Archive for July, 2012


July 31, 2012

Geez, it is August already??? Our nanny is on a 10-day vacation (religious retreat at the beach) so my computer time evaporated. What can I say in the few minutes I have while Oz naps? I’ve been going through a quiet internal revolution in how I view my children and my role as their parent. My SIL’s coaching has been instrumental in this change. So worth signing up for that. Gimli and I have, at long last (I think) come to a place of agreement on the long-term life vision stuff. I can’t believe it’s August. I have a month left in Albania. A month. It feels like we’ve been here a long, long time. My main concern at the moment is supporting my children through the transition back to the US, and then on to Colombia. Helping them say goodbye and grieve leaving the familiarity of this place they call home. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to elaborate on all of this in the coming weeks. Writing it out is immensely helpful – whether I then post it or not (but I usually do). Thanks for sticking around.


Putting in the time

July 20, 2012

Gimli comes home tonight, and I feel weirdly ambivalent about it. I’ve missed him – tons – and the kids have too, they’re beyond excited that we’re all going to the airport tonight to pick him up (otherwise he’d walk into the house right at bedtime which is a recipe for disaster. I’d rather we go, get the energy and excitement out, lull them down on the drive back home, then all unwind and go to bed together even if it’s late). 

At the same time, we’ve achieved a peaceful balance in the last 4-5 days, in terms of sleep as well as all our other routines, and part of me is loathe to upset that with the incursion of all this masculine energy that he brings. I’ve noticed before that I’m a little more tense and stressed when he’s around and we’re trying to parent together – and I think I understand some of what’s going on there – but that doesn’t mean I’ve totally figured out how to dampen it. 

And I’m insanely jealous of the experiences he’s had on this last trip. Last night he visited Bethlehem, and I’m like what? You can go there? Without walking through a wardrobe or something? It seems that unreal to me. 

And then Monday we’ve set aside the day to do a personal retreat, the two of us – he’s going to call in sick, and we’re going to go up a mountain and seriously talk through all this life-planning indecision that we’ve been processing since March. Initially I was really excited about this, now the thought of hashing all this stuff through just makes me feel tired. I compiled all the emails we’ve exchanged in the past three months on the subject into a single Word document, and it’s 30 pages long. It’s actually been a really good process for both of us individually and for our marriage, for articulating who we are and what we want – but there are some points of tension that seem irreconcilable to me. So I’m apprehensive about that. 

And I have an e-mail sitting in my inbox from one of my dissertation committee members, that I haven’t been able to bring myself to open. I feel my academic self slipping away. Organizing and reviewing my data is taking so much longer than I expected – I really can’t see how it could be humanly possible to finish this given the constraints I have. Well, it would mean giving up things I’m not sure I want to give up (specifically, time with my children). I can see the shape of the project emerging somewhat amorphously in my mind – but the distance that exists between where I am now and where I need to be in order to really hammer it into its final form? Feels so close to infinite it may as well be. 

So today I’m dancing around it all, performing perfunctory tasks, putting in the time. 

More of What It’s Like Here

July 18, 2012

Geez, that was a screed. I’m still kind of astonished anybody made it to the end – let alone commented. Anyway, I was looking through my collection of photos of Albania – a sort of a pre-nostalgia ritual, I guess – and wanted to do another “What it’s like here” collection.

I went back to the first one I did and took out the photos I’d uploaded without permission, that were not mine to upload – my MIL had taken then and I got them when we swapped photos at the end of their visit last December. So I think you’ll see the old post again in your feed if you have me in one.

This collection is not shaped by season, as it contains photos taken at many different points in our Balkan sojourn. Rather, I think of it as the slightly voyeuristic collection, because I included a lot of photos of people who didn’t know I was taking their photo…and decided that that’s ok. Hope you enjoy.

