Mother at Sixteen

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Sitting with the slight, sixteen-year-old girl on tattered bamboo mats in her family’s modest home, we compared our babies: their age and weight, their entrance into the world, how well they sleep at night, yes we’re both breastfeeding, how easy and hard they are to take care of, how much support there is, how your worldview changes from carefree to constant worry.

We are at a similar stage in life and had a lot to share.

And yet I was struck by the difference. Her baby slept in a bamboo crib on a dirt floor with only shade and a breeze to protect them against the tropical heat; mine shares our king-sized bed in our fully air-conditioned house. Hers will find a place in the same Thai educational system she went through herself; mine has access to Gymboree and Montessori classes and will learn from a mother who completed a PhD from an American research university. I’m turning 35 next month. She is a mother at 16. We are almost 20 years apart and I have almost 20 years’ worth more of education and life experience, maturity and stability. At 16, she still has all her struggles in front of her. I know who I am, what I want, and what I’m capable of. She has yet to discover who she will be.

I approached my time with her trying to answer the question: why did she make these choices? She had to have known the risk she was taking with unprotected sex. What was her underlying motivation? She said no one ever taught her about protection (I remember her deciding not to stay for the sex health workshop I taught). She talked about the desire to experience new things—a typical teenager response. But I suspected the roots are deeper than that; that it may have even something to do with deeper psychological and emotional needs regarding her bond with her own mother, even if she doesn’t consciously read it that way yet. From what I know of her background, I suspected she never got enough consistent display of love from her own mother, and made these choices out of feelings of neglect, subconsciously trying to find a way to stay close to home rather than to leave.

But do I have the right to judge her choices? I may be disappointed. I may want to continue to present her with the chance to turn things around because her story (and now her child’s story) has still only just begun. I may want to learn from her example to see how we can prevent others from going the same way. I can expect her to take responsibility for her choices and urge her to continue to make better ones. I do not absolve her of that because it is true that others in same—or worse—circumstances make different choices. But I cannot be judgmental about it. I had parents who never gave me cause to doubt their love and commitment. With an absentee father and a mother who is a former prostitute now mostly gone away at work, she has no experience of a strong nuclear family and has no idea what that would look like. I came from a life of opportunity; she came from a life of poverty and risk. For me, being a mother at sixteen would have represented catastrophic failure and disappointment. For her, young, single motherhood is the norm. From two different worlds, we both forged two very different paths.

Perhaps the question of why isn’t really the root of the matter. Maybe the question we must grapple with honestly is: how much of our life is a forgone conclusion? How much can we change by choice?

Knowing Our Limits: What Not to Say to Each Other

IMG_0811There’s this thing women seem to have started saying to each other when we come up against something we’ve decided we won’t put up with, whether because we shouldn’t or because we can’t. When we say we’ve learned we have more needs than we wanted to admit, or that we’ve learned the boundaries of how much we can give unrequited, or that we’ve found the outer reaches of our self-esteem and self-respect, we tell each other: “At least you know that about yourself now.”

I’m not sure if this is really a Thing That People Say since I’m not living in a western country and am not as embedded in American culture anymore, but it’s been said to me on multiple occasions by very different women. And it’s been said in the exact same way, so I can only imagine that it didn’t just pop up out of nowhere.

It sounds like such a lovely, enlightened sentiment too. “At least you know that about yourself.” Because increased self-awareness is a good thing, a thing we strive for right? So learning more about yourself can only be a positive contribution to heightened consciousness. Right?

Except in each circumstance, it felt the opposite. It felt like such a patronizing thing to say. As in, “Oh you’re not as giving as you once thought you were? How sad. But hey, at least you know that about YOU.” Like, “Oh, you failed that exam, but hey, at least you tried, and that’s cool. I still got an A.”

There’s a thing that activists do where they try to out-activist other activists. When you’re committed to a cause, there is intense pressure to prove how committed you are: to do more in support of it, to identify with it more, and the peer pressure pushes people to be more extreme and uncompromising. Sometimes this manifests itself in beliefs and political stances. Sometimes it manifests itself in what initially would be a positive trait: giving, kindness, forgiveness…until you push so hard you get burnout.

Moms do this to each other too. However committed you are to a certain belief or behavior is exactly as committed as one should be. Anyone doing less or differently is less of a mother, anyone doing more is just crazy. Right?

Of course not. But we do this to each other.

Until you realize you are actually tired, stressed out, angrier than you should be, and maybe you do need to take better care of yourself in the ways that matter to YOU and fit in with YOUR lifestyle.

So if a friend of mine tells me she needs weekly spa treatments to feel human again after working full-time, mothering X number of kids, pursuing/finishing a degree, running a business, or frankly, with some of my friends, doing all of the above, or if she tells me she realizes she needs to demand a little more from others in order to keep herself afloat, I hope I never say, “At least you know that about yourself now.”

