Is it the stars?

April 8, 2014

Is Mercury in retrograde or something? Nothing seems to be going right this week. We are in the uncomfortable position of having to fire one of our young workers for a number of reasons, and as we go through the process more and more things come to light that just make the situation worse and worse. Just so very messy. My bestie in the States is having a rough time. I have a painfully sore throat and this morning woke up with pinkeye – just as Oz is getting over it (for the second time). At least I have all the drops and ointment I need stocked in the house. When DH came back from the middle east this last time, he brought me a set of evil eye bracelets and a necklace. I’m wearing them today. Sometimes I wish I was actually superstitious, it would be comforting to believe I had some control and these trinkets actually “worked.” 

On the bright side, the children have been adorable lately – helpful, kind to each other, creative, and happy.

It’s the Chinese year of the Horse, and my daughter is a Rat, who supposedly have a rough time in Horse years. But my son is a Tiger, and Tigers supposedly protect Rats. Snakes and Cows (DH and I) are supposed to be having a good year. We’re hoping to transfer Illyria to a new school after Easter. I’m still terrified that they are going to reject her/us at the last minute. So, fingers crossed. 


March 13, 2014

So just a quick update on the school situation; after a weekend of agonizing over it, I had a calm and centered conversation with Illyria that eased my mind a great deal – I realized I was way more upset than she was, and that the teacher had not used force in feeding her and had backed off when Illyria refused to eat on Friday. Then Monday I talked with the teacher at length and also got a different picture from what I had been imagining; anyway, it was just good on both ends to clarify what we are thinking and feeling and overall our goals are the same, and even though I think there are clear cultural differences in the ways we look at food and eating and young children, the situation wasn’t as bad as I thought… so we carry on… and this week got back on track with trying new foods and so on. I still think that in April we will start to transition her to a kindergarden classroom in the nearby school; whether or not we switch to the bilingual school in August, well we’ll decide later. 

Yesterday was my birthday… was traveling most of the day… the team is doing something to surprise me at lunch today but some people didn’t realize it was supposed to be a surprise so I found out yesterday :-) Gimli gets back from the middle east tonight… lots of drama going on at work (but it’s not my drama)… I feel like giving up on the dissertation… it’s been raining a lot… the best thing about my birthday though was getting a really good night’s sleep last night! Hope that sets the tone for the year!

little earthquakes

March 7, 2014

So apparently yesterday at school, one of the teachers who is also the principal forced my daughter to eat her lunch, and Illyria threw up on the table. 

I talked with the administrator this morning but wasn’t able to get through to the principal during calling hours (10-11 a.m.). I think I don’t want to keep Illyria there past March. We are traveling so much this month that the kids actually only have 4 days left this month when they’ll be in school, and I think I want to transfer her to the new school as soon as we can after getting back from 10 days in Bolivia. I don’t think it will be hard. And I think we’re going with the smaller neighborhood school for now.

I’m so tired. I was talking with a coworker about the situation this morning and during the conversation she said something about sleep training that just set me off and I’ve been a wreck all day, feeling like such a complete failure as a mother. The sleep thing has been such a bitch. I feel like, if I wasn’t able to figure out something that simple, how can I pretend to think I know anything about anything when it comes to parenting? Of course I’ve failed to teach my daughter good eating habits. Of course. 

We’ve also been insanely busy at work so I’ve done nothing on my dissertation for over a week. 

I know there are things that I should and can and do feel good about, today’s just been one of those days. 

More deep breaths

March 5, 2014

It’s been nuts getting the kids out the door in the mornings. Usually Gimli makes breakfast while I get them ready for school – hair brushed, clean clothes, all that stuff – now I’m trying to do it all, plus they’ve been sleeping in later. I’ve never had to use an alarm in the mornings b/c Oz has been reliable to wake me up before 6 a.m. But this week? They’ve both been sleeping til 7:30! So it’s been a little crazy… I will definitely set an alarm for tomorrow. Even when I get them to bed at a decent hour – I think they’re overtired or a little under the weather or something.

Yesterday I went with a visiting “learning tour” group to Soacha, the huge slum area that bleeds into the southern edge of Bogotá.* We visited a project that my organization supports there, a preschool attached to a church. The pastor/project director there was forced to leave along with his family (2 kids, ages 6 and 3) because it simply was no longer safe for him and his family to stay. There are 60 neighborhood kids attending this preschool, 70% of them from families that have been internally displaced. It just kind of hit me – all the anxiety I’ve been experiencing about Illyria’s education, against the desperate hope of these families for whom a school of bare brick walls and concrete floors is a luxury, and children whose one meal a day is all too often the free lunch they get at the school. 

This isn’t to say that I shouldn’t seek to give my daughter the best possible education I can, it’s just putting it in perspective. My kids are so loved and cared for, warmly dressed, clean, and have access to excellent health care and go to a beautiful, fun school. I want them to be mindful of the needs of others. And that is, at least in part, why we’re here.

