And for once I was SuperMom

Friday, January 29, 2010


My husband just popped in a Baby Einstein video. Methinks that these will really only teach my child how to watch television. Like those Leapfrog games don't really teach them anything other than how to play a gameboy. That's the real message going on. Then again who am I to talk? How many hours of my life have been wasted staring at episode after episode of Lost and Scrubs (blissful boxed DVD sets, the person who came up with that is either the devil or a saint, I can't decide)? So I guess I haven to pick my battles. I should probably pick those that don't make me into a hypocrite.
I think more so I am resistant to the video-ing of my child because I think it's the beginning of the end. In the last few months of my pregnancy i definitely played the stereo in my car as loud as I could with the most ghetto music I could stand, because I figured at the end of this situation I was going to be listening to Elmo Does Broadway for the next six years of my life, at least. Baby Einstein in the denoument into baby dinosuars and talking trains. Videos that largely make me angry, not sure why, but anger is the response.
I guess this is what becoming a parent is about, in the first week of Emma's life my living room was infiltrated by various forms of cloths, for the wiping up of various bodily fluids. Now those have retreated, as the little bug has gained better control of said fluids, and bright primary colored mats and toys have guerilla-like spread across my neutral colored rug. I know children respond better to bright colors, but what about their parents who have to look at it as well? Do the designer of toys not know what neutrals or tertiary colors are? Because this activity mat certainly does not match my decor. Clashes in fact. They have assaulted the former tidiness of my house and my retinas. You lose your house to this little creature. Our hall is full of boxes of clothes and changing mats. Her closet has vomited out books and sets of multi-colored rings. I've already given up my body to the sacrifice of parenthood, why not my house? Well now there is no denying that a baby lives here.
I glanced over at the tv and these videos mostly consist of people waving toys in front of the camera set to classical music. I could do that. I should do that. But I am writing this instead, hmmmmmmmmmm....

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Working Woman

In the vein of eating my words when I get older….
So three days ago my friend Keturah asked me if I was looking forward to going back to work. I said no. She asked me if when I thought about I cried. I giggled, shrugged, and said no, again. I’m not that silly, please.
Today I was putting Emma down for her nap, my husband discovered that if you leave your hand on her belly for a few moments she stops wiggling and settles into a deeper sleep. So I was paused over her sweet face with my hand across her belly and I started crying. I didn’t want to leave her. I don’t want to go to work.
Glarg, burble, humble pie tastes great…
A few years ago I would’ve eschewed the stay-at-home mom gig. Who does that? That is a cultural construct created to keep women in the home. Ah, from the mouths of babes.
Munch, chew, swallow, this one tastes like lingonberries or, ‘man I was full of crap’ berries…
Here’s what I do think. I think that to say the only way to raise your children is to have the mother stay at home with the baby and not work is folly. I think to say that no woman should stay at home is also folly.
In past times we would have been surrounded by family. In many cultures grandma lives in the family, or you live next to your sister, or in a family compound. You are always surrounded by people to help you; baby-sitters, extra cooks, someone to talk to, etc. Now we live in single family homes with no one around to support you. You are on your own. I know why women get post-partum depression, yes, there are hormones involved, you are all by yourself, exhausted, your body hurts, and you are left to care for a small creature that only takes. (At least for the first few weeks of life) Added to which most women in our generation have never cared for a newborn or seen a birth, whereas in previous times we would have been present at births and probably rocked a few babies that belonged to Aunts or our Mothers.
Also back in the day when most of us were subsistence farmers all our work would’ve been in the home, doing laundry, making cheese, skimming cream, beating rugs. That’s how we lived, we made our own food. Now we work in offices and buy our food from someone else who grows and makes it. Since you can’t take your baby to most offices we are left with a dilemma, whereas before the child would’ve been right there with you, now if you are to work your baby can’t go. So what’s a modern woman to do? Day care. Unfortunately most of us find our hands tied when it comes to the much maligned day care, once we do the math we find out that mom’s salary just covers the cost of day care. Day care has also been blacklisted as bad for children; studies have been done that show that it can be good for children. Increases test scores, improves social skills, provides a break for mom. Might be better than the kid staying home with a mom who doesn’t want to be home in the first place.
So we’ve gotten ourselves into quite the pickle. After years of searching and praying about my occupation I determined what I’ve known all along, I am an artist and apparently not so bad at writing, these things can be done from the home. I can satisfy my occupational needs and stay at home to wrangle children. Most people are not so lucky.
Unfortunately right now we live in Kenya and my teaching job provides income and health insurance. So this coming Monday my blissful maternity leave is over and it’s off to work I go. Hi ho hi ho hi ho..?
One moment while I’m playing with her or rocking her to sleep I think, ‘I don’t want to work. I don’t want to leave her…’ The next moment while she’s napping and I’m thinking, ‘I’m bored, what do I do with myself now?’ I start to think it might be a good thing for me to go back to work. Argh. Well, I guess I’ll find out on Monday.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lap Dog

