Friday, September 14, 2012

Musings on Motherhood

I always aspired to be a stay at home mom - it looks awesome from a distance. Unlimited time to play with my kids, no schedule except what I set, flexibility to get involved in things that interest me, time to develop social relationships, time to invest in hobbies. And then I became a stay at home mom. And it is awesome. Sometimes. And sometimes it is far, far harder than anything else I have ever done.

Harder than leaving my family 10,000 miles away to start university in a country that was mostly foreign to me. Harder than juggling a part time job, 20 units, being an RA, and planning a wedding. Harder than working with severely emotionally disturbed kids - getting hit, cursed at, spit on - watching the kids I invested in make terrible decisions, be betrayed by the people they needed most, get arrested as minors...Motherhood is harder.

And here's why - Western society sees the mother as a solitary figure. In the developing world, mothers are a central part of the community. They may be incredibly disrespected, they may bear the brunt of the financial responsibilities for the families, they may live in terrible conditions - but they are surrounded by a community of people who are part of raising their children. Dozens of arms ready to pick up injured babies, dozens of lips to kiss chubby cheeks,  dozens of mouths to scold rascally boys, and dozens of lives to instruct young girls.

But in the Western world, we toss around the phrase "it takes a village" and then go on living our solitary lives. Sure, there's support - offers to baby sit, offers of company, mommy play groups (let's be honest - these are mommy support groups...we just call them play groups). But the mindset of communal child-raising absolutely does not exist. We glance at eachother's children from a distance, and unless we are good friends with their parents, refrain from interacting - terrified of being the creepy stranger.

About a year and a half ago, my husband found himself at a playground with our son - a five year old girl was having a hard time on the monkey bars, starting to fall, and calling for help. No one came to help her - so he went to assist her, offered his help before reaching out to touch her, and she refused - terrified, and instead chose to fall to the ground. He felt stuck - help her anyway and risk the wrath of a mis-perceiving parent? Or let her fall?

What sort of society have we allowed to sneak in around us where children have to be afraid of any adult they don't know? And good-hearted adults fear reprisals for helping other's children? In Nairobi, I constantly consider threats to my children - crazy drivers, potential terrorist attacks, hijackings, diseases, rabid dogs. But I never worry about someone actively causing them harm (unless I was actually the target and my children unfortunate bystanders) - if I lose Kai in the grocery store, I don't panic...I know someone is with him and I'll find him soon. If a stranger approaches him and I'm at a distance, I don't worry about what that stranger is saying to him. If Mika is on the playground and I am 15 feet away helping Kai, only to turn around and find Mika in the arms of a stranger - I don't blink an eye. Kenyans, Africans, love children.

But in Western society, children are cute...and a bit of an inconvenience. I read an article recently in the Huffington Post about how childless hipsters are incredibly irritated with parent hipsters who bring their kids to hipster hangouts. There's absolutely no sense of broader community. Instead there's a sense of "listen, you were cool before you had kids but now...well, you got yourself into that mess. Call us when your kids aren't around, or are old enough to meet our current standards of 'hip'."

And so the stay at home mom is left with her identity stripped - society developed her to be a societal contributer via her career. And she bought into it - college debt, wardrobe, and all. Then evolution rears it's head and she reproduces. Society applauds and turns away. Children are an inconvenient, and hopefully not contagious, detour from real contributions- call us when you're doing something again. Feel free to come to hang out with us, without kids would be better - and not too many stories about your kids, ok? They're cute, but let's talk about something that matters - have you heard about the recent political scandal or trend in foreign aid?

So she spends months, years, maybe decades - quietly wiping runny noses, kissing scraped knees, washing husband's laundry, matching socks, planning meals, loading and unloading carseats, blogging about being a mom, dropping kids at sports games, cheering at kindergarten graduations, buying back to school supplies. All the while struggling to live deeply in the moment - knowing the absolute trust her infants have in her will fade quickly, knowing the chubby arms will quickly thin and fill with muscles - giving fewer hugs, knowing the rosy cheeks will soon fill with words that will sometimes sting, knowing that receiving minds will soon seek information elsewhere, knowing the crowded dinner table will empty seat by seat.

Society watches and some boldly criticize her abilities, the close few rally to support, and if she is an incredibly blessed mother - several will rejoice with her at the seemingly small triumphs, recognizing the smallest triumphs took the most of her strength, tears, and character. Small triumphs: the first day with no toilet accidents, the first step, the second night slept through (the first was just luck), the first broken arm not ending in utter disaster, the first night of homework, the first call into the principles office, the first time her child includes a social outcast, the first time her child takes a stand for themselves without her prompting...the unnoticed triumphs - the markers of motherhood.

