Apr 24, 2010

Back Home: At the School

The Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School--going and growing strong. In this photo, interim principal Amy Foote (right) and a student lead the school in worship.

The School. In Saipan, it was more than just a job. It was very much the focal point of our lives--after all, without the school, we wouldn't have been in Saipan to begin with, and likely would not have stayed as long as we did. We occasionally talked about finding work elsewhere on Saipan, but never seriously considered it. The school was our mission, our heart, our passion.

So when we returned home, returning to the school was a given. Of course, I was there as the week of prayer speaker, but I also wanted to help out the school in other ways too. I taught at least one class each day so that the teachers could have a break, and helped Amy with a REAL Christian Theater task or two. But perhaps even more than me, the return to the school loomed especially large for Babs. Whatever the school meant to me, it meant even more to her. She arrived ready and eager to help out in any way she could. She also taught classes for a couple of the teachers and worked for hours every morning sorting through old files she never got a chance to organize before we moved away. She spent time with the school leadership--Amy, Angie, and Virle--getting caught up in the latest administrative news. Of course both of us were thrilled to see all our former students--they'd all grown so much in the short nine months since we left!

Babs with one of our former students.

Familiar Faces

We have long believed that the Saipan SDA School is God's school. Once we came to fully embrace that truth, it enabled us to give our all to the school without the pressure and disappointment that comes from believing that our all must be enough. No matter what challenges the school faced--budget shortfalls, staffing needs, or expansion plans--we knew that in the end it was in God's hands. So, leaving Saipan, though difficult, was easier because we knew that the school was not dependent on us for success. It was rewarding to see that faith in God's care had been confirmed when we returned.

It had been an extraordinarily dark season for the school in the first half of the year. For starters more than one attempt at hiring Babs' replacement had fallen through. When the school year began last August Saipan SDA School still had no permanent principal. Amy Foote, the preschool director stepped up as the interim principal, and immediately found herself saddled with crisises that would have made the most seasoned veteran shudder. There were the usual challenges--enrollment, budget, staffing, parent and student issues (perhaps magnified a bit as the school culture so long defined by "the Maycocks" was now in flux). But there were bigger issues too. Saipan's immigration was "federalized" that fall, raising questions about whether, how long, and at what cost the school's Filipino employees would be able to stay in Saipan. There was a steady and aggravating chorus of complaints coming from a small group of church members and leadership about this school policy and that school activity. And then there were the multiple burgalaries of the teacher's homes and pre-school campus, an assault on one of the teachers, and the subsequent departure of three traumatized teachers at the Christmas break. On top of all this, Amy had the unimaginable personal stress of knowing that her father was facing an uphill battle with an aggressive form of cancer back home in the States. Amy had to run a school under duress, all the while knowing that she could be called away literally at any moment to her dad's bedside.

Still through all of this God preserved His school and His children serving him there. Every time I talked to Amy last fall, I was moved by her faith. I could tell she was leaning on God and He was holding her up. Even in the midst of darkness there were sparkles of light, reminders of God's presence and provision. First of all, Angie Perez who had taught kindergarten last year and decided late last school year not to return for another school year--changed her mind and came back as the school's PR director. She turned out to be a trusted advisor to Amy, a good friend, and her roommate (which in itself was perhaps a miracle as they had clashed several times the year before; most of us would never have predicted that they would choose to work and live so closely--or that they would do so so successfully!). Another blessing was the return of two of the five student missionary teachers--Cyndi Rearrick and Sharla Schroeder--after the Christmas break. Despite their own traumatic memories, they decided to come back and soldier own for the sake of the school and for the sake of their kids. I couldn't fault the others for leaving given what they'd all been through, but that only made Cyndi and Sharla's decision more remarkable and inspirational. Further God brought more reinforcements in three more teachers. Fresh for the fight and brimming with energy, Sacha, Troy, and Jacob were a shot in the arm for Saipan SDA's beleagured team. And there was more light on the horizon: the school finally found a permanent principal. Mike Berglund, an experienced educator from the American midwest, agreed to take the job starting in the 2010-2011 school year. (By the way, if that last name sounds familiar, that's because Mike's brother Matt is married to Jenny, Barbara's sister! So in a sense you could say Saipan SDA School is still "in the family.")

