Monthly Archives: July 2011

Breaking news

No. The baby hasn’t come yet.

Yes, I’m grumpy about that (though not yet quite as grumpy as I still am about the fact that apparently he won’t be arriving via the international terminal at Gold Coast airport but via a significantly smaller and much less efficient terminal located closer to home – like just south of my bellybutton).

No, he’s not even technically due for another twelve days and he stayed inside as commanded until Mike arrived, so I know I have no real right to be unimpressed with his lack of interest in relocating but I am anyway. So anyone who’s tempted to leave me reasonable reminder below about how he’ll come out when he’s ready and not before… don’t.

And, yes, Mum and Dad are so thrilled to be watching this waiting game unfold up close and personal and Mike is over the moon to be sharing a continent (and a bed) with me once again. I’m sure Mum’s and Dad’s recently made plans to go up to Brisbane for a couple of nights next week and Mike’s refusal to go out on a hot date with me to Byron Bay last night in favour of sticking closer to home have nothing to do with any tropical storms of moodiness swirling around here.

This morning as we were tidying up Mike picked up a postcard announcing the arrival of a friend’s baby.

“What do you think about printed baby announcements?” Mike asked.

“No way,” I said.

“Why?” Mike asked.

“Money, for one,” I said, flopping onto the bed. “It would cost a ridiculous amount of postage to get these out to everyone who might care that we’ve just had a baby. Even more importantly, it would take a ridiculous amount of time to track down everyone’s addresses and get them in the mail. If you want to do them you are on your own, buddy.”

For an instant Mike looked at me as if being on his own was sounding quite appealing and I felt a little bad. Enough bad to make me ask him what he thought. The problem was, my question came out sounding less like a genuine query than a grudging acknowledgement that a conversation should involve the reciprocal exchange of ideas even though I had absolutely no intention of changing my mind on this issue.

Luckily for both of us, Mike doesn’t seem too attached to the notion of printed baby announcements.

This discussion/diatribe has, however, made me think again about how we’re going to get the news out about little baby McWolfe’s arrival – you know, when that actually happens in 2043.

When we got engaged, Mike was surprised and a bit appalled to discover that I felt there was an important pecking order that needed to be followed in terms of breaking the news. We should, I told him, make every effort to let our parents know first, followed by our siblings, followed by very close friends, etc. We followed a similar process with the news that I was pregnant (with the exception of the fact that the entire country of Laos knew before some of our closest friends due to the fact that near strangers on the street there were completely uninhibited about asking me if I was pregnant yet).

I don’t think we’ll be shooting for a similar, carefully-managed process with the news of the baby’s arrival.

During the last two weeks I’ve had friends ask how I’ll let them know when I go into labour, assume that I’ll share when we’re off to the hospital via facebook, and take for granted that we’ll be calling or texting people shortly after the birth with the big news. And until I started to think through the mechanics of it, I thought some of that might be happening as well.

But when I pause to project forward I suspect that when I do go into labour, as much as I adore my close friends, I won’t want to be thinking about sending emails or updating facebook. And without Australian mobile phones of our own, Mike and I also lack most of our friend’s phone numbers. Those that we do know are scattered here and there – tucked away in emails and on slips of paper.

So, upon reflection, I’ve decided on a very complicated “breaking the news of the birth” plan that goes something like this:

  1. We will call our parents after the baby is born and give them the green light to tell whomever they want whatever they want.
  2. We will send out a mass email, update facebook, and write a blog post when we can – which may not be for several days after the event.

That’s it.

If you object to this plan, feel free to ring and take it up with me. Mike would warn you to tread carefully, very carefully, should you decide to lodge a protest, but I don’t know what he’s on about really – it’s not like I’m grumpy or anything. No, I’m not even going to snap at him one little bit when he reads this and points out I have drafted a plan for breaking the news before I’ve drafted a birth plan or finished packing the bag for the hospital.

This I used to believe

Mike arrived safely in Australia on Saturday morning. Hooray! We’ve had a wonderful time so far, except for the sleeping together.

As in the sleeping together in the same bed, just to clarify.