When I graduated from college I got a cat, I thought how wonderful it would be to have this sweet little thing to cuddle with on my lap while I’m at home. I had the cat for about a month before I realized that I never sit. I’m usually up cleaning, cooking, arting always doing something. (Except when I was pregnant, then I sat a lot….) I barely ever actually had a lap.
Babies often require laps, of different kinds for different reasons. Some to lie on while you nurse, others to be propped on while you make faces at them, other to be rocked to sleep on. Babies require a lot. Most of all they require you and your attention. Now Emma is still napping for most of the day and I can run around and throw dishes and laundry about. I still have yet to pull out my brushes and paint and create in that way.
I remember the dusk of one day in my house in Chicago, my roommate asked me if I had had a good day, I responded that I had. Her next question was, ‘Did you get a lot of stuff done?’ I kind of balked at this question. Is that the measure of a good day? Is the hour I spent talking to a friend on the phone is that worthy of my time. Did I get social stuff done? Does that count?
Emma has made me realize that I have an insatiable desire to create. I want to make my mark on this world, and do something for the record books. I also have this need ‘to do’ things. To get stuff done. In my head I have this rule that I can only read for pleasure or watch TV after 7pm, before that it’s task time. I have even felt that I shouldn’t even watch that much TV. I have found myself spinning a bit with having a child. What does getting ‘stuff done’ mean? What can I accomplish in a day? What are accomplishments that are worthy? How do I understand a day where I spent most of the day nursing and rocking my baby? How do I reconcile just letting her sit on me and nap for an hour or two?
Every now and then I will pawn her off on my husband while I go do some monumentally important task that needs my attention right now or the world will cease to spin, like doing the dishes or peeing. I feel a slight pang of guilt, but then I rationalize those dishes need doing and after all I can’t hold my pee all day long. Emma’s only two months old and really they don’t do much at this stage, she smiles and makes noises and can hold her head up, but that’s really about it, so after ten minutes of heart fluttering cooing she usually gets zonky and stops, this is about when I try to prop her up on a pillow or find willing arms. Then I feel like a dog. With all these important tasks, pieces of words to write or art to make I find it hard to focus on smiling for more than that. Still feeling like a dog as I think all these things. To compound all this usually when Scott is holding her she does something for the first time, like give her first social smile. I am totally in denial that he got the first smile. Or hold onto a toy. Then this mom feels like absolute crap. Dog crap to be accurate.
There is truth to needing to get ‘stuff done,’ dishes do need washing and peeing does need to happen. I am beginning to think that we are missing so much when we let that rule our understanding of success. By being so focused on stuff I miss out on her. Maybe ‘stuff’ should watching my baby and talking to my friend, or my husband for that matter. My baby is already teaching me to stop and smell the proverbial roses, or rock the baby. I think it may be a time in my life where I learn to sit; maybe I should get a lap dog….or a cat….or a baby.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Living in a developing nation that seems to think it’s short on resources has made quite an impact on me. This I’ve only realized since coming back to the US. We have regular power outages in Nairobi; this is juxtaposed by huge electricity bills. Often I wonder, ‘what am I paying for, it’s not on half the time.’ For about two months we had regular electricity ‘rationing,’ Kenya Power and Lighting turned off our power from 6am to 6pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In true Kenyan style it turned out to be more like 7:31am to 5:43pm. I have noticed that in the US we use electricity for everything. We have plugs everywhere and we keep everything plugged in all the time. In the middle of the night when I stumble out of my bed to collect my crying baby there are at least five electronic devices blinking at me in the dark in my in-laws guest room. The phone, the TV, the computer, the intercom, the heating pad on our mattress, the VCR, the alarm clock, the plug in air freshener, and the night light in the bathroom. We have power running even when we are asleep. I have also been shocked about how testy the lack of power has made me, I have caught myself frequently scowling as I angrily flick off a light that someone has left on, or wrenching a plug from the wall that goes to an appliance that is lying fallow at the moment.
Our public bathrooms are completely electronic. You can wave your hand in front of the sink fixture for water, you can do the same for soap and paper towels. All so that you don’t have to touch where other people have touched. The electronic paper towel dispensers kill me, if you’re getting a paper towel shouldn’t you have washed your hands so that they’re clean? I can’t tell you how many bathrooms I’ve been in that the electronic one is broken and they’ve installed an old-fashioned dispenser that requires touching it underneath the broken one. So what happens when the power goes out? You can’t wash your hands at all. Then we’re all kinds of crazy dirty, running around touching doorknobs with our unwashed bathroom hands. Chaos.
I have also become jumpy about water usage. Regularly water ceases to flow from the tap in our little Kenyan apartment. We have a borehole on our compound so we are not subjected to water rationing like the rest of the city is. My friends without wells have had to buy water several times a month to refill tanks that they have had to install themselves, because city water somehow never comes or doesn’t come when it’s supposed to. Meanwhile there are gigantic puddles that stop traffic because of a burst pipe or our rich neighbor who has his driver wash his three cars every morning. To get hot showers we installed an ‘instant shower.’ This is an electric device that goes over the shower head and heats the water as it flows through. As soon as it was installed I second guessed our decision, it absolutely destroyed the water pressure and makes the water come out either lukewarm or scalding hot. So usually I take my showers by standing on the periphery of the flow and either quickly waving appendages through or a fast dodge underneath to rinse my particulars. Instant showers are pretty popular in Kenya, because lots of places don’t have water heaters and if they do they refuse to run them, just like we do. At the hotel we stayed at before and after climbing Mt.Kenya there was an instant shower that was afflicted with the boiling hot disease. A cruel irony before and after a week long backpacking trip. On the morning after the trip Scott was taking a shower, I was in the bathroom getting ready to join him, he says in an voice that a mixture of extreme calm and slight bewilderment, ‘Uh, it’s on fire.’ I start laughing because it had been so hot I thought he was joking, then he says, ‘No really, it’s on fire.’ The ‘instant shower’ truly had lit on fire. Fortunately it shorted and died right after it lit on fire. I skipped the shower that morning.
I’m not sure why our water somehow doesn’t make it up to our tap on our compound, no one seems to be able to give us a clear answer. The cold tap does not work in our kitchen, never has. Of course we don’t have hot water because to run our water heater raises our already incomprehensibly high electricity bill. We follow the ‘if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down’ rule. We shower with a bucket underneath our feet to catch water and then use that to flush our toilet, the toilet that takes five flushes to get anything brown down. As my friend Jill asked, ‘why is it that the toilet uses buckets and buckets of water, yet still the turd remains?’
In one of the first weeks that we were in Nairobi Scott went out of town to do a training, I believe this was my second or third week teaching school. In that week I got the flu and our water ran out and our power went out for about a day or so. I remember after a night of projectile events at both ends of my digestive tract relenting and calling a friend to take me to the doctor. I hadn’t had running water or electricity that whole night. Right before my friend arrived the water began to run again, but not in the bathroom only in the kitchen. I eagerly splashed water on my feverish face and unfortunate armpits in the kitchen sink, when my friend arrived I embarrassedly explained my dilemma. She smiled, she knew, she had already lived in Kenya for a year.
I know there are plenty of Kenyans and people all over the world that don’t have electricity or running water at all. I just feel like if the tap is there it should run, and if the lights are there they should turn on. There must be some kind of balance between Americans almost ridiculous over consumption of resources and the Kenyan inability to keep them coming. A utopia where we wisely use resources, not over use out of a need to be comfortable and fear. A place where people are conscious of not overusing them or are not praying in gratitude each time they actually work.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Meanwhile back at the ranch...

