Flying Solo

I’ve been parenting solo this week as T is on a business trip back in the U.S.
The first day T was gone, I told Cy, “Papa went on an airplane.” I don’t think he believed me.
Then when we were doing our bedtime routine, Cy turned to where T normally sits on the bed, wanting to give the goodnight moon book to his papa, who normally reads the story, but he got confused when T wasn’t there, and he didn’t know where to go.
I said, “Papa went on an airplane. A big bye-bye. But mama can read your story. Can mama read your story?”
He chucked the book back in the crib (where it’s kept) and lay down to sleep.
No papa, no goodnight story, I guess.
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December 4 is the last day to get my book on sale, for $1.99!!
Make it a gift to yourself, or a loved one this holiday season!
Get The Yellow Suitcase: A Novel on Amazon today!
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Little by Little

Momma Chat: The Fun Really Starts at the End of the Fourth Trimester

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Having a 10-month-old (almost 11-month old!) baby is the most fun ever. I mean, obviously, there’s been lots of fun times up until now, but suddenly almost overnight it seems, Cy became just stoked on life.

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This photo is just begging for a caption.

They say “9 months in the womb, and 9 months out of the womb” for a baby to really develop, and in Cy’s case it was totally true. All the battles and worries of the early days just one by one resolved themselves (regardless and possibly in spite of many of my efforts). The sleep drama ended, he weaned himself off pacifiers, the swaddle, almost all sleep aids (only nursing left), and is even now starting to request solid food instead of breast milk for some meals. (If I could talk to my earlier mom self, I would tell her to stop worrying so damn much. But then I know she probably wouldn’t listen anyway.)

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He’s curious, engaged, loving, and fun. I wish I could tell you about all the times he’s made us laugh with his funny faces, perfectly timed declarative noises, and exuberant display of personality.

And he can suddenly do so much more now: standing strong on his own; climbing up AND down the stairs (and furniture); saying a few words like Mama, dog, mam-mam (a Thai word for food), house, and ball; understanding simple directions; helping me brush his teeth; or peeling fruit to help Mama infuse her iced tea.

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He has this game he likes to play, where he’ll grab a few items (like a couple of his toy cars), and he’ll sit by a ledge or shelf or the threshold of a door and, one by one, place the items on the shelf, and take one down, and place another one. Like organizing, but by the guide of principles only he knows. I wonder what he is thinking while he does this, but then, as I describe this now it occurs to me: perhaps he’s just copying Mama, as she goes about the house sorting items by some generally indiscernible whim.

Where he was clingy and fussy before, he’s now growing in independence and sense of self. It’s like he was a baby bird cooped up, often squawking, in the nest, and then suddenly he stood up, peeped over the edge of the nest, and discovered he could unfold his wings. He’s been taking off ever since.

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Before Cy was born, I used to ask Toby or my parents what they looked forward to most about Cy. To answer that question myself, I always imagined reading together, taking trips to the zoo, baking cookies for him and listening to him talk. I couldn’t wait to hear what he would say. Now, I realize what I really was looking forward to was having a relationship with my son. I was looking forward to loving him.

I loved him from the beginning, and every moment since, but it started as a little seed of awe and wonder. And out from that planted seed came one tiny, thin little vine sprouting, pushing through the mud and dirt and rain, finding the sunshine. Somehow, without my knowing or noticing, it’s become this multi-petaled flower, with new dimensions continually unfolding and unfolding, getting deeper, denser, and fuller…and I know it’s only just begun.

Such purple prose, I know. But I don’t know how else to put it. The more I get to know this little guy, the bigger he grows my heart.

Thing I Love About Cy Today: The way he waves goodbye–by reaching out and grasping.

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CHECK BACK HERE ON FRIDAY FOR MY BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!!

Meeting Cy

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Photo by Toby Keller

They tell you the chances of your water breaking in public are really very low. Mine broke in the grocery store last Monday, while I was shopping by myself. It wasn’t so dramatic like in the movies. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that’s what had happened, or if I was just experiencing some other fun perk of pregnancy. So what did I do? I had a cart full of groceries…should I just leave it there and run to the bathroom? Continue shopping? I did the best thing I could think of: pretend like nothing was happening, get the last few items on my list, and bolt home ASAP. (Toby still thinks it’s funny that my water breaks and my response is to finish shopping.)

