Monday, January 19, 2015

Good bye grandma Carrie



My dear sweet grandma Carrie has passed away.  I haven’t had the heart to write anything about it or even talk about, as so many in my family have already done so well during eulogies or after the nightly service during our seven days of mourning.  Each night, the Rabbi turns to the small crowd and asks if anyone has anything they’d like to say, and I bury my head while others share memories and anecdotes of this remarkable woman.  But none of my words or thoughts seem to adequately capture who she was or what she meant, and the task of encapsulating someone’s full life and spirit seems insurmountably daunting. 

Every story or thought I have is followed by, “but she was so much more than that.”  She was a young woman with a new baby who kissed her husband off to war.  She was a small child going off to Hebrew school, the only girl in the class.  She was a 10 year old girl who found the strength to raise a baby sibling.  She was a woman of 50 who got her driver’s license for the first time so that she could more easily see her grandchildren.  She was a young widow with the strength to reinvent herself.  And, as a granddaughter, I have no doubt there were aspects that I never knew about this strong but gentle, fiercely loving, creative, and dignified woman.

But to me, she was my grandmother and the anchor and heart of my whole family.  And here is the one memory I have which came back to me in a flash when I first got the news that she had passed: 

I was 6 years old sitting in her kitchen.  My grandmother carved out large spaces for each of her grandchildren to have “special time” with grandma.  She’d take us shopping, out to lunch, to the movies.  This day, I was coloring at her kitchen table.  It was about mid-day and she was probably preparing lunch or washing carrots for a snack.  Then she turned around, leaned her back on the sink, wiped her hands on her apron, and asked me to come over to where she stood.  I put down my crayons and walked over not knowing what she wanted.  And when I got there she just hugged me.  She wrapped her arms around me and swayed and said, “Kimmy I just love you so much.” 

It wasn’t a hug goodbye or hello or goodnight. It was a hug in the middle of the day, in the middle of doing other things because she needed to love her grandchild in that soft and all-encompassing way of grandmothers.

My grandmother was many things, but that hug was who she was to me.  She saw me fully and knew me well.  We could talk about anything and did not always agree. But I always knew she focused on best parts of me, and I always knew I would be loved. And to be the object of that enormous and unconditional love is astounding and has made me a different person that I would have otherwise been.

All religions have rituals and idioms to comfort those who are morning.  “He’s with Jesus now.” “She’s in a better place.”  “May they rest in peace.”  It’s all about what’s happening to our loved one now. 

But in Judaism we say this:  “May her memory be for a blessing.”  It’s about what that life meant and how those memories will comfort those left behind. 

My grandmother’s life was a blessing to us all.  It changed us, improved us, taught us and sustained us. Right now, her memory is bitter sweet. We’d all rather have her here with us. 

But as so many have told us this past week, her memory will be soon be a blessing to us all.  We’ll think of her when we travel, learn, grow and love; when we see beauty or discover new talents.  We’ll think of her when we see her gentle, curious and artistic ways in our own children.  Her memory will truly be a blessing.

We will always love you grandma Carrie.









 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Which one are you?

I think it was George Carlin who famously said anyone who drives slower than you is an idiot and anyone who drives faster than you is an asshole.  It’s funny, like so many things, because it resonates.  You are your own frame of reference.  You’ve decided the “right” speed limit.  Maybe it’s a bit under or a bit over the posted MPHs, but it’s your “correct.”  Everyone else is some type of wrong.

It’s the same thing with parenting.   You are the norm.  You’ve decided which battles are worth fighting and which are worth letting go.  You’ve struck what you’ve come to decide (through so many painful lessons) is the right balance.  Others, in comparison, are either controlling their schedule too tightly or controlling their children too loosely.  They are either letting nap time rule their life or letting their children ruin every one else’s. These are the assholes and the idiots of parenting.   Except you’re not just sharing the road with them, you’re sharing society.  

This is rarely a problem.  We may mutter under our breath or bitch to our spouses in what is the protective rolled up car window of our lives.  We rarely enter into road rage-equivalent territory because we can simply cocoon ourselves into our nuclear family world with a turn of the key or a click of the garage remote. 

That is, unless we share any significant amount of time with anyone who is currently,  has been, or has ever HAD a parent.  All these folks, whether they admit it or not, have opinions about the right speed limit, which battles are worth fighting and which are worth letting go.  And it’s doubtful that it’s the same as mine. I remember this on every family vacation and every get-away with friends.  I feel it as the nanny and I watch each others’ child care decisions. 

