Month of Gratitude – Day 5

Today I’m grateful for music.

Some days I need to hear cathartic, sad songs. Other days I need some high energy soca tunes to motivate me to climb hills. Lately I’ve appreciated some of the music that I used to enjoy as a teen and young adult, when my eternally patient grandparents supported my hobby of visiting all-ages venues and damaging my hearing listening to live music.

Good music helped me bond with my dad, stay awake on incredibly long car rides in graduate school, and connect with friends in dance classes. When I got into songwriters and started really studying lyrics, I think music helped me become a better writer.

Whether it’s facilitating my emotional processing or helping me find joyful movement, music has uplifted me in ways that are easy to take for granted, but this year and especially today, I am so thankful to have it.

Month of Gratitude – Day 4

Today I’m grateful for two folks who have made it possible for me to get a bit of time to myself for the past three years: my delightful in-laws.

I’ve been blessed with a ton of support from relatives near and far, especially since 2017, but these two are special.

“Big Daddy,” as my son calls him, is the favorite of all the grandkids, including little man. From their early bonding over tickles, through to cooking goodies for him, to now letting my toddler do whatever he wants, this dude has absolutely stolen my son’s heart.

Three generations of Abel dudes

It’s beautiful and bittersweet to reflect on how I had a similar relationship with my grandfather of treasured memory. I love knowing that my kid has a man like this to look up to, and that he will grow up knowing that “Big Daddy” is always in his corner.

Mommy is another story. Naturally she loves and dotes on her grandson, but my mother in law always in MY corner. If we were in a fairy tale, she wouldn’t like me because I came from foreign to marry her favorite child. In real life, I met her first, and later, when my then-boyfriend first started telling his family about me, she already knew who I was.

A girls lunch

From the jump, Mommy went out of her way to make me feel welcome in the family. She’s a fabulous brunch date, fixes my favorite foods to eat, and always appreciates my baked goodies. Lately, she’s been encouraging me to bring by the little man for sleepovers because she knows a break is good for me. Y’all, she makes me feel loved! What a gift!!

Month of Gratitude – Day 3

Today my nerd heart is grateful for books.

Little man knows I’m a sucker for a book.

When I was a kid, books let me escape. I would get lost in stories where I could choose my own adventure, stories of rich twins, stories of teens who got paid to babysit. I vividly recall sitting at the kitchen table so absorbed in what I was reading that I would have missed an entire conversation happening around me.

By the time I got to middle school, if you owned a bookshelf you had to watch me at your house. I didn’t like to get in trouble in school but sometimes I couldn’t resist… I would pull out a library book and read at my desk with no style whatsoever.

I sometimes think books are what put me on a decent path in life. I didn’t KNOW people who had gone to college, but the people in books did, so I wanted to go. I became obsessed with words which led me to want to be a writer. Basically, books helped me set goals that I could work toward.

Fast forward to today: books are still how I escape. Besides a stress reliever, books help me learn new things about my work, help me be a better parent and wife, or imagine a brighter future.

I’m so grateful to be a reader, and to always have access to so many delightful books.

Month of Gratitude – Day 2

Today I’m grateful for my physical body and its abilities.

Having been without a working vehicle for months now, it’s easy to get cranky about having to walk so much. Walk to the store. Walk to the spot where I can catch a ride to work most mornings. Walk to the dumpster to take out the trash. Walk up the hill because so many regular cars can’t easily make it all the way up to where I live.

Boo freakin’ hoo!

But truly, what a gift that I can do it. According to my health app, an inactive day for me is one in which I walk about 3,000 steps, and I am always going up and down this hill.

Of course the truth is that my body lets me do so much more than just walk. I can dance and jump and swim. I can sit on the ground and play with my toddler. I can (for now!) lift and carry him up these same neighborhood hills.

Oh yeah, I *made* a whole other person! And when they sliced me open to get him out, I walked around the next day. I was hiking again just a couple of weeks later! It’s honestly a miracle what this sometimes neglected body is capable of.