I went home and we called the doctor to see whether he thought it was my water breaking and find out what we should do. They told us to come in right away. So we grabbed our things, me fairly half-heartedly because I wasn’t convinced my water had broken and thinking the hospital would just send us back home. We arrived, and in a flurry of half-coherent Thai I tried to explain again what happened. Things got kicked into high gear and I was admitted into a delivery room before I’d even seen the doctor. After a while, it dawned on me that somehow the nurses had gotten the impression that I had fallen, so I had to try to make it clear I hadn’t.

Then I did meet with the doctor and he confirmed my water had broken and said he wanted to induce labor because there was a very short window before there would be risk of infection. Thus began a very long night.

We induced at 5:30ish in the evening, and I was at 2 cm dilation. Fifteen hours later, after contractions that were about 2 minutes apart and increasingly intense, I was still at 2 cm dilation. I was experiencing all the symptoms of advancing labor, but the baby was not moving down at all. At this point, the doctor said I had two choices: I could go to a c-section right away, or I could try for a maximum of 5 more hours and if nothing happened, go to a c-section. I did not think I would suddenly go from 2 cm to 10 in 5 hours if I couldn’t budge a centimeter in 15. I opted for the cesarean right away.

It all happened very quickly from there. It was a bit terrifying when they gave me the epidural and suddenly everything from the waist down went totally numb. But the whole procedure went very fast, and suddenly there was the sound of Cy’s first cries. They cleaned him up in mere minutes, and brought him to me, where I covered his face in his first kisses. Then they took him away and knocked me out to finish the surgery.

After a couple of hours in recovery, they brought me to my room, where my little man was waiting for me.

Toby meeting Cy for the first time

Toby meeting Cy for the first time

Cy was born on Tuesday and we stayed in the hospital until Friday. Those days are already a bit of a blur for me (probably thanks to the pain meds), but from start to finish, I received round-the-clock amazing care, with my every wish or need met within minutes and regular checkups on me and Cy by a team of nurses, my doctor, Cy’s pediatrician, lactation specialists, and nursery attendants. When my doctor checked on me, he told us that it was really very good that we did the cesarean because it turns out the umbilical cord was tangled up in a big knot (from all Cy’s busy activity in the womb). If we had proceeded with a vaginal delivery, it would have cut off the flow of oxygen to the baby, so we’re really very relieved at how things went.

Burpsies!

Burpsies! (Photo by Toby Keller)

Since coming home, I’ve been in a trance of utter amazement and suffusion of love for this little critter, mixed with a sense of being overwhelmed at the task of being responsible for his care, and terror that something bad might happen to him. I tell myself I just need to get past the first couple of weeks, the first month, etc. but then I think maybe this is motherhood after all: love, amazement, hugeness, and terror, and it doesn’t go away so much as one just gets more used to it.

The weekend was rough with trying to care for him while I’m still recovering from the surgery. While I could walk the day after, changing positions in any way was quite painful. But I have an amazing husband who has been cheerfully and stalwartly juggling taking care of me and taking care of Cy, and amazing parents who have been helping with food and laundry and taking care of paperwork, so that mostly I could just focus on nursing Cy and helping myself heal. Truthfully, the hardest part was not the pain so much as being unable to help Toby, relying on him so much for even things like turning over in bed. Or when the pain gets in the way of me being able to lie on my side to nurse Cy (which is both of our favorite nursing positions).

But, all that is relatively short-lived. I’m feeling much better now, and I do heal a bit more every day.

So now my focus is on the little things: like how Cy’s eyes are this dark blue-grey color and I wonder if they’ll change and how, or the tints of ash-blonde and copper in his brown hair, or the way his little mouth moves and his forehead scrunches up when he nurses. Things like how sweet and soft he smells, or how enthralled he gets when you play a little music (we’re starting him on The Beatles and Dave Matthews Band), and how after trying to poo, he takes a big yawn like wow that was hard work. Things like his whimpers and his sighs.

The little things. They’re the things that matter.