Mike and I have never been all that sleep compatible. He can climb into bed before 10pm and be happily asleep within 3 minutes. This inspires in me a great envy-fed annoyance, for I’m the type that climbs into bed at 10pm, reads for two hours, and then struggles for at least 30 minutes to tiptoe towards slumber. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we wake up differently, too. Mike usually springs awake in the 6’s (or earlier) as if some dawn fairy has plugged him straight into the sun and flicked the switch. And he’s not just wide awake, he’s also ridiculously cheerful about the fact that “it’s a brand new day”!!

That is so not how I wake up. Especially at the moment.

These differences have all sorts of implications for morning interactions, and during the last ten weeks I’ve become quite accustomed to getting up sometime between 7:30 and 8, joining my parents on the deck for a leisurely cup of tea before breakfast, and having discussions that are not too mentally taxing. Not to say my parents aren’t capable of mentally taxing in the morning, but more often than not these early conversations have consisted of discussing whether that white speck out to sea is a small boat or a breaching whale, the flight patterns of flocks of birds around the house, and everyone’s plans for the day.

Now, however, Mike is back. Which is probably why this morning saw us segue over coffee from carbon emissions and global warming to the issue of changing strongly held beliefs. What, Mike wanted to know, causes people to change strongly held beliefs? What did we used to firmly believe that we’ve changed our minds on? What triggered that shift?

“I used to believe that avocadoes were nasty,” Mum said. “I quite like them now.”

“That saying the sinner’s prayer is some sort of automatic ticket to salvation and heaven,” I said.

“Wow, honey,” Mike said. “You just leapt from avocadoes to the sinners prayer without pausing. Remarkable. Especially for this time of day.”

“Here’s another one,” I said. “That you can control who you fall in love with if you just try hard enough.”

“I still believe that,” Mike said.

“So do I,” Dad said.

“Nope,” Mum said. “I’m with Lisa on this one. There are some attractions that are impossible to squelch even if you know they’re unwise.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m not saying it’s impossible to control your behaviour related to the attraction, I’m just saying that sometimes it’s impossible to change your feelings through sheer force of will.”

Mike and Dad did not look convinced.

“What about you?” I asked them.

“I was a pacifist before you were born,” Dad said. “You changed that.”

“Yeah,” Mum said, poking me. “You, not me. No, not me.”

“Well,” Dad said. “You were big enough to defend yourself, Lisa wasn’t.”

“This I used to believe, that what doesn’t kill you always makes you stronger,” Mike said. “That was before Tajikistan nearly wrecked me. Now I believe that what doesn’t kill you sometimes leave you vulnerable and weakened.”

“I believe anyone who gets a tattoo comes from an unhappy family,” Mum said.

“No you don’t,” I said.

“Yes I do,” Mum said, with the satisfied grin of someone who has set out to ruffle feathers and succeeded.

“You’ve always said you believed that anyway,” Dad said. “So I hardly see how that’s relevant to this discussion.”

“Want to get a tattoo in Lismore this afternoon after your doctor’s appointment?” Mike asked, nuzzling my neck.

“Yes,” I said, seriously tempted. “But I can’t while I’m pregnant.”

“You can’t,” Dad needled, “because you came from a happy family.”

In the end we decided that most or all of the changes that have come about to our firmly held beliefs occurred as the result of personal experience – not because we read a book or someone argued us into changing our mind. What do you think? What is your “this I used to believe” and why did you change your mind?

Reunions

In the three and a half years we’ve known each other, Mike and I have spent at least 3 weeks apart nine times now. When Mike was still living in PNG there was the three months apart right after we started dating and three and a half more after we got engaged. There were four month-long overseas consultancies Mike did during our first year of marriage. We spent about half of the first six months of last year apart before our move to Laos. And then there’s been this last ten weeks.

Mike will arrive into the Gold Coast tomorrow morning at about 7:30am, so when I haven’t been wondering whether the baby will beat him here I’ve been thinking a lot about reunions lately.

The last couple of days before a reunion I used to get oddly nervous. I wanted to be back together again but I often caught myself fretting about his return, too. What if he’d changed? What if I had? What if we struggled to find things to talk about? What if it was weird and we ended up staring at each other over the dinner table (or in bed) wondering, “who are you, and what are you doing here again?”

