Saturday, September 17, 2016

Who am I now?

Do you remember my post from March? The one where I wrote this:

My last baby turns one year old next month, and I have no plans to go for a fifth child. That has caused me to reflect a lot. I got married at 20 with a goal to have four kids before I turned 30. And I achieved that goal. I had no idea when I made that goal what it would entail, but here I am. A success. Goal achieved.

In achieving that goal, I was stripped down. Worn down. Softened. Only the essential core of what made Mimi Mimi remained. But now I'm almost out. My body is almost mine again. I almost don't have a breastfeeding infant. In a few months, I think I'll start getting uninterrupted nights of sleep sometimes.

And it makes me wonder who I'll be. I used to be a hospice volunteer. I used to be an editor. I used to be a member of an auditioned community choir. I used to review books. I used to be a reader in a writers' group. I used to blog a lot more. I used to play soccer. I used to try to write songs. I used to write the occasional poetry. I used to research family history. I used to scrapbook. I used to try to sew things.

What hobbies will I reclaim? Which will I never go back to? I don't know yet. But I'm having a lot of fun thinking about it. What kind of a woman will Mimi be in her 30s?

Well, it happened.

Gordon self weaned at the end of last month. It happened. I am not nursing. My body is only keeping myself alive and no one else.

I can choose my outfit and only think about the weather and what I want to wear. I don't have to plan on access (will I lift up? will I button down? will I slide over? how will the baby get his food???). All I think about is me.

I can wear a real bra.

My body is mine.

I'm not pregnant.

For the first time since the summer of 2008, my body is mine. Mine. Friends, let me say that again: since the summer of 2008!

And they all even sleep through the night now.

What a gift. I have my body back. And I can sleep with only random interruptions for nightmares or sickness. 

What am I going to do with myself?

Who am I without a baby? 

I'm not who I was at 23 before I had any children—that's for sure! My body is very different, and my personality is as well.

I'm half excited to not have a baby, but half of me already misses it. But, as much as my kids want me to have more, I'm done. Now humor me while I post a bunch of pictures of me with my babies and cry a little bit about how quickly it's gone and how it will never, ever come back again.

What a glorious, exhausting, draining, rewarding ride it has been.

Watch me grow! (Jill's pregnancy)






Daniel and Jill




 Alice, Daniel, and Jill



Gordon's pregnancy

Alice, Daniel, and Jill


Gordon, Alice, and Daniel


Jill and Daniel



Alice, Gordon, Jill, and Daniel



Gordon, Jill, Alice, and Daniel

Gordon attends preschool a little bit now, too.
So for a few hours, they're all gone, and my house is so, so empty.

As I try to think of how to explain how I feel sad and happy at the same time about "being done with babies," a poem my sister wrote in 2015 keeps running through my mind. 

I kiss your nose, your forehead, your cheek, your chin.

I squeeze you tightly to me and feel your soft squishiness give.

I look in your eyes and you look back at me 
and in my heart I feel a tugging ache I cannot fully define.

I ache because you are my baby, mine to squeeze and squish.

I ache because in this predawn darkness under the blankets we form a cocoon 
and every day you are closer to emerging out of it into the world.

I ache because every morning you wake up you are my baby, 
but every morning you are a little less my baby and a little more your own self.

I ache and I ache and I laugh at the joy it makes me feel to hurt this way.

You look at me laughing and it makes you laugh too.

It seems that this might have been your last time nursing. It felt that way, how you kept your body unusually still as if you, too, were savoring the moment. Your legs were carefully curled up, tucked tightly next to mine, your little hand free and tapping gently on my chest, just above my heart.

No one told me that hurting like this could feel so good.

I wonder if I would have believed them.

I'm a believer now.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A summer gone

School ended the third week of June, and then two weeks later we flew to the Midwest. We were there for a month, and three weeks after returning, school started again. So summer vacation really seemed to fly by.

Our trip home was wonderful and exhausting. We started in Ohio with Jeffrey's family, celebrating the wedding of Jeff's youngest brother, Kyle. Jill got to be a flower girl. And now Amber is a part of our family! We're thrilled to have her.

Welcome, Amber!

At the wedding reception, I peeked into the kitchen and saw the team of friends who were helping my mother-in-law with all of the food and preparations. It made me a little teary eyed, remembering my wedding open house from ten years ago where almost exactly those same friends helped her with the food and preparations for me. Then they were strangers; now they are friends.

Returning to Cincinnati is always bittersweet. I love seeing family and friends and driving on familiar streets. But then seeing those same family and friends, I can almost imagine how our life would have been, and it seems like it would be so easy to slip into that life. But, of course, it's never that easy, and we're living the life we've chosen. But still—bittersweet.

