Tag Archives: sleep

Sweet sleep and ice cream machines: What do you need to create?

It’s almost 4:30 in the morning. I’ve been up since 3:15 when I first heard a little someone who sleeps right beside me in a mosquito-netted travel cot tossing his head from side to side and smacking his lips. Then I heard questing chirps and fingernails clawing at nylon (I’m pretty sure he lives in hope that if he just scrabbles around frantically enough he’s going to find a boob in bed with him one of these days, either that or he’ll manage to dig his way to one). After a couple of minutes of this I got up and gave him what he wanted.

He went right back to sleep afterwards – it’s the only time of day he will reliably go down without a fuss at the moment. I, however, didn’t find it so easy.

Some of the roosters are also awake, neighborhood dogs are having brief and vocal tussles and I can hear rain falling – such an odd sound at this dry time of year. My bad foot aches. I’m hungry for banana bread or brownies or something. (Not fruit, though, or anything else we actually have in the house. No, not that). My mind is busy hopscotching around between blog posts and book tasks and what exactly I might say to Mike when I wake him up with my restlessness and he rolls over and tells me that I should be asleep. I’m cooking up a line perfectly calibrated to convey that I don’t lie here awake just for fun – a line that’s a bit sharp without straying into unreasonably bitchy territory.

They are such useful conversations to have, these imaginary ones.

I don’t often get up in the wee dark hours and write but I knew how this would play out if I didn’t – the same way it has played out half a dozen times during the last two weeks.

I would put Dominic back to bed at 4 and lie there awake until 5. Then, right as I was tumbling off the exhausted cliff and falling into sleepy, Dominic would start to doze more lightly. He would lose his dummy and want it back again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Then he would wake properly around 6 looking for his own version of banana bread and brownies.

And I would be shot for the entire day as far as any good writing goes.

Decent sleep is such a creative basic for me, something I just can’t do without. I don’t have many other real needs. Relative quiet is on that list. A decent chair and a cup of coffee first thing in the morning come close, but I’m not sure even they qualify as needs. Maybe my laptop does. I can barely remember how to write longhand anymore – I think in type.

Wants are another story; I have plenty of writing wants. I want blank notebooks, and pens that spill just enough ink smooth and clean onto the page when you use them, and something to find me the perfect quotation at a moment’s notice. I want beautiful bookshelves and music that articulates the emotional tone of what I’m writing. I want a soft-serve ice cream machine in my own office.

I’ve always wanted my own office. Well, to be honest what I really want is an entire cabin in the woods (or one set in a lush and well-manicured garden – I can never decide which). I want to fill this cabin with books and buy a huge wooden desk made of gorgeous timber – timber that earned its beauty during decades of struggling up toward sunshine in a rainforest – the sort of timber that I should be too responsible and too ashamed to own. And when I grew tired of sitting at this magical desk, I imagine that I would relax on a beautiful Turkish carpet in front of a fireplace.

Somehow my imagination never has me cleaning the ashes out of this fireplace in the cold hard light of day; I only ever sit there during twilight and watch the mystic dance of flames.

Isn’t that the way with wants?

I might want an office, but I certainly don’t need one. As long as it’s quiet enough I can write anywhere. Sometimes I can even write when it’s not at all quiet (does anyone else get some of their best ideas in church?). I can make do without the ice cream machine. Sleep, however, is a different story.

Trying to write without enough sleep in the bank is like trying to drive through fog or swim wearing shoes or bang your head against the wall without putting your bike helmet on first.

See what happens? You come up with sentences like the one above. And then you’re too dopey to edit them out. When I write tired I feel easily overwhelmed. I second-guess myself constantly and nothing I come up with seems good enough (possibly because nothing I come up with is good enough). It’s no fun at all.

Nope, if I had to choose between my cabin in the woods and getting enough sleep it’s not even a close call. Sleep I need. Cabins I just want.

Over to you: What are your creative wants and needs?

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24 things that have surprised me about motherhood: I never thought I would…

Everyone says motherhood is full of surprises. They’re right. Here are 24 of mine.

