Friday, November 18, 2011

What I wish people had told me…

When I was expecting Ely, I often asked other moms “What do you wish you knew before you had the baby?” I gleaned a lot of useful information that way.

But, you know what I wish someone had said to me? I wish someone had told me, “If you pay attention, they’ll teach you how to do it. Relax.”

They teach you to forget about everything else and hold them.

They teach you to feed them when they are hungry.

They teach you to love through the tears, exhaustion and stress.

I don't know if that will be true for the rest of our child rearing years, but up until 2 years, 3 months and 25 days, it is absolutely true.

She is currently teaching us to potty train her- which was something I really worried about the "hows" and "whens" of. Once again, she is teaching us the biggest lesson she's taught us so far: if we pay attention, she will teach us.

Who knows whether we are doing it right? But up until this point, I can tell you we're doing this parenting thing in a way that seems to bring great happiness to all three of us, which, at this point, is enough- more than enough, really.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sweet Prayers

When I was talking about baptizing Ely with the Pastor at Santiago Community Church, he asked some questions, among them "Why do you want to baptize her?" My response was something along the lines of "It is our public acknowledgment that she belongs to God. He created her. He blessed us with her. We have her for the relatively short-term, but she belongs to Him forever." I suppose this was my interpretation of Jeremiah 1:5 "I knew you before I formed you in your mother's womb..."

Some of you will read that and roll your eyes and possibly think I am a complete fool. Some will like the answer.already stopped reading. .@sittersngs to Gos.r at Santiago Community Church, he asked a perfectly reasonable question. Some may have already stopped reading. No matter what, the answer came from my heart. (Side note: Anyone who knows me personally, knows that I am far from a model of holiness, let's put that out there right now ...)

Despite ALL my flaws, I have been given a tremendous gift called “Faith”. I don’t know if my parents, society or God himself gave it to me, but I certainly didn't earn it. It has been my calm in so many of the storms of life and I am very grateful for it. There have been times when I've really questioned the whole God thing. But, I no matter what, I always seem to come back to the "God-shaped hole" in my heart that only He can fill.

I think it follows naturally that I should share this faith with a certain small child in my life. I don't really think of it as teaching her about God, because, I often think she knows much more about Him than I do. Matthew 19:14 “But Jesus said, “Let the little ones come to me, and do not keep them away: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

Recently, as she has started to use “thank you” appropriately and without prodding, we have been praying together. I pray things like “Thank you God for our family, friends, home and countries. Amen.” At first, she didn’t say much, then, after a few days, she prayed “Thank you 'Malia. Thank you Seba." (Her two best buds). Slowly, she started including other people: Ruth (our cleaning lady who is truly a blessing to our house), 'Buela, 'Buelo, Pop Pop, Gramma. Sometimes, when I am really lucky, she includes me on the list of people she is thankful for.

Her prayers really warm my heart. I love the way she looks at me as if to ask "Is that right?" and, perhaps even more, I love reassuring her that "God is yours as much as mine. You can say whatever you want to Him." And the best part: the smile on her face as she feels accepted and approved of by her mommy and her God.

Her prayers are also enlightening. At an age when Ely can be so darn stubborn, praying seems to be the most natural of acts for her. Her prayers are simple. Her prayers are about people. She has yet to say, "Thank you for my new toy." I am sure she will, but it impresses and humbles me how, each night, she remembers the people that she loves instead of the things she has- and, I feel challenged to do the same, not only in prayer, but in all aspects of life.

I suppose this is another reminder that “While we try to teach our children about life, they teach us what life is all about.” ~Angela Schwindt

Saturday, September 10, 2011

On Battles and Wars

Ely is two-years-and-almost-two-months old. So, while I try to keep battles to a minimum, it goes without saying that we have our fair share. I do my very best to focus on the "war", even if it means losing some battles. Let me share a couple receent issues with you.

