In the Zone

June 4, 2008 at 4:01 pm 11 comments

This post is part of this weeks Hump Day Hmms.  Click over to read more about what others are saying about comfort zones.

Last Thursday night I went to a Moms Night Out for my kids’ school.  It took me an hour to figure out what to wear before I left.  It was not going well.  In a moment of pure insanity, I even tried on a pair of maternity jeans I had set out for a friend who is expecting.  While admiring the boot cut fit, I schemed about a shirt that would actually cover the elastic band around my waist.  Then I imagined bending over at the party and showing off my secret to neatly dressed, put together women and I peeled off the jeans and chucked them across the room. 

Going to the party was definitely out of my comfort zone.  

Which begs the question:  where is my comfort zone?

And the answer:  I have no idea.  I have not been comfortable for years.

There have been many changes in my life in the last six years.  Sometimes I liken myself to having gone through menopause several times. 

First we moved to Kiev, Ukraine.  Elaina was 2 1/2 and Zoya was 9 months old.  For two years my husband helped out with a church plant in another part of town while buying groceries, paying bills and looking after his little foreign family.  I studied the Russian language full time and learned to walk to the Metro station looking down at my feet.  Things that came easy to me, American mannerisms like smiling at strangers, wearing your shoes in the house and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese were boxed up and left in my mom’s attic over the garage in Michigan.

Time went on.  I tucked comfort around my children in our little seventies style apartment like a warm fleece blanket the only way I could think of.  I mixed our new culture with the old, pouring the American Happy Birthday song in with the custom of not wrapping birthday gifts in Ukraine.  We dressed the girls up in costumes for New Year’s Day and pretended it was Christmas.  I found the only store in Kiev that sold Lasagna noodles.

Everything I did in Ukraine was uncomfortable, until one day it wasn’t, and I was able to conjugate the verb ‘to buy’ in Russian’s past, present and future tenses.  After three years there I noticed friendly faces around me, offering to show me how to make a warm compress for my daughter’s cold instead of reaching for Tylenol.  We were part of a church that was growing closer to one another and to God, and my oldest daughter was learning addition and subtraction in her Ukrainian preschool.

I almost felt comfortable.  So we decided to try for our third child.

God blessed our efforts and along came Polly.  She was born there in Ukraine, three weeks early, in a private hospital that looked a lot like our western hotels.  After her birth I had to learn a new language.  I had to find out how to speak special needs; words like Down syndrome, IEP, therapy, hypotonia.

We landed (twenty days overseas in the NICU, packing our lives up once again, saying goodbye to our church) in Michigan and attempted to find comfort in our new surroundings once again.

I thought that moving back to the States would be easy.  I already spoke the language here.  Only, my time overseas changed me.  A large part of me identified with Ukraine.  I was out of place in church.  The music was loud.  There were too many faces.  Every thing was so big and people had a lot of stuff.    I came home from Zoya’s preschool round-up drenched in sweat.  I remember standing in the school supplies aisle at Walmart, overwhelmed by the variety of paper and pens and lunch boxes.   

And then last summer, we moved again, from Michigan to Chicago, from rural to urban, from middle class to upper class, from being average church goers to my husband pastoring a church.

And once again I am out of my comfort zone.

So, you see, there really is no such thing as small talk in my life.  Which is why I dreaded the Mom’s Night Out last week.  My small talk either gets big quickly or it gets quiet.  Simple questions like, “where did you live before you moved here?” or “what does your husband do for a living?” or the ever present, “tell me a little bit about your kids?” do not have simple small talk answers. 

After I found an outfit that fit, the party last week wasn’t that bad.  I made small talk.  The questions came up and I answered shortly, “we lived in Ukraine,” “my husband is a minister,” “I have three girls; seven, six, and two.”

My life has changed so much and so quickly, at times it’s like watching a three ringed circus.  I have the poles and the plates, I am just having a hard time getting them all to spin at once.

