Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mother Lionesses Unite

Ely’s birth was very painful for me, both physically and emotionally. It was an unplanned C-section and I had a lot of issues surrounding that. A wiser person, in a country like Chile with a c-section rate of 40%, would have at least contemplated the possibility of a c-section and prepared for it. But, ever the optimist, I was sure that these “birthing hips” I’ve had since I was 13 were about to be put to good use. So, I didn’t do any reading on the process and when you like to be in control like I do, not knowing what they are doing, how they are doing it and what the risks are is pretty darn scary.

Not being able to stand up and attend to your baby's needs those first few days is confusing and heartbreaking. Also, while the medical care I was given was first-rate, it seemed that they weren’t prepared to deal with the emotional side of what had happened to me- And yes, I say “to me” because at the very core of my being, it still feels like a violent act was committed against us.

In retrospect, I’m just happy to have a happy, healthy little one. I finally started coming to terms with the whole thing when I read something another woman said to her child. She described her scar as "the door to where you used to live". I cried and emotional healing began. (For the record, if I had to choose between this less-than –lovely experience and not having Ely, I’d say, “bring on the pain!”)

On July 24th at 19:49, I gave birth to two beings: Ely and the mother bear to protect her. At our Mom's Thanksgiving, we touched on the mother bear topic, but this time she was a lion. So, for the rest of this post, we’ll go with lion. I remembered the less-than-lovely nurse who, about 12 hours after having Ely when I was trying to stand up and was doubled over in pain, told me“You have to be brave. You’re a mother now.” I was livid and I snarled at her, “Don’t tell me I have to brave. I would throw myself in front of a truck for that kid, but I physically can not do this." I didn't see that nurse again (thank goodness!) but that momma lion emerged for the first time right then and there. She is here to stay (and she is REALLY brave!)

One of the lioness' superhuman powers is mommy visions. These mommy visions are sometimes ridiculous and concrete like the recurring one that Ely’s taking a bath, the phone rings and I come back to find that she has drowned. To clarify, there’s nothing ridiculous about drowning in the bath, but it is ridiculous to think that I would leave her alone in the bath tub.

The more bothersome mommy visions are those that I can’t prevent by controlling my own actions. One that has been on my mind lately is sexual abuse. A while ago, Ely had a nasty bad bruise in the diaper area. I’d been with her constantly for two days before the bruise appeared. So, I knew that there was nothing to worry about and chalked it up to a weird fall, but that really brought the whole abuse thing at the forefront of my mind.

Sexual abuse has been in the news lately within the context of clerical, school abuses; and individual cases of step brothers and uncles preying on our little ones. On one hand, I’m glad to see these things in the news because it means that the victims aren't being silenced, but on the other I wish, with every bone in my body that there weren’t cases to report on, that this was simply not a problem.

But, alas, it is not so and the worries overwhelm me at times. I’ve made lists and talked to R about things we can do to prevent such situations, but the realization that we cannot totally protect her from people who prey on children is heart wrenching.

I wish that I could have a more circumspect outlook on this, but I will admit that when I hear about cases on the news, I always feel the most animalistic instincts of revenge emerge. I’m quite sure that, if the situation ever did arise and it were my baby on the news, I would be in jail shortly thereafter.

As I write this, I hear my heart crying its non-violent cry, "Vengance is mine saith the Lord.” But, I can not quiet the hatred my human heart feels. My stomach and heart literally ache every time there’s a tale of a child being mistreated or abused, sexually or otherwise. It's always been that way, but even more so now that I imagine Ely's sweet face on every one of those children.

I always long to “press rewind” and to hug the child, and love him/her as unconditionally as I love little Ely and provide the lioness protection that every child deserves. Every. Single.Kid deserves it, black white, purple or green, poor or rich, tall or short. Every.Single.One.

The fact that I can not physically and financially provide for all of those children, that I can not press rewind and take them away to be care-free kids drives a knife through my soul. So, maybe the lioness that was born on July 24th wasn’t just born to protect Ely. Maybe the lioness was born to open my eyes to the plight of other children, too.

But, where are those children’s lionesses’? This overwhelming desire to protect that I feel is not extraordinary. It's what nature intended to happen. So, what on earth is going on in our society that children are victimized and women's natural instincts are not protecting them? And how the heck do we stop it?