The other day I dressed Elisa in khakis and a purple fleece pull over, but she thought the outfit was lacking a little flare. So, she went into her dress-up drawer and pulled out a pink “bailaelisa” (which means “dance Elisa” in Spanish, but it’s really Ely-ese for any tutu, skirt or dress).

Our plans for the day included YuKids. So, Ely took her nap and we were on our way- bailaelisa and all. I asked her to take the "bailaelisa" off twice, once before we left the house and once as we were getting out of the car. Both times, she answered with a very solid “no”. So, I didn’t push too hard. Ely pranced around the mall with her “bailaelisa" and an extra big grin.

I tell you this to prove that I DO pick my battles. Now, I’ll tell you about a battle I chose to fight: Ely’s bangs!

They were cute and wispy, until she got one of those helmet cuts. Right there, in the hair salon, I decided that the bangs were history and started putting barrettes in her hair (a million times a day).

Well, 25,000 lost barrettes later, I was about to give up. Until, I asked a friend how she got her toddler to wear a barrette. The reply was so beautifully simple and obvious: "I just don't cut her bangs". Um, duh!! If I followed this mom’s advice, I was guaranteed a win! Option one: Her bangs bother her enough that she agrees to the barrette. Option two: I deal with the shag until the bangs grow out.

And so the silent war began. I offered barrettes regularly and she refused. Her bangs are in eyes. She has to tilt her head up to see anything. It isn’t the cutest look I've ever seen, but I am holding out. Perseverance was the name of the game. She doesn't know I can take care of the problem, therefore, there is no strife.

I was relaying my technique to my uncle and he said, “you are not going to win”. When I assured him I would he just repeated himself. Now, I don’t know whether or not he was talking about Ely's hair, but I started thinking about his comment on a level that had little to do with hairstyle...

I think of successful parenting as raising well-adjusted citizen(s) who (gasp!) don't need their parents anymore. Now, hopefully, if parents play their cards right, kids recognize their efforts and sacrifices and enjoy their parents’ company enough to want them around.

If I am being honest, the thought of Ely not needing me anymore breaks my heart just a little bit. I assume/hope that it will get easier as she gets older and pushes away slowly. (Please, do it slowly baby.) But, no matter what, parenting doesn't sound so win-win to me.

Actually, it sounds like I get to pour my heart and soul into someone else's well-being with the best possible result being pride in a job well done- and maybe a grandbaby to cuddle. And the worst possible outcome: well, let's not go there... So, maybe it is true. Maybe I can’t win. But, I hear that “it’s not if you win or lose. It’s how you play the game.” And to these games (bang eradication and motherhood) are worth the fight.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mommy-leaving Day

It’s been a long time. Besides the fact that avoiding meltdowns and proactive behavior management is a little more time consuming with a two-year-old (yes, 2!!!) than it was when I first starting writing, I have also taken on free-lance translating. I am finding it to be the challenge and non-baby-related mental stimulation that keeps me feeling like an active part of society. In addition, we've had some awesome time with family and friends. So, those are my excuses and I present them to you in hopes that my long break does not mean that my blathering license has been revoked. 'Cause tonight, I need it...

My mom left today after a visit of a little more than three weeks. We didn't do much exciting. At all. But, it was just wonderful having her here. I've been living in Chile since 2004 and I have dropped my mom (and when I am lucky, my dad too) off at the airport at least once a year since then- and sometimes more than that. You would think that it gets easier… it does not.

Each time since Ely was born, my mom has given me some words of mothering encouragement when she leaves. At the beginning, when Ely was 4 weeks old, she said “You can do this.” After that, it has been some version of “You’re doing a good job.” I think it goes without saying that it feels good to get such a compliment from my mom (even though I recognize that there is some bias J). First of all, as a stay-with-my-kid mom, it isn't often that I get feedback on my "job performance”. Of course there are the kisses, hugs and tantrums, but they seem to be allocated randomly and not necessarily a reflection on that day’s parenting.