Life is good in Grandma and Papa's hot tub!

While in Ohio, my sister-in-law Rachel, who had been on hospital bed rest, gave birth to my newest niece, Valerie. Valerie was born at only 25 weeks gestation, right around 2 pounds. She's already gained a pound, and this week she was moved from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to the Special Care Nursery. I'm amazed at the fight in this tiny girl.

After a week in Cincinnati, Jeff had to return to Juarez, because someone has to work!

The kids and I went on to Indiana. We got to see my grandpa Homer, aunts, uncles, cousins, and my cousins' children during a day in Richmond. My aunt Ann took us to the Richmond public library, and my kids were pretty amazed. We haven't been to a library in a few years, and Richmond has a really nice one. I remember going there and participating in their summer reading program when I was a girl and we were staying at my grandparents' house. It was really neat to share it with my kids.

My grandpa taught Jill how to knit.

Gordon with Aunt Ann, watching as his older siblings feed the chickens at Uncle Steve's house

Then it was on to Avon to see the new home of my technically ex-sister-in-law (but always-my-sister) and meet my new "brother-in-law" (her husband). Daniel really hit it off with his new "cousin." He's thrilled that there will be a boy his age at family reunions now, because he's usually surrounded by girls. (Daniel is the eighth grandchild and the first grandson; of the sixteen grandchildren, only five are boys.)

The next day it was on to Mounds State Park near Anderson. We camped for two days. "We" in this case being my sister, her husband, their four kids, my parents, three nieces and nephews (whose parents did not come, because they had a preemie in the NICU), my brother, my brother's ex-wife, my brother's three children, my brother's ex-wife's new husband, and my brother's ex-wife's two step children. So we had eight adults at the campground and sixteen children (ages 8 and under). It was a little crazy, but really fun. And we only lost one kid once. (Alice decided that she could walk to the bathrooms by herself. Not a chance, sweetie!) Can I just say that I love my family? So, so much.

Some of the kids we had at the campground

You know who else I love? My Hoosier friends. I had friends come from Chicago, Louisville, Indianapolis, and Muncie to meet me at this campground and see me and my family for just a few hours. I felt so loved. There is something very comforting about being around people who have known you for a long time. The visit was too short. I wish I could have spent time with each of them one-on-one and caught up. I used to know their joys and despairs, their daily excitements and obsessions, and now we all live so far away. (Well, some of them still get to see each other regularly, and I'm very jealous of that!) I know their pasts, and I try my best to keep up with their presents, and I work hard to be in their futures. Friends who grew up with you can never be replaced, so it is best to not lose them!

On a funny note, I had brought a cute shirt to change into before getting together with my friends, but we were camping and Jeff was in Mexico and I had four kids and there were a lot of other kids there and I just forgot to change. So I was looking less than fresh from the get go. And then one of my kids actually had diarrhea while I was giving him/her a piggy back riding and running as quickly as possible to the bathroom. And I'm sure my baby gifted the front of my shirt with snot and spit. Two of my other kids actually peed their pants during the get together, but luckily I wasn't holding them for that! Anyway, it was parenting at its finest. I laughed inside about it and thought, "I'm so glad that I've known all of these people for a long time, because I would not be making my best impression today."

Also, let it be known, that claims have been made that my father was convinced by Joe to ride his motorcycle around the campground. I was at the swimming pool with littles, and NO ONE bothered to take pictures or video, and this is 2016. If it wasn't recorded on someone's phone then it clearly didn't happen. I officially request that Phil and Joe need to have a second motorcycle ride, so I can witness it.

My wonderful Hoosier friends

After camping, we went to Muncie to attend church in the ward where I was a teenager. Since my parents moved away in 2005, I think this was only the third time I've been back to attend church there. The first time was fun. The second time I was kind of emotional and actually sat in Sunday school just crying. This third time was just really nice. There are just so many memories in that building. Crushes. Friendships. Dates. Dances. Broken hearts. Betrayal. Figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be. Early morning seminary. Ha. So much! Being a teenager is rough, guys. And so much of it happened in that building. Specifically in the second mother's lounge. Either there weren't many nursing babies in my ward growing up, or all of the young mothers preferred the other mother's lounge, because "my" mother's lounge was almost always empty, and it was the perfect place to hide when I couldn't be around boys. My girls always knew to look for me there. And I always knew to look for them there. But no boy would dare go past the women's restroom and peak in the mother's lounge. I don't know if they even knew we would go in there. Anyway. It's amazing how many memories are tied to places and how being in those places can bring them back.