We live our lives looking forward, aspiring to the next phase - like children always wondering what new accomplishment waits for us that day; an accomplishment we were destined to fulfill. And it's easy to view today as a holding tank - prepping us for some yet unachieved success. Waiting in anticipation for the next thing "we're looking forward to." And in almost every walk of life - this is reasonable...keep your sights always on the next step so you don't miss it.

But in motherhood, this doesn't work - because today is the next step. Today is the small triumph that no one but the mother will see. Today is the chance to speak the word, give the hug, extend the grace that will motivate the wise decision, kind word, or meaningful societal contribution in ten years from today.  And today, the stay at home mom must rally her strength, find her purpose, say a thousand prayers for patience, and live deeply in today.

Western society would do well to carve out more of a niche for the mother - to see the choice of putting a career aside as a sacrifice and not a cop out, and to treat it as such when the mother pursues re-entering the work force & when the mother engages in conversations regarding something besides her children. Western society would do well to love it's children - to protect them, to acknowledge that while youth are the next generation of leaders - children are the ones with minds being formed by the adults around them. As adults, today we don't shape the next generation (that's already been done, and they are now largely shaping themselves) - we shape the youngest generation.

I don't say this to give myself praise - it's more of a call to arms. A call for mothers to live in today contentedly - even without thanks, and a call for western society to acknowledge the mother as a societal contributor.  For that is what she is.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Then & Now

A lot of my blog readers have commented on how much they enjoy reading my blog because it's written about living in Nairobi as an adult when I also grew up here through my prepubescent and teenage years.

I thought I'd give you a snippet of Then & Now's - sort of a skim over Nairobi life through the ideas of a kid, and now through the eyes of an adult. Granted - these are my eyes. Yours would probably see this differently :) I'm also going to toss in an Interpretation - of either the external or internal catalyst behind my constantly changing eyesight.

Then: Everything in Nairobi is alive! Nothing is ever the same, people are always doing something interesting, and the probability I will see something hilarious (ie 50 live chickens strapped to the top of a car) or shocking (a dead person on the side of the road) is quite high. This makes my life awesome, and equally alive.

Now: Nairobi is full of the realities of life - life and death dance a delicate dance. Success and tragedy do the same. And now that I'm here, I'm part of this dance. And I affect other people's dance - if I actually look this reality square on, I must absorb a certain level of responsibility.

Interpretation: Part of this is just growing up. Part of this is because I know enough now to see causes behind results, not just results as definitive ends.

Then: My life is pretty great - I'm so lucky to be exposed to so many cultures, so many perspectives, so many ways of life. I'm so glad I don't live in a suburb with a white picket fence.

Now: I meet amazing people on a daily basis - who are doing amazing things for causes I whole heartedly support. I love how much I learn about culture, how many perspectives I hear a day, and how I am a piece of this intricate puzzle. However - I feel like I'm always looking for further self-definition, and recognize that due to the nature of expat life - most of these amazing people are leaving. Soon. The white picket fence doesn't sound so bad...some sort of stability doesn't sound so bad...but leaving some of this behind does.

Interpretation: Again, part of just growing up. I think it's also a difference between the missionary community versus the secular expat community. In general, it seems the missionary community attracts more longevity-inclined individuals. While I know 3-5 years isn't what "long-term missionary" used to mean, it sure beats the 6months-2years within the NGO/expat community. I also think the highly transient nature of Nairobi is increasingly the nature of the educated work force - whether it be because of the increasingly global economy, the rapid spread of information, the increased universality of certain skills, or something else. Ultimately, the educated work force doesn't stay put as long as it used to.

Then: There are so many products I wish were here from the US - shampoo, food, recent movies in movie theaters, etc.

Now: They are here! And many things in Nairobi now outdo aspects of life in places I would move back to in the US. Restaurant ambiance? Awesome. Thin crust pizza? Delicious. Cheap movie date nights? Way better here. Honey bunches of oats? Yup, it's is herbed goat cheese.

Interpretation: Nairobi is growing in so many positive ways. Each one of these little, seemingly superficial changes is evidence of a broader social change, of new jobs created, of more efficient systems in place. (I know, I know...efficiency and positive can't always be put in the same paragraph. I'm doing it anyway for this one.) There are now dozens of places that feel nothing like the Nairobi I grew up in, but more like the Western world I thought I was missing - you still have to drive through a gate, and have your car checked for explosives to get in, but the niceties are here. And they are enjoyed by some segment of every culture represented in this country. Which is also significant.