* and I’m still full of thoughts and feelings on “poverty tourism” and how to keep what we do here from turning into that…


March 1, 2014

I had a great talk with my SIL yesterday morning. I came to the understanding that as long as I am a safe harbor for my children to come home to, where they can rest and regroup, they will develop the skills to handle whatever slings and arrows come their way, whether it be at school or whatever. I know it’s more complicated than that; but the idea that I don’t have to coddle and protect them from everything – which is my tendency and which I know ultimately harms them – it was good to come back to that realization.

In an airport recently I saw an indigenous man with a little boy, about my kids’ age. He kept track of his son but didn’t “herd” him. In fact he didn’t seem to give him any verbal direction at all. When they got to the front of the check-in line, the dad just walked up to the counter with the calm expectation that his son would follow him, and he did, carrying his little bag all serious and small. I couldn’t help but contrast how I “herd” my kids through things like that, always telling them what we’re going to do next, where to go, etc. It’s not that I want to idealize indigenous parenting styles, but it was just cool to see that there are many possible ways of doing things.

Last night Illyria threw up in bed, and it was epic. As I was hanging up the second load of laundry to dry, sniffing at my pajamas to see if I needed to toss them in too, I thought about how I would have felt in 2005 or 2006 or 2007 had I been able to peek through a window into the future, been able to see myself doing just this – cleaning up my child’s puke at midnight. And I just thought how happy I would have felt, and how happy I was in that moment, to be able to do that for my daughter. My daughter. My son. I am so lucky.

It was a nice end to a day of panic/anxiety as Gimli prepared for another journey away from us, 2 weeks in the middle east. Funny to find a moment of peace like that, in that way.


February 24, 2014

Oh the ongoing dramas of life.

Last month I went to a women’s circle meeting, organized by a woman at our church who is the first woman to have been ordained in our denomination here in Colombia. She invited a bunch of her friends who for one reason or another don’t exactly fit the conventional church way of being, so it’s kind of an alternative group. This is the second or third time I’ve gone, the meetings were sporadic last year and when they did happen I often couldn’t go because of travel. But they are lovely. The first meeting I went to, a woman shared a meditation on intuition, built on the framework of Maiden, Mother and Crone – doncella, madre, y anciana – somehow much more poetic in Spanish. I was astonished and delighted by the whole thing. 

This last time, we talked about a technique called co-counseling, which one woman in the group has been trained in; what I took away from the discussion was this idea that we are socialized to suppress certain strong emotions, instead of expressing them, and that this suppression locks us up internally so we can’t process or solve problems easily. We get really stuck. Co-counseling is, apparently, a set of techniques for releasing these emotions and freeing us to move forward with our lives. 

Makes sense, right?

I realized that the day I learned about Illyria being denied entry to that one school, I locked up a lot of the emotion. I did cry – quite a bit – but it wasn’t the full release that I knew I needed. And I think that has been contributing to my insomnia quite a bit. The day I told our team during a routine check-in about how anxious and stressed I’ve been about that and my dissertation, I slept hard all night for more than 10 hours. Just putting it out there somehow made a big difference. 

Then Saturday Gimli was in the WORST mood, he’d been awake since 12:30, circling around in his head about a friction at work. Which I didn’t think was really the issue, frankly. I asked him to try to figure out what was really bothering him – and probed whether it had something to do with an e-mail from a friend/colleague in the US who is exploring possibilities for a sabbatical? I know my husband. I know his triggers, and this is one of them – seeing other people go to exciting places, places he sees as being “out there,” on the fringes as opposed to in centers. And I think that was it. He said it out loud: feeling jealous, wondering if we’d made the right decision in coming here, feeling that wanderlust, that itch to see over the horizon into an exciting new adventure, feeling like our lives here are humdrum and ordinary.

There was no solution – I didn’t offer any answers or resolutions, just listened and acknowledged his feelings, and within minutes he was a different person. For 3-4 days we’d been butting heads over all kinds of things, and suddenly we were in harmony again. Instead of longing for him to leave on another trip I was feeling like we’re going to miss him (he’s going to the Middle East for 2 weeks in March). It was amazing to see the turnaround. And it unlocked his mental energy for working towards a solution to what’s been bothering him at work. 

Last night I was awake at 2 a.m., grumbling mentally about the note from my dissertation committee – and I realized that I need to make some changes. I need to establish a writing space in the office, where I won’t be distracted. I need to aim for 3-4 hours a day, not just 1. I need to print out all the documents I’m working with because I work visually, and my desire to save paper is getting me nowhere in terms of productivity. I’ll worry about my energy footprint later.

I found the USB stick I’d been working with in january that i thought I’d lost – with all my backups on it as well as a bunch of articles I’d downloaded only there.

My goal is to become slightly obsessed with this thing because that’s the only way it’s going to get done.

More maudlin musings

February 21, 2014

So I took Oz to the doctor this morning; he’s been off all week, since Sunday really – sleeping a lot, drinking a lot of water, peeing a lot, complaining about a tummy ache. Sunday and Tuesday he developed a fever in the wee hours, around 3 or 4 a.m., but it was gone both times by mid-morning. 

Gimli and I had a HUGE disagreement about whether there was anything wrong or not. I finally “won” this morning but it still really annoyed me that he didn’t see what I was seeing – I felt belittled and dismissed. Although I don’t think that was what he meant to communicate. 

