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macondo mama goes urban

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Okay. I mentioned that something was up. I've been hoping to get a bit of time to sit down and write this properly. You know, go out with a bang. Reflect on stuff.

But I should have known that was never going to happen.

So here's the deal. We've been here in Macondo for over a year. We've loved it, been frustrated with it, struggled to figure it out, and laughed and cried and shrugged our shoulders at it. And now we're leaving.

We had always planned to move away from here, but we thought we would give it another two years or so and get the most out of our time with the whole 'small children frolicking on the beach' thing. Then two things happened:
  • We never found enough work to make ends meet
  • We got jobs in a pretty cool city that we're excited to live in
Sooooooo, the Macondo family is going urban!

Once we finish packing, cleaning, selling, shipping, house-hunting, school-scouting, job-training, unpacking and settling in, I will breathe again and look around and realize that I have bookstores, theatres, kids' activities, public transportation, veggie empanadas, fast internet and maybe even potential FRIENDS all around me. And, I will not have to commute anywhere to finally get my hair cut.

I'm excited.

I am also really, really busy. In addition to all the packing, moving, settling and so on, there is the tiny little detail that I have two small kids. One that deals TERRIBLY with change, and the other that demands BOOBY several hundred times a day. Oh, and I have to hand in the first half of the book that I'm translating next week.

Oh! And try getting anything done in Argentina the first week of the World Cup! UTTER MADNESS.

[UPDATED TO ADD: It should be no surprise, really, that telos are offering super discount rates during Argentina's games, along with complimentary champagne and an Argentina jersey. I doubt they're finding many takers, though. World Cup soccer trumps even sex, don't you know.]

Anyways, all this to say that I am, sadly, going to leave my beloved Mama in Macondo blog right here in Macondo. Realistically, I won't be able to keep up with blogging for quite some time, and I need all the energy and focus I can muster for everything else going on in my life.

I have so loved creating this space and filling it with little pieces of me. Maybe I'll still go through my days composing snippets of blog posts in my head, but if not, I'll miss that. And I will really miss looking forward to and receiving your comments and emails. This has been such an important part of my Macondo adventure. Really.

I have also discovered many others who write so much better and more honestly and creatively than I ever could, and from whom I learn and take comfort and find inspiration (see my list of links in the sidebar). So I take that with me, and I'll continue to read along, probably with a huge case of blog envy.

Thanks so much to all of you for joining me here in Macondo!

And, I can't resist. Here are two more recent articles about Argentina you might be interested in:

A second independence for Argentina

Argentina's Bicentennial: Indigenous Tell Another History

Some unrelated, really cool stuff online

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Things have been quiet here on the Macondo blog because lots is happening in the Macondo household. Big changes are coming, I'll share the details soon (no, I am NOT pregnant!).

In the meantime, though, here is some random great stuff I've come across recently:

An online library of Canadian documentary films. There are some great films here!

A really, really cool site called Storybird, for writing and illustrating stories.

A 'computational knowledge engine', for quickly calculating or converting or consulting about just about anything.

A great tool for making any article you're reading online way more readable.

And here is an English language article about the recent bicentennial celebrations in Argentina. They totally blew me away. There were more than three and a half million people on the streets in Buenos Aires on the 25th, and another few million on the days leading up to it.

The highlights:

The inauguration of the stunning, restored Teatro Colón, one of the world's greatest opera houses.

A light show on the Cabildo building illustrating 200 years of Argentinian history. This was so incredibly well done. I had no idea technology had advanced so significantly since those Pink Floyd laser shows I remember from high school. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

The best 'parade' I have ever seen, featuring 19 art/dance/theatre installations representing different aspects and moments of Argentinian history, carried out by the fabulous performance group Fuerza Bruta.

THIS WAS AMAZING. I can't get over how cool it is for a country to celebrate and commemorate in this way, with millions in the street, with innovative and mind-blowing street theatre and art, with this penetrating representation of political, popular, artistic, social and economic life.

Here is an overview of the parade.

And here are links to see the whole thing.

Celebrating, Argentina-style

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tuesday is the 200th anniversary of Argentina's independence. (Yay for all the retrospectives that are sure to come. I love that stuff.)

The country is currently smothered in white and sky blue flags, ribbons, banners and puffy, flowery things, and today is the first day of an extra long weekend, filled with celebratory activities.

Lots of cool stuff is going down - free concerts, exhibits, fairs, publications, soccer games (Argentina vs. Canada, who can guess the outcome of that game?) - but alas, nothing grand is happening here in Macondo, because I live in the middle of nowhere.

(I love that free concerts that shut down major streets and fill gigantic plazas are a part of almost any big celebration here, often featuring some of my favourites, like León Gieco and the late Mercedes Sosa.)

Here in Macondo there will probably be fireworks and lots of horses dressed in flags.

Monster's school is celebrating with a fair next Saturday for playing 'old' games, like the ones that the kids' parents and grandparents might have played way back when. It'll be like a crash course for me in Argentinian childhoods and ideas for the kids' birthday parties - the local versions of Hot Potato, Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Duck, Duck Goose.

There are probably lots of creative and critical things going on in many schools. There must be, right? Especially because this is the 200th anniversary, and not the 199th or the 201st. There have got to be students, teachers and even school boards working on some brilliant projects somewhere.

(If you know of any great school May 25th activities, please share!)

This is a good thing, because the standard May 25th school festivities leave a lot to be desired. I can't say I am working with a large sample size here, but the default seems to be boring and highly questionable ways of celebrating this day, presumably in the name of transmitting a love and appreciation for the country and its history.

What are typical May 25th school activities in Argentina?

1. make white and sky blue decorations, paint flags, etc.

2. practice and perform a scene featuring kids or teens dressed up as the following characters:
- 'gauchos' (Argentinian cowboys)
- 'women'
- 'black people' playing the drums (painted black with a burnt cork, I am not joking)
- a 'mulatto person' selling empanadas (painted black with a burnt cork, but supposedly brown)
- a night guard
- a candle salesperson.

Talk about the cultural construction of 'the nation'.

(I am all for speaking up about school things I don't like, but I am going to take a pass this year on being the 'gringa' who comes along and questions this most traditional celebration of this most patriotic day. Maybe I'll be ready to jump in on this one next year).

But enough about schools and awesome cultural offerings that I will be missing out on.

Here is an online treat for those who speak Spanish and are interested in Argentinian history (which just happens to be FASCINATING): you absolutely must check out this spectacular multimedia mural.

It was drawn by the bizarre and brilliant Rep (he has a blog, too), whose talent I have a total crush on. If you click on many of the parts of the mural, you get a little note with basic info, and a click on the note brings you to a short documentary on the event or period it represents. (All this detail just in case you didn't realize it was clickable. Duh.) See also: video archives and resources for teachers.

Yes. No way. Maybe.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why, oh why would I even consider such a thing?

After Monkey was born I started to systematically rid myself of all the baby things I would no longer need, now that I was DONE, so so so DONE, I am never going to do that again, twice was plenty, thank you very much.

Every new onesie and pair of socks he grew out of, week after week, went right into a bag, handed over to a good friend without a second thought .

We moved to Argentina when he was just two months old, so I gave away all the winter maternity clothes that I would have no need for in my new warmer climate. When I no longer needed maternity clothes at all (yay!), I quickly gave those away, too.

All the baby clothes, blankets, breast pumping gear, baby toys, and baby books have been dutifully packed up and given away as soon as they were no longer in use. We don't have much (any) storage space, so decluttering this way was a no-brainer.

The bit of remaining baby gear we have -- a few slings, a sling-accommodating jacket, an umbrella stroller, nursing bras (arrgh, I am soooo sick of them) -- haven't disappeared yet because we're still using them. But now, I am starting to think I should hang on to them, JUST IN CASE.

What is going on?

I've just started to get this feeling. Maybe we're not done. SHHHH! I'm not even sure if I really said that.

I'm only thinking about it at all because I feel like if we're not done, than NOW is the time.

I don't want my kids to be much farther apart in age than they would be if we don't get started now. And I don't want my stay-at-home-mom years to extend much longer into the future. I don't want to start all over again with a baby after I am already enjoying some of the freedom I will have when my other two are more independent. And I don't want to push my luck with my age and my fertility - if I do want to have another kid, then I should get on it nowish, soonish.

This post is going to stay short, because I am writing on the YES theme today as part of Momalom's Five for Ten blogfest. And I don't have a whole lot of YES to say on this topic. It is more like a maybe? NO! but? NO! if? NO!

