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the bigger picure

Thursday, August 27, 2009

i read this wonderful post yesterday. i love what it says, i care a lot about the issues it addresses, and i love the tone of it all. i also take it as a kick in the pants to start thinking and writing about bigger picture things. not just me-this and monster- and monkey-that.

yeah yeah, the personal is political, blah blah blah. but while first words and temper tantrums and pep talks to self are lovely things to document, i also want to write about power and discourse and capitalism and the media. at least some of the time. if i can ever get 30 minutes or so of uninterrupted thinking.

things to do when i'm down

assuming that a full night's sleep is either obvious or impossible...

  • stretch
  • have some freshly squeezed orange juice
  • write a blog post
  • don't take the cheese out of the refrigerator
  • dedicate some focused attention to each of the kids
  • initiate some cuddling/kissing with f.
  • go for a run
  • go to the beach
  • shower
  • make a list

enjoying time with the kids

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

it turns out that i am terrible at Enjoying Time With the Kids. i do love the warm & fuzzy moments and the cute & hilarious ones, but i have to admit that i am almost always waiting for naptime, bedtime, papa-getting-home time, monday back-to-preschool. i check my email or wash the dishes instead of playing. i like nursing because i can sit at the computer at the same time. it makes me feel terrible, and i wish i could give them so much more of me. since it's also my primary activity right now, it means i feel like complaining a lot of the time.

this post by blue milk and its many wonderful links were a very welcome, understanding "you're not entirely alone" hug for me. i do wonder, though, if my case isn't more extreme. less "natural" and understandable.

i have a friend here who has mentioned to me several times that she is "enjoying every minute" with her two small kids. i know it's just a way of saying, that she has her share of bad days, sleepless nights and so on. (not to mention a part-time babysitter/housecleaner). but as wonderful as my kids are and as lucky as we are to live here in this beautiful place, i can't seem to be able to enjoy it.

f. and i had a talk last night about when and how i can find time to do some paid work. we can't afford any extra help right now, but we did realize that i could take the monster to school in the morning, leave the monkey with him, and work all morning in a cafe somewhere. i guess we haven't done it yet because i've never left the monkey for any period of time, and he's been touch and go lately on occasionally accepting a bottle or not. but he's almost a year old, he can handle it.

f. said that he doesn't know why i take on the work. if it were him, he would just enjoy the morning time with the monkey, go to the beach, play, etc. (yeah, he does know that it also means washing the dishes and sweeping the floor a kazillion times a day, changing diapers, cooking things every single day that can't always be pasta or rice, etc. but he's better at all of that - at least the cooking part).

he suggested that i enjoy this time now and worry about work later - in a few months, in a year. i guess i tried to be all offended - why shouldn't i work? what if i want to work? - but f. is perfectly happy to go with whatever arrangement will work for me. i can't blame him for any of this (damn!) - he stayed at home with the monster when i went back to work after a year, he's done way more than his share of home-making, he's basically perfect, hard as i may try to find fault.

so what is my problem? am i just not happy?

some of it is surely just sleep deprivation and small town, expat mama isolation. this is what happens when i try to write about sadness - it disintegrates into minor, passing complaints. because really i have so much.

i just came back from a walk on the beach with the monkey strapped to my back. it was truly lovely. i need to force myself to do these things. and to accept that being with the kids is what i'm doing right now and to remember to enjoy it. at least partly, sometimes.

am i just not good at the stay-at-home-mom thing for more than a year? when i went back to work after my year of maternity leave with the monster, i didn't miss him terribly every single minute i was away. i didn't. yes, it was heart-wrenching when he cried for me those first few days, and a few months later when we transitioned him into daycare, i bawled when i eventually had to leave him screaming in his new caregiver's arms. but he was soon thriving and i was happy to be back at work. to have my arms free. to be able to zone out and zone back in on my own time.

it's not that i'm not attached. i know i am. i'm just not enjoying enough. but i'm going to try.

welcome to macondo

Monday, August 24, 2009

i couldn't have dreamt up a better macondo anecdote, both tragic and absurd. this one comes from a little blurb on the front page of today's Página/12:

Las Cañadas is a town in the province of Córdoba with less than 400 inhabitants, with its houses scattered in the mountains. For some time now, the provincial government has suspected that the local government, led by Alejandro Cortés of the Radical Party, had disappeared. A visit from the provincial ministry confirmed it: "Officials did not find any of the authorities; not the president, nor the secretary, nor the treasurer. They went to different houses in the rural area and no one was able to say where they were," said Mirta Mussi, Subsecretary of Municipalities. The public prosecutor's office is now investigating the institutional situation of the town. And looking for its authorities.

