Archive for November, 2011

Turkey hangover

November 25, 2011

Last night we celebrated Thanksgiving with a mixed group of American expats and Albanians who have lived in the US. The kids had a wonderful time playing with someone else’s toys and following around their little fluffy dog. I chatted with the mom about her 9-weeks-ish pregnancy and Gimli watched an American football game streaming from the web. I think it was the chatter from the game in the background that somehow made me startle when we left – I found myself staring at people’s faces all the way home thinking “wow… I’m surrounded by Albanians! I’m in Eastern Europe!” with a profound sense of novelty.

I had left early to put Oz to bed close-ish to his bedtime, even though the host proclaimed confidently that I could either a) put him to sleep in their room, or b) keep him up late so he’d sleep in later in the morning. How little they know my kids. Anyway, Gimli and my night owl Illyria stayed as I took my leave with a couple slices of pumpkin and apple pie tucked away in the diaper bag and arrived home only to find I didn’t have my key.

I feel like an idiot, but I just started crying. I called Gimli who just laughed and said he’d be right there, and to wait for him in the cafe downstairs. It was only 8:00 but I just wanted to howl like a hound at the moon about how badly I wanted to go to bed.

As it happened, Oz finally went to sleep around 8:45 – and I finally went to sleep around 10:00 – only to wake up to him screaming for Mama a couple hours later. Usually it’s Gimli’s job to handle the night parenting but Oz was beside himself, so G came and got me. I lay down with Oz on the bed in his room and spent the rest of the night there, alternating between lustrously colored and action-packed dreams and waking to nurse Oz back to sleep, until 4:55 a.m. when he woke up for the day.

I didn’t even bother with more than a single cup of coffee today; this is a tired that coffee isn’t going to touch. My plan is to go home and sleep as soon as the kids are down for their naps.

It is such a luxury to have the help that I have. Gimli and I wrestle a bit with how much we’re paying Dhurata, and how many hours she’s working for us, and collateral ethical issues, but at the end of the day I’m just so damn grateful for her. When I finally got through the front door of the house last night, the kitchen was sparkling clean after a full day of baking and cooking, all the toys were tidily put away, and there was nothing to do but get the kids and myself ready for and into bed. We worry about fostering her family’s dependence on us financially, but I should probably worry more about my dependency on her help for managing the household.



November 11, 2011

I think I need bifocals. I find myself doing the classic hold-at-arms-length-and-squint thing, and I find I have to take my glasses off to do any kind of close work, like sewing a rip in torn pants or cutting out construction paper stars. It’s kind of annoying, but kind of secretly thrilling at the same time, like a rite of passage.

I’ve always longed to age – except for those barren years, when each month ticked away another chance at a baby, and birthdays became somber, tear-drenched affairs. But through my 20s, I was eager and excited for each birthday, and I find I’m beginning to feel that way again now.

When I was a little girl, my best friend, who was a year older than me, used to give me all manner of ridiculous commands (“jump in the sewer ditch,” e.g.) and then, when I refused to comply, would say “OBEY YOUR ELDERS!” (I’m sure she learned that from her older brothers.) We grew up in a tradition where age was equated with wisdom and authority, and I long to feel wise. I used to say, in my teens, “I can’t wait until I’m 50,” because I imagined that at 50 I would have achieved a serenity and confidence in myself, in my knowledge of the world, in my ability to meet ALL life’s problems with equanimity and self-assurance.

I remember when I first started noticing the wrinkles – first it was on my knees, as I bent over doing warm-up workout stretches. I was startled to see the finely textured quality of the skin there. Within a year I saw the lines being etched into my face as well – frown lines between my eyebrows, a deepening labio-nasal fold. They didn’t go away, and they changed the aspect of my face more dramatically than I could have imagined. I watched the backs of my hands growing soft and veiny, and I thought how much they look like my mother’s hands. Mom hands, I thought. I’m getting mom hands. But I wasn’t a mom.

So when my first baby was finally born, I at once began to feel more at home in my aging body. Mom hands felt right, now that I was a mom.

Although, I have to admit, I do feel like an old mom. The parade of new babies being born to former students is always a bit disconcerting. And here in Albania, the norm seems to be to get married young (19 or 20, for women) and then pop out a baby as quick as possible. Women of all economic classes seem to prefer to space their children a bit further apart than the 2-3 year preference in the US – a gap of 4-6 years between siblings seems to be the norm here in the post-communist era. But in any case, I’m definitely at the older end of the demographic curve. Even at the playgroup, among professional expatriate women, I’m the oldest in the group by at least 5 years, by my best judgment (although Marta wasn’t there last night, and she feels closer to my age to me, a judgment I make based entirely on her hairstyle).