I may not always love my body, but it’s strong and tough. It’s a marvel and I’m grateful for it.

Month of Gratitude – Day 1

The United States Thanksgiving holiday is around the corner, and while the holiday’s origin as taught in schools there is problematic (to say the very least), I unapologetically love a reason to be grateful for all the good things in life.

Between a global pandemic and the workaday challenges of life, it’s beneficial to my mental health to pause and reflect on how truly blessed I have been and continue to be. I hope my personal exercise will bring a dose of positivity to anyone who reads it.

A smiling Husbae lifts giggling toddler son over his head
Smiles for miles

Day One: Husbae

It just makes sense to start this series with the person in life I have reason to be grateful for on a literally daily basis. First of all, it’s very nice to be married to someone I can trust with my whole heart. More than that, Husbae makes my life better. He makes me laugh, inspires me to work hard, reminds me of my talents, and encourages me to do all those healthy things I tend to neglect when I get stressed.

Over the years we have struggled — we’ve dealt with losses in the family and job losses; financial stress and the stresses of parenthood; not to mention two Category 5 hurricanes in one year followed by a family health crisis and now a global pandemic. Through it all this guy has remained kind, thoughtful and gracious.

This last year I’ve been in particular awe of how a dude who was mostly miserable as a student, and always said he would be much happier as a parent when our child got a bit older and didn’t need as much direct supervision and patience, has absolutely slayed as a stay-at-home dad and preschool teacher.

Whether we have been comfortable on the couch or worried in the ER, I’m so grateful to have a partner who helps me focus on what’s important and squeeze the most joy and goodness out of every day.

Remembering Hurricane Maria for the Best Possible Reason part 2: Happy Birthday, Peanut!

You may remember that yesterday I left you on a non-cliffhanger of Hurricane Maria’s peaceful passage over the BVI. I wanted to end it there because today is TWO-day! My Peanut, the Wee Baby Abel, has survived two whole years.

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Hello world

Sept 20, 2017 started early, with the medical team letting me know not to eat anything and dealing with all the indignities of surgery. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that everyone was nice and I tried my best to be a good sport. I think I did well considering my head space was still pretty much that I had no idea what was going on.

And later I got to meet my son! He had all the hair, as I had. He just wanted to be held and snuggled, and I happily complied. Aunties and uncles who had been forced from their homes thanks to Irma nonetheless scrubbed up and came by to meet him.

Having a newborn gave me something to focus on, a luxury in those first few weeks after the storm when we had no power and no running water. Post-partum hormones make some moms spiral into depression or psychosis, but I became lazer-focused on my kid, which brought some downsides but also let the stress and uncertainty of post-Irma life fall away. He was adorable, but mysteriously finicky in the first few months. Even then, he liked to be in the center of things. He loved to be cradled by his dad in the crook of one arm while the breakfast routine happened, or to be strapped on and walked around and around and around.

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The first of many buddy naps

He was strong, able to lift his little head early and roll what felt like right away. He thought bicycle legs and anything his cousins did was the best ever. I could get him to chill by having one of the cousins sing to him or read him a book.

He fell in love with the cat, so we taught him “gentle,” guiding his little hand over and over until he could do it on his own. Gentle became one of his first words, along with “meow.”

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Going to day care was a new world. Another baby became his little bestie. They were born just a few days apart. She taught him how to clap and blow kisses. He was the earlier walker and would bring toys to her while she sat in her bouncer. I loved to see how he made friends at such a young age.

Before long he was standing, and then, at just 10 months, walking. Heaven help me, I sometimes feel like he hasn’t slowed since.

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Peanut getting ready to walk

These days, Peanut still likes to be strapped on when I’m walking around, but in general he is not one to be passively carried around. Nope, this is a hands-on creature who wants to stay doing whatever he sees others (especially me) doing. I have two brooms and two dish brushes, and even two “potties” in the restroom. Sure, he still thinks that the main reason we go to the toilet is just to sit on it, but I have gotten used to having company in there. He may be small, but he is genuinely helpful with little things like closing doors, throwing things away in the garbage, or putting dirty clothes in the hamper. It’s cute to see how much he enjoys his little chores.

