Perhaps by now we're actually in Parenting 212, or 365, or even a grad school course. We've been at it for 19 1/2 years, which is longer than it takes most people to get a PhD. But the subject keeps changing faster than we keep learning. We made enough mistakes in the first year (horrendous sleep habits, for instance) that we probably did deserve to fail and repeat. Which we did. But parenting, like living in Africa, is one of those endeavors that never morphs into something simple. I know when we had our first full night of sleep (at the end of year one) we probably thought we had arrived. Instead the whole thing just keeps getting more complicated, but also more interesting, and more fun.
Now we're in a whole new phase. Two kids in America, two in Africa. Two in college, two in High School. Plus the bonus child, Acacia, who comes to us 9 months a year as a gift. Plus a dozen ambiguous, good, "foster-child" sort of relationships with teens and young 20's back in Uganda. It's a phase that involves a lot of email, and airline flights, and prayer. And a whole new round of sleep deprivation.
The cell phone question nearly did us in. In Africa it is fairly straightforward. You buy a phone, for as little as $20 or as much as $100 depending on the model. You buy a SIM card for $2. You buy as much airtime as you want, load it on, and you're good to go. It takes a few minutes, only requires a few decisions, and if you don't like the SIM you chose there are a handful of other companies and you're only out $2. Ten dollars of airtime can last days, weeks, or months, depending on what you do. An SMS costs next to nothing. Calling America is about 5 cents/ minute. Data is more complicated, but possible. It's not perfect by any means, but it is no preparation for life in America. We just watched Hurt Locker, with that fantastic cereal-aisle scene. We felt equally bewildered by the simple necessity of buying our son a cell phone. Prepaid versions it turns out don't work at the academy due to some fluke in which the companies don't rent that tower for that service or something. That means a 2-year contract . . . as we were trying to sort all this out we could tell that we didn't know what we were doing, and this was small comfort to the child involved. We also messed up communication about Thanksgiving break and airline tickets, another unexpected steep learning curve where information is not very forthcoming from the academy and we aren't on top of it all. Being around too many other parents always makes me feel like we are behind the curve. Then there is the whole unexplored territory of relating to your kids as adults, of their character and emotional state and potential relationships, their friends. Of all the things we don't hear or know anymore, because we aren't around. It can feel like a lot to learn.
Thankfully a very nice Sprint guy explained the whole cell phone contract in ways we could understand, like an unexpected angel. Luke worked out Caleb's travel. Others keep offering help. We've had three great days with Caleb at the Grahams, with their comfortable, private basement apartment allowing him to just relax, sleep late, do homework, skype friends, and not be under the constant pressure of the USAFA. We heard about some of the myriad of opportunities and the things that draw his heart and imagination, and came away with even greater peace that he listened to God's call and is in the place that is right for him. We had a great time with Luke before that, meeting his friends, and giving him what he called the "perfect start to Junior year". He is also in the right place. Little moments of grace, of food, of hugs, of asking questions, listening.
And mostly of seeing with a degree of awe what people these sleepless/ sleepy babies turn into. I think at this moment that's the thesis for the degree: discerning what unique gifts have been instilled in each child, and cheering for them along the way loudly enough that they have the courage to step out, to become their own person, to choose hard directions, to march to their own beat. Hoping that they stand confidently upon the love, that all our mistakes do not obscure the fundamental truth that they are particularly and absolutely loved.