(To be clear, I'm NOT blaming the moms. Like I said, we can't protect our kids all the time. I'm refering to a specific case in which the mother knew what was happening and didn't stop it. Although, I will say that in the absence of a fully-functioning mother lioness to protect a child, I think society, as in me and you, have an obligation to step in when we suspect a child is being abused.)

I’ve focused on sexual abuse here because it's what's been haunting me most lately, but we all know that there are other types: physical, emotional. Maybe abuse is the symptom of an underlying problem with how our society views children.

Lately I read a pretty powerful piece about fathers and children. I realize that the vast majority of fathers are not sexual predators, but from what I hear there is plenty of physical and emotional abuse in some homes. I’d encourage you to read this and share it with others because maybe, just maybe we can reach one person who could be a potential predator and affect change in how they see the children with whom they are entrusted. I don't think the solution to the problem is that easy, but it might make a difference to someone and it's worth a shot. Anything is.

Here's a link about preventing sexual abuse.
Here's a link about how to recognize signs of sexual abuse.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I'm late, but still thankful...

Yesterday, Ely and I spent the day with friends. There was turkey and yams and a dip in the pool. It was a lovely Thanksgiving, indeed. I felt thankful all day long, but didn't have a chance to write about how thankful I am. So, here it comes...

Little Ely- every day with you is the best day of my life. Even when you are cranky and not all that fun, I'm thankful that you are my baby. Being your mom makes me a more patient, more circumspect, more loving person.

R- What can a girl say? I'm thankful for your unconditional love, for having married my bestest friend. I'm thankful that you send me random text messages to thank me for "giving up" everything for this life we share. I'm thankful that I can respond, with complete honesty, that I wouldn't change this life for anything in the world.

Friends Near and Far- I'd count myself rich to have just one of you. Having so many true friends, whether we talk all the time or don't get to catch up very often, is a blessing. Thank you to each and every one of you.

Mom and Dad- There are no words. Really.

So many people who are really clinging to something: a life, a relationship, a house, a job, health, a pregnancy, a difficult child, are still able to count themselves lucky. When they do, they often say, "I'm just thankful that..."

This year I'm thankful that there is no "just" in my thanks. I am whole-heartedly thankful for every single blessing this year and the wonderful absence of serious problems at this moment. That may change tomorrow, but I'm thankful for it now.

Happy Black Friday!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Worry du jour

We all have our own brands of craziness, right? At least that is what I like to think. It might just be since I’m slightly loca, I like to think that others must be. If that's not the case, don't tell me. It would really rock my world.

Here’s one of my preferred brands: I drive myself crazy. Yes, it’s true. I drive myself to insomnia and constant nervousness. I have a tendency to isolate one idea, usually based on a future decision, and I worry and worry and worry and well, you get the point.

Leo Buscaglia had it on the nose when he said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Logically, I know that this is a silly problem that I would benefit from nipping in the bud. But since I come by it naturally (Thanks mom!) and have no idea how to get rid of it, I’ll just indulge it and tell you about the thing that's been keeping me up lately.

The topic du jour is Ely’s education. To be honest, this is not du jour. This has been around since before she was born. We've always known that our child(ren)'s education was THE major drawback to staying in Chile. When she was six weeks old, R started looking at apartments in my parents’ vicinity. He’d decided that we needed to make an international move so Ely could go to the elementary school I attended. I talked him down from that ledge, reminding him that even if the move would provide an excellent, multicultural elementary education, it would not provide health insurance or jobs for us, both of which were more immediate needs.

This whole education thing is a valid concern in a country that doesn’t have a decent public school system. The other two options are: Colegios Subvencionado and Colegios Particulares. Colegios Subvencionados are partially funded by the public education system, but each child pays tuition, too. These schools generally offer better academics than public schools at a price that is more accessible than a Colegio Particular. Colegios Particulares are private schools, some of which offer truly first rate educations. Since spots in those schools are highly sought after, they come with some serious competition and an even more serious price tag.

There is a private school within walking that our neighbors are happy with, but doesn't have very good standardized test results. It costs X per month. There is a school on the “other side of the world” that caters mostly to diplomats’ kids that costs 7X, not to mention the whole gamut of schools in between! Where does one even begin the selection process? Is it wiser to go with a school that costs a reasonable 2 or 3X and save the money for enriching experiences? Or is it worth the sacrifice to pay 4 or 5X for a school with a swimming pool and IB program?