I hope I have the presence of mind to tell her something more like, “It’s not a bad thing to discover we all have boundaries.” Having boundaries is not something to feel guilty about, and it’s not something only certain people have. Everyone has them. Knowing where they are just means you can more efficiently find out in what areas you need to protect yourself and in what areas you can more freely give. Just because there is an outer limit to how generous you can be in certain circumstances does not mean you are not a generous person. Having a limit to kindness does not mean you are not kind. Having a limit to your selflessness does not make you selfish. Asking for the things you need is not being unreasonable. It’s just the smart way to ensure you can perform your best, whether as a wife, a mom, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a boss, an employee, or a warrior.

It took me many years to understand this, but I finally now get this saying, “You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.” Fill yourself up first. When we are full, we can give so much more to everyone else.

Life Around the Bend

IMG_0615Around the time I decided to change up my approach to blogging, I made some other adjustments that really brought me so much relief and renewed focus. I’ve been working at finding creative ways to contribute more to SOLD now that my life has changed with the onset of motherhood. I’m working from home, and with a baby, I just can’t travel back and forth the way I used to. Last year, that meant cutting way back on things I could do for SOLD. But now that Cy is getting older and (dare I say it?) marginally easier, I find myself confronting a gnawing desire to contribute more and feel more productive.

IMG_0785One change I made is I’ve devised tasks for myself that I can do from my phone when Cy is napping. I do a lot more scholarly research now and save notes to myself that I can then type up into memos to share with the staff to help everyone keep up on the latest news and knowledge.

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Another change I’ve made is I’ve gotten a lot more unapologetic about using whatever resources are at my disposal to make my job easier and more efficient. Instead of fighting with crappy tools, I looked around and found iPhone apps that streamline what I do. Instead of spending days and weeks of my time carefully (and often incorrectly) trying to translate my work into Thai, I’ve decided to put up the cash to hire a translator. There are seasons for trying to do everything yourself. This, for me, is just not one of them.

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And I’ve consciously decided to feel less guilty about having hired help around the house. Can I clean the house myself? Yes. Do I want to? No. Is my life more efficient, focused, and productive when I can outsource that task? Yes. Do I like having someone up in my business all the time? Not really. Do I like having a clean house and not being the one to do it? Heck yes.

I used to wait for opportune moments. I did a lot of waiting. My new mantra in life: Do what it takes to Get It Done.

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Of course, just as I got into a lovely pattern and flow, feeling focused, centered, and productive, creating several memos for SOLD that the staff seemed very happy to have, cooking more fresh and healthy foods at home, keeping our house nice and clean, and still managing to be with Cy to meet his needs….I had to let our maebaan (housekeeper/nanny) go.

It’s a long story, one in which I basically was really having trouble trusting her. The death knell in our relationship, however, came when I found her playing at dangling Cy and swinging him playfully out over the edge of our 2nd story balcony. I’m sure she thinks it was just a dumb mistake.  For me, ugh, I don’t even want to talk or think about it anymore. She’s gone. We need to find someone else. That’s about the sum of it.

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I’m taking on a lot more nowadays, and I’m tired at the end of it, but it’s a good feeling. It’s good to feel that I’m contributing to SOLD again, and it’s good to feel like I’m not torn in too many different directions. Before I felt like I was spinning my wheels more often than not. Now I feel like I’ve got things more in line.

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In the meantime, Cy has been great. He just gets to be more and more fun as he gets older. We had a blast visiting the islands, he was a stellar traveller as we schlepped him all over the country, and it’s just so fun to watch his personality develop. I feel our relationships with him are only blossoming deeper, and I feel like all the hard work of the first year is really paying off.

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This week he hit a bit of a rough patch, however, and has suddenly started banging his head against the floor when upset. Things that upset him today include:

- me telling him he shouldn’t eat vegetables that are still frozen
- me telling him he shouldn’t bang his head on the floor
- banging his head on the floor
- me not letting him startle Dot by stomping on her while she’s sleeping, and
- me being unable to carry him AND the water tank I needed to put on top of our water cooler

I think he’s teething. And he’s probably grumpy because he has a stuffy, runny nose from the poor air quality thanks to smoky season. And also he’s a toddler.

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On the plus side, his spoken vocabulary seems to be exploding. In about a week, the number of words he can say has more than doubled. He can’t pronounce the ending consonants so he calls tuk tuks “thoo thoo” and eggs are “E!” But he can say things like mama and papa, Dottles, bubble, hot, door, choo choo (train), google (logo), and a few different animal sounds.

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I used to think balance was an elusive concept when you throw family into the mix. I’m starting to think maybe we don’t always get it in any given moment, but that maybe it just comes more broadly over time.