I never have it together enough to say much more than “thank you” through the tears. I think it goes without saying, though, that the vast majority of how I parent is a reflection of how I was parented. I sure hope she knows that I recognize that (and after reading this, she surely will!). But what I really want to say is that if I ever let Ely out of my sight (joking!), I would hope that she feels the way I feel when I have to leave my mom (or dad). I would take that as a tremendous testament to my success as a mom.

Now onto real life, in which I take Ely for walks by myself, eat considerably healthier food and no longer have my favorite "laundry tramp"... I hope this “real” life will include some time to write a little more.

Here's an unrelated tidbit of cuteness for you:

Mommy: "Ely, how do you say "cookie" in Spanish?"

Ely: "Baby's cookie."


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Give it back!

About two weeks ago, Ely was sick and wanted ‘num’ (her code name for nursing) every.second.of.the.day. While I was glad to be able to provide nourishment and comfort while she was sick, by the end of it, I was ready for her to get.off.me! I love her dearly, as you know, but I needed space. I went out with friends one night and came back a new woman.

A week later, she had a REALLY bad night. Once I made sure she wasn’t sick or teething, instead of feeling the normal compassion, I was just frustrated and again feeling like I needed SPACE! I thought about it for a day or so and made a big decision… it was time for night weaning.

Ely is 18 ½ months old and we are on night four of night weaning. Some nights are better than others, but she understands when I tell her that “I don’t want to do num right now” and offer her ‘juice’, which is really water. (You’ll keep my secret, right?)

Sometimes she cries and I hold her and reassure her. I tell her that growing up IS very hard, but mommy needs to sleep, too. Sometimes, she rolls over and goes back to sleep.

I’m glad to be doing this at an age when she understands what I’m saying to her. I’m glad that I waited until now because I’m so very confident that she knows I love her beyond words. I’m also glad that I was able to wait until it felt right for me, not because someone else was pushing me to do it. All those things together make me really confident in the decision.

Of course, I’m getting less sleep than when I just nursed her at night and if this continues for much longer, I totally reserve the right to change my mind… That said, let me tell you a funny, if gross, little ditty from night 2.

We were spending some “awake time” together around 3am, much to my dismay. She was reaching her hands out and playing with them. I thought she wanted to hold my hand, as she often does. So, I relished the moment and played with her little fingers…and she SCREAMED!

I’m not talking about a little cry. It was heads and shoulders above her, ‘I’m upset. I want ‘num’’ cry. This was an all out scream. I tucked her under my arm and rocked her. It continued and I was confused... until I felt it…

She had apparently been picking her nose and had a ‘treasure’ on her hand. When I lovingly played with her fingers, I’d unknowingly removed the treasure. The blood curdling screams were all because…she wanted her booger back! She hadn’t been reaching for me. She was playing with it- and I’d stolen it!

Oh, the joys of motherhood!

The happy ending: I did not give it back and she went back to sleep without ‘num’- that time.

Birth plans...

When I first started reading about “birth plans”, I rolled my eyes a little and thought, ‘Ugh! Another indicator of how our society misses the mark.’ I thought these women were a little presumptuous in writing down their 'plan of events’, wanting to control everything.

You see, whether you believe it to be God’s or nature's plan, things go like this: labor starts, cervix dilates, mom pushes, and baby comes out. The rest is just (uncontrollable) details. That’s just the way it’s going to go down.

Unless, it doesn’t… I wrote about Ely's birth here, but didn't really go into the core of the "problem". A couple days after she was born, I sobbed to R, "If my body can't complete the most basic act of motherhood: giving birth, maybe I’m not cut out to be a mom." (This self doubt really hurt, not only because I doubted my ability to care for my sweet baby girl, but because I've always known I wanted children. In fact, that is the only thing that I have ever been SURE I wanted.)