(In case you're wondering, Macondo Papa feels pretty much the same way about all this.)

Nonetheless, here I am saying maybe. (But NO!) I clearly have a lot of 'no' posts in me on this topic that I need to get out, but here's a shot at the yes:

- I love being pregnant.

- I love trying and getting pregnant.

- I love walking around with a little bitsy bundle in a sling.

- Babies are yummy. Toddlers are delicious. Preschoolers are, um, fascinating.

- Chances are that my labour would be too fast to subject me to the way-too-prevalent emergency C-sections here in Argentina.

- He/she would get the best papa in the world, and two fabulous big brothers.

- If I survive until they are all school age, I think they and I will love having a biggish family.

- It is entirely possible that I could have a GIRL (a really, really bad reason, but if I am going to be perfectly honest, this possibility is the only reason that the NOs haven't already won by a landslide).

What I think I need is one of those accidents/surprises other people sometimes have. But that would entail Macondo Papa and I deciding to see if maybe we could have an accident. Because we're like that. And then we'd be right back where we are right now.

Okay, should I actually publish this post? Yes.

Feeling lusty in Argentina?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lust, in Argentina, has a whole institution dedicated to it. The telo. It is both a rite of passage and a part of the landscape.

Telos are 'transitory hotels', paid for in two hour blocks, or three, or one and-a-half, depending. They are not sleazy or seedy, or at least not most of them, not if you don't want them to be. There are all kinds of categories of telo: luxurious, tasteful, basic, raunchy. Depends on your budget and what you're looking for.

Everybody here has been to a telo. It's part of growing up.

People here are shocked that we don't have them in Canada. Where do people go, when there are no telos? Young people who still live with their parents? People having affairs? Workplace colleagues that want a quickie on their lunch break?

What do horny, lusty folks do? I am asked. Where do they go?

I don't know. Home? Anywhere? Wherever? It is the source of one of those cross-cultural 'Huh?'s, like bedtimes and sugar.

(Note that I did not mention sex workers. I'm sure they use them too, at least sometimes, but they are not immediately associated with the idea of the telo in the same way that they are with pay-by-the-hour hotels elsewhere.)

Most telos have separate entrances and exits for cars, for maximum discretion. Many have a double set of doors leading into each room, so if you order room service, it can be left in your private entrance, and you can sneak out all naked - or whatever - to grab what they've left for you.

What might you want to order by room service in a telo? They don't all offer such services, but from some you can order everything from condoms and lube to a full range of sex toys, costumes and, I don't know, use your imagination and I'm sure it's available somewhere. No need to ask for any movies, though. The televisions are already turned on to the right channels.

Other telo features include, but are not limited to:

- large bed
- abundant mirrors (on the walls, ceilings...)
- red warming lights
- condoms and lubricant
- dark curtains, or no windows
- shower, tub, jacuzzi, sauna, depending on your budget
- themed rooms
- wheelchair access!!! (not always such a common consideration here in Argentina)

I must admit that I have only been to a telo once. It just seemed like too hilarious and fascinating a thing to miss out on, and I was into trying to have all these authentic Argentinian experiences when I first got here.

So way back when, we visited a mid-range telo. We were living together and had no other reason to be there than for kicks and dispassionate, scientific observation. That's not to say that we didn't get our money's worth, of course, but it all felt pretty anthropological -- Macondo Papa laughing at my fascination with the whole phenomenon, and me flicking the light switches, changing the channels, lifting the pillows and opening the drawers, looking for all the evidence of kink I could find.

Too bad I wasn't blogging back then, or I would have had a different eye for detail. If they offered child-care services too (hey, now there is an idea!), and if there was any chance in hell that I would actually use such services, then I would be more than happy to try it again. I could even offer a comparative analysis of different kinds and classes of telo. But this will have to be enough for now.

To add to my blog series on 'Random things you might not now about Argentina' (see here and here), a few more goodies:

- The word telo comes from an inversion of the syllables in 'hotel'. Kind of like pig latin. This is how many words are formed in Lunfardo, Argentina's super-cool slang language, often used in tango lyrics, or just to sound really hip and to complicate things for foreigners.

Other examples of common word inversions:

Woman: jermu (from mujer)
Book: broli (from libro)
To screw over, to fuck over: garcar (from cagar)

- Here's a fun game I play with myself: Spot the Telo.

Somehow Argentinians all know where they are and when they're passing by them, but to me they are invisible. In the city, they just have a coloured light-bulb out front, and blend in perfectly with their surroundings. On the highway, it's a bit easier, as they're bigger, they stand out more, and the double driveways and fluorescent pink hearts are a big giveaway.

- I will now start to collect names of telos as I'm out and about, and share them with you in a future post. They're often called things like Babylonia or Love Nest.

I am so not kidding about any of this.


This post was inspired by the fourth topic - Lust - in Momalom's Five for Ten blog fest.

The day I left home

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I was two weeks into my last year of high school. I had the coolest, hippiest friends in the world, and I finally, FINALLY had a boyfriend.

I had tolerably annoying parents, a jocky asshole of a slightly younger brother and another, littler brother. It was his birthday, the littlest one. He was thirteen.

While the birthday boy did his homework, my other brother and I were watching television, arguing about who got to choose what to watch. It was probably something like Facts of Life versus Cheers.

Give me the remote control, fuck you, loser, asshole, I hate you, I don't care, you chose the last show, fuck you, loser, asshole. Something along those lines.

These fights, of course, happened all the time.

One fight, a year or two earlier, had also ended badly, with a couple of blows to my left temple, and a mild concussion that meant I couldn't open my mouth wide enough to eat normally for a month. Accused of faking it when I was eating and chewing strangely, my mom insisted I go to the hospital to prove that something was wrong. We went, I was offended, she got her proof.

This fight, on my little brother's 13th birthday, started with a call to turn off the TV and set the table for our birthday dinner. I stomped around angrily, into the kitchen to get the plates, into the dining room to set them around the table.

On the way through the narrow arch that separated the kitchen and the dining room, my brother and I collided. Then he shoved me hard, with both arms, and I reeled backward. I was M-A-D. Outraged.

In my memory this part is silent, all action. But I'm sure I was not keeping quiet. I'm sure I was yelling or crying or both. That was my thing. Not pushing or hitting or wanting to. My thing was yelling and crying (still is).

I tried to get past him again, my hands holding a pile of plates, my shoulder and elbow and hip prepared to help get me through the narrow space.

I don't know if it was an open hand or a closed fist, but I remember it being like a karate chop. To that same left temple. Twice. Hard.

Yelling and crying my way through, I made it to the table to set down the plates, made it to the telephone, and ran into the living room to call my boyfriend. Tears and snot streaming down my face, trying to catch my breath, I told him that my brother, the asshole, had just hit me in the head.

Coming to see what the fuss was all about, my mother overheard me on the phone.

"Oh come on. He did not hit you. You two were just fighting."

Even now, when I think about this moment, I feel a tight ball grow in my stomach and push its way up through my chest into my throat. I feel the most uncontrollable shriek in my throat, pure disbelief, and I feel how it gathers steam and incoherence and rage as it bubbles out, struggling to get past the tight ball that blocks its path. I carried that tight ball, and that shriek, for so long.

I can't think of any other memory, of any other moment in my life, that I recall so physically.

I remember screaming at my mother that it was true, that he had hit me and that it wasn't okay. She asked my brother what had happened, and he shrugged and said that I had shoved him first. And that satisfied my mom.

I had an uncontrollable urge to hurl the cordless phone in my hand against the wall. Uncontrollable, except that I controlled it, absurdly worried about the consequences. Instead, I told my boyfriend that I was headed across the city to his place, that I couldn't stay home any longer.

A minute later I was out the door, my backpack full of my school stuff and a change of clothes. I walked quickly, crying hysterically, unable to catch my breath.

I didn't even think about the fact that I was leaving home. I didn't hesitate, and I didn't look back.

We were in the middle of a transit strike. I walked and walked. It was Rosh Hashanah, with the whole neighbourhood—all of my childhood bullies and their families—walking home from synagogue, showing off their outfits.

Standing on a busy corner, tears streaming down my face, looking impossibly for a taxi, a man pulled up and asked me if I needed a ride. I stepped into his car and told him I would pay him $20 if he would take me downtown to my boyfriend's house.

"I just left home," I told him.

He wouldn't take my money. He told me my brother was an idiot to hit a girl with such nice legs. A hero and a creep. He took me downtown, and I walked a few blocks to my boyfriend's house. I walked up the steps, bawling again, and my boyfriend's mom gave me a big hug and made me a cup of tea.