Correspondence, Connectivity, Screens, and Free-Range Joy

July 18, 2012

[lightly edited]

It takes me 2-3 hours to get the kids to sleep at night. And then once they’re down, I take an hour or more to unwind. Which is foolish. I can’t afford to lose that precious sleeping time – I surf the web, play Angry Birds – it’s stupid. A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article on the addictive qualities of the internet – and while I take the tone of alarm in the article under advisement, it rings a bit true (and how ironic that I read it on the net via social media). I’ve thought before – I’ve observed in myself – about the way I keep clicking around in circles – Facebook, Google Reader, e-mail, Twitter – around and around hoping for an update, something interesting or funny or pretty to look at, for that little “zing” of pleasure. I remember when we did experiments with white mice in my college intro psych class, the intermittent and unpredictable reward was the addictive one. The little mice kept clicking and clicking the little lever, because the next click could be the one! That brought down the food pellet! Sometimes it did, and sometimes it didn’t. But even after we cut off the food supply, they kept clicking and clicking for a long, long time. A line in the article on internet addiction said something about people foregoing sleep in order to mess around online, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m losing my mind.

What would our lives be like, without all these screens?

When I was growing up, we were unplugged most of the time. When we lived in a two-room adobe house in a village in Peru’s “ceja de selva” (brow of the jungle, or highland jungle), our only connection to the world outside that village – besides walking trails – was a ham radio. The first thing we did every time we moved out there was to set up the antenna, stringing the long lines into a tree or up a bamboo pole. The first thing I heard every morning as I woke up under my mosquito net was the crackle of static and scratchy voices, my dad checking in with our call number – “OAX29 a OAX6, cambio.” “Adelante, OAX29.” And that was it. Over and out.

I have this memory. As an adult it has become “my happy place,” a moment in time suspended in a golden bubble of pure joy. I am 7; I am playing in the shallow creek that runs past the village, under the light shade of the guava trees that drop dried flowers all over the sandstone boulders dotting the creek. The sun casts a sparkling net through the water, where fish dart over the gravelly bottom. This is the only place in the village where my sister and I are allowed to go barefoot – we could get hookworm from the manure that free-ranging farm animals leave to dry under the sun, but the rocks are clean – so now I revel in the grip of my bare soles on the rough sandstone. The water is cold on my feet, the stones warm in the sun. I jump around from rock to rock, and I sing. It’s a Sunday School song, and I believe that God is watching me right this moment, that God is embracing me as warmly and closely as the sunlight embraces my young brown limbs. I am alone with God, with God and with my pure heart-lifted happiness.

A couple years ago my dad told me that our time in this village was the most difficult time in his and my mom’s 40-year career with the mission. This is the village where he first got sick, completely debilitated by one illness after another (he has never recovered. He has been sick for 32 years). There were times when we ran out of food, literally nothing to eat in the house, and then at the last minute someone would come by with a gift of dried red beans and rice, a papaya, a hand of green bananas.

But I remember pretending to float paper boats in the dew on the grass that lingered in the shadow of the church building next to our house. I remember climbing those sandstone boulders, finding the vacant shells of enormous snails piled between the rocks – snails the size of oranges, which people would cook and eat with manioc and boiled green bananas. I remember helping an old woman pull cotton seeds from the bolls, and I marveled at how heavy the seeds were, how light the cotton. I remember the utter silence of noon. This village was inaccessible by any motorized vehicle – we rode horses two hours from a little airstrip in the next village over to get there – so not even the distant drone of traffic interrupted the silence of the world at siesta. Only the occasional rooster crowing, dog barking, the distant rattle of pots and pans. The smell of wood smoke and guitar music at night brings it back to me in an instant. We would lie under our mosquito nets on church night, my dad would read us a bedtime story by candlelight while the village children lined up along the bamboo wall to stare at us – a row of black eyes all along the crack in the wall, a row of little fingers bracketing each nose.

This was our life without screens.

When we would visit the capital city to stay with my cousins, my sister and I would sit on the stairs and stare at the clock, counting the minutes and seconds until 10:00 when the children’s programs would start on TV. Then we’d run up to the family room to play with Legos and watch cartoons all day long. In the afternoon we’d watch the A-Team and Knight Rider dubbed in Spanish (I was shocked the first time I heard Mr. T’s actual voice – nothing so gruff as the Spanish-speaking actor who dubbed his part – and I always thought Kit’s name was “Keith”). We had no defenses against TV. We had no… I want to say filters, but that’s not quite the right idea. We had no guards, no screens. We couldn’t imagine choosing not to watch it.