So our return to Kenya pretty much sums up our mixed feelings about being here, I have already begun the emotional denouement into anger and frustration that I usually feel here. Last night when we got off the plane the British Airways stewardess told us that they would bring out stroller up to the gate for us. So we waited for a few minutes and then I thought better of this so I asked one of the six baggage handlers that were milling around the gate if that was in fact what they were doing. He looked confused for a moment, then smiled and said, ‘I think so.’ Knowing better I knew this was the, ‘I’m going to tell you what I think you want to hear,’ rather than the actual circumstances. In a few moments I saw him asking a superior who told us that it would at the baggage carousel.
While filling out our re-entry cards one Kenyan airport staff asked me if my daughter clad in footie pajamas in 80 degree heat, ‘Was not cold?’ I just smiled and said no. I didn’t point out that I was sweating profusely.
When we were collecting our baggage I stood there, repeating, ‘Stroller, stroller, stroller, and five bags, God. We need a stroller and five bags, God…’ Over and over in my head. Until our stroller and five bags did appear, to which I almost dropped to my knees and thanked the divine in the middle of the glut of passengers still waiting for theirs to appear. Which I think wouldn’t have been too odd of behavior because most of them were short term missionaries anyway. In our new divide and conquer theme of team marriage because now we have a little one to look after, I turned out to be the one hauling the baggage off the carousel. Scott apologized for this because he felt he had to guard our stuff, for often in Kenya it walks off, I shrugged off his apology and told him that was exactly perfect.
All five bags and our stroller did appear. We were met by our friend Jaime who hugged us both and tickled our little one under the chin. Immediately after leaving the airport we were ‘helped’ by a janitor to get our cart of many bags over curbs. He continued to ‘help’ us load the bags into the car. Out of nowhere there materialized two more men who ‘helped’ us jam the bags into Jaime’s Subaru. These men then became indignant when they found out we had no money to tip them for the ‘help’ we didn’t want or need. All the while I remained in my gender role holding Emma and watched a Kenyan family who received no such ‘help’ giggle at our predicament.
Upon arriving at our apartment, we were greeted by a new guard, the 8th or 9th in the year and half we’ve been here. Jaime helped us with our baggage and went home to his expecting wife. We were greeted by food that they had left us and welcome home notes.
We begun the process of putting our jet lagged baby to bed. I was thirsty, as I often am after flying, especially ever since they decided that all water is an explosive, and I realized that we had no drinking water. (We have to boil our water in Kenya, so we don’t get typhoid) I opened the fridge and noticed that there was about an inch and a half of boiled water left in our fridge container. I eagerly snatched it up and whipped open the lid only to see about five dead ants floating in it. I thought, ‘ah well, I’ll just boil some.’ I grabbed the kettle and peered inside, alas its floor was littered with dead moths. I drank some milk and called it a night.
So here we are ‘home’ in Kenya, but not really feeling like we are home. Our friends our amazing and supportive, but we are continuously hounded by minor and major irritations. Is a glass of water really that much of a task? Apparently it seems so.
PS: Did I mention that all of the dry goods that my husband meticulously stored in airtight containers were full of weevils and dead moths? Rice and flour must come with them here….