Actually, I feel like he enjoys most things. There is a lot of joy in this little person, and most days he spreads it to me like some kind of giggly contagion.

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Playing in the park on his first birthday

He loves bubbles and stickers. He loves animals in general but especially chickens and cats. Probably the thing he has the most of is books, but he is shaping up to be a builder of some kind with the way he loves blocks. He’s also still the most curious little dude you can imagine. He doesn’t have the words to express it, but you can just see it in his face and body language. It’s much more than a mere desire to know what’s going on: He absolutely MUST. KNOW.

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My boy thinks iced unsweetened lemongrass tea is juice and an amazing treat!

What else? He loves music and I’m much more more likely to hear him sing than talk… unless he’s showing off his mad counting and number identification skills. While I’m driving, he will often sit in carseat and just count. He can get to 20 if he’s in a good mood. He loves his family, especially the uncles that don’t mind throwing him around. He already corrects me when I do something silly like call my mother in law “Mommy.” …
“Granny,” he’ll tell me, pointing at her and giving me his best “duh,” look.

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Playing with his favorite new toy

I’ve loved watching him grow and develop so much personality so far. I know there will be lots more growth and change to come, and I’m looking forward to see it all. Happy happy birthday, big boy.

 

Remembering Hurricane Maria for the Best Possible Reason

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Baby bumpin’ by the pool a few days before Hurricane Irma

Around here, we share our Irma stories a lot, even now. Everybody has one because the storm was an absolute monster. While some structures might have been relatively undamaged, there was no life in the BVI that was unchanged.

What fewer people talk about is the arrival, just 14 days later, of Hurricane Maria.

I really do remember it like it was yesterday. We had survived Irma, but were – ahem – significantly worse off. We knew Maria was coming. We had spent the days prior scavenging supplies and done our best to secure in all the ways we could but, there’s no other way to say it — I had funny feeling!

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After Irma, we were happy to have a roof and each other.

At some point in my pregnancy, the obstetrician had said that a mother’s intuition about her child is very often correct. A few days after Irma, while visiting some friends in an emergency shelter in town, a very kind nurse-midwife checked my blood pressure and asked me some things about how I was feeling. He thought I seemed in good shape, but he was concerned at how Irma had interrupted my regularly scheduled appointments. He gave me some signs to watch for and reminded me that I could always go in to the maternity ward in the hospital to be checked by a midwife. As we waited for Maria’s arrival in our boarded up little apartment, I thought of the long hours hunkered down in the bathroom while Irma passed. If my funny feeling turned into labor (or, God forbid, something worse) would I be compromising the health and safety of my baby?

“Let’s go to the hospital,” I told Husbae. He didn’t question it, just helped me gather up my bags (one for me, one for baby, just in case) and hustled me to the main entrance at the hospital.

Which was totally closed. A curfew was already on for the passage of Hurricane Maria. The security guard on duty misunderstood why we were there at first, but before long we were ushered up to the emergency room entrance and from there over to the maternity ward. They checked my blood pressure, baby’s movements, and both of our heart rates, and everything seemed well. The midwife said that as my obstetrician was on-duty, she’d bring him in too.

OB, a highly competent doctor whom I nonetheless would probably not have chosen for myself, had many questions. When had I been in to see him last? When was my last ultrasound? Had I not had xyz test done? My favorite question came at the end: “Was I satisfied with that?”

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IDK, doc!

Bruh. I am a first time mom who barely knew what was going on before we got hit with a monster storm and I felt fine before today so how about you just go ahead and tell me what you’d be satisfied with? I didn’t say any of that, but it was all there on my face.

He thought that even though things seemed good, just to be sure, we should do an ultrasound. Did it come across a little like he wanted to break out a toy he hadn’t gotten to play with in a while? A bit, yes. Did I mind that in the least? Heck no! The ultrasound was set up and before long, we were hooked up and Husbae and I were looking at our actual baby on the little black and white screen. Neat!

