On Motherhood & Sanity


Friday, July 30, 2010

My granny


My Granny is having a hear attack.
The news were as sudden as they were inevitable. She turns 90 next week, and would kill me for publicizing that.
This woman has been a point of reference and an inspiration for the better part of my life. When I was very young, because she was a marvelous story teller. She could keep us under her spell for hours, recounting the adventures of Calentito, a made up character of a rather small white dog with black spots. I don’t remember any of the specifics. I remember we loved them. I remember once, not too long ago, asking her to tell one of my nephews a story, and watching how she put him under the same spell, more than two decades later.
My mother always highlights that the woman we know is not the mother she grew up with. Her mother, apparently, was stern and strict, and the main reason that my mother was the total opposite. She would throw clothes out the window if my mother or her siblings had failed to put them away properly. She didn’t mess around apparently.
The woman I know is very different. She is gentle, kind, and positive to the point of delusion. I always remember one of her last visits to Europe. She had a terrible leg pain which haunts her to this day. She was struggling to go down the stairs, from the TV room back to her bedroom, one step at a time, both hands on the hand rail, I walked slowly by her side. Then she stopped and turned to look at me,
“My leg is killing me” she said. And after a short pause for thought added “but it hurts the same weather I complain or not, so not much point complaining” and with that she continued her slow descent.
To me this moment summarizes who she is and her determination to enjoy life no matter what it threw in her direction. And things it threw.
Her father left them at a young age. Surprisingly she had attended college. I say surprisingly because not only did this take place a really long time ago, but it happened in Peru, where things are a bit more backward than in the West. She was number two of her class. The man who later became my grandfather was number one. She got knocked up and never graduated. This last part we only learned a few years back, and she would also kill me for publishing it, but alas, it reaffirms her will to enjoy every cup.
How they got together was every bit as unimaginative as how they separated; he left her for a younger woman; a woman she knew, a woman that had travelled in their care, the daughter of friends they had seen as a potential partner for their youngest son. This son, in turn, developed schizophrenia and suffered an untimely death after years of struggle.
And she smiled through it all. Or rather, in spite of it all. And I’ve always admired her for it.
I mean, I have no doubt that she cried and suffered, but the woman that I have known for the last thirty odd years was joyous and positive, and always had a kind word. She was good humoured, happy and grateful for what good cards she did have. Her home was a refuge for those in need, who would stay for months at a time. She supported a friend who fed street children in her garage, into what grew to become and amazing little NGO.
I regret every letter I did not send. I regret every phone call I did no make. I regret that she has not met my children, but most of all, I regret that they will not get a chance to know her.
She lives in Peru and felt too old to travel. I started having kids and it was too hard to travel. I haven’t seen her in years.
But we did email, and every now and then we skyped. Yes, the woman skyped, although she had blocked her camera so that she would not have to get dressed up for every conversation. She lived alone, did her own shopping and drove her own car until recently.
On one of her last airplane trips she came to visit me while I was posted in Colombia. I had a lovely apartment that looked to the green lush mountains in Bogota. While I worked she would read with the marvelous view and the sun in her face. At night we would talk. And oh boy could she talk.
After living a lone for some time it was a shock to the system to be welcomed by whom I endearingly called “the singing bush”, after a character out of the movie Three amigos which refuses to stop singing even after the its scene has ended and drama has ensued. But after I surrendered the old magic reemerged, it was like in the old days; she told me stories of her life that I wish I’d written down. Bits of who she was and what she had lived which brought so much more color to the woman whose warmth I so cherished.
And now I sit waiting, waiting for news from the opposite end of the world, a world that today feels too big. Waiting, wondering and hoping. Hoping for more time, enough time to make it there with my children, to see her laugh at their naughtiness, and them wonder at her stories. Wondering if I should keep waiting or cross the world in time to get one last story.

Post data:
I wrote this yesterday. Today my mother arrived in Lima and was greeted by my grandma at the ICU with "why did you come here? I wasn't well yesterday (understatement of the year, she has been having a heart attack for two days now), but I refused to die."
God I love that woman.