One of the new student missionary teachers, Troy, on the left, and one of the ones who stuck it out after last fall's traumatic events, Sharla, on the right.

I had to get this photo of former, current, and future principals of the Saipan SDA School--from left, Babs, principal from 2002 to 2009, Amy principal from 2009 to present, and Mike Berglund who will inherit the post this July. Having these three in the same room reminded me of those gatherings of the former presidents of the United States at major events of state. Imagine if these three could be joined by Evan Hendrix, Steve Namkung, Glenn Bentjen, and Ron Abrams! The stories they all could tell!

The school continued to move forward. The more difficult critics of the school seemed to be appeased for the most part and the volley of complaints seemed to slacken. The usual influx of Korean ESL students for the school's Winter ESL program arrived, and from all reports developed some really great friendships with the regular students. The annual Managaha campout happened without incident--another weekend of warm memories for the school family, I'm sure.

All the while, Amy's dad faced both setbacks and strides forward in his battle with cancer, but by God's grace, stayed healthy enough that Amy felt she could keep her hands on the wheel in Saipan for the time being.

By the time we arrived, the darkest days seemed to be past. In most respects, the school is humming along and there is excitement for the future. The school has just inherited it's own bus--a gift from a local businessman whose children attend the school. The school board has unveiled a three phase plan for expanding the school expansion, with the possiblity of making the expansion happen right around the schools' current location. The first phase which features some impressive plant improvements to the current elementary campus is set to begin this summer. In other good news, Saipan SDA School already has a virtually complete staff roster for next year. In addition to Mike and his wife and daughter, the school will welcome the Holy Grail of staff recruitment--a married couple! Babs was always looking for married couples, like the Knowltons of old, to serve in Saipan, and only rarely found them. But next school year, the Odiyars (that would be Mai-Rhea's brother and his wife) will join the Saipan SDA School team! God is good.

So, our return to the school was full of blessing and encouragement. Of course, nothing is ever perfect, and there are and will continue to be challenges for the school--but I'm not worried. After all, as much as it still feels like the school is ours, it's not and never has been. The school is His and He will keep it.

The new school bus courtesy of Big Boyz Marine Sports.

Apr 19, 2010

Back Home: Under the Sea

Ready to dive! Lau Lau Bay, Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010.

Our friend Mike Stafford took a great series of photos of our dive on Sunday, April 4. He managed to cover the entire dive from beginning to end, which is great because now I can take all my non-diving readers on a dive with me!

Ken and I wading out to our point of entry.

Getting ready to go under. At this point I was probably putting my fins on.

Divers Down! This is Ken and I just after we went under. There's a rope that anchors here that we use to find our way in and out of the entry point. We were maybe 15 feet below the surface here.

Heading off to explore.

Look at all the beautiful corals!

Cruising along. As you descend it is important to keep clearing your ears, otherwise you can suffer excruciating pain from the unequalized air pressure as you try to go deeper (think of how your ears won't "pop" when you fly--it's like that except a hundred times worse). One way to clear your ears is by pinching your nose and blowing gently-that's what you see me doing in this photo. I did have some ear issues on this dive but they all cleared up after a bit.

One of the many gorgeous fish we saw on this dive. There seemed to more varieties of colorful fish than usual on this dive.

Paddling and Hovering: One of the biggest challenges I have as a scuba diver is how quickly I consume air. This picture shows why this is a problem for me. On the right, you see Ken hovering effortlessly. On the left, you see me paddling away to keep from sinking--you can tell by my feet. All that paddling makes me breathe harder and thus use more air. Ken and other dive buddies have told me I need to try to get neutrally bouyant so I won't use up so much air, but I didn't realize how much it really was this paddling that was causing the problem until I watched one of Mike's videos from this dive and realized how hard I work at staying bouyant. It's a challenge for me, because even with only four pounds of weight, I sink like a stone.