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My 2014 In Review

Maybe I’m a few days late doing a year in review, but I really liked reading Kim at Little by Little’s review and thought it might be nice to do my own. Hope you’ll enjoy a few flashbacks with me!

January 

In January, we read together and learned to grab our toes.

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February

We gathered with friends and explored new sights.

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March

We traveled a lot in March, to mountains of Chiang Dao and to the island Koh Samui. We found beautiful sights – and a tigger too!

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April

April saw a lot of growth at home.

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May

Self care and bubbles!

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June

A visit home … and Grandma!

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July

Recuperating after a month of intensive international travel.

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August

Music played and messes made.

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September

Enjoying cooler weather and a special someone’s birthday

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Oh yeah…and I released my book.

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October

A runaway escape trip to Bangkok.

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November

A trip to the mountains and a festive Thanksgiving

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December

We found a frog bathing in our tub…and we said good-bye to our old neighborhood. Our new home will be ready soon(ish)!

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So much change a year brings! Sometimes I feel like my life is consumed with a little man at home, but a quick look back shows me we didn’t sit still at all. Thanks for joining us on this ride. Hope your 2014 was all you wanted it to be and that 2015 brings even more love, joy, fun, inspiration, and triumphs!

Momma Chat: There and Back Again

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I might be doing a number on the trust I’ve built up between me and Cy because now as he enters toddlerhood, I’m having a hard time not laughing at his frustrations. When he cannot get his toy car to balance just so on top of the stack of four toy cars beneath it, when he cannot get a large plastic box to fit inside a small cup, or when he cannot lift the object that happens to be three times his size, I struggle to keep a straight face as I calmly acknowledge, “Yes baby, I know, that can be so annoying.”

Yesterday he got so mad that he had to bend down to pick up his toy car that he yelled and bent down to swipe it away.

….

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We’ve been having a great time on mama & Cy adventures traveling around lately. Bangkok was such a refreshing change of scenery for both of us (though parts of it–like riding the BTS (sky train)–might have been a bit overstimulating for Cy, so it’s good it was a short trip), that we came back with renewed energy and enjoyment in our every day.

I was always so surprised to find how helpful everyone was, upon seeing a mama alone with a baby. Everywhere we went, people gave us their seats, plied Cy with treats and goodies and friendly faces, and offered their help.

We went to this cafe, with this amazing window:
_1070712I had heard it was open from 6 am to midnight and served breakfast all day, so I went to get us some breakfast to bring back to share with Toby at the hotel. It was a 10 minute BTS ride, plus a 20-minute walk in the Thai heat, so by the time we arrived, I was sweating and Cy was grumpy. I hoped to pick up pastries, but it turns out the breakfast they serve is continental and all the good stuff on their menu is for lunch and dinner. After a bit of confusing back and forth, I settled on some Thai larb burgers, but the staff, knowing I had been looking for pastries, found a few for us and tossed them in for free.

Amazing generous things like that, all the time.

Then we went to Doi Mon Jam, a scenic mountain area in northern Thailand, with views like this:

doimonjamand it was full of sight-seers and tourists…and everybody was coming up and trying to take pictures of Cy.

Now, normally, when people want to take a picture of Cy or hold him, they do this polite thing called “asking permission.” Not so here. People would sneak up on Cy while he was busy climbing rocks or poking at flowers, and without even asking me, they would swoop in and grab him and hold him up to their face while they yelled at their friends to “quick, quick, take a picture!” with Cy squirming and squawking to be let go or given to me.

WHO DOES THAT?

And not just a handful of weird tourists. I’m talking almost everybody there. It’s like children aren’t actual human beings but rather novel public commodities that anyone can just help themselves to. Not to mention it’s a bit nerve wracking for a mom to just stand there as random strangers literally snatch your child from right in front of you.

It’s so funny; the world of cultural differences from right within a single country.

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Anyway, one other benefit of living here is how cheap it is to get hired help, and Toby and I have hit a wall where we really need to carve out a few hours a week to ourselves (some time for us as individuals, and some time for us a couple) because we really haven’t been doing that. And we’re running ourselves ragged. We really need help.

So we’ve caved and started looking for a part-time nanny to help out for a few hours a few days a week. I interviewed one today and discovered I have no idea how to interview nannies. (What do you even ask? Um…are all the kids in your care still alive? Check, ok good to go!)

We’ve made Cy the priority up until this point, and we’ve tried to keep up with the other things that are important to us, but bit by bit they’ve slipped away and we need to remedy that. There are priorities besides Cy (and a basic functioning household), and though I’m sure it will always be a balancing act, we need to make sure we make our priorities our priorities too._1070776

Thing I Love About Cy: When we go outside to play, he has developed a habit of reaching down to touch the pavement and say, “Haw?” to check to see if the ground is hot and therefore he needs shoes. And when he really gets his groove on, he shakes his head back and forth to the beat of his inner drum.

