And for once I was SuperMom

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I Can't Feel too Sorry for Myself

I have a jealousy problem. A big one. I go into my friend’s homes and I’m jealous of the space they have. I’m jealous of the two cars that they have. I’m jealous that they’re considering buying a house. We are terribly financially behind most of my peers.
We spent two years in Africa and that choice put us only looking at the American dream and not actually achieving it. I don’t allow myself to regret it.
Here’s why:
We don’t have a dishwasher, I found myself complaining about it with friends the other day. Which I am ashamed of, only a small minority of people in the world have a dishwasher. Nobody, but nobody has a dishwasher in Nairobi, I wouldn’t know that fact had I not lived there.
As I click through the list of blogs that I follow I run across one from a girl I knew in college, they are in Uganda awaiting the adoption of a child. My heart sinks as I see her list one more court date that they have to attend. I have seen the fallen faces of parent’s after one more court date when a judge did not show up because they were ‘sick’ or on ‘vacation.’ I walked with friends as the adoption process dragged out for years, watched as corruption kept children out of the arms of the families that so wanted them. I saw the tears and hugged the children. I’ve been to orphanages; I’ve held the babies that were left behind. They all had colds. I have talked to friends who were bravely fostering these children, heard stories about children who would never be adopted because their incarcerated father wouldn’t give up parental rights. I have admired their courage as they gave their weekends to love on children who weren’t getting held enough, admired their courage to love a child that would probably never be their own to love. My inner cynic rises in the back of my head as I look at my friend’s hope, and then I beat her down and tell myself to be proud of my friend’s willingness to love and have hope.
A colleague of mine from the school that I taught at in Nairobi was kidnapped in Somalia four weeks ago. Her name is Jess Buchanan, she was working for a Danish demining group and was taken in an area known to have Somali pirates. Last I read she was being held for a ransom of 50 million Kroner, when I finally had the guts to convert that amount I learned that is about 8.6 million dollars. If you want to find this out you have dig in the US media, Justin Beiber’s hair is a higher head liner than one of our own citizens being kidnapped for ransom. I know because a friend posted about it on Facebook. And I know Jess, she’s not just some Chaco wearing do-gooder who I toss a passing prayer to the heavens and hope everything turns out all right. I know her, I know that she would probably rather be caught dead than wearing Chacos. I sat at the lunch table with her and laughed at her hysterical stories, heard her re-tell tales of her students, and wished her well when she moved to Somalia.
This is all why I don’t regret living overseas for those two years. My worldview was blown to smithereens. It’s hard to be in the US where in one opening of a browser site you can be knee deep in cluelessness and a thousand miles away from the heartbreak of the rest of the world. It would be so easy to feel so sorry for myself because we live in a small apartment with no dishwasher, but I know that in many parts of the world there would be a family of ten smashed into my apartment with a very good chance of no running water and no electricity. So I can’t feel too bad for myself, something that I find to be a blessing. I can’t turn a blind eye to the suffering of the world. Another blessing.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mom Would Be So Proud

I never thought I would say this, but I think I need a thimble.

My mom would be so proud.

When Emma was in utero I started making all the decorations for her room. There was a dearth of 'cute' age appropriate nursery decorations in Nairobi and really it was just my version of nesting. Some people clean, I create. My nesting urges launched me into a collaging phase. I started combining collage and embroidery on canvas.

I don't know if you know this but embroidering through gessoed and painted canvas is hard. This afternoon as I sat there trying to force a needle through two layers of thick paper, fabric, and canvas I thought, 'I could use a thimble.' I resorted to using the flat part of my hole puncher to force the needle through. As I did it I was pretty glad that I already glued the button on and that the sewing was only for added cuteness, or it could have been precarious and dangerous.

Why didn't you just punch a hole with the hole puncher? I had...

I actually love embroidery. I'm not good at it, but I enjoy. I think because I'm stabbing something... My mother taught me how years ago. She also taught me to sew. I have actually finally decided to accept the fact that I do not like sewing. I like the idea of it, I love the creativity and all the possibilities. I hate the process. I always get about a quarter of the way through a sewing project and then something happens to the bobbin (always the bobbin) and I think, 'oh, right I hate this.' But embroidery stuck.