I never thought I would…

  1. Leak milk at the sight of a puppy.
  2. Wipe up baby spew with clothing that I am wearing.
  3. Consider 6 a.m. on a Sunday almost a sleep-in.
  4. Refer to my spouse as “daddy” more frequently than I call him by name.
  5. Still have my child sleeping right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  6. Still want my child to sleep right beside my bed 5 months after his birth.
  7. Catch poo with my bare hands.
  8. Find myself physically incapable of letting the baby cry for longer than 57 seconds without comforting him.
  9. Find myself physically incapable of concentrating on conversations, tasks or oncoming traffic when the baby is crying.
  10. Understand why the manufacturers felt it necessary to print the following warning label on pacifier packaging: “Warning: Do not tie pacifier around a child’s neck as it presents a strangulation danger”.
  11. End up with a red-headed baby who is below the 40th percentile for weight and height (I mean, we’ll keep him because he is the most adorable baby ever, but I seriously think he may have been switched at birth).
  12. See regurgitated milk land in my (brown) hair and think, “it’s only a little bit, I don’t need wash it out today.”
  13. Find myself speaking in a high-pitched musical tone even when I’m not talking to the baby.
  14. Ricochet emotionally from extreme highs to extreme lows within half an hour.
  15. Change four diapers in 20 minutes.
  16. Feel guilty for leaving the baby with someone else for an hour so I can do some work.
  17. Function adequately (most of the time) on this little sleep.
  18. Say everything twice (“What’s the doggie doing, Dominic? What’s the doggie doing?).
  19. Allow the dog to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  20. Call the dog over to lap up milk that the baby has spewed up.
  21. Allow the baby to lap up milk that the baby has just spewed up. (Off my shoulder, people, not the floor. Hey, I work hard to make that milk, if he wants to drink it twice, that’s fine by me).
  22. Feel the urge to sneeze and think first of my pelvic floor.
  23. Think of household items such as bed sleepers and rocking chairs with the same acquisitive lust heretofore reserved for ice cream makers.
  24. Feel so immediately, incandescently and uncontrollably joyful when the baby laughs.

What about you? What surprised you on becoming a parent?

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

Tough Love Take Two

Six weeks ago I tried to let Dominic “cry it out” for the first time. I was so tired that day that I decided to lie down next to him and see if he could calm down if I petted his belly instead of actually holding him. The experiment was not what exactly what you might call a success. It lasted a grand total of 4 minutes and netted me 29 more minutes of hysterical howling after I gave in and picked him up. I didn’t think I’d be trying controlled crying again anytime soon.

That was last month.

This is this month.

Until this month Dominic had been a relatively easy baby. I mean, I don’t have anything to compare him to, but I suspect that I don’t really have much to complain about (not that that’s ever stopped me). As long as someone stayed nearby to stick his pacifier back in whenever it fell out, Dominic would settle himself to sleep in his cot about 70% of the time. When he was about 10 weeks old he mostly started sleeping from about 10pm to 5am with only brief nocturnal wakeups to ask for his pacifier back.

Then he turned four months old.

Seemingly overnight, things changed. His Royal Babyness didn’t want to be put down anymore. Ever. He began insisting on being fed somewhere between midnight and 2am every night. He started to cry whenever Mike or I disappeared from his line of sight. He started to cry whenever we handed him to someone else (and sometimes even when other people merely looked at him). He started to cry whenever we tried to get him to go to sleep.

The hysteria at bedtime started around the time he caught his first cold, so we began walking him to sleep. We thought he’d settle back into his easier former patterns as soon as he felt better.

He didn’t. Two weeks later we were still walking him to sleep every night and for every daytime nap. He never napped for more than forty-five minutes at a time. Whenever I tried to get him down he’d wiggle and fuss and throw his head back and gaze around in the manner of a pudgy, horizontal meercat. He’d only drift off if I were singing to him.

When I got bored with Old MacDonald and his farm full of rabid roosters, starving kitties and mangy dogs I started singing Hush Little Baby. I don’t know anything past the first couple of lines, so my version goes something like this:

Hush little baby don’t say a word
Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird,
And if that mockingbird don’t sing
Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring,
And if that diamond ring don’t shine
Mama will buy you the whole diamond mine,
And if that diamond mine don’t produce
Mama will buy you a big fat moose,
And if that fat moose don’t taste fine
Mama will buy you a case of red wine…

I’d make up this sort of nonsense until his eyes rolled back in his head and he went limp, then I’d wait a couple more minutes – the pain in my back and shoulders growing by the second – before easing him gently into his cot, unpeeling my hands from him finger by finger and praying that he stayed asleep.