In my case, I’m more wondering if I am being seen as an idiot or an asshole than judging others – though that often comes into to, if I’m being honest.  I feel it when I am laying down the law (“you will NOT get that lollipop until you finish you dinner”) and causing a small person shriek so loud that polite conversation is impossible or when I am giving in to a tantrum to quiet the noise.  I’m either letting my inflexibility get in the way of everyone’s good time or a sucker to my kids whims.

Truth is I’m lucky.  My family or in-family never call me out on ANY of my parenting decisions.  They don’t meddle and they don’t seem to judge.  But I know they have opinions.

OK.  Granted, I’m a touch neurotic and insecure, so that plays into this. Maybe other people confidently plow ahead with their parenting credo, onlookers be damned.  But I don’t think I’m entirely alone here either.  We all feel judged a bit.

I’ve said this before, but I think this is one of the fundamental stresses of modern parenting.  The fact that we all forge our own distinct parenting style, choosing from dozens of different disciplines and philosophies, means we are playing off different scripts.  It makes it harder to have any kind of a village raising a child and it makes you more likely to be the object criticism and to harshly judge others.  I know more structured parents who literally cannot hang out with the free-rangers. 

What do you guys think?  Am I alone here?  Do you feel judged or do you no longer care? (I’m getting there)  Do you judge others?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I think I'm blogging again

OK guys.  I think I’m blogging again.  And it’s not just the predictable New Year’s resolution to do more of what makes you happy, though that’s part a big part of it. 

Here's what else happened: A few weeks ago, I got a “do not reply” email from my blogger account which said that my domain name “mamamzungu” would be up for grabs, if I did not pay my annual fee.  Even though I hadn’t written a blog entry for about a year, that name was mine, Damnit, and I wanted to reserve the right to spew musings on that domain name if I ever had the inclination again. 

So, I clicked on the link it asked me to.  But Google had changed their payment system.  So, I clicked on another link. And another.  No luck.  I entered my username but the site defaulted to my work account.  I created new accounts, new passwords.  Nothing.  About 3000 link clicks and 5 hours down a kafka-esque rabbit’s warren (e.g. you can only get to a help line once you’ve successfully logged in to Google's admin account, which was precisely what I needed help doing), I finally successfully paid my annual $10 fee and have been assured ownership of The Site You See Before You until next year.

Whew. 

Now what?

I guess, sunk costs and all, I should start blogging again.

But I suppose to avoid the all too common New Years resolution pitfall, I should first examine why, after years of blogging, I ever stopped in the first place. 

Well, I got a job. Full time.  FULL time. Not just the opposite of part-time, but the kind of job I cared about after hours.  The mental and emotional commitment seemed to fill all the spare space in my life.

Now, it might not have seemed like it, but most of my blog entries were not just ramblings but things I spent several think sessions (in the shower, patting my child to sleep, staring out the car window) mentally chewing on before I wrote about them.  Now all those space-out/contemplate times were filled with work stuff.  I was afraid if I luxuriated in personal musings I would somehow fall behind in being the best I could at work.

But now, I’m thinking of it like this: I can think about/write about more than one thing in my life.  It’s like learning 2 languages.  People used to fear that children couldn’t handle it.  That something would inevitably be sacrificed. But now we know that not only can children absorb new languages better than adults, but that there are even benefits to brain development doing so.  Maybe if I let myself write and think in another arena, it will only enrich both spheres?  Could work.

Let’s see…

The other thing is my mom.  After several months of blogless existence, she told me she missed my blogging. 

“I do too mom!  I miss writing.” I said wistfully.

“Well, I just miss keeping in touch with you. Seeing what you’re up to.” She replied.  

My heart sank a bit when she said that. 

I was starting to think of myself as a writer.  I had started publishing on other sites, got some positive feedback and even received a few paychecks for words I strung together.  Symbolic amounts, but still. I had enjoyed the process of writing, putting some precision to my thoughts and seeing if they resonated with others.  But almost as much, I liked that new identity – intellectual and artistic - more than just about any identity I’d had in my life.

But that’s a whole lot of ego to attach to what was essentially a hobby and I suppose, to most, just a way to connect with someone they love who now lives half a planet away.  Sure, my blog was read by strangers, but it was consistently read by people I knew.  It was those discerning anonymous strangers who kept me working and re-working and perfecting my thoughts, making each post a multiple-hour ordeal.  Those who love me would forgive lazy thinking and bad grammar.

Thinking of it as a way to connect my thoughts and feelings with people who feel far away certainly takes the pressure off.


So, that’s what I’ll do. If strangers take a gander and like what I have to say, fine.  If not, fine. Whew.   But I miss writing.  And, yes mom, connecting with loved ones.  Let's just make this the place to do that again and maybe I won't go a year without another post.  Agreed? 