Scenes From My Weekend

Waking up my husband…photo(19)…with maple walnut scones, for a Saturday breakfast in bed.

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Things (i.e. getting up early to bake on Saturdays) are getting a little more challenging now at the end of my pregnancy, so I have a feeling this little breakfast in bed tradition might go on hiatus for a while.

Unless I just do something like toast and jam. I could probably still handle that.

Till the baby comes.

What did your weekend look like? Share glimpses with us at Communal Global and link up below!



Celebrating {Five}

awesome years of marriage!

Our vows, in visual form

Our vows & snippets of a Pablo Neruda poem read at our ceremony, in visual form

In five years together, we’ve…

- honeymooned in Costa Rica
- survived my doctoral degree program
- celebrated each other’s triumphs
- Burned on the playa
- took a leap and moved across the globe
- driven the wrong way up a street and down a sidewalk
- joined the fight against child slavery
- adopted a puppy
- bought a car entirely in cash
- ridden motorcycles through rice paddies
- stepped foot in Burma
- learned a new language
- helped each other pursue dreams
- rode elephants through the jungle and played with baby tigers
- partied til dawn in Kreuzberg
- seen the splendor of the Blue Ridge parkway in autumn
- drank American beer in Prague
- walked across the remains of Auschwitz
- driven on the autobahn
- eaten dim sum in Hong Kong and duck fat fries in Charleston
- drank Manhattans in Manhattan
- gotten pregnant with our first child
- learned that a solid marriage makes each person stronger together than they ever were alone
- still come to love the comforts of simple pleasures, like a good cup of coffee and breakfast in bed

and…

- found each other was all we needed to make a home

Here’s to many, many more adventure-filled years! I love you, babe.

wedding

From our wedding ceremony:

from Ode & Burgeonings
Pablo Neruda

“And one by one the nights
between our separated cities
are joined to the night that unites us.
The light of each day,
its flame or its repose,
they deliver to us, taking them from time,
and so our treasure
is disinterred in shadow or light,
all love is enclosed in our love:
all thirst ends in our embrace.
…And here we survive,
pure, with the purity that we created,
broader than the earth that could not lead us
astray,
eternal as the fire that will burn
as long as life endures.”

15 Ways In Which Toby and I Differ

_TMK7508You might not think it to look at us but Toby and I have a lot in common. Sometimes, we have such similar tastes, we end up ordering the same dishes at restaurants (or, more fortuitously, we’re often each unable to decide between two dishes, only to find out it’s the same two dishes, so we each order one and share them).

But I saw this post on Pioneer Woman’s blog, and it made me wonder about what ways Toby and I are different from each other.

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Well, I guess there’s the obvious:

1. He’s tall and lanky.
I’m short and…not lanky. While I have trouble finding clothes that fit my hips, he has to duck his head indoors, near trees, and well, near pretty much anything made in Asia.

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And then there’s the not so obvious:

2. He will grab any frog, toad, millipede, lizard, and bug he comes across.
I’ll gaze at them from a safe distance.

3. He’ll eat chicken feet and duck face.
I’ll eat deep-fried salted fish and the cartilage off bones.

4. He prefers fruity sorbets.
I am addicted to chocolate or coffee flavored gelatos and ice creams.

5. He plays computer games to unwind.
I watch chick flicks that involve singing and dancing.

6. He can’t listen to the same song more than a couple of times, unless it’s spaced far apart.
I will get in moods and listen to the same handful of songs over and over, ad nauseum, ad infinitum, and on repeat.

7. He was born in New York and raised in the South.
I was born in the South and raised in California.

8. He has a head for science, engineering, and technology.
I have a head for pretty things.

9. He has a great capacity for remembering details of things he learns.
I can remember the big picture, but forget all the details–unless it’s to do with daily life, in which case it’s my duty to remind him lest he forget.

10. He acts first, then consults a map later when he’s gotten lost.
I pore over a map until the route is memorized before I step out the door.

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11. I procrastinate till the night before the work is due.
He procrastinates till the last 5 minutes.

12. He’s a gifted storyteller who will keep a whole crowd rapt with attention at his tales.
I tend to sit back and listen while others carry the conversation.

