Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

Happy Holidays, Everyone. We made it to winter break and the annual Christmas letter is complete and ready to read. We hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2009. Click on the picture below to see a larger version of our card.

Sheehan Shenanigans

I’ve always been able to write the annual edition of the Sheehan Shenanigans, but given that it’s the wee hours of Christmas Eve and the kids will be up in a few hours to ravage the gifts beneath the tree, the prospects are pretty grim. I don’t know what’s gotten into to me. My ability to write has been – please forgive me – Shanghaied. I type a sentence, sometimes merely a word or two, and then I hit delete…reach for whatever food I’ve just scrounged from the kitchen (presently I’m working my way through a bag of Goldfish and a bottle of sparkling water)…and lean back and stare at the screen. Then every ten minutes or so I’ll check various websites and blogs to see how the Red Sox will respond to the signing of free agent Mark Texieria by the Evil Empire Yankees, and then go back to this letter and try again, until I’m in the kitchen again doing my Yogi Bear impersonation. It’s good that clothes and tailoring are so inexpensive here, because I’ll need to have my pants let out if this writer’s block persists. I might also need some makeup to cover up the bruises from the beating I’ll get from Kris. You see, this dry spell has been going on for two weeks. Aaaaand there goes the bag of Goldfish. Writing my Master’s thesis earlier this year was a cinch compared to writing this letter. Something is definitely in the air here.

Literally, though, something is in the air. How else can we account for being sick so often since we arrived here in August? Among the four of us, we’ve had – and this is no exaggeration – over 20 illnesses in the last five months. From the skitters to sinus infections, maladies mysteriously abound in the Sheehan household. We even went out and purchased, at no small price, an air purifier: the Swiss-made IQAir Healthpro 250 Air Cleaning System. And the day after we got it both Kris and I came down with colds. I suppose we’re destined to go around hucking loogies on the sidewalk like every other Ri, Feng, and Xiu Li in the country. Nice.

There have been a plethora of challenges with this new phase of life. I’ll begin with the kids. For some weird reason we thought they would have the easier transition to China. Wrong. Turns out they had very strong attachments to Dubai, so they cried a lot when we got here. And cried. Imagine how thrilled we were when we got a note from Molly’s nursery school teacher saying that Molly had finally stopped crying – and that was in early November. Benjamin, on the other hand, is lucky to have Kris walk him to school 98 percent of the mornings (and have an office down the hallway from his classroom), or else he might possibly cry every day. However, despite those emotional outbursts and the aforementioned sicknesses, they are adjusting exceptionally well. In fact, Molly steeled herself enough to land the lead in her school’s Nativity play; in fact, you can check out her riveting performance as Mary in the video Kris uploaded to the blog. “I’m so tired…where can we stay?” Those particular words were actually not a big stretch for her, considering the first part of that line has been her mantra for the last several months. Benjamin,
meanwhile, is also coming into his own, receiving glowing reports from his kindergarten teacher. He’s a great kid at school, and he’s…well…pretty good at home. If he’d only wear a different pair of pants, then we’d be over the moon. For two months he’s worn the same pair of red sweatpants, sans underwear, and a blue Gap hooded sweatshirt – the true picture of a street urchin if ever there was one. He does have innumerable redeeming qualities, such as not waking us up anymore when he gets out of bed at 5:30 am. He’s even thoughtful enough to close his door and play quietly, usually drawing pictures, creatively writing short “books”, and constructing elaborate Lego scenes.

Speaking of arts and crafts, Molly is also into drawing and writing. Her most infamous work is entitled “Purple Marker on the Brand New Couch”. A close second is “Now I’ll Draw on My Bedspread While Daddy Tries to Clean the Couch.” It’s a shame the Chinese haven’t discovered Scotch Guard. But when she’s not coloring the apartment she can usually be found in Benjamin’s shadow, following, helping, mimicking, or needling him. They like to have little competitions with
each other, such as seeing who can count higher or faster in Chinese. In fact, both kids are doing remarkably well with the language. They have Chinese instruction at school and get an extra dose of learning at home with our ayi (nanny and housekeeper) Mrs. Chen. She’s very good with the kids, and after a rough start – arriving late for work a few times, asking for more money after a month of employment, ruining Kris’s favorite pair of pants with bleach – she is beginning to grow on us too. She speaks a fair amount of English, but we still have some trouble communicating with her…or I should say Kris has trouble. I try to stay out of it. No need to muddy the waters, I say, plus it’s pure entertainment to watch Kris battle through a simple conversation with her. Although she is no Belinda, who was our nanny and housekeeper in Dubai, Mrs. Chen is a pleasant, kind, patient, and resourceful woman who cooks some mean local food, which is always nice to come home to after a long day at school.

