Monday, September 28, 2009

jiggety jig

I've been back in the jungle for a few days now, the shiny brightly painted landscape of the States replaced by the peeling and dilapidated and yet beautiful scenery of home. As I walked out of customs and into the arms of my family, feeling my child's legs wrap around me and kick with delight and teared up from the love and from the journey, from the teeter totter turbulence.

I can't believe how well they fared in my absence, something I swallow with such gratefulness, that M felt full and loved and J felt calm and happy, the two musketeers missing their third but getting along just the same.

After a sweet reunion and a lazy afternoon it was back to work, a different sort of work that is easily forgotten and so much more in the moment, the digital distractions cast aside.

The sky here is so big. So unfettered by buildings and lights. It's the stars and the glowbugs and the sounds of the jungle at night, a cozy and wild west sort of smell that reminds me of our smallness. It's so hot here and yet it's bearable now and I'm happy to see that everything I'd learned hadn't completely worn off.

I bought some cheese at the market yesterday and opened it to use in the tacos I was making for dinner. As I cut into the brand new package I saw it was already covered in mold, a phenomenon I can't quite understand. I yelp a bit and demonstrate my disgust and J looks over welcome home baby he says with a grin. And then we talked long into the night, a pastime of ours that has often fallen by the wayside in the name of sleep. We both acknowledged we still don't really know what we are doing or how we are going to pull this thing off. We talked about options and ideas and have agreed that we aren't ready to throw in the towel but have been humbled so entirely humbled by how impossible we've found it to sustain ourselves financially without seeking work far away. So we agree to let it ride, that this gig is doable for a few months more, we'll balance the balancing and take our kid to school (she is thriving you wouldn't believe how much she is loving her class) and make tortillas from scratch and sweat in the heat and we'll remain open to what comes next.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

hip hop you don't stop

So, she says, do you wear the same four outfits every week? I laugh a little and say I do. And in cubicle world I am sure it gets noticed. But you know, still. She cases me a little so, is what you have on one of your outfits? I'm wearing jeans and a shirt and after 12 hours I'm sloppy. After 2 hours I'm probably sloppy. Yes I say.

She runs up the stairs and comes back down. She's holding two dresses. I don't wear these anymore she says and hands them to me. They are lovely and casual and nice all at once. Really? I say and she smiles. Try them on she says. She hands them over and I understand again how you never really know till you know. How every day is a series of little gifts and sparkly rainbows. Of tears and longing. Of realizing how alive you are in the presence of others and outside of your usual routine.

And this is how it's been, this new world of couch surfing and depending on friends, of catching cabs and flights and morphing one world into the next. Of the kindness of strangers and also your friends. I'm busy and I'm lonely and I'm full and I miss my family and I like the work and I have fallen asleep on the floor and guest beds and once a bit tipsy after a long night of red wine and the most delicious chilean sea bass I've ever tasted.

I miss my home. I desperately miss my kid, a few weeks away from her has been like a gaping wound that no amount of skype or phone calls can cure. I miss her smell and her giggle and I miss the jungle and even the dirty heat. I feel like I'm the worst mom in the world. I fall in love with her father all over again without him even knowing it.

So I'll zig to my zag, this brave new world we've created, one foot in the first and the other in the third, there is no playbook for this and so we go day by day wondering if this is right or that is right or what it all means and in the end it means we are still living, one of us hasn't left the jungle and two of us have gone back and forth and the third, the girl third has been back and forth for two months now, an upside down sort of something that feels shaky and stable all at once.

So the radio silence has been just that. Of not knowing what to say and of having to say too much.

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Saturday, September 05, 2009


M turned five today, her most perfectly amazing self has turned another year. We've been excited about this for weeks, five is so much bigger than four and as such great merriment must be made. We also made a point of celebrating four, all the things that four brought that will never be again, things she's outgrown and also mastered and all the things yet to be.

We decided to have a small party at the house, she invited two or three friends and along with them comes a host of adults, village neighbors and surrogate aunties and the like. Every single person who has been invited has immediately asked me what they can bring and how they can help, something so common here and yet it still floors me every time, folks who have nothing still ready to give what they have. I also secretly think they think I am rather useless in the ways of jungle life, and as such if food is going to be prepared the way it should they'd better lend a hand.

We wanted to keep it simple, things here are done differently, there are no presents or goody bags, food is simple and there is no entertainment aside from each other. We talked about this a lot, how this party will be different than ones in the States, how we will have some presents for her but we won't open them at the party, having our own private breakfast celebration instead. M seems okay with all of it, she is nothing if not flexible, learning another way of life at an early age has had this very positive affect on her and I am so thankful, realizing how easily it could have gone the other way.