13. His temper is like a firecracker: explosive, and short-lived.
Mine is like a cauldron: slow to boil, slow to cool.

14. He’s had about 15 vehicles in as many years.
I had my first car for a decade, and would have held onto it longer, if I didn’t have to sell it when we moved to Thailand.

15. I scream for help when I see hand-sized Huntsman spiders.
He comes running with the camera.

And somehow we’ve managed to make this thing work for 12-some-odd years…

And this weekend, we’re going to have a weekend getaway to celebrate the 5 years that we’ve been married. Check out where we’re staying–I can’t wait!

Creating a Family Narrative

My sister, my mom, my brother, and wee little me, back in the days when we lived in a tiny apartment in Mississippi.

An article in the NY Times recently argued that the best way to instill resilience and self-confidence in children is to provide them with a strong family narrative. It’s a fascinating read. Much like other social groups, there is greater cohesion when the group shares its history – the highs as well as the lows – and forms a strong core identity in which children are helped to feel that they are part of something larger than themselves.

As I read the article, I saw how it reflected my own family. I knew where my parents grew up, I knew some of the darker skeletons in the closet, I knew the story of how my parents met and how I came to be, and my mom told me more times than I can count that blood is thicker than water; that friends may come and go, but that family – whether you want them to or not, and even if they sometimes go about it in really kooky ways – will always be there for you.

It wasn’t just words either. I saw our family banking system in action: when one member needs a boost to qualify for a home, the various relatives scramble to put it together, knowing full well one day it’ll eventually come back to them, though they’d do it regardless; when another gets married or has a baby, the older relatives pull together and set up a nest egg; when the younger members get older, they send money home to the grandfolks or even offer them a place in their own homes, and they continue the cycle of sending money down to help out the younger generations. The insurance is better than anything the FDIC can offer and it’s interest-free.

I saw unconditional love in action: no matter what was said, no matter what hurt was dealt, you could always come home. It might not be easy – justice would always be meted out – but you would never be turned away at the door.

Why does a strong narrative instill resilience? How does the family story bring strength? The article suggests it has to do with “sense-making,” identity creation, and group cohesion. Based on my own experience, I think it’s about more than that. Whenever my mom sat me down and gave me her blood is thicker than water spiel, I always took a deep amount of solace in that knowledge. I took comfort in knowing that I always had a home base, that I would never be shunned no matter what I did (I might surely have to pay the piper, but ostracism would never be the price), and that I always had a gaggle of supporters cheering me on from the sidelines.

Besides, when the family unit is strong, there’s no one better than an older, indulgent sibling, who once kissed all your boo-boos and got you that thing no one else knew you really wanted, to tell you when you’re being a schmuck. Because if you’ve gotten to the point where even they have to say something, then you know you better get your butt in gear. Crying about it is not going to make you shine any brighter in their book, so man up.

The flip side of that coin was a deep sense of duty. I’m not sure it was ever put into so many words, but because I had that comfort and the experience of seeing the family in operation, I knew I had a role to play too: that when others needed my help (whether it was asked for or not) the best way to show love was to jump in and do what was needed, that one needs to learn to be open-minded enough to see love in the kookiest of gestures and appreciate even the quirkiest of personalities, and (this was never expressly said, but if it’s true that I would never be ostracized, then the transverse must also be true) that the worst thing I could ever do would be to turn my back on family because they would never turn their back on me.

It’s part of what gave Toby & me the courage to take a leap and fly across the globe. We knew, no matter what happened or how miserably our experiment might fail, we could always have a soft spot to land at home. It’s what kept me going in the darkest, hardest parts of my most painful experiences…when I wanted to give up, when I would have simply let go if it were simply up to myself, I hung on for my family. When I couldn’t do it for me, I did it to honor the ones who never dreamed they could do it for themselves.

This NY Times article shone a light on an aspect of my family that I hadn’t put into quite the same words before. But if it’s true that a strong family narrative creates stronger children, I know what I’ll do when my child joins the fray. I’ll show them each and every day not just how I love him* and not just how my husband loves him, but all the ways all our aunts, uncles, grandmammas, grandpoppas, and cousins love him and what it means to love back. I will tell him again and again where and who we came from, and I will show him that whatever we did and no matter from how far away, we did it together.