Thursday, January 14, 2010

And a Mom

I think that most women imagine meeting their first child as a magical moment. After a smooth labor where you defy all the horror stories you've been told you are handed this beautiful cherubic baby. Who looks like you, who easily snuggles with you, and easily takes the breast relying on century old instincts.
I never thought this. For a long time every time I saw a child it was almsot as if the poor thing had, 'I will change your life,' tattooed on its forehead. After years of unfortunate baby-sitting I wasn't so sure that I wanted that change. I saw mounds of dirty diapers. I saw my waistline expand as I devoured leftover bits of grilled cheese. I heard wails of inconsolable unsatisfied babies. I imagined dark nights without dleep. I saw my career aspirations disapear down the whirl of a toilet bowl.
I am not sure how I came to this conclusion. I knew plenty of mothers who happily quit working as soon that first bump appeared under their blouse. Some turned out to love it, others to not admit that they were screaming inside. I know women who refuse to leave the house or go on a date because they can't leave the baby with a sitter or even their husband. They don't exercise or pursue anything except Martha-esque undertakings. They seem to have willfully strapped them to the crib as an act maternal matyrdom. But I know others who have rolled up their sleeves and dove right in, they have slings and jog strollers, they have faith in their babies and their husbands success without the need for constant maternal supervision. And which mother was I to become? Would I eat humble pie when my baby refused a bottle and could never be away from her? Would I give up running because I coulnd't find the time between diapering and rocking?
When I was a child I would answer the, 'what do you want to be when you grow up?' question always with an adendum of, 'and a mom.' Like,
"I want to be a cowgirl and a mom." Or,
"I want to be an artist and a mom."
I'm not sure why I said this. That desire and conviction started to get shakey. The thought of children terrified me. How would I ever find time to make my art or pursue career goals with the constant presence of a baby on my hip.
I was talking to a friend of mine who had also just had a baby. She has a Ph.d in physchology and works as a therapist. We were talking about breastfeeding and pumping. She said that some days taht's the only thing that gives purpose to her day. That feeding her child was the only real concrete accomplishment for some of her days. THAT was a gigantic paradigm shift for me.
I think I needed to be reminded that Emma is eternal. She's a human being. She's the person who will live on after I die that will remember me. She is my legacy. As I co-create with God in making art I co-created with God in making Emma. Maybe she is the true accomplishment. What if this is the one true eternal thing that I can do? Maybe my sculptures will return to dust. Or my paintings will rot. Or my books will burn. But my baby? Maybe she will live on. Her face will mimic my face. Her son's face will mimic Scott's face. God gave me a person.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