So today we celebrate our child, my child, my only-born, this great beaming bucket of sparkly rainbows who never stops laughing and is always ready for a hug. My big girl, my five year old magic maker, this little person I love more than I love anything else in this world, this sweet girl child who takes my heart outside of my chest with her everywhere she goes. I am so unfailingly in awe and delight and in love with her, I curve my hand around her still rounded belly and I hold her close and breathe her in and I know in this moment and in every moment that I am so richly blessed by her, that it is the supreme honor of my life to be the one she chose to guide her along her path and I do it with determination and with honor and sometimes with frustration and selfishness but no matter what I try and do my best because that's the least she deserves in this life and no matter where we raise her and no matter how we live she knows without a doubt how much she is loved and celebrated and on good days we even make it fun.

Happy Birthday, you magnificent, remarkable, bright and beaming girl. I love you always and in every way.

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Friday, September 04, 2009

bob marley has definitely left the building

This country is so lax about so many things, roads and stoplights, electricity and more and as such its been quite a shock seeing the seriousness with which they take their schools. All of the schools here are run by the catholic church, so certain things were expected like churches on site at each school, uniforms and prayers. But I didn't realize the full extent of things until yesterday at our first parent/teacher assembly.

We gathered right after lunch in one of the classrooms, the same stifling heat-filled rooms where we expect our children to learn. The heat and the lack of air circulation has been on my mind all week, M will come out of class with her face sweaty even though she's sitting still. There are ceiling fans in the room but the teacher is afraid to turn them on, they are so rickety she's worried they will fall down on the kids.

The principal runs the meeting, starting of course with prayers. She then goes over general rules (rules! lots of rules!) about things like mandatory pleats in the uniforms (there must be TWO! Not ONE. Not THREE! TWO!) and about how the kids can never, ever be late to class. I can't help it and I start to giggle and J looks at me sternly once or twice but I can't help it, the anti-authority vein in me takes over. Besides, it's very, very hot.

One of the other moms asks about the heat and what the school can do and unfortunately they can't do anything, there is no money and the catholics don't come back till January to do repairs. I mentally tick off the months in my head and realize we can't wait till then and we'll have to do something about it now. The principal ends by reminding folks they have stopped corporal punishment and I thank all that is holy because this principal scares me in a good way and I really don't want to have to fight with her but I would have over this.

After the meeting ends we walk outside and climb in the car. Let's go into town and buy a fan for M's classroom I say and J says right now? and I nod. So we head into town and I'm still giggling, we debate who is going to have to go to mass because we just learned we are supposed to go every week, something that god bless them I just don't see myself doing and wonder what the consequences of this inaction will be. Maybe the fan can serve as our advance penance but J just laughs, he was bred in parochial schools and if anything I think he finds all of this rather familiar and relatively okay.

We buy the fans and decide to get two, realizing the unfairness of things if I were to ask the teacher to only put a fan on M's side of the room. As we are driving back I wonder if this is going to make me seem like an asshole, the only foreigner in the school is already inserting herself in things and J says but that's exactly what you are doing and I agree and decide it can't be helped.

When we pick M up after class she's chattering happily. She actually loves her school and her teacher and is already starting to make friends, this first week has gone better than I could ever have imagined for her. She climbs up on the stool and watches me chop onions and asks me to look at her and she stands at prim attention and makes the sign of the cross and I look across the room at J and he starts to smirk. What's that baby I say It's the sign of the cross mama, I am Catholic now and I slowly and quietly rest my head on the table rocking it side to side. It's okay mama you can be Catholic too and I look at her and smile and I remind her about all the worlds religions and how some people are catholic and some are christian and some are buddhist and some are muslim and I remind her of people in her life who are each of these and she smiles and does her cross signing once more. I know mama but I want to be catholic.

And I know in this moment that I'm not anti-any of this but I am pro-openness and awareness and personal choice and I disagree with having things forced on her or anyone else and I realize that right now my ass has just been kicked by a force much bigger than I am, that unless we take her out of school completely this is just the way it's going to be and all of a sudden I realize how much more complicated things become as she gets older, how this is just the first of a thousand million things and how once again when you are a mother there is simply no going back. So I decide there will have to be some balance, a third pleat if you will, a way to calm the tide or at least slow it down long enough for her to find her own balance and for me to have time to continue to grow up.

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