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thoughts on Rwanda. And feet.

I’ve been in Rwanda for work lately, and I’ve spent a lot of that time on the roads.  The drive from Kigali to our office is two and a half hours down, up, left, right, across the mountains. Don’t picture a drive either.  It’s a roller coaster ride of hairpin turns forcing you to grip anything vaguely reminiscent of a handle, lest a soft part of your own body collide with a hard part of the car’s interior.  Before taking a bus ride on this route, I was told “Prepare yourself. Someone in the bus WILL vomit.”  Not “may.”  “Will.”   

But I’m painting a much uglier picture than I mean to. Rwanda, as anyone who has visited will tell you, is stunning. Before the name conjured bloody images of machete-fueled genocide, it was known as the “Switzerland of Africa,” and for good reason.  The countryside is blanketed by patchwork shambas carved into the steep hillside and lush forest.  It’s postcard-esque.
The view from my room in Rubengera Rwanda.  From my phone, which isn't doing the view any favors.

But navigating the land on foot is a unique challenge and took a bit of adjustment. You don’t walk across the land as much as you try not to fall off of it. And, if you’re me, you fail at that endeavor, land in the mud and break your sandals in the process. And then 20 minutes later, in true African style, someone comes up to you out of nowhere with an industrial strength needle and thread and fixes said sandals for the equivalent of 15 cents. And you’re on your way.
So, all this walking around the Rwanda hillsides eventually took me to my first field visit. It was “distribution day” for the fertilizer that my organization’s farmers had bought on credit, and throngs of farmers made their way up to the distribution center set atop one of Rwanda’s many hills.  The day started, as is the custom, with a song and dance and then the field officers got down to the business of providing a brief training on the best planting practices.

video

So, I found myself sitting on a concrete slab amongst hardy hill-climbing Rwandan farmers, all of us leaning in to get a better listen to the live farming demonstration.  But I don’t understand the local language, so despite his enthusiastic demonstration, at some point I zoned out and started staring, like a bored school girl, at my feet.
And then I looked a few inches to my right at my Rwandan neighbor’s feet. 

I’ve noticed this before, but for some reason it stuck out to me that day.  There are a lot of physical differences between “wealthy world” urban-dwellers and African villagers, differences made stark by the intense and unceasing labor required to sustain families in a place with no electricity, tap water or gas-fueled kitchen stoves to prepare a hot meal. People have to be hardier, and they are. 
And this difference is most exemplified by the differences in our feet.

I looked at my neighbor’s feet and they looked categorically different from mine – not just darker and larger, but a different thing altogether.  The toes were fat, almost swollen looking and the heals were hardened with callouses I imagined thick enough to repel thorns.  These were feet forged, I imagined, by walks along those stony roads, weighted down by pounds of firewood and buckets of water.  Feet life had made thick and sturdy.

Then I looked at my own feet.  They looked delicate, dainty and maybe even a touch vulnerable in comparison, as if they probably couldn’t handle the natural environment. Mine were feet wrapped from day one in soft cotton socks and later ensconced in thick shoes with rubber soles engineered to cushion and protect them from their very purpose: walking.  And when they were liberated from their cocoon, there were always smooth surfaces – wood floors, soft grass – to walk across.  My feet had been babied, like an infant in a papoose, all their lives and had come out soft and a fragile.
I soon stopped my reverie, afraid I would be caught staring. I moved to catch the eye of my Rwandan neighbor and to offer one of those language-transcending smiles of good will. 

But her eyes did not meet mine.  Instead her brow was furled into a puzzled expression, and her eyes were looking directly down.  She was throwing that head-scratching expression directly at my own feet, and I could almost hear her thought bubble: “But how did they get like that?”

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Ladies Room

I think I prefer this:


To this:



That is all for today.

More about my trip to Rwanda/Burndi tomorrow...


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Am I still blogging? Not sure.

Am I still blogging?  Not sure. It’s been five long weeks since my last post. An unprecedented duration. I used to go 10 days and then start a blog post with an apology for the long absence.  But it’s been five. weeks.

No, I did not lose my computer or opposable thumbs.  I got a job. And now, instead of pondering blog-worthy topics in the shower (my prime pondering place), I am mentally checking off lists of work-related items and outlining future memos. 

In all my gearing up to go back to work I had been mentally bracing myself for the kids-to-workplace transition, figuring out how keep quality time with the kids while still making a good impression in my new job; how to keep work stress away from the family and family time sacred.  Working out a way to still have lunch with them every day. And I think I’m doing a bang-up job on that front. I've been patting myself on the shoulder for the elusive "balance" I'm managing to strike.