Checking out a clownfish.

Suspended in deep blue. I love this photo.

This fish looked completly gargantuan when we first spotted it.

The fish seemed to get smaller as we got closer, but as you can see it's still pretty big!

Another big fish.

Back on land.

The drive home. That's Managaha Island in the distance.

Enjoying a fresh coconut post-dive back at the Piersons. From L to R, Me, Tasi the dog, Crystal, Ken's Mom Gloria, and baby Shylah getting some love from Daddy Ken.

Apr 18, 2010

Back Home: What We Love Most About Saipan

Loved Ones

Everyone came out to the airport again when we left Saturday evening, April 10, 2010.

Saipan has gorgeous white-sand beaches. It's got perfect weather year-round, spectacular views of land and sea. While the economy may leave much to be desired, the laid-back quality of life can't be beat. Yet, you can find beaches, great weather and views and the good life at any one of dozens of tropical paradises from the Caribbean to the South Pacific (and a lot of them will likely have better paint jobs to boot). That's not why we were sad to leave Saipan, and it's not why we went back.

From the moment we started planning to return, the motivation was the people. The kids at our old school, of course, who we were returning to minister to. But also colleagues, church members, and others in the community who we counted as dear friends. These people more than all the tropical trappings have made Saipan dear to us.

That priority really informed our trip. Rather than pack our schedule with multiple must-sees to various island sites, we kept our itinerary light. The mornings were devoted to the school--four week of prayer talks each day(two at the elementary for the younger and older students, two at the preschool), giving the teachers a break and teaching a class for them, helping out around the school office. The afternoons and evenings were primarily for the people. We did a few classic Saipan activities--I went diving, Babs got a massage, we both went to the Mandi. But there were many island highlights we decided to forgo--Mt. Tapochau, P.I.C., pretty much all of the northern end of the island--to make room for the people.

Of course we got to spend tons of time with our former colleagues Amy Foote and Angie Perez--we were staying in their house! Amy is the interim principal of the school, and Angie does public relations for the school. They were kind, generous, and patient hosts and tolerated our rather messy invasion of their home graciously. They always took time to play with the Feller and we enjoyed spending time with them. But there were so many others to see in our short time on Saipan.

Herewith, an overview of our wonderful week in Saipan, as defined by the people we spent time with:

Sabbath, April 3, 2010--Church Family, Piersons, and Lacortes

Our first day in Saipan, a Sabbath, dawned beautiful and bright. We made it to Sabbath School and church where we saw a lot of our beloved church family. It was nice to drop in on the English language Sabbath School class in the clinic lobby and to chat with friends before the main service. I spoke for church, and I was amazed by how small our church seemed compared to the huge Ephesus SDA Church we've grown used to. I could see each face in the congregation and recognized almost every one.

After church we enjoyed a delicious Sabbath lunch at the Piersons. We went home for a little jet-lag recovery nap, before going over to the Lacorte's for a classic Saturday night of karaoke! Unfortunately, I was still a bit worn out from the jet lag and only sang one song, my signature number "Heartbreak Hotel." I also failed to take many pictures that night. Still it was a fun time with the Lacorte family.

The Maycocks and Piersons including the newest additions, Elijah and Shylah. Sabbath, April 3, 2010

At the Lacorte house Saturday night for food, fun, and karaoke! Incidentally, the man in the blue cap flipping through the songbook is Mike Berglund flipping, the new principal of the Saipan SDA School. He'll be moving out to Saipan with his family this summer. He's a great guy (and a solid karaoke belter too) and I know he'll do a great job! Of course we love that his brother is married to Barbara's sister! It makes us feel like the school is still "in the family" so to speak.