Being an older mom does make me a little sad, sometimes. I can’t exactly put my finger on why – I guess just because it wasn’t by choice, entirely, and I’m still sad about those years we spent throwing BFN peesticks in the trash – the grim, hopeless sex; the dark cloud over every friend’s pregnancy announcement. That’s what my aging body reminds me of.

But then at the same time, my paunchy tummy reminds me of the fullness of the pregnant belly I once (no, twice!) had, and the ache in my back reminds me of the solid warmth of my children’s bodies as I carried them home from playgroup last night (our stroller is broken) – Oscar in the Ergo on my back, Illyria in my arms when she tired of walking. There is something immeasurably comforting in the warmth of their bodies leaning against me.


And age is catching up with me in other ways, too – yesterday I had my blood pressure taken, and it’s in hypertension range (154/110). The doctor recommended dietary changes first, and then if it doesn’t improve, some kind of meds. Since the constant walking here had resulted in dramatic weight loss last fall and winter, I’ve been pretty much eating whatever I want – and that’s not good. Pizza, hot dogs, butter, French fries – all off the menu now. Actually I’m kind of glad to have an external authority enforcing this change, it will make it more likely to happen.

sleep update

November 9, 2011

Since we played musical beds, and started using a musical alarm, things are much improved. For several nights Gimli has not had to go in to Oscar at all, not even once, and a few times O has slept until 6 a.m.!

On the other hand, my rude neighbor accosted me in the grocery store AGAIN to complain about Oz’s crying, and again I didn’t understand everything she said, but I think she was saying something about my babysitter… whom I absolutely adore… I have concluded, though, that the child she’s been hearing crying can’t be Oscar, because he simply has not been crying at night. Sometimes he’ll cry when I leave for work, or the inevitable fights with his sister, but good lord that is NORMAL. He cries a normal amount for a young toddler. I think my neighbor is mean, rude, and also confused. There are times I’ve been home and thought I heard Oz crying and when I checked it turned out to be a child somewhere down the street, so it’s not a far reach to suppose my neighbor might be making the same mistake.

I just wish she wouldn’t accost me in the grocery store in front of a bunch of people where I get all tongue-tied and and ashamed.

November 7, 2011

The playgroup was fantastic; I’m so grateful to Suzanne, the woman who invited me. She’s French, and we met at the playground last year when she was expecting her second baby. Oscar was only three months old at the time, so she said yesterday that she’d noticed me then and thought “that’s going to be me, soon,” with a toddler and a baby. Then I didn’t see her for months, until we ran into her at a little indoor playground/café (aside: these are THE BEST – imagine Sartbckus with a large play area for little kids and a fully stocked cocktail bar as well, I’m not kidding  – every café in this city has a cocktail bar in it with large “No smoking” signs on the wall and ashtrays on every table. And some have indoor playgrounds attached. Go free market capitalism!) and she invited me to her house for Thursday afternoon playgroup.

There was another French woman there, an elfin-earth-mother type I’ll call Gaia, whose kids are 4 and 2, and a German woman whose real name I don’t remember so I’ll call her Marta here. Marta has a little boy around Illyria’s age. Finally there was a woman from Belarus, Ilona, with her two-year-old boy. Except for Ilona, they spoke French with each other – for the rest, we all used English.

It was exactly the kind of people I feel most comfortable around – intellectuals, expatriates, mothers of young children. They’re attached to universities, or NGOs (not embassies – that’s actually a slightly different crowd, I think). I’d brought a bag of cookies to share, kind of a fancy Fig Newton sort of thing, and then saw I was a little off-key as they others had brought things like whole pomegranates to squeeze fresh juice from, rings of actual dried figs, home-baked potato and egg casserole. Their kids are in the expensive Montessori preschool and the air smelled like eucalyptus and something else – not quite patchouli, but not too far off. Hindu prayer flags hung around the wooden playpen and wood and cloth toys were scattered around on yoga mats. I was relieved to see the same very cheap set of plastic animals made in China that I’d bought for Illyria last fall mixed in; Suzanne may have good taste but there is not a hint of snob about her at all.

Illyria and Oscar had THE BEST time; she kept pulling at my to come play with her, but I said “go with Oscar, I want to stay and talk with the mamas,” …. and… SHE DID. They drank pomegranate juice and nibbled on figs and explored the little guy’s collection of musical toys.

And I had adult conversation and a wonderful time. I can’t wait til next week.


November 4, 2011

My aunt in upstate NY posted a photo to FB yesterday, of my mom standing outside a US Passport office holding up….


She was able to get it the same day she was sworn in as a US citizen, at long last, after 40 years of marriage to my US citizen father, after bearing and raising two US citizen daughters, after 41 years of working for a US-based mission organization and traveling extensively between the US and her native country of Peru.

