Thursday, November 27, 2014

Gratitude, basi na sasa.

I feel like a broken record at best, and terribly cliched at worst, going on about gratitude and thankfulness and yada yada today. It's Thanksgiving.  We all get it. You're going to have to bear with me though.  I am sitting here with a mug of sugar cookie flavored tea, having just put the little one to down to nap, inhaling roast turkey perfume wafting from my kitchen.. and I just can't resist lending my voice to the chorus.

The world is not always a nice place to be, frankly.  Accidents happen, babies get sick, cancer exists. Jobs are one stock market fluctuation away from being lost and bills sometimes go unpaid. Good guys do bad things; bad guys have communities that love them and families that need them; the very institutions that are meant to protect us often fail to do so.  It can be overwhelming, all the bad in the world. Feeling like you're one poor decision, one act of fate away from the worst case scenario.

It may seem unnecessarily bleak, dwelling the terrible things that happen, but in a way I think it's an essential ingredient to happiness.  See, when you stop for a moment and fully appreciate that you are living life on a precipice, you can't take that life for granted any more. You don't wish away the day when you know that all you have could be taken away tomorrow. And when you consider all that could go wrong, you can relish what is going right.

Thanksgiving for me is a time to be thankful for what I have, but also to recommit to being more deserving of it.  More considerate of my friends who stand by me through anything. More loving towards the family that gives my life meaning. More involved in the communities that enrich my life. Less focused on owning all the things, less possessive of my time, less obsessed with maintaining control. I am reminded to let it be.  The only way to deal with the bad, after all, is to overwhelm it with the good.

Life is only as wonderful as the people you invest in. I found this little piece, written eight years ago when I was still living in Nairobi. It wasn't the greatest time in my life, I was young and overwhelmed and very lonely, but even through the fog of youthful narcissism there were moments of clarity in which I stopped and marveled at the humanity surrounding me.

October skies over Nairobi.  My view every evening for 2+ years.
11/2006: It's been a happy month. Maybe not entirely, but it's looking to end on a happy note. I have a lot to be excited about and, as always, much to be grateful for.

I am grateful for my shopping routine. I go to Nakumatt to get most necessities.  When I exit the big store I find the fruit hawker, David, sitting by the sidewalk with neat little piles of apples and oranges. I buy from him, then walk across the parking lot to find the sugarcane guy who, for 30 shillings, uses a large machete to peel and cut up a fresh cane for me (and there is NOTHING better on a hot and dry day than sucking on cold sugarcane). I then stop at the corner to meet some guys who sell Chinese bootleg 5-in-1 movies out of a cardboard box, and browse to see if they have anything new (and they always do!)

 I pick up my bags and walk home, along the way passing the spot where the boda bodas (bicycle taxis) hang out; they always ask if I need a ride, I always refuse. Past the matatu parked on the roadside, whose driver always reaches out to touch my hair when he thinks I won't notice.  A quick stop at the roadside, tin-and-cardboard vegetable stand for tomatoes, onions, chilis and spinach, then up the alley towards home,  usually passing our happy drunk neighbor and lots of church-goers (who scowl at me viciously if I wear anything that shows my arms) on the way.  I greet the guards who man the gate to my apartment complex, and scale the 4 flights of stairs to our little apartment.

Looking out behind my apartment complex.  Waaaaay down there, you'll see my husband riding a bike  :)

It's a routine, but it's sort of blissful. My American self is driven crazy by the pace of life here sometimes, but I do have to appreciate how everything revolves around, not what you do, but the people in your life. It's nice. 


True then, true now. Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Letters to Amaliya - two and a quarter


Every night, I read you stories.  It used to be three books, but these days it's one really long one, since you seem equally interested in words and pictures.  After, we snuggle up in the rocking chair, and I ask you what was your favorite part of the day.  At first you didn't understand.  You repeated the question back at me, so I told you all about my day, and you repeated my answers.  Suddenly, this week, you get it.  Monday night, you answered, "finding raisins in my oatmeal."  Last night, "playing with Daddy and eating shrimp." Then you asked me, and I answered, "playing with you, and going to the gym at lunch with my friend."  You looked concerned, turned to stroke my arm and said, "Mama very sore!"  Yes baby, I will be tomorrow.  Then we "blow out" your light, and you squeeze me tightly around the neck while I sing lullabies.  Two kisses and your blanket are requested before we say goodnight.

