And for once I was SuperMom

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday with Toddlers

I took my daughter to the beach this morning, she fell asleep at 11:40am on the drive home. I swear if I am driving anywhere in the eleven o'clock hour the kid passes out and shoots a hole in her nap.
So she slept I was able to carry her upstairs into our apartment and plunk her down in her crib. I think she slept for forty-five minutes total.
This is not enough.
Not enough sleep for her, and not enough break for me.
I got her up and and gave her lunch. I sat back down at my computer and tried, tried, to finish the email I was typing. When I looked up she was crushing her strawberries in between her fingers. My intial thought?
'Good thing I didn't put you back in your clothes.'
These strawberry crushing moments are one of those moments as a parent where I feel like I can actually feel the world slow down as I choose my reaction. She's just exploring texture, she hasn't been socailized to know that squishing your food between your fingers isn't the most polite activity. Is now the moment where I teach her that? By jumping up and screaming, 'NO!' Or do I encourage her natural curiousity? Or do I just not react. While I was making up my mind to react (I guess the world doesn't slow down all that much for my inner monologue) she flung her hands about in the classic excited toddler gesture, which sprayed strawberry juice all over the white wall behind her. Again I sat deciding what to do, but I think my furrowed brow and pinched mouth conveyed to her that I was not happy because her smile faded quickly and she put her hands down. What is that song lyric, 'You say it best when you say nothing at all?'
She ate very little of her lunch and then started shouting that she was,
"ALL DONE! ALL DONE!" I let her sit a few more moments, because I didn't believe her. Out of all the sign language that we tried to teach our young one, she learned, 'all done,' the quckest because she realised that means we let her out of that chair. Often I will leave her a bit longer than the announced, 'all done,' because sometimes she will eat more.

I finally let her out of her high chair. She started bring all her little animal toys (that belong to her Noah's Ark set) to me and demanding that I set them on the table right next to me. She points to the spot where she wants it and goes,
"Put here," while tapping it repeatedly with her finger. Sometimes she just taps, and does not talk. On one hand I am thrilled that she can communicate her desires, on the other hand I don't really want to be bossed around by someone that is 2'5".
Eventually she brought me the ark and then insisted on climbing in my lap to play with it. During his process she must have stepped on my inner thigh, pinching the skin (okay, fat) between her foot and the chair, at least nine times. Apparently someone wanted my attention. Which makes perfect sense because she had my undivided attention all morning long.
So I decided we would go to the park.

So there we were at Patton Park, I had stood back and let Emma do more of the climbing on the play structures without my help. I had noticed she has started to regress and ask for my help with things she had previously done on her own. She stood at the top of the slide and I asked if she wanted my help, usually I hold her hands and guide her down. She said no, I looked away for two seconds and there she was at the bottom of the slide. Triumphant she had done it on her own. I rushed to the bottom to help her down, cheering her on in her big achievement. As I helped her down I looked back up at the top of the slide, huge poop smears down the slide. My cheers were quickly silenced, as I swept her up off the ground and rushed over to the stroller holding her out from myself under her armpits.

I laid her on the grass and changed her. Can I say right now that I hate these moments of random poop in public. I am NEVER fully prepared for them. Sure I have wipes and extra diapers, but when the poop anywhere else but on her I feel like that is never enough. Should I be carrying around a high pressure hose and disinfectant soap everywhere we go? Because that's what I feel like it takes to make it sanitary after my kid's poo gets smeared everywhere. I guess I feel like you can't really be prepared for those kind of accidents, but in the back of your head you are thinking, 'if I was a better mom....'

A few cleaner moments later we were back at the slide. I wiped the smears down with wipes (because that's all I had, no water, no bleach) and while my head was turned putting the poopy wipes back in the plastic bag that held her poopy cloth diaper Emma let her rip again and went down the slide without my help. Except this time at the bottom she didn't stop. She launched off and landed right on her face. I launched myself over towards her shoving everything in the diaper bag. Her little pink mouth was open, screaming, and full of gravel. I did the 'is anything bleeding' check and gave her a sippy cup. In a matter of seconds she was fine and off again.

