Archive for the ‘family’ Category

What you wanted

August 9, 2012

“It’s what you wanted.”

Four words. So many possible meanings.

It was the end of the day, I was tired and on the edge of cranky, trying to manage six different things at the same time (pour juice, head off simmering battles between the kids before they erupt, answer Gimli’s question, keep an eye on the clock, listen to Oz’s chatter for discernable words, ignore my headache). I made some comment about what a juggling act it all was, or how glad I was that Monday was coming along with the nanny, or looking forward to the day they’d both be sleeping until noon on weekends, and he said “it’s what you wanted.”

I admit that I flew off the handle a little bit, albeit silently. “It’s what you wanted.” What, exactly, was that supposed to mean?

Try it – say the phrase out loud, at least four different ways.

1. It’s what YOU wanted. Don’t blame ME for this state of affairs, for your fatigue, for your inability to multi-task, for your constant angst about whether you’re doing them irrevocable damage or building them up into whole human beings. It’s what YOU wanted. You pushed for this, you made it happen, I’m an innocent bystander along for the ride. So don’t expect me to do much more than just stand by.

2. (Mocking) It’s what you WANTED. Ha! Look at you now! Be careful what you wish for and all that. You wanted this, and I delight in your misery now that you have it.

3. (Puzzled) It’s what you wanted, isn’t it? Didn’t you ask for this when we threw out the birth control, when we hammered at the inconceivability for 32 months, when we ran the gamut of tests, when you ingested the artificial hormones, when I drove 6 hours with a cold can of Coke on my lap? Didn’t we do all that so you could be a SAHM? Oh, that wasn’t what you wanted?

4. (Quiet delight) It’s what you wanted. Look at this. Look at them. Look how wonderful, how cute, how small and full of life and astonishingly fast at learning things they are. We wanted this for so long, and here it is. Here they are. It’s what you wanted, and now you have it. Bask in the amazing wonder of that truth. Let the other things fade into the background. Look at your beautiful children. Be glad, and be thankful.

He claims that option #4 is the one he meant. All I could hear was 1-3. Sometimes the voices in my head are so loud I can’t hear the ones that come from actual other people.



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.

and again with the motherhood angst

December 19, 2011

I read this lovely post from Stirrup Queens last night (or was it this morning?) and what is sticking with me, along with the metaphor of the Y representing the choices we make daily, was the phrase “they have all the tools.” Now that her children are in school, and she releases them each day into the world, she has to trust that she has given them the tools they need to navigate and manage that world and the people they will encounter in it.

It terrifies me, this responsibility to stock their toolbox. In some ways it is simple and obvious, and having two children means that we have a daily arena for teaching things like not hitting, and sharing, and taking turns, and acknowledging and honoring the humanity of the other (although we could achieve this also if we had a singleton by creating social situations where she was forced to interact with other children her age). But I am so afraid that I’m missing something big and huge and important that will become clear only further down the road as they descend into truancy and delinquency – or just simply unhappiness and self-hatred.

When my parents dropped my sister off at college, I went with my mom to a prayer meeting for parents that was scheduled as part of the orientation activities (yes, it was that kind of college) and my mom broke down in tears during the small-group sharing part, suddenly feeling that terror, that fear of having failed her daughter and it now being too late to make it right.

One time recently (maybe even last year) my sister said of our mother, “she’s been hurting me my whole life, why should it be any different now?”

During our hesitation before TTC, I thought about this a lot – I saw the tremendous conflict and pain between my sister and my mother, between my SIL and her parents – and I had to wonder whether having children was worth the risk. What if it should come to this, with my own children? This distance, this pain, this horrifying power and ability to wound each other to the core?

I think this fear has shaped my parenting style a lot. I err on the side of indulgence, rather than discipline. I know this is not always what is best for them. I don’t limit screen time as much as I should. I give in to too many of my toddler’s demands – or perhaps I should say commands – like when she doesn’t want any of us to stand and join in the singing at church, for example. I know that I shouldn’t let her control me, but sometimes I do. Of course there are non-negotiables – like holding my hand when crossing the street, or getting her hair washed, brushing teeth, and the aforementioned not hitting or pushing her brother.