R reassured me that I, and my body, were made for this motherhood thing and filled in with the parenting duties while my hormones settled a little. The feeling subsided slowly. I credit establishing a successful nursing relationship with helping soothe these wounds. You could say nursing, and even “extended” nursing was my own personal “bu-ya! I can TOO do this! My body WAS meant for motherhood”. (I'd guess that has at least a small bit to do with why we're still at it.)

In an effort to understand what had happened and heal, I read about other women who'd had similar experiences. I talked to friends. Overwhelmingly, women with unplanned c-sections were regretful of the way "it had all gone down". The personal acceptance processes ranged from almost immediate to prolonged mourning of their birthing experience.

I think the latter is probably confusing to women who haven’t suffered an unplanned c-section. What does it matter what “door” the baby comes out? Logically, it shouldn’t. Unfortunately, logic has very little to do with the birthing process.

I’d suggest that giving birth is, at its core the most animal thing we do as “civilized” human beings. There are cultural norms surrounding eating and sex, but there are no such rules about growing and birthing a baby. (If you’ve ever seen a video of a natural birth, the “sound track” is quite animal-like. I think we can all agree on that.) Our bodies are pre-programmed to do it and societal norms have very little influence on whether we can complete the task successfully (except for the against-gravity position that most hospitals put you in, which is arguably a “societal norm”).

Did you know that some mammal mothers who do not feel their baby come through her birth canal does not recognize their young? Maybe my feelings of self-doubt after my c-section weren’t illogical. Maybe they were animal. There’s a whole hormonal sequence that I missed. It came later, in the form of oxytocin, but those first few days were pretty painful (emotionally).

And so, I’ve concluded that birth plans ARE an indicator of how our society misses the mark, but not in the way I originally thought. Birth plans are women's desperate attempt to reclaim the birthing process, to ask others to support us in what our bodies know how to do naturally.

Of course, there are times when I thank God obstetricians exist. They are necessary, without a doubt, but living in a country where the Cesarean rate is 40%, I think it's time they back off a little bit and let us and our babies do what our bodies we were meant to. Unless mom or baby are in danger (or simply want to do it another way), I think we, as a society, would benefit from letting things "go down" the way they were meant to.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Magic Water Finding Man

I have a close relationship with my parents. We get along well (unless I'm trying to make my mom clean out an area of the house that she doesn’t want to clean). I talk to them on Skype almost every day. My husband genuinely loves them (and not just in that "they're my in-laws, so I have to” way.). I am an only child. I birthed the only grandchild. Logic would dictate that being so far apart is not the ideal long-term situation for us. Logic would be correct.

In their classic selflessness, they are planning split their retirement time between Chile and an undefined location, at least for the first couple years when mobility is not an issue. Then, who knows what is in the cards, although I'd venture a guess that they'll spend more time here. (If you're confused as to why, refer back to my being an only child and having the only grandbaby- grandbaby being the main attraction, of course!)

While I love my house and it’s fine for extended visits, I think we all agree that a little bit more privacy/different lay out, is vital if we're all going to be together long-term. So, in 2007 we found a piece of property out where my in-laws live (yes, family is THAT important to us that we are going to try to live close together.) And there our little parcel of land sat…

Until my parents' Christmas visit, when my father starting pushing to get the ball rolling on building this place we've talked about building for four years. First order of business- find out where the ground water is. So, we did... but not how you think we did.

It was important to do this step in the summer, when the water levels are at their lowest. So, about a month ago, we called a "brujo" (literally a warlock, but in this case, I like "magic water finding man" better because there’s no witchcraft involved) and he appeared one afternoon with two copper rods and a crystal ball on a pendulum. ... hold on, I'm serious.

I was (understandably?) skeptical. So he let me try out the rods- and they really do work by themselves!!

Once he found the best place to drill the well, he pulled out the crystal ball pendulum. He pointed at the ground and asked “Hay agua aqui?” (Is there water here?); the pendulum began to swing. He counted. Supposedly, the number of swings indicated the number of meters below the surface the water will be found. His pendulum said anywhere between 15 and 35 meters.

