And for once I was SuperMom

Friday, April 29, 2011

A Day in Camp

Detailing days 3 & 4 of our time in Kosovo. Sorry this has taken me so long to write. My husband has been seriously bogarting the computer, but for a good cause.
It was Thursday and time to head up to the camp. We piled in one of the overseas workers Land Rovers and headed up into Rugova. At first when I saw that all the overseas workers had Land Rovers I thought to myself, 'Really? Land Rovers? I mean according to the history of the country it makes sense that they would be available, but is that really necessary?' I totally judged them.
We drove west of town up into the Mountains of the Damned, the road started to wind around a steep ravine over a torquise river. A few waterfalls dribbled down over granite edifices. As we climbed snow began to appear. The road eventually turned to dirt, I mean mud. The mushy, sloppy, spring snow grew in depth till about six inches beneath our tires. As we curved and twisted and slid, I kept thinking, 'I should be more worried than this, but this just kinda looks like the road to the trailhead for Mt. Princeton.' The Land Rover ate up the terrian until one sharp curve right before the camp property, it couldn't make it through the slop. We piled out, shoveled and pushed, and the Rover made it into camp. Then I felt a little bad for judging them. Just a little.
The camp was covered in a thick wet blanket of snow. Not ideal weather for backpacking. We were shown around the camp, the only two permanent buildings were the bathroom (meaning outhouse) and the kitchen. Our sleeping arrangements were to be two refugee tents scrounged from the war (I love this, the redemption of something horrible that happened), split into 'boys' and 'girls' tents. As the temperature dropped and I piled on more and more jackets, I realised this was going to be a cold few days. The only warm place in the whole camp was the kitchen, huddled right next to that firewood cookstove.
That night as I lay on a foam mat, encased in my mummy bag, sharing our cosy quarters with four other leaders, I could not sleep. I think i got warm, except for my nose, but someone was snoring and I just could not pass out. I kept thinking about Emma, about how much I missed her. Pictures of her sweet little toes and that hysterical face she makes when I wipe her mouth ran through my mind, making my heart ache. I thought about what I needed right now, 'rest' kept coming to mind. Pictures of warm beaches, books I have not had time to read, a place away where all my unfinished projects cannot haunt me, danced in my mind. I kept thinking, 'If I'm going to be away from my kid it needs to be worth it.' Lying in a cold refugee tent looking towards a week of being cold with no respite did not seem reastful. (Oh, the one thing in life that I can't handle is being cold.)
I heard Scott shift in his sleeping bag, I knew he wasn't asleep. I rolled over and on the edge of tears poured out my heart. He said that while it may not restful, you have to ask yourself is it 'worthwhile.' I rolled over, while sacrificing my comfort and rest to bring a powerful experience to others may be 'worthwhile' it certainly wasn't a whole lot of fun. But I knew that after all it was only a few nights, I've certainly been out in the wilderness for longer, in much tougher conditions. Now there was the added factor of missing my kid. A new dimension of difficulty that I hadn't dealt with before. The problem with getting older, falling in love, and having kids is that the stakes just keep getting higher. If I go on vacation, I miss my kid. If something were to happen to me, there would be an orphan and a widower. I guess those thoughts rise to your head, you think them, and then put them to rest because you can't live your life refusing to fully live because something bad might happen.
I did sleep that night. I was warm. That morning Pam greeted us in the kitchen with hot coffee and I thought, 'one more night down, and maybe this won't be so bad.'

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cooking in Kosovo

We were invited to Kosovo by an organization called Outdoor Leadership Lab, a group that trains leaders to use the outdoors in their organizations, our job was to teach a backpacking training. Our first two days of our trip were spent in Peje a town of about 250,000 people getting prepared for our trip into the woods.

