If you’re still here, you’re missing the party! I’ve moved to a new, permanent, website.
Please jump on over to www.lisamckaywriting.com/blog and add the new blog to your RSS feed or subscribe by email.
Catch you there,
If you’re still here, you’re missing the party! I’ve moved to a new, permanent, website.
Please jump on over to www.lisamckaywriting.com/blog and add the new blog to your RSS feed or subscribe by email.
Catch you there,
You can find the new everything (including the new book cover!!) at www.lisamckaywriting.com. Come take a look. I’d love to know what you think.
So if you’re subscribed by RSS or via your wordpress.com blog and would like to keep up with me (and I hope you will) please jump on over to the new blog and add the new address to your reader again or just follow this link to add the new blog to your reader using feedburner. Sorry for the hassle. I hate to make you move, but I promise I’ll be staying put at this new address … the new website address, anyway.
If you’re subscribed by email you should continue to receive new posts that way. Please let me know if you don’t.
Thanks for moving with me!
We move tomorrow, in a town with no such things as a moving company. And we have a penchant for heavy wooden furniture. Also, I have more books than the town’s public library.
Actually, that last is probably not true, but it’s close to being true.
Life is, uh, busy. I’ll be back with you soon from a new house (and a new website). But in the meantime, today I bring you the voice of a friend.
I met Leah Tioxon (in the virtual sense) while we were both working in staff care for humanitarian organizations. Leah has a master’s degree in Social Work and worked for a number of inspiring nonprofit organizations before becoming a full-time photographer. She has also recently become a mother.
I always look forward to Leah’s posts on Wednesdays. In light of some of what I’ve written recently about feeling judged by others, I thought this one was a great addition to that discussion. Enjoy!
Awkward, by Leah Tioxon
There was a wonderfully beautiful post on Offbeat Mama the other day – one that resonated with me on several levels – as an adoptee, as a parent, and as a person who loves to ponder the intricacies of identity, of transitions, and of family.
One quote in particular has been bouncing around in my brain: “Sometimes holding yourself back, playing your cards close to the chest, is the only defense we have. Our silence makes us secure.”
I’m a very open person, for the most part. But there are things I’d rather keep quiet. I don’t necessarily want everyone to know all of my weaknesses. I don’t want people witnessing all of my mistakes, my awkward moments.
Before I became a mom, I viewed the transition to parenthood as similar to other transitions in life: the transition to “adulthood” (which, for me, was defined by finishing college, moving across the country, and getting my first full-time job – and a bunch of bills!), the transition to domestic partnership, the transition to married life, and the transition to self-employment. These are all big steps and with them comes a shift in identity, a new role, a change in how others perceive and/or define me. And with any new role, there is a learning curve, a period of adjustment, while I figure out what this transition means to me, how I define this new role and the expectations that come with it, both from me and from others. Do I accept these expectations? Or do I need to adjust the definition of what being a “wife” or being “an adult” means to something more in line with who I am?
With any new role there is the opportunity for awkward moments. New experiences are rife with awkwardness. But in the past I could hide much of that awkwardness. Feigning confidence, self-assuredness… fumbling my way through my first apartment search, my first time filing taxes, my first year of paying bills… I could make mistakes quietly. No one had to know – or at the very least, only a few people had to know.
Becoming a parent is similar to any other major life transition… but unlike so many of those other transitions, I’m finding this one much more public. As I figure out this new role of “Mom,” as I integrate it into the other aspects of my identity – my life story – there are many awkward moments. Trying to nurse in public – quickly before Jonah starts screaming for the milk. Trying to get Jonah in and out of the Moby wrap the first few times. Trying to get the car seat adjusted properly. Trying to change a diaper without getting peed on. And because I refuse to stay shut up in my house, these things are all happening in public. With onlookers. Everyone out there is witnessing my transition to motherhood – my awkwardness and my fumbling. I can’t hide this part of me. I’m a new mom. And my baby is so darn cute, people can’t help but stare (haha, that’s what I tell myself!).
