And for once I was SuperMom

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Not so Great Expectations

“There are two basic types of expectant mothers: The Nervous Expectant Mother and the Smug Expectant Mother. The NEM has no idea what motherhood will be like, and she fears the worst. The SEM, on the other hand, tells everyone how long she plans to be in labor and insists to all who will listen, ‘There’s no need for the baby to interrupt our lifestyle. He’ll just have to fit into our schedule.’
“Although the SEM is undoubtedly more at ease during her pregnancy, on the whole the NEM is the better off of the two. When her baby is born, she usually discovers that things aren’t as hard as she expected them to be, and she relaxes as she gets to know her baby. On the other hand, there’s nothing like the devastation experienced by the SEM who has just had the run pulled out from under her and all her grand expectations.”
Hah! For once in my life my anxiety ridden and expect the worst attitude has and will serve me well. I am the NEM. I am the youngest in my family so I never diapered my two older brothers. I baby-sat a fair amount, rarely for actual babies. And usually hated it.
I have two good friends that now have nine month old babies. I look at their sweet faced children that are so calm, and cute and think this won’t be so bad. Then one of them tells me that she hasn’t gotten a full night’s sleep in nine months and you can hear the edge in her voice that dances on the crazy. Then I spend the evening with the other friend and her family and her astonishingly beautiful baby girl proceeds to burst into screams and tears for the whole evening for no apparent reason. Then I rest my hand on my swollen belly wherein lies my child ( who has taken to sucker-punching me in the bladder) and I think, “what have we done?”
I have looked at pregnancy as a liminal stage that is very similar to being engaged. You’re nervous, you have butterflies, you cry for no apparent reason, the two of you fight for no apparent reason, you get cold feet, then those feet get pretty hot…hmmm, I think that’s how I got in this mess. Cold feet in pregnancy are different because it’s a much more permanent process than a diamond and a non-returnable dress. (Which I think they do just to freak you out. I remember taking deep breathes when I put that credit card down.) When you look at marriage, if you are truly in love with that man, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. Companionship, security, someone to share the workload, sex, all these are great things. I have never once had to clean up Scott’s urine, vomit, or poop. He has never kept me up all night with screaming and crying. He has never thrown the dinner I just made onto the floor. He has never thrown a toy at my head. I have never had to threaten to “pull over” if he doesn’t stop whining.
While we were engaged he never gave me heartburn three times in one day that was so fiery I wanted to just give up. To this day he has never once given me gas so bad that I gave up on the day and went to bed. Our fights have made me cry, he has frustrated me to the point of tears. My decisions have to take him into account. I often structure days and make choices to do things for him. Big decisions aren’t made without him. And at the end of the day I love him so much I wonder if I’ve gone batty. How can I spend an entire week with a person and then miss him when he walks out the door?
Here’s where I think my Eeyore attitude benefits me. I mostly only see the sleepless nights, excess noise, and potential permanent detriment to my body. I’m too realistic to go into my doctor and demand a birth with no medical interventions. I know what I would like, and I know that I am physically and mentally strong, but I know that life often has other plans. I know that I watch other parents and think, “I will never..” Then another part of my brain goes, “I wonder what will make me eat my words…”
There’s another part of me that knows that I will be okay on some level because of how I know I would feel if this baby came out less than perfect. Or if she didn’t make it at all. Even though she jabs me I still want her. And I cry at diaper ads.
So who is this little person that is wreaking havoc with my insides? It’s hard to believe what people tell me, that I will love this person more than my own life. We keep doing it though, we keep falling in love and having babies. My mother told me her birth stories and each ended with, “who knew that the love of my life would be short, fat, and bald.” I’m already madly in love with someone bald, can short and fat be so hard a jump?
Written by Lara