Sunday, April 4, 2010--Mike Stafford & the Piersons, Virle & Joeie, Jessica Lee (via Skype)
Easter Sunday was a relatively quiet day. I got up early to go diving with Ken and Mike at Lau Lau Bay. It was a great dive and we saw a lot of fish (see upcoming blog for pictures). After the dive we returned to the clinic housing compound where we socialized with Crystal, Ken's Mom, and Shylah before Ken dropped me off back at the teacher's housing. Babs, the Feller, and I had a nice lunch at Coffee Care and then Barbara shopped while Elijah slept and I worked on my classwork for my Master's degree. When the Feller woke up we went over to visit with Virle and Joeie. While there, Jessica Lee called up on Skype and we chatted with her for awhile. When Barbara returned, the three of us went out again for a little while, but turned in early.

Monday, April 5, 2010--Dr. Ada, "Little Sister" and the Lacorte girls, REAL Christian Theater
I didn't see Dr. Ada, but the Feller and Babs did when they took him into see her. He'd developed a pretty bad cough on the flight over and we wanted to be sure it wasn't serious. I remained at the school presenting my first week of prayer talk. "Little Sister," Feller, and I had lunch at Spicy Thai before I took him home for his nap. In the late afternoon, we went to the beach for a little bit with "Little Sister", "J", and "Ji" before going to REAL rehearsal.

The Little Feller with his first doctor, Dr. Ada. It was a happy visit especially since it turned out his cough wasn't serious.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010--The Piersons, the Sawyers, Lorraine Pinaula

Tuesday evening we went out with our "Stepchildren", the people from our Marriage Encounter "Steps Along the Journey." We had a great time catching up at a new restaurant in Garapan called Shennanigans. The only person missing was Scott, Lorraine's husband who is still in Guam.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010--The Staffords, the Sawyers, Girlie, Edna and the Bible Study Group.
Wednesday afternoon after our school duties and the Feller's nap we spent some time catching up with Andrea Stafford and the kids. Our boy had a blast finding mangos and tropical flowers in the Stafford's fenced in backyard with the Stafford kids. Not long before sunset, we left the Staffords and drove to the beach where we met up with Mark Sawyer. Mark and I did the tank swim together, while Babs stayed with the Feller in the shallows. Eventually, Brittany showed up as well to socialize with them until we got back from our swim. Mark and Brittany are expecting their first little one in just a few weeks!

That evening after our son was in bed, I went over to Girlie and Edna's apartment (right next door in what used to be the pastor's house) and helped some of the SDA school students make peach cobbler for their hot lunch the next day. While the cobbler bubbled in the oven we had a little Bible study just like the ones we used to have last year.

Mark and Brittany Sawyer at the beach. Wednesday, April 7, 2010.

Thursday, April 8, 2010--The Quinns: Russ, Kanae, and Harley
By Thursday, we were beginning to feel the time crunch as our brief time on Saipan began to wind down. Some of the things we'd hoped to do weren't going to get done, and some of the people we'd hoped to see like former student Mei Yan Jin and good friends Rex and Clarie Kosack we were going to miss. Babs and I had originally planned to take our son to the SDA Child Development Center in the afternoon and spend some time at the Mandi. In the end, Babs went ahead to the Mandi while I stayed back at the house with the Feller while he napped. We decided it was important to try to keep his schedule as consistent as possible, as the combination of jet lag and a constant barrage of unremembered people and places was already making him a little more anxious and fussy than usual. When he woke up, I took him to the elementary school where he stayed with "Little Sister", Angie, and new friend, student missionary Cyndi Rearick. I zipped up north to the Mandi and got in about an hour of luxury before we rushed back to the school to pick up the Feller and head over to the Quinns for supper.

It was great to see the Quinns again. The Feller warmed right up to Russ and Kanae, and especially their dog, Harley, who was about as energetic as he was was. I was a little worried about him tearing through their house in the manner he usually does these days, but to my relief the Quinns were very understanding. Harley's tendency to run around, get into things, and make a mess were about the same as the Feller's so the Quinns were used to it already when we arrived! We spent a good portion of the evening chasing our little ones around and warning them away from things. For their perspective on our get-together and some more photos check out their blog here.

On the Quinn's patio with the two little ones.

Russ is great with kids!

Russ and Kanae with the Feller.

