Tuesday, April 28, 2009

nap time

We are finding routine. I didn't know if that would really happen. For a long time I went with the assumption that at some point Claire would sleep for some time. I had a gap of hours in which this would happen: anytime between seven and nine in the morning; anytime between noon and three in the afternoon. And if we went swimming in the afternoon or out for a walk, then she might sneak a thirty minute snooze sometime between four and six in the evening. And I'm fine with all of this.

But for three days she's been finding her thumb and sleepy eyes around eleven in the morning. Fighting it, fighting it, and then conking out for an hour or two. And I've started to join her, on afternoons when I am not teaching. Since I'm getting up between four and five in the morning to start my day, that afternoon nap is wonderful. I feel so good.

At first, I didn't know if I'd be able to nap. I'm not a good napper. They usually catch me by surprise and don't let go. I wake up disoriented and sweaty. In college once I laid down at four in the afternoon and woke up seven hours later and did not know what to do with myself for half the night. Even right after Claire was born, my naps were scattered and my body could never quite lose its tension. But last week I gave napping another try: I laid down, closed my eyes, and had dreams.

When Claire stirs, I wake. She nurses and we enjoy a better afternoon together. I'm not busy getting tired so that in the evenings when Claire gets cranky and dinner is starting to burn (or, more likely, get cold), I am able to dig up more patience. Not vast amounts. Not yet. But I like to think being a mama is going to naturally endow me with an abundance of patience. At some point. Until then, the naps help.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

mamahood sisterhood

Last night we went out for dinner with friends to celebrate a birthday. Near the end of the evening, conversation turned to babies. This year at Bolivar couples are nibbling at the edges of the idea baby, planning and hoping for pregnancy soon, or already expecting. It's quite a baby making community here. Two babies will arrive within the next two or three weeks and another friend is anxiously awaiting the phone call that will tell her that their first baby has arrived for their adoption.

So it is an exciting time.

I almost wish I was pregnant again.

I admitted to my friends that last year I sometimes felt very alone. Last school year when I was pregnant with Claire, there wasn't a flock of ladies trying to conceive. With me, one other Colombian teacher, in primary, was pregnant and due within days of me. When we saw each other, I sensed a shared experience but didn't have the Spanish vocabulary to really talk about what this pregnancy meant. We touched each others' bellies and asked about health and energy and wished each other well. But we didn't see each other that often and I did sometimes feel like I was the only pregnant woman. Ever.

Last night, my friend joked that I made pregnancy look easy and maybe that's why all these women are having babies now. I did have a relatively easy pregnancy. And I enjoyed my pregnancy, especially when I gave myself over to it: sharing my body with my growing baby. There is something very beautiful about that. It is fleeting. For weeks after delivering Claire, I'd dream I could still feel her weight in me, her kicks and turns. But as simple as my pregnancy was, it wasn't without frustrations, doubts or fears.

And I felt like some of my frustrations, doubts and fears - startling at the sight of my moon belly reflected in the mirror, waking up worried that I wasn't ready to be a mama, the day that felt like a week when I was overdue; my fear that I wasn't mentally, spiritually or physically capable of a natural birth - I didn't know that anyone would really get it if I said these things out loud. So I kept much of those thoughts to myself, overwhelmed by their ebb and flow.

I thought I finally understood something my sister-in-law had said in passing - that for a period of time, she and my brother were the only young parents in their circle. And they were keenly aware that others were watching them parent. And so I was keenly aware that someone might be watching me to see what this pregnancy thing was all about. I didn't want to fully betray my range of joy and wonder and fear. You do feel alone at times. For a season.

But there is a flip side to this experience too.

Our friends Jen and Marco are expecting their first, a baby boy, any day. On Friday I told Marco how very excited I am for them. I am happy for them in a different way, actually knowing the joy they will know. That's great. Last year, we spent a lot of time with a couple who had two young, school age children. They said that having a family is wonderful and I held that word in my mind - wonderful - but still couldn't quite imagine just how wonderful. "And," they added, "Your sleep will never be the same." I laughed because I couldn't quite imagine that either.