In the other pictures, of the actual swearing-in and right afterward, it looks like she was crying and beaming in delight at the same time. Now she can finally get a visa to come visit my here, to see her grandchildren after more than a year. And I get to see my mom 🙂

What I need

November 3, 2011

I’m in a weird place today. Internet is not always my friend. I’m thinking of banning myself from my iTouch. I came here to one of my favorite bar/cafes after lunch today (and after wandering around for half an hour trying to find it, staring at everything around me as if I’d just realized that I’m in Albania…) because of the free wireless, and after checking my e-mail ended up in a downward spiral of completely inane celebrity gossip.

Gimli has extra work this week because the big-wigs from the international support offices are all here for a conference and so there’s all these extra meetings and receptions and whatnot. He didn’t get home last night until 9:30, long after Oz was in bed, and some time after Illyria threw a screaming fit about sleeping in her own bed. She usually naps in the extra twin bed in our bedroom and she has asked before to sleep there at night, but normally we just say no and that’s that. Last night I held her in a death-grip on my lap as she screamed and cried and begged to sleep in Mama and Dada’s room, pulling on my shirt as though by sheer force of will she could move us both there. As I usually do in these situations, I tried to mirror back her feelings to help us both identify what’s going on – “You want to sleep in Mama and Dada’s room?” – “Yeah!” Her whole body relaxed and curled into me. “What don’t you like about your room? Is it too hot?” No. “Is it too cold?” No. “You don’t want to be alone?” Yeah!

How could I say no to that?

So I carried her to her napping-bed, and that’s where she slept soundly all night long. She woke up once saying “need book – got stuck – got it!” as she pulled her bedtime book out of the crack between the bed frame and the mattress, but she didn’t stir when at 4:30 I got up to use the bathroom or at 5:00 when Oz woke up for the day.

So we’re thinking of making this a permanent change. We’ll move Oz into her room, where his crying at night won’t disturb the neighbors, and we’re going to make another effort at hard-core CIO.

Gimli and I are so deep in sleep debt that any little thing sets us off. We’re on hair-triggers. I can’t even remember what it was this morning, actually I think it was something Illyria said when I came back from putting Oz down for his nap, but I didn’t say anything, I just walked straight out to the balcony and started folding laundry that had hung out all night to dry. I just had to be alone for a few minutes.

We have got to start getting more sleep.

I’m going to give up the iTouch, much as I don’t want to. I take it to bed with me and end up reading Jezebel and playing Snood for an hour. I need that sleep. I use that hour to unwind, to “reward” myself for a long day of parenting, but really it’s not helping me. It would be better to do a few stretches and then just start counting sheep.

And we have to break Oscar of the habit he’s in of waking every 15-20 minutes from 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. until he’s up for the day at 5:00 or 5:30. It’s killing Gimli, who is doing night duty these days. My suspicion is that Oscar knows that at some point in the early morning Mommy will come in and nurse him, but he doesn’t know when it’s time, so every time he wakes up he checks – is it time yet? – crying until someone comes, and becoming more and more insistent until Gimli breaks down and goes to get me (usually around 5 a.m. Which is why I need to be going to bed at 8:30 and not 10:30 p.m.) So I’m going to start setting a musical alarm for 5:15 (and gradually extend it, I think, over time, to 6:00) and that’s when Mommy comes in. So hopefully he’ll catch on that when he hears the music, that’s when Mommy is coming, and not until then. No music, put yourself back to sleep.

He’s completely capable of putting himself to sleep, it’s just those few hours just before dawn when he simply WON’T.

Oh, and about Illyria sharing a bedroom with mom and dad, in terms of our privacy – we haven’t been sleeping in the same bed together since August, or maybe even earlier, anyway, due to Oscar’s night waking. We’ve been taking turns on night shift, sleeping on a mattress in the hallway outside his room. One person gets the master bedroom, the other person gets the corridor. We have a little cuddle time every evening and then part ways. It sucks, but our thinking was that at least one person would be getting a decent night’s sleep – although it hasn’t actually played out that way and NOBODY is getting a decent night’s sleep – and it’s another reason we need to be DONE with the night waking.

Maybe at some point Illyria will agree to move into Oscar’s former room, which is probably where she should have been from the beginning, but at this point our main priority is sleeeeeep.

I’m in this strange place right now where I don’t really know what I’m feeling, I’m just too tired. I’m on my fourth cup of coffee and ready to keel over. We have a play group date this afternoon at 4 with a French lady I met at the park one day, which should be fun. She’s really nice, too bad they’re moving back to France in December. Anyway my social anxiety is kicking in a bit but hopefully the other moms there will be nice.

I have some ambitious work goals for November, since one of the other families that Dhurata works for will be going back to the US for 2 months, and she’ll be able to work for us four days a week (!) So I’m hoping to about double my work hours from October. My own version of NaNoWriMo.

I wish I could take a personal weekend retreat for meditation, yoga, sleep, reading. Maybe when I’m retired.