:  Also 2 Big Mac meals (my oldest 2 are way beyond Happy Meals...) with chocolate milk
Psycho Man:  No, you cannot
Me:  Huh?  
Psycho Man:  No chocolate milk with Big Mac meal.  
Me:  But you have not soft drinks and they don't like orange juice
Psycho Man:  You want coke?
Me:  You told me no coke
Psycho Man:  Now, there is coke (it's been like 2 minutes).
Me:  Ok, diet coke?
Psycho Man:  No, only coke
Me: Fine, coke.  

(get orders and send Abbey back to get nugget sauce and she's told by psycho man that she has to pay for it. good grief)

Me:  Sorry, I just bought nuggets and I have to pay for the sauce?
Psycho Man:  You must pay
Me: Seriously, that's ridiculous, I PAID for the nuggets...
Psycho Man:  You must pay.
Another worker:  Here is the sauce


Ok, I think that story lost a bit of it's punch in the re-telling but it was quite Twilight Zone-ish....

Fast forward to tonight and we're sitting around the dinner table doing our Jesse Tree Advent devotional.  We're doing it around the dinner table because last night when we attempted it AFTER dinner it was a complete disaster because it was PAST Anabelle's bedtime and, well, it just wasn't pretty.  So we decided to do it over dinner tonight.  

Here's part of the conversation...

Me (pausing from reading the Scriputre):  Naomi, do you know who the serpent was?
Naomi:  Yep, a maid.
Me:  Umm, no.  

(pause to describe difference between serpent and, well, I guess she's thinking of "servant")

Fast forward to after we've read the Scripture passage and are discussing it...

Jason:  Naomi, can you tell us what happened to Adam and Eve in the garden?
Naomi:  Sure, they ate the Apple of Death (said in a witchy voice) and had to leave.  

Ok, as you can imagine, we've totally lost our audience at this point..

Seriously, the apple of death?  I honestly don't know where she gets this stuff!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Handprint Skirt

I will be the first to tell you that I do not have a creative bone in my body.  I'm a great copy cat.  Someone else shows me a fabulous idea and exactly how to do that idea then I'm all about carrying it through.  But actually coming up with the idea- nope, not me at all.  So anyway, 11 years ago may be the last original idea I had.  I only had 2 kids back then and a lot more brain cells.  I'm not claiming that this is any kind of fantastic idea.  I'm sure there are plenty who do it, but it was original to me at the time.  This was before pinterest, before facebook and crafty blogs.  We were living in a temporary house and our Christmas decor was somewhat pitiful.   I needed a tree skirt so AJ and Maddie and I headed up to Walmart in search of the perfect idea.  We came home with a heavy piece of white fabric and some red edging type ribbon.  Sewed the pieces together and voila, our Christmas tree skirt.  Starting when Abbey and Maddie were 2.5 and 4 months, we started our handprint tradition and minus a year here, a year there (when we were traveling and not with our stuff), we've continued the tradition.

It's really fun to see how it's filled up over the years especially now that we have 4 sets of handprints!

Getting the writing just so is hard with puff paint!

The finished product is very "home grown" and not exactly elegant, but we love it!

A sweet reminder of little hands that are growing up way too fast!

Decorating Day

 Do you ever have one of those days where you've planned everything out in your mind to be just so, and it's going to be a wonderful, magical day full of family memories that will be treasured for a lifetime, and then it's just, well, so NOT that.

That was my day yesterday.  Or at least the first part of my day.  

I'd been working all week towards Friday being our Christmas decorating day and was SO proud of myself as I don't think I've ever managed to decorate for Christmas before December 1.  But the fact that we kind of had an extra buffer week thrown in there between Thanksgiving and December gave me a little room to work with.  So I had a plan.  The Christmas footlockers were down from the top of the closets and brought in from a friends' storage closet that she so generously allowed us to use and we were ready.  Jason had an all day conference Friday and Saturday (that's our weekend here), but I was actually very much looking forward to a day home with the girls on Friday, staying in PJ's, drinking hot chocolate, listening to Christmas music, decorating the tree etc. etc.  The plan was to get most of the preliminary decorating stuff done and then when Jason got home we could finish off the tree, drink more hot chocolate maybe watch a good Christmas movie, sing Kumbayah and go to bed.  You get the idea.  Picture perfect day.  In my head.  

Then Friday morning came and I woke up.

Jason left early to get to his meeting, Maddie got up with Anabelle and I got to sleep in until 9.  Should be the perfect start to the perfect day, right?  Well for whatever reason I woke up very grumpy, and even though I got to sleep in, waking up to my house looking like a hurricane hit was not great.  The girls are usually great about getting chores done and cleaning up but not this particular day.  Didn't sit well with me, and I will confess that I didn't react very well.  Which led to us all having a mammoth case of the grumpies as we cleaned up in order to get ready for hurricane Christmas to hit once we opened the footlockers.   I huddled the girls up, called a truce, apologized for being so grumpy, explained that I was just trying to make this day extra special and fun and we all agreed to start over.  

I now as I'm writing this, I can't even really remembered specific things that happened, I just know that it was NOT turning out like the picture perfect day that was in my head.  

Anyway, we finished chores, got Anabelle down for her nap, and were finally ready to start decorating the tree and house.  The girls starting unpacking and sorting our artificial tree...

Only to discover that the center pole for the tree was missing.  AGHHH!  I called my friend who stored it for me and she was actually free and offered to drive me out and see if we could find it in her storage area.  Bless her.  I think she could tell that i was on the verge of a breakdown for a reason that I'm realizing I can't even really begin to describe...  (have I mentioned that Anabelle really has not slept this week and I am way sleep deprived so maybe that explains my fragile emotional state).  Anyway.

Pole found.  Crisis averted.  

Another round of apologies from mom to girls for her irrational, highly emotional state.  We actually even sat down and prayed together for the Christmas season in our home and the hope that as a family we will keep the real meaning in front of us.    And the day really improved from there!  Jason even came home early from his meeting and got to join in the tree decorating fun.  

Anabelle was WAY excited about the Christmas tree when she woke up from her nap.

So the Cox home is now ready to usher in the Christmas season!

Yes, our Christmas stockings are way pitiful.  Every year I've said I'm going to make them and I never have.  Maybe it will happen this year but considering it's December 1st, I probably shouldn't count on it!

I love my Fontanini nativity.  If I lived in the states I would probably add a lot more to it, but it's not something I ever remember to get.  I do want a more kid friendly nativity and almost ordered one this year but then, well, I didn't.  Maybe next year.

 Now that we live in Jordan, I really want to get a natural olive wood nativity.  They are beautiful and I would love to add that to our Christmas decor.

We also have this fun nativity from Jason's childhood in West Africa.  If you look at it closely it has some really interesting weird pieces...

I've never been able to identify Mary, and quite frankly Baby Jesus looks like a dying martian.  Or E.T.  

So despite the rocky, emotional start to the day (shocking in this house full of women!), our house is now decorated and we made lots of fun memories.  Even got Abbey out the door to a school dance (that I'd forgotten about thus creating some of the stress mid- day as we weathered an "outfit crisis") by 4:30 and she still participated in all the tree decorating.  

AND, I am officially ready to begin our Jesse Tree TODAY, DECEMBER 1!   That means I have at least 1 ornament done and the tree to hang it on and hopefully this year I'll stay a little ahead of the curve and we'll be able to complete it!  

Merry Christmas Season to all!