One night last week though, after he’d gotten us up to feed him/walk him back to sleep at midnight and 2 AM and cried for his pacifier every forty five minutes until 5 AM when he decided that he was hungry again, I was done with this new normal. I was so done that I told Mike during the wee dark hours of that awful morning that I didn’t know why we’d decided to have children and that I wanted to leave the baby with him and get on a plane to Australia. I was scarily close to being serious.

Since being done with the whole motherhood thing wasn’t really a viable option, however, I decided that I was definitely done walking the floor with twenty pounds of grumpy baby when I was pretty sure he was neither sick nor teething. My emotions couldn’t take it and neither could my back. Despite the dread I felt at the prospect of letting him cry it out, it was time for tough love take two.

Operation tough love take two commenced that very morning with Dominic’s first nap. I put him in his cot and I gave him his pacifier, his cuddly toys, and his blanket. I sat down in a chair by his bed where he could see me. I told him that it was time he figured out how to go to sleep without being carried around the room.

He let me know he wasn’t a fan of this plan, and his crying quickly escalated to red-faced, hysterical thrashing. I held my ground. I sang to him. I patted him. I handed him back his pacifier, but I did not pick him up, and after twenty minutes of theatrics he fell asleep.

Then. Less than a minute after his eyes had closed…

Our neighbors decided to harvest coconuts and they started falling onto the tin roof right outside his bedroom window.

Here I must pause and address those of you who have suggested that it is good for babies to learn to sleep through loud noises. That might hold with regards to the sounds of voices, traffic, and even the occasional dog bark. It does not hold for the sound of a coconut falling on a tin roof. A baby’s brain is understandably hard-wired to interpret that sort of sudden, intense noise as danger. This is because only people who did wake up when they heard that sort of noise lived to pass on their genes – the happy slumberers were all eaten by coconut-wielding saber-tooth tigers.

Needless to say, Dominic woke up. Needless to say I was livid.

I moved him from his crib into the small travel cot in our bedroom and started all over again. This time it took forty minutes of crying/singing for him to go back to sleep.

But this story has a happy ending. After the first day of crying every time I put him down, Dominic started to go down again with only minimal fussing, fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer. He’s been happier and less clingy, and I’ve been feeling less exhausted, desperate, and tempted to leave him with Mike and head to the airport. For now, we’re good.

I have a nasty feeling, however, that when the time comes for Tough Love Take Three: Whereupon We Stop Handing Him His Pacifier When He Loses It For the Tenth Time in Two Minutes, all may not be such smooth sailing. Stay tuned.

Mamas and Papas, got any Tough Love stories to share?

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Tough Love Take 1

I tried something new with Dominic on Friday – a little bit of tough love. Here is how that went:

"Daddy, let me tell you how it went. I, for one, was shocked."

Dominic wakes up from his afternoon nap after only thirty minutes of sleep.

I decide that he is still tired and that he needs to go back sleep. He doesn’t look like he stands a hope of doing that in his crib so I pick him up (can’t you already see how tough this love was?), bring him into the bedroom, lay him on the bed so that he can see me sitting at the desk, and tell him (nicely) to go back to sleep.

Dominic starts to yirp (this particular sound most closely resembles the offspring of a chirp and a yowl) in a way that let’s me know that he thinks this is not the best idea I’ve ever had.

I pet him and reinsert the pacifier (and reinsert the pacifier and reinsert the pacifier and reinsert the pacifier… repeat times 100).

Dominic starts to get increasingly upset.

I determine that now is as good a time as any to let him try to cry it out. I lie down right beside him on the bed, stroke his cheek (again, how tough is this love?), and decide that I will let him cry for five minutes before I pick him up…

I lasted for four.

And in that four minutes Dominic had worked himself up into such a shrieking, thrashing, red-faced, sweating, howling screaming mess that it took him 29 more minutes of holding and walking and soothing (29!!!) for him to calm down enough to suck on his favorite object in the world – the one that delivers milk unto him. Every time I tried to offer him a nipple before that magical twenty ninth minute he would take one brief suck, throw back his head, and scream with renewed vigor. He didn’t glare at me, but that’s only because his eyes were firmly screwed shut in order to allow him to better concentrate on broadcasting his sadness and rage as loudly as possible.