There was so much anger, and hurt, and loss, for so long.

And two regrets: not having smashed that phone against the wall, and taking a year to reach out to my littlest brother after I left.


This piece was inspired by the third topic - Memory - in Momalom's Five for Ten blogfest.

Dear Monster: Your birth story

Friday, May 14, 2010

I think I could write almost infinite iterations of both of my birth stories (but I won't, don't worry!). There are so many details, moments, fears, memories and meanings wrapped up in each of them. There is so much intensity, so much to say.

And it matters who it is for, too. Though I think it is important to be honest and real about birth, and I wouldn't sugar-coat my experience or be intentionally vague, I don't tell my story in the same way to a mother who has already given birth as I do to a woman who is pregnant for the first time, or as I do in a blog carnival on birth stories.

The prelude I posted a few weeks ago was a kind of disclaimer about how fast the Monster's birth was. Too fast to be a good kind of fast.

I often refrain from talking about my birth because it is so unusual; precipitous births apparently happen to only about 2% of first-time moms. I don't want to be scary, and I don't want to be dismissed, so I guess I make a lot of excuses and explanations instead.

Enough of all that. Below is the detailed, unedited version of the play-by-play of my Monster's birth. I wrote it for him, to him.

For a long time after my Monster was born, remembering and telling the story of his birth for me meant recounting the actual events of my labour and delivery, with more or less detail, depending on my audience. This is what I have written below.

But, now, four years later, I have much more to say about the less tangible things - about trauma and shock, about trust and strength and pride, about exhaustion and ambivalence, and about the total weirdness of becoming a mother to a newborn. And yes yes, about love and beauty, too. But all this is a writing assignment for another day.


Dear Monster,

The midwives had assured us that you would be late. Your due date was April 1, so we were expecting you around April 7, hoping you would have the good sense to avoid our birthdays and our anniversary.

On the Thursday before you were born, we had an appointment with the midwife and were told that you hadn't even dropped yet, so nothing was happening any time soon. That was fine with us since we both had lots of stuff still to do - Papi had to finish an essay, and I had to catch up on sleep, clean the house, buy a million things, and wrap my head around the idea that I was about to give birth and become a mom.

J and S organized a last-minute shower for me on Sunday, the 26th of March. I woke up around noon (wow, I haven't done that since!!) and I lost my mucus plug. Supposedly, this means nothing. We went to the baby shower, had a lovely time, got some prezzies for you and for me, and headed back home at about 6pm or so, I think. I was having more Braxton-Hicks contractions, which I hadn't really had at all until then. But no big deal. My entire pregnancy had been very easy.

Your Papi made me some dinner a bit later (perogies, I think), and Uncle D called to see how we were doing. Nothing new, we reported. I went downstairs to trash out with the world figure skating championships, and at about 10pm I had my first contraction. It felt like a period cramp, but lasted and then went away, and it occurred to me that it must have been a contraction. I called your Papi a few times, and he finally came downstairs saying that if I called him like that, he was going to think that I was going into labour.

Well, surprise - I told him - I think I'm going into labour.

Papi went to buy some juice, and I called J to freak out a bit and share the news. Then Papi sat with me and we timed the contractions, 10 minutes apart, quite light and quite regular. Thinking that this could mean anything, but that it would probably be a long time still, we didn't do much, but kept timing them. At about midnight they were 7 minutes apart, so we called our midwife K, just to give her a heads up.

Take a shower, and a Gravol or a glass of wine, and see if you can get some sleep or get the contractions to go away - we were told.

We were all sure that we still had a long time to go.

I had a shower (skipped the wine and the Gravol), and then we got the couch upstairs ready (unfolded it, put on the plastic sheeting and then a normal sheet) and got into bed.

It was actually quite ridiculous. Papi with the flashlight and his watch, every time I had a contraction, checking to see how long it lasted, then trying to go back to sleep. Every 7 minutes. Every 6 minutes. Every 8 minutes. Every 4 minutes. Every 3 minutes. Every 7 minutes. Not regular at all anymore. But we gave up on sleeping and started trying some of the tricks we had learned from our birth preparation class, as the contractions were starting to get more intense.

I walked around, tried my hands and knees, tried the big ball, tried hanging off of Papi, moving my hips around, going to the bathroom, low groaning with my jaw loose (the only one that worked for me).

They were getting a lot more intense, but weren't following the 5-1-1 rule (every 5 minutes or less, lasting for 1 minute or more, for 1 hour), meaning I wasn't in active labour.

When I went to the bathroom and had a bit of blood, we called K again, at about 1am. She wanted to hear me have a contraction.

Sounds like you're coping really well (means that doesn't sound like active labour!) - she said.

But in the end, the blood convinced her to come and have a look, and so she called A (K was a student who graduated the next day, A was one of our two regular midwives) and they came over. We learned later that A had come quite reluctantly, sure that nothing would happen so soon.

Meanwhile, I was starting to be in a lot of pain. Imagining hours and hours of it was starting to freak me out. Papi was trying to apply pressure or massage or support or help me with breathing, and nothing was very soothing. His touch during the contraction itself was unbearable.

At 2am they arrived, opened up their bags and got all settled in. I had a contraction, got onto my hands and knees, and K felt my belly the whole time.

Mild - I heard her say to A.

WHAT?? the thought that they would have to go from that to 'very strong' was unthinkable to me. And it only lasted 30 seconds. 'A' was sure that they were going to head out again and come see us the next day.

Then it was time for a manual examination, to see if I was dilated. The idea was that it would be less than 5 cm if I wasn't in active labour.

I saw K mouth to A - I can touch the head. She said - I think it's 9 cm, but I want A to check.

So A checked, (I should mention that it is extremely painful to have an exam like this while having contractions) and sure enough, they were really surprised.

You're going to have this baby really soon, [Macondo Mama]. I remember a really firm grab of my thigh from A, and it was reassuring.

She wanted to break my water to make sure it was clear. If it wasn't, she wanted to go to the hospital, just in case. I asked if it wasn't too late for that, and she said no. But it will make everything more intense. More intense than this?

I remember saying no puedo (I can't) at one point to Papi, and he smiled at me and told me that of course I could, and translated what I had said to the midwives. I asked if this was the part when I was going to think that I couldn't do it, and A smiled and told me I was already well past that stage.

I felt a painless gush when she broke the water, and it seemed like maybe just one or two excruciating contractions later, I was told it was okay to push if I wanted to. It was 2:20am.

(Here is a detailed account of the pushing stage).

I asked if I should change position to my side or something (I was on my back still from when they had broken my water), and A said that since I was already pushing well, that I should just stay the way I was. I had to pull on my thighs and take a breath and push.

They told me to keep my voice in and use it to push (instead of screaming, I guess). It took me a few pushes before I realized that I had to change gears. Instead of just trying to get through the pain, I had to be active and push through the pain. They said I was doing well.

Dear Monster, none of this conveys how much it was all tearing me apart!

Every now and then they checked your heart rate, and at one point they told me that I really had to push to move you along. And so I did. And you crowned, and Papi had a look and told me that you had green hair.

I pushed like crazy. And out you came.

You were born with your hand on your face, crying and perfectly healthy, with lots of long, dark hair. Your Papi cut the cord and looked at you and me with total awe. Neither of us could believe what had just happened. You were on my chest, wrapped up in a blanket, crying and crying.

You were born at 2:54am. According to the midwives' calculations, I had probably entered the active stage of labour at around midnight, meaning that active birth had lasted two hours and fifty-four minutes.

I was shaking with cold (probably more like shock), while the midwives were dealing with whatever they deal with, blood and afterbirth and things. I bled quite a bit, apparently. Eventually I birthed the placenta.

They examined you, they filled out papers, they asked us your name (what a weird feeling! you exist! you have a real name!) and they sent me off to the bathroom with your Papi. I could barely walk.

(It was only a few days later, when my tailbone was still hurting a lot and we retraced our steps, that we realized with the midwives that I had probably broken my tailbone while giving birth. We had known this was a possibility, since I had already broken it many years earlier, but luckily I forgot about that possibility when I was actually giving birth. I'm not sure if I experienced your birth as so extremely painful because of my tailbone, because it was so quick, or because giving birth is, after all, giving birth.)

Then we got cozy, they weighed you, diapered you. I nursed you for the first time - you latched right on and I had lots of colostrum.