But here I am, a mama now, able to say that it really is wonderful and your sleep never will be the same. Doubts and fears still prick at me sometimes. But joys come like the tide. I don't feel alone, not right now. I sense a sisterhood of mamas: for ages, women have loved their babies as best they can. For ages, women have kissed the smooth soles of baby feet and smiled at their baby's sleep sighs. For ages, women have wished they could keep the scent of their baby's damp, sweaty head, the feel of their baby's tiny fingers wrapped around a thumb. And for ages yet.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

more for the folks back home

Hammock time in Barichara.
One likes to talk to buckets, one likes to read.
Father and daughter.
Hugs and raspberries for Mama.
Swim time chasing ducky.

Friday, April 24, 2009

going to school

Claire visited Regan's grade twelve psychology class when she was about three and a half months. We thought it'd be nice to return. Claire hit snoozy time with the same group as our last visit but she stayed awake, dazzling all with little coos and playing with toys. Students talked to her, held her, played with her, and asked a few developmental questions. Here are pictures from one class period.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ack! what's your name?

Today I called Alejandro, Andres. I looked right at him and said, "Andres, you owe me a book." And he looked at me and said, "I'm Alejandro." Smack my forehead. I knew that. I knew that. Andres is the one with lighter and fluffier hair. Alejandro has darker brows. And this, after feeling proud that I'd relearned all of my students' names. (In time for them to take their final exams). I apologized and he assured me it was okay and I ended my last class with my seniors feeling slightly idiotic, waiting for the bell to hurry up and ring before I opened my mouth and blurted something like, "Yeah, I bought my degree from this really cool website."

I didn't.

But this is the first school year I have had such a problem with names. Last year, I started out mistaking Catalina and Carolina and Sofia and my sophomores couldn't understand what was so difficult. Hm. When other import teachers talk to each other about their students, it's useless to say, "The junior with dark hair and brown eyes" because they all have dark hair and brown eyes. Well, not all. Some girls dye their hair pink once in awhile.

But this name game makes me wonder about mommy brain. My mommy brain. I think I must look into this and let you know what I learn. I promise I am not looking for an excuse. Not really.

Monday, April 20, 2009

last week with seniors

That's right. This is my last week teaching American literature to seniors at Bolivar. On Tuesday we'll have review for their final exam which is Thursday morning. I'll spend next weekend getting their final grades figured.

It's been an odd year of teaching. It isn't over yet - I'll still have one section of sophomore English after the seniors finish classes - but I've been reflecting on what I have and have not managed to do in the classroom this school year. I was (sooo) grateful for a long maternity leave but that meant that I left to have my baby just as I was getting all the Juan Franciscos and Maria Alejandras figured out. So when I came back in January, I had to relearn a number of names. Which is just embarrassing. I think that I covered some good literature with the seniors: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, the expected but still Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald (and an excerpt of Nickel & Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich to discuss American reality), and the memoir Night by Elie Wiesel. We read a variety of small nonfiction pieces, had several good discussions. I guess I'm happy. Every year I think: this is the year I'll get it together enough to do EVERYTHING on my syllabus. I need to make a shorter syllabus.

Depth, I hope, if not breadth.

And, like I said, it isn't over yet. I'll have my sophomores through mid-June and I have plans for us as a group. I want to end the year well. It's bittersweet to think that I won't be teaching next year.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

a week way too fast: three books

And since I'm still posting about last week, this has to be it for Semana Santa. I managed to finish two books and start a third in Barichara. Here's what I read:

The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky by Ken Dornstein. A memoir written by a younger brother about an older brother, David. David was in his twenties when he died in the PanAm Lockerbie bombing. He left behind boxes of notebooks and essays, things that Ken decided to catalog. In a way, Ken tried to give David the book he'd wanted to write by piecing together bits from David's journals and stories. While the book is about David's aspirations, David's writing, David's character, it seems like Ken finally surrenders to himself. Imagine spending years of your life trying to put together your dead brother, trying to give him what he failed to attain. That's what Ken ultimately tells about: his own quest.

I couldn't help but think of my own boxes of notebooks and letters.