PPS March 2011 I made it down to peru with my entire family, my kids got to meet her and she got to meet them. My sister came down as well with her 5 kids.  

Monday, July 26, 2010

Help! my son just discovered his new best friend…


My two year old (boy) has finally discovered his new best friend, and it’s NOT his sister, but something that was there all along.

As a trained psychologist I haven’t always seen eye to eye with Freud, but if there is one thing I always agreed with was on the sexuality of children. Not in the (sick) sense some pedophiles try to use it, but rather the fact that children soon in their lives, some sooner than others, discover that their bodies can give them pleasure. I think this is normal and I think this is healthy, and that it is up to us –the adults- to make sure that they feel this way about their bodies and their sexuality too.

But it’s not that simple.

Initially I gave everyone instructions to act casual and let him be, while telling his sister that it was his toy, one that they could not share. (I also had to instruct her not to pull it or throw things at it…) Us adults, filled with all our preconceptions and prejudices, would just have to deal with the awkwardness and bear it with a smile.

Then one day my little mongrel was all cuddly, lying on my lap while drinking his milk bottle, much like a kitten. I was chatting away with my father and my mother in law. The sun was setting on the horizon and the water under the boats was turning from blue to green before the inevitable farewell pink. Then he pulled it out and began his works, right in the middle of our conversation, stretched out over me, sunny side up.

It made me realize that it was time to start putting some boundaries. So I tried to explain to him that it is ok, it is fun, but it is private; which means you can only do it at home, and NOT at the table, and lastly, the most delicate part for me, that only he can play with it.

The reasons the last one is the most delicate is because he still uses diapers at the night, and sometimes has accidents during the day, and generally speaking, he is two years old and me, his father, the grandparents, the nanny, and a whole bunch of adults clean him and bathe him on a regular basis. So how do I explain in a healthy, positive manner that we can, but others cannot touch this area? (especially as he is about to start preschool, which means another bunch of strangers will have legitimate access to his wee wee).

Of course, it is not the fact that he needs to be bathed or cleaned that I am trying to protect him from, it is the possibility of abuse, that dark shadow that hangs over parent’s head, especially as most statistics indicate that when it happens, it is usually someone close to the family that does it.

I first encountered this whole issue when my daughter was but a baby. A friend was telling me that she struggled with keeping her three year old dressed in the communal gardens of her residential compound in Cambodia. She hated herself for it because she herself had grown up carefree and naked in exotic countries, and while she wanted her daughter to integrate, she also wanted to protect her.

It shocked me, more so when I was advised to keep my one year old covered when playing in her baby pool in our own back yard. It was frightening to think that I had to protect her in my own home. It was scary that I had to safe guard her sexuality before there even was one. It was sick and absurd.

Then I read Somaly Mam’s memoire “The Road of lost Innocence”, her personal account of being sold into prostitution by her own uncle, where I learned, along with other facts that will forever haunt me, that children as young as three years old are considered fair game in the dark brothels of Cambodia.

My work as an aid worker has exposed me to some of the darkest sides of humanity. So fear set in.

On the other hand, I grew up between post Franco Spain and Pinochet’s Chile, and although both countries have evolved to become open and liberal, as much as the next, I still remember the guilt attached to masturbation. I still remember the issues some of my friends had around sexuality, and it is important to me to protect my children from these negative side effects of religious apprehensions.

Striking the perfect balance, as usual, is the hard part of the job.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

on the shadows that cross our path

I sit on a beautiful white beach under the shade of the eucalyptus trees. In the horizon lies the blue and emerald waters of the Sardinian coast. It is hot, too hot even for me. I’m not used to these temperatures anymore. The beach is crowded, full of happy bodies fighting to attract the attention of the sun while staying cool. They come and go. Some on their mobile phones, some playing paddle knee-deep in the cool waters. Small groups of women walk back and forth immersed in conversation.