I come home from work and relish the hell out of my little’ins. It’s funny, that hour between coming home from work and dinner I have more patience for their difficulties and more utter adoration for their charms than I probably had all day when I was home with them.

You’ll either relate to that statement or think I’m awful for saying it.  But, it’s true.  It’s not just the trite “it’s the quality not the quantity” cliché working moms tell themselves to feel better. It’s how I feel.  I come home from work and see their enthusiastic and loving “HI MOMMMY!!!” faces and it’s the highlight of my day. They seem even more youthful and miraculous to me, and I drink them in.  In a way that I don’t know if I did when I was home all day, preoccupied with planning meals, calming tantrums, and, yes, watching the clock (when will he finally nap?  When will their father come home?).

But even though it rarely felt like it, I had more time in my day for my own thoughts when I was home with th kids. My own musings, my own observations.  Sure, it’s self indulgent and not “productive” in the way that my current work-related thoughts are.  But I got to chew on ideas and develop them.  I worked them out on these blog-posts and shared them with a community. It made me feel interested and connected, and occasionally proud.

Now. No time for that. Not yet anyway, when I’m in overdrive trying to fit in and prove my worth in a more traditional work setting. When I find myself at the end of the day with some pondering time, I’m tired, uninspired and if there’s room to do some thinking I drift into the giant mound of work issues – my new intellectual center.

I didn’t expect this to go away so completely so quickly – my voice. My creative outlet.

I once wrote (let’s ignore the obnoxiousness of quoting myself for a moment) that “balancing work and family and relationships is often a zero-sum game. It's a big mushy ball of meals to cook, bills to pay, dishes to clean and children raise into people you hope will not be psychopaths. So, unless you have gobs of money to throw at maids, cooks and nannies, if you "lean in" to one thing, another one of those things is going to pop out the other end and demand attention.”

I just didn’t think the thing which would “pop out and need attention” would be me.

_________

P.S. I had time to write this and think this because I am on vacation, and, just as crucially, nursing a cold, which allows me to close the door for moment.  I know I’ll find a new balance and some space once I settle into work more, get “up the curve” and find my rhythm.  Hopefully you’ll still be reading by the time that happens…


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Passengers with small children may now board. Without me.

“Boarding is now open for families traveling with small children.”  

Normally this would be go-time. The shot gun at the start of an exhausting and anxiety-ridden marathon.  But I let the message wash over me with a “see later suckers” smile on my face as I sit in the departure lounge reading an embarrassingly stupid escapist novel hidden by my kindle cover.  The other travelers shift impatiently and uncomfortably in their seats.  I exhale, relishing in the prospect of child-free travel.

This was my first work trip on my new job. 2 weeks in and I was jetting off to Bangkok for a conference.  There were a lot of mixed emotions here – excitement about the new job and opportunities for engaging in topics I feel passionate about.  The thrill of a free “work-cation” in an exotic location.  But also the worry about leaving my children (one still nursing) wondering night after night where their mother went.

But there were no mixed emotions about the flight. The flight was a veritable mom spa day.

Instead of being woken from a half-sleep haze to comfort a travel weary toddler, making a game of running down the narrow aisles and dodging irritated looks from newly woken passengers, I can read a book.  And stop when I’m tired.  I can watch a movie. The whole way through.  Someone brings me food and no one throws it in my hair. I can cocoon myself in blankets and wine and wake to people pouring me coffee and politely calling me “maam,” instead of screaching “MOM!!” and pouring multi-colored liquids on my lap.

All of which makes me realize that solo flying is.. um…  amazing. I mean, what do lone business travelers really have to complain about?  Too much sitting?  That’s like a problem royalty complain of. 

Just being on my own, making my own decision on no one’s schedule but my own feels like a sweet and guilty pleasure.  I can barely wipe the smile off of my face.

But then, as I slurp down the final sips of my coffee before our descent into the sun-drenched Asian capital, my breast start to swell with milk intended for a baby now thousands of miles away.  My body is reminding me of my duty, my primal biological imperative that no modern, flying, time-traveling bird can erase. And I feel every single mile of the half a planet that now separates us. 

Still, I know my boys are well cared for. Their father and second mother of nanny are showering them with love and keeping them safe.  The older boy will remain focused on the promise of a present upon my return.  The younger will likely forget the days apart after a few moments reunion. 

“They’ll be fine!” everyone tells me. And so I tell myself the same. And I’ll keep telling myself it all the way through the trip until I can return to my “mama spa day” flight home, with all the comfort and me-time made that much sweeter by the promise of wrapping my arms around my little solitude busters.


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