Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Roller Coaster


I've said it before, but I've realized I feel like a fraud every time I try to write about "what I've learned".  It's like life tries to prove me wrong.  It's like a kaleidoscope, and how the tiniest movement completely changes what you see.  That's what I think happens when I try to claim I "officially know" something now.  

Buuuuut, that being said, I was thinking about how this is my 18th Mother's Day of being a mother, and it occurred to me that there are actually a few things I think I can justifiably say I've learned by now, and if a new mom asked what to expect, this is what I'd tell her.  

-- If you ever say out loud, "My kid will definitely____ (insert positive behavior) because ____ (insert logical reasoning)," you are spelling doom to whatever you just said.  I know this, and I still do it all the time.  I was at a baby shower this week and said to the hostess as I was leaving, "Annalee will fall asleep on the walk home and then I don't even have to worry about getting her down for her nap!"  

Guess who was still wide awake, singing "Let It Go" as I opened the door to my apartment? 

-- Vomit. Barf. Yak. Puke.  Whatever you want to call it, it will happen a lot.  And you will actually catch it in your bare hands, many times.  Last December when the kids were so sick, Wyatt coughed till he threw up.  I was putting oils on his chest, and no way no how was he going to puke on the comforter on my watch!!   Not when I know what it takes to do the laundry around here!  Without so much as a blink of the eye, I caught it, turned and walked to the bathroom sink and washed it off.  Then I calmly returned to the bedroom where Matt was sitting on the bed with Wyatt, his eyes wide.

"That was kind of awesome," he said.

"I know," I replied nonchalantly.  I almost flipped my hair but decided that was just a little much.

-- Head wounds bleed a lot.  Like... a LOT a lot.  I remember reading this.  But let me just say when it's your kid, the words "Head wounds bleed a lot" mean something entirely different.  Think of the goriest movie you've seen and multiply it by ten.  Okay, that won't be reality (I hope), but it will better prepare you for your child's first head wound than any words about the circulatory system or childhood injuries.  

One day, five-year-old Jayna and almost-two-year-old Skyler were playing out on our patio in Spain   (Matt was gone, of course.).  I had my back turned to them for just a second when Jayna said in the most unaffected, matter-of-fact voice, "Skyler bumped her head and now there's blood everywhere."  

I mistakenly responded to her tone rather than her words and turned to see Skyler stumbling toward me.  She was doing that cry where all the air in the lungs is fully expelled, and then suddenly they inhale and scream loud enough to wake the dead.  And there was blood... my goodness.  It was like Carrie, I'm not even kidding -- dripping from her head, all over the tile floor, soaking into her shirt. And it all came from a wound no longer than my pinky fingernail.  It literally took me all day to stop shaking from the shock.  This is what they mean when they say "Head wounds bleed a lot."  Prepare yourself.

-- You will wear pee that is not your own outside your house and live to tell about it.  In fact, I did this just recently, not for the first time.  I'd put on clothes that were very comfortable and I felt good in, and a certain small someone peed on me.  And though I was still home, and really should have cared enough to change, I thought about my laundry situation, scrubbed it with a diaper wipe, and headed out the door.  No one was the wiser! If it were poop, that would have been another story, of course.

Speaking of poop:

-- Your kids' poop can look very strange.  I about had a heart attack the day I was changing the diaper of one my children who had, the day before, eaten a bunch of tomatoes.  Colored icing and kiwi can also really weird you out.  Even with all the diapers I've changed, I still find myself startled sometimes. Before you panic and call the doctor, ask yourself, "What did my kid eat recently?"  Odds are excellent you will calm down, though that food will never quite be the same to you again.

-- You will spend an alarming amount of time thinking about other people's poop.  You will talk about it casually with other parents (and may even write about it on your blog)!  (You're welcome!) You will probably even have dreams (nightmares?) about it.  I say this even though I've never had more than one kid in diapers at a time.  It just becomes such a huge, stinky, normal part of your life.    