After getting into Peje we met up with the other overseas workers that would be working with us, Keith and Pam. They took us to lunch at a restuarant that sat on a river. Jokes were cracked about the lack of variety on the Kosovar menus, indeed pizza and salads seemed to the the main feature. I asked what was a more traditional meal. Pam leaned over and carefully read the pieces of the menu to me. Now usually I can look at a menu in a European language and kind of know what I am doing, Albanian was completely lost on me. Q's, J's, S's, and X's stood up on the page, mocking my ability to understand what was in front of me. With Pam's help I picked out a doner sandwich. A likely comparision would be a carne asada burrito, except with yogurt sauce. It was delightfully meaty.
As we walked through a local market after our meal and Jenelle pointed out the local souvenirs I was struck with the appearance of the local women. Most ladies were incredibly 'fashionable.' There was a nary a bootcut jean in sight, but the ones in the skinny jeans probably shouldn't have been in them anyway. Stilettos, lots of makeup, and very 'done' hair were the norm. Jenelle and I certainly stuck out with our flat shoes, blonde hair, and maybe not so tight clothes.

This day our main task was to purchase all the backpacking food for out trip, a job that usually falls to me. It's a job I enjoy but it's a daunting one. Especially in a country with who's food you are unfamiliar. We got to ETC, a Kosovar grocery store, (most Kosovars shop in local small stores, not huge stores like we do) had a macchiato in the adjoining coffee shop and made our plan of attack before we, well, attacked. Since I am often insecure about the amount of food to purchase for an event I would keep checking with Scott if he thought I had enough. Often I would turn around and three or four pairs of hands would be helpfully holding something out to me, causing me to eventually be quite decisive. It was decided that I would dehydrate apples and pears instead of spending the exorbitant amount of money that they wanted for dried fruit. That night Keith and Pam treated us to dinner and we dropped to bed at a more than reasonable hour.
Did I mention that I have never dehydrated fruit before? That morning I woke up, re-googled the process, just to make sure, and started chopping, peeling, and soaking apples in a lemon juice solution. I was going to use a turkish oven, this is a small round electric oven, an adult easy-bake oven, as Pam called it. I placed the slices on an enamel pan popped it in and set the oven on 50 Celsius (after a discussion about conversions), said a silent prayer that this would work and let her go.
After several hours, and a few power outages the apples still looked quite fresh. I lined up another pan and put them in the regular kitchen oven. A gas oven. Gas ovens do not keep and maintain a regular temperature, you have to continually fiddle and adjust to keep from dropping to cold or climbing to broil. I ended up propping the door open to regulate the temperature and keep it low. Jenelle eyed the situation, I looked at her and asked,
"This is going to burn through your gas bomb isn't it?"
"Yep," she nodded. I pulled the slices out and hoped that I could get another batch of apples through the turkish oven before we left for camp the next day.

The different selections of various ovens was a delight to me. In Kenya our stove had one electric burner and three gas burners, that way if your power went out you could cook or if your gas bomb went empty you could still cook. Several homes we were in had cookstoves that were powered by firewood. That's right firewood. The above pictures are all of cookstoves, some at the camp we stayed at and others in homes. You build the fire in the small compartment in the upper left hand corner and the fire heats the larger compartment to the right, and eventually you have cooked food. I was actually completely amazed how well the food was cooked in the skilled hands of the women who used these stoves daily. Being able to count on 350 fahrenheit for forty-five minutes is not a reality but hot cooked food is. I am constantly amazed at the ingenuity of people in other countries, the ways that they have to take care of themselves so that they don't have to rely on an unstable infastructure.
In the end did get all the apples dehydrated, we ran out of time for the pears. Later they became a pear crisp.
These two days that we spent in Peje the water was out for one day and the electricity blinked in and out repeatedly for the forty-eight hours. This wasn't much of a shock to me, that was our reality in Nairobi, I thought, 'Oh, of course that happens here.' A good reminder that what we have here in the US is pretty remarkable.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fly me away

So after a few days of being so tired I'm not really sure where the days went and de-toxing from all the caffiene, alcohol, and cheese I've been eating (I love Europe) I am finally lucid enough to write my first post about our time in Kosovo. Here it is: our long journey to the Balkans:

