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.

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 so something silly like call my mother in law “Mommy.” …
“Granny,” he’ll tell me.

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.

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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 advised 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 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 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.

Bird Walking

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A green heron spotted in Road Town on assignment during previous bird count.

After wanting to participate for ages — and not just cover it as a reporter — this year I finally got it together and joined in the annual Christmas Bird Count. If you’ve never heard of it, the count is a bit like a census, with birdwatchers taking to the field (or sometimes their own backyards) to identify and count the bird species they see.

While the BVI is home to many different birds, the Christmas Bird Count is an international project, with volunteers from around the US, Canada, and parts of Central and South America and the Caribbean, all designating the last weeks of December and first few days of January as the time they will count in their local area.

Although there are places that have had counts all the way back to the year 1900, the history of the event here in the BVI is pretty respectable, with the National Parks Trust recording counts going back to 1988.

Being a novice when it comes to identifying birds, I tagged along with a more experienced birdwatcher in my neighborhood. Together, we spotted a sparrow hawk, a bird of prey that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen hunting from the treetops near my deck. I learned what an ani looks like. We also counted a couple of thrushies, which are more properly known as pearly-eyed thrashers, but which I personally think of as papaya thieves because I can never get to a ripe one before they peck holes in it. Naturally, the birds that were most common on our path were the chickens, which don’t get counted.

Between the sizable puddles from that morning’s rain and the rather small wheels on the stroller I was wheeling the baby in, we decided to cut our walk short, but I still count the morning’s adventure as a success: The little one and I got some fresh air, I learned a bit from my birding buddy about bird calls and behaviors, plus I got to contribute (albeit only a small bit) to a really cool global science project. I had so much fun that I’m already planning my next birding adventure.

A version of this column first appeared in the Jan. 10 edition of the Limin Times.

Island Life in Space

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Moon sprouts (photo: AFP)

In a project that would have seemed farfetched just a few years ago, China recently landed a probe called Chang’e-4 on the moon. The most recent news from the project is that some cotton seeds planted inside the lander have sprouted*, along with hopes in the space exploration community that the moon could eventually be used as a home base for future explorers. The idea is that rather than coming home to earth, future astronauts could simply grow the food they need on the moon.

You might say this project is about as far from our little island as possible, but I’d argue that island life and space exploration share many of the same strengths. For one thing, space missions are right to start thinking about plants early. Relying on imports for basic necessities is the main reason island living is so expensive, and any disruption in transport channels trickles down to every other aspect of life here. Chinese researchers started with cotton plants since those can be harvested to make fabric. According to reports, the Chang’e-4 also carried potato seeds and yeast, so clearly staple foods are another priority.

Whether on islands or in space, it’s clear that teamwork is crucial. As many of us have seen time and time again, island folks know how to pull together to help each other out. We share rides and water; we check to make sure our neighbors are okay after a storm; and, if we see someone stranded on the road, we stop and help however we can. The most successful space endeavor so far (21 years in space!) is the international space station. The five space agencies who partner on the project represent the US, Japan, Russia, Canada, and 22 European nations. No doubt all these countries’ governments have some serious disagreements, but they are able to put such conflicts aside for the good of the greater mission.

As futuristic as space exploration still seems, both island dwellers and space explorers do best when they rely on their history to guide their decisions. In our case, specialized local knowledge of everything from seasonal weather patterns to tourism trends help us make smart decisions in the day-to-day. In space, knowing which missions landed safely on Mars since Russia’s partially successful 1971 Mars 3 were key to the NASA’s InSight touching down on the red planet in November.

What else do space explorers and island dwellers have in common? Let me know in the comments.

*Too bad the dark side of the moon is so cold. The sprouts have since died.

A version of this column first appeared in the Jan. 17th edition of the Limin Times.

 

Bring on Autumn

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A peek through the mangroves

Far from the poetic color-changing leaves of New England, or even from Instagram’s fall favorite, pumpkin spice, autumn in the Caribbean is a different flavor altogether. In general, we lucky island dwellers can expect things to remain pretty much the same from season to season: We keep visiting the beaches, never lose track of our shades, and definitely have no need to un-mothball any scarves or coats. Still, there are a few signs it’s not summer anymore around here.

Cooler temps: Granted, we probably won’t have anything you might describe as “crisp” any time too soon, but it has already started to cool off a touch. I can tell because I’ve switched the fan from “gale force winds” to “stiff breeze” setting and the heat rash that the baby and I have both been battling since May has finally subsided. Soon I’ll want to put on a light sweater!

Shorter days: I have to admit, it’s a bit harder to jump out of bed in the morning now that the sun isn’t shining into my face before 6am. But it’s nice to have dark in the evening. I can even use the oven again without the entire apartment feeling like a sauna.