 

Momma Chat: Just a Little Rosy

photo-5Things got a little crazy last week. I was laying in bed with Cy when I noticed he seemed to be running a fever. I texted Toby about it and he responded with something like, “He always sleeps hot.” But I was quite sure it was a fever. It happened to be just a couple of hours after I had started a course of meds for myself that weren’t really supposed to be taken while breastfeeding but my doctor had recommended because I’m allergic to penicillin. I was worried that Cy might be allergic to this new medicine, and Google told me I should get Cy to the doctor at signs of fever. So the next day we went to see his pediatrician, who wasn’t available until the afternoon, and I stopped taking my meds in the meantime just in case. The doctor said it was not the meds, but it might be dengue.

– Let me just interject here because this is the part where my stomach bottoms out and my face turns white because dengue is known as “break bone fever” because it makes you feel like your bones are breaking. And it can be comparatively mild in children, but if you get it again later, any subsequent infections can lead to a hemorrhagic fever. It’s passed by mosquitos. There are lots and lots of mosquitos in Thailand. –

The doctor gave us meds to treat the fever and said it was a little too early to tell. Come back in two days and we’ll test for dengue.

Those were among the more anxiety-ridden two days I have experienced in recent memory. Was it dengue? Was it wrong and still related to something I was doing (my meds, which I had resumed taking)? And what would I do if it were dengue? (Moving to another country had indeed crossed my mind.) Cy needs to run outside and play, live his life in fresh air. How can I protect Cy from every mosquito to cross his path?

We went back to do blood tests. We had to swaddle the poor boy and he watched and cried–not thrashing, or angry-complaining…just totally submitting himself to this new torture–as they inserted the needle, drew blood, switched it out for an IV, and then bandaged it on. The whole thing probably took 5 minutes, but all I could do was sit there and talk to him, stroke his hair, and wish to God there was any other way. I hate needles. I once,as a full adult in college, had a nurse give me a Daffy Duck bandaid after getting blood drawn because I hate needles so much. I hate them even more when they’re any where near my boy.

After two hours of waiting, the results for dengue came back negative. Talk about relief! But we still didn’t know what the problem was. The doctor still insisted it wasn’t my meds, and predicted we would soon see a rash.

The rash came, and thus we learned it was roseola. A common childhood disease, relatively mild, and the rash only lasted a couple of days and then it was all done.

photo-4And I still called pest control to come rid our yard of mosquitos. Because dengue.

All in all, it was probably a relatively minor episode and it’s just my mama-bear brain that blew fears out of proportion, but part of what made this experience so hard was feeling so trapped. I have already been feeling tired and run-down, and a little homesick (mostly just because I’m tired of it being so hot here all the time and tired of worrying about mosquitos when Cy wants to play outside all the time). I wanted to move home. I wanted to go back to Santa Barbara where the weather is always perfect, there’s tons of fabulous play groups Cy could join, there’s mountains he could roam, and gorgeous parks and beaches to explore.

I told Toby that if we lived in Santa Barbara, I’d take Cy to the beach all the time.

“No you wouldn’t,” he said. “You’d be at work and Cy would be in daycare and we’d spend the weekends scrambling around trying to get stuff done.”

He’s right. In Thailand, we can afford for me to take a career hiatus and focus on raising Cy with both of us at home. In the U.S., I would have to work. And while I’m battling heat and mosquitos, I can also get fantastic healthcare for Cy at $15 a visit (without insurance), have a maid come once a week, and be there for all the important and unimportant things in Cy’s life. I feel trapped. And it’s easy to view a different situation with rose-colored glasses, but the truth is, there’s lots of ways to feel trapped.

photo-8And I realize now too, that while I love being able to be home for Cy, it’s a challenge because I’ve never been a routine kind of person and children live in routine. I’ve never lived in any place longer than 4 years since I was 13 (And we’re bumping up on the 4-year mark now–we HAD said we’d come for a year, maybe two, and then we’d see. Well we’re still here.) Except for when I worked at a magazine publishing company, I’d never lived the same daily routine longer than a 10-week quarter since I graduated high school. I live by whims and caprice. I’m disciplined about getting stuff done, but on my own clock, not the one ticking on the wall.

So. This is my opportunity to grow. To realize this about myself and see how I can approach it mindfully. I can’t escape the trappings of this life, but I take advantage of its advantages and I think maybe a change of scenery will help. So we’re going to Bangkok for a week. There will be a big aquarium, and parks, a children’s playground, good food, shopping, and maybe even a boat ride or two on the Chao Praya.

Who can complain? Not I, said the spider to the fly.

Thing I Love About Cy: He loves tipping himself over backwards. When he’s on the bed, or on grass, he’ll slowly lean back with this look of great anticipation on his face, until gravity wins and he falls over and giggles like a fiend.