During this time I was talking to another mom, who seemed sympathetic. She pointed out that her daughter was poopy and wouldn't go down on the slide on her bottom because she knew better. So apparently this is more common than I think...

Maybe this is why you don't remember much of toddlerhood, if you have every memory of your parents whipping of your pants in public and whiping down all your poop you might never poop again.

Monday, August 29, 2011

She Came and Went

Well Irene came, and she huffed and puffed, and she did not blow our house down.
On Friday I was buzzing through the grocery store for some forgotten items, and was confronted with a display of batteries and flashlights. I thought,
As I was checking out I asked the checker and bagger, who were saying that they were almost sold out of water and batteries,
"Okay how serious is this? I just moved here and have never had anything like this."
They both held their hands up and basically stated that people were over-reacting. I looked at the middle aged man behind me,
"Are you buying batteries?"
"Water, but we'll drink it anyway if nothing happens." I turned back to my purchase of food for dinner that night and didn't rush out to buy water. I thought as I walked to the car, well I can always just all Nalgenes with water and we have headlamps. We should be okay if the power does go off for a few hours. Not like that didn't happen to us in Africa all the time.
I didn't though. On Saturday our hurricane preparation was a walk to the library to pick up more books for our daughter and more movies for us. Gordon College had advised it's students to not go outdoors from 10am to 10pm. We thought that sounded like good advice. We had seen that most churches had cancelled services for Sunday, so it seemed that everyone had put themselves on lock down.
I woke up on Sunday thinking maybe I had just better stay in bed all day, but I didn't. I decided that the best way to make this day was to not sit as much as possible. Or else by the end of the day I would have 'lazy fog brain.' I did chores I usually reserve for Monday, like laundry and baking, because what else do I have to do? We watched the Big Lebowski, because Scott had never seen it before and I could work on some art with one eye on it and one eye on my hands. We concluded that this particular movie is better viewed late at night with beer.
We watched the windows to look for signs of crazy weather coming. It seemed that by the time Irene got to our humble home she was a bit tired. We saw a lot of wind and some rain.
Nothing spectacular. Seems she thought that New England couldn't handle a less genteel storm.
My daughter started to ask to go outside in the afternoon. I said, 'not today,' and offered a book. While the weather didn't look too wiley I had a sneaking suspicion that if we went out in it it would suddenly take a turn for the worse.
Seems that other's fared far worse and for that I am saddened.
As for us on this sunny cloudless day we are going to the park.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Goodness Gracious Me

Emma's driving me crazy today.
I feel like one of those horrible moms in movies that they show losing their temper over something small. Like: look at this mom, she's so selfish, because you should patient with children all the time, and children are always right.
The problem is when you lose your temper with your kid you do feel like a complete jerk.

Yesterday Emma's diaper leaked while I was trying to put groceries away at Scott's office, I am helping to prepare a cookout tonight. I say trying because it was trying and half the time when you are doing a task with a toddler on hand (a task that does not involve putting your full attention on the child) you are really only trying because eventually one of you ends up crying. There was runny...well, you know, everywhere. I rinsed her sandal off and then put it back on her wet. She started crying because who wants to wear wet sandal? But who wants to wear a sandal covered in...well, you know...anyway, my response to her:
"Stop crying, you're fine," in a harsher tone than normal. You know why? Because that response from my kid makes me feel horrible. Here I am trying to do the best for her and I get crying in return. She doesn't understand that I was washing her shoe and making it sanitary, all she knows is now her foot is wet. And I know that she doesn't get it, which compound the horrible-ness I feel.

The worst part of it? It's not her fault. She is just transitioning out of having to cry to get all her needs met. Real needs, like hunger and sleep. Not wants like, will you read 'The Bear with Sticky Paws' to me for the fifth time today.
Today I lost it when she scratched the back of my knees by bumping me with a book, because instead of putting the dishes away I really should be reading to her.
Today I decided in the half hour before our morning activity I was going to fold the laundry that had been sitting on the floor for two days. I fought for that laundry. I folded with her climbing into my lap. I folded with her grabbing my finger and trying to haul me away from it. I folded with her pushing a book against my arm (always with the book). I got it done though, folded and put away.
This of course makes me feel selfish, because shouldn't I just stop and patiently read her the book. On the other hand the kid brings me books while I'm on the...well, you know.