Our flight itinerary would take us from Denver, CO, to Washington/Dulles airport, then from there to Munich, Germany, and lastly into the capital city Prishtina, Kosovo. Over all about 14 hours in the air.
But you say, 'you don't live in Denver.' No I don't. So we started out trip with a two and a half hour drive to the airport. It took us about 15 minutes longer to properly say goodbye to our daughter and Scott's parents, a precious amount of time in the world of air travel. Our drive was spent in tense silence as we barrelled over the mountains afraid that would cost us dearly.
Our friends lent us some crates so that we could bring backpacks to donate to the camp that we were helping. We parked in long term parking and trekked to the terminal. I was 'turtled' (one backpack on front and one on back) in our carry-ons, and dragging a crate, and Scott was carrying a duffel bag, wearing a backpack and pulling a crate. A true feat of traveller strength. This jaunt left us panting and with oddly sore deltoids. Did you know that United ate Continental? We didn't. More dragging to another check-in desk.
Our first flight was uneventful. I did have time to think about how I love airports and traveling. I always wonder where people are going and why they are going there. I was sitting next to a young man who was reading a 'Lonely Planet' Paris guidebook. I wished him the best, I hope he found what he was looking for in Paris.

When we got to Washington/Dulles I felt so erudite and free, marching about with only a backpack on my back. No stroller, no erupting diaper bag, and no worries about the comfort of my child. In an incredibly easy trip to the bathroom I glanced up and saw that with my horn-rimmed glasses, wavy travel flat curls, and outfit of boot cut pants, button-up shirt, jacket, and sensible shoes I was beginning to bare a resemblance to Liz Lemon.
Upon arrival we discovered that our flight to Munich was delayed 45 minutes, which meant that we would probably miss our connection to Kosovo. I figured that Kosovo was not a highly trafficked tourist destination so that probably meant a night in Munich. We got in the longest line I have ever seen in an airport to find out about our options.
Luckily we were right next to a Potbelly Sandwich Works. I always have this dilemna in sub shops, as a women I am supposed to fear these incrdibly large sandwiches and only order the 'righteous' or 'thin' choices like veggie or turkey. I don't like turkey and often the veggie in sub places is just lettuce and olives, lame. So I got a meatball sub.
Scott continued to wait in the line and in further resemblance to Liz I sat in a corner and shotgunned my sandwich. I was hungry and I forgot to grab napkins, it wasn't pretty. A pale portly man was shooting me looks, I couldn't tell if he was checking me out or was disgusted by my public display of sandwich. I found myself thinking,
'Who cares, my husband is way cuter than you anyway.' I went to grab napkins in the restuarant, none available. I realised without my dipaer bag I was wipe-less, looks like those things are good for something.
We got on our flight to Munich, knowing that most likely we would miss our connection.
As baby's started to cry, I did too. I found myself missing my daughter, and the crying that before would have been an annoyance only reminded me of my sweet daughter that I was leaving behind. In the back of my mind I was thinking, 'Is this going to be worth it?'
Another uneventful flight. Very uneventful, our video screens were broken. I read a book, a whole one.
When we arrived in Munich a airport worker met us at the gate, put us on a bus, took us back through security, and bussed right to our plane. God bless German efficiency. Through the process I thought, 'It's a small plane, if the six of us don't get on it, it won't be worth it.' I wasa right. A little puddle jumper by Adria, Slovenia's airline. Delightful flight, I guess Slovenian's are pretty good with hospitality.
In the Prishtina airport we discovered that we were one crate down. Fortunately it was the one with the backpacks, all of our personal gear arrived just fine. Scott asked me to go out of the airport and find our contact so that we could get a phone number for the baggage lady. Eying the cluster of ominous looking security guards i doubted the success of this mission. Planting a huge smile on my face I waltzed over and asked the nearest one if I could go out and then come back in, I explained my problem and smiled a lot. Soon I was surrounded by guards, one in a clear Irish accent said,
'Sure, this ain't Heathrow you know,' with a twinkle in his eye. Not really sure what that meant I was pretty sure I wasn't in England. I was ushered outside by at least of the guards, I stood for a moment eyeing the crowd. A pretty young woman wearing a bright torquise top looked at me expectantly I stepped forward,
"Lara?" oh, thank you, I felt like hugging her. She wrote down her name and number,
"I better spell it phonetically," she said, and wrote out, 'Gjanel.' I went back in number in hand, and in a few moments we were being ushered out by that same Irish guard, when I asked if we needed to put our backs through the ex-ray he said no. Oh, I get it, not like Heathrow.
After introductions to Jenelle and our taxi driver, we were in our taxi (an older Audi that heaved under the weight of us and our baggage) and on our way to Peje [Peya], smaller city to the east of the capital.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

