The end of June marked one year in PNG and by now we’ve all settled into life here to the point that it’s hard to remember anything else. Only as friends are coming back from visits to the States are we remembering what it is like to live outside of this little center we call home. Though Brent commutes about twenty minutes to get to the airport every morning, the rest of us remain “in the fence” with the exception of some rare occasions. So while Brent is off flying during the week, my life pretty much consists of “mom” stuff. With three little ones at home – Beau having just turned five, Kimi at three and Luke not quite two – I find little time to do anything other than care for them and clean up after them. (Of course, anyone who has had kiddos knows that much more time is spent doing the latter. This is why when our youngest learned to walk, we also taught him what “pick up” means.)
As I consider the differences between being a mom in the States verses being a mom here, one major difference stands out. Whereas a lot of time in the States is spent commuting, whether to the grocery store or the playground, here that time is spent doing things like food prep and well, cleaning. Always cleaning. To give some examples as to the food prep, chicken comes frozen in a 5kg (over 10lb) bags, bone-in and skin on, that takes a day of defrosting followed by some time in the pressure cooker to get the meat off the bone. Several blisters later (a result of trying to separate the burning hot meat from the bone and skin…aka, my lack of patience to “get this dumb chicken done!”), I get about four bags of cooked, shredded chicken ready to throw into any dish. And the liquid from the chicken turns into a nice chicken stock. I know, I’m such a homemaker. The vegetables here need to be washed – soaked, actually – in a vinegar or bleach solution (depending on how you lean on that issue) as not washing them well can easily land you in the clinic with a parasite. I had one earlier this year and it took three treatments and several hours on IV’s (I dehydrate easily, apparently) to get rid of that thing. It would be okay if I never had another one of those ever, ever again. Anyways, I get veggies two days a week and on those days, they are washed and peeled, shredded, and/or chopped to be ready for use. The broccoli takes extra time as there are inevitably small, green worms hiding in the florets. I don’t even want to know how many I’ve missed. Aside from those weekly food-prep tasks, cheese must be grated, flour sifted, granola baked, tortillas and pizza crusts rolled, meatballs rolled, sauces made from scratch, and chips/fries deep-fried.
I think the point of all this is to let you know that for all the hours my SoCal friends are spending in their cars going from one place to another, chances are I’m spending that time in my kitchen…with a knife…and measuring cups…and rolling pins. I can’t say I mind. I always told Brent that if I had to drive those California freeways for much longer, I’d have heart failure due to the behavior of other drivers. Meanwhile, I will easily go three or four months without ever stepping foot in a car here. So it could just be that living in the middle of Papua New Guinea is saving my life…
As for the cleaning, laundry must always be washed and hung up first thing in the morning. If you are late getting your clothes on the line, the rain will come and soak them before they finish drying. If you do get them up in time and they dry all the way, then plan on having to use your hose to water your garden because the rain will not fall on that day. Floors must be swept regularly as cockroaches will come to feast on anything left out. Although, perhaps they are just around regardless, as I am frequently approached by them in the middle of the night while I’m…um, using the facilities. They are pretty aggressive too. One jumped on me as I was getting in the shower the other day. I screamed…bet that showed him. Ants are not invaders in our home, they are cohabitants. That said, counters must be wiped a million times a day or else they will take over. Sometimes, when I’m feeling really “missionary-esk” I will leave a little juice at the bottom of a cup and see how many I can collect. As I’m washing them down the drain later I’m always thinking “suckers!” I don’t know where that comes from. Maybe pent-up Mommy frustration. Spiders, too, are often left alone unless they are found in a convenient-to-squash place. And that place is anywhere a five-year-old can reach – he’s my designated spider killer – so pretty much if they are spotted any higher than four feet up the wall, they live to see another day. I figure they’re eating other bugs anyways, right?
So there’s the cleaning house part and then there’s the cleaning people part. I’m horrified to think what grandparents are going to say when they see the mud and grime that has all but tattooed itself into our children’s flesh. Baths are not an option in the evening – they are a necessity. The kids are outside ALL THE TIME. It’s a good thing…I love how much sunshine they see; I love how they get to explore nature every day; I love that they are out every time Daddy flies over so we can point and talk about how awesome he is. But the thing about small children outside is that well, they become one with nature. To the point that you aren’t always sure where the mud ends and the children begin. Many evenings my kids can be found stripping down to underwear on the porch and being carried/dragged/thrown to the restroom by some crazy woman who’s muttering, “how in the world did you get this filthy?! I can smell you from ten feet away! Don’t touch anything! Do you know how long I spent cleaning these floors today?!” It’s not me. Really. Some other woman takes over my life at that point in the day.
Speaking of the kids – for those of you who care for a more personal update, here’s one: Beau’s biggest news is probably that he just learned to ride his bike and now he’s feeling all grown up and brave. He’s five now so he pretty much knows everything and can answer any question you throw at him. We have chosen to wait another year to start him in school but he’s been begging to “do school” and so this Mama’s going to try her hand at preschool. The trick is going to be figuring out how to teach at a five-year-old level…I think I’d feel more comfortable in a college lecture hall. My poor son. He is a fantastic big brother, though. He handles the role of firstborn with a confidence that’s inspiring. I believe he can be credited with saving the lives of both of his younger siblings at some point or another.
Kimi just created her own hairstyle a couple of weeks ago. The primary styling tool involved was a pair of scissors. Let me tell you, there’s nothing more shocking than walking out of our room and seeing your daughter’s hair strewn all over the kitchen. That was a fun day. I told her she has to learn how to cut out a porcupine before I’ll even think of letting her cut her hair again. When she’s not being left alone with scissors, she can be found playing the princess to the many, MANY boys in the neighborhood. I don’t know how many times a day she’s pretend rescued by three to five year-old boys and for-real rescued from those same three to five year old boys by eight to eleven year-old boys. Dear Kimi, you’re bound to either stay a princess or turn total tomboy, which will it be?
Luke is, well, Luke. In what I hear is typical last-born fashion, he is taking twice as long to learn the things that Mommy and Daddy want him to learn – like not throwing food off the table and not hitting people – while he’s taking half the time to learn the things we don’t want him to learn, like climbing trees and ladders and riding down hills on anything with wheels. The child is almost as big as his sister and I’m pretty sure in another year he’s going to be the boss of both of his siblings, maybe the whole world. At least as far as he’s concerned. He’s talking now too. And by talking, I mean commanding. He thinks if he can name something correctly, it is rightfully his. From candy to a toy, if he names it, he should claim it and heaven help the mother that stands in the way…one day he’ll learn that I love him too much to give him everything he wants. One day.
All in all, while they are a lot of work and cause more mental gymnastics than my college Greek class, I love my three kiddos and find it a privilege to raise them. When it’s all said and done, they lighten my heart with their love and give me purpose I’ve never experienced before. They keep me humble and before the throne of our Lord, realizing that He is the only one that can fill in the holes of inadequacy that constantly confront me while I parent them. And that’s right where I need to be – at his throne.
So there you have it, my one-year reflection on what our life looks like here in PNG. May you think of me and my kitchen knife while you sit in rush-hour traffic eating a burger from a bag…mmm, burger. I want one!