Wednesday I took Illyria to visit a small school near our house. They have some kind of arrangement with the preschool where the kids are now, such that it’s really easy for the kids to move from the preschool into this arts-focused elementary school. Although I’d had a really positive impression from the principal when I met her about a month ago, I wasn’t so impressed with the school building when we got the tour of the whole thing. It seems really bare, and small, although the kids are well-dressed and very clean and tidy, and one little girl ran up to us and said to Illyria “I know you!” and they took one another’s hands. I spent a good ten minutes or so talking with the classroom teacher where she’d be assigned which was nice. 

When I asked Illyria later what she thought of the school, she said “good! Fun!” which is what she’s said about every school we’ve visited so far. We’re going to take her to see one more, the one Gimli and I visited in the last post. We want her to be included in the decision. 

At the small school, they’re ready for her to start yesterday if we want, even though we haven’t actually finished the application process yet. At the big school, they told us that we’d actually missed the application deadline but they are still interested in us because they want more international students at the school.

Tuition at the small school costs 1/3 what the big one does. But then there’s part of me that’s thinking “you get what you pay for”…. 

The small school doesn’t require the kids to wear uniforms, and on nice days they all go and play in the small park that’s 1.5 blocks from our house. The big school does have uniforms, and they also have a library, a professional-standard soccer field, ballet classes, science labs…

I hate making decisions for other people. How can I know what is truly in someone else’s best interest?

I heard from my dissertation committee today… they have serious doubts whether I can be ready to defend in the late fall this year… but my advisor is telling them that I am very motivated right now. When I sit down to write, I delete two of every three sentences. I know that if I spin my wheels long enough I’ll catch traction and actually make progress – that’s what happened in January. But then I look at the time I have, and how packed March is going to be, and I start to panic. Two friends and I have formed a small support group to egg each other on and that’s been insanely helpful. I just know it’s not what would be available if I were actually on campus, and I wonder what I’m doing with my life?

tears for fears

February 10, 2014

I feel emotionally wrung out and exhausted. This is going to be another venting post about school applications, so you can skip it – I totally understand (“it’s bad when you annoy yourself”). 

So, a couple weeks ago when we found out that Illyria didn’t get into the school we’d applied to, Gimli made this appointment at a bilingual school that some American expats we know sent their kids to and liked a lot, so we went there this morning to meet with the admissions person and check it out. It seems like a really good school. The downside is that it’s on the more expensive side, and is way the heck across the city from where we live – about an hour commute back and forth. 

More to the point, I discovered that anything related to school admissions is now a huge anxiety trigger for me. I was tense and snappish all morning before we went, and I had a stomach ache by the time we finished the tour and presentation there. Over lunch Gimli probed a bit and then said, “It seems like you’re scared that there’s something fundamentally wrong with Illyria, and people are going to not understand her or not like her because of it.” I said “That’s almost word for word what I was just thinking,” and immediately broke down in tears. 

That’s it right there. And I don’t know what to do about it.

school saga

January 27, 2014

Well, our saga to find a school for Illyria has truly begun. On Saturday we went to visit a “Montessori” school in the wealthy northern part of the city; it kind of boggled my mind – the physical structure made me think of it as a Classical education theme park. Every classroom bears the name of some great world thinker, every great name from Marie Curie to Nelson Mandela, and a hallway facade evocative of Hellenic Greece (or some such thing). The music area in the preschool included a collection of miniature, child-sized baby grand pianos. There’s a faux fountain in a faux village square between the lockers in the elementary school section. The application form for admission cost $150 and asked for the entire educational and work history of each parent. I said to Gimli, “well there’s no ambiguity about the elitism of this school.” 

We’re also looking into alternative schools closer to where we live. We’ve talked about the public schools, but the truth is that in this city every middle class parent who can afford it puts their kids in private school. If there is any choice at all, that’s where they go. So the public schools are overcrowded and underfunded, and even as my populist inclinations protest, I keep thinking “I just don’t want her in a classroom of 40 kids.” 

I spent some time around the age of 12 in public schools in Peru and Chile, and I hated almost every minute of those experiences. In one school, there were 44 kids in my 6th grade classroom and the teacher would sometimes show up drunk. Some days every kid who couldn’t answer the question would be switched on the upper arm (although he skipped me because of my quasi-foreigner status, I suppose). There was a breakfast program at one school – bread and milk – and my sister and I hated the taste of the warm milk so much we brought chocolate powder from home to try to make it palatable. Completely bored by the rote memorization used in every subject, I was close to failing everything except math and art. I suppose it was good for me to be with other kids my age, and I learned the national anthems and hopscotch and the value of a school uniform. But oh how I hated going to school.

I want Illyria to like school, to enjoy learning. I want her to learn Spanish really well. Beyond that, I’m not too anxious about anything. Except her getting accepted.


January 22, 2014

Well, Illyria didn’t get into the school we applied to. We’re trying to figure out a Plan B that doesn’t involve insane distances across the city. I was kind of upset this morning, less about being denied to that particular school and more about the feeling of rejection in general, and my own failure in preparing her adequately for this next step in her young life. 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.