Word Nerd

I imagine it is my mother’s fault that I’m a word nerd and grammar geek. She gave me a grammar book to read (for fun) when I was in first grade. At that time she was occasionally substitute teaching as a high school English teacher and teaching English 101 night classes. She sometimes brought me with her.

In high school, I had a red Webster’s dictionary. Whenever I came across a word when I was reading and couldn’t give a good definition (even if I sort of knew the word), I would look it up, and write down the definition on an index card. In the margin of the dictionary, I’d note the date I looked it up — or looked it up again. I wish I still had that dictionary.

My husband won’t play Scrabble or Boggle with me. Mostly it is because he prefers strategy and war games. But it is also because I’m a good loser but a gleeful winner — and I almost always win word games.

I recently ordered Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary for my homeschooling kids. (Look up words online for free at websterdictionary1828.com.)

But really, who am I kidding? It’s for me.

One perk of homeschooling little kids is that I’m constantly reading aloud to them — and coming across words I don’t know or have to look up to accurately explain to them. Just this week? Bobance, cock-shies, balustrade, puttees, capacious, esgal, quoit.

My favorite podcast is The History of English Podcast, hosted by Kevin Stroud. It is more of a history podcast than a grammar or etymological podcast, and I love it. When my 8yo has growing pains at night and I snuggle with him, we listen to it together. I like to think I’m passing on my word nerdiness to him, like my mother did with me.

Upon Arrival in Kosovo

“I want to ride the train!” says my four year old daughter as she sees an elongated bus pull up outside the airport terminal doors.

Just another airport selfie. . . Frankfurt?

We are at gate E60 at FRA and I’ve lost track of how many hours since we left Florida, and finally it is almost time to board the plane for the last leg on our way to Kosovo.

1-2-3-4, I count the carry-ons. 1-2-3 backpacks, 1-2 kids, 1 purse.

I feel like something is missing, but everything is here. Usually I’m counting more. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8.

Only half of our family are traveling to our new posting, but still it seems to take me extra time to round up our family and things and once again we are at the end of the line to board the shuttle to the the airplane.

The bus is crowded. I see a lot of fresh young faces with short trimmed hair. They’re traveling in civilian clothes and trying to blend in, but it’s obvious we have quite a few military personnel on board.

My husband lifts our daughter into a seat next to a woman with a backpack, water bottle and eyes experienced with travel.

My 7yo wants to “surf” as the shuttle bus moves, but I make him sit down. If he loses his balance, I imagine a domino effect down the aisle.

Hurry up and wait. It’s ten minutes before the shuttle doors swish closed, even though our family was the last to board.

The bus jerks forward. The further the shuttle takes us from the terminal the smaller the planes are. I hold my breath. Commuter planes. Propeller planes. We’ve flown in planes designed for just a dozen passengers, and it isn’t my favorite. Hubby names most of the planes for our son, but even he doesn’t know a few of these.

The bus stops in front of a plane sized for about a hundred passengers (thank God) and the tail symbol is not one I’ve seen before. This is the national airline of a small Central European country which I know exists, but couldn’t find easily on a map.

It’s still being fueled and my seven-year-odl calls out, “Look, there’s my suitcase!” From the bus we watch the flight preparations and I’m not sure whether to be thankful they are being thorough or concerned because it is taking so long.

I remember flying as a child, focusing on every word the flight attendant said during the safety briefing and studying the laminated card in the pocket in front of her. I see my daughter does the same. It’s curiosity for her, not anxiety. In spite of her interest in everything around her, she’s asleep before the plane takes off.

Today’s Captain

Unsurprisingly by the time we gather our carry-ons and usher a sleepy 4yo down the plane aisle, bumping each seat, we are the last to disembark.   The flight attended smiles, not looking nearly as tired as I feel.

“Big step!” I coach my daughter as she jumps over the narrow crack from the plane to the jetway.

Everyone’s gone ahead so we are following signs rather than the crowd.

There is an uncertainty that overcomes me each time I arrive at a new airport. I saw the terminal as we landed and I know that it isn’t a huge place, but the endless hallways seem a maze and I’m a mouse that is running it for the first time.

The airport smells familiar — not antiseptic or like bleach or cleaners, but it smells simultaneously clean and yet somehow stale, as air circulating through large spaces and filters does.

We arrive at passport control. There is no VIP/Dip line, not that we need one as there are so few passengers arriving. (But oh how I’ve appreciated it when traveling alone with all the kids in super crowded airports!)  We are the last except for the experienced backpacker we met on the shuttle who stopped in the restroom to freshen up. We wend back and forth, back and forth until we are in front of the passport control officer.

“Mirësevini!” he says. Hubby replies in Albanian and I can’t think of a single thing from my 9 weeks of lessons, not even hello.

Off the plane, into the van – Kosovo!

Efficient, smiling, the officer hands us our passports and waves us through.

I do my quick scan. 1-2-3-4 carry-ons, 1-2-3 backpacks, 1-2 kids, 1 purse.

When I look up, Hubby smiles.

“Welcome home.”

Hero Mother

I remember hurrying to the metro in Kyiv in the early 2000s, four boys in tow all holding hands,

“Oh, a Hero-Mother!” A babushka would stop me, exclaiming over them, tightening one boy’s scarf and straightening another’s hat.

They shared with me the joy of motherhood, the blessing it truly was.

Soviet-era women commonly had multiple abortions. Post-Soviet families often only had one child, with multiple generations sharing an apartment.

The joy of motherhood in Ukraine was mixed with the discomfort of being the “rich American” who could afford my then-four children.

“Hero Mother” medal, presented to me by my husband one Mother’s Day in Ukraine.

The son who first made me a mother was born nearly 23 years ago, and as I write this my three-year-old and only daughter is pretending to be “a baby who doesn’t cry.”

I’ve made so many mistakes. I haven’t cherished every moment. I’ve sinned against (and hidden from) my kids.

And I’ve loved them. Snuggled them. Read to them. Watched each of them grow into the person God has created them to be.

These six persons in my life who have made me a mother? They delight me, humble me, and bring me to my knees before God.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

New Beginnings

The thing life is fullest of is the thing we find hardest to believe in. New beginnings. The incredible gift of a fresh start. Every new year. Every new day. Every new life.

What wonderful gifts!

And when we spoil things, and life goes all wrong, we feel dismayed, because we find it so hard to see that we can start again.

God lets us share it too, you know. Only God can give life, it’s true—make a new baby or a new year—but he gives us the power to give each other a new beginning, to forgive each other and make a fresh start when things go wrong.

Penelope Wilcock, The Hawk and the Dove