When I was in grad school the first time, in 1999, it was a year after my cousin had committed suicide, and because I felt like I hadn’t done enough to help him during life I volunteered as a crisis counselor for a suicide prevention hotline. It was one of the best and hardest things I’ve ever done. A major component of our training was on reflective listening, and it stuck in my mind when one of the trainers mentioned that this skill had made her relationship with her teenaged children much better. Her ability to reflect back to them what they were feeling diffused tension and opened the door to communication. So I try to do that with our children, and I think it helps them a lot, to understand and release their emotions. I remember what someone said to me once (was it my therapist?) that emotional needs that are ignored or suppressed will never go away – they’ll just come back, sometimes in difficult or even dangerous ways. I’ve also been holding in my mind what Lori said in an interview about being in the moment, about feeling and releasing the emotion over and over again, and how physical movement can help in this process as well. So this is a big part of what I try to do as a mother – build up their emotional health and their tools for coping with strong emotions in healthy ways. So it’s frustrating when my MIL tells my daughter “Now don’t get mad,” or “don’t cry,” because, well, I think this is actually pretty harmful. I tell Illyria, “it’s ok to be mad, but you can’t hit your brother.” Usually then she requests to go to another room and “have a little talk” with me or another caregiver – it’s her way now of removing herself from the situation that’s frustrating or stressing her out. So we go away, and talk about sharing, or about whatever pissed her off, or just play for awhile in a different space, until she’s ready to go back and try again.

I long to be the kind of mom whose house is a haven of clean and tidy peace and serenity, who has Montessori-ed her home, who can make cake pops, who just generally seems to be competent and well-organized (Raspberry Chip, I’d link to you but you’re PWP!). I’m just not that kind of mom. I’m too overwhelmed by the quotidian. And I think I set the bar too low.

I’m gonna rock at homework help someday though.

The thing is – my mom didn’t TRY to make mistakes. She didn’t set out to hurt my sister. My MIL doesn’t hate her daughter, she loves her. They both did what they thought was right; they did their level best. I don’t fully understand what went wrong, why my sister and my sister-in-law have felt compelled at different times to put as much physical and emotional distance between themselves and their parents as possible, and why for each of them in different ways this seemed to be a move for self-preservation. So how can I know that I’m not going to end up in their position someday?


December 16, 2011

This wouldn’t be Project Progeny without a little good-natured complaining about my in-laws. After all, isn’t that what anonymous blogs are for?

I couch this complaint with gratitude, because they have truly been a godsend. They have made the 18-hour journey here twice now, at the advanced age of 70+, to enjoy the company of my children. They help around the house – my MIL takes care of the laundry, my FIL does the dishes, and between the two of them they entertain the kids from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. They shower them with gifts – but not too many – and always check with us beforehand about what they want to give them. They compliment me constantly about what a great person I am – for example, I asked my MIL yesterday (somewhat tongue in cheek) if she’s figured out yet why God gave her Gimli as a son, and she said, “well, because he brought us you!” That was just really sweet.

So it’s not actually that hard to tamp down my annoyance when she not-so-subtly does her passive-aggressive thing, like recently she’s been dropping hints about weaning Oz. I have no plans to wean Oz. I’d love to continue nursing him as long as he wants. I love that my milk is something only I can give him, and I get the feeling that he’s just as pleased that my milk is only for him – one of the few things he doesn’t have to share with anybody else! I don’t want to have any more babies, so this is the end of the line for me. I have enjoyed breastfeeding by and large and I’m not in a hurry to give it up. But he’s 17 months old now, and starting to talk, and I’ve observed that two things make most Americans (including my husband) very uncomfortable: continuing to breastfeed a child who can talk, and continuing to breastfeed a child who may be able to remember breastfeeding when he’s older. My opinion is that culturally Americans view breasts in a highly, highly sexualized way, but it doesn’t have to be that way – there are plenty of cultural contexts where breasts are no more sexual than bottles. Or udders. They are a milk delivery system, period. Children won’t see or experience breasts as sexual objects unless or until they are taught to do so!

So I guess I’m not surprised that she keeps bringing up the nursing question – “Are you thinking about weaning? Maybe he’d sleep better at night if he wasn’t nursing. It would free you up a lot! I’m sure he’d get used to cow’s milk quickly if that was the only thing he was getting.” On constant loop/repeat.

I wish she’d let it go. It’s not really any of her business. But she’s invested in the kids, in their upbringing, in our well-being as a family. She hasn’t quite intimated that she thinks I’m harming him by continuing to breastfeed… but I have a feeling that will come eventually.

Maybe he’ll lose interest on his own. Maybe I’ll get tired of it before he does and change my tune. But really, it’s between me and Oscar and I’d like to keep it that way.

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.

short and bittersweet

September 8, 2011

The grandparent visit is actually going pretty well, so far. They are very conscientious. Illyria is so enthralled with them that she has started calling me and Gimli “Grammy” and “Grandpa.”

In other news, that will never really lose its sting, my sister just e-mailed that she is unexpectedly pregnant. I am happy for her, and glad that she’s glad about it, and kind of hoping she’ll have a boy to be Oscar’s playmate. It’s just. You know.