“JULIUS CAESAR HAD NOTHING ON THIS!!!” he seemed to be howling.  “YOU DID NOT PICK ME UP THE INSTANT I LET IT BE KNOWN THAT WAS WHAT MY LITTLE HEART DESIRED. THIS IS TRUE BETRAYAL! THIS IS TRUE PAIN! THERE IS NO ONE IN THIS WHOLE SAD, BAD, WORLD WHO LOVES ME! NOOOOOOO OOOOONNNNNEEEEE!”

You would have thought that I covered him in honey, staked him out under a tropical sun and left him for the ants to find (stay tuned for Tough Love Take Five).

It’s a little funny now but it wasn’t at all funny on Friday. No matter how objectively ridiculous you think your baby is being, there’s no humour in watching them cry so hard for so long. I’ve only seen Dominic do that once or twice before, and then only ever because he was in physical pain.

Finding myself over the last couple of months unable to bear the prospect of leaving my child to cry himself to sleep has surprised me. I honestly thought he’d be sleeping in his own room within two weeks of birth and that we’d be putting him to bed alone and letting him howl himself to sleep on a nightly basis by now. Yet here I am still happily placing him in a travel cot beside my bed every night, holding him to sleep on those nights (about 30% of the time) that he doesn’t drift off without fussing, reaching down when he stirs and whimpers at 2AM to hand him back his dummy, getting up at 5AM to feed him well before he gets to the actively crying stage.

This issue of how to “best” help children sleep can be a contentious one in parenting circles. Emma Tom summarizes this well in The Australian:

“Like the other great baby debates of our time… controlled crying attracts extreme detractors and supporters whose polarised views leave little room for a sensible, midground approach. Critics claim these sorts of sleep regimes break babies’ spirits and cause irreparable long-term damage. Hardline advocates, on the other hand, have the disturbing habit of framing babies as deliberately manipulative, saying tough love is necessary to get the better of the calculating little buggers.”

I know the day may come when I decide that I want or need to be slightly less responsive to Dominic’s every cheep, but after yesterday’s performance I’m dreading that day. There was nothing controlled about Friday’s misery extravaganza. I don’t think he would have stopped without comforting before he screamed himself into a hoarse and desolate sort of exhausted.

So, parents, I’m interested in hearing about your approach to getting your kids to sleep. I’m not particularly interested in hearing your advice on the subject (no “shoulds” on this topic, please) but I am very interested in hearing your stories. What worked for your kids when they were young babies? What works now?

Supply equals demand: Our first argument as parents

I am typing this one handed while Dominic sleeps on my left shoulder. About every twenty seconds he pops his head up and makes angry-koala-bear noises. I suspect that this is because he has so far stubbornly refused to burp after spending most of the last hour guzzling milk. I don’t understand. He burps quite nicely for Mike (who has been primary burper and diaper-changer during the daytime for the last ten days). Then Mike goes into town for an hour and a quarter (and counting) and what do I get? No burps, but a big baby vomit into my hair (the hair that I washed just this morning) and two pooey diapers. Two. In one feed. I mean, can we say excessive?

Yes, you can look forward to more of these aggrieved mini-rants after Mike returns to Laos next Friday for the month of September and I’m pseudo-single-parenting for a month. And that’s enough about that topic for now because every time I think about Mike leaving I feel like making some angry koala bear noises of my own.

So the last two weeks have been a bit of a blur – as life gets when you’re on a three-hour loop that repeats over and over again. Overall I think we’re all doing well, but there have been moments when fuses have been significantly shorter because of lack of sleep, not to mention certain challenges associated with breastfeeding.

Three days after we brought Dominic home from the hospital Mike and I had our first argument as parents. We were talking about breastfeeding and milk supply. The conversation went like this:

Mike: Supply equals demand

Me: You mean, demand equals supply.

Mike: No, the supply is there to meet the demand.

Me: But the demand comes first to determine the supply.

(Long pause)

Mike: Let’s not argue about this. Let’s argue about something more important. Any ideas?

Me: You pick, I’ve breastfed for the last hour and now I’m still sitting here attached to a pump. I’ll argue with you about anything at this point.