It's funny to remember this, as I am sewing buttons onto this canvas I watch my hands push in, flip around, and tie off. Centuries old motions that my own fingers do so quickly. A muscle memory that I never knew I had.

After an hour or so of collage I find myself relaxed, calm, the soothing feeling of having accomplished something, I can move onto other tasks. One time I was talking to a friend about doing art and how it calmed me down. She looked at me and said,
"Are you ever angry?" I seriously wondered how she could ask that question of me. I don't do art when I'm angry, only leads to ruin. I clean when I am angry,
"Gee, Lara the oven is really clean."
"Oh is it? Is it sooo CLEAN?!?!"
I digress, if you have the time wander over to my Etsy shop and check out what I've done.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Just Another Night

"I a rubber duck," Emma announces.
"Oh, are you a rubber duck?"
"I not a rubber duck."
"Well then what are you?"
"I a boat," she asserts.
"Oh, are you a boat?"
"No, I not a boat."
"What are you then?"
"I a fish," the next one.
I fan out my fingers and look down at my hands,
"You're a fish?"
"No I not a fish."
"What are you then?" I ask, trying to get to her to say that she's, 'a Emma,' or a 'little girl.' Little ragged islands of nail polish float in the middle of my nails. I look back up, she has given up on our conversation and is now jamming the beak of her rubber duck into the faucet.
"Is your duck's beak in the faucet?" No response. Continued jamming. I wonder why I even bother to paint my nails in the first place. Even if I can find time to sit still long enough to let the polish dry they are ruined the first time I wash dishes. That was the case even pre-baby.
She turns to me, and says a litany of words that I can only discern means she wants to go take her duck to her daddy, who is presently washing dishes in the kitchen. Picturing a dripping wet child running across the apartment and then wanting to get back in the bath I say,
"That seems a bit logistically difficult right now." In a few moments she shouts,
"I want to get out!" I lift her out, rubber duck and all. While I stand up to grab her towel she starts to climb back into the tub. I catch her,
"Nope, once you're out, you're out," and quickly wrap her in a towel.
We sit down on the closed toilet and I put toothpaste on her toothbrush and give it to her. While she is busy sucking and chewing away. I turn us away from the sink and contort myself around and reach an arm under the sink to get a comb out. I have to do this without her seeing because I know that once she sees the comb she will try to rip it out of my hand. And probably succeed. I sneakily comb the tangles out of her fine hair. Hoping this will be enough to deter the frizz she's been walking around with for the past week.
I finish combing and deposit the comb in the sink, because if she gets ahold of it who knows where it will end up.
"Here, honey, let me help you brush your teeth," this is met with clenched teeth and a wiggly interfering tongue. I never have any idea at how much I am getting clean when I brush her teeth. Scott walks up to the door,
"Emma do this, ahhhhh!" He pantomines opening his mouth wide. She bites the tooth brush.
"All right, all done," I announce and turn her loose. She runs past her daddy and into the apartment.
Nothing makes me smile like seeing her little naked bottom running away from me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Myth of a Flat Belly

Today I would like to speak the truth.

Women were not made to have flat bellies.

It's true. Google it. Or it. Or Jeeves, or whatever. Or God, I'm pretty sure he'd have my back on this one.

I have never had a perfectly flat belly. Even before I had children. Even when I was a vegetarian and running cross country; a thinning combination to be sure.
Even when I breastfed and shrunk and shrunk down to size two my belly still sloped outward instead of going flat as a board. I looked at it in the mirror and thought,
'Oh well, I guess that's sticking around.' Considering the trauma it went through I'm pretty happy that it doesn't look like a three month old deflated balloon.

I just recently saw a montage of before and after photoshop treatment of magazine photos. Everyone's boobs got bigger, waists got smaller, skin got smoother, and suddenly no one had wrinkles or circles under their eyes. This didn't make me angry. Just kind of flaccid. I cognitively know that photoshop is out there turning already beautiful people into impossibly beautiful people, but actually seeing it was just deflating. As an actress with a smattering of zits across her forehead got perfectly clear skin I remember feeling relieved and thinking it was unfair all at the same time. Like, 'oh, the beautiful people have zits too,' and, 'hey, that makes us feel unnecessarily bad about ourselves.'