Then: The only way to get around in Nairobi is by landmarks....don't try to know names of roads or cardinal directions. Just landmarks.

Now: Google maps is relatively correct for getting directions in Nairobi. Amazing. AND - lots of roads have obvious names, and more and more roads go in a straight direction. Amazing.

Interpretation: This is good. It does leave behind a segment of society - the dukas where we used to get lunch are now replaced by bulldozers, backhoes, and construction hats. A recent article in the Daily Nation discussed how the new highways did not consider cart drivers who pull their immensely heavy loads between point A and B - and how now the very people who make their living by the literal sweat of their back are forced to pull their carts along some of the fastest and most dangerous roads in Nairobi. This is the reality of progress: thousands of hours saved for driving commuters a week, and undocumented numbers of lives lost among the poorest.

Then: kids who grow up overseas have it really hard.

Now: all kids have it really hard. Are my kids ok?

Interpretation: I'm a mom.

Then: Teacher strike? Wish our teachers would strike - I'd love to have a day off.

Now: When will fairer systems be implemented for the backbones of this country?

Interpretation: I don't claim to be an expert on the Kenyan political system - but I would comment on the significance of a situation where thousands of educated individuals risk receiving no pay until their requests of raises of between 100%-300% are met. In a country with an increasingly educated population (university degrees) and 51% unemployment something has gone massively wrong for this current scenario to occur...either the pay is SO low, or the effectiveness of strikes has resulted in too much power for the worker. I'm not advocating for either, and it may be something different. Nevertheless-there's my interpretation.

Then: it's 8:30pm? Can I go to bed? I love sleep.

Now: It's 8:30 pm? Is Kai asleep yet? Has my time finally arrived to do what I want?

Interpretation: See #5

Then: There's nothing to do in Nairobi - no good places to hang out...just the same old, same old every weekend.

Now: There is SO much to do in Nairobi - great restaurants, good bars, good theaters, bowling, casinos, blankets & wine events in outdoor spaces, reggae festivals, friends to go see PLUS all the stuff outside of Nairobi. No way we can fit it all in.

Interpretation: Nairobi has grown, I am no longer a disgruntled/non-mobile teenager, and the internet happened/is happening. Makes the spread of information possible, and subsequently, I am more aware of what is actually going on around me. All good things, I think.

Then: Nairobi is divided into pockets by culture - certain cultures live here, certain cultures live there...some people are so discriminatory.

Now: Oh, every major city is like that. Nairobi is actually a lot less divided on cultural lines than LA was.

Interpretation: We are creatures of habit. Culture breeds habit. Habits lend to familiarity, and familiarity to comfort. There is nothing wrong with seeking comfort in our places of residence. Only when they become walls of exclusion rather than patterns of familiarity do they become dangerous.

Then: Nairobi is changing, but I can keep up - it's still familiar.

Now: Nairobi is changing, and I don't know if I can keep up. The pace of change, and the size of the city make it almost impossible.

Interpretation: Nairobi is in a critical stage of launching from being a 'developing city' to a 'developed city'. This rate of growth will slow down in 10-15 years - but for now, it is a wild, wild ride. Think New York City circa 1910. (I think).

There you go - a little glimpse into the then and now. Remember, these are just my interpretations, and I'm open for discussion. As I continue to open my eyes to my daily life in Nairobi, I see many beautiful parts of the city that I haven't seen for the past several months. I see the current successes, and the promises of more to come. That's not to say there isn't massive disparity, poverty, injustice and struggle - but Nairobi is evolving, and it is exciting to see. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Um....this looks different...

So, I've revamped the blog. AGAIN. Sorry.

Since we moved to Nairobi, I've had a hard time knowing exactly what the purpose of this blog was - it turned into part journal, part mommy-blog, part public display of existential crises. SO - in an effort to make it more enjoyable for us all, I decided to compartmentalize the blog just a little bit.

My kitchen is available for your viewing. Ok, not literally the kitchen itself, but some of the recipes that come out of it. I'd love to put up a new recipe a week - but we'll see if that happens. If you want to request a specific recipe, feel free to leave a comment on Allsarahsrecipes and I'll do my best to acquiesce your request.

