Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Split pants and Redbull

I've been spending much of this week with my friend Heather before she takes off for America for good on Friday morning. One of our favorite places to take our boys is a super nice (even by American Standards) indoor playground at one of the malls downtown. This playground is well supervised, constantly vacuumed and cleaned, diapers are mandatory and they sanitize the children's hands and take temperatures before they allow the kids to enter. 

In other words, we're not constantly wondering if the kid in split pants that just went down the slide has  spread his cooties everywhere or not. Believe me, we've seen poop on the neighborhood slide...and it's just as disgusting as it sounds! Finding this "clean" playground was like watching the clouds part and the sun shine through.

Anyways, Heather, Mimi and I took our boys to play yesterday. About an hour into our playtime, we spied a kid in split pants that had slipped through the security check. We tattled to the supervisor, who promptly went out and told the parent she must diaper her child. A bit later, said child was running around in regular pants (now his butt was covered, but whether he had a diaper on under or not I do not know). 

Just as we were recovering from seeing the split pants kid, I turned around and saw a mother pull her child's (a boy)  pants down in the middle of the playground and proceed to have him pee into an empty Redbull  can! Once he finished, she took the can over to the trash can inside the playground and dumped it. Heather saw it too and our jaws just dropped.

There is no shortage of "What the?!" moments here...that's for sure.

I'll never look at a can of Redbull the same again.

Friday, February 21, 2014

True life: I'm a mom

                             My work is never done.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


                                Sal says "heck yeah!" But mama says, "búyào". 

One of the most popular questions I get about living over here is whether we've learned the language. In short, the answer is a BIG.FAT.NO. Mandarin is difficult with all of the different tones (which I cannot hear, nor can I replicate). I give props to my friends who take courses and actually practice during day to day interactions, even if they get laughed at by the locals. 

We know a select few words and phrases. Both Nick and I know how to navigate a taxi with directions of straight, left, right, stop, here, there....and we both know our numbers. Knowing your numbers is key to not getting ripped off. One of the first phrases I was taught (and use almost daily) was búyào.

Búyào means "don't want", or "want not" in direct translation.

I use it in many situations. For example, someone goes to touch my kids faces or hands--I swat their hand away with a strong búyào to make my point. Do.Not.Touch.My.Kids. I also use it at the market, when my vendor asks if I need spinach this week, or when she tries to push a newly available vegetable my way. A quick sweet búyào does the trick. 

Well, turns out, someone has been listening and picking up on the uses of búyào, because Sal now answers us with búyào when he doesn't want/ or doesn't want to do something. His most popular use of the word is at dinner when we sit him in his chair, and he decides he doesn't want to eat what we've placed in front of him. He'll feverishly yell "all done, all done, all done...búyào búyào búyào!" to make his point. He also uses it when our ayi tries to get him to put pants on (Sal prefers a pants optional household) and I'll hear a búyào! from his room, followed by the chatter of my ayi, presumably warning him that he's going to get sick and die if he gets cold. Sal chatters back at her, but I don't know what he is saying. I don't think it's English or Mandarin. But, who knows? Maybe he has picked up more than we know. 

It's pretty awesome to have evidence of what a sponge he is for learning. It's also a reminder for us (me especially) to watch the swear words I tend to let fly.

Last thing I want is my kid sounding like a sailor's spawn. Major búyào. 

Farewell Hedder & fam

 Life as an expat family is a unique experience. Most of us come over with contracts for a set amount of time, and once that time is up, we head back to our homelands. It's a revolving door of people coming and going around here. 

I've done alright with the goodbyes we have had to say thus far--although I won't lie-- they were difficult.  Now I'm staring down the barrel of our next goodbye and it's going to be the hardest one yet. 

I met Heather two weeks after moving to Wuxi. Nick and I were walking a restless 5 month around our compound when we spotted another white couple on the playground with a little boy. As we approached the couple, I remember being hopeful that they spoke English. That's when I heard a sweet southern "hey ya'll" from the woman who would go on to become one of my best friends here. 

She immediately took me under her wing (she had already been here 18 months) and showed me how and where to get groceries and introduced me to new friends. Even better yet, she had a son that was a year older than Sal. 

Sal and Aiden became buddies, and we spent many of our days hanging out together. She has become a second mama to Sal and he affectionately calls her "Hedder". Most of our good times and memories include Aiden and Hedder.  

In just a few days, their family will return to the states....

For good. 

Goodbye Ratliff family--so happy to have shared the past 18 months with you as our second family. You will be greatly missed. 