I’m not feeling nervous about Mike getting here this time – possibly because when I haven’t been busy forgetting all about appointments and planned skype calls any fretting I’ve done in the last ten days has run more along the lines of: “who am I, and how did I end up pregnant and living with my parents again?” So given that Mike is landing here in ten hours I’d say I’m home free this time, because even when I did get nervous in advance of a reunion I was usually beyond the anxious stage by the time I reached the airport.

I always aimed to get to the airport not too long after Mike’s plane was scheduled to land so that I’d be there before he exited customs. I wrote the following in my journal the day after one of these pickups during our first year of marriage:

I don’t mind these airport waits as long as they don’t go on too long. You can’t maintain that focused state of excited expectation for too long before it rises, crests, and transforms into something else for a while – boredom, thinking about things I need to do, anxiety. But as long as they don’t drag on beyond an hour there’s a wonderful concentration to these snippets of waiting to come together again. A profound gratitude, and amazement, that we have journeyed halfway around the world and yet again found our way safely back to each other. A wonder at the mystery of relationships, at how my life has been transformed during the last two years in ways I had never imagined.

I like standing there in the airport anticipating the moment that Mike will come through that door. I like watching other people doing their own waiting and wondering what has bought them to that point. I like feeling a part of the mystery of a thousand separate lives all meeting at that single moment like a huge tangled ball of living yarn.

Waiting in the airport is that turning point from the busyness of getting ready to have him home and the solitude of the last month. The familiar happiness of reunion begins before he even appears, although the instant of greeting is always a slightly different experience. Yesterday, the kiss I’d been anticipating – that radiant singular moment of greeting – was fleeting and not as electric I’d expected. The hug was better. All warm, and stubbly, and smelling him familiar, his hands firm against my back, tilting my face up towards him as you lift it to sunshine on a spring day.

Our last LAX reunion before moving to Laos - June 2010

What have been your experiences with reunions – what do they make you think and feel? Do you have any reunion traditions?

A skype date at 37 weeks pregnant

“How are you?” Mike asked me last night via skype.

“I’m grumpy,” I said.

“Why are you grumpy?” Mike said.

“I don’t know. Why are you in Laos?” I said.

Mike stops to puzzle this over for a few seconds, then decides not to engage on that front.

“Well, tell me about today,” he said.

“I talked to Jenn and Robin by skype. I lay down for a while. I read. I went to the chiropractor. I made an apple and rhubarb crumble. We had pizza for dinner. We watched TV,” I said, outlining a day most people might consider nearly perfect in its restfulness.

The problem, as I went on to explain to Mike, was that it was the third nearly perfectly restful day I’d had in a row and I was starting to get restless. It’s the first time in a year I haven’t had either consulting work or the memoir to occupy me during the day. I’m grateful for this extra mental space, but it’s making the days long. I’m at that stage where I can’t spend more than a couple of hours out and about without returning exhausted. My feet, after weeks of doing so well in the cold weather here, are swollen. Whoever the doctor was who claimed Braxton Hicks contractions are painless must have been an unmarried man. My back hurts, and I’ve even been banned from walking 2km in one go and doing all but the most gentle of yoga poses.

“The baby could come any moment,” I finished. “Or it could be five more weeks. And I hate these in-between stages.”

Mike listened to this litany of woes and, thankfully, didn’t remind me that many women manage to soldier through pregnancy while also caring for other children, or working full time, or alone, or while fleeing the latest horrible conflict or deadly famine in Africa. I know all of that, and on days like yesterday having someone else dish out some version of the “lots of other people have it worse than you do” perspective check usually doesn’t help in the moment. It just makes me even grumpier, because I end up feeling like a pathetic, complaining weakling on top of everything else.

Instead, Mike asked me how I’d been dealing with the grumps.

“Oh, really productively,” I said. “For example, I skulked about the kitchen while Mum was making dinner and complained that she’d bought the wrong type of pizza bases, that we didn’t have enough pizza sauce or the right type of trays for cooking pizza, that she’d set the temperature wrong on the oven, and that I wanted to fix my half just the way I liked it. I think she wanted to banish me to the living room. Or maybe back to Laos.”