They made me some toast with cream cheese (additional proof that midwives totally rule). They waited around a while, cleaned up, checked my bleeding a bunch of times, gave us a bunch of papers, told us to sleep as much as we could, nurse you every 2 hours, keep track of your pees and poops, and our other midwife would come to see us at around noon.

And that was it. They congratulated us, and left us all alone with you.

Papi made a few happy phone calls, and we went to sleep with you in our arms.

It was absolutely, by far, the most intense thing I've ever done, matched only a few years later when Monkey was born. But birthing you was, as they say, also my birth as a mother, and I don't have the words to explain how intense and life-changing that is.


Midwifery care during pregnancy and childbirth is covered by provincial health coverage in Ontario. Women under the care of midwives can choose to deliver at home or in hospital, and can transfer to medical care and/or to hospital at any time, whether for preference or for medical reasons. 

I did not see a doctor at all during either of my low-risk pregnancies (though I was offered information about and access to all of the regular pre-natal tests and analyses), and our midwives were responsible for our follow-up care for six weeks post-partum.

Happy news in the struggle for same-sex marriage in Argentina

Thursday, May 13, 2010

So there I was, well into a way too long-winded description of my 4-year-old Monster's sometimes elusive happiness, when my day kind of fell apart. I just can't write about happiness today. Let's just say that I would be forcing it.

I'm fine. I'll be fine.

But it's not a day for writing about happiness (today's theme in the Momalom Five for Ten blogfest).

Instead, it makes me really happy to be able to share this news, which will make quite a lot of people happy:

Argentina a Step Closer to Same-Sex Marriage

I've been providing updates on this every now and then, but when it finally becomes law (and it will! and soon!) I will write some more about how the actual debate has played out in congress and the media.

This is a happy almost-ending to a whole lot of struggle. So, cheers to social struggles that make people's lives better!

Here goes...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ok, so this is kind of pathetic, and kind of cheating, but here goes anyways.

I have tentatively decided to try to participate in a blog 'event' organized by Momalom, called Five for Ten. It seems like a great way to create and participate in some bloggy conversations with many writers I have been reading regularly for some time now.

But...I'm feeling pretty lame. There are writing themes. There are five different topics to write about, one every two days, for the ten-day period. And I find this scary. Very Scary.*

Because I am not a creative writer. I am not creative. And before anyone says that everyone is creative, I say Shut Up.

In a completely meaningless way, it is true - but I feel much more like crying and/or fleeing when asked to be creative than I do like creating.

I can do crafty (I sold necklaces and earrings I made on streets in Vancouver and beaches in Chile). I can do basic design-y (I made some pretty nice posters and pamphlets at my last job).

But I get unreasonably panicky when I am put on the spot to create.

Like those horrible workshop ice-breakers when you're supposed to get all creative on the spot and give your name a food-related adjective, so everyone can laugh and then remember your name? Yeah, I get remembered as the one who made up the lame example and had that shaky, almost-crying voice when she had to say it out loud. (Sounds like I'm shy, but really it's the whole creative thing that makes me freeze up this way).

Luckily for me, I don't have to read this out loud in front of a group of people, or draw or sing anything, or have any good ideas at all, really. The first topic is COURAGE, so I'm going to try and find some. I'll just see how it goes, and try to find some easy ways to cheat by cramming some of the posts I was already working on into the writing themes. And then maybe run away and hide for a bit.


*And probably impossible because of time constraints, but that's a different issue altogether.

8 more random things you might not know about Argentina

Thursday, May 6, 2010

More of the low-down on Argentina that does not include all the usual tango, maté, soccer, gaucho, asado, plastic surgery, blah blah blah.

See the previous list here.

1) The portion of a woman's bum that is covered by 'normal' underwear is totally different here.

Thongs are still thongs, of course, and granny underwear and boxer shorts and that kind of thing are also exactly what they sound like. But normal, non-thong underwear - your typical bikini-style bottom - cuts the bum cheek at a different angle. Rather than the 20-25° angle common in my North American world, it is more like a 45-50° angle, making the front and the back of your panties be kind of hard to tell apart.

This style is not just for the young, or the cellulite-free. It is the standard. And I must say, though it reveals more, it is a more flattering look, generally giving a smoother, rounder appearance to your behind under pants, and avoiding that I-have-4-bum-cheeks problem. (I did mention I would be talking about random things).

2) The word 'turd' - as in, piece of poo - is actually used quite a bit, sprinkling (so to say) a number of expressions, and just an all around kind of useful word.

You might especially like to learn the phrase, están cayendo soretes de punta. This means that it 'is raining cats and dogs' or 'it is pouring / raining really hard', but it translates literally to 'turds are falling endwise' or 'vertical turds are falling'. Used by young and old alike. True story.

3) You can go to a shop and buy just one band-aid, one balloon, one candle, one aspirin, one diaper, one cigarette.  (Pretty much true all over Latin America, as far as I remember).

And it is generally not much more expensive per item than buying the whole package.*

It seems so strange, in fact, to buy a whole package of any of these things, unless you are in a larger scale supermarket or pharmacy, that I sometimes will ask for just a few, even though my intention had been to buy a package. I ask for birthday candles, for example, assuming they will give me the whole package (almost nothing is self-serve here, you have to ask for everything over the counter), and they ask me how many. Umm, give me four, I guess. 

* Eggs are also sold individually, but they pile them into a plastic bag here in Macondo, instead of wrapping them up in newspaper as I've seen in Buenos Aires and elsewhere. This creates the 'One Will Always Break' rule, which makes it more economical to buy a dozen, than to just buy two (losing 8% of your purchase as opposed to 50%).

4) They have the best system for helping a kid when she/he gets lost at the beach.

Seriously, check this out:

When a child gets lost at the beach, a tall man lifts him/her up onto his shoulders and starts to walk up and down the length of the beach. As they walk past, everybody (and I mean everybody) claps loudly, drawing attention to the pair, and allowing the parents or caregivers to quickly and easily find the child.

How did this get started, and how can it be imported everywhere? And why does it only happen at the beach? A kid gets lost in the mall here and people act as if they don't already have the Best System in the World for helping her/him get found.

5) Birthday parties for grown-ups involve the birthday boy/girl hosting family and friends at home and providing all food and drinks.

I may be just a grump, but I find this to be a hassle. I love a good dinner party and everything, but cleaning the house, doing a major grocery shop (spending lots of money) and then cooking for many is not my idea of a fun birthday. On the other hand, it's generally not a fancy thing (unlike birthday parties for kids). Homemade pizza seems to be a standard, which Macondo Papa has perfected to an art. Then there's salads, boring beer, fantastic wine, and the best ice-cream ever.

6) Ice cream places deliver.

Holy crap, is that not amazing? Not here in our little Macondo (the ice cream place is only open on Saturday night and part of Sunday), but they deliver in just about any urban centre, as far as I can tell, and definitely all over Buenos Aires.

7) The Olympics barely exist. The winter Olympics do not exist.

Who really cares? But I do miss watching figure skating.

8) Many perpetrators of crimes against humanity during the 1976-1983 dictatorship, responsible for stealing babies, tossing people out of planes and disappearing 30,000 people are currently (still, finally) being tried for their crimes, and finally being given the life sentences with mandatory prison terms that decades of impunity had protected them from. 

This might be last on my list, but it is HUGE, in a historic, international justice, society-healing and collective memory-constructing kind of way.

Here's a good, recent article about it in English.

Lost opportunities

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Some of the blog posts I might have written over the last ten days or so, if I hadn't been all sick and icky-feeling, and then tending to my little guys as they coughed and battled intensely with their mucous:

- The Monkey's daycare saga, Parts I, II, III, IV

- The Monkey doesn't go to daycare anymore

- Four is a delightful age

- My Monster is such a cool little kid

- Bad days for four-year-olds are intense

- Ode to Macondo Papa

- Can I take away toys used for violence and ignore requests that include yelling and growling and threats involving kaka, and still be a gentle (or sane) parent?

- Losing it with a four-year-old, many times a day

- I'm so sick of nursing my toddler. No, I'm not. Yes, I am.

- Just because it teaches kids to use condoms doesn't mean it isn't sexist and awful

My god, how do real bloggers keep up? I'm going to try to catch up with some things over the next little while. As if I didn't have a book that I'm supposed to be translating in all my abundant 'free time'.

International Postcard Swap for Familes

Monday, April 26, 2010

Zoe at Playing by the book recently sent me an email inviting me to participate in an International Postcard Swap for Families that she is hosting.