Now, my kids are available for your compartmentalized viewing as well. I think many of my readers come to my blog hoping for pics and updates of the little dears, so now you can just go to The Ultimate Mommy Blog (sarcastically named, of course) for your viewing pleasure. May my children bring you as much laughter and joy as they do me - and not nearly as many tears and pain :)

Allsarahdoes will remain, but it is now a place where I'll recount what we've been up to and where I put my contemplative, note-worthy thoughts. Ok, you can decide if they are note-worthy; but you get the idea of the intended content. If I'm able to keep up with the mommy blog, and feel like I'm also generating enough content on Allsarahdoes, I'll organize it a bit further too. That remains to be seen.

I'd love your feedback - if you love or hate the new look, if you'd like something more or less featured.

Thanks for all your patience with the recent blog turbulence - clear skies ahead. Happy reading.

Monday, September 3, 2012

What did you just say??

My children continue to surprise me. Mika less than Kai - as is to be expected with child number 2 versus child number 1. Mika is making wonderfully on time progress - walking, starting to say a few words, communicating likes & dislikes, imitating...she's entering the incredibly fun phase that starts at 1, and if Kai is any indication, has no end in sight.

Mika does have an immense amount of sass. She bites. Then pretends to be sorry, then smirks, giggles, and bites again. She growls. At everything and everyone - it's a happy growl, but nevetheless she growls. She says the word 'hi' with more breathy enthusiasm than anyone I've ever met (or ever hope to). She thinks every animal is an elephant, and makes an amazing elephant noise - at every animal she sees. She adores her big brother, and is irritated by all of the amazingness he can accomplish that she just can't. She adores her daddy, and cries almost every morning when he leaves for work. She is completely comfortable with strangers, and will literally go to anyone without a second thought. She eats 2%veggies, 2% fruit, 2% protein, 4% dairy, and 90% do I, so I'm not holding it against her, though I do hope it's a phase (for both of us).

Kai...well, Kai is another story. The amount of sass that comes out of that boys mouth is amazing. He's incredibly intelligent, A LOT of fun, and generally a good kid. But sassy. And manipulative. I anticipated this out of my teenage Mika, but not toddler Kai. I'm learning every day how to be a better parent, usually through a series of tears, being flabbergasted, and experimentation...I think we're making progress. But, for your sake, and for the hope that the things causing so many tears and frustration can bring joy to others - here are some Kai anecdotes.

Conversation almost every time I tell him no:
Me: "Kai, I'm sorry, you can't do that. The answer is no."
Kai: "No, mama. De ansah is yesdt."(this is said in a variety of pitches, postures, and repetitions depending on the severity of the perceived loss)

Nap time battle:
Me: "Kai, it's nap time. During nap time - we sleep. This is not time for anything else. Just sleeping. Now, you need to march your little behind back to your room, get in bed, and take a nap. It is nap time, and during nap time we nap."
Kai: eye-rolling that lands on me with an obvious attempt at apathy and disinterest
Me: "Kai Michael, what did I just say to you?"
Kai: "um, plobably, you say dat it's time tdo wate up and no mo nap time"
Me: "Kai, you heard me. Now, it's your choice - do you want a nap or a spanking?"
Kai: (same eye-rolling, exasperated sigh, lip pursing) "um, plolly....plolly...a nap."

Afternoon washing dishes - Kai comes running in, naked
Me: "hey - where are you clothes?"
Kai: "oh, um, de are tumming. Um, mama, tan I please have tidodo (kidogo - swahili for a little bit) chai?"
Me: "yeah, kidogo, after you put your clothes on"
Kai: running out of the room, then running back in "Oh, and mama, tidodo chai for papa, too." (every time he says kidogo, he holds his thumb and forefinger up indicating just a little bit. Every time.)
Me: "ok, I'll make a cup for papa too."
Kai: runs out of the room, and immediately back in "Oh, and mama. Um....papa wants some sweeties."
Me: "Really? Sweeties? What kind of sweeties?"
Kai "Oh, um, plobably banana bread. And chips."
Me: "ok, I'll check with papa"

*** the conversation Kai THEN had with Chris (they had apparently never discussed snacks previous to this)
Kai: "Oh, hey papa, dess what? Mama is mating me tidodo chai!"
Chris "Oh wow, that's awesome, buddy!"
Kai: "yeah, and mama is also mating us some sweeties...bananas and chips"

I digress....

My son is a sassy pants. He's also many more wonderful things, and even the sass is wonderful - we're just working on pointing it in the right direction. So for now, while I stumble my way through parenting these high spirited little people, I'll try and share more of their stories with you...

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