“What’d she do?” Mike asked, possibly looking for tips on how to handle this scenario during those times I know that he wants to ban me from offering commentary in the kitchen while he’s cooking.

“Not much,” I said. “She pretty much patiently ignored me the same way she ignores Dad when he’s being unreasonably grumpy.”

At this point we managed to segue away from my grumpiness and talk for an hour about family dynamics, this article on the Harvard Grant study and happiness, the true meaning of church, and whether, when, and how we should venture opinions when people seem set on doing things that appear way less than wise because they “made a promise to God” or feel that “God told them to.”

You would think that an hour of talking with my distant beloved would have completely shifted my mood. Alas, no. This is how the conversation ended at 10pm.

“I’m going to let you go so that you can take your yawning self to bed,” Mike said.

“I don’t want to go and go to bed,” I whined, somehow instantly transformed back into a petulant five year-old. “I want a cuddle.”

“Well, even if I were there I’m not sure you’d be getting one from me. I might be telling you to go sort yourself out. In bed,” Mike said.

“If you were here I’d bite you,” I said.

“I know.” Mike smiled the smile of someone who was safely out of biting range. “I love you.”

P.S. If you followed that link on the current food crises in Somalia and Kenya and are wondering how to help, here are some more links to World Vision and Oxfam.

P.P.S. Since my parents were mentioned, I ran this past one of them before publishing it. Mum laughed and said maybe Dad should be vetting it instead of her. She suggested that I include the fact that Dad is not often unreasonably grumpy, but I said that such a caveat would spoil the punchiness of the line. Then she suggested I maybe could include the fact that Dad has been massaging my swollen feet for me many nights. I pointed out that, while true, that fact is a narrative tangent irrelevant to this tale. Sorry Dad, maybe next time.

Higgledypiggledy: Weekend Links

Most people say that if you want to build a huge blog readership you should find your theme or your niche or your whatchamacallit – your topic that you write on again and again and again until becomes your brand. Then, they say, if you keep at it and write well your blog will take off like a cat with firecrackers tied to its tail and you’ll have hordes of people coming e-flocking.

Yeah, well. This blog is an odd mishmash of stories related to pregnancy, marriage, family, life in Laos, humanitarian work, positive psychology, puppies, and ice-cream/chocolate. An odd mishmash remarkably similar to my daily life, come to think of it. And so far I’m fine with being all higgledypiggledy rather than trying to be a brand.

So in the spirit of higgledypiggledy I thought I’d share some links with you this weekend – links I’ve recently found challenging, helpful, funny or just plain yummy. Enjoy.

On humanitarian work
A five-part series over on morealtitude on how to become an aid worker:
Know what you’re getting into
Aid work is a profession
Experience, education, and personality
Where do you fit?
Count the cost

On positive psychology
What makes us happy: Fascinating article (long, but worth it) on some of the lessons learned from the longitudinal study of 268 Harvard students that first began in 1937.

The Geography of Bliss: This book is part travel memoir, part exploration of happiness in different cultures and lands. It’s pithy and well-written and I really enjoyed it. 

On parenting
How to talk to little girls: A thought-provoking article on how adults tend to focus on a little girls appearance when complimenting them.

A lesson in fear: A funny essay by my friend, Jos, over at Zozo’s Mom about the challenges of toilet training.

In which I promise not to call myself fat: A lovely blog entry on emerging mummy about one woman’s battle with body image post-pregnancy and her promises to her daughters to raise them to celebrate real beauty.

On puppies
My story about “the Samoyed that almost was” (Friendly companions from Siberia) guest-posted on fellow author Chandra Hoffman’s blog last week. Having just bought home a most adorable Newfoundland puppy (I want one, I want one), she’s doing a dog blog series. 

On chocolate and ice cream
Molten fudge cake with raspberries and cream: This recipe was posted by my friend Nicole Baart under the title “Best Desert Ever” and I don’t think she’s far off on that! I made it yesterday and it was yumscrumptious. If you go visit Nicole’s website check out her wonderful books while you’re there.

Chocolate caramel slice: A couple of you have written asking what slices are. Well, here’s a link to a quintessential Australian slice – chocolate and caramel. They’re dense, gooey and yummy (or sickeningly sweet, depending on your tolerance for sugar).