Little by Little



A Coffee Chat

photo(23)I feel like there were a bunch of things I was going to talk about today…but then last night, I did not sleep well–like, at all–and now everything has gone plumb out of my head.

I did have a productive day yesterday, though. Between catching up on some work for SOLD, doing three loads of laundry, washing dishes that had piled up over the previous day with T being sick, and various other little chores, I managed to get in quite a bit of walking…which, turns out, if done in little spurts and increments, seems to help keep the swelling down in my feet. Then again, it might also be why my back and hips were sore all night.

My goals for today are a bit more cerebral. If I can get enough brain cells to function, I’d like to:

– Practice Thai, since staying at home so much does not give me much chance to hone my language skills (It does, however, keep me at lower risk of catching dengue, so that’s good–seriously, so many people we know got it this year. This season is rough! I never read Dante’s Inferno, but I’m sure there must be a special circle of hell reserved for mosquitoes. And if there isn’t, well, there should be.)

– Read up on what the heck is going on in Syria. I’ve been out of the news loop more than I care to admit these days. Good for my sanity; not so good for my engagement with the rest of the world. A friend of mine linked to this Washington Post article on FB, which I found enormously helpful. Now I just want to read up on various viewpoints of what people anticipate the consequences of and reactions to air strikes are likely to be.

On a more personal note, a few years ago, Toby and I had talked about making a trip to Syria. Some friends had been there and said it was one of the most welcoming countries they’d ever been to (and their trip was during the GW Bush years, mind you)–that far from shunning Americans, the Syrians were excited to meet them and welcome them into their homes for tea and conversation. Now I’m really bummed we didn’t make that trip since it looks like tensions there are unlikely to abate any time soon.

– Then if I feel up to it, I might do some gentle yoga. Probably not a full session, but just a few poses & stretches to strengthen the muscles around my hip joints. They’re ridiculously open and flexible these days, but I can feel that the added flexibility needs to be supported by more muscle strength.

In other news, I came across this recipe for Caramel Stuffed Apple Cider cookies and want to bake them, like, RIGHT NOW…but the recipe calls for Alpine Spice Cider Mix, which, I don’t even know what that is. I’m guessing it’s a powdered mix to make hot apple cider, but whatever it is, I’m pretty certain there is no such thing here in Thailand. I wish I knew what the ingredients were because if it’s just a bunch of spices I could probably approximate it myself. But there’s probably some apple flavoring in there somewhere, which means I’d have to figure out what to do with liquid apple cider in a recipe that calls for it dry. Also, I found the exact same recipe on a different website, and one says it makes 16-18 large cookies, and the other (with the exact same measurements for ingredients) says it makes 51 cookies. (!) I really had to laugh. I like the way the first person counts her cookies–you can eat three and call it just one!

For anyone who likes to see this sort of thing, I made another quick clip of Baby Keller on the move. You can definitely see his movements more clearly these days, since, at 38 weeks, he’s significantly bigger. And this clip has the added benefit of not having a soundtrack of the Sopranos cussing in the background!

Before you go, I’d like to share this quote I saw pinned on Pinterest:

Image from: http://aliedwards.com/2013/02/ae-heart-soul-hands-free-mama-kind-over-matter.html

Image from: http://aliedwards.com/2013/02/ae-heart-soul-hands-free-mama-kind-over-matter.html

The quote seems widely attributed to Carl Jung, but for the life of me I can’t find the original source so I can’t verify it. Anyway, it really stuck with me, not for being a new sentiment, but for so succinctly capturing one of my heart-felt beliefs and general orientation towards life. It also came at a time when several conversations I’ve had or things I’ve read have, without plan or intention, all kind of coalesced around a similar idea–does that ever happen to you? I haven’t really worked my way through it enough to articulate what I’m thinking about, but it’s something to do with valuing experiences and people over things, choosing to be open to life and expand into it over shying away from difference, that giving our kids the gift of courage and resilience is more important than providing them with the trappings of safety, and how lucky I feel to have found a life partner who feels the way I do about these things. The way I’ve written it here maybe sounds like these are either/or dichotomies, but I believe they’re more like ranges or spectrums of values. But it would be incredibly challenging, I think, to share a life with someone with whom one was fundamentally incompatible on these issues.

It’s funny, too, how people can surprise you. Some people you’d think would be up for freewheeling outside the comfort zone end up not, and those who can appear shy or even fragile end up being some of the strongest or bravest people you know. Not that any of it is a front, per se…I think people are just brave in different ways.

Okay, now I’m rambling, it’s officially time to stop. What’s going on with you? Anything on your mind lately?