Luckily for me, I’m not too easily embarrassed. Like any other transition, the newness will wear off. I will find my groove – in many ways, I already have. I’m so much more comfortable taking Jonah out and about. There will always be awkward moments – children aren’t the most predictable creatures on the planet, after all. But I’m not going to let a fear of looking/feeling uncomfortable stop me from exploring the world with my son. I’m embracing this awkwardness. It feels uncomfortable now, but it already feels less so. My 22-year-old baby adult self would have been horrified to be seen making a mistake or not knowing exactly what to do…my 30-year-old mom self is just going to shrug it off and kiss Jonah’s big squishy cheeks. I have WAY more important things to concern myself with these days. So bring on the awkwardness!
Find more of Leah’s posts and check out Leah and Mark’s photography over at their website.
All is slightly chaotic on the Laos front as we prepare to move this weekend to a house that doesn’t have a spiral staircase, an unfenced pool adjoining the property, or neighbors running a woodworking business. It also doesn’t have a full kitchen inside, which is going to be a royal pain in the rear at times, but in all other respects it is a lovely house with a beautiful guest room – so let us know if you’re going to be in town.
On top of the move we’re trying to book tickets and organize our schedules for a month away as we visit the Washington DC area between mid-April and mid-May. I’m trying to decide whether it’s feasible for me to leave Dominic in Mike’s capable hands for three days to attend a writing festival in Michigan, and we’re trying to organize to visit family in Pennsylvania, figure out some time away just as a family, and split time between Mike’s parents and my sister’s house. Oh, and we have to stop over in Bangkok on the way home to get Dominic checked out at Bumrungrad hospital. Logistics galore. And trying to organize travel always makes me feel a bit like this:
In other news, I’m on my third round of antibiotics in the last six weeks – this time for a stubborn double ear infection (what am I, like, seven? I haven’t had an ear infection since childhood).
And I’m not only moving house this week in the physical sense, I’m moving house in the e-sense! My new and much improved website and blog are coming soon. Oh, and I’ve decided upon a cover for Love At The Speed Of Email. I love it, and I can’t wait to share it with you.
So things might be a bit quiet around here in the next two weeks as I work behind the scenes to finalize all the details of transitioning to my new home(s). I’ll let you know the new subscription details as soon as I have them so that those of you who subscribe via RSS can update your settings. I hate to make you move, but I’ll be staying put at this new address indefinitely and I’m looking forward to the e-stability.
Hope everyone’s week has started off well,
“I’m a bad mother.”
Even as I heard myself say those words to Mike last week on the phone, I cringed.
Mike was away for most of the week, so I was parenting solo, and Dominic had a wracking, chesty cough that started up whenever I put him down to sleep. At first we thought the cough was due to the shocking air quality in Luang Prabang at present – it’s grey and smoky and ash is falling from the sky because everyone’s burning their rice fields in preparation for planting. But after the cough had hung around for ten days, I enlisted the help of a Lao-speaking friend and went in search of a local pediatrician.
“How’d it go?” Mike wanted to know when we talked that evening.
“The doctor listened to his chest and said he sounded fine. He knew the English words for asthma and bronchitis – my two big concerns. But he said it was just a cough and it’ll probably go away by itself.”
“Good,” Mike said, sounding relieved. “So it all went fine then.”
“Yes,” I said. “Except for the part where the doctor asked me to undress him and I laid him in my lap to do that because there was no examining table, and then he rolled and I almost dropped him on his head on the tile floor. I’m a bad mother.”
I’m a bad mother.
It wasn’t the first time I’d caught myself saying this recently, and more than one of my mothering friends use this phrase frequently. They toss it off casually to chastise themselves for not being quick enough to catch a slipping child and prevent a tumble, or to justify why they’re allowing the child to eat sweets or watch television, or even just to explain a grubby hands and face.
“Why say it at all?” Mike asked, when I explained the subject of this blog post over breakfast this morning.
“I think we say it as a defense when we feel that someone might be judging us,” I said.
“So,” Mike said. “Let me get this straight. Since you’re mostly hanging out with friends when you do this, you call yourself a bad mother to fend off potential judgment not from the global faceless audience but from people who already know you and like you?”
I took a bite of toast and thought about this for a second.
“Exactly,” I said.
“That makes no sense,” Mike said.
