Monday, July 23, 2012

It's a wrap people

Wrote this post just before I left the US to return to Kenya.  I'm finally back and plugged in enough to post it and plugged in enough to return to the wonderful community of writer/bloggers at yeahwrite.


I'm sitting here with my bags nearly packed, already overflowing with detritus from an unexpectedly extended 2 month trip home: presents for the boys, new clothes, toys, old mementos I'm finally taking with me. I've been here so long it's starting to feel like home again and I wonder if I'll have reverse-reverse culture shock upon my return to Kisumu.  Whatever that means.

There's a lot I'm going to miss and a lot I'm looking forward to returning to.  It's the obvious stuff: my husband, friends, privacy, just being in space that I had a part in making home, a space that's a reflection of my family and my identity.

Bla bla blah. It's the normal stuff.  But I can't seem to get my head around what all this transition means for a three year old. He talks excitedly about seeing his papa and his toy motorbike and every once in a while says, "Mama, you remember Esther?" (a Kisumu friend).  But he can't not notice the differences in what is available for children in the US versus Kenya.

Partly because this is a vacation and partly because we can't get this kind of stuff in Kisumu, we took full unabashed advantage of the whole North American child-centered culture.   We went to parks, children's museums, kiddy pools, places that allowed kids to dress up as princesses and pirates and muck around pirate ships and fake castles,places filled with inflated jumping castles. We went to children's concerts and children's theaters.  Every restaurant had a kids menu and he's eaten more grilled cheese in the past 2 months than he has in his entire life. It was a veritable bacchanal of childhood revelry.

The Jump Zone.  Or a rainbow threw up. I'm not sure.

Water play at the Children's Museum.

This place is called Make a Messterpiece. This is where your art class went when the school budget was cut.  They privatized it.

And Children's Theater (for those under 10 and those tripping on acid)
Even when we didn't have an activity planned, we go to the park. We take our pick of 4 parks within a 15 minute walk of my parents house. They are all plastic and safe and the product of the most current concepts in child climbing, swinging and sliding theory.

But we're leaving this carnivale of child-centered fun. Kisumu has none of any of this. There are a few rusty metal playgrounds in schools and the odd country club, but transplanted to the US these would be ignored for safer more interesting options or simply condemned. On a recent walk to the park, I considered what leaving all of this must mean for Caleb and wondered if we were being fair to deprive him of this.

I was interrupted from my worry by Caleb who turned to me and asked expectently, "Mom, will there be kids at the park?"

"I'm not sure Caleb.  There might be." I replied.

He looked disappointed and started walking a little slower, not quite as excited about the prospect of an afternoon at the park with nobody but his mom to play with.  But when we got close enough to see the playground and the lone child climbing up the slide ladder, Caleb literally took of running, shouting over his shoulder, "Look mom! A kid!"

A smile broke out on my face.  For his unrestrained and enthusiastic sociability - one of his most endearing characteristics. But also for the well timed reminder.

A reminder that children, especially extroverted kids like Caleb, don't need a ton of fancy and colorful equipment.  They need playmates and the outdoors and chances to create their own worlds using only their imaginations. Isn't that what we remember best from our own childhoods?

So, I'm trying not to feel too bad about depriving him of trips to children's concerts and fantasy play lands.  We'll sing our own songs and he'll make his fantasies. He'll run around with the neighborhood kids creating his own fun.  And maybe he'll even be better off for it.  At least that's what I'm telling myself.

No Nursing Zone

My grandmother is a remarkable woman. She's worldly, stylish, smart and increasingly spunky even as she settles into her 9th decade.  She lives in  an assisted living community with other octogenerians + ranging from sharp and spunky to reticent and morose, as these places do.  Since I've been in the US we've visited her quite often, sharing meals in the dining hall.

Taking a baby and 3-year old into her world is a lot like being a goodwill ambassador.  We enter the space like minor celebrities, all the residents, in coiffed hair (it's mostly women in this demographic) and wheel chairs murmuring excitedly in our wake.

- Oy, did you see the cute baby?
- WHAT?  What did you say?
- The baby! Turn your aid up.  And the little boy?
- There's a little goy? What's everyone talking about?

Anyway, when they get it all sorted out the room breaks out in spontaneous smiles, and people stop and actually thank us for bringing the children and drop bits of "the days are long, years are short" wisdom on us. I almost want to teach Caleb the "elbow, elbow, wrist, wrist" wave pageant winners throw out at parades. It's like that.

The residents are loving and sweet and emanate all kinds of joy in our direction.  They relish the rambunctiousness of youth that we've grown weary of.  We've brought our youthfulness to the very place it will be most cherished - partly because of it's novelty.  We feel special and appreciated. They love us.
Bring us that baby!

Well, at least that's what I thought.  But I've come to learn that there is at least one aspect of our visit that far from bringing joy, has actually caused offense.