Now, I don't want to be a jerk, but that's a pretty big range, especially when you pay for drilling by the meter! Given the range and the fact that he'd told my in-laws they'd find water at 15 meters and didn't find it until 40, I was pretty skeptical (again). So, he let me try again.

I tried once silently and he corrected me: I had to point at the ground and ask the question aloud, otherwise how would the earth know I was talking to it? So, I did and … nothing. He insisted I try again… nothing. I told him not to worry; the earth just didn’t understand my accent. He assured me that it was not my accent; I just didn’t have the “vibras” (vibes) to get an answer. Honestly, I'd rather it be an accent thing than a lack of “vibras”!

Anywho, it was a fun day… I learned a little and laughed a lot. Only the drilling of the well will tell whether he is right or not. Keep your fingers crossed that we find water at 15 meters!!!

So, we “found” water… Steps 2 and 3 to be done simultaneously:

(2) Drill well

(3) Find an architect- more on the architect search to come…

PS. I realize Ely hasn’t appeared in “recent posts”- not that there have been many. She is still alive and well and perfect (well, to her mommy and daddy anyway).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Seven years and I'm still botching it...

I´ve lived in this long, skinny country for seven years now (gasp!), but I must confess, I'm FAR from having it figured out. There are some guidelines that I know and do my best to abide by. There's a whole other set that I don't know/understand. And, then there's the set that I know perfectly well, but forget.

Let me set the scene by saying that having a housekeeper/cleaning lady here is quite normal- it is not an indicator of some new luxurious lifestyle. These arrangements range from live-in, full time housekeeper to once a week cleaning lady. I have the latter and I had a new lady this week.

I really like her. Not only does she work independently so I can take care of Ely and translate while she naps, but she helped me make lunch and split a beer with me at lunch. While I have loved my previous cleaning ladies, I was never able to convince them to have a beer in the middle of the day- no matter how hot it was. I’m not a big drinker, at all, but I do appreciate a cold beer on a hot day and Thursday was a scorcher!

So, we had our first day together and it was a relative success. She cleaned. We ate lunch. Split our beer. I paid. We both got what we expected out of the deal. Then, it was time to go and I messed up and made things all weird.

Let me give you a little background: As a whole, I find Chileans to be REALLY clean people. Like REALLY clean. Their houses are clean. While housekeepers play a part in that, I've found this to be categorically true even in homes without a housekeeper. (Side note: LB, if you're reading this, I bet you wish I'd spent more time in Chile before living with you in college. I've learned a few things ;))

Personal hygiene is off the charts (excluding boys between 18-20 who do their best to look dirty once they are finally free from the demands of their colegio, although I have a sneaking suspicion that their mothers make them shower daily and that their dirty appearance is the result of A LOT of effort). All of my (Chilean) officemates used to have toothbrushes in their desks for use after lunch or any random snack. All of the guys that work with R shower before leaving work. My darling husband ALWAYS showers used to shower before we (used to) go out at night- no matter how late we are running.

So, since it was such a hot day and she worked really hard, I thought our new cleaning lady might be uncomfortable going home without taking a shower. So, I offered her the option. Her response, "I don’t have a towel." To which I smiled and responded "I have one I can lend you" and scampered off to get it. I produced the towel and she took it and headed upstairs dutifully.

As soon as I was up the stairs, I had a ‘doh’ moment. I’d totally and completely forgotten what I’ve been told many times… some Chileans don’t share towels. Towel sharing has never been an issue for me. I just assume that if someone is offering me a towel, it’s clean. Maybe that’s na├»ve, but I’ve survived so far.

