Saturday, December 31, 2011

Be here now

The year is winding to a close.
It's as if I can hear the clock ticking the seconds away.
But it's not really the seconds left until the New Year that concern me so much as the seconds left until we have to leave Ian again.

"It's weird. I want to go home, but I don't want to go home," Esther said yesterday.

"I know exactly how you feel," I said. "Exactly." 

We are all stuck somewhere in between, so grateful for our little life boat, as we bob along the waves, but also keenly aware that a life boat isn't sea worthy for the long term.

"I want you to be my husband all the time," I said as I put my head in that place on his chest saved for me, the place I have been longing to rest in.

"I am," he said, so confidently I lost the desire to whine anymore and instead locked my attention in the here and now. Here and now. The feel of my cheek against his shirt. The warmth coming from underneath his shirt. The smell of him.  Here and now. Otherwise I will have regrets.

 "Daddy," I heard Isla's voice say as she cuddled up to Ian in bed this morning. "Isla," Ian answered.

"Daddy," she said again. "Isla," he answered again. 

"I don't care if you're scratchy anymore, Daddy," she said.

It seems even Isla is recognizing the importance of enjoying Ian while we can, whiskers or no whiskers.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Together again, for now

Poor Ian.

I tried to leave the house yesterday morning, bright and early, before the kids woke up, to walk to Thames path to Marlow and get some work done at the Starbuck’s there.

The only internet I get here, my life story, is standing in the picture window of Granny’s sewing room, the only room in the house without heat. It’s not conducive to working.
So Starbuck’s is my office.

So there I was,  babbling on and on as I got dressed, about what the girls might like for breakfast, what clothes they miight be looking for, what they might like to do:

Don’t forget to give Isla her nose spray so she doesn’t get allergic, and a spoonful of antihistamine in her juice, not too much juice, but not too little, she doesn’t like to taste the medicine.... , do you have my phone number, will you call me, what are you guys going to do for fun, maybe they would like to go swimming...

Ian said nothing, just looked at me, as if to say, What do I look like, the babysitter?

After 8 months without him, I am having trouble handing over the reins. I worry he has forgotten how to be their father. And I’ve forgotten how to be a wife...

I had not considered how hard it would be to get alone with him, to find time for us, not even realizing how much I need and want that. I was only focusing on the reunion of us as a family, of father and daughters, not husband and wife.

Being parents is hard. We love our children, we love each other. But the madness that is the fullness of their occupation of our every waking hour, is real. And people say it is but a blink of an eye, but I can’t help but dwell on the fact that Ian and I are older than usual, he especially, and ... do we really have all the time in the world? Now that we have been forced apart, time feels all the more precious.

 My commute route:

More TMI over at Momformation...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What I learned in Guatemala

My recent trip to Guatemala with Save the Children was the kind of experience that cannot easily be processed and captured in tidy sentences and paragraphs. But, after almost two weeks of rumination, I've tried to spit it back out for you here:

Things I observed and learned and thought about in Guatemala:

Women and girls carry babies. Men and boys carry machetes.

The women were all stunningly beautiful to me in their traditional, color-filled dresses. I often felt as if I was dressed like a boy, lacking color or any semblance of traditional femininity.

I saw very few mirrors. Do they know they are beautiful? Do they care?

The women wore traditional dress while the men wore normal western style clothes. This strikes me as completely sexist, macho, and patriarchal. Probably because it is.

Girls get married as young as 13. Some are considered too old for marriage at 16.

When girls get married they go to the home of their husbands. They leave their own mother and father and siblings behind and become a part of the in-laws family. The mother in law has all the say in child rearing. Could you imagine this?

Children take care of each other. Little kids everywhere were taking care of even smaller kids. Young girls  carried their siblings in a sling, walked them down the road, always took them by the hand, and acted very motherly towards them. My daughters do this as well, but this is taken to another level. Their mothers are far less available to give them the kind of attention we are used to getting.

Siblings are expected to look out for each other, sometimes at the expense of their own future. The trained health worker we met, Elena, said she would love to go to nursing school but cannot because, since she is not married, it's her duty to stay home and look after her younger siblings.

When I see big sisters looking out for, mothering, little brothers, I can’t help but wonder what it is like for these little boys to lose their sisters/ mothers to marriage at 13.

The mother we stopped in on in a high mountain village, and her son Benito, and the little boy who claimed to be her son, but turned out to be her little brother, is a good example. Turns out the date spray painted on the wall, was a reminder that their parents died that day. Another brother wrote it down so no one would forget.

There is no such thing as a helicopter parent in Guatemala. Children are everywhere, next to roads, which hardly ever have cars on them, near wood stoves, climbing ladders and trees, no one seems to be telling them to get down, look out, be careful. Not like you would see in America.

Guatemalan mothers generally don’t push when giving birth. Childbirth  happens at home, women labor mostly alone, a midwife helps deliver the child.

Going to the hospital to give birth is associated with dying. Women often die on the way, or were already having complications, and it is not the hospital at fault, but that is the association. Save the Children does all they can do to make sure these moms get good pre- and post- natal care, by trained volunteers, to assure they are healthy and their babies are healthy. 

New mothers and babies use a steam bath as part of a post- partum ritual. They build a fire in the shower, like a sauna cave, and bring their babies in there to sweat out the toxins. I learned the word for this sauna but don't know how to spell it. 