Apparently there's been a bit of a flap about my nursing my baby in the dining hall.  The offended residents complained to the manager about it and my grandmother was asked to tell me not to do it.

A few things.

First, hey guys, I'm hurt. Where did all that love go?

And second: Really?

It's not like I'm waiving my nipples around in front of grandpa when I nurse. I'm discreet. I wear shirts especially designed to hide the unmentionables of nursing moms. The whole affair occurs under cover of a blanket.
Nifty, huh?
The baby's head covers the hole and you'd never know I was doing something so disgusting.

So, what's really happening here is that my grandma's dining hall companions can't stomach the idea of breast feeding during their dinner.  I guess it ruins their dinner. (Though, I've eaten there. You know what's probably ruining their dinner?  Their dinner.)

You know what ruins Emmet's dinner?  Not eating.

And I get that I'm not going to change the minds of anyone who has been on the planet nearly a century, and I'm even willing to bend to their antiquated notions of propriety.  I really am. So, I would bring a bottle for Emmet.  But I know now for certain that this child will not drink from it.

You see, I was recently in the hospital and unable to breastfeed him and had no pumped milk.  For 48 hours, my parents tried everything - regular formula, soy formula, gentle formula, my sister-in-law's breast milk, 3 different kinds of bottles, eye droppers, rice cereal, spoons. Nothing worked. Instead of drinking the 50 ounces he needed over 2 days, he drank a measly 8.  The whole thing was devastatingly heartbreaking and then one of the great reliefs of my life to finally nurse him again.

You know that baby you think is so precious?  It's probably good that he eats something.  

And you know what ruins my dinner?  Missing the bulk of it because, like a fugitive, I'm holed up somewhere discreet, like a bathroom stall, to prevent inadvertently offending someone. I'm nice so I'd do it, but I'm not going to like it.

I guess I've gotten used to breast feeding with abandon or simply not noticing if it turned anyone's stomach.  In Kenya, it's a non-issue.  In the US, there's such a strong pro-breastfeeding movement, that I feel too empowered to care if some uptight prude thumbs their nose at me.  In fact, the most self-conscious moms I know are those who whip out not a breast but a bottle to feed their baby and immediately feel judged.  And frankly, I've always assumed that just about anyone would prefer the possibility of seeing a quick inadvertent peek of my nipple to hearing my baby shriek.

But the pro-breastfeeding juggernaut has not reached the Gadwitz Assisted Living Community, and apparently the argument that a nipple in the mouth plugs a baby shriek is lost on those who would struggle to hear the shriek in the first place.  So, the place is a no nursing zone.

But it's their world, their norms, their reality.

When I visit another country I fall all over myself to avoid causing inadvertent offense.  So, I'm just thinking of my visits there as to another place (or really another time), in which feeding your baby as nature has long intended is bizarrely cause for scandal.  And then leaving that world and feeling appreciative that my world is no longer that.

Friday, July 20, 2012

My Little Unhelper

I managed my bi-daily shower this morning, Caleb entertaining himself with the curtain and Emmet bouncing away in his bouncy seat on the bathroom floor.  You moms know, self care takes a back seat (in my case it's in a trailer hitched to another car) when you have young kids.  Managing a shower when you have a baby threatening to scream and a pre-schooler who might disassemble your closet is a feat of ingenuity and coordination.  So, you can imagine my irritation when, mid-shampoo, I realized that I forgot to bring my towel in the room.

So, on a lark, I screamed to my son: "Caleb, can you bring mommy a towel? It's in the towel closet right outside the door."
I can't oversell my pleasure when I heard in response: "Sure mom!"

And there it was. Could this really be that moment?  That turning point? As the warm water hit my shoulders, I luxuriated in the thought that from now on, I'd actually have a little helper.

From the endless rocking, nursing and diaper changing to the myriad grapes I've painstakingly cut in half and wet underpants I've peeled off using only two fingers, finally, I'd get some assistance in return.  And not just things like "helping" to ruin make dinner by dumping salt in the stir fry and putting away his own toys, but useful things, like helping me find my phone or maybe even organizing my finances.  Could all this be possible?

A minute later I was awaken from my reverie by a sweet voice saying helpfully, "Here you go mom."

And there was little Caleb.

Holding a bath rug.

Three hair towels later I found myself, naked and shivering in the hall fetching my own bath towel.

So, I might have to wait a little longer until I can put the little ones to work for me.  But that time is coming.  Oh yes.  It's coming Caleb...

Looking as innocent as he is unhelpful.
And, no, I do not shower with my camera. I made the poor little guy recreate the scene.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What is the Universe Trying to Tell Me?

Every once in a while something strange happens to you that can only mean the universe is sending you a message.  The trick is to figure out what the message is.
Universe: Kim... This is the Universe speaking. I have a very important message.