Playing the Waiting Game–in Life, Marriage, and Motherhood

Strung out on a line

Strung out on a line

When I was in college, the largely unspoken, but prevailing belief seemed to be that smart, strong women could have plenty of fun dating around, but would want to get their degree and all their career ducks in a row before settling down. For some, random hookups were the mode de jour; for others, dating was one long stream of bad men. Only a few had really long relationships. And motherhood? That was for way later, if at all. Pregnancy would practically mean the end of your life. Taking birth control was the only smart choice.

The trouble is none of us had any idea how difficult it could be to find a good partner after college. When you join the work force, you enter a pool of widely varied, but highly limited options. There’s usually a huge age range—which makes finding unmarried age-mates more difficult, and when you spend the vast majority of your life in one office, meeting people outside that milieu gets incredibly hard. If there aren’t any suitable mates among your coworkers (and let’s not even get into in all the potential trials of an office relationship), you can be hard-pressed to find the time or place to even meet anyone else new.

I remember when I was a teenager, I used to dream that I’d go to college, get a fancy career started, find an awesome apartment in a big city, and then find my future husband, whom I’d marry, preferably around the age of 28. After a couple years of marriage, we’d have our first child, probably when I was around the age of 30. Thirty sounded like a good child-bearing age. That still would give me a couple of years to have my second child at 32 or so, and be done well before that fertility drop-off at 35.

I assumed getting pregnant was easy because all you hear, when you’re young, is about the girls who got pregnant even though they only had unprotected sex “that one time.”

I don’t know if it’s by luck or by choice, but I never had a string of bad men or bad relationships. Sure, I dated a jerk or two and a few guys who, though nice, weren’t going to captivate me long-term. But those were always obvious from the start and I never was one to stick around with a losing bet (I distinctly remember one relationship that had a shelf-life of “Four Tuesdays”—my best friend from college will get this reference; there were lots of fun, crazy memories from that episode in our lives). My relationships either lasted a few weeks or a few years—the long ones, even the ones that didn’t work out, were great while they lasted, and important learning experiences in preparation for marriage.

It turns out, I met my husband in college—though neither of us was anywhere near ready for marriage at the time. But we fell in love, probably to both our surprises, and we stuck around each other, even though “not ready” was a big light flashing above both our heads. Toby took a year to travel the world after he graduated college, and in the interim, we had both grown a lot. By the time he came back, I knew I was ready to think about marriage, even if we weren’t anywhere near ready to marry each other. We loved each other; we knew that much. I probably broke a slew of dating rules by doing this, but I told him, in no uncertain terms, that if we were going to be together, it would be with an eye towards marriage. Though we both knew there were no guarantees in this trial run, I wasn’t going to waste time with someone who was only in it “just for now.”

Luckily for me, he was on the same page, more or less, and the years following were a steady learning experience in which we tried out what marriage might look like, what commitment meant, and what it would mean to devote ourselves to another. By the time he proposed to me, I was 26 and we were ready. We had grown into marriage together. We had become ready together. When we did exchange vows, I had just turned 28.

But marriage isn’t the only odyssey one embarks on—there’s also parenthood. Having just gotten married, I wasn’t in any rush to have a child. There was my doctorate to finish and a career to start. Toby was only just getting his career off the ground, and a job in the tech industry at that time seemed volatile and uncertain. We lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and had other dreams too, namely involving travel. Maybe living abroad for a while. There was still adventure to be had and a baby seemed more like a huge complication and intense responsibility than the next inevitable step in our life progression. The biological clock had started ticking, but I ignored the bell toll.

Though I had heard that fertility decreases with age, I still assumed it would be easy enough to get pregnant. I did have one friend who was trying to get pregnant and had started fertility treatments. She warned me getting pregnant could take time. I heard, but didn’t hear.

When I turned 30, I finished my doctorate and we made plans to move to Thailand. Work with The SOLD Project was already lined up; all I had to do was get to northern Thailand. We were leaving everything we knew behind. That wasn’t the time to start thinking about babies.

After we got settled in Thailand, and Toby’s work situation seemed solid, I was getting integrated at SOLD and halfway through writing a manuscript, I began to listen more carefully to that biological clock. I went off the pill slightly before entirely ready, thinking it would take a few months for the pill’s effects to clear my system, so that, fingers crossed, I might be 100% ready when it did.

Then, I didn’t get pregnant. Our jobs got even better, visitors came and went, we had grown into life in Thailand…I still didn’t get pregnant. My best friend from college was also enduring her own trial of fertility problems, and my best friend from grad school had suffered miscarriages, and another friend was going through a divorce…so by this time, I was really hearing it: Yes, it can be freaking hard to get pregnant. We traveled to Hong Kong and saw more of Asia. I still didn’t get pregnant. We spent a month in Europe, I didn’t get pregnant. We went back to the U.S. for a month…if I didn’t get pregnant soon, we’d have to think about fertility treatments. I didn’t even want to know what that cost would look like. My mother and sister had both had miscarriages before being able to carry a child to term. My cousin is 40 and still unable to get a baby to take, despite almost a decade of treatments. I knew that even if I did get pregnant, it might not work on the first try, and I had to steel myself for that possibility.