That's the demand, right there. When he's hungry he'll attack anything, even my nose, and latch on with the mouth of a famished oyster.

 

It takes a village

I wrote the following on Tuesday. It’s now Thursday. C’est la vie at the moment…

This time last week I was still two hours and 15 minutes from giving birth. Last night as I was up between midnight and 2, and again from 5AM, I was somewhat comforted by the thought that as hard as the night was feeling, it wasn’t a patch on how difficult that night of labouring had been the previous week.

Mike and I have been flooded with cyber love in the past week – receiving hundreds of notes and comments congratulating us and wishing us well as we embark upon parenthood. One of those emails said, “I’m sure Dominic will give you a whole new way of thinking, living… and writing!”

I can already see the truth in that statement. Dominic has definitely given me a whole new way of living – I have done very little but feed, sleep, and eat what has been put in front of me since we came home from the hospital on Friday. And not having had more than three hours sleep in a row for a week now is certainly doing some funny things to my thinking.

As for writing… yes, that’s going to have to take a backseat for a while. And what writing I can do, I suspect, will be along the lines of vignettes that I jot down when the odd free moment pops up. And most of those vignettes in the next little while will probably be baby-related because, well, there isn’t really much life outside of baby for me at the moment. I trust that that will change again at some point in the future (possibly when my body is not being used as an all you can eat buffet for eight hours a day). In the meantime, however, I’ll try to continue posting the odd story or random thought of the day now and again.

There are a lot of things I could write about at this point – labour and delivery, post-birth surprises (both good and bad), and the emotional roller-coaster of this last week, to name just a few. And perhaps I’ll get there eventually on those topics. But today’s thought – and the thought I’ve had pretty much every hour since arriving home – is that I really do not know how single parents manage this.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and now I have a new appreciation for why. When you’re trying to feed a baby every three hours, it seems more than one person can manage well to feed, burb, and change the little being, as well as get enough sleep yourself to stay sane. And that “caseload” doesn’t leave any room for eating, drinking, and showering, much less grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, filing the paperwork for the baby’s birth certificate, and learning how to assemble a breast pump. I have never been more grateful for a proactively supportive spouse and parents as I have been this week, or for hot running water and a warm bed. I get completely overwhelmed thinking about the challenges faced by new mothers in refugee camps and rural villages. And I have no idea how single parents do it, either.

That’s it for now from the McKay newborn nursery (where we saw a wallaby eating in the garden this morning when we were nursing). It’s now 11AM and I hear a baby starting to stir and make the “I’m a hungry guinea pig” sounds.

Ten things that have surprised me about pregnancy (#5-10)

Here is the second installment of the post I started yesterday – things that have surprised me about pregnancy. After I started writing these posts on Sunday, Mike and I talked about this topic over dinner. We agreed that, overall, I’d had a pretty good second trimester and been lucky enough to stay fairly healthy.

“Huh,” I said, looking at the food on my plate as we were saying this, “I don’t feel so good all of a sudden. I don’t think I can eat that.”

To cut a long and yucky story short, that was the start of a night when I broke my own personal record for the number of times I can throw up in twelve hours. I dropped five pounds overnight and yesterday I couldn’t make it out of bed until 5pm. We suspect food poisoning – though we have no idea what could have caused it – and today I’m feeling much better. I am at least showered, sitting up, drinking water, and eating toast.

Ah, surprises. Some of them are great. Some, not so much.

So here are six more things that have so far surprised me about pregnancy.

Product available at image source: http://www.zazzle.com

5. I expected that morning sickness would strike immediately if it were going to strike at all.

It took me quite some time to really grasp the fact that I was indeed pregnant, and it seems that my body is not the quickest off the mark, either. If I were going to suffer from it, I thought morning sickness would hit me much earlier than eight weeks and I thought it would go away earlier than eighteen weeks. Alas, wrong on both counts.

6. I expected that I’d continue to enjoy a cup of coffee a day all through pregnancy.

I know traditional wisdom is that you should avoid all caffeine when pregnant, but most doctors and research now suggests that you can safely ingest the caffeine equivalent of one or two cups of coffee a day all during pregnancy. I love coffee and had already decided that I wasn’t giving up my morning cup… except that my body had other ideas. The day I got morning sick, right on week eight, I went off it overnight. All of a sudden it tasted revolting. It still doesn’t taste the way it used to.