Because even though I am pretty savvy, even though I am getting more and more comfortable with my body, I had bought it. I somehow believed that they all had clear skin, no bags under their eyes, and amazingly proportioned bodies. Like they were uber-humans that aren't affected by sleepless nights or bad diets.

Norway is voting on legislation that will make a warning label appear on photos that have been retouched. They have already banned ads from Maybelline and Loreal that were considered too retouched.

I guess I am tired of the lies. These actors are being twisted into shapes that don't even exist. Women were not made with flat bellies. Not even the uber athletes that have not an ounce of fat on them (which I don't begrudge them because they worked hard for it), I am sure that when they turn to the side bellies go out instead of straight down.

I guess I'm just asking all those people that are pushing the lies to stop. What's the point anyway? So you make someone look more beautiful than they really are, why is that a good thing? It may inflate their ego, but the rest of us are left wondering why we don't look like that.
Sometimes it makes me want to move to Europe, where the people who actually get famous are talented and not just nice to look at.

I guess I'm savng that if you have a pooch, give it a pat because it belongs there.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Wonder Why? - Part II

This post may be a bit beneath me, I hate celebrity gossip. Every time I get sucked into looking at one of those glossy magazines, with beautiful people that I don't know at all I feel a bit dirty. A bit voyueristic. Like I'm looking through a peep hole in some seedy hotel. I don't know these people, I have no business looking at their lives.
But it's hard to avoid when the news media seems to shove these people down our throats.

So here's something that has bothered me for awhile. I wish people would stop criticizing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie for having so many children. It makes me sad that so many people feel they would have to be absolutely insane to have so many children.

There was a time and a place where the more children you had the more blessed you were. There was a time and a place where having children raised your status in society. There still is such a place. To become a grandparent in Africa is still a thing of great pride. One of the highest places in society that you can achieve. I know that in America grandparents are proud. I am approached by them all the time. It seems, though, for so many there is a hesitancy to become a parent.

That you won't be cool anymore.
That you won't be able to do the things you like to do anymore.
That you won't be thin anymore.
I could go on.

I struggled with this for a lot of years. I used to think that children had 'I will change your life' tattooed across their forehead. And not for the better. Now this fear largely kept me from getting pregnant before I was married and ready, so that's good. I just wish that friends that I know would make great parents weren't struggling with it as well.

We have changed so much as a culture that we value the ability to go skiing whenever we want over the life of a person. Because that is what they are, little people.

In those moments when I wish that I was back at work I think about that. That most of all I value people. The reason I make art is to bring joy to people. The reason I write is to share with people. The reason I've taken jobs in social services is to help people. That here she is, a person. I have been entrusted with the health and care of a human being. That's pretty important.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I Wonder Why?

A few months ago two friends of ours sat with us on the beach and asked us frankly,
‘Why would you have children?’
I sat there and collected my thoughts. Why would you?

In our culture we hold up individual autonomy and independence as two of our main values. Our friends are happily married and thoroughly enjoying life. Why would they want anything to change? They can travel. They can renovate their home. The can ride their bikes anywhere. I know they fill their Saturdays with fun activities that are definitely harder with children, if not impossible.
I thought about two years of interrupted sleep. A career derailed. And there really is just more fluid involved in parenting that I really thought there would be. Sometimes as I think about mounting my diplomas to the front of the washing machine and I wonder why I did.
As our daughter played in the sand about us, Scott and I told them why we had chosen to have children. I don’t remember what we said.