Friday, April 9, 2010--The Kids, Virle and Joeie, the Staffords, Megan, and SDA teachers
Friday after the week of prayer meetings were done was a mad rush in a packed car to make the ferry to Managaha. We took a group of our former students, "Little Sister" and "Luke" who were making the most of their remaining time in Saipan too, plus "J", "Ji", "Luke's" friend, and another student, to our favorite piece of island paradise for a couple of hours. We had a pizza lunch under a tree on the beach and then spent some time lolling in the warm water and playing in the sand. It was a perfect afternoon, and I think we all wished it could have lasted longer.

But we were on the three o' clock ferry and back to Saipan, where we raced around doing some last minute souvenir shopping before heading over to the Staffords for sundown worship and a haystack supper. The wonderful feeling of family we had that Friday night inspired me to want to start something similar on Friday nights at our house here in America. It occured to me that there was no reason that we couldn't create a little bit of island-style community in the American midwest. It will be tough with a toddler's bedtime schedule, but I really want to make it happen.

Me with the kids at Managaha. Friday, April 9, 2010

Babs with the kids on the ferry ride back from Managaha.

The Stafford Family.

Here's a video from the Friday night haystack and vespers gathering at the Staffords. Included as a bonus--my debut as a guitar player. Listen closely and you'll hear me playing a halting version of "Father, I Adore You." It's nothing noteworthy, but I still felt pretty proud of myself!

Sabbath, April 10, 2010--Church Family, School Family, Former Students, Ricardo and Gina Rankin and kids, John Moreno, Paulo Restauro and his son.

Our last day in Saipan. The time had gone by too quickly and all of us were feeling the first ache of sadness at leaving all our friends again so soon. The one source of solace was the plans we were already hatching for our next visit--either next summer or the one following is the tenative plan.

Still, we needed a little bit of guidance in prioritizing our time. While our first Sabbath was relaxing and peaceful as Sabbath should be, our last Sabbath was beginning on a stressful and strained note. The time had gotten away from us and we found ourselves faced with a decision. I wanted to Coffee Care one more time, for breakfast, while Babs had wanted to stay at home to eat and then go to Sabbath School (she, after all had been to Coffee Care three times already that week with various Saipan friends while I'd only been once). We vacilliated back and forth trying to decide what to do. When we got in the car it was already close to 9:30 and I knew that if we went ahead with our plan to go to Coffee Care we would be late for Sabbath School. Babs and I debated in the car as we drove. Should we try to go to Coffee Care anyway and be late for Sabbath School? Should we try to eat somewhere else, or just turn around and go back to Amy's house and eat there (in which case we'd still be late for Sabbath School). After all ,the Feller hadn't eaten either and we couldn't very well let our little boy go without his breakfast could we? We didn't know what to do.

And then a still, small voice spoke:

"Church," it said.

No, it wasn't God (or maybe it was.. . .). It was our son. "Church!" he cried again with more determination this time. "Church!" The Feller was demanding that he be taken to church, breakfast or no breakfast. At first we chalked it up to a cute coincidence, but he kept up a steady litany of demands for church as we cruised along Beach Road. "He wants to go to church," I shrugged to Babs as I turned on to Quartermaster Road towards the church. Babs was exasperated, I was hungry, and yet both of us felt like maybe we ought to listen to our son (and readers who have already been frowning at the fact that we were even considering going out to eat on Sabbath are probably now nodding your heads in vindication). We pulled into the church potluck still debating whether we should go get something to eat. At this point, perhaps sensing our continuing vacillation, the Feller began to cry, insisting, "Church, church!" What were we going to do? The boy wanted to go to church.

And so we went to church. The Feller was happy and so were we. It was so restful to sit in the sanctuary for the simple Sabbath School program, to chat with some of our friends who we might not have otherwise seen, and to attend the cradle roll class with our son. This is what we had truly needed--food for the soul rather than belly. I guess the Feller knew! Out of the mouths of babes indeed. . .

Babs and I with Eric and Yvette Mahinay after Sabbath School, April 10, 2010. They are expecting their third child!