Two is a magical age.

You started Music Together last month, and while I knew you would enjoy it, I didn't expect it to be quite so transformative for all of us.  You love music, as all kids do, but your delight in gathering with the group to sing songs, experiment with tonal patterns, and explore new instruments surpasses my wildest expectations.  You picked up a dozen new songs in a week.  We've collected an ensemble of instruments for you, from sticks to a triangle and a tambourine, and you grab a different something to play with every song you hear. You sing loudly and confidently, no matter where you are.  You are quick to catch on to a beat.  Suddenly your days - and my days too - are infused with music from beginning to end and sometimes long after we put you to bed (when you really should be sleeping, but we hear you singing in your dark room instead).  It's amazing for you, and absolutely delightful for me, in a way I did not expect.  Watching you learn to love music and make music is helping me understand and love it in an entirely new way.  I am so grateful to share these experiences with you.

You have become such a complex human being, and grow more nuanced by the day.  Your vocabulary at times renders me speechless - walking to the stairs at bedtime, you put a hand on my leg and said, "I want to go first, mama.  Be patient" - and I can do nothing but laugh.  Communication at two is delightful, and so easy compared to how it used to be.  You can tell me what hurts and if you're hungry and who-pushed-who at daycare. Your tantrums (though frequent) are easily resolved when I look you in the eye, ask you why you're mad, and explain why the universe isn't working the way you want it to.   You've quickly become my favorite person on earth to talk to.

You're so mature in so many ways, you hardly seem like a two-year-old to me.  I feel bad about this, sometimes.  It's the curse of the first-born girl child, I think. We heap expectations on you and require more responsibility and patience than, maybe, one should expect from a child.  You handle life so beautifully, though.  You love to be in the kitchen with me, sitting on the counter and watching me cook, identifying each ingredient and asking for smells and tastes.  You help me make my bed in the morning and fold laundry, and you always put your shoes away in the proper place.  You like things just-so and thrive on routine.  With that said, you have also surprised me with your grace and flexibility.  We've been through some big changes and have dealt with hectic schedules this summer, and you adjusted seamlessly.  I am so proud of you, for how you handle yourself, and how patient you are with your sometimes-crazy parents.

This is not to say age 2 is without its challenges.  You have been extremely attached to me lately, and screams of, "Go away Daddy!" and, "Mama, stay with me!" echo after me if I so much as walk to the next room without you.  You must do everything by yourself, from changing your own diaper to brushing your own teeth.  And, my love, you are definitely not your best self when you are sleepy or hungry.  Keep that in mind for the future. 

Sometimes I feel like I can do nothing right.  You whine and cry and demand from the second we get home to when I finally put you to bed 15 minutes early, because I can't take it anymore.  Everything, everything is a fight some days - sitting in your high chair, putting on pants, applying chapstick.  You've burst into tears because I sang the wrong verse in a song that you requested.  You scream hysterically if you find one chia seed (out of hundreds) in your bowl of oatmeal that looks suspicious, and will not be mollified until I remove it. I am frustrated often, but mostly I find it hilarious, and can't help but laugh when you fall to the ground shedding bitter tears because I had to help you put your diaper on. 

You are a spitfire, so determined and independent and stubborn, and as much as it makes me want to tear my hair out some days, I wouldn't change you for the world. I love how gentle and nurturing you are, always feeding and changing your baby dolls.  I love that you are a thinker and an analyzer, rarely acting impulsively, slow to try new things until you are absolutely sure what you are getting yourself in to.  I love seeing you start to relate to other kids, playing with them at daycare and talking about them when you get home.  I love that you still eat basically everything (last night for dinner: shrimp, cooked spinach, sweet potatoes, half an avocado, and a little bit of rice - who wouldn't love that?!) and you sleep nights like a champ (though napping might be on its way out).

I just love you, that's all.  In this season of thankfulness, I am most thankful for you.