I installed a site blocker on my laptop, in order to focus more on my work. It’s been good. I had completely broken my celebrity gossip habit for awhile – until the Cruise-Holmes divorce sucked me in again recently – but I found that I don’t need it anymore, I don’t want it. I don’t seek it out. I just don’t go there. (Oh, and a good Brangelina story has the power to pull me in as well. And maybe Kate and Wills. But that’s all. Really.) I still trawl Facebook – and I’m glad I do, I’m glad I stay connected that way, especially overseas. But it’s imperfect.

Here’s a crazy story. I saw a FB update on my cousin’s page – my favorite cousin, mind you, the one who looks like Bon Jovi and is about as free of bullshit as anybody I know in the world. My cousin had built a tree house restaurant in NYC, and there were all these photos of the grand opening, and the label on one photo of “Simon and his lovely girlfriend Lynn.” And I went huh? The last time I saw Simon was at my uncle’s – his step-dad’s – funeral three years ago. At that time he’d been married to Sabina (born Sara, she changed her name when she became a dancer) – a women I’d never really clicked with nor cared for much. They have one child. So who was Lynn? I checked Sabina’s FB page and saw she’d gone back to using her maiden name. Neither of them listed anything in the “relationship status” box. I mulled over this for weeks. Weeks. I mean, how do you ask your cousin whom you’ve been in touch with on Facebook fairly regularly over the preceding two years, “Hey, I saw that you have a girlfriend. What happened to your wife?” Weird, right?

So finally I wrote him – Hey Simon, what’s up with you these days? Fill me in! I seem to have been out touch for far too long. Facebook seems to create the illusion of keeping in touch but it’s far too brief, too superficial… How is Chloe? What happened to you and Sabina? (I’ve been working over and over in my mind just how to ask that question… but it looks like you’ve both moved on???) Fill me in – and he responded that yes, he and Sabina split up three years ago.

Three years ago.

My favorite cousin got divorced, and I didn’t even find out until three years later? How disconnected can I get?

It still bothers me.

When I was in high school my boyfriend was three years older than me and so graduated first and went to college in the US while I stayed in the jungle. It was all snail mail then, and even more than that international snail mail. It usually took about three weeks for a letter to change hands. Sometimes when we were in the village it would be months, and then I’d get five letters all at once. I remember how my palms would sweat and my hands trembled as I opened each one, savored every pen-stroke, fingered the paper his hands had touched. He would draw our initials entwined together elaborately. Our romance continued until my first year in college. Being closer to him – Illinois to Iowa – I realized that I didn’t really like him all that much anymore. But oh how sweet the pain of longing for my distant love through those high school years! We constructed an intensely dramatic arc around the torture of missing each other all the time. It couldn’t possibly last (and I’m so very glad it didn’t).

It’s just wild to think about it now – how our one long-distance call during those years lasted thirty minutes, cost me $70, and got cut off abruptly when terrorists blew up a power station somewhere between me and the coast.

Now Gimli and I skype with our parents about once a week. It’s free. It’s face-time – sort of, anyway – and even though sometimes the connection is dropped, we can usually pick it right up again.

Which is the better connection, then?

All this to say, I don’t quite know how I feel or what I think about my online life. Or the ways I use digital media, or how it uses me. Clearly, blogging and connecting to other bloggers has enriched my life tremendously, and I hope I have contributed to the enrichment of others. On the other hand, the way I currently use it is robbing me of sleep. And when we lost Illyria’s cat? Gimli’s anger was about 98% about the fact that I was playing a game on my phone instead of paying attention. And yet, I let the kids watch videos or play with the iPad way more than I want to or think I should – because it’s easier. I can get stuff done while they’re thus engaged without constantly moderating conflicts. But what is this doing to their brains for the long-term? My husband likes to joke that “what’s good in moderation is great in excess!” (Tara wrote about this half a year ago and I’m still thinking about it…)

So, a 2000-word free-ranging ramble about various indirectly-connected topics… apparently that’s my blogging MO these days.