7. I expected that I’d be hungry all of my 2nd trimester.

Food was such a weird experience for most of the first trimester as I veered between the two extremes of not being at all hungry and being completely ravenous (often within the span of five minutes), that I expected I’d be a lot hungrier than normal in my second trimester. I haven’t been. Sometimes I even forget to eat a small snack mid-morning or mid-afternoon. This is not to say, however, that I did not disgrace myself when I was consistently put in front of all you can eat buffets in Bangkok last week. On more than one occasion the only thing that stopped me from returning to the buffet for three more scoops of ice cream after I’d polished off my first dessert sundae at lunch was shame. Who says that peer pressure can’t be good for you?

8. I expected that disrupted sleep was something that would begin only after the baby was born.

I expected that the whole waking up numerous times a night to pee would start in approximately month seven of pregnancy instead of week seven. I still have problems understanding how a baby the size of a lima bean can really put that much pressure on a bladder. I mean, come on! I have now been waking up between three and six times a night now practically since I found out I was pregnant. Not cool. Not cool at all.

9. I expected that my sex drive would surge in the second trimester.

Most of the books I’ve read paint a picture of the first and third trimesters of pregnancy as virtual sexual wastelands but hold out this oasis-like vision of the second trimester as a time of unparalleled sexual desire and enjoyment. I don’t know how many accounts I’ve read of women’s transformations into total sex kittens the minute they hit week thirteen of pregnancy, so perhaps it’s understandable that I feel particularly ripped off to have so far had this expectation disappointed. For not only did my sex drive vanish so completely the minute I got pregnant that it became difficult to remember I ever had one, it hasn’t really returned to pre-pregnancy levels yet much less been catapulted into “sex kitten” territory. I will be especially peeved if this, like morning sickness, is merely my biology lagging behind the curve and sex-kitten-energy kicks in four weeks from now, right when I head to Australia and Mike and I say goodbye for three months.

10. I expected that the quickening would be unmistakable.

The quickening, for those of you who haven’t read 5000 pregnancy books, is the name given to the first time you feel your baby move inside you. The books do warn that it can be hard to tell whether those early flutters are the baby or something else, so I don’t know why I expected to feel the baby move in one, singular, weirdandwonderful moment. Maybe because “the quickening” sounds like such a singular “moment”ous event. Nope. I spent about a week trying to decide whether it was the baby I was feeling or gas. Now the baby moves all the time – particularly at 10pm when I’m trying to go to sleep and at 6a.m. when I’m trying to stay asleep.

I’ve tried to explain to Mike what it feels like. I’ve described it before as feeling like a sackful of eels squirming around in there, but as I’ve never actually had a sackful of eels tucked in my belly I can’t really vouch for the accuracy of that description. The most accurate physical description I can come up with is the completely unromantic, “it feels like giant bubbles of gas slithering around intestinal corners, but without any gas pain.”

The most accurate psychological description I can come up with, for me, is that it feels like fishing. As a kid I used to love going over to the river across from my grandparents house, baiting a hook, and fishing off the wharf. I would wait patiently for ages for that first tug on the line – that sudden, promising, tightening of the nylon under my index finger signaling that something alive was definitely out there underneath all that water. When the baby taps me from the inside I get that same feeling. Of course, given what ended up happening to the fish I caught, that metaphor has its limits, so we’ll stop right there.

OK, that’s it for this edition of “expectations that have been turned on their head by pregnancy.” Catch you later this week, perhaps from the road as Mike and I are leaving on Thursday night for a road trip down south, and do chime in below and let me know what’s surprised you about pregnancy or parenting. I love learning from others’ stories. 

The circle of your passion

It’s been a week. For me, it’s been a week of finishing the draft, enjoying a brief high, then falling (temporarily, let’s hope) into a big black woeful hole of not feeling like doing anything at all, and wondering how we can possibly have been in Laos three months already, and whether the rumours are true that we’re staying here for the next couple of years. On that front, it appears so, unless the powers that be mandate otherwise. I’ve had ample time to mull all of this over during a string of nights when sleep eludes me until late – midnight or 1am – and sometimes only arrives after the sort of help that comes in little bottles with child-proof caps on them.