OB was in his element now: There’s the head, up here, there’s the torso, there’s the penis…

Me:

new information

OB: Oh, you didn’t know? Oops! Yep, it’s a boy. He’s also frank breech and hasn’t moved down toward the birth canal like we’d expect at this stage. And he’s really big. Big head, very big torso… Basically you’re like 36-37 weeks pregnant but he’s measuring like he’s 41 weeks.

Husbae: … ?

Me: Soooooo is that bad?

For context, I was trying to not scare myself so I wasn’t overdoing it on the birth and labor story reading, and I’d been doing a little bit of meditation. As far as I was concerned, my body would know what to do when it was time for the baby to be born (LOTS of the moms reading are laughing). I did know that first time moms would routinely pass the 40-week mark so that didn’t seem like a problem. Not knowing a damn thing about breech deliveries, I wasn’t concerned by any of this.

OB: Not bad, no. But based on his position and size, I recommend that we not wait and risk the possibility of having to do an emergency C-section. Let’s just schedule it for tomorrow, assuming there are no emergencies coming from the storm and the operating theater is available.

Husbae: … ?

Me:

by all means

In the moment, most likely due to post-traumatic stress and general feeling of disconnection from myself post-Irma, I genuinely had no preference. Having since learned some more of my family history, which includes a bunch of emergency c-sections (some scarier than others) and a blood transfusion, I’m really glad I didn’t fight his advice. I was admitted, but Husbae couldn’t stay overnight, so I passed the night a little lonely and worried about the state of our home.

As it turned out, at least around here, Maria wasn’t too bad. I got regular texts from Husbae to say all was well.

What did the light of day bring? Come back tomorrow for part 2.

Joys of toddler wearing

 

Once upon a time, the wee baby Abel really was wee! I could put him in a my kangaroo pouch and he’d happily sit there for ages. In fact, when he was little and very fussy, strapping him on was one of the few ways I could just about guarantee that soon he’d be snoozing, so it was kind of an ideal way to get chores or errands done, provided I could do them on foot.

These days, it’s a whole different ball game. For one thing, he weighs like 30 pounds now, so wearing him is a feat of strength. He’s way too heavy to wear comfortably in the smaller, less expensive carriers I used when he was an infant. I did some research on the mommy-grapevine and settled on a carrier with lumbar support that has armies of parents singing its praises. It wasn’t easy to figure out, but eventually, I got to a place where I can now get us both pretty comfy in about 30 seconds, provided I have an assistant. I imagine that with time my tot will get a little more patient with the process and I will get more competent with my carrier and be able to strap him on without help.
**Editing to add that the day after I posted this I finally got him in all by myself, YAY!**

Being able to wear him on my back has been a game-changer for us, because he likes the view, and I feel so much more comfortable and stable than I did toward the end of the kangaroo-pouch front carry days.

But he’s not just bigger. He’s on a whole other level of development now. As a toddler, he’s supposed to be exploring his world and he is! He’s very active and loves to interact, so if I strap him on and I’m doing something he doesn’t find interesting, he might start finding ways to amuse himself. I’m lucky in that it’s typically something cute like playing with my hair or wanting me to talk to him about what I’m doing. The best is when I can do something to let him feel included somehow — He can close the fridge, or handle one spoon while I stir the pot with another.

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Getting ready to go out on our first big back-carry walk

Other times, I’m not so lucky and he wants to arch his little back or smack me until things get interesting or I let him down. He doesn’t talk much, but he can definitely get loud and will cry if he’s displeased.

As you might imagine, all that closeness in this tropical climate has one major downside: it’s hot! We both get sweaty and I can count on needing to change us both out of some very sweaty clothes if I wear him for longer than about half an hour or so.