And it doesn’t, really, which is why I don’t want this phrase to become a standard part of my vocabulary. Words are important. The words that we tell ourselves repeatedly, no matter how flippantly, can carve channels of belief into our minds. Our emotions – following the path of least resistance – find those channels and are guided by them. And while “I’m a bad mother” is far from the worst thing I can imagine myself saying, it’s not exactly what you might call “life-giving” either.
I want to be secure enough in my decisions that I don’t feel the need to justify those decisions to my friends – at least not with an off-the-cuff blanket statement about my worth as a mother. And I want to trust that when things like tumbles happen, my friends won’t be watching with a spirit of criticism but with a spirit of fellowship – fellowship that comes from understanding that no parent, no matter how careful, can prevent every mishap.
Most importantly, however, I don’t want to say this too often because it’s not true.
I am a good mother.
Sure, I have moments when I almost drop my precious bundle of joy on the floor. And we’ve fed him too much papaya, mango, and pumpkin lately so his nose and toes have turned a bit yellow because of vitamin A overload. And sometimes I sit down beside him on the floor while he plays and watch an episode of Glee, or check my email while he’s in the bouncer instead of giving his royal babyness my full and undivided attention.
But I am a good mother.
I read to him, hug him, and make him baby food that’s far healthier than what I eat. I spend inordinate amounts of energy teasing smiles out of him. I delight in kissing him up under his pudgy little arms in that spot that makes him squirm and squeal with laughter. I let the dog lick his feet because he loves it so, and I don’t let the dog lick his face because I love him so. I take him outside to look at clouds and coconut trees. I explain butterflies and the wind. I give him fascinating toys to experiment with, like the toe spreader from a pedicure set I’ve never used, my hairbrush, and an egg whisk. I drag myself out of bed and comfort him when he starts to cry after I’ve just fallen asleep (though sometimes not until after I’ve begged him to “please, please, just stop it”). I watch with wonder as he sets about every day the demanding business of learning to live in this world. I would do almost anything, anything, to protect him.
And the thing is … I think that’s pretty much how most mothers operate. Not as perfect mothers, sure, but as mothers who love their children up, down, sideways and sleep-deprived. Mothers who sometimes makes mistakes, but who are learning more every day. Mothers who are doing the best they can to love their children unselfishly and wisely and energetically and patiently (yes, particularly patiently).
So let’s not call ourselves bad mothers – at least, not too often.
Let’s say it like it really is.
“We are good mothers.”
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Or, maybe more appropriately, it has been the month of patience being tested.
The last six weeks has held one broken leg (Dominic), two courses of antibiotics for intestinal infections (Mike and me), three trips to Thailand (all of us), and five colds.
It’s been more than a month since Dominic broke his leg and I still don’t want to write about it. Truth be told, I don’t even want to think about it. Because every time I remember hearing the crash after Mike’s mother slipped and landed on the stairs, then the long pause, then that awful, piercing shriek, it breaks my heart all over again.
And it hauls up – like a fishing net from dark depths – a whole slew of emotions.
The agony and helplessness I felt watching Dominic writhe and cry on and off during the thirty hours before we reached the hospital. Anger, because it feels like an accident that didn’t need to happen. Guilt about that anger, because accidents – unexpected and unintentional – happen, they are just part and parcel of this life. Guilt, also, that I didn’t realize immediately that something was seriously wrong. A great compassion for Mike’s mother, because I know she adores Dominic and would have changed places with him in an instant, and because I know how terrible I’d feel if it had been me that slipped on the stairs, and it could have been me. Gratitude that it was Dominic’s leg, not his head, that hit the wood so hard. Terror and an overwhelming desire to vomit whenever I visualize what would have happened if it had been his head.
And with this great mess of emotions – all slippery and flopping around and tangled up together – comes a question that is always lurking around somewhere: Is it worth it, living here?
Now, more than ever, I’m just not sure.
Dominic’s cast came off two weeks ago now. We got up early that day and caught the 7AM flight down to Bangkok. We found our way to a hospital that’s become more familiar to me than any hotel in the city.
I held Dominic in the taxi – me seatbelted in and him strapped to my chest in the baby carrier, my hand cradling the back of his head, my brain trying not to think about the likely outcome if we hit another car on the freeway. Mike held him as he screamed, terrified, while they sawed off the plaster, and then took the pictures that would tell us what was going on inside the reassuringly chubby leg.