So many of you don't know this but all these notes that show up on Facebook are actually my blog called redearthsafari. I created a blog while living in Buena Vista when I had enough arrogance to think that the people of the internet needed to know my thoughts. I forget what I called it, something touchy feely, I think. Anyway I wrote on it maybe three times and then stopped. We started redearthsafari when we moved from Colorado to Kenya to keep in touch with people in the states. In a stroke of marital acquiescence and genius Scott allowed me to call it Red Earth Safari. I think he was doubtful about the name, but he loves me and knows when to pick his battles. I like this name for four reasons: we were moving from one place with red dirt to another with red dirt (if you have ever gotten either in your socks you know what I mean), I like using earth because of the global ramifications, red is a powerful color in our culture it stands for passion, anger, and love, and safari means journey in swahili.
I thought to myself that once I return from Kenya to the US maybe I need to change the name. Then I thought, 'no,' because anywhere we go in life we are on safari, and let's face the chances of Scott and I settling down to live somewhere for a really long time may never happen. We're just that way.
You may be asking yourself what happened to Scott and the keeping in touch with people? Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelllllllllllllll, I am that arrogant to think people need to hear my thoughts. I kid. I'm creative. I read a lot. Always there are these little pieces of literature bumping about in my head. Sometimes I find myself narrating my own life in my head. Even down to descriptors of things. Kinda dorky. I am just that way. So I started to write them down. On the internet. So potentially the whole world can read them. People have. And then they told me they read it, and that it made them laugh or cry. And I thought, maybe I can do this. So here I am, doing it....

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sleep Like a Baby?

I know this has been said but whoever came up with the phrase, ‘sleep like a baby,’ to mean long restful sleep has never truly cared for a child. I just recently read that babies have different sleep cycles than adults. Adults pass out quickly and enter in REM fairly shortly and stay in REM for most of the night. Or stay in REM for three hour cycles. Babies take 30 to forty minutes to fall asleep and their REM cycles are much shorter. So when babies are coming in and out of their REM cycles they are more susceptible to waking up.
Knowing this had made dealing with Emma’s multiple naps a day a little more stress free. I now know that when she wakes up after an hour of her nap screaming with a gas bubble that this is just part of being a baby and I don’t get as frustrated. The thirty minutes prior to the nap of rocking and consoling to get her to sleep is still a bit difficult. Especially since she screams like a banshee when I try to do it. I want some doctor or scientist to explain that to me, they seem to have answers to everything else. Why is it that she can be peacefully resting in grandma’s arms and cutely yawning occasionally with her zonked out look on her face and then the millisecond that I take her with intent to put her to bed she is wide awake and screaming? I feel like she knows. When I take her and start doing, ‘the walk,’ you know the one, slow sashaying with a bit of, ‘you will sleep’ determination, she begins to scream as if I am telling her that her crib is full of scorpions and I am going to strap her in it. If I don’t do ‘the walk’ and just start wandering around the house doing one armed tasks, dirty clothes to the laundry basket, or throwing away of random detritus, (you quickly learn what can be accomplished with one arm free and the other crooked under a baby’s butt) she passes out. Basically if I make believe that I have no intention of putting her to sleep she falls asleep. Argh.
I also want to know why often while doing ‘the walk’ and she is screaming over the scorpions if her dad walks into the room with a bewildered look on his face (like I have told her about scorpions) holds out his hands for our tired child and I hand her over she conks out instantly. Not only does this negatively effect my self-esteem it also makes me want to bang my head against the crib. Why do I even try? Why not just have my husband do it each time? But that’s not possible or really fair, and quite frankly dogged determination sets in and I become more firmly convinced that I must put her down. She will love me and sleep peacefully on my shoulder for I am her mother! But no, babies don’t respond to that well. I feel like often it takes some kind of heavy voodoo to get them to cooperate. All they have to do is eat and sleep, why is that so difficult? But it is, sleep eludes them, gas bubbles won’t let them eat, pooping wakes them up, lights and faces are so interesting that they get so tired that they can’t fall asleep. (I still don’t get the overtired thing, whaddya mean you’re so tired you can’t sleep?) Ah well, they are little googly mysteries and we love them.