And speaking of school, our jobs, while busy and challenging like everything else in Shanghai, have been great. Kris loves being a technology integrationist in the elementary school, and I have been enjoying the formidable task of being the school’s yearbook coordinator and teaching a few English classes on the side. Shanghai American School is truly a giant step up for the both of us, and we’re especially happy that our kids are receiving a first-rate education. All in all, despite the periodic surge of emotions in the apartment, the occasional illness, and the challenge of communicating with Mrs. Chen and the rest of Shanghai’s 18 million residents, we are getting along just fine. We really like the people, the culture, the food, the shopping, the ease and expense of traveling by taxi everywhere, the opportunity to ride bikes in the neighborhood, and the soft bread (that was Kris’s addition to the list) among other things. We promise you’ll have a good time if you visit, which you should seriously think about. Molly will be happy to loan you her room – she can sleep in Benjamin’s new bunk bed; Benjamin will let you play with his new Wii; Kris will guide you through the city with her burgeoning knowledge of the language; and I will teach you how to get out of a taxi without hitting an old woman who might be racing by on her scooter a little too close to the taxi door. And if the door does happen to nick her handlebars and send her flying through the air, I will teach you how to barter for the cost of her injuries. No problem. It’s just another one of the Sheehans’ Shanghai Shenanigans. And what do you know, the Eve has turned into Day, and I have finally broken through and written this letter. Time to put down the fistful of food and retire to bed. Merry Christmas, Everyone

Monday, December 22, 2008

Molly's Acting Debut

Molly's school put on the nativity play for their Christmas party. They had a sneak preview for the parents the night before the party. The actors all did very well and there were some cute moments. Molly was thrilled to play Mary and in case you can't hear her, her two lines are, "I am so tired. Where shall we stay." and "His name is Jesus". She is now telling me that she wishes I had named her Mary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Benjamin's Soccer Team

Benjamin just finished his first soccer season. He had never played soccer before and was not very excited about attending during the first practice, but decided to give it a shot. He spent the first half of that practice watching from the sidelines. He finally built up the nerve to participate and has loved it ever since. He loves to run and seems to have endless energy so this is definitely a good sport for him. After the first few weeks of practice, he got his uniform and real soccer cleats. It was pretty exciting. His friend, Aidan, is on his team and Michael and Jeff (Aidan's dad) are the coaches. The kids have a lot of fun and are actually looking a bit like they know what they are doing on the field. As the weather turns colder, though, it will be nice to spend our Sundays on some inside activities.

Our First Thanksgiving in Shanghai

This was the first time since we have been overseas that we had to work on Thanksgiving. It was a bit disappointing to be at work, but we made the best of it and had a fun day. Friday was a half day so we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving on Friday instead of Thursday. After school on Friday, Kathryn and I started our Thanksgiving by heading to the nearest massage parlor for one of their famous foot massages. This was a big help in putting us in the holiday mood. Then, I went home to prepare for dinner with two families, each with two kids about the same age as ours. Molly's friend Vicki showed up for a surprise visit and she also stayed for dinner. Everyone arrived around 4 pm and we spent an hour talking and cooking. Our turkey was delivered (our oven just isn't big enough) right around 4 and we all sat down to eat around 5. After dinner, while the guys cleaned up, we took the kids for a walk around the compound and let them run for a while. We were actually able to make the evening last until about 9:30 and then it was a quick exit before all sense of order was lost.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Day in the Park

We finally felt settled enough to get out of our neighborhood and do a bit of sightseeing with the kids. We took a taxi to Zhongshang Park, which is about 30 minutes from our home. One of the best parts of living overseas for me is to see new and interesting neighborhoods and this is definitely a neighborhood I would like to visit again. We had the kids with us, though, so we headed straight into the park and started looking around. We first went into a climbing/playing area which was indoors. The kids did not want to go to the climbing area, but they were happy to play a few of the games. After this, we wandered around outside and watched all of the people enjoying the day. There were groups dancing to music, flying kites, riding on the lake in boats, and playing games. The kids and Michael went on the carousel and Molly spent quite a bit of time in a bouncy castle. There were not a lot of expats in the park and it was fun to hang out and watch people on a typical Sunday in China.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Girls' Day Out

At the end of October we had a much needed girls' day out. Jenn, my upstairs friend, and I headed out with our daughters -- Molly and Jaya. We took the WWG shuttle into a neighborhood nearby and had coffee and breakfast. Then we climbed into a taxi and Jenn told the driver where to go -- it is nice to know someone who has been here a while and speaks Chinese. We headed downtown to H&M to try to find some sweaters and fall clothes for Molly and me. The little girls even stayed calm enough for Jenn and I to try on some clothes. I actually left with a few purchases for me and even more purchases for Molly. Then, the four of us headed to lunch nearby and ate and chatted. Finally, when the younger girls seemed like they had had enough, we headed home to show off our purchases.