And we're back.

Our two weeks in Kosovo flew by, each day I kept thinking how fast everything was going. I didn't get much of a chance to post so I will be telling the story of our time over there in the course of the next few weeks or so. One of the great things about visiting people overseas is that you get lots of social interaction, read: not much time for internet. One of the tiring things about visiting people overseas is that you get lots of social interaction. About half way through this week I was running seriously low on interpersonal capital.
Scott is upstairs snuggling with Emma and watching Sesame Street, I have snatched a moment of alone time. Alone time wherein I announce my thoughts to people on the worldwide web, that wreaks of irony really. Speaking of wreaking, it's snowing here so I will spend today in my sweats, snuggling with my kid and washing some seriously manky backpacking clothes. They smell like Hickory Farms Summer sausage, don't grimace, a week in the woods and we all smell like smoked meat. Backpacking is one of the great equalizers of mankind, that, and air travel, but that is another blog.

I spend some solid inner monologue time while I was away imagining how my reunion with my daughter would go. I pictured her stretching out her arms and bouyantly announcing the newly taught phrase,
"I love you Mommy!" I know my mother-in-law has been trying to teach her that all week long. Bibi is a smart woman.
I knew that this scenario had about a 99.9% percent chance of actually happening. One, because you can't control your kids reactions, and two, life never happens the way it does in your mind.
What did I get? Scott got up in the morning when she woke up (we got home 3:45am, but that's another blog), and brought her into our bedroom, and the look across her face when she saw us? Utter confusion. Then she asked for her grandparents. I tried not to take that personally. Emma broke the spell by giving us kisses (I was so nervous she wouldn't respond to my request for a kiss), and then calling us Mommy and Daddy, at which my heart soared. Really we take so little reward as parents, don't we?
The first few moment were so surreal as I was struck by how much her face has changed and how much clearer her speech was. I knew she would change but I wasn't sure how much or how. She has added several new words, including a crystal clear and enthusiastic, 'yah,' and, 'no.' Bibi succeeded in fattening her up a bit, after all isn't that what Grandmother's are for? I am not going to let myself feel guilty for missing two weeks of her life. At least not today.
I suspect the next few days will be rough as she let's us know exactly what she thinks about our departure. Some snuggles here and a temper tantrum there. A fit when one of us leaves the room or a refusal to eat lunch.
Oh well, we're home now and at least she called me Mommy.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

No, Really I'm Okay

I was talking to a friend on the phone the other day, and Emma got up off my lap and of course left behind a little wet spot where her diaper had leaked. I told my friend that my lap was wet, her response,
"Uh, do you need to go? To change?" She doesn't have kids yet.
"Ah, no, I'll get it later," I'm sure she was horrified. I told myself I was just showing her how freed I was from sanitation. Hehehe.

Man, the things I am okay with now, that I NEVER would have been before I had Emma.

The other day I was letting her run around naked, and she started piddling on the bathroom rug. Before Child I would have jumped up snapped her up and held her over the sink or toilet. After Child I just leaned back against the tub and thought,
'Meh, let her finish, I'll just throw the rug in the wash.' It was actually kind of funny she kept looking down at the pee coming out of her like she was thinking,
'What is going on down there?'