Just for fun
Lioness tries to eat baby at zoo: Don’t worry – there is glass in between the two.

And that’s why you should learn to pick your battles: The story of a giant metal chicken and a wedding anniversary.

What is nesting, anyway?

Last week I found myself wandering around the cute shops in Bangalow. This little town is smack in the middle of eucalypt forests and green fields filled with cows, yet the stores are crammed with vintage wicker furniture, porcelain tea sets, handmade jewelry, expensive clothes made out of hemp, and giant wooden Buddhas going for $600. Even after my seven years in LA, Bangalow is way too trendy for me.

I managed to resist the giant wooden Buddhas and the hemp clothes, but I did almost buy a cookbook of chocolate recipes. This cookbook was a work of art. There were luscious pictures of brownie bites topped with cheesecake and raspberries, and mini chocolate cakes stuffed with cherries, and chocolate pancakes topped with cinnamon-glazed pears… I was utterly entranced. The book had three strikes against it, however. It was heavy. It cost $45.00. And we have no oven in Laos.

I put it back with a sigh but cheerfully reported on my near miss to Mike that night via skype, heartened by the thought that I had been enticed by something so very domestic as baking.

“I’m nesting,” I concluded triumphantly at the conclusion of the tale about the cookbook that nearly was.

“Um, I think nesting is when you find yourself doing things for the baby,” Mike replied, “not for yourself.”

There were a couple of easy answers to this disparaging nay-saying. The first was that a happy mother makes a happy baby and so, by extension, anything I do for myself (or that anyone else does for me, come to think of it) is indirectly being done for the baby. The second was that I am quite sure the baby would have been wildly appreciative of raspberry cheesecake brownie bites. You know, if we lived somewhere we had an oven, we could get decent chocolate and raspberries, and I could actually make them for him.

But all this cross-equatorial flippancy has had me thinking about nesting more seriously this last week.

It seems that most women experience nesting by going on marathon cleaning sprees, washing and organizing all the baby clothes, preparing the baby’s room, cooking meals to freeze, fretting about school districts, and packing their labor bag. So, let’s take a look at these.

Cleaning? Well, not exactly. Mum found mould growing in my shower yesterday and was deeply disturbed.

“Didn’t you see that there?” she asked, confused, after she’d taken it upon herself to spray it with mould killer and warn me not to go in there for several hours.

“Oh, I saw it,” I said, looking up from my desk and shrugging. “But it’s no big deal. It gets much worse in Laos.”

Baby clothes? Well, with the exception of a giant trash bag full of second-hand clothes that has now been sitting on the floor of my bedroom for 11 days, I’ve washed and sorted the baby clothes we’ve been given. Well, OK, Mum washed at least half of them (after informing me that baby clothes should be washed with baby detergent and not regular detergent… who knew??) but I sorted them. That sorting, that was definitely all me.

Preparing the baby’s room? For the first eight weeks of his life the baby will be sleeping in a crib that my grandfather made for my mother. This crib is very cute, but doesn’t have a mattress. Having a custom-fitted mattress made would cost a pretty penny, so Mum and I recently bought one of those change mats with the raised edges that we thought would fit well inside the crib. However someone (not me) measured the top of the crib rather than the bottom when we went shopping, so when we got the mat home it was too big for the crib by several inches.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Dad can just use his circular saw to cut some off of the edges and then it’ll fit fine.”

Mum didn’t look convinced by this. Neither did Dad.

“Cutting the edges off that foam will render it structurally unstable,” Dad said.

“And I think it’s too soft,” Mum said.

I rolled my eyes.

“He’s only going to be sleeping in there for seven weeks,” I said. “And it’s not like he’ll be wiggling very far. It’ll be perfectly safe.”

(Here I would like to pause and point out that a decade ago I spent six months working on a baby-death review team. That job scarred me for life and I don’t take baby safety casually. I really do think this mat would be perfectly adequate, but I’ve been overruled. Apparently we’ll be procuring a new mattress.)