I currently live a lifestyle where I go many places and have wonderful or trying or amazing or devastating memories in those places. But I will most likely never return to those places. I wonder what it will do for my children to not be able to easily return to the places where they were seven or thirteen or eighteen.

After church, we headed up to Michigan, in the suburbs north of Detroit. My oldest brother had to fly back to Indonesia (where he's working and living right now), and my ex-sister-in-law and her family had to return to Avon to get ready for school that was starting really soon for them. But my sister and her family overlapped with me in Michigan for a week, and my other brother and his wife were there waiting for our return with their three children. So there was lots of Boling wonderfulness.

My kids and I in Canada, eh.

I got to meet my tiny, tiny niece Valerie. I went and visited her at the hospital twice. I was able to reach my hand in and touch her. I'm looking forward to being able to hold her the next time I visit.

My hand stroking Valerie

We did the usual Michigan things: picked berries, swam in lakes, swam in the pool, went to the farmer's market, visited Tabitha's "house," went roller skating. Daniel learned to do the monkey bars all by himself. A new event this trip was crossing the border into Canada. I was curious about the border crossing. The international river border between Detroit and Windsor has A LOT more water in it than the one between Juarez and El Paso. And it was interesting seeing all the signs in English/French rather than English/Spanish. Hopefully next time I'll understand the French!

Me with my dad at the lake

Harvesting potatoes with GranB

Then it was time for one last week of vacation, which brought us back to Cincinnati. In Jeff's family, my kids are the only grandkids, so it's total spoil time for them, which they love. We got to dance at the square dancing social and feed the ducks at the pond. We had play dates with friends from when we lived there. We swam in the YMCA pool that used to be our pool back when Jill could only say "YM! YM!" We did lots of hot tubbing.

Feeding the ducks (Gordon was feeding himself) at the pond by Grandma and Papa's house

Square dancing with Grandma and Papa

Then time did what it does and just like that our month of travel was over. I flew back with the four kids and they exceeded my expectations for how well they would behave with only one parent for a full day of flying.

And now we're back in Mexico, and I'm having to deal with the reality that time did what it does here as well, and somehow my two years in Mexico has dwindled down to only four months left. Africa is still a year away, because we'll have six months in Virginia to learn French and then a month and a half of home leave, but even a year away, it is starting to feel really real.

I've made a home here. I've made friends here. I dug down deep and put down roots here, and I feel like I'll blink and it will be time to pull them up and transplant anew. I vacillate between wanting to distance myself from my friends and this place, so that when I leave it won't hurt as much, and wanting to experience everything deeper and more fully, so that when I leave I won't have any regrets about who I could have known better or loved more or places I could have gotten to know.

I would be remiss if I ended this on this day, August 31, without mentioning all of the upheaval that is occurring in "my" countries. Donald Trump actually visited Mexico City today. He accepted an invitation from President Peña Nieto to visit. (Peña Nieto also invited Hilary Clinton.) I have not yet met a single Mexican who likes Trump. They feel that he has insulted and denigrated them. The big news right now are Trump's visit and the death of "divo" Juan Gabriel. Also today, Gabon finally announced that Ali Bongo won the presidential election in Gabon, extending his family's reign as presidents in that country for more than half a century. It was a hotly contested election, the army has been deployed, violence has erupted, and many are demanding a recount, because they believe Bongo tampered with votes. Also today, Brazil officially impeached their president, Dilma Rouseff, and swore in vice-president Michel Temer as the president of Brazil for the next two years. Clearly, it's been quite a day.

And also today, we found out that Jeff has been approved for a promotion this November! He will move up a rank in the Foreign Service. I'm very proud of my hardworking hubby.

Last but not least, I've listened to this song about twenty times today. It makes me kind of want to laugh and cry and half all the feels about moving and leaving and having a home. It's beautiful.

Me with my baby, enjoying a day at the lake

Thursday, July 7, 2016

I don't know what it's like to be black

I posted this on Facebook earlier today, but I want to put it on my blog as well, so I have a more permanent record of it. These thoughts have been in my heart for a long time, and I finally had the courage to let them spill over. I'm tired of thinking that as a privileged white person I shouldn't weigh in on these issues. Because I should. Because I care. And because what keeps happening is not right. My speaking might not help anything, but my silence undoubtedly won't.

A few months ago in book club, we read a book written by a Nigerian author (Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). In the novel, a young woman from Nigeria moves to the United States. The conversation of the issues in the novel lead to mention of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US right now.

One of the women in book club, who is black, mentioned wondering why her white friends have been so quiet about the movement.