the monkey speaks! in spanish...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

my little monkey said his first word last week - hola, hello. we think he'd already been saying it for about a week, but last monday he repeatedly picked up a new toy phone my mom sent him in the mail, put it to his ear, and walked around saying hola, hola, hola.

f. thinks he also says teta, what i refer to in english as boobie. it sure gets said a lot around here, both teta and boobie.

it's amazing that the monkey is on his way to talking. it's such an exciting step. we weren't expecting it so soon, since the monster was 16 months when he started, and monkey is only just over 11 months.

beyond the exciting milestone and the terrible cuteness factor is the fact that monkey's first words came out in spanish. the english thing is going to be an uphill battle, i fear. i ALWAYS speak to him in english. i offer him my boobie in english. then i speak in spanish to the people around me and say that he wants teta. and then he utters teta.

the monster is doing really well with both his spanish and his english. it took him only a few weeks to really start using his spanish vocabulary when we first got here nearly 8 months ago. by the time he started preschool 5 months ago he already seemed more comfortable in spanish, but he still speaks to me in english almost all the time - sometimes with some gentle prodding - and he continues to develop an excellent vocabulary in both languages.

it is important to me, and i think it's important for them, that they speak english really well. perfectly. it doesn't help at all that f. and i speak in spanish to each other. it helped when we were in canada, but here it squeezes english into only their relationship with me, and occasional webcamming with my family.

i'll see how things go, but i may have to try to shift my communication with f. to english. it won't be easy at all - we've been speaking spanish to each other since we met, and i sooooo prefer it. we shall see...

but go monkey go! what will the next words be?

a dream about swimming

Friday, August 21, 2009

my dream the other night:

the monster and i were swimming. he was ahead of me and i was holding on to a rope that he was pulling. when he swam well, i floated up to the top and was pulled along. when he didn't, i would start to sink. while i was sinking all i could do was struggle and panic and hope he'd start swimming, and when he would start to swim well and i would pop up to the surface i would first feel relief and then great pride in how well he was doing. and i'd shout 'good for you, monster! way to go!'

i don't think i've ever had such a clear and easy dream to interpret.

over the past few months we've had quite a tough time with the monster. we knew all the changes would be hard on him: a baby brother, leaving daycare, leaving our friends and extended family, leaving our house and english and canada, coming to argentina, new extended family, immersion in spanish, then another move away from extended family, baby brother getting bigger, new town, new house, new daycare. it's a lot for anybody, and it wasn't until we were here and he was in his new school that he started to really show that he was having a tough time. the easy, happy, agreeable little monster became so unhappy, crying and tantruming and obsessing and generally spreading misery and creating stress and unpleasantness all day, every day.

we knew all the change would be tough for him, but we didn't really have any idea what that meant. we didn't know that it would be tough for all of us - we hadn't realized that his misery meant our misery. i suppose i knew that i would worry, that it would hurt me to see him struggle, but i didn't realize how it would transform us and our time into the bundle of anxiety that we became, switching continuously from understanding and compassion to fed up and angry to patient but firm to worried and sad. and guilty, of course.

anyways, all that said to explain one half of the dream - the monster not swimming well and my drowning as a result. it's such a great description. when you're drowning you don't have perspective. you don't know that eventually everything will work out okay. you don't appreciate being 'a little closer' to the surface. you panic. you get scared. maybe you flop around trying to save yourself, or maybe you give in to it and keep slipping further away. in my dream i flopped around, and in real life too, trying to figure out what was going on for the monster, how we could help him.

then in my dream, and in real life, i bobbed back up to the surface. the monster was swimming! he was happy and thriving! at first it really was like that - an overnight change. there have since been ups and downs, good days and bad days, but that first time that he showed us his happy little curious and good-natured self again after about 3 months of tears and struggle was literally, in my dream, a breath of fresh air. he was swimming, and so i could breathe again.

what i most remembered when i woke up from my dream was the pride i felt in him when he started swimming. relief that i was no longer drowning too, but even stronger was my joy in his accomplishment - 'go monster go!'

i am so tied to him. and in my dream i was helpless. i couldn't help him swim, but my life depended on it. in real life though, especially now while he's little, i'm not entirely helpless. i can at least try to help him with tough changes and difficult times. the question is how...