And what of the rest of the nesting signs? Well, there has been exactly no cooking of meals to freeze (though I have baked chocolate malt-dipped cookies, slices, and a number of rhubarb and apple crumbles). On the other hand there has been a little fretting about school districts (or, more accurately, the fact that there are no suitable schools for this little one where we currently live). I have not packed my labor bag.

So using the traditional yardsticks I’m not scoring too well on the nesting front.

But.

The whole point of nesting is preparing the environment for the baby’s arrival, right? Well, in a world where most babies are born into environments devoid of fancy cribs and closets full of clothes I’m less concerned about this baby’s immediate physical environment (which is already way more than adequate to meet his needs) than I am about my mental environment and what that will mean for this baby.

On that front I think I’ve been making good progress in clearing the decks and getting things organized so that I can give him my attention. I’ve sent manuscripts and book outlines to agents, I’ve wrapped up all my consulting commitments and invoiced clients, I’ve submitted articles to magazines, I’ve got things squared away with the psych registration board and the tax office, I’ve filed insurance paperwork and I’m making slow progress on answering email. A shrinking work-and-life-admin to-do list may not look much like traditional nesting. But this, more than anything else, is making me feel a little more prepared for this baby to actually arrive on the scene sometime in the next month or so.

Gulp.

Yes, OK, I’ll think about moving “pack the labor” bag up that list in terms of priority, and maybe deal with the remaining baby clothes. Right after I answer some email and bake brownie bites.

Any thoughts or stories about nesting? I’d love to hear them.

10 great gifts for pregnant women

(Looking for gift ideas for pregnant women or new parents? You might want to jump over to my updated post on this topic instead – 30 great gifts for pregnant women and new parents)

I had a dream about the baby last night! (This deserves an exclamation mark because by this stage of pregnancy apparently normal women spend many nights dreaming of their baby. This is my 2nd dream. Ever. And last time I dreamed I forgot the baby when I went out to dinner with Mike.) So, feeling all proud of myself for being so maternal-like, I was pretty excited to relay this dream over breakfast.

“I dreamed the baby fell down a flight of stone steps when I was trying to teach it how to walk,” I told Mum.

“Stone steps,” Mum repeated. “How old was this baby?”

“Oh, like, two or three months,” I said. “But that’s not the point. The point is, when it got hurt and cried I picked it up and comforted it. And then I took it somewhere in the car and I put it in a car seat!”

It…?” Mum repeated.

OK, so maybe I haven’t perfected this whole maternal dreaming thing yet. There’s still time. A couple of weeks, anyway.

So speaking of dreaming, I’ve been waking up from my dreams every morning now feeling as if the flu and my ninetieth birthday have arrived overnight. All my joints hurt, particularly my hands and fingers. Sometimes first thing in the morning I can barely make a fist. Dr Google assures me this will go away when my ligaments tighten up again after delivery. It better, or the poor little “it” will just have to lie at the bottom of that flight of stone steps and cry, because I won’t be able to pick “it” up.

I am not the only one with sore hands, however. A parcel arrived at the post office on Friday and it seems that two of my friends, Robin and Jenn, have been very busy indeed working their own fingers to the bone on my behalf.

Robin lives in Texas and Jenn in Kansas, but they decided that, “the best way to recognize the arrival of baby McWolfe, a ‘lil one born of a long distance love story, was with a collaborative project that was created via hours of phone calls, text messages, skype dates, and extensive emails that included the frequent exchange of spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations.” Then they got together in Texas to bring the whole project to beautiful completion.

(I could say something here about how this process is indeed similar to the one that led the creation of baby McWolfe in the first place, but I’ll refrain to avoid scandalizing my Nanna).

So why the sore hands and fingers in Texas, you might ask? Well these two dear friends knitted and crocheted us the most beautiful baby blanket. A blanket they insist is not meant to be an heirloom but meant to be used, get dirty, thrown in the wash, and eventually wear out. “It’s meant to be the hug that we’re not there to give,” they wrote.

The blanket is gorgeous, and Mike and I are humbled and overwhelmed by the thought, time, and love that went into making it.