There was silence, and then I decided to speak.

I have decided to speak again now.

I am quiet about the movement, because I don't know what to say or what, as a white person, I am allowed to say.

I have no idea what it is like to be black. I don't know. I CAN'T know. But I DO care. But I'm afraid to speak, because I'm white.

But I'm going to. Maybe it will do nothing to stop the violence, but if it helps even one of my black or mixed friends feel more loved, then it will be worth it.

I don't know what it is like to be black in America.

I know what it is like to be a minority, but it is not the same. Even when I am the minority, I am still white.

I know what it is like to be a woman. I have felt fear walking home at night or walking into a store and realizing I am the only woman in the room. But even as a woman, I am still a white woman.

I know what it is like to be misunderstood or hated for my religion. I have had friends lovingly try to convince me to change religions. I have had people tell me they've been taught I was going to hell because I'm a Mormon. But even as a Mormon, I'm still a white Mormon.

I know what it is like to be an outsider, to walk around and have people come up and pet my hair because they've never seen hair like mine before, to hear people talking about me because my skin is so fair or my eyes so light and they don't know I speak their language. I know what it is like to never fit in and blend in with a crowd even though I desperately wish I could just not be noticed. I know what it is like to KNOW I am saying the right words but not be understood because it's assumed I wouldn't know how to say that or my accent is wrong. But even when I stick out, I'm still white.

I do not believe race is eternal. I don't think I was white before I was born, or American, or Mormon, or comfortably middle class. I think it was pure chance that I happened to be born in a Caucasian family. It wasn't that my soul was better or worse in some way. We were all spirits, and we were all the same. I could have been born into poverty or in a different country or into a different color body or into a body with disabilities or health issues.

So it would be impossible for me to treat you with less love because of your nationality or your skin color or your accent or your income level or your education level or your IQ or your gender or your sexual orientation or your religion or your illness. We were all spirits before, and we're going to be spirits after, and it will be equal. And when I see you, one thought I have is I could have been you—you could have been me.

So while we're here on this Earth, this tiny short time span in between eternity and eternity, can't we just stop killing each other? And hating each other? And making assumptions about each other?

I'm white. And black lives matter.

And while I'm on my soapbox and thinking of mass killings and bombings, I'm going to add that Muslim lives matter. And gay lives matter. A female lives matter.

And yes, ALL lives matter, but that is obvious and doesn't help stop the real violence that is occurring against blacks and Muslims and gays and women.

So the next time you start to make an assumption or speak without thinking, I hope you can remember: I could have been you, and you could have been me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Where do they learn these things?

Daniel and I were driving in the car the other day, just the two of us. (I have no idea how that happened. I never just have one kid!) With no preamble, he announced "I want to be a soldier when I grow up." I asked him why and expected him to say something about guns being cool. He was quiet for a moment and then said, "So I can protect you, Mama, from the bad guys."

Why do we live in a world with so many bad guys?

On a different note, I turned 31 this weekend. This birthday will forever be remembered by me as the birthday of four cakes. I may be very far away from my parents, siblings, and home, but my friends really stepped up their game and made me feel very loved this birthday. I received four—FOUR—delicious birthday cakes from friends.

I had some interesting conversations with my kids on my birthday.

Daniel: "Mama, I want to buy you something for your birthday."
Me: "Well, why don't you make me something? You could color a picture or make me a perler bead."
Daniel: "No. I want to buy you something. I want Dad to take me to the store, so I can buy you some makeup."
Me: "Oh. Well, sweetie, I don't really wear makeup that often. Wouldn't you rather make me something?"
Daniel: "No. I want to buy you makeup, so you can look pretty."
Me, laughing: "Well, I almost never wear makeup. Don't you think I look pretty?"
Daniel: "No, you need makeup to look pretty."

Why on earth would he think that??

Then there was this conversation with Jill. (For some background, I stopped shaving my legs maybe eight years ago, and I stopped shaving my armpits maybe two or three years ago, but then on Saturday, I felt like having shaved armpits again, so I shaved them. Jill noticed.)

Jill: "You shaved your arm pits!"
Me: "Yup. Remember how I told you that some women shave them and some women don't, and it just depends on what they feel like doing? Well, for some reason when I got in the shower today, I felt like shaving my arm pits."
Jill: "Are my arm pits going to get hairy?"
Me: "Yes. Remember? When you become a teenager? You'll grow more hair on your body, you'll start bleeding every month like Mommy because your eggs are getting ready, you'll get zits sometimes, and your breasts will grow."
Jill: "Well, when I'm a teenager, I'm going to shave, so I can still look young."