We also have to figure transportation into the equation. We have the school within walking distance and schools that would take an hour to get to by car. I would have to pick her up and drop her off, which would take somewhere between 30 minutes to four hours each day. Again, there’s a whole city of schools in between. Am I being selfish not wanting to spend too much time in the car? Or overprotective not wanting to hire stranger with a minivan to pick her up and drop her off?

Let’s not even get into the religion piece, or let's do. We're Christian, but not Catholic. I hold tight to the idea that religion is a personal decision, a relationship if you will, and I don’t particularly want Ely in a school where she is expected to participate unquestioningly in rituals in which she may or may not believe. However, most of the schools with both strong academics and affordable tuitions are Catholic schools. Am I cutting off my nose to spite my face? If opting out of mass and religion classes is an option, am I keeping something from her? Would I be making her more likely to be ostracized?

If I remove myself from the issue a little bit, I can tell you all the logical things that you might tell me to soothe my nerves:

1. Primary and high school are more about socialization and learning how to learn than REAL learning (beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, of course).

2. Research shows that a child’s school environment has a much lesser effect than the home environment.

3. Children are adaptable. She will be fine no matter where you send her.

4. A school’s reputation matters a lot less than how your individual child feels and performs there.

And those things? They are all true. I know it. But, there is a constant internal conversation that goes a little something like this:

Okay, Number 1, but in a place where classism and nepotism are the M.O. and people form tight circles with their “colegio” friends, might it not be worth the sacrifice to socialize Ely with the people who are practically destined to powerful because of the social standing they were born into? Are those potential social and business contacts worth a sacrifice?

And number 2: totally behind you, but I don't know of any university admissions officers that make home visits.

Number 3: yes, but is fine good enough? I don't want to serve her the world on a silver platter. Even if I could, that doesn't do any good for anyone. But, shouldn’t I aspire to more “fine” for her?

And you, number 4, absolutely, hands down in agreement. But why do I feel like I have a choice between strong academics and a school where she will develop as a person? All of this just seems like a bunch of false choices.

I don’t expect her to be a rocket scientist (unless she wants to be!), but I also don’t want her stuck in a dead-end job she hates because we made the wrong choices for her. I want her to flourish into the person she wants to be and not be limited by where she went to kindergarten.

I want a school that is reasonably accessible at a price that doesn’t require a second mortgage. I want a balance of academics, sports, social development, and maybe field trips. Is that way too much to ask?

It’s a big task this parenting thing. Making life-impacting decisions for a whole separate human is huge. Did I really sign up for this? I can’t even make my own decisions without giving myself insomnia for weeks or, in this case, years beforehand!!

So, seriously, talk to me. I don't care if it's through a comment, facebook or email. Share your insight and soothe my soul...

  • What is important in a school for your child/your family?
  • If you have a school-aged child, what do you like/dislike about his/her school?
  • What are your best/worst memories of school?
  • How much do you think school affects the people we ultimately become?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Guess we're not the only ones...

I'm often asked why I don't post pics of Ely on Facebook and untag pics of her when other people do post them. I'm also asked why I don't put pictures up here... Some think we're crazy, but it's a cost/benefit thing.

What's the benefit to distributing pics of Ely to all my long lost friends and acquaintances? Of course, I'm ridiculously proud of her and Facebook is like a big fat wallet full of pictures, but is it worth granting Facebook rights to those pictures and putting them out there for just anyone to use her image for whatever reason?

We have a private, password protected blog for pictures that we share with people we trust and have enough of a relationship with to know that sharing is safe. We might be crazy, but we're not the only ones...


Food for thought.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Crianza amorosa

This is one of many articles that I've been reading lately. I thought it was worth sharing with anyone who's interested in child rearing and reads Spanish.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Barefoot Babes...

One day this (north American) summer, I was in the US and Skype-ing with my dear husband. We had the following conversation:

“T, why doesn’t Elisa have shoes on?”

“Because it’s hot outside and we’re in the house.”

“She needs to have shoes on.”


“So her feet don’t get big”

(insert weird look and an eye roll here)

“Why do you think your feet are so big?”

(I burst out laughing.)

Now, after seven years in Chile and five of them married to a Chilean, I’ve learned that most cultural differences are not a matter of right or wrong, rather a difference in perspective and/or life experience. Most times I can accept and respect beliefs for what they are; however, the need to cling tight to shoes is one belief that I really struggle with respecting.