Kris and Molly

Jenn and Jaya

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween in Shanghai

We had a great first Halloween in Shanghai. Molly's school was closed due to Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease so her party was postponed. Luckily, she was able to come to SAS with me that day and watch the parade and attend much of Benjamin's party. For costumes, we headed to the Children's Market which is downtown. This market is full of shops of toys and clothes for kids. We found a costume store and Benjamin was very excited to see two Ben 10 costumes hanging on the rack. He chose to be Heat Blast and was thrilled. Molly looked at all of the beautiful princess costumes and chose the slightly dirty dalmation costume.

School started with a parade around campus. We were supposed to go all over the school, but rain forced us to stay in the elementary building. The kindergarteners started the parade and headed through the halls. I stayed with Benjamin's class as we walked by all of the classes. Then, we headed to a party in Benjamin's room where they played games and made Halloween projects.

That afternoon we headed to Shanghai Racquet Club for some trick-or-treating. This was the first "real" trick-or-treating the kids have done. We went to over 10 apartments and then headed to a party at the Monk -- a bar/restaurant in the neighborhood. The place was filled with families and there was food and drink for everyone. It was a fun and exhausting day.

Pictures from the Day

Monday, October 27, 2008

Molly's Field Trip

Molly had her first field trip the last week in October and I was very happy to be able to go along. We went to the Shanghai Organic Farm which is about a 45 minute bus ride from her school. It was fun to sit with Molly on the ride there and look out the window and talk about what we were seeing. It was also nice to meet some of the other moms. When we arrived, we toured the farm, planted some seeds, fed some goats, had lunch and even did some vegetable shopping. We left the farm very tired, but with lots of great organic vegetables to eat.

Benjamin Learns to Ride a Bike

After a month of riding around town on training wheels, Benjamin has learned to ride a bike all by himself. It was very exciting to see him take off the training wheels and begin riding with Michael by his side. As time went on, his confidence grew. It was also helpful to have his new friend, Aidan, by his side encouraging and helping him all the way. Now, Benjamin rides all around our community and can even ride his bike to school and into town. We have a bike with a seat in the back for Molly so the whole family can go out and ride together. Bikes are a necessity here as that is how we get around the neighborhood. It is such a great feeling to go out and ride in the cool fall air. I am sure it will not be so thrilling in the winter. When I met some friends for dinner a while back I had to laugh as we all pulled up on our bikes. It was hard not to remember the Dubai days when we all pulled up in our SUV's. Our life has definitely changed.

Pictures of the School

I finally left my office and took some pictures around the SAS campus. It is one of the most amazing campuses I have seen, with 3 distinct buildings for elementary, middle and high school, a cafeteria divided into two sections for older kids, two gymnasiums, a swimming pool, performing arts center and lots of play areas and fields. If you look beyond the field in one of the pictures you can see our apartment complex in the background. We are across the street from the elementary gate so it is an easy commute for Benjamin and me. Michael has to go to the other side of campus, though, which can take five minutes to walk.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Holiday Weekend

We had a three day weekend for the Moon Festival in the middle of September and took this opportunity to finally do a bit of sightseeing. On Sunday afternoon, we had Jessica, our first babysitter ever, come to our house at 3:00 and Michael and I headed to the Bund. We took a taxi to the nearest subway station (about 20 minutes away) and then took the subway to the Bund. This seems to be the easiest way to get into the city. Michael and I spent a couple of hours wandering around the Bund shopping area and then walked to the viewpoint and looked at the Pearl Tower and buildings in the Pudong area across the river. It was raining and fairly miserable, but it was nice to get out. We then stopped at a local Chinese restaurant where no one spoke English and had a disappointing meal. When we arrived home, the kids were in bed and the house was clean.