Why does she want to look young? I stopped shaving, in part, because of curiosity as to how long my arm pit hair would grow and what it would feel like. I had never let it grow and was curious what my own body would do. And I also stopped shaving, in part, because it felt like shaving was, in a way, almost trying to become less of a woman and more of a girl. And I know that's way over thinking it, but there it is. And now here was my daughter spouting kind of the same idea to me. She doesn't want to go through puberty and have a woman's body. She wants to remove signs of maturity, to shave, and thus still look like a girl. I know it's not actually a big deal, so I told her she certainly could shave if she wanted to. But I couldn't help but think of shaving later when we were touring the Archeology Museum here and saw a statue that showed the misshapen skulls of ancient, indigenous American peoples who wrapped their skulls with boards to intentionally change the skulls' shape. What will people hundreds of years from now think is silly about us?

When my parents visited, we took the kids miniature golfing. It was the first time that Jill and Daniel were really old enough to play. And, to everyone's surprise, Daniel made a hole in one!!

Jeffrey had surgery a week ago. I spent the night at the hospital with him after the surgery. It was the first night we've spent away from the kids, ever. We should do that again sometime, but actually go somewhere fun. He's recovering nicely. (His surgery was to fix two hernias.) He was really surprised by how painful it was when his body still had carbon dioxide trapped inside. Being told that it would be painful and actually feeling it were two very different things.

Gordon eats everything that we eat now. The other day that included chicken nuggets. He had to have three: one in each hand and one in his mouth.

Sweet, obstinate Alice graduated from two-year-old preschool. Next year she'll be in Danny's class at school. She's pretty proud of herself. She can pour from a pitcher, mop a floor, hand sew a straight line, cut paper, paint pictures, set the table correctly, fold cloths, and wash dishes, among other skills. She has loved being in Comunidad Infantil.

I don't know if it is having four kids or if it is living in Mexico (or a combination of both), but it feels like we have birthday parties almost every week. And the birthday parties very often have face painters, which my kids love.

On Friday, I'm going to sing the National Anthem at the Consulate Independence Day party. Somewhere between 300 and 400 people are going to be there. Wish me luck!

With June coming to an end, I'm going to close with this picture. With terrorist attacks, bombings, mass shootings, violence, and the bad guys that Danny wants to protect me from abounding all over this world, I hope that we can all agree that everyone deserves to live. This picture was taken after the Orlando shootings and specifically references LGBT issues. I wish, with all my heart, that someday the humans in this world will stop hating and killing over race and sexual orientation and religion and gender and nationality and economic status. Life is too precious for all this hate and too short for all these divisions we create.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Feed the Birds

Today I couldn't get Gordon to nap. I could think of so many things I needed to, and none of them involved having him be awake. I love him, LOVE him, so much, but I just really needed some time without him. He disagreed.

I finally left him screaming in his crib and shut the door. I collapsed on the floor next to his bedroom and put my head in my hands. I could hear his screams through the wall. Within seconds of sitting down, my arms were again full. Alice had been waiting for me to finish with Gordon, and she was ready for her turn. She climbed onto my lap, hugged me, and told me that Gordon was sad.

I squeezed her tight and agreed. I asked her what we should do about that, and she announced that we should go get him.

So we did.

I still had so much to do and was so tired, but now Gordon wouldn't even play by himself, because he was so upset about the ordeal of being left in his crib awake. So I got to still not accomplish my tasks. But I got to hold him.

And he hugs now. Instead of just being held, he now wraps his chubby little arms around your neck and he hugs tight. If he really loves you, he'll also slobber on your face in an attempt to kiss you.

So there's a mess in literally every room in my house.

And the sink is full of dirty dishes.

And there are mounds of clean laundry to fold.

And I have so many things to get done before this weekend.

But soon, Gordon's arms won't be little and chubby. And before I can even blink, he'll have mastered kissing my cheek without covering me in slobber.

Soon Alice won't care whether I'm with Gordon or not, because she'll be texting her friends or at soccer practice.

So for now, I'll remember to enjoy it. And perhaps not get very much sleep tonight. And maybe get a babysitter on Friday for a few hours, so I can accomplish something . . .

Later in the day, I woke up the computer, opened my web browser, and saw this video on my home page. I simultaneously love, relate, and am exhausted by this video, but all things considered it is pretty special and wonderful to be a mom.

And if you have thirty minutes, I enjoyed this BBC segment on the song "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins: BBC: Feed the Birds.

My two littles

And there's the doorbell. My two "bigs" are home now, too. Full house!