I quickly agreed to play along, because I think the Monster will get quite excited about it, and it's a great opportunity for him to see that mail can be more than the stickers and hockey cards that his grandpa sends him from Canada from time to time.

The idea is this:

Send postcards to 5 families (she will provide us with 5 addresses of others participating in the swap), and receive postcards from 5 different families. She is hoping that there will be enough international participation that each of us will receive mail from at least 3 different countries.

(Monster is into countries. Carnivorology is still his primary passion, but he digs countries, too. So this will be a great way for him to maybe learn about or feel a connection to some new ones. Of course, when the World Cup starts in June, he will be in flag- and country-learning bliss).

Your postcard can be store-bought or home-made, and you can write whatever you want on it, though she suggests offering a kids' book recommendation, as an interest in kids' literature is what brings her readers together. She also recommends some books to read with the kiddies about sending and receiving mail.

I'm planning to let the Monster tell me what to write, if he wants to, and I also think that recipients would probably love to just hear a little bit about where we live.

All the details about how to sign up are here. The deadline for signing up is Friday, April 30th.

And if, by chance, you are one of the people I get assigned to send a postcard to - be patient! - mail takes its time here in Macondo.

Waiting and wallowing in the shitty

Friday, April 23, 2010

I am sick today. Looks like strep.

I'm all alone, all ache-y and groan-y, and surprised and relieved that Macondo Papa found a way to keep both kids out of the house all day. (Wow, I haven't nursed Monkey in over eight hours, and counting!)

A few days ago, I wrote about how I was feeling pretty down. I got some great advice from two of my favourite bloggers, counselling me basically to wait, wallow and embrace the shitty.

Well, it would appear that my body took heed of these wise words and has given me a really fantastic reason to feel like shit. Bodies are great that way.

But all kidding aside, my body often finds a way to render me bed-ridden when things feel like a bit too much, and until now, it has worked. (With the exception of when I had dengue fever), I eventually emerge from my sweaty sheets or my crazy-making itchies with renewed energy and a fresh perspective.

Even I knew that what would help was some alone time. It would have been better if it could have been while strolling along the beach, or burying myself in a good book (aahhh, that sounds heavenly), but I am going to take what I can get.

For example? A whole blog post started and finished on the same day, in just about 15 minutes, with no interruptions. Unbelievable..

Grumpity grump

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I am bummed. I don't know if it's just one of those things, one of those weeks, I don't know what's really going on.

But I feel tired, and empty, and bored, and boring.

I almost never write about "things" when I feel this way, but I should. So I am going to just try to complain and grump without worrying about this post. Otherwise I might turn it into a cheesy pep talk, as is my tendency, and I just don't feel like a cheesy pep talk right now.

My gripes?

- I am not exercising my body or my mind.

- I am not reading anything. I am not reading anything (except for blogs, which are awesome, and I love, but I miss books, and my brain misses books).

- The few times I have tried to stretch, my kids jump on me wanting to play horsey or "Attack".

- The few times I have had 30 minutes when I could have done something, I've done nothing. The somethings I'm not doing? Going for a run, reading a book, stretching, brainstorming PhD ideas, writing a thoughtful blog post, cutting my toenails, napping... Instead I wash the dishes or fold laundry or check my email or catch up on blogs.

- I am not pushing myself to do anything challenging or substantial with this blog.

- I do not have any really close friends here. My one good friend, kind of by default though I love her anyways, is so caught up in her world-class stay-at-home mommy-ness that I can't discuss the things that are most angsting me out right now.

- What on earth am I going to do with my life? A Phd? When??? And a research topic would help, too.

- If kids only go to school for half-days in Argentina, does that mean that I or Macondo Papa can only work/study for half days? Until they are teenagers? If I'm honest with myself, can I really be happy with that? Can I do things? How can I reconcile my desire to be a present parent, and how that resonates with me, with my restlessness and feelings of what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life.

- Do I just need to be patient? Wait till the kids are a little bigger, until I am regularly sleeping through the night, until the Monkey is settled into daycare? Am I just in that in-between zone, when my baby is old enough to start to need me less and I am starting to want some more independence, but we're just not all quite there yet? Should I just relax and trust that in a year I will be more me, and my body and mind and future will still be there? Or do I need to take charge of my life, make some changes and start figuring out what comes next?

- Other moms read, they write thoughtfully, they enjoy social lives, they take care of their bodies, they study something or create beautiful things - all of this above and beyond the whole mom thing. I'm not talking about the supermom thing. I'm talking about being a whole person, and a happy person.

- I am at home with the kids all the time, but not doing anything particularly creative or stimulating or awesome-parent-y with them. Yeah, I pull out the plasticine, markers, coloured glue and all that. I read stories. When forced and nagged to, I pretend that my pterodactyl narrowly escapes attack after attack by the fearsome tyrannosaurus rex.

But I am not creating a magical childhood for them. Not most of the time. We don't go on many adventure walks, we don't do many projects, I am rarely the playful or resourceful parent I wish I were (that hurts so much to say, but I am trying really hard to be honest).

- Changing any of these things for the better will require energy, and I just don't have any. I am disappointed in myself.


I have no idea how to finish this self-absorbed rant, but I am not going to do it by recognizing how much good fortune and beauty I have in my life and how it is really, truly quite a sparkly, wonderful life, despite my occasional bouts of gloominess. Okay?

The longest transition

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I've been waiting for the Monkey's daycare situation to be resolved before recounting the saga here, but now I am wondering: is that ever going to happen??? 

Here we are, daycare #3 since school started in March, and we are trying, patiently, to transition him in without any excessive heart-wrenching-ness.  We stay with him, slowly trying to interact less and less so that he can interact more and more with his teacher. We stand around like trees in the playground, crouch on kiddie chairs during craft-time and snack-time, linger at the back of the line to see if he will go willingly back into the room without us...

One day there's progress, the next day he's clingy. And so on. And so on.

And then!

Then there is conjunctivitis, abundant eye goop, and he is at home. One day, two days, (how many more days?), letting all our "progress" slip away, waiting for the green eye boogers to go away before we can start the whole thing again.

Good thing we are so chronically under-employed, I guess, and can drag out this horrible transition-adaptation-separation thing to such a painfully boring and unproductive extent.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Oooo, getting rid of stuff really feels so good.

Selling and giving away and dumping all of our stuff when we left Canada was pretty painful. We lost lots of stuff the likes of which we will never have again. All the loot we scored when my parents split up, for example: a hand-carved chest of drawers; a gorgeous, funky, metal platform bed; a porch swing. It hurts a bit just to think about it.

But being given the go-ahead to dump all the stuff we don't want in our rental house? This house filled with somebody else's fake flowers, straw bouquets, ginormous sombreros, broken lawn chairs and a full collection of chicken-shaped baskets?

It was sweet.

broken lawn chairs
(In hindsight, I should have taken a picture of the chicken baskets instead of the chairs).

There was no slow picking through things, debating if we would miss them or eventually use them or if someone else might get some use out of them. There was no need to make separate piles - this yes, this no, this we can give to so-and-so, this I'm not sure about.

We had stuffed it all into boxes long ago. There is only so long that you can live with so many chicken-shaped baskets.

So we just pulled it all out of the shed, piled it all together, asked the caretaker if he wanted anything, and we DUMPED IT on the corner. Fake flowers and large straw bouquets for whoever wants 'em!

Now, imagine me wiping the dust off my hands, extremely satisfied with all the reclaimed space in our little shed. Yay!

Communicating with my kid's school. Dog, orange, sailboat.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A few days ago, Monster's school** posted a little news item on their blog, reporting that some of the high school classes had taken a field trip to Wal-Mart. But not just that they had visited Wal-Mart.

We were informed that they visited this upstanding company to learn about their social commitment and their concern with sustainable development and environmental issues.

Cough. Cough. Gag.

I couldn't help it. I couldn't help myself. I posted a comment suggesting that some critical analysis would make such visits more meaningful and educational. I offered a whole bunch of links for anyone interested in further research (many from here).

But, I did not reread my comment several dozen times to be sure that it said what I wanted it to. And I admit, it came out a bit too judgmental. It wasn't as diplomatic as I would have liked (definitely not one of my strengths, as much as I loathe confrontation). I know that teachers work really hard, and I also know that I can not expect the impossible of teachers here in Macondo.

(We have spoken up about some things before, and we have also kept quiet about so much).

I really meant my comments to be...um, helpful? I don't know. I just couldn't let the 'upstanding company' thing go by without a comment.