A walk down memory lane...

The boys at one of our many Starbucks trips. Don't look so excited, Sal.

Sal and his Hedder watching fireworks for his first birthday. 

The day we thought it was a good idea to go grocery shopping in the snow together...

After a long day of pediatrician visits and lunch in shanghai...

An afternoon finding rock treasures...

Sal's first friend, ever. 

Baking days at Heather's. That's Sal in the kitchen "mixing" with her...

At one of the many parties Heather hosted. This one happened to be a holiday cookie exchange, which equalled heaven for a pregnant girl. 

We're seriously going to miss them. 

Like. Seriously.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Clothespin hanging

It's snowing today. 

My toddler is stir crazy and I'll go crazy if I have to hear Caterina say "meow meow" one more time on Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. 

Sal likes to play with these plastic clothespins I bought for less than a dollar. I keep a few stashed in my diaper bag to keep him entertained during long restaurant waits and airplane rides. He usually pins them on our clothing and has fun removing them and replacing them elsewhere. 

I got them out to play with this morning and just as I did so, Carla started speaking the language of her people in an all out screamfest for food. The girl can eat, folks. Sal still isn't sure of her (mostly  only when I'm nursing now) so I was hesitant to have him climb all over me to put clothespins on my clothes with her in my lap. 

Instead I tied two lacing strings together and strung them between the legs of our coffee table. I gave him a can of pins and he went to town hanging them, removing them and replacing them. 

It's a great fine motor activity, quiet, and clean. Thought I'd share it with my fellow parents of toddlers because we all can use a few magic tricks ip our sleeve for those days when attention spans are short and energy is high. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Happy Valentines Day

Someday he will realize that little sisters  don't actually have cooties. 

Until then, happy valentines day from Wuxi!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Have a kool(aid) Valentine's day

We have a valentine party to attend this week with our international club. There are quite a few members in the under 5 crowd, so Sal and I got busy in the kitchen this week making our favorite koolaid playdoh to share with his valentines.

Not only is the playdoh soft and pliable, but it smells wonderful too. We chose pink lemonade and grape so that our dough would be purple and pink. 

Here's the recipe:
1 pkg koolaid
1.5 TBSP oil
2 c flour
1 c water
1/4 c salt

Mix all ingredients together in saucepan over low heat until it forms a clumpy paste like consistency. Remove from heat and knead on solid surface until smooth. 

When it was all done, I rolled it out and let Sal cut out heart shapes. We then bagged them in sandwich size ziplocs (snack size would work too) to keep then airtight.

I cut out heart tags and wrote " valentine, you make my heart squishy . Love, Sal". With my help, he stapled his tags to the top of the bags. 

Now, if I can only keep little hands away from opening all of the gifts he made his friends, we will be set! 

Carla is 1 month old

Time goes even faster with the second child. I can't believe Carla is a month old already. 

This month has been a blur. 

In her first month, Carla...

...Sleeps in 3-4 hour stretches at night, with a couple of nocturnal nights mixed in (up from 11p-5a one night!). She's usually a good little sleeper though.

...Drinks 2 oz bottle per feeding or nurses for about 15-20min every few hours.

...Grew out of three pairs of newborn pajamas overnight!

...Still sleeps in our room ( despite me swearing up and down we would only do it for a few nights) in a rock and play.

...Turns her head during tummy time

...Is a super noisy sleeper! She snores and makes all sort of unique grunts.

...Loves to be swaddled

...Takes at least one nap in the Ergo each day

...Has been hit by big brother at least a dozen times, but kissed twice as much

...Is not a fan of the pacifier

...Became an American citizen! 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


I feel like I can finally exclaim, " what a day! " without exasperation in my voice.

Today was a good day. 

Today was a great day!

We celebrated freedom in two ways today. First off, we had an appointment with the US consulate to register Carla as an American citizen, to get her passport, and to register her for her social security card. The consulate is located in a shanghai, fairly close to the hospital I delivered at. We are quite familiar with that particular area of the city, so we took our freedom to a whole new level by (gasp!) renting a van and driving ourselves. 

NZ has had his license since November, but we've yet to log any miles. 

A friend of mine mentioned that she and her husband often use a car rental agency nearby (which we didn't know existed here) to buy themselves a day or two of freedom to travel. NZ checked into it, but later learned that we could rent a minivan from the company our driver works for to drive by his self. 

So, that's what we did.