A lonesome shadow sits no too far from me. The man rests under some sort of short and stubby palm tree. His skin is the color of deep night. A funny triangular cow skin hat hides his face from me, making him nothing but a shadow, almost a mirage. He is wearing a colorful dress which leaves no doubt of his origin. He is an African man, probably here illegally, probably selling hats, or necklaces made god-knows-where with god-knows-what claiming to be bone. He looks tired and defeated. But probably I am just imagining this because I can barely see his face at all.

He seems so out of place.

We are here on holidays. In the distance I can see the kids run back and forth bringing water to a hole made in the sand that quickly drenches their efforts. They don’t mind, and giggle as they run back into the sea for more. Their biggest concern this week is how to get more ice cream from the grandparents. My biggest concern is ensuring they have enough sun screen.

We are surrounded by tanned Italian bodies. Most of them fashionable, skinny and beautiful. Some bear the mark of time, but all well kept and looked after. The irony of the well off; we have to fight the excess. We fight the fact that we can eat until we make ourselves sick and fat. This shadow before me, one of many that cross our path during the day, they fight to stay alive, to feed themselves, for families they’ve left behind they may or may not see again. They are a cruel reminder of the injustices we tried to leave behind.

Another shadow crosses my path. He is carrying plastic toys on one hand and some African drums in the other. On his head about twenty straw hats he is to sell, one on top of the other reminding me of Dr Seuss’s ‘cat in a hat’. Another shadow drenched in colorful beads like a Christmas tree ventures into our party. My daughter, who loves jewelry, gives him the perfect excuse to take a chair in the shade and a rest next to us. My daughter does not understand he is selling them, and starts happily handing presents out to everyone. My son is trying them on. We chat a bit about football, about Senegal where he is from, about Spain where we are from, which bring us back to football; Spain just won the world cup. The conversation cannot wonder very far.

I choose a necklace he is wearing. It is long with white beads of different shapes. It is too expensive, I know. So I look him in the eye and ask him for a fair price. I could pay the full price but it is a matter of pride. He brings it down a bit. We both know he can go further, but the difference, the extra five Euros we can haggle down mean little to me, a lot to him, so I agree. My mother chooses another and goes through the same rite. He prolongs his stay in the chair until he is clearly no longer welcome. The children have gone back to the sea, the party back to reading or sleeping.

He lifts his weight and walks slowly back into the sun with the sole consolation that it was a good start to possibly a good day; he sold two necklaces before noon.

As he walks away I turn to see the shadow man under the trees but he is gone. Not a trace of him left in the sand. It’s like he never existed but in my conscience.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

one day at a time


Half asleep I hear the pitter patter of little feet heading my direction. Although it’s still dark I know it means night is over, and I can’t help but wonder: how can such a small thing make so much noise?

As I struggle to stay awake during breakfast, I feel like a 45 inch vinyl next to a 33 inch playing at the same speed; they move and speak at a speed my brain cannot follow. They are recounting adventures that happened in their dreams, and dreaming about the possibilities the new day will bring. I watch with awe and envy wishing my body had half the energy and hope theirs has.

Riding on the bike, the sun shines while the breeze pulls my hair back. Two cheeky monkeys sing while holding tight. Their trust in me is absolute. Nothing bad can happen when they’re with their momma, and to some degree this makes me feel invincible. Maybe, just maybe, I could achieve just about anything.

Back from work I dump my tired body on the sofa and they throw themselves on to it. Their smell and their touch instantly revitalizes me. Their little feet stomp over me while their arms barely make it around my neck for a big-big hug. I’m under attack as they struggle to take possession of my body, as they fight for the best seat in the house, the one closest to my full attention. And although I barely have any to spare, I can’t help but smile and be grateful.

Bath time is war; they react to water like a clubber to speed. After one long shower, for both those in and outside the tub, every day I must run, struggle, negotiate and deceive them long enough to put their pajamas on. Their bodies are resisting arrest. Bubbly laughter as they escape my grip and go back to jumping, naked and still half wet, on the bed.