I may not be engaged in any great activist campaigns or world-changing projects out here in Macondo, but I thought I could at least try to make a few itsy bitsy spaces for some critical analysis. Offer some alternative viewpoints. And object, no matter how timidly, to multinational companies using schools as privileged entryways to bombard our kids with their barely camouflaged advertising.

My comment has received two responses:
  • One, from a student, saying that going to the supermarket with his classmates was an unforgettable experience (?). Yup, this is a small town, folks.
  • And the other, from a teacher, saying (very politely) that since I had no idea what the objectives of the visit were, I could not really comment on the value of the activity.
And now I have this nervous, sinking feeling in my stomach and a horrible taste in my mouth. (Have I mentioned that I really dislike confrontation?) I need to address his comment, apologize for coming across too strong, but restate my concern.

On one hand, I know that I am on a different planet. I will say 'ABC', and the only answers I will get will be 'dog, orange, sailboat', or 'dksolw.ddoips' or, in the best of cases, '????'.

On the other hand, I live here, this is the Monster's school, I have to at least try. Right? But I kind of want to run away and never face anyone at the school again. I know, I know, what strong activist convictions.

I am sorry that all this happened a week too late to write up my problem for entry in the carnival of natural parenting. This month the theme was to ask for parenting advice, and I could definitely use some:
  • How involved in this do I want to get? 
  • How can I be diplomatic and critical when dealing with my kid's school? How can I introduce social justice and diversity issues?
  • If my son is only in kindergarten, should I just give up on caring what the high school kids are doing?
  • Am I crazy to think that we can offer an alternative, critical education here at home while our kids become part of a mainstream, conservative education system (public or private)?
  • How can I stop feeling physically sick every time I find myself in a confrontation or disagreement? I would so love to feel confident that I could express my concerns or opinions in an articulate and respectful way and not want to run away immediately afterward. (Yes, just a huge little problem I thought I would slip in at the last minute).

**We have never been thrilled about this school. But, despite our efforts, we have not found anything better, and we have found many that are considerably worse. So for now, it is what it is. He's in junior kindergarten, he's happy, he adores his teacher, he has friends. We will whisk him away from here, to more inspiring educational landscapes, before any major damage can be done.


If you are the procrastinating type, then don't check out this site, unless you have a real, legitimate need for a seal or a church sign or a new soft drink.

Pushing my first baby into the world

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This post is for the 5th Healthy Birth Blog Carnival: Get Up, Stand Up! at Science & Sensibility (my first carnival, yay!). All the other carnival entries will soon be posted at Science & Sensibility.


Pushing is such a strange and special part of the whole labour experience.

All of a sudden, things are not happening to you, you are not just coping with the contractions, breathing, counting, swaying, moaning, or whatever works. Whatever zone or rhythm you managed to find (or not), you now have to shift gears.

Both of my births were very, very quick, what is termed precipitous labour. The first was less than three hours of active labour, the second was less than an hour (note that fast does not mean easy). So I did not have a lot of time to get used to the first stage of labour before I found myself pushing and I could feel my babies pushing my hips apart and moving out of me.

Because precipitous births are so rare (around 2% of first-time births), I feel strange about sharing my birth experience - and in this case, my pushing experience - as examples that anyone should be able to learn from. But, I have learned so much.

So, I thought I would just share a few memories and reflections on pushing out my oldest son.

(I spent all of my youngest son's birth trying not to push, hoping that a midwife would get there in time. She did, just in time for my last contraction. But that is a birth story for another day.)


My Monster was born (four years ago!) at home, in a planned, midwife-assisted home birth.

While pregnant, I had definitely devoted much more of my attention to preparing mentally for the first stage of labour, basically focussing on how I would cope with pain.

The only pushing-related advice I got before going into labour (from my midwife-centred birth prep class) was to push when I was ready, to push during contractions and rest in between, and that proper pushing felt exactly like trying to poo.

My midwives heard that I was ready to push before I was even aware that I was already pushing. I made a grunting, bearing-down kind of sound during a contraction, and they commented that it sounded like I wanted to push, and that I could go ahead.

I was on my back, because I had just had my first, and only, exam to see how dilated I was (already 9cm when the midwives arrived at my house). Having read and heard so much about not birthing on your back, I asked the midwives if I should change positions.

I honestly did not feel like I wanted to be in one position or another. What I wanted, was for the whole labour thing to be over, please.

But my midwives said that I was pushing very well, and that if I was comfortable (ha!), I could stay in that position, pull my knees to my chest, and keep going.

One of them had already explained her ideas about labour positions to me during one of my regular pre-natal visits. She believed that there were many positions to labour in, and that all women and all births were different. She encouraged moving around as much as was desired and helpful during labour, but she did not rule out lying on your back as an acceptable position if it was comfortable.

Once I was actually pushing, their advice was so helpful, and their encouragement was so...encouraging.
  • They told me to keep my voice (actually, shrieks) low, to send all that energy down to my pelvic floor, to use it to push. I learned that my voice is energy. This gave me so much strength, and was invaluable in my second birth, when no midwife was present until the very end.
  • They reminded me to breathe - before I pushed and afterward, between contractions. 
  • They told me exactly what was happening, what they could see and what they could feel, at every push. At one point I was invited to touch my baby's squishy, slimy head as he was crowning.
  • They involved my partner in perfect ways, supporting his support of me, and inviting him to watch and touch as the baby crowned.
  • They gooped olive oil onto me and applied pressure to my perineum just so, and I pushed my Monster out of me with no more than a tiny little scratch. (Having observed this, too, proved to be incredibly useful in my second birth, when we were on our own as the baby crowned and thought we would possibly have to deliver the baby ourselves!)
After a few pushes, I somehow realized that I had to change gears. Pushing was up to me. I wasn't supposed to lie there and cope with it, counting and breathing and moaning until it was over. It was time to be active, to decide when to push, when to breathe, when to rest.

When I was pushing, really pushing, I felt powerful. When I realized that I was in charge of pushing, and when I felt my contractions as guides to how often and for how long I should push, I started to reel in my mounting panic and to harness my energy.

I passed from the chaotic intensity of the first stage of labour, during which I felt little control, to a state of concrete doing. I was pushing, and it was productive. (This is what I most wish someone had prepared me for before I went into labour.)

It took another push or two as my new approach started to click and I incorporated my midwives' advice, and then it was really happening, I could feel how close I was. Soon my baby's head was out. I really wanted it all to be over, and somehow my mind and my body both worked together with every ounce of effort I had in me to push those shoulders and the rest of the baby out.

That last push was so full of intent, I don't know how else to describe it. But it is a pretty wonderful thing that babies are born precisely at that moment, a moment of agency and strength, and not during what, for me, was a panicky and extreeeemely painful first stage of contractions and dilation.

After less than half an hour of pushing, my baby was crying madly on my chest, enveloped by his shocked mama and his awestruck papa.

Several days later, when I was starting to heal but was still feeling quite intense pain, we realized that I had broken my tailbone during labour, though I am not sure exactly when (which goes to show how much general pain I was feeling, to not notice a little thing like a broken tailbone).

At one point in my pregnancy, we had discussed that this was a possibility; I had broken my tailbone as a child, making it more likely that I would break it again during childbirth. Luckily, I forgot about this detail during labour and did not focus on this terrifying possibility. Unfortunately, my midwives, too, forgot about it,  or they would have advised against birthing on my back.

In retrospect, birthing on my side would have been ideal.

Squatting, or any other position in which gravity helps to 'push' the baby out, would not have been a good idea, given the speed with which my Monster came into the world of his (and my) own accord. But given my previous tailbone problems, side-lying would have given the baby the most room to avoid bumping into any of my bones, without speeding things along unnecessarily.

Unsurprisingly, I did not birth on my back again. And, possibly as a result - or not - I did not break my tailbone again.

I learned many other things from my birth experience. Unfortunately, telling my next midwife that she had to come RIGHT AWAY was not one of them.

But, what I am happy to still carry with me - physically, mentally and emotionally - and to be able to call upon when necessary, is a strength that lies in the knowledge that my body and I can do the most extraordinary things.

A feminist critique of pop star Arjona (in Spanish)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

For any Spanish speakers out there who are not fans of Arjona - the master of bad lyrics and total cheese - I highly recommend this feminist takedown of him and his barfingly bad music:

¿Por qué nos gusta tanto Arjona?

This woman with a tampon in her ear was on the cover of the LAS12 supplement in last Friday's Página/12, with several articles offering a 'critical analysis of his most famous songs'.