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Nickeled and Dimed

I feel like living in Nairobi is like being nickel and dimed to utter frustration. My friend who was living in Sudan was denied everything, no electricity, no running water, no white people, he was living in a world apart, from camp to camp in the bush. Here I live in a city and almost anything that I want is available to me. If I am able to pay it. Twelve dollars for a bottle of contact disinfectant, six dollars for a box of American cereal. Sure you can pay three for the Kenyan produced cereal, but it tastes like a wheat field, and the wheat, the dirt. Sure, you can get cheese and sliced bread here. But the cheese tastes as if, as my good friend puts it, the cow has been eating garbage. The bread is fine if you toast it or grill it, but tastes like sawdust if you just want to eat it as in on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or the BLT’s we ate last Sunday. I sat eating said sandwich thinking, this is why I don’t eat sandwiches here. I remember in our first week a friend saying that she couldn’t stand the bread here, I remember thinking, ‘It’s not so bad.’ Yesterday I stood in front of all the bread in Nakumatt and realized we had tried all of it and it all tasted like sawdust, and I couldn’t bring myself to buy any loaves. I have been nickeled and dimed out of buying bread.

I’ve never been mugged, I don’t think I’ve ever been touched, I’ve never been accosted, but yet leaving my house and doing errands and walking down the street takes immense amounts of emotional energy. I get stared at all the time. I live in a wealthy neighborhood that is crawling with white people, but still every Kenyan I pass in my car or while walking stares at me as if I am two headed beast. No second head, it’s just blonde. In the village you greet everyone you pass, but Nairobi is just like any city where you there are no steadfast rules for greeting people. So I’ve made up my own; I greet women. Sometimes they smile and wave back, others glare at me as if I moved to Africa just to steal their men. Which my swelling belly seems to attest to, never you mind I am happily married to a US citizen. The men I don’t greet, except for the guards. My logic is that I am a married woman, I wouldn’t greet men I don’t know on the street in the US, why would I do it here? I greet the guards because they are just doing their job, and you know what they are probably bored and could use a smile. Besides if anything goes down, the mugging that people keep threatening will happen, hopefully they are the ones that would help the white woman who has waved at them on her walks and runs each day. The children are the hardest. Because they are just children. But they beg and call out at you, I’ve had them follow me for a good mile or so and ask for money or sweets, or mimic and mock my running. I’ve had them yell at me and call out English greetings in mocking tones. And I hate having to walk by packs of these kids and in fact actively try to avoid them, and then I feel guilty. Lots of guilt. Because they are poor and they are kids and maybe they don’t know better, but they do, but then again they are poor and they are poor and they are poor.

I have a general rule of not giving to beggars. Because I think it just teaches people to beg. Maybe you read this and you judge me, and say but they are so poor. But there are others who are living here who are not poor. It can be done. It’s not as simple as that when you get here. When you see the blind man being led through traffic by the child with an empty cup, what do you do? What can a blind man do in a nation that starves its own people?

And in this you can see the summation of my frustration with Nairobi, I came here to help. I came here to be part of Africa. I came here to facilitate the success of people that are just like me, but born to unfortunate circumstances. But then we get abused. A family that I have come to enjoy, I taught each of their children last year and will have their eldest next year, is now considering leaving. After being here for a year and half and having work permits, delayed and then delayed and then delayed, having promises getting broken and then broken and then broken, having Kenyans get excited about a program and then never showing up and then never showing up and then never showing up, and having people promise to pay them and then never getting paid and then never getting paid and then never getting paid, they are at the end of the proverbial rope and now it’s fraying. This is added to by watching Scott talk about programs that would be so easy to implement and how everyone was so excited and now a year later this exciting and excellent program is still in the storage closet. I’m sure that some of this is due to the ‘relational yes.’ If an American is not going to do something they just say no, because that’s the truth, we’re used to that and that’s what we expect. If an African is not going to do something he says he’ll be there and then never shows up. In his mind he has kept the relationship going because he has said yes to your face, whereas to us he has just lied and broken a promise. I think for us it’s hard to know was that a relational yes or was that just a random act of ‘I’m not going to follow through.’

You can’t make people work. They have to want to and they have to see the benefit of hard work. I didn’t come over here thinking that my culture was superior and it isn’t, but we do have areas in our culture that have brought our success. Some would say it’s because the white man has colonized and pillaged, and there is truth to that. But we do work hard, there are plenty of Americans of every color that are where they are not because they used someone else, but because they showed up every day to work or class and did the work that was required of them, and then did some more. There are Kenyans with strong work ethics, and as always the truth is somewhere in the middle and with people there are hardly ever absolutes, and there are plenty of Kenyans with no work ethic at all. You have more than me, so why don’t you just give it to me?