Babs and I with Myla's mom, Linda Capilitan after Sabbath School.

After Sabbath School, we drove back over to the school where some of the school staff were hosting a Youth Church service; I was scheduled to preach. God continued to lavish His blessings on us there. The song service was uplifting and worshipful. I was moved almost to tears during our theme song, "Mighty to Save", not just by the powerful lyrics and moving melody but by the people that walked into the little school cafeteria as we sang. It seemed in an abundant show of grace, God was bringing all kinds of people I'd thought we'd missed in to join us in worship that morning. Eric Mahinay, who I'd only seen briefly when I stopped in at the Hardt Eye Clinic during the week, Paulo Restauro and his little boy who is only a month and a half older than our son, Ricardo Rankin and his children--we've known Ricardo and his wife Gina since we first moved to Saipan in the late ninties. They live on Tinian now and I had not expected to see them at all. John Moreno was there as well as the Beachcomber. Several of our former students now in high school were there too. As I got up to speak that morning I felt full with the goodness of God.

Two pals reunited--they're only six weeks apart in age, and have shared a lot of milestones. They even shared their baby shower. (Here's an interesting coincidence: Our son has the exact same shirt as Paulo's boy is wearing!)

Awww. . .

Babs with an SDA School parent and her daughter. The parent, Michelle, came to the Youth Church service just to see Babs!

After the service we went back to the church for potluck where we continued to enjoy the fellowship of our church family. After that, it was back to Amy's house for the Feller's nap. Which brought me to perhaps the only low point in an otherwise mountain high trip. I packed up my bags fairly quickly and when the Feller awoke, I found us quite suddenly at loose ends. Babs was still packing, and the two of us were wandering the compound yard--one of the Feller's favorite activities that week was to "Walk!" and "Pet! Dog!" He always wanted to be outside with Kimo, Amy's dog Geisha, and Jesco. And so I followed him around as he happily trotted after the dogs, and I felt suddenly alone. With only hours left till we'd fly away once again, I was left without what had come to be the centerpiece of our return home--people. Virle, Joeie, and Angie were at branch Sabbath School. Amy was out at the Grotto with JohnMo, "Little Sister", "J", and the rest. I thought about trying to meet up with them, but couldn't reach Amy on her cell--not surprising as reception is typically poor at the north end of the island.

And so the precious minutes ticked by--just me and my son on a beautiful, tropical Sabbath afternoon. Which wasn't really so bad--I just regretted that I'd missed time with people that I might not see again for a long time.

Our family and Virle with the Wabol clan. It was so great to see them!

Babs and the Feller with Venus, the Feller's first babysitter at the church potluck, Sabbath, April 10, 2010.

Eventually, Virle and company returned from Branch Sabbath school and we hung out with them for awhile. Myla and Derek came by to take pictures with their son and ours. It turned out to be a pleasant afternoon and evening. We gathered at Spicy Thai for one Last Saipan Supper and then drove to the airport.

Late Sabbath afteroon, April 10, 2010, the Feller hangs with Myla's son, who is about a year older than him.

One of our former SDA school students. Her parents own the best Thai food joint in the world, Spicy Thai. She goes to another school now, but we still claim her. Once an SDA student, always an SDA student!

Three of these girls read a "last chance to see the Maycocks" status update I posted on Facebook about an hour before we went to the airport and rushed over to see us for a few minutes before we left. All three are former students of ours that now attend other schools.

This time there was no Long Walk. I rejoiced that there were no leis draped around our necks this time. You give leis to those who are going away for good, not those who will be back soon. And indeed, we hope to visit our island home and the people we love again soon. We've mused over the idea of reversing our old pattern. In the past we lived in Saipan but visited the States once a year. Perhaps, God-willing, we might be able to turn that around--living in the States but going home once a year. Of course we also know that, Saipan being the transient place that it is, whenever we next return, some of the people who are there now won't be there anymore. As the years pass our connection to Saipan--the people--will grow more and more tenuous. It is the nature of life in this world. Our connections are brief and fleeting--we take them for granted and then before we know it they are gone.