Kim: What are you saying? Are you on a dial-up because this is a really crappy connection...

Here's the story:

For years and years I've been suffering from intermittent abdominal pain that, despite a slew of invasive tests (yes, including the one in which they probe your backside) and half a dozen trips to the ER, no one has been able to diagnose.  Basically, the pains feel like labor contractions (I now know this to be true ) but higher up in the abdomen. They come in waves and then disappear after a few days. They are not associated with food or emotion, and a number of nasty things that rhyme with "prancer" have been ruled out.  I'm a medical mystery.

Each time I go to the gastro doc or the ER I'm filled with a cautious hope that they find something.  Anything. Something with a name.  I'm crossing my fingers that it's something like "twisted colon" because that would definitely be my band name, and I'd prefer a name that doesn't sound like I'm literally belly aching - so "abdominal migraine" and "irritable bowel" are out.  Not that those afflictions aren't real and painful, but I want something that has a name with some gravitas.  And preferably some kind of treatment.
Here's what I pretend I look like during a "bout."  Striking a pose equal parts dancerly grace and pathos.  My hair is  beyond reproach.
And here is closer to what I actually look like.  (This is not me, but  it's not far off...)

Anyway, this quest had landed me in the ER yet again a few weeks ago and then to another follow-up visit to a gastroenterologist, who really seemed to listen to me and take an interest.  But since I was going back to Kenya in a matter of days there was only so much he could do.  So, he prescribed me something (probably just as a goody bag, so I didn't go away empty handed) and told me that the next attack I should go straight to the ER for a CT scan  - literally the only test I never had done.

As luck (??) would have it, I suffered a stomach pain attack the day before I was scheduled to leave for Kenya.  And as much as I hate hospitals, invasive tests and waiting, I trekked over to the ER hoping against hope to finally have some answers.

After 3 hours and a completed CT scan, I found myself waiting patiently in the ER room for the results, shivering in my thin gown and cataloging all the remaining packing I'd have to do the next morning to help the time go by.  Here I was again, hoping they'd find something, even as I had one foot out of the country.

So, when the doc came in with my results, shaking her head in disbelief and excitedly exclaimed.... "You're never going to believe this!" I was thrilled.  YES!  You found something exotic.  I'm vindicated.

"You're never going to believe"...... that you have appendicitis.


First, of all, appendicitis did not have the exotic appeal I had been hoping for (I mean how many lame 80s sitcoms had an appendicitis episode?).  But secondly ... what?!?!  I had none of the typical symptoms (fever, nausea, pain in the correct area) but the CT scan showed unequivocally an enlarged and likely infected appendix.  It had to come out.  That night.

So, instead of having acute appendicitis somewhere over the Atlantic traveling internationally with a baby and toddler, (probably the only worse scenario is having appendicitis while running from man-eating lions.  Through a wall of fire.)  I had it caught in a suburban hospital while staying with my parents.  So, I got swift, culturally familiar and high quality care.  I was allowed to heal while my children were cared for by two of the people who love them most in the world, and I was cared for by about the most nurturing and solicitous of Jewish moms on the planet.  Let's just say, I ate homemade chicken soup (for the soul) my first night home.

I came into the ER for a CT scan, the one test that would definitely prove I had appendicitis, on basically a lark.  A lark that may not have saved my life, but certainly saved me a fair amount of anguish.

What is the universe trying to tell me here?

But before you answer consider this:

During another recent stay stateside, the right side of my neck mysteriously ballooned like a goiter from an 8th grade science textbook and felt like it was filled with... well, pain.  I landed once again in that same suburban ER room.  I'll spare you the medical details, but it turned out I had stones in my salivary gland, of all places, which had been growing for years.  they had to come out and also necessitated a hospital stay and follow-up visits with a specialist.

This also happened weeks before I was to move to rural Kenya, a place which it's pretty safe to say does not have an Ears, Nose and Throat guy.  Again, it probably wouldn't have killed me to have salivary duct stones (I still can't believe that's a thing) far away from someone who might recognize and treat it, but it did feel like a bit of bizarre timing that it happened just before my move and not just after.

So, what is the universe trying to tell me?  In the past two years, I've spent 90% of my time in Kenya, but 100% of my medical emergencies have occurred stateside.

My mother, who is not unbiased in the matter, would say the Universe is telling me to move the f*** home already! (Though f*** would be "fiddlesticks." The woman doesn't swear people.  I get that from my dad.)

I might say the Universe is giving me the OK to keep traveling around to places with less adequate medical care because, don't worry, it'll make sure that all the weird and nasty shit happens when I'm home.

The Universe might say, stop bothering me already.  I have enough on my plate what with all that containing all known matter and continually expanding, so please just stop crediting or blaming me for your weird coincidences.

But I think the Universe doth protest too much.

What do you think? How should I interpret these weird coincidences?  Or should I?