Which meant that I was the one looking at the computer screens when the X-rays came up, and I didn’t like what I saw.
The front view showed a straight bone, but the side view showed the femur curved backwards – the spiky back part of the break still dense white and jutting out at an angle underneath the thin grey film of new bone.
The doctors told us that new bone was visible over the entire break site and that it was safe to take off his cast. They told us that bones (like so many other things in life, it seems) need to be subjected to normal daily stressors in order to prompt them to grow. They told us that we should encourage Dominic to use the leg normally as he learns to sit, crawl, and walk.
They also told us, however, that there was no way of telling whether the femur will straighten out over time and grow normally. Because the break occurred so close to the knee, there is a significant possibility that growth will stall or, even more likely, that the bone will start to grow too fast in all sorts of funny directions.
We need to follow up via X-rays every six months for the next three years and then every year after that until the growth spurts of adolescence are over.
That’s at least fifteen years.
Fifteen years of explaining what happened to every new doctor and new school. Fifteen years of watching, of X-rays, of prayers, of keeping fingers crossed. Fifteen years of regular reminders.
It means that I can’t just leave that slew of painful emotions down in the depths and hope that if I don’t touch the thread of this particular story all those complicated feelings – starved of attention – will just wither away.
It’s early days yet, there’s no way of knowing which particular emotion is most frequently going to leap out of the morass and bite me when circumstances haul that day up from the depths of memory. Guilt? Anger? Frustration at the expense and the giant pain-in-the-ass-factor of all these follow up appointments? Grief over how this might limit Dominic’s mobility? Any of them are possibilities, but only one thing seems certain – this episode is going to push me to exercise patience in ways I’ve never before had to.
The Greek word used in Galatians 5:22 to refer to patience, makrothumia, comes from makros, “long,” and thumos, “temper.” It denotes lenience, fortitude, endurance, and longsuffering.
Before this month of patience started I thought that I had this one in the bag. Even Mike, who has a backstage pass to my life, would say that I am a patient person. I’m very skilled at controlling my reactions in the moment, at taking a deep breath and a step back, at not lashing out when I’m frustrated. It takes a great deal to make me really angry or upset.
But … the thing is … once I do get upset or angry I tend to stay churned up for a long time. Once the tipping point is reached, I hang onto all that dark energy and coddle it like a favorite pet. I feel justified in camping out under a cloud of self-pity. I have imaginary conversations during which I deliver perfect put-downs. I rehearse all the ways I’ve been wronged by others or the universe. I allow the misfortunes of the present to fuel fearful visions of the future.
Although I’ve always known that this is not my most admirable collection of qualities, I’ve never before wondered whether it had anything to do with patience. But perhaps there is more to patience than not getting upset, frustrated or angry in the first place. Perhaps true patience is also manifest in how we set about calming the storms once they’re raging?
I don’t exactly know what being “patient” with fifteen years of uncertainty about the future of that tiny, precious leg should look like. I sense, however, that it will need to move beyond not losing my temper when ugly, unwanted thoughts and feelings well up.
I suspect that weathering fifteen years of longsuffering with a patient grace will mean opening that net-full whenever circumstances haul it up and dump it at my feet. It will mean shaking loose its contents and naming these feelings, then naming the bedrock fears and expectations that have nourished them.
It will mean sifting out the thankfulness and then tossing the dross overboard.
Then turning my eyes from the depths and looking to the horizon.
Again and again.
I know I said I was going to put up a post on author’s favorite children’s books today, but I’m not. It’s taking longer than I thought it would to draft and I want to do it right. So that’s on next week’s schedule for Writing Wednesday.
In the meantime, in keeping with the childhood theme this week, I’m going to put up a post containing material completely unsuitable for children.
How is that in keeping with the theme of childhood, you might ask? Well, it’s in keeping with mine. To wit, an excerpt from the soon to be published Love At The Speed Of Email:
“Like many kids, I suspect, I was drawn to stories of outsiders or children persevering against all odds in the face of hardship. I devoured all of C.S. Lewis’ stories of Narnia and adored the novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett, especially the ones featuring little girls who were raised in India before being exiled to face great hardship in Britain. But I also strayed into more adult territory. I trolled our bookshelves and the bookshelves of family friends, and those bookshelves were gold mines for stories about everything from religious persecution to murder, rape, civil war, child brides, and honor killing.