Typing in the Dark

July 12, 2012

Day 5 of temporary single parenthood. The nights are the hardest. A neighbor told me recently about an attempted break-in in her home, four floors up from us, and I had a nightmare the first night alone about that and it’s been hard to sleep – on top of the kids’ night waking issues. I’ve decided we have chronic sleep dysfunction. I just made that up, but it sounds like an official diagnosis, no? 

Days have been scorching hot – like much of the US right now, I gather – so we’ve been enjoying our wading pool on the balcony and the public swimming pool which omg is so freaking awesome I can’t believe we never went last summer! It’s enormous, clean, and has a wonderful kids’ area. Anyway. I digress.

What I meant to write about was this:

Last night I was reading through my blog archives, backing up each post individually in a Word document, and came to a post that made me cry. It was the BFP post. It came flooding back to me – how I waited and waited and waited that month to take the HPT, fearing the devastation of disappointment, watching in disbelief as my basal body temperature stayed high one day after the next, and then another, instead of the dip that presages my period.

I remember how my hands shook as I uncapped the stick and lowered it into the plastic cup of pee. I even remember what I was wearing – black yoga pants and a red and white plaid flannel shirt, hair in a ponytail at the back of my neck – and the churning in my gut as I paced the room watching my timer. I remember going back into the bathroom, lifting the stick, seeing the vivid dark pink of the second line. I remember falling to my knees right there, holding the stick and crying. Just crying for all the months of one negative after another, for all the fears (I still had) of never becoming a mother. I had to wait until Gimli got out of class to call him. My palms were sweating. Finally, it had worked. Finally.

For those still in the trenches – I remember. I always will.


July 3, 2012

I’m struggling through the interview transcript that I need to parse for themes and insights. The subject matter is dark and difficult, but even beyond that there’s a level of dramatic irony (literarily speaking) that is hard to stomach. The person I interviewed is a good friend, and I found out just weeks after talking with her – the night before we left the US for Albania – that her marriage was imploding. Knowing what I know now, it’s incredibly hard to read the transcript of our conversation, which took place at a point in time when neither of us knew what was happening in her husband’s life, or how it would shortly unravel her world, or how hard it was to find a way to support her emotionally as I adapted to a new life 6 time zones away.

I need to maintain a professional detachment – but my stomach is uneasy and I need to take a break.

I’m also feeling a little queasy because my kids are at the pool with the babysitter, and it’s their first time going there, and I can’t help but fret just a little. It’s a kids’ wading pool, of course, and I know they are in excellent hands, but I just worry – is Illyria allowing herself to be sunblocked? How are they faring with the new nap-free zone we’re experimenting with?

And I got my period last night, early, and with it the splitting headache that seems to develop in the day or so leading up to the start of a new cycle. This aging thing, wow. I can feel it.


So I’ve been wrestling with something recently. I can’t remember now when exactly it was – mid-March, maybe? It was a rainy day, and I had scheduled Oz for his vaccines which is a really complicated process in Albania if you’re not an Albanian citizen, so I wasn’t about to re-schedule. But I found out that the same day there was going to be a Celebration of Diversity on the main boulevard, where every important public event takes place.

Generally speaking, Albania is not a very welcoming or friendly place for LGBTQ people. In fact, when the Pink Embassy announced this event, one of the government ministers said publicly that the only right response to the event would be to beat all the participants with truncheons. Immediately afterwards, the Prime Minister made a very strong statement against this minister, most likely in hopes of preserving Albania’s chances (which are rather slim at the moment) of joining the EU someday.

I saw the announcements about the event linked on Facebook, though in a backhanded kind of way – members of the church we attend making very strong anti-LGBTQ statements like “what’s next, equal rights for pedophiles?” and the like.