I’ve learned to smile and accept the admonitions that: my insistence on going shoeless (even in the house) will get me sick and then I’ll give whatever horrible illness results to my daughter, who is innocent in the whole matter; and that the bichos (literally bugs, but in this case germs) in Chile are “stronger” and I don’t realize what I’m up against. Not to mention that any time Ely or I have a stuffy nose, it's because I've been going pies pelados (bare foot, but applies to stocking feet, too).

(Note: A concerned acquaintance asked her doctor about my horrible habit of going barefoot in the house. (No joke!) Her doctor told her that if they do that in my country and I’ve grown up doing it, my immune system is stronger and that is why I don’t get as sick as Chileans would. He also told her that she should not try the same thing, for she didn’t have such a dangerous upbringing. (Phew! Glad to know that evolution has saved me!))

So, I’m pretty used to the broken record telling me that daring to take my shoes off indoors will bring great peril. I'm not used to nor was I prepared for my darling husband telling me that the peril has already come- in the form of gigantic, sasquatch feet!

(Another note: Apparently, my mother-in-law had also noticed Ely’s bare feet in a Skype session. It was so noteworthy that she commented to my parents’ Chilean neighbor, who asked me about it.)

Now, I will admit, wearing a 9 ½ in Chile is not something I would recommend, if you have any control over the matter. Here’s why:

Shoe shopping goes a little something like this:

#1 I walk into a store without bothering to look around. I find a sales associate who looks like they might be willing to help me and ask politely, Cuales modelos tienen en cuarenta? (Which models do you have in 9 ½?) Invariably, the sales associate looks me up and down in disbelief and says, Cuarenta?!?!?! (9 ½?) If they are older, sometimes I get, Estas segura, mija? (Are you sure, honey?) Once I explain that I do, in fact, wear cuarenta, they either ask their co-worker if there’s anything available in cuarenta (who then has the same reaction) or head back to the stock room. If I’m lucky, they come out with a box or two. If not, they shake their head with pity and tell me they have nothing to offer.

# 2 Just today, I got a pedicure with paraffin wax. Well, my foot didn’t fit in the little bucket with the paraffin . The podologist looked at me, seemingly embarrassed, and said “Don’t worry. Put your heel in and I’ll splash the paraffin on your toes.” I smiled and agreed. She told me not to worry. She did not say that it happens to everyone, just that I shouldn’t worry about my enormous feet. (Did you see me just cross that off my worry list?)

So, you see, having large feet is quite inconvenient and could be a horrible problem if not for frequent trips to DSW when I’m in the States. But, let’s move away from my feet and talk about Ely’s feet…

In most cases, when R voices a strong opinion on parenting, I respect his wishes. But, this shoe thing, I confess, I have not followed through on. We’ve come back to a spring that feels more like summer and I am enjoying the cool tile under my feet. So, I’d imagine Ely is, too.

Last night, after dinner, I offered Ely a walk around the block in her chariot tricycle. She liked the idea and went to look for her shoes, saying “djuice, djuice” as if she were calling them. She came back with one. I went to find the other, but it was not to be found. I had four choices:

  1. Renege on the offer and face the consequences (Darn this age when she understands!!)
  2. Keep looking for the shoe and push bath time and bed time back.
  3. Take her with one shoe
  4. Take her without shoes

Seeing as how this is a tricycle that I push (she doesn't use her feet) and it was 80 degrees outside (see? Not springy!) I chose option four. She didn’t seem to notice. We happily pushed around the block.

Guess how many people commented on her shoelessness? THREE! (a security guard, a mom and a grandma) With each comment, I giggled to myself and explained the whole not being able to find the other shoe. The guard smiled and nodded. The mom and grandmother both looked at me as if I was publicly abusing my daughter.

I didn’t go home embarrassed or annoyed. I went home feeling triumphant that I was able to give my little girl part of the essential gringa experience: summer (or spring, as the case may be) barefooted-ness! I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did!

I'm glad to have my concerned acquaintance’s doctor’s “expert” opinion telling me that if I start her young, she’ll be able to do this her entire life! And thank goodness Ely’s growing up in a globalized society and can order shoes in whatever size she ends up wearing. (Maybe this is what she will hate me for when she’s a teenager?)