-- You will be alarmingly tired.  On Saturday night, I talked Matt into watching a movie that I've been wanting to see for a really long time.  It was great!  Really, truly great!  But still... not even halfway into it, I felt my eyelids getting soooooo heeeeaaavyyyy.  This was not happening.  I was going to stay awake!!  I was... totally...   going...      to... 

I jolted awake to find him staring at me.  For a long and awkward moment, I stared back.  How long had I been sleeping? I wondered, feeling guilty.  "I'm sorry, I'm just too tired.  I really want to watch it, but I can't keep my eyes open," I said.

"I'm so glad you said that because same here!" he answered.  

I laughed, "I thought you were going to be mad at me for falling asleep in the movie I'd picked!" 

We were both laughing now.  "And I bought you'd be mad at me for falling asleep in the movie you picked."  This is clearly marriage at its finest. We stumbled off to bed.

It was maybe 10 pm.

We party so hard.  

-- This morning, I was served breakfast in bed by my sweet kids.  There was a bowl of sliced oranges, a bowl of delicious oatmeal with coconut, craisins, banana slices and peanut butter.  There was also a coffee and a glass of water and a gigantic pastry that was some kind of amazing combination of muffin and cream puff.  As soon as the older three had delivered my tray, the younger two were sitting there, Wyatt serenading me with fart noises (from his mouth).  

"That looks like good water, Mom," Wyatt said after about ten seconds.

"It is," I answered, "would you like some?" (Never mind our ample water/ cup situation.)  He nodded. 

A few seconds later, "What's that?" pointing to the pastry.  

"I don't know, but it's super delicious.  Want a bite?" 

Dumb question.  Annalee also wanted in on the action.

And I sat there, dispensing my water, orange slices, and pastry-from-heaven only too happily.  Because while they might be completely unreasonable, stinky, messy insomniacs, they might embarrass me more than I thought possible and stretch my patience to it's breaking point, my kids are without a doubt five of my favorite people on the planet.  I smile more when they're around.  

This past week, I was remembering the amazing movie Parenthood with Steve Martin and Mary Steenburgen.  Toward the end there is a wonderful scene between the two of them, where they are having a pretty heated argument, and the grandma of Steve Martin's character Gil walks in. 

She says, "You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up and down, up and down.  Oh, what a ride!"

Gil replies (sarcastically), "What a great story."

Then she says, "I always wanted to go again.  You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together.  Some didn't like it.  They went on the merry-go-round.  That just goes around. Nothing.  I like the roller coaster.  You get more out of it."

I was so scared to become a mother, to tell you the truth.  That's a story for another day.  But I can tell you all of the above and this too: I like the roller coaster.  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Expat Memoirs: Vive La France!

 Last fall, when we had just moved into our apartment and I was still figuring out the crazy garbage system and feeling pretty overwhelmed, I decided to take on a reading project.  It started with my love of certain movies like A Good Year or The Hundred-Foot Journey, where people find themselves in a new situation (preferably an international setting -- and if at all possible, Provence), and even if it's less than ideal, they learn to cope and even, eventually, triumph. 

But I didn't want to read fiction; I needed the real, been-there-done-that stories, especially as the kids kept getting sick and we were trying (sometimes it felt quite literally) to survive. 

Now I feel less like I "need" the stories now, but I've found some wonderful books.  And my list keeps growing!  You may not be living the expat life right now, but there is so much to learn from these tales, keen observations of those who have come to love a new place despite its quirks, to thrive and call it "home".  

If you made a pie chart of expat memoirs, a huge chunk of them would be about France.  And probably at least 95% (maybe even all???) of those would have to do with food -- at least to some degree.  Being a bit of a Francophile, I decided to start my book reviews with these French foodie tales.