It hurt my heart. And I wanted to go to the event. But I had this medical appointment for Oz. So in the end, I kept the appointment. Actually I walked along the main boulevard on the way to the appointment, and saw the miniscule handful of people – maybe thirty – standing in the rain or sheltering under the festive summer tents where tables were stacked with books and pamphlets. A balloon rainbow arced rather sadly over the park where they were set up, and a line of policemen stood facing outward, scanning the faces of passers-by implacably.

And I thought how incredibly brave these people were to come out in the rain in such a hostile environment, making a statement for tolerance and peace.

And what a coward I am that I couldn’t even say something affirming this group in my Facebook status, for fear of being rejected by the church people.

Two blocks down, another group was gathering. Coming back from our appointment I saw that probably around 200 people – many visibly Islamic – were gathering at another park, with huge red-lettered signs that I couldn’t translate for you because I didn’t know all the words, although the intent was clear enough. It was the anti-rainbow. It was the thundercloud. And it was scary to me. I pushed Oscar’s stroller past them quickly.

I am still ashamed that I did nothing that day or that week. That I didn’t even walk over and say hello to the people standing with their umbrellas under the rainbow, behind the police. According to my belief system, that makes me complicit in the violence against people of different sexual orientations.

I am confessing this to you not so that you can absolve me, nor excuse me, but because I want to come clean, and I want to draw strength from somewhere to have more courage next time, to be clear about my convictions. I want to continue to belong to the Christian community, and it can be hard when I disagree with so many of them about things that are actually really important. That are, sometimes, matters of life and death.


July 3, 2012

I just submitted this to the LFCA, but wanted to link here as well – Birdie just lost her baby at 16 weeks; please go abide with her. (p.s. I wasn’t able to leave a comment, for some reason, so left a message under “contact me” instead.)


July 2, 2012

Saturday is Oz’s second birthday, and Saturday Gimli leaves for yet another trip without us. He’s going to a politically volatile region, so while I’m sure he’ll be fine, part of me is on yellow alert. He’ll be gone two weeks. And I’m sad that he’s leaving on Oz’s birthday. While it’s not actually the case, it just feels like work is coming first before family again. He didn’t notice the date when he was making his plans.

Our sleep is all messed up still from the trip, although Oz had the best night of his life – quite literally – last night; he slept from about 8:30 to 6:30 and only woke up twice! And both times went right back to sleep! Illyria, on the other hand, fell asleep around 11 and woke up at 4 a.m. That’s right: 4 a.m. At 6:30 I found her sitting on the couch in the living room so I gave the kids breakfast and then took them out for a walk in the stroller since it was still not too hot out. I was going to keep her awake this afternoon instead of letting her take a nap, but really that wasn’t an option after her only sleeping 5 hours.

I’m kind of at a loss here. I thought by the weekend she’d be on a regular sleep rhythm again. I feel like I need to really work on her this week – minimize the screen time (40 minutes max), maximize exercise, try to get her to eat more nutritious foods. That last one is getting harder and harder. But I know we could do better. It’s been so hot out, it’s hard to get out in the middle of the day, but Dhurata is going to take the kids to the public pool tomorrow so hopefully they will enjoy that. They’ve been playing in the wading pool here but it’s good for them to get out and about.

I’m also going to try harder to get her to drink the magnesium supplement we got in the US; a friend recommended it, said it worked really well with her daughter. It’s just that even if I mix it with juice, and put in lots of ice, if Illyria can taste it at all she won’t drink it. I also got some melatonin that I gave them (very small amounts) for the first few days for jet lag; it worked amazingly well with Oz. With Illyria, it seemed to help her fall asleep initially but then she’d wake up after awhile and be awake for 4-5 hours. So I don’t know whether to do try it again or not. But SOMETHING has got to change here. We can’t go on like this.

So my SIL is getting licensed as a Life Coach and I agreed to be a client. Although I think Gimli needs it more. I had a “sample session” over Skype while we were in the US, which was made kind of difficult by Oz coming in mid-way and wanting to nurse, and trying to push the keys on the laptop, etc. Hopefully the next session will not have as many distractions.