I wonder why and then I look over at this little person who is sitting on my husband’s lap carefully and deliberately eating goldfish crackers I wouldn’t have it any other way. As I look at the little mouth and perfect little feet that I love to kiss so much I can’t imagine turning back the clock and choosing to do anything differently.
I wonder why and then I realize that she is this perfect little combination of the two of us, a beautiful living reminder of our love. She is this little person unfolding before my eyes. A little person that I am enjoying to get to know. I can see some of her personality in between the cracks of toddler behavior; a calm spirit, a precocious sense of humor, a quick mind, an infectious excitability.
I wonder why and then I catch a glimpse at the inside of her arm and realize it looks exactly like mine. Like me she will spend the rest of her life looking at that arm.
I wonder why and then I think about the hours of tickling and giggling. I think of that pitch of her voice when she hits that deep belly giggle. I think of her little face curled up into smile, and how much I want to cover those little cheeks in kisses.

This afternoon I gave her grapes while she cuddled on her daddy’s lap. Grapes are one of the few foods that she will always eat. She clambered up from her father’s lap, waded through a wad of lap blankets, all while holding grape out to me. When she got to me she placed it in my mouth, curled up against my shoulder and said,
“I love you,” she then looked up at me and put her finger on my nose and said, ‘oh, I love your nose.’ Then her little hand went up to my glasses and waved about above them, ‘oh, I love your glasses.’ Almost like she wanted to take them off, but knew better. Then she slid off me and on to the floor and ran off to run amuck.

We have a rough day where she is whining, I am tired, and then she runs up to me grabs my finger and says, ‘I want to play with you.’
I wonder why....

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Little Help

We're doing this wrong.

I adore my child. She is a beautiful joy. A bundle of brilliance, curiosity, humor, and sweetness. She is usually pretty well-behaved, if you can see through the requisite toddler behavior.

I am exhausted by her. If she pokes me in the butt one more time with a book while I am trying to complete some utterly ridiculous task, like putting on makeup or putting away the dishes, I am going to tear my hair out and scream.

I know she needs my attention. I want to give her attention.

I have vacuuming that I've been putting off for a week.
An endless pile of dirty dishes.
Blogs I have yet to write.
Books bopping about in my head.
Illustrations I haven't completed.
Half done paintings.

Sometimes I feel like I can't complete a thought. Much less a project.

It's such a balance of giving her one on one attention, which I know she needs and I am happy to give and then actually getting things done. Of course I feel selfish for wanting to get things done but 'things' actually do need to get done. Right? They do, don't they? I can't spend every waking moment watching her pretend to fix her new kitchen. Right?

I want to spend a chunk of time on her and then a chunk on everything else. But it doesn't work that way. My child's five minute attention span bounces off my proclivity towards distraction and nothing gets done, I get frustrated, and she ends up in front of the TV.

Then she'll come up and hug me.

Or say, 'Mommy, I like your earrings,' when I'm in the middle of changing her diaper. And I feel like a jerk.

We're doing this wrong.

When I am with a group of mothers and someone says that she works so she can get away from her children, and we all laugh, there is something wrong. I know that not every moment can any one human be patient and calm. With so many mom's feeling tired and worn out and resorting to parking their kids in front of 'The Wiggles' it leads me to believe that we are doing this wrong.

I think this is the first time in history that women have been isolated and made to largely raise children on their own for eight or more hours a day. Play dates and 'mommy and me' classes can only get you so far. I keep thinking of women that I saw in the village in Africa who would get together everyday to do their work. You would look over at pack of women sitting on the ground happily shucking corn and chatting while children ran about playing simple games.

This is a hard scene to recreate when we all live in our separate homes miles from each other. When we have boundaries that say it's not okay to have anyone over when your house has dirty dishes in the sink or your floors are not vacuumed. When you feel like you need to have a four course meal on hand for any guest that comes over around meal time. Even though I know I don't expect that from anyone else. I'm usually just happy for a cup tea.

Last night I invited a friend over for dinner. Her husband was out of town and having done the dinner alone bit with a child I knew she could use company. When we trying to decide when she should come over and I encouraging her to come over sooner I admitted my side of it,
“I'm tired, I don't know when Scott is going to be home, and our kids could play together while we cook,” she laughed and said she'd be over in fifteen minutes.
I threw together some soup and she brought over Bisquick and made biscuits at my house. Our kids stole toys from each other and we had company.
We both dropped our self-reliance, admitted that we could use some help, and had a much better evening than we would have alone.