“It would be nice,” my father commented dryly upon reading the first draft of this chapter, “if you could manage not to make it sound like our personal library was stocked exclusively with troubling filth.”
“Dad,” I explained, “that’s why I used the gold-mine analogy. You don’t just stumble across gold; you have to dig for it. I worked really hard to find that stuff in amongst all the boring family-friendly fare you were prone to buying.”
Additionally, this post is in keeping with the theme of childhood because, as everyone knows, children can ask a lot of questions. And just as a responsible parent answers their children’s questions (at least the first five times they’re asked), a responsible blogger answers her reader’s questions.
Today I woke up feeling responsible, so here are my answers to some recent search terms and questions asked of google that have led people to my blog.
In no particular order:
When do stitches come out after delivery? They don’t. They sew you up using special thread that dissolves over time.
Where can I steal a baby monkey? You should be ashamed of yourself.
What is a cluster bomb? A form of air-dropped or ground-launched explosive weapon that releases or ejects smaller sub-munitions. Laos is, unfortunately, littered with them – see this post on the UXO museum here.
Bonsai dog: People, I get this one all the time and as far as I know, there is no such thing as a bonsai dog. There are bonsai trees. There are dogs. End of story.
White dog looks like husky: This one post has made me somewhat of a go-to person on white dogs that look like huskies. There are four options – Samoyed, Siberian husky, Alaskan Malamut & Shiba Inu.
Butchering Samoyeds: You should be ashamed of yourself.
Treating lympedema in puppies: If anyone has any good information on this (or, more usefully, on treating lymphedema in people), leave it below.
Do koalas bite people? No, but drop bears do. Follow the link to familiarize yourself with Australia’s most fearsome predator, the drop bear.
Funny dead cats in oven: Haven’t seen any of these lately, sorry.
Should I move to Laos? Why not, go for it.
Where can I get a Lao second wife? You’ll figure this one out quickly enough on your own after you move here. (And, PS, you should be ashamed of yourself).
How loud is a sperm whale? The sonar clicks produced by sperm whales are the loudest sound produced by a living creature, as loud as thunder. Apparently, when a sperm whale clicks at a diver it’s like getting kicked in the chest by a horse.
Lisa McKay sex trade worker: Not me, people. Lisa Ann McKay. She was convicted of killing a realtor in 2006 and she was recently released.
Does pornography change young minds? Yes. And older minds. For an excellent discussion of this seek out the book The Brain That Changes Itself and read chapter four on Acquiring Tastes and Loves.
How can I break my arm on rollerblades? By falling over.
Elf-milk: Um… drawing a blank on this one. Sorry.
Can I eat sorbet when pregnant? Absolutely, during the last three weeks of pregnancy I helped myself to a bowl (or two) some time between midnight and 4am every day.
Nude maternity photos: Here: … Kidding. I’m so not going there. And before you start looking through all my other posts, I cannot figure out why two people landed on my blog using this search term. Honestly.
That’s it for this session of 20 questions folks. If you have a question for me, you know where to find me. And if you forget, apparently you can just google nude maternity photos.
Have a good weekend.
It’s going to be a childhood-themed week – later this week I’ll be posting on author’s favorite children’s books. So in keeping with the theme, here’s Mike’s list of childhood experiences that will probably sound foreign to our own kids (heck, some of them sound foreign to me).
OK, OK, so I might not be doing many dishes here (thanks to the services of our wonderful maebaan) but I am making our own baby food. My first attempt ended in Dominic’s first temper tantrum, but my latest effort was received with much happy table thumping and head-bobblings of approval.
“What did you make?” my mother asked when I told her this.
“Baby ratatouille,” I said proudly. “Eggplant, tomato, onion, a little bit of broccoli, and garlic.”
“Garlic?” both my parents said at the same time. “We’ve never heard of anyone feeding a baby garlic.”
“Well, now you have,” I said. “And he liked it.”
What did your kids love to eat when they were little?