power & parenting

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

i find myself thinking about power and parenting a lot lately. often i think about it when it's too late, when i've already exercised my power in ways i wish i could avoid. or in the midst of exercising it inappropriately - in yes-you-will-brush-your-teeth / no-i-won't-brush-my-teeth standoffs and don't-you-ever-push-your-brother-like-that-again talks.

as much as i remind myself that it's perfectly okay that the monster is asserting autonomy, testing limits, having different priorities and interests, exploring his own issues, having strong feelings, etc etc etc, too often i find myself raising my voice, counting to 3, threatening, bribing. i don't feel great when i do this, it's not my idea of great or even effective parenting, but i know it's also not the end of the world. i do make an effort to avoid these reactions and to remember to play and to parent unconditionally.

what i really don't like and upsets me in myself is when my anger, however expressed, doesn't seem to bother the monster in the slightest, or is sometimes even intentionally provoked. when i yell that Hitting Is Not OK, Did You Hear Me? it drives me absolutely crazy that he doesn't feel bad. my impulse is to continue exerting my power until he feels it. until he's sorry. or sad. or something. and it is not really about the scuffle of the moment but about his preschooler inability to give me the response i'm looking for. the remorseful I'm Sorry Mom. or even the fearful I'm Obeying So You'll Stop Being Mad.

i hate this impulse in me. i suppose it's partly a common impulse - i think - and it is also, as a dear friend recently reminded me, heavily conditioned by the prevalence of yelling and rage and Avoiding Mom's Anger during much of my childhood. most of the time i catch myself when i start slipping into this kind of anger - i don't insist that the monster feel bad or scared. but the impulse is there and when a bad morning is followed by a bad afternoon and a bad evening and a bad next day, it keeps poking me, coming closer and closer to the surface.

thankfully, we've recently come out the other end of a rocky transition into our new lives here, and the monster is generally happy and lots of fun to be around. like any kid though, he has his moments. and i need to figure out how to deal with them. for now, when i'm starting to lose it, i generally try to err on the side of 'let's just have a big hug'. i at least know that it can't be harmful, but it's also not getting us any closer to avoiding the standoffs and the scuffles. in the long run, it's not a great pattern either, dispute - anger - mom feeling guilty and not knowing what to do.

my partner f. is right when he insists that it is okay to get angry, and to show that anger. it's authentic. it's not applying Parenting Technique A or B, it's just getting angry that the kid is driving us completely nuts or doing something absolutely unacceptable. but that still doesn't help me figure out how to act in those moments. what i want to do is leave the situation, walk out of the room, hold a grudge for a while. this is not the kind of model i want to be for him.

so what would the kind of model i want to be for him do? in those hot, flushed, angry moments?

what a party

Monday, August 17, 2009

[note: pictures added for indignation factor]

i don't even know where to start. on saturday we went to a birthday party for one of the monster's classmates - it was our first, and i was completely unprepared. i had insisted that we go. the monster is still too little to really care one way or the other, and the last thing f. wanted to do was to drive to the city for a preschooler birthday party for a little girl we barely know. but, i argued, it would be a chance for us to meet some of the other parents, maybe there's an interesting one lurking in there. plus, it would be good for the monster to do some socializing outside of school. he doesn't have anyone to play with where we live.

okay, so i know that our resistance to the imposition of highly structured gender norms on 3-year-olds is wacky here in macondo, as is the absence of television in our house, our blissful ignorance about ben10 and stephanie and the like, and the monster's inexperience with cheesies and coca-cola. and i knew that this birthday encounter would be one of our first steps towards that moment when we will eventually say no, this is not what we believe in, this is not what we want for our family.

i know our time is limited as we learn and prepare for that moment, when the monster starts to become part of this place and want the toys, the tv, the food, the lack of seatbelts that his friends have. i know we'll have to find a reasonable balance - between okay, i guess there's no harm done, and no, we don't do that in this family - so that he can interact with other kids and enjoy their play, get their jokes, share in the fun.

i've already come a long way in accepting that i will have to make these compromises, somewhat encouraged by the (wavering) belief that in the long run, we will still have an important influence on the people our little monster and monkey will become. we can still expose them to diversity, to critical thinking, to solidarity, to ideas about justice and dignity and rights.