In fact, I’ve felt humbled by love a fair bit since we announced our pregnancy. Other friends in the States boxed up maternity and baby clothes and mailed them to me in Australia at considerable expense – I’ve been wearing those maternity clothes almost daily. In fact, a number of friends in three different countries have gifted us second-hand baby clothes. I have not yet bought a single new piece of clothing for the bub, but don’t worry that he’ll be wanting for warmth. When he fell down that flight of stairs in my dream the little tyke wasn’t naked – he was wearing a perfectly lovely second-hand jumpsuit.

I could go on and on, but let’s just say that Mike and I have been virtually showered by gifts big and small from around the globe and we are touched and grateful.

So, in celebration of the blessings we’ve received I thought I’d share a list of ten of the more unusual gifts we’ve received. Wondering about what to give an expectant mother? Here are some ideas:

  1. A homemade breast-feeding support pillow in the shape of an elephant.
  2. An iTunes gift card to buy music to listen to while breastfeeding.
  3. Lullaby music for the baby (so far I particularly like Dreamland: World Lullabies & Soothing Songs and the Baby Einstein: Lullaby Classics.
  4. Baby items that will bring back memories (this weekend I received a bib covered with tiny whales from visiting friends – it’ll be a memory trigger as we spent much of the weekend together watching for whales spouting out at sea).
  5. Books on parenting (as opposed to pregnancy and delivery, which she has probably already procured).
  6. A My Baby’s First Year book to record important milestones.
  7. A colorful mobile to hang over the baby’s crib.
  8. A diaper bag for traveling that includes a roll-out change mat and cold storage for at least one bottle.
  9. Story books to read to the baby. Check out this post for great options: What do writers read to their kids?: Five authors share their favorite children’s books.
  10. Donate your time and energy to host a celebratory gathering or a baby shower.
  11. A wooden hand-crafted crib that the baby’s great grandfather made for the baby’s grandmother. (Yeah, OK, that one might be a bit hard to pull off, but that’s what our little one will be sleeping in for the first eight weeks of his life while we’re still here in Australia – Pa set it up for me the other day).

These are just a few of the things we’ve received that have made me smile – but the creative possibilities to bless a new family seem endless, really. If you live locally you could assemble an envelope full of take-out menus from local restaurants and include enough cash to order dinner one night during those first few weeks post-birth. You could organize for a house cleaner to come in once or twice. If she’s into yoga, perhaps look for a yoga DVD she could do at home when she can’t get out to attend a class. And, of course, practical gifts such as diapers, small toys, nappy rash cream and the like never go astray.

What favourite baby gifts have you given or received? Other ideas? Help out people who will visit this post looking for gift inspiration by leaving a comment below.

If you enjoyed this post, stick around! Subscribe to my blog by RSS or by email (enter your email address top right) to receive updates about our adventures in parenthood and in Laos, and check out some of the following pregnancy and parenthood-related posts:

  1. Koi Maan Luuk: Or, I Am Pregnant
  2. Finding Out You Are Pregnant, In Slow Motion
  3. Life Lessons on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding from Cows
  4. It’s a…
  5. Ten Good Things About Boys: Attaining Synthetic Happiness One Gender Stereotype at a Time
  6. Lessons in breastfeeding from cows, take two
  7. Tough Love Take One

Best of Year One in Laos

It’s been just over a year, and 132 blog posts, since we moved to Laos. To celebrate that milestone, today I’ve drawn together some of the best of this last year’s blog posts.

Unless you’re independently wealthy and have way too much time on your hands (or you’re bedridden and desperate for entertainment) I doubt you’ll want to read all of them, so I’ve put them in categories for easier browsing. I’ve also marked a couple of my favorite funny posts with a double asterisk like this ** for those just looking for a laugh.

Thank you all for tracking with me and Mike on this journey. Blogging about our adventures and misadventures during this last year has been one of my favorite things to do. That’s partly due to all the emails, comments and other messages we’ve received. I am so grateful for your interest and your support.

So, thanks again for traveling with us through Year 1 and here’s to Year 2. I have no doubt Year 2 will bring plenty of adventures of its own as well as answers to a couple of key questions that are currently on my mind: Will Mike arrive in Australia before our son? Will my ambivalence about parenthood ease once the little guy is on the scene? Are we crazy to take our baby back to Laos? Will my memoir find a publishing home? And, will Mike give our whining, needy, Zulu dog to the Vietnamese noodle sellers down the street before I return in October as he keeps threatening to do?