The rural Guatemalan women will not take off their clothes when having babies, mostly because the husband forbids it  One doctor we met at a clinic refers to it as machismo.

I never once saw a mother disciplining a child in any harsh way. The children were generally docile, and self sufficient. Still childish and adorable, but I did not witness any blatant naughtiness. I had to wonder how much of this had to do with how much babies are worn when they are young, then how quickly they must adapt, in order to survive, to being self sufficient. 

Dogs are treated like rodents or wild animals. They are everywhere, scrounging, skinny, mangy, even dead in the road with no one seeming to care. Domestic pets are the luxury of a wealthy society. When you don’t have enough food for your children, you aren’t going to give it to a dog.

The real meaning of hand to mouth is not the same as paycheck to paycheck. These people chop wood, carry water, walk and walk and walk everywhere carrying heavy loads, plant the corn, harvest the corn, grind the corn, make the tortillas, cut the firewood, carry the firewood, build the fire to cook the tortillas, fetch the water from the stream to bathe the children and cook and drink.

I saw no one smoking.

Indigenous Guatemalans are tiny. 80 percent of rural Guatemalans are said to be chronically malnourished, living on a diet of corn, which affects their physical and mental development, yet they all have shiny black hair and bright eyes and white teeth. From my pictures you will not see unhealthy people. But what you don’t see is what the chronic malnourishment is doing to limit the mental development, and intellectual capacity of these people.

Without the proper combination of nutrients, which Save the Children is doing everything they can to remedy, including introducing a farming education program, teaching families how to farm, smarter --permaculture, these people will never "evolve."

Most of us who were lucky enough to have been born into the developed world take our sufficient diets and fully developed brains for granted. The progress we have enjoyed because of this, is the cause of great joy, and, yes, sorrow. These mothers deserve to see their children be more and have more. To give birth to children, only to see them lead a life as full of hard work as their own...

There is no garbage in the houses because nothing is wasted. Food does not come in packaging in Guatemala. The only waste I saw was the occasional litter of candy wrappers and soda pop bottles.  Things that are exported into their world from our world. 

Crocs are perfect shoes for little Guatemalan children.

Women carry things, all sorts of things, on their heads.

People have pigs and goats and chickens. Goats milk can change a malnourished kid into a perfectly healthy kid in a very short time. 
Being busy, being purposeful is human nature, born by necessity. Rural Guatemalans are all going somewhere, doing something, all the time. Now, back in the developed word, I see the same in our world, in the glowing snake of headlights I saw from the plane landing in Heathrow at 6:30 a.m. And in the endless stream of people walking past shop windows, carrying shopping bags, consuming, consuming all the time, and I understand why.  That habit of moving, of being busy, out hunting and gathering, is so ingrained in us, we make up reasons to keep moving, to keep busy, even though we don’t want for anything.

Charities like Save the Children are amazing in the breadth and scope of what they are trying to accomplish. The change they hope to affect, the challenges they take on, the research they conduct.
Cultures are so complicated, such an  intricate web of environment, geography, language, tradition, mores, it is amazing to me that anyone knows how to help them. But I saw people, mothers, children being helped with my own eyes.

People generally don’t give enough. I don’t give enough. I claim to be broke, yet I pay $3 for a cup of coffee, and $3 in an airport for a bag of chips. If I forget something, I buy a new one. I bought a raincoat for $100 on the way to Guatemala. That gnawed at me the whole time I was there.

Read more about my trip to Guatemala with Save the Children at Million Moms Challenge, and at Momformation. 

Friday, December 02, 2011

Secret agent wife

Back in France, ah France, I used to insert lots of descriptive setting info into my posts: The sun is melting, golden and syrupy, into the distant hillside, the leaves are dancing, like twirling acrobats, on the balmy breeze, the air smells of Pixie Stix. Remember that? I don’t either.

 Life is in overdrive today. I'm leaving for Guatemala tomorrow for my Save the Children trip. I would be totally excited if I could see past my nose, or past the huge pile of recycling I need to take to Fort Dumpster before I leave. Loose ends.

I'm in the weeds. And the way I can tell is because I can’t seem to find the time to

A: Even acknowledge the weather or my surroundings,

and B: I no longer write down all the profound things my kids say to me. I hear, practically see, these gems fall out of their mouths, I register that little heart squeeze that happens to all moms who get such surges of love, mixed with pride, mixed with the sadness that these children are not really ours to keep, and the moment passes. And I’m back to figuring out my  health care premium, and working out an installment plan for paying our 2010 taxes, and reading, with crossed eyes, the 4-page PDF document, written in incomprehensible govermentese, sent from the National Visa Center, regarding the status of my alien husband, Ian, who is still not allowed to come back to the United States even for a visit.

They want me to register an agent for him, and pay them some more money, and fill out another half dozen forms, and secure him a financial sponsor, before they will consider giving him back. I am now, officially my husband’s agent, not just his wife.

Ah bureaucracy. It's getting stale. It's starting to stink.

And C:  I know I'm in the weeds when  I forget to take pictures.

I will, however, be taking as many pictures as I can get away with in Guatemala. They are sure to be colorful and rich with grainy humanity.