As a mother I'm transitioning too. I still have the heart reaction to stop her crying instantly, because she needs me, actually needs me for food and survival. Now I have to discern what are needs and wants. The book is a need for attention, and we all need attention. But how much attention? Then when am I superceding my actual needs for her wants. At some point laundry and dishes do need to be done.

I knew this week would be hard. It's Scott's first week back at work after a two week vacation. During camp Emma had the attention of all the students several times a day. so it's not surprising that she's bit needy at the moment. I guess we could all use a little grace until we're adjusted...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Emma's Bedroom

In researching all the things I could do to that frame to make it better or fix it I visited quite a few different do-it-yourself blogs. I started thinking that maybe I should this blog in a DIY direction. Then I realized I would never have enough stuff to write about. I would get my house the way that I wanted and stop. No more glazing, no more spray painting, no more re-upholstering, just done. And I wouldn't change it for five years.

I also had an epiphany while I was squatting and spray painting some shelves aqua, 'what a privilege that it is that I can do this. What a privilege that all I have to worry about right now is what color to paint something.' I thought of all the mud brick houses that I had been in Tanzania that had newspapers hanging on the walls as decoration. No paint, no sconces, no framed pictures, just papers. I thought of the houses in Nairobi that had stuff spilling into halls because there were really no closets. I thought of all the women I had met that had to work and didn't have the luxury that I have now to sit in Emma's room and feel satisfied that all the walls have cute pictures on them, and that the sheets match the ribbon that holds up the letters (that spell out her name) that I made. Women who don't have the five dollars that it takes to buy a can of spray paint.
Then I felt silly.
Then I felt guilty.
Silly because how ridiculous am I in spending all this time on decorating my home?
Guilty because I should be helping people, rather than spray painting wicker shelving.

Tonight I sat in Emma's room for a few minutes after she had toddled to get her father to play baby with her. Everything in that room matches. For the most part. It's the only room in the house that is done at this moment. Because of our time in Kenya we are quite behind in all the purchasing of furniture. The living room is couchless and has boxes piled up in one corner. Our bed is currently two twin beds pushed together, which makes a king size bed. We don't have king size bedding so my mother-in-law, knowing that we would end up this way, pushed a set of king size sheets into my hands as we left. I am completely thankful for her foresight. Of course they don't match anything I own. Our queen size comforter is stretched over the top of the beds, leaving gaps on the sides. Our bed is never made, because, 'what's the point?' Shoved into the corner of the room are two boxes that currently have nowhere to go and our printer, still in it's box. (Our stuff doesn't really fit in this apartment.) I sit in Emma's room because it honestly relaxes me to have it all done. All the colors flowing together, everything in it's place, done.

This is why I feel so split. In one breath I know how silly it is to obssess over all this and spend money on it, any money at all. In the next breath I am an artist and beauty is important to me.
Then I saw this photojournalist display on children's rooms. That's why I posted pictures of Emma's room, obviously my pictures aren't as well done as his. My not quite two year old daughter has a room to her own. We are, by income level, middle class and her room looks palatial compared to the rooms of some of these kids. I just never know what to do with this sort of knowledge. I know that there are millions of children livig in abject poverty. I also know that we are not poor, I am thrilled that I can provide a nice room for my daughter. We will go on to purchase a three or four bedroom home later in our life and it will be gigantic and luxurious compared to the homes of most other people in the world. What am I to do? We tithe, we lived overseas, but what are my actions now?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Patchy the Frame

She stood over her dead prey.
She leans forward. She sees something.
She is vanquished it is finished.