How can we do more of this?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Little More Normal

I have appreciated all the encouragement I've gotten from my last blog. I know that I am doing what I need to do and for whatever reason my body seems to need to gain more than the 'recomended' weight. I so thought I had done better this time around, I did, but only by five pounds.
It's just discouraging to watch yourself get bigger and bigger, and see the numbers climbing and know there's nothing you can do about it until six or seven months from now. Like there is some switch in the back of your head that you can just flip and suddenly all the years that you have trained yourself to wish the number to go down you're supposed to be okay with it going up? I usually look up while they're weighing me. With Emma I had no idea until the last doctor's appointment. Besides it was in kilos, double digits? Looks great!
I confessed to a nurse practitioner that I couldn't even drink water, it grossed me out. She laughed and nodded. This is one of the reasons I have chosen to use female doctors, and midwives. They know. They tell you to eat healthy and then tell you, 'do what you can.' Because they know, they know what it feels like.
Oh sure some may think, 'she's just indulging because she's pregnant.' There may be truth to that, but when I look down and realize I have just hoovered an entire plate of enchiladas, a feat that would have left me in pain pre-gestation, and then I could still use some more, methinks something else is going on here.

Tucking happily into a Big Mac and fries is unusual desire for me. McDonalds is a place that I usually avoid with a sneer and a comment about it not being 'food.' The first time I had that 'hamburger' craving, I went on my own 9:30pm burger run, because my husband didn't believe me. The quarter pounder that I got had too much ketchup on it, and the meat was gummy, but I ate it anyway just to prove him wrong.

Yesterday, for breakfast, I craved whole wheat toast, with peanut butter, banana, and honey. Instead of frozen waffles or a bagel. I was almost elated that I wanted to eat something so healthy and so normal for me. As I sat there munching I was happy that I had gotten to the part in my pregnancy that my 'cravings' seem a little more normal and I don't have to eat every two hours.

Then I dumped syrup on my kid's peanut butter toast to get her to eat more. Didn't work. But then, that's another blog...

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Eggo is Preggo

Well folks it's time that I announce to the blogosphere that I am pregnant. 14 weeks and counting.
So that should explain the dearth of posts that have not been in the past three months. Unlike my pregnancy with Emma this one has left me either laying down or kneeling in front of the toilet. It's hard to come up with deep insights about the world around you when most of your energy is focused on not throwing up.
Today I am feeling better, it's past eight pm, I am sitting upright and still have enough mental clarity to write.
To I am going to take this time to pause and pontificate on pregnancy and the crazy things we eat just to get through. So, why, mother nature, in the one time in our lives when we are supposed to be eating the healthiest the only thing that I can keep down is french fries, boxed mac and cheese, and Big Macs? Why is that?
One friend told me that all she could keep down during her pregnancy where bagels and french fries.
Another friend asked what is the craziest food that I have plowed through, her example was that in less than a week she went through a 32 ounce Irish Creme flavored creamer. I laughed and said that after grocery shopping I sat in the car and ate half a box of Cheez-it snack mix. I needed a mid-morning snack.
There has also been a lot of late night bacon.
For the first part of my pregnancy I am like a hobbit: second breakfast, elevensies. Second lunch. And it's not just, 'oh I could use a snack.' Nope, I am ravenous about every two hours. And if I don't eat, I puke. With Emma I put on twenty pounds in my first trimester, with this one I skated by with only fifteen. I was so hoping I would do so much better. Apparently I didn't.
I guess it's just what my body needs to do.
I did get, let's call it a bacterial infection, when Emma was about four months old and couldn't really eat for four days. I still had plenty of milk to feed her. So thanks to all those second breakfasts we were okay.
I hate it though, I'll check in with a website to find out how big my kid is getting and there will be some uber perky paragraph about how I might, just now, be fitting into maternity clothes. Thanks scrawny, I've been in them for a month. Or that maybe I even lost weight because I've been so sick. First of all I think that it is sick to let women think that weight loss of any kind is okay during pregnancy. Second, nope, sick as a dog and somehow managed to gain fifteen pounds. Maybe it's all that exercise I haven't been doing....
Then there's the two hour naps I've been taking most days. This from a woman who never naps. Never. Unless gestating.
So, you know, sleeping burns a lot of calories....
The other day we were seated in a McDonalds and I was looking down at the remnants of the large fry that I had just put in their place and said to Scott,
"I wonder how much damage I have done to my arteries in the past few weeks?" He shrugged popped a fry in his mouth and said,
"You'll run it off."
Indeed I will, I will run it all off.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Alone Time

