I am that lady. I am the lady that wakes up and disassembles the Christmas tree, stows away all the lights, and packs it all back into storage before noon on December 26th. Each year I think to myself, "This year I think I will leave the tree up until after New Years Day." And every year, without fail, the morning of December 26th I am eagerly packing away the decorations and stockings well before its time to start pulling out the leftovers from Christmas dinner. Why am I like this? I think there are several reasons.
The first reason is because I am half Maher. And anyone that had the privilege of meeting Florence Maher knows she was able to accomplish more before 6am than most people accomplish all day.
The second reason is because I am obsessed with the floors. I have 4 children and a dog so clean floors all day every day is not an option. But there are a couple things I must do every day. And one of them is clean my floors. When the Christmas tree is still up on December 26th, all I can think about is pulling that thing down out of the corner and cleaning up that space in the room.
The third and final reason is to "reset" the clock. To start fresh. I know technically the new year does not start until January 1. But as a wife and mother of 4 children I have only seen midnight for night time breast feeding, changing diapers, or taking care of sick children for the last 10 years. Perhaps my new year, my "rebirth" starts on December 26th each and every year.
As I carry out my December 26th ritual, I cannot help but reflect on the past year and what is to come. This year has been so different from any other year in my life. My job has always been to take care of my children, to run our home, and to ultimately be the very best wife, mother and friend I can be. But this year feels so different to me. This year I have had a larger role of cheerleader, counselor, advocate, and sounding board. This past year, my children and my husband have had completely different challenges in their lives than ever before.
I think about what lies ahead, and it feels like I have not even made it to the summit of this mountain we are climbing. I have watched their struggles, listened to their frustrations, and celebrated each and every accomplishment along the way. But yet when I look over my shoulder at the path behind us, I also see how far we have come.
This adventure has not been all balloons and sunshine. But as with life, sometimes you need to push through a little dirt before you can enjoy the flowers and the sunshine. It has not been easy to be so far away from all our friends and family we love so dearly back home. There have definitely been moments when we miss our sunny home in Arizona. There have been moments most definitely for the kids, and even myself where we just wish we could say what we need to in English without muddling through in German. I am and will be eternally grateful for every experience, every hardship, every worry, every blissful moment we have experienced on this adventure. I am a ridiculously proud mama and wife.
In this past year, Teddy and Patrick joined German soccer. Their first practice was extremely humbling. The first year has been extremely humbling. But our boys learned you do not give up on something just because you are not as strong as everyone else on the field. They have learned if you have the will and the passion for something it is worth sticking out. Progress will come. They have also learned a lesson many do not learn until later in life. There is always someone bigger, better, faster, stronger, and smarter than you. But that is okay. Be the best YOU can be.
My boys have had the humbling experience of studying weeks for a test to celebrate a C or a D. Two weeks ago Teddy and Patrick came home on different days crying, telling me they are tired of working harder than anyone in their class to always get lower grades. They have to work their tails off for a C or a D. And those C's and D's go right up on the refrigerator! I have asked them, "if your classmates took a test on the same material in English do you think they could get a C or a D?" Usually that makes them stop in their tracks and smile. My boys and now Rowan and Liam too, have and are learning the value of hard work. They are learning success is relative. And I could not be prouder of their success.
Our children have learned how to stomach criticism when other kids tell them they stink at soccer or German. They have learned how to handle when other kids laugh at them when they use the wrong word in a sentence. They have learned to ignore others when they have to ask repeated questions in class because they did not quite catch it the first 2 times. They have gained confidence in their efforts and have are learning to ditch any negativity.
Liam is now in Kindergarten. He is learning most children will not respond to his English. Like his siblings, he is learning how to play, work with, and solve problems when you speak a completely different language than anyone else. His teachers tell me he tries to sing along, louder than any other child in his class, making up completely nonsense words as he goes along. I am so proud of his bravery to get up and return to such a foreign environment each and every morning.
Rowan recently started an Irish Dance class taught by a woman from Ireland. She teaches in English. The first day when we left class I asked Rowan how class was. Her response, "They teach that class in English, Mom! It is so easy!" The kids and I might make visit the military base every couple months. I do not think Rowan has been in an English speaking environment outside of our home in 3 months. It did not even dawn on me that the English language in class would actually feel foreign! She is so confident in that class and I feel a large part of that is she has conquered classes in German.
I am so proud of Daniel. We came here to Germany thinking he would take a foot off the accelerator with the career. Instead, we came here and he was offered a position he could not refuse. It does come with its hardships- he is always on call, he is always staying late or going in early. He comes home and he is exhausted and spent. With as many challenges as he has faced, I can see all the hard work, all the late night calls, all the long hours have paid off. Daniel has turned this organization into a well oiled machine. When I first met Daniel 15 years on the island, he always had a mind for IT work It comes as no surprise to me after 8 months in the organization he was offered to lead. As annoyed as I get when he comes home and tries to tell me how things could run more smoothly at home, how to organize this or that, how to run this or that- I will admit he has a gift for this stuff and the proof is in the pudding.
As for myself? I have had to learn what German I do know through self study. The school the kids attend will not speak English with parents. All conferences, all meetings, all interaction between faculty and parents must be carried out in German. One of my greatest roles is to be the very best advocate I can for my children, and to help them in any way possible. I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent on google translate, how many hours of German homework I have done with each of my kids, all the time I have spent on Duolingo German on my ipad, how many meetings with other parents and teachers and friends I have spent butchering this language I have come to love. I believe more than ever, you learn a language from being immersed, by having no other option other than to just speak. I realize just how valuable it is to have a parent at home. I was always grateful for the opportunity to stay home with my babies, however now I almost think a parent at home is just as important! Homework, supervision for bored children, meals, laundry, cleaning, driving, practices, lessons, and so much more. I am eternally grateful to have the opportunity to immerse with my children, although my German pales in comparison to their own!
I know I have been less successful this year with staying in touch with friends and family back home. I would like to sincerely apologize. It has not been because you are not in our thoughts and our mind. All too often (especially in Winter) I think how easy it would be to pack up, go back to sunny Arizona, return to our friends, our family back in the states, our schools, and our lives back home. Yet I am also a firm believer in experience being the best teacher life has to offer. I am a firm believer we will leave here with lessons and values we will take to the grave- hard work, patience, tolerance, kindness, compassion, consideration, diligence, respect, love, and friendship.
Life begins outside your comfort zone. Life is short. It is up to us to make it sweet. This December 26th, my day of renewal, I would like to wish you all the best holiday season. I would like to tell each and every one of you how much you are loved, missed, and appreciated on every day of the year. I wish you a year filled with joy, success, laughs, kindness, and love. Sending all our love and best wishes for a fulfilling new year.