July 4, 2011

So I’m trying to figure out how you add tabs to the top of a wordpress blog. Anybody know? I go to Dashboard and I’m totally lost.


I updated my blog roll; if you’re a regular reader/lurker and want to be added, let me know!


About a month ago, my husband had a ten-day work trip in another city about 3.5 hours away by bus (although of course he went with his co-workers in the NGO vehicle). I took the kids to join him for a few days over the weekend, which he had off, so that we wouldn’t be apart for so long.

This is a beautiful country, and as we made our way through farm-land like this, I thought “I could love this place – but I hate Gimli’s job.”

It was a low point for me in the trajectory of adjusting to a new culture, new country, new social landscape; I’ve been struggling to come to terms with the shift in my sense of self, in our roles in the home, in our relationship, since we came here. I hate that he’s gone so much – barely home in time to see Oz before bedtime in the evenings, frequent work trips (although we have a summer respite – the next one’s not til November! Yay!) – and, let’s admit it I’m jealous.

Saturday morning at the hotel, once the kids were up and dressed and had eaten breakfast, we went back up to our suite overlooking the Adriatic (I know! I am so spoiled, I don’t know what I’m complaining about!) and Gimli looked down where we could see the veranda, sort of an outdoor cafe/restaurant where we took all our meals. His coworkers were all there, just beginning to straggle in for their morning coffee, talking over the previous week’s work and making plans for the weekend. He looked exactly like a dog does when it wants to go outside, the ears half-cocked, the tail down, the sort of restlessness and gaze of fixed longing, so when he asked if I was ok staying with the kids while he went down to check in with the crew, I said of course. And I saw how eagerly and quickly he grabbed his shoes and room key and then I saw him outside as he walked out to the veranda and sat down, and I saw how relaxed and happy he was with his macchiato, leaning back in his chair with an amused smile on his face some minutes later, and I just felt enraged.

Yes, I love my husband, and yes I’m glad he’s in a job that he likes fairly well (and is much, much less stressful than his job at the university back home) and I’m glad he can enjoy conviviality with his coworkers.

But I have none of that in my life right now.

Yes, I love my children, and I’m glad beyond measure to have them, to be able to play with them and teach them and enjoy them.

But it would be nice sometime to be able to talk “shop” with a real, live person once in a while – or, even better, to sit in a small group with a lively discussion going on, to feel like part of an intellectual or professional community, where I wasn’t responsible for the nutrition, health, safety, general welfare, and head-to-toe hygiene of every other person in the room.


I’m in a much better place right now than I was during that trip (really only a month ago? It feels much longer), and I don’t actively hate Gimli’s job at the moment. I’ve been doing better at working through some of my dissertation material in the past couple of weeks and that helps a lot. I think I still have a lot to process though about our new reality and how it has changed our family dynamic and how I feel about it all. So this is just another little piece of that mosaic.

Red flags?

September 10, 2010

Yesterday afternoon I was in the basement folding laundry while my sister-in-law packed up winter coats for long-term storage, and she asked me “have you ever had V. evaluated for…” and trailed off.

I knew immediately what she meant though, and supplied the words that have been lurking in the back of my mind on and off for maybe a year: “Autism spectrum, or Aspergers?  No.  We haven’t.”

So it was said out loud, and all I could think was “I don’t want to be having this conversation.”  But it was said out loud, and so I’ve been watching V. carefully and reading stuff online.

She’s only two, so a lot of the diagnostic criteria don’t really apply yet; for her age, there are a few red flags, though.  Not enough for me to be really worried – for once Dr. Google calmed rather than exacerbated my fears – but enough that I’ll keep watching and reading and maybe we’ll have her evaluated when we get back to the US in 2012.

There are a few red flags:

  • Generally, she really dislikes being around other children her age.  If she’s used to them – like the kids she sees every week at church nursery, or the daughter of the woman who used to babysit her 4 days a week – she’ll ignore them.  With the one little girl, she was finally getting to the point where she’d actually share toys and food with her, or imitate her, and then work schedules and bedrest and etc. led to our not seeing them for several months so I don’t know how she’d react to her now.  But if we’re at the playground and any other kids show up, she screams and cries – at best, just emits these high-pitched shrieks to get our attention and communicate her unease.
  • Speech delays.  We keep hearing anecdotes about some kid that didn’t talk at all until age 3 or 4 and then suddenly started using full sentences.  V. talks, but she’s way behind every other kid her age that I know.  She just barely hits the minimum requirement for her age.  I think she has over 150 words (many, many of them animals), but she very rarely combines them into phrases.  The closest she gets are “Ma, Da!” looking back and forth from one of us to the other in the car, or “In.  Box.”  when she climbs into a box.  It’s like she strings words together, but the whole isn’t really more than the sum of its parts.  I think she understands pretty much anything we say, she just doesn’t talk.
  • On the other hand, she’s very literate – she can identify every letter of the alphabet in any context – all the capitals and some lowercase – and knows what phonetic sound each represents.  She knows all the numbers and can (sort of) count to 20 (instead of “fifteen,” e.g., she says “fao-fao” which is how she’d pronounce “five-five”).  On a web site about Aspergers I read the term “hyperlexia”; I’ve been saying for months that she’s going to read before she can talk.
  • Another site mentioned that sleep problems are really common with Asperger’s – difficulty falling asleep? Check (up to two hours after lights out)  Night waking? Check (again, up to two hours at a time)  Early waking?  Hm… maybe; she seems to wake up for the day after 9.5 hours, no matter how they’re distributed, so sometimes she doesn’t get up until 9 a.m.  But sleep has been a huge issue for us since she was tiny.

So I don’t know.  She relates very well to her very small inner circle – me and T., her grandparents, her regular (30+ hours/week) babysitter, and doesn’t freak out in social situations that are familiar – friends we see on a regular basis.  But people she doesn’t know seem to provoke this extreme social anxiety.  Put that together with the speech delay and sleep problems, and we may have reason to have a screening done sometime in the next few years.

It makes me sad, but I still feel hopeful.  And watchful.

(You know what bugs me a lot though?  If we do get a diagnosis at some point, it will reinforce my sister’s campaign against childhood immunizations.)


July 6, 2010

I have so many random thoughts coursing through my neural pathways that I don’t know which one to pick.  I’ve written long, lovely posts in my head at 4 a.m. several times this week and still sit and stare at the blank screen with nothing to say.  I’ll try some bullet points here and then maybe segue into something more thoughtful.

  • If I get one more e-mail from my MIL with yet another unsolicited opinion about baby boy names – always followed by the standard “whatever you decide will be great I’m sure” disclaimer which is supposed to neutralize the invasiveness I suppose – I will scream.
  • I am at a loss for how to divvy out child care help over the next few weeks.  My parents are here until the 25th, and then we probably won’t see them again for another 2 years as tickets to Albania are prohibitively expensive for them.  Our sitter keeps offering to stay overnight to help with V but my mom seems to feel a little insulted by the implication that she can’t do the job herself.  My MIL told me she’s already “in grief mode” about us leaving in September and wants to watch V as much as possible.  I hate being the person who has to weigh all these different interests and claims on the children cause dangit, they’re my kids and even though I do NEED the help – I need to spend time with them too.  T and I were talking about it last night and it just stressed me out to no end because I’m the one who has to decide.
  • Yesterday we got a little tour of the Family Birthplace Center at the new hospital where we’ll be delivering tomorrow, and I felt a little sad seeing the L&D rooms – they are HUGE – knowing I won’t ever have the chance to use one of them.  I thought I’d come to terms with the repeat cesarean – but there it is.  More on this later, I’m sure.
  • In a little over 24 hours we’ll meet our boy… I think we have a name but I feel more resigned to it than excited about it.  What bugs me most is that it’s #22 on the social security list for 2009.  Too popular!  At least it’s not trendy (there’s a difference – Daniel, e.g., is popular but not trendy.  Camden, e.g., is trendy but not overly popular).
  • It’s blitzin’ hot today and our small house (just under 1,000 square feet, 1 bathroom) is feeling small with four adults and 1 toddler living here.  I’m still incredibly thankful my mom is here helping me out so much.  I thought a good thank-you gift for her would be a ring or necklace with the grandkids’ birthstones.  I just have to figure out when and how to get one and/or who to delegate to get it for me.
  • Overall I feel much more calm and collected about this upcoming birth, so much less scared and freaked than last time.  Even though so many variables are different – including the glut of grandparents hovering around, and worrying about how V. will deal with the change – I feel much better prepared about what to expect.  That’s kinda nice.

Ok, I guess that’s it for right now.  I woke up at 4 this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I’m going to try to nap now.  I want to write more about my feelings about L&D/ repeat cesarean too… maybe this afternoon.


June 24, 2010

It doesn’t feel real yet… that I’m going to be mother to a SON… that V. is going to be a big sister… T., when talking about the life we’ll soon launch in Albania, keeps referring to “the kids” – it sounds so strange to me!  A collectivity… It’s not that I feel unprepared; materially, we’re pretty close to there – it’s more that the reconfiguration of relationships is boggling my mind.