Emma went through a puking stage, right when we were introducing solid foods, I mean every morning...okay let's just say I had to buy a few more pairs of pajamas for myself. One of these auspicious mornings she went dead white and started coughing, the precursors to puke, and I reached out and caught it. In my hand. I have done this a few times, and witnessed other people as well. This was the first time that I looked down and realized,
'Dude, I just caught puke in my hand.' I know the logic, my hand is easier to wash than the million other things that the puke will get on. (Have you ever noticed that puke is like that? Logically it would only get on the baby's front and in the tray of the high chair, right? But no, somehow it ends up on the back of the high chair, the floor, your legs, but not on the high chair tray, how?) I NEVER would have done this before kids. In fact if a kid puked in my vicinity I probably would have just cleared out of the room. Cartoon style, puffs of dust left behind me.

Actually the thing that cracks me up is when someone does puke in public, just watch, right afterwards everyone freezes. Everyone freezes. Like, what do we do now? Usually a grandma or mom will snap out of it and start wiping with napkins, and then someone else will snap out of it and get 'something better to wipe.' The puker is usually still frozen, until they start crying or slink off to the bathroom (depending on the age of the puker) and the pukee (a person that got puked on) will stand frozen for even longer until grandma starts wiping them. This is even better if the pukee got puked on across somewhere awkward, like the crotch of their jeans. Which is usually the case.
Having been the pukee many a time we have developed a system, carry the child to a safe place at arms length, strip them down, strip you down, change, snuggle (because the puker is usually screaming), and then offer juice.
Parents ever have a moment like this? Like when you look down and realise there is poo on your knuckle and you don't even react? You know, go wash your hand, but with no dry heaving or even flick of emotion across your face? Or just use a wet wipe to clean up after a diaper instead of the boiling water and lye you would have used Before Child? What are you okay with that you thought you'd never be?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Little Person

People make so much conjecture about who their child is going to be. From the very beginning relatives were saying that they thought Emma would be like this or that. Newborns don't give much away in the form of pesonality, so I would usually just smile, and say something non-committal like,
"She'll be her own little person."
Emma is starting to show who she is more and more. She seems to love to play with soccer and basketballs, she likes baby dolls, she likes stuffed animals, she loves going outside, she usually insists on climbing rocks and things, she loves to 'draw', and she is pretty social. The other day I gave myself the freedom to picture who I thought she would be at 23 years old. I disapeared ito my imagination and saw a confident athletic women, working overseas, with a hemp necklace, and a desire to change the world. I sighed and shook my head. Because in a moment's time I realized that is who I wanted to be or who I wished that I was at that age.

I think getting myself out of the way and allowing Emma to be who she is and who she wants to be is going to be the hardest part of parenting. Here is this little person who looks like me, I have control of some of the things that I expose her to, I have control of how I react to her choices, and I have this strong desire to do it 'right.' To give her the things I feel like I didn't have. People always make comments about her being a little artist. I almost hope she isn't. Because I don't want comparisons, or competition. In a way I hope that she is something more easily employable, like a nurse or therapist. Something that makes sense in a clear cut way. Again I don't get to choose, and hopefully I can see her for who she is and give her encouragement in the way that she needs it.

I have always viewed her as this litte person unfolding, not a baby or a toddler but this person all wrapped up inside of those cries and giggles.

Moms of older kids, how have you been successful in doing this?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Cowgirl and a Mom

One of my friends looked at me last week or so and with one eye ball trained on me asked,
"So, what do you want to be when you grow up?" My first reaction to that,
'Oh, so my confusion shows?' I should have said, 'fairy princess.' But I was caught off gaurd enough that I answered honestly.
I told her that eventually when all are kids in school we can re-assess and I can look into teaching at the collegiate level or getting another masters, but at the end of the day I am really an artist.