Heading to the Subway Station

Nanjing Road East -- Pedestrian Shopping Area

Pearl Tower in Pudong

On Monday, Michael participated in an SAS golf tournament so I decided to take the kids to the Shanghai Zoo. It rained on the way to the zoo, but stopped by the time we arrived. The zoo is quite big and has a lot of animals. We saw pandas, snakes, lions, tigers, and we even attended an elephant show. After two hours of wandering around, we were all hot, tired and cranky so we slowly made our way to the exit and fortunately found a quick taxi home.

Elephant Show

Pandas at the Zoo

The Duck Pond at the Zoo

We arrived home just in time for a huge storm to start. There was heavy rainfall, lightning and thunder. The storm caused Michael's golf game to end early and also caused a power outage in our apartment for three hours. The kids took a bath by candlelight which was a new experience and the power went on just in time for bed.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Settling into China

We arrived in China over a month ago and I am finally setting up our family blog. It has been quite a roller coaster month, but we are very happy here. We have not yet been able to do much sightseeing, unless you consider Carrefour and Ikea tourist destinations. For the most part, it has been shopping, working, playing and meeting new friends.

Our first challenge was communicating with our nanny, Mrs. Chen. She does speak a bit of English, but we have had many misunderstandings as we have tried to communicate with each other. Fortunately, our school secretary is always willing to act as translator. One of our biggest miscommunications came on Benjamin's first day of school. We had told Mrs. Chen that she would be staying that night until 10 or 11 pm because we were going to go out to dinner for the first time since our arrival. She understood that we did not need her to come in until 10 or 11 in the morning. Needless to say, we started Benjamin's first day a bit stressed. I didn't even get pictures of him on his first day of kindergarten. As time has passed, though, we have become happy with Mrs. Chen and feel she will be a nice addition to our family. The kids like her, she is teaching them Chinese, she cooks Chinese food for us twice a week, and she is a kind and gentle woman.

The kids are handling the transition quite well. The first day Mrs. Chen showed up at our home, Benjamin wanted to stay home with her. They continue to amaze me with their flexibility and courage as they face new challenges. It hasn't all been easy, though, as they both had a rough transition to the beginning of school. Molly started school first and had a very tough adjustment period. She is attending nursery school at the Shanghai Racquet Club which is near to our school and to where we live. Her first day was great. I dropped her off and played with her for a bit of time and she happily went off with Ms. Rachel, her teacher. The trouble started on her second day, though, when she had a very hard time adjusting. It was difficult to explain to Mrs. Chen that Molly did not get to stay home from school just because she did not want to go. She is now in her fourth week of school and she finally had her first day without crying. Once she is there, she loves it and we are happy with the school and with her teachers. She gets quite a bit of Chinese each day and even came home singing her first Chinese song the other day.

Benjamin has also had a tough time getting into the school routine. He is in kindergarten at our school so I am able to drop him off each day. We are still waiting for a day without crying. He does get better each day and now only sniffles a bit when I drop him off. We really like his teacher, who is also new to the school. She has been very patient and supportive. I am the tech integration specialist for his grade so I get to work with his class at least once a week. I am really looking forward to that. It is so much fun seeing him every day, although I usually hide when I see him coming because he tends to burst into tears. Benjamin just started playing on a soccer team last weekend and after half an hour of watching from the sidelines, Michael was able to convince him that it might be fun to actually play. Once he got involved he had a great time. Benjamin has made a good friend who is also new to Shanghai and lives across the street from us. This has been a great help in his adjustment.

So far the jobs have been good for both of us. Michael is teaching grade 9 English and doing yearbook and I am the technology integration specialist at the elementary school. We have both been busy trying to figure out the workings of our new school, but are happy with our jobs. I know I will remain challenged as I work to help the teachers integrate technology into their existing curriculum and as I conduct training sessions with my teaching partner, Jeff. The first month included a lot of learning on my part, but I am finally feeling somewhat caught up. The teachers I am working with are very dedicated and open about using technology and they have some great ideas.

We are making some friends, especially with some of the new teachers who arrived with us. There are two other new kindergarten boys who live down the street. Benjamin gets along well with them. They spend quite a bit of time together after school. We like all of the new teachers and there are many families here, which has been fun for us. We all have bikes and we ride around the neighborhood after school and on weekends. Benjamin is learning to ride and Molly has a seat on the back of our bikes for long trips. Michael and I ride our bikes to school which is very different from the cars we had in Dubai.

Overall it has been a fairly smooth transition and I am sure we will continue to meet many new challenges as our year progresses.
Elementary School