This was me yesterday. Moving into our own home has put us on a bit of a flurry of Do-it-Yourself projects. Something I have wanted to do for awhile was make my own whiteboard. I have been looking for a fun carved ornate frame that I can re-paint and then insert a whiteboard into. One of the fixtures in our home in Nairobi was a whiteboard on the kitchen wall, where we would jot down all sorts of helpful things, like our grocery list. I'm a fantastic forgetter of things, sometimes it takes me three grocery trips to remember something like toilet paper. So a white board to jot down 'paper towels' when I realise that we are out of one is a life saver.
I've been looking for frames now for awhile. Quite a few spins through thrift stores have turned up nothing. We went to yard sale last Saturday, and there it was a beautiful ugly carved frame for three dollars. (Beautiful carvings, ugly finish)
It's mine now.
After several trips to two different hardware stores and one craft store I finally found an aqua (for the base) and a teal (for the crevices) that would work. The aqua was a little too blue and the teal was a little too green, figured that together they would work.
At the end of the day yesterday I had a sore trigger finger and an aqua frame (also some shelving and a sign for Emma's room in green). I was proud of myself, feeling kinda cocky.

That afternoon we went to Home Depot to buy the white board. I had read on a blog you can buy shower siding, have it cut to size, and that it makes a perfect white board. I asked a friendly Home Depot employee in the kitchen department if she knew if they had shower siding (I know, wrong department, she was the closest one I could find). She said no, but she had counter laminate, and showed it to me. I thought maybe if it was glossy it would work. I told her that I wanted to make a whiteboard out of it. The laminate was textured, not what I wanted. When she said,
"I don't have anything that can get that wet," I smiled, said thanks and moved on, she obviously wasn't catching the vision.
I found someone in the bath department, he showed me his huge pieces of shower siding, and told me he couldn't cut them for me. We left empty handed.
The galling thing is that my bathroom has a bath in it that was obviously DIY, and they have cut pieces of shower siding on the wall. They got it, why can't I?
I googled it later that evening and found another article that referred to the substance that I wanted as melamine. I really don't want to go back into that Home Depot. I'm pretty sure they wouln't have it anyway.
I also googled white board paint...let's just say that if you have to ask you can't afford it.

This afternoon I was eager to do the crevices. I had done this technique before with one of my mother's friends. She showed up one day with a little table some light green paint and a darker spray paint. I ended up with a cute little side table that followed me around for several moves. I put down newspaper, laid the frame down and began to spray. Just a few inches and then wiped. Repeated that process all the way around the frame. It wasn't really working, the paint left seams, and pulled in all the wrong places. The paint dried way too fast and had no movement in it. I realised that if I re-sprayed it would lift it and I could correct some heavy places. Then I saw it was leaving more heavy places. I made myself stop. I was left with a patchy finish.
Later in re-telling this to my husband he asked,
"Did you move it into the shade?"
Duh. It's in the eighties today and by the time I was done I was covered in sweat. Covered. I am sure that the paint was drying too fast and acting up.
I posted pictures above of my patchy frame, I can't decide if it looks cool or just sloppy. Has anyone ever done this before? Have any tips?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mommy Mirror

The other day Emma and I were lolling about on the floor of my bedroom. She was throwing herself down on top of me, I would then tickle her, or 'munch' on her. At one point she leaned back, paused, and looked at me. The expression on her face seemed to say, 'Was that okay Mommy? Did I do the 'right' thing?' I thought about the look on my own face, as facial expressions are one of the ways that we receive feedback from other people, what did my face say to her? I think my expression was pretty slack, I was probably tired or thinking about the million other things I 'needed' to be doing.
This makes me sad.
On so many levels.
In that moment I realized that often I will be Emma's mirror for the world. My very next thought was, 'what do I reflect?' If I am always tired or distracted when I play with her what I am saying to her? Am I saying that she's not important? Am I saying that I don't like her? Or that I don't like being her mother? Look what I just did, I started the guilt spiral.
She will look to me for her first understanding of who she is. Does she behave correctly? Is she good? Is she bad?
She will also look to me for her understanding of the world, like I am holding the mirror at an angle for her. Is it interesting place? Is it a fun place? Is it a scary place? Later on in life she will begin to come to own conclusions about the world. Will the vision that I first gave her feel like the truth or will it feel like a betrayal?
This is so hard. I can't be positive and perky all the time. I just can't. Don't have it in me. That has nothing to do with her it's just my natural constitution, I only have so much perky preschool teacher in me. Which as the mother of a toddler is so hard. Especially on days when she's been grumpy, and all that I am getting in return is whining and crying. I think that at a certain point it's okay to let children know that their behavior is intolerable and makes you feel like snapping. I don't know about you, but when that point hits and I do snap I always, always, feel like the Worst Mother in the World.