A close friend of mine just had her first baby. She was laughing over the fact that every time she goes to take a shower her son starts crying and wants to be nursed. I laughed and said that almost every newborn baby I know cries right at dinner time and you never get to eat your food warm, or get seconds for that matter. I told her it gets better and said,
“I can now go pee by myself.”
“Ah, yes but can you close the door?” She returned. I laughed and said,
“No, she brings me books while I am sitting there.” I have actually had to explain to her that I can't read to her because I have to wipe.

Sorry that may have been too much information. But we all do it, don't we? Wipe, that is. At least I hope we do.

The other morning in the shower I heard,
“Roar!!!” I turned around and my two year old daughter had whipped aside the shower curtain and was pointing a toy lobster at me. “A lobster!” Then she threw it in the bath and said, “Oh, I dropped it!” I have been over the difference between purposefully dropping something and throwing it, seems we still don't know. Or are choosing not to.

When my husband is home I usually gleefully slam the bathroom door shut and 'go' in private, all by myself. It's glorious.

A few weeks ago in a Bible study one of the women had finally had all her children go to school. When we eagerly asked her what she did with this new found 'time alone' she shrugged and threw her hands up in the air and said almost hopelessly,
“I did laundry.” There was laughter and an assurance that that's okay because no one ripped it apart behind you. (The first time my daughter gleefully undid a folded pile of laundry I let her, and then congratulated myself on being so patient and understanding of her development. Now I yell at her to stop. How fast and how far we fall.)
I get this though. I know I don't have as many kids as her, or have been denied of time to focus on myself for as long, but I get this. This morning Scott took a friend to the airport, they took Emma with them to give me time to be alone. I got out of bed before they left, Scott said to me,
“Honestly I expected you to sleep longer,” and miss out on time by myself? Heck no.
“Actually I thought you would need my help to get out of here on time,” I said as I snuggled with our clothed and fed daughter and looked at him all fully clothed and stuff. He did a little self-congratulatory fist pump and was out the door in a few moments.

And then I sat there. I sipped my tea with milk and honey. I stared in front of me. My mind buzzed over what should I do with this precious time. I thought I should take advantage and try to pray. So I sat and sipped and tried to wrangle my run away thoughts onto cogent conversation with God. I finally ended up where I usually do: praying about writing, painting and sculpting. Praying for direction, understanding of why I have these desires and gifts, and a venue for which to do them in. Finally my stomach did remind me that nourishment is necessary for life, I toasted a bagel and continued to wrangle while eating. I landed on the conclusion of, 'stop whining and get up and go do it.' So I finished some gluing on a collage I'm working on and then showered. Sans any lobster's this time.

Some of the older member's of my audience may be rearing up to tell me to enjoy this time and take advantage of enjoying her while she's so young. Don't worry most of the interruptions into my privacy just crack me up, but I have learned that I need to be given time alone or I get grouchy, impatient, and easily angered. My husband has watched me spiral downward when I have been 'on' too much and has gotten good at offering me timeouts. I just need to get better at deciding what to do with myself when I get them.

Last night while trick-or-treating a couple was sitting outside in front of their garage with a fire pit blazing, the woman got up and brought a bowl of candy to Emma and our friend's son Bennett. She cooed over their cuteness and patiently waited while each two year old selected their candy. As she stood up she made a comment about this is what you get to do when they all go away to college. I had a mixture of thoughts from 'how sad' to 'how fun.' I guess that's the life lesson, enjoy it while you got it.