In the midst of all these changes, I am finding that comfort is not really the point. 

I speak different languages; special needs, English, Russian, Christian, urban, rural.  And every language molds me a bit more into who I am to become. 

I guess I am learning to speak small talk here in Chicago as well and to be OK with it.

That, in and of itself, brings me a bit of comfort.


Entry filed under: Birthdays, Blessings, Chicago, Christianity, Church, Culture differences, Down syndrome, Elaina, Family, Friends, NICU, Polly, Preschool, Russian, Shopping, Special Needs, Therapy, Ukraine.

No Problem, Mom! What would you do with three hours?

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. melissaz  |  June 4, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    I can see why you say none of your talk would be “small”.

    And I think you are right about comfort not really being the point. Life is what it is, and you have to live it, whether or not it is in your zone.

  • 2. joannmski  |  June 4, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    What a lot of change you have been through! This exciting life.

    I am glad you got comfortable. I am too shy to go to mom mixers.

  • 3. anniegirl1138  |  June 4, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    I can’t small talk either. When I do, I run out of steam or active interest very quickly. Personally, I like “big” talk.

  • 4. Florinda  |  June 4, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    I’m not comfortable with small talk among strangers either, and it’s comforting to know it’s not just me. Great post.

  • 5. Gwen  |  June 4, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    Is there a person comfortable with small talk? This is what I tell myself at times, like today, at a school event, where I felt the same awkward way I always do. It’s easy to assume that everyone else is feeling just fine, but if I look closely, I realize most of them are as lost as me.

    I’m a missionary kid (living in a Chicago suburb, oh the irony!), so I understand all the dislocations that living overseas and coming back can bring.

  • 6. noelle  |  June 4, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    Proud of you! Comfort is not always what is cracked up to be–I love that you are not allowing yourself to stay in your “zone” but growing and opening up to more. If we were all honest–none of us like “get to know mixers” but with out them we would all remain strangers. Considering all that you have been through–I think God is doing a great Work in and with you.

    Proud of you!!

  • 7. Julie Pippert  |  June 5, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    What an incredible answer to the topic—how language connects and disconnects us from comfort to discomfort.

    Your story and writing are incredible in this post. It reminds me of something I noticed by high school: I always ended up making friends with the Elsewhere people. It’s because we had all been pulled from or stepped out of our comfort zone, and once your horizons are broadened, there is no going back. It doesn’t mean the other people weren’t great, but when it came to truly relating, it seemed easier with Elsewheres.

    I think you talk as you talk, even if that means it is big, and in that bunch or somewhere is likely to be someone who appreciates that and joins you. I don’t think you need to limit yourself to small. Sometimes, all it takes is someone who has been outside the box to pull down the edges and others eagerly crawl out. It doesn’t have to be overdone, just done, sometimes.

    You’ve had a lot of experience and adventure, so glad you shared it!

  • 8. ukrainemom  |  June 5, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Julie, thank you! You bring up an excellent point. Usually when I do talk big talk with people, there is always someone who joins in. And we experience a deeper communication, hence a better connection.

    Great reminder!

  • 9. jooleebrooks  |  June 5, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    you got the written language down pat.

  • 10. TheRamblingHousewife  |  June 6, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    Great post.

    You’re really doing such a great job on this Hump Day Hmms. . . .

    I’m enjoying the series.

    So perceptive.

  • 11. amyeg  |  June 11, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    I really like this post. I hated small talk for a long time, then I became a bartender and had to learn it. 🙂 Now I’m a really good small talker… the secret is to leave a lot out and lie a little to fill in gaps. Like, “Oh, I think I know where that is,” that’s a lie, or, “Yeah I went to that school but I transferred,” which is so general as to convey nearly nothing. Haha. I guess that’s how I roll.

    Sorry to be so flippant. In life. 🙂 Love the post. Hope to see you tonight.


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