We loaded up the kids and my beast of a stroller and headed down G2 expressway bound for Shanghai. I played go-pilot ( my poor husband--it's never good when he asks if we are going the right way and I answer with " I think so") and we even conquered the toll booths in mandarin.

I'm pretty proud of us.

We checked into the consulate and waited for our interview. Preparing for this visit caused a week of headaches for us due to the crazy requirement of having an official copy of my dissolution of marriage from my first marriage (yes, there was one before THE ONE). Thanks to my sister and father in law, and an attorney service, we were able to secure the document in time. Who'da thought I'd ever need a certified copy of that thing? Anyways...we also took prof of US residency with us, including college transcripts, VONS cards, blockbuster membership card (isn't blockbuster defunct now?) etc in case our case worker didn't buy our story that we are red blooded Americans to the core.

In case you're wondering, there was no question.

We held up our hands and gave our sworn statements, and just like that, Carla was pronounced a US citizen. We applied for her passport, and social security card at the same time. 

Here's a crazy side story....while waiting for our interview, a nice woman came up and asked how old my baby was, and asked where I had her. I vaguely answered that I had her in Shanghai, to which she followed with "what hospital?". I told her I gave birth at a new hospital called Redleaf. She nodded her head in approval. I asked her if she worked in the industry, since she seemed to have a bit of knowledge behind that nod. She said yes, and continued on that her husband is an OB/GYN here in china. I asked where, and she replied, "Redleaf". Just then, her last name was called for her appointment. 

Can you believe that she is the wife of the doctor that I refused to let deliver my baby?

Small world.

Too bad her husband didn't have her personality. I know who does the socializing in that couple, lol.

On her way out she asked my name, so let's see if her husband puts it all together. My guess is that he will have no idea in hell who I am.

Anyways, back to our day.....

We went to celebrate Carla's citizenship with a walk to Element Fresh. It was freezing, but well worth the walk.

Downtown Shanghai is so much more western than Wuxi. I just love it. I couldn't resist taking a picture of these horses that are on display outside Gucci to celebrate the year of the horse for 2014.

After lunch, we headed back to Wuxi, with both kids asleep in the car. NZ and I smiled and laughed more than we have in a while, listening to some of my new iTunes downloads (don't laugh but it includes Miley, Pink and mackelmore) and capping on the terrible Chinese drivers sharing the road with us. I love my husband for so many things, but here in China, I can put more emphasis on the fact that I love my husband because he can drive! I smell freedom in our future. 

Even if it comes in the form of a minivan.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Beautiful mess

So yeah, this is my reality.

I'd love to pretend my house is spotless 24/7 and my floors are always clean, but realistically, if you were to stop by my house unannounced, this is what you'd be getting. I highly suggest anyone expecting a clean house come right at 4:00 while my ayi is here cleaning, because it looks like this again within seconds of her leaving for the day. 

It doesn't help that it's been frigid here, and raining, and that I have a newborn that I want immunized before we head out into public. We watch way too much tv-I can almost quote the lines from Toy Story verbatim--I say that like I'm proud of it, but I'm not. I never intended for my child to watch so much television. 

Most mornings, Sal dumps a box of toys out (we rotate boxes of toys throughout the week to keep things "fresh"), throws them around a bit, then leaves them wherever they land. This morning, he added a "boat" to the mix, courtesy of his baby sister's bathtub.  There are usually empty sippy cups strewn across the floor and in between couch cushions. As you can see the cushions have been pulled off the sofa in favor of making it into a "slide". Carla kicks it over in a rock and play in the corner, safely out of harms way and my two year old tornado. 

And, pictured above is what I fed my son for breakfast today. I'm totally going for mother of the year this year, giving in to his request for leftover pizza this morning. In my defense, his plate also has cut up tomatoes and pieces of a homemade blueberry bagel. Along side his breakfast plate lie his favorite spider socks (which are still sitting there waiting for him to put on six hours later), pipe cleaner hearts that he destroyed within seconds of waking, and a pile of books that we have read five times today.

As much as I long for a clean house, worthy of guests, I also love this beautiful mess.

Life is being lived over here.


Sal and I set out on a walk to go buy our weekly produce on Tuesday. We are lucky we went early because it's been raining ever since Tuesday night... And it's cold. Not Midwest cold, but 0-8 Celsius cold. 

When we made the right hand turn into the produce market's alley, Sal spotted the balloon guy...and kept saying "Minnie" over and over as we passed by.

He was such a helpful boy during our visit that we stopped at the balloon guy to buy the Minnie balloon on our way home. 

Mama is such a sucker.