I guess I can only hope in those moments when we are playing and I sigh and close my eyes and my thoughts laze on over to the laundry that needs to be done or the novel I should write that she doesn't take it personally. I can only hope that most of the time I am gentle, understanding, and patient. That she takes her view of herself from the gentle, understanding, and patient moments and not from the tired, distracted, and overly done moments. That she knows she's wonderful from my kisses and tickles. And fron the patience I have to read stacks of books. That she learns that the world is interesting from the decisions I make to take her places rather than sticking her in front of the TV for hours. I can only hope.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taking Things for Granted

I live within walking distance of four different playgrounds.
I am giddy with the luxury of it all.
One of the art lessons that I taught in Kenya involved the children drawing their favorite playground. They all drew the playground at Rosslyn, the school that they attended. I don't think that this was because Rosslyn had the best playgrounds ever, it's because those were the only playgrounds available to them. In Nairobi there were only a few parks in the city, they just consisted of grassy areas and benches. No actual play structures. I don't know if I saw ever saw a slide or swing set outside of the Rosslyn compound.
In Buena Vista we only had two playgrounds that were public access. There were more but they were connected to a school. Granted in the year that we lived there Emma was only old enough and it was only warm enough for me to use them a few times, but I was still glad she was too young to get sick of them.

I was at a baby shower a few weekends ago and a card was being passed around that had a picture of cute little clothes being line dried. One of the moms made the sarcastic comment,
“Well, of course you are going to hand wash and line dry all your diapers.” I couldn't help myself from muttering under my breath,
“We did that when we lived in Kenya.” I don't know if she heard me or not, I didn't know her and really couldn't afford to start an argument.
We did hand wash and line dry our cloth diapers in Kenya, we had no choice. We didn't have a washer and dryer, fortunately we were lucky enough to have a house worker who did hand wash and line dry all our clothes and cloth diapers. Not everybody has the option of a washer and dryer. Not everybody has the option of a house worker. I didn't want to get a house worker for awhile but our laundry situation pushed my hand. We were blessed by her help and we blessed her by providing a job for an otherwise unemployed woman. (We still hand washed all our own underwear, it felt a little more than gross to hand that over to another human.)
Sure we could've bought disposable diapers, but they were riotously expensive.

When we first arrived in Nairobi we had to decide where to live, either on the northwest side by my school or down in the center by Scott's office. We chose to live up by my school. Commuting in Nairobi is a colossal chore, taking one to two hours to go only seven or nine miles. I remember discussing this decision with a Kenyan colleague, I realized that for me asking me not only to live in another culture but to use public transportation was a bit more than I could handle at the moment. I wondered at the time if that made me sound like a terribly spoiled young woman. It may have, but I consoled myself in the fact that he didn't take the public transportation either. It took us eight months before we could purchase a car. We lived in a neighborhood where public transportation was not readily available for me to get to and from work. Scott could get to his office, but it took him about an hour and a half. My school was a forty five minute walk away. Luckily our next door neighbor also worked at Rosslyn and most days I could catch a ride with her. Having to figure out transportation was a constant source of stress for those eight months.

Up until those eight months I had begun to take for granted ease of transportation that owning your own car provides. I know that theoretically we all know that not everyone has a car or a washer and a dryer, but it's that person over there on the other side of the Atlantic or that person in the ghetto, not us or anyone we know. It's easy to forget that there are real people who don't have the opportunities, resources, and wealth that we do have. For awhile I was that person without access to a car or a washer and dryer. Not everybody, in fact, even has access to disposable diapers.

This is one of the things that I fear about living back in the states: the slow slide back into taking things for granted that I didn't know were privileges in the first place. Forgetting that thirty years ago disposable diapers weren't even an option. Forgetting that chocolate is a luxury. Forgetting that internet is not a necessity. Forgetting that so many people live without and get on just fine. I am not sure how to keep myself sharp. And I'm not sure how to not sound like a jerk to other Americans when I talk about life choices that my family has made.