It turn out that it was only when we no longer had a stream of life and travel plans that, after more than a year and a half off the pill, I got pregnant. I’m turning 33 next week, and my dreams of having two kids are now looking more like I’ll be blessed to have one. I’m okay with that, and even saying this, I want it to be clear that I’m not complaining. I doubt I’d make different choices even if I had the chance. I love the years Toby and I have had together, and I think the stability we’ve built and the life experiences we’ve had, having had that time, will only serve our child better.

But I feel incredibly lucky. I feel like it’s only partly our choices, and mostly by chance that things have worked out for us (so far—I don’t want to jinx this!). I look at women I know who’ve been trying for years and years to get pregnant, or friends who’ve suffered miscarriages, or others who still can’t find a life partner, and I know how easily it could have gone a different way.

It’s a myth we tell ourselves when we’re young that we can somehow control life and when and how it happens to us. We make plans for what sounds like a good age to marry, and to have children…and these days, that “perfect age” is getting later and later. Instead of right after college, many push it off to their late 20s. Some women, realistic about demands certain careers make, push it off into their 30s, or even later. We don’t factor in the potential for complications. When we make our timelines, we don’t consider the possibility of divorce. We don’t consider the possibility of infertility.

Though I did get married at 28, the truth is I met the man I would marry when I was 20. It took us 8 years to get where we needed to be. If I hadn’t taken my feelings for him seriously way back then, when I still felt I had other life goals to meet first, or vice versa with him for me, who knows where either of us might be? Maybe we would have found other people to love. Maybe there is such a thing as soul mates, and we really are the only ones for each other. Who can really say? Meanwhile, people perpetuate this fear that marriage really hampers one’s freedom and independence. We’ve found this to be entirely untrue for us. Marriage has given us each a strong foundation from which we can both fly—both separately, and together. It’s made us stronger than we would have been alone.

We tell ourselves, when we’re young, that to be real strong, smart women, we have to put education and career before absolutely everything else. The truth is, life goals can exist side by side. You don’t have to put your ducks in a row…sometimes, you just kind of herd them along together. The trend now is to stave off marriage and family until you’ve lived your life first. What makes for “the right time” is an incredibly personal decision and it varies widely from person to person, but I do think we women do ourselves a disservice when we don’t make clear to each other that there are potential tradeoffs when we put off childbearing; that while you’re busy living your life, it can become increasingly harder (and harder than we think it will be) to be able to bear life. We underestimate how fragile life can be, and how uncertain fertility is. We all popped our birth control pills every day for years, each of us never knowing if we’d be the one who’d get pregnant on the first try, the one who would need years of fertility treatments, or the one who couldn’t get pregnant at all.

We can’t control when life happens to us, but we can be honest and informed about the consequences of our choices, and we can listen carefully to our inner guides about who is right for us and when we’re ready. From an employer’s perspective, there’s never a good time for a woman to get pregnant. But your life is your own. External deadlines matter little compared to the timeline we feel ticking along inside.

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This post was inspired by this one, “26 and Already Pregnant,” by Kate from Eat The Damn Cake. If you’re interested in more fun facts about delayed marriage and child-rearing, check out this post, “The Sweet Spot for Tying the Knot,” by Susan Walsh at Hooking Up Smart.

Transition & Bigger Picture Blogs

_TMK2643If you’ve been following along the Bigger Picture Blogs community for the last little while, you might have noticed the core members have been going through some serious challenges behind the scenes. While we have tried to offer our same level of creative inspiration, deep community support, and encouragement, sometimes life really does get in the way. Sometimes, it hits harder than you think.

From a series of miscarriages, to postpartum depression, to other mental and physical health issues all tumbling down on top of our regular commitment to our families and life responsibilities, we’ve been wading through a long period of intense difficulty.

We were brought together by a shared passion for finding the bigger picture in smaller moments, for looking beyond the mundane to find the sacred and profound, for being able to keep sight of what really matters to us and those we love. We love the community and bonds of sisterhood we have formed. We have found profound inspiration in the wide and diverse participants who have joined us on this journey, and we remain forever changed by the life lessons we’ve learned along the way.

In keeping with what we have learned, however, we know that in order to love others, we must first love ourselves. In order to support others and encourage them with grace and graciousness, we must first extend ourselves a little grace. With this in mind, it has become clear that, as much as we love Bigger Picture Blogs and all it has brought with it and as sad this decision makes us, we need to focus on helping our core members heal from the incredible grief, sadness, anxiety, and pain they are currently experiencing. To do so, we must, regrettably, bring our activities at Bigger Picture Blogs to a close. It has not been an easy decision, but it is a necessary one, and we know our community would not benefit from us simply “going through the motions.” We hope our community understands this and knows how much gratitude for everything they have shared with us.

