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.