i have no doubt that as they grow, this will be our biggest challenge. i think that would be true for us in any community, anywhere in the world, but here in macondo it promises to knock the wind out of me at every turn.

so back to the birthday party. they rented out a pelotero - standard birthday party tradition here - a place with lots of balls, tunnels, ramps, slides, trampolines, like a really well-equipped mcplayland...

the only conversation we had (not because i'm a grump, but the music was too loud!):

f. to one of the monster's classmates: wow, i heard that you sleep alone in your room now!

classmate's mom: oh, you heard? yeah, she got a television and dvd player as a present, so we took advantage of the moment and set them up in her room. [us: what??? she's 3 years old!!!]

f. to little girl: ahh, so now you can watch tv in your room, eh? what do you watch?

girl: hi 5. [us: what's that?]

mom of a different classmate: ah, all the kids are crazy about that.

now i just can't figure out how i could have participated in that conversation in any kind of sincere way, beyond sharing the little girl's pride in her sleeping alone accomplishment.

a few snippets:

- very loud and bad pop music blaring from the speakers the whole time, like at a bar you decide not to go to with your friends when you want to actually talk and not just dance, because you'll have to yell all night (what about protecting our kids' hearing? what about playing some kids' music? they're 3 years old!!!)

- time to break the piñatas - first distribute plastic ben10 bags to the boys and stephanie bags to the girls. be sure not to make any mistakes!

- time to sing happy birthday. no wait, they just blare a recording of happy birthday through the sound system.

- time to cut the cake. no wait, first get out the full-size ben10 and stephanie cardboard cutouts, set off nicely with green balloons on the boys' side and pink balloons on the girls' side (i must admit that despite my interest in reporting on this important occasion, i didn't get close enough to this whole spectacle to inspect the cake, but i'm sure our imagination will suffice).

- moms were all dressed up, wearing high heels (oops, are flip flops okay too?)

- many little girls were wearing looooong pink and/or white frilly dresses down to their ankles noticeably getting in the way of climbing and running.

- ALL girls except for 3 were wearing pink and white - some were quite comfortable, but its prevalence made it seem like a uniform.

- boys were all dressed differently - some more and some less formally, but no discernible uniform.

- loot bags for boys were decorated with ben10 stickers, with candies and a ben10 toy inside. loot bags for girls had stephanie stickers, with candies and a tiara-like hair thing inside.

- there were also ben10 'colouring books' for the boys - i heard the birthday girl ask her mom for one and her mom said 'no silly, they're for boys.' full of stimulating material like drawings of ben 10's sidekick girl with her unbelievable boobs and activities like 'colour in ben10's watch' and other advertising.

i have to stop here. i'm still processing it all. it made me want to have a little girl so i could raise her differently and so my boys could see how girls don't have to be subject to that. and it made me tentatively thankful (but still wistful) that while i have the daunting task of raising feminist boys in this setting, i don't have to face sending a girl of my own into that princess jungle.

why a blog?

Friday, August 14, 2009

so, what i really want to write here might take quite a long time, but i have to start somewhere.

part of this is a response to my sudden and overwhelming need to 'get organized' and make lists and sort out my stuff--which probably had a lot to do with finally being somewhat settled here, yet living in total day-to-day chaos and not being able to get meals on the table or sweep the floor, not to mention Be With the Kids or Enjoy Time With F. it felt good to think about what i needed to do to make things work and to try to do them--sort out a routine, do some bulk cooking for the freezer, make a real effort to keep the house organized and clean all the time, go for walks on the beach in the mornings, do some squats and situps sometimes...

i also started reading some online mama blogs that made me want to write. i always want to write, and never never do. ever. the closest i get is the occasional long email, which i also don't do enough of, but is also not quite the same. i feel like maybe if i create this space where i can write--online, since i spend lots of time online anyways and have already proven to myself over and over again that as much as i really like beautiful notebooks and diaries, i haven't actually used one in more than ten years--and if i work to create a habit of writing somewhat regularly, and freely (not like i always have in the past, thinking that first i have to catch up, get up to date, give all the background info, and then never actually get there), then, eventually and occasionally, i might write something good or interesting or worthwhile. i might get some good practice, and start writing better, or differently. or maybe--hopefully--i might stumble upon a great idea i can get all excited about for a phd or some other worthwhile project. so...that is the idea. of course i get carried away with all the little fiddly procrastinatey things i can do here too, but i do hope to actually start writing, both for diary-type reasons and as writing practice.