More visitors: Although they aren’t quite in daily just yet, the cruise ships are back at the pier on a regular basis. There are also a lot more vessels dotting the territory’s waters than there were just a few weeks ago. All those extra sailors are a sure sign that the Christmas winds aren’t far off. Which also means…

Re-openings: Some of the restaurants and bars that took a break over the slow summer period are opening back up again, meaning we all have a lot more options when it comes to going out, socializing, eating and drinking. Whether you’re revisiting old favorites or trying someplace new, fall is a fabulous time for foodies and going out in general around here.

Events galore: Hands down, my favorite part of fall is the return of the BVI’s busy event schedule. You’ll start to see the events listings here in the Limin Times get pretty crowded with parties, festivals, sailing races and other entertaining events. Later this month the annual favorite BVI Food Fete will kick off, then we will all get to enjoy a month of food, fun and culture before the pressure of Christmas.

What are your fall favorites?

This column first appeared in the Oct 19 edition of the Limin Times.

Island Time

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A gratuitous pastel sunset in the BVI.

Island time is a phrase that could mean a lot of things, but it bugs me that the most common usage seems to be the disparaging way we talk about Caribbean people or institutions running behind schedule. Not that I don’t respect a punctual operation, because I do. No, the reason it bothers me is because in my experience, at least here in the BVI, island time is not about simply running late. Instead, it’s a nuanced and complicated way of describing different aspects of time, being on time, or levels of rushing.

The most eye-opening such phrase, for me, is one I have heard exiting many buses and taxis: Take your time. If you’re not used to hearing the phrase, it can seem off-putting, almost like a commandment, but it’s actually sound advice. Even though a load of people might be waiting on me to exit the vehicle, it would inconvenience everyone a lot more if I wasn’t careful on my way out and wound up injuring myself or another passenger in my rush. I’ve also heard people say taking time ain’t laziness, which speaks to the way that a task well done is worth waiting for.

Along the same lines, some people say hurry, hurry, never done. This phrase tells you that the more you rush something, the more likely it is that you will make a mistake and wind up having to start the whole task over. When I was a kid, the old people used to say “haste makes waste” in much the same way.

Describing time can be a source of confusion regardless of where you are, but I’ve found the BVI is pretty consistent. One time means that something should be happening immediately or right away. If I ask you when you want me to pay back that money you loaned me last month, you would probably answer “one time,” and hold out your hand.

For things a bit less urgent, you will hear just now, which means in a while, or that there’s no rush. This is the one you use when your partner wants to know when you’ll be ready to leave the house but you just need to fix up your look before you can go: “just now, babe.”

If something has been going on since before the discussion began, the phrase is all now. This is the one you can use when you’re waiting on your buddy and they ask you when you will get to the meeting place: “I’m here all now.”

I know there are a lot more time phrases out there. I’d love to read what other people’s favorites are in the comments.

 

This column first appeared in the Aug. 16 edition of the Limin’ Times.

Island Retail Therapy

dsc01364-e1537903935348.jpgEven if you’ve never heard the phrase retail therapy, you can likely guess what it’s all about. You’re having a low day or week and you buy yourself a gift to lift your spirits. This is not the kind of shopping for something specific that you either need or really, really want. It has to be at least a little bit frivolous. For some people, it might be entertainment like music, movies or books. Others might head to the shoe store for a pair of killer stilettos, or to the nearest arts and craft supply spot to pick up the inspiration for a new project.

I may be the cheapest person in the world, but for me to enjoy this kind of thing, it has to involve minimal spending of actual cash. Years ago, my preference was for someplace where everything cost $1. I would grab an assortment of small, joy-bringing goodies, for example, a new candle, a sweet snack, a greeting card, a book and a bunch of silk flowers. It was great because I would walk out of the store feeling like a total baller while having managed to spend less than $10.

Living on an island makes retail therapy a little harder to come by. Since the geography and our small population means that we are either importing our goods, or buying from small-scale suppliers who don’t get the cost advantage that mass-production brings, many of things we want to buy cost a lot more than they might elsewhere in the world.

Still, there are a couple of ways I satisfy the craving for retail therapy without breaking the bank. Starting with the cheapest, there’s heading to a favorite online outlet and filling up my shopping cart. Nope, this is not a shopping spree, it’s a game of make believe. After my cart is full, I close down my browser and go to bed. By the next day, if I still want any of those things, I check what it would cost to ship them down here and mentally estimate the customs fees. That’s always enough to make the items look much less desirable.

Another way to bargain the retail therapy is to stick to secondhand shops. Normally, I head over the the Red Cross’ Thrift Shop. The stock is always changing, so pawing through the merchandise feels like a treasure hunt. Sometimes I don’t find anything that suits me, but there’ve been plenty of times I’ve come out with a great dress, a $1 necklace, or some wardrobe basics for the baby. The resale and consignment shop in Fish Bay is also a good spot, especially if you’re more into home décor or kitchen goodies. There’s another secondhand shop in East End that’s on my list to go check out but haven’t made it into yet.

Am I the only island dweller who’s stingy but still feels the occasional need for some retail therapy?

This column originally appeared in the Sept. 20, 2018 edition of the Limin Times.