* And by “him” I mean “him or her.” No, we don’t know the baby’s sex yet. 

For the month of March, Bigger Picture Blogs is celebrating the turn from winter toward spring with the theme: Rejuvenate! Come join us: Rejuvenate your heart, rejuvenate your soul – pick up your pen, your camera, and your spirit!

Find all the ways you can blow some fresh air into life and link it up with us at Bigger Picture Blogs!

Live. Love. Capture. Encourage.

They Say…

…the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. This is definitely a true story where my husband is concerned (and I’m endlessly grateful to my mom for teaching me the finer arts of taste & cuisine). Today, he brought me roses, and I won him over with these:

Lemon cookies with a citrus glaze, light and tangy like the best romances. I know a lot of people who take almost a smugly superior pride in being not into Valentine’s Day, but I’m one of those romantic saps who still appreciates a gentleman and likes to be treated to something special from time to time.

It’s not about going to the fanciest restaurant or being doused in gifts. After over a decade of being together, Toby & I don’t need ostentatious. But I do think it’s important to show our love and appreciation for each other, have a little fun together, and do something nice to make each other happy – all year long, including Valentine’s Day. Because why not?

So tonight, we’ll take a little night safari and enjoy dinner out. We’ll tell each other about our day and maybe curl up in front of the TV briefly before bed. We’ll laugh and tickle and tease, and it will be perfect because it will be exactly just us. It will be perfect because, no matter how far or long we travel, we know this:

As my husband once said, home, for him, is wherever I am. And my home is wherever he is too.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

* Recipe for these cookies can be found here. (I made mine with lemons, rather than oranges.)

For the month of February, Bigger Picture Blogs is celebrating LOVE! Share a loved or loving moment with us – it can be anything: a poem, a memory, an ode or yearning, so long as it comes from the heart!

Bigger Picture Moments
Live. Love. Capture. Encourage.

This week we’re linking up at Brook’s!

Missing My Womens

Before I came to Thailand, I had spent about 10 years studying and working at a university in a town three hours’ drive from my family. Three hours isn’t so bad; it was just enough space that I could pop down for a visit every couple of months or so, or if I was REALLY in need of family time, I could (and did) drive down on a whim. It was also enough space that I felt what it was to not be near your family.

Of course, moving to Thailand makes that three hours distance laughable. And these are the choices and trade-offs we made: we traded in closeness to those we loved for adventure, freedom, economic security, and life challenges and the lessons they bring with them. (Sadly, one thing I’ve learned is that the best Thai food is still my mother’s.)

But there are days I miss that closeness – that ease of being able to call and not worry about the time difference; the simplicity of being able to just drive over, raid the fridge, and catch up on the family gossip over a bag of chips; and the stories of the non-main-events, the ones that kind of tell you more about what’s really going on with your loved ones than the main-event stories do.

In particular, I miss the women: mothers (in-laws included), sister, cousins that might as well be sisters, nieces, aunts. I miss their stories, banter, and wisdom. Shared memories and experience.

I wish I could shop with them, cook with them, eat with them.

Take my nieces skating…

…see their burgeoning sisterhood through alternating urges to hold on tight or egg each other on.

I missed seeing my cousin become an American citizen. Wish I could have watched him pledge his allegiance to the flag.

But we adjust.

Instead of phone calls and impromptu visits, we have Facebook and Skype. We can see their faces and still hear their laughs from time to time. And we’ve been so lucky to have such a constant stream of visitors that we haven’t had much chance to feel lonely or alone. We know that even when we don’t hear their voices, their thoughts keep us close: that when we cheer, they’re cheering along beside us. When we celebrate, they’re having a party over there too.

And that’s okay. Because love is deeper than distance. And we are very loved.

For the month of February, Bigger Picture Blogs is celebrating LOVE! Share a loved or loving moment with us – it can be anything: a poem, a memory, an ode or yearning, so long as it comes from the heart!

Bigger Picture Moments
Live. Love. Capture. Encourage. 

This week we’re linking up on the Bigger Picture Blog’s website!

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