For Mike, it’s been a week of waking up early – in the 3’s or the 4’s, occasionally the 2’s – with his mind jumping ahead to the day. The biggest meetings of the year took place yesterday, and coincided with a week-long delegation of all sorts of people that be all sorts of powerful, and not all of whom arrived on the scene happy. We think they be leaving happier, we think. There was a lot of smiling and nodding at the big partnership dinner last night – then again there was also lots of beerlao, which tends to help with the smiling (but not with the sleep, no, not with that).

A couple of weeks ago Mike and I had dinner with a friend, Gabrielle, who Mike first met in the Vanuatu almost three years ago. In January we had dinner with her in Melbourne. Since then she’s moved to Hanoi. Two weeks ago she swung by our new town.

So we met at Utopia and drank Saffron Robes and cheap Chilean wine and gazed upon the Khan River and talked. We talked of things that humanitarianers often seem to talk about when they cross paths for an evening and drink and look at rivers.

  1. How and why did you decide to make this last move/take this last job?
  2. How are you finding this massive uprooting and replanting of your life?
  3. What about the job itself – where are the rewards and the pressure points?
  4. Is it worth it – this move, this job, this whole field …

There is a lot wrapped up in that last question. I could write a whole series of posts just on the different variables that come into play when trying to calculate the opportunity-cost of this work and of this lifestyle. There are issues of meaning and purpose to be considered. And efficacy, community, motivation, finances, and safety. And, of course, passion.

Gabrielle calls this sort of conversation tumbleweeding, which I think is a delightful word. It brings to mind a tangled ball of wiry stalks all intertwined – dense enough to hang together in a round yet light enough to be moved by the wind. A tumbleweed bounces and spins at the same time as it skips along. A tumbleweed goes places. (Sometimes it just goes in circles, but that too is appropriate.)

I wonder what usually happens to tumbleweeds in the end. Do they pick up so many leaves and twigs on their journey that they eventually stop moving and settle into being just a pile of sticks? Do they get snagged on bushes, never to work themselves free? Or do they break apart – thin pieces of brush skittering and sliding in every which direction?

So, passion. That was our primary focal point that night.

“Are you passionate about writing?” Gabrielle asked me.

“Sometimes I get a great day, or hour,” I said. “Those moments are incandescent. I lose track of time. Afterwards I’m tingling with that happy sort of electricity that comes when you don’t want to be anywhere else, doing anything else. I’m totally buzzed.”

“But,” I continued. “At least as often, probably more often, I sit there and it’s hard, and I struggle, and I want to be almost anywhere else, and I hate it. Except I feel compelled to do it anyway.”

“That’s passion,” Mike said.

“Huh,” I said.

Why do I primarily associate vocational passion with the electric, positive, purposeful, buzz? Wishful thinking, maybe, or is it possible to have those joyous mountaintop moments without trudging through some valleys? Are mountaintop moments over-rated, anyway? Should we really be aiming for a nice picnic blanket halfway up a pretty green slope?

And, if what we were talking about really is passion, how can you live inside the circle of your passion without it consuming you?

That’s what we talked about for most of the evening, sipping our wine, staring at the river, tumbleweeding around. We didn’t come up with the right answer, because there isn’t one. But Mike and I wandered home through the dark streets feeling refreshed and ready to face the windstorms of tomorrow.

After the week we’ve just weathered, maybe that’s what we need this weekend – some tumbleweeding. Or maybe a river. Or friends. Or some wine? Looks like we have options.

What about you: Do you feel like you’re living inside the circle of your passion? How do you keep from being consumed?

P.S. I could practically see the parental eye rolling in Australia when I mentioned wine (again!!). So, my beloved mother, this picture’s for you. It’s Mike, weeks ago now, disposing of the last wine we had at home because it was simply wretched stuff. The bamboo, much to my surprise, has suffered no ill effects.

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Early mornings

Mike: “Do you like it when I pick on you before you’re completely awake?”

Lisa: “It’s a bit cruel – like tormenting a poor defenseless little animal.”

Mike: “Awww, and what kind of defenseless little animal would you like to be?”

Lisa: “A lion cub.”

Mike (laughing): “They are not defenseless!”

Lisa: “Yes they are, when they’re little. They just have a lot of … potential.”