Tales from the Town of Widows by James Canon. Exquisite. Canon is a Colombian living in New York. In this, his first book, he writes about the isolated town of Mariquita after all the men are forced to join the guerrillas in the early 1990s. What will the women do? This was one of the most beautiful books I've read, partly because I'm living here and see Colombia's beauty. But interspersed throughout the book are Dispatches from the Land of Men, short vignettes about guerrilla, national army, and paramilitary soldiers; humanitarian workers and journalists. And those tell the pain of Colombia's war. Side by side, the voices of the men and women, though fictionalized, do offer depth to Colombia's history. Canon writes with a bit of magical realism that reminded me of that other great Colombian writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I appreciate the voice of Marquez now more than before I moved here and look forward to future books by Canon. I hope Tales from the Town of Widows is the first of many.

Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools by Jonathan Kozol. This book is depressing. It was published in 1991 and based largely on data gathered in the 1980s. But other teachers I've talked with about the issue of funding public education - we get the idea that not much has changed, particularly in urban districts. Kozol focuses specifically on the spending gap between rich and poor districts (suburban and urban), asking why blatantly unequal education exists in a country that speaks highly of the value of equality between people. Money does matter when it comes to public schools and what those schools are able to offer their students.

I'm not sure what to do with Savage Inequalities. I feel anger and disappointment and dread at learning the current statistics but I don't know what to do. I think it's a book worth reading. Kozol makes some good arguments regarding taxes, district integration, and state and federal funding and requirements. Kozol mentions "other people's children." We are very concerned with our own children, and, yes, they are our priority. But we must also care for others. We must also want what is truly best for others. Kozol seems to say: look around, at the very least, look around.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

a week way too fast: running in barichara

Kicked my quads.

I optimistically hoped to run four times. I managed to lace my running shoes twice, once with Sonia and again on my own. And twice was enough. I was hungry for more but my legs were beat. It's been a long time since I've had beat legs so that felt good. Tough, tired and pushed.

I don't know my distance or mile times. I kept track of time running and managed about eighty minutes running both times out. I'm happy with that. It was a different kind of running for me, a good change. You have to run early in Barichara because the sun comes out hot hot hot and you want to be in a cold shower by the time the rocks get warm. And there are a lot of rocks. Barichara is in the mountains so it's all hills.

All. Hills. On Monday, Sonia and I were out the door at quarter after six, running down down down out of town where the cobbled road turns to dirt and starts going up up up. I prefer running uphill but these hills weren't gradual. I can handle long, gradual incline. This was long, steep. All of my tough hills - the Monster Hill on the way to school (the one I avoid, taking a different route), the hill that intersects County Highway F in my hometown, a short steep little nightmare in the last town I lived - all of my tough hills were stacked one after another in Barichara. Even so, running up is so much easier than running down. On the downhills, I kept thinking run light run light trying to land lightly, keep more bounce than thud. Still, when I rolled out of bed on Tuesday, it felt like someone had taken a meat tenderizer to my quads.

The dirt roads were packed in most places. Some loose gravel, some rainwashed ruts. Large rocks. On the steepest sections of road, stone and concrete tracks were laid to keep the road from disappearing in a storm, give something for truck tires to hug. I kept looking up: to the bend in the road, to the shadow, to the stone gate, to the next rise, to the fuschia flowers. Get there. Just get there.

I had to walk parts. I carried a hydration pack with fruit tucked inside too. That energy helped. I fantasized being runner enough to tackle a multi-day adventure race. Because the thing is, when you're out in the middle of somewhere so beautiful you want days of that. You want to watch the sun arc over the layers of mountains. You want to see what's over that next hill. On Wednesday morning, out on my own, I wanted that solitude to last. Peace. It tastes good, eating fruit and silence before tracking your course back to the start of your day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

a week way too fast: la piscina

Barichara was wonderful. Getting there was a haul but once in the town, we fell into the rhythm of Barichara. Calm early mornings, restful afternoons, quiet evenings. I managed to run, read, and write. Sonia and I cooked. We wandered an old town and stood in centuries old churches.

La Piscina

On Monday we went swimming, walking up the cobbled hill to a pool surrounded by white concrete walls topped with shards of broken bottles. The pool itself was a rectangle ringed by terracotta tile and a staked yellow nylon rope. Twenty-five hundred pesos to get on the other side of the rope.

It was busy with teenage boys. They raced around the perimeter of the pool and up a hill near the back of the lot. They hurled themselves at the water, gold and tan bodies splayed in air, smacking water. They raced each other the short and long lengths of the pool with flailing, graceless strokes as though their will alone might win them the race. They yelped and laughed and shouted. They crowded the diving board - two wooden planks lined with black sandpaper, bolted to a painted blue metal frame with slippery round rungs - five boys huddled at the ladder end, nudging each other forward. They jumped off the board on each other's backs; they leaped far into the air; they attempted scissor legged dives.