Hilarious. Make sure you read the subnotas.

Parasites and our new normal

Monday, April 5, 2010

When it came to parasites, my 'old normal' used to be: Don't have any.

When this standard was not met, the course of action was: Get rid of the parasites.

Following treatment, everything would return to normal, as in, No Parasites.

Not that I had all that many opportunities to put it all into practice. Really, it was just the 150 times or so that I got scabies during my Latin American travels, proving nothing more than that I am the most susceptible person in the entire world to the itchiest problem in the entire world. And that having to regularly trek through little mountain villages looking for a señora I could pay to boil all of my clothes is a great way to get off the beaten path.

But here in Macondo, things are different. As with bedtimes and organic food, living here means we have had to accept a new normal for parasites, too (I was going to write 'embrace', but I'm not exactly 'embracing' my parasites, no.)

Example 1: Intestinal Parasites

Apparently, 95% of the population here has intestinal parasites. Presumably, that means me and my family too. So the idea is not to eradicate the parasites and thus be free of the buggers (impossible!). The idea is not even to do the less-than-pleasant analysis that could confirm their presence (collecting and scooping your poo into jars with those little plastic forky spoon things for 10 days), because, well, it is less than pleasant, but it also gives a lot of false negatives, so even if they tell you you're clean, you don't believe them, since 95% means your chances are pretty damn good, and false negatives are common.

Instead, it's all about keeping your parasite load at a manageable level. It is unclear to me exactly what is manageable and what is not, but somewhere in the middle is making sure that you're healthy, your kids are growing, you don't see things moving around in anyone's poo, but you're also not overdosing on anti-parasite medication that will strip you of your stomach lining and load you up with pharmaceutical toxins.

So, in terms of prevention, keeping things clean matters more here than it did in Canada. Clean as in CLEAN, not tidy. Clean as in more than just wiping surfaces. Clean as in using fingernail brushes for the kids after playing in the dirt, and mopping the floors with vinegar (and even bleach, sometimes). I know that clean is always good, but here it's even better. We can't possibly keep up with it, but we (sometimes) try.

And, every six months we do three days of de-parasitizing medication (pills for the grown-ups, liquid for the kiddies). We time it to coincide with our close family friends, so we can all get de-bugged together and not contaminate each other's efforts. We will stop when the kids are a little bigger, but we feel that their growth and nutrition is particularly important while they are small.

(This, and I give the kids homeopathic stuff to suck on when they are teething and choose not to give them all of the vaccinations that are officially recommended. Macondo is not exactly the easiest place to be all that coherent.)

Example 2: Head Lice

When the Monster was at daycare in Canada, he brought a note home with him one day notifying us that there had been a few kids with lice. The note explained how to check for and treat lice, and asked us to keep him at home if he did have lice until he was lice-free.

He didn't have any lice, so that was that.

Two years later, now in preschool in Argentina, we discovered one day that he had lice. We called our friends who were on their way over for a play-date, in case they wanted to cancel. Their pediatrician dad had a good laugh at our expense. Lice was definitely not play-date cancellation material.

His indications did not include any special treatment of our clothes, sheets, pillows or any of the hassle that I thought lice generally entailed.
Nah. Wash his hair. You can use one of the lice shampoos if you want. Then just make sure to comb his hair carefully with a nit comb every day for the next few weeks, and then keep doing it every once in a while, always.

We rinsed his hair in vinegar and combed out quite a few lice and eggs that first night. The next few days I kept combing, and kept finding less and less. Until I didn't find any more.

I still do it every few weeks (about six months later), but I haven't found any more lice. This doesn't say much other than that he is not terribly susceptible.

(I must say, I actually quite like this new activity. It is surprisingly satisfying, either finding a little critter and getting rid of it, or not finding anything and declaring him critter-free. And it makes me feel very Mama Mammal, grooming my young.)

Many kids and their teachers here have lice, meaning not that they are crawling with lice, which is the way it first sounded to my ears, but that they repeatedly get it and control it. Without huge expense, and in many cases, without using lots of chemicals. Keeping them out of school and expecting the total eradication of lice would be unproductive and totally impractical.

So, there you have our new normal when it comes to parasites: 
  • accept it
  • don't let it get out of hand
  • occasionally resort to some chemicals
I hope I haven't grossed anyone out.

Our backyard birthday romp

Thursday, April 1, 2010

When I thank the birthday stars for Monster's 4th birthday party going so well, this is why:

Not only did a 40% chance of rain turn out to mean that it would be a lovely day, but nobody showing up for the first painstaking hour turned out to mean that the perfect mix of kids and grown-ups would come and a great time would be had by all.

Despite the birthday traditions of extravagance, commercialism and junk food here in this small town in Argentina, we managed to have a fun, low-key, backyard birthday romp without offending anyone (that I'm aware of) or violating too many sacred rules (relative lack of junk food notwithstanding).

Other than one family we are very close with, we don't have any friends here (boo hoo), so our invitations consisted of some mid-week phone calls to invite a few acquaintances with kids, and a last-minute decision to invite two of the Monster's classmates (a third was ruled out based on the unacceptability of having to make small talk with her parents). In all, we invited 9 kids and their parents, and 5 kids and their parents actually showed up.

We had a good supply of juice, water and maté, bakery munchies and meat sandwiches (I'm the only vegetarian around these parts), chocolate birthday cake made by the beloved abuela (grandmother), and some apple slices I put out as an experiment just to prove a point (a few did get eaten).

The all-important party gear included whistles, party hats, clown noses, masks, face paint, dress-up stuff, musical instruments, chalk for drawing on the walls, bubbles for blowing, and kids' music at a reasonable volume.

Our shocking birthday party attire? Monster wore his favourite shorts, his nose painted red, and a big spider web painted on his chest (his idea). I wore my bare feet, a skirt and a tank top. Monkey wore a diaper, and Macondo Papa relied on his standard shorts and t-shirt. I only include this fashion note because of the contrast with other birthday parties we've attended here (and with some of our guests).

The alternative piñata I stuffed was full of balloons, whistles and little plastic animals. The awesome loot bags we gave away had bendy pencils, a pencil sharpener, little plastic animals, a little package of plasticine, a little (store-bought) container of bubble solution, and a lollipop.

I know, you're all reeling from my creativity and counterculture audacity. What can I say? This is revolutionary stuff here in Macondo (check out these parties for comparison).

(Let me just stop for a minute to award myself a non-commercial medal for trying harder than was reasonable to find all of these things without a TV or movie character plastered all over them. I went out of my way and over the top. Beyond the call of duty. I'm talking about going all over the nearby city trying to hunt down birthday items without barney, without barbie, without anything disney, without spiderman. The more I looked, the more determined I became that I would NOT get that stuff just because there was no other option. And I got pissed off, too. Anyways, now I have my very own medal to prove it all.)

Up our sleeves, should they be needed, we had a few party tricks, like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, hide-and-seek and a treasure hunt.

As it turned out, the kids ran around and yelled and jumped and danced and laughed and painted and blew bubbles and blew on whistles and got dirty in the dirt. There was a fairly bizarre game of hide-and-seek, in which all the kids would hide together in the same place, every time, and one kid would look for them in the same place, every time, and then they would all run together to the other end of the yard, every time. Good times.

So good, in fact, that except for when I was needed to help find a special whistle, put on a mask, take special care of a piece of cake or provide refuge during the happy birthday song, I barely saw the Monster at all.

The grown-ups, too, had fun. There was some dancing, but mainly talking. With promises to spend more time with one of our acquaintances who may soon become a friend. And connections with two of the Monster's classmates, who now have open invitations to come and visit him and enjoy the beach and our backyard when they want to get out of the city. I would say there is no chance that their parents will become our friends, but at least an afternoon of forced social interaction while our kids play seems tolerable. This may not seem like much, but you have no idea. Trust me.

The only mishap occurred when a pair of scissors made it into some enthusiastic hands, causing a slight alteration to our curtain-that-keeps-the-flies-out-but-not-the-mosquitoes-so-what's-the-point (the subject of an ongoing debate with Macondo Papa). The fact that it makes it into a kid-sized door makes it kind of cute, I think (especially since the curtain was useless anyways, against mosquitoes, that is - ahem).

Here are two additional party moments:

Me: Monkey! Where are you? Monkey?
Daughter of our close friends (2.5 years old): [Runs out from behind a bush] We're sitting behind that bush giving each other kisses.