I know of a few ladies of a certain age who take towels to hotels. R’s uncle who is a great handyman was working here and brought his own towel for the end of the day shower. I’ve never asked what the issue is because I’m usually told in one of two contexts (1) Another gringa asking if her mother-in-laws no towel sharing policy is the norm (2) Going somewhere and R tells me to remember towels because X doesn’t share towels. I’ve never been comfortable enough to ask X "So, why you don’t want to share your towels with us?" Although, I do assume that it’s related to the cleanliness thing.

So, in an effort to be nice and sensitive to the cleanliness factor, I had accidentally forced an unwanted towel on my new cleaning lady. So as not to offend me, she’d taken it into the bathroom and appeared 10 minutes later, freshly perfumed. I chose not to address my faux paus. I couldn’t come up with anything that wouldn’t sound like "Why don’t you want to share my towel?" thereby making things weirder. So, I zipped it and said good-bye.

I went upstairs to get the towel to throw it in the wash I was doing- and noticed it wasn’t damp. I glanced over and the tub wasn’t wet either. I had made her so uncomfortable that she’d faked a shower to avoid offending me! Eeeekkk!

I really hope that she comes back next week… I bet she’ll bring her own towel, lest I force another on her.

At least when you’re new to a country and/or are clueless to the guidelines, you don’t know when you’ve botched it… I hate when this happens. Seven years into it, I’m definitely passed my "She’s new here. She doesn’t know" grace period.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lunch Line of Life

Flashback: Little blonde girl sits in her classroom listening to the day's menu on the morning announcements. This particular little girl was always quite confused by one particular lunch item: choiceoftwo. Yes, every morning the announcer would list the options: main meal, choiceoftwo, and milk.

As a card carrying member of the bring-your-own-lunch club, I distinctly remember wondering what that part of the meal looked like. I never saw anything unidentifiable on my friends' plates. Well, that may not be entirely true, but nothing that I could imagine being called choiceoftwo.

When I got older and bringing my lunch became so embarrassing, I finally figured it out: Everyone got to choose two of the three to five totally unappetizing options. No matter what I chose, I always wanted to try the other options. You know, just in case. Usually, if we wanted to take two tasty things and asked for an extra apple, the cafeteria manager would concede, but no one could try ALL the options: choice or two, you see.

Life may offer a variety of options that is more appealing than an elementary school lunch, but you certainly can't try them all. I find myself constantly reminding myself of this- you are currently reading exhibit A. As I see my friends develop rock solid careers, take awesome vacations, pursue higher education, etc. I feel like I’m missing something, which might be more appealing than what I’ve got.

How do you go through the lunch line of life and really, truly value what you have? I LOVE my life, really and truly. I am married to my best friend. I have a sweet daughter who teaches me more each day than I could ever teach her. I’m blessed with parents that are able and willing to spend their vacation time with us, a house that is a home, lifetime friends and new friends, and two adorable (if incestuous) dogs.

Why in the world am I still looking for that extra apple?

I, like many of us, was raised to believe that anything is possible; that you can have it all if you only work hard enough. While optimism is important, I'd like to take a second to call BS on that. I just don't think I can, or anyone can, for that matter.

I don't think I can work from home enough to take awesome trips and be as available as I want to be for Ely.

I don't think I can pursue an awesome career or even that master's degree, be available for Ely and have the energy left over to nurture my marriage.

I don't think I can nurture my marriage, pursue higher education, raise Ely, work from home (Gotta pay for that degree somehow!) and maintain my physical and mental health.

I hate to be a downer, but I don't think I'm the only one. Something has got to give and at this point, for me, it can't be time or energy spent on Ely or my marriage. This day of her childhood and our relationship are the only things that won't be on the menu tomorrow.

The bounty is plentiful and we can all choose a lot more than two options, but trying a little bit of all of them will leave us with a stomach/heart ache gets in the way of enjoying any of them.

Now, I’m scurrying off to be thankful that I was able to choose this life. Your choices might be different and equally fulfilling, but I think it’s worth recognizing that the position and ability to make these choices is worth being thankful for.

Please remind me of that next time I’m asking for an extra apple.