Two girls stood in a corner at the shallow end, dressed in short denim shorts and wet tops, the cups of their bras outlined. They chatted with each other, dipped under the surface once in awhile, shook their hair, and largely pretended to ignore the boys.

Under the Aguila tent, mothers and fathers sat in white plastic chairs drinking beers, the only really cold beverage you could buy. After swimming, paddling Claire through the waves, I sat at the edge of the pool, the sun hot on my shoulders, drinking a warm Coke. I watched the boys race the perimeter, never tiring of that same race and rarely varying the route. I expected a boy to smash his head open or crack his teeth but they had more grace than that. They jumped to splash.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

friday five: semana santa is finally here

I woke up today and wanted to fast-forward to tomorrow. Except that tomorrow is a full travel day with two (short) flights, a three hour bus ride, and a forty minute taxi ride to our destination, Barichara. Our friends Scott and Sonia own a house there so the four of us will enjoy a quiet week together. They've hosted other teachers before and Sonia made a comment about how interesting it is to see how other people relax. I'll bet.

Here's how I plan to relax this week: run, read, write. That's it. Sonia and I will probably play chef in the kitchen. We'll explore the town, walk in the countryside. Play cards? Swim. Enjoy siestas. I might take my knitting needles and ball of yarn.

1. Me, knitting? Last Sunday, Jen taught a few of the Bolivar ladies how to knit and at least one, Nira, also learned how to purl.
That's Jen, our maestra and knitting queen, Shannon, and Laura Elena who kindly hosted the group.
I thought I'd better take a picture of my last "do-over." I had a good chunk going for awhile but kept dropping stitches and even though knitting is supposed to be relaxing, my shoulders were up to my ears.

2. Running is going well. I've been getting up insanely early to run without distraction, before the rest of the world (my small world) wakes. I am getting up at four in the morning and on the treadmill by four-thirty, showered and feeding Claire by six. That just sounds nuts. But I'm enjoying it. Which also sounds nuts. And while we're talking about things that sound nuts, I read while I run. I choose my books by font size.

3. Books. I just started Tales from the Town of Widows by James Canon, a Colombian author currently living in New York after studying at Columbia. (Love it). The book is wonderful and I'm only 57 pages into it. It's about a town whose men are forced to join the guerrillas and how the women left behind reclaim their town. Tales from the Town of Widows has been passed around among the import teachers and I can't wait to talk with those who've read it once I'm done.

4. Minor surgery. Not me, Justin. He's fine. But that consumed a chunk of our week and caused some worry. They knocked him out for a procedure that took maybe ten minutes. The doctor kept describing the pain Justin would experience and, well, it just hasn't happened. Maybe hour three on the bus tomorrow?

Here in Colombia, trucks drive around dinging bells to tell everyone: come and buy this, come and buy that. We have a natural gas truck that drives down our street a couple mornings a week, dinging. Justin asked his anesthesiologist if he could get some sleepy gas from the gas truck. He was a bit out of it.

5. We're off for a family walk. Need sunscreen and soy milk and M&Ms. Need, yes. Enjoy your weekend!

P.S. Claire has a tooth!

Friday, April 3, 2009

orangebananapineapple juice

It is dee-lish. And good for you! This recipe is great for two big people and one small person or three small people and one big person.

In a blender combine:
1 or 2 bananas, depending on how much banana you like
2-3 c. orange juice
a handful (half cup?) of sliced pineapple (or one teaspoon of honey)
1-2 Tbsp. ground flax seed, depending on how much you want to chew your juice

Blend until combined and then blend just a bit longer so the juice is nice and frothy. So good.

I just realized that I gave that recipe just like my Mom usually gives recipes. ("Oh, you know, until the dough looks right.") With fruit juices, whatever fruit you like best dictates proportions in the recipe. It shouldn't even be called a recipe, really. It should just be called "Throw Some Fruit in a Blender and If You Don't Like It This Time, Do Something Different Next Time." But I have found that adding ground flax seed is a yummy texture.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009