A couple years ago my friend and I were camping on the beach of Lake Superior. I had just spent all day on solo, which means I upended driftwood into the sand to make huge Stonehenge-like formations of logs. I don't know why I did this, we photographed it. I think the film is lying somewhere, undeveloped (yes, it was that long ago). Maybe I was hoping that someone taking a walk along the beach would find it and enjoy it. Think it's pretty, wonder who did it, add some interest and peace to an already peaceful walk. At one point my friend and I were walking along, she grabbed my hand and snapped a photograph of our shadows, and said,
"See I like to capture moments, and you like to create them," in one sentence she differentiated the mind of photographer and the mind of an artist. She is compelled to capture what is here, I am compelled to create what hasn't happened yet.

When I was in college I went on a semester abroad in Tanzania. During one hot afternoon while on safari, my cabin mates all chose to take a nap. I don't nap, or I can't nap, so I sat on the porch to journal or sketch. As I sat there I heard a crunching. I got up, walked over to the edge of the porch and peered at the side of the building. There was a huge bull elephant just munching away on the grass roof of our cabin. My heart froze, what do I do? It peered at me with one eye, I knew it wouldn't hurt me. I dashed back over to the door opened the top of it, and hissed into my friends that they needed to get up now and CHECK THIS OUT! I remember my friend sat up, whilst twirling her hair, and gave me this look like, 'you woke me up for what?' I thought, 'forget about them,' and rushed back over to the side of the porch. I kept thinking, 'What do I do? How do I record this? Do I sketch it? Do I photograph it? What? What?' I started a sketch and a few lines in realized that I was taking too much time. I rushed back to the door, to wake up my compatriots, so that they could share in this natural miracle, and all three of them were plastered against the window. I grabbed my camera. I think I decided against it because I didn't want any noise to disturb it. Right then and there, I just stopped, and watched the elephant. My friend Andrea came out onto the porch with me. As she did the whole herd silently, staidly, walked around the cabin. We squealed and gripped each other's hands as a baby came around the corner with it's mother.
I think that was my moment, when I just decided to enjoy life instead of trying to capture it for posterity all the time. I think both ways of thinking are valid, and I think there is strength in knowing how you think.
When I was in preschool I wanted to be a cowgirl and a mom.
When I was in kindergarten I wanted to be a zoologist and a mom.
About when I was six we discovered that I could draw.
Ever since then I've wanted to be an artist.
And a mom.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Late Night What if's?

It's 1am, and I'm awake. Sleep has eluded me the last few days. When I first had Emma I felt that insomnia was the ultimate slap in the face for a parent. You would hope that you were so sleep deprived that any chance to sleep would send you into REM instantly. Alas, I find that parenthood brings me more to worry about.
We leave for Kosovo in a week from, well, today. My 'to do' list had been cantering in circles in my mind. I finally got up and wrote it down. A half hour later I now know I do not need a visa to get into Kosovo, and have started writing up a medical power of attorney for Scott's parents, who will be caring for Emma in our absence.
They very carefully trotted sideways, dressage style, to tell us that we might want to do this before we left. Also that we should draw up a will to appoint guardianship for our little one. We have to think about the unthinkable.
As I scanned an example document on one of the many websites that offers legal services I thought, 'Do I trust them to make the right decision if Emma should need a blood transfusion or surgery?' My in-laws are medical professionals, so I trust their opinions and knowledge of medical services.
This brings to the forefront of my mind probably the most horrible thing you can think of as a parent, 'what if I don't get to raise my child? What if something were to happen and I didn't get to watch this beautiful person unfold into the adult she's supposed to be? What if I am not the one that gets to make decisions for her, should she take soccer or ballet?' Even the little decisions, I wouldn't get to take her to the zoo for the first time, or introduce myself to her kindergarten teacher.
Never before when travelling have I ever really thought about something happening to me. As you get older the stakes get higher. As you fall in love, the stakes get higher. If something were to happen to me my husband would be a widower. As you bring children into the world the stakes get higher. If something were to happen to me now a child would an orphan.
It's almost enough to make me hang up my passport and stay home.
But we won't. At least not this time. We'll see how this eleven day separation goes I may discover that missing my little bug isn't worth it. I may discover that it gave me a welcome break, allowed me to sink my teeth back into my profession, and renewed me to be a better parent.
Looks like we're gonna find out.