And finally night arrives. They are already excited about the next day. They want to know what we will do when we wake up. What will happen on the ever elusive tomorrow. One last, long and hard hug, as if I was going on a long boat trip to the other side of the world, and a soggy kiss goodnight.

Rationally, motherhood is the worse job ever. Irrationally, there’s nothing like it.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

The princess and the frog


My daughter is four years old. Which essentially means she is convinced she is a princes, the world is her castle, and her brother is her own personal private prince.

I’m ok with that. Some moms hate the whole Disney angle, I’m just happy to see them play and make up stories, and then deconstruct them until they make no sense whatsoever to a grown up. It does supply endless hours of entertainment both to them and us, and for plenty of interesting situations.

For one, her brother is only two, so although he is generally willing to play the assigned part of the prince, assuming the name and all (be it Aidan or Naveen depending on the day), some times he just wants to live dangerously and try life on the other lane. I am a firm believer that they should be allowed to. So if he wants to wear a skirt and nail polish to preschool that is fine with me.

My daughter has developed a strong sense of personal style. The first thing she does every morning is open her closet and look for an appropriate princess outfit. There are strict rules to dressing a princess, particularly as to the length of the skirt. One of my mottos in parenting is “choose your battles”. So as painful as it may be to see what she chooses to go out into the world with, and although I have to bear other mom’s stares and comments in the park, generally I will only intervene if there is a health issue involved, (like spring dresses in mid winter because none of the Disney princess wear long sleeves). On the odd occasion it has even saved my butt, like the time I forgot to dress her up for carnival. As we entered the school I saw a parade of princesses, pirates, tigers and so on. I wanted to dig a big hole and bury myself in it. What kind of a mother forgets to dress her baby up? How will she feel when she realizes she has been left out? Just as I was about to turn around and vacate the premises another mom approached me:

Other mom- “I love your daughter’s outfit, is she a hippy?”

Me, coy while raising one eyebrow –“yes?”

And that was that. In case you were wondering, my daughter did not find it peculiar that everyone else had decided to join her in the dress up frenzy.

My favourite story though is one I almost missed (and unfortunately did not photograph), cause I was too busy trying to work.

We were visiting the cousins who have two dogs and a large backyard. All of a sudden the dogs started going nuts, which happens often so I did not give it much thought, until one of the older girls came to tell me they had found a rather large frog in the house of one of the dogs. She wanted to know if it could be poisonous. This was in the south of Spain, where the only poisonous things you can find is expired shellfish and bad wine. So I said no, it’s not poisonous, and leave the poor thing alone.

Mayhem continued in the yard as I tried to finish my report. Older niece kept coming back to re confirm that the frog could not be poisonous. “no, I’m sure, let it be” I repeated barely lifting my eyes from the paper.

Long story short, older niece was rather unconvinced by my assurances, so to be safe had decided to send my daughter on the quest of retrieving the frog from the dog house (literally). In order to protect her from the potentially deadly amphibian, she had put on her some diving goggles and kitchen gloves.

In this anti-poison suit my daughter had been sent back out to the yard on her life or death mission. The dogs were going mad, older niece watched from a distance as my daughter approached the dog house, got on all fours, stuck her head in a proceeded to sing.

Unaware of the situation and fearing for the frog’s life, I finally came out demanding that they leave the poor thing alone before it had a heart attack. At this point my daughter pulled her head out of the dog house, stared at me defiantly and said:

-“momma, I can’t leave it alone, it’s my prince!”

Post Data; as soon as I managed to stop laughing I did send them back in to the house, so as far as I know the frog made it out alive, and did not turn into a prince with my daughter’s singing

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dear Blogger

Dear blogger,

We'd like to contract your services; Essentially, you will work for free and relinquish not only all control over your original work, but the actual rights to your work. We on the other hand can edit and sell your work without your knowledge or approval. This right “shall remain exclusive in perpetuity”.

In exchange we will include your work somewhere in our website, and it is up to you to make sure that your public navigates it in order to find it.

You may or may not choose to include your children in the bargain.

Signed

The management

hmmm...let me think about that one