One thing has not changed as he’s grown: he generally loves to be worn as long as I am walking, particularly if I’m walking outdoors. Lately, we have been walking together on the weekends, often with a friend. It’s nice to see what catches his attention (usually animals, naturally). While I often encounter other moms who wear their infants in the grocery store or, say, at the laundry, I have yet to see another mama who wears a bigger kid. That might be why we attract a fair bit of attention from others on our walks… Or maybe it’s because my kid is just that cute?

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He’s pretty freakin’ cute!

Scroll Away

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One thing you need when you live on an island is a reliable way to stay connected. Sure, most of us are pretty good at checking in with our co-workers and neighbors, but what about all those friends and relations in far away places? That’s what the internet is for!

Indeed, I feel very blessed when I hear about unlucky island dwellers of not-so-long ago, for example, the North American transplant who was so homesick and had just enough to drink one night that he thought it would be a good idea to borrow the company phone to make a massively expensive long-distance phone call.

Nope, we lucky folks of today can fire up one of any number of social media sites and scroll through our feed or sit back and watch the latest stories to see what our peeps all around the world are up to.

But, and I can’t be the only one who falls into this trap, how do we know when we’ve had enough? A quick check can keep you informed, but did you know researchers are finding more and more evidence that too much scrolling, rather than helping us feel connected, actually causes most people to feel isolated?

Take the way people often use their Twitter pages to vent their problems. Everyone needs an outlet, but it’s stressful for us as readers to take in so much negativity all at once. One Pew Research Center study showed that more time reading people’s tweets is correlated with a higher stress level. Other studies have pointed to links between social media use and anxiety, feelings of envy, a reduced amount of sleep, and, for women and girls, reduced self-esteem.

On second thought, maybe I’ll log off the internet a little early this week and make an old-fashioned long-distance phone call!

A version of this post firs appeared in the Feb, 7, 2019 edition of the Limin Times.

The Huntress

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The Huntress guarding the Wee Baby Abel during a nap

Sharing a home with any pet requires trade-offs. At our house, the cat – who adopted us when we moved into what she clearly thinks of as her apartment – provides many benefits. She is an excellent snuggle buddy whenever anyone is enjoying some quiet time with a book or a movie. She’s been very patient about her de facto role as big sister to the baby, waiting as he progressed from the stereotypical baby “pat-pat” through to understanding that animals should be touched gently. Where she used to tolerate the baby for a few moments and then dash off as kiddo got excited, she now seeks him out for attention and I think she might be trying to teach him to open doors for her. It’s been sweet to watch how much the baby loves this cat. He follows her around the house, sometimes babbling excitedly. “Gentle” is one of his first dozen words. “Meow” is another. I would even go so far as to guess that his positive experiences with our cat are the reason behind his love of the pets he meets when we are out in the world.

As the adult human in the partnership, my end of the bargain is usually pretty low-key: buy some cat food, fill her dish a couple of times a day, make sure her water doesn’t turn green. All in all, it’s a pretty good system, most of the time.

But then there are the times when I have to deal with the cat’s instinct to hunt. Or rather, her persistent attempts to bring her prey inside the house.

Once, the only clue I had that one of her prizes was in the house was a terrible smell. I searched high and low before I discovered the source: a decaying lizard under my bed. Another time, I caught her as she was coming inside with a mouse in her mouth. Who knows where she would have stashed it if I hadn’t sent her right back out once again.

Recently, she took it way too far, however, when I came home to find a ground lizard on its back. This is the biggest thing she’s ever brought inside. In my mind it looks like a small alligator, although the reality is that it was probably 12 inches long from snout to tail. Normally I find small lizards pretty cute. I’ve never willingly touched one, but neither do I find it necessary to chase them away if they want to hang out nearby, and, I don’t know, hunt flies. This one, however, was too big to be endearing, it just needed to get out. Attempting to removing it showed me the worst of the situation. The poor creature was still alive.

Is there a ground lizard intensive care unit? No, but even if there was, I doubt very much they could have saved this thing. It was just the latest victim of the huntress.

This first appeared in the Jan. 31 edition of the Limin’ Times.