*****Disclaimer: This is by no means a comprehensive list and in no particular order.  These are just the ones I've read since my arrival in Korea.*****

My Life in France by Julia Child
Why you should read this:
It would be more difficult to find a reason not to read it.  I honestly don't know what took me so long.  Child's unpretentious story-telling and effusive personality shine from the pages. She was educated and intellectual, and she had a very scientific approach to cooking, as she detailed in her descriptions of the research she did for Mastering the Art of French Cooking and its "son".  But her love for people blended with her joie de vivre triumph over any kind of vanity she could have laid claim to.  I like to think that if I'd been in Paris in the 40's or 50's, we would have been good friends.  But I also think that was part of her charisma.  Bonus: The text is peppered with fun words  like "collywobbles" and "muckity mucks", which in my opinion are tragically underused and I hereby endeavor to inject into my daily conversations.  Bonus bonus: the wonderful black-and-white photographs, mostly taken by her husband Paul. 

Why you should read this:
Because it's SO funny.  This was recommended by bloggers I generally agree with, but again, I waited too long to read it.  Most chapters had me laughing out loud at least once.  Lebovitz takes on some of the stereotypes and quirky ideals of French (in particular, Parisian) living, and discusses them to hilarious ends.  I came away having learned a few things but mostly with a strong reminder to find humor in the situations around me.  Bonus: as a famous pastry chef, he has some recipes that look amazing and I'm tempted to try in my beautiful new oven.

Why you should read these: 
As an American who moved to Paris after falling in love with a Frenchman, Bard might have just glossed merrily over all the nitty-gritty details of French life.  Instead, she tells an interesting and realistic tale of adapting to a new culture, as well as navigating the highs-and-lows of family and relationships, through the filter of an outsider.  She discusses issues that we American women like to talk about at length, such as the French attitude towards the female physique and eating, or fashion. But she also bravely wades into more grim territory such as  Stage IV cancer and death of a family member in her new adopted culture.  

Bard also explores what happens when the French national motto "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité" crashes into the American belief that anything is possible.  These are both, in many respects, books about "crazy ideas": her husband's quest to fulfill his lifelong dream of working in film, writing a book about her own life even though she isn't -- quelle horreur!! -- a prize-winning scientist or former prime minister, or opening a specialty ice-cream shop in small town in Provence.  She has lived in the country long enough that hers is no longer a starry-eyed puppy love, but an ability to see what is truly there and still want to call it home.  Bonus: lots more yummy recipes.

Why you should read this:
I felt the strongest personal connection to this author due to her husband's career similarities to my husband's, and the frequent moves that has entailed (though the same was true for Julia Child). Unlike the Childs, their dream of living in Paris takes a bitter twist when he is sent to Iraq for a year, and she has to forge a life without him.  Though it's not a sad book, I read parts of it with a lump in my throat -- like when she describes the first days after her husband Calvin leaves, or the wistful thoughts about staying in one place long enough to put down roots while still being incredibly grateful for the opportunities in her life.  

I also related to her love of the French language, though discouraged by her mother who instead made her study the more "important" and "useful" Mandarin.  Both I and now my eldest daughter have received such blunt scrutiny -- i.e. "Why would you want to learn FRENCH?!" (Insert look of disgust). "It's so pointless these days."  But as she says, her mother underestimated the power of love in the ability to learn a language.  Similarly, it's through her passion for food that she survives her year of separation from her husband as she explores France and details culture and history as it relates to what the French eat.  

But even if you don't identify so strongly with the author's story, Mastering is an interesting and educating read, while remaining personal.  Bonus: (do I even need to say it?) yummy recipes (though these seemed more meat-centric than the other books).

I know that there are so many excellent books that fit into this category of expat memoir, but these five reminded me that keeping your sense of humor, enjoying good stories as they happen, and finding -- or rather, living -- your passion are the keys to thriving, wherever you are.

{Also recommended, though read before this project: A Year in Provence (and sequels) by Peter Mayle,  A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Mollie Wizenburg (doesn't entirely take place in France, but still), and Lessons from Madame Chic (and sequels) by Jennifer L. Scott.}