As one of Bigger Picture Blogs’s core members, this decision will bring about some changes on my own blog as well. I am still passionate as ever about living life with intention, so that spirit will remain in my words, especially in my more serious posts. But I’ll be switching up my posting schedule a little bit, so I would be grateful if you don’t mind hanging around while I try some things out and see what works. I’m still one of the core members of Communal Global, so that won’t change, but most likely I’ll be separating out photos for that series and my Coffee Chats, which will fall on a different day starting next week.

I don’t expect that you’ll see much change in content, just some shifts in what happens when. If you’d like to share with me any opinions about which kinds of posts are your favorites and what you’d like to see more or less of, please do let me know!

Thank you for your understanding, and…please pardon our dust as we work our way through this season of change.

And thank you to all who have participated in Bigger Picture Blogs, and who have made it the vibrant, flourishing, supportive and engaged community it has been. We are ever grateful for you!

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New Territory

Via Joie De Vivre (I think - not actually sure about the original source because tumblr's horrible for tracking that.)

Via Joie De Vivre (I think. Not actually sure about the original source because tumblr’s horrible for tracking that. I’m not even convinced this is a precise quote from HH Dalai Lama.)

I came across this image pinned on Pinterest and felt instantly both happy and guilty. I felt happy because, ever since I was about 20 years old or so, I’ve made it my life’s goal to travel someplace new every year. For me, travel is an essential part of a life lived with intention: it exposes me to new sights, sounds, people, cultures…ways of thinking, ways of interacting, and ways of being, so I can be more intentional about my habits of thought and action, choosing which ones are worth keeping and which are worth sloughing away. I’m the kind of person who gravitates towards friends I admire because I love to learn from them. It’s my friends who help me be more generous, more kind, more complimentary, more willing to stand up for myself, more funny, more open, more creative, and more courageous than I would have been, if left to my own devices.

Travel does that for me too. While others might worship power, money, status, or prestige, I bow to the altars of Freedom and Experience. I choose an unfettered life in which I can continually explore and learn and grow. I chose a lifestyle that affords me opportunities to do so, even if it means being far from people we love and that I roam outside the box, fall off the corporate ladder, and don’t fit in anyone’s pigeonhole.

I couldn’t always afford travel, of course. The greatest irony, I discovered when I graduated from college and started working at a publishing company, is that the college life afforded plenty of time to travel, but no money. I started working and had plenty of money, but no time. Nevertheless, I made my resolution stick. By hook or by crook, I would see some place new every year. It didn’t have to be exotic and it didn’t have to be fancy, or even comfortable. Sure, flying off to Greece would be lovely, but there were plenty of things to explore in my vicinity.

So, sometimes that new place involved a flight overseas (my 25th birthday present to myself was a trip, all by myself, to Germany). Some years it was as exotic as South Carolina. Or it was a festival in the desert, like Burning Man. Or just a new city in my home state. And I’ve bunked on couches, camped in tents, shared rooms in hostels, and even spent nights sleeping in a car to make it possible.

When I came across that pin, I felt so happy because this one life goal has brought me so many experiences and a life that I already feel has been so enriched.

But I felt guilty too. Because this whole living life with intention thing is an ongoing process. I’ve flown halfway around the world and landed in the tropics on the other side, but that grand gesture doesn’t let me off the hook. Just because I did it once, doesn’t mean I get to be complacent. If I want to still learn and see and experience and grow, I can’t forget my life goal.

And this year, I almost had–might have entirely, if I hadn’t seen that quote. Since getting pregnant, I’ve lain low. We had talked about going to Bangkok for a shopping & eating expedition at our favorite shops and restaurants, but I mentally shoved it aside, feeling uncomfortable with too much exertion when I felt I should focus on the baby. This year we’re celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary not by jetting off like we did last year, but by staying at an uber-fancy resort right here in town. (Turns out, when you don’t have to pay for transcontinental flights, you can put that money towards some swank accommodations!) And maybe that’s okay. The Parent ‘Hood is definitely new territory for us–a whole new wealth of experience and learning that I can only begin to imagine.

Now that I’m thinking about it again, we’ll probably work in a day or weekend getaway to one of the little towns near us that we haven’t yet seen. I hear Chiang Dao is beautiful, and it’s only a few hours’ drive away. I do wonder though, whether a new place in life constitutes a new place for being and seeing. Maybe, as Proust has said, it’s about seeing things with new eyes more than it’s about just seeing new things period.

Either way, every now and again, it helps to get that reminder to stay open.

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