Son of our close friends (5 years old): [In the car on the way home] That was the best party ever. I played with everybody. And I didn't get a lot of candy in my loot bag, but it doesn't matter because now you don't have to decide what I can eat and what I can't. And I got lots of cool stuff to play with.

Now that it's over, I have relaxed, and so I have predictably gotten sick. Thankfully, this time I'm the only one that's sick right now, so I get to lie in bed and moan a bit, which makes it much better.

Thank you, birthday stars

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We've been pretty absorbed here in the Macondo household with preparations for the Monster's 4th birthday party.

At the Monster's previous birthday parties, I used to stress about whether he would enjoy himself.

Crowds, noise, too much attention - these things are not for him. He hates it when people sing happy birthday, for example. And he is not particularly generous with hugs and kisses and thank yous, which some people like to force on little people whenever they can, regardless of how well they are received or how willingly they are offered.

He can get whiny and clingy, and I can feel pressured to try to manage and compensate for him. I can sometimes forget that these things are supposed to be fun for him, and not for all of the guests who come with their own expectations about what a birthday party and a birthday boy are supposed to be like.

Well, I was still worried about whether he would have a good time - his moods can be kind of unpredictable - but he and I have both gotten better at dealing with other people's expectations.

I don't insist that he kiss everyone, as is the standard greeting here in Argentina and is expected of everyone. It makes him seem unfriendly or grumpy to those who don't know him or don't 'get' shyness, but who cares, really? Kids are like that. He'll figure it out.

'Thank you', on the other hand, seems important to me. I guess it is just another adult convention, and there are lots of other ways of showing gratitude, but it is also a simple and tangible way for him to acknowledge other people's efforts or their kindness, and I think that matters. I've struggled with this because I don't want him to say it without meaning it, so I don't want to just force it (as if I could!), but I do want him to say it.

We had a great talk about 'thank you' on the morning of the party. I reminded him how good it made people feel to know that he was happy, that he wanted them to be there, that he liked the presents they had chosen for him, and so on. This making-people-feel-good explanation seemed to click with him - he seemed to get it.

And he told me this:
I do say thank you. I just don't let anyone hear me say it.
What can I say? When I was his age I was waaaaaay shyer than he is, so I get it. When I was little, I said so much more in my head than ever came out of my mouth. I was quite a friendly and gracious and thoughtful person in my head, but appeared to be a rather silent, unhappy little snob for many years.

I told him I knew how he felt. We talked about how it couldn't make people feel good if they couldn't hear it, and left it at that.

Then, during the party, after each present he received, I asked him if he had remembered to say thank you. About half of the time, he went right up to the person and (shyly) said 'thank you', and ran away with a proud smile on his face. The other half of the time, he asked me to say it for him (instead of refusing to say it, which is different). He would come with me, and I would say, 'Monster wants me to say "thank you for the present" for him.'

I think we were both really happy with this arrangement, it felt like a real accomplishment. And to my relief, others received his thanks in a way that didn't compound his embarrassment.

We got through the 'happy birthday' song (in two languages) with him in my arms, not loving it, but dealing with it. It all got better when the kids decided that it was OK to eat all the chocolates off the cake before we cut it.

That night, in bed, when I told him how much fun I had had at his party, he said,
Me too. The only part I didn't like so much was when everybody sang. But it was okay.
And it was okay.

All this, of course, would not have happened had he not been having an excellent time. So I am thrilled to report that the Monster's long-awaited 4th birthday party was an unqualified success, despite our unprecedented departure from birthday party tradition, here in Macondo.

Prelude to a birth story

Friday, March 26, 2010

As of tomorrow I will have been a mom for four years. Holy shit. Four years ago tonight, I went into labour. Since I am feeling a little nostalgic about it all, I thought I would share my Monster's birth story. Everybody loves a good birth story, right?

Okay, but before I share the story, I have a bit of explaining to do. Consider it setting the stage.

I birthed the Monster at home, as planned, with my partner and our midwives. It is, like every birth story, unique, scattered, chaotic, overwhelming, quite impossible for me to really describe.

When I went into labour, I had the intense feeling that I wasn't ready yet. It was only 5 days until my due date, but my midwives had been sure that I would be 'late', rather than 'early'. I had only just stopped working the week before. Three days earlier my midwife had assured me that the baby's head still hadn't even dropped.

We were prepared, though, if such a thing is possible. Our home-birth kit was ready - garbage bags, blue pads, olive oil, plastic sheeting, bending straws... We had done a midwife-based birthing preparation course, which was awesome. I had read Birthing from Within (affiliate link), which I highly recommend.

But I hadn't yet gotten my head around the idea of soon being not-pregnant, soon being a mom. I also hadn't yet really slowed down my thoughts to try to prepare myself for the physical ordeal I would soon face.

So my first reaction to those first contractions was NOOOOO, NOT YET. I still want to think about this a little longer.

As it turned out, my birth was very speedy, what they call precipitous labour - less than three hours of active labour for a first-time mom. And though I am glad it did not last several days, and I am thrilled that I laboured naturally and delivered my baby without any drugs and in the coziness of my own living room, birthing so quickly did not make for an easy birth experience. It was too fast.

Very fast births can be traumatic.

Yes, the outcome was perfect. And the experience was beautiful and powerful and raw.

But, it was also like getting run over by a truck. In fact, and possibly unrelated to the speed of my labour, I broke my tailbone during labour, which slowed down my recovery and kept me in pain (and, in retrospect, shock) for weeks after my Monster was born.

The birth was beautiful, and I am proud of my body and its strength. I only emphasize the fact that there was trauma because everybody's reaction to news of a fast birth is, lucky you.

Three hours might be a perfect length for a quick and straightforward second birth (wait 'til I tell you how long my second birth lasted), but it was just so, so, so fast for a first birth.

I have a theory about this. It probably isn't very original or anything, but maybe because I have heard and read very little about precipitous labour, I haven't come across this anywhere else.

My theory goes like this. You know the zone you're supposed to get yourself into while you labour? All those endorphins pumping through you are supposed to help you float off into labour land. Your body and mind start to flow with the rhythm of your contractions. Nobody claims that it feels delightful or anything, but that the zone helps you to cope. This natural druggy state is also credited with why so many women have only foggy memories of their births afterward, and their experience of pain quickly becomes hazy and vague.

Well, with no time for your body to produce those endorphins, and no actual rhythm to try to flow with, the pain and intensity are all felt more acutely, and there is no time to focus, to relax, to brace yourself, to allow yourself to open.

It is violent. That is how it felt. And I remember it in all its pain and glory.

I have absolutely no idea how I would have dealt with a different type of birth, a slower one that might have allowed me to get into a zone, to inhabit labour land for a while. I might have had time to use the kiddie pool we were going to fill up for me to labour in (or to even remember that we had it). I might have actually made the empanadas we were going to make for our midwives as our project for early labour. I might have opted for drugs or a hospital transfer. I might have just had more time to freak out.

Once again, yes yes yes, it was also beautiful. And I am proud. And I am very happy not to have any regrets about my choices. I had the home birth I had dreamed of. My baby was healthy and beautiful. My partner was a superstar, my midwives were compassionate and competent. Luckily, happily, it all worked out wonderfully. In this sense, yes, calling my birth experience lucky is quite appropriate.

But not because it was so fast.

Now, with that wordy and anti-climactic caveat out of the way, here is the Monster's actual birth story.

This is you at four years old

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My little Monster is turning four on Saturday. In addition to the obligatory birthday party, I'd like to mark the occasion with something he can look back on when he's older, to try to capture this age that he will never be again.

I've been thinking about asking him a series of questions and recording his answers, creating something like a little snapshot of him and his 4-year-old ideas. Or, to be a little less structured about it, maybe somehow recording a conversation about something special.

What would this look like? I thought about asking some of the following questions and just kind of following him where he was willing to take me.

- What's your name? Where do you live? Who do you live with? Tell me about your family.
- Where were you born? When did you move to Argentina?
- What do you love to play? What do you love to eat?
- Tell me about your school. What do you want to do at school this year?
- What's your favourite colour? Song? Book? Toy?
- What would you like your job to be when you're older?
- Do you want to have kids? Tell me about them.

Too boring?

I'd love to get his answers to things like: what are twins, what are planets, how do cameras work, and all the other great things we muse about here...but I'm also prepared for him to refuse to show his face or open his mouth the minute the camera is on.

I told him about my idea this morning and asked him if he had any ideas. He suggested that I could ask him why he always asks 'why'.

That might be a great start.
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