plus, if i'm not going to have any real friends here, maybe forever, i can only imagine that i'll really need this space!

writing about sadness

i just read a post by my dearest friend about depression, and along with the million other things it triggered for me (don't be sad dear friend; i'm so sad you're sad; of course you're sad, you're a new mom; you've always amazed me with what smart and courageous things you do with/for yourself when you're sad; how i wish we could have a good cry and laugh together) i also realized that i haven't ever really written anything here about my sadness.

i write when i'm happy, or when i have something funny or interesting or worth remembering to write down, or when i'm sad but too busy to get into any of it. even though that was partially the point of starting to write here.

why don't i write here when i'm sad? where would i start? i don't know where the sadness really comes from. it can't be in the silly little things that set me off - the preschooler tantrums, the unswept floor, the unrelenting pressure to cook endless meals, my inability to get certain 'me' things done (exercise, reading, writing). even just writing that short list of 'silly little things' is frustrating, because all of those things are confined to the tiny little sphere of domestic mommy chaos, which takes up a lot of my life but definitely not all of my brain or all of my sadness. of course life is complicated and messy and i could go on and on about all these details and less mundane ones, and i'm sure i will, but i'm not sure if that will take me anywhere.

but i'll try and see what happens. i've had an idea for a few days now, to write a post about everything that sucks, and another one about everything that's great. they're both true at the same time, and each prevents me from understanding the other. and then, of course, there's all those shades of grey.

and green... it's not easy being green.

grown-up time, motherhood & rural poverty

Thursday, August 13, 2009

so this is what can happen given a little bit of one-on-one grown-up time, especially when the grown up is my very favourite person and partner:

i can occasionally use my brain
i can laugh
i can catch up and be caught up on a million details that slip through our fingers all the time
i can share quiet moments, without stuffing them full of everything else we've been needing to say, do, consult, debate, figure out

given that we were in the car, the kids were both asleep, and we were waiting for a. to sign the contract for her apartment and therefore couldn't go anywhere or do anything other than sit in the car (otherwise we might have chosen to sleep, clean the house, catch up on email, have sex), we actually just shot the shit for almost an hour, and it was awesome.

i also started to get a tiny little inkling of a possible research idea. not even necessarily for a phd, but maybe just to try to collect some research and write a paper, as part of the UPA. it would be interesting, and would bring more social, qualitative research to UPA. it would also make me a 'researcher' and not just the computer person, and could lead to good contacts for an eventual phd. it's also more socially 'useful' than my other ideas tend to be, though if i turn it into a phd i'd want to add some more social/cultural/media analysis too.

yay for grown-ups, and a little bit of brain activity. it does me good.

so the idea would be to use interviews and/or workshops to ask/answer: what resources are needed to support women through pregnancy and/or early motherhood?

i'd have to limit things in a bunch of ways - age of moms (probably i'd do teen); pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, general early days/months/years of motherhood, etc. it would inevitably include medical care and medical info and all that, but i'm especially interested in community/family resources: other women, radio programs, neighbourhood spaces, i really have no idea. the poverty here makes it likely that the most basic, obvious things (like access to water, good nutrition, not burning garbage, etc.) will be the most important and might block out coming across other, maybe less important but still interesting and necessary things. but i still think it would be worthwhile and interesting, and i would so love it if it could develop into something like a weekly drop-in in one of the salitas, or something like that. as with everything else here, people would probably only go if we could offer milk or something else they need, but fair enough. maybe i can figure that out somehow.

a routine - ha!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

originally posted on august 8, 2009

i'm nowhere close to this, but it's what i feel like i'd need to do to stay on top of things and not live in total chaos. maybe if we get some house & kid help i can scratch some of these things off my list. not to mention add some better things - like swap washing the dishes 6 times a day for reading something worthwhile, playing with the kids...

all this is assuming that the monster is in school all morning, which hopefully will be the case as of monday. of course nursing, changing diapers, lugging around, playing with and otherwise entertaining the baby mean that i never get to half of this stuff anyways. how do people do it?


walk to beach
20 min exercise
prepare lunch
prepare something for dinner or for another day
15 min house cleaning task
clean toilet/bathroom
computer stuff - email, newspapers, etc.


trabajito or outside play or beach


bathroom sink
kids' clothes
declutter house
prepare trabajito or other activity for the monster


1 hr declutter
wash floors
2 blog posts
run a few times
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