However, all that is still to come, and in the meantime here is a glance back at an amazing year…

Cross cultural issues and our life in Laos

Family and pregnancy

Humanitarian work

Psychology

Writing

Over to you: I’d love to hear whether any particular post impacted you this last year or whether there’s anything you’ve been wishing I’d write about. If so, drop me a line or leave a comment below. Thanks again!

The belly is growing, the brain shrinking

If you’ve emailed or otherwise tried to communicate with me during the last ten days and I haven’t gotten back to you, my sincere apologies. If it’s any consolation, you’re not the only one. Just in the last 24 hours, three of my friends have had to hassle me to furnish them with needed information. It seems that my brain and mental bandwidth is shrinking in inverse proportion to my still-expanding belly. And if you’re wondering how big that belly might be now (and, consequently, how small my brain)… an octogenarian with a walking stick offered to get up off a public bench today so that I could sit down. It would appear that I am beginning to look as uncomfortable as I am feeling.

Disclaimer: Everyone who is harboring serious concerns about my lack of maternal instincts skip everything below until you see a line like this ****. (Bobbie, this means you.)

Speaking of being uncomfortable – yesterday was a shocker. Not only was I in significant pain most of the day, but I was hanging out with family friends who have children and was repeatedly confronted with concrete evidence of just how much work children are. Not just the babies, but the toddlers, little kids, big kids, and teenagers too… All of a sudden it just seemed like too much, and when my brother rang later that night to check in I asked him whether he’d like my baby. You know, to have. Permanently.

In addition to asking me whether I’d cleared this proposal with Mike (uh, no) my brother and sister-in-law politely declined this offer. When I asked why, they said that when they consider this baby’s lineage they are forced to conclude that the little guy will probably be too active for them to handle comfortably.

“But you might get a little boy with Mike’s sweet and sunny extraversion and my less active temperament,” I argued.

“Yeah, but…” my brother said. He didn’t need to finish. I knew what he was thinking – that they might get a little boy with my “less sweet and sunny and much more obstinate” personality and Mike’s energizer bunny temperament.

“Fine,” I said crossly. “I don’t think that’s very family-minded of you. I expected more, frankly, but if you’re not going to take the baby can you at least help me fix my latest computer problem?”

****

Today, however, things are feeling much better. I even saw a tiny baby in a stroller in Target (where I was actually shopping for baby things!) and had an “aww isn’t that baby just so adorable, I wonder what our baby will look like?” inner-gooey moment. I suspect we’ll keep our little guy after all. After all, it would be a shame to waste all the natural aptitude Mike and I display for caring for baby mammals.

Woops. How did the dog get hold of the baby goat's bottle?

Woops. Who knew that baby goats liked kisses?

So, if I haven’t been answering emails and returning phone calls, what have I been doing during the last week? In no particular order: hanging out with a good friend who was up here visiting, toasting marshmallows over an evening fire, filing insurance paperwork, drafting an essay I plan to submit to the New York Times, napping, talking to Mike on skype, learning about stage 3 labour and breastfeeding in childbirth classes, sitting in my obstetrician’s waiting room, reading, and generally trying to stay away from email for a while. All in all, it’s been high on the “lovely and relaxing” end of the scale.

However, in the midst of my inability to engage with all things internet last week I also missed more than a couple of emails I needed to answer… I missed writing about the anniversary of my arrival with Mike in Laos on June 28th. And Mike had even reminded me about it a couple of days previously.

“We’re coming up on one year since we arrived in Laos together,” Mike said, smiling over skype. “Remember how you wanted to drown yourself in the Mekong that first day?”

“Oh, I remember,” I said.

“I’m glad you didn’t drown yourself in the Mekong,” Mike said fondly.

“All things considered, me too,” I said.

What a year it’s been – one of ups and downs, of incredible adventures and some hardships. Tomorrow or the next day I’ll celebrate that year on the blog by taking a look back at some of my favorite posts and moments. And in the meantime, I might even answer some of my emails. I hope you’ve all had a great start to the week.

Thanks for dropping by.