I don’t know if it’s better to have something, tasted it and then have it taken away or if it’s better to never have it at all, daydream about it and not know what it’s really like?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


“Technically a pregnant woman is eating for two. But it’s important to remember that one of the two is a tiny developing fetus whose calories are significantly lower than mom’s- a mere 300 on average a day, more or less. So if you’re of average weight, you now need only about an average of 300 calories more than you did prepregnancy – the equivalent of two glasses of skim milk and a bowl of oatmeal….What’s more during the first trimester you probably don’t need any extra calories at all.”
What to Expect When You’re Expecting, pg. 93
These words seem to me to be the mad ravings of a complete sadist. ‘Two glasses of skim milk and a bowl of oatmeal.’ I don’t know a single woman who only increased her caloric intake during pregnancy by ‘Two glasses of skim milk and a bowl of oatmeal.’
When you think of my metabolism during pregnancy I want you to picture a large pack of ravenous hyenas descending upon a kill during a time of famine. Picture the wicked and hunger driven glee as they destroy their new food. To compound that I want you to picture said hyena lying on his back after the meal bloated, sated, engorged lying about peacefully licking his chops. Now in two hours that fat animal will feel as starved as it did right before it’s feeding frenzy. Now this, if you can grasp the fullness of this beast within me you will understand how I feel and how my body has changed.
I have a sweet tooth, always have, but the belly aches of one too many cookie dough enhanced sleep-overs have taught me to enjoy my sweets in small portions. A few squares of chocolate here, a few spoonfuls of ice cream there. The other day I was making cookies and I popped a small ball of dough into my mouth and felt the beast rise up within me. It occurred to me that I could eat the whole bowl, this bowl that would make 4 dozen cookies. All of it. Before I was creating life in my womb that would have been an unheard of desire, for it would have left me curled in a ball on the cold hard tile floor of my bathroom with another kind of creature inside. I didn’t eat the cookie dough, I’d been reading too many warnings about glasses of skim milk and oatmeal.
Why do we as a culture have this obsessive need to quantify everything? Why would we tell a woman who is growing life in her womb that she only needs 300 extra calories? Or that in her first trimester while she’s growing a placenta, increasing her blood volume by 50% and a baby (however small that baby may be) that she may not need any extra calories at all? I ate more in my first trimester than I have in my second. I ate when I was hungry, drank when I was thirsty, and generally obeyed the raging beast that had taken over my once placid body. Every woman’s body is going to go about pregnancy differently.
In my first trimester when I would read the books I would start to panic about my expanding belly (thighs and butt). I looked about a month more pregnant than any of the diagrams in any books (I think that’s more owed to the fact that I am short waisted, not that I have been eating more than two glasses of skim milk and a bowl of oatmeal). But then I would talk to another woman about her experience and relax as I heard stories of maternity clothes at 8 weeks and gaining 90lbs over the course of a pregnancy.
Is it our ridiculous obsession with thinness? Being here in Kenya I have relaxed about the way my body looked. Kenyan women are touted for having a shape and described as beautiful when their figures are ample. I have been able to not think about my weight so much and enjoy the fact that a few pounds magically disappeared because of a lack of processed food in my diet. Guess I didn’t them anyway. Honestly I would feel fine about myself and then a friend would pass on a copy of People magazine and I would start to feel nervous about the size of my thighs compared to some new nymphet that was being touted as the new ‘it’ girl. I don’t even know who half the famous people are anymore, is that a harbinger of adulthood?
Then I got pregnant and grabbed a copy of ‘What to expect’ and in a time of life where I shouldn’t be worried about thinness at all I am again worried about gaining ‘too much’ weight. Even though before I never really actually struggled with being overweight, I just thought I was. Lovely body dysmorphia, the plague of all girls raised in southern California. Makes me want to punch the authors.
I am sure that people did conclusive and exhaustive studies on how many extra calories it takes to make a baby. And they came up with the magic number of 300. I want to make them all pregnant and see what they have to say about that.