It makes me homesick for the only place where we'll ever really be Home--a place that is defined not by it's golden streets or sea of glass but by the people that will be there, especially the One who created us all. There will be no more goodbyes and we will spend eternity in joyous fellowship. Saipan is nice and all--but that. . .that's Paradise.

Apr 17, 2010

Back Home: The Reunion Surprise

Thanks to Renato Espanola for posting this on youtube. This captures our arrival--call it the "Short Walk" if you will. It also includes the heartwarming reunion of two best friends-- "Little Sister" surprised "J" who just celebrated her 16th birthday a week earlier, with perhaps the best birthday present she received this year. The primary focus is Renato's son and his friend but you'll see a lot of us, especially in the first three and a half minutes.

Back Home: The Whole Family

The family on the day we left Saipan, July 5, 2009

The family nine months later, just before we left Saipan again, April 10,2010.

Apr 16, 2010

Going Back Home: The Marathon

The Feller, looking a little shellshocked upon his arrival in Saipan, after a marathon of travel.

The metaphor first occured to me during our initial descent into Honolulu. We'd been in the air for almost eight hours, and traveling for more than twelve hours.

"Okay, we're just over half way there and it seems like so much more distance to cover," I mused to myself, and instantly noticed the familiarity of that sentiment. I'd felt this way before, I realized--right around the 14th mile of the San Franscisco Marathon last summer. So much distance covered. So much more to go.

Our flight back home to Saipan (and back home to Ohio) had much in common with a grueling marathon. It was an exercise in mind over matter, in not dwelling on how far the finish line was. It was about enduring in the face of overwhelming exhaustion and physical exertion. One big difference was that on this long-haul journey, we were more likely to get dirty looks, than cheers of encouragment. Of course we'd made this trip over twenty times already, four of which included the Feller. When we left Saipan last summer the flight was relatively easy, but in the intervening nine months the Feller learned to walk (and run), learned to talk (and voice his opinions) and this added up to a much more demanding trip this time around.

In truth, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. We didn't have to deal with hours of nonstop screaming, ear issues, or anything like that. He did have momements where he wanted to walk, and I chased him up and down the aisles until the flight attendants told us to sit down. And there was the one time that Babs rushed off to the bathroom, and he flipped out for a bit, screaming for "Mock" (what he calls his mother. I'm "Dack" for "Dad") relentlessly until she returned. That episode earned us some glowering scowls from some of the passengers around us. In general, most of the passengers who were unfortunate enough to be in our vicinity were patient and gracious. They ignored his vigourous kicking of their seats, the slamming up and down of the meal trays, his attempts to lean over the seats and grab at their hair.

For someone who has almost been obsessive about not being a bother to others (I don't even like to ask my meal to changed if they get something wrong at restuarant), having a son on the cusp of the Terrible Twos is a character-building experience.

A few things helped us endure. On the second long leg of our trip, the flight wasn't full and we were able to spread out to three seats instead of two. Also there was no one sitting in front of us, so the Feller was able to kick the seatback as much as he liked. The second leg of the flight from Honolulu to Guam was much easier for all of us. Another blessing was having our friend Carol's kids traveling with us. "Little Sister" and "Luke" were more than happy to take our son for awhile several times during the flgiht, giving us precious time to rest and recuperate.

Twenty-five hours after we took off, we finally landed on Saipan. All three of us were wiped out. Our son was rather discombobulated by the enthusiastic welcome from all his Saipan friends--though they'd known him most of his life, he couldn't remember any of them. Still, just as in the marathon, the finish line was worth it. One extra special treat was being able to surprise "J" with a belated 16th birthday gift--her best friend "Little Sister" who hadn't told anyone that she was coming. It was such a joy to see those two so excited to see eachother, as it was to witness the reunion of "Luke" and his best friend. That alone made the travail of our journey worth it.

Though even then